Monday, December 9, 2013

Brasil 2014 Schedule

The 2014 FIFA World Cup finals in Brasil will feature sixty-four matches and will take place over the course of thirty-two days in June and July 2014.  The group stage features forty-eight matches.  The knockout stage features fifteen matches, and there is a third-place match as well.

Match times are given in Central Time (GMT-5).

12 June 2014
Croatia at Brasil 15:00 Sao Paulo

13 June 2014
Mexico vs. Cameroon 11:00 Natal
Spain vs. Netherlands 14:00 Salvador
Chile vs. Australia 17:00 Cuiaba

14 June 2014
Colombia vs. Greece 11:00 Belo Horizonte
Uruguay vs. Costa Rica 14:00 Fortaleza
England vs. Italy 17:00 Manaus
Cote d'Ivoire vs. Japan 20:00 Recife

15 June 2014
Switzerland vs. Ecuador 11:00 Brasilia
France vs. Honduras 14:00 Porto Alegre
Argentina vs. Bosnia and Herzegovina 17:00 Rio de Janeiro

16 June 2014
Germany vs. Portugal 11:00 Salvador
Iran vs. Nigeria 14:00 Curitiba
Ghana vs. United States of America 17:00 Natal

17 June 2014
Belgium vs. Algeria 11:00 Belo Horizonte
Mexico at Brasil 14:00 Fortaleza
Russia vs. South Korea 17:00 Cuiaba

18 June 2014
Australia vs. Netherlands 11:00 Porto Alegre
Spain vs. Chile 14:00 Rio de Janeiro
Cameroon vs. Croatia 17:00 Manaus

19 June 2014
Colombia vs. Cote d'Ivoire 11:00 Brasilia
Uruguay vs. England 14:00 Sao Paulo
Japan vs. Greece 17:00 Natal

20 June 2014
Italy vs. Costa Rica 11:00 Recife
Switzerland vs. France 14:00 Salvador
Honduras vs. Ecuador 17:00 Curitiba

21 June 2014
Argentina vs. Iran 11:00 Belo Horizonte
Germany vs. Ghana 14:00 Fortaleza
Nigeria vs. Bosnia and Herzegovina 17:00 Cuiaba

22 June 2014
Belgium vs. Russia 11:00 Rio de Janeiro
South Korea vs. Algeria 14:00 Porto Alegre
United States of America vs. Portugal 17:00 Manaus

23 June 2014
Netherlands vs. Chile 11:00 Sao Paulo
Australia vs. Spain 11:00 Curitiba
Croatia vs. Mexico 15:00 Recife
Cameroon at Brasil 15:00 Brasilia

24 June 2014
Italy vs. Uruguay 11:00 Natal
Costa Rica vs. England 11:00 Belo Horizonte
Greece vs. Cote d'Ivoire 15:00 Fortaleza
Japan vs. Colombia 15:00 Cuiaba

25 June 2014
Bosnia and Herzegovina vs. Iran 11:00 Salvador
Nigeria vs. Argentina 11:00 Porto Alegre
Ecuador vs. France 15:00 Rio de Janeiro
Honduras vs. Switzerland 15:00 Manaus

26 June 2014
United States of America vs. Germany 11:00 Recife
Portugal vs. Ghana 11:00 Brasilia
South Korea vs. Belgium 15:00 Sao Paulo
Algeria vs. Russia 15:00 Curitiba

28 June 2014
Winner Group A vs. Second Group B 11:00 Belo Horizonte (49)
Winner Group C vs. Second Group D 15:00 Rio de Janeiro (50)

29 June 2014
Winner Group B vs. Second Group A 11:00 Fortaleza (51)
Winner Group D vs. Second Group C 15:00 Recife (52)

30 June 2014
Winner Group E vs. Second Group F 11:00 Brasilia (53)
Winner Group G vs. Second Group H 15:00 Porto Alegre (54)

1 July 2014
Winner Group F vs. Second Group E 11:00 Sao Paulo (55)
Winner Group H vs. Second Group G 15:00 Salvador (56)

4 July 2014
Winner Match 53 vs. Winner Match 54 11:00 Rio de Janeiro (QF1)
Winner Match 49 vs. Winner Match 50 15:00 Fortaleza (QF2)

5 July 2014
Winner Match 55 vs. Winner Match 56 11:00 Brasilia (QF3)
Winner Match 51 vs. Winner Match 52 15:00 Salvador (QF4)

8 July 2014
Winner QF2 vs. Winner QF1 15:00 Belo Horizonte (SF1)

9 July 2014
Winner QF4 vs. Winner QF3 15:00 Sao Paulo (SF2)

12 July 2014
Loser SF1 vs. Loser SF2 15:00 Brasilia

13 July 2014
Winner SF1 vs. Winner SF2 14:00 Rio de Janeiro

Friday, December 6, 2013

Brasil 2014 Draw

The draw for the 2014 FIFA World Cup finals was held today in Bahia.  The thirty-two qualifiers have been split into eight groups of four.  Each team will play the other three teams in its group one time each for a total of three matches in the group stage.  The top two finishers in each group advance to the knockout stages of Brasil 2014.

