Friday, December 31, 2010

The year ends in Asia

After the Caribbean Cup in Martinique in Which Guadeloupe knocked Cuba out 2-1 to reach the final where they met and lost on penalties to Jamaica who had beaten Grenada 2-1 in extra time of the other semi-final, the attention turned mostly to Asia where a bunch of friendly matches saw the year out. Laos held Thailand to a 2-2 draw in Indonesia and Saudi Arabia lost their home match 1-0 to Iraq who will be shortly attempting to defend their crown in Qatar. The Philippines drew 1-1 against Singapore in Hanoi where they later shocked their hosts Vietnam 2-0 to move up in the Rankings while among matches played in Africa, Ethiopia recorded a 2-1 success over Zambia in Tanzania.

Friday, November 19, 2010

No rest in November

Most European teams went into hibernation after the November matches in which Portugal pummelled world champions Spain 4-0 in Lisbon. Belgium were 2-0 winners in Russia, and England were beaten 2-1 by France at Wembley while Slovenia lost by the same result at home to Georgia. Haiti triumphed 1-0 in Qatar and Belarus returned from Oman with a 4-0 victory. In an African friendly Zimbabwe won 3-1 away to Mozambique while Togo were held to a goalless draw at home to Chad in a Cup of Nations qualifier.
Earlier the Caribbean qualifier group stage continued to its conclusion causing several big moves in the rankings. Hosts of group D the Dominican Republic tore the British Virgin Islands apart 17-0 but went out after losing 1-0 to Dominica who had put 10 past the hapless Virgin Islanders. Guyana shocked group C hosts Suriname with a 2-0 win to finish above them, though both teams progressed to the next round. There were further shocks in the next round with Guadeloupe defeating Puerto Rico 3-2 and beating group E hosts Grenada 3-0 to finish top. Guyana held Haiti to a goalless draw to progress with group F hosts Trinidad & Tobago. In the same region Cuba cruised 3-0 past Panama in an away friendly. The final stage of the Caribbean Cup will take place November 26th – December 5th in Martinique.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Action in autumn

The Caribbean qualifiers leading to the Gold Cup kicked off in October with Puerto Rico hosting and winning group A which saw Anguilla (the lowest Caribbean team in the rankings) pull off a shock 2-1 win against St Martin.
Anguilla score in shock win

There were 2 rounds of European qualifiers in which Serbia were humiliated at home 3-1 by Estonia and had their next match abandoned after only 6 minutes due to crowd trouble in Italy. Armenia celebrated a 3-1 home victory over Slovakia and the Russians returned from Ireland with a 3-2 success while Wales lost 1-0 at home to Bulgaria. Turkey were stunned 1-0 in Azerbaijan and the Montenegrins are yet to concede a goal in their group after holding England to a goalless draw at Wembley.
The African qualifiers produced several upsets with the Central African Republic’s 2-0 home triumph over Algeria and Egypt’s 1-0 defeat in Niger among the biggest. Benin enjoyed a 3-0 win in Rwanda while DR Congo drew 1-1 in Cameroon and Sudan held their Ghanaian hosts to a goalless draw. In other African matches Nigeria lost 1-0 in Guinea and Ethiopia won by a single goal away to Madagascar.
A host of friendly matches took place in Asia with Bahrain having mixed fortunes, winning 3-1 in Kuwait before losing 4-2 at home to Uzbekistan. The UAE lost 2-0 to the visiting Angolans while Vietnam were defeated 3-1 in India and the Philippines drew 1-1 away to Taiwan.

Friday, September 10, 2010

First steps for Europe and Africa

For most European and African nations early September marked the start of their continental qualifiers and saw many changes in the Ziaian world rankings. France who seemed to be sinking deeper into the abyss after losing 1-0 at home to Belarus received a boost with a 2-0 win in Bosnia & Herzegovina 4 days later, while Croatia who had got off to a good start winning 3-0 in Latvia were held to a goalless home draw by Greece who had started with a disappointing 1-1 draw at home to Georgia. Northern Ireland shocked Slovenia with a goal in Maribor while Slovakia achieved the same result in Russia. Lithuania and Montenegro also enjoyed 1-0 wins away to the Czech Republic and Bulgaria respectively. Finland suffered a 2-0 loss in Moldova while a thriller between Portugal and Cyprus ended in a 4-4 draw in Guimaraes and England earned a 3-1 win in Switzerland.
In Africa Sierra Leone picked up a 1-1 draw in Egypt while the Central African Republic returned from Morocco with a goalless draw and Malawi shared 4 goals with their hosts Tunisia. Guinea Bissau defeated their visitors from Kenya 1-0 while Angola lost 3-0 in Uganda and Congo surrendered 2-0 in Sudan. Senegal enjoyed a 4-2 win in DR Congo and Guinea won 4-1 in Ethiopia while Burundi drew 1-1 in Benin and Tanzania returned from Algeria with a creditable 1-1 draw.
In friendly matches world champions Spain were thumped 4-1 in Argentina while Mexico lost 2-1 at home to Ecuador and Iran won 2-0 in China and 1-0 in South Korea.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

