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Liverpool duo, Aubameyang are CAF Player of the Year finalists

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Mohamed Salah‘s bid to become the third player to win consecutive African Player of the Year awards faces some stiff competition.

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Salah (Egypt) is joined by Liverpool teammate Sadio Mane (Senegal) and Arsenal striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (Gabon) as finalists for the confederation’s award, set to be handed out Jan. 8 in Senegal.

The Egyptian won in 2018 — his first year as a finalist — edging second place Mane and third place Aubameyang last year. Aubameyang won the award in 2015, and Leicester City’s Riyad Mahrez claimed the honors in 2016.

Salah will be the heavy favorite despite Aubameyang’s outstanding year, if only because he was the lone member of the three to appear in the 2018 World Cup.

Still injured from a Sergio Ramos challenge in the UEFA Champions League Final, Salah scored both of the Pharoahs goals as Egypt failed to claim a point in a group with Russia, Saudi Arabia, and Uruguay.

Salah already won the BBC’s award. Surprisingly, Aubameyang was left off the BBC’s five-man shortlist, which instead chose Kalidou Koulibaly, Mehdi Benatia, and Thomas Partey. That’s trying a bit too hard, in this man’s view. Alex Iwobi and Wilfred Ndidi were also denied by the CAF.

El Hadji Diouf, Samuel Eto'o, and Yaya Toure were the others to win back-to-back African POTY honors.

Ethiopia-Eritrea thaw continues with plans for soccer game

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ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia (AP) Ethiopia and Eritrea will meet in a football friendly next month, another move marking the swift end to their 20-year state of war.

Ethiopia’s state-affiliated Fana Broadcasting Corporate reported the game will take place in late August in the Eritrean capital Asmara.

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The match will be the first between the East African nations in more than two decades. It comes amid a surprising and sudden diplomatic thaw between two countries that fought a border war from 1998 to 2000 that killed tens of thousands.

The first step to ending one of Africa’s longest-running conflicts came last month when Ethiopia’s reformist new prime minister fully accepted a peace deal that ended the border conflict.

Since then, the leaders of the countries have visited the other and agreed to reopen embassies. Commercial flights between the two have restarted.

Mohamed Salah claims African Player of the Year

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Liverpool and Egypt star Mohamed Salah has been named the African Player of the Year for 2017.

The 25-year-old attacker beat out Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (Borussia Dortmund/Gabon) and club teammate Sadio Mane (Senegal) for the honor.

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He’s the second-straight Premier League player to win the honor after Riyad Mahrez of Leicester City. Aubameyang won the award in 2015, breaking Yaya Toure’s four-peat.

Salah has 23 goals and eight assists in 29 matches for Liverpool since arriving from AS Roma this summer (he scored 10 goals and added nine assists between January and the end of i Lupi’s season).

He also scored the World Cup clinching goal for Egypt in World Cup qualifying.

CAF qualifying roundup: Senegal reaches World Cup; Nigeria, Algeria draw

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A third African nation earned its place in Russia next summer, leaving just two more spots in CAF World Cup qualifying up for grabs.

[ MORE: 2022 World Cup head says Qatar has no ties with terrorism ]

Senegal became that third nation on Friday after picking up a 2-0 win over South Africa in Group D play.

First-half goals from Diafre Sakho and an own goal by South Africa’s Thamsanqa Mkhize ensured the Lions of Teranga would represent Africa in 2018 — the country’s second-ever World Cup appearance (2002).

Senegal reached the quarterfinals back in 2002 in its only previous appearance in FIFA’s most-prestigious tournament after going unbeaten in the group stage and getting past Sweden in the Round of 16.

Meanwhile, Nigeria — who already qualified for Russia — settled for a 1-1 draw against Algeria.

John Ugo gave the Nigerians the advantage just beyond the hour mark, while Yacine Brahim pulled the two nations level in the 88th minute after converting from the penalty spot.

Friday’s scores

South Africa 0-2 Senegal

Algeria 1-1 Nigeria

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.

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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) – Venezuela (A), Bolivia (H)
3. Colombia
 (26 pts) – Paraguay (H), Peru (A)
4. Peru (24 pts) – Argentina (A), Colombia (H)
5. Argentina (24 pts) – Peru (H), Ecuador (A)
6. Chile (23 pts) – Ecuador (H), Brazil (A)
7. Paraguay (21 pts)– Colombia (A), Venezuela (H)
8. Ecuador (20 pts) – 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.