A bit of what follows in these lines has already been reported by Kridangan’s most celebrated football writer, John Welsh in his yesterday’s post. But the FIFA World Cup is such an exhilarating sporting event that avid sports readers keep looking for every scrape of football news, as long as it is relevant to the upcoming world cup. This account will take you through the recent chronology of world cup qualifying games during November 13-20, 2013.
On November 13, 2013, the first play-off match in Mexico City ended in favor of Mexico, who defeated New Zealand 5-1. A few hours later in Amman, Uruguay beat Jordan 5-0 to consolidate their hope for an easy entry in the World Cup.
Two days later on November 15, four play-off games were played in different European venues. In Reykjavik, Iceland and Croatia were locked 0-0; Portugal scored a 1-0 win against Sweden in Lisbon; Greece beat Romania 3-1 in Piraeus and the last play-off in Kiev saw Ukraine’s world cup hopes brighten, as they defeated France 2-0.
Next day the scene shifted to Africa, where Nigeria and Ivory Coast booked their tickets for the World Cup. The Nigerians scored an easy 2-0 victory over Ethiopia at Calabar, while Ivory Coast went through despite a 1-1 draw in the return leg at Casablanca since they had beaten Senegal 3-1 in the first leg. On November 17, Cameroon booked the World Cup spot by beating Tunisia 4-1 at Yaounde.
The return leg play-offs on November 19 involved 6 matches. In Cairo, the Egyptians lost to Ghana’s black stars and then Algeria became the last African nation to qualify for the World cup when they defeated Burkina Faso 1-0 at Blida.
In Zagreb, Icelandic fans were expecting a miracle after the first leg play-off had ended goalless. But Croatia scored the first goal from Iceland’s poor defense, which caused the ball to come to completely unmarked Mario Manduzukic, who netted in accurately. Croatia’s second goal came through a powerful strike by captain Darijo Srna. This ensured Croatia’s entry to the World Cup. In Solna, shortly afterwards, the Sweden-Portugal game literally became a contest between two football greats. Portugal began with a thin advantage from Lisbon play-off game. After the drab first half, in which Portugal led 1-0 through a Ronaldo strike, the game suddenly came alive in second half. First up, Ibrahimovic produced a marvelous header and a little later, he put Sweden 2-1 ahead with a majestically-timed free-kick. But the lead did not last long, as Ronaldo struck twice in succession to finish the game 3-2 in Portugal’s favor. Six goals scored in the two legs were shared between Ronaldo and Ibrahimovic 4-2.
Then came the cracker at Saint-Denis. 15 years ago, France created a sensation in the football world by handing a humiliating defeat to the mighty Brazil in the final of FIFA World Cup 1998. The event instantly became a national celebration for many days. Paul Pogba, Raphael Varane and Mamadou Sakho were little boys, who played street football in 1998, while also gloating over national victory. These three boys have now come of age and on November 19, 2013; they played for France in the crucial play-off game against Ukraine. The French had a 0-2 handicap from the first leg game in Kiev on November 15. No one was ready to believe that France’s journey to Brazil will hinge on the performances of Sakho, Varane and Pogba. Including these youngsters in the return play-off leg was a gamble that team coach Didier Deschamps had to take. He was proved right as the boys played marvelous football right through the match, while also providing the much needed support to established stars, Karim Benzema, Mathieu Valbuena and Franck Ribery.
France won the fast-paced and intensely contested match 3-0. Mamadou Sakho put France ahead in the 22nd minute and Karim Benzema wiped out the first-leg deficit in the 34th, both goals being opportunistic strikes. The French forwards played with passion and invaded Ukrainian defense time and time again. In the 72nd minute, Sakho put the final nail in Ukrainian coffin and France was ready for Brazil.
The last game on November 19 was played between Romania and Greece at Bucharest, which ended in a 1-1 draw. But since Greece had won the first leg 3-1, they sealed their place in the world cup.
On November 20, the Mexicans flew a long distance to Wellington for the return leg, which ended in a victory for them. Mexico thus became the 31st team to qualify for the World Cup. The last play-off match made Uruguay as the 32nd and final team to qualify for the great event. Despite a frustrating draw at Montevideo, Uruguay held the advantage of their spectacular 5-0 first leg victory over Jordan.
With all 32 places sealed for the FIFA world Cup, the qualifiers now await for the final tournament draw on December 6, 2013. The venue is a picturesque resort in Costa do Sauipe, near the city of Salvador.