Remembering the World Cup: USA 1994

Sunday, 20 May 2018 14:22

 Moves from one end of the pitch to the front of the goal. The crowd on their feet, the noise in Windy City is a rhythmic cacophony. Steadies. Shoots. Horribly misses. Yet the goals splits open, and she continues running anyway, it was routine after all; or at least it was supposed to be. That’s right, Diana Ross at the opening ceremony of the 1994 World Cup didn’t completely go according to plan, the likes of Bill Clinton and Helmut Kohl in attendance for her gaffe in Chicago. Not that she’d be the only one with high-profile misses before the tournament ran out.

The World Cup in the United States was the first one with three points attached to a win, the first one in 20 years without England, and the first ever involving Nigeria. The Super Eagles shook off the disappointment of missing out to Cameroon in 1990 to book their spot this time, and were pitted in Group D with Greece, Bulgaria, and Argentina (they we’d be seeing more of over the next World Cups). Clemens Westerhof’s team got off to the perfect start, with a 3-0 win over the Bulgarians, and Rashidi Yekini’s famous net-bulging celebration in Dallas. Game Two wasn’t quite so good, as despite taking the lead through Emmanuel Amuneke, two goals from Claudio Caniggia ensured a defeat for the Eagles to Argentina. But Nigeria topped the group with six points, following a 2-0 win in the third game against Greece, and they, alongside Argentina and Bulgaria, headed for the last 16.

Group D wasn’t the only group where three teams had six points, Group F also shared that trait. The Netherlands, Saudi Arabia- a surprise package in the tournament, who produced a memorable goal through Saeed Al-Owairan- and Belgium all finished with two wins and a defeat, but that was nothing strange compared to the final standings in Group E, where all four teams were separated by the virtue of goals scored. Perhaps it should have seen as a forewarning of weirdness when the Republic of Ireland beat Italy in the opening game of that group. The Azzurri had the best player in the world in Roberto Baggio, but succumbed to a Ray Houghton goal in East Rutherford. The Irish finished second in the group after a 2-1 defeat to Mexico, where John Aldridge scored and threw his famous tantrum, and a goalless draw with Norway, who had the misfortune of being the only side eliminated from this group, after scoring just once.

But no group stage elimination would make the headlines like Colombia’s. Pitted in Group A with hosts USA, Switzerland and Romania, there were high expectations for the Colombians after their terrific qualifying campaign, so much so that drug cartels and other citizens allegedly gambled on the national side. So, a defeat to the Romanians in their first game in Pasadena wasn’t part of the plan. Game Two needed to go well, but it didn’t, a 2-1 defeat to the hosts on the same ground as the first game signalled elimination, a game when defender Andreas Escobar had the misfortune of scoring an own goal, an inadvertent act he paid for with his life, 10 days after the USA loss. The USA, meanwhile, would be heading to the next round, to face Brazil, who topped Group B. Group B produced two of the eventual semi-finalists, Brazil and Sweden, and a few notes of history. In the final round of games in the group, Russia hit Cameroon for a 6-1 win, where Oleg Salenko scored five of Russia’s goals, and Cameroon forward Roger Milla became the oldest goalscorer in FIFA World Cup history at the age of 42. It was the most, and only, notable acts in the tournament from both teams, who headed home after three games.

Brazil saw off USA in the last 16, the game in Stanford most famous for the clash between Leonardo’s elbow and Tab Ramos’ jaw. Sweden, meanwhile, ended the Saudi Arabians’ journey with a 3-1 victory in Dallas. In Foxborough, Nigeria and Italy locked horns in the last 16. With 88 minutes played, Nigeria were a goal up and a man up, Gianfranco Zola having been sent off (in rather dubious circumstances, it should be said). In a matter of minutes, the Super Eagles would match Cameroon’s achievement of an African team reaching the quarter-finals, in their debut tournament. So it was time to keep concentration, and do nothing rash. Unfortunately, two in the Super Eagles side didn’t consider pointless arguing instead of defending when an opponent gets a throw-in close to your box as something rash, so a culmination of events led to Roberto Baggio rolling in an equaliser, to force extra time. Not satisfied with shooting themselves in the foot the first time, Nigeria did it again, this time Sunday Oliseh was caught in possession in the middle of the pitch, another culmination of events later, Baggio- from the penalty spot- was getting his and the Azzurri’s second, and Nigeria would be heading home. Upset averted.

But an upset did occur in the last 16, in Pasadena, where Argentina, finalists of the previous tournament, were sent packing by Romania, a brace from Ilie Dumitrescu and a Gheorghe Hagi strike knocked out La Albiceleste, who by then were already without skipper Diego Maradona, sent home during the tournament for testing positive for cocaine. Oh, remember when this column said Diana Ross wouldn’t be the only penalty casualty in the tournament, step forward Alberto Garcia Aspe, Marcelino Bernal and Jorge Rodriguez, three of whom entered the Hall of Ross, as their penalty misses knocked out Mexico in the last 16 at the expense of Bulgaria.

