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Heart of Asia: Going Back to the 2002 World Cup


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Do you remember where you were in the summer of 2002? I was 12 years old, and I was about to complete my first year in secondary education at school.


Growing up with a so-called 'learning disability' in Romford - a small market town in the suburbs of north-east London - was a real challenge at times. I found it quite difficult, if not impossible to make any meaningful friends. Self-esteem did not come easy to me at all.


What I did have, though, was an incredible desire to learn about a wide range of subjects. I excelled at mathematics and literacy (which probably explain's why Im such a stickler four grammar), but I was particularly fascinated with two things: computers and football.


2002 was the year of the 17th FIFA World Cup, which was the first edition of international football's quadrennial premier competition to be staged in Asia. This was the first World Cup that I truly immersed myself into, even though most of the matches coincided with school.


While France 1998 was my World Cup 'debut', I was very young back then and I was still learning about this wonderful sport. I don't think I even fully realised that a red card was a particularly bad thing to receive until that night when David Beckham petulantly kicked out at Argentina's Diego Simeone, sending England on their way to a typical penalty shoot-out defeat.


The 2002 World Cup would be particularly captivating to me, as it was hosted by South Korea and Japan - two exotic oriental countries that were considerably further away from me than my grandparents' home in Hornchurch. While I pored over all the team previews, I also endeavoured to learn more about the two host nations.


Prior to the World Cup, I knew very little of South Korea, except that the red-and-blue circle on the national flag bore a rather striking resemblance to the Pepsi logo. I had rather more experience of Japanese culture, predominantly through anime TV series such as 'Pokémon' and 'Digimon'. I loved both those programmes whilst growing up, and those minor obsessions were only just beginning to wane by that golden summer.


I've been a football fan for 20 years now, and as far as I am concerned, no World Cup before or since 2002 has delivered more excitement or drama. It began on 31 May, with Papa Bouba Diop and his Senegal team-mates - coached by the late Bruno Metsu - dancing to an incredible victory over holders France. The West Africans would eventually dance all the way to the Quarter Finals, where a Turkish own goal ended their incredible fairytale.


As for France, they returned home in disgrace, with more controversial Thierry Henry red cards to their name than goals. Argentina too were dumped out early, thanks in part to yet another match-defining moment from twinkle-toes striker Michael Owen, and a redemptive penalty from Beckham.


Despite Kevin Keegan's shock resignation as manager after defeat in their first qualifier against Germany at the old Wembley Stadium, England went further in this World Cup than they had done four years previously. Under the guidance of suave Swede Sven-Göran Eriksson, the Three Lions breezed through Round 2 against a Denmark side who were so poor that even Emile Heskey scored against them.


Unfortunately, we then came up against a magnificent Brazil team spearheaded by Ronaldinho, who could probably still bring David Seaman to tears 16 years after that free-kick. Granted, the buck-toothed magician was sent off just minutes later for nobbling Danny Mills, but I don't think he dwells on that in his sleep. Did Mills ever win the Champions League with Barcelona, or did he instead end up as one of the worst pundits on radio? I rest my case.


Our near-neighbours from the Republic of Ireland also had a tournament to remember. Though captain Roy Keane decided that he'd rather spend his days walking his dog Triggs than working for professional Yorkshireman Mick McCarthy, Robbie Keane's last-minute penalty took the Irish to extra-time in their Round 2 match with Spain. It was just a shame that Robbie's compatriots weren't quite so prolific from 12 yards out.


Soccer fans across the Atlantic discovered that the pinnacle of the beautiful game was not, as 'The Simpsons' might have led them to believe, a riot-inducing pass-fest between Portugal and Mexico. The United States of America - previously regarded by many foreigners as the international game's biggest laughing stocks - swept both those nations aside before running into the Michael Ballack-shaped wall that was Germany.


While Japan petered out against Turkey, co-hosts South Korea enjoyed an incredible run of good fortune, particularly when it came to refereeing decisions. They reached the Quarters thanks to a golden goal from Ahn Jung-Hwan, though not before Italy had one disallowed themselves. Ahn would later be sacked by his Serie A club Perugia, because Italian football executives are renowned for being patient and forgiving.


More refereeing blunders would see South Korea eliminate Spain in the last eight, though nobody - not even the co-hosts - could have possibly denied Germany victory in the Semi Finals. The Mannschaft had progressed through the knockout rounds with surgical precision, ultimately booking a showdown with Brazil in Yokohama on 30 June.


There was to be no consolation bronze medal for the Koreans, who lost a five-goal thriller against fellow dark horses Turkey, having conceded to Hakan Sükür after just 11 seconds. Four years after Croatia's Davor Suker had lit up France 98, his near-namesake was also making headlines.


By the end of the tournament, though, there was only one name on everybody's lips: Ronaldo. The 25-year-old Brazilian striker dubbed 'O Fenômeno' may have been dogged by illness in his last World Cup Final appearance, but his second saw him rip Germany apart with a couple of second-half goals. Germany's usually reliable goalkeeper Oliver Kahn - voted the best player of the entire tournament - had reserved his worst performance of the tournament for the most vital game.


Led by right-back and captain Cafú, Brazil lifted the World Cup for a record-breaking fifth time. They had demonstrated once again that while the English had invented modern football, only the boys from Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo had truly mastered it.


So, that was what happened in one of the greatest World Cup tournaments of all-time... but could it have been even better?


What if we could go back in time to the summer of 2000, and rewrite two years of footballing history? What if Keegan never had his toilet-based breakdown at Wembley in October, and stayed on for a full World Cup qualifying campaign? Would King Kev have guided England to the tournament itself, and would he have fared any better than Sven?


Would Ronaldo's old injury woes flare up again just when Brazil needed him most? Could Germany take advantage and go a step further than they did in reality? Would South Korea and Japan have enjoyed strong tournaments off their own bats instead of having to rely on questionable officiating?


What about France and Argentina; could they have learned from past mistakes and returned to their former glories? Would Italy have celebrated a fourth World Cup triumph, four years ahead of schedule? Would the perennial bridesmaids from the Netherlands have even qualified this time, let alone won? And would Scotland have... no, of course they wouldn't!


That's where the power of my other big obsession - computers - comes into play. I have been into computer games and football for as long as I can remember, and Championship Manager (or Football Manager, as it's now known) is the perfect fusion of those two passions. You will be hard-pressed to find another PC gaming franchise that simulates the world of football more realistically than this (which could explain why nobody writes fan-fiction about FIFA Manager or Ultimate Soccer Manager anymore).


I will be using Championship Manager: Season 00/01 - in my opinion, the best Championship Manager game of the CM3 era - to simulate the entire 2002 World Cup, from the first continental qualifiers to the end of the Final itself. Dreams will be revived or broken, new heroes and villains will be made, new underdogs may rise forward... heck, we might even get England vs Finland in the Final! (That really did happen to me in a previous save game, honest!)


So, would you care to join me on this journey back through time?

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I do love an international story, but this is a bit different. In fact, it's my first Championship Manager story, as I go back to the early 2000s to replay my favourite game in Sports Interactive's original franchise.

This story will cover every match on the road to the 2002 World Cup, including the qualifiers. I will initially write short match reports for the qualifiers, but will go into much more detail come the finals themselves. This story has been largely inspired by @mark wilson27's FM12 story "The World in Brazilian Hands", as well as my own FM16 story "Jeux Sans Frontières".

As previously mentioned, I will be running Championship Manager: Season 00/01 (patched to v3.89). Every league and every player in the database has been loaded. Most data is correct as of the latter part of the 2000/2001 season, though Kevin Keegan is still the England manager, for some reason.

I have used the pre-game editor to correct some player names in the database. I have also given suitable second nationalities to hundreds of players, so as to give some of the minnow nations more of a fighting chance. Some database mistakes have slipped through the cracks, though, as I'll refer to later.

This story will generally be a lot more light-hearted than most of my previous works. I will often refer to real-life events as well as in-game events, so expect plenty of pop culture references from the late 90s/early 00s... and maybe a few more contemporary ones too.

The title of this story comes from "Heart of Asia" - a 2000 UK Dance Chart number 1 single by Watergate (who trance music aficionados might know better as DJ Quicksilver). The track is heavily inspired by Ryuichi Sakamoto's BAFTA-winning musical score to the 1983 war film "Merry Christmas, Mr Lawrence", which stars David Bowie, no less. As you can probably tell, this isn't the first time I've taken inspiration from the Far East when coming up with a story title.

So, let's not delay any further. The long journey to South Korea and Japan begins now!

Enjoy! 즐겨! 楽しい!

Christopher Fuller (CFuller)
23 April 2018

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We start off with an incredible 196 countries harbouring dreams of winning the FIFA World Cup - dreams that range from realistic (think teams such as Brazil and Italy) to so downright fanciful that not even Terry Pratchett would consider writing about them (Northern Ireland).


Unfortunately, not everyone can take part at a World Cup, although governing body FIFA are trying their hardest to fit everyone in, "for the love of the game". This is the second tournament in a row with 32 finalists, following the post-1994 decision to expand from 24 teams.


(Back in the future, FIFA have already drawn up plans to stage a 48-team World Cup in 2026, or maybe even as early as 2022. There really is hope for anyone. No, sorry... I don't mean you, Scotland.)


Three places at the 2002 finals have already been taken up. Co-hosts Japan and South Korea are already through without having to qualify, which is probably just as well, considering how rubbish their teams were at France '98.


As the World Cup holders, France also got a bye into the finals stage. This means Les Bleus will have skipped the qualifying phases of the 2002, 1998 AND 1994 World Cups... or at least they wish they'd skipped 1994. (It is worth noting that the 2002 tournament was the last one where the defending champions didn't have to pre-qualify.)


That leaves room for another 29 teams to book their places in the biggest tournament international football has to offer. So, how do the qualifiers work?


FIFA is made up of six continental federations - or confederations - covering every corner of the planet. Except Antarctica. They don't play football on Antarctica. Or at least they didn't when I last watched 'Pingu' as an eight-year-old.


Anyway, every confederation gets a set number of qualification spots based on their size and stature. UEFA get a minimum of 13 places, while there are 5 for CAF, 4 for CONMEBOL, 3 for CONCACAF, and 2 for AFC, but sadly no automatic places for OFC. That frees up two more spots, which will be filled by the winners of Intercontinental Playoffs (more on those later).


So let's look at all the qualifying competition structures one-by-one, listed in the order they appear in-game:


CAF (Africa)

50 of CAF's 52 members entered the qualifying phase. However, there is some discrepancy from reality with regards to those who entered and those who did not. For instance, there's no sign of Equatorial Guinea or Somalia in the qualifiers, even though they were present and correct in reality, losing to The Congo and Cameroon in the first round respectively.


Niger didn't enter the qualifying stages of the actual World Cup, but they are included in the virtual version alongside Burundi (who had withdrawn from the qualifiers at the last minute). Guinea also feature, despite their real-life expulsion from the second round due to "government interference" (FIFA does love that old chestnut).


Anyway, the qualifying format is simple enough:


Round 1

All 50 teams enter at this stage. They are each paired with another team for a two-legged knockout match, with both legs being played in April 2000. The winners go through; the losers go out.


Round 2

The 25 opening-round winners are drawn into five groups of five. Every team plays their group opponents twice - at home and also away - meaning that they have eight games apiece. All matches take place between June 2000 and July 2001.


After the group phase, the five group winners all qualify for the World Cup, with plenty of time to prepare for their Far Eastern exploits. All the other teams will have to stay at home.


Now, there was a bug in CM99/00 - as well as the original version of CM00/01 - whereby all the highest-seeded teams in this round would go into Group 1, the next-best teams in Group 2, and so on. It was possible that you could have the likes of Cameroon, Morocco, Nigeria, South Africa and Tunisia clustered together in Group 1 fighting for one place, while a bunch of minnows scrapped for another in Group 5.


That bug made for some rather odd African World Cup qualifiers in unpatched games on CM99/00 and CM00/01. With the v3.89 patch installed, though, that shouldn't be a problem.


AFC (Asia)

Excluding co-hosts Japan and South Korea, there were 43 AFC members in-game, yet only 38 took part in the qualifiers. Afghanistan, Bhutan, Maldives, Sri Lanka and Yemen were all absent.


Curiously, two nations who didn't compete in the real qualifiers - Myanmar and North Korea - changed their minds for the game. I hear that the North Koreans are very optimistic about their chances of success.


Round 1

All 38 entrants come into the field here. They are split into 10 groups, which mostly consist of four teams apiece, although a couple only have three.


Anyway, group opponents play each other once over the course of a little less than two months; the action starts on 6 May 2001 and ends on 24 June. Once that's settled, the 10 group winners advance to the next phase.


Round 2

The 10 remaining teams are paired into two groups of five. Everyone in a group plays each other twice - home-and-away - over 10 consecutive weeks between September and November 2001. (There was no such thing as an official international match calendar back then.)


The group winners qualify for the World Cup, no further questions asked. However, the group runners-up must play each other in a single Playoff match, with the victors going through to an Intercontinental Playoff.


CONCACAF (North & Central America & the Caribbean)

We've got 35 CONCACAF members in the game, and they are all present in the qualifiers. Guyana actually withdrew from their first qualifier in reality, but they get another chance here.


It's worth noting that the four strongest teams in CONCACAF - Jamaica, Mexico, the United States of America, and (ahem) Canada - progress straight to the Semi Final phase and don't have to negotiate the regional qualifiers.


Now this is where things get a little complicated...


Caribbean Zone

The Caribbean Zone (or the Carribean Zone, as it was erroneously spelt in-game) consists of 24 teams, who compete in three home-and-away knockout rounds.


Round 1 takes place in March 2000, with the 24 teams paired up. The 12 winners then advance to...


...Round 2, which is held in April. The winners of the six knockout ties in that round then continue to...


...Round 3, in May. This time, the three winners qualify automatically for the Semi Finals, but it's not all over for the losers. Instead, they advance to the Interzone Playoff, which I'll get to in a bit. However, there's another zone I must look at first...


Central American Zone

As the name suggests, this zone features all the Central American countries - well, all of them except Honduras, who go straight into the Interzone Playoff.


The six teams are divided into two groups of three, with home-and-away matches being played between March and May 2000. The group winners progress to the Semi Finals, but the runners-up must enter the Interzone Playoff. There are no rewards for last place; it's game over.


Interzone Playoff

Honduras are joined in this phase by the three losers from Caribbean Zo... nope, sorry, Carribean Zone Round 3, and the two group runners-up from the Central American Zone.


The six teams are split into three knockout ties, with matches again being played home-and-away in June 2000. If you win, you're into the Semi Finals. If you lose, you're gone.


Semi Finals

We now have our 12 Semi Finalists. Joining Canada, Jamaica, Mexico and the United States of America are three teams from the Caribbean, two teams from Central America, and another three from the Interzone Playoff.


There are three groups of four teams each. Everyone in a group plays each other twice, between July and November 2000. The top two in each group are rewarded with progression to the Final Round.


Final Round

The surviving six are paired into a single group (or a 'hexagonal', as I believe they call it back here in the 2010s). Everyone plays each other twice between March and November 2001.


Once the dust has settled, the top three teams in this concluding round qualify for the World Cup. The bottom three don't.


UEFA (Europe)

Ah, the good ol' UEFA qualifiers. They hardly ever change, do they?


France are automatically through to the World Cup as holders, which leaves the other 50 UEFA members having to battle it out for between 13 and 14 qualification berths.


Yes, you read that right. Almost half the World Cup field will be from Europe - a curiosity that dates to when the tournament was almost exclusively European/South American. Things have been slightly tweaked somewhat in subsequent World Cups to benefit countries from other continents, but that increased diversity wasn't in place come 2002.


Group Stage

Our 50 European nations are divided into nine groups. There are five groups consisting of six teams, and another four groups consisting of only five.


You know the drill now. It's home-and-away matches all the way, from September 2000 to October 2001.


The nine group winners automatically progress to the World Cup finals, while the runners-up progress to a playoff round. One of these 2nd-placed teams is chosen at random to go into an Intercontinental Playoff. (In the actual World Cup qualifiers, the Republic of Ireland got this gig, and travelled to Iran for a game. Lucky them.)



As for the eight other UEFA runners-up, they are simply paired with one another to contest two-legged playoff matches in November 2001. The four winners earn their tickets to the World Cup, while their vanquished opponents are left dreaming of what could've been.


OFC (Oceania)

Spare a thought for the OFC; they are regarded as so weak and insignificant that they don't even have an automatic place at the World Cup. Only one of their teams will get so much as an Intercontinental Playoff - and if that team isn't either Australia or New Zealand, then it'll go down as one of the biggest shocks in international football history.


