UEFA World Cup Qualification roundup – England get the help they need

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There were some decisive matches today as Europe’s qualifying for Brazil 2014 is nearing a close.  Many groups have just one or two rounds left, so the races are shaping up.

If you’re unaware of how UEFA’s World Cup qualifying works, there are nine groups of 6 teams each (except one which has 5).  The top team in each group qualifies automatically, and the next highest eight teams then play a two-leg playoff round for four spots.  Thus a total of 13 teams make it to Brazil.

For an up-to-date look at the groups, here’s FIFA’s site.

Portugal 1-0 Russia

Helder Postiga scored early and Portugal withstood a vicious Russia assault down the stretch to take over control of Group F.  The result is massive for Portugal, who were propelled from third to first in the table.  Cristiano Ronaldo and company have 14 points which leads Russia by 2 and Israel by 3.

Montenegro 0-4 Ukraine

A match with huge reverberations for England, the Group H leaders fell when 10-men Ukraine scored a goal against the run of play, and then Montenegro themselves were reduced a man down when Vladimir Vokov received his second yellow in the 74th minute, and then dropped to nine men Savo Pavocevic befell the same fate.  Ukraine doubled their lead through Dnipro Dnipropetrivsk’s Yevhen Konoplyanka to sink the Falcons, and defender Artem Fedetskyy added a third.

England still trails Montenegro by 2 points in the group, but now they will have a game in hand to make up the ground.  Ukraine is one point back of England in third.

Moldova 1-1 Poland

Also helping the Three Lions in Group H, Poland were held to just a point, keeping them 3 back of England.  Borussia Dortmund’s Jakub Blaszczykowski put Poland up early, set up by Robert Lewandowski, but Moldova’s Eugen Sidorenco drew level before the break and they held tight from there.

Austria 2-1 Sweden

In a massive result for Austria, they stayed tight on second place in Group C after defeating Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s Sweden.  David Alaba converted a penalty in the 26th minute and Marc Janko doubled the lead just 6 minutes later.  Johan Elmander gave Sweden a lifeline eight minutes before the death but it wasn’t enough.

Germany has a firm grip on Group C with 16 points, but that second spot will be crucial for the team that wants to have a chance in a playoff.  Coming into the match, three teams (Austria, Sweden, and Ireland) were all tied for second with 8 points, but now it’s just Austria and Ireland with 11.

Ireland 3-0 Faroe Islands

A hat trick from LA Galaxy’s very own Robbie Keane also kept Ireland in the hunt for that second spot.  Keane became Ireland’s most capped player in the process. Their goal differential is way less than Austria’s though so they’ll need some outside help to make the playoff round in Group C.

Albania 1-1 Norway

The Norwegians fought from a goal down to grab a valuable point, but still have work to do for a playoff spot in Group E.  The draw gives Norway a 2-point deficit for second place held by Albania, with Iceland sandwiched in between.  Switzerland remain in first place 3 points ahead of Norway.

Iceland 2-4 Slovenia

A heartbreaking result for Iceland, they fell from 2-1 up and could not capitalize on Albania’s misstep, and instead find themselves in a dire position a point down of Albania for second place instead of two up in Group E.  The game started at a blistering pace, with the scoreline 2-2 by the 30th minute before things shut down.  Bostjan Cesar of Serie A’s Chievo Verona was the hero for Slovenia, scoring in the 60th minute to secure the victory, and Rene Krhin gave Slovenia a 2-goal advantage late.

The group is still wide open, with just three points separating the top 4 spots (Switzerland, Albania, Iceland, Norway in that order).

Liechtenstein 1-1 Slovakia

Slovakia rescued a valuable point to keep pressure on Greece for second place in Group G. Jan Durica leveled the match in the 73rd minute to make sure not all was lost.  A loss for Slovakia would have surely ended their hopes for the second spot.

Lithuania 0-1 Greece

A goal from Bologna’s Lazaros Christodoulopoulos allowed Greece to pull away from Slovakia for second place in Group G.  All three points put them three up in second place with a game in hand.  They’re still 3 points behind Bosnia-Herzegovina for first.

