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OVER 170 nations held their breath last Saturday night (30 July) as the various draws for each Football Confederations next (or first) Qualification round(s) for the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil were made in Rio de Janeiro.

The African zone had their draw first, followed by Asia, North, Central America and the Caribbean, Oceania and finally the reason why there isn’t a draw for South America (it’s one big group).

But then came the headline act, the draw for the European Qualifying groups.

Just like the 2010 qualifying format, the 53 UEFA nations would be seeded into five pots of nine and one pot of eight. Based on the July 2011 FIFA world rankings the top nine nations would be in Pot 1, tenth to 18th in Pot 2 and so on.

The 53 nations were to be drawn into eight groups of six and one of five. The nine group winners will qualify automatically for Brazil 2014, and the eight best second-placed teams (based on their record against the first, third, fourth and fifth-place teams in their group) will play-off in four
separate head-to-head home and away matches to determine the other four European teams at the Finals in Brazil in three years time.

The Pots for the draw looked as such, world ranking in brackets:







Spain (1)

France (15)

Switzerland (30)

Bulgaria (48)

Armenia (70)

Wales (112=)

Netherlands (2)

Montenegro (17)

Israel (32)

Romania (53)

Finland (75)

Liechtenstein (118)

Germany (3)

Russia (18)

Republic of Ireland (33)

Georgia (57)

Estonia (79)

Iceland (121)

England (6)

Sweden (19)

Belgium (37)

Lithuania (58)

Cyprus (80)

Kazakhstan (126)

Portugal (7)

Denmark (21)

Czech Republic (38)

Albania (59)

Latvia (83)

Luxembourg (128)

Italy (8)

Slovenia (22)

Bosnia & Herzegovina (41)

Scotland (61)

Moldova (85)

Malta GC (173)

Croatia (9)

Turkey (24)

Belarus (42)

Northern Ireland (62)

Macedonia (96)

Andorra (203=)

Norway (12)

Serbia (27)

Ukraine (45)

Austria (66)

Azerbaijan (111)

San Marino (203=)

Greece (13)

Slovakia (29)

Hungary (47)

Poland (69)

Faroe Islands (112=)

The eagle-eyed amongst you would have noticed that the Faroe Islands and Wales have the same ranking (112) yet were not in the same pot
because that’s just the way it worked out. FIFA were going to put Wales in Pot 5 until Eduard Ranghiuc – a 30-year-old Romania computer programmer who runs a football ranking website – pointed out to FIFA that the Faroe Islands were 0.07 points better off than Wales.

FIFA listened for once and placed the Faroes in Pot 5 with the likes of Armenia (70) and Estonia (79), who they beat nearly beat in Tallinn and did beat 2-0 in Toftir in their Euro 2012 qualifying matches. Wales on the other hand were placed in Pot 6 with the minnows that are Liechtenstein (118), Andorra and San Marino (both 203).

So anyway, as I like to say before the start of every major championship: “Enough with the preliminaries and now on with the main event!”…the draw for the preliminaries.

Group A

Former Yugoslav nations Croatia (9), Serbia (27) and Macedonia (96) will have to deal with a resurgent Belgium (37) and the Home Nations of Scotland (61) and Wales (112=).

Croatia finished third in France ’98 on their debut, while Serbia has only been to one World Cup (the last one) as ‘Serbia’. Belgium came fourth in Mexico ’86 and Scotland hold the record for most number of World Cup appearances without advancing to the next round – eight. Macedonia has never qualified for the World Cup and suffered their heaviest defeat, 0-5, at the hands of Belgium. Wales’s only Finals appearances was at Sweden ’58 (after initially being eliminated and then reinstated in qualifying) where they reached the last eight.

I sense some battles both on and off the pitch with this lot. Croatia and Serbia will have to watch out in case Belgium spring a few surprises.

Group B

Four-time world champions Italy (8) were drawn with: Denmark (21), the Czech Republic (38), Bulgaria (48), Armenia (70) and Malta GC (173).