10 of the 12 OFC members entered these qualifiers. New Caledonia (the birthplace of 1998 World Cup winner Christian Karembeu) and Papua New Guinea (the inspiration for a 90s dance classic by 'The Future Sound of London') did not, either in-game or in reality.


Group Stage

The 10 teams are divided into two groups of five teams. Unfortunately for everyone else, the Aussies and Kiwis are kept apart.


Every team plays each of their group opponents twice (as opposed to just once, which was the case in reality). Matches are all played in one host city - Wellington for Group 1, and Melbourne for Group 2 - over the course of about four weeks between January and early February 2001.


Only the group winners advance further in the competition. Somehow, I'm not expecting them to be American Samoa and Samoa.



With just two teams left, the natural thing to do is to pit them against each other. This 'Home and Away' tie (please excuse the obvious Aussie soap pun) takes place in August 2001, and the winners over two legs qualify for the Wor... no, wait, they don't. Like I said, they'll have to get through the Intercontinental Playoffs first.


CONMEBOL (South America)

CONMEBOL is the smallest of FIFA's confederations in terms of size, with only 10 member nations. They have the simplest - and arguably the most democratic - qualification system for the World Cup.


All 10 countries go into a big league-style competition, where they must play one another home-and-away. That's 18 matches per team, for the benefit for those of you who slept through maths classes at school. I didn't, obviously.


This is an elongated process, beginning in March 2000 and ending in November 2001. At the end of it, the top four teams qualify for the World Cup, and the bottom five are knocked out. But what about that odd team out in 5th place? Well, their journey's not quite over...


Intercontinental Playoffs

The Intercontinental Playoffs - staged in early December 2001 - determine which teams get the final two places at the World Cup. Four teams enter this phase, and just to remind you, those teams are:


  • The winners of the AFC Playoff round.
  • A randomly-chosen UEFA group runner-up.
  • The winners of the OFC qualifiers.
  • The 5th-placed team in the CONMEBOL qualifiers.


A random draw is held to decide who plays who in these Playoffs. Once again, they are home-and-away affairs, with the winners finally booking their spots at the World Cup. Only now can they relax... for about six months, anyway

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5 hours ago, mark wilson27 said:

Looking forward to this Chris. Hope you have as much doing this as I did.

My bets on Scotland winning it

Thanks, Mark. I've completed the qualifying phase in-game and have enjoyed it a lot, even with CM00/01's little quirks.

As for Scotland, I'd be astonished if they qualified for the World Cup and got out of the group, let alone won it! :D

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4 MARCH 2000

And so it begins. To misquote the only palatable song in Aqua's catalogue, we have "turned back time".


The world in 2000 is very different from the world in 2018. There are charismatic left-wing leaders in 10 Downing Street and the White House. There are dictatorships in Cuba, Iraq, Libya and Manchester United.


The BBC is a reputable broadcaster, and some people occasionally watch Channel 5. The Internet is only just beginning to catch on, and social media is not a thing, which means disgruntled Arsenal fans don't have a place where they can secretly wish ill upon Arsène Wenger.


"Pure Shores" by All Saints (think Little Mix, except these women actually wear clothes) is the best-selling single in the UK. "Amazed" by country band Lonestar tops the Billboard Hot 100 in the USA, and is played almost non-stop in the Fuller family car (thanks, Mum). "Candle In The Wind 1997" is probably still the number 1 single in Canada.


Oh yeah, and England's footballers tend to choke at tournaments. Well, some things never change...


Today, just 830 days before the FIFA World Cup officially kicks off in the Far East, the qualifying phase gets underway with the first leg of Caribbean Zone Round 1. Note that I wrote Caribbean. I'm not going to put up with Sports Interactive's misspelling anymore. That's their problem, not mine.


[Checks that I didn't misspell 'misspelling'.] Yep, I'm good...


Before I go any further, there are a couple of things I need to clarify.


Firstly, in CM00/01, it is not possible to start a game in March 2000, as that was technically last season (that's what Championship Manager: Season 99/00 covers). That means I cannot jump into a save game where certain World Cup qualifiers haven't already been played.


The earliest date I can start a CM00/01 game on is 17 June 2000 - the default start date for the Polish leagues. Any World Cup qualifiers scheduled before that date are simulated automatically, but there are no fully-detailed reports for said games. Therefore, any summaries I write for matches prior to 17 June will be much shorter than for subsequent fixtures.


Secondly, you'll notice that I said there were 830 days until the opening match. If CM followed reality, the first fixture would be played on 31 May 2002, which is only 818 days from now. However, for some reason, we're kicking off this tournament on 12 June - almost a fortnight later. Feel free to insert your own joke about Southampton being late starters (or, from a 2017/2018 perspective, Crystal Palace).


Now that's all sorted, let's have a look at the draw:


CONCACAF Caribbean Zone Round 1


Netherlands Antilles vs Cayman Islands

Barbados vs Cuba

St Lucia vs Anguilla

Bahamas vs St Vincent & The Grenadines

Haiti vs Grenada

Antigua & Barbuda vs Montserrat

Puerto Rico vs Trinidad & Tobago

Bermuda vs Guyana

St Kitts & Nevis vs Aruba

US Virgin Islands vs Surinam

Dominican Republic vs British Virgin Islands

Dominica vs Turks & Caicos Islands


There are a few interesting ties there, not least Haiti vs Grenada. If youngster Jason Roberts can replicate his fine scoring form for Bristol Rovers on the international stage, he might just pull Grenada through. Antigua & Barbuda will be red-hot favourites to defeat Montserrat, who apparently have one of the worst national teams in the world.


Further down the draw, there's an intriguing 'battle of the strikers' between Bermuda's Shaun Goater and Guyana's Carl Cort. Manchester United ace Dwight Yorke should fire Trinidad & Tobago to a comfortable win against Puerto Rico, and Surinam will surely have too much quality for the US Virgin Islands.


Leg 1 Results

Antigua & Barbuda - 0

Montserrat - 1 (J Mendes 41)

This match was played at Viv Richards' Stadium, but it was his fellow Antiguans who were hit over the boundary line here. A goal on the stroke of half-time from Dunfermline's Junior Mendes decided the match and put Montserrat on course for the next round.


Bahamas - 0

St Vincent & The Grenadines - 1 (R Jack 83)

Julian Joachim might have been named 'man of the match' for St Vincent, but it was Crewe icon Rodney Jack who won the first leg late on. The Bahamas had striker Liburd Hercules sent off just before full-time, presumably for failing his 12th labour and letting the (multi-headed) dog out. Woof, woof, woof, woof, woof.


Barbados - 1 (G Goodridge 57)

Cuba - 0

It was a good day for Greg Goodridge. The Bristol City right-winger's goal was crucial in earning Barbados a narrow first-leg victory over Cuba. Fidel Castro won't have been too chuffed with that result, so expect repercussions if the Leones del Caribe can't win their home leg convincingly.


Bermuda - 0

Guyana - 0

This was a bore draw in which neither side managed more than a single shot on target. Bermuda couldn't feed Shaun 'The Goat' Goater, and the Manchester City hotshot didn't score. The game's big talking-point came in the 71st minute, when Goater's compatriot Daran Corry was dismissed for two bookable offences.


Dominica - 1 (D Pugh 76)

Turks & Caicos Islands - 0

I once saw a darts player named Darrin Pugh record a pitiful average score of 51 points per visit in a match that was televised on Sky Sports. An obscure reference, I know. At least his near-namesake Dane Pugh was rather more clinical for Dominica. A goal at the back end of the second half saw his country take a narrow lead going into the second leg.


Dominican Republic - 0

British Virgin Islands - 2 (B McIntyre 34, N Willetts 82)

The Dominican Republic should stick to baseball. They suffered a shock 2-0 home defeat to the British Virgin Islands, who had Darron Sampson sent off after just 11 minutes. Goals in either half from Bryn McIntyre and Norton Willetts turned the tie around for Richard Branson's favourite national team.


Haiti - 1 (S Parra 5)

Grenada - 0

What's the point of bringing Monaco ace Wagneau Eloi over from France when a greyed-out right-back can score for you? That was what Haiti were asking themselves when Salim Parra took just five minutes to break the deadlock against Grenada, who couldn't muster a single shot on target.


Netherlands Antilles - 1 (F Hernandez 74)

Cayman Islands - 1 (W Allison 16)

The Cayman Islands went 1-0 up after just over a quarter of an hour, thanks to Wayne Allison (of Huddersfield and Tranmere fame). However, the Netherlands Antilles salvaged a draw through Ferdino Hernandez (Remember him, Wigan fans? Thought not). This was a particularly surprising result, as the hosts had both captain Raymond Victoria and midfielder Marthijn van de Broek sent off.


Puerto Rico - 0

Trinidad & Tobago - 1 (S John 54)

In the city of San Juan, it was Stern John who saved Trinidad & Tobago from an embarrassing draw against Puerto Rico. However, the Soca Warriors would have to go into the home leg without midfielder Lynden Andrews, who was sent off late on.


St Kitts & Nevis - 1 (C Willock 85)

Aruba - 0

No, that isn't Chris Willock who scored that late winner for St Kitts & Nevis. For one thing, he's only two years old. Instead, it was Fulham teenager Callum Willock who condemned Aruba to defeat. I hope Joan Armatrading's Kittitian compatriots showed Callum some love and affection afterwards.


St Lucia - 1 (K Sellars 11)

Anguilla - 0

Hmm, the 1-0 scoreline sure is popular today. Midfielder Kerry Sellars bought the St Lucians an invaluable first-leg goal versus little-known Anguilla. Kudos to Barnet's defensive rock Warren Hackett for helping his team preserve a clean sheet.


US Virgin Islands - 0

Surinam - 1 (R Sion 10)

And there we have it again. One goal was all Surinam could muster, with Romano Sion of Portuguese side Vitória claiming the plaudits. It remains to be seen whether it'll be enough, or if the American board-game geeks can save themselves in South America.


5 MARCH 2000

So, that's the first day of World Cup qualifiers over and done with. Have you enjoyed the ride so far?


Yes? Well, let's crack on. / No? Don't worry; it'll get better. [Delete where appropriate]


The Caribbean sides have showcased their talents (or, in some cases, lack thereof), so now let's look at what Central America has to offer.


Just to remind you, there are seven Central American nations in the qualifiers, and we'll see six of them here - Belize, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Nicaragua and Panama. The odd nation out are Honduras, who are apparently so good that they get to go straight to the Interzone Playoff round.


The six teams are divided into two groups of three, and every team plays their group rivals on a home-and-away basis. The group winners are fast-tracked to the Semi Finals, and the runners-up are moved to the Interzone Playoffs. The stragglers must stay behind and watch the others from afar.


CONCACAF Central American Zone

Group Draw

GROUP 1: Belize, Costa Rica, Guatemala

There's no doubting which team is odds-on to win this group. Costa Rica might have only graced the World Cup once before (in 1990, officially the greatest year of all-time), but Paulo Wanchope's comrades should go through comfortably.


GROUP 2: El Salvador, Nicaragua, Panama

Group 2 looks like this will be a two-way battle between El Salvador and Panama, who - coincidentally - play each other in the opening match. Nicaragua are traditionally Central America's whipping boys and will do well to even get a Playoff place.


Group 1 Result

Costa Rica - 3 (P Wanchope 16, R Gomez 17,pen86)

Guatemala - 1 (M Machon 15)

We had three goals in three minutes! Firstly, Martin Machon arrived from Miami to grab an early opener for Guatemala. Paulo Wanchope and Ronald Gomez then turned the tie on its head before Gomez - the one who didn't play for West Ham - sealed a 3-1 Costa Rican win from the penalty spot.


Group 2 Result

El Salvador - 1 (R Diaz Arce pen58)

Panama - 3 (R Bello 5, J Dely Valdés 59, JC Dely Valdés 71)

PANAMA! took just five minutes to break the deadlock through the brilliant, if very grey Rayco Bello. Raul Diaz Arce drew El Salvador level from the spot, but the Dely Valdés twins - Jorge and Julio César - then bagged a goal apiece to take the points back to the 'Puente del Mundo'.

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18 MARCH 2000

After a fortnight's break, it's time for the Caribbean nations to get back to business. By the end of today, 12 countries will be safely through to Round 2 of the Caribbean Zone qualifiers. A dozen others will see their dreams of World Cup glory burnt to ashes right here.


Now... the last time I covered the Caribbean Zone, you might have read that I'd referred to some 'greyed-out players', or 'greys' for short. In that case, I wasn't referring to Gary Lineker's hair, or even David Platt's personality.


In Championship Manager, teams that don't have enough real players in the database are usually populated with computer-generated players, who can't be signed by other clubs and generally have as much footballing talent as Ali Dia. They will disappear from the game when 'actual' players join the team and are re-generated when those 'actual' players leave. In-game, their names appear in grey font, hence the tag.


The CM00/01 database has approximately 90,000 people (players, staff, referees, etc), compared to around 600,000 in the database for Football Manager 2018. Most national teams don't have enough real players to complete their squads, hence the need for 'greys' to fill in the vacancies.


The limited national pools also have an impact on the generated names of some grey players. If there aren't enough names to choose from in a certain nation, CM will often come up with generic names based on the that nation's main language. For example, grey players from Aruba and Surinam get generic Dutch names, while greys from the British Virgin Islands and most other Caribbean nations get English names.


For some countries, the game will just select any old names at random, regardless of language. When we start looking at Myanmar, for example, you can expect their players to have all sorts of jumbled-up names that don't fit well (e.g. Ji-Sung McDonald, or Mehmet Khumalo, or Hasney Aljofree).


So that's what I mean when I write about grey players. Their names might seem out of place in some areas, but they're a necessary evil in the earlier CM games.


CONCACAF Caribbean Zone Round 1

Leg 2 Results

Anguilla - 2 (C Coynes 8, C Westwood 66)

St Lucia - 0

[Anguilla win 2-1 on aggregate]

Who'd have thought it? St Lucia have fallen to the mighty Anguilla! Chick Coynes levelled the tie just eight minutes into the second half, but it was right-winger Che Westwood who made sure that he got the adulation of Anguilla's most eligible bachelorettes.


Aruba - 0

St Kitts & Nevis - 1 (B Bowry 13)

[St Kitts & Nevis win 2-0 on aggregate]

Another single-goal win suited the Kittitians to the ground, with Bobby Bowry the hero on this occasion as they went through at Aruba's expense. That's a shame. I had written all sorts of witty remarks about John Fashanu's catchphrase from 'Gladiators', but now they'll go to waste...


British Virgin Islands - 0

Dominican Republic - 1 (EJ Espinal 9)

[British Virgin Islands win 2-1 on aggregate]

It was just as well that Branson's boys had won the first leg by two goals. The Dominican Republic were on the verge of turning things around when 17-year-old Elpys José Espinal halved the deficit after just nine minutes. However, Dominican defender Gavin Wild got a little too wild in the 22nd minute, and his team weren't able to equalise without him.


Cayman Islands - 1 (W Allison 23)

Netherlands Antilles - 1 (S Huizing 21)

[2-2 on aggregate, Netherlands Antilles win 3-1 on penalties]

A missed penalty from Jamie Wood in the second minute was an ominous sign for the Cayman Islands. The hosts fought out another 1-1 draw after Wayne Allison cancelled out Sandor Huizing's Dutch Antillean opener. However, it was the boys from Curacao who ultimately took the spoils in a shoot-out.


Cuba - 0

Barbados - 0

[Barbados win 1-0 on aggregate]

I fear we might have another Cuban missile crisis on our hands. The Leones del Caribe survived 16 shots from Barbados (and their star performer Emmerson Boyce) without conceding, but they couldn't claw back the deficit from the first leg. The Bajans will dance on.


Grenada - 1 (J Roberts 1)

Haiti - 2 (E Bakadal 11, L Risso 79)

[Haiti win 3-1 on aggregate]

A goal in the first minute was as good as it got for Grenada frontman Jason Roberts - the 22-year-old nephew of the great Cyrille Regis. Haitian greys Eugène Bakadal and Ladislas Risso retaliated in style, ensuring that at least one half of Hispaniola would be represented in Round 2.


Guyana - 1 (C Cort 61)

Bermuda - 0

[Guyana win 1-0 on aggregate]

Mrs Cort must be immensely proud of her sons. While Leon Cort marshalled Guyana's defence superbly, his big brother Carl went up the other end and scored the decisive goal after just over an hour. Sadly, Shaun Goater had to return home to Manchester on an empty stomach.


