Stoppage Time – International Football Blog

CONMEBOL: 2011 Copa America Preview

Posted in International Football by peterbein on June 28, 2011

Argentina 2011 logoSouth America’s premier international football tournament, known to all and sundry as the Copa América, will take place in Argentina from July 1st. For the home nation it is imperative that they reclaim an international trophy as their success starved supporters haven’t experienced any silverware since the 1993 tournament. But their arch rivals Brazil will not wish to relinquish the title that they have won on four of the last five occasions whilst the likes of Uruguay and Paraguay will hope to make further progress following a successful 2010 FIFA World Cup. Stoppage Time – International Football Blog previews the latest edition of this grand old tournament.

World football’s oldest international competition is being played for the 43rd time since its inception in 1916. In the early days the tournament was dominated by Uruguay and Argentina, a fact which is still reflected today in the number of titles won by each country (both have a joint record 14 wins each). From 1916-37 the two initial powers of the South American game won twelve out of the first 14 championships (Brazil won the other two) before Peru became the first country outside of the traditional Big Three to win the trophy in 1939.

One aspect of this tournament which did surprise for many years was the inability of Brazil to win the Copa. The Brazilians chalked up only 4 title wins in the first eighty years of a competition which featured on the calendar much more frequently than the FIFA World Cup, a competition which they have come to see as private property over the years. Indeed when Uruguay won their most recent Copa America title in 1995, defeating Brazil on penalties, beaten Brazil coach Mario Zagallo lifted four fingers into the air in the direction of Uruguay’s jubilant supporters to remind them that Brazil still enjoyed more success in the World Cup, which they also won once more in 2002. However the Selecao have been on a role in recent years having won four of the last five Copa America tournaments but they still lag six title wins behind both of their main rivals.

The record of smaller nations in the Copa America shows just how difficult it is for any country outside of the usual suspects to win it. Only on six occasions has anybody else won the trophy with Peru (1939 & 1975) and Paraguay (1953 & 1979) winning it on two occasions whilst Bolivia (1963) and Colombia (2001) have savoured one solitary title win apiece. Colombia’s Copa triumph was the last time that none of the traditional powers lifted the trophy and it is difficult to see a repeat this time around. The tournament has been enhanced in recent years by the invitation of various nations from outside South America to play in the Copa. This recent tradition will be upheld this time with the inclusion of Costa Rica (a last minute replacement for Japan) and Mexico who are now as good as established in this competition having made seven previous appearances.

GROUP A (Argentina, Colombia, Costa Rica, Bolivia)

Tournament hosts Argentina are desperate to end their title drought having last won a trophy in the 1993 Copa America. The Albiceleste have lost to arch-rivals Brazil in the last two finals and are determined to end that run of home soil especially as the world’s best player Lionel Messi will be playing in his homeland. 2001 Copa winners Colombia are most likely to join the hosts into the quarter-finals and have a good chance of making the semi-finals should striker Radamel Falcao be in good form. It’s difficult to see either Costa Rica or Bolivia going through as a best third-placed team as the former are playing in only their fourth tournament whilst the latter haven’t got beyond the group stage in the last four tournaments.

Brazil Copa America 2007

Brazil won the Copa America in 2007

GROUP B (Brazil, Paraguay, Ecuador, Venezuela)

After years of underachievement in this competition the Brazilians have been making up for lost time in the last decade having won four of the last five tournaments. The last two victories in 2004 and 2007 have come against Argentina and it would be a truly remarkable feat if Brazil were to repeat such an outcome this time around. Paraguay, having reached the quarter-finals of last year’s FIFA World Cup in South Africa, are a good bet to go far in the tournament especially if deadly striker Lucas Barrios repeats his prolific goal scoring form which has made him such a hit at his club Borussia Dortmund. Ecuador and Venezuela, two countries never to have won this competition, are expected to struggle but one of them may be fortunate enough to qualify for the last eight as a best third-place team.