Despite winning Euro ’92, Denmark have only been to four Finals but came fifth in France ’98. The Czech Republic has only been to Germany ’06 as the ‘Czech Republic’ where they failed to get out of the Groups. Bulgaria surprised everybody in U.S.A.’94 by knocking out then reigning
champions Germany en route to finishing fourth. Armenia and Malta GC have never qualified for the Finals.

Italy should ease this, but write-off the Danes and Czechs at your peril.

Group C

Triple world champions Germany (3) – who have only lost two World Cup qualifiers got: Sweden (19), the Republic of Ireland (33), neighbours Austria (66), the Faroe Islands (112=) and Kazakhstan (126).

Germany, Austria and Kazakhstan are all in the same Euro 2012 Qualifying group, so they will have some good up-to-date knowledge of some of there opponents.

Sweden finished as runners-up to Brazil when they hosted the 1958 World Cup and also finished third in 1950 and 1994. The Republic of
Ireland should have been in South Africa last summer but were cheated out of their place by France. Their best performance in a World Cup was in 1990 when they ended up seventh. Austria earned the bronze medal in 1954, while the Faroe Islands and Kazakhstan have never boarded the plane to the Finals.

Germany will waltz this lot, but the Sweden-Ireland games will prove decisive.

Group D

Three-time runners-up the Netherlands (2) will play: Turkey (24), Hungary (47) and their neighbours Romania (53), Estonia (79) and joint lowest ranked team in the world Andorra (203=).

The Netherlands beat Hungary 4-0 and 5-3 in four days during their Euro 2012 qualifying group.

Turkey spectacularly came third in 2002, while Hungary went one better in 1938 and 1954 when they lost to West Germany in The Miracle of Berne. Romania’s biggest loss, 0-9, was against Hungary and they came fifth in 1994. Estonia and Andorra have never been to a World Cup.

The Netherlands vs. Turkey games should prove to be terrific to watch. The Dutch don’t have it all that easy in this one.

Group E

Norway (12) was handed: Slovenia (22), Switzerland (30), Albania (59), Cyprus (80) and fellow Nordic nation Iceland (121).

Norway has only been to three World Cups while Slovenia has been to two of the last three, and was in South Africa because the Czech Republic and Russia weren’t. Switzerland’s best showing in a World Cup is sixth back in 1950, and they hold the record for most consecutive minutes without conceding a goal, 559. Albania and Cyprus have never been to the Finals, and coincidently Albania’s biggest win, 6-1, came against Cyprus. Iceland to has never qualified for the World Cup and have been drawn against Norway for the third straight time in World Cup/Euro qualifiers. Norway’s largest win, 12-0, also came against Iceland.

This group is wide open. It could come down to who has the best record against Iceland or Cyprus as to who advances.

Group F

Portugal (7) will travel to: 2018 hosts Russia (18), Israel (32), Northern Ireland (62), Azerbaijan (111) and Luxembourg (128).

Portugal has (surprisingly) only played in five World Cups, but they have finished third and fourth in 1966 and 2006 respectively. Russia hasn’t qualified for the last two World Cups and will be out to push home their home advantage over the warmer nations. Israel has only been to a single World Cup, Mexico ’70, while Northern Ireland has been to three. Azerbaijan has never played in a World Cup Finals match, and Luxembourg has been trying and failing to qualify since 1934 – a rather unwanted record.

This one is between Portugal and Russia. I can’t pick the winner.

Group G

Euro 2004 champions Greece (13) will fancy qualifying for their third World Cup in a group also containing: Slovakia (29), Bosnia & Herzegovina (41), Lithuania (58), Latvia (83) and Liechtenstein (118).

Greece and Latvia were in the same 2010 World Cup qualifying group and are currently in the same Euro 2012 qualifying group, as are Lithuania
and Liechtenstein. The Baltic nation recently lost 0-2 to Liechtenstein.

One of Slovakia’s largest wins came against Liechtenstein (7-0) and they famously dumped out the previous world champions Italy last summer in their only World Cup appearance as ‘Slovakia’ on their way to finishing 16th. Bosnia and Herzegovina almost qualified for the last World Cup but lost 0-2 on aggregate to Portugal in their Play-Off. They along with the other sides in this group have never reached the Finals.

