My personal take on what's happening in the world of football, and how it's much more fun to share it with your mates!
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!
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....
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...
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..... !!!
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!
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.
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!