I bet there’s a few soldiers of Oranje waking up to sore heads this morning but their hangover will be soothed with the knowledge they had just witnessed one of their greatest ever World Cup victories. Not even the most fervent of Nederlanders would have predicted such a towsing last night and neither would any Spaniard expected such a second half capitulation.
Many are already predicting an early flight home for the Spanish similar to the French in 2002 but that is to ignore the merits of recent dominance of the International game. It is still well within their powers to pick up the remaining 6 points against Australia and Chile but any type of repeat of yesterday will see them home before the tournament has really started.
It could be an end of an era for the Spanish and the majority of neutrals would prefer to see another captain than Casillas lift the trophy but they still have squad picked from the best of La Liga teams including finalists of this year’s Champions League.
Vincent Del Bosque will have a few decisions to make not least on whether or not o drop his stalwart keeper, Iker Casillas. The Real Madrid keeper has had a poor couple of seasons since falling out of favour initially with Jose Mourinho. Both Pepe Reina and David de Gea are waiting to usurp the faltering Captain and will be confident of filling his boots. Similarly Del Bosque may have to tinker with a defence which was easily over run by the marauding Robben and deadly Van Persie last night. Costa made an inauspicious competitive debut but managed to fool the referee into a poor penalty decision. When he was finally replaced the enigma that is Fernando Torres the team seemed to be weakened with Torres missing an open goal and generally running about aimlessly.
The Dutch however realistically only need to capture 3 more points to proceed to the next round. Chile and Australia looked evenly matched despite the 3-1 win for the South Americans last night and the Dutch should feel confident of beating either of the two. Louis Van Gaal seemed to have figured out the perfect way to extinguish the tiki-taka form of football of Spain last night. His defenders were solid and stoic with help from backtracking midfielders and their quick turn over counter attack bypassed the Spanish centre midfield leaving Robben the run of the last third of the field. The Dutch winger can impress and frustrate in equal measure and often he can be greedy at the expense of others however his close control and confidence to beat players in the box last night was a pleasure to watch. He should have had a third goal but his volley was almost too perfect and it was blocked on the line.
Most of us would have been aware of the stars of the Dutch team but the majority of the squad is made up of young Eridivisie players or squad players from Europe’s 2nd to 3rd tier teams. It is these players together with an often previously lacking team spirit and unity that could win the Dutch their first Word Cup.
It seems like the BBC and assorted British press are a dog with a bone in regards to FIFA and the World Cup. They still can’t believe that Qatar got awarded the tournament despite their questionable attitudes towards gay people, workers conditions and the unbearable heat in their desert location (nobody has really mentioned they aren’t even a football country either). In the end the bid executive committee said those Englanders were too arrogant and entitled in the process, which is clearly impossible from such a humble and fair minded organisation like the FA. Or maybe the old commonwealth countries were getting a little jab back at 200 years of colonialism? Typically Scottish made an arse of themselves and backed the English FA when the fight was already over.
FIFA seem to stumble through one controversy after another and bat off documentaries, investigative journalist pieces, newspaper headlines and TV news segments like Brian Lara on crystal meth . If it is not Sepp Blatter blabbing some archaic opinion, its stories about shady deals and back handers between confederations and presidents. In truth its hard to see what would actually topple the “blazers” in Switzerland.
And what to England or the English footballing fraternity set to gain from it??
The FA were keen enough to cosy up to FIFA during their bid for hosting the tournament. Quite happy to spend 20 million on the whole process and roll out a grinning David Beckham to give that extra razzmatazz . Maybe they feel scorned because they were promised a proper tilt at the bidding process or even assured of a victory (which in itself would be illegal).
Even if Qatar are proved to be corrupt in their successful election as 2022 hosts the World Cup will not go to another Euro country so close after Russia in 2018 (Russia are all right by the way, they have no problems with racism or homophobia).
2026 could be their next available slot but by that time an asteroid will probably plummet into the atmosphere filling the skies with noxious gasses which shall decimate the human population but leave the good animals like lions, tigers and bears (oh…my) to roam freely and eventually set up their own World Cup.
So as FIFA “step up” their investigation into “acts of wrong doing” don’t hold out for some startling findings. The beans will not be spilled and England will not the get the World Cup any time soon.
ps. If England invite Scotland to bid as some kind of dual “we invented the game and gave it to you lot” special anniversary World Cup i retract everything above.
