Reuters Soccer Blog
World Soccer views and news
For four years, seven Argentinean friends saved 200 dollars each every month to attend the worlds finest sporting contest, the Fifa Soccer World Cup.
They arrived in time for the match in Polokwane between Argentina and Greece. With their Argentina jerseys and distinct animal hats, Juan, Ramin, Ale, Carlos, Claudio and Ale turned heads as they entered the Polokwane Fan Park shouting “Argentina! Argentina!”.
“Saving up that much money was not easy, but we were not going to miss this World Cup. It is a first in Africa and a good reason to travel South Africa,” said Juan Manuel. They have not been in the country for long, but already they say they are reaping the fruits of their four-year labour.
“Every penny has been worth it, we are seven friends, but I am sure we will have a lot more friends when we leave here in two weeks time”.
France ensured the likes of Franck Ribery, Karim Benzema and Thierry Henry will be at the World Cup in South Africa next year after winning through with a goal that has left Irish fans seething.
There was nothing wrong with the finish from William Gallas, but Thierry Henry admitted using his hand to keep the ball in play and commentators and Irish supporters are already talking of “The Hand of God II” and “The Hand of Henry” in reference to Diego Maradona in 1986.
Depending on the results of the second legs of the UEFA World Cup playoffs on Wednesday, next year’s tournament in South Africa could contain rather too many of football’s lesser lights for some fans out there.
Portugal, France and Russia, could all perish and the tournament, which is supposed to be the pinnacle of the game, could have a cast list including Honduras, New Zealand, North Korea, Slovakia, Bosnia and Slovenia.
Draw for the European World Cup playoffs:
Republic of Ireland v France
Portugal v Bosnia-Herzegovina
Greece v Ukraine
Russia v Slovenia
Two-legged ties to be played on Nov 14 and 18.
Is that the sound of a World Cup playoff shock I hear? France, 2006 runners-up, will have to beat Giovanni Trapattoni’s Ireland over two legs to reach South Africa next year and that is no easy feat.
So now we know which European teams are in the World Cup playoffs and we have a pretty good idea of the seedings, though FIFA’s updated rankings out at the end of the week will provide confirmation ahead of Monday’s draw.
It looks like Russia, France, Greece and Portugal will be the seeded teams with Ukraine, Ireland, Bosnia and Slovenia playing them. After Argentina’s qualification in the final match against Uruguay, it looks increasingly likely that all the big teams will be there in South Africa.
From a tiny second division Portuguese stadium to the luxurious surroundings and facilities of an Alpine sports centre, Greece are feeling like true defending champions at the Euro 2008.
The atmosphere, however, is not nearly as happy as it was in Portugal.
Four years ago when Greece settled in Vila do Conde, a sleepy seaside town in the estuary of the Ave river north of Porto, noone, including myself would have ever dreamt that a few weeks later coach Otto Rehhagel’s men would be crowned champions of Europe.
The Bundesliga gets a bad rap at times. German clubs have for the most part failed to reach the latter stages of the Champions League in recent years, matches can sometimes seem to move in slow-motion and the officiating can be uneven or even downright scandalous (see Hoyzer, Robert).
But despite all that, Bundesliga players have been sparkling in Euro 2008. And with players from the German league on 15 of the 16 teams no league is more widely represented.
There have been players from the German domestic league in the starting line-ups of almost all the teams that have played of the tournament. Only Spain have no Bundesliga players in their squad.