World Cup Group Stage- Matchday three What the VAR?

What a start to the final round of games as Group A’s highly anticipated Russia v Uruguay turned out to be a storming win for the South American’s. The hosts were in some way playing their hardest opponent and combined with resting a player or two, were seemingly found out. It didn’t help that Igot Smolnikov received his marching orders after his second yellow card after just 36 minutes. Suarez had put his side up after 10 minutes and a Cheryshev own goal made it 2-0 after 23. It was always going to be difficult for the hosts, who of course had already qualified but the  90th minute goal from Cavani, meant they would face the winner of Group B. In the other game, Mo Salah saw his side denied a point after Al Dawsari scored the winning goal in the dying seconds. It meant Egypt were going home with no points having gone in with so much hope. Whether Salah’s pre tournament injury had a psychological effect who knows, but if reports are true, we may have seen the last of the talented star for the last time.

So Group B, was far from over, Iran Spain and Portugal were all still with a chance of getting out the group. Iran just had to beat Portugal, who would miss out whilst Spain would go through with a win or draw. It was a night of VAR controversy in the Portugal game that didn’t see anything much until Ricardo Quaresma put Portugal in front just before half time. Meanwhile in the first half of the other game, Morocco seemed to be really intent on getting a result in their final game albeit too late. Maybe had their shooting on goal been a bit better, they might have been with a chance of progression. Boutaib had put the North African nation in front on the quarter of an hour but didn’t see that lead last as Isco levelled.

Spain looked average and against any other team they might have been really forced to pay. Pique had luck on his side following a rash challenge, where luckily he had got the ball and then a handball. Spain had De Gea to thank on several occasions (something that Man Utd fans will come to recognise)

Second half was when it all got a bit tasty in the Portgual. As it had stood, Portugal were winning the group with Spain second. In the Portugal game Ronaldo was fouled in the area and the referee turned it down only to review it and award the penalty. Up stepped Cristiano Ronaldo, it would surely be 2-0 but the low struck penalty was saved by the keeper. VAR requests were pleaded for and ignored until Ronaldo got caught up with an Iranian and seemed to strike him with a flailing arm. It was a red card review and after another long wait the referee reviewed it. It never really looked like a red and would have been harsh and the ref only produced the yellow card. It was though in the dying minutes that the biggest controversy. Sardaz Azmoun had knocked down the cross from the wing and hit Cedric who went to head the ball only for it to bounce off the arm. It was far from intentional but the referee and the ref turned it down. He did though choose to review it. Surely he would stick to his original decision… well no he actually changed his decision and awarded the penalty. The Portuguese were rightly angry and it could have been even worse had Iran converted their shot on goal. That would have seen Iran go through at Portugal’s expense.

In the other game Morocco took the lead again when El-Nesyri fired home to leave Spain 2-1 down and thus give Portugal the advantage. The late penalty for Iran would change all that and then in the 90th minute Spain thought they had levelled and it was disallowed by the ref who then rightly overturned his decision.

Group C saw three of its nations in with a chance but that ended when Peru grabbed their first win of the competition to beat Australia. In the other game between Denmark and France, it finished 0-0 in what was the first of the tournament and one that saw both teams booed off at full time.

Argentina faced a tricky evening as they Nigeria, it was win or bust for the South Americans as a changed Croatian line up took on Iceland. Croatia had qualified, but Iceland had to win and hope for the best. Argentina took on a Nigeria side that had played well against Iceland.

Argentina got the goal they needed in the 14th minute when Lionel Messi put the ball in the back of the net just as the Barca Messi would. Argentina continued to attack and the Nigerian’s were standing strong keeping everything out. Their resolve paid off as they levelled early in the second half. Mascherano joined the hug and throw an opponent to give away a penalty. Victor Moses stepped up and converted the kick in style. That penalty was sending Argentina home and when the camera panned to Maradona, the disgraced footballer was in tears (oh diddums). That penalty was sending the 2014 finalists on an early trip home. The other game had seen Croatia take the lead, despite the changes, the Balkan nation were still going for the win. Iceland were putting the shots in and came close in the first half and maybe had they scored, it might have changed the game for them. Croatia though got the opener through Milan Bedij early in the second half. The Icelandic nation though weren’t giving up, maybe hoping that they might just somehow make it out the group stages. That hope came when Lovren handled the ball to give a penalty away. Siggurdsson converted.

