World Cup qualifying preview: Iran, Japan close on finals spot

13 November 2012 03:40

Iran and Japan can all but sew up their spots at the 2014 World Cup, with wins in AFC qualifying this week.

Group A leaders Iran will host third-placed Uzbekistan on Wednesday, and a win would take them to 10 points through five games – within one point of Carlos Queiroz’s men officially sewing up their spot in Brazil.

Conversely, the Uzbeks will be out to at least avoid defeat to ensure they remain in the mix for a top-two spot, and automatic qualification to the finals when the two nations do battle at Azadi Stadium in Tehran.

Also in Group A, Qatar and Lebanon (both on four points) will go head to head in Doha, with both sides still well and truly in the race for a finals spot despite being the bottom two in the group.

Should Uzbekistan hold Iran, both the Lebanese and Qataris will be still alive heading into the final group game regardless of their result.

Japan need only a draw on their trip to Oman in Group B to book their spot at the showcase event, and they have so far conceded just one goal in four matches to convincingly top the group.

In the other Group B battle, cellar-dwellers Iraq welcome second-bottom Jordan in what could be a do-or-die clash for both sides.

Jordan are just one point behind the second-placed Australia, while Iraq have just two points from their first four matches and need to win to keep any slim chance of qualifying for the finals alive.

In UEFA qualifying, Northern Ireland host Azerbaijan (Group F) and Montenegro welcome San Marino (Group H).

The Montenegrins should continue their impressive campaign which sees them sit second behind England, as San Marino have failed to score in three and have shipped 13 goals in the process.

The Northern Irish desperately need to get the three points against Azerbaijan, and would be confident of doing so given the latter have lost their past two in qualifying, and have scored just once in their three matches.

A win would take Michael O’Neill’s men within two points of a playoff spot, with group leaders Russia well clear of the pack on 12 points through four games.

Robben puts onus on Germany

13 November 2012 02:56

Netherlands winger Arjen Robben said the pressure is on Germany to get a result in Wednesday’s friendly encounter between the two nations.

The two sides will meet at the Amsterdam Arena in their first clash since the Germans accounted for the Dutch 2-1 at Euro 2012, and the former Real Madrid man has kicked off the mind games ahead of their friendly.

“They are desperate to restore some pride,” he told Ons Oranje.

“Germany are definitely under pressure after the 4-4 draw against Sweden, and their fans will be expecting some sort of result.”

Germany coach Joachim Loew recognises the task his side face and says they are desperate to win the game in order to resurrect the feeling of positivity around the national side.

“We want to finish the year on a good note with a win. We will strive to win over our fans with a good performance, and hopefully the result will match,” he said.

Germany will be without Bayern quartet Toni Kroos, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Mario Gomez and Jerome Boateng, as well as Madrid playmaker Mesut Ozil.

The Dutch go into the fixture minus Wesley Sneijder and Robin van Persie, who both miss out through injury.

Coaching career beckons for Crespo

13 November 2012 00:46

Former Argentina striker Hernan Crespo is looking forward to a fresh challenge as he prepares to embark on a coaching career.

The 37-year-old former Chelsea and AC Milan striker retired in February this year to bring an end to a prolific career which saw him score 305 goals for club and country.

And the three-time Serie A champion is excited by the prospect of finishing his coaching badges and will be open to offers from clubs in any country.

“I’ve finished being a football player and I want to be a trainer,” Crespo said.

“I will start to study and I will finish in June. Why not start in July? I will listen for offers and where to start (his coaching career).

“When you start to think about being a football trainer you need to take you badges and start to do it. For me, [whether] I start in Italy, Switzerland or Argentina, it’s the same. I want to start and if I can make something like my career like a football player, then why not?”

Dutch will want revenge, says Bierhoff

13 November 2012 00:04

Germany team manager Oliver Bierhoff said Wednesday’s clash with the Netherlands in Amsterdam holds more weight than an average friendly.

Germany came out on top 2-1 over the Dutch at their most recent meeting at Euro 2012 in June, eliminating the latter from the group stage, and Bierhoff believes the hosts will be eager for redemption.

“I am looking forward to the match,” he told reporters.

“It will not have the character of typical friendly matches, the rivalry is too strong for that. The Dutch are likely to be concerned about getting revenge for the Euros.”

Bierhoff added that while Germany should have redemption motives of their own, after they gave up a four-goal lead against Sweden to draw 4-4 at their last start, it would not be relevant to their trip to the Netherlands.

“What the team has learnt from that (draw with Sweden) will be shown in the next games. Of course we have to learn from that. But there hasn’t been a great opportunity to speak about this in the whole team and it won’t really be possible here,” Bierhoff said.

The 44-year-old then took the time to praise the Dutch side, and insisted his team will only improve if they play against sides of Oranje’s quality more often.

“Netherlands are an important and strong opponent. Regarding planning for the season, we intend to face opponents like them often,” he said.

“We want to end this year in good fashion and win this prestigious duel here in Netherlands. It is important to be tested like that.”

Recalled goalkeeper Rene Adler said it was a mighty achievement for him to reach the national squad, almost two years since his last appearance – somewhat sardonically, his last shirt coming in a draw against Sweden.

The Hamburg keeper still expressed his shock at earning the call-up.

“I am a bit surprised to be allowed here again and it isn’t easy for me, if you imagine where I was just half a year ago,” Adler said.

“I’ve been quite close to the end of my career and I already thought about doing something else like studying.

“But despite all that I never gave up because of my dream of coming back into the Bundesliga and playing against the best players.

“The dream of the national team has been very far away for a while and I’ve never thought of coming back just being out of the rehab centre and the doctors room. That’s why it isn’t easy to be here so quickly but it is very, very nice.”

Liga Sagres: Maritimo 1 Vitoria Setubal 1

12 November 2012 23:46

A 10-man Maritimo side held off Vitoria Setubal to play out an encouraging 1-1 draw at home in the Liga Sagres on Monday.

Vitoria went ahead after 16 minutes courtesy of an Albert Meyong goal but they were their own worst enemy on 61 minutes, conceding a penalty which was converted by David Simao to see the hosts level at Estadio dos Barreiros.

Maritimo had a man sent off four minutes later though, after Joao Luiz was red carded for a second bookable offence but the visitors were unable to take advantage of their numerical superiority and had to settle for a point.

Vitoria sit seventh on 11 points, two spots adrift of the Europa League places, while Maritimo are two points further back in 12th position.