Italy were the European team drawn into Pot 2 and were then matched up with Uruguay from Pot X.  The draw out of Pot 2 was jagged, with Chile being drawn first and getting shoved into Group B with Brasil preventing them from Group A.  Next, Cameroon, the third team drawn from Pot 2, found themselves in Group A.  Ecuador came next out of the magically bowl, but with Group C occupied by Colombia and Group D already having its second team in Italy, Ecuador bounced all the way to Group E.  Whoever predicted the groups would be filled in the order D-B-A-E-C deserves a cookie at the very least.  The rest of the draw provided less confusion but just as much drama.

Group A

Brasil will be expected to ease into the knockout stages against three underperforming sides that all managed barely to squeak into the finals.  Croatia will be without the suspended Mario Mandzukic in their opening match, but they were unlikely to grab points against Brasil in any case.  Cameroon's own former players are not optimistic about their chances, as seen in this interview with former captain Patrick Mboma (  Can Mexico become the dominant side they were in 2011 and 2012 or will they remain the paper giants we saw in 2013?  The crucial match will be between Croatia and Mexico, though Mexico will now be favored with Croatian captain Josip Simunic suspended for the entire tournament.

Group B

An Australia side that has been in turmoil since qualifying in June will be put out of their misery quickly in this section.  Three teams from the top 10 in the ELO rankings are present in this group.  Netherlands disappointed at their last major tournament, the UEFA Euro 2012, but they had an undeniable offense in qualifying for Brasil 2014.  They flattened Hungary 8-1 in one match.  Spain have lost only three competitive matches since the UEFA Euro 2008 finals.  Chile were the second-best side in South American qualifying, and the standings would have reflected that had they just been able to avoid red cards in two matches against Colombia.  If Chile behave themselves and finish matches with eleven players on the pitch, there is no reason that they should not expect to go far.

Group C
Cote d'Ivoire

This group is so even that all four sides must be at once celebratory and wary.  Cote d'Ivoire finally miss taking part in the Group of Death, and the golden generation will be looking to right the wrongs of major tournaments and opportunities passed with a berth in the knockout stages for the first time at a FIFA World Cup.  Ultra defensive Greece, who unlike Cote d'Ivoire actually won their continental title in the past decade, are also looking for a first round of 16 berth in a third appearance at the finals.  Japan are the class of Asia, but they looked outclassed at the 2013 FIFA Confederations Cup.  Colombia are glad to be placed in a group with teams of such pedigree as Colombia will be making their first appearance on the global stage since 1998.  Colombia will be looking to wipe the disappointments of their quarterfinal exit to Peru at 2011 Copa America away.  Freddy Guarin is suspended for Colombia's opener against Greece.

Group D
Costa Rica

Uruguay were perhaps the team least deserving of a seed based on the fact that two teams below them in the CONMEBOL standings were not seeded, yet here Uruguay find themselves amongst the seeds.  Perhaps it is fitting that they were the team dealt the most difficult group of the opening round.  Uruguay's 1-0 victory at Venezuela in June began the resurgence that saw them catapult back into playoff contention, and after thrashing Jordan on the road they are back at the site of their triumph at Brasil 1950.  Italy tied Uruguay at the 2013 FIFA Confederations Cup and qualified with games to spare, but sadly for the Azzurri, they failed either of their final two qualifiers, preventing them from obtaining a seed.  Italy also managed only a draw against England when the teams met at the UEFA Euro 2012.  Costa Rica are a team that deserve respect, a team which won all five home matches in the CONCACAF Fourth Round to finish second in that group.  Note that the Ticos, the side most used to warm weather, will be playing all three of their group matches outside of the four southernmost (and coldest) cities.  Note that the Ticos also earned a draw at Uruguay in qualifying for South Africa 2010 after losing the first leg of their playoff at home.

Group E

How easily the world forgets that Switzerland are the only team to have defeated both Brasil and Spain in the past four years, otherwise known as the two top-ranked outfits in the ELO rankings.  Ecuador have home continent advantage, but it is unknown whether the emotions that will swirl as they play to honor the late Cristian Benitez will boost or hinder their performance at Brasil 2014.  France scraped by Ukraine in the UEFA Playoffs to get in, but this team is likely to be more united than the French side that fell to pieces in the dressing room at South Africa 2010.  Honduras, playing in their third finals, will perhaps never see a clearer path to the knockout stages and will be relishing their chances to get through.  Honduras and Ecuador will get a rematch of their ill-tempered 2-2 draw in a friendly last month that saw each side reduced to ten men.

