Friday, March 29, 2024

Springboard to the summer


The early days of spring saw the last European teams qualify for the 2024 Euros through play-off matches while in Asia second-round matches were played in World Cup/Asian Cup qualifiers.

Iceland thumped Israel 4-1 in Hungary with a hat-trick from Albert Gudmundsson but lost out 2-1 to Ukraine having taken the lead in Poland. Georgia and Poland joined Ukraine after penalty-shootout triumphs at home to Greece and away to Wales respectively.

In Asia Afghanistan moved up in the rankings after upsetting their Indian host 2-1 having held them to a goalless draw in Saudi Arabia while South Korea who could only draw 1-1 at home to Thailand bounced back with 3 goals in Bangkok and Vietnam were shocked 3-0 by their Indonesian visitors. Myanmar earned a 1-1 draw at home to Syria while Oman scored twice in Malaysia and in the Nations League in the USA, Mexico defeated Panama 3-0 but lost 2-0 to their hosts in the final.

In the Africa Cup of Nations preliminary round in Morocco, Somalia drew 2-2 with Eswatini and Djibouti played a goalless match with Liberia while in a friendly tournament in Malawi, Kenya humbled their hosts with 4 unanswered goals. In a World Cup qualifier Anguilla knocked hosts the Turks and Caicos Islands out in a penalty shootout while in a friendly match Germany silenced France 2-0 in Lyon.

Friday, February 23, 2024

Happy hosts conquer continents


The 2023 Asian Cup and Africa Cup of Nations were played in January 2024 and won by the respective hosts Qatar and Ivory Coast.

In Asia, hosts Qatar won group A without conceding a goal and were followed into the next round by Tajikistan while in group B a goalless draw between Uzbekistan and Syria saw both teams qualify behind Australia. The UAE and Palestine followed group C leaders Iran into the round of 16 while in group D Iraq finished top after shocking tournament favourites Japan 2-1 and a 1-0 victory over Vietnam sent Indonesia to the knockout stages for the first time in their history. South Korea finished behind Bahrain, who defeated Jordan 1-0, after only managing 2-2 and 3-3 draws against Jordan and Malaysia respectively and were joined by Jordan who put 4 past Malaysia without reply in their first match. Thailand’s 2-0 win against Kyrgyzstan in their opening match stood them in good stead to go through with group F winners Saudi Arabia. In the round of 16, ten Iraqis were knocked out of the competition by Jordan who came from 2-1 down to win 3-2 with 2 goals in stoppage time while in the quarter finals Iran converted a penalty right at the death to win 2-1 and end Japan’s hopes. Jordan stunned South Korea 2-0 to reach the final and meet Qatar who got he better of Iran 3-2 with the Iranians having been reduced to 10 players late on in the match. Hosts Qatar lifted the Asian Cup with a 3-1 win over Jordan after Akram Afif scored all 3 goals from the penalty spot.

In Africa, after losing 1-0 to Nigeria, Ivory Coast were humiliated 4-0 by Equatorial Guinea but scraped through in third place only to knock out reigning champions Senegal in a penalty shootout in the round of 16 . In group B, Cape Verde were clear winners having beaten Mozambique 3-0 and Egypt finished second with three 2-2 draws while Ghana and Mozambique fell short. Senegal were group C winners with Cameroon and Guinea following them into the next round and in group D Angola finished top with a 2-0 win over Burkina Faso while Mauritania dumped Algeria out with a single goal that saw them go through as one of the best third teams. Mali were winners of group E where South Africa thumped Namibia 4-0, but both teams progressed to the next round leaving winless Tunisia to lick their wounds. DR Congo made it through with 3 draws including a 1-1 against group winners Morocco. In the round of 16, Ademola Lookman scored twice to put Nigeria through at Cameroon’s expense while South Africa shocked Morocco with a double and Guinea broke the deadlock against 10-man Equatorial Guinea deep into stoppage time to book a place in the quarter finals where they lost 3-1 to DR Congo having taken the lead. Nigeria were also triumphant in their quarter-final match, netting a single goal against Angola. In the final, Ivory Coast came from a goal down to defeat Nigeria 2-1 and bring joy to the nation.