The group stages of the African Cup of Nations concluded today with a couple of surprise inclusions making up the quarter-finals of the competition which begin on Friday.
The biggest surprise came about in Group A where Cape Verde, making their first appearance in the tournament finals, managed to get through a tough group unbeaten. Having drawn their first two games against hosts South Africa and Morocco, Cape Verde were losing their final group game against Angola with ten minutes to play before they turned it around to win 2-1. The hero for the Blue Sharks was Heldon Ramos whose stoppage time winner allowed Cape Verde to finish second in the group behind South Africa on goal difference and progress ahead of the much fancied Morocco.
The other surprise is Burkina Faso who progressed in first place from Group C and helped play their part in eliminating defending champions Zambia from the competition. Burkina Faso, who have previously only graced the knockout rounds of this tournament once in seven attempts, easily defeated Ethiopia and drew with fellow group qualifiers Nigeria as well as Zambia who needed to win the last group match in order to qualify for the last eight.
Côte d’Ivoire are still most people’s favourites to win the competition having finished top of Group D ahead of Togo, Tunisia and Algeria. The likes of Yaya Touré, Gervinho and Didier Ya Konan have helped the Elephants to two wins and a draw, the same record which graced Group B winners Ghana. The Black Stars began their campaign with a 2-2 draw against Congo DR but finished it perfectly by defeating Mali, who also qualified from the group, and Niger who were the only team not to score in any of the group games.
South Africa v Mali (02.02.13)
Ghana v Cape Verde (02.02.13)
Côte d’Ivoire v Nigeria (03.02.13)
Burkina Faso v Togo (03.02.13)
Hosts Costa Rica won a record extending seventh Copa Centroamericana title in the nation’s capital of San José on Sunday when defeating defending champions Honduras.
Costa Rica reached the final in fine style, winning two and drawing one of their three matches in the group stages, going on to defeat El Salvador 1-0 in the semi-final. Honduras’ route to the final was more laboured in comparison. Although they topped their group it was due to goals scored as all three teams in their group had the same number of points due to each game ending as a draw. In the semi-finals Honduras also needed just a solitary goal to progress thanks to Brayan Beckeles’ goal in the 67th minute of the game against Belize. The final would also prove just as tight with just a solitary strike from Giancarlo González in the 37th minute deciding the game in Costa Rica’s favour, giving los Ticos their first tournament win since 2007.
The Copa Centroamericana also doubled out as a qualifying tournament for the CONCACAF Gold Cup, which takes place in July this year in the United States, with the best performing five teams progressing through. As well as the two finalists, losing semi-finalists Belize and El Salvador qualified along with Panama who defeated Guatemala 3-1 in the 5th/6th place play-off match last Friday.
COSTA RICA 1-0 HONDURAS GOAL AND TROPHY PRESENTATION
Tournament hosts Russia emerged victorious for the second year in a row in the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) Cup today following a 4-2 win over arch-rivals Ukraine in St Petersburg.
The form guide going into the final suggested that Ukraine were the favourites over Russia. The Ukrainians finished top of Group C ahead of Lithuania, Moldova and Turkmenistan with a 100% record before fate decided that they would meet two of their group opponents in the knockout rounds; Moldova were thrashed 5-0 in the quarter-finals before Ukraine won by the odd goal in three in their semi-final against Lithuania. Russia, on the other hand, won one and drew the other two games in Group B but still managed to top the group ahead of Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan who they also beat in the quarter-finals before they won their semi-final match against Belarus by two goals to one.
The final, played before a 10,000 crowd at St Petersburg’s Sports and Concert Complex, turned out to be a goal fest. Russia took the lead after just five minutes through Nikita Bocharov only for Vladyslav Kalitvintsev to equalize just ten minutes later. The Russians would end the first half holding a 2-1 advantage following Andrei Panyukov’s 38th minute strike but Ukraine levelled matters for a second time after the break when Vitali Ivanko made it 2-2 just after the hour mark. Panyukov bagged his second goal of the game in the 75th minute to re-establish Russia’s lead for a third time, one which they would fail to relinquish. The deal was sealed in stoppage time when Emin Makhmudov scored from the penalty spot and gave the host nation title glory for the second year in a row.