It was now game on could Croatia stand fast or would Iceland overcome. In the Argentina game, time was running out, Nigeria were heading through but 4 minutes from time that all changed as Marcus Rojo volleyed home to break Nigerian hearts. For Iceland hope was back on. Another goal from the team that beat England, would see them grab second ahead of Argentina. Those hopes were crushed in the 90th minute when Peresic struck home and Croatia were finishing with 100% record and three group wins for the first time. The whistle went at the Argentina game and we were treated to scenes of pathetic moronic behaviour by Maradona. It’s no wonder people dislike him an Argentina.

The holders Germany went into the game against South Korea knowing that they had to win irrespective of the Mexico v Sweden game as anything less would enable the Scandinavian side to take second place. Germany would even qualify regardless if they beat South Korea by two or more goals. Mexico faced Sweden knowing a win would secure them a place in the next round, but defeat could possibly send them on  an early flight back.

Germany surely wouldn’t struggle against South Korea, but they did as they failed to convert their chances along with some key defending from the Koreans. Neither side could break the deadlock, but with Mexico and Sweden also deadlocked, it was still advantage Germany. Sweden though could consider themselves unlucky to not have a penalty following a Hernandez own goal.

It was advantage Sweden in the 50th minute when Augustinsson volleyed home. Having been denied at the end of their game against Germany, they weren’t going to be denied twice. Just past the hour, it was 2-0 with a Granqvist penalty. Mexico were now at risk of elimination with the other game still goalless and a threat from Germany. Mexico looked far from the side that had played in the opening game where they had taken Germany apart. Things got worse for the Latin American side as they went 3-0 down when Alvarez put the ball in his own net.

All eyes were now on the Germany game and for all their shots, they couldn’t convert. Time was running out and it was now in injury time. For Germany it was about to be their worst nightmare. The last time they had gone out in the group stage was in 1938, now they could add 2018. Kim Young-Gwon struck home off a corner which at first was ruled out for off side. VAR though showed it to be not offside. For Manuel Neuer, who hadn’t played much before the tournament, he probably wish he hadn’t been picked. He spilled the ball but luckily recovered. That was that for him though as time ran out Germany searched for an equaliser, Neuer, went forward but left himself stranded  as Ju- Se-Jong launched the ball finding Son Heung-Min who put the ball in the back of the net.

It was hard to believe that the Germans were going out, not only having won in Rio but hammered Brazil 7-1.

Brazil went into the group knowing that a win would send them into the group stages. Serbia only needed to win but failed to take the opportunities that would be presented to them. The South American’s though took those chances with Paulinho netting in the first half and Thiago Silva in the second half to steer them to top spot.

Switzerland who looked like possibly missing out before the late winner, knew that a draw for them would take them through to their third finals in four attempts. Having been unlucky to concede two late goals in injury time against Brazil, Costa Rica were hoping to go out with some pride. They had a number of chances and  could consider themselves unlucky not to put one or two past the Swiss, so when the European nation broke the deadlock, it seemed that it would be game over especially with the Swiss dominating the possession although if it was game over, Joel Campbell had no intention of giving up. Costa Rica would pull level through Kendall Waston when he headed home a Campbell corner. The Swiss looked like taking all three points when Drmic struck in the 88th minute, but Costa Rica were awarded a penalty only to see the decision overturned for offside. Los Ticos did get a penalty in injury time and not overturned. Bryan Ruiz though struck the crossbar bouncing out to ricochet off the back of Yann Sommer’s head. It was only a point in the end, but the Swiss were through setting up a tie with Sweden.

Colombia came through their group with a second half goal that was enough to beat Senegal, who looked initially to be the only African nation to get to the knock out stages and the 2-2 draw against Japan would prove costly. This was because Poland’s 1-0 win over a disappointing Japan put them level on points and identical records and that meant one thing, the disciplinary record. Yes the yellow cards added up and Japan had 4 to Senegal’s 6.

England and Belgium faced off knowing who their opponents would be at the end of the game. Southgate and Martinez made changes and in turn made for an average game. The deadlock was broken early into the second half as Januzaj’s bending shot beat Pickford The Three Lions had their chances and Rashford should have put his chance away. It didn’t seem to bother England although chances remained few and far between. The whistle went and it was over. Belgium would now face Japan on Monday whilst England would have an extra day facing Colombia.

The group stages now over and now the Last 16 is about to kick off. The big games are here and it will be no second chances.