This group should be Greece’s, but I fancy Bosnia and Herzegovina will cause an upset or two.

Group H

1966 world champions and perennial international underachievers England (6) got handed a group they should advance from, but then again you don’t get trophies for winning qualifying groups and this is England we are talking about.

Montenegro (17) will play England again (they are in the same Euro 2012 Qualifying group and drew 0-0 at Wembley). Both Euro 2012 co-hosts the Ukraine (45) and Poland (69) are in this group as well, as are ex-Soviet side Moldova (85) and the tiniest minnow of them all, San Marino
(203=) who are also in Moldova’s Euro 2012 Qualifying group.

Since they played their first match in 2007, Montenegro have rocketed up the world rankings like it was going out of fashion and will be fancying their chances of qualifying for their first World Cup. The Ukraine has only been to one Finals (Germany ’06) but they did come eighth. Poland almost won the World Cup in 1974 and 1982 but wound up finishing third on both occasions. They also prevented England from going to the 1974 World Cup after earning a 1-1 draw at Wembley. Moldova has never made it to a World Cup. Neither have San Marino who hardly score any goals and have only won one match, but they do ironically hold the record for the fastest international goal ever. In a 1994 World Cup qualifier, Davide Gualtieri scored after just 8.3 seconds…against England.

The draw could have been better for England who should be able to win this group. But as we shall see, the draw could have been so much worse.

Group I – The Group of Death

Reigning World and European champions Spain (1) were drawn with none other than 1998 world champions France (15) who are on the rebound
after their shameful World Cup campaign last summer.

The other three sides in this, the smallest group are: Belarus (42) who beat France 1-0 then drew 1-1 with them in their Euro 2012 qualifiers, Georgia (57) and Finland (75) have never made it to a World Cup…and won’t this time either.

I can’t call who out of France and Spain will win this group, but there will be at least one team to avoid in the Play-Offs.

All group matches are scheduled to be played between 7 September 2012 and 15 October 2013. The Play-Offs will be completed around a month or so later.

THE 18th under-21 European Championship took
place in Denmark from 11-25 June 2011.

It was held without the participation of 2009 and reigning
champions Germany, as well as 2006 and 2007 champions the Netherlands and 2004 champions and five-time champions

This meant that the tournament was well and truly up for
grabs between the eight teams participating. They were: hosts Denmark, Belarus,
2002 champions Czech Republic, 2009 losing finalists and ’82 and ’84 champions
England, Iceland, 1986 and ’96 champions Spain, current under-17 world
champions Switzerland and Ukraine.

Group A consisted of: Denmark, Iceland, Switzerland and
Belarus; while Group B contained: Czech Republic, Spain, England and Ukraine.

Belarus’s 2-0 win over Iceland got the tournament underway. Switzerland
added to the Scandinavian misery later on in the second match of the group by
beating the hosts 1-0.

Switzerland caused more Nordic nightmares by inflicting
Iceland’s second straight 2-0 defeat in their second match. Fabian Frei opened
the scoring for the Swiss less than a minute while Innocent Emeghara (a
Nigerian born Swiss) scored the second on 40 minutes.

A crowd of over 18,000 (larger than the eventual Final)
watched Denmark go behind to Belarus after Dzmitry Baha netted 20 minutes in.
But just two minutes later Denmark were level thanks to Christian Eriksen
scoring his own rebounded penalty. He is the hottest thing in Danish football
by the way, and is certainly a name to watch out for in the future. Denmark
pressed hard for the winner, which came via a fabulous solo run from Nicolai Jørgensen
who then smashed the ball home from around 20-odd yards out.

Unfortunately Denmark couldn’t carry on their momentum into
the last group match against Iceland, who beat them 1-3. At the same time
Switzerland put three past Belarus without reply to win the group with nine
points out of nine and six goals for with none against.

However, the other three teams in the group had exactly the same record as each other:
one win, no draws, two defeats, three goals for with five against (thus a goal
difference of -2) and three points. In the 3-way tie-break between them it was
Belarus who came out on top with a goal difference of +1. Iceland’s goal
difference was zero while Denmark’s was -1.

