Stoppage Time – International Football Blog

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 A and B Review

Posted in International Football by peterbein on June 22, 2010
Raymond Domenech

Raymond Domenech saw his France team go out of the tournament with a 2-1 defeat to host nation South Africa

GROUP A: URUGUAY 3 /7; MEXICO 3/4; SOUTH AFRICA 3/4; FRANCE 3/1

Unfortunately for South Africa they made history by becoming the first host nation not to make it to the knockout stage of a FIFA World Cup but they did restore some pride by chalking up their first win of the tournament against a French side whose internal strife under coach Raymond Domenech has been well documented. Bongani Khumalo and Katlego Mphela were the men who did the damage for Bafana Bafana in Bloemfontein giving the hosts a 2-0 lead at the break. Florent Malouda pulled one back for Les Bleus with twenty minutes of the game remaining but the celebrations were gradually beginning in Rustenburg where Uruguay won by a Luis Suárez goal in the first half and the Mexicans, despite defeat, knew that the South Africans hadn’t done enough to overturn the goal difference in their favour. Uruguayan coach Oscar Washington Tabárez will be relieved that his team have avoided one of the tournament favourites, Argentina, in the next round and may now fancy their chances of springing an upset later in the competition. Mexico, however, will have painful memories of the most recent FIFA World Cup in Germany where they were knocked out of the competition by Argentina, the team who they now face in this year’s Round of Sixteen.

Diego Maradona

Unlike his French counterpart, Diego Maradona saw his Argentina team win all three group matches

GROUP B: ARGENTINA 3 Games/9 Points; SOUTH KOREA 3/4; GREECE 3/3; NIGERIA 3/1

With all due respect to lovers of Greek football it is one of the great reliefs of the tournament that Otto Rehhagel’s Greece team is out of the tournament after playing some of the most negative football I can remember seeing in a FIFA World Cup tournament. They kept Argentina at bay for 77 minutes but the deadlock was finally broken when Martin Demichelis scored the opening goal from a corner kick to cue customary manic celebration on the touchline from El Diego. Veteran striker and substitute Martín Palermo sealed the game for the Albiceleste in stoppage time turning in a rebound from a Messi shot and Argentina deservedly go through to face Mexico in Johannesburg. Sadly for African football Nigeria were unable to become the first side from the continent to reach the next stage after managing a 2-2 draw against South Korea. After taking the lead early on through Kalu Uche Nigeria surrendered the lead early in the second half after the Asian side had turned it around with goals from Lee Jung-Soo and Park Chu-Young. Ayegbeni Yakubu did dispatch a 69th minute penalty kick to give Nigeria hope but they were unable to break Korean resistance any further and it was South Korea who reached the last 16 with a tie against Group A winners Uruguay, who they will meet in Port Elizabeth on Saturday, June 26th.

FIFA: Argentina win again; Greece get first victory; France stumble to defeat

Posted in International Football by peterbein on June 17, 2010
Gonzalo Higuaín

Gonzalo Higuaín scored a hat-trick for Argentina in their 4-1 win over South Korea

Having lamented the lack of real action in the opening week of the FIFA World Cup, with only Germany being spared from any criticism due to their fantastic 4-0 triumph over Australia, the tournament now seems to have opened up and the goals have been flying in over the last two days of action. Many pundits have suggested, quite justifiably, that every team in the competition was frightened to lose in their opening matches and, therefore, placed an emphasis on defence with no real inclination to attack. But now that every team has played their opening game it is evident amongst those teams that have played their second matches already that there is an instinct to attack that wasn’t there before. Suddenly the action is better and the games have become more of a spectacle. Today’s action is a case in point.