GROUP C (Uruguay, Chile, Peru, Mexico)

Joint record champions Uruguay haven’t got their hands on the trophy since 1995 but there is a lot of optimism around that a renaissance for Uruguayan football is just around the corner. Following the national team’s run to the semi-finals of last year’s World Cup, coupled with Penarol’s appearance in the Copa Libertadores final, many are predicting Uruguay to go far in the Copa America. However they have been drawn in arguably the toughest group of the tournament with Chile, Peru and Mexico. Chile made it to the quarter-finals of the 2007 Copa but were thrashed 6-1 by eventual winners Brazil, Peru have made it to the last eight stage in the last four consecutive tournaments whilst Mexico, recent winners of the CONCACAF Gold Cup, may field a weakened team but are always a tough proposition, a fact borne out by the fact that they have reached the final twice in seven attempts albeit without ultimate success.

El Monumental

El Monumental will host the final on July 24th

Unlike in previous tournaments to be held in the country Argentina 2011 will be unique in that only one game in the whole tournament will be played at the national stadium “El Monumental” in Buenos Aires, that game being the final on July 24th. Throughout the group stages and knockout rounds leading up to the final seven cities will be playing host to the talents of South America’s finest with La Plata having the privilege of hosting six matches. Cordoba, Mendoza and Santa Fe will host four games, San Juan three and Jujuy and Salta feature in two matches each. This is the ninth Copa America tournament to be held in Argentina and history shows us that only the host nation (six times) or Uruguay (twice) emerge victorious. Will that be the case this around? Will Brazil ensure that the Copa remains firmly within their grasp? Or can an unexpected contender defy the odds and come away with South America’s biggest prize? In any case it should prove to be a fascinating tournament.


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Argentina: Reality bites as River Plate drop into second tier (+video)

Posted in South America Football by peterbein on June 27, 2011
River Plate

River Plate will be playing in the second tier "Nacional B" next season

So the unthinkable has happened in Argentina as record champions River Plate, who have won the domestic league on 33 occasions, finally face up to the grim reality of second division football next season. This is because River was forced to meet Belgrano de Cordoba in a two match promotion/relegation play-off, which they lost 3-1 on aggregate, having ended the 2010-11 season with the fourth worst average points record over the last three seasons.

The beginning of River’s malaise can be traced back to the 2008-09 Torneo Apertura in which los Millonarios finished rock bottom of the twenty team championship, chalking up just two wins from 19 games while their arch-rivals Boca Juniors were celebrating the title. At that moment River were far from worried about relegation as their average at the time was comfortable having won the 2008 Clausura title as well as having enjoyed a couple of top four finishes in the previous three seasons.

Since then however the only consistency that River have ‘enjoyed’ has been their inconsistency. As well as that 20th place finish in the 2008-09 Apertura River have struggled to finish highly in the table, despite having had some quality in the side such as Radamel Falcao, Nelson Rivas and Alexis Sanchez (albeit on loan). Over the last six championships their end of tournament positions were:

 2008-09 Apertura: 20th

2008-09 Clausura: 8th

2009-10 Apertura: 14th

2009-10 Clausura: 13th

2010-11 Apertura: 4th

2010-11 Clausura: 9th

Over the last three seasons there has been much upheaval at River Plate. Just like most other clubs in the league River are in heavy debt and have to sell their best players virtually every season in a bid to balance the books. Also it is a cruel twist of fate for club president Daniel Passarella, a legend at El Monumental having previously served River as a player and coach, that the club’s demise should’ve come under his watch. He was narrowly elected as club president in December 2009 and has witnessed the club’s plight worsen to such a sorry state in his 18 months in charge.

SEE BELGRANO (2) v RIVER (0) FIRST LEG HIGHLIGHTS HERE:

The irony about River’s demotion is that the averages system currently used to decide relegation was designed to help big clubs survive on the back of having one bad season. Had a more conventional round-robin system been in use and the results of the 2010-11 Apertura and Clausura championships were added together, River would’ve finished in a much more respectable 6th place this season. If the same method applied in the previous two seasons River would still have survived as they would’ve finished in 15th place in both 2008-09 and 2009-10. Some cynics might suggest that when River Plate are back in la Primera then the administrators might change the rules accordingly.

Whatever happens River’s proud record of having never been relegated has now gone with only arch-rivals Boca Juniors and Independiente of Avellaneda maintaining such a fine record. Instead of playing against those particular giants next season, River will now have to get used to facing off against the likes of Boca Unidos and Independiente Rivadavia in the “Nacional B” division next season.