Group F
Bosnia and Herzegovina

Argentina, the power team in qualifying out of the power continent playing a tournament on the power continent, will be heavy favorites to get out of this group.  Argentina just beat Bosnia in a friendly last month.  Iran are a team that legitimately should not even be at Brasil 2014 given that but for egregious refereeing errors against Uzbekistan in 2012, Uzbekistan would have qualified in their place.  However, as Uzbekistan, a much stronger and more entertaining side are undeservedly not going to Brasil, the least Iran can do to honor them is to play decent football.  Bosnia are a joy to watch in attack, but they are unproven and appear much more susceptible to being dealt an early exit than they did early in 2013.  Home losses to Slovakia in qualifying and to the United States of America in a friendly, plus their difficulty in scoring one goal against Lithuania to qualify on the final matchday may have shaken their confidence.  They are the only side making a debut at a FIFA World Cup finals at Brasil 2014.  Nigeria, the 2013 African Cup of Nations winners, played three matches at Brasil this past summer at the 2013 FIFA Confederations Cup.  With a healthy Emmanuel Emenike returning to guide them past Ethiopia in the final round of qualifying, the Super Eagles look poised to swoop into the knockout stages.

Group G
United States of America

The overblown Ghana-United States rivalry is back in full force.  Nevermind that Ghana failed to score from open play in the group stage of South Africa 2010 or that Germany crushed them 4-0 in their third match.  Somehow, Ghana actually created its first deserved goals of the tournament in their Round of 16 victory against the Yanks.  This after defeating the United States in the group stage at Germany 2006.  This after United States defeated Portugal at Korea/Japan 2002 in the group stage.  This after Germany defeated United States in the quarterfinals of Korea/Japan 2002.  This after Germany defeated Portugal for third place at Germany 2006 and in the group stage at the UEFA Euro 2012.  To say these teams are familiar with one another would be rather truthful.  Ghana finally have the Ayew brothers Jordan and Andre back in the fold, as well as Asamoah Gyan and Kevin-Prince Boateng, both of whom have returned from international retirement.  The Yanks won the 2013 CONCACAF Gold Cup and finished first in qualifying.  Portugal were miserable in qualifying, failing to beat Israel in two matches, but they found out that Cristiano Ronaldo has the capability of carrying them through two matches against Sweden.  Can he do it for three matches at Brasil 2014?  Germany, perhaps the best footballing country in the history of football with five FIFA World Cups to their name (three men's, two women's) always go deep in tournaments, and their current youth movement has advanced at a stellar rate.  It is no coincidence that two teams from the German domestic Bundesliga advanced to the 2013 UEFA Champions League final.

Group H
South Korea

Belgium, making their first appearance at a major tournament since Korea/Japan 2002, will be absolutely delighted with their group stage draw.  Les Diables Rouges are heavy favorites to advance out of this group because the outbreak of young Belgian talents in the past three years has astronomical.  South Korea did not even celebrate their qualification as they lost their final qualifier at home to Iran and backed into the finals on goal differential against the aforementioned unlucky Uzbekistan side.  Do not expect them to celebrate at Brasil either.  Russia are the clear favorites to come out of the group alongside Belgium, having just pipped Portugal to win their qualifying group, but disturbing results like the loss away to Northern Ireland should prevent people from being overly confident in the Russian team.  Algeria were fortunate to get through their equal in Burkina Faso on the most controversial of tiebreakers: the away-goals rule.  For a team that sat back and played for a draw in their final group match of South Africa 2010 when a win was needed, it is tough to see enough ambition to push them into the knockout stages.

As always, I am contractually obliged to give ridiculously early predictions about who will advance.  Let's go with Brasil and Mexico, Spain and Chile, Colombia and Cote d'Ivoire, Italy and Uruguay, Switzerland and Ecuador, Argentina and Nigeria, Germany and United States, and Belgium and Russia.  Very astute observation: I did include all six CONMEBOL teams.

Group Analyses:


Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Official Brasil 2014 Draw Procedure

FIFA has announced the draw procedure for Friday's final draw.  The teams will be split into four pots, but not all pots will be of equal size.  Pot One contains the eight seeded teams, Pot Two contains the five CAF teams and the remaining two CONMEBOL teams, Pot Three contains the four CONCACAF and the four AFC teams, and Pot Four contains the remaining nine UEFA teams.  In lieu of a special pot for the extra UEFA team, there will be a Pot X containing the four seeded CONMEBOL teams.

Before the rest of the draw occurs, one team from Pot Four will be drawn and then removed from Pot Four.  This European team will then be drawn with a team from Pot X to determine with which South American seed it will be paired.  Then, the draw begins in earnest.

Brasil will be assigned to position 1 in Group A.  The other seven seeds will be drawn into position 1 in their groups.  The European team chosen ahead of the draw will be placed in the group alongside their Pot X companion.  Pot Two is then drawn with the teams placed into groups in alphabetical order (Group A, then Group B, C, et cetera) as drawn with the added caveat that Chile and Ecuador cannot end up in the same group as a Pot X seed.  Pots Three and Four follow the same procedure as Pot Two except all eight groups will be available to all teams.  Lastly, within each group the teams from Pots Two, Three, and Four will then go through another random draw to determine their positions within their respective groups in order to determine the order of the fixtures within each group.

Pot One

Pot X Subgroup

Pot Two
Cote d'Ivoire

Subgroup Protected from Pot X teams

Pot Three
South Korea
Costa Rica
United States of America

Pot Four
Bosnia and Herzegovina

Here were the results of my new sample draw following the confirmed draw procedure.