Having begun as a pre-season tournament for champion club sides from the former Soviet republics, the CIS Cup decided to change in 2012 in order to incorporate national youth teams. This was as a result of the waning interest shown to the competition by various club sides that preferred either to spend pre-season training in warmer climes or to participate in much more financially lucrative pre-season competition elsewhere. Nevertheless the competition has gained a renewed sense of purpose under its current guise and today’s final between two talented teams of youngsters shows that this competition might just have a vibrant future yet.
It’s been a pretty intense few days in the preliminary round of Oceania’s Under-17 Football Championship and there has been no shortage of goals in what’s been a very open tournament. Emerging victorious are the Cook Islands whose 2-1 win over host nation Samoa in the last round of matches played today in the Samoan capital city of Apia has won them through to the next stage.
Twenty eight goals were scored in the six games to have been played since Tuesday, an average of just over four and a half a game, and all of them have added to a fascinating competition in which drama was in no short supply. Cook Islands got their tournament off to the best possible start on Tuesday when defeating Tonga 7-1 with six different players getting on the score sheet, Maro Bonsu-Maro being the only player to score two goals. In the derby match, Samoa and American Samoa shared the spoils with a 2-2 draw to leave the Cook Islanders topping the table after matchday one. Things suddenly changed on matchday two when the Cook Islands were overtaken at the top by American Samoa. The latter defeated the former 3-0 with Sinisi Tua bagging a brace. Samoa got the better of Tonga, winning by the odd goal in five with Paulo Scanlan’s hat-trick proving crucial in Samoa’s 3-2 win.
Going into today’s final round of matches three teams – Samoa, American Samoa and Cook Islands – all had the chance to claim the trophy. Tonga, up until now the whipping boys of the group, were in no position to gift their opponents American Samoa the title. American Samoa seemed to be coasting their way to victory when going 2-0 ahead after 48 minutes thanks to goals from Paia Ipiniu and Sinisa Tua but the Tongans were to end up shocking their opponents by turning the match around with three goals in the last nineteen minutes. Uasi Talanoa, Hemaloto Polovili and Taniela Vaka’uta, whose goal came deep into stoppage time, claimed Tonga’s first win of the tournament and opened the door for Samoa and Cook Islands to claim the title in the other match.
In another topsy-turvy encounter it was Samoa who took the lead after 23 minutes thanks to Sue Pelesa, an advantage they would see through to half-time. Fifteen minutes into the second half saw the Cook Islands restore parity, Takuina Tararo heading home the equalizer, but they had to wait until four minutes from full-time before they were to score the crucial goal which would eventually clinch the championship. Step forward Dwayne Tiputoa whose late charge saw him slot the ball home and break the hearts of Samoa, for whom a draw would’ve been enough to give them the title following American Samoa’s surprise defeat.
Cook Islands topped the table with six points from three games, both American Samoa and Samoa have four points with the former holding on to second place on goal difference whilst Tonga prop up the rest with three points. The Cook Islands can now prepare for the tournament proper of the OFC under-17 Championship where they face off against seven other nations including the likes of New Zealand, Solomon Islands and hosts Vanuatu from April 17th-27th. The winner of that can then look forward to representing Oceania on the world stage when the FIFA Under-17 World Cup takes place in the United Arab Emirates between October 17th-November 8th.
United Arab Emirates won this year’s Gulf Cup of Nations on Friday night. They needed extra-time before eventually seeing off tough opposition in the form of Iraq with Ismail Al Hammadi’s winner in the 107th minute proving the difference between the two sides.
Both nations had emerged top of their respective groups in the league stages, both of whom registering a 100% record with three wins from three, but were made to fight it out in the semi-finals with the UAE knocking out Kuwait with a goal in the 89th minute whilst Iraq needed a penalty shoot-out in order to dispose of tournament hosts Bahrain after they had been involved in a 1-1 draw.
In Friday’s final United Arab Emirates took the lead after 27 minutes thanks to Omar Abdulrahman but, with the match petering out into the closing stages, Iraq found an equalizer in the 80th minute with Younis Mahmoud getting himself on the score sheet. Cue extra-time and a winning strike from Al Hammadi two minutes into the second period gave the UAE their second Gulf Cup of Nations title, just six years after their maiden triumph.
South Africa hosts its second major international football tournament in a little over two years from Saturday. Having hosted the 2010 FIFA World Cup the “Rainbow Nation” is preparing for the 2013 African Cup of Nations, the 29th edition of the competition, and will hope to restore themselves as a force in African football following a particularly difficult decade.
