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Mongolia, North Korea picks up wins in World Cup qualifying

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SEOUL, South Korea (AP) Mongolia and North Korea both started the second round of Asian World Cup qualifying with wins on Thursday.

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Mongolia, ranked 187th in the world and playing in the second round of qualifying for the first time, beat Myanmar 1-0 in Ulaanbaatar. Amaraa Dulguun scored the lone goal in the 17th minute of the Group F match. It’s only Mongolia’s second World Cup qualifying win overall, having won a first round first-leg match in 2011 (for the 2014 World Cup), before losing the second leg, 2-0 to Myanmar. This time, payback was on the cards.

North Korea defeated Lebanon 2-0 in Group H with Jong Il Gwan scoring both goals in Pyongyang.

The winner of each of the eight groups and the four best second-place teams will advance to the next round.

AFC: Macau won’t travel to Sri Lanka for World Cup qualifier

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KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) The Asian Football Confederation says it has been informed by the Macau Football Association that its national team will not travel to Sri Lanka for a 2020 World Cup qualifier on Tuesday at Colombo.

Although the AFC statement did not give a reason, soccer officials in Macau said they were concerned over the team’s safety following the deadly terrorist attacks in the country. On April 21, three churches in Sri Lanka and three luxury hotels in Colombo were targeted in coordinated terrorist suicide bombings which killed 358 people.

[READ: Report: Man United make 2nd bid for Wan-Bissaka]

The Macau FA said it decided not to send a team “due to the recent terrorist attack in Sri Lanka and for the sake of the team’s personal safety.” The MFA said it asked FIFA, the AFC and Sri Lanka’s footballing authorities to switch the match to a neutral venue.

“MFA will have to put our players’ personal safety as a priority … we cannot afford to take the risk to put our players’ lives in danger,” the weekend statement said.

The Football Federation of Sri Lanka said it “fulfilled all security requirements” with FIFA and the AFC ahead of the match, and it had a right to play the return match at home. Macau won the first leg 1-0 in Macau.

FIFA chief hails re-election of Asian football chief

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KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) FIFA President Gianni Infantino has hailed the re-election of Asian football chief Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa, saying it will help the region move forward in stability.

Bahrain’s Sheikh Salman returned unopposed in the Asian Football Confederation’s presidential election Saturday after two candidates withdrew last month.

Infantino told the AFC Congress that the no-contest was “important to show a united football family in Asia and to move forward in stability.”

Sheikh Salman was absent to attend his mother’s funeral. Infantino led delegates to observe a few minutes of silence to mourn with Sheikh Salman.

Infantino also reiterated that FIFA was still discussing with Qatar the possibility of increasing World Cup teams from 32 to 48 in the 2022 tournament.

More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/apf-Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Iran warned new law is putting Asian Cup place at risk

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KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) Iran has been told it could face suspension from the Asian Cup in January over a law interfering in the national soccer federation’s independence.

The Asian Football Confederation says it is “closely monitoring the current issues” with its top-ranked team, and will not tolerate “third-party interference in their member associations.”

The Malaysia-based AFC says Iran’s parliament announced a law “designating the (soccer federation) as a non-government public body and prohibiting the engagement of retired personnel.”

The AFC says it hopes Iran’s soccer body “can maintain its independence and avoid any sanctions” less than two months before the Asian Cup starts in the United Arab Emirates.

Iran, the best Asian team at No. 30 in FIFA’s rankings, plays its opening game Jan. 7 against Yemen in Abu Dhabi. The group includes Iraq and Vietnam.

More AP sports: https://apnews.com/apf-sports and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

World Cup prognoses for all confederations

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Eight teams are headed for the 2018 World Cup, while only a half-dozen others should feel comfortable with their tickets to Russia.

Here’s where it stands in terms of who’s in, who’s likely in, and who’s reached the next step with a playoff berth.

[ MORE: Should USMNT go 3 at the back? ]


Qualifying in a nutshell

IN: Russia (hosts), Brazil, Belgium, Iran, Japan, South Korea, Saudi Arabia, Mexico

NEARLY THERE: Costa Rica, Uruguay, Germany, Serbia, England, Spain.

PLAYOFF BOUND:
(Australia vs. Syria winner) vs. (CONCACAF fourth place)
(CONMEBOL fifth place) vs. New Zealand


Africa

— Tunisia¬†controls its own destiny with a three-point lead on¬†DR Congo and no matches between the two.

—¬†Nigeria¬†leads¬†Zambia by three points ahead of an Oct. 7 meeting between the two. A win will ensure a spot, while a draw would put it on the precipice via a significant goal differential advantage.

— No one’s been eliminated in Group C, though¬†Mali is an extreme long shot. Ivory Coast leads the group, a point ahead of Morocco, and two clear of Gabon.

—¬†Senegal¬†is now in pole position after FIFA ruled that a match-fixing scandal demanded a replay between South Africa and the Senegalese. Full breakdown here.

—¬†Egypt¬†has a two-point lead on¬†Uganda, and two will not meet.¬†Ghana is four back of Egypt, but could be eliminated before it gets a chance to face the Egyptians on Nov. 6.

Best guesses: Tunisia, Nigeria, Ivory Coast, Senegal, Egypt.


CONCACAF 

Costa Rica needs a point to join Mexico in Russia.

