Stoppage Time – International Football Blog

Africa: Cotonsport and Al Ahly continue domestic dominance

Posted in African Football by peterbein on July 11, 2011
Cotonsport FC

Cotonsport are champions of Cameroon again

Two of Africa’s top football championships have been decided in the past few days with Cotonsport maintaining their stranglehold of the Cameroonian domestic game whilst Al Ahly did likewise in Egypt.

Cotonsport, from the north Cameroonian city of Garoua, sealed their tenth league title in fifteen seasons with a 2-1 win against fourth place Unisport Bafang. The victory meant that Cotonsport increased their advantage at the top of the MTN Elite One league by eight points over nearest challengers Astres Douala with just one match to play after the latter lost their penultimate game of the campaign 1-0 to eighth place Tiko United. This title triumph is all the sweeter for Cotonsport who are now joint record champions of Cameroon along with Canon Yaoundé who claimed the last of their ten championship wins in 1992. Cotonsport have also been rewarded with a place in the 2012 CAF Champions League qualifiers but, in the meantime, they can now prepare for the group stages of the 2011 edition in which they will meet Enyimba (Nigeria), Raja Casablanca (Morocco) and Al-Hilal (Sudan) starting next weekend.

Egypt’s most successful club Al Ahly clinched their seventh consecutive Egyptian Premier League title having thrashed bottom club Arab Constructors 5-1 on Wednesday. This result, coupled with closest challengers Zamalek’s 1-1 draw at home to 12th place Wadi Degla, meant that the margin at the top between the top two teams was seven points with just one solitary game left to play. The only way the title chase would’ve gone to the last day would’ve been if Al Ahly had lost and Zamalek had won but this is now academic. Al Ahly have denied Zamalek a championship win in their centenary year and did so despite starting the season in indifferent fashion. The political and civil unrest which affected the country in January certainly came at the right time for Al Ahly in that it stopped Zamalek whilst they were in good form and were looking favourites for the title. Since the resumption of the league in April, Al Ahly have remained unbeaten in fourteen matches (10 wins, 4 draws) whilst Zamalek slumped in that time taking just 21 points from the last 42 available (5 wins, 6 draws, 3 defeats). This vindicated Al Ahly’s decision to bring back former coach Manuel José for a third time following Hossam Al-Badry’s dismissal.

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FIFA World Cup Review – Africa

Posted in African Football, International Football by peterbein on July 15, 2010
Bafana Bafana fans

South African supporters were amongst the most colourful in the tournament

In our review of the FIFA World Cup Stoppage Time – International Football Blog looks at the fortunes of host continent Africa.

For many months before a ball was kicked in South Africa there were many fears about some of the problems within the country, with issues such as crime at the forefront of people’s minds. In January 2010 there were many critics who took advantage of the situation in Angola during the African Cup of Nations tournament where the Togo national team bus came under fire and used this to further the cause of taking the World Cup away from Africa. Thankfully this did not happen and as the last four weeks have shown, as well as previous sporting tournaments held in the country, South Africa knows how to put on a great show and should be proud despite the early exit of its national team from the tournament.

The Bafana Bafana had some of the most colourful supporters in the World Cup and they certainly made the most noise, not just because they were the host nation but for the vast amount of vuvuzelas at each of the stadiums. The instrument is something that football fans around the world either came to love or hate but there was no denying the increased volume added to the atmosphere in the stadiums. Come the opening day of the competition South Africa drew their first match against Mexico with Siphiwe Tshabalala putting the hosts ahead before Rafael Márquez gave El Tri a share of the spoils. It was unfortunate that the next opponents for South Africa would be the surprise package of the tournament Uruguay who would eventually reach the semi-finals. South Africa were on the receiving end of a 3-0 drubbing due to a brace from Diego Forlán and a late stoppage time goal from Álvaro Pereira. This meant that a big enough win over France and a big enough win for Uruguay or Mexico in the other final group match would be enough for South Africa to reach the last sixteen. Sadly, despite achieving a 2-1 win over the 1998 FIFA World Cup winners thanks to goals from Bongani Khumalo and Katlego Mphela, South Africa missed out due to an inferior goal difference behind Mexico.