SEE RIVER (1) v BELGRANO (1) SECOND LEG HIGHLIGHTS  HERE:

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Europe: Flora and Ekranas still unbeaten; FKV lose again (+video)

Posted in European Football by peterbein on June 27, 2011

Baltic flagsThe various football leagues in the Baltic States are approaching the halfway stages of the 2011 campaign. Defending champions Flora Tallinn and FK Ekranas still remain unbeaten at the top of the Estonian Meistriliiga and Lithuanian A Lyga respectively whilst Latvia’s Virsliga saw leaders FK Ventspils lose for a second time in less than a week.

Eight times Estonian champions Flora Tallinn are threatening to run away with the Meistriliiga as they currently hold a seven point advantage over joint second place club JK Nõmme Kalju having played one game less. The defending title holders don’t quite have the league’s best attack although they have scored just two goals fewer than Kalju and local rivals Levadia Tallinn (32 each) but what the league leaders possess is the league’s tightest defence having only shipped in five goals so far, averaging at one goal conceded every five games. The league leaders have gone through something of a mini-break ahead of oncoming UEFA Competition as they haven’t played a competitive league game since June 14th when they defeated Sillamäe Kalev 1-0. However they face off against 2nd place Nõmme Kalju this Sunday in a game which could see Flora go virtually out of sight at the top of the table.

FK Ekranas, champions for the last three years in Lithuania, currently lead the A Lyga by four points and are, like their Estonian counterparts Flora, still unbeaten after fifteen games. Unlike the Estonian championship, however, Lithuania’s top flight doesn’t quite feel like a one-horse race just yet as FK Sūduva and FK Žalgiris Vilnius are hanging on their coat tails. All of the top three teams won away from home by the same 1-0 score line this weekend; FK Ekranas had Auremis Vertelis to thank for the three points as his 37th minute goal defeated FK Klaipeda whilst Sūduva and Žalgiris also scraped home by a solitary strike against FK Kruoja Pakrujo and FK Banga Gargždai respectively. FK Ekranas currently have 39 points with Sūduva and Žalgiris just four and six points further behind each having played the same number of matches.

Things have become more interesting in Latvia’s LMT Virsliga in the last week. FK Ventspils, who were unbeaten in their first twelve matches of the current campaign with a record of 11 wins and 1 draw, have now suffered back-to-back defeats. Their first loss came away at FK Jelgava on June 22nd with Vladislavs Kozlovs bagging a brace in his side’s 2-0 victory over the league leaders. Ventspils were then made to suffer at home to Liepājas Metalurgs yesterday afternoon in a repeat of the 2010-11 Latvian Cup final which FKV won last month; Lithuanian midfielder Nerijus Valskis, who is currently on loan from FBK Kaunas, scored the only goal in the first sixty seconds of the match to gain a spot of revenge for Metalurgs and whose title challenge has been resurrected in the process. FK Ventspils currently top the table with 34 points from 14 games, three points ahead of Metalurgs who have played a game more. Surprise package Daugava Daugavpils came within sixty seconds of a victory away at defending champions Skonto Riga yesterday but for Deniss Kačanovs’ equalizer in stoppage time which granted Skonto a 1-1 draw. Daugava lie third in the table with the same record as Metalurgs whilst Skonto have just 26 points from 14 games played.

UEFA: Spanish triumph ensures bright future

Posted in International Football by peterbein on June 26, 2011

UEFA Under-21 LogoThe Spanish Under-21 national team was celebrating on Saturday night after defeating a dogged Switzerland team by two goals to nil in Århus , Denmark. The win sealed Spain’s third title in this tournament (the others were in 1986 and 1998) and ensured that the future, as well as the present, for Spanish football remains bright.

Both of the tournament finalists had deserved to reach this stage of the tournament with Spain and Switzerland topping their groups before getting past tough opponents in the form of Belarus and the Czech Republic respectively in the semi-finals. Switzerland hadn’t even conceded a goal before Saturday’s final whilst the Spanish were the tournament’s top scorers having scored nine goals compared to Switzerland’s seven. Both teams could also lay claim to having arguably the tournament’s two most influential players with Spain’s Adrián López and Switzerland’s Admir Mehmedi featuring prominently at the top of the goalscoring charts.