Suddenly, Bulgaria, who had never won a game in a World Cup before this tournament, were quarter-finalists, but surely their journey would come an end, as they faced Germany in the last eight. Sure enough, Germany struck first, Lothar Matthaus with a penalty two minutes after halftime. It stayed that way till 15 minutes from the end, then things turned upside down. First, Hristo Stoichkov struck home a free-kick, then Yordan Letchkov delivered a superb header to turn things around. In the space of three minutes, the world champions were staring elimination in the face, and elimination would come, much to the joy of the non-participating English (well that’s what BBC said). Romania’s journey also came to an end in the quarters, penalty shootout heartbreak against Sweden despite Florin Raduicioiu’s double, Miodrag Belodedici with the decisive miss.

Sweden would re-unite with Brazil, after their group stage stalemate. But there had to be a winner this time, in Pasadena, and there was, Romario with the sole deciding strike 10 minutes from time. In the other semi, in East Rutherford, Baggio was Italy’s main man, his double was enough to see off Bulgaria. Bulgaria would be thrashed in the third place play-off by the Swedes, but they had already exceeded expectations, and it was a World Cup for them to savour, particularly since their record after this tournament reads: played three, lost two, scored one and conceded seven.

And so on to the final, in Pasadena’s main bowl, with Italy and Brazil facing off. They had met in that entertaining final in Mexico 24 years earlier, when Brazil won 4-1. This final, meanwhile, went in the opposite direction, a considerable low-key- to put it mildly- display from both sides meant for the first time in the history of the World Cup, the winners would be decided by a penalty shootout.

The first two were misses, Brazil’s Marcio Santos following Italy Franco Baresi in failing to find the net, to keep it goalless after one kick each. The next four were successful, Demetrio Albertini and Alberigo Evani for Italy, Romario and Branco for the Brazilians; then Daniele Massaro missed for the Italians. When Brazil skipper Dunga scored, it was match point, which meant Arrigo Sacchi’s side couldn’t afford another miss. Up stepped Baggio, the man who had taken them this far, and in completely ironic and tragic fashion, ‘The Prince’ skied his attempt. Baggio slumped to his knees in devastation, Brazil goalkeeper Claudio Taffarel took to his knees in elation, La Selacao were world champions for a fourth time.

Published in International Watch

The second World Cup to be added to our Remembrance library is the first one ever to be hosted in Africa. The showpiece in 2010 was hosted by South Africa, where Vuvuzelas and the Jabulani left their mark on the beautiful game, the latter tainting a career or two (sorry, Rob Green).

It was a World Cup that was seen as an indication of how far the continent had come, and the country South Africa itself, epitomised by the great Nelson Mandela, and it was the hosts who set the ball rolling, with an opening game against Mexico in Johannesburg. The atmosphere was raucous, to say the least, and it hit fever-pitch when Bafana Bafana took the lead, Siphiwe Tshabalala thumping a shot into the top corner after just 10 minutes in the second half. Mexico, though, hadn’t read the script, and Rafael Marquez pulled Javier Aguirre’s side level with 11 minutes to go. South Africa came close to a winner, but Katlego Mphela hit the post in stoppage time, and it finished all-square.

The hosts did take some fair bit of optimism from that opening game to their next match, against Uruguay, but it was a nightmare outing for Carlos Alberto Pereira and his side in Pretoria. After Diego Forlan gave Uruguay the lead, South Africa never looked like recovering, and Forlan added another in the second half, from the penalty spot after Bafana goalkeeper Itumeleng Khune was sent off, before Alvaro Pereira rubbed salt on South African wounds with a third. They did find a way to win their last group game, but events elsewhere meant they would be the first hosts to exit at the first round, despite Mphela and Bongani Khumalo scoring in victory over France.

France were particularly disappointing in the tournament, both on and off the pitch. Off the back of a terrible European Championship outing two years earlier, Les Bleus began with a goalless draw against Uruguay, before losing 2-0 to Mexico. Then a training ground fracas saw Nicolas Anelka and captain Patrice Evra exiled from the team, before that loss to South Africa meant the finalists of the previous World Cup were going home early, while the winners of four years ago, Italy, were also exiting at the first stop, finishing bottom of Group F to become the first holders to go out in the first round since 1966. As for Group A, it was Uruguay who finished top, followed by Mexico, El Tri nicking a fifth successive last 16 place, ahead of the South Africans on goal difference.