The pride of Africa in this tournament would be Ghana. Having finished in second place in Group D, two points behind winners Germany, Ghana played against the United States in the round of sixteen and had Asamoah Gyan to thank for it was his goal early in extra-time that separated the two sides in what was a tight contest, the Black Stars getting the 2-1 victory to set up a quarter-final against Uruguay. In what was arguably the match of the tournament Sulley Muntari gave Ghana the lead on the stroke of half-time only to see Diego Forlán restore parity ten minutes into the second half. However it was events at the end of extra-time that would really get the world talking. Firstly Luis Suárez was sent-off in the last minute for handling the ball on the line when it was almost certain to go in. Ghana’s player of the tournament Gyan, who had already scored twice from the spot in the tournament, fluffed his lines when it mattered most and hit the bar from the resulting penalty, thus providing the necessity for a penalty shoot-out after the extra-time period. With the weight of expectation upon their shoulders Ghana were unable to progress due to missed penalties from John Mensah and Dominic Adiyiah which denied Africa a World Cup semi-finalist for the first time.

One of the biggest disappointments in the competition were Cameroon who, with one of the world’s best strikers in Samuel Eto’o in the team, never looked like they could be a threat and were duly beaten in all three of their group matches by the Netherlands, Japan and Denmark. Ivory Coast were, for the second tournament running, unfortunate to be drawn in the “group of death” with the likes of Brazil and Portugal as well as the World Cup rank outsiders North Korea. The third of these teams accounted for the Ivory Coast’s only victory in the competition with the Elephants going down to Brazil and picking up a point in their game against Portugal. On account of their 7-0 win over North Korea Portugal just had enough to qualify for the next round meaning that Didier Drogba and co had to miss out once again. Last, but not least, Algeria performed admirably in Group C although they could only gain one point from three games, that coming in their 0-0 draw with England. After narrow 1-0 defeats to both Slovenia and United States the north Africans could leave the tournament with their heads held high as they were far from disgraced in their results. With a bit more luck it could’ve been them rather than England who qualified for the round of sixteen but, alas, it just wasn’t their time.

FIFA: Groups E and F Review

Posted in International Football by peterbein on June 25, 2010
Keisuke Honda

Keisuke Honda was amongst the goalscorers for Japan against Denmark

Figures given are as follows: Games Played/Points Scored

GROUP E: NETHERLANDS 3/9; JAPAN 3/6; DENMARK 3/3; CAMEROON 3/0

Whisper it quietly but if there’s a team who are creeping in under the radar to win the FIFA World Cup then that could be the Netherlands. They won all three group matches to finish with maximum points and look like they could be a prime contender to lift football’s greatest prize. Having enjoyed a bit of good fortune to take the lead in games against Denmark and Japan the Dutch were always in control in their final game against Cameroon and Bert Van Marwijk must now keep a lid on expectations and keep his players’ feet on the ground. Japan made history by qualifying beyond the group stage for the first time outside of their native land with the 1-0 defeat to Netherlands being their only reverse. Two fantastic free-kick goals in the third match against Denmark set-up them up for a famous win and they now get to look forward to a Round of 16 tie against Paraguay.

GROUP F: PARAGUAY 3/5; SLOVAKIA 3/4; NEW ZEALAND 3/3; ITALY 3/2

Well who would’ve thought it? The defending world champions not only going out of the competition but finishing below rank tournament outsiders New Zealand in the process. Not very much went right for Italy in their three group matches but the truth is that they were just not good enough. In any case credit should be given to Paraguay who topped the group with a win and two draws and they were joined by Slovakia who played their part in the game of the tournament so far when defeating Italy by three goals to two. Arguably the unluckiest team in the competition are the All Whites of New Zealand who were unbeaten in three games and still failed to progress to the next stage but Rikki Herbert’s men can be rightly proud of their performances in this tournament which gives them a platform to build on for future competition. Paraguay will play Japan in Pretoria on Tuesday whilst Slovakia’s reward is a tough tie with the Netherlands in Durban on Monday afternoon.

Vladimír Weiss

Vladimír Weiss led his Slovakia team to the knock-out stages after a 3-2 win over Italy.

FIFA: Cameroon out as Denmark win; Aussies and Ghana draw; Holland win again

Posted in International Football by peterbein on June 19, 2010
Dennis Rommedahl

Dennis Rommedahl helped Denmark come from behind to beat Cameroon 2-1

Cameroon became the first team eliminated from the FIFA World Cup as they went down to a 2-1 defeat to Denmark and, thus, remain pointless after two group matches. Even if Cameroon were to win their third group match against the Netherlands on Thursday their inferior head-to-head record against the other two teams would render them unable to gain the second spot in Group E. In the other Group E game today the Netherlands won their second match of the tournament but only after scraping a 1-0 win against Japan thanks to some bad goalkeeping. Group D saw Australia reduced to ten men and unable to keep hold of a lead as they drew 1-1 to Ghana in a frustrating game for the Socceroos.

