Friday, November 21, 2014

Minnows make their mark

In the final European qualifiers of the year, several small nations went into the winter break making history and shaking the world rankings. The Faroe Islands caused a Greek tragedy with a single goal in Greece that resulted in the dismissal of manager Claudio Ranieri while Liechtenstein won by the same result in Moldova, and Estonia, who had earlier stunned Norway 1-0 in an Oslo friendly, were held to a goalless draw away to Euro Minnows San Marino. The Norwegians made amends with a single-goal win in Azerbaijan while Malta returned from Bulgaria with a 1-1 draw and Wales earned a point by shutting out Belgium in Brussels. Poland continued their good form with 4 goals in Georgia while the Swiss enjoyed the same result at home to Lithuania and Israel put 3 past their visitors from Bosnia and Herzegovina.
The qualifiers for the 2015 Africa Cup of Nations were completed with several big names missing out on the flight to newly elected hosts Equatorial Guinea. Nigeria, who won 2-0 in Congo, could only draw 2-2 at home to South Africa with comeback thanks to an Aluko double and were eliminated as Congo netted a single goal for 3 points in Sudan. In group B Mali lost 2-0 in Malawi but reversed the result away to World Cup heroes Algeria to qualify behind their North African opponents with Malawi missing out after a 0-0 draw in Ethiopia while in group D Ivory Coast cemented qualification with a 5-1 romping at Sierra Leone. Uganda, who had recently disposed of Ethiopia 3-0 in a home friendly, hosted and defeated group E winners Ghana 1-0 but lost out on the last day to Guinea who had earlier tranced Togo 4-1 on the road with a hat-trick from Soumah, while in group F Zambia paved their way to the finals with a 1-0 victory in Mozambique. Tunisia topped group G despite firing blanks in Botswana and were joined by Senegal who were buried Egypt 1-0 in Cairo.
Jamaica won the 2014 Caribbean Cup on home soils with a win on penalties against Trinidad and Tobago in the final having drawn their opening match 1-1 with Martinique who had a mixed tournament losing 3-0 to Haiti before bouncing back to put 2 past Antigua and Barbuda. French Guiana drew 1-1 against Cuba before enjoying a 4-1 win over Curacao to finish 5th and qualify for the Gold Cup play-off while Haiti finished 3rd with a 2-1 victory against Cuba.
 In East Asian Cup qualifiers played in Taiwan, Guam shocked their hosts 2-1 and held Hong Kong to a goalless draw while Taiwan, who finished last, foiled the advances of top team North Korea.
Among friendly matches Belarus defeated their Mexican visitors 3-2 and Uruguay returned from Chile with a 2-1 victory while a late goal gave Portugal a win over World Cup finalists Argentina in Manchester and Oman thumped Kuwait 5-0 in the Gulf Cup hosted by Saudi Arabia.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Top flops

Basking in the glory of Rio, world champions Germany were brought down to earth when they suffered their first ever defeat to Poland going down 2-0 in Warsaw and dropped further points a few days later in a 1-1 home draw against the Republic of Ireland in their Euro qualifiers which toppled them from the top of the football rankings and sent losing finalists Argentina to the top despite a 2-0 loss to Brazil in a Beijing friendly. After finishing third in the World Cup, the Dutch found the going tough in Iceland where they were hit twice by their promising hosts who had earlier conquered Latvia 3-0 in Riga while Italy only managed a 2-1 home win over Azerbaijan. Spain lost 2-1 in Slovakia but bagged 4 goals in Luxembourg while Romania who were held to a 1-1 draw at home to Hungary returned from Finland with a 2-0 win and Portugal stunned their Danish hosts with a last gasp goal from Ronaldo. Ukraine won 2-0 in Belarus while Russia were held 1-1 at home to Moldova and Scotland earned a 2-2 draw in Poland. Northern Ireland triumphed 2-0 in Greece and Norway put 3 past their Maltese hosts while Croatia won by a single goal in Bulgaria and the Czechs upset the Turks 2-1 in Istanbul. Slovenia followed up their 1-0 home win over Switzerland with a 2-0 victory in Lithuania while Liechtenstein picked up a rare point in a goalless draw at home to Montenegro.
In the African qualifiers Mali were 2-0 winners in Ethiopia but suffered a shock 3-2 defeat in their return match and South Africa who won 2-0 in Congo fired blanks in their return fixture while Burkina Faso lost 2-0 in Gabon and dropped further points in a 1-1 draw at home to the Gabonese. DR Congo shocked their Ivorian hosts 4-3 while Nigeria lost 1-0 in Sudan and Togo won by a single goal in Uganda. Egypt won 2-0 in Botswana and Cape Verde lost by the same scoreline in Mozambique while Lesotho were hit for 4 in Angola. Ghana were held to a 1-1 draw at home to Guinea while Cameroon failed to get off the mark at home to Sierra Leone.
In the Caribbean qualifiers French Guiana drew 2-2 with group hosts Haiti but lost 2-1 to Saint Kitts and Nevis before qualifying for the finals with a 2-0 victory over Barbados who had earlier defeated Saint Kitts and Nevis 3-2. Haiti won the group with a 0-0 draw against Saint Kitts and Nevis in their final group match. Curacao ended the hopes of group hosts Guadeloupe with a 1-0 win to qualify behind Martinique with whom they drew 1-1 before losing 1-0 to Saint Vincent and the Grenadines while Guadeloupe were losing 2-1 to Martinique.
In friendly matches rampant Qatar put 3 past Uzbekistan without reply and thumped Lebanon 5-0 in Doha while Cambodia stunned their Taiwanese hosts 2-0 and Kuwait were 1-0 winners in Jordan. A notable result among the Southeast Asian Championship Qualifiers in Laos was the goalless draw between East Timor and Myanmar.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Back to business

