Stoppage Time – International Football Blog

FIFA: Japan clinch maiden title against the odds

Posted in International Football by peterbein on July 18, 2011
Japan Women's National Team

Japan defeated the USA to win the FIFA Women's World Cup for the first time

The 2011 FIFA Women’s World Cup saw a new name adorn the trophy as Japan completed their epic odyssey in this year’s tournament by defeating two-time champions the United States in a penalty shootout following a 2-2 draw after extra-time.

After a route to the final which saw them get the better of Mexico and New Zealand in the group phase and eliminate Germany and Sweden in the quarter-finals and semi-finals respectively, the Japanese were expected to fall at the final hurdle against a country which had the experience of winning on the big occasion. But the determination and never-say-die spirit of the new champions ensured that they came away from Frankfurt’s Waldstadion with the trophy.

The game was tight in the first half, a fact reflected by the 0-0 score line at the break, but came to life in the second half when Alex Morgan gave the Americans the lead on 69 minutes. Japan equalized with nine minutes of regular time to go with Aya Miyama scoring the goal which took the game into extra-time. Abby Wambach, who has impressed for the Americans throughout the tournament, regained the lead for her team on the edge of half-time in extra-time and the USA needed to hold out for another fifteen minutes to reclaim the trophy for a record breaking third time.

However it was fitting that tournament top scorer Homare Sawa got the crucial second for Japan with just three minutes of extra-time to play to send the game into a penalty shootout. The Americans fluffed their lines from the spot with three of their four penalty takers missing their efforts. The Japanese, on the other hand, only missed once and when Saki Kumagai scored the crucial fourth spot kick to seal the 3-1 victory it sparked mass celebration from the touchline as this most unlikely of winners sealed their maiden FIFA Women’s World Cup triumph in front of a healthy 48,000 crowd.

It proved to be an incredibly rewarding tournament for Homare Sawa who not only won the Golden Boot award for finishing tournament top scorer with five goals but also won the Golden Ball award for player of the tournament. The Japanese team were also rewarded with the FIFA Fair Play trophy to go alongside their World Cup title which they will hope to defend in Canada in 2015 but, similarly to the Men’s version, the Women’s World Cup winners don’t get an automatic place in the next tournament and will have to qualify.

USA: Major League prepares for the Play-Offs

Posted in North and Central American Football by peterbein on October 30, 2010
MLS Cup

Who will win the MLS Cup?

So with the Major League Soccer (MLS) regular season completed the Play-Offs begin in earnest this weekend. Fresh from winning the Supporters’ Shield, the trophy given to the team with the best overall record during the regular season, will Los Angeles Galaxy go one better in this year’s Play-Offs and come away with the coveted trophy? Or will one of the other seven Play-Off qualifiers deprive them of the title that gets more competitive every year? Stoppage Time – International Football Blog previews this year’s Play-Off series.

WESTERN CONFERENCE PLAY-OFFS

The tie of the round inevitably involves regular season champions LA Galaxy playing against Seattle Sounders. Both of these teams have already qualified for next year’s CONCACAF Champions League with the former securing their place thanks to their Supporters’ Shield triumph whilst the latter will feature in North & Central America’s elite club competition thanks to their recent U.S. Open Cup victory in which they defeated Columbus Crew 2-1 in the final. Both teams, therefore, see this year’s Play-Off series as a chance to secure a ‘Double’ and the Sounders have the most to prove if they are to jump over the first hurdle. They lost both times to the Galaxy during the regular season (4-0 at home; 3-1 away) but they have shown some good form leading into the post-season having won five out of their last six games. The Galaxy will have all of the pressure heaped upon them as their all-star line-up including the likes of Landon Donovan and David Beckham will know that, despite topping the regular season standings by three points from Real Salt Lake, they could be just two games away from elimination. The other Western Conference match involves last season’s MLS Cup champions Real Salt Lake who are undefeated in their last fourteen Major League matches and who, like last season, have timed their run into the finals perfectly. They face up to a FC Dallas team who know that it was only a fortnight ago that they lost in a regular season match to Real and will want to avoid the same thing happening again. It should prove to be a fascinating match-up.