A1 Brasil                               B1 Switzerland                  C1 Spain                               D1 Argentina

A2 Iran                                  B2 Mexico                           C2 Ghana                             D2 South Korea

A3 Bosnia                            B3 Algeria                            C3 United States              D3 Cote d’Ivoire

A4 Portugal                         B4 England                          C4 Russia                             D4 Croatia

E1 Belgium                          F1 Colombia                       G1 Germany                      H1 Uruguay

E2 Ecuador                          F2 Japan                               G2 Italy                                 H2 Netherlands

E3 Honduras                       F3 Greece                           G3 Australia                        H3 Nigeria

E4 France                             F4 Cameroon                     G4 Chile                               H4 Costa Rica

The European team drawn from Pot Four before the draw was Bosnia.  Bosnia drew Brasil out of Pot X, so I immediately threw Bosnia into Group A because Brasil were automatically placed in spot A1.  Next, I drew the Pot One seeded teams in this order: Switzerland, Spain, Argentina, Colombia, Germany, and Uruguay.  Pot Two came next.  They were drawn in this order: Algeria, Ghana, Cote d'Ivoire, Cameroon (skipped over E to give Chile and Ecuador space), Nigeria (skipped over E and G to give Chile and Ecuador space), Ecuador, and Chile.  Pot Three was drawn in this order: Iran, Mexico, United States, South Korea, Honduras, Japan, Australia, and Costa Rica.  Pot Four fell out in this order: Portugal, England, Russia, Croatia, France, Greece, Italy, and Netherlands.  Finally, positions 2, 3, and 4 in each group were drawn to give the diagram above.

Video of Announcement:

News Reports:

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Brasil 2014 Draw Procedure (Anticipated)

Although FIFA will not officially release their draw procedure until 3 December, these are my impressions of how the draw will be performed based upon past FIFA World Cup finals draws.

Brasil 2014 will feature a group stage comprised of eight groups of four teams each.  The thirty-two qualified teams will be split into four pots, each containing eight teams.  FIFA has already announced that Pot 1 will be comprised of the eight seeded teams.  Those teams include the host country Brasil plus the seven highest-ranked teams from the October 2013 FIFA rankings.  This is a departure from the method employed at Germany 2006 where past performances in FIFA World Cup finals played a part in the equation along with current FIFA rankings.

Pot 1 (ELO rankings are in parenthesis)
1. Spain (2)
2. Germany (3)
3. Argentina (4)
4. Colombia (6)
5. Belgium (18)
6. Uruguay (9)
7. Switzerland (14)
11. Brasil (1)

The other twenty-four teams will be divided so as to create an even geographical distribution among the eight groups.  There are nine unseeded European teams, two unseeded South American teams, five African teams, four North American teams, and four Asian teams.  The eight highest-ranked European teams will be placed into a single pot with the final European team finding itself in a special lot like Serbia and Montenegro did in 2006.  The team in the special pot will have to be drawn against one of the South American seeds so that no group ends up with three European teams.  The four North American and Asian team will comprise another pot.  Lastly, the five African teams will be paired with the remaining two South American teams in a seven-team pot with special rules in place to assure that no group ends up with two teams from South America.

European Pot
8. Netherlands (5)
9. Italy (11)
10. England (7)
14. Portugal (8)
15. Greece (17)
16. Bosnia and Herzegovina (24)
18. Croatia (23)
19. Russia (15)

Special Pot
21. France (12)

North American and Asian Pot
13. United States of America (13)
24. Mexico (22)
31. Costa Rica (31)
34. Honduras (44)
44. Japan (25)
49. Iran (29)
56. South Korea (42)
57. Australia (32)

African and South American Pot
12. Chile (10)
17. Cote d'Ivoire (21)
22. Ecuador (16)
23. Ghana (33)
32. Algeria (59)
33. Nigeria (30)
59. Cameroon (56)

I ran a sample draw to illustrate how the draw will proceed and how problems areas (the special pot and the two non-seeded South American teams) will be addressed.  Brasil as the host country are automatically placed into position A1 in the draw.  Then, the remaining seven teams from Pot 1 are drawn with each team placed in the next open group when drawn.  The seeded teams automatically occupy position 1 in their groups.  I drew Colombia (B1), Switzerland (C1), Belgium (D1), Spain (E1), Argentina (F1), Uruguay (G1), and finally Germany (H1).

Next up was the European pot.  Teams would be placed into the next open group as drawn but also assigned a position of either 2, 3, or 4 within the group.  I drew England (A4), Russia (B4), Bosnia (C3), Greece (D3), Croatia (E4), Italy (F4), Portugal (G3), and finally Netherlands (H4).

Next up was the North American and Asian pot.  I drew Japan (A3), Honduras (B2), Australia (C4), Iran (D4), United States (E3), Costa Rica (F2), South Korea (G4), and finally Mexico (H2).

Now, the problem areas need to be addressed.  France cannot be drawn into a group with a European seed, leaving Groups A, B, F, and G.  Chile and Ecuador cannot be drawn into a group with a South American seed, leaving Groups C, D, E, and H.