When the final got under way it took a while for both teams to settle with a slow pace dictating the mood of the final for the first half an hour. Mehmedi came closest to getting on the score sheet for Switzerland, his powerful shot midway through the first half forcing Spanish keeper David De Gea into making the first real save of the match. The deadlock, however, was broken just four minutes before the half0time break as Dídac Vilà’s perfectly weighted cross from the left was headed home by Ander Herrera from close range. The second half also proved to be frustrating for the Swiss who had no difficulty in going forward but who proved wasteful in front of goal especially midfielder Innocent Emeghara who had a great chance to equalize in the 52nd minute. The game was settled as a contest in the 81st minute when a thunderous 40 yard free-kick from Thiago Alcântara took everybody by surprise and fired its way past Swiss keeper Yann Sommer into the back of the net.

It was a shame for the Swiss who had given a good account of themselves in the tournament and whose presence in this final, as well as having won the FIFA Under-17 Championship two years ago, bodes well for the future of football in Switzerland. Meanwhile the Spanish are enjoying a fantastic run of success on the international stage after many years of underachievement. With the national team currently holding both the FIFA World Cup and UEFA European Championship trophies, the Under-21 side becoming European champions and the Under-20 side about to participate in the FIFA U-20 World Championship in Colombia from late July this is without doubt Spanish football’s golden generation coming to fruition and it looks likely to continue for some time yet.

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CONCACAF: Joy of Six for Mexico in Gold Cup (+video)

Posted in International Football by peterbein on June 26, 2011

CONCACAF Gold Cup logoMexico came from two goals down to defeat tournament hosts United States 4-2 in a pulsating 2011 CONCACAF Gold Cup final in the Pasadena Rose Bowl on Saturday. After Michael Bradley and Landon Donovan had given the home side a two goal lead after just 23 minutes the Mexicans bounced back in fine fashion, restoring parity in the first half before taking command of the game in the second period.

After Mexico had beaten the Americans by a thumping 5-0 score line in the 2009 Gold Cup final, the United States were not only determined to avoid a repeat but also hoped to claim the Gold Cup title for the first time in four years. Mexico, on the other hand, had a sixth Gold Cup title in mind and a second consecutive title on Saturday would prove to be a perfect confidence booster ahead of their Copa America challenge which begins in Argentina on July 1st. An expectant crowd of 93,000, most of whom came from the vast Hispanic community in the United States and were supporting Mexico, were surprised to see the hosts take a quick-fire two goal lead. Michael Bradley headed home after just eight minutes to give the USA a perfect start which was followed up by a neat finish from captain Donovan in an opening 25 minutes in which the visitors were stunned to be two goals down so early. However Pablo Barrera and Andrés Guardado were on hand to help Mexico go in at the break tied at 2-2 and a fascinating second half awaited all of those privileged to be in the stadium.

The second half was every bit as open as the first half with both teams determined to go forward and with very few fouls littering the game. It didn’t take long for the Mexicans to finally grab a stranglehold of the game after Barrera scored his second to give his team the lead for the first time in the match. The game was settled with a little under quarter of an hour left to play after Giovani Dos Santos scored the most wonderful winning goal, evading the challenges of a number of defenders in the box and chipping the ball into Tim Howard’s top left-hand corner. The two goal margin proved difficult for the Americans to pull back although, to their credit, they did have a couple of attempts late on but it wasn’t to be yet again for the Stars and Stripes. Mexico’s Javier Hernández won the Most Valuable Player (MVP) award despite not adding to the seven goals he’d already chalked up in the tournament.

Mexico’s reward for winning the Gold Cup is a place in the 2013 FIFA Confederations Cup tournament in Brazil.

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World Cup: 25 Years Ago – El Diego made me a football fan (+video)

Posted in International Football by peterbein on June 22, 2011

It has been well documented in the English press that today is the 25th anniversary of Diego Maradona’s infamous “Hand of God” goal in Argentina’s 2-1 victory over England in the 1986 FIFA World Cup. That game brought out the best and worst sides of a player who, in my opinion, was the greatest footballer ever to play the game and it is arguably what “El Diego” did in the whole of that tournament which turned me from indifferent to passionate about the game of football.