 

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World Cup Group Stage – Match Day 2 Review

Given their form running up to the World Cup, who would have thought that Russia could muster a win let alone two but that’s what they did. The second game saw them take on Egypt and Mo Salah. Having beaten Saudi Arabia 5-0, one maybe had thought that Egypt might prove hardier opponents. The first half drab but the second half picked up. The Russian opening goal had deflected off the knee in bizarre fashion and into the net. It was probably something that summed up Egypt’s plight so far. Two further goals in three minutes from Cheryshev and Dzuyba and it was game over for the African nation even with the penalty from Mo Salah.

Uruguay secured their passage into the knock out stages with a solitary goal against Saudi Arabia via Luis Suarez. A far from convincing win for the South Americans and they will need to step up if they want to progress in the knockout stages.

Group B saw a quieter second round of games, Portugal beat Morocco with a goal from none other than Cristiano Ronaldo who netted after four minutes. Portugal were top and their star man was top scorer. It also finished a bad week for the Moroccans, who had seen their World Cup bid for 2026 rejected and now eliminated from the 2018 competition. Portugal’s time at the top was short lived as Spain came through with a win against Iran. A hard fought win against a tough Iran side who had already opened their tournament with a win against Morocco. Costa’s 54th minute goal put the Spaniards on top of the group having had a better disciplinary record.

Group C saw France take control with a solitary goal to beat Peru 1-0 and qualify for the knock out round. It wasn’t easy for Les Bleus as Peru gave the 1998 World Cup winners a run for their money. Chances were there but minimal were converted and the South American nation had slightly more possession. Possession counts for nothing unless you use it, but the fortune wasn’t with Peru. They were eliminated.

Australia drew with Denmark in another game featuring VAR. The Danes had gone in front early on with Tottenham’s Christian Eriksen netting after 7 minutes. Mile Jedinak converted the penalty after Yussuf Poulsen’s handball. It was a point that meant that the Green and Gold nation were still within a chance of qualifying for the knock out stages. They might need to step up in the final game but will though need France to beat Denmark.

Well what a match day two is was for Group D. Argentina went into the game needing to get a result against Croatia, but for a second game in a row, the South American nation looked far from it’s past line ups that had seen it reach several finals. Croatia grabbed their first win against South American opposition in five attempts yet had started not so greatly as they finished. Argentina conceded their first through a blunder by Caballero gave Rebic a chance to put the ball away.  Had the Balkan nation been more accurate in front of goal, they might well have embarrassed Argentina even more. The second goal came in the 80th minute and was game over when Croatia broke away with Luka Modric making it 2-0 with a cracking goal. It was interesting to see the lack of running back from the Argentinian players in the build up. Rakitic made it 3-0 and heads dropped. Messi retired from international football once before, could Messi retire from international football for good, especially as he will be 34 going into the 2022 tournament.

Iceland’s surprise defeat against a better performing Nigeria, gave Argentina hope in making it out of the group. Having lost to Croatia, the Super Eagles knew it was win or bust. Whilst it was goalless in the first half, a double from Ahmed Musa lifted the African nation’s spirits. Crucially though Iceland missed a VAR penalty and going into the third round of group games, the previously doomed looking Argentina, might still have a chance of qualification.

Group E saw Costa Rica eliminated after two late goals from Brazil that in turn put them top of the group on goal difference. With time running out and Brazil still not looking like Brazil, it looked like two draws out of two especially when VAR actually overturned a penalty award. Step up Coutinho in the 91st and Neymar in the 97th minute. When they face Serbia, it will be winner take all. This came after Switzerland came back from 2-1 down to beat Serbia,  thanks to Shaqiri’s runaway 90th minute winner. Serbia though could feel hard done by after an obvious and blatant penalty was not given. The Swiss look favourites to qualify following their win as they complete their group campaign against Costa Rica. There is still a chance that Serbia could qualify given that they wont hold back against Brazil who wont be given the opportunity to waste their chances. Come Wednesday night we shall know who progresses.

Group F saw Mexico move closer to securing qualification with a 2-1 win over South Korea, it would come as no surprise given the Central American nation’s beating of Germany in the group opening game. Hernandez scored the second to reach 50 international goals. It was disappointing for South Korea who to be honest still have a slim chance of progression should they beat Germany and Mexico beat Sweden, but that seems very optimistic.  Their slim opportunity came thanks to Germany who came back from 1-0 down against Sweden to grab an injury time winner. It had been win or bust for the holders Germany. Having lost to Mexico, defeat against Sweden would be devastating and handed the holders a group elimination that was seen at the last World Cup.