The Group B table saw Argentina top after the first round of matches and it remains the case after the second round as the Albiceleste saw off a spirited South Korea side by four goals to one with the brilliant and, in my humble opinion, under-rated striker Gonzalo Higuaín scoring the first hat-trick of the tournament. Argentina, though, did have to rely on a bit of luck to take the lead after a 16th minute free-kick from the left by Lionel Messi was inadvertently turned into his own net by Park Chu-Young from six yards out. The second goal for Argentina began in the same area of the pich with a cross from Maxi Rodríguez flicked on by Nicolas Burdisso, an early substitute for Walter Samuel who went off with a hamstring injury, and Higuaín was able to direct the ball goalwards at the far post to double the lead. At this point the Argentines were coasting the match but were given a wake-up call from South Korea when Lee Chung-Yung dispossessed Martín Demichelis on the edge of Argentina’s penalty area and tucked it past Sergio Romero to pull one back on the stroke of half-time.

The second half would belong to one man and that man was Gonzalo Higuaín. His second goal was a true poacher’s effort with Messi and Sergio Agüero combining well with the former’s shot hitting the keeper and a post before crawling along the line where a grateful Higuaín tapped it home to make it 3-1 with thirteen minutes to go. Three minutes later and he’d got his hat-trick thanks once again to some fantastic work between Messi and Agüero. Messi fed Agüero with a lofted ball into the box, with Agüero supplying a beautifully weighted cross over to Higuaín at the far post and his header sealed what was a well-deserved scoreline for a team who have seemingly found their rhythm in this tournament now.

In the other Group B game Greece, who had started the tournament so appallingly in their opening game against South Korea, looked to be heading in the same direction after just sixteen minutes when Kalu Uche’s long distance free-kick somehow avoided everybody in the box and deceived Greek keeper Alexandros Tzorvas into diving the wrong way. But the Greeks finally got that bit of luck when Nigeria’s Sani Kaita was shown a red card in the 33rd minute for kicking out at Vasilis Torosidis after a needless scuffle on the touchline. This provided the perfect platform for the 2004 European champions to get back into the game and, with just seconds of the first half remaining, they did just that. Even then Greece, who hadn’t scored a single goal in World Cup finals football before today, finally broke their duck thanks to a cruel deflection, Dimitris Salpingidis’ shot came off Lukman Haruna and sent the keeper the wrong way to make the score 1-1 going into the break. From the second half the Greeks took the game to the Super Eagles who had decided to try and hold on to what they had. But constant Greek pressure soon paid off in the 71st minute when Torosidis, the man at the centre of the red card furore earlier in the game, saw Alexandros Tziolis’ shot from the edge of the box parried by Nigerian keeper Vincent Enyeama and it was Torosidis who put the rebound in from just inside the six yard box to give his country its first ever victory in the FIFA World Cup after they lost all of their previous four games from the 1994 and 2010 tournaments. In the final Group B matches, to be played on Tuesday June 22nd at 20:30 local time, Argentina meet Greece whilst South Korea face off against Nigeria.

Javier Hernández

Javier Hernández gave Mexico the lead in their 2-0 win over France

Group A had already seen the host nation South Africa crumble to an efficient Uruguay side on Wednesday night, Diego Forlán’s contribution of two goals and an assist for Álvaro Pereira saw the two-time winners victorious to the tune of three goals to nil to silence the vuvuzelas in the crowd. Thursday saw the second game in the group for France and Mexico, both of whom drew their opening matches in the tournament, therefore a win was absolutely imperative for both teams to stake a serious claim of further progress in the competition. Despite the lack of goals in the first half the Mexicans gave a good account of themselves and were clearly the hungrier of the two teams. The French, personified by their expected star of the tournament Franck Ribéry, were lacklustre, devoid of ideas and barely threatened their opponents all night. The second half saw Mexico break the deadlock on 64 minutes when Javier Hernández, who came on as a substitute just ten minutes earlier, beat the offside trap and had all the time in the world to take the ball past a helpless Hugo Lloris and into the French net. The game was won fifteen minutes later when another second half substitute Cuauhtémoc Blanco dispatched a penalty kick which had been won when Patrice Evra brought down Pablo Barrera in the box. The celebrations started in the stadium and the result seriously hinders French chances of qualification to the next round. In the final Group A games, to be played on Tuesday, June 22nd at 16:00 local time, group leaders Uruguay and Mexico meet each other in Rustenburg, with both teams knowing that a draw will be enough to take them both through, while South Africa plays against France in Bloemfontein in what will almost certainly be their last match in their home tournament.