Another African side who has their relatively high hopes met with a crushing reality were Nigeria. The Super Eagles had only just about snuck onto the plane to South Africa at the expense of Tunisia, and in Group B, where they were drawn with Argentina- coached by Diego Maradona, Greece and South Korea, they surely fancied their chances. They didn’t get off to a good start, losing 1-0 to the Argentines, but there was more than enough cause to be optimistic, especially as Game Two saw them up against the Greeks, who had never even scored a World Cup goal. Kalu Uche’s free-kick flew all the way in after 16 minutes to put Nigeria ahead, but things took a downturn when Sani Keita was sent off his kick out to Vasilis Torosidis. Greece capitalised on the extra man, as Dimitrios Salpingidis equalised on the cusp of halftime, before Torosidis popped up with a winner with 20 minutes left. Now Nigeria were staring elimination in the face.

But they weren’t quite out yet, as Argentina’s 4-1 win over South Korea meant that a win for the Eagles over the Koreans in Durban, coupled with a defeat for Greece at the hands of Argentina, takes them through. Once again, they took the lead through Kalu Uche, once again they conceded a first half equaliser, and once again they fell behind in the second period. But the most memorable came midway through the second period, not that Super Eagles forward Yakubu hasn’t been trying to forget. When Uche played in Yussuf Ayila on the left, the latter’s cross fizzed past the Korean ‘keeper and fell to Yakubu. Two yards out, the goal gaping, the net was supposed to bulge; but somehow it was tapped wide. Yakubu did equalise from the penalty spot, but two-all it finished, Nigeria were out, and Yakubu was never seen in another national shirt. Korea meanwhile, saw their draw helped with Argentina’s win over Greece meant they would follow La Celeste to the knockout phase.

Group C had one of the pre-tournament favourites, in England. After years of mediocrity and underwhelming exits in tournaments, England’s qualification form, plus the playing form of some key men that season- Wayne Rooney and Frank Lampard especially- had them down as one of the forces to be reckoned with in South Africa. And they got off to the perfect start in their first game against the USA, skipper Steven Gerrard slotting them into the lead after less than 10 minutes. But that was as good as it got for Fabio Capello and his side, as five minutes before halftime, a seemingly straightforward Clint Dempsey shot was horribly spilled by Three Lions goalkeeper Rob Green and into the net; England’s swagger was deflated, and the game would end one-all. That was Green’s only game in the tournament, as he was benched for game two against Algeria. But in Cape Town, England barely troubled the Algerian defence, as things petered out to a goalless stalemate. They did manage to save face in their final game, securing a 1-0 win over Slovenia to progress to the next round.

It was a particularly tough outcome for the brave Slovenians, Matjaz Kek’s side had begun by beating Algeria thanks to skipper Robert Koren, before giving the USA a battle in a 2-2 draw. The USA also merited credit for their display against Slovenia in Johannesburg, having gone down to goals from Valter Birsa and Zlatan Ljublijankic, Landon Donovan’s goal four minutes after the start of the second half, and Michael Bradley’s eight minutes before the end of it, salvaged a point. It did seem like they had won it, but Maurice Edu had his attempt ruled out. They did manage to win the group, Donovan’s late goal against Algeria in the last game secured a 1-0 win, and top spot over the English by virtue of more goals scored. Algeria finished scoreless and bottom.

Another side that finished the tournament without a goal was Honduras, who were bottom of Group H, the group where the highlight was Switzerland beating Spain in Durban. Spain did recover from that opening game setback to top the group, while the Swiss had only that win to boast of, as they exited in the first round. Chile were the other side to go through the Spaniards. They would face Brazil in the next round, who topped the Group of Death, with Portugal coming in second, above the Ivory Coast, and North Korea, who finished bottom and concede 11 goals, seven of them against Portugal. The Ivory Coast were one of five African sides to go home early, alongside Nigeria, Algeria and South Africa, and completing that set was Cameroon, who finished bottom of Group E. That meant the only side from the host continent in the second round were Ghana, like four years earlier, second in a tough group that housed Germany, Serbia and Australia.

The Ghanaians would face the USA in the second round, a game where they got to the perfect start, Kevin Prince-Boateng giving them the lead after five minutes. Donovan equalised for the Americans just past the hour mark, but in Rustenburg, it was Ghana and Africa that would be celebrating, as Asamoah Gyan’s extra time winner sent The Black Stars to the last eight. Ghana’s fellow Group D qualifiers, Germany, also made it to the last eight, after thrashing England in Bloemfontein. Die Mannschaft were favourites, and raced into a two-goal lead after 32 minutes, Miroslav Klose and Lukas Podolski with the goals. England pulled one back before halftime through Matthew Upson, and then it looked like they had levelled matters when Frank Lampard’s shot hit the crossbar and bounced over the goal-line, but referee Jorge Larrionda said no goal. Lampard did hit the bar again in the second half, but Germany sealed the win thanks to a Thomas Muller double in the space of three minutes.

