World Cup qualifying in Africa is an interesting, and rather expedient, process. The first round consists of 12 home-and-away rounds, featuring the 24 lowest ranked sides on the continent. The 12 winners join the remaining 28 countries for the second round, in which the 40 teams are divided into ten groups. After six matches, the top sides in each group continue on to the third and final round.
And that’s where we are now: ready for another round of home-and-away legs, with the five teams finishing on top the ones that book their tickets to Brazil. CAF doesn’t force viewers to choose between two exciting matches, instead spacing the first five games out over the next four days.
Saturday, October 12
Burkina Faso vs. Algeria Burkina Faso have never made it to the World Cup, but they did reach the final of the last Africa Cup of Nations, only to be defeated by Nigeria. It’s Algeria that have the advantage here, having made it to the World Cup last time around and putting in 13 goals in six games in the last round. But the hosts seem fairly confident, with Belgian coach Paul Put stating that “everyone is focused and motivated to deliver.”
Ivory Coast vs. Senegal Of course it’s the Ivorians that are tipped to come away with a trip to Brazil, as they’re the top-rated team in Africa and get to boast of players like Gervinho, Yaya Toure and Didier Drogba. Meanwhile, Demba Ba misses out for Senegal, with Alain Giresse refusing to call players that don’t appear regularly for their clubs. That leaves the visitors with few experienced players on their side, and with a rather unimpressive second round, putting your money on Senegal doesn’t seem like a safe bet.
Sunday, October 13
Ethiopia vs. Nigeria Ethiopia are the one team remaining from the first round, and just their luck, they’ve gone and drawn Nigeria. The Super Eagles are the current holders of the Africa Cup of Nations and made it through their group unbeaten. They’ve got the likes of Victor Moses, Victor Obinna and John Obi Mikel, while Ethiopia’s players mainly ply their trade in the domestic leagues. Still, Ethiopia have a great home record, so they’ve got that going for them.
Tunisia vs. Cameroon Samuel Eto’o, who retired from international football last month, is already staging a comeback, having answered the call after being named to the Cameroon squad. The Indomitable Lions visit Tunisia, who are staging a comeback of their own. It appeared they’d lost their chance of going to Brazil after losing to Cape Verde in their final game of the second round, but after it emerged that their opponents had fielded a suspended player, Tunisia were awarded the win and moved on to the third round.
Tuesday, October 15
Ghana vs. Egypt It seems almost unfair — to fans of football, at least — that one of Ghana or Egypt won’t reach the World Cup. Although the Black Stars are ranked higher, it was Egypt that came out of the last round with six wins from six games. They scored 16 goals, second only to Ghana’s 18, although Egypt allowed seven to Ghana’s three. Even if we won’t be treated to both sides playing in Brazil, these two legs should at least be fun to watch. A slight tip to Ghana, though, in this one, not only as the hosts but because they’ll have their bonus’s doubled for a win. What better reason to get all three points?
That’s a fictional account of a conversation occurring between Yeovil Town’s Annie Heatherson and Manchester City star Carli Lloyd a moment before the USWNT star threw a ruthless red-card winning elbow in the mug of her mark.
“I think I will decide [on my future] in the next two weeks,” he said.
Asked if United would be his new club he replied: “Possible, possible.” Asked to give the chances on a scale of one to 10, Griezmann added “six”.
There’s a reported $112 million release clause in Griezmann’s contract, and few clubs will be able to meet it. The player has said he’s loyal to Diego Simeone, and the manager said he’s staying at Atleti.
Still, is Griezmann to Old Trafford fait accompli?
Plus, click on the link above to follow all of ProSoccerTalk’s reviews of the 2016-17 season.
Let’s get to it.
Final position: 6th (Europa League group stage) Star man: Paul Pogba — It’s clear that he’ll never justify his price tag to some critics, but once he found his footing in late Fall there was no turning back for one of the most complete players in the world. Only David De Gea played more minutes for the Red Devils. The Gaffer: Jose Mourinho — There were typical odd Mourinho moments, and his fixture congestion talk was tiresome, but all-in-all he navigated the Europa League all the way to the final despite an absurd rash of injuries to defenders and long absences for Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Juan Mata, and Paul Pogba amongst others. Mark out of 10: 6/10 – Sixth is no prize for Manchester United, but a win on Wednesday against Ajax may bump this mark up to 7 (perhaps 8 given the injuries). Season summed up in a word: Patience.
