The excitement, tears and triumphs of the football World Cup in Brazil this year are behind us, and now we have more juicy details of FIFA’s corrupt bidding process to look forward to. No matter how many bibs and napkins they use at their banquets and gatherings, some of those FIFA officials are going to end up with egg splattered on their faces, ties and shirt fronts. Messy!
There is also administrative turmoil at another football body, the Confederation of African Football. Morocco was due to host the 2015 Africa Cup of Nations tournament, starting in January, but very recently pulled out because of fears of the Ebola disease spreading. This weekend Equatorial Guinea – which was initially “discovered” by Portuguese explorers but became a Spanish colony – was announced as the last-minute replacement host. It is the only country in Africa where Spanish is a de jure official language.
After that the next major international football event to take place will be the 2016 European soccer championships, hosted by another Romance language-speaking country, France.
The tournament runs from June 10 to July 10, 2016, and will be held in 10 cities: Paris and nearby Saint-Denis in the centre of the country; Lens and Lille in the north; and Bordeaux, Toulouse, Marseille, Lyon, Saint-Étienne and Nice in the south.
The competition has been expanded from 16 to 24 teams, so all up 53 teams – divided into eight groups of six teams and one group of five teams) are competing for the 23 qualifying slots alongside hosts France.
The next round of qualifying matches take place this weekend, and the competition is wide open and has been full of surprises. The expansion of the tournament means Europe’s second-tier teams have much greater hope of qualifying than ever before, and judging by the results of the first three rounds of qualifying games, have attacked the task with relish. In contrast, most of the European teams that made it to Brazil for the World Cup earlier this year look vulnerable and jaded..
Here’s a quick round-up of the situation before the start of this weekend’s matches: The top two teams in each group will qualify, as will the best third-placed team of the nine groups. The other eight third-placed teams will have to compete in a play-off to eliminate four.
- In Group A, Iceland and the Czech Republic are the front-runners with 9 points from three wins each, whereas the Netherlands have just 3 points and Turkey 1. Latvia (2) and Kazakhstan (1) complete the group.
- Group B is headed by Wales with 7 points from three games and Israel with 6 from two. World Cup participants Belgium have 4 from two and Bosnia-Herzegovina just 2 points from three games. Cyprus (3) and Andorra (0) complete the group.
- In Group C, Slovakia are the surprise leaders with 9 points, having beaten Spain (6) at home. Ukraine (6) are also in contention; less so FYR Macedonia (3) and Belarus and Luxembourg (1 each).
- In Group D the world champions, Germany, are suffering on 4 points, behind Poland and the Republic of Ireland on 7. Scotland also have 4, Georgia 3 and Gibraltar 0.
- Group E has England comfortably in front on 9, followed by Slovenia and Lithuania on 6 each. Switzerland have disappointed with just 3, level with Estonia, while San Marino have 0.
- In Group F World Cup participants Greece have made a shocking start, gaining just 1 point. Northern Ireland lead on 9, followed by Romania 7, and Finland and Hungary on 4 each. The Faroe Islands have 0.
- Group G is wide open. Austria have 7 points, Russian and Sweden 5 and Montenegro 4. Moldova and Liechtenstein have 1.
- In Group H, Croatia and Italy have 9 each, Norway 6 and Bulgaria 3. Malta and Azerbaijan on 0 are the easy beats of the group.
- In Group I, Albania have 4 points from two games, Denmark 4 from three. Portugal have 3 from two. Serbia and Armenia have 1 point each from one and two games, respectively.