This will be the second time that South Africa plays host to the tournament. The first time, back in 1996, saw the country return to the international scene following an enforced three decade absence due to the country’s previous position on issues of apartheid. Having returned, however, South Africa emerged victorious and claimed the African title for the first time when defeating Tunisia 2-0 in the final. Apart from the following tournament, when the “Bafana Bafana” ended up losing 2-0 to Egypt in 1998, the South Africans haven’t come close to winning the trophy since. Could home advantage prove to be a lucky omen once again? South Africa feature in Group A alongside Angola, Morocco and tournament debutants Cape Verde.
One team which hopes to put a stop to the hosts’ ambitions is Zambia. The surprise package in 2012, Zambia weren’t even spoken of as a potential champion before the tournament kicked off yet managed to carry off the trophy for the very first time having edged the Côte d’Ivoire 8-7 on penalties following a tense goalless final. The title holders scraped into this year’s tournament as well due to another penalty shoot-out, this time a 9-8 success against Uganda in the 2nd qualifying round after their two-legged clash finished 1-1 on aggregate. With the difficulty of qualifying over with, Zambia will compete in Group C along with two-time winners Nigeria, Burkina Faso and 1962 winners Ethiopia who are competing in their first African Cup of Nations for the first time since 1982.
Amongst the traditional heavyweights of African football, Egypt are once again conspicuous by their absence. The record champions, who have won the title seven times, failed to qualify in 2012 and were once again found wanting in 2013 having gone out at the first qualifying round stage at the hands of Central African Republic. After Egypt, the most successful country in African Cup of Nations history is Ghana with four title wins. However the last of those wins is becoming a distant memory and should The Black Stars win the trophy for the fifth time it will be their first success in this tournament since 1982. Ghana will headline Group B which includes two nations who have yet to win the trophy, namely Mali and Niger, and a country which has won the title twice but under different guises. The Democratic Republic of the Congo, to give the country its present name, were previously victorious in 1968 as Congo-Kinshasa and six years later as Zaïre.
Côte d’Ivoire, who have made more tournament finals appearances (19) than any other nation, haven’t had much luck since winning their one and only title in 1992 having reached and lost two further finals. The Elephants will hope to go one better this time and have been put into Group D along with 2004 champions Tunisia, 1990 winners Algeria and Togo, who have now confirmed Emmanuel Adebayor’s participation in this year’s competition.
The top two teams in each group will progress to the knockout stage. At this point the remaining octet will not only be fighting it out for the African Cup of Nations trophy but also to represent the continent of Africa in the 2013 FIFA Confederations Cup in Brazil later this year. Whoever emerges triumphant in South Africa this year will expect to play against world and European champions Spain in their Confederations Cup group, a prize every bit as rewarding as lifting the silverware itself, along with South American champions Uruguay and Oceania champions Tahiti.
The 2013 South American Youth Championship begins today in Argentina in a tournament which will help determine the four nations who will progress to the FIFA Under-20 World Cup later this year.
Eleven times winners Brazil are the defending champions having won the tournament two years ago with a squad which included the likes of Santos superstar Neymar, who finished the 2011 competition as top scorer with nine goals, and Lucas Moura who recently made headlines for signing for Paris Saint Germain for a club record €45m. The champions kick off the defence of their title with a match against Ecuador on Thursday evening in Group B, a group which also contains Peru, 2011 runners-up Uruguay and Venezuela.
Hosts Argentina will begin their tournament with a game against Chile and will hope to make a good start in their quest to improve on their third place finish in 2011. Argentina’s other Group A opponents come in the form of Bolivia, Colombia and Paraguay. There are three places up for grabs in each group before the tournament concludes with a six-team group in which each team plays each other once, the conclusion of this phase will determine the South American youth champions and the three other finalists for the FIFA event which will be held in Turkey in June.
The tournament takes place until February 3rd and will be played in two host cities, Mendoza and San Juan, both of which lie in the west of the country.
The 2012 FIFA Ballon d’Or ceremony has been held in Zurich with the undoubted star of the show once again being FC Barcelona and Argentina sensation Lionel Messi. He has picked up FIFA’s top award for individual footballers for the third consecutive year since FIFA’s World Player of the year and France Football’s Ballon d’Or awards merged in 2010, and his fourth overall.