Dennis Rommedahl was the central figure for a Denmark side who had to come from behind to clinch a 2-1 win over Cameroon. Things started well for the four-time African champions when deadly striker Samuel Eto’o took advantage of some sloppy Danish defending to give the Indomitable Lions the lead after just ten minutes. In what was a game full of energy and commitment both teams went forward and tried to put opening match defeats behind them. With twelve minutes remaining in the first half Denmark got their reward when Simon Kjær’s long pass reached Dennis Rommedahl who squared the ball for the oncoming Niklas Bendtner to equalize for the Scandinavians. Rommedahl was to prove decisive in the second half when he picked the ball up outside the Cameroon penalty box, weaved his way past Jean Makoun and curled the ball around the keeper to complete the victory for Denmark. Despite Paul Le Guen’s Cameroon trying to attack frantically in the time remaining the Danish defence held out for the win and they can now play against Japan in their final game on Thursday, June 24th in what will be a winner-takes-all encounter.

This is because Japan, who beat Cameroon in their opening match, were unable to get the better of the Netherlands who won their second consecutive game thanks to some questionable goalkeeping from Eiji Kawashima. He parried a long distance shot from Wesley Sneijder into the back of the net to gift the Dutch the only goal of the game. In a game short of creativity and chances the Japanese set out to frustrate the Dutch and keep chances at a minimum but once Sneijder had scored they had no option but to attack. This they did and they had a couple of chances to equalize, most notably when Shinji Okazaki got into the box and hit the ball over the bar from a good position in the last minute of the game. But although the Dutch were not at their fluent best they did enough to win and only need a draw against Cameroon in their final group match to seal top spot in Group E.

Asamoah Gyan

Asamoah Gyan scored to give Ghana a share of the points against Australia

In the third game of the day the Australians set about restoring battered pride by playing a Ghana side who had overcome Serbia in their opening Group D game. Australia took the lead in the eleventh minute of the game when a Marco Bresciano free-kick was spilled by Ghana keeper Richard Kingson, allowing Brett Holman to dispatch the rebound and give the Socceroos the advantage early on. The Australians were fuming mid-way through the half though when Harry Kewell, back in the side after injury, was adjudged to have handled the ball on the goal line which led to match referee Roberto Rosetti showing him a red card. Asamoah Gyan put away the resulting penalty kick to restore parity for the Africans who seem to be the continent’s best chance of further progress in the tournament. Even though there was no further goalscoring the match didn’t suffer entertainment-wise as both teams went looking for a winner but the luck just wasn’t with either team. Australia will have been happier with the point considering they played the match for more than an hour at a numerical disadvantage whilst the onus should’ve been on Ghana to finish the Antipodeans off but found themselves keeping the Aussies at bay as the game reached its conclusion. The final group matches in Group D, to be played on Wednesday June 23rd, see Australia play Serbia in a bid to keep their tournament hopes alive whilst Ghana will hope to remain unbeaten by gaining something against Germany.

FIFA: Kuijt and Honda secure wins; de Rossi saves Italy

Posted in International Football by peterbein on June 14, 2010
Dirk Kuijt

Dirk Kuijt scored the second in the Netherlands' 2-0 win over Denmark

The Netherlands got day four of the FIFA World Cup under way with a comfortable 2-0 victory over Group E opponents Denmark. With the Dutch among the favourites to lift the trophy on July 11th there was always going to be huge expectations on Bert Van Marwijk’s team to start the tournament with a win but, in the end, there was nothing to worry about even after the first half had ended goalless. That’s because, after an even first half in which no team dominated proceedings, the Dutch were gifted a bizarre own goal just thirty seven seconds into the second half after a Robin Van Persie cross from the left-hand side was headed by Simon Poulsen towards his own goal and, ultimately, went in off the back of Daniel Agger. This seemed to knock the stuffing out of the Danes who offered little resistance to the Netherlands’ superior play with the Oranje enjoying two thirds of the possession and many more shots at goal than their opponents. The victory was wrapped up with just five minutes left to play when substitute Eljero Elia was played through by Wesley Sneijder and his shot hit the post only for Dirk Kuijt to tap the ball home from just a couple of yards out to seal the win for the Netherlands. No doubt that Kuijt enjoyed talking about that one to the world’s press after the game.

