Friday, October 25, 2013

The final push

With many countries already looking forward to participation in the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, two days in October gave the remaining hopefuls the chance to claim a place in the finals or play-offs. Croatia qualified for the play-offs despite ending their group matches with two defeats; going down 2-1 at home to group winners Belgium -who were later held to a 1-1 draw at home to Wales- and losing 2-0 in Scotland. Armenia continued to impress, but fell short of the play-offs ending their campaign with a 2-1 home win over Bulgaria and a 2-2 draw in Italy having twice led the four times world champions in Naples, while the Czech Republic who defeated Malta 4-1 and Bulgaria 1-0 in away matches also failed to progress from their group. Having already qualified for the finals, Germany came from behind to widen the gap between themselves and their hosts with a 5-3 win in Sweden, while the Dutch showed no mercy hammering the hapless Hungarians 8-1 in Amsterdam before winning 2-0 in Turkey, who had enjoyed the reverse result in Estonia, to finish their group well ahead of Romania who had earlier won 4-0 in Andorra. Portugal dropped vital points when a late goal gave Israel a 1-1 draw in Lisbon while Russia were winning 4-0 in Luxembourg and the Israelis themselves were held to a 1-1 home draw by Northern Ireland 4 days later. Among other noteworthy results in Europe were Latvia's 2-0 loss in Lithuania and Spain's narrow 2-1 win at home to lowly Belarus, while by far the most surprising result was Moldova's 5-2 triumph in Montenegro moving them above their hosts in the rankings.
In South America Uruguay lost 1-0 in Ecuador, but returned home to defeat Argentina 3-2 and qualify for the play-offs while Paraguay drew 1-1 in Venezuela and lost 2-1 at home to Colombia to finish bottom of the group below Bolivia who finished with a 1-1 draw in Peru.
In North America Mexico's 2-1 win at home to Panama on the penultimate day proved priceless as they scraped through to the play-offs while in Africa the first leg of the play-offs saw Ghana bury Egypt 6-1 in Kumasi.
In Asia the continental qualifiers saw Syria lose 2-1 in Singapore and Iraq surrender 2-0 to Saudi Arabia in Jordan while Qatar put 6 past their visitors from Yemen without reply having lost 2-1 at home to Vietnam in a friendly earlier in the month. In another friendly match the Philippines were beaten 2-1 at home to Taiwan.