Latvia 0-5 Bosnia-Herzegovina

Nothing really to see here. The Group G leaders grabbed an easy 3 points after Latvia’s Aleksandrs Fertovs was sent off in the 10th minute.  Five different goalscorers bagged goals for B-H, including Edin Dzeko who scored the fifth and final goal in the 82nd minute.  They’re now 3 points ahead of Greece.

Belgium 2-1 Serbia

Belgium capitalized on a slipup by Croatia to take sole possession of first place in Group A as they beat third-place Serbia on goals from Kevin de Bruyne and Marouane Fellaini.  De Bruyne’s goal is his third international goal for the Belgians, all coming in qualification for Brazil. For Fellaini it’s his seventh, with the previous one coming against the Americans this week in a friendly.

Croatia 0-1 Scotland

Group A bottomfeeders Scotland are unable to qualify, but they did their best to play the part of spoiler.  Ranked #4 in the world, Croatia were unable to keep pace with Belgium for first place in Group A after Norwich’s Robert Snodgrass scored midway through the first half to lead Scotland to victory.

Czech Republic 0-0 Italy

In a disappointing result for both countries, the Czechs and Petr Cech are all but eliminated now, and Italy have lost their game advantage over second-place Bulgaria in Group B.  Italy do move to 4 points ahead in first, but a win would have wrapped up the group’s top spot.  Already struggling to find a goal, Mario Balotelli was sent off in the 72nd minute after his second yellow. He wasn’t too happy about it.

Finland 1-0 Belarus

Group I, the only 5-team group in the qualification, is pretty much over for the lower teams as Spain and France battle for first and second.  Finland’s win keeps them in the hunt with 8 points, 2 behind France and 3 back of Spain.

Nuno proud of Wolves comeback; Hasenhuttl fumes at VAR

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It is safe to say that the managers of Southampton and Wolverhampton Wanderers had contrasting emotions after the dramatic 3-2 victory for the visitors at St Mary’s on Saturday.

Saints led 2-0 at half time but a stunning second half comeback, led by Mexico’s Raul Jimenez who scored twice, grabbed Wolves all three points.

With his squad banged up and missing Ruben Vinagre, Willy Boly and Diogo Jota among others, Wolves boss Nuno Espirito Santo was beaming at the final whistle after a lengthy celebration with the Wolves fans in the away end.

“It was amazing, the second half,” Santo smiled. “They [the players] realized the first half was not good. They reacted very well. I am very proud of the players and I was proud even in the first half because I am very aware of how we were doing things. Let’s keep on going.”

As for Southampton’s perspective, Ralph Hasenhuttl was not a happy man.

But not because of how his team played. He was fuming at the officials and VAR due to the decision to award a penalty kick to Wolves for their second goal. Referee Darren England didn’t award a penalty kick as Jonny went down in the box under contact from Cedric and then Jack Stephens but VAR intervened and awarded the spot kick.

“For me it is absolutely not a clear wrong decision. I think the referee was right in that moment,” Hasenhuttl fumed. “Cedric was in front of him and it wasn’t a clear wrong decision, in my opinion. The referee was right. I don’t know why they overruled in that moment. I cannot understand it. I really can’t. Cedric was in front of the ball so he [Jonny] had no chance to get to the ball. You can give it, yes, but it is not a clear wrong. I heard that VAR was overruling when it is clearly wrong. For me, it was not clearly wrong. This is what I cannot understand.”

Cedric’s nudge on Jonny probably wasn’t a foul and although Stephens didn’t make contact, his challenge was reckless. Hasenhuttl is perhaps looking to detract a little of the attention away from his players who crumbled after leading 2-0.

In truth, that lead was flattering in a pretty even game that Wolves had dominated early, and although Southampton’s incredible run of form (six wins in nine PL games before this) is over, they are still six points above the relegation zone.

This was a big moment in the season for both teams. Had Saints won they’d have been level with Wolves but a massive comeback victory now propels Nuno’s boys up to sixth and in with a chance of a top four finish.

That will surely persuade their owners to spend money in the final days of the January transfer window as their tired and stretched squad will also have to cope with the latter stages of the Europa League in the coming months.

U.S. teen Vassilev makes Premier League debut for Villa

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Look closely at Jack Grealish‘s equalizer for Aston Villa on Saturday and you’ll find an American making a run to create space.

That’s Indiana Vassilev, who made his Premier League debut in the 1-1 draw with Brighton and Hove Albion at the Amex Stadium.