Putting it simply, it took a little while for the football bug to bite when I was a kid. My first footballing memory was of seeing Manchester United beat Everton in the 1985 FA Cup final but the game was forgotten as soon as it was over and I didn’t bother with football again until Liverpool FC won the cup twelve months later. Football had begun to creep into my consciousness after Liverpool had won the cup that year, especially as they beat local rivals Everton in the first ever all-Merseyside FA Cup final, but I personally think that, had there not been a World Cup in the summer of that year, that I could’ve forgotten about football again. But when I saw Diego Maradona, in the famous Number 10 shirt of Argentina, pretty much dominate his team and the tournament then that was when I really began to take notice of this Beautiful Game.

THE “HAND OF GOD” GOAL:

The game which gained Maradona worldwide fame was the 1986 FIFA World Cup quarter-final played in Estadio Azteca in Mexico City. El Diego had already been part of the 1978 and 1982 World Cup squads but didn’t get to play a single minute of the former whilst his country suffered a second round exit in the latter. The 1986 tournament had already seen Argentina finish on top of their group – ahead of Italy, Bulgaria and South Korea – and get past eternal rivals Uruguay in the second round, setting up a hugely anticipated clash with England. The stakes would already have been high enough in any case but with relations between the two countries at arguably an all-time low following the Falklands War of 1982 there was an edge to the game which was certainly stronger on the Argentine side.

The game finished 0-0 at the break but it didn’t take long for one of the most controversial moments in the history of the sport to emerge. Six minutes into the second half Maradona, realizing he was not going to win a header against oncoming England goalkeeper Peter Shilton, decided to punch the ball into the net, an incident which none of the match officials spotted. The English players were incensed by the decision to award the goal and the sense of injustice had barely had time to sink in before the English were on the receiving end of one of the all-time great World Cup goals. Maradona, picking the ball up inside his own half, went past four players and rounded keeper Shilton before turning the ball home. If ever a goal was going to make me sit up and take notice then this was it. In the relatively short time that I’d been watching football this game seemed to have it all. The English very nearly came back but could only halve the deficit in the end and Maradona had taken his team to the semi-finals.

“THE GOAL OF THE CENTURY”:

As much as the England game proved to be one of the highlights of the tournament, the truth was that Maradona did more than just score those two goals. He went on to help his side defeat Belgium 2-0 in the last four stage, scoring both goals, before setting up Jorge Burruchaga for the match-winning goal in the 3-2 victory against West Germany in the final. The memories of the man and the legend that was Maradona certainly helped play their part in making me the football fan that I am today. I think that if the Hand of God didn’t exist then it would’ve been necessary to invent it.

FIFA: More words of resignation about this organisation

Posted in International Football by peterbein on June 20, 2011

Jack WarnerFIFA Vice-President Jack Warner, whom allegations of corruption were made, has resigned from his post at football’s world governing body. Any chance that this move could be seen as a positive development within the upper echelons of the game have been completely overridden by the words expressed by FIFA itself in the aftermath of his resignation.

An official FIFA statement issued just moments after his resignation became public made clear that “as a consequence of Mr Warner’s resignation, all ethics committee procedures against him have been closed and the presumption of innocence is maintained”. Those last six words have already done more than anything to undermine FIFA President Sepp Blatter’s promise to make football more transparent and accountable and will be seen by many to be a cop out solution which shames FIFA further.

Thanks to this resignation there will seemingly be no further investigation into allegations that Warner paid bribes to various Caribbean football associations and asked for favours from candidate countries hoping to host the 2018 and 2022 FIFA World Cup tournaments. The fact that these allegations can now just suddenly disappear and be swept under the carpet is yet another sign of this organisation’s arrogance and contempt for the very people for whom, it was said, they would do all they could to restore the credibility of the game – the fans.

Nobody wishes to presume that anybody is guilty before proven otherwise but the big question remains; why it is still not possible to retrospectively look at all of the evidence in relation to all of the allegations and make all of the facts known to the public? Or, in other words, what have FIFA and all of the parties involved got to hide if they are to live up to this mantra of transparency and openness?

The mind well and truly boggles………..

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UEFA: Euro draws ensure the new season isn’t too far away

Posted in European Football by peterbein on June 20, 2011

UEFA TrophiesThe draws for the first two qualifying rounds of the two main European club competitions were made in Nyon, Switzerland this afternoon just 23 days after FC Barcelona claimed their fourth UEFA Champions League crown at Wembley Stadium.