Group G saw Belgium trounce Tunisia 5-2. The team that had proved to be difficult against England, were attacked early and were two up after 16 minutes with one each from Hazard and Lukaku. Dylan Bronn gave hope to Tunisia just two minutes later. That hope looked to have disappeared when Bronn went off with an injury in the 24th minute. That hope was then all but crushed when Lukaku netted in first half injury time. Hazard added his second five minutes into the second half to give them a big goal difference. Batshuayi of Chelsea made it five and a plus seven goal difference until Tunisia added a second to still leave the Red Devil’s a strong goal difference.

England had won a hard fought game against Tunisia,  which had they taken early chances might have been a bit clearer result, although it didn’t help that the referee was seemingly thinking he was refereeing a wrestling match. Their game against Panama was completely different. England were all over Panama, when Panama players weren’t fouling England players that is. Thankfully the referee wasn’t taking any rubbish. Southgate’s team finished the first half 5-0 up and points secured. Harry Kane grabbed a third goal to nail a hat trick in a game that saw Man City defender John Stone almost grab a hat trick. England could find themselves disappointed that they conceded as it put them back level on goal difference with Belgium. Thanks to their better disciplinary record, England go into the Belgium game in pole position. Belgium national coach may find enforced changes with fitness checks over Mertens, Hazard and Lukaku.

The final group saw an entertaining game between Japan and Senegal that had seen both sides take the lead at one point in the game. Japan went into the tournament as outsiders to qualify, but found themselves leading the group following their win over Colombia. Senegal had opened with a crucial win and knew that anything other than a defeat gave them a reasonable chance of qualifying. Colombia who had been expected to do well netted their first win of the group over a very disappointing Poland. Lewandowski struggled again and their final game against Poland will see them finish without a win or get a result that could throw open the qualifying. That though may take some doing.

Lets see what Matchday 3 brings us, will there be upsets or last game salvages for the big nations.

World Cup – Group F Three Lions Slay The Red Devils

It’s England’s group and many people have written England off already, some even who don’t follow football as is the national pastime. There has been little fuss over the last few months since qualifying but even still there is much to be optimistic about. Whilst not being everyone’s first choice, the FA appointed Gareth Southgate after a four game trial. England qualified relatively easy and under the former England defender the Three Lions have suffered only two defeats, both in Friendlies. Only Germany and France have beaten England whilst Italy grabbed a late and controversial VAR aided penalty to deny England another victory.

Unlike previous tournaments, Harry Kane will lead the team out and certainly won’t be taking corners anytime soon. Southgate picks a squad mixed with youth and experience. Pickford leads the way in goal taking the number one jersey whilst back ups include Stoke City’s Jack Butland (shirt number 13- not an omen I hope) and Nick Pope. Defence sees the likes of Stones, Jones and Cahill with fullbacks including Walker, Rose and Alexander Arnold.

The form of Ashley Young and Marcus Rashford see them take a place in the squad and I wouldn’t be surprised to see young Rashford bag some goals.

Vardy and Kane will no doubt lead the attack, but can look forward to support from the likes of Lingard, Sterling and Delli Alli.

England should win the group, there is hunger and youth and with the U-21’s winning the Toulon tournament, doesn’t England’s future look really positive. A group win for England would see them face either Poland, Colombia or Senegal. Surely it’s time?

Belgium are looking to hit the big time again but they like England, now have a Golden Generation which though has struggled to show their worth. Having nailed World Cup qualification from 1982 all the way to 2002 where they either exited in the group stage or losing in the 1986 semi finals, 2014 saw their first World Cup finals after 12 years. Down in Brazil they had high hopes only to be knocked out in the quarter finals by Argentina.

Qualification this time round came very easily where only a draw against Greece with a last minute Lukaku equaliser denied Roberto Martinez’s team a 100% record. With Greece being the strongest rival, the remaining group saw Bosnia, Estonia, Cyprus and Gibraltar. Any nation though should get through that group without a hitch.

The Belgians have another good run of form having not lost since their post Euro 2016 friendly. The key games post qualifiers seen six friendlies with four clean sheets out of 6. The squad of course will have a familiar look as 12 of the finals squad ply their trade with Premier League clubs. Familiar faces will include Eden Hazard, Kompany, Lukaku, Vertonghen Courtois are some of the names we will see.