In my draw, I drew the special pot next.  France drew Group A and fell into position A2.

Lastly came the African and South American pot.  Each team would be drawn and placed into the next open group, meaning that if Chile or Ecuador were drawn into a South American-led group, they would bounce into the next European-led group.  If a South American team were to be one of the final three teams left to be drawn, it would immediately go into Group H as neither Group F or G would be available to it.  I drew Cameroon (B3), Algeria (C2), Ecuador (D2), Nigeria (E2), Chile (bumped to H3), Ghana (F3), and finally Cote d'Ivoire (G2).

My sample draw appears below.

A1 Brasil                               B1 Colombia                       C1 Switzerland                  D1 Belgium

A2 France                            B2 Honduras                      C2 Algeria                            D2 Ecuador

A3 Japan                              B3 Cameroon                     C3 Bosnia                             D3 Greece

A4 England                          B4 Russia                             C4 Australia                        D4 Iran

E1 Spain                               F1 Argentina                      G1 Uruguay                        H1 Germany

E2 Nigeria                            F2 Costa Rica                      G2 Cote d’Ivoire               H2 Mexico

E3 United States               F3 Ghana                             G3 Portugal                        H3 Chile

E4 Croatia                            F4 Italy                                  G4 South Korea              H4 Netherlands

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Jordan 0 - Uruguay 0

The final qualifier for the 2014 FIFA World Cup took place before a very confident, joyous, and relaxed crowd in Montevideo.  Such a crowd atmosphere is not typical for the second leg of an intercontinental playoff series, but hosts Uruguay were ahead 5-0 on aggregate against visiting Jordan.  Fans of La Celeste were expecting tonight to be nothing more than a glorious victory lap for their side.  As expected, the match got off to an extremely slow start with the outcome of the series all but decided before kickoff.  At the end of the half, Uruguay really should have grabbed the lead on a corner kick play.  Edinson Cavani headed from fifteen yards out toward goal.  Diego Lugano (pictured, blue #2) flicked on to the goal line, from where his fellow centerback Diego Godin somehow managed to head the ball off the crossbar rather than into the Jordanian goal.  The half ended as it began, 0-0.

A fast exchange required a kick save from Jordan goalkeeper Mohamad Shatnawi (pictured, black).  On the hour mark, Uruguay really should have nudged ahead, but Lugano missed a free header from six yards out on a corner kick.  Jordan actually had a chance to get ahead, but Lugano blocked a shot from the penalty spot by Ahmad Ibrahim.  Cavani had a chance with his last kick of the ball before being substituted off, but Shatnawi made a safe grab.  Uruguay really only looked threatening on corner kicks on this rather relaxed night.  Jordan hang on for a credible 0-0 draw on the road against a South American power.  Jordan are nevertheless the final team to be eliminated from the 2014 FIFA World Cup, falling by a 5-0 aggregate scoreline.  For the second straight tournament, Uruguay are the last of the thirty-two teams to qualify for the FIFA World Cup finals.

Match Reports:


Mexico 4 - New Zealand 2

Mexico made the long trek southwest to Wellington for the second leg of their intercontinental playoff series.  New Zealand were hoping the home field advantage would allowed them to overcome a 5-1 deficit.  Mexico midfielder Carlos Peña had other plans.  He fired a warning shot from distance early that forced New Zealand goalkeeper Glen Moss into a tough save.  Then, Peña opened up the Kiwi defense with a pass up the middle to a streaking Oribe Peralta.  Peralta beat Tommy Smith to the spot and then chipped over an oncoming Moss for a 1-0 lead.  Peña slotted yet another through ball through the defense, but Raul Jimenez took a weak shot, allowing Moss to make the save behind his momentum.  Jeremy Brockie (pictured, white #16) had a chance to equalize, but Mexico goalkeeper Moises Muñoz angled him wide and then blocked his shot.  Peña again provided the impetus for a Mexican goal.  Peña pushed a through ball behind three New Zealand defenders. Miguel Layun (pictured, green #7) received the ball wide left and then rolled a fast pass across the box to Peralta for a tap-in goal and a 2-0 lead.  Soon thereafter, Peña got the assist himself after receiving a through ball from Jimenez.  Peña passed across the box to Peralta for another tap-in finish to complete a hat trick.  Peña, again, sliced a pass through the Kiwi defense.  On a one-two-one, Jimenez passed to Peña, who then backheeled a through ball to Jimenez.  Jimenez beat Moss but his chip at goal was saved off the line by Smith.  Soon thereafter, a through ball from Marco Rojas (pictured, white, left) had Brockie in on goal, but he was dripped by Muñoz in the box.  Muñoz made up for the foul by stuffing Brockie on the resulting penalty kick.  Mexico took their 3-0 lead into the break.

