Just a little over a year after Spain won the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa, the draws for the qualifying rounds of the next FIFA World Cup have been made. Host nation Brazil invited stars past and present such as Ronaldo, Cafu and Neymar to conduct the draw along with FIFA General Secretary Jerome Valcke in Rio de Janeiro. There was no draw for South American qualifying as the nine countries who will compete in qualifying will face each other in a round-robin home-and-away fixture list. There were draws for each of the remaining five continents and Stoppage Time – International Football Blog lists each of the draw results below for your information.
AFRICA (Teams separated by a slash mark and in bold are to be decided)
GROUP A: South Africa, Botswana, Central African Republic, Somalia/Ethiopia
GROUP B: Tunisia, Cape Verde Islands, Sierra Leone, Equatorial Guinea/Madagascar
GROUP C: Ivory Coast, Morocco, Gambia, Chad/Tanzania
GROUP D: Ghana, Zambia, Sudan, Lesotho/Burundi
GROUP E: Burkina Faso, Gabon, Niger, Sao Tome e Principe/Congo
GROUP F: Nigeria, Malawi, Seychelles/Kenya, Djibouti/Namibia
GROUP G: Egypt, Guinea, Zimbabwe, Comoros/Mozambique
GROUP H: Algeria, Mali, Benin, Eritrea/Rwanda
GROUP I: Cameroon, Libya, Guinea-Bissau/Togo, Swaziland/Congo DR
GROUP J: Senegal, Uganda, Angola, Mauritius or Liberia
GROUP A: China, Jordan, Iraq, Singapore
GROUP B: Korea Republic, Kuwait, UAE, Lebanon
GROUP C: Japan, Uzbekistan, Syria, Korea DPR
GROUP D: Australia, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Thailand
GROUP E: Iran, Qatar, Bahrain, Indonesia
GROUP A: Croatia, Serbia, Belgium, Scotland, Macedonia, Wales
GROUP B: Italy, Denmark, Czech Republic, Bulgaria, Armenia, Malta.
GROUP C: Germany, Sweden, Republic of Ireland, Austria, Faroe Islands, Kazakhstan.
GROUP D: Netherlands, Turkey, Hungary, Romania, Estonia, Andorra.
GROUP E: Norway, Slovenia, Switzerland, Albania, Cyprus, Iceland.
GROUP F: Portugal, Russia, Israel, Northern Ireland, Azerbaijan, Luxembourg
GROUP G: Greece, Slovakia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Lithuania, Latvia, Liechtenstein
GROUP H: England, Montenegro, Ukraine, Poland, Moldova, San Marino
GROUP I: Spain, France, Belarus, Georgia, Finland
NORTH AND CENTRAL AMERICA (Round 2)
GROUP A: El Salvador, Surinam, Cayman Islands, Dominican Republic
GROUP B: Trinidad and Tobago, Guyana, Barbados, Bermuda
GROUP C: Panama, Dominica, Nicaragua, Bahamas
GROUP D: Canada, St. Kitts and Nevis, Puerto Rico, St Lucia
GROUP E: Grenada, Guatemala, St Vincent and the Grenadines, Belize
GROUP F: Haiti, Antigua & Barbuda, Curaçao, US Virgin Islands
NORTH AND CENTRAL AMERICA (Round 3)
Group A: USA, Jamaica, Group E winner, Group F winner
Group B: Mexico, Costa Rica, Group A winner, Group B winner
Group C: Honduras, Cuba, Group D winner, Group C winner
OCEANIA (Teams separated by a slash in bold to be decided)
GROUP A: Vanuatu, New Caledonia, American Samoa/Cook Islands/Samoa/Tonga/Tahiti
GROUP B: Fiji, New Zealand, Solomon Islands, Papua New Guinea
For the second successive year FC Twente have won the Dutch Super Cup fixture against Ajax Amsterdam. The Enschede based side won this title in 2010 as defending league champions but were going into this season’s competition as cup holders having been pipped to the 2010-11 Eredivisie title by Ajax in a dramatic last day showdown. Saturday night saw FC Twente gain an element of revenge as they won the season curtain-raiser by two goals to one thanks to goals from Marc Janko and Bryan Ruiz with Ajax’s Toby Alderweireld scoring inbetween. With the 2011-12 Eredivisie season starting next week both teams are on the road for the opening match of the new campaign with champions Ajax away at De Graafschap and FC Twente locking horns against NAC Breda.