Montserrat - 1 (J Mendes 6)

Antigua & Barbuda - 1 (K Lwando 28)

[Montserrat win 2-1 on aggregate]

Who said that Montserrat were nobodies on the international stage? Junior Mendes bolstered their aggregate lead early on in Plymouth (which, incidentally, is nowhere near Devon). Kim Lwando's retaliatory strike was not enough for Antigua & Barbuda, who will now get back to drawing new Flintstones cartoons.


St Vincent & The Grenadines - 1 (J Joachim 16)

Bahamas - 1 (T Sheringham 63)

[St Vincent & The Grenadines win 2-1 on aggregate]

The Bahamas might have given us the soundtrack to this summer, but they haven't given us any great footballers. Julian Joachim effectively secured St Vincent's place in Round 2, though the visitors did get a consolation goal through Tom Sheringham, who bore a striking resemblance to a certain Manchester United forward. Andy Cole wasn't available for comment.


Surinam - 1 (J Temmink 35)

US Virgin Islands - 0

[Surinam win 2-0 on aggregate]

Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink, Clarence Seedorf, Gus Uhlenbeek... you can now add Johan Temmink's name to the list of Surinam-born football legends. He burst forward from defence to drive in the goal that sent 11 sweatpants-wearing Star Trek aficionados retreating to their parents' attics.


Trinidad & Tobago - 2 (D Yorke 48,52)

Puerto Rico - 0

[Trinidad & Tobago win 3-0 on aggregate]

Renowned ladies' man Ricky Martin might have sung the 1998 classic 'The Cup of Life', but Puerto Rico's World Cup dreams are dead. A couple of early second-half goals from Manchester United's Dwight Yorke ensured that Trinidad & Tobago sailed through to the next stage.


Turks & Caicos Islands - 0

Dominica - 0

[Dominica win 1-0 on aggregate]

This wasn't a classic by any means, but Dominica's fans didn't mind, for they were celebrating an aggregate win come full-time. That said, they weren't exactly pleased when defender Leon Gayle picked up two bookings and left his 10 team-mates holding on for the final 25 minutes or so.


19 MARCH 2000

After the storm of yesterday's Caribbean qualifiers, today sees the relative calm of the Central American preliminaries. We've got just two matches to cover as the group stage enters its second round.


Costa Rica and Panama won the opening group ties, but they've got the day off. Instead, Guatemala and El Salvador are attempting to bounce straight back following their defeats on 5 March.


Group 2 sees El Salvador travel to Nicaragua, which is a less daunting journey now than it was about a decade or two ago. Meanwhile, Guatemala are at home to Group 1 rivals Belize - the only country to lend their name to a Blondie song. "Oh Belize doo-be-do, I'm in love with you, Belize doo-be-do..."


CONCACAF Central American Zone

Group 1 Result

Guatemala - 1 (MA Martínez Lara 11)

Belize - 1 (L Campagna 19)

There were no winners in the battle of the regional minnows. Marco Antonio Martínez Lara drew first blood for Guatemala after 11 minutes, only to see Lil Campagna equalise within eight minutes. If Belize had brought Big Campagna along as well, they might have eked out a win.


GROUP 1                            P     W     D     L     F     A     GD    PTS
1.          Costa Rica             1     1     0     0     3     1     2     3
2.          Belize                 1     0     1     0     1     1     0     1
3.          Guatemala              2     0     1     1     2     4     -2    1


Group 2 Result

Nicaragua - 0

El Salvador - 4 (R Diaz Arce 22,27,34, V Dubon 35)

Take a bow, Raul Diaz Arce - the scorer of the first hat-trick in the 2002 World Cup qualifiers. The DC United striker was the embodiment of coolness during a 12-minute spell that overwhelmed Nicaragua. He was then joined on the scoresheet by Victor Dubon, who plays for FC Jazz in Finland. Smooth.


GROUP 2                            P     W     D     L     F     A     GD    PTS
1.          El Salvador            2     1     0     1     5     3     2     3
2.          Panama                 1     1     0     0     3     1     2     3
3.          Nicaragua              1     0     0     1     0     4     -4    0


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Looking forward to this one Chris, for several reasons.

Firstly, it's a new CFuller story, what's not to like about that.

Secondly, a save revolving around International football is always a good thing I think. I'm hoping this throws up some shocks.

And finally, it's interesting that you've gone back to the old CM series, as I have recently come across the 1997/98 version of the game, and am looking for an angle to base a story on using that particular version. So it'll be interesting to see how your save relates to the modern day versions.

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20 minutes ago, neilhoskins77 said:

Looking forward to this one Chris, for several reasons.

Firstly, it's a new CFuller story, what's not to like about that.

Secondly, a save revolving around International football is always a good thing I think. I'm hoping this throws up some shocks.

And finally, it's interesting that you've gone back to the old CM series, as I have recently come across the 1997/98 version of the game, and am looking for an angle to base a story on using that particular version. So it'll be interesting to see how your save relates to the modern day versions.

We do love our international stories, don't we, Neil? (By the way, I hope you're feeling better now, after what you wrote in your Iceland story update. I can fully understand why you had to take some time away.)

I first got into the series with the CM3 demo (20 years ago this year). CM99/00 was the first full game I played, but CM00/01 was the version that really captured my imagination. Indeed, it's my second-most played version of CM or FM ever (after FM13). So yes, I do have quite an affinity towards the CM3-era games.

As far as CM97/98 goes, I'll let you in on a secret... I played that game a couple of years ago and even wrote two seasons' worth of story. The idea was to weave a tale that went from 1997 to the present day, tying in historic events along the way. Unfortunately, I just didn't find the game all that enjoyable in the long run, and I shelved my story plans after the second season.

In a way, this CM00/01 story has replaced that CM97/98 experiment. It also fills the story void left by my skipping FM18.

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29 MARCH 2000

CONMEBOL take a meritocratic approach to determining which of their teams qualify for the World Cup. All 10 of their members play one another twice in a mini-league, with the top four teams qualifying automatically and the 5th-placed team going into an Intercontinental Playoff.


It's a real epic in every sense of the word, with the qualifiers spread out across nearly 20 months. Today is when all the fun begins.


The first round (of 18!) has thrown up some intriguing ties to say the least, and we're likely to get a good idea of where certain teams stand. Admittedly, I'm not expecting any surprises at the Maracanã in Rio de Janeiro, where Brazil (who have competed at every World Cup, winning four) kick off against Venezuela (who have never qualified for one).


Other ties are more interesting. Take, for instance, Bolivia vs Argentina. The Bolivians have to make the most of the favourable conditions in home matches if they are to go through, and they're up against an Albiceleste team experiencing a confidence crisis. Yes, Argentina have long-haired goal machine Gabriel Batistuta, but recent results under head coach Marcelo Bielsa have not been too positive.


Uruguay were kicking themselves that they didn't qualify for France '98. To quote those famous Somerset rockers Reef, I expect them to come back brighter. Mind you, they might have to go some to strike an early blow against José Luis Chilavert's Paraguay.


Mentioning one iconic South American goalkeeper reminds me of a certain René Higuita. Sadly, we shan't be seeing 'El Loco' or the similarly memorable playmaker Carlos Valderrama in Colombia colours anymore. Nonetheless, Los Cafeteros still have their fair share of colourful players, as do their opening opponents Chile, whose attack will be spearheaded by Lazio hotshot Marcelo Salas.


And that leaves us with Ecuador and Peru, who meet in Guaca... Guaya... Gayaqui... (sigh) Ecuador's largest city. Like Venezuela, Los Amarillos haven't yet been shown the way to World Cup, but they popped their cherry in the real 2002 tournament, so don't rule out a repeat here. I'm not too confident about Peru's prospects, on the other hand.


CONMEBOL Qualifiers


Bolivia - 1 (E Sánchez 11)

Argentina - 0

Many South American countries have complained about playing at certain venues in Bolivia because of the high altitude. They might have a point. Argentina struggled in Cochabamba (situated more than 2,500 metres above sea level), losing their opening fixture to an 11th-minute goal from Boavista's Erwin Sánchez. Perhaps Marcelo Bielsa should've invested in some oxygen masks...


Brazil - 0

Venezuela - 1 (D Noriega 22)

Now this is a real turn-up for the books! Brazil dominated most of this match at the Maracanã, yet they somehow lost against arguably the weakest team in CONMEBOL. Daniel Noriega's strike midway through the first half earned Venezuela a famous victory.


Colombia - 1 (HH Hurtado 70)

Chile - 1 (M Salas 84)

Colombia will be kicking themselves that they didn't win this. Héctor Hugo Hurtado hurt La Roja by breaking the deadlock after 70 minutes. However, six minutes from time, Marcelo Salas came to Chile's rescue and saved them a point. I suspect that might become a habit for Salas.


Ecuador - 1 (I Kaviedes 33)

Peru - 0

Iván Kaviedes was Ecuador's hero here, scoring the only goal in a match that they largely dominated. A very defensive Peru team couldn't muster a shot on target, and their woes were compounded when right-back César Miguel Rebosío was sent off after 67 minutes.


Uruguay - 1 (G Poyet 35)

Paraguay - 1 (RM Acuña 9)

This was a predictably tight affair, though Paraguay drew first blood after just nine minutes through Zaragoza winger Roberto Miguel Acuña. Ironically, it was an ex-Zaragoza player who cancelled it out, with Chelsea playmaker Gustavo Poyet pinching a point for Uruguay.

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1 APRIL 2000

Contrary to what this story might suggest, CM00/01 is not my favourite edition of Sports Interactive's original Championship Manager franchise. That honour, of course, goes to the crisp, spotless and not-at-all-late Championship Manager 4.


Ha! Got you there!


This next bit isn't an April Fool, though. We really do have another round of Caribbean qualifiers to look forward to, with the 12 winners from Round 1 now going into battle at least twice more. Again, the losers of these Round 2 matches will progress no further.


Trinidad & Tobago looked the most convincing team in the opening round, and I expect Dwight Yorke to fire them further towards a World Cup debut. Mind you, the Netherlands Antilles have some work to do after squeezing through on penalties, and I get the feeling that Guyana's Cort brothers are just getting warmed up.


CONCACAF Caribbean Zone Round 2


Surinam vs Anguilla

St Kitts & Nevis vs Haiti

Netherlands Antilles vs Dominica

Montserrat vs Trinidad & Tobago

Guyana vs St Vincent & The Grenadines

British Virgin Islands vs Barbados


Trinidad & Tobago have got probably the easiest draw, as Montserrat's peculiar mix of Dyer-spora and Ruel Fox will surely be no match for the Soca Warriors. Haiti are the only team in this round with prior World Cup finals experience, and they'll be strong favourites to eliminate St Kitts & Nevis. In my mind, the most competitive tie looks like being Guyana's clash with St Vincent & The Grenadines.


Leg 1 Results

British Virgin Islands - 1 (R Selley 85)

Barbados - 4 (P Ifill 5,10, G Goodridge 70, M Gilkes 75)

Barbados turned on the style, with four goals putting them well on track for the next round. Paul Ifill scored the first two very quickly, and his Millwall team-mate Michael Gilkes also netted after Bristol City's Greg Goodridge helped himself to a goal. Rudi Selley clawed back a consolation for the British Virgin Islands, but it was surely too late. Oh boy, today could be a goal-fest...


Guyana - 0

St Vincent & The Grenadines - 0

Ah, okay, maybe not. Leon Cort did his mum proud again by keeping another clean sheet for Guyana, but Carl couldn't score at the opposite end. St Vincent held firm for a creditable away draw, even after having captain Kevan Warnock sent off, presumably for having a Neil Warnock-style rant at the ref.


Montserrat - 0

Trinidad & Tobago - 1 (S John 7)

My dream of seeing Ruel Fox grace a World Cup might have to be put on ice. Montserrat succumbed to a narrow home defeat, thanks to Stern John's early excellence. However, Trinidad right-back Ancil Elcock's tackling was far from excellent, and a red card saw him suspended from the second leg.


Netherlands Antilles - 0

Dominica - 0

Netherlands Antilles threw everything bar the kitchen sink at Dominica, yet they still failed to break through a dogged defence. Visiting goalkeeper Gil Love was in spellbinding form, as was his captain Wendy Weaver - the first woman to participate in a men's World Cup qualifier (Robbie Savage doesn't count, apparently).


St Kitts & Nevis - 0

Haiti - 1 (F Takac 23)

Has there ever been a less apt name than Stephen Gentle? The St Kitts & Nevis left-back was far too aggressive in this match, getting sent off in the 63rd minute for picking up a couple of bookings. A goal from Frederic Takac earlier on had sent Haiti on their way to a potentially significant win.


Surinam - 0

Anguilla - 0

Oh boy, another goalless draw. This was very much a match for the football purists. We didn't have the term 'hipster' in 2000, but if we did, then hipsters everywhere would have swooned over the performance of Surinam's marauding left-back/captain Richard van der Kuylen.


2 APRIL 2000

We're now at the halfway point of the round-robin phase in the Central American Zone qualifiers.


Costa Rica travel to Belmopan for their second Group 1 match against Belize, who should probably give them a tougher test than Andy Roxburgh's Tartan Army did in Italy a decade ago. If Los Ticos do win, they'll be five points clear at the top and on the cusp of the Semi Finals. They will also retain the lead with a draw, though Belize will take the initiative if they can spring a surprise.


Panama are also in a decent position when it comes to Group 2. Having won in El Salvador a month ago, Los Canaleros can build a three-point lead at the top by beating Nicaragua on home soil.


If Nicaragua win, that would make it three successive away victories in the group, and the teams would all be level on points. In that case, figuring out the likely outcome of that group would be as difficult as predicting Claudio Ranieri's next starting line-up at Chelsea.


(By the way, if you can predict Ranieri's next Chelsea XI in April 2000, you probably have incredible psychic powers. The Blues' manager right now is still Gianluca Vialli, and the 'Tinkerman' isn't due to arrive at Stamford Bridge as Vialli's replacement for another five-and-a-half months.)


CONCACAF Central American Zone

Group 1 Result

Belize - 0

Costa Rica - 2 (P Wanchope 22,32)

How much wood would Paulo Wanchope chop if Paulo Wanchope could chop wood? Nobody knows, but the 23-year-old certainly cut Belize down to size with a couple of first-half goals. Unfortunately, his strike partner Ronald Gomez then chopped a home defender's legs off and was given his marching orders.


GROUP 1                            P     W     D     L     F     A     GD    PTS
1.          Costa Rica             2     2     0     0     5     1     4     6
2.          Guatemala              2     0     1     1     2     4     -2    1
3.          Belize                 2     0     1     1     1     3     -2    1


Group 2 Result

Panama - 0

Nicaragua - 1 (I Jaro 81)

PANAMA! defender Jesús María Lavín probably listened to too much glam metal before this match, as a reckless foul in the 33rd minute led to his dismissal. Despite being a man up for nigh on an hour, Nicaragua almost let their chance for a shock away win pass them by. Then, nine minutes before the end, Ibon Jaro broke the deadlock to leave the group nicely poised.


GROUP 2                            P     W     D     L     F     A     GD    PTS
1.          El Salvador            2     1     0     1     5     3     2     3
2.          Panama                 2     1     0     1     3     2     1     3
3.          Nicaragua              2     1     0     1     1     4     -3    3


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8 APRIL 2000

The Americas have already started their qualifiers for the 2002 World Cup. Now it's time to see for the first time what Africa's finest are capable of.


While nations from UEFA and CONMEBOL are still dominating international football, CAF looks like the confederation most likely to challenge the old world order. Pelé once predicted that an African nation would win the World Cup by the year 2000, and though the great Brazilian proved to be as accurate as Nostradamus, there's no doubt that the continent's teams are improving year-on-year.


To date, current African Cup of Nations champions Cameroon are the only team from the continent to have reached the World Cup Quarter Finals, doing so in 1990. The Indomitable Lions also qualified for the finals in 1994 and 1998, and they might well enjoy another decent run in South Korea and Japan in 2002... provided they qualify, of course.


The other four African representatives from France '98 - Morocco, Nigeria, South Africa and Tunisia - are also confident of qualifying again. Nigeria looked very strong when co-hosting the ACN with Ghana earlier this year, ultimately losing the Final on penalties to Cameroon.


Ghana haven't yet qualified for a World Cup, but they are amongst several African nations with realistic hopes of doing so this time around. You can also put Senegal in that bracket. In real life, the Lions of Teranga went on to emulate Cameroon's class of Italia '90 by reaching the last eight of Korea/Japan 2002. Who's to say they can't do that in-game as well?