Peralta could have shot at an open net when Moss came out of the box to attempt a slide tackle, but Peralta took too long to shoot and Andrew Durante blocked his shot.  Mexico were rather subdued during the second half, and New Zealand began to gain periods of possession.  Kiwi appeals for a handball were turned away, but they did draw a second penalty of the match with ten minutes to go.  This time, they converted, and they pulled within two goals.  Nexico by this time had already gone asleep.  A run from Kosta Barbarouses put Mexico under pressure in their own box.  Brockie saved the ball off the end line to pass to Barbarouses.  Barbarouses first-timed a cross that was played across the momentum of Muñoz by Rory Fallon for the hosts' second goal of the match.  Just as New Zealand were feeling confident of tying the match, Mexico scored a fourth.  Peña provided the finishing touch as a slow roller through the New Zealand box somehow avoided many sets of legs.  Mexico win the match 4-2 and the aggregate series 9-3 in order to qualify for Brasil 2014.  New Zealand are eliminated from the 2014 FIFA World Cup.
Oribe Peralta 14, 29, 33
Carlos Peña 86

New Zealand
Chris James 80 PK
Rory Fallon 82

Match Reports:


Tuesday, November 19, 2013

France 3 - Ukraine 0

The final European qualifier for the 2014 FIFA World Cup took place in Saint-Denis today as Ukraine were in town to take on France.  Ukraine held a 2-0 advantage from the first leg four days prior.  Mathieu Valbuena was given the start over Samir Nasri at right winger for France, and that made a world of difference from the first leg.  Valbuena stood over a free kick from the right side midway through the opening stanza.  His dipping ball was meekly cleared upfield to Franck Ribery, who fired a heavy shot to the low corner.  Ukraine goalkeeper Andriy Pyatov made the initial save, but France centerback Mamadou Sakho, only playing due to a red card suspension to Laurent Koscielny, was there for the tap-in on the rebound.  France were unjustly sanctioned for offside on a goal scored by Karim Benzema after scoring on a cross by Ribery.  In an apparent makeup call, the wrong was righted.  Benzema was clearly in an offside position when a Yohan Cabaye (pictured, blue) shot from distance bounced off his teammate Valbuena and into his path five yards from goal.  Both calls were wrong, but the end result was correct: one goal for Benzema, one offside infraction, 2-0 lead to France.  Mathieu Debuchy prevented the score from becoming 2-1 as he blocked a shot from Andriy Yarmolenko with his goalkeeper beaten.  France went into the locker room ahead 2-0 on the day and level on the aggregate scoreboard at 2-2.

Ukraine knew a goal of their own would force France to score twice due to the road-goals tiebreaker.  However, Ukraine lost Yevhen Khacheridi to his second yellow card in minute 47 after a late tackle on Ribery.  Ukraine were down to ten men and would have to struggle to keep the 2-2 aggregate scoreboard tied.  Ukraine were very cautious going forward, so France had the majority of possession.  With less than twenty minutes to go, France made their man advantage pay off.  Off a heavy rebound surrendered by Pyatov, Paul Pogba laid off for Ribery.  Ribery sent a fast cross toward the back post for a waiting Sakho.  Oleg Gusev did his best to keep Sakho from the finish, but unfortunately for Gusev he only managed to score an own goal to put Ukraine down 3-0.  France were able to see the clean sheet through to the finish and begin the celebrations before their home crowd.  France win 3-0 to completely overturn their two-goal deficit on the aggregate scoreboard.  France win the tie 3-2 to advance to Brasil 2014.  Ukraine are the final European team eliminated from the 2014 FIFA World Cup.

Mamadou Sakho 22
Karim Benzema 34
Oleg Gusev 72 OG

Match Reports:


Portugal 3 - Sweden 2

Portugal were visiting Solna to take on hosts Sweden.  The Swedes needed to overcome a 1-0 deficit in order to make it to Brasil 2014.  Sweden were trying their best to make inroads toward the Portuguese goal, but their connections in the final third failed to impress.  In fact, it would be Portugal who had the best chance of the half.  Cristiano Ronaldo (pictured, red) picked out Hugo Almeida with a cross, but Almeida inexplicably missed the header wide of goal with half the net available for him in which to score.  Zlatan Ibrahimovic was forced to drop deep into his own half to get on the ball for Sweden, meaning their main attacking presence was limited in the first half.  The opening period ended as it had begun, with the scoreboard level at 0-0.