There will be many who will have gloried in the success of Uruguay in Sunday’s Copa America final. The record champions of football’s oldest international tournament won the competition for the third time on Argentinian soil and 15th time in total in a 3-0 win over surprise finalists Paraguay, Luis Suarez and Diego Forlan (2) doing the damage with the goals.
After all the Uruguayans had shown attacking intent and a positive attitude from the very beginning even if it took them a little while to get into their stride. Paraguay, on the other hand, were prepared to play pragmatically even if it meant the football became devoid of entertainment and ambition. Ironically the only game in which Paraguay showed any ruthlessness in front of goal was also the match in which their defensive line was breached the most, albeit in the last couple of minutes, in the 3-3 draw against Venezuela in the group stage.
What made Uruguay stand out in this tournament was having a couple of stars such as the aforementioned Suarez and Forlan there to compliment the rest of the team. The two teams who were touted as tournament favourites before a ball was kicked, namely Brazil and Argentina, had many more stars in their squads but they couldn’t really gel as teams. After all both nations only managed to scrape a win in their third group stage game in order to seal qualification to the knockout rounds.
Uruguay admittedly got past Argentina in the quarter-finals thanks to the lottery of penalties but they took the game to their eternal rivals on their home turf and did so from early on, Diego Perez’s fifth minute goal proof of their early intent to take the game to their opponents. However it wouldn’t be far-fetched to say that either team could’ve won it in the end such was the attacking nature of the match. Uruguay easily disposed of Peru in the semi-finals once Luis Suarez had grabbed both goals early in the second half. It would’ve been easy to presuppose that Uruguay would change their style ahead of the final in the face of a Paraguay team that had become used to closing teams down and denying them space. This, however, went against the grain of what Uruguay stood for and they proved it in fine style in the Estadio Monumental on Sunday.
Nearly 48 hours after the tournament came to a close and Uruguayan football has a lot to feel happy about right now. Not only did they win the Copa but it has been on the up in the last twelve months having reached the FIFA World Cup semi-finals, their Under-17 team finished runners-up in the FIFA World Under-17 Championship to hosts Mexico earlier this month and their record champion team Peñarol made it to the Copa Libertadores final for the first time since 1988 earlier this year only to lose out to old rivals Santos FC. Hopefully for a nation which was, until recently, a sleeping giant of international football this win will not prove to be a false dawn and that they can build on this success in the future.
The Mexican football season kicks off this weekend with eighteen teams hoping to claim the Apertura (Opening) Championship. UNAM Pumas are the most recent Mexican champions following their 2010-11 Clausura (Closing) Championship success but Monterrey will hope to repeat their 2010-11 Apertura title triumph.
The new season will see a slightly different format in the first stage of each championship. Instead of the eighteen teams being split into three different groups there will now be just one championship table which will clearly decipher who the best eight teams of the regular season are and will, thus, decide the post-season play-off fixtures which ultimately decide each championship. Monterrey are looking for a third straight Apertura championship having won the 2009 & 2010 editions but will also have to pay attention to their CONCACAF Champions League campaign which they enter this season as title holders following their 3-2 aggregate win over American side Real Salt Lake in last season’s final.