It was a particularly brilliant World Cup tournament for Muller, who was coming off the back off a breakthrough season at Bayern Munich. His brace against England took his tally to three goals in South Africa, and in the next round, he scored again, as Germany thrashed Argentina 4-0- beating La Celeste in a second straight World Cup quarter-final, with Klose also bagging a brace. But Muller would receive a booking in that game in Cape Town, which ruled him out for the semi-final against Spain. Germany, without Muller, looked a bit short upfront, and suffered another semi-final exit, as Carles Puyol’s header sent Spain into their first ever World Cup final. Spain had begun with that loss to the Swiss, but only conceded one more goal since, against Chile in the group stage. They had negotiated the last 16 and the quarters with 1-0 wins, David Villa with both goals as Portugal and Paraguay were respectively beaten. Their triumph over the Germans set them up with a final against Holland.

The Dutch were unnoticed high-flyers in the tournament; they went past Group E unnoticed, winning all three games and conceding once, before seeing off Slovakia, Italy’s conquerors, in the last 16, and that set up a meeting with Brazil. In Port Elizabeth, it was La Selacao who began in full throttle mode, and by the 10th minute, they had seen a goal disallowed, and had also taken the lead, both courtesy of Robinho. The football was mouth-watering and the Dutch were labouring, until eight minutes after halftime, when a mix-up between Felipe Melo and Julio Cesar allowed Wesley Sneijder’s cross to go all the way in. Sneijder was the Dutch’s undoubted star of the tournament, coming off the back of treble-winning season with Inter Milan in Italy. He ended this World Cup with five goals, two of which were against Brazil, the second an unmarked header from a corner midway through the second period. Brazil would never recover from that deflation, and matters were made worse when Felipe Melo got sent off. For the second World Cup in a row, it was elimination at the last eight, and Dunga was no longer deemed fit to continue.

As for the Oranje, their trip to the final also included a 3-2 win over Uruguay in the semis, Sneijder scoring again as they navigated a close and entertaining encounter in Cape Town. It was nevertheless an impressive tournament from Uruguay, who served up entertainment in South Africa, and were involved in the match of the tournament in the last eight with Ghana. In a closely-fought game in Johannesburg, it was Ghana who struck, thanks to a thunderbolt from Sulley Muntari on the stroke of halftime, but 10 minutes after the break Uruguay would restore with a brilliant free-kick from their talisman Forlan, who had a superb tournament after a superb season at Atletico Madrid. Chances came and went in the game in Soccer City, but a stalemate meant extra-time, where the real drama would unfold. In stoppage time in extra-time, Ghana had a free-kick sent towards goal, and were denied a goal thanks to a handball on the goal-line by Uruguay forward Luis Suarez. Suarez was duly sent off and Ghana had a penalty, and a chance to make history. From the spot, Gyan had the chance to make his country the first African side to appear in a World Cup semi-final, but his spot-kick flew over off the crossbar, and referee Olegario Benquerenca signalled for a penalty shootout. Gyan did take and score one then, but misses from his teammates Dominic Adiyiah and John Mensah meant it would be Uruguay who advanced to the last four.

Uruguay would end up finishing fourth in the tournament, losing to Germany in the third place game, but that would take nothing away from their wonderful showing, epitomised by Forlan. The veteran playmaker grabbed five goals in South Africa, including a superb volley against the Germans in Port Elizabeth. He- like Muller, Sneijder, and Villa- ended the tournament topping the scoring charts, but Muller was given the golden boot by virtue of assists, but Forlan did walk off with the best player award.

All of which left us with the D-day in Soccer City, as Spain and the Netherlands, after the closing ceremony that is, walked into the pitch for the 19th FIFA World Cup final. The pairing meant no matter what happened, there would be a new name in the World Cup winners list. The 90 minutes of regulation time were goalless, but certainly not lacking in action, from acrobatic attempts to take out an opponent’s chest, to misses at either end, Arjen Robben most notably guilty of letting two big chances go untaken. Extra-time was required, and still it didn’t look like a goal would come, then in the second half of it the Dutch were reduced to 10 men, referee Howard Webb giving Johnny Heitinga a second yellow card. Then came the moment, in the 116th minute. Spain broke forward, Fernando Torres’ pass was blocked, then Cesc Fabregas picked up the pieces and played in Andres Iniesta, who made no mistake in finding the bottom corner. Cue mayhem, and unbridled tears of joy in the Spanish corner, from goalkeeper and captain, to fanatic and commoner. There wasn’t enough time for Holland to recover, and Spain, winners of the Euros two years earlier, became the first European side to win the tournament outside Europe.

