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.