The start of a new era

The final whistle of the 2010 World Cup signalled the end of a chapter, bringing on managerial changes, retirements and hope for a younger generation of players. Exactly a month later teams across the globe kicked off a new chapter in the hope of a brighter future. Cameroon bounced back from 3 World Cup defeats with a 3-0 victory in Poland while Greece returned from Serbia with a 1-0 win. Guinea beat Mali 2-0 in France while Gabon enjoyed a 2-1 win over their hosts Algeria, and in an African qualifier Botswana drew 1-1 away to Malawi. Lithuania fell 2-0 to the visiting Belarusians while Iceland could only draw 1-1 at home to Liechtenstein and Oman were beaten 3-1 in Kazakhstan. Italy continued their poor form losing 1-0 to the Ivory Coast in London while Spain remain at the top of the rankings despite a 1-1 draw away to Mexico in their first match as champions.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The ups and downs of the 2010 World Cup

Qualifying for the World Cup is always cause for celebration, but every one of the 32 participants will have their own level of expectation which will determine their success or failure at the end of their campaign. Making a note of their positions in before and after the tournament is a good indicator of their true level of success.
Movement among the top teams can be minimal but telling.
Newly crowned world champions Spain were already at the top of the rankings but gained sufficient points to build a substantial gap between themselves and the rest of the pack.
The nearly-men of the Netherlands moved up one place into 2nd and should be happy with their showing once the dust of their disappointing but deserved defeat in the final has settled.
Germany performed well and moved up 2 places into 3rd while Brazil who were knocked out in the quarter-finals moved down 2 places into 4th.
Argentina who struggled to qualify for the finals seemed to have come good until they were derailed by Germany, but moved up one position and should be relatively content with their progress.
Portugal were narrowly beaten by Spain, but moved up 3 places having annihilated North Korea 7-0 and held Brazil to a goalless draw to negotiate a difficult group.
Chile reached the round of 16 and may have done better had they not been swept aside by Brazil, but keep their 7th spot.
Uruguay may have finished 4th in the world but only moved 4 places up into 8th as their path towards the semi was not so demanding.
England moved down 5 places after a disappointing World Cup, though for some reason they moved up one place in the FIFA rankings.
Mexico moved down 2 places having failed to win their group and consequently losing to Argentina in the next round.
Paraguay climbed 5 places having won their group and reached the quarter-finals where in a tight game they were beaten 1-0 by Spain.
Serbia were disappointed not to reach the next round despite a win over Germany in their first match and moved down 4 places.
Switzerland narrowly missed out on the next round but moved up 10 places and will be remembered for their shock win over eventual champions Spain.
Italy sank 10 places after losing their crown and finishing bottom of their group.
USA topped their group and were beaten by Ghana in extra time moving them up 4 places in the rankings.
Japan, who had not been doing well leading up to the World Cup, did Asia proud in the tournament going out on penalties against Paraguay after beating Cameroon and Denmark in the group stage and moving up 20 places in the process. Ghana, the brilliant stars of Africa who set the continent alight and were a penalty away from making it into the top 4 moved up 23 places in the rankings. South Korea moved down 3 places having had a mediocre tournament scraping through their group only to be knocked out at the next stage.
Slovenia also moved down 3 places after narrowly missing out on a place in the round of 16.
Ivory Coast did not get past the group stage but moved up 10 places having held their own in a difficult group.
Slovakia moved up 3 places and will remember fondly their 3-2 win over reigning champions Italy though they went out to the Dutch in the next round. France moved down 12 places having finished bottom of their group. Australia started poorly but improved in every match finally going out on goal difference after their win against Serbia and moving up 5 places. Greece dropped 7 places and went home disappointed after losing the match and second place to South Korea.
Honduras can be relatively happy with their point against the Swiss though they finished bottom of their group as expected and did not move in the rankings. Denmark moved down 13 places after being beaten convincingly by Japan in the decisive group match.
Nigeria may have finished last in their group but would have qualified had they not missed a sitter in their last match against South Korea and move up 4 places.
South Africa hosted the tournament and moved up a place having gone out on goal difference with a win over France.
Cameroon lost all 3 matches and 2 positions in the rankings. Algeria held England to a goalless draw and were beaten narrowly in their other matches to move up 12 places.
North Korea seemed to have given everything against Brazil but moved down 8 places after falling apart against Portugal and Ivory Coast.
New Zealand were one of the success stories of the World Cup moving up 23 places after ending the tournament without losing a match having drawn against Slovakia, Paraguay and Italy.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Predicting the 2010 World Cup