UNAM Pumas have been largely inactive in the transfer window and have added no further players to their squad thus far. The champions, who won a 7th domestic crown last season, will also be participating in the CONCACAF Champions League along with the two best non-champion teams of the 2010-11 campaign Monarcas Morelia and Santos Laguna. Club America, traditionally the biggest club in Mexico, haven’t won a domestic title for six years but after signing last season’s Apertura top scorer Christian Benitez from Santos Laguna hopes are high that they can challenge for a title this time around.
The situation regarding relegation in Mexico is similar to that in Argentina in which each team’s points average over three seasons (six championships) will determine who goes down into the second tier Liga de Ascenso next season. Tijuana, from the north west of the country on the Mexico-US border, will naturally start with zero points in the averages table having been promoted last season at the expense of Necaxa. They will be hoping to have a good season so that they can climb above the likes of Estudiantes Tecos (1.0441 average), Queretaro (1.0882), Jaguares (1.1324) and Atlas (1.1471) who lie immediately above them at the commencement of the new campaign.
Estudiantes Tecos will begin the new season on Friday, 22 July with a home match against Toluca. Four matches take place on Saturday, the biggest of them being Pachuca v Santos Laguna, whilst Sunday will also see four games played with defending champions UNAM Pumas at home to San Luis while last season’s Apertura champions Monterrey face a potentially tricky away tie at Jaguares.
Belgian league champions Racing Genk celebrated a maiden Super Cup triumph last night when defeating Belgian Cup winners Standard Liege by a 1-0 scoreline. The champions had home advantage and made the best use of it despite going down to ten men in the 28th minute after forward Jelle Vossen was sent off. The only goal of the game came on the stroke of half-time and it was a quality strike from the left boot of Hungarian midfielder Dániel Tőzsér. The Cristal Arena was barely a third full for the match with just 7,000 turning up for the season’s curtain raiser which was a shame as the goal deserved a bigger stage in which to be appreciated. Nevertheless the win meant that Genk had finally put their record of five straight defeats in this competition to bed having lost three years in a row from 1998-2000 as well as 2002 and 2007. Now the champions can concentrate on the new league season, which begins next weekend, and an opening day home fixture against Beerschot whilst Standard Liege will open their account with an away tie at RAEC Mons.
The Copa America will see Uruguay take on Paraguay in the final on Sunday after both nations secured their berths with semi-final victories over Peru and Venezuela respectively.
The Uruguayans are now many people’s favourites to win the competition after their 2-0 win over Peru on Tuesday. A brace from Luis Suárez early in the second half helped him become the tournament’s top scorer, along with Argentina’s Sergio Agüero, on three goals and he will hope to secure himself the Golden Boot as well as the Copa itself in the final. Their attacking approach has endeared itself to the watching public and many will hope they lift the trophy for a record 15th time.
In contrast Paraguay reached the final for the first time since 1979 without winning a single match in regular time. Following three drawn matches in the group phase, Paraguay have played out successive goalless draws against Brazil and Venezuela in the knockout stages so far and have progressed both times thanks to the lottery of a penalty shootout. Venezuela, who reached the semi-finals for the first time, are unlucky not to have gone all the way to the final after hitting the woodwork three times and having a goal disallowed for offside. The match, however, will sadly be remembered for the post-match brawl in which players and officials threw punches at each other and were restrained by local police before things really got out of hand.
If history is anything to go by then Uruguay will be celebrating another title on Sunday as they are the only team other than Argentina to have won the Copa America on Argentine soil. Paraguay, however, will more than likely stick to the negative tactics that have got them this far but they will probably have to do it without coach Gerardo Martino on the touchline as he was shown a red card in last night’s match.
Peru and Venezuela will meet in the 3rd/4th place play-off on Saturday in La Plata whilst the final will kick-off at 16:00 local time in Buenos Aires.
The Scottish Premier League (SPL) returns to action earlier than usual having been brought forward by three weeks. The feeling is that an earlier start to the season will help those clubs who are to represent Scotland in UEFA club competition be more prepared from a fitness point of view as well as make fixture congestion less likely to occur later on in the campaign. This move follows last season’s chaotic finish due to the harsh winter that affected the league midway through the campaign.