A week after the World Cup final, African teams continued their qualification matches for the 2015 Africa Cup of Nations. Rwanda overturned their 2-0 loss in Congo to win at home on penalties but were later disqualified for fielding an ineligible player, sending Congo through to the group stage where they shocked hosts Nigeria 3-2 while Uganda won 1-0 in Mauritania to reached the group stage where they earned a 1-1 draw in Ghana before putting 2 past their visitors from Guinea. Mozambique who had done well to share 4 goals in Tanzania returned from Zambia with a goalless draw but where held 1-1 at home to Niger who had earlier lost 3-1 at home to Cape Verde. Malawi were another team needing penalties after reversing their 1-0 defeat in Benin. In the group stage Egypt were beaten 2-0 in Senegal, who enjoyed the same result in Botswana, and lost 1-0 to Tunisia in Cairo while Ivory Coast who could only manage a 2-1 win over Sierra Leone were thumped 4-1 in Cameroon. DR Congo lost 2-0 at home to Cameroon but reversed the scoreline when they were visited by Sierra Leone 4 days later. South Africa won 3-0 in Sudan but the same result for Burkina Faso in Angola was even more impressive.   
The Central American Cup took place in the USA without the participation of the host nation and was won by Costa Rica who reached the final by topping their group on goal difference having only managed a 2-2 draw with Panama. Beaten finalists Guatemala impressed with a 2-1 victory over El Salvador and a 2-0 win against Honduras who had earlier been stunned 1-0 by El Salvador.
The Caribbean qualifiers continued with Suriname being held 1-1 by Barbados before suffering a shocking 3-2 defeat to Bonaire and finishing bottom of the group despite playing out a goalless draw against group hosts and winners Martinique who had only managed a 3-2 win against Barbados. CuraƧao won the group hosted by Puerto Rico after drawing 2-2 with their hosts, upsetting Grenada 2-1 and holding French Guiana to a goalless draw while the big surprise in Antigua was Saint Vincent and the Grenadines' 1-0 victory over the Dominican Republic. Guyana were a huge disappointment in Saint Kitts, firing blanks against Dominica before losing 2-0 to Saint Lucia and group hosts Saint Kitts who had earlier demolished Dominica 5-0 in the group.
In Europe the road to France began with some astonishing results that shook the rankings as Portugal were humiliated 1-0 at home to Albania and Cyprus returned from Bosnia and Herzegovina with a 2-1 triumph while England rolled the Swiss over 2-0 in Basel. Romania and Slovakia each won by a single goal to nil in Greece and Ukraine respectively while Turkey were frozen 3-0 in Iceland. Northern Ireland enjoyed a 2-1 win in Hungary while the Dutch who had lost a friendly 2-0 in Italy went down 2-1 to a late goal in the Czech Republic. World champions Germany who lost their homecoming friendly 4-2 to World Cup finalists Argentina began their campaign for France 2016 with a 2-1 win over Scotland in Dortmund while Italy won 2-0 in Norway and Slovenia lost 1-0 to their hosts in Estonia. The Republic of Ireland and Bulgaria were 2-1 winners in Georgia and Azerbaijan respectively while Moldova lost 2-0 in Montenegro and Sweden earned a 1-1 draw in Austria. Robert Lewandowski scored 4 times as Poland put 7 past new boys Gibraltar in Portugal while among friendly matches Brazil beat Colombia 1-0 in Florida, Sri Lanka enjoyed a 2-1 victory in Seychelles, Suriname registered a 1-0 win in French Guiana and the Northern Mariana Islands picked up a 2-1 win over Macao in an East Asian Cup qualifier in Guam. Myanmar cruised 4-1 past Palestine in the Philippine Peace Cup to reach the final where they defeated their hosts 3-2 in extra time.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Germany on top of the world