It is almost time for the party to begin as South Africa looks forward to hosting the World Cup and the 32 participating nations await their first matches. Predicting the outcome of a World Cup is futile but fun, as there are bound to be unexpected result adding to the excitement of the tournament, but looking at how the teams are ranked in and their recent forms can help with predictions.
The 32 teams are divided into 8 groups of 4 with the top 2 of each group going through to the next round. The number after each team shows its Ziaian ranking position at the start of the World Cup. The Ziaian rankings will be updated at the end of every World Cup day.
Group A – a well balanced group with the weakest team on paper enjoying home advantage.
South Africa (52) who would not have qualified through the usual channels have grabbed automatic qualification as hosts with both hands and among the participating teams have been the most improved this year, hoping that they will pass the big test and the sound of the vuvuzelas will continue to be heard in force after their group matches.
Mexico (8) have put their shaky start to the qualifying campaign behind them and shown in recent friendly matches against tough European opposition that they have plenty to offer and can be optimistic about progressing to the next round.
Uruguay (12) who needed the play-offs to qualify have only played 2 friendly matches since the turn of the year and despite confident boosting victories will need to be on their toes so as not to be intimidated by the South African crowd, out-played by the brave Mexican or out-shun by the French stars.
France (18) who got the better of the Irish in a controversial play-off match in Paris are in many minds the top team in this group, but the fading French stars have been finding it difficult to gel and based on recent form could find it difficult to get out of this group.
Group B – a group from the past.
Argentina (6) struggled to qualify under the management of Diego Maradona but will be hoping that their world class players will carry them into the next round and beyond.
Nigeria (50) who qualified thanks to Tunisia losing in Mozambique, will need more luck if they are to reach the next round.
South Korea (21), the top Asian team at the moment, have enjoyed good results inconsistently this year and could do well in the World Cup if they can remain focused.
Greece (30) who qualified from a relatively easy group and a single goal in 2 play-off matches against Ukraine could face an early exit if they fail to show the spirit that won them the European title six years ago.
Group C – an easy group.
England (4) have been difficult to beat and are expected to move into the next stage with a realistic possibility of a medal.
USA (25) will be encouraged by their adventures in the Confederations Cup a year ago, but could find the real deal a tougher test.
Slovenia (22) who qualified thanks to the away goals rule in the play-offs against Russia have been on the rise for 3 years and could cause a few raised eyebrows if they continue their good form.
Algeria (81) who scraped through to the finals at the expense of African champions Egypt, have not been convincing this year and could find the experience too overwhelming.
Group D – a group of hopefuls.
Germany (5) are always a force to be reckoned with, but in the absence of their influential captain Ballack could run out of steam early in the tournament. They will need to rely on experience and efficiency.
Australia (39) travel in hope but could find themselves returning home in disappointment if they underestimate their opponents.
Serbia (11) who qualified ahead of France have the quality to reach the next round and cause concern among the top teams.
Ghana (45) once again on the up in Africa have been disappointing in their friendly matches in Europe but will be hoping to show their true pedigree on African soil to avoid an unexpected early elimination.
Group E – the attractive group.
Netherlands (3) with their attractive football will be expected to go far and possibly lift the cup.
Denmark (27) may just have enough to get out of the group which would leave them only one match away from success.
Japan (42) have had disappointing results this year and will need to show much more discipline to get out of the group.
Cameroon (60), a shadow of their former selves, who failed to win any of their 5 friendly matches in Europe this year, could enjoy African support but not the results.
Group F – the weakest group.
Italy (10) have been less than convincing in their friendly matches this year and are unlikely to improve sufficiently on the big stage to retain the cup.
Paraguay (17) may feel they have enough to pass through into the next round, but their joy could be short lived
Slovakia (32) are capable of causing an upset in this group if they can catch their opponents off-guard, but will not be expected to reach the next stage.
New Zealand (106) are the weakest team in the tournament but recent results indicate that with good organisation they can give the bigger boys a run for their money.
Group G – dubbed the group of death.
Brazil (2) are always one of the favourites and should negotiate this group with relative ease but could fail to reach the last four.
Ivory Coast (37) are overrated by many and will find it difficult to reach the knockout stage.
Portugal (9) have enough talent to go far if they find their feet on the night, but are unlikely to progress far beyond the group stage.
North Korea (68) are ranked lower than several Asian teams that did not qualify, but will be hoping to prove that they are worthy of their place in the finals though an early flight back home is the most likely outcome.
Group H – the strongest group.
Spain (1) are many people’s favourites to lift the cup and could reach the final if their jinx of not doing well in major tournaments is well and truly behind them.
Chile (7) qualified with distinction only second to Brazil and should be able to reach the next round.
Switzerland (28) are able to carve out good results but they will need to be at their very best to progress from this group.
Honduras (38) who qualified thanks to an American equaliser against Costa Rica 4 minutes into stoppage time will be happy to show what they can do, but it will probably not be enough to prevent them finishing bottom of their group.