FIFA: Wins for South Korea and Argentina while England stumble to draw

Posted in International Football by peterbein on June 12, 2010
Lee Jung-Soo

Lee Jung-Soo scored South Korea's opening goal in their 2-0 victory over Greece

Saturday saw six more teams get their FIFA Wold Cup campaign underway with Groups B & C taking centre stage. The first match of the day is an early contender for the Stoppage Time Most Boring Game Of The Tournament award as South Korea and Greece provided an utterly underwhelming exhibition – a term I use very loosely – of football which could’ve put an insomniac asleep. The only moments to behold in an otherwise forgettable affair were Lee Jung-Soo’s seventh minute opening goal and Park Ji-Sung’s goal which doubled the lead for the Koreans in the 52nd minute. The defending from Greece for the first goal was poor with an entire back four standing still while Lee turned the ball home at the far post whilst unmarked. Another defensive slip allowed the Koreans to double the lead with Loukas Vyntra giving away possession to Manchester United star Park who bust a gut to get into the box before sliding the ball home past a helpless Alexandros Tzorvas.

The unforgivable crime from the Greek side, even worse than their defending, was their inability to raise themselves for the occasion in a game they were, on paper at least, most likely to obtain any points from. They seldom looked like any kind of threat up front and it is no surprise that their unenviable record of having never scored a goal in FIFA World Cup finals to date still stands true after this match. After the Greeks scored no goals in three matches in the 1994 tournament I wouldn’t be surprised to see them replicate that statistic this time around. Credit, though, must go to the South Koreans who didn’t need to be at their best to obtain three points from this most dire of football matches.

The irony is that, despite the sorry football on show in the first game, there were more goals to be seen between South Korea and Greece than there were in the following Group B encounter involving Argentina and Nigeria which was a much more entertaining game. The game was decided by an early Gabriel Heinze header with the Argentine centre-half completely unmarked twelve yards out to head home a Juan Sebastián Verón corner in the sixth minute. Their opponents Nigeria were finding it difficult to get going in the first half with the Argentines having much more possession but unable to find the second goal with it. Lionel Messi had at least four great chances in the match to get on the scoresheet and, as the game went on, the Nigerians were finally encouraged to go further forward by otherwise defence-minded coach Lars Lagerbäck, therefore allowing for a much more open game as it entered the final twenty minutes. Taye Taiwo had Nigeria’s best chance in the 71st minute when his toe-poked effort from the edge of the box shaded past the post and Obafemi Martins’ long-range effort seven minutes brought a decent stop from Sergia Romero. Diego Maradona was restless on the touchline but was able to celebrate the victory after the final whistle and provide a much-needed three points to start the tournament for La Albiceleste.

Steven Gerrard

England captain Steven Gerrard scored after just four minutes in their 1-1 draw against the United States

The final game on the second day of the competition was in Rustenburg where Group C got under way with an intriging clash between England and the United States. It was a confident USA team who got the game under way but they were made to pay for some slack defending after just four minutes when Steven Gerrard, replacing the injured Rio Ferdinand as England captain, ran into some clear space in the penalty box and was put through by Emile Heskey to give the Three Lions an early lead. England looked comfortable early on but the Americans gradually grew into the game with Jozy Altidore having their first real chance  after twenty minutes and then the USA had the most possession for the rest of the half. Just when it looked like England would go in at the break holding on to a slender lead it suddenly disappeared when goalkeeper Robert Green failed to hold on to Clint Dempsey’s speculative drive in the 40th minute to restore parity for the Americans and this was how it remained going into the interval.