Another team that will be worth looking out for is Liberia. That, of course, is the home of current Chelsea loanee George Weah, who twice won the Serie A scudetto with Milan and was the first African to receive the Ballon d'Or in 1995.


33-year-old Weah is currently ranked alongside the likes of George Best, Alfredo Di Stefano and Nigel Spink as one of the greatest footballers never to have played at a World Cup. Can he and his fellow Liberians change that?


Let's quickly remind you of how the CAF qualifiers work. Round 1 sees the 50 entrants paired with one another in home-and-away knockout matches. Obviously, there are seedings in place, so that the top nations can't knock each other out. That said, not even the likes of Cameroon and Nigeria can afford too many mistakes, else they'll be eliminated early.


The 25 winners from Round 1 progress to the group phase that is Round 2. I'll have more on that round closer to the time, but let's get these opening matches out of the way first, shall we?


CAF Round 1


Malawi vs Zimbabwe

Democratic Republic of Congo vs Swaziland

Egypt vs Djibouti

Eritrea vs Ivory Coast

Burkina Faso vs Morocco

Ghana vs Mauritius

Angola vs Cape Verde Islands

Mauritania vs Togo

Liberia vs Seychelles

Sierra Leone vs Benin

Burundi vs Gabon

Zambia vs Mali

Tanzania vs Namibia

Guinea-Bissau vs Sudan

Niger vs Cameroon

Senegal vs São Tomé & Príncipe

Algeria vs Chad

South Africa vs Botswana

Rwanda vs The Congo

Mozambique vs Madagascar

Lesotho vs Gambia

Guinea vs Nigeria

Central African Republic vs Kenya

Libya vs Ethiopia

Tunisia vs Uganda


Predictably, we've got a lot of very one-sided matches in this round. Egypt and the Ivory Coast will be particularly pleased with their draws, both against minnows from the Horn of Africa. Morocco might have to do a bit more work to get past Burkina Faso, and similarly, Angola are unlikely to have things all their own way versus the Cape Verde Islands.


Continental champions Cameroon have a nice, simple warm-up against Niger, even though the Ménas are only a couple of letters away from being remotely threatening. Senegal's push towards a debut appearance has been hindered by the fact they have to play against not just São Tomé, but also their neighbours Príncipe. Zambia vs Mali looks like a pick 'em match-up.


While Senegal have to play against 22 men, Algeria only need to get past one bloke - named Chad - to qualify for Round 2. South Africa and Tunisia will also be thanking their lucky stars that they got simple draws, but Nigeria won't. The Super Eagles' opening opponents Guinea are blessed with some half-decent players... and Titi Camara of West Ham.


Leg 1 Results

Algeria - 1 (F Ghazi 90)

Chad - 0

Algeria put in a strong performance against future American football star Chad Pennington, yet it took them almost exactly 90 minutes to break the deadlock. Troyes striker Farid Ghazi - one of goodness knows how many French-based players in the Fennecs' squad - was the late hero.


Angola - 1 (Quinzinho 70)

Cape Verde Islands - 0

Quinzinho was quids in for Angola, securing them a first-leg victory after 70 minutes. The Cape Verde Islands would go into their home leg a goal down, and a man light. Left-winger Mirandinha - or 'Little Miranda', if you prefer - was sent off in the 78th minute.


Burkina Faso - 0

Morocco - 4 (S Bassir 1, A Elkhattabi 31,33,79)

As soon as Salaheddine Bassir scored for Morocco in the very first minute, Burkina Faso knew that they were in trouble. Sure enough, Ali Elkhattabi - the man from Sparta in Rotterdam - put three more goals past the Stallions, who also lost defender Cyriaque Razurel to a red card.


Burundi - 0

Gabon - 3 (T Nguema 14,70, A Ossey 56)

There was a time when Burundi didn't produce a couple of semi-decent players once in a generation. This was well before Saido Berahino and Gaël Bigirimana's time. Gabon's Theodore Nguema (who curiously shares his name with the long-time President of Equatorial Guinea) scored a brace either side of a goal from Armand Ossey. The visitors are surely heading into the next phase.


Central African Republic - 1 (Malet 81)

Kenya - 1 (Valdo 43)

Kenya defender Musa Otieno was sent off in the 35th minute, but compatriot Valdo scored just eight minutes later. Central African Republic tried something similar in the second half. Luciano Ray Djim was dismissed early on, paving the way for Malet to hammer in an equaliser nine minutes from time.


Democratic Republic of Congo - 0

Swaziland - 0

Swaziland (or should that be eSwatini?) is a country more renowned for long-reigning kings with hundreds of heirs than for football. Mind you, they did record a creditable goalless draw against DR Congo in Kinshasa. The 'man of the match' award went to Congolese defender Nzelo Lembi, but don't ask me why.


Egypt - 2 (R Yasser 34, AS Hosny 75)

Djibouti - 0

There were no shocks in Cairo, with German-based stars Radwan Yasser and Ahmed Salah Hosny making light work of Djibouti. However, the hosts' fiery 18-year-old striker Mohamed Zidan would later be dismissed, apparently for butting an opponent in the stomach. My money was on Jean-Marc Prat being the victim... or Marco Materazzi, if he's somehow obtained a Djiboutian passport.


Eritrea - 0

Ivory Coast - 1 (I Bakayoko 88)

If you played Championship Manager in the late 1990s, you'll surely know all about Ibrahima Bakayoko. The iconic ex-Everton striker scored a belated winner for the Ivory Coast against plucky Eritrea, whose resistance finally cracked shortly after winger Shawn Lilwall was sent off.


Ghana - 2 (E Tetteh 37, A Nyarko 88)

Mauritius - 3 (JM Ithier 22,74, E Rowley 28)

Goals from Emmanuel Tetteh and Alex Nyarko were not enough to save Ghana from a shock defeat to 10-man Mauritius. Jean Marc Ithier bagged a brace for Les Dodos, and captain Ellis Rowley also found the net, though he would soon follow that up with a red card.


Guinea - 1 (Tawel Camara 5)

Nigeria - 1 (Aliyu 7)

Tawel Camara (no relation to Titi) was on target for the hosts after a mere five minutes. Sadly for him, Aliyu drew Nigeria level shortly afterwards. Guinea striker Souleymane Oulare didn't take that disappointment well, as he was sent off in the 26th minute. Despite that, his compatriots held firm for a 1-1 draw, and put the Super Eagles under real pressure going into the second leg.


Guinea-Bissau - 0

Sudan - 1 (M Al-Owairain 11)

You'll probably remember that goal from Saudi Arabia's Saeed Al-Owairan at USA 1994. Well, his Sudanese knock-off Mohammed Al-Owairain also scored a tremendous World Cup strike, which put Guinea-Bissau's hopes of making the finals in serious jeopardy.


Lesotho - 0

Gambia - 3 (J Ceesay 20,30, Ebou Sillah 29)

The Gambia could have selected teen sensation Cherno Samba, but they clearly didn't need him here. Jatto Ceesay's double and Ebou Sillah's strike - all secured within 10 minutes - left Lesotho in a spot of bother. Their left-winger Roland Addicoat got his coat early after being sent off in the 66th minute.


Liberia - 1 (J Nagbe 59)

Seychelles - 0

Liberia's superstar captain George Weah was the main attraction, but he was upstaged by someone who played for Panionios in Greece. Take a bow, defensive midfielder Joe Nagbe, whose strike before the hour mark earned a narrow win over the Seychelles.


Libya - 0

Ethiopia - 1 (A Enge 31)

I don't think we'll be seeing too many of Libya's players again after this performance. Khalid Tadrus might well have feared for his life after his red card in the 15th minute. Another quarter-hour later, Afsin Enge's goal sent Ethiopia one step closer to a place in Round 2.


Malawi - 0

Zimbabwe - 1 (P Ndlovu 33)

Fans of Coventry and Birmingham will testify that Peter Ndlovu is rather decent for a striker. He certainly lived up to expectations for his native Zimbabwe, with a 33rd-minute goal seeing off Malawi. However, a late red card for away midfielder Kennedy Chihuri could well have boosted Malawi's chances of a comeback.


Mauritania - 0

Togo - 2 (K Agboh 45, B Salou 48)

Togo looked in fine fettle as they began their quest to qualify for a maiden World Cup. Kwami Agboh's opener on the stroke of half-time was complemented by an early first-half goal from Bachirou Salou. It could well be all over for Mauritania already.


Mozambique - 1 (Dário 51)

Madagascar - 0

Madagascar face a real battle if they're to progress any further. Mozambique took a narrow lead after the first leg through Dário - a fresh-faced 23-year-old striker from Académica. Ironically, a 38-year-old Dário was the oldest goalscorer at the FIFA World Championship in one of my other CM/FM universes!


Niger - 1 (A Lambo Zakari 6)

Cameroon - 3 (P Mbomba 2, R Douala 6,88)

Niger striker Andrey Lambo Zakari now knows - you don't equalise against Cameroon. He did it shortly after Patrick Mbomba had given the Indomitable Lions an early lead, but Rudolph Douala restored Cameroon's advantage within seconds. Douala then added another goal for good measure.


Rwanda - 1 (D Mbonabucya 12)

The Congo - 0

This hasn't been a good day for either Congo. The Brazzaville Congo fell behind to an early Rwandan goal from Desiré Mbonabucya, and then had captain Shabani Nonda sent off before succumbing to defeat. They probably wish that Nonda had opted to play for Burundi instead.


Senegal - 1 (L Sakho 77)

São Tomé & Príncipe - 1 (Jairson 58)

I would call this a surprise, though to be fair, Senegal did have to play against two separate countries. Coentro Joaquim was sent off for São Tomé before Jairson gave Príncipe the lead. Future Leeds goal machine Lamine Sakho then levelled for Senegal. No, hang on a minute - that was the surprise.


Sierra Leone - 0

Benin - 0

If I told you that Kanu had played a blinder, you'd probably reply, "But Chris, you've done the Nigeria game already!" Ah, but I'm talking about Mohammed Kanu - the Cercle Brugge and Sierra Leone defender. It was largely thanks to him that the Leone Stars ground out a stalemate against Benin.


South Africa - 1 (B McCarthy 23)

Botswana - 0

South Africa bombarded Botswana with shots, but their only goal came from a svelte, cool-headed Bennedict McCarthy in the 23rd minute. There were also strong performances from defender Mark Fish, striker Glenn Salmon, and winger Steve Guppy. (Okay, I might've made the last guy up.)


Tanzania - 0

Namibia - 2 (J Lowndes 9, C Berry 89)

Namibia may have been blessed by the God-given talents of Quinton Jacobs, but it was two computer-generated greys who turned this match in their favour. Julian Lowndes and Christer Berry scored at the start and end respectively, while poor old Tanzania were caught in the middle.


Tunisia - 1 (J Clayton 72)

Uganda - 0

I believe that José Clayton was one of the first Brazilians to play international football for another country. The Tunisian trendsetter, who plays at left-wing for Bastia, earned his adopted country a first-leg victory against a Uganda team who clearly regretted not calling up Chris Kiwomya.


Zambia - 1 (M Miti 59)

Mali - 2 (A Coulibaly 16, M Bagayoko 89)

The match of the day saw teenage defender Adama Coulibaly open the scoring for Mali before Zambian frontman Mwape Miti retaliated. However, the day was to end in agony for the home team, as another Malian youngster - winger Mamadou Bagayoko - pinched a first-leg lead in the dying moments.

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15 APRIL 2000

We're into the second leg of our Round 2 matches in the Caribbean qualifiers, and we could well see some notable casualties.


Trinidad & Tobago only take a narrow first-leg lead into their home match with Montserrat, and it's not entirely impossible that the Soca Warriors could slip up. A team with their attacking talents exiting the qualifiers at this very early stage would be hugely embarrassing.


Similarly, St Kitts & Nevis could claw back a 1-0 deficit on Haiti, even though they have to play the second leg away from home. The Sugar Boyz' grey right-winger Edward Vickers is a qualified aviator who personally flew his team to Port-au-Prince. If this match ends badly, though, St Kitts might well have to - and I quote their most famous daughter Ms Armatrading - "drop the pilot".


Barbados have a sizeable advantage over the British Virgin Islands, so Richard Branson needs an unlikely Bajan collapse if his investment is to pay off. The BVI will also need plenty of inspiration from their 'Technical Director' - a 22-year-old Portuguese chap by the name of André Villas-Boas.


The deluge of goalless draws a fortnight ago make the other three ties much less forecastable. I could try to throw darts at a map of the Caribbean to 'predict' the winners... but then again, knowing my darting ability, I'd probably miss the map completely.


CONCACAF Caribbean Zone Round 2

Leg 2 Results

Anguilla - 0

Surinam - 1 (R Sion 114)

[aet, Surinam win 1-0 on aggregate]

It took 204 minutes, but at long last, somebody scored in the most boring football tie not to have involved Howard Wilkinson. Anguilla's resolve was finally broken by Romano Sion, and Surinam scraped through to Round 3. The Richard van der Kuylen fan club was understandably delighted.


Barbados - 2 (P Ifill 13,74)

British Virgin Islands - 0

[Barbados win 6-1 on aggregate]

Paul Ifill, goal machine. He got two for Barbados in the first leg, and he got another couple here - one in either half - to send the Bajans through. André Villas-Boas disappeared out of thin air at full-time, and it now looks likely that Richard Branson will sell his eliminated British Virgin Islands team. Expect them to be rebranded as either Zavvi or Absolute Radio in the future.


Dominica - 0

Netherlands Antilles - 1 (R Nelisse 57)

[Netherlands Antilles win 1-0 on aggregate]

Robin Nelisse was a handy striker for AZ in the 2000s. He is also a valuable asset to the Netherlands Antilles in this universe, scoring a second-half second-leg winner to end Dominica's hopes. Wendy Weaver will now set her sights on qualifying for the 2003 FIFA Women's World Cup.


Haiti - 0

St Kitts & Nevis - 2 (C Willock 4, B Bowry 83)

[St Kitts & Nevis win 2-1 on aggregate]

Despite losing the first leg on home soil, St Kitts & Nevis produced a stirring comeback in Port-au-Prince. Londoners Callum Willock and Bobby Bowry accounted for the Haitians, whose captain Geoffrey Leleu showed that he was no perfect gentleman by getting sent off. (That's a Wyclef Jean reference, in case you weren't aware.)


St Vincent & The Grenadines - 1 (W Charles 27)

Guyana - 1 (C Cort 38)

[1-1 on aggregate, Guyana win on away goals]

Though Sligo Rovers defender Wesley Charles opened the scoring for St Vincent, Carl Cort's riposte was enough to earn Guyana a hard-fought draw - and a victory on away goals. My condolences go out to budding American singer Annie Clark and her collection of non-alcoholic bar syrup.


Trinidad & Tobago - 1 (L Lewis 82)

Montserrat - 0

[Trinidad & Tobago win 2-0 on aggregate]

The fat lady has sung for Montserrat. Senora Caballé was clearing her throat after visiting anchor man Glynn Cullip picked up a couple of yellow cards in the first half. She was then in full voice by the time Trinbagonian left-winger Lenson Lewis broke down the Emerald Boys' stubborn resistance.


16 APRIL 2000

We've passed the halfway point of the Central American Zone group phase, and the two pools couldn't be much more different.


Group 1 looks like being Costa Rica's to lose, as they sit five points clear of both Guatemala and Belize after back-to-back victories. If Los Ticos can record their third victory in a row against Guatemala tonight, they will already be assured of 1st place - and a Semi Final berth.


In contrast, Group 2 looks very competitive, with all three teams on three points apiece. Nicaragua will now watch on nervously as Panama host El Salvador to see who takes top spot for the time being. If it's the latter, then I doubt anyone will be taking it off Los Cuscatlecos.


CONCACAF Central American Zone

Group 1 Result

Guatemala - 1 (MA Martínez Lara 15)

Costa Rica - 0

It's advantage Guatemala in Group 1. Favourites Costa Rica were rattled by an early goal from Marco Antonio Martínez Lara, who moved Guatemala on to four points. The man of the match award went to La Azul y Blanco's centre-half Manuel B Ernesto González del Campo - or Bob, for short.


GROUP 1                            P     W     D     L     F     A     GD    PTS
1.          Costa Rica             3     2     0     1     5     2     3     6
2.          Guatemala              3     1     1     1     3     4     -1    4
3.          Belize                 2     0     1     1     1     3     -2    1


Group 2 Result

Panama - 0

El Salvador - 3 (R Diaz Arce 26,pen63,70)

Not content with getting one hat-trick away from home, El Salvador captain Raul Diaz Arce helped himself to another three goals in Panama City, including one from the penalty spot. Los Cuscatlecos now have six points and can almost taste the next round. However, following back-to-back home defeats, things aren't looking quite as hopeful for Los Canaleros.