Monday, May 31, 2010

There May be clues

The month of May just before a World Cup is a time when players whose countries have qualified for the finals hope to avoid injury but impress their managers for selection. Results in May can give some indication of the strengths and weaknesses that the teams will take into the World Cup, but ultimately their performance on the big stage is what counts. New Zealand caused the biggest shock of the matches played in May by beating Serbia 1-0 in Austria while Portugal also suffered an upset when they were held to a goalless draw at home to the Cape Verde islands. The Czech Republic who did not qualify took pleasure in beating the USA 4-2 on their home patch. South Korea who enjoyed a 2-0 victory away to Japan were brought back down to earth when they lost 1-0 to Belarus in Austria. Hosts South Africa are on their way up in the rankings after a 2-1 win against Colombia and a 5-0 triumph over Guatemala.

Teams not playing in the World Cup were also in action. Estonia celebrated a 2-0 win over their neighbours Finland in Tallinn while Albania returned from Montenegro with a 1-0 victory and Gabon punished Togo 3-0 in Corsica.

Friday, March 05, 2010

March to South Africa

With less that 100 days left to the start of the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, teams around the world stretched their muscles in preparation for the big event. Greece suffered a worrying 2-0 home loss to Senegal while Switzerland fell 3-1 at home to Uruguay and Slovakia were defeated 1-0 by the visiting Norwegians. Argentina registered a 1-0 win over their hosts Germany and South Korea triumphed 2-0 over Ivory Coast in London. World Cup hosts South Africa could only draw 1-1 with Namibia while Spain remained at the top of the rankings winning 2-0 away to France. In the Asian Cup qualifiers on the same day, Australia struggled to beat Indonesia 1-0 at home while UAE picked up a creditable 1-0 win in Uzbekistan. In friendly North American matches Panama returned from Venezuela with a 2-1 victory while Guatemala overcame El Salvador by the same result in Los Angeles.

Thursday, February 04, 2010

Focus on Africa

Ten days into the year that will see Africa host the World Cup for the first time; the eyes of the world were on Angola to witness the 2010 Africa Cup of Nations.
Group A – The hosts opened the tournament with 4 goals against Mali, but were pegged back to a 4-4 draw in the last 11 minutes with 2 of the goals coming deep into stoppage time. Algeria suffered a shock 3-0 defeat to Malawi, but having won their next match progressed to the next round, ahead of a an unlucky Mali team who won their last match 3-1 against Malawi, with a goalless draw against their hosts who had also won their 2nd match and topped the group.
Group B – Togo were disqualified for pulling out of the competition after the fatal attack on their bus, leaving the group with only 3 teams. Ivory Coast were held to a goalless draw by Burkina Faso, but after a creditable 3-1 win over Ghana went through together with the Ghanaians who beat Burkina Faso with the only goal the Burkinabe conceded in the tournament.
Group C – Egypt opened with a 3-1 win over Nigeria in the top-of-the-table clash with both teams keeping clean sheets in their subsequent wins over Benin and Mozambique.
Group D – In a tightly fought group Gabon who stunned Cameroon with a 1-0 win in their opening match were unlucky not to make it to the next round having finished on identical points and goal difference to Zambia and Cameroon.
Quarter finals – The participation of hosts Angola came to an end losing 1-0 to Ghana, and Nigeria knocked Zambia out on penalties. Favourites Ivory Coast were sent packing after losing 3-2 to Algeria in extra time while Cameroon fell 3-1 to reigning champions Egypt in another match that needed 30 extra minutes to separate the teams.
Semi finals – A single goal against Nigeria was enough to send Ghana to the final where they were to meet Egypt who avenged their World Cup play-off defeat by thrashing an ill-disciplined Algerian side that finished the match with 8 men.
Final matches - Nigeria beat Algeria 1-0 to finish 3rd while Egypt won the Africa Cup of Nations for the 3rd time in succession with a 1-0 victory over Ghana to make them the highest team in rankfootball not to qualify for the World Cup.
A comprehensive report on all the matches can be found at

