Wednesday, October 11, 2017

All is normal in Latin America

In San Salvador I went to watch the qualifiers in Sports bar called Strikers. A nice place that was full of Colombians and a few Peruvians to what promised to be a clash as we were also watching the scores of the other matches in South America.
Argentina needed a victory in Quito, and it looked bleak as they went down 1-0 after one minute. But none other than Lionel Messi scored three goals to give them a victory and a spot in Russia.
The World Cup would not be the same without Argentina and Messi, so we should all celebrate.
In the meantime Uruguay got their expected qualification with a 4-2 victory over Bolivia, while Paraguay destroyed their own hopes by losing 0-1 at home to Venezuela (and watch out for the young Venezuelan side in the future!).
As all this was happening Peru and Colombia were playing a nervous match until Strikers exploded with two goals: James scored for Colombia as Brazil went ahead against Chile. This meant Colombia were qualified. Paolo Guerrero equalized for Peru, who needed a win, and Colombia seemed nervous, but it didn't matter: Brazil ended up trouncing the defending South American champions 3-0, meaning that all of a sudden Chile were out.
Colombia are in Russia while Peru are in the playoffs against New Zealand.

It was all too much in one of the most excitng qualification nights ever, but it did not stop there as we swithched over to the CONCACAF qualifiers, where nothing was going as expected: USA was losing 2-1 to Trinidad & Tobago, Honduras was winning 3-2 against Mexico, and just as we started watching Gabriel Torres gave Panama a 2-1 lead against Costa Rica.
It ended like this, and that means Panama are in Russia, Honduras are in a playoff against Australia and the USA can go home.
Granted, Panama qualified with a non-goal, but that doesn't take away that USA lost it themselves. The team has lost five matches, and they were outright arrogant in many of their matches. They have to face it: despite the advances, and MLS and all that, USA is still only a mid-ranking CONCACAF nation. The World Cup is much better without the USA!

A great evening in San Salvador as we look forward to a final round of playoffs to find out about the last teams in Russia.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Russia-bound and not

Today Iceland made history: with a 2-0 victory over Kosovo they won their World Cup qualification group and will be going to their first World Cup ever. And with this, Iceland is the smallest nation (in terms of inhabitants) ever to have qualified for a World Cup.
There are only 11 men on the pitch, but surely bigger nations will feel sad they didn't make it.
In Africa this has not been the case, as the two most populous nations, Egypt and Nigeria have both qualified with a match to go. Senegal and Tunisia are also on the verge of qualifying, while Cote d'Ivoire and Morocco will play a real final for the final spot.
In CONCACAF Mexico and Costa Rica have qualified while USA, who seemed in trouble, are now close to qualifying after trouncing Panama 4-0.
While Japan, Corea, Saudi Arabia and Iran are qualified, while Australia and Syria are set for a clash for the last Asian spot.
In Europe most of the first spots are decided, but the possible play-offs will be interesting. Ireland upset Wales with an away victory to take second spot, while Italy is also in the play-offs along Denmark, Croatia, Greece and Northern Ireland. Portugal and Switzerland will be fighting for first and second spot in their group, while Netherlands will play for everything when they face Sweden at home: only a Dutch victory by a lot of goals will give them a play-off, which seems unlikely...
A World Cup without Netherlands will not be the same, and a World Cup without Argentina will hardly be worth watching. At least Argentina "only" need an away victory against an Ecuador side that has no options of qualifying...

Friday, October 06, 2017

South American drama

The South American World Cup qualifiers are always the most difficult and most dramatic. None of the teams are bad, and as we head into the final round of matches six out of ten teams have options to join the already qualified Brazil.
Uruguay will almost surely join them, as they only need one point against Bolivia to qualify. The South American champions of Chile took an important step with a victory against Ecuador, but will probably still need a result in their last match against Brazil to be certain of qualifying. Not impossible, so Chile is likely to qualify.
Colombia could have made it with a home victory against Paraguay. And they were up 1-0 until the end of the match when the Arsenal goalkeeper made two huge blunders in added time, giving Paraguay two goals and the victory. Ospina may have cost Colombia a World Cup, but they have another shot against Peru at home. The problem is that Peru will also be fighting for a World Cup spot: after 0-0 against Argentina they have fifth place, and with a win will surely be in Russia, and could make it with a tie, depending on Argentina.
Argentina! Oh dear Argentina! After home ties to Venezuela and Peru they seems the least likely team to qualify: they need an away victory against home-hardened Ecuador. All credit to Peru, but their style will not win them friends in Russia, so Argentina will be doubly missed.
Come on! No matter what you think of Argentina, a World Cup without the Albiceleste will not feel real! (Besides the fact that for me it will be hardly worth watching).
Paraguay, who for a long time was deemed out, has better chances of qualifying than Argentina. With their victory against Colombia they just need a victory against Venezuela at home, which would likely give them at least a play-off.
Next week everything will be decided, and I pray that Argentina will make it. Please pray with me.