LA Galaxy v Seattle Sounders (1st leg 31.10; 2nd leg 07.11)

Real Salt Lake v FC Dallas (1st leg 30.10; 2nd leg 06.11)

EASTERN CONFERENCE PLAY-OFFS

With six of the top eight regular season teams coming from the Western Conference two of those clubs have had to ‘switch sides’ to the Eastern Conference due to the format. Both of the two eastern qualifiers will play one of their western counterparts at this stage with the most prominent tie involving Eastern Conference champions New York Red Bulls against the San Jose Earthquakes. With stars of the immense quality of Thierry Henry and Rafael Márquez in their ranks the Red Bulls are hoping that the huge investment placed into the team by the famous drinks manufacturer will finally begin to pay off and will herald a first major trophy for the underachieving club. The Earthquakes, twice winners of the MLS Cup in 2001 & 2003, finished eighth in the regular season but they will be satisfied if their head-to-head against New York in this year’s regular season is replicated as San Jose got the better of the games losing 2-0 in New York but winning 4-0 at home. The final Play-Off encounter pits Columbus Crew, MLS Cup winners in 2008 and second in this season’s Eastern Conference, against the final Western Conference outfit Colorado Rapids who have qualified for the post-season for the first time in four years. Both teams have been in less impressive form coming into the finals with Colorado winning three of their final eight regular season matches whilst Columbus have fared even worse winning just one but they have had to juggle the CONCACAF Champions League into their schedule. In the regular season head-to-head Columbus got the slight edge over the Rapids with a 3-1 home win in August coming after a 1-0 defeat in Colorado two months earlier.

New York Red Bulls v San Jose Earthquakes (1st leg 31.10; 2nd leg 05.11)

Columbus Crew v Colorado Rapids (1st leg 29.10; 2nd leg 06.11)

FIFA World Cup Review – North and Central America

Posted in International Football, North and Central American Football by peterbein on July 12, 2010
Landon Donovan

Landon Donovan secured the USA a place in the last sixteen of the FIFA World Cup

Stoppage Time – International Football Blog continues to review each of the respective continental fortunes in the 2010 FIFA World Cup. Here we look at the three nations that comprised the challenge from the CONCACAF North and Central American region.

The United States qualified for their sixth straight FIFA World Cup finals and were hoping to reach at least the quarter-finals to equal their best ever performance. The Americans were involved in some of South Africa’s most memorable and controversial moments for as long as they were in the tournament. Their opening group match against England saw them fall behind after just four minutes to a Steven Gerrard goal but they restored parity five minutes before the break when England keeper Robert Green hilariously let the ball slip his grasp to gift Clint Dempsey the equalizer. They also had to come from behind to salvage a point against Slovenia who were two goals to the good at half time before Landon Donovan and Michael Bradley brought them level. With Slovenia on the ropes Maurice Edu thought he’d won the game with five minutes remaining but the referee disallowed the goal for a foul which nobody saw. The final group match against Algeria saw more late drama as, with the game goalless and deep into stoppage time, Landon Donovan scored from six yards out to give the USA top spot in the group over England and a round of sixteen encounter against Ghana. Sadly for coach Bob Bradley his team were unable to progress when it mattered as they dominated a second half in which they came back from a 1-0 half time deficit. But the game went into extra-time where Asamoah Gyan wrote history for the Africans with a beautifully struck goal which knocked the Americans out of the competition.