Published in International Watch

 

It’s the time for another International Break, the final one before the football season ends. And by extension, it’s the final International discourse before the FIFA World Cup in Russia in some three months’ time. The tournament that rolls around only once in four years, making it all the more special, and prone to reminiscence of its previous editions, and edition that we’ want to remember here is of 16 years earlier, when the Mundial came to Asia.

P.S: The above statement could also (or could also not) be read as: it’s the time for another International Break, which leaves this writer a bit short on talk-abouts to talk about, and then, LIGHTBULB, the obvious!! Why not talk about the World Cup, well everyone is. In the end though it matters little how we got here, than we did. But we digress.

So, the FIFA World Cup in 2002, the first- and only so far- to be co-hosted, as South Korea and Japan came together to take the beautiful game to the Far East. This World Cup wasn’t lacking for shocks, and from the first game the tone was set. France v Senegal was the first fixture on the docket, it seemed a no-brainer, Senegal were in the World Cup for the first time, while France were World and European champions, alongside being holders of the Confederations Cup. In fact, right before the UEFA Champions League final of 2002, French defender Bixente Lizarazu was, at the same time, a holder of the World Cup, European Championship, Confederations Cup, Champions League, Club World Cup and even a domestic title.

But all that mattered little in Seoul, as a goal from Papa Bouba Diop on the half-hour mark gave the Teranga Lions a famous win over their previous colonial masters; the image of Diop and his Senegalese teammates dancing around the corner flag was as bizarre as it will always be memorable. France, meanwhile, never recovered from that early setback. After that opening day loss, they played out a goalless draw with Uruguay, where Thierry Henry was sent off, and by the 11th of June, with the World Cup only 12 days old, a 2-0 loss to Denmark in their last group game meant Les Bleus were going home early, without so much as a goal. Denmark progressed past Group A, alongside surprise packages Senegal, who followed up their win over the French with two draws, the most notable a 3-3 stalemate with Uruguay in Suwon.

The shocks didn’t end with France’s elimination, not by any stretch, and in Group D, we witnessed a stunner in its second game, as the United States took three points from Portugal in Suwon, racing into a three-goal lead before holding on for a 3-2 win. Portugal came into this tournament with a supposed Golden Generation, the most potent of all poisoned chalices, and coach Antonio Oliveira, before the tournament, said the squad had every right to dream. La Selaccao did recover from that USA defeat to trounce Poland, thanks to a Pauleta hatrick, but in the last group game fell to co-hosts South Korea, and the semi-finalists of the previous European championship were heading home. It would be the Koreans who would be progressing to the knockout phase, following two wins and a draw, along with the USA.

And, of course, virtually every World Cup has one group that gets slapped with the cliché of ‘Group of Death’. 2002’s was Group F, which comprised Argentina, England, Nigeria and Sweden. By the end of the first round of games, Argentina were top, after Gabriel Batistuta’s header saw them past Nigeria in Ibaraki, while old foes England and Sweden could only draw in Saitama. But the tables turned after the second round of games, David Beckham exorcising his ghost of 1998, as his penalty was enough for the Three Lions to beat Argentina in Sapporo, and Sweden came from behind to beat Nigeria in Kobe, and send the Super Eagles crashing out. Argentina needed a win against Sweden in Miyagi to go through, but fell behind to Anders Svensson’s free-kick. Hernan Crespo equalised for the Albiceleste, but no winner was forthcoming, and for the first time since 1982, Argentina wouldn’t make the knockout phase of a World Cup. England, meanwhile, got a needed point in a drab goalless affair with Nigeria in Osaka.

There were other highlights of the group phase, not least Turkey’s progress past Group C at the expense of Costa Rica. Group E took the spotlight for Germany’s 8-0 walloping of Saudi Arabia on their opening game, Miroslav Klose scoring a hatrick of headers. Germany progressed, as expected, despite their team being dubbed as one of the worst ever back home. They were joined by the Republic of Ireland, who recovered from Roy Keane’s expulsion following a bust-up with coach Mick McCarthy to finish second in Group E. In Group H lay co-hosts Japan, who, thanks to the exploits of Junichi Inamoto, finished top of their group. Belgium took second place, pipping a rather disappointing Russian team, while Group B and Group C saw the two teams that finished with 100% records, Spain beating all before them in Group B, while Brazil topped Group C with 11 goals in three games.

So, to the knockout phase, where Senegal lined up against Sweden in Oita. Bruno Metsu’s side fell behind to Henrik Larsson’s goal after 11 minutes, but in the Big Eye Stadium, Henri Camara levelled things up before halftime. The game was level after 90 minutes, which meant extra-time and the prospect of a golden goal winner, and Senegal would get it, Camara’s shot trickling in off the base of the post to make the Teranga Lions only the second African side to make the last eight.