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

A look back at the noughties

Soon after the start of the new decade Nigeria hosted the African Cup of Nations where they were to be beaten by Cameroon on penalties in the final resulting in a massive 55 place leap for the Cameroonians who ended the year 15th in the world rankings.
Brazil had begun the millennium in top spot but lost 3-0 to Chile in a World Cup qualifier and lost out to France who were crowned champions of Europe after a golden goal decided the final against Italy in Rotterdam. Japan were the biggest movers of the year finishing 14th in the world after becoming Asian champions with a 1-0 final win against Saudi Arabia in Lebanon.
2001 saw Australia score 53 goals in 2 days, hammering Tonga 22-0 and then smashing their own world record by demolishing American Samoa 31-0 two days later in another World Cup qualifier. Brazil had a disastrous year and ended up in 20th place after losing to Ecuador, France, Australia, Uruguay, Mexico, Honduras, Argentina and Bolivia. France won the Confederations Cup in Japan with a 1-0 win over their hosts while Colombia lifted the Copa America in front of their home crowd with a single goal in the final against Mexico. In ayear of ups and downs Portugal ended the year on top.
2002 was the year of the first World Cup to be played in Asia hosted jointly by Japan and South Korea which Brazil won with a 2-0 victory over Germany in the final putting their recent disappointments behind them and regain world superiority. Earlier Cameroon had beaten Senegal on penalties to claim the African crown in Mali.
2003 will be remembered for the tragic death of Cameroon player Marc-Vivien FoƩ, who died of heart failure in his side's semi-final match against Colombia in France. The French retained the cup with a golden goal scored by Thierry Henry in the final against Cameroon. The Czech Republic and Greece did exceptionally well to qualify directly for Euro 2004 by topping their groups ahead of The Netherlands and Spain respectively.
2004 started with Tunisia celebrating on home soil after defeating Morocco 2-1 in the final of the African Cup of Nations, but in the European equivalent Greece shocked the world by reaching the final and upsetting hosts Portugal 1-0 to win the coveted European title. Defending champions Japan retained their Asian crown beating hosts China 3-1 in the final.
2005 was about qualifying for the 2006 World Cup and getting a taste of things to come with the Confederations Cup also being held in Germany in which Brazil triumphed with the 4-1 humiliation of Argentina in the final.
2006 may have started off well for African hosts Egypt who won a penalty shootout against Ivory Coast in the African Cup of Nations final, but World Cup hosts Germany who were going through a transformation and surprisingly not favourites to do well, reached the semi finals where they fell to eventual winners Italy who defeated France on penalties in the final which will be remembered for the late dismissal of Zinedine Zidane for ramming into Materazzi just before bowing out of the game.
2007 reaffirmed Brazil’s dominance in South America when they convincingly brushed aside the much fancied Argentina 3-0 in the Copa America final hosted by Venezuela. Haiti lifted the Caribbean Cup early in the year beating hosts Trinidad & Tobago 2-1 in the final, and in Asia Iraq stunned the world of football by lifting the Asian Cup with a 1-0 win over Saudi Arabia in the final in Jakarta. In Europe the qualifying round for Euro 2008 reached its conclusion with England failing to reach the finals under Steve McClaren, and the attack of a Danish fan on the match referee in Copenhagen costing the Danes dearly as UEFA subsequently awarded the match 3-0 to Sweden.
2008 was the year that Spain finally got its hand on a major trophy when Fernando Torres broke the deadlock against Germany in the final of Euro 2008 hosted by Austria/Switzerland. Egypt had earlier added another African cup to their name with a 1-0 victory over Cameroon in Ghana, and towards the end of the year Jamaica won the Caribbean Cup with a 2-0 win over Grenada on home soil.
2009 Introduced South Africa to the world as they prepared for the World Cup by hosting the Confederations Cup which saw the USA miraculously reach the final and take a 2 goal lead before losing 3-2 to Brazil. The Americans also reached the final of the Gold Cup where they were hammered 5-0 by the visiting Mexicans. Among World Cup qualifiers arguably the most outstanding result of the year was Bolivia’s historic 6-1 humiliation of Diego Maradona’s Argentina.
The decade ends with a new era on the horizon as the world looks to Africa with the African Cup of Nations in January and more importantly the 2010 World Cup to be held in South Africa.