Martinez though will be sweating over the injury of Kompany who picked up an injury against Portugal. Not such a concern will be Eden Hazard who picked up a dead leg. Not that two players out of 23 will have a direct affect in Belgium’s squad.

Belgium will progress, but can they improve on previous competitions who knows but then of course that is when things can get tricky. The squad though will see some players playing their last World Cup whilst others pushing to further to Qatar 2022. The likes of Vermaelen, Kompany and Vertonghen will be 34/35 at the next tournament, too late for one more? But will though still have the likes of Hazard, Januzaj, Tielemans helping to steer the national team forward to the next Euro’s and World Cup.

Tunisia are back in their fifth finals tournament and their first since Germany 2006 when they finished third. They have faced England and Belgium at the finals and if there is a glimmer of hope for the North African nation then it comes in the form of their meeting against Belgium ending in a draw. Sadly their last game against England ended in defeat. Panama brings new opportunity for three points. They have lost one in their last 6 games which came against Spain with an 84th minute goal conceded. The side can expect to finish third once more as experience proves crucial.

Panama complete the group and it doesn’t look great for the Central American nation who make their debut. Having been drawn in the same group as England and Belgium, they have managed one win against Trinidad & Tobagoin their last five and have managed a solitary goal which came in that win against Trinidad whilst conceding eight goals although 6 which came against Denmark.

They will go in against Belgium hoping to put in a reasonable performance where they can hope to at least score a goal and to keep their defence as tight as possible. When you have the likes of Hazard, Lukaku, Vardy and Kane coming at your defence in the first two games, many would probably cross their fingers and close their eyes. I think that Panama’s World Cup debut will be one that they wont want to remember in a hurry.

Group Prediction

England take top spot, Belgium second as Tunisia gain first win. Its bottom for Panama

World Cup Qualifying – UEFA Group E-I

So welcome to part two of the UEFA World Cup Qualifying round 7-8. This time we feature groups E-I which include the likes of England, Scotland, Spain, Italy, Poland and Denmark. Let’s kick off though.

Group E

With the likes of Denmark, Romania and Poland all aiming for qualification for Russia 2018, it was always going to be a close call in who would claim top spot and who would be hoping their second place would be enough to gain a play off spot.

Romania looked the strongest  starting with an unbeaten three game run, albeit with a home win draw against Montenegro together with a 5-0 away win against Armenia and a surprise away draw in Kazakhstan. Their of qualification received a serious blow as they lost both home and away to Poland meaning the draw at home to Denmark, left them with a lot to do going into round seven and eight.

Denmark who had missed out in 2014 due to a poorer second place record, were looking to make it into the finals. They had a nervy start which saw them reaching a record of 2-2. They had a lot to do and they seemed destined to do it. A draw in Romania was followed up with a win away to Kazahkstan which was crucial going into round seven and eight, which included a home tie against Poland, who they lost away to earlier in round.

Poland who failed to qualify in 2014 no thanks to drawing four games, were looking strong with the hitman Robert Lewandowski leading the Polish line. The Munich striker was hot on form hitting two hat tricks in two separate games. Poland in this round were looking unbeatable going into these rounds.

Round seven saw Poland travel to Denmark odds on to win and move a step closer to qualification whilst Montenegro travelled to Kazahkstan and Romania hosted Armenia. It wasn’t going to go by the book in this round as the Danes pummelled the Poles 4-0 whilst Montenegro scored a win and Romania scraped a 1-0 win at home to Armenia.

Round 8 saw Denmark travel to Armenia whilst Montenegro hosted Romania and Poland hosted Kazahkstan. The Danes bagged a 4-1 win whilst Montenegro bagged a solitary goal to win 1-0. Poland were back on track with a 3-0 win which kept three points gap between them and the chasing pack. For Denmark and Montenegro they were level on points, goals scored and conceded. They were separated purely on the result between them which saw Montenegro win 1-0.

The final two rounds will have a key outcome of the group.  Round nine should see Poland beat Armenia making qualification virtually guaranteed. Montenegro and Denmark face off in which the winner will surely take second spot. In the final round Poland host Montenegro and are likely to be favourites. Depending on result of the Montenegro/Denmark result, the outcome between Denmark and Romania could see the Danes get through and claim a playoff spot.

Group F

This group featured double home nation representation as the auld enemy were paired up. England would have gone into qualifying the favourites to qualify in a group that consisted of Slovenia and Slovakia as the other more likely nations hoping to make it to Russia 2018.