The 25 year old has already achieved more in his career than most players would ever dream of but the personal accolades still keep rolling in for a player whose setting of a new record for scoring the most goals in a calendar year has grabbed lots of headlines despite the relative lack of success for his club side in 2012. Messi, with 41.6% of the vote, beat off challenges from Real Madrid’s Portuguese superstar Cristiano Ronaldo (23.68%) and FC Barcelona team-mate Andres Iniesta (10.91%).
FIFA’s Manager of the Year went to Vicente del Bosque, the UEFA European Championship winning coach of the Spanish national team having secured 34.51% of the vote which put him ahead of Real Madrid’s José Mourinho (20.49%) and former FC Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola (12.91%)
In the women’s game top honours went to Abby Wambach, the American thoroughly deserving the accolade following a year in which her goals helped secure the Olympic gold medal for the USA women’s team in London. She won with a 20.67% share of the vote putting her ahead of five-time former winner Marta (13.5%) and compatriot Alex Morgan (10.87%). Coach of the Year went to Pia Sundhage, the Swede having led the United States Women’s national team to their gold medal, with 28.59% of the vote compared to challengers Norio Sasaki (23.83%) and Bruno Bini (9.02%).
FIFA’s Ferenc Puskas award, which goes to the scorer of the goal adjudged to have been the best, went to Miroslav Stoch for his goal against Gençlerbirliği in a Turkish Super League match (see below). He beat off competition from Colombian superstar Radamel Falcao and Brazilian hot shot Neymar, the winner of last year’s award in this category.
FIFA’s Presidential Award, a sort of lifetime achievement award given to an individual, team or organization that has made an outstanding contribution to the game, was given to German football legend Franz Beckenbauer. “Der Kaiser” won everything there was to win in the game with FC Bayern München and the German national team and has played a vital role as a coach and as a football ambassador since he gave up his playing career in the early 1980s. The Fair Play award went to the Uzbekistan Football Association whose record in terms of fair play on the field has been exemplary throughout the last twelve months.
Finally, the FIFA/FIFPro World XI for 2012 was announced. This team is voted for by users of the FIFA website:
Iker Casillas (Goalkeeper); Dani Alves, Marcelo, Gerard Pique, Sergio Ramos (Defence); Xabi Alonso, Andres Iniesta, Xavi Hernandez (Midfield); Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, Radamel Falcao (Attack)
Stoppage Time’s Player of the Year award could only go to one player, a player who surpasses all expectations of him with each and every passing year. It will be no surprise to see that FC Barcelona and Argentina superstar Lionel Messi has won the award in a year in which he may not have achieved as much as usual with his club side (Barcelona ‘only’ won the Copa del Rey in 2012) but in which the man himself has created a piece of footballing history by beating the record for the most number of goals scored in a calendar year.
Former FC Bayern München and West Germany international striker Gerd Müller’s record of 85 goals in a calendar year had stood since 1972 but was beaten by a stunning total of 91 goals this year by Messi whose individual exploits continually make people wonder just how much better he can become. Is there a chance that the maestro can become the first centurion in the future? One certainly wouldn’t bet against it and with FC Barcelona already a full nine points ahead of nearest challengers Atlético de Madrid in the 2012-13 La Liga title race, and a remarkable sixteen ahead of defending champions Real Madrid CF, could the ease of the current season help Messi achieve even more greatness in 2013? We certainly can’t wait to find out but, in the meantime, check out each and every one of the 91 goals which he scored in 2012.
Due to the Spanish national team’s historic success at the 2012 UEFA European Championship, Stoppage Time’s Coach of the Year award goes to Vicente del Bosque. Having won the FIFA World Cup in South Africa in 2010, del Bosque led his team to European success this year and has helped, more than anybody, to bury the ghost of past Spanish teams who went into major tournaments as favourites but were unable to justify the hype.
This current generation of Spanish talent had already been helped along by Luis Aragonés when winning the 2008 UEFA European Championship but their place in footballing history has been cemented by del Bosque whose teams have yet to concede a goal in the knockout stages of a major international competition. Vicente del Bosque helped Spain win three consecutive international tournaments and also made personal history by becoming the first coach to have won the UEFA Champions League, which he achieved twice with Real Madrid CF in 2000 and 2002, as well as the two major international titles of UEFA European Championship and FIFA World Cup. A quite remarkable set of achievements which also tie in with Spain’s position as the number one team in the FIFA World Rankings table, del Bosque certainly deserves all the praise he gets and with Spain in pole position in Group I for 2014 FIFA World Cup qualifying there is every possibility that further history could be created in the next eighteen months.