The second game of the day was also in Group E and a match which both Japan and Cameroon saw as their best chance to take three points. With the Netherlands and Denmark to come for both sides the magnitude of this game was multiplied for the group outsiders and it was Japan who were to be jubilant at the end of a game which didn’t offer too much by way of goalmouth action especially at the Japanese end of the pitch where, sadly, one of the world’s best strikers Samuel Eto’o remained a strangely anonymous figure on the right-hand side of the park. The goal that decided the match came in the 38th minute when a dangerous cross from the right by Daisuke Matsui found Keisuke Honda in the six-yard box who just about had enough time to take a touch to control the ball and then send it past keeper Souleymanou Hamidou. After that the Japanese were very organized and allowed Cameroon very little space to roam until the last twenty minutes when they started playing deeper. Even then it would’ve been very harsh on the Japanese had they conceded an equalizer which they very nearly did on 85 minutes when Stéphane Mbia struck a beautiful shot from long range only to see his effort come back off the woodwork. Thankfully for Japan they managed to hold on to the win and now meet the Netherlands on Saturday, June 19th in Durban while Cameroon must pick themselves up for their clash with Denmark in Pretoria on the same day.

Daniele de Rossi

Daniele de Rossi saved a point for Italy in their match against Paraguay

The third game of the day was the first game in Group F and it was a decent, if not a classic, affair between defending world champions Italy and South Americans Paraguay. The first half couldn’t build up too much attacking rhythm due to the particulary harsh weather conditions in the stadium which saw a torrent of hailstones and a lot of rain drenching the players throughout the first forty-five minutes but at least it didn’t prevent any goalmouth action. There were a couple of half chances before the main action took place in the 39th minute when a free-kick from Paraguay’s Aureliano Torres found the head of Antolín Alcaraz, who rose well above Daniele de Rossi and Fabio Cannavaro in the box, to give Paraguay the lead which they took into the half-time break. If Daniele de Rossi felt partly responsible for the goal in the first half then he made up for it in the second half equalizing after 63 minutes when Paraguayan keeper Justo Villar completely missed his attempted punch of Simone Pepe’s corner which allowed de Rossi to tap in from a couple of yards out at the far post to put the Azzurri back on level terms. After that it was the Italians who looked most likely to score a second but, unfortunately for them, their best chance to win it was saved when Villar turned Riccardo Montolivo’s long-range shot round for a corner.

In the end Paraguay must’ve been glad to pick up a point but if it weren’t for some dodgy goalkeeping from Villar then they could’ve been celebrating more tonight. Nonetheless they start the tournament with a point and will hope to get a win against Slovakia on Sunday, June 20th in Bloemfontein whilst for Italy a meeting with New Zealand in Nelspruit on the same day could see their FIFA World Cup take off in style.

FIFA: World Cup Guide – Part One

Steven Pienaar

Can Steven Pienaar guide his South Africa team beyond the group stage?

With only days to go before the big kick-off in Johannesburg “Stoppage Time – International Football Blog” provides you with a guide to each of the thirty two finalists in South Africa this summer. In a three-part series we start off with the teams that qualified from Africa and North America (Note: FIFA World Rankings correct from May 26th):

SOUTH AFRICA – Qualified as hosts; FIFA World Ranking = 83

Things didn’t always go so easy for the organizers of the South African World Cup bid but the stadiums and infrastructure now seem to be in place for a successful tournament. The national team, known as Bafana Bafana, didn’t compete in the African Cup of Nations earlier this year so it’s hard to gauge how competitive they can be but they will hope to reach the knockout stages. Will find it difficult against France, Mexico and Uruguay and could be the first host nation not to make it beyond the group stage of a FIFA World Cup.

Coach: Carlos Alberto Parreira

Star Player: Steven Pienaar

CAMEROON – Winners of Africa Group A; FIFA World Ranking = 19

Cameroon were made to work for their World Cup place having gone toe-to-toe in their group with improving Gabon. One of the more fancied teams from the African continent, along with Ivory Coast,  to provide a challenge in the finals. Since qualification they have reached the quarter-finals of the African Cup of Nations only to fall to eventual winners Egypt. Will hope to pip Denmark into second place in their group.