Despite the wins and the luck along the way, England found themselves going into round seven and eight, with 14 points, Slovakia had 12 with Slovenia on 11 and Scotland on 8. It had looked bleak for Scotland going into round seven. The Scots though had not given up despite the difficult task and points difference.

Chances of winning the group were slim to nil for Scotland, especially with England who were facing a trip to Malta. England netted a 4-0 win in Valetta thus securing  The Tartan Army faced a trip to Lithuania needing to avoid the last minute equaliser scenario. A draw would have seriously hampered the Scots chances. Thankfully they bagged a 3-0. Slovakia and Slovenia were facing off and the Scots were hoping that the two qualification rivals would finish in a draw. It was looking that way until the 81st minute when Miha Mevlja put the ball into his own net. This left England on 17 points Slovakia 15, Scotland and Slovenia on 11.

Round eight saw something that would not happen very often, Scottish fans cheering on an England victory. The reason being that England were hosting Slovakia at Wembley. The Scots themselves were playing Malta whilst Slovenia were playing Lithuania. England went down early and Scots might have thought their rivals might be doing it on purpose but they came back to win 2-1. Scotland had to do their bit as well and that was easy as they  beat opponents Malta 2-0. Slovenia pasted a 4-0 win against Lithuania which could prove crucial come the end of the group stage if they are tied with either Slovakia or Scotland for second place.

Rounds nine and ten will see the play off spot in Scotland’s own hands. The Scots host Slovakia and travel to Slovenia. The trouble for Scotland is that Slovakia host Malta, which will give them 18 points meaning that dropped points for Scotland would mean game over. Fortunately for Scotland and Slovakia, England take on Slovenia which should see three points for the three lions.

The final two rounds should be interesting and wouldn’t be interesting to see all the home nations at a World Cup finals.

Group G

This one was that saw two footballing giants Spain and Italy drawn together with Albania and Israel providing the best supporting act nominations as it were in Group G. The first meeting between Italy and Spain had seen a point a piece and were going into round seven, only goal difference separated the two with Spain on +18 and Italy +14. Whoever won at the Bernabeu, would ultimately seal the group, especially with the fixtures in round nine and ten. Unfortunately for Italy, the Spaniard’s would have the advantage as they would win 3-0. The reason why it was bad news was that in round eight, they travelled to Liechtenstein and netted an 8-0 win. This gave Spain plus 29 with Albania and Israel left to play. Italy in their next tie managed a 1-0. The Italian’s losing mean that Albania and Israel could boost their slim hopes of a play off place.

Albania hosted Liechtenstein and got three points with a 2-0 win.  other in round seven in a one goal affair. They missed out closing a gap as they drew their next game away to Macedonia. A victory would have seen them close the gap to four points. Israel’s hopes of a play off were blown away when they lost both games, including one against Italy.

Rounds nine and ten see Spain face Israel and Albania and Italy also facing Albania alongside Macedonia. Italy could still win the group, but it would need Albania and Israel to take points off Spain whilst getting points off Albania themselves. Italy mind you would have to win their games to have a chance which should be the case seeing as the only nation to take points off them is Spain. It would appear that Italy would be heading for a play off, but they would be more than likely seeded.

Group H

This was always going to see one nation guaranteed to qualify and that was Belgium. It was just a matter as to who would take up second spot and a possible play off match. Going into round  seven and eight, Belgium had a four point gap over second placed Greece and a further point ahead of Bosnia.In round six Belgium and Greece had met and played out a draw although the Greeks could consider themselves unlucky not to take three points from the group leaders, that would have closed the gap to one point. Gibraltar came close to scoring their first point in their match against Cyprus, but were denied by a late winner.

Round seven saw Belgium host Gibraltar where the visitors suffered a 9-0 thrashing. Greece hosted Estonia but couldn’t breakthrough and had to settle for another draw which looked likely to hamper their qualification hopes.point. Bosnia though missed a great opportunity to move second when they went down 3-2 to Cyprus in Nicosia.

Round eight saw Belgium qualify for the finals as group winners with a victory over Greece, who themselves saw another chance to maintain a hold on the play off spot disappear. This allowed Bosnia to move second when they scored a 4-0 win away to Gibraltar.

