It seems that FIFA and the various confederations really like to cram all the international tournaments and matches into one month and call it good. Despite the lack of credible leadership, smart scheduling, morals, or ethics, FIFA has given the world and fans something to watch before the Women’s World Cup this summer. Most of the competitions are in the middle or just finished the group stages, but here is a quick update on each.
AFC Asian Cup
The 2015 version of the tournament is being held in Australia. The 16 teams that qualified this year were: Australia, South Korea, North Korea, Qatar, Oman, Jordan, China, Japan, UAE, Iraq, Iran, Uzbekistan, Palestine, Kuwait, Bahrain, and Saudi Arabia. South Korea and Australia advanced to the knockout stage in Group A, while China and Uzbekistan also made it through Group B. Group C saw Iran and UAE pull through, while Group D had defending champions Japan and Iraq advance.
The knockout round began today, with South Korea defeating Uzbekistan 2-0 in extra time. Hosts Australia defeated China by the same 2-0 margin, advancing to the semi-finals after 90 minutes. Tomorrow, Japan and UAE will face off in Sydney, with the chance to meet Australia. The other side of the bracket has Iraq and Iran battling for a spot in the semis against South Korea. The final will be held on January 31st in Sydney.
Africa Cup of Nations
After a small scuttle, original host Morocco was replaced by Equatorial Guinea, due to concerns over the Ebola virus by the Moroccan government. Thoughts that the tournament could be postponed have been squashed, and the tournament has gone on as planned.
All the teams in Group A are still in contention to advance out of the group stage after two matches. Congo and Gabon are in the lead with 4 and 3 points, respectively. They will have to face hosts Equatorial Guinea and Burkina Faso for the right to advance to the knockout rounds.
Each of the teams in Group B have 1 point after a match, although that could change with the matches today. Zambia, Cape Verde Islands, Tunisia, and Congo DR all have 2 matches to show what they are made of and advance.
This is the Group of Death for this competition. Each of these teams has participated in the World Cup finals in this century, with Algeria, Ghana, and South Africa making multiple appearances. Senegal’s lone appearance was in 2002. Algeria and Senegal took an early lead in this group, beating South Africa and Ghana in their opening matches. The two teams who advance out of this group should be the favorites to win the competition.
This group seems like a pretty cut and dry case, with Ivory Coast and Cameroon being the two stronger sides. Knowing this, Guinea and Mali came out swinging, holding the favorites to 1-1 draws. As uneven as this group is on paper, it is always important to play the games, as upsets are always in store.
CONCACAF U-20 World Cup Qualifying
The U-20 World Cup is a launching board for a lot of players to senior teams. For many nations preparing for the next World Cup cycle and the future of their national teams, the U-20 program is very important. CONCACAF is in the midst of their qualifying tournament down in Jamaica, giving us a look at potential stars in the making. The tournament has two groups of 6 nations. The top team in each group will play in a de facto championship match and be automatically qualified for the U-20 World Cup. The 2nd and 3rd place teams from each group are then re-drawn based on group results, with a single match to decide which teams qualify for the tournament in New Zealand later this year.
This group contained Aruba, Panama, Trinidad and Tobago, Guatemala, United States, and hosts Jamaica. Panama dominated this group, winning all five matches and not allowing a single goal during the group stage. They will face Mexico in the Final, but have already secured qualification to New Zealand. The rest of the group faced mixed results with the United States and Guatemala finishing 2nd and 3rd in the group with matching 10 point totals. Because they tied their match, the tiebreaker was the goal differential for all matches played, with the US holding a +10 to +4 advantage.
This group had Mexico, Haiti, Canada, Cuba, Honduras, and El Salvador. The final group matches are being played today, although Mexico have already secured the top of the group, being 5 points ahead of 2nd place. They will face Panama of Group A, and will advance to New Zealand as well. Honduras is through to the next round, but the result of their match with Canada will determine who they play. El Salvador and Cuba will play today in a de facto play in game, as El Salvador have 5 points in the group and Cuba have 4. A draw or win will see El Salvador advance, while a Cuba win would have them go above El Salvador for the 2nd knockout spot.
The four 2nd and 3rd placed teams will be ranked upon group points. The US is likely to claim the top seed with 10 points and a +10 goal differential. The 2nd seed is still a toss up, as Guatemala have 10 points and a +4 GD while Honduras can still match or better their GD with a result today. Honduras currently have 7 points and a +1 GD. If Honduras win by a 3-0 margin, they would become the 2nd seed due to the total goals scored tiebreaker.
Likely the US will face the El Salvador-Cuba winner, while Honduras and Guatemala will face off for a spot in New Zealand. Both of the knockout matches and the Final will be played on January 24th in Montego Bay.
Women’s World Cup
This isn’t necessarily news about the tournament, but the 50 or so women who filed a lawsuit against FIFA have pulled out this week. The reasons for the rescinding of the lawsuit aren’t clear, but definitely sweep up any issue that might have postponed the tournament.