Coach: Paul Le Guen

Star Player: Samuel Eto’o

NIGERIA – Winners of Africa Group B; FIFA World Ranking = 21

Nigeria thought they hadn’t done quite enough after their final qualifying game, a 3-2 win over Kenya. Fortunately for the ‘Super Eagles’ news came through that their rivals Tunisia had surprisingly been beaten by Mozambique therefore allowing Nigeria to qualify by a point. Nigeria reached the semi-finals of the African Cup of Nations this year losing to tournament runners-up Ghana. They may be missing John Obi Mikel to injury but their aspiration will be to finish at least second in their group behind Argentina and ahead of South Korea and Greece.

Coach: Lars Lagerback

Star Player: Obafemi Martins

ALGERIA – Winners of Africa Group C (following a play-off against Egypt); FIFA World Ranking = 30

In the final group match Algeria were one minute away from direct qualification for the finals but Egypt’s late second goal meant that a play-off was necessary to separate two teams who had identical records after six matches. Algeria won the play-off played in neutral Sudan 1-0 to go through at the expense of their eternal rivals. Since qualification Les Fennecs reached the semi-finals of the African Cup of Nations but were subject to revenge by Egypt who thumped their World Cup conquerors by four goals to nil. With teams such as England, the United States and Slovenia in their group a third place finish seems the best they can hope for.

Coach: Rabah Saadane

Star Player:Karim Ziani

Ghana National Team

Ghana may struggle to progress from a tough group

GHANA – Winners of Africa Group D; FIFA World Ranking = 32

Secured qualification with a game to spare in an easy group that contained Mali, Benin and Sudan. Reached the final of the African Cup of Nations earlier this year but were beaten by record champions Egypt. Although they have some good players they don’t appear strong enough to progress from a group containing Germany, Serbia and Australia but still have the potential to shock any perceived superior opponent on their day.

Coach: Milovan Rajevac

Star Player: Sulley Muntari

IVORY COAST – Winners of Africa Group E; FIFA World Ranking = 27

Like Ghana, the Ivorians qualified for the finals with a game to spare in a group that contained Burkina Faso, Guinea and Malawi. Since qualification for South Africa the Ivorians were expected to do well in the African Cup of Nations but could only reach the last eight before being knocked out by fellow World Cup qualifiers Algeria. Didier Drogba’s presence means that the ‘Elephants’ will fancy their chances of getting out of the group stage but they will have their work cut out against the likes of Portugal and Brazil but should beat North Korea.

Coach: Sven-Göran Eriksson

Star Player: Didier Drogba

UNITED STATES – Winners of CONCACAF Group; FIFA World Rankings = 14

The United States topped the six team group in North and Central America to qualify for the finals and can be proud of securing a place at their sixth consecutive World Cup tournament. Since qualification for the finals the United States reached the final of the 2009 FIFA Confederations Cup having beaten tournament favourites Spain in the semi-final before losing by the odd goal in five to Brazil in the final. All in all the Americans have a good chance of progressing to the Round of 16 stage.

Coach: Bob Bradley

Star Player: Landon Donovan

MEXICO – 2nd in CONCACAF Group; FIFA World Ranking = 17

Mexico struggled early on in the World Cup qualifying campaign and changed their coach in the process. New coach Javier Aguirre steadied the ship and secured the runners-up spot in the group lying just one point behind their neighbours United States. The Mexicans are the current champions of North and Central America having won the 2009 CONCACAF Gold Cup tournament defeating arch-rivals USA by an amazing 5-0 scoreline. El Tri will fancy their chances of progress beyond the group stage as they compete in one of the most open groups of the tournament along with France, South Africa and Uruguay.

Coach: Javier Aguirre

Star Player: Rafael Márquez

HONDURAS – 3rd in CONCACAF Group; FIFA World Ranking = 38

Honduras took the final spot in the group in the most dramatic fashion. Their 1-0 victory away at arch-rivals El Salvador was coupled with the USA’s last minute equalizing goal in the 2-2 draw against Costa Rica, the loss of two crucial points denied the latter a place at the World Cup. In the 2009 CONCACAF Gold Cup the Hondurans lost 2-0 in the semi-finals to United States. Success for Honduras will be if they don’t finish bottom of a group containing Spain, Chile and Switzerland.