Victims of the golden goal were also the Italians, who suffered defeat to South Korea, in a game which the Azzurri cried of conspiracy. Christian Vieri gave Italy the lead after 18 minutes, but the co-hosts responded with two minutes of normal time left through Seol Ki-hyeon. Then Italy had two penalty appeals turned down, one of which resulted in a sending off for Francesco Totti, before Ahn Jung-Hwan headed home a golden goal winner in the 117th minute. Ahn was on loan at Italian side Perugia at the time, and he was duly sacked by his club after his match-winning moment. Not petty at all.

By the end of the first knockout round, USA had also gone through to the next phase, ousting neighbours Mexico. England saw off Denmark, a game remembered for Rio Ferdinand’s goal celebration (whatever you do, don’t look it up), while Turkey knocked out Japan in Miyagi. Spain knocked out the Irish on penalties, Brazil saw off a brave Belgium side in Kobe, and Germany needed Oliver Neuville to score in the 88th minute to beat Paraguay.

The Germans hadn’t come into this tournament in any good light, their last two tournaments had seen elimination in the World Cup quarter-finals in 1998, while in EURO 2000 they finished bottom of their group. They had gotten to the quarter finals again, but that was mostly down to goalkeeper Oliver Kahn. But they were here anyways, and though they would ride their luck against the USA in the last eight, Kahn making a few saves, and Torsten Frings lucky not to be penalised for handball on the goal-line, Michael Ballack’s goal was enough for a first semi-final appearance since 1990. Germany would meet South Korea in the last four, as the Koreans saw off Spain, who had two goals disallowed in the game in Gwangju, on penalties.

The other semi-finalists would be Brazil, who knocked out England, thanks to Ronaldinho’s 50th-minute free-kick which caught out David Seaman (again, don’t look it up), and Turkey, who benefitted from the golden goal to knock out Ilhan Mansiz. Turkey would meet Brazil in the semis in Saitama, in a repeat of their meeting in Group C, where the Turks lost 2-1 and were reduced to nine men. But there would be no revenge for Senol Gunes’ side, as a Ronaldo toe-poke, four minutes into the second half was enough to send Brazil into a third successive World Cup final. A day earlier, Ballack was at it again for Germany, as his goal 15 minutes from time was enough to beat the Koreans in the first semi. But a yellow card for the midfielder meant he’d sit out Die Mannschaft’s final with Brazil.

South Korea finished the World Cup in fourth place, Guus Hiddink’s side losing the third-place play-off to Turkey, a game that saw a piece of history, Hakan Sukur scoring the fastest ever goal in the World Cup’s history, after 11 seconds. But the date with destiny was on the last day of June, as Germany and Brazil walked into the Yokohama turf with the prize of a World Cup trophy on offer. After a goalless first half, the game came to life in the 67th minute, when the previously impeccable Kahn made his first gaffe of the tournament, spilling Rivaldo’s shot into the path of Ronaldo, who made no mistake. This had been Ronaldo’s tournament without a doubt, after his mishap in the final in 1998, the forward had lit up the World Cup, and it was his second of the game, his eighth of the tournament, with 11 minutes left, that sealed Brazil’s fifth global success.

For the Brazilians, it cemented their place as the World Cup’s dominant force, while for Germany, their luck had finally run out. The Germans were due to host the World Cup in 2006, not that many fans were optimistic. But that would change in four years’ time, and things haven’t quite been the same, on the International stage, for them, or Brazil, ever since.

Published in International Watch

The Super Eagles of Nigeria has given “football fans unforgettable memories” at the World Cup, says Federation of International Football Association ( FIFA ).

The three-time African Champions will be making their sixth appearance at the World Cup later this year in Russia and FIFA has paid tribute to Nigeria and some of her ex players who had lit up the World Cup in the past.

In a text to back some of the video clips of the Super Eagles at the World Cup shared on the FIFA website, the World governing body of football wrote: “The 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™ will mark Nigeria’s sixth appearance at the global finals. The African side made their debut at USA 1994, winning over supporters across the world with their exciting brand of football as they bowed out at the Round of 16 against eventual finalists Italy.

“…From Daniel Amokachi to Emmanuel Amunike, Sunday Oliseh to Jay-Jay Okocha, the high-flying Super Eagles have given football fans some unforgettable memories. We pay tribute to some of the Nigeria icons who have made their mark on the World Cup.”

The Super Eagles were the first side to qualify from the African continent and have been drawn in Group D against Croatia, Iceland and Argentina.

Meanwhile, Super Eagles forward Ahmed Musa has revealed that the team was prepared to make it pass the group stage as they’ve set a quarter final or semi-final agenda.

The Technical Adviser of the side, Gernot Rohr has also backed Musa stance – saying quarter final was the minimum the Super Eagles wanted to reach at the World Cup.