Never before had a European country lifted the World Cup outside their own continent, but with the expectation of a nation weighing heavily on the shoulders of Brazil, the hosts failed to deliver in their own backyard and were demolished 7-1 by the Germans in a semi-final that will go down as Brazil’s most embarrassing result of all time.
The failure of reigning champions Spain to get out of group B was no surprise to anyone following the Ziaian football rankings as Chile and the Netherlands were clearly above the Spaniards at the start of the tournament, but the magnitude of their defeat to the Dutch signified a clear shift in power with the Dutch topping the group after a 2-0 victory over Chile and Spain going home with a 3-0 consolation win against Australia. A less than convincing Brazil won group A but Croatia who had put 4 past a hapless Cameroon side showed very little ambition in their final match and were swept aside 3-1 by Mexico. In group C Ivory Coast upset Japan 2-1 but were edged out 2-1 by Greece who had been easily beaten 3-0 by Colombia in their first match. Group D turned out to be the upside-down group with Costa Rica finishing top after shocking Uruguay 3-1, stunning Italy 1-0 and holding bottom team England to a goalless draw after the English had lost 2-1 to Italy and Uruguay. The Costa Ricans reached the last 8 where they went out to the Netherlands on penalties while a biteless Uruguayan team lost 2-0 in the round of 16 to the exciting Colombians who were beaten 2-1 by the hosts in the next round. Switzerland overcame Ecuador 2-1 and were brushed aside 5-2 by France before easing 3-0 past Honduras to progress from group E behind the French who could only manage a goalless draw against Ecuador in their last group match. A single German goal ended French hopes in the quarter-final stage. Bosnia & Herzegovina got the better of Iran 3-1 but were eliminated from group F having already lost 1-0 to Nigeria who went through behind Argentina. Germany started group G with an emphatic 4-0 win over Portugal but shared 4 goals with Ghana in their next match while in group H South Korea earned a point with a 1-1 draw against Russia but were defeated 4-2 by a gutsy Algerian side who were beaten 2-1 after taking Germany to extra time in the next round.
After their humiliating 7-1 semi-final crushing, Brazil attempted in vain to salvage some pride, but were outclassed 3-0 by the Dutch who finished third while Germany won the final with a single goal in extra time against an inept Argentina.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Finals in mind

As most of the world was focused on the countdown to the World Cup, African nations began their battle to reach their own finals, throwing up a bunch of interesting results. Botswana who had been thrashed 4-0 by Swaziland in a home friendly managed a goalless draw at Burundi who had won 3-0 in another friendly away to Tanzania, but the most surprising result was Uganda's 2-1 defeat at Madagascar, though the away goal did eventually see them through while Chad's 3-1 home victory over Malawi saw the hosts bow out on the away goals rule. Comoros moved up the rankings despite elimination after losing 1-0 in Kenya and drawing 1-1 in their return match while Tanzania and Namibia enjoyed 1-0 home wins over Zimbabwe and Congo respectively, though Congo hit back with a 3-0 win in the return match. Rwanda eased past Libya 3-0 on aggregate having drawn their away match while Guinea Bissau held the Central African Republic to a goalless draw and disposed of them 3-1 on home soil. Mauritania who had won 2-0 away to Mauritius in the preliminary round were finally halted 3-0 at Equatorial Guinea while Liberia fell 2-0 in Lesotho and there was some satisfaction for South Sudan who went out holding on to a 0-0 draw against Mozambique in Sudan.
In The AFC Challenge Cup held in the Maldives the outstanding result was Afghanistan's 3-1 victory over Turkmenistan while in friendly matches Kyrgyzstan drew 2-2 in Kuwait and South Korea lost 1-0 at home to Tunisia.
Finland took part in The Baltic Cup and were defeated 1-0 by Lithuania in Latvia while in friendly matches in preparation for the World Cup the Netherlands were held to a 1-1 draw at how to Ecuador while Italy suffered the same fate at home to lowly Luxembourg. Algeria defeated Armenia 3-1 in Switzerland while in the USA Honduras lost 4-2 to Israel and Ghana humbled South Korea with 4 goals without reply.  

Friday, March 28, 2014

Slow March to Brazil

A day of international matches in early March gave the World Cup teams a chance to prepare for next summer's tournament, but did not produce many surprises, while the Asian Cup qualifiers reached its conclusion.
Greece hosted and lost 2-0 to South Korea and Iran lost their lofty position in the rankings with a disappointing 2-1 defeat at home to Guinea while Egypt salvaged some pride after failing to qualify for the World Cup finals by beating Bosnia & Herzegovina 2-0 in Austria.
Several teams not involved in the upcoming World Cup also took to the field. Swaziland were triumphant 1-0 in Lesotho and Zimbabwe hammered their hosts Malawi 4-1 while Comoros held Burkina Faso to a 1-1 draw in France.
Among the Asian Cup qualifiers Lebanon thumped Thailand 5-2 in Bangkok and China lost 3-1 to Iraq in the U.A.E, while Qatar were held to a goalless draw by their visitors from Bahrain.