Coach: Reinaldo Rueda

Star Player: David Suazo

Honduras National Team

The Hondurans are appearing in their first FIFA World Cup since 1982

FIFA World Cup draw – The Verdict

Posted in International Football by peterbein on December 5, 2009
Charlize Theron

Charlize Theron hosted the World Cup draw in South Africa

The draw for the 2010 FIFA World Cup took place in Cape Town, South Africa, yesterday. Presented by Charlize Theron (pictured) and including a host of figures from the football world including FIFA president Sepp Blatter and perhaps  the most recognisable sporting icon in the world David Beckham, the draw did throw up some intriguing individual ties and some interesting groups. “Stoppage Time” assesses the groups and the matches that should shape the fortunes at the beginning of the tournament:

GROUP A: SOUTH AFRICA, MEXICO, URUGUAY, FRANCE

The host nation should find it very tough in a group which looks like it will be very close. The French will be favourites to go through but their clash against Mexico could decide who wins the group. However the South Africans may harbour hopes of surprising Mexico in the opening game of the tournament. Uruguay, with their deadly strike force of Diego Forlan and Luis Suarez, will certainly fancy their chances of finishing in the top two. Their final group game against Mexico could be amongst the most intense of the championship.

GROUP B: ARGENTINA, NIGERIA, SOUTH KOREA, GREECE

Almost an exact copy of Group D in the 1994 FIFA World Cup (Argentina, Nigeria and Greece played in a group that contained Bulgaria instead of South Korea). Despite qualifying the tough way Argentina should top this group quite comfortably, the opening match against Nigeria will probably be their toughest assignment. However the Greeks may wish to spring a surprise in much the same way that they did in EURO 2004 when they became European Champions. South Korea can only expect to finish bottom.

GROUP C: ENGLAND, UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, ALGERIA, SLOVENIA

Almost after the draw had finished the English media were in overdrive, hyping up their country’s chances of winning the 2010 World Cup. It’s true that they should expect to top this group with relative ease. The only match of real interest is England’s opening clash with the USA, a game that throws back terrible memories for the “Home of Football”. If the Americans can repeat their 1-0 victory in the 1950 World Cup (so unbelieveable a result in those days that the English media initially reported a 10-0 victory for England!) then it would leave the group wide open. The match will have a personal edge involving the LA Galaxy footballers David Beckham and US Captain Landon Donovan, a war of words between the two earlier in the season may add a bit of extra spice to this match. Algeria and Slovenia will be fighting to avoid the wooden spoon.

GROUP D: GERMANY, AUSTRALIA, SERBIA, GHANA

Not as easy for Germany as it may appear on paper. The Australians were very unlucky to lose to the Italians in the 2006 World Cup (a dubious penalty tucked away by Francesco Totti five minutes into stoppage time) and they will hope to put up a challenge for the top spot in this group. Serbia are competing in their first finals as an independent nation and have a leader in Manchester United player Nemanda Vidic. Ghana could be a team that plays open, attacking football but their defence will concede plenty of goals. Germany are quietly optimistic that they can go far in this tournament. The matches between themselves, Australia and Serbia should determine the outcome of the group.

GROUP E: NETHERLANDS, DENMARK, CAMEROON, JAPAN

This group looks to be a fairly comfortable one for the Dutch. As I reported in my blog “FIFA World Cup draw preview – Part Three” the Dutch had a very easy group in qualifying and they will look to take that form into this group. Cameroon will be a strong contender for second place and with players like Samuel Eto’o and Geremi can give the Danes a tough challenge when they meet in their second group match. Japan have improved as a nation in the last decade but won’t be expected to trouble the other three too much.

GROUP F: ITALY, PARAGUAY, NEW ZEALAND, SLOVAKIA

The current world champions Italy won’t have too much trouble getting through this group. The opening group game between themselves and Paraguay should be among one of the better ones in the group stages. Slovakia are a tough team on their day and won’t go down without a fight. However they may be just a little too inexperienced at this level and will find it tough to get to the Round of 16. New Zealand will be ecstatic to be in South Africa but their squad is very limited, therefore expect defensive tactics from a nation that will want to avoid embarrassment in this tournament.