GROUP 2                            P     W     D     L     F     A     GD    PTS
1.          El Salvador            3     2     0     1     8     3     5     6
2.          Panama                 3     1     0     2     3     5     -2    3
3.          Nicaragua              2     1     0     1     1     4     -3    3


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22 APRIL 2000

The butterfly effect is a concept that states that "small causes can have larger effects".


No, I didn't just copy that from Wikipedia. Okay, maybe I did. But the idea that the flap of just one butterfly's wings could have a far-reaching ripple effect on later historic effects certainly apply to playing video games such as Championship Manager retrospectively.


Now you're probably thinking that I've turned into an old French philosopher, like Sartre or Descartes or Cantona, but it's true. As soon as you click 'Continue Game' for the first time in a new CM career, all hell breaks loose, and so many little things happen that could have a huge effect in the future.


When it comes to the 2002 World Cup qualifiers, today is where we start to see the butterfly effect in, erm, full effect. It's entirely possible that some African nations who qualified for the real-life finals might not even make it past Round 1 of the CAF preliminaries in-game.


Senegal - the boys from West Africa who took the Far East by storm in reality - are particularly vulnerable. They only drew 1-1 in their home leg against minnows São Tomé & Príncipe, and will probably need an away win to keep alive their qualification hopes. Can Bruno Metsu's men deliver when it most matters, or will the East Asian public be spared the sight of Elhadji Diouf's phlegm flying into an opponent's face?


An arguably even more sensational story would be written if Nigeria failed to reach Round 2. They go into their home leg with Guinea locked at 1-1 against a team that was actually expelled from the qualifiers in real-life.


Current African champions Cameroon probably won't have too many problems in despatching Niger. You'll also get long odds against either South Africa or Tunisia being eliminated today at the respective hands of Botswana or Uganda.


Now, to quote King Eric, "When the seagulls follow the trawler..."


CAF Round 1

Leg 2 Results

Benin - 2 (L D'Jaffo 74, J Nicolas 82)

Sierra Leone - 0

[Benin win 2-0 on aggregate]

Sierra Leone goalkeeper Gani Goodliffe wasn't exactly living the good life in Porto Novo. Laurent D'Jaffo (of Sheffield United) gave Benin the lead late in the first half, and Jeremie Nicolas (of Team Grey) doubled it to end the Leone Stars' dreams.


Botswana - 0

South Africa - 5 (B McCarthy 1,31, S Zuma 21,44, M Fish 26)

[South Africa win 6-0 on aggregate]

Bafana Bafana barely won on home soil, but they rediscovered their mojo upon crossing the border into Gaborone. A couple of strikes each from Bennedict McCarthy and Sibusiso Zuma, along with a very rare goal from Mark Fish, sent South Africa coasting through.


Cameroon - 1 (P Mboma 70)

Niger - 0

[Cameroon win 4-1 on aggregate]

Niger's slim hopes of progression arguably ended as soon as left-winger Siradji Sani was sent off in the 33rd minute. That said, goalkeeper Fousseni Cerullei did put up a strong resistance before finally conceding to Patrick Mboma midway through the second half. The Lions are still indomitable.


Cape Verde Islands - 1 (AJ Vicente 18)

Angola - 1 (Jordão 60)

[Angola win 2-1 on aggregate]

Cape Verde Islands negated their first-leg deficit through Artur Jorge Vicente in the 18th minute. Sadly for them, they then conceded a fateful away goal to Angola's West Brom midfielder Jordão in the 60th minute. Despite losing João Elias to a late red card, the visitors went through.


Chad - 2 (H Chevrollier 7, H Gagneux 83)

Algeria - 0

[Chad win 2-1 on aggregate]

I wasn't expecting that! Though Algeria led narrowly after the first leg, Chad striker Hermann Chevrollier rolled them over after seven minutes. Captain Hugues Gagneux then added a second goal for Les Sao in the dying moments to spring a huge surprise. The Fennecs had been outfoxed!


Djibouti - 0

Egypt - 2 (A Sabry 84, M Emara 88)

[Egypt win 4-0 on aggregate]

Against a far stronger team than Djibouti, Egypt might well have regretted Sami El Sheshini's first-half red card. As it was, the Pharoahs could afford to toy with their opponents before Benfica's Abdelsater Sabry and Rostock's Mohammed Emara eventually killed them off.


Ethiopia - 2 (V Gigli 28, S Kole 66)

Libya - 0

[Ethiopia win 3-0 on aggregate]

Where was future Perugia legend Al-Saadi Gaddafi when Libya needed him? His father won't have been too chuffed to see his country knocked out of the World Cup by Ethiopian greys Vitaly Gigli and Scott Kole. The very real Ethiopia centre-half Mohammed Ibrahim was then sent off in the 89th minute, not that it made any difference to the outcome.


Gabon - 1 (A Ossey 44)

Burundi - 0

[Gabon win 4-0 on aggregate]

Gabon built on their 3-0 advantage from the first game through Armand Ossey, who scored the only shot on target in the entire second leg. Burundi claimed no fewer than four yellow cards, but delivered nothing that even remotely resembled a test for Gabonese goalie Jean-Cédric Cazenave.


Gambia - 3 (E Sillah 43, J Ceesay 50, K Ceesay 64)

Lesotho - 1 (L Seema 12)

[Gambia win 6-1 on aggregate]

Lehlohonolo Seema - aka the Mosotho Father Christmas - got the first of three goals Lesotho needed to complete an incredible comeback. Sadly, The Gambia then added another trio of goals to their tally through Ebou Sillah, Jatto Ceesay and Kemo Ceesay (the Ceesays aren't related). With Lesotho surprisingly unable to create five goals in the final 26 minutes, the tie was easily won.


Ivory Coast - 1 (I Bakayoko 89)

Eritrea - 0

[Ivory Coast win 2-0 on aggregate]

If you played Championship Manager in the late 1990s, you'll surely know all about Ibrahima Bakayoko. The iconic ex-Everton striker scored a belated winner for the Ivory Coast against plucky Eritrea, whose resistance finally cracked... and yes, I did just copy and paste the first-leg report!


Kenya - 0

Central African Republic - 0

[0-0 on aggregate, Kenya win 1-0 on penalties]

Ladies and gentlemen, we've found two countries that are even worse at penalties than England and the Netherlands! Kenya's Phil Perego wasted a spot-kick in the 94th minute of another dour goalless draw, which went all the way to a shoot-out. The Kenyans spurned three more penalties and scored one, but CAR missed five on the spin and crashed out!


Madagascar - 0

Mozambique - 0

[Mozambique win 1-0 on aggregate]

There was more penalty woe here, this time for Saïd Karani. Had the Madagascar left-back scored from 12 yards in the 67th minute, this tie might well have gone into overtime. As it transpired, Mozambique's solitary first-leg goal was enough to keep Eusébio's legacy alive.


Mali - 0

Zambia - 0

[Mali win 2-1 on aggregate]

Blimey, another goalless draw! Did most of Africa's teams use up their goal allowances a fortnight ago? Anyway, a 0-0 was fine for Frédéric Kanouté and Mali, who reached the next round courtesy of their 2-1 win in Zambia. We sadly shall not be seeing the Copper Bullets' ageless former PSV striker Kalusha Bwalya in the finals.


Mauritius - 0

Ghana - 3 (E Duah 2,24, E Tetteh 56)

[Ghana win 5-3 on aggregate]

Ghana trailed 3-2 after their home leg, but a first-half brace from Emmanuel Duah turned the tie on its head. A red card for Mauritian captain Ellis Rowley added to the hosts' misery, which was further compiled when Emmanuel Tetteh sealed the Black Stars' comeback after the restart.


Morocco - 2 (A Elkhattabi 3, Y Chippo 71)

Burkina Faso - 0

[Morocco win 6-0 on aggregate]

Henri Michel's Morocco made serene progress to Round 2 after Ali Elkhattabi scored his fourth goal of a one-sided tie. Coventry's defensive midfielder Youssef Chippo then got the final word in, just because he could. Burkina Faso had had their chips, with a lot of vinegar and no tomato sauce.


Namibia - 2 (Q Jacobs 20,55)

Tanzania - 0

[Namibia win 4-0 on aggregate]

Quinton Jacobs is probably the only footballer on Earth who has played for both Partick Thistle and Duisburg. The journeyman winger scored two goals in his native Namibia to eliminate Tanzania, who had centre-back Blasko Chong sent off. His comedy partner Blasko Cheech could not be reached for comment.


Nigeria - 4 (V Agali 29,38,43,90)

Guinea - 0

[Nigeria win 5-1 on aggregate]

Was there any doubt that Nigeria would qualify for the next phase? And was there any doubt that Victor Agali would score four goals to send Guinea packing? And was there any doubt that Nwankwo Kanu would get himself sent off... okay, maybe that was a bit far-fetched.


São Tomé & Príncipe - 0

Senegal - 0

[1-1 on aggregate, São Tomé & Príncipe win 4-1 on penalties]

Wow! We will not see a repeat of Senegal's real-life run to the Quarter Finals! The Lions of Teranga lost left-back Diope to a red card on 57 minutes and never recovered. They were taken to penalties by tiny São Tomé & Príncipe, whose spotlessness from the spot crushed the butterfly's wings.


Seychelles - 0

Liberia - 1 (K Sebwe 8)

[Liberia win 2-0 on aggregate]

Liberia's superstar captain George Weah was again the main attraction, but this time, he was upstaged by someone who played for Panahaiki in Greece. Kelvin Sebwe scored the fateful goal after eight minutes at the People's Stadium in Victoria, leaving the people of the Seychelles distinctly unhappy.


Sudan - 0

Guinea-Bissau - 0

[Sudan win 1-0 on aggregate]

We've lost two Guineas today, with Guinea-Bissau going the same way as their similarly-named cousins. Central defender Amarildo Gomes excelled for the visitors, but the forwards failed to overturn Sudan's narrow lead. Papua New Guinea must be quaking in their boots now.


Swaziland - 1 (D Masina 33)

Democratic Republic of Congo - 2 (A Kona 16,94)

[aet, Democratic Republic of Congo win 2-1 on aggregate]

Andre Kona opened the scoring for DR Congo, but things could have gone very wrong for the favourites after Denis Masina drew Swaziland level. Kona eventually came to the Leopards' rescue again, with his extra-time winner ending the valiant challenge of the Sihlangu Semnikati.


The Congo - 1 (R Akiana 66)

Rwanda - 1 (D Pedros 111)

[aet, Rwanda win 2-1 on aggregate]

Congo left-back Jules Tchimbakala and Rwanda right-back Iranus Aliadiere (Jeremie's long-lost grey cousin) were both sent off in a combative first period. Richard Akiana's second-half goal for Congo then sent the tie into extra-time, where Djibril Pedros' away goal decided it in the Wasps' favour.


Togo - 3 (KA Assignon 8, K Agboh 63, D Oyawolé 71)

Mauritania - 0

[Togo win 5-0 on aggregate]

Togo could well go a long way if this performance suggests anything. Komlan Agbeko Assignon strengthened their advantage after eight minutes, with Kwami Agboh and Djima Oyawolé later securing the win. Mauritania needed a lot more than they had.


Uganda - 0

Tunisia - 3 (A Sellimi 16,88, K Sdirir 38)

[Tunisia win 4-0 on aggregate]

Tunisia are still going strong in the qualifiers, thanks to a couple of goals from Adel Sellimi in Kampala. Karim Sdirir also played his part in securing a comfortable aggregate win over Uganda for the Eagles of Carthage, whose captain Zoubaier Baya stupidly got sent off after an hour.


Zimbabwe - 1 (G Mushangazhike 3)

Malawi - 0

[Zimbabwe win 2-0 on aggregate]

If Madonna plans to adopt any Malawian babies in the future, the chances are that they won't have much footballing talent. Malawi were out of the World Cup quicker than a ray of light, thanks to Gilbert Mushangazhike, who must be a linguistic nightmare for Zimbabwean soccer commentators!

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Big shock that both Algeria and Senegal exit proceedings early. I won quite a decent amount of money betting on Senegal to beat France in the opening game of the real life 2002 World Cup, a bet placed with rumours that the French were imploding in their camp.

I hope a similar early exit fate doesn't rob the Finals of the obvious big favourites, the mighty Kyrgyzstan :-D  

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1 minute ago, neilhoskins77 said:

Big shock that both Algeria and Senegal exit proceedings early. I won quite a decent amount of money betting on Senegal to beat France in the opening game of the real life 2002 World Cup, a bet placed with rumours that the French were imploding in their camp.

I hope a similar early exit fate doesn't rob the Finals of the obvious big favourites, the mighty Kyrgyzstan :-D  

Nice. Meanwhile, 12-year-old muggins here reckoned that France would sweep through to the Semis and Senegal wouldn't get a single point. At least my prediction that Brazil would win the whole thing was spot-on. :D

Senegal's exit was a massive shock, though to be fair, they were missing quite a few real-life star players from the database. Algeria's real-life team wasn't very good in this World Cup cycle, but as they'd probably benefitted most from me adding second nationalities to several players in the game database, I'd expected them to do a lot better here.

The AFC qualifiers don't start until May 2001 (later than any other confederation), so it'll be a while before we see your beloved Kyrgyzstan.

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26 APRIL 2000

The first round of CONMEBOL qualifiers was bloomin' weird, wasn't it? If you'd told me four weeks ago that Argentina and Brazil would have lost their opening matches, I would've said that you were as mentally sane as David Icke... or perhaps even Glenn Hoddle.


Brazil's Maracanã defeat to regional minnows Venezuela was the worst start imaginable for them. If they were to lose against Ecuador as well tonight, there would be so many fans calling for the removal of head coach Émerson Leão that they could cover every grain of sand on Copacabana beach!


Argentina were also beaten in the opening round of fixtures by Bolivia. Tonight sees Marcelo Bielsa's Albiceleste host Colombia in rather more hospitable conditions. The Bolivians themselves face a tricky trip to Chile.


Meanwhile, Venezuela will target back-to-back victories when they welcome Uruguay to Caracas. Tonight's other match sees Paraguay go on the road again, this time to Peru. Let's hope for La Albirroja's sake that José Luis Chilavert hasn't left his gloves - or his scoring boots - at home.


CONMEBOL Qualifiers


Argentina - 4 (C López 14, G Batistuta 20,50,61)

Colombia - 2 (JP Angel 19, J Bolaňo 48)

After their shock opening-day loss, Argentina got back on track thanks to three goals from 'Batigol'. Gabriel Batistuta began his scoring spree shortly after Colombia's Juan Pablo Angel had cancelled out Claudio López's opener for La Albiceleste. Jorge Bolaňo also scored for Colombia, but since when has anybody cared about Parma's 'other' South American import?


Brazil - 1 (Rivaldo 4)

Ecuador - 0

One home loss against a continental minnow was bad enough for Brazil. Rivaldo personally vowed that Ecuador would not repeat Venezuela's heroics, scoring the game's only goal after four minutes. Incredibly, Brazil centre-half Zago was named 'man of the match' instead of the Barcelona superstar.


Chile - 1 (M Salas 38)

Bolivia - 1 (M Etcheverry 16)

DC United stalwart Marco Etcheverry got Bolivia off to a flyer after 16 minutes. Chile equalised shortly before half-time through Marcelo Salas (obviously). Surprisingly, that was the end of the scoring in a pulsating and genuinely close match.


Peru - 0

Paraguay - 0

In case you didn't know already, José Luis Chilavert is a freakin' legend. The 34-year-old goalkeeper, who has scored more international goals than Steve Bull, kept a magnificent clean sheet in Lima to earn Paraguay another draw. Peru obviously needed more marmalade sandwiches from their friend Paddington at half-time.


Venezuela - 2 (C Casseress 13,84)

Uruguay - 1 (F O'Neill 24)

It's back-to-back victories for little ol' Venezuela, after a similarly unlikely double from young striker Christián Casseress. Uruguay never recovered from Gustavo Poyet's moment of madness in the 24th minute, when he celebrated Fabián O'Neill's leveller by kicking a sponsor board and getting sent off. Silly Gus. He should know that the only guy who can pull that off is Temuri Ketsbaia.