The match exploded into a goal frenzy after the restart.  It would not be a stretch to say that the second half of this match provided the best forty-five minutes of the entire tournament to date.  Ibrahimovic nearly created an opener for Sweden, swinging a ball in off the end line to Sebastian Larsson, but the attempted finish was too weak to trouble the goal.  In response, Joao Moutinho laced a long through ball from just behind the center line that put Ronaldo in with a chance.  Ronaldo angled his run to fend off the marking of Martin Olsson before finishing to put Portugal ahead 1-0 and to secure any potential road-goals tiebreaker in their favor.  At the midway point of the second half, Sweden scored off a corner kick.  Kim Kallstrom swung a ball into the six-yard box.  Portugal centerback Bruno Alves was holding Ibrahimovic down as best he could, but Alves forgot to jump for the header.  Even though Ibrahimovic was only able to get a few inches off the ground, the header was unmarked and the result of the play was an equalizer.  Four minutes later, Sweden were level on aggregate thanks to a free kick goal from the top of the box.  Ibrahimovic sent the ball low and to the side of the wall, but he put so much pace on the shot that the goalkeeper could not reach it.  Sweden were ahead 2-1 on the day and were now only one goal shy of qualifying for the 2014 FIFA World Cup finals.  With Sweden still having to push up the field in hopes of a goal, another long through ball to Ronaldo leveled the score.  Almeida played provider, but Ronaldo played finisher as again he shot from wide left of the goal into the right corner as he beat the sliding block from Mikael Antonsson.  Portugal were not content with 2-2.  Two minutes later, another long through ball to Ronaldo did the damage.  Ronaldo this time ran to his right, dropping the goalkeeper as he angled wide before sending the ball into the roof of the net from eight yards out to put Portugal ahead 3-2.  The comeback attempt for Sweden now needed three more goals, and the enormity of the task was so great that it took the wind out of the Swedish metaphorical sails.  Portugal win 3-2 on the road to close out the tie by an aggregate score of 4-2.  Sweden are eliminated to make space for Portugal as the Portuguese make their way to Brasil 2014.

Cristiano Ronaldo 50, 77, 79

Zlatan Ibrahimovic 68, 72

Match Reports:


Croatia 2 - Iceland 0

Croatia hosted Iceland in the second leg of their UEFA Playoffs series with the aggregate score tied at 0-0.  Iceland goalkeeper Hannes Halldorsson was called upon multiple times in this match, and he did well to help Iceland maintain contact with their hosts.  Halldorsson made a diving two-fisted punch to safety off a twenty-yard free kick for Croatia.  However, he could not prevent the first goal, which came off a short corner kick for Croatia.  Ivan Rakitic swung a cross into the boxto Ivan Perisic, who then side-volleyed toward the far post.  Mario Mandzukic (pictured, red) was there for the tap-in.  Coatia finally had their first goal after nearly one hundred twenty minutes of play in the series.  A Rakitic header almost made it 2-0 after being deflected on goal by Iceland left back Ari Skulason.  Halldorsson appeared again the ball on a dive to his post.  Mandzukic was sent off for a red card in minute 38 after sticking a cleat into the groin of an Icelandic player, meaning Croatia had to maintain their slim one-goal margin with only ten men on the pitch.  Croatia were precariously ahead 1-0 at intermission.

In the second minute of the second half, Croatia doubled their lead in spite of being down a man.  Man-of-the-match Mateo Kovacic put on a dribbling exhibition in the Croatian midfield during the second forty-five minutes of play.  His slaloming run from the midway point on the pitch led him just to the edge of the box before he passed wide to Darijo Srna.  Srna hit a bouncing shot into the far side netting to make it 2-0.  Kovacic nearly did a solo run to glory after another slalom through the Icelandic defense.  Kovacic even ran a circle around Ragnar Sigurdsson to get into the box, but Halldorsson was able to make a kick save with his trailing leg.  Ivica Olic hit a bicycle kick off a Croatian corner that crashed into the crossbar and back out into Halldorsson's possession.  The man advantage never served Iceland any good in this match as they were constantly under siege by the Croatian attackers.  Croatia win 2-0 tonight and take the series by the same 2-0 scoreline to advance to the 2014 FIFA World Cup finals.  Iceland, despite their best ever qualification campaign, have been eliminated.

Mario Mandzukic 27
Darijo Srna 47

Match Reports:


Greece 1 - Romania 1

Greece took their 3-1 lead with them on the road as they were in Bucharest to face Romania for the second time in five days.  Romania had all the possession for the opening quarter hour, but they could not score a goal.  Then, the Greeks found their foothold.  Jose Holebas cut left on the ball but had his shot saved by Romania goalkeeper Ciprian Tatarusanu.  A beautiful chip pass from Greece captain Georgios Karagounis put Kostas Mitroglou (pictured, blue) yards behind the offside trap a the top of the half circle.  Under no pressure at all, Mitroglou calmly slotted the ball around the goalkeeper to put Greece ahead 1-0 and eliminate the road-goals tiebreaker from being used against them.  Romania then had to substitute Razvan Rat off the pitch with an injury two minutes after having conceded.  Greece led 1-0 with forty-five minutes gone.

Romania were the inferior over both legs, but an odd play gave them a result on this night.  Vaseleios Torosidis was in defense for Greece and ran onto a pass from a Romanian player before turning and firing into the upper ninety of his own net.  It was perhaps the best finish of his entire career, but he equalized for Romania.  Luckily for Torosidis, he will not be burned in effigy because Greece managed to see out the rest of the match without further incident.  The match ends in a 1-1 draw.  Greece win the series 4-2 and advance to Brasil 2014 whereas Romania are eliminated.

Kostas Mitroglou 23

Vaseleios Torosidis 55 OG

Match Reports:


Algeria 1 - Burkina Faso 0

Burkina Faso made the trip to Blida to take on Algeria.  The Burkinabe came to town nursing a 3-2 advantage on the aggregate scoreboard.  At the quarter hour mark, a cross from Algeria's left flank produced a good chance.  Islam Slimani smashed his unmarked header wide from seven yards out.  With two minutes left, Algeria captain Madjid Bougherra launched himself in the air and dropped a potentially leg-breaking challenge on poor Charles Kabore.  Somehow, Bougherra only saw a yellow card on the play.  The teams exited the field of play even at zero goals apiece.