Having had a terrible start to World Cup qualifying the Mexicans had steadied the ship under coach Javier Aguirre and were quietly optimistic that they could qualify from their group. Mexico had the pleasure of participating in the opening game of the tournament against hosts South Africa who took the lead after 55 minutes after Siphiwe Tshabalala. The Bafana Bafana were to rue some late lack of concentration when Rafael Márquez equalized with twenty minutes to go and ensured that Mexico would gain a point from the match. The second game brought more joy for El Tri where they got the better of a French side beset by infighting and a lack of morale. Javier Hernández and Cuauhtémoc Blanco scored the goals which put paid to French hopes and gave them a top of the group clash with Uruguay to decide the group. The Mexicans, sadly for them, lost their final group match to a Luis Suárez goal and this meant that they finished second in the group and had a clash with Argentina in the round of sixteen stage for the second consecutive tournament. When the game took place Mexico were fuming about Carlos Tévez’s opening goal in which he was stood in an offside position but hadn’t been spotted by the officials. Once Gonzalo Higuaín had made it 2-0 there was really no way back for the Mexicans, who had to watch Tévez score his second before pulling one back through Javier Hernández in a 3-1 defeat which signalled the end of the road.

The final team from the CONCACAF region to be represented were Honduras who were in the same group as European champions Spain, Chile and Switzerland. In their opening game against Chile it was to be disappotment for Los Catrachos when Jean Beausejour’s 34th minute strike was enough to separate the two teams and lead Honduras to defeat. Their second game saw them go down to a double strike from David Villa in a game the Spanish should’ve won with more goals but, in the end, Honduras had to be grateful just for conceding two especially as Villa missed a penalty kick which would’ve seen him score a hat trick. Honduras’ final group match against Switzerland was one of the worst matches of the tournament and was no surprise when it finished as a goalless draw. Every cloud has a silver lining, however, and Honduras celebrated their first and only point in South Africa even if they couldn’t prevent themselves finishing bottom of the group.

So what about the future? The next tournament in Brazil in four years time may provide some benefit to the nations that qualify from CONCACAF as they may be more adept at acclimatizing to the conditions than some of their opponents. But even if one doesn’t take that in to consideration one can only hope that this region does provide a meaningful challenge in the near future as the potential of countries such as the big two, Mexico and the United States, is as yet unrealized in this competition. The former have only qualified for the last eight on two occasions whilst the latter’s third place in the inaugural FIFA World Cup in 1930 is too far in the past to have any significance today. Expectations after their 2002 quarter-final appearance may have reached unrealistic proportions going into the 2006 tournament where the USA failed to get past the group stage but the talent is growing steadily in that region and we can hope that one of them might trouble the usual suspects in 2014.

FIFA: Round of 16 Review

Posted in International Football by peterbein on June 29, 2010
Germany v England

Thomas Müller and Lukas Podolski celebrate Germany's 4-1 win over England

So the Round of Sixteen is completed in the FIFA World Cup with eight teams having to face up to the stark reality of flying back home to face the critics whilst eight teams look forward to the quarter-final stage in what remains a fascinating tournament. South America has performed well with the possibility of all four semi-finalists hailing from that particular continent should they overcome their respective opponents in the last eight. However there are three European teams and the sole African representative remaining who would like to deprive the Latin Americans of complete domination. Stoppage Time – International Football Blog looks back at the Round of Sixteen and provides the quarter-final draw.

The knock-out stages began last Saturday with Uruguay playing against South Korea who appeared to be Asia’s best chance of a last eight representative. Sadly for the Koreans it only took eight minutes to fall behind as Luis Suárez gave Uruguay the lead and, thus, added to the goal he scored against Mexico in his team’s final group game. The Koreans though didn’t give up and were back on level terms on 68 minutes when Lee Chung-Yong headed the equalizer from a free-kick and set up a fascinating climax to the contest. With ten minutes remaining it was to be Luis Suárez again who would settle the game in Uruguay’s favour showing his class with a beautifully curled shot into the top right corner of the net. The second game on Saturday saw Ghana create history as they defeated the United States to put themselves into a World Cup quarter-final for the first time. Kevin-Prince Boateng gave the Black Stars the lead after just five minutes after his run from the halfway line saw him steer the ball hard and low into the net past Tim Howard. The Americans restored parity in the second half when Landon Donovan shot home from the penalty spot after Clint Dempsey had been brought down by Jonathan Mensah in the box. It was a classic game of two halves which finished 1-1 and, thus, needed thirty minutes of extra-time. Just three minutes had passed when Asamoah Gyan continued his wonderful tournament by scoring an excellent goal from distance and, with no further scoring in the game, ensured that Africa had its sole representative progress into the last eight of the competition.