GROUP G: BRAZIL, NORTH KOREA, IVORY COAST, PORTUGAL

There’s a 1966 World Cup feel to this group; it was Portugal who, literally, kicked Pele and his great Brazilian team off the park (Goodison Park to be precise) and it was Portugal who had to come back from 3-0 down to defeat the surprise package of the tournament North Korea 5-3. This time, though, matches in this group involving North Korea should be more clear-cut as they’re the outsiders of this tournament. The Ivory Coast, involved in a tough group including Argentina and Holland in the 2006 World Cup, will be expecting as tough a time in 2010 but some will feel that they can beat Portugal, whose qualification for the World Cup was only confirmed via a play-off. If the Ivorians can get three points against Portugal in the opening group match then they should reach the second round.

GROUP H: SPAIN, SWITZERLAND, HONDURAS, CHILE

The current European champions Spain are currently the favourites to win the FIFA World Cup and they will be encouraged further having seen the draw. They should easily overcome the challenges of their group rivals leaving the rest to fight it out for second place. Honduras qualified thanks to events elsewhere (see blog “FIFA World Cup draw preview – Part One) but aren’t expected to get through this group, therefore the match between Switzerland and Chile (both teams’ second group match) should prove to be amongst the more important.

FIFA World Cup draw preview – Part One

Posted in International Football by peterbein on December 1, 2009

Thirty two teams, one World Cup

The excitement is already building ahead of the draw for the 19th FIFA World Cup finals in South Africa. Ever since the original competition kicked off in Uruguay in 1930 the tournament has gone from strength to strength and there is great anticipation that the next competition will be amongst the best yet. On Friday, December 4th there will be thirty two nations anxious to find out their opponents for the group stage of the tournament that will kick-off on June 11th, 2010. Over the next three days “Stoppage Time” will take a look at how the thirty two nations qualified for the finals. Today we profile the nine nations from Africa and North/Central America:

SOUTH AFRICA – Qualified as hosts; FIFA World Ranking = 86*

It’s been a shaky build-up for South Africa as critics have complained about the organisation, the slow progress of stadium development and poor results from the ‘Bafana Bafana’ which has seen the national team drop down the rankings. Without an African Cup of Nations tournament to prepare for in early 2010 it will be difficult to assess how competitive they could be during the World Cup.

CAMEROON – Winners of Africa Group A; FIFA World Ranking = 11

Cameroon were made to work for their World Cup place having gone toe-to-toe in their group with improving Gabon. Arguably the most fancied team from the African continent to provide a challenge in the finals.

NIGERIA – Winners of Africa Group B; FIFA World Ranking = 22

Nigeria thought they hadn’t done quite enough after their final qualifying game, a 3-2 win over Kenya. Fortunately for the ‘Super Eagles’ news came through that their rivals Tunisia had surprisingly been beaten by Mozambique therefore allowing Nigeria to qualify by a point.

ALGERIA – Winners of Africa Group C (following a play-off against Egypt); FIFA World Ranking = 28

In the final group match Algeria were one minute away from direct qualification for the finals but Egypt’s late second goal meant that a play-off was necessary to separate two teams who had identical records after six matches. Algeria won the play-off 1-0 played in neutral Sudan to go through at the expense of their eternal rivals.

GHANA – Winners of Africa Group D; FIFA World Ranking = 37

Secured qualification with a game to spare in an easy group that contained Mali, Benin and Sudan.

IVORY COAST – Winners of Africa Group E; FIFA World Ranking = 16

Like Ghana, the Ivorians qualified for the finals with a game to spare in a group that contained Burkina Faso, Guinea and Malawi. Didier Drogba’s presence means that the ‘Elephants’ will fancy their chances of getting out of the group stage and challenging some of the stronger nations in the finals.

UNITED STATES – Winners of CONCACAF Group; FIFA World Rankings = 14

The United States topped the six team group in North and Central America to qualify for the finals. Despite football not being among the nation’s top sports the Americans can be proud of securing a place at their sixth consecutive World Cup tournament.

MEXICO – 2nd in CONCACAF Group; FIFA World Ranking = 15

Mexico struggled early on in the campaign and changed their coach in the process. New coach Javier Aguirre has steadied the ship and secured the runners-up spot in the group lying just one point behind their neighbours United States.

HONDURAS – 3rd in CONCACAF Group; FIFA World Ranking = 38

Honduras took the final spot in the group in the most dramatic fashion. Their 1-0 victory away at arch-rivals El Salvador was coupled with the USA’s last minute equalizing goal in the 2-2 draw against Costa Rica, the loss of two crucial points denied the latter a place at the World Cup.

* FIFA World Rankings correct on December 1st, 2009