Friday, September 08, 2006

New season kicks off

Having taken a short break after the World Cup, international football resumed with continental qualifiers in the first week of September. World champions Italy got off to a shaky start with a shock home draw against Lithuania followed by a 3-1 away defeat to World Cup finalists France, while Hungary had mixed fortunes with a disastrous 4-1 home loss to Norway and an excellent 3-1 victory in Bosnia & Herzegovina 4 days later. Northern Ireland froze against Iceland with a 3-0 defeat at home, but the sun shone on Belfast when a Healy hat-trick saw them beat Spain 3-2 on Wednesday. After an early exit at the World Cup, Poland continued their bad form losing 3-1 at home to improving Finland. The Czech Republic put their disappointing World Cup behind them with a convincing 3-0 win at neighbours Slovakia. In Africa, Tanzania earned a 2-1 win against Burkina Faso, while Gambia overcame the Cape Verde Islands 2-0. South Africa continued to slump when they were held 0-0 by visitors Congo. Kuwait brought Australia down to earth with a 2-0 win in the Asian section, while Iraq (who were ordered to play their home match on neutral soil) could only manage a 2-2 draw with Palestine. The Cayman Islands were also among big movers in Mark’s rankings after finishing bottom of their group in the qualifiers being played in Cuba.