So what now for the final two rounds. For Belgium, they can relax and enjoy themselves and can have a hand in who takes second place. Round nine sees the group leaders Belgium travel to Bosnia, where the hosts have yet to concede a goal. This could bode well for Bosnia in their quest although at the same time, Belgium have only condeded one on their travels. Greece travel to Cyprus which should favour the visitors. They will of course need to focus on their own game and not worry about what’s happening elsewhere.

Final round sees Greece with an advantage as they host Gibraltar. A big win would be crucial if they were to somehow finish on the same points as Bosnia. Bosnia though travel to Estonia, who they had previously beat 5-0. A repeat of this would give them a huge goal difference.

So who will be hoping to take a spot in the playoffs? Well that will depend on how Bosnia  do,, if they beat Belgium then they are home and dry. Given their record against the teams in 1st, 2nd, 4th and 5th, they may struggle to get a playoff compared to Greece’s record. It’s going to be interesting to see what happens.

Group I

The final group in the UEFA qualfying zone and it’s one that is very much undecided. It’s a battle between Turkey, Croatia, Iceland and Ukraine and going into rounds seven and eight it was the case of very much all to play for. Croatia lead the group ahead of Iceland on goal difference, with both on 13 points whilst Turkey and Ukraine worth on 11 and also separated by goal difference.

So, to round seven and Iceland looked favourites when they travelled to Finland. Their hosts had only managed to gain one point previous, although that was a win denied ten minutes from time against Kosovo. Unfortunately for Iceland, their hosts finally decided that they might make and effort and gain some pride. A solitary goal in the 8th minute was enough to hamper Iceland’s hopes.

Croatia though were not making any mistakes in Round 7 as they hosted Kosovo. It was again a solitary goal that separated the two nations, coming from Domagoj Vida in the 74th minute. The final game of the group saw the two rivals Ukraine and Turkey coming together at the Metalist. Both on 11 points and whoever lost could possibly see their hopes of automatic qualification disappear. A first half double from Yarmolenko kept the hosts hopes of taking the group still very much alive. It Come the end of round 7, Croatia were on 16 points, Ukraine 14, Iceland 13 and Turkey 11.

Round Eight saw another topsy turvy round. Key games saw Iceland host Ukraine and Turkey host Croatia as Finland played Kosovo in the game between the two eliminated nations. A victory for Croatia, would have given a little breathing space and a healthy 19 points. It wasn’t to be as Cenk Tosun grabbed the only goal of the game in the 75th minute. Iceland hosted Ukraine, both needing a win, especially for the hosts having had the surprise defeat whilst Ukraine with a win could go top. It was back to normal for the hosts as they won 2-0, leaving the group positions the same as it were going into the two rounds albeit the points changing. One thing of note is that Iceland Ukraine and Turkey all have a plus 4 goal difference going into the final two rounds. Iceland and Ukraine have the same goals for and against record.

The final two rounds of games could be very interesting in seeing who finishes where. Croatia host Finland in round nine but travel to the Ukraine in the final game. Croatia had won the first tie, but given the way the results have gone, it would not be a certainty. Iceland could eliminate Turkey with a win in round nine, especially if Croatia win their tie. There could be a twist though, with Ukraine likely to beat Kosovo, the final game between Ukraine and Croatia, could well be a winner takes all. Two wins for the Ukraine would see them on 20 points, with Croatia on 19.

Two into one – Chase for the Champions League

With both Arsenal and Manchester City both winning their games in hand, the chase for the final two Champions League spots looks like going from three into two to two into one. As it currently stands, Manchester City have all but  sealed their Champions League in third with on 78 points and a goal difference of plus 36, fourth place sees Liverpool on 73 and plus 33 together with Arsenal on 72 points and plus 31 goal difference.

After a roller coaster season for the three sides, City look odds on to finish third. Only Liverpool can overtake the Manchester club should City lose to away to Watford. Say a 1-0 defeat for Man City and a Liverpool win of 3-0 and its City drop down into fourth. It wouldn’t matter on the Arsenal result unless the Gunners give the home fans some joy and spank the toffees 4-0, which would then Arsenal would go into the Champions League and Man City finish fifth. How interesting would that be to see.

Realistically Manchester City should finish the game Sunday knowing that they can put their feet up with regards to Champions League football. The only thing they need to worry about is if they say for example 4-4 and Liverpool win 4-1. In these set of circumstances you would see a playoff match at a neutral ground.  The likelihood of that though is very slim. I imagine though should that happen, come Sunday evening there would be a large number of nervous Liverpool and City fans.