Sunday saw two potential classic matches on paper turn out to be pretty one-sided affairs. There was much controversy in the Germany versus England match (it wouldn’t be Germany v England otherwise) when a Frank Lampard shot hit the underside of the bar and came down at least a metre over the line but the linesman didn’t see it and denied England an equalizing goal which would’ve tied the game at two-all. Before then Miroslav Klose and Lukas Podolski had given the Nationalmannschaft a two-goal lead before Matthew Upson halved the deficit by getting on the end of a Steven Gerrard cross. Sadly for England that was as good as it got as even the most die-hard fan of the Three Lions would admit that they were outclassed by a Germany team whose splendid counter-attacking play created two goals for young starlet Thomas Müller in the final quarter of the match to give Germany a convincing 4-1 win. Later that evening any ideas that Mexico had to get revenge on Argentina for knocking them out of the 2006 tournament were soon dispelled in equally controversial circumstances. Carlos Tévez was in an offside position upon giving Argentina the lead on 26 minutes but the linesman, once again, failed to spot the indiscretion and the Mexico players were furious. Gonzalo Higuaín doubled the lead on 33 minutes and the Albiceleste sealed the win in the second half when Tévez scored his second seven minutes after the break. Javier Hernández did score a consloation for El Tri but Diego Maradona’s men came through any potential fightback to claim a place in the next round.

Carlos Tevez

Carlos Tevez scored twice for Argentina in their 3-1 win over Mexico

Monday night saw two of the tournament favourites, Brazil and the Netherlands, continue their good progress. The Netherlands continue to win despite playing football which is far from what we expect from the pioneers of Voetbal Totaal. Arjen Robben gave the Oranje the lead thanks to a trademark left-foot shot from the edge of the penalty box and one was expecting the Dutch to go on and stroll the game from there. However they were made to fight for their victory which they finally sealed in the 84th minute when Dirk Kuijt squared the ball to Wesley Sneijder in the box to make it 2-0. Up until then the Slovakians had plenty of chances which were spurned and, as a result, they would rue their profligacy in front of goal especially as they halved the deficit with the final kick of the game, a penalty from Robert Vittek after Martin Jakubko was brought down in the box. There was no time after the kick to continue and the Dutch went through to the next round with what was ultimately a slender 2-1 victory. Brazil made much easier work of their all-South American encounter with Chile, a team who finished just a solitary point behind them in World Cup qualifying. Two goals in three minutes at the end of the first half from Juan and Luís Fabiano were complimented by a beautiful finish from Robinho on the hour mark to give the Seleção an easy 3-0 win over a disappointing Chile team who did, to their credit, try to play some direct football once they conceded the third, no doubt believing that they had nothing to lose from such an approach. Dunga’s men are looking ominously good but many will feel that their quarter-final with the Netherlands will be their first real test of the tournament. A fascinating encounter awaits.