Early in the second half, Bougherra's presence on the pitch proved vital for the home side.  Off a deep Algerian free kick, the ball was flicked on over the head of Burkina Faso defender Bakary Kone.  Bougherra's initial shot was blocked by Burkina Faso goalkeeper Daouda Diakite.  However, Kone's attempted clearance off the line shot straight into the head of Bougherra and somehow managed to trickle into the goal to put Algeria ahead 1-0.  Algeria were then able to hoard the lion's share of possession, causing the Stallions to become increasingly desperate as the current scoreline would see them eliminated.  Burkina Faso resorted to throwing the injured Alain Traore on the pitch as an attacking substitute in the final minutes as they searched for the equalizer.  A late corner for the Stallions was nearly turned in for an own goal by the Algerians, but the bar saved their tournament lives.  Algeria hold on to take the victory today by a score of 1-0.  The aggregate score over two legs is even at 3-3, but Algeria advance to Brasil 2014 by virtue of winning the road goals tiebreaker 2-0.  Burkina Faso fall just short of their first ever FIFA World Cup finals as they have been eliminated.  The same five African qualifiers for South Africa 2010 will be present in Brasil next June.

Madjid Bougherra 49

Match Reports:


Egypt 2 - Ghana 1

Egypt were looking to overturn a 6-1 deficit from the first leg at home in Cairo.  Ghana were looking to finish the job they had begun a month prior.  Twenty-five minutes into the first half, Egypt were finally able to break down the ultra-defensive play of Ghana.  A Mohamed Aboutrika free kick was played perfectly onto the six-yard box.  Ghana goalkeeper Fatawu Dauda came off his line, but he could not reach the ball as Amr Zaki won the header and finished for a 1-0 lead.  With such a massive lead on the aggregate scoreboard, Ghana never pushed for the equalizing goal.  Egypt led only 1-0 at halftime.

Ghana were dealt a heavy blow when Andre Ayew (pictured, white) was taken off the field with a torn knee ligament close to the hour mark.  Egyptian fans took to throwing flares onto the field of play late in the second half.  Egypt only managed to attain a second goal with six minutes left in regulation.  Mohamed Salah drew attention at the top of the box, so he passed ahead to Gedo.  Gedo finished from an angle to make it 2-0, but it was to be too little too late for the Pharaohs to salvage their tournament lives.  In fact, with Egypt really opening up in search of three more goals, Ghana stole one of their own in the dying minutes.  Harrison Afful took a chance with a through ball up the right side of defense, and Asamoah Gyan read the play perfectly.  Gyan broke through the backline and had a simple pass across goal to make.  He did, and Kevin-Prince Boateng tapped in to finish off the series.  Egypt salvage some pride with the 2-1 victory today, but they lose 7-3 on aggregate and are eliminated from the 2014 FIFA World Cup.  Ghana are the twenty-fifth team to advance to Brasil 2014.

Amr Zaki 25
Gedo 84

Kevin-Prince Boateng 89

Match Reports:


Sunday, November 17, 2013

Cameroon 4 - Tunisia 1

Tunisia were visiting Cameroon in Yaounde for the second leg of their CAF Third Round matchup.  The first leg had ended 0-0.  Cameroon hit Tunisia for an early goal.  Pierre Webo dispossessed Tunisia defender Karim Haggui and then made a run down the left side of the penalty area before seeing that he had no teammates in support.  Therefore, Webo took a shot and the result was a goal in off the base of the far post.  At the half hour mark, another piece of individual brilliance made it 2-0 to the hosts.  Benjamin Moudandjo cut past Houcine Ragued and a slide tackle from Sameh Derbaly before rolling a ball into the net.  Moudandjo took off his shirt and ran onto the track to celebrate with the crazed fans.  Cameroon led 2-0 at intermission.

Five minutes into the second half, Tunisia were back in the match.  A long ball forward left Tunisia substitute Ahmed Akaichi in a foot race with Cameroon centerback Aurelien Chedjou.  Akaichi won and laced a half volley into the net to bring the score to 2-1.  Cameroon took all control back off a Benoit Assou-Ekotto corner kick twenty minutes into the second half.  The ball was curled onto the six-yard line, and an unmarked Jean Makoun headed home for a 3-1 lead.  Cameroon sealed the victory four minutes from time.  Eric Choupo Moting shook the mark of Haggui and then curled a ball past the goalkeeper.  The post intervened, but Makoun gathered the rebound, faked to send the goalkeeper sprawling the wrong way, and then cut back for the easy open finish.  Cameroon win the match 4-1 and qualify for Brasil 2014, eliminating Tunisia in the process.

Pierre Webo 4
Benjamin Moudandjo 30
Jean Makoun 65, 86

Ahmed Akaichi 49

Match Reports: