Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Honduras qualifies for World Cup, Mexico to playoff

Honduras' Carlos Costly celebrates after scoring a goal against Jamaica in their 2014 World Cup qualifying soccer match in Kingston, October 15, 2013. REUTERS/Gilbert BellamyHonduras qualified for the 2014 World Cup finals in Brazil on Tuesday by clinching the last of the automatic qualifying spots in North and Central America and the Caribbean, while Mexico stayed in contention by claiming the playoff spot after Panama suffered a heartbreaking loss to the United States.
Needing only a point to qualify, Honduras made sure of their place by drawing 2-2 with Jamaica in Kingston to join the U.S. and Costa Rica as the three automatic qualifiers from the CONCACAF region after a dramatic final round of matches.
Regional heavyweights Mexico were minutes away from missing out on the fourth-placed playoff spot when they were beaten 2-1 in Costa Rica and Panama held a 2-1 lead over the Americans.
But Panama, who needed to win to leapfrog Mexico in the six-nation qualifying tournament, conceded two goals in stoppage time to lose 3-2, prompting shock, disbelief and jubilation among Mexican fans.
"Play-off courtesy of the gringos," former Mexican President Felipe Calderon tweeted. "What happened?"
In parts of Mexico City, bands played in celebration and car drivers honked their horns, while men sat outside in the street, drinking beers and discussing the last ditch escape.
Shopkeeper Marcelo Rodriguez, 40, was downcast.
"We need committed players, and we don't have any," he said. "You can't rely on your old enemy to save you."
Mexico now face Oceania winners New Zealand in a two-leg playoff in November in an effort to continue their long streak of World Cup appearances while Honduras will make their third appearance at the game's showpiece event.
Honduras made the perfect start against Jamaica when Carlo Costly scored in the first minute but the home side, who failed to win a match in the final round, drew level two minutes later through Je-Vaughn Watson.
Honduras regained the lead after 33 minutes to go into the break with a 2-1 advantage when Maynor Figeuroa scored off a free kick but Jamaica equalized in the second half when Rodolph Austin converted a penalty.
Honduras survived some anxious moments but their defense held firm before the players celebrated booking their passage to Brazil.
The win also triggered celebrations in the Honduran capital, Tegucigalpa, where thousands of people poured into the streets waving national flags and soccer strips as fireworks lit up the night sky.
"All us Hondurans are happy, we've qualified for the World Cup. When we unite, we win," President Porfirio Lobo told local radio, saying he would declare Wednesday a holiday for government employees so they can celebrate.
Mexico have qualified for every World Cup since 1982, with the exception of 1990 when they were banned by FIFA after fielding over-age players in a youth tournament, have the chance to qualify after an extraordinary final week.
Last Friday, they needed a stunning goal from Raul Jimenez five minutes from fulltime to beat Panama at home then on Tuesday needed the help of the U.S. to keep ahead of Panama.
Mexico fell behind early against Costa Rica when striker Brian Ruiz scored for the home team in the 26th minute.
Although Mexico equalized three minutes later through Oribe Peralta, whose shot hit the underside of the bar, Costa Rica went back in front when Alvaro Saborio headed what proved to be the matchwinner in the 64th minute.
Mexico's hopes of staying alive rested on the result of Panama's match with an understrength American side, who had the luxury of resting some of their regular starters after already finishing top of the group standings.
Panama, who have never qualified for the World Cup, led 1-0 at the break after Gabriel Torres found the back of the net in the 18th minute.
Michael Orozco brought the Americans back on level terms in the 64th minute but Panama regained control when Luis Tejada scored seven minutes before fulltime, tapping in a rebound.
The goal set off wild celebrations in the Rommel Fernandez Stadium but the cheers turned to disbelief when a header from Graham Zusi then a long range strike from Aron Johannsson in injury time ended their World Cup hopes.

Poland fire coach Fornalik for missing out on Brazil

Poland's manager Waldemar Fornalik reacts during a news conference ahead of their 2014 World Cup qualifying soccer match against England, at Wembley Stadium in west London October 14, 2013. REUTERS/Toby MelvillePoland fired coach Waldemar Fornalik on Wednesday after they failed to qualify for next year's World Cup finals in Brazil and the Polish FA (PZPN) said they would announce his replacement in two weeks' time.
Poland's 1-0 defeat in Ukraine on Friday meant they could not reach the 2014 tournament and they ended the campaign with a 2-0 defeat by Group H winners England at Wembley on Tuesday. Poland finished in fourth place nine points off top spot.
"Fornalik is no longer the national team coach," PZPN chief Zbigniew Boniek, the former Poland international who also played for Juventus and AS Roma, told a news conference. "I know what the new coach should be like, you'll be informed in two weeks."
"For sure, the key characteristic of the new coach will not be his passport, whether Polish or foreign," he said.
"He will have to ensure a better performance, he will have to ensure our qualification for the next Euros (in 2016) and that's the goal I'm setting."
In an earlier statement announcing the sacking, the Polish FA thanked Fornalik, the 50-year-old former Poland defender, for his "more than one year of work with the national team."
Fornalik, previously coach of Polish club Ruch Chorzow, was appointed national team coach in July last year after Franciszek Smuda was sacked following his side's dismal performance at the Euro 2012 tournament, which Poland co-hosted with Ukraine.

Indonesian tycoon Thohir to revamp Inter Milan

Erick Thohir at a press conference on July 10, 2012 in Washington, DC
Indonesian billionaire Erick Thohir, the new owner of the Inter Milan football club, is a sports-loving media mogul with a track record of turning around ventures struggling financially.
The 43-year-old, who keeps a low profile, stirred a global buzz Tuesday when his International Sports Capital investment company acquired a 70 percent stake in one of Italy's top clubs.
Thohir and his two partners -- Rosan Roeslani and Handy Soetedjo -- join a growing group of Asian business tycoons who have bought into British and European clubs, but the three are the first Asians to acquire an Italian Serie A club.
"I am an entrepreneur, but first of all I am a supporter and a sports lover. I cannot wait to put our passion and international experience at the service of this fantastic Club and its supporters," he said after signing the deal, according to a statement on Inter's website.
Those in Indonesia's sporting world who know Thohir, however, say he is a businessman first, with the savvy to turn Inter around financially after the club dipped 19 percent in value to an estimated $401 million and reached a debt level 16 percent of its value, according to Forbes.
"His speciality is buying up businesses that are having money problems and then using his management and financial acumen to bring them back to the top," Indonesian football commentator Ari Junaedi told AFP.
"Businesses in bad shape simply need Erick's touch."
But his training in the game of turning failure into success was in a different field. The media mogul's Mahaka Group acquired Indonesian newspaper Republika on the brink of bankruptcy in 2001. Today it is still in daily print and widely circulated.
Thohir has not explained what his role will be at Inter and whether club president Massimo Moratti will stay on as president, though he told Indonesia's Metro TV before the deal that "Moratti understands the players and the training".
"Perhaps we will support from a different side -- marketing, financial discipline, sharing management. I won't be there, I'll be in Indonesia," he said.
The deal to acquire Inter will mean a cash injection for the club and may mean a stadium for Inter, which is sharing a home ground with AC Milan.
Thohir, president of the Southeast Asia Basketball Association, is celebrated in Indonesia for bringing basketball team Satria Muda Britama Jakarta from the doldrums to winning several championships.
Thohir is no stranger to the international arena, having bought into Major League soccer club DC United and the Philadelphia 76ers basketball team, both of which showed marked improvements in performance since his involvement.
Former national football team manager Habil Marathi, who has observed Thohir's career, said he was likely eyeing star players to give Inter a boost.
Inter failed to qualify for European competition in the 2012-13 season, finishing in ninth place in the Serie A side.
Thohir's strategy is also likely to link the club with Indonesia, and perhaps the region, Marathi said.
"He knows football now is big industry in Indonesia. It's a lucrative market. He's going to make a lot of money in the long term. There's a captive market where he can sell merchandise to," Marathi said.
Moratti has also said also wants the club to take advantage of ripe markets in Asia which English Premier League giants like Manchester United have exploited.

England can go all the way at World Cup - Szczesny

England can go all the way at World Cup - SzczesnyArsenal goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny believes England are contenders for the World Cup after the Three Lions beat Poland to book their place in Brazil.

The Poland No.1 made a string of impressive saves at Wembley on Tuesday night but could not prevent Roy Hodgson's men claiming first place in Group H, courtesy of goals from Wayne Rooney and Steven Gerrard.

After the game Szczesny admitted he was impressed by the English performance, and believes they will be genuine contenders in Brazil.

"They can go all the way," he told reporters. "I thought offensively England were fantastic.