Published in Awa Football

Ah, yes. The 2018 FIFA World Cup draw is upon draw, so expect a combination of unnecessary music, clichéd montages, and a host of speeches how FIFA plans to aid the global game, ‘awón gbogbo irègbè yén’, as some Yorubas might put it.

Speaking of Yorubas, they would be one of those tribes watching in anticipation, expectation, hope, prayer, you name it, as the Super Eagles get to discover their opponents in the Kremlin, the three-time African are statistically the youngest qualified side, and are seeded in the fourth pot.

So, what’s the best possible outcome the Eagles could encounter? And of course, what horrors that could lie ahead:

Read Also: NIGERIA SET FOR ANOTHER WORLD CUP SHOWDOWN WITH ARGENTINA

 

Best Case Scenario:

Pot 1; Russia: The hosts haven’t had the best preparations for the tournament so far, on or off the pitch, and their last three major tournaments have ended with group stage exits. Stanislav Cherchesov’s side still don’t have the home fans onside yet, so with a potentially toxic atmosphere on their own turf, the Super Eagles might just cash in.

Pot 2; Switzerland: The Swiss may have lost just one game in their qualifying group, but they relied on a controversial penalty to see off Northern Ireland in the playoffs. They don’t have the most daunting of attacks, so our ‘Oyinbo Wall’ wouldn’t be too uncomfortable should we be pitted against the Europeans. Nigeria will certainly fancy their chances against the Swiss.

Pot 3; Iran: Maybe not as comfortable as one would think, the Iranians didn’t concede en route to Russia, and they had a commendable showing in 2014, where they held Nigeria to a goalless draw. Then again, the Eagles would still consider themselves favourites should such a game come about.

 

Worst Case Scenario:

Pot 1; Brazil: The record World Cup winners didn’t lose a qualifying under Tite, have seen off virtually everyone in their continent, and have an attack so fearsome the likes of Douglas Costa and Roberto Firmino would be glad to just make the squad. Add to that a shaky Eagles in the goalkeeping and left-back departments. We no want!!!!

Pot 2; Spain: Gulp!! They may have floundered in the past two major tournaments, but they still two European titles and a World Cup crown in this decade. A midfield awash with creativity, and a solid backline that’s the envy of many, not to mention arguably the best goalkeeper in the world. Again, hard pass.

Pot 3; Iceland: If ever a team would be described as greater than the sum of its parts, it’s this lot. Just ask England, the Scandinavian side are renowned for their never-say-die-attitude, topping a qualifying group involving Turkey, Croatia and Ukraine is testament to how lightly they shouldn’t be taken. For patriotic commitment, look no further than these Euro 2016 quarter finalists. With the Super Eagles potential for players to suddenly get egotistical, a side that gives 200% wouldn’t be most ideal.

 

Just a reminder, here’s how the pots will be arranged prior to today’s draw:

Pot 1: Russia; Germany; Brazil; Argentina; Belgium; Poland; France; Portugal

Pot 2: Spain; England; Peru; Switzerland; Colombia; Mexico; Uruguay; Croatia

Pot 3: Denmark; Iceland; Iran; Tunisia; Sweden; Costa Rica; Egypt; Senegal

Po 4: Nigeria; Panama; Australia; Serbia; Morocco; Saudi Arabia; Japan; South Korea

Published in Awa Football

 

Nigeria match wey no give person heart attack, shey dat one na match’; So read a rather unknown tweet in November 2016, when the Super Eagles left it late to clinch a 3-1 win against Algeria in Uyo. They may not have shown such traits on Friday at home to Cameroon, when they dismantled their opponents, but in the return fixture in Yaounde there were more than a few Nigerian hearts in Nigerian mouths, particularly in the second period, and none more so than when goalkeeper Ikechukwu Ezenwa saved Arnaud Djoum’s deflected shot and rushed bravely to put himself in the way of the rebound. Few minutes before that, Ezenwa had encountered a not-so-impressive moment with Djoum, hauling down the Cameroonian man to give away a penalty, which was converted by substitute Vincent Aboubakar for the equaliser.