The FIFA rankings are notoriously confusing and sometimes spurious however what they show is current form in the World game. Croatia have moved into 5th position and although impressive in UEFA qualification Group B can hardly be merited as the 5th best team in the World. Similarly a faltering Portugal do not deserve their 6th position (they currently lie 3rd in Group F behind Russia and Israel.
The top ten is made up of the usual faces with England even placed at 7th despite trailing Montenegro in Group H. Ecuador have been boosted into 10th position but this probably a fair reflection given the Andean nations recent form.
Brazil have plummeted to their worst ever ranking at 19th suffering from their lack of telling international games in the run up to their hosting of the World Cup in 2014.
Scotland (deep breath) continue their decent into oblivion and lie in 77th position between Congo and Canda. This doesn’t deserve a comment.
Japan had the chance to be the first team to qualify for the World Cup on Tuesday night. On paper it looked straight forward but it seems they underestimated a rejuvenated Jordan side and went down to a surprise defeat.
In all likelihood Japan will still become the first team to qualify but the result in Amman mixes up Group B and heaps extra pressure on 3rd place Australia.
The 2-1 win for Jordan was all the more remarkable considering the respective tie in Japan ended with a 6-0 hammering.
Japan had been in control of the match during the first half with only the crossbar denying them a lead. However in injury time Khalil Bani Attiah leaped above the defence to direct a header past the Japanese goalkeeper Eiji Kawashima.
The “Blue Samurai” continued to dominate play in the 2nd half but were again caught on the counter with 60 minutes gone. Ahmed Hayel collected a loose ball and set off like Usain Bolt down the right hand side before cutting into the Japan box then passing the ball under Kawashima into the net. The crowd went wild while the Jordanian bench looked shocked.
The Japanese stepped up the pace in pursuit of a draw and managed to grab one back in the 69th minute through Manchester United’s, Shinji Kagawa. Then went on to concede a penalty 90 seconds later. Disaster looked imminent.
Japanese veteran, Yasuhito Endo took the spot kick but was denied by Amer Sabbah, sealing a vital 3 points.
In group B’s other match Australia narrowly avoided a shocking upset against Oman.Tim Cahill and a 25-yard strike by Brett Holman in the 85th minute salvages a poor home draw.
In Group A, Uzbekistan beat Lebanon 1 -0 at home to consolidate their position at the top while South Korea struggled to a 2-1 win over Oman in Seoul.
Competition should be fierce in the last matches of Asian qualification. With only the top two teams from each group guaranteeing qualification. The two 3rd place teams will then play-off, with the winner then playing-off against the 5th place team in the CONMEBOL table (currently a fight between Venezuela, Uruguay and Chile).
MEXICO 0 USA 0
Undefeated but without a win, Mexico lie 5th in the CONCACAF qualification table after three games and three draws. Although they are only 2 points from surprise leaders, Panama, two of their draws have come at the Azteca where victories are usually a certainty.
Last night saw the big grudge match against the USA. The regions “Big Two” regularly battle out Gold Cup finals and usually vie for top spot in qualification campaigns. For Mexicans, the sweetest of victories come against the “Gringos” so last night’s stalemate would have been particularly difficult to swallow.
In what was to become the USA’s first point since 1997 and 2nd point ever in Mexico, the Americans held out to record a significant draw. The result is even more impressive given Mexico’s record in home World Cup qualifiers as Won 68 Lost 1 and Drawn 6.
Aston Villa’s Brad Guzan was the USA’S best player and the main difference between the teams. It was a cagey affair with “El Tri” dominating possession without crating many clear cut chances.
The visitors rode their luck in 75 minutes when Maurice Edu crudely challenged Javier Aquino in the box, the referee waved play on seemingly unimpressed nor unaffected by the masses protesting.
Mexico have the players to qualify but must be wary of the resurgent Panamanians and Costa Ricans.
Elsewhere in the region Costa Rica beat Jamaica 2-0 courtesy of Michael Umana and Diego Calvo goals, to go 2nd in the table behind Panama. The Central American minnows are not renowned for their football but are impressing all with their fast and athletic performances.