So after all that, Switzerland topped the group with Belarus
advancing in second place. Iceland (third) and hosts Denmark (bottom) went out.

Group B kicked-off with a 2-1 Czech victory over Ukraine
before the two favourites for the crown (Spain and England) went into battle.
It was Spain who took the lead in the 14th minute with a goal from
Ander Herrera. Replays show that the young Spaniard may have used his hand to
put the ball in the net but I can’t be sure. England were dominated for most of
the match but crucially kept Spain at just a goal ahead. That was until the 88th
minute when Danny Welbeck coolly slotted the ball into Spain’s goal for
England’s equaliser. There was a hint
of offside in the goal, but after Spain’s goal I think everything was now even.
Even is how the match finished, 1-1.

Spain won 2-0 against the Czech Republic in their second
match, while England could only manage a boring 0-0 draw against Ukraine.
Daniel Sturridge pounded the crossbar and Welbeck missed when clean through but
that was about it. If England wanted to advance to the Semi-Finals, they needed
to beat the Czech Republic. Only
three points would do.

Both England and the Czech Republic had chances to take the
lead but they were all either wasted or saved. Yet with only 14 minutes of time
left, Welbeck headed England into a 1-0 lead. This would be enough to see the Young Lions into the last four. But fate
favoured the Czechs as in the 89th minute Jan Charmosta poked in the
equaliser, and in the fourth minute of added-time Tomáš Pekhart slotted the ball
into an empty net to give the Czech Republic a 2-1 win. Meanwhile, Spain
brushed aside Ukraine 3-0.

Spain won the group with seven points, followed by the Czech
Republic on six. England crashed out in third place, earning just two points
and no victories, while Ukraine propped up the group with just the single

Watching the Young Lions at this tournament was
exactly like watching the senior side. Loads of promise and potential to go the
distance, but humiliation is all we get. But these guys are young. Hopefully
this will be the last time this group of players disappoint like this.

Back to the four sides still in contention for the title
now, and the Semi-Final line-up saw Spain matched up against Belarus, while
Switzerland had to face the Czech Republic.

Belarus took a shock lead in the 38th minute of
their match against Spain after Andrey Varankow’s overhead kick went in off the
post. The young Belarusians almost
caused the upset of the tournament as they got to the 89th minute
still 1-0 up. But Adrián López levelled for Spain to take the game into
extra-time, then scored again to put Spain 2-1 up just before half-time in
extra-time. A 3-1 Spanish victory was secured when Jeffrén Suárez smashed the
ball home from distance.

Switzerland and the Czech Republic both failed to score in
90 minutes, meaning an extra 30 for them as well. Admir Mehmedi scored from
25-yards out for Switzerland in the 114th minute to see his side
into the Final.

But before the Final, a special match needed to be played.
This competition served as the qualifying competition for the Men’s Olympic
Football tournament in London next year, and three places were up for grabs. If
England (who qualified automatically as hosts (and as Great Britain)) made it
to the Semi-Finals then the other three teams would have qualified for the
Olympics no questions asked. But England didn’t get that far and four teams
were left fighting for three places.

Two of these places would go to finalists Spain and
Switzerland, so losing Semi-Finalists Belarus and the Czech Republic would
play-off for the last ticket to London.

The game was all square until the 88th minute
when Egor Filipenko scored for Belarus from the edge of the area to earn
Belarus’s first appearance as an independent nation in the Olympic Football

However, that was just the warm-up for the main event, The Grand
Final. Spain and Switzerland both won their groups and had conceded only two
goals between them (both against Spain). Spain were also out to avenge the
senior side’s defeat to Switzerland in last summer’s World Cup in South Africa.

Ander Herrera headed Spain into the lead four minutes before
half-time, and nine minutes before full-time defender Thiago Alcântara scored a
free-kick from all of 40-yards out to give Spain a 2-0 and the title of European
Under-21 Champions.

Spanish football celebrates yet another championship.

The 16 matches in the tournament saw 36 goals scored at an
average of 2.25 per match. The total gate for the championships was 101,955,
and average of 6,372 per match. Spain’s Adrián López was the top goal scorer
with a total of five.