For Liverpool, it is Champions League playoff if they win. Should they draw or lose to Middlesbrough, not only will it be typical of the season, but all eyes will be on the Emirates hoping that their neighbours Everton can do them a favour. Should Liverpool lose and Arsenal draw, then that is when it becomes interesting. Should Liverpool lose 2-1 and Arsenal win 2-1 then both teams would have a record of 76-44 and plus 32. Under the Premier League rules, this would require a play off to distinguish who would finish in 4th and 5th place. Im sure neither team would want to go through a play off given their post season activities. As a Liverpool fan like others, I doubt there will be much hunger for 90 minutes at a neutral ground. I guess the same for Arsenal fans.

Not since 1989 when Arsenal won at Anfield to take the title, have either Liverpool or Arsenal gone to the wire in deciding league placings. Personally I dont want to relive that moment any time soon.

In 1977 -Reds joy & Lillywhite gloom

So 1977 saw the reds of Liverpool and Manchester claim the League and  FA Cup and Liverpool successful in the European Cup. Liverpool had in fact retained the League title. Liverpool had  battled in a three way title challenge with Ipswich Town and Manchester City, who would finish second. It was also Liverpool’s tenth league title and a new record.

The FA Cup that saw the final between Liverpool and Manchester United, had seen United along the way avenge their Wembley defeat against Southampton the season before. Liverpool in the Semi Final faced their Merseyside neighbours Everton. A 2-2 draw at Maine Road meant a replay at Goodi. It was definitely a case of the blues for the hosts as Liverpool stormed to a 3-0 win.

It was double misery for Tottenham as not only they ended up finishing bottom and relegated, they also went out in the third round to second division Cardiff City.

The 1976-77 had seen the introduction of yellow and red cards and a change from goal average to goal difference. The change to goal difference was designed to encourage more goals scoring.

International football saw a disappointing run of summer games for England compounded by Don Revie’s controversial resignation as he went off to manage in the Emirates. It was also the yeat that saw the famous scenes at Wembley where Scottish fans invaded the pitch and break the goal posts.

 1977 saw the beginning of the rise of Wimbledon, who were elected into the fourth division. Having seen a successful run in non league football, they were rewarded with League football participation and for the Dons, life in the league was about to get interesting and in ten years time it would become even more special.

It was soon time for a new season and newly promoted Nottingham Forest were making themselves known as they topped the table at the end of the first month. Other promoted sides, Birmingham City and West Ham both started winless.

Newcastle were in all sorts of trouble, bottom of the table, they found themselves sacking their manager Richard Dinnis who had also criticised the club chairman.

International misery for England once more as they failed to qualify for the 1978 World Cup, making it an absence of eight years for the 1966 winners.

Finally it was big transfers as Kenny Dalglish became the most expensive player signed from a British club when he moves from Celtic to Liverpool. The price was 440,000. Pricey for the Scotsman, not sure whether it would work out though for the defending champions…..

Well that’s all for now on the opening Flashback 40 series. Be sure to check out more.

Sam Allardyce – Good riddance

I take a week off abroad and it seems all hell breaks loose. Having appeared to be the victim of a newspaper sting, the FA had no choice but to call time on Sam Allardyce’s England tenure. Allardyce was appointed following the resignation of Roy Hodgson following Euro 2016 exit.

The appointment of ‘Big Sam’was always a questionable one given that he had no major honours and a management win ratio of under 40%. How was a manager with a win ratio that low, ever going to be suited to being England manager. If it wasn’t the percentage rate, it was the unattractive football. There had to be better choices, even if the FA were looking at a foreign manager. Thanks to Celtic the English FA didn’t have to look at Brendan Rodgers.

If Allardyce was to depart from the post as England manager, we would have expected disappointing football and records. We should not have expected him to be booted after one game and under 70 days, unfortunately we shouldn’t have expected any different. Allardyce had been drawn into the darker side of football ten years ago along side his son. You might have expected him to avoid any kind of dodgy stuff but apparently not. In a secret filming he claimed he could get round things. Post departure he claimed he was doing a favour for a friend, in reality Allardyce should have known better.

It appears that the former Sunderland manager could be in further trouble with the FA following the recent incident, not before he apparently receives a £1 million pay off. The logic makes no sense, but then to be honest when did the FA have any logic? They did after all screw over the late Sir Bobby Robson by not offering him a deal post Italia 90.

It is likely that Allardyce will get some punishment, but not enough to keep him from managing again.