Luis Tejada got Panama off to a perfect start in 2 minutes but it took a Blas Perez in 75 minutes to cement the victory.
Team GP W D L PTs
Panama 3 1 2 0 5
Costa Rica 3 1 1 1 4
United States 3 1 1 1 4
Honduras 3 1 1 1 4
Mexico 3 0 3 0 3
Jamaica 3 0 2 1 2
Only 3 teams directly qualify while 4th place moves into an inter-continental play-off. In reality the group is still very open but the emergence of Panama has raised some eyebrows.
Ecuador 4 Paraguay 1
Ecuador took a huge step towards qualification with a comfortable win over Paraguay. The win puts “La Tri” on 20 points thanks mainly to their home form in the Atahaulpa stadium.
Ecuador started with a full strength team that included Antonio Valencia, Cristain Benitez, Jefferson Montero and Filipe Caicedo. The only change from the usual 11 was the dropping of Luis Saritama for Pedro Quinonez. With a crammed home crowd behind them, Ecuador must have felt full of confidence but they didn’t reflect this on the pitch, early on.
Paraguay took the lead in the 15th minute through Luis Cabellero who shot low past Dominguez to silence the partisan hoards. It was a well taken goal but the defenders should have cleared the ball instead of dallying in the box.
The goal stung the Ecuadorians into action and they attacked Bolivia mercilessly, mainly down the flanks through the tricky Montero and Quinonez. Achilier saw his header hit the crossbar in the 24th minute then Valencia volleyed home 5 minutes later, only for it to be chalked off by the linesman. It was clear Paraguay were not going to hold out.
The equaliser was as inevitable as the scorer. Felipe Caicedo was brought back into the fold by Reinaldo Rueda for this campaign and he has repaid his coach with 5 goals at vital moments during these qualifiers. Just before half time he bustled his way past the Paraguayan defence to head in an Ayovi close from close range.
Ecuador started the 2nd half in similar fashion destroying the Paraguayans with their pace and long, deep cross field balls. In the 50th minute Quinonez dropped a splendid pass onto the feet of the onrushing Montero. The Morelia midfielder slipped past the left back then drove the ball into the net to take the lead.
Four minutes later Montero again was tormentor in chief dribbling past two defenders, cutting back then crossing for “Chucho” Benitez to head home for the third. Paraguay were being over-run by wave after wave of yellow shirts with only the woodwork saving them.
With 15 minutes Montero exchanged a one-two with Saritama and set-off on another mazy like run, snaking through the red and white jerseys with ease. Upon reaching the goal area is shot wrong footed the helpless Baretto and the ball trickled into the goal. It was fortunate but he had made his own luck.
Another home win sets Ecuador in an excellent 2nd position behind Argentina. Their next games are against Peru, away then Messi & Co in Quito. The Argentinians are notoriously weak at altitude so two draws are not overly optimistic. With Montero is this type of form another home win could seal a summer in Brazil.
The Albicelestes would have been mindful of their last visit to La Paz during World Cup qualification. 4 years ago they were hammered 6 – 1 in the thin air of the Bolivian capital. It wasn’t quite as bad this time around but they did struggle.
The home team dominated the first half and deservedly went ahead in the 25th minute. A long ball by Chumacero drifted into the penalty area and met the head of Marcelo Martins, then the net. The defending was fairly dreadful but the ex-Wigan striker did well to direct the ball past Sergio Romero.
The goal stung Argentina into action and they equalised just before half time through Ever Banega. Again the defending was poor when Clemente Rodriguez crossed to the penalty spot. With 3 defenders around him, Banega managed to direct his header low into the Bolivian net.
Argentina pushed for the winner during the 2nd half but they were unable to beat the impressive Sergio Galarza. Banega and Messi were both thwarted by the Bolivian veteran late on.
The point keeps Argentina at the summit of the qualification table 4 points ahead of Ecuador, Bolivia lie 2nd bottom and struggling to make the qualifying positions.