The final two matches in the Round of Sixteen were played today and, once again, there was joy for the South Americans but only after Paraguay had been taken all the way to a penalty shoot-out by a Japan team who were unfortunate to have to lose in such a manner. The only missed penalty in the shoot-out was by Japan’s Yūichi Komano whose spot-kick hit the crossbar and went over. Because Paraguay had the first kick in the shoot-out their final goal from Óscar Cardozo meant that a fifth kick for Japan was unnecessary and La Albirroja progressed to the quarter-finals by the skin of their teeth. To finish the round we had an Iberian derby between Spain and Portugal which looked like a mouth-watering match on paper but which, sadly, failed to live up to expectations. Cristiano Ronaldo, just like Wayne Rooney and Franck Ribéry, failed to shine during this tournament and he was amongst the most disappointed of the Portuguese side after the final whistle blew after their 1-0 defeat probably because he knew that he hadn’t done his talent any justice. The goal which won an otherwise poor game came in the 63rd minute from David Villa, whose initial shot at keeper Eduardo was parried back to his feet and then forced home going in off the bar at the second attempt. This meant that Villa joins Gonzalo Higuaín and Robert Vittek on four goals each and one wouldn’t bet against him adding to that total in Spain’s quarter-final match against Paraguay on Saturday.

FIFA WORLD CUP – QUARTER-FINAL DRAW

02.07.2010 Netherlands v Brazil (Port Elizabeth)

02.07.2010 Uruguay v Ghana (Johannesburg)

03.07.2010 Argentina v Germany (Cape Town)

03.07.2010 Paraguay v Spain (Johannesburg)

FIFA: Groups C and D Review

Posted in International Football by peterbein on June 25, 2010
Jermain Defoe

Jermain Defoe scores the goal which gave England a 1-0 win over Slovenia

Figures given are as follows: games played/points scored

GROUP C: USA 3/5; ENGLAND 3/5; SLOVENIA 3/4; ALGERIA 3/1

The United States left it very late to clinch top spot in the group but their stoppage time winner in the 1-0 victory over Algeria provided one of the FIFA World Cup’s most dramatic finishes thus far. It was justice served for the Americans after they had two perfectly good goals disallowed earlier in the tournament and it seemed that they would lament those two particular moments of bad luck until Landon Donovan’s 91st minute winner over the North Africans settled the contest. Thankfully the late winner made any arguments about the legitimacy of the disallowed goals academic and meant that the United States finished top of the group on goal difference from an England side who were made to work hard for their place in the Round of 16. Jermain Defoe scored the all-important winning goal for England against Slovenia after 22 minutes to give the Three Lions their first win of the tournament and provide Fabio Capello’s men with a much-needed boost in morale ahead of their game on Sunday afternoon against a familiar foe.

GROUP D: GERMANY 3/6; GHANA 3/4; AUSTRALIA 3/4; SERBIA 3/3

And so it was meant to be. Germany, after the scare of losing to Serbia in their second group match, eventually saw off a determined Ghana side in the final group game to set up a Round of 16 clash with England. Mesut Özil scored the winning goal for Germany in their 1-0 success over Ghana when unleashing a powerful left-footed shot from the edge of the box to seal the deal for the Adlerträger. Despite the defeat the Africans were able to celebrate after the match as they too had qualified for the knock-out stages. Australia beat Serbia 2-1 but had an inferior goal difference to Ghana who became the only one out of five African nations to progress beyond the group stage. Ghana’s reward is a Round of 16 tie against the United States in Rustenburg on Saturday whilst Germany face-off against England in Bloemfontein on Sunday.

Mesut Özil

Mesut Özil (right) is congratulated by Bastian Schweinsteiger after his goal gave Germany a 1-0 victory over Ghana

FIFA: Setbacks for Germany and England; USA denied victory

Posted in International Football by peterbein on June 19, 2010
Milan Jovanović

Milan Jovanović scored the only goal in Serbia's 1-0 defeat of Germany

The FIFA World Cup is far from predictable and the events of yesterday are a classic case in point. Germany, who had thrilled everybody with a great display in their opening match defeat of Australia, were on the receiving end of a defeat themselves going down to a Milan Jovanović goal moments before half-time. In the same group the United States came from two goals down to gain a 2-2 draw against Slovenia but the controversial decision to disallow Maurice Edu’s late goal could ultimately prove detrimental to the USA’s chances of progression. England had a chance to stamp their authority on the tournament but were denied by a resilient Algeria side who were worthy of the point gained in the goalless draw between the two sides in Cape Town.

