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Asian Cup wrap: UAE tops India, Jordan stays perfect (video)

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United Arab Emirates got a much-needed win as the Asian Cup began its second round of group stage games on Thursday.

Khalfan Mubarak and Ali Mabkhout scored for the hosts in a 2-0 defeat of India at Zayed Sports City Stadium in Abu Dhabi.

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The win was necessary after a surprising draw with Bhutan to start Group A play. UAE now leads the group by a point heading into the final match day, when it faces Thailand.

The War Elephants beat Bhutan and join India on three points. Chanathip Songkrasin scored Thailand’s goal.

In Group B, Jordan clinched a spot in the knockout rounds with a 2-0 defeat of Syria. Palestine meets Australia on Friday, and the winner will be in pole position to join Jordan in the next round. Syria has one point, while the Socceroos are pointless after falling to Jordan on Jan. 6

Six clubs fined, risk FIFA transfer bans for debts to players

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ZURICH (AP) Clubs from Russia and Qatar are among six fined by FIFA and warned they risk one-year transfer bans for failing to settle debts to players.

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FIFA says the clubs also face deductions of six league points if they fail to pay the debts in 30 to 90 days.

The clubs are: Kuban of Russia; Al Arabi and Al Kharaitiyat of Qatar; Zamalek of Egypt; Al Jazira of the United Arab Emirates; and Mersin Idman Yurdu of Turkey.

FIFA says all failed to comply with rulings by FIFA or the Court of Arbitration for Sport “to pay significant overdue amounts of money to players.”

They were fined between 15,000 and 30,000 Swiss francs ($15,000 and $30,000).

FIFA says national soccer federations face disciplinary cases if they fail to enforce the verdicts.

World Cup qualifying: What’s at stake this break

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So we’ve hit an international break, one of the terrific ones which include World Cup qualifiers, and it’s an excellent time to evaluate what’s cooking in the next week in terms of nations looking to book spots for Russia 2018.

[ MORE: Cameron pumped for USMNT return ]

AFC

Group A will be about who slips up, with the top three nations each playing a pair of matches against the bottom three nations. Iran leads the group with 11 points, while South Korea is a point behind and Uzbekistan two back. Any logical chance for Syria, Qatar, or China to make a move toward the third place playoff spot must include a big upset over the next week.

It’s a bit different in Group B, where the top four sides are separated by a single point. Thursday sees a huge tilt between Japan and United Arab Emirates in Al Ain, with the hosts leaving for Australia after the match. It’s no exaggeration to say this is one of the biggest weeks in UAE soccer history.

CAF

No World Cup qualifiers during this break.

CONCACAF

You know the drill here: the United States has started 0-2 and badly needs wins, or at least four of six points, from Honduras at home and a trip to Panama.

Costa Rica is the only 2-0 team in the confederation and faces a pretty tough pair of matches with a visits to Mexico and Honduras, leaving El Tri with a chance to summit the group by toppling CRC and winning and Trinidad and Tobago. Speaking of T&T, it can forget about harboring any World Cup hopes if it fails to beat Panama at home.

CONMEBOL

Brazil can qualify for Russia with a win at Uruguay on Thursday, while a win by the hosts makes it possible that both will advance before the end of the break.

After that, mayhem.

Ecuador, Chile, Argentina, and Colombia open the break within two points of each other, and only two of the four can qualify automatically (The fifth place side advances to the interconfederation playoffs). Paraguay and Peru need to win, not draw, matches to get back in the hunt for a spot.

Oceania

New Zealand can clinch a spot in the Oceania final by beating Fiji twice, while a win and a draw will have them in very good shape before Fiji’s pair of Group A matches against New Caledonia. In Group B, Tahiti is ahead of Solomon Islands on goal differential, and will look to keep pressure on the latter by sweeping Papua New Guinea.

UEFA

With only nine (more) automatic spots available for Russia, it’s remarkable that only one group has a gap of more than one win between the first- and second-placed teams (Germany has 12 points to Northern Ireland’s seven).

So it’s a bit foolish to label anything in UEFA qualifying “must-win” considering most of the matches are “don’t lose”; Of the nine sides to get automatic spots in 2014 qualifying, seven had a zero in the loss column. Bosnia & Herzegovina had one loss, but advanced over Greece who also went 8-1-1. Two-loss Russia was the exception, playing in a weak group and winning seven, drawing one.

Instead we’ll give you the highlights of this break:

Republic of Ireland vs. Wales, Friday

Croatia vs. Ukraine, Friday

Belgium vs. Greece, Saturday

Scotland vs. Slovenia, Sunday

Azerbaijan vs. Germany, Sunday

AFC World Cup qualifying: Two surprise nations on pace for Russia

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A pair of surprises would be headed for Russia if Asian World Cup qualifying finishes the way it stands after four match days.

Because of that, we’d also have an incredible playoff match for the fifth spot with Japan and South Korea points off the pace.

[ MORE: UEFA World Cup qualifiers ]

The surprises come courtesy of Uzbekistan and Saudi Arabia. The former some of us saw coming, the latter not-so-much.

Here’s how it all played out on Tuesday.

Iran 1-0 South Korea

Sardar Azmoun continued his insane run to start life as a senior international, as the 21-year-old Rostov striker netted his 16th goal in 22 caps for Iran, which is atop Group A while Korea Republic slips third.

Uzbekistan 2-0 China

The White Wolves rebounded from a home loss to Iran to clinch its third win of qualifying on two second half goals. Veteran Marat Bikmaev and 20-year-old Otabek Shukurov scored for the hosts.

Australia 1-1 Japan

Aston Villa midfielder Mile Jedinak converted a 52nd minute penalty to keep Australia in an automatic qualifying spot, one point ahead of Japan. The visitors opened the scoring through Hertha Berlin winger Genki Haraguchi in the fifth.

Saudi Arabia 3-0 United Arab Emirates

Both sides had the chance to take advantage of group powers Australia and Japan drawing, and it was the Saudis who got the job done on goals from three different players. The Green Falcons lead Group B with 10 points, while UAE is a point back of Japan and sits fourth.

Qatar 1-0 Syria

The lone goal of the game comes from a Hassan Al Haidous penalty.

Iraq 4-0 Thailand

Not one, not two, not three, but four goals came from 23-year-old Mohannad Abdul-Raheem, who plays for Al-Zawra’a SC in Iraq.

Gervinho’s requests for helicopter, private beach end transfer interest of UAE club

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Roma attacker Gervinho was set for a move from Italy to the United Arab Emirates, but a helicopter got in the way.

Among other demands deemed unreasonable by UAE club Al-Jazira, Gervinho’s request for use of a helicopter and his own private beach helped convince the club to end its interest.

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The Ivorian international, 28, appeared set for a 4-year deal worth about $14.5 million.

From our friends at Soccerly:

But the move collapsed because of Gervinho’s string of demands, which also included accommodation for his family and regular airplane tickets to travel to his native Ivory Coast, said La Gazzetta dello Sport.

Reports from the Emirates suggest Gervinho’s demands alerted the club to possible future problems with the player, and they are not expected to pursue the deal any further.

So… was he screwing with them? Was this a case of, “Look I’ll consider coming to UAE if you give me crazy jack and grant all these lunatic requests?”

Either way, at least we got a good chuckle from the story.