It was an exciting midweek for World Cup qualifying. There was plenty of images of delight and plenty of tears to match. Across the world fans watched as their countries made it to the pinnacle of the sport or died by the sword.
There are 22 other sides guaranteed to be there: Brazil, Iran, Japan, Mexico, Russia, Costa Rica, Belgium, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, Spain, England, Nigeria, Poland, Egypt, Iceland, Serbia, France, Portugal, Argentina, Uruguay, Colombia and Panama.
Key events of past week :-
It is no surprise that said miracle was done by the magician Lionel Messi His Argentinian side were in desperate need of of a result against Ecuador last night. Only a win would do for the side who finished runners up in Brazil. It did not get off to a great start when they went down inside a minute! But step up Messi with an incredible hattrick. All three of his goals showed what his magic left foot can do. The first was a deft tap in slotted between the keeper’s legs. The second was a rifled drive that in classic Messi style required very little back lift. The third was his touch of class with a precision curling chip after beating two men running and the keeper with the shot. Argentina deserve to be in the World Cup even if it is just another excuse to see Messi play.
Salah The Hero
Mohammed Salah finds himself in the enviable position of best Egyptian player in the world now. Thanks to his move to Liverpool he is also the most expensive. Facing Congo in a must win match Salah proved his composure with a chip over the keeper as he clattered himself at the same time. Anguish was stricken over his face when Congo equalised as we bared witnessed to true football passion from the Egyptian team and fans. It was Salah again though who converted an 88th minute penalty to send Egypt through and to the delight of millions of Egyptians.
The scene in Cairo was one of sheer bliss. But in football emotions are also balanced out. With all the good stories there were some sad ones.
American Dream Is Over
(Image Source : Rebecca Blackwell / The Associated Press ) : United States’ Matt Besler sat dejected on the field after the final whistle following the team’s 2-1 loss to Trinidad and Tobago on Tuesday, which saw the Americans miss out on a World Cup berth.)
USA failed to get to the World Cup for the first time since 1986. Could this be the effect of Trump? Whatever it was they should have seen off Trinidad and Tobago with ease. But a 2-1 defeat leaves them and their huge following without Russia next year. Instead they will be replaced by minnows Panama. While the MLS has come on leaps and bounds in the last few years these results show there is still so much more to go for the Americans.
Dutch Courage Not Enough
Perennial underachievers once again lived up to that name after crashing out of yet another major tournament. Often, many feel that England have a tough time performing with three lions on their chest but Netherlands struggle just as much with just one on theirs. They may have been finalists in 2010 but have never won footballs biggest tournament. Despite winning 2-0 against Sweden yesterday they didn’t do enough over the course of qualifying to justify a place. As a double blow Arjen Robben also announced his retirement. It is the end of an era for Netherlands with both Robben and the likes of Van Persie moving into history. They will be looking for a new generation and perhaps a different attitude to international football in the future.
Chile were also losers on the night with Alexis Sanchez not going to be appearing at the World Cup. The talented side has won the last two Copa Americas but they will not be in Russia for 2018.
How the qualifications scenario pans out :-
Europe’s places: 14 including hosts Russia. Already qualified: Russia, Belgium, Germany, England, Spain, Poland, Iceland, Serbia, Portugal, France
The eight teams who will play each other for places at the World Cup are:
Switzerland, Italy, Denmark, Croatia, Northern Ireland, Republic of Ireland, Sweden and Greece.
South America places: 4 (plus a play-off place). Already qualified: Brazil, Uruguay, Colombia, Argentina
*Peru will face New Zealand in play offs
North America, Central America and Caribbean places: 3 (plus a play-off place). Already qualified: Mexico, Costa Rica, Panama :- Honduras beat Mexico 3-2 on Tuesday to take advantage of the United States’ slip up against Trinidad and Tobago and take the play-off place. They will now face Australia over two legs. Panama defeated Costa Rica to also leapfrog the US and take the automatic qualification berth.
Asia places: 4 (plus a play-off place : Australia). Already qualified: Iran, South Korea, Japan, Saudi Arabia
African places: 5. Already qualified: Nigeria, Egypt :- Nigeria secured a sixth World Cup appearance with a 1-0 win over Zambia, while Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah struck an injury-time winner as Egypt defeated Congo to reach the tournament for the first time since 1990, but Africa Cup of Nations champions Cameroon are out of the running. There are no play-offs in Africa, with the team that top each of the five qualifying groups going through. Tunisia, Morocco and Senegal are the other current group leaders.
Oceania places: One play-off place. Already qualified: None
*New Zealand to face Peru in play offs