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Friday, May 29th 2015

4:20 PM

And so it begins....

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Odd title. It's virtually the end of the season, right? Well yes - we still have the delights of the FA Cup Final and the Uefa Champions League Final to look forward to, but then that's it for another year. It's been a good season I've really enjoyed it, and I'm definitely looking forward to the two aforementioned finals, but after that we can take a bit of a footballing break for a couple of months, right?

Wrong! Almost as soon as the final whistle is blown in Berlin for the end of the Champions League Final, the world goes into "international qualifier mode". In Europe there are qualifiers for the 2016 Euros tournament. In Africa qualification gets underway for the 2017 African Cup of Nations. In Asia the matches count as qualifiers for both the next AFC Asian Nations Cup AND the 2018 World Cup. And in North America too, the next stage of World Cup qualification gets underway.

That's right. I said the next stage. In both Asia and North America the first round of qualification matches have already taken place, So we're less than a year since the 2014 World Cup, and already more than a dozen teams have been knocked out of the qualification process for the next World Cup! Well, assuming there IS  a next World Cup, that is...

;-)

And don't forget - in South America, the Copa America tournament kicks off on June 11th in Chile!

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Saturday, April 18th 2015

1:05 PM

All things UEFA... (Part 2)

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Qualification for the 2016 Euros tournament has reached the halfway stage. Obviously, nobody has qualified yet (apart from hosts France), but the groups are looking interesting. Many of the "favourites" are not sitting pretty at the tops of their qualification groups, and while most would still expect to qualify, it's interesting to see Netherlands only lying third in their group, Bosnia-Herzegovina really struggling in Group B, and Spain, Germany and Italy only being second in their respective groups. Meanwhile, some of the "less fancied" teams are doing really well at this stage, including Iceland, Wales, Slovakia, Scotland, Republic of Ireland, Romania, Northern Ireland and Austria.

The next games are in mid-June, and as always there are a few interesting looking games, including Ireland vs Scotland....

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Monday, April 6th 2015

6:11 PM

All things UEFA... (Part 1)

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Well, perhaps not all things, but a few thoughts on two major European tournaments...

First up, I'm really excited by the draw for the Uefa Champions League Quarter Finals. Obviously, by this stage you'd expect only the strongest teams to be left in, and by and large that's true. But what a draw! Juventus vs Monaco is perhaps the least exciting tie; neither are really favourites to win the competition. Both have proved they can defend well, and conceded few goals in the group stage - they only let in five goals between them over a total of 12 matches. So it may be one of those ties where a single goal decides it...

But the other three ties? The all Madrid clash (a repeat of last year's final) is bound to be a passionate match, and I certainly wouldn't bet against the winner of this one going on to lift the trophy. Porto vs Bayern Munich might look like a simple task for the Bavarians on paper; Porto weren't in a particularly strong group, and then drew FC Basle in the last round, but the fact is that they've got this far, so they can't be too bad. And if they can win the first leg (at home), who knows what might happen... And finally there's PSG vs Barcelona. Both sides have big budgets and big followings, and both are great going forward but have at times looked vulnerable at the back this season, so it could be an amazing tie. Can't wait for this one, and thankfully there are only a few days left now...

 

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Sunday, January 18th 2015

11:02 AM

Quick Asian Update

So, two of the Quarter Finals in the AFC Asian Cup are now sorted out: South Korea vs Uzbekistan, and Australia vs China. Should be two really good games. There's a strong possibility (depending on results over the next two days) that one of the other quarter finals could be Iran vs Iraq..... !!!

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Monday, January 12th 2015

8:00 PM

So far so good in Asia....

Pretty much as expected so far in the AFC Asian Nations Cup. Japan, South Korea, China, Australia, Iran and Uzbekistan all recording wins in their first group games. No huge surprises there - although as I have said before, I'm far from an expert on Asian football, but am following the tournament with interest nonetheless.

The fact that UAE and Iraq also recorded wins in their matches probably adds their names to the above list as among the most likely candidates to qualify for the next round.

Iraq vs Japan and China vs Uzbekistan look like interesting games coming up in the next few days....
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Friday, December 26th 2014

1:37 PM

Bizarre Draw

The more I look at the draw for January's African Cup of Nations, the more strange I think it is.
Logically you would expect each of the four groups for the group stage to have a roughly equal share of strong teams and weaker teams. I may be missing something, but this time it all seems to have gone a bit wrong...

I'm not planning to do my usual in-depth tournament preview, but thought I might spend five minutes away from the Christmas chaos to put my thoughts down on cyber-paper on what is one of my favourite footballing tournaments.

It would appear that the bookies share my thoughts as regards who the stronger teams are, and presumably are equally perplexed therefore by the draw for the group stage. Six out of the top seven teams, based on the bookies' latest odds, are all in Groups C and D. No team from Group A makes the top 10 (and remember, there are only four groups of four teams at this stage).

Because the winners of Group A play the runners-up of Group B (and the runners-up of Group B play the winners of Group A) in the quarter-finals, the whole thing results in a draw which is very "lopsided"; the eventual winners are almost certain to be from Goup C or D. This also means that some of the stronger teams, who by merit would probably expect to qualify for the quarter- or even semi-finals, will be knocked out at the group stage. For example, Senegal and South AFrica - 6th and 7th favourites respectively - may not make it out of their group, which also includes 2nd and 3rd favourites Ghana and Algeria. Whereas hosts Equatorial Guinea, Gabon or Cape Verde have a pretty good chance of getting through to the semi-finals.