Champions Glasgow Rangers are looking forward to a new era under the guidance of club legend Ally McCoist. The former Scotland international striker will be fighting it out, although one hopes not literally, with his counterpart from arch rivals Glasgow Celtic Neil Lennon who, in his second full season, will expect to go one better than last season and win the SPL title. There is no love lost between the two managers who are both strongly associated with their clubs from their playing days. The two almost came to blows after a fiery Scottish Cup match last season with the rivalry between the two clubs reaching boiling point as they met seven times in all competitions. Last season saw Rangers clinch a record extending 54th Scottish championship by just a single point following a last day 5-1 victory away at Kilmarnock.
But now that Walter Smith has finally left the Ibrox club it is hoped by fans of the Hoops that Lennon may just have his turn to win the title for Celtic which would be their first championship in four seasons. But the clubs will have to make do with most of last season’s squads as neither club has had a lot to play with in the summer transfer window. It says much about the parlous state of Scottish football that even the Old Firm clubs are reduced to signing players on a limited budget. Victor Wanyama and Juan Manuel Ortiz, Celtic and Rangers’ most expensive signings this summer respectively, were signed for the modest sums of £1 million and £500,000 whilst all of the other SPL clubs have had to offload players before they can buy or have made the most out of free transfers and loan deals in the summer period.
In the annual race to finish best of the rest the usual suspects such as Heart of Midlothian and Dundee United will be prominent in the fight for third place and maybe one of the cup competitions although both teams have been very limited in adding to their squads thus far. The likes of Aberdeen and Hibernian, both of whom would normally expect to finish in the top six, struggled last season with respective finishes of ninth and tenth. Both Colin Calderwood (Hibernian) and Craig Brown (Aberdeen) joined their clubs as manager in 2010 so have only been at the helm for just over half a year and will hope that their squad changes will herald better fortune. Motherwell have shown some consistency in recent years having finished in the top six three times in the last four seasons and will hope to continue such form under Stuart McCall who replaced Craig Brown at Fir Park last season whilst Kilmarnock hope to progress from their fifth place finish in 2010-11 and compete for a European place.
Amongst the likes of St Johnstone, Inverness Caledonian Thistle and St Mirren the realistic target at the start of the new campaign will be to preserve their Premier League status. All of those clubs finished comfortably ahead of Hamilton Academicals at the end of last season but won’t know what to expect from newly promoted Dunfermline Athletic this time around. Last season’s First Division champions Dunfermline have recruited mainly from the lower leagues but hopes are high at the club that manager Jim McIntyre can surprise a few people and help the club remain competitive throughout the season.
On the opening weekend of the season Glasgow Rangers will perform the traditional unfurling of the championship flag at home to Heart of Midlothian on Saturday lunchtime with Aberdeen meeting St Johnstone and Motherwell playing Inverness CT later that day. Another clash of Scotland’s two biggest cities happens on Sunday when Edinburgh club Hibernian meet Glasgow Celtic at Easter Road with Dundee United having a home tie against Kilmarnock on the same day. The final match of the opening round will take place on Monday night as Dunfermline will unfurl the First Division championship flag at home to St Mirren.
Romania plays host to the UEFA European Under-19 Championships from today with eight teams hoping to take the title which was won by the French last year. The champions, however, will not be there to defend their title as they failed to get past the qualifying rounds this time around.
The team that eliminated France in the Elite Round of qualifying is Greece who topped Group 3 over Les Bleus as well as Slovakia and Belarus. The Greeks, whose tournament best is a runner-up showing in the 2007 tournament, will face tough opposition in Group A against the likes of the Czech Republic, 1998 winners Republic of Ireland and hosts Romania who also have one title to their name but that was won a distant 49 years ago.