Final position: 19th (Relegated) Star man: Ben Gibson — The 24-year-old defender played all 3420 Premier League minutes for Boro, and was the most consistent performer on a team that defended like a top half side. The Gaffer: Aitor Karanka / Steve Agnew — Karanka has a right to feel a bit hard done-by after leading Boro to the Premier League, but he couldn’t orchestrate goals and that is what doomed the Smoggies down to the Championship. Mark out of 10: 4/10 – Even with relegation, Boro didn’t embarrass itself like their Northeast neighbors Sunderland. Season summed up in a word: Inoffensive.
Final position: 8th Star man: Oriol Romeu — The hard-nosed tackler with an eye for the smart pass showed us what Barcelona and Chelsea saw in the center midfielder. The Gaffer: Claude Puel — Not back in Europe, and that’s a disappointment, and seems destined to start next season somewhere else. Is that fair for a League Cup final campaign, one that probably deserved better than a loss? Mark out of 10: 6/10 – An injury to stellar center back Virgil Van Dijk is likely what kept them from contending with Everton for seventh place. Their Europa League return was decent, and Puel (or whoever) will need to boost the club back into the Top Seven discussion early if he wants to stick around St. Mary’s. Season summed up in a word: Acceptable.
Final position: 13th Star man: Bruno Martins Indi — The Dutchman was a beast in the back for Stoke, but heads back to Porto this summer unless Mark Hughes can work a sale. The Gaffer: Mark Hughes — An injury to Geoff Cameron hampered their season, but the Potters stumbled too much given their talent. Mark out of 10: 3/10 – There’s a difference between leveling off and dropping off, and Stoke massively underachieved when it comes to taking any sort of step forward. Season summed up in a word: Underwhelming
Final position: 20th (Relegated) Star man: Jordan Pickford — The young backstop won’t be long for the Stadium of Light. The Gaffer: David Moyes — From word one the Scottish boss said his club wasn’t good enough for the league, which sure didn’t help them en route to relegation. Oddly enough, he could’ve been the right man to lead an undermanned rebound to the Championship. Instead, he’s resigned. Mark out of 10: 1/10 – There was nothing to like from the Northeast, but Jermain Defoe, Didier N’Dong, and Pickford were bright spots. Season summed up in a word: Moribund.
Final position: 15th Star man: Gylfi Sigurdsson — The Icelandic star is simply the reason Swans stayed alive long enough to see their season rescued by Clement and Co. The Gaffer: Francesco Guidolin / Bob Bradley / Paul Clement — Not one of these men were given enough talent to keep the team in the Premier League, so credit to Clement for getting it done. Mark out of 10: 3/10 – Selling Ashley Williams and not adequately replacing him as a leader or center back could go down as the worst move in a long time. Season summed up in a word: Fortunate.
Final position: 2nd (Champions League group stage) Star man: Harry Kane — Two Golden Boots before he’s turned 24, and the latest Englishman to have a deserved comparison to Alan Shearer. The Gaffer: Mauricio Pochettino — He’s one of the best managers in the world, and Spurs are fortunate to have him. Mark out of 10: 10/10 – From the development of Dele Alli to the steadiness of their back line, Spurs could be the next dynastic club in the Premier League. Season summed up in a word: Precipice.
Final position: 17th Star man: Etienne Capoue — Impressed in possession and finishing touch. In some ways he may be like Gylfi Sigurdsson as a player best suited to stand out on a lesser squad than contribute on a well-oiled machine. The Gaffer: Walter Mazzarri — Like Quique Flores, another Watford manager sent packing by an impatient brand. Mark out of 10: 6/10 – Avoided the other end of the yo-yo worry. Season summed up in a word: Alive.
West Bromwich Albion
Final position: 10th Star man: Ben Foster — Saved points for the Baggies on so many occasions. The Gaffer: Tony Pulis — Yes he was in the running to be Premier League Manager of the Year, but that feels a bit hollow, like honoring a domestic mainstay for talking down his club’s chances and then keeping them from the drop. At some point, like with Stoke, stagnation makes staying alive less impressive. Mark out of 10: 6/10 – Gareth McAuley, Jonny Evans, and Foster helped defend to the death, but the club dropped off a cliff. Season summed up in a word: Sated.
West Ham United
Final position: 11th Star man: Winston Reid — The New Zealand captain was a steady presence in a tumultuous season. The Gaffer: Slaven Bilic — Given the club’s massive aims, this season will be combed through in a fine manner. But the Dimitri Payet saga clobbered the team after the Frenchman welched on his commitment to the club. Bilic deserves another chance. Mark out of 10: 5/10 – The chairman will want more than this, and he has to get it early this Fall. Season summed up in a word: Wobbly.