Friday, November 17, 2017

Welcome to Russia

Peru became the 32nd nation after hosts Russia, Brazil, Iran, Japan, Mexico, Belgium, South Korea, Saudi Arabia, Germany, England, Spain, Nigeria, Costa Rica, Poland, Egypt, Iceland, Serbia, Portugal, France, Uruguay, Argentina, Colombia, Panama, Senegal, Morocco, Tunisia, Switzerland, Croatia, Sweden, Denmark and Australia to qualify for the 2018 World Cup. The Peruvians who were held to a goalless draw in New Zealand scored twice on home soil against the lowly ranked Kiwis to seal the final place in Russia. After a goalless draw at home to the Irish Republic, the Danish dynamite destroyed their hosts 5-1 in Dublin with Christian Eriksen netting a hat-trick while Switzerland could only draw 0-0 at home to Northern Ireland, but qualified having converted a controversial penalty in Belfast days earlier. Australia defeated Honduras 3-1 in Sydney with a hat-trick from skipper Mile Jedinak after a goalless draw in the first leg. There were goalless draws for the visiting Swedes and Croats who qualified at the expense of Italy and Greece respectively having won their home fixtures.
Tunisia made it to the world Cup despite drawing blanks at home to Libya in their final match while Morocco overcame their Ivorian hosts to reach the finals.
Among friendly matches in November the most outstanding result was Nicaragua’s 3-0 home demise against the Dominican Republic.      

Friday, October 13, 2017

Russia doors are closing

After a week of qualifiers, with only the play-offs and some African places still remaining, the list of the 2018 World Cup participants is much clearer. Iceland, who triumphed 3-0 in Turkey, became the smallest nation ever to qualify for the World Cup while Croatia upset hosts Ukraine 2-0 to reach the play-off where they will be joined by the Irish who broke Welsh hearts 1-0 in Cardiff. Northern Ireland also reached the play-offs despite losing 1-0 in Norway as did Denmark who could only draw 1-1 at home to Romania. The Danish draw gave Poland automatic qualification as a Rebert Lewandowski hat-trick a few days earlier had given the Poles a 6-1 victory in Armenia while Serbia, who lost 3-2 in Austria, also qualified for the finals. Italy suffered a 1-1 draw at home to Macedonia and will need to rely on the play-offs while the Dutch bowed out with some dignity after an Arjen Robben double gave them a home win over Sweden and Latvia enjoyed a meaningless 4-0 win at home to Andorra.
In South America Paraguay’s inconsistent results led to their downfall as their 2-1 triumph in Colombia was followed by a shock 1-0 home loss to bottom team Venezuela who continued to rise in the football rankings while Argentina hit back from an early goal down in Ecuador with a Lionel Messi hat-trick to win 3-1 and qualify for yet another World Cup. The United States of America put 4 past Panama without reply in Orlando but were eliminated after losing 2-1 away to bottom-of-the-table Trinidad and Tobago while in Africa a Youssef Msakni hat-trick in Guinea gave Tunisia a 4-1 victory and left them on the brink of qualification and South Africa kept their hopes alive with a 3-1 home win over Burkina Faso.
The Asian Cup qualifiers got under way with Bahrain losing 2-1 in Taiwan and North Korea suffering a 5-0 humiliation in Lebanon while Afghanistan drew 3-3 with Jordan in Tajikistan.

Friday, September 08, 2017

Summer end in sight

With Russian summer nearing its end many teams took a step or two closer to the 2018 World Cup and several nations celebrated qualification while there was heartbreak or despair for others. Saudi Arabia lost 2-1 away to the UAE, but qualified with a 1-0 home win over Japan who had already qualified while Syria made it to the play-offs after a 3-1 home win over Qatar and a late draw in Iran. Africa is yet to find any representatives, but Cape Verde did the double over South Africa winning 2-1 home and away while Cameroon were thumped 4-0 in Nigeria and eliminated as were Algeria who lost 3-1 Zambia. Ivory Coast enjoyed a 3-0 win in Gabon but were stunned 2-1 in their return match while Ghana who could only manage a 1-1 draw at home to Congo hammered their Congolese hosts 5-1 in the return fixture 4 days later. Another surprising result in Africa was Guinea’s 1-0 loss in Libya. Chile suffered a massive fall in the football rankings after their shocking 3-0 loss at home to Paraguay who were beaten 2-1 at home to Uruguay less than a week later while in North America USA lost 2-0 at home to Costa Rica. And in Oceania New Zealand were held to a 2-2 draw to the Solomon Islands but progressed to the play-offs.
In Europe, group E leaders, Poland were taken apart 4-0 in Denmark and there were 3-2 home wins for Bulgaria against Sweden and Cyprus who fought back from 2 down against Bosnia & Herzegovina while Estonia held their Greek hosts to a goalless draw and Scotland put 3 past Lithuania without reply in Vilnius. France were held to a goalless draw at home to Luxembourg while Iceland were frozen 1-0 in Finland and there was a 1-0 win for Macedonia in Israel.