The UEFA Champions League begins on June 28th with two-legged ties involving the bottom four ranked national champions from UEFA’S Co-Efficient table which measures the progress of each country’s clubs in European competition over a five year period. San Marino champions Tre Fiori will kick off the 2011-12 campaign against Maltese representatives Valletta FC whilst Luxembourg’s finest F91 Dudelange will face-off against Andorra’s Santa Coloma. The winners of these games will be rewarded with ties in the second qualifying round against Lithuania’s FK Ekranas and Slovenia’s NK Maribor respectively. There are a number of interesting ties with a number of first-time national champions making their debut in this competition including Albania’s Skënderbeu Korçë (v APOEL Nicosia), Bosnia-Herzegovina’s Borac Banja Luka (v Maccabi Haifa), Macedonia’s FK Shkendija (v Partizan Belgrade), Hungary’s Videoton FC (v Sturm Graz), Kazakhstan’s FK Tobol (v Slovan Bratislava), Czech Republic’s Viktoria Plzeň (v Pyunik Yerevan) and Moldova’s Dacia Chişinău versus fellow first-timers Zestafoni FC from Georgia.

Amongst the biggest clubs to play at this stage of the competition are Polish champions Wisła Kraków who face off against Latvian record champions Skonto Riga. Demand for this game seems to be hot with the official Skonto Riga page on Facebook reporting that their website had received overwhelming amounts of traffic coming from fans from Poland. Perennial Norwegian champions Rosenborg BK are back in contention and should fancy their chances against Icelandic counterparts Breiðablik whilst Dinamo Zagreb will take part in another qualifying campaign by starting off against Azerbaijan’s Neftchi Baku. In the British Isles Bangor City, Linfield FC and Shamrock Rovers – the respective champions of Wales, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland – have been dealt some potentially tricky ties in the form of HJK Helsinki, BATE Borisov and Flora Tallinn. 1980 European Cup finalists Malmö FF will begin their campaign with an easy(ish) looking tie against Faroe Islands masters HB Tórshavn whilst the list is completed with Bulgaria’s Litex Lovech due to play FK Mogren from Macedonia.

The draw for the first two qualifying rounds of the 2011-12 UEFA Europa League were also made today and there are so many games that it would take too much space to write about them all here. However the first qualifying round will see 2009-10 losing finalists Fulham FC make an appearance as they gained a place thanks to UEFA’ s Fair Play table last season. The English club, under new management in the form of Dutch coach Martin Jol, will begin their campaign against Faroe Islands outfit NSÍ Runavík. Hungarian giants Ferencváros, who won one of this tournament’s predecessors in 1965 when it was called the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup, will make a return to Europe after a six year absence against Armenian side Ulisses FC. In total fifty clubs will play in the 1st quali-round and the winning teams will join 55 more clubs in the next round. Many of the matches in the 2nd quali-round are already known, amongst the biggest is the clash between Polish league runners-up Śląsk Wrocław and Scottish side Dundee United, who were runners-up in the old UEFA Cup in 1987. The UEFA Europa League will get under way on Thursday, June 30th.

UEFA: Same old story for England as Swiss and Spanish impress

Posted in International Football by peterbein on June 20, 2011

UEFA Under-21 LogoThe group phase in the 2011 UEFA Under-21 European Championship had many reaching for the superlatives in order to describe the overall contribution to the tournament from the Swiss and the Spanish whilst many could only look on in dismay as the English, who had reached the final of this competition two years ago, went out with a whimper rather than a bang.

The Swiss seem to be going through a purple patch at youth level at the moment. Having won the FIFA World Under-17 Championship against hosts Nigeria two years ago, the Swiss are hoping to add to that success and have shown that they possess plenty of ability as they won all of their three group matches against hosts Denmark, Belarus and Iceland. Players such as Admir Mehmedi and Xherdan Shaqiri have impressed greatly as the Swiss scored six goals without reply in Group A to become the only team to win their group with a 100% record and their reward is a semi-final match-up against Czech Republic. The Czechs only needed a draw in their final group B match against England to ensure progression to the next stage but their dreams seemed to be wilting late on after Danny Welbeck had scored his and England’s second goal of the tournament to give the Three Lions the lead with just fourteen minutes to play. This didn’t deter the Czechs from sticking to their gameplan, however, and their patience was rewarded with two goals in stoppage time from Jan Chramosta and Tomáš Pekhart. England were going home after playing some less than adventurous football whilst the Czechs remain in the tournament after sticking to their tactics until the dying minutes.