P W D L Pts
Argentina 11 7 3 1 24
Ecuador 10 6 2 2 20
Colombia 10 6 1 3 19
Chile 11 5 0 6 15
Venezuela 11 4 3 4 15
Uruguay 11 3 4 4 13
Peru 10 3 2 5 11
Bolivia 11 2 3 6 9
Paraguay 11 2 2 7 8
USA 1 0 Costa Rica
The USA picked up their first win of the campaign in snowy Denver on Friday night. Clint Dempsey latched on to a loose ball and then grabbed the eventual match winner on 16 minutes. The Americans held out to secure a hard fought win.
Honduras 2 2 Mexico
Mexico tumbled to a poor away draw after going 2 up through a double by Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez. The Mexicans needed only to see the game out, after the Manchester United strikers brace but preceded to self destruct in the last 15 minutes. Carlo Costly and Jerry Bengtson restored parity condeming “El Tri” to second draw in the two opening games. Honduras move to first position in the table.
Jamaica 1 1 Panama
Marvin Elliot headed Jamaica into the lead but it took a Luis Henriquez’s screamer in the 65th minute to claim the away point for Panama.
The big, grudge match comes on Tuesday with Mexico vs USA in the Azteca Stadium.
Colombia 5 Bolivia 0
“El Cafeteros” were the first to start on Friday afternoon and they wasted no time in slapping aside Bolivia in Barranquilla. Torres, Valdes, Gutierrez, Falcoa and Armero each grabbed a goal to bolster their 2nd place position and condemn Bolivia to 2nd bottom.
Paraguay 1 Uruguay 1
In Montevideo, Luis Suarez had looked to have sealed a win with a late volley in 82 minutes. However, Benitez struck 4 minutes late to steal a valuable and unlikely point.
Argentina 3 Venezuela 0
In Buenos Aires it was business as usual as Gonzalo Higuain claimed a brace and a Messi penalty in between. The Argentinians consolidated the pole position, 4 points above Colombia.
Peru 1 Chile 0
Jefferson Farfan was the hero in Lima as he struck in the 87 minute against Chile. The Peruvians have had a rotten campaign but this rare win sees them rise above the bottom dwellers and reintroduce them to the 5th place battle.
The elimination of Manchester United and Arsenal may have provoked much introspection and wailing from the English media but the lack of English (or British) involvement does not lessen it’s quality or appeal.
Malaga v Borussia Dortmund
Real Madrid v Galatasaray
PSG v Barcelona
Bayern Munich v Juventus
The Spanish big guns are still involved and brimming with confidence following their last 16 performances.
They are joined by their countrymen, Malaga who have progressed in spite of their financial problems.
Chilean coach, Manuel Pellegrini is the club’s main source of strength, working miracles like he did at Villarreal. It’s no surprise that both Manchester City and Chelsea seem eager to secure his services for next season.
The next tie however may be a bridge to far.
Dortmund have floundered badly in the Bundesliga this term but flourished in the Champions League. They topped the Group of Death : Manchester City, Real Madrid and Ajax and went on to beat Shakhtar Donetsk in the last round. For many they are the form team of the competition and outside, favourites.
Real Madrid progressed via a dodgy red card decision.Of course this is not true as Real had more than been a match for Manchester United prior to Nani’s expulsion but the decision did change the game.
With Ronaldo at his peak, Mourinho’s expertise and a gaggle of Galacticos they should dispatch Galatasaray and move into the semis.
Then again, this is probably what Manchester United and Schalke thought and both suffered at the feet of the Turkish giants.
PSG have finally come good after huge investment. The recruitment of Ezequiel Lavezzi, Lucas Moura, Javier Pastore and talisman, Ibrahimovich is finally paying dividends but It remains to be seen if they can overcome a resurgent Barcelona.
Many predicated that Barca would tumble out of the CL at the hands of Milan. Those same people heralded Barca’s 4-0 turnaround has the greatest ever quarter final club performance. Regardless, the Spanish champs have found their mojo after their mini-slump and 2 El Classico defeats. Could be the tie of the round.
Last up we have Bayern against Juve. Two giants of European football.
Munich stumbled against Arsenal, more due to overconfidence than anything. They are currently waltzing to the Bundesliga title and arguably have the most complete first team squad.
Juve soundly beat Celtic over 2 legs and will be hoping-like in last year’s Euros-German opposition brings out the best in Andrea Pirlo. The “Old Lady” are quickly becoming are Euro-powerhouse again but I think it is a year too early for the Italians.