Spain are the favourites to win not only Group B but the tournament itself as the country has won the trophy four times in the last nine years as well as finishing runners-up to France in last year’s competition. Spain, seven times winners in total, will face three more countries who have, in one or another, claimed this title in the past. Serbia, who have experienced success at Under-19 level when playing under the banner of Yugoslavia in 1951 and 1979, Turkey and Belgium who have both won this tournament on one occasion each.
The group stage will run from July 20th-26th with the top two from each group going through to the semi-finals. The last four will begin the knockout rounds on July 29th and the tournament will terminate with the final on August 1st.
The 2011 FIFA Women’s World Cup saw a new name adorn the trophy as Japan completed their epic odyssey in this year’s tournament by defeating two-time champions the United States in a penalty shootout following a 2-2 draw after extra-time.
After a route to the final which saw them get the better of Mexico and New Zealand in the group phase and eliminate Germany and Sweden in the quarter-finals and semi-finals respectively, the Japanese were expected to fall at the final hurdle against a country which had the experience of winning on the big occasion. But the determination and never-say-die spirit of the new champions ensured that they came away from Frankfurt’s Waldstadion with the trophy.
The game was tight in the first half, a fact reflected by the 0-0 score line at the break, but came to life in the second half when Alex Morgan gave the Americans the lead on 69 minutes. Japan equalized with nine minutes of regular time to go with Aya Miyama scoring the goal which took the game into extra-time. Abby Wambach, who has impressed for the Americans throughout the tournament, regained the lead for her team on the edge of half-time in extra-time and the USA needed to hold out for another fifteen minutes to reclaim the trophy for a record breaking third time.
However it was fitting that tournament top scorer Homare Sawa got the crucial second for Japan with just three minutes of extra-time to play to send the game into a penalty shootout. The Americans fluffed their lines from the spot with three of their four penalty takers missing their efforts. The Japanese, on the other hand, only missed once and when Saki Kumagai scored the crucial fourth spot kick to seal the 3-1 victory it sparked mass celebration from the touchline as this most unlikely of winners sealed their maiden FIFA Women’s World Cup triumph in front of a healthy 48,000 crowd.
It proved to be an incredibly rewarding tournament for Homare Sawa who not only won the Golden Boot award for finishing tournament top scorer with five goals but also won the Golden Ball award for player of the tournament. The Japanese team were also rewarded with the FIFA Fair Play trophy to go alongside their World Cup title which they will hope to defend in Canada in 2015 but, similarly to the Men’s version, the Women’s World Cup winners don’t get an automatic place in the next tournament and will have to qualify.
The Copa America is defying all expectations as tournament hosts Argentina and defending champions Brazil both went out at the quarter-final stage this weekend. Even when one takes into consideration Venezuela’s progress to their first ever semi-final and Peru’s extra-time triumph over Colombia it is fair to say that this year’s tournament is one of the most open ever staged.
As reported yesterday Uruguay defeated Argentina on penalties, a fate which was to befall the Brazilian national team on Sunday night after they failed to score past a defensively determined Paraguay. Despite numerous chances to score in 120 minutes Brazil just couldn’t find a way past keeper Justo Villar who performed heroics in what must have been one of the games of his life. The ensuing penalty shootout saw Brazil fail to convert any of their kicks, a fact which the Brazilians blamed on a poorly laid penalty spot. Paraguay scored two of their three attempts to seal their first semi-final place for 28 years. The final quarter-final saw Venezuela’s wonderful adventure continue with a 2-1 win over Chile in the only one of the last eight matches to be decided in the regular ninety minutes. Goals from Oswaldo Vizcarrondo and Gabriel Cichero saw the Vinotinto secure their best ever Copa America performance. Their previous best came in their maiden tournament in which they finished fifth in 1967.
The semi-finals will see Uruguay play Peru tomorrow night in La Plata with the other game between Paraguay and Venezuela playing on Wednesday in Mendoza