                                   P     W     D     L     F     A     GD    PTS
1.          Venezuela              2     2     0     0     3     1     2     6
2.          Bolivia                2     1     1     0     2     1     1     4
3.          Argentina              2     1     0     1     4     3     1     3
4.          Brazil                 2     1     0     1     1     1     0     3
5.          Ecuador                2     1     0     1     1     1     0     3
6.          Chile                  2     0     2     0     2     2     0     2
7.          Paraguay               2     0     2     0     1     1     0     2
8.          Uruguay                2     0     1     1     2     3     -1    1
9.          Peru                   2     0     1     1     0     1     -1    1
10.         Colombia               2     0     1     1     3     5     -2    1


7 MAY 2000

We are getting closer and closer to knowing our full line-up for the CONCACAF Semi Finals. Indeed, two teams from the Central American Zone could book their places in the penultimate dozen tonight.


Costa Rica will be guaranteed to finish top of Group 1 if tonight's meeting between Belize and Guatemala ends in a draw. Realistically, either side needs to win to have any chance of overhauling Los Ticos. Effectively, though, they're simply battling for an Interzone Playoff place.


In Group 2, El Salvador need just a point against Nicaragua to top the table and qualify for the Semi Finals. By my reckoning, the visitors need to win by at least four goals to have any hope of going through automatically.


Meanwhile, Round 3 is about to start in the Caribbean Zone. Six teams - headed by Netherlands Antilles, Surinam and Trinidad & Tobago - are in two-legged action once again, but this round isn't strictly 'knockout'. The winners go through to the Semi Finals by right, but the losers will progress to the Interzone Playoff round, where they have another chance to join them.


CONCACAF Caribbean Zone Round 3


Barbados vs Trinidad & Tobago

Surinam vs Guyana

Netherlands Antilles vs St Kitts & Nevis


Trinidad & Tobago disappointed me a little in the previous two rounds, but Barbados have looked much more threatening going forward. That match really could go either way, as could Surinam versus Guyana. However, I doubt St Kitts & Nevis are cunning enough to sneak into the Semi Finals at the expense of the Netherlands Antilles.


Leg 1 Results

Barbados - 1 (M McCammon 81)

Trinidad & Tobago - 1 (S John 67)

Trinidad & Tobago continued their pursuit of qualification by attacking Barbados with all their might. Stern John eventually broke through after 67 minutes, but his goal wouldn't enough for the Soca Warriors to take a first-leg advantage, as Mark McCammon levelled for Barbados late on.


Netherlands Antilles - 0

St Kitts & Nevis - 3 (C Willock 9,58, L James 67)

I had the Netherlands Antilles as favourites to win this tie, but it doesn't look good for them now. St Kitts & Nevis were in lethal form, scoring from three of their four shots on target. Callum Willock found the net twice before Bury's Lutel James rounded off a convincing away win.


Surinam - 0

Guyana - 1 (C Cort 34)

Surinam's World Cup dream has turned a little sour. Carl Cort continued his lethal scoring form for Guyana by firing them into the lead, while his brother Leon helped to secure yet another shut-out. Who'd have thought the Cort brothers were overpowered on CM00/01?


CONCACAF Central American Zone

Group 1 Result

Belize - 0

Guatemala - 0

Belize must be pretty poor if they can't score at home against a team who had 10 men for 86 minutes. After being sent off in the fourth minute, Guatemala striker Jesús Miguel Moreno Vázquez booked a very early bath, and possibly even a spa break as well. His colleagues held on for a point, which should now get them into the Interzone Playoff. Costa Rica have won the group with a match to spare.


GROUP 1                            P     W     D     L     F     A     GD    PTS
1.    Q     Costa Rica             3     2     0     1     5     2     3     6
2.          Guatemala              4     1     2     1     3     4     -1    5
3.          Belize                 3     0     2     1     1     3     -2    2


Group 2 Result

El Salvador - 2 (R Diaz Arce 10,51)

Nicaragua - 1 (J Ruiz Otxoa 64)

That's now three wins in a row for El Salvador, who are into the Semi Finals without breaking much sweat! Goodness knows where on earth they would be without Raul Diaz Arce, whose brace took him up to 46 goals for the campaign (okay, it's actually NINE). Jaume Ruiz Otxoa pegged one goal back for Nicaragua, but that was just a consolation.


GROUP 2                            P     W     D     L     F     A     GD    PTS
1.   Q      El Salvador            4     3     0     1     10    4     6     9
2.          Panama                 3     1     0     2     3     5     -2    3
3.          Nicaragua              3     1     0     2     2     6     -4    3


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21 MAY 2000

If you're a Chelsea fan (like one of my old PE teachers), I could probably forgive you for nursing a sore head today (though not for supporting Chelsea, obviously).


The Blues won yesterday's FA Cup Final, defeating Aston Villa 1-0 under the soon-to-be-demolished Twin Towers. Midfield maestro Roberto Di Matteo won the game with his second-most-memorable Wembley goal, while George Weah had the honour of becoming the second Liberian to win the world's oldest football competition. Of course, Arsenal great Christopher Wreh beat him by a couple of years.


Tonight, though, global attention is back on CONCACAF's World Cup preliminaries.


There is plenty to play for in the second legs of our Caribbean Zone Round 3 matches. Just to remind you, the three winners will go straight into the Semi Finals, while the losers have to negotiate the Interzone Playoff for another chance to get there.


And in the Central American Zone, there is... well, not a lot to play for. Costa Rica have won Group 1, and El Salvador are guaranteed to join them in the Semis as Group 2 winners. It's just a matter of which teams finish as runners-up in those groups and advance to the Interzone Playoff.


Guatemala are set to come 2nd in Group 1, unless Belize win big in Costa Rica. In all honesty, that sounds about as likely as Scotland losing a World Cup group match against some little Central American country in Gen... oh, er...


In Group 2, it's more straightforward. Nicaragua have to beat Panama at home to advance to another round. If they can't, then Panama will lay their hats on the Interzone Playoff and call it home.


CONCACAF Caribbean Zone Round 3

Leg 2 Results

Guyana - 3 (C Cort 31,37, B Bradley 54)

Surinam - 1 (S Pasveer 88)

[Guyana win 4-1 on aggregate]

We could well be blessed with seeing Carl Cort at the World Cup! Newcastle's third-best striker (after Alan Shearer and Daniel 'Claudio Caniggia' Cordone) helped himself to another two goals for Guyana, whose captain Bernard Bradley secured their place in the Semis. Silvan Pasveer's consolation came too late to prevent Surinam from dropping into the Interzone Playoff.


St Kitts & Nevis - 1 (B Carolan 44)

Netherlands Antilles - 1 (L Kantelberg 73)

[St Kitts & Nevis win 4-1 on aggregate]

There was more Dutch disappointment for the Netherlands Antilles, who will have to negotiate an extra round, despite Leon Kantelberg's late leveller in Basseterre. The Sugar Boyz had already secured progression to the Semi Finals thanks to a goal on the stroke of half-time from B Carolan. Yes, really. His first name is B.


Trinidad & Tobago - 1 (L Lewis 14)

Barbados - 2 (G Goodridge 35, M Gilkes 46)

[Barbados win 3-2 on aggregate]

Trinidad & Tobago will have to take the scenic route to South Korea and Japan. Lenson Lewis put the Soca Warriors on course for automatic qualification to the Semi Finals, but Greg Goodridge and Michael Gilkes pulled Barbados ahead and kept them there.


CONCACAF Central American Zone

Group 1 Result

Costa Rica - 2 (P Wanchope 3, R Gomez 79)

Belize - 0

Costa Rica were already through to the next phase, but the Group 1 winners finished off this round in style. Paulo Wanchope took all of three minutes to open the scoring against bottom team Belize, who were then killed off by a late strike from the returning Ronald Gomez. Guatemala now advance to the Interzone Playoff.


GROUP 1                            P     W     D     L     F     A     GD    PTS
1.    Q     Costa Rica             4     3     0     1     7     2     5     9
2.    Pl    Guatemala              4     1     2     1     3     4     -1    5
3.          Belize                 4     0     2     2     1     5     -4    2


Group 2 Result

Nicaragua - 0

Panama - 0

Nicaragua needed a win to finish 2nd in the group and stay in the qualifiers. They couldn't even provide a meaningful test for Iurgi Besora - the man in goal for PANAMA! We sadly won't see Los Pinoleros again, but I will probably make a few more subtle Van Halen references in the Interzone Playoff.


GROUP 2                            P     W     D     L     F     A     GD    PTS
1.   Q      El Salvador            4     3     0     1     10    4     6     9
2.   Pl     Panama                 4     1     1     2     3     5     -2    4
3.          Nicaragua              4     1     1     2     2     6     -4    4


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3 JUNE 2000

Birmingham and Wigan fans, stand by. The CONCACAF Interzone Playoffs are starting, and that means we're finally going to get our first glimpse of Honduras in these World Cup qualifiers.


Los Catrachos are amongst six teams battling for the confederation's last three Semi Final places. Central American rivals Guatemala and Panama - fresh from finishing 2nd in their respective groups - will also have high hopes of progressing to that penultimate round.


The field is completed by Netherlands Antilles, Surinam and Trinidad & Tobago from the Caribbean Zone. Their confidence levels will have been dented somewhat by defeats in Round 3, but they've certainly got enough talent to bounce back. The Trinbagonians could be particularly troublesome opponents if Dwight Yorke proves to be as prolific in his homeland as he is at Old Trafford.


CONCACAF Interzone Playoff


Honduras vs Guatemala

Surinam vs Netherlands Antilles

Trinidad & Tobago vs Panama


Either Honduras or Guatemala will be going out early after the Central American duo were drawn against one another. Local rivals Panama could well be heading for the exit too, as they've been paired with Yorke and his mates. The all-Dutch battles between Surinam and the Netherlands Antilles look like being mouth-watering ones.


Leg 1 Results

Honduras - 2 (AA Martínez García 4, E Bennett 13)

Guatemala - 0

Our first look at Steve Bruce's future hunting ground is an encouraging one. Honduras took the lead very early on through midfielder Antonio Atanasio Martínez García, who - unfortunately for the Huddersfield manager and best-selling author - isn't a real player. They then consolidated their advantage through experienced striker Eduardo Bennett. Now he is real, Steve. Honest.


Surinam - 0

Netherlands Antilles - 1 (R Nelisse 47)

This first battle between the Dutch colonies ended with the Netherlands Antilles striking a potentially telling blow away from home. De Antilopen put Surinam under extended attacking pressure, and AZ ace Robin Nelisse eventually broke through early in the second period.


Trinidad & Tobago - 1 (D Yorke 45)

Panama - 0

Oh how we've longed for the grand (28-year-)old duke Dwight Yorke to march into action. The Manchester United striker and supermodel botherer exploded for T&T just before half-time. The Soca Warriors have the edge over Panama, whose midfielder Rayco Bello was sent off in the closing stages.


4 JUNE 2000

As if you really needed reminding, Venezuela have never qualified for the World Cup. To be fair to our Amazonian friends, that country is perhaps the only one in South America where football is not the number one sport. They instead prefer baseball, which is somewhat ironic when you consider that President Hugo Chávez is a fiercely anti-American communist.


Victories in their opening two qualifiers for Korea/Japan 2002, though, have got Venezuela's few soccer fans dreaming of a debut appearance on the global stage. A third victory on the trot tonight would make the improbable look perfectly plausible.


Awaiting La Vinotinto, however, is a major test - probably tougher than facing Brazil at the Maracanã. Bolivia are notoriously tough to beat on home soil, and they have also emerged from their opening two qualifiers undefeated, so they're in form.


Brazil have made a slow start to the qualifiers, which is perhaps not that surprising when you consider that striking phenomenon Ronaldo is out with a long-term knee ligament injury. They will need the other two R's - Romário and Rivaldo - to fill a large goalscoring void when they visit Colombia tonight.


Argentina's 4-2 win over Colombia last time out suggested that their opening defeat to Bolivia is now in the past. La Albiceleste are now turning their weapons in the direction of Paraguay, who started off with a couple of draws. Chile, who also drew their opening qualifiers, are away to Ecuador.


Finally, Uruguay await the visit of Peru, with both teams still searching for their first victories. Indeed, the Peruvians are the only team in these qualifiers who have not yet scored any goals.


CONMEBOL Qualifiers


Bolivia - 1 (J Moreno 26)

Venezuela - 1 (G Savarese 90)

Fast-starters Venezuela remain unbeaten, but only just. DC United midfielder Jaime Moreno's lethal finish for Bolivia looked like being the match-winner until the 90th minute, when fellow MLS veteran Giovanni Savarese came to Venezuela's rescue. I expect former New England striker Savarese to continue that fine form for his new club Swansea in Division 2.


Colombia - 0

Brazil - 0

It's just like watching Brazil - that's the Blue Brazil, otherwise known as Cowdenbeath. This was a close-fought battle, but not a particularly exciting one, with the Seleção a long way from their best. Colombian centre-half Jorge Bermúdez was handed the man of the match award... as soon as the awards committee had woken up.


Ecuador - 0

Chile - 1 (M Salas 42)

Ecuador specialise in 1-0s, but this is the second time they've been on the wrong end of one. An otherwise eventless meeting in Guayaquil (you can tell I've been practicing that name, can't you?) was decided by a 42nd-minute strike from Marcelo Salas - Chile's only available goalscorer. Sebastian Rozental is still stranded in a landfill somewhere in Glasgow.


Paraguay - 4 (JC Enciso 21, R Santa Cruz 26, MÁ Benítez 76, D Gavilan 86)

Argentina - 0

Argentina have big issues. La Albicelese had already conceded to Julio César Enciso when defender José Antonio Chamot was dismissed. Roque Santa Cruz then added a second goal for Paraguay, who were themselves reduced to 10 men by a red card for Roberto Miguel Acuña. However, that didn't stop Miguel Ángel Benítez and Diego Gavilan rubbing more salt into Argentine wounds later on.


Uruguay - 2 (F O'Neill 80, W Pandiani 90)

Peru - 0

Without the suspended Gustavo Poyet to guide the way, Uruguay took their sweet time figuring out how to beat Peru. They eventually broke the deadlock after 80 minutes through Fábian O'Neill, who surely should be playing for the Republic of Ireland with that name. Victory was then secured by Walter Pandiani, whose long-term career goal is apparently to play under Steve Bruce at Birmingham.


                                   P     W     D     L     F     A     GD    PTS
1.          Venezuela              3     2     1     0     4     2     2     7
2.          Paraguay               3     1     2     0     5     1     4     5
3.          Bolivia                3     1     2     0     3     2     1     5
4.          Chile                  3     1     2     0     3     2     1     5
5.          Uruguay                3     1     1     1     4     3     1     4
6.          Brazil                 3     1     1     1     1     1     0     4
7.          Ecuador                3     1     0     2     1     2     -1    3
8.          Argentina              3     1     0     2     4     7     -3    3
9.          Colombia               3     0     2     1     3     5     -2    2
10.         Peru                   3     0     1     2     0     3     -2    1


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17 JUNE 2000

This is it, folks. It's the middle of June, and you know what that means! It's Jordan Henderson's 10th birthday!


More importantly, today is the day that this CM00/01 save game officially starts. From now on, every match will be simulated in full. That means I'm able to write slightly more detailed match reports.


Round 2 of the CAF qualifiers kicks off today, with the opening group games. Just to remind you, the 25 teams who came through Round 1 have been divided into five groups of four. Once everyone has played each of their group opponents twice, the top teams in each pool will secure their places at the 2002 World Cup.


Four of the African teams who qualified for the real-life 2002 finals - Cameroon, Nigeria, South Africa and Tunisia - are still in the hunt. Significantly, those four teams have been drawn into separate groups, meaning that we could potentially see all of them in Asia. Then again, the likes of Angola, Egypt and Ghana might have other ideas.


We'll also see the second legs of CONCACAF's Interzone Playoff ties take place tonight. Once they're finished, we'll have filled the last three vacancies in the 12-team Semi Final line-up.


Guatemala, Netherlands Antilles and Trinidad & Tobago all carry narrow first-leg leads into their rematches. Honduras could yet turn it around against Guatemala on home soil, as could Panama when they host the Trinbagonians. However, Surinam have it all to do in Curacao after losing their home leg to the Dutch Antilles.


In completely unrelated news, Conference side Nuneaton have announced the appointment of a total unknown as their new manager. Billy Holiday is a 35-year-old English/Albanian coach with no prior experience of managing at a semi-professional level, though he does have a fondness for jazz music.


It's not yet known whether Holiday will have a hands-on role at Manor Park. Some sceptical Boro fans have speculated that he might randomly jet off to various locations around the world to watch top-level international football and leave his assistant to run the club in his stead.


Come to think of it, I'm not entirely sure why I mentioned that. You're only here because you're interested in the World Cup. Why should I be letting you know about events at some provincial club in Worcestershire?