Panama will clinch an automatic spot with a win over the U.S. on Oct. 6, before hosting presumably-safe Costa Rica on Oct. 10.

—¬†The¬†United States will get an automatic spot with a win over Panama on Oct. 6 and by bettering Panama’s result versus Costa Rica.

—¬†Honduras¬†heads to Costa Rica on Oct. 6 and hosts Mexico on Oct. 10.

[ MORE: USMNT’s World Cup scenarios ]

Panama has 10 points, while the USMNT and Honduras have nine. One will automatically qualify for Russia, while another will face Australia or Syria over two legs in November. A third will be left out in the cold.

Best guesses: USMNT finishes 3rd, Panama to playoff where it loses to Australia.


CONMEBOL

One of the most fun and breakneck tournaments in sports, Brazil is in, Uruguay as close to being in as Ecuador and Paraguay are to being out, and both Bolivia and Venezuela are out.

Remaining opponents
2. Uruguay (27 pts)¬†‚Äď Venezuela (A), Bolivia (H)
3. Colombia
¬†(26 pts) ‚Äď Paraguay (H), Peru (A)
4.¬†Peru (24 pts)¬†‚Äď Argentina (A), Colombia (H)
5.¬†Argentina¬†(24 pts)¬†‚Äď Peru (H), Ecuador (A)
6. Chile (23 pts)¬†‚Äď Ecuador (H), Brazil (A)
7. Paraguay¬†(21 pts)‚Äď Colombia (A), Venezuela (H)
8.¬†Ecuador¬†(20 pts)¬†‚Äď Chile (A), Argentina (H)

Uruguay, Colombia, and Argentina should be relatively happy with their routes, while there is — stunningly — a scenario in which Chile wins both its matches and still misses out on an automatic playoff spot. Of the teams in the Top Four, Peru has looked good but faces the hardest route to stay in a slot. Of the teams beyond, both Argentina and Chile will like their chances of catching Peru. Paraguay would set up one of the wildest final days ever if it wins in Colombia on Oct. 5.

Best guesses: Uruguay, Colombia, Argentina qualify; Chile to playoff win over New Zealand.


UEFA

—¬†France¬†only has a one-point lead on¬†Sweden thanks to a surprise draw with Luxembourg. The¬†Netherlands will hope to pull at least a three-goal win over the visiting Swedes on the final day while at least matching their result on Oct. 7.¬†Bulgaria¬†needs a wild array of results, but is alive.

—¬†Switzerland¬†has a three-point lead on¬†Portugal, who has 11 goals better differential. The two sides meet in Portugal on Oct. 10 at which point the EURO champs will likely have strengthened their almost insurmountable GD advantage, but will still need a win.

—¬†Northern Ireland is likely heading to the playoffs unless it beats¬†Germany¬†in¬†N.I. on Oct. 5, and then wins in Norway while Germany loses at home to Azerbaijan.

—¬†Serbia needs to choke to allow¬†Wales¬†or¬†Ireland into the top spot, while the Welsh hold a one-point advantage over the visiting Irish should it come to their Oct. 9 meeting.¬†Austria needs to win both — likely by multiple goals — then hope both Wales and Ireland are upset in their Oct. 6 matches before drawing each other.

— Three teams are alive in Group E, with Poland leading Montenegro and Denmark by three points. The latter hold four-goal advantages in differential on Poland. Montenegro hosts Denmark and visits Poland, while Denmark also hosts Romania and Poland heads to Armenia. No one is safe, but Poland could solidify its advantage with a multi-goal win in Armenia.

— Second-place¬†Slovakia has one-point and goal differential edges on Slovenia and Scotland. Scotland faces both its rivals, while Slovakia hosts Malta and Slovenia is off to England. Any of the three could win the playoff spot.

—¬†Group G likely belongs to Spain, which has a three-point and 17-goal advantage on¬†Italy, who needs just a point from a home match with Macedonia to make a final day meeting with¬†Albania moot. The Albanians would have to win at Spain, then beat visiting Italy while making up 11 goals of differential and seeing Italy lose at home to Macedonia.

—¬†Bosnia and Herzegovina are the favorites to nail down second, with a one-point edge on¬†Greece and a four-point lead on¬†Cyprus. BNH has to host mighty but already-qualified Belgium while Cyprus hosts Greece on Oct. 7. A road win over Roberto Martinez’s men would leave it with a trip to Estonia, while Greece’s last day is a visit from lowly Gibraltar and Cyprus is off to Belgium. Greece could be in the best position here.

— At the risk of writing another 900 words, Group I is jammed up.¬†Croatia and¬†Iceland¬†have 16 points, while¬†Turkey¬†and¬†Ukraine have 14. Here’s how they finish:

Croatia (16 pts, +9 GD): vs. Finland, at Ukraine
Iceland (16 pts, +4 GD): at Turkey, vs. Kosovo
Turkey (14 pts, +4 GD): vs. Iceland, at Finland
Ukraine (14 pts, +4 GD): at Kosovo, vs. Croatia

Your guess is as good as ours. Tricky, tricky group.

Best guesses:

Group winners —¬†France, Portugal, Germany, Serbia, Poland, England, Spain, Belgium, Iceland, Turkey

Second-place* —¬†Sweden, Switzerland, Northern Ireland, Republic of Ireland, Denmark, Slovakia, Italy, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia

*Republic of Ireland misses out on playoffs as lowest-ranked second-place team.