Miscellaneous Soccer News from Around the World (September 28th- October 11th)

A Wild End to World Cup Qualifying 

The 2018 World Cup is almost set with 23 countries booking their spots to the tournament in Russia. In this past week, qualifying in CONMEBOL, CONCACAF, and the AFC came to an end as did the group stages in UEFA. There were a lot of surprises.

In Europe, the Netherlands crashed out after finishing 3rd behind Sweden after beating them 2-0 thanks to two Arjen Robben goals. The legend continued to pivotal in his last ever start for the Dutch.

They finished tied on points but Sweden had the better goal difference. The Dutch have now missed the Euros and the World Cup on consecutive occasions. Sweden will enter the playoffs while France, winners of Group A earned a spot to the World Cup.

In Group B, Portugal beat Switzerland 2-0 at home to secure their birth to the World Cup while the Swiss will enter the playoffs.

Meanwhile in Group I, tiny Iceland booked a spot in the 2018 World Cup beat Turkey 3-0 away from home then beat Kosovo in Iceland to earn a spot to the 2018 World Cup for the first time in their history. They finished above group favorites Croatia who will now have to enter a playoff. Turkey and Ukraine are out.

In Group D, Serbia won the group while Ireland on the last match day beat Wales 1-0 in Cardiff to secure a playoff spot.

In Group C, despite losing 1-0 on the last match day, Northern Ireland earned 19 total points enough to earn them a playoff spot, while Germany continues to march on, hoping defending their World Cup title.

In Group E, Poland didn’t really have a scare after finishing 5 points ahead of Denmark who beat them 4-0 in qualifying a month ago.

In Group F, England march on to the World Cup while Slovakia finished second and were tied on points with Scotland. Scotland who beat Slovakia 1-0 earlier in the week, tied Slovenia 2-2 while Slovakia won 3-0 against Malta, ultimately eliminating the Scots chances of qualifying for the World Cup. Slovakia meanwhile will be the one second place finishing team that doesn’t enter the playoffs because they had the lowest point total out of the 9 second placed teams.

In Group G, Spain comprehensively took home the automatic birth while Italy will enter the playoffs.

In Group H, Belgium qualifies automatically while Greece enters the playoffs. That rounds up qualifying from Europe.

In South America, a Messi hat trick led Argentina past Ecuador to give them an automatic birth while Chile, the South American champions lost 2-0 to Brazil to end their hopes of playing in a World Cup. Uruguay, Argentina, and Colombia get automatic births while Peru will go into a playoff against New Zealand.

In North America, Trinidad and Tobago beat the US 2-1 while Honduras beat Mexico 3-2 and Panama beat Costa Rica 2-1, meaning that the US finished 5th in the Hex, eliminating them from the World Cup for the first time since 1986. Panama meanwhile earn their first birth to a World Cup after losing 4-0 to the US earlier in the international break, meanwhile Honduras will face Australia in the Inter-continental playoffs.

In Asia, a goal in extra time by Tim Cahill led Australia past Syria with the Aussies winning 2-1 in the game and 3-2 on aggregate. Syria came close to equalizing in the last minute of the game but the chance hit the post, ending the country’s fairytale.

In Africa, Egypt booked a spot to the World Cup for the first time since 1990 after beating Congo 2-1 at home in Group E. That result eliminated World Cup regulars Ghana from contention.  Meanwhile Cameron, the African champions were eliminated from the World Cup as Nigeria earned an automatic spot after beating Zambia 1-0 in Group B.

Groups A, C, and D are still yet to be determined with one match day remaining.

With the World Cup coming up soon, the field is shaping out to be an interesting one.

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The U-17 FIFA World Cup begins in India. 

India’s first ever World Cup began with a 3-0 loss to USA in from of 46,000 in New Delhi. On the field, the country is far from competing with the great soccer nations of the world as they were comprehensively beaten by the American side but there is reason for optimism as the young Indians continue to gain experience on the world stage.

So far the tournament, which has been hyped to have multiple sell-outs when it comes to the big matches, has seen smaller attendances than expected. This has raised serious questions over ticket distribution for the organizers.

Despite the on and off field struggles, it is still great to see India involved in hosting a FIFA tournament for the first time in its history. #FootballTakesOver

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FC Barcelona hurt by Catalonia independence vote. 

On Sunday October 1st the region of Catalonia went to the polls to decide on a referendum to see if the the region would become independent from Spain. However; the vote ended in violence on the streets of Barcelona as Spanish police deemed the vote unconstitutional. The federal police of Spain tried to stop the vote by forcing people out of voting booths around the region. Violent clashes erupted and hundreds of innocent civilians were injured in the voting process.

Due to the independence vote, Barcelona’s game against Las Palmas was called into question right before the match. Barcelona was faced with a threat from the Spanish Football Federation that if they didn’t play the match against Las Palmas they would have to forfit the match and be docked three points, meaning the current leaders of La Liga would lose 6 points.

The match ended up going ahead in an empty Camp Nou with Barcelona winning 3-0 in what was a weird game to watch on television.

Despite the protests and violence, 90% of the Catalans that did vote said yes to independence. So the question going forward is will Spain accept this vote and if so, what will that mean for Barcelona’s future in La Liga. However; Catalonian independence still seems very unlikely.

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Eketenberg Arena adds extra seats in weird way to fulfill regulations for the 2018 World Cup

It was reported this week that Eketenberg Arena would have seats added outside the arena in order to reach the World Cup standard of 35,000 seat capacity. This change incorporates extra seating outside each goal in order to accommodate more spectators for the 2018 World Cup. This upgrade will give the stadium a weird look with two sides of the arena slightly outside the circular bowl.

With the World Cup less than a year away, the Russian authorities have had to move fast to get this stadium complete. Though it seems like most of Russia’s stadiums are almost to completion for next summer’s game.

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San Francisco FC expansion USL bid called off as PDL side Burlingame Dragons FC shuts down. 

In the ever changing situation of the US lower divisions, another bid has fallen by the wayside. This time it is San Francisco City FC, an expansion bid that was ready for the 2019 USL season. Sadly, the bid has been rescinded as founder Nick Swinmurn announced that he was planning to shut down the operations of the PDL club, the Burlingame Dragons, the club that he was planning to take to the USL in 2019.

This news is a big loss for Bay Area soccer fans who now face the prospect of potentially losing the SF Deltas in the NASL due to poor attendances in their first season. The ongoing speculation of D2 status for both the USL and NASL, along with current lawsuit against the MLS continue to cloud the lower divisions of American soccer with uncertainty as both the NASL and USL plan to have D3 leagues of their own in the future.

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Norwegian FA becomes the first football association to agree to equal pay for the women’s national team.

Perhaps one of the best stories of the past two weeks came from Norway, where it was recently announced that both the national women’s and men’s national teams would receive equal pay. The Norwegian FA is the first football federation to agree to equal pay for both of their national teams. Hopefully other football associations will follow Norway’s lead.

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