Okay, I've just been informed by my secretary - who also has a second job as my pet cat - that Nuneaton is in Warwickshire, not Worcestershire. Anyway, let's get back on topic...


CAF Round 2

Group Draw

GROUP 1: Democratic Republic of Congo, Egypt, Namibia, Nigeria, Sudan

Nigeria might have the pedigree, but they've got to fend off a couple more big dogs to qualify this time around. Egypt are consistently amongst the top teams in Africa and were continental champions as recently as 1998. DR Congo probably have as good a chance of qualifying as they ever have done since reaching the finals as Zaire in 1974.


GROUP 2: Benin, Ghana, Kenya, Liberia, Tunisia

Tonight's match between Ghana and Tunisia could effectively be a group decider. While Tunisia have graced the World Cup stage recently, Ghana have a strong and young-ish team hungry to make history. Liberia could also launch a challenge for top spot, provided that George Weah continues to make himself available for selection.


GROUP 3: Angola, Ethiopia, Gabon, Rwanda, South Africa

Of the top seeds, South Africa probably have the easiest group. Angola - with a decent team consisting largely of Portuguese-based diaspora - look like being Bafana Bafana's only real challengers on paper. I doubt that either Gabon or Rwanda can keep pace with those two in the long run, but they might be able to put some obstacles in the way.


GROUP 4: Gambia, Ivory Coast, Morocco, Mozambique, São Tomé & Príncipe

Morocco qualified for Round 2 comfortably, but the Ivory Coast are a fearsome team who could easily steal their tickets to the Far East. Those two sides clash in the opening round tonight, so we'll soon learn a lot about their credentials. The others - including 1960s legend Eusébio's birthplace of Mozambique - will probably only be fighting for pride.


GROUP 5: Cameroon, Chad, Mali, Togo, Zimbabwe

8 out of 10 cats will probably tell you that Cameroon are dead-certs make it through the group. The Indomitable Lions' pride could be their downfall, though, as complacency might well set in at some point. They can't afford to let that happen - not against Mali, Togo or Zimbabwe, who will all be primed to take advantage of any mistakes.


Group 1 Results

Egypt - 1 (A Hassan 83)

Nigeria - 0

An inauspicious start for Nigeria. The Super Eagles had quite a few chances in the first half, but they couldn't find their way through a defensively resilient home team. Egypt then claimed a real smash-and-grab win in the 83rd minute - Denizlispor midfielder Ahmed Hassan stabbing home Mohammed Emara's cross with the Pharaohs' only shot on target. Please note that Ahmed Hassan is not to be confused with 17-year-old AA Gent striker Ahmed Hossam (otherwise known as Mido), who made his debut as a substitute.


Namibia - 0

Sudan - 0

This wasn't a particularly gripping game by any means. Namibia had five shots at goal all game, but none were on target, with striker Grahjam Shelton proving to be about as accurate as his parents' spelling. Sudan were hardly any better, though Karim Jam'an did force home goalkeeper Ronnie Kanalelo into a couple of saves.


Group 2 Results

Ghana - 1 (E Tetteh 4)

Tunisia - 0

Tunisia's bid to reach back-to-back World Cups suffered an early blow after four minutes, when "Tetteh scored!!" No, really - that's all the match report says about Emmanuel Tetteh's goal. The reporter must have rushed back from the restroom at the El Wak Sports stadium in Accra. Anyone who missed that goal would have been gutted, as although Ghana had 10 more shots on target, Tunisian goalkeeper Boubaker Zitouni played a blinder to keep the scoreline at 1-0.


Kenya - 1 (D Jyrkin 16)

Benin - 3 (L D'Jaffo 60,80, PE Bonalair 71)

It looked like being an uphill struggle for Benin when winger Rodrigue Akpakoun came off injured after just six minutes, and David Jyrkin fired Kenya into the lead 10 minutes later. However, the match turned in the 36th minute, when home midfielder Valery Urdaneta inexplicably headbutted Benin defender Jeremie Nicolas and received a straight red card. The Squirrels then fought back in the second half, with two goals from Laurent D'Jaffo and one from Pierre-Emmanuel Bonalair earning them an important early victory.


Group 3 Results

Angola - 3 (Quinzinho 11,67, Mantorras 66)

South Africa - 2 (P Masinga 45, G Mofokeng 48)

Quinzinho's early headed goal for Angola set the tone for a thrilling tussle. Sadly, South African winger Steve Lekoelea had to miss most of it after twisting his knee in the 38th minute. His compatriot Phil Masinga equalised on the stroke of half-time, and when Ajax teenager Gabriel Mofokeng made it 2-1 early in the second period, Bafana Bafana looked to be getting the points. That was until two goals in the space of two minutes from Mantorras and Quinzinho turned the match on its head again! The Palancas Negras snatched a 3-2 win, and South Africa had some early soul-searching to do.


Rwanda - 1 (A Mateso 29)

Ethiopia - 0

A close contest was decided on just a single goal, from Rwanda's Abdellah Mateso just before the half-hour. Mateso is a 34-year-old striker - currently at Dessel - who has spent pretty much his entire club career in Belgium. Despite Ethiopia's inability to score, their improbably-named grey defender Ricardo Henrique Marinucci-Palermo went home with the 'man of the match' award.


Group 4 Results

Gambia - 0

São Tomé & Príncipe - 2 (Orlando 4, JL Hernani 47)

I'm a sucker for attacking players named Orlando, so imagine my delight when a player with that moniker gave São Tomé & Príncipe the advantage early on. Things weren't looking good for the Gambia, and they got worse when striker Edrissa Sonko and centre-half Momo Dou Loum each sustained injuries later in the half. José Luis Hernani then rubbed further salt into the wounds, with his early second-half strike giving Senegal's conquerors the perfect start to the group phase.


Morocco - 3 (S Bassir 29,56,74)

Ivory Coast - 0

Anything Ali Elkhattabi can do, Salaheddine Bassir can do as well. The Deportivo hotshot followed up his Moroccan compatriot's hat-trick in the last round by getting another three goals in a dominant display against the Ivory Coast. Bassir got his first after just under half an hour, and a couple more strikes beat Alain Gouaméné after the teams switched ends. Les Éléphants failed to register a single shot at goal, which was just what they deserved after failing to call up Didier Drogba.


Group 5 Results

Chad - 0

Mali - 1 (A Karembe 68)

If Frédéric Kanouté isn't firing for you, then why not call up one of Auxerre's 652 hot prospects to get your goals instead? Mali manager - and 'Bohemian Rhapsody' lyric - Christian Sarramagna subbed Kanouté off just before half-time, and then introduced Alfousseyni Karembe to his attack early in the second half. Sure enough, 20-year-old Karembe finally broke Chad's resistance in the 68th minute, just 10 minutes into his cameo. The Malians then defended with all their might (and Djimi Traoré) before grinding out a narrow win.


Zimbabwe - 2 (G Mushangazhike 79, Kennedy 87)

Cameroon - 0

The Indomitable Lions? More like Domitable Lions, am I right?! Cameroon shot from here, there and everywhere in Harare, but the quality of Zimbabwe's shooting late on won out over the Group 5 favourites' quantity. The hosts took the lead after 79 minutes through a free-kick from Gilbert Mushangazhike (yes, that man again). Eight minutes after that came a second goal, this time from the rather more pronounceable Kennedy. The Aris midfielder's full name is Kennedy Nagoli, but he probably dropped his surname to sound a bit more Brazilian.


CONCACAF Interzone Playoff

Leg 2 Results

Guatemala - 2 (B Murúa 7, C Martínez Madrigal 18)

Honduras - 1 (E Bennett 64)

[Honduras win 3-2 on aggregate]

Guatemala erased their 2-0 first-leg deficit within 18 minutes, as Benito Murua and Crescensio Martínez Madrigal put La Azul y Blanco on the cusp of causing a minor shock. To make matters worse for Honduras, their captain Josep Yeste had injured himself in a valiant attempt to stop Martínez Madrigal from scoring. However, salvation for Los Catrachos came on 64 minutes through Eduardo Bennett, who converted a rebound strike after Guatemala goalie Damián García Muñoz. Honduras might have lost the second leg, but they'd won the tie and qualified for the Semi Finals.


Netherlands Antilles - 0

Surinam - 0

[Netherlands Antilles win 1-0 on aggregate]

Our Surinam-loving hipsters are in mourning tonight. Netherlands Antilles never remotely looked like surrendering their first-leg lead during a tame second match in Curacao. Once visiting midfielder Harvey Reingoud was forced off with a knock in the 38th minute, it was very much an uphill struggle for the 'Suriboys'. Still, Richard van der Kuylen and company can return home with their heads held high.


Panama - 2 (JC Dely Valdés 66, JG Luengo 77)

Trinidad & Tobago - 0

[Panama win 2-1 on aggregate]

If you haven't grown sick of my referring to a certain Van Halen song every time a certain team plays, then you're in luck! We won't be seeing Trinidad & Tobago in the Semi Finals, but we shall be hearing more from PANAMA! It took them 66 minutes to cancel out their deficit from the first leg through Julio César Dely Valdés. Not long after that, substitute José Gustavo Luengo delighted the home fans further, securing a 2-0 win that ended the dreams of Dwight Yorke's Soca Warriors.

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28 JUNE 2000

As we all know, South America is a hotbed for unconventional footballing heroes and villains, and a continent where shock results are never too far away. Even so, the table for the CONMEBOL World Cup qualifiers sure does look incredibly surreal after three rounds.


On the one hand, we've got Venezuela and Ecuador in the qualifying places, even though they've graced a grand total of zero World Cup tournaments between them. On the other, we've got Argentina, Brazil and Colombia outside the top five, and currently on course to miss the finals.


Of course, the old saying goes that the cream always rises to the top. The CONMEBOL qualifying tournament is a marathon, but we've barely completed the first few miles at this point. There's plenty of time for the big boys to overtake the pace-setters.


Tonight, I have a feeling that the tide will start to turn in favour of the established powers. Argentina are at home to an inconsistent Uruguay team.


Brazil also have a tricky match, but beating Chile away from home could be the moment where they start to show why they finished runners-up in France a couple of years ago. By that, I obviously don't mean that their star striker fell ill on the morning of the Final.


As for top-of-the-table Venezuela, don't be surprised if the same team who defeated Brazil at the Maracanã went on to lose at home to fellow minnows Ecuador. That would just be typical.


CONMEBOL Qualifiers


Argentina - 2 (G Batistuta 31, HJ Crespo 45)

Uruguay - 2 (Á Recoba pen19, D Silva 20)

Argentina's nightmare start to the qualifiers worsened when a reckless two-footed lunge on Uruguay striker Darío Silva saw midfield destroyer Fernando Carlos Redondo concede a penalty and a red card. Álvaro Recoba scored said penalty, and Silva made it 2-0 to La Celeste barely a minute later. Luckily for La Albiceleste, they had two of Serie A's most-feared strikers to call upon, and Gabriel Batistuta and Hernan Jorge Crespo erased the arrears just before half-time. Though Argentina couldn't muster a third goal after the restart, they did at least avoid a third defeat.


Chile - 0

Brazil - 2 (Vágner 20, Romário 23)

Chile's unbeaten start was crushed by the 'Ride of the Valkyries'. After 20 minutes, Celta's newly-capped Brazil midfielder Vágner decided on a whim that he would dribble halfway up the Estadio Nacional pitch and then lash in a fantastic solo goal. The Seleção doubled their lead three minutes later, with Romário getting his 54th goal in the yellow and blue. Chile battled hard to try and get back level, but Cafú was simply unbeatable in the Brazilian defence. All of a sudden, life is good for the four-time world champions again.


Paraguay - 2 (C Paredes 40, P Sarabia 65)

Colombia - 2 (H Lozano 51, I Córdoba 70)

Defending went out the window in a thrilling contest. Carlos Paredes' clinical header in the 40th minute put Paraguay ahead until Harold Lozano nodded in a goal of his own six minutes into the second half. Colombia then had to come back from behind again, with left-back Iván Cordoba doing the honours after Paraguayan centre-half Pedro Sarabia had scored a similarly unlikely goal. La Albirroja remain without a loss, but Los Cafeteros are still to register their first victory.


Peru - 2 (C Pizarro pen73, P Zegarra 87)

Bolivia - 0

Despite being under pressure for most of the match, Bolivia were looking quite good until they imploded in the final 20 minutes. Grey Bolivian left-back José Emiliano Esnal had been on the pitch for mere seconds when he pulled on Peru midfielder Martin Rodriguez's shirt in his own area. Esnal left the field without so much as breaking sweat, and Claudio Pizarro's penalty put Peru on track for a victory that they then secured through Pablo Zegarra. By then, La Verde had gone down to NINE men, as Erwin Sánchez had himself been sent off after 77 minutes for a two-footed lunge on Nolberto Solano.


Venezuela - 1 (G Savarese 39)

Ecuador - 1 (D Herrera 89)

This battle between the two CONMEBOL members that had never qualified for the World Cup was as tense as you would probably expect. Leaders Venezuela's pursuit of the opening goal yielded a reward in the 39th minute, when Giovanni Savarese headed home from Félix Hernandez's cross. It looked like they would go on to secure a third win in four matches, but Ecuador had other ideas. Substitute winger Diego Herrera's header in the penultimate minute salvaged a draw, and silenced the hosts' maracas in Caracas. (I'm here all week!)


                                   P     W     D     L     F     A     GD    PTS
1.          Venezuela              4     2     2     0     5     3     2     8
2.          Brazil                 4     2     1     1     3     1     2     7
3.          Paraguay               4     1     3     0     7     3     4     6
4.          Uruguay                4     1     2     1     6     5     1     5
5.          Bolivia                4     1     2     1     3     4     -1    5
6.          Chile                  4     1     2     1     3     4     -1    5
7.          Ecuador                4     1     1     2     2     3     -1    4
8.          Peru                   4     1     1     2     2     3     -1    4
9.          Argentina              4     1     1     2     6     9     -3    4
10.         Colombia               4     0     3     1     5     7     -2    3


9 JULY 2000

This time last week, the eyes of millions of European football fans were firmly on events in Rotterdam - a city that could be anywhere, anywhere alone. Anywhere alone.


Belgium and the Netherlands had co-hosted a truly wonderful European Championship, which had been enjoyed by everyone involved (okay, maybe not Phil Neville... or the Belgian police). The Final between France and Italy proved to be a fitting climax.


When Marco Delvecchio gave Italy the lead after 55 minutes, it looked like the Azzurri would claim their first major trophy since 1982. However, a last-minute equaliser from France's Sylvain Wiltord (who would later become one of my favourite Arsenal players) sent the match into extra-time, where David Trezeguet's golden goal turned the World Cup winners into European champions.


Les Bleus will now set their sights on what would be a record third consecutive major trophy victory. Meanwhile, the race to join them at the 2002 World Cup finals continues tonight, in Africa.


Round 2 of the CAF qualifiers began three weeks ago, with more than a few surprises. Cameroon, Nigeria, South Africa and Tunisia - four of Africa's five representatives at the last World Cup - all lost their opening group fixtures, and they'll all be desperate to make amends tonight.


Nigeria made a shaky start in Group 1, but they should collect their first points when they host the Democratic Republic of Congo. Meanwhile, the Super Eagles' early conquerors Egypt are targeting back-to-back victories when they travel to Sudan.


Tunisia are also looking to recover from an early setback in Group 2, with an apparently simple home match against Kenya looking like the ideal game to kick-start their Round 2 campaign. Their opening loss came against Ghana, who travel to Liberia next.


In Group 3, South Africa had been rather unfortunate to lose their first fixture 3-2 to Angola, having led 2-1 with half an hour to go. Bafana Bafana will need to keep calm when they welcome Gabon to Johannesburg. Angola's second victory could come in Ethiopia.


Of Africa's so-called 'big five', Cameroon look most vulnerable in Group 5. A couple of late goals from Zimbabwe condemned the so-called Indomitable Lions to an opening-day loss, and a home meeting with Togo represents another potential banana skin for them.


In Group 4, Morocco were the only African finalists from France '98 to win their opening fixture, seeing off the Ivory Coast by three Salaheddine Bassir goals to nil. Bassir looks in fine fettle going into the Atlas Lions' away match against Mozambique, so I expect even more goals from the 27-year-old Deportivo striker.


It's worth noting that there will be a long break from World Cup qualifying action for the African nations after this round of fixtures. They won't be kicking any more balls in anger - and certainly not like Zaire's Mwepu Ilunga at the 1974 finals - until January.