Germany went into their game against Serbia as clear favourites but the Balkan nation had other ideas as they were far from willing to let the Germans walk all over them. The game was played at a lively pace throughout with both teams having a clear number of chances, especially Lukas Podolski who missed a seven attempts including a penalty kick on the hour mark which would’ve equalled the score for Germany. However there were sixty seconds of madness that decided the game for Serbia. Firstly, in the 37th minute, Miroslav Klose picked up his second yellow card and saw red thus reducing Germany to ten men. One minute later Serbia were ahead thanks to Milan Jovanović. His colleague Miloš Krasić ran down the right and crossed it for Nikola Žigić who knocked it down with his head for the unmarked Jovanović to steer home from six yards out. Germany’s keeper Manuel Neuer had been a little slow to come out and the Serbian hitman made him pay for his brief moment of indecision although, to be fair, Neuer had been left exposed by his defence. The game saw Serbia hit the woodwork another couple of times in the second half and the truth is that Germany, for all of their waste in front of goal, could’ve been beaten by a couple more and were ultimately grateful just to lose by the solitary goal. In Group D today Ghana meet Australia which, if the Socceroos win, would see all four teams on three points. An interesting game in Rustenburg awaits.

The United States were looking down and out in the Group C game against Slovenia who took an early lead in the 13th minute thansk to a great 25 yard strike from Valter Birsa who was left unmarked and had the time to weigh up his shot before rocketing it home. Things got better for the Eastern European side with three minutes to go before the break when Milivoje Novaković played a well-timed through ball into Zlatan Ljubijankič who guided it past an oncoming Tim Howard to double Slovenia’s lead. The half-time break came at just the right time for the Americans who had time to re-group and get their focus back after a disastrous first forty-five minutes. After the break the USA pulled one back through their talisman Landon Donovan who, having received a long pass from Steve Cherundolo down the right flank, chose to run direct to goal and hit the ball fiercely into the net from a tight angle and instantly brought his side back into the game. With ten minutes remaining the game was tied when Michael Bradley was on hand to steer home Jozy Altidore’s knockdown from a long pass from Donovan. The game had turned and the Americans were the only team who now looked like winning it and, three minutes later, thought they had but Maurice Edu’s goal was disallowed for a foul in the box and the Slovenians had been saved by what was a very harsh decision. Nonetheless the USA are still in the competition after what was a fantastic fightback and they will hope to progress in the final match against Algeria in Pretoria on Wednesday, June 23rd.

Wayne Rooney

Wayne Rooney couldn't break the deadlock in England's 0-0 draw against Algeria

England had high hopes going into the tournament but those hopes are increasing wearing thin after another clueless display from Fabio Capello’s men against Algeria in Cape Town last night. It’s not that the Three Lions couldn’t create any chances, if anything they created a decent number with eight on target, but they just lack something up front. For all Emile Heskey’s work rate the sad fact is that he doesn’t look remotely like scoring when he gets the ball and seems to lack any natural inclination to want to strike at goal with the ball at his feet. Captain Steven Gerrard didn’t always seem to be on the same wavelength as his colleagues and the likes of Frank Lampard and Wayne Rooney spurned their chances by not striking the ball cleanly enough. Algeria were tough to beat and had a resilient defence and should be congratulated for their determination to pick up a point although their attack does seem a little lightweight with striker Karim Matmour lacking any predatory instincts in the box. However it was a job well done for Algeria who will meet the USA in their final match whilst England, who faced the wrath of an angry supporter who invaded their dressing room after the match, will play Slovenia in Port Elizabeth on Wednesday, June 23rd in a game they have to win in order to progress.

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

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