The second half saw no real improvement from England and there were times when the United States looked the better side. They certainly had the best chance of the second half when Jozy Altidore got the better of England substitute Jamie Carragher and his low shot was turned against the post by Robert Green, who made up for his first half blunder at that moment. The expected stars of the match, England’s Wayne Rooney and USA’s Landon Donovan, didn’t really live up to star billing although the former did become more prominent in the last fifteen minutes of the game winning a number of free-kicks whilst the latter had a couple of shots from distance but didn’t really trouble the England keeper. The Man of the Match, in my opinion, was Emile Heskey whose tireless devotion to the cause made some of his critics, including yours truly, eat their words. As well as setting up the goal he was hard-working, won many aerial challenges and was a menace both in and around the USA penalty box until replaced by Peter Crouch in the 79th minute. Next up for England is Algeria in Cape Town on Friday, June 18th whilst the USA face Slovenia in Jo’Burg on the same date.

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

Differing fortunes for African Cup champions and favourites

Posted in African Football by peterbein on January 13, 2010
Ivory Coast

Ivory Coast could only draw their first game in the African Cup of Nations against unfancied Burkina Faso

Going into this year’s African Cup of Nations many pundits have predicted that Ivory Coast, including the likes of Didier Drogba, Salomon Kalou and Yaya Touré, will win the tournament. At the same time Egypt, who are back-to-back defending champions having won the most recent two tournaments in 2006 and 2008, have been written off especially as their big guns of Mohamed Aboutrika, Amr Zaki and Mido are missing either through injury or non-inclusion in their national team. However their opening matches in Angola in the last couple of days have given these pundits food for thought.

When Ivory Coast played against Burkina Faso on Sunday many thought that three points for the former would pretty much secure their passage into the quarter finals, especially as they are in the group which Togo have now been disqualified from due to their reluctance to participate after the gun attack in Cabinda last Friday. However the Burkina Faso side were determined to prove that they are not in Angola just to make up the numbers and held their more illustrious opponents to a credible 0-0 draw in Group B’s opening match. This means that the second game of the group between the Ivory Coast and Ghana is something akin to an early cup final. If the Ivorians lose then a draw in the final game involving Burkina Faso and Ghana would be enough to send ‘Les Éléphants’ crashing out of the tournament at the group stage, something which was unthinkable before the competition began.

In contrast Egypt have started the tournament strongly. They went behind to a super strike from Chinedu Obasi after only twelve mintes in their 3-1 win over Nigeria. The defending champions equalized when Nigeria’s keeper came out of his penalty area which allowed Emad Moteab to go around him and put the ball into an empty net on 34 minutes. Egypt captain Ahmed Hassan, playing in the African Cup of Nations for a remarkable eighth time, scored the second goal ten minutes into the second half albeit thanks to a wicked deflection of Taye Taiwo. Mohamed Gedo completed the victory for the Pharaohs three minutes from time to give the Egyptians the perfect start in Group C, especially as their other group opponents Mozambique and Benin could only draw 2-2 in their encounter.

Perhaps the fact that Egypt haven’t qualified for the FIFA World Cup this season means that they will try their level best to secure a history making third consecutive African Cup of Nations trophy. It is possible that the Ivory Coast will get through their group and go all the way but after the opening match results they must be fearful that yet another opportunity to become continental champions is going to be squandered. But in what appears to be an open tournament so far I don’t think too many pundits should be making predictions just yet….