Adrián López with his Golden Boot.

So, Spain are now: World champions, European champions,
under-21 European champions and world
ranked #1. Can anybody stop their dominance of international football? We’ll
find out when Spain play in the FIFA Under-20 World Cup which kicks-off at the
end of this July in Colombia.

Sorry about the layout. I have no idea why it has done this.

THE draws for the UEFA Champions League Round of 16 and Europa League Round of 32 and 16 were made at UEFA HQ in Nyon, Switzerland yesterday (17 December).

In the Champions League one of the eight group winners are drawn against one of the eight group runners-up, unless they were in the same group or come from the same country.

Note: Teams on the right (group winners) play the second leg at their home ground. Ties to be played on 15, 16, 22 and 23 February and 8, 9, 15 and 16 March 2011.

Roma (Ita)


Shakhtar Donetsk (Ukr)

AC Milan (Ita)


Tottenham Hotspur (Eng)

Valencia (Esp)


Schalke 04 (Ger)

Inter Milan (Ita)


Bayern Munich (Ger)

Lyon (Fra)


Real Madrid (Esp)

Arsenal (Eng)


Barcelona (Esp)

Marseille (Fra)


Man Utd (Eng)

Copenhagen (Den)


Chelsea (Eng)

There are some truly epic ties here. Inter Milan vs. Bayern Munich is a grudge match for Bayern, as Inter beat them in the last Final back in May. Arsenal will also be out for revenge against Barcelona. The Spanish club beat Arsenal in the 2006 Final and Lionel Messi scored four goals against Arsenal in the Camp Nou in last season’s competition and sent the Gunners crashing out.

Spurs will have their work cut out when they play AC Milan, who currently top the Serie A table by six points from Juventus and Napoli. Man Utd should have enough in the tank to overcome reigning French league Champions Marseille, and once again Chelsea get a really easy draw. No disrespect to Copenhagen but you guys haven’t got a chance. (But please prove me wrong).

Now to the Europa League.

In the Round of 32 one of the 12 group winners and the top four ranked third placed teams from the Champions League groups is drawn against one of the 12 group runners-up and the bottom four ranked third placed teams from the Champions League groups. Teams from the same group couldn’t be drawn against each other and neither could teams from the same country.

Note: Teams on the right (group winners and seeded third placed teams) play the second leg at their home ground. Ties to be played on 15 and 17 February and 22 and 24 February 2011.

Napoli (Ita)

vs. (1)

Villarreal (Esp)

Rangers (Sco)

vs. (2)

Sporting Lisbon (Por)

Sparta Prague (Cze)

vs. (3)

Liverpool (Eng)

Anderlecht (Bel)

vs. (4)

Ajax (Ned)

Lech Poznań (Pol)

vs. (5)

Braga (Por)

Beşiktaş (Tur)

vs. (6)

Dynamo Kyiv (Ukr)

Basel (Swi)

vs. (7)

Spartak Moscow (Rus)

Young Boys (Swi)

vs. (8)

Zenit St. Petersburg (Rus)

Aris (Gre)

vs. (9)

Man City (Eng)

PAOK (Gre)

vs. (10)

CSKA Moscow (Rus)

Sevilla (Esp)

vs. (11)

Porto (Por)

Rubin Kazan (Rus)

vs. (12)

Twente (Ned)

Lille (Fra)

vs. (13)

PSV (Ned)

Benfica (Por)

vs. (14)

Stuttgart (Ger)

BATE Borisov (Blr)

vs. (15)

PSG (Fra)

Metalist Kharkiv (Ukr)

vs. (16)

Bayer Leverkusen (Ger)


The draw for the Round of 16 was made immediately afterwards. Anybody could now be drawn against anybody else, as country protection no longer applies.

Note: Teams on the right play the second leg at home. The numbers below represent the winner of the corresponding tie in the Round of 32. Ties to be played on the 10th and 17th of March 2011.


























There are some truly cracking ties in prospect in both rounds of matches. Liverpool should progress to the last eight, but unfortunately at the moment with the Reds you can never tell.