"England are also solid in defence now, so if they keep going like that and can improve a bit more, then surely they will have a chance at the World Cup.

"If they can go to Brazil with the same attitude which beat us, then they will be one of the favourites, and I think they believe they are. I hope they can do very well."

"They created a lot of chances, which was probably good for me as it meant I could make a couple of good saves, but I am obviously very disappointed about the result."

Szczesny went on to admit that with the absence of his Poland at the World Cup finals, his allegiance lies with his country of residence.

"Obviously if I was there I would be hoping Poland could win it, but I will be hoping that England can now go all the way and win it," he continued.

"There are no realistic targets when you go to the World Cup, you just want to win and make your dream come true."

US boost sees Mexico limp into World Cup playoff

Mexico's footballers Jorge Torres (L) and Rafael Marquez clash with Costa Rica's Bryan Ruiz (C) during their Brazil 2014 FIFA World Cup qualifier match, at the National stadium in San Jose, on October 15, 2013
Mexico's 2014 World Cup hopes survived a 2-1 loss at Costa Rica on Tuesday, but only thanks to arch-rivals the United States, whose two injury-time goals spelled heartbreak for Panama.
On a wild final night of qualifying in North and Central America and the Caribbean, Honduras punched their ticket to Brazil on cue with a 2-2 draw at last-placed Jamaica.
They claimed the third and final automatic qualifying berth from the region behind the United States and Costa Rica.
Mexico, the longtime regional powerhouse who have played in every World Cup since 1990, have endured a dismal qualifying campaign.
But they finished fourth in the table to earn a playoff next month against Oceania's New Zealand for a berth -- thanks to the late heroics that saw the United States down Panama 3-2 and end Panama's hopes of seizing the playoff spot.
On a rain-sodden pitch in San Jose, second-half substitute Alvaro Saborio scored the winner for Costa Rica, heading past Mexico goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa in the 64th minute.
Mexico seemed done for shortly thereafter when in Panama City, Luis Tejada struck to give Panama a 2-1 lead over the United States.
But Graham Zusi scored for the USA two minutes into injury time and Aaron Johannsson added another goal to seal a 3-2 US triumph.
Mexico had missed a chance to take an early lead when Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez fired weakly into an open Costa Rican goal. The play was set up by Oribe Peralta, who was then called offside when he moved to tap in Hernandez's miss.
Moments later, Brian Ruiz gave Costa Rica a 1-0 lead in the 26th minute, collecting a high ball and gaining room with a header that he turned and fired past Ochoa with his left foot.
At that point, Panama had taken a 1-0 lead over the United States and held the edge on Mexico in the race for the playoff.
But Peralta grabbed the equalizer in the 29th minute to put Mexico back in it. Costa Rican Keeper Keylor Navas surged out of his net to stop a shot from Hernandez. The ball went to Peralta, who fired it into the open net.
Hernandez departed in the 60th minute, replaced by the hero of Friday's 2-1 win over Panama, Raul Alonso Jimenez.
But it was Costa Rica who found the go-ahead goal in the rain-swept second half as Saborio, who came in for Ruiz in the 49th minute, headed home the deciding goal.
Mexico seemed doomed when Tejada's 84th-minute strike gave Panama a 2-1 lead over the United States.
But Panama's hopes of staying in the hunt for a first ever World Cup berth were cruelly dashed by Zusi's header, which was followed a minute later by Johannsson's game-winner from the edge of the penalty area.
The drama playing out in San Jose and Panama City reduced Honduras' clinching draw in Kingston to a footnote.
Carlo Costly showed just how determined the Hondurans were to claim a second straight -- and third overall -- World Cup trip, when he opened the scoring in the first minute.
Jamaica struck back just two minutes later through Je-Vaughn Watson, but Honduras held a 2-1 lead at halftime thanks to Maynor Figueroa’s 33rd minute strike.
Even Rodolph Austin's 58th-minute penalty for Jamaica couldn't spoil it for Honduras, who came into the match needing just one point to secure third place.
The US finished the "hexagonal" final round on 22 points, with Costa Rica second on 18 and Honduras third on 15.
Mexico wrapped up fourth place with 11 points, three more than Panama, and Mexico manager Victor Vucetich said he was sure his side could triumph over New Zealand in the home-and-away playoff next month.
"I definitely think we can beat New Zealand," he said. "I am completely confident in that sense. We know we have capable people who maybe are having a difficult time, but we have confidence in everyone and we feel that we will advance."
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