FIFA Club World Cup preview

FIFA Club World Cup

Seven teams will fight it out in the UAE for the trophy

Love it or loathe it the FIFA Club World Cup is going to remain a staple part of the football calendar. To some observers it’s a chance to win a trophy and add more prestige to their club. To some others it’s a competition that turns up in the middle of a long hard season, getting in the way of domestic progress. Either way there will be seven teams in the United Arab Emirates from December 9-19 who will be giving everything to win the cup. Here is Stoppage Time’s guide to the participants:

FC BARCELONA – UEFA CHAMPIONS LEAGUE WINNERS 2009

FC Barcelona became European champions for the third time in May after beating Manchester United 2-0 in Rome. It is surprising that a massive club such as “Barça” has never won the FIFA Club World Cup or its predecessor, the Intercontinental Cup. After twice being crowned European champions in 1992 and 2006 the Catalans have been defeated by Brazilian clubs in their attempts to be crowned the world’s best. In 1992 a São Paulo side inspired by Rai beat Barça 2-1 and then, three years ago, Internacional scored a late goal to deny Barcelona again. This time the ‘Blaugrana’ hope to make it third time lucky in this tournament and add the FIFA Club World Cup to the other five trophies they’ve won under their coach Pep Guardiola.

ESTUDIANTES DE LA PLATA – COPA LIBERTADORES WINNERS 2009

Estudiantes won their fourth Copa Libertadores with a 2-1 victory over two legs against Brazilian side Cruzeiro. The Argentinian side had a mixed record in the Intercontinental Cup during their heyday in the late 1960s and early 70s. Their solo victory came in 1968 after a 2-1 aggregate win over Manchester United (before 1979 the champions of Europe and South America played home and away matches to win the cup). Their next two efforts, however, ended in failure; in 1969 Milan won 4-2 on aggregate and in 1970 Feyenoord Rotterdam claimed their only world title with a 3-2 aggregate win. Can Juan Sebastián Verón emulate his father Juan Ramón’s achievements and become a world champion with his boyhood club?

ATLANTE CF – CONCACAF CHAMPIONS LEAGUE WINNERS 2009

The Mexican side secured their second CONCACAF Champions League title after an all-Mexican affair with Cruz Azul ended up 2-0 after a two-legged final. Atlante’s other title win was back in 1983 when they defeated Surinam’s Robinhood FC (yes, really!) 6-1 over two legs. Atlante’s Club World Cup campaign will kick-off at the quarter-final stage against either Al Ahli or Auckland City, who meet in the first match of the competition.

POHANG STEELERS – AFC CHAMPIONS LEAGUE WINNERS 2009

The three time Asian champions have not always dominated the domestic scene in South Korea but tend to thrive in Asian club competition. After previous successes in 1997 and 1998, Pohang Steelers won a third title this year by defeating Al-Ittihad of Saudi Arabia 2-1 in Tokyo’s National Stadium. Pohang will play against TP Mazembe at the quarter-final stage, the winner of which faces Estudiantes in the semi-finals.

TP MAZEMBE – CAF AFRICAN CHAMPIONS LEAGUE WINNERS 2009

The Congolese side have been African champions on three occasions after their most recent success was decided on away goals against Nigerian team Heartlands FC. After the Nigerians won the first leg 2-1 at home, Mazembe won the second leg 1-0 to secure a passage to the Middle East. A meeting with Estudiantes de la Plata awaits if they can overcome Pohang Steelers in the quarter-final.

AUCKLAND CITY – OFC CHAMPIONS LEAGUE WINNERS 2009

The New Zealanders will be participating in the FIFA Club World Cup for a second time, after their previous appearance in 2006, following their 9-4 win over Soloman Islands’ club Koloale FC in the two-legged OFC Champions League final. In 2006 Auckland City lost in the opening play-off match to Al Ahly of Egypt 2-0. Can they avoid a repeat against a similarly named Al Ahli of UAE in this year’s tournament?

AL AHLI – UAE LEAGUE CHAMPIONS 2009

Representing the host country in this year’s tournament, Al Ahli have never been Asian champions but are the current UAE League champions after winning the title by one point from nearest challengers Al Jazira Club. Last season’s attempt at continental glory came to an end in the group phase of the AFC Champions League competition. Will meet Atlante CF in the quarter-final if they beat Auckland City in the play-off match.

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