If Switzerland are a favourite to become a finalist in this tournament then so too are Spain. The Spanish suffered a minor setback in their opening group B game against England, in which they dropped two points late on following a late Danny Welbeck equalizer in a 1-1 draw, but got through unscathed in their remaining two matches against the Czech Republic and Ukraine. Two players have stood out in particular for the Spanish as Adrián and Juan Mata have scored all but one of their six goals between them and they most certainly will carry the biggest threat to a Belarus side who could only qualify for the semi-finals by virtue of having a better head-to-head record over Iceland and Denmark in Group A after each team had finished the group on three points. Nevertheless, for Belarus to get this far in a tournament they’re participating in for only the third time is a great achievement especially as they failed to get beyond the group stage in their previous two appearances in 2004 and 2009.

The semi-finals will be played on Wednesday, June 22nd.

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CONCACAF: Old order seemingly restored after quarter-finals (+video)

Posted in International Football by peterbein on June 20, 2011

CONCACAF Gold Cup logoCONCACAF Gold Cup tournament hosts the United States have got their campaign back on track following a rocky group phase. The Americans sealed a place in the semi-finals of the competition after defeating previously unbeaten Jamaica by two goals to nil in the last eight. The other quarter-finals saw tournament favourites Mexico come from behind to get the better of Guatemala whilst penalty shoot outs prevailed in the other two matches with Honduras and Panama coming out on top against Costa Rica and El Salvador respectively.

The USA needed to give their home supporters something to shout about after a mixed bag of performances in the group stage. This time the Americans secured their semi-final spot with a win against a Jamaica side who had won all of their three games in the group phase. Their quarter-final match-up was always going to be a tight affair but once Jermaine Jones had given the Stars and Stripes the lead in somewhat fortunate fashion after 49 minutes then there was no looking back for the hosts. Clint Dempsey scored his second goal of the tournament with just ten minutes remaining, thus depriving the spirited Jamaicans of further progression. However the Reggae Boyz can be proud of their earlier performances and the CFU Caribbean Cup holders have promise for the future.

WATCH UNITED STATES v JAMAICA GOALS HERE:

Javier Hernández is looking like the man who could (almost) single-handedly win Mexico the tournament after scoring his sixth goal of the tournament in his side’s 2-1 victory over Guatemala. What made the victory all the more sweeter for the Mexicans was that they showed their ability to come back following a shock 5th minute opening goal from Carlos Ruiz which had given Guatemala the lead. After Aldo de Nigris had equalized for Mexico just three minutes after the break, it was up to Hernández to supply the winning goal midway through the second half and the 2-1 lead was one that the Mexicans failed to relinquish. It is clear to see that the Manchester United star has kept up his prolific streak in front of goal following a successful first season at Old Trafford and there are many who believe that he will prove the difference between success and failure for his national team.

The other two quarter-finals proved to be tighter affairs with extra-time and penalties required to separate the teams in both matches. There was late drama in the game involving Panama and El Salvador with the latter going ahead twelve minutes before full time thanks to a Rodolfo Zelaya penalty but parity was restored in the dying seconds of the game in highly contentious fashion. Panama’s Luis Tejada’s header from close range was adjudged to have crossed the line and this decision ensured his team’s second consecutive 1-1 draw, the previous one coming against Canada in their final group phase match which helped eliminate the Canucks from the tournament. The same player helped score Panama’s final penalty in the shoot out to secure a 5-3 win and a place in the semi-finals against the Americans who will be seeking revenge for defeat in the group phase.

WATCH PANAMA v EL SALVADOR GOALS HERE:

The final match saw Honduras go toe-to-toe with Costa Rica and, after a goalless first half, saw the only goals of the game scored early after the break. Jerry Bengtson helped Honduras take the lead in the 49th minute only for Denis Marshal to equalize for Costa Rica just seven minutes later. In the penalty shoot out that followed the end of the game it was to be Bengtson who would stamp his mark on the outcome by scoring the goal which clinched Honduras’ place in the semi-finals where they’ll face off against Mexico.

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