Oh well, whatever the anomalies of the draw, I'm still looking forward to the torunament itself, which always provides some much needed entertainment and an excuse for a party or two during the otherwise bleak and drab January evenings.
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Saturday, December 20th 2014

2:07 PM

A Stab in the Dark

OK, let's be honest, I don't know a huge amount about Asian football, which is probably remiss of me. I followed the results of the qualification process for the last World Cup, and noted who the stronger teams were on that basis, but that was all over a year ago now, things change, teams have ups and downs... but really what I know about Asian football is not a lot!

So with the AFC Asian Nations Cup coming up in January, I'm looking at it with interest but not a whole lot of idea what I expect to happen.

Clearly, the "Big 3" teams, based on recent World Cup success, are Australia, South Korea and Japan. Yes, Australia play in Fifa's Asian zone, on the basis that if they played as part of Oceania they would dominate any tournament completely to the extent that it would become meaningless. In fact Australia are the hosts for January's Asian tournament, but have been drawn together with South Korea in Group A. So I'm guessing that it's not going to be easy for either of the two other teams in the group (Kuwait and Oman) to qualify.

Group B looks interesting, with China, North Korea, Saudi Arabia and Uzbekistan. China of course is a huge nation with a developing appetite for football. North Korea and Saudi Arabia have both played at the World Cup in the distant past, and Uzbekistan came very close to qualifying last time, so this could be quite an entertaining group to follow.

Group C is very much a middle eastern group, with Bahrain, Iran, Qatar and the UAE. Iran will be favourites to finish top of the group I would expect, but I really don't know enough about the other teams to make any predictions.

And Group D has Iraq, Japan, Jordan and Palestine. From memory both Jordan and Iraq did OK in the World Cup qualifiers, so I think it will be between those two teams to qualify with Japan. Palestine are the dark horses, having qualified as the winners of the "Asian Challenge Cup" (a tournament for Asia's "smaller" footballing nations).

So, who knows? I could of course be completely wrong in my predictions, and in a sense I don't care - I'm just looking forward to seeing some of the games if I can, and getting in the kitchen beforehand and rustling up some good Asain food for myself and my guests to enjoy!
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Wednesday, November 19th 2014

9:06 AM

Today's the day, Africa....

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Yes, the day has arrived. The day on which half of Africa will be sitting nervously on the edge of their seats. The date of the final qualifying matches for January's African Cup of Nations tournament in Equatorial Guinea.

Lots of places still up for grabs - good luck to all the teams playing today!

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Sunday, November 9th 2014

1:42 PM

African Cup of Nations - What's Happening?

According to various news reports, the African Cup of Nations Finals Tournament in January appears to be in some doubt. With understandable concerns about the Ebola virus outbreak, and with an equally understandable desire to ensure the safety of all the players, officials and fans, the Ministry of Youth and Sports of Morocco (who are due to host the January 2015 event) have asked for a postponement.

The Executive Committee of the Confederation of African Football (CAF), the event organisers, discussed the postponement proposal at its meeting on November 2nd, and unanimously agreed that the tournament date should not be moved, and gave Morocco until 8th November to respond.

At this point the story becomes less clear. Some sources report that Morocco failed to reply by the CAF deadline. Others report that Morocco have refused point blank to host the tournament unless it is moved back to either June 2015, or January 2016.

In either event, a further meeting of the CAF Executive Committee is scheduled for November 11th, so hopefully everything will become clearer by then.

Meanwhile, preparations continue for the final qualifying matches for the tournamnet - so within the next ten days we will hopefully know when and where the finals will be staged, and who will be playing.

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Tuesday, October 7th 2014

10:53 AM

International Break Here We Come!

  • Next match: Senegal vs Tunisia

No, I'm not jetting off anywhere exotic on a last-minute holiday. Far from it. No, nice as that might be, I'm stuck at home for the foreseeable future, but really looking forward to the international break in the football calendar. Most managers loathe it, as it breaks up their season, their training schedule and so on, and all-too-often results in key players returning injured. And I do sympathise with their position. But I love international football, and am really looking forward to this weekend's (and the international weekend spans about 6 days this time, so make the most of it!) matches around the world.

Strangely perhaps, as a European, I am more excited this time round by what is happening in Africa than what is happening in my native continent. Maybe it's because the Finals of the African Cup of Nations are only 3 months away now, whereas the Euros are nearly 2 years in the distant future. Or maybe because it's not so easy to get excited about England vs San Marino (anyone betting on anything other than an England win?) or even Estonia vs England (I'm predicting a dull frustrating afternoon, with England just managing a 1-0 away win).

But over in Africa, we're approaching the halfway stage in the qualification groups, and with most teams playing two games over the extended weekend, we're going to be getting a better idea of who is likely to be playing in the tournament itself in Morocco in January.

The pick of the ties for me - and the games I'd most like to watch if only they were on TV here! - would be in Group G, where the two top teams Senegal and Tunisia play each other twice over the weekend. They should be really good games, with everything to play for - if one team manages to win both legs, they're pretty much guaranteed a place in the finals.

If only it was on TV! Maybe I can find it on the internet somewhere - and then rustle up some Tunisian food and a couple of ice cold beers. Could be a great weekend!

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