Gernot Rohr named an unchanged side from the impressive 4-0 hammering three days earlier, while for Hugo Broos the outcome of Friday’s defeat led to big calls in terms of dropping Aboubakar and Christian Bassogog to the bench, although the latter- with the troubles he gave Elderson Echiejile out wide after coming on- probably showed why he should have started from the off. Cameroon needed a win to keep alive their feeble hopes of going to Russia come next summer, and started on the front foot, just like they did on Friday. But, like Friday, they did next to nothing to trouble Ezenwa in goal, and the visitors grew into the game. It would be a tough ask for the Eagles to repeat their Friday performance, and they weren’t quite at that level, but on the half-hour mark they took the lead. Some good work by Odion Ighalo from an acute angle led to a mini-pinball situation in the Cameroon danger area, and the end result was Moses Simon rifling the eventual ricochet into the net. It was a dejavu feeling for the Indomitable Lions, leaving them deflated, and it could easily have been two in next to no time, but Ighalo’s rasping drive would fly just over the bar. And so both sides went into the break with just the one goal between them. The hosts were always likely to begin the second half in frantic and perhaps desperate mood, and they did, although Nigeria failed to capitalise on any breaks that came their way, dropping deeper and deeper, inviting pressure, as if assured that the Cameroonians would prove toothless. And for most part it looked to be case, as for all of Cameroon’s domination they rarely troubled the Eagles, and they would have gone further behind had Victor Moses’ shot not clipped the crossbar and gone out. But Cameroon would get a lifeline in the shape of the penalty, and they came mighty close to a winner only to be denied by Ezenwa, although that was their fate; coming close.

It ended 1-1, Cameroon had preserved their long-standing unbeaten home run, but that result left them just about out of qualification contention. Broos had said they needed a miracle before this game, but no one caught their ‘Hail Mary’. As for Nigeria, the body language of the coaching staff told its own story, it felt more like a point gained than two dropped. They may have to wait till October to clinch qualification, but that only seems like postponing the inevitable.

Published in Awa Football

 

With Match days 3 and 4 coming up in the African section of the FIFA World Cup 2018 qualifiers, take a peek at how things stand, and what’s on in the next five days:

Group A

As It Stands

DR Congo- 6

Tunisia- 6

Guinea- 3

Libya- 0

The Democratic Republic of Congo are leading the herd in Group A, although it’s only been two games played and the lead is just on goal difference over Tunisia. The double header between both sides on Friday and Tuesday will go a long way to shaping things up in this group. Third and fourth-placed Guinea and Libya respectively have played a game more, Guinea seeing off the Libyans 3-2 on Thursday for their first points of this qualifying round.

Fixtures:

September 1- Tunisia v DR Congo

September 4- Libya v Guinea

September 5- DR Congo v Tunisia

Group B

As It Stands

Nigeria- 6

Cameroon- 2

Zambia- 1

Algeria- 1

Billed as the toughest group in qualifying, Nigeria seem to making light work of it at the moment, two wins from two while the none of the others can boast any sort of victory to their name. The Super Eagles face African Champions Cameroon twice in four days, welcoming Hugo Broos’ team to Uyo today, before making the trip to Yaoundé for Tuesday’s return fixture; two more wins here and Gernot Rohr’s side might just start to make plans for Russia, while the Cameroonians will be desperate to get their campaign up and running. Bottom two Zambia and Algeria also go to head-to-head and, with just two points between, also need to start getting some wins on board.

Fixtures:

September 1- Nigeria v Cameroon

September 2- Zambia v Algeria

September 5- Algeria v Zambia; Cameroon v Nigeria

Group C

As It Stands

Ivory Coast- 4

Morocco- 2

Gabon- 2

Mali- 1

Undoubtedly the most underwhelming of the groups so far, Group C has seen four goals and three goalless draws, with the last and only goals coming on Matchday 1, when the Ivory Coast saw off Mali 3-1. The 2015 African champions are top of the group with four points, although with the rest only three points behind at most, it’s far from settled. The Ivory Coast face-off against Gabon, while Morocco lock horns with bottom of the table Mali.

Fixtures:

September 1- Morocco v Mali

September 2- Gabon v Ivory Coast

September 5- Ivory Coast v Gabon; Mali v Morocco

Group D

As It Stands

Burkina Faso- 4

South Africa- 4

Senegal- 3

Cape Verde- 0

If Group B was viewed as the toughest, Group D has no doubt been the most competitive, with just a point separating first from third. 2013 AFCON finalists Burkina Faso, top on goal difference, visit third-placed Senegal on Saturday, before the return fixture three days after, and the stakes are high with just a point separating both sides. Second-placed South Africa have their double-header against Cape Verde, who are still to pick up a point, although the island nation could throw themselves back into the mix with so much as a win.

Fixtures:

September 1- Cape Verde v South Africa

September 2- Senegal v Burkina Faso

September 5- South Africa v Cape Verde; Burkina Faso v Senegal

 Group E

As It Stands

Uganda- 7

Egypt- 6

Ghana- 1

Congo- 0

Egypt had been top of Group E going into this break, but their 1-0 loss to Uganda on Thursday sees their conquerors, almost unfathomably, in first place ahead of their re-match on Tuesday. Ghana are in serious danger of failing to attend the World Cup for the first time in three tournaments, Avram Grant’s Black Stars have just a solitary point to their name. The two games against Congo Brazzaville completely have must-win written over them.

Fixtures:

September 1- Ghana v Congo

September 5- Congo v Ghana; Egypt v Uganda

Published in International Watch