Friday, November 23, 2007

The best in Europe

The European qualifying round reached its conclusion in November with the top 14 joining hosts Austria and Switzerland for next year’s European championships. In the last 2 fixture days Croatia who had qualified by virtue of Israel’s win over Russia despite losing 2-0 away to neighbours Macedonia, ended the hopes of England with a 3-2 win at Wembley making England the highest team in the rankings not to qualify for the finals. Turkey who came from a goal down in Norway to register a vital 2-1 victory and turn the table in their favour also qualified with an expected win over Bosnia on Wednesday. Portugal reached the finals despite being held 0-0 at home by Finland. Among teams not to reach the finals, Belarus ended on a high with a 4-2 win in Albania followed by a historic 2-1 home triumph over the Dutch. Lithuania also showed promise winning 2-0 at home to Ukraine and away to Georgia. Germany failed to claim top spot in their group after being held to a goalless home draw against Wales, while Armenia ended their campaign losing 1-0 at home to Kazakhstan. Moldova enjoyed a 3-0 win against Hungary and Bulgaria returned from Slovenia with a 2-0 win.
While Europe was focused on Euro 2008, the 2010 World Cup qualifying matches had already begun in other parts of the globe with New Caledonia enjoying a 4-0 win over Fiji in the Oceania section. In South America Peru gained a creditable 1-1 draw at home to Brazil, but let their guards down and were thrashed 5-1 in Ecuador. Paraguay moved to the top of the table with a powerful 3-0 win in Chile as Argentina lost their 100% record with a 2-1 defeat in Colombia.
The 2010 World Cup qualifying draw for the rest of the world will take place this weekend, with the Euro 2008 draw following a week later.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Autumn leaves Europe guessing

Two international fixture days in mid October gave Europe some answers and South America the start to the 2010 World Cup qualifiers. The Czech Republic qualified after an emphatic 3-0 win in Germany, with the Irish Republic only managing a 1-1 home draw against Cyprus who had disposed of Wales 3-1 in Nicosia 4 days earlier. Greece earned the right to defend their title after a 1-0 victory in Turkey, while a 1-1 draw for Northern Ireland in Sweden keeps the Scandinavians waiting as their next opponents Spain enjoyed a vital 3-1 win in Denmark. Scotland had mixed fortunes winning 3-1 at home to Ukraine, but losing 2-0 in Georgia 4 days later, whereas Iceland will wish to forget these days after a 4-2 home defeat to Latvia and a humiliating 3-0 loss in Liechtenstein. Belarus also suffered an embarrassment losing 1-0 at home to Luxembourg. With Romania also making the finals there are still 10 places to be decided in November.

Mali qualified for the 2008 African Cup of Nations with a decisive 2-0 win in Togo, but South America had their eyes on the 2010 World Cup with the qualifiers getting under way.

A solitary goal in Ecuador for the recent Copa America hosts Venezuela gave them a good start to the campaign, but they were defeated 2-0 at home 4 days later by Argentina who are the only team with a 100% record after 2 matches.

The latest rankings can be seen at:

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Late summer matches

The most eye-catching result in August was Hungary’s 3-1 friendly victory over World champions Italy. On the same night Portugal were held to a 1-1 draw in a Euro qualifier in Armenia while Belgium enjoyed a 3-2 win over Serbia.

The 2007 South Pacific Games in Samoa was given extra spice as it acted as a preliminary qualifying competition for the 2010 World Cup with the top three qualifying to join the Oceania qualifying section. A single goal in the final decided the match in favour of New Caledonia over Fiji with the 3rd place going to Vanuatu who upset the Solomon Islands 2-0. Tuvalu who also took part in the competition became the latest country to join Mark’s Football Rankings.

The qualifying matches for the African Cup of Nations produced several surprises in September with some weaker teams achieving good results over teams that had already qualified for the finals. Cameron’s 1-0 loss in Equatorial Guinea was the most notable of such results.