Vassilev, who turns 19 next month, was credited with seven touches in 23 minutes, connecting on 3-of-4 passes.

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The Georgia-born left winger made his FA Cup debut versus Fulham on Jan. 4 and his League Cup debut versus Leicester City on Jan. 8.

He has six goals and two assists in 13 appearances for Villans’ Premier League 2 side.

Favre reacts to Dortmund debuts for Haaland, U.S. prospect Reyna

Giovanni Reyna debuts for Borussia Dortmund
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Borussia Dortmund supporters couldn’t help but gush about the hat trick debut for teenage striker Erling Braut Haaland.

Their manager was sure to talk about both of his teen debutants.

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The second was American 17-year-old Giovanni Reyna, who was promoted to the first team this week and came off the bench to make his Bundesliga debut in Saturday’s 5-3 win over Augsburg.

Here’s one of Favre’s answers when asked about Haaland, via Fussball.news:

“We also played with Gio Reyna. It was very good. The first time he plays here at 17, that’s good. A 17-year-old, a 19-year-old, I think that’s good.”

“(Haaland) immediately showed his strength, the runs down. He moves well between the lines. It gives us another way to play forward.”

Haaland’s 20-minute hat trick has been well detailed by Joe Prince-Wright here.

Reyna entered for Thorgan Hazard in the 72nd minute, getting 13 touches and completing 7-of-9 passes. He completed his lone dribble attempt and won his only duel while failing to put his only shot attempt on target.

Aston Villa grab vital point at Brighton

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Injury-hit Aston Villa grabbed a big point at Brighton and Hove Albion on Saturday.

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Leandro Trossard gave Brighton a first half lead but Jack Grealish popped up with a second half equalizer to share the points in a fiery encounter at the Amex.

With the draw both teams remained embroiled in a relegation battle as Brighton have 25 points and sit three points ahead of Villa who occupy 18th, the final relegation spot.


3 things we learned

1. Grealish delivers, again: Riddled by injuries, Villa needed their captain to stand tall. He did. Again. Even in recent heavy defeats Grealish has tried to drive Villa on and he has now scored in their tight win at Burnley and grabbed them a point at Brighton. Against relegation rivals, Grealish has delivered for Villa and at 24 years old he conrinues to mature.

2. Brighton let another lead slip: The Seagulls have won just won of their last eight league games and they keep letting leads slip in tight games. Graham Potter‘s side have plenty of the ball and dominate games but just can’t score the second goal to finish teams off. They have only scored more than one goal once in their last seven games and for all of their fine attacking play, Brighton are three points off the bottom because they can’t finish teams off.

3. Relegation battle coming up: Both teams showed why they will be in a relegation battle all season long. Brighton can’t score or finish teams off, while Villa are too reliant on Grealish and have no real attacking options as they rode their luck at Brighton. Potter and Dean Smith are two progressive, young, English coaches but they will be pushed to their limits to keep their teams up this season. They may also have to put their principles of free-flowing, attacking football to one side if they’re going to be managing PL clubs next season.

Man of the Match: Jack Grealish – Villa’s main man popped up with the goal which grabbed them a point and he was everywhere. Villa had no central striker once again as they wait to bring someone in during the January window with Wesley out for the season, and Grealish made so many runs forward during the game to try and take the pressure off his team.


Jack Grealish smashed an effort just wide as Villa looked dangerous on the counter without a recognized striker.

The Seagulls then came close to the taking the lead as Bernardo‘s cross found Aaron Mooy and his volley was cleared, eventually, as an almighty scramble ensued.

Aaron Connolly then knocked a low cross just wide as he seemed to be surprised that the ball found him in the six yard box.

Brighton took the lead as Neal Maupay ran towards goal and teed up Trossard who fired home across goal and into the far corner.

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Mohamed Trezeguet was denied by Mat Ryan in a rare Villa attack as Brighton were dominating, with young American Indiana Vassilev coming on for his Premier League debut.

Moments later Grealish made it 1-1 as a poor mistake from Brighton saw Douglas Luiz play a long ball over the top and Villa’s skipper slammed home to send the away end wild.

Late on Villa debutant Pepe Reina made a wonderful stop to deny Maupay preserve a point as tempers flared towards and after the final whistle as both sets of players were involved in a huge melee.