In Europe Scotland enjoyed their trip to Paris when James McFadden unleashed a corker to give the visitors a famous victory and the double over France. Wales took Slovakia apart with the help of Craig Bellamy who scored twice in the 5-2 humiliation of their hosts. Own goals in consecutive matches saw Northern Ireland lose away to Latvia and Iceland in a matter of four days, while late goals in Portugal snatched victory from the jaws of the Portuguese against Poland and Serbia.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Iraq top guns in Asia

With Japan, Iran and Australia the firm favourites to lift the Asian Cup, it was Iraq who shone through and reached gold. The tournament was co-hosted by Vietnam, Indonesia, Thailand and Malaysia with Vietnam the only co-hosts to reach the second round enjoying a 2-0 win over the UAE along the way. Indonesia started with a 2-1 victory against Bahrain, but were narrowly beaten and eliminated by South Korea and Saudi Arabia who both finished among the top 3 in Asia. South Korea had suffered a 2-1 shock defeat at the hands of Bahrain, but ended up finishing 3rd having had to rely on penalty shoot-outs to decide all their matches after the group stage. Having drawn 1-1 with eventual champions Iraq and beaten Oman 2-0, Thailand were 10 minutes away from the next round, but Australia who after a shock 3-1 defeat to Iraq were in need of goals, ended their dreams with 3 late goals in a 4-0 hammering of their hosts. China were the biggest name not to reach the second round, losing their final group match 3-0 to Uzbekistan. Reigning champions Japan lost a thrilling semi-final 3-2 to Saudi Arabia who were beaten 1-0 by Iraq in the final of the 2007 Asian Cup. Iraq are now the top ranked team in Asia. Reports from all the matches can be read at:

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Football in the Americas

The USA hosted and won the Gold Cup in June beating Mexico 2-1 in the final. The Mexicans had got off to a bad start with a 2-1 defeat to Honduras who in turn lost by the same score-line to the surprise team of the tournament -and most improved team in Mark’s football rankings- Guadeloupe.

The 2 finalists had been invited to take part in the more prestigious Copa America which was being held in Venezuela for the first time. Mexico fared much better than their northern neighbours this time finishing 3rd having beaten champions Brazil 2-0 and annihilating Paraguay 6-0 on their way. Paraguay had been in festive mood after the 5-0 demolition of Colombia, but were brought down to earth by the rampant Mexicans. Uruguay picked themselves up after a disastrous 3-0 defeat to Peru in their opening match, to finish the tournament in 4th place having narrowly lost their semi-final match on penalties to Brazil. As predicted Brazil and Argentina reached the final with Argentina firm favourites, but it was Brazil who lifted the cup with a convincing 3-0 victory over their old rivals.

Reports from all the Copa America matches can be read at:

Friday, June 08, 2007

End of season matches

With the domestic season over in most main European leagues, the qualifiers for Euro 2008 continued with 2 action-packed days in early June. Sweden were awarded a 3-0 win by UEFA today after their match in Copenhagen was abandoned in the 89th minute by the referee who was attacked by a fan. At 3-3 the referee had just sent a Danish player off for violent conduct and pointed to the spot in Sweden’s favour. Denmark plummeted in the world rankings as a result of this decision.

Little Armenia surpassed expectation with a 2-1 win in Kazakhstan followed by a historic 1-0 victory over Poland in Yerevan. Norway enjoyed 2 home wins, beating both Malta and Hungary 4-0; while Finland had mixed fortunes in their home matches, suffering a 2-0 loss to Serbia and reversing the score line against Belgium days later.

Bosnia scored a last minute winner in a 5 goal thriller to send Turkey away empty-handed, while Bulgaria enjoyed a 2-0 win in Belarus. Lichtenstein gained a creditable 1-1 draw in Iceland and Israel retuned from Macedonia with a 2-1 win.

In the African Cup of Nations qualifiers the underdogs enjoyed home territory. Uganda celebrated a shock 2-1 win over Nigeria while Namibia beat Libya 1-0. Mauritania held African champions Egypt to a 1-1 draw with Tanzania enjoying the same outcome against Senegal. Mozambique triumphed 3-1 against Burkina Faso and Niger defeated Lesotho 2-0.

Burundi beat Botswana 1-0 in Rwanda. Gambia earned a 2-2 draw in Guinea while Angola could only manage to draw 1-1 in Eritrea.

The Gold Cup in the United States and Copa America in Venezuela will be followed by the Asian Cup this summer.

Friday, March 30, 2007

The world springs into action

After a winter break the European and African qualifiers got under way with the early spring fixtures being played over the weekend and Wednesday. Norway seemed to be suffering from the affects of winter when they lost 2-1 at home to Bosnia, but managed a reputable 2-2 draw in Germany against Turkey who had earlier thrashed the reigning European champions Greece 4-1 on Greek soil. Serbia were humiliated 2-1 in Kazakhstan on Saturday, while on Wednesday in Azerbaijan Finland were defeated 1-0. Liechtenstein enjoyed a rare win with a solitary goal against Latvia, while Albania held Bulgaria to a goalless draw in Sofia. David Healy netted another 2 goals for Northern Ireland to give the hosts an important 2-1 win over Sweden sending the Swedes several places down in the world football rankings. In Africa Equatorial Guinea earned the most impressive result with a 3-1 victory over Rwanda. The most notable result among friendly matches was Denmark’s 1-0 triumph against their hosts Germany.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Kicking off 2007

While many countries were taking a winter break, Trinidad & Tobago hosted the Caribbean Cup in January losing to Haiti in the final. Cuba and Guadeloupe were the other 2 teams to qualify by virtue of their positions in this tournament for the Gold Cup which will be held in the USA in June this year.
Early in February the first big bulk of friendly matches was played. Portugal gained a satisfying 2-0 win over Brazil in London. Spain and Argentina returned from England and France respectively with 1-0 victories. Egypt beat Sweden 2-0 while another African team Mali, registered an impressive 3-1 win against Lithuania in France. Uruguay achieved the same result away to Colombia and overtook their South American rivals in the World Rankings. In the only competitive match on Wednesday San Marino almost pulled off a shock 1-1 draw against the Republic of Ireland, but a stoppage time goal gave the Irish all 3 points with a 2-1 win.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

A reflection on 2006

With 6 months to wait for the World Cup, there was plenty of time to prepare. The African Cup of Nations was the perfect stage for the African teams participating in the World Cup to get match practice and for those who had been pipped at the last post to show the world that they would have been worthy contestants at the highest level. World Cup newcomers Ghana, Togo and Angola failed to impress (though Ghana exceeded expectations in the World Cup), while 2010 hosts South Africa were left with plenty to ponder after dismal displays in their group stage. Cameroon once again failed against the Ivory Coast who in turn lost the final on penalties to hosts Egypt. The African crown being some consolation for not qualifying for the World Cup. Former African champions Tunisia had a disappointing year.
The Asian Cup qualifiers which included Australia for the first time got under way early in 2006 and reached its conclusion by the end of the year with no major surprises.
Guyana raised eyebrows in the Caribbean Cup qualifiers finishing top of group H. Jamaica will feel unlucky to be eliminated after having lost only one match in group D which was decided on goal difference and a head-to-head match.
After disappointment for the Czech Republic, Poland, Ukraine and even Spain, Argentina and Brazil who had started off well, it was Italy who stepped in to win a penalty shootout against France in the final. The Italians were brought down to earth in September when visitors Lithuania held them to a 1-1 draw in a European qualifier and 4 days later France avenged their defeat in the final by winning 3-1 in Paris.
The most surprising results of the year were: Bahamas 3 Cayman Islands 1, Mauritania 4 Botswana 0, Ghana 2 Czech Republic 0, Guinea 3 Tunisia 0 and Jamaica 1 St Vincent & the Grenadines 2. The highest movers in the world rankings were Ghana.