CAF Round 2

Group 1 Results

Nigeria - 3 (V Agali 13, G Lawal 39, JJ Okocha 71)

Democratic Republic of Congo - 0

After a shock opening-day loss, Nigeria's Super Eagles have taken flight. Victor Agali began a convincing win over DR Congo by heading in Finidi's right-wing cross in the 13th minute. Agali then assisted for left-winger Garba Lawal just before half-time. Jay Jay Okocha completed the rout in the 71st minute with a vicious piledriver that will undoubtedly have impressed Bolton's up-and-coming coach Sam Allardyce. DR Congo did put up a brave fight, but they were no match for a far superior team.


Sudan - 1 (R Al-Sadik 41)

Egypt - 3 (Mido 9,66,78)

Ladies and gentlemen, remember the name - erm, Mido! The man otherwise known as Ahmed Hossam volleyed in a weighted ball from Ahmed Hassan after nine minutes. Sudan equalised through a stunning free-kick from captain Rifat Al-Sadik on the stroke of half-time, but the second half was dominated by a 17-year-old Egyptian starlet. Mido confidently chipped Sudanese keeper Don Sulaimani in the 66th minute, and then beat the Don for a third time 12 minutes later. His dream hat-trick sends the Pharaohs to the top of Group 1.


GROUP 1                            P     W     D     L     F     A     GD    PTS
1.          Egypt                  2     2     0     0     4     1     3     6
2.          Nigeria                2     1     0     1     3     1     2     3
3.          Namibia                1     0     1     0     0     0     0     1
4.          Sudan                  2     0     1     1     1     3     -2    1
5.          DR Congo               1     0     0     1     0     3     -3    0


Group 2 Results

Liberia - 1 (D Gould pen83)

Ghana - 0

This was always Ghana be a close game, but it was Liberia who took the points. The visitors hammered shots at goal, only to be routinely denied by Liberia goalkeeper Anthony Tokpah. As for Ghana's number 1... well, things didn't go to plan for Richard Kingston. The man who will soon lose a 't' from his surname lost the plot in the 82nd minute, collecting a red card for a professional foul on Robbie Cuss. As George Weah was busy negotiating a move to Manchester City, Daniele Gould fired the subsequent penalty past sub keeper Richard Attram, earning the Lone Stars a surprise win over the Black Stars.


Tunisia - 3 (Z Tlemcani 20, S Fekhi 32, A Sellimi 61)

Kenya - 0

Tunisia registered their first win of this phase, and in some style. Jet-heeled striker Ziad Tlemcani opened the scoring midway through the first half before Kenya's hopes were dented further by an injury to Brazilian-sounding centre-back Valdo (real name Evans Nyabaro). Sofiane Fekhi piled on the visitors' misery after half an hour, and Adel Sellimi made it 3-0 at the hour mark. After two defeats from two games, it'll take one heck of a comeback for the Harambee Stars to qualify now.


GROUP 2                            P     W     D     L     F     A     GD    PTS
1.          Benin                  1     1     0     0     3     1     2     3
2.          Tunisia                2     1     0     1     3     1     2     3
3.          Liberia                1     1     0     0     1     0     1     3
4.          Ghana                  2     1     0     1     1     1     0     3
5.          Kenya                  2     0     0     2     1     6     -5    0


Group 3 Results

Ethiopia - 0

Angola - 1 (Quinzinho 51)

I absolutely love the names of some of these grey players. Ethiopia's central defender Waldenildo Jeffers (no relation to Francis) was named man of the match after a valiant display that restricted Angola to just a single goal. The Palancas Negras took 51 minutes to break through, eventually doing so through a fantastic low drive from Porto striker Quinzinho. The visitors had further chances later on, but one goal was enough to keep them at the head of Group 3.


South Africa - 3 (JL Moshoeu 8,57, Q Fortune 79)

Gabon - 0

John Leshiba Moshoeu sadly died from cancer in 2015, but his legacy lives on in Championship Manager. 'Shoes' - as the popular South African midfielder was nicknamed - scored in either half as Bafana Bafana won their opening home game of this qualifying round. Mark Fish and Quinton Fortune each provided assists for Moshoeu. Indeed, Manchester United winger Fortune would himself find the net in the 79th minute. Gabon never got close to scoring, partly because Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has only just celebrated his 11th birthday.


GROUP 3                            P     W     D     L     F     A     GD    PTS
1.          Angola                 2     2     0     0     4     2     2     6
2.          South Africa           2     1     0     1     5     3     2     3
3.          Rwanda                 1     1     0     0     1     0     1     3
4.          Ethiopia               2     0     0     2     0     2     -2    0
5.          Gabon                  1     0     0     1     0     3     -3    0


Group 4 Results

Ivory Coast - 1 (D Bakari 14)

Gambia - 0

Lille striker Dagui Bakari perhaps isn't as well-known as some of his Ivory Coast team-mates. Nevertheless, he came to the fore in Abidjan, where he volleyed in the decisive goal against Gambia. A sublime volley from Félix Dja Ettien's delivery into the penalty area proved too much for away keeper Dembo Touray. Things then got too much for compatriot Ebou Sillah, who twisted his knee in the 57th minute. The Gambia have now had THREE players leave a match injured already in this group phase, which begs the question: Have they borrowed Darren Anderton's physio?


Mozambique - 0

Morocco - 4 (S Bassir 19, H Regragui 24, A Elkhattabi 41, M Hadji 50)

North Africa's great entertainers put on another goalscoring feast in Maputo. An early red card for Mozambique winger Mário Artur, who'd pushed Youssef Chippo in full view of the referee, allowed Morocco to run riot. Salaheddine Bassir (Deportivo) opened the floodgates in the 19th minute, and he would soon be joined on the scoresheet by Hoalid Regragui (Toulouse) and Ali Elkhattabi (Sparta). The rout was then finished off early in the second half by an outstanding midfielder who'd already produced two assists - Mustapha Hadji (erm, Coventry).


GROUP 4                            P     W     D     L     F     A     GD    PTS
1.          Morocco                2     2     0     0     7     0     7     6
2.          São Tomé & Príncipe    1     1     0     0     2     0     2     3
3.          Ivory Coast            2     1     0     1     1     3     -2    3
4.          Gambia                 2     0     0     2     0     3     -3    0
5.          Mozambique             1     0     0     1     0     4     -4    0


Group 5 Results

Cameroon - 3 (P Njanka pen34, S Eto'o 65, P Wome 81)

Togo - 0

Still smarting from a humbling loss in Zimbabwe, Cameroon took their anger out on poor ol' Togo. The Indomitable Lions had 10 shots on target, but their first goal came in the 34th minute through a Pierre Njanka penalty after Geremi had been fouled by Vikash Thirion. The second half then saw teenager Samuel Eto'o smash in a howitzer before politely asking his club Deportivo for a small raise on his £2,000-per-week salary. The rout was completed by another reasonably young (but no less talented) Cameroonian striker in Pierre Wome.


Mali - 2 (F Kanouté 53, M Keita 89)

Zimbabwe - 0

It's just typical of Zimbabwe to beat Cameroon, but then get comprehensively outplayed by Mali. The first half flew by with no highlights whatsoever, but that all changed in the second period. Frédéric Kanouté bagged his first goal in Malian colours eight minutes after the restart. Surprisingly, the Eagles wouldn't score again until captain Makan Keita sealed the points in the penultimate minute. I like Keita already, simply because he plays for a Greek club named Panelefsiniakos. I hope they qualify for the Champions League one day, if only to hear David Pleat have a go at pronouncing their name!


GROUP 5                            P     W     D     L     F     A     GD    PTS
1.          Mali                   2     2     0     0     3     0     3     6
2.          Cameroon               2     1     0     1     3     2     1     3
3.          Zimbabwe               2     1     0     1     2     2     0     3
4.          Chad                   1     0     0     1     0     1     -1    0
5.          Togo                   1     0     0     1     0     3     -3    0


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12 JULY 2000

The 35 teams who started the CONCACAF qualifiers have now been whittled down to 12, and the Semi Final phase is about to get underway.


This phase is where we'll catch our first glimpses of the region's top four teams. Canada, Jamaica, Mexico and the United States of America all bypassed the regional qualifiers and the Interzone Playoff, but now it's time we found out why they deserved their exemptions.


Mexico look like the early favourites to head the CONCACAF pack. They are blessed with plenty of fiery characters and attacking talents, and they could well cause nightmares for opposition defences.


I'm always being reassured that the USA have improved over recent years, but I'm still sceptical. For one thing, they've only had a professional league in place since 1996, and Major League Soccer has not yet captured the imagination of sports fans. Mind you, if the Yanks do prove me wrong and qualify for the World Cup again, they won't have much to live up to, having lost all three matches at France '98.


North of the border, Canada look like the weakest of the bigger nations. They've got a few decent talents, but lack any real depth. The same could be said of Jamaica, but with a large talent pool from the Premiership and the Football League to turn to, I reckon the Reggae Boyz will be fine in the end.


The lucky quartet, along with the eight victors from the earlier rounds, have been drawn into three groups of four. Every team plays their group opponents home-and-away, and only the top two sides in each pool can progress to the Final Round.


So, without further ado, let's look at the Semi Final groups. And yes, I meant ado, not Freddy Adu. I know he's supposed to be the boy wonder who turns into America's first soccer superstar, but at barely 11 years old, I highly doubt we'll see him just yet. (In fact, I can confidently say we won't see him at all, because this is CM00/01, not CM4.)


Now, where was I?



Group Draw

GROUP 1: Barbados, Canada, Costa Rica, Honduras

You would think that this is a three-way battle for two Final Round places. Canada start as narrow favourites, though Costa Rica and Honduras are both capable of topping the group if they can build up some momentum. Barbados' band of English lower-league heroes are likely to be floundering at the bottom of the field.


GROUP 2: Jamaica, Netherlands Antilles, Saint Kitts & Nevis, United States of America

If either the USA or Jamaica fail to come through this group, something is seriously wrong with them. These two teams acquitted themselves well at the last global tournament (well, at least Jamaica did) and have far more strength in depth than their rivals. The Netherlands Antilles might be able put up a fight or two, but St Kitts & Nevis? Forget it.


GROUP 3: El Salvador, Guyana, Mexico, Panama

I wouldn't put it past Mexico to sweep through this Group with six wins out of six. The other three teams are effectively battling it out to join El Tri in the final phase. The smart money will probably go on El Salvador, who topped a Central American Zone that included Panama, but Guyana can't be completely ruled out. After all, they've got Carl Cort.


Group 1 Results

Canada - 3 (D Xausa 2,21, K McKenna 56)

Barbados - 0

Remember when Davide Xausa would play for any Scottish club not based in Glasgow or Edinburgh? The Canadian forward - fresh from scoring 10 SFL goals in his first season at Inverness - opened the Maple Leafs' qualifying campaign with a handy brace. Barbados never recovered from Xausa's early blows, and they would concede again to Kevin McKenna early in the second period. 20-year-old defender McKenna headed home a cross from 19-year-old Miles Anthony O'Connor, so the future certainly looks bright for Holger Osieck and his team.


Honduras - 1 (E Bennett 17)

Costa Rica - 0

Costa Rica specialise in recruiting players who have peculiar mixes of Spanish and English names. It was quite ironic, then, that they lost this match to a goal from Honduras striker Eduardo Bennett in the 17th minute. The Argentine-based hotshot had a couple of later efforts saved by Los Ticos' goalkeeper Erick Lonis Bolaños. Sadly for the visitors, Bolaños' heroics would be for little, as Paulo Wanchope hit the bar just before full-time with a shot that could well have salvaged a point.


Group 2 Results

Jamaica - 3 (M Gayle 15, W Harris 24,59)

Netherlands Antilles - 1 (R Nelisse 87)

Feel the rhythm, feel the rhyme! The Reggae Boyz played all the right notes in the first half, with Marcus Gayle and Wolde Harris both finding the net. New England striker Harris would double his tally in the 59th minute, leaving Dutch Antillean goalkeeper Tieme Scheepens regretting his decision to drink some rum on the way to Kingston's National Stadium. Being a top-level Eredivisie player, Robin Nelisse could've been expected to stay sober, and his late strike gave the visitors something to take home.


St Kitts & Nevis - 0

United States of America - 4 (P Radosavljevic 6, E Wynalda 54, R Paule 64, F Hejduk 81)

Reality hit home for the Kittitians, who were made to look like kittens. Kansas City's evergreen midfielder Predrag Radosavljevic - or 'Preki' for short - fired Team USA's first shot in off the woodwork after six minutes. St Kitts & Nevis kept the score at 0-1 for a while, but when Sagi Burton was sent off just before half-time, they were left woefully exposed in defence. Eric Wynalda, Ross Paule and Leverkusen's Frankie Hejduk all scored in the second half to put the Yanks in pole position. Hang on a minute... Frankie Hejduk plays for Leverkusen? For real?!


Group 3 Results

Mexico - 3 (J Arellano 55, G Villa 65, Paco 69)

Guyana - 0

When the first half finished goalless at the Estadio Azteca, I was beginning to suspect that Guyana's Cort brothers were on the brink of another amazing result. Then reality hit home. First, Jesus Arellano hit the ball hard and true past Guyana goalie Farrell Ishmael to open the scoring for Mexico after 55 minutes. Midfielder Germán Villa caught Ishmael off his guard 10 minutes later, and Paco rounded off a comfortable home win shortly after that. Carl Cort did register a shot on target, but that was about as good as things got for the not-so-Golden Jaguars.


Panama - 2 (JC Dely Valdés 48, B Castillo Estévez 76)

El Salvador - 3 (V Dubon 7, R Cerritos 38, B López Ramos 65)

El Salvador's 'Jazz man' Victor Dubon was on song in the seventh minute, kicking off a five-goal thriller. Countryman Ronald Cerritos doubled Los Cuscatlecos' lead seven minutes from time, but PANAMA! finally brought out the heavy metal in the second half. Julio César Dely Valdés and substitute Beinat Castillo Estévez each got their names on the scoresheet. Unfortunately for Los Canaleros, Bernardo López Ramos had already added a third Salvadorean goal prior to Castillo Estévez's strike, and so it was the visitors who took the three points home.

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22 JULY 2000

After four rounds in the CONMEBOL qualifiers, two teams remain undefeated. Raise your hands if you honestly expected them to be Paraguay and Venezuela. Okay, I'm not seeing an awful lot of hands...


The improbable unbeatables go head-to-head tonight, and it looks likely that somebody's 'O' will go. My money would go on the defensively solid Paraguayans if I was a betting man. Mind you, we've seen already that La Vinotinto have no respect for reputations.


2nd-placed Brazil know all about what Venezuela are capable of. The Seleção will also be acutely aware that tonight's opponents Bolivia recorded a home win over Argentina on the opening day, and that they'll have to handle the altitude in Cochabamba much better than La Albiceleste did.


Argentina are still licking their wounds after their latest defeat, which left them second-from-bottom. Marcelo Bielsa's team will surely have to beat Peru on home soil, otherwise we might well have to contemplate a first World Cup without the blue-and-white entertainers since 1970.


Uruguay, who led Argentina 2-0 in their last match before being pegged back to 2-2, will be desperate not to crumble so readily tonight. La Celeste are at home to Chile, who have a similar mediocre record to them after four games.


Colombia go into this round trailing everyone else, with three draws and a defeat on their record. That elusive first victory for Los Cafeteros could come against neighbours Ecuador, but I wouldn't be too confident about that, as I have major misgivings about the Colombian midfield. Does the coach still have Carlos Valderrama's phone number, by any chance?


CONMEBOL Qualifiers


Argentina - 1 (C López 42)

Peru - 0

Could this be where Argentina turn their campaign around? La Albiceleste were back to something like their best against Peru, mustering no fewer than 11 shots (8 on target). Their front three of Gabriel Batistuta, Hernan Jorge Crespo and Claudio López were so threatening that the Peruvians could've been forgiven for surrendering their marmalade sandwiches. In the end, they only gave away one goal - to López from a superb Crespo assist three minutes before half-time. Still, a 1-0 win for Argentina's slow starters is a win all the same.


Bolivia - 0

Brazil - 2 (Amoroso 16, Cafú 73)

Altitude? Whatever, shrugged Brazil's yellow perils as they ascended into Cochabamba. Bolivia's gameplan was to sit back and defend, but that went out the window as soon as a vicious shot from Amoroso bypassed goalkeeper Gato Fernández in the 16th minute. La Verde opened up a bit more afterwards, only to have their defences breached for a second time in the second period. The Seleção secured back-to-back away wins when substitute Júnior set up a blistering half-volley from Cafú. And yes, you DID read that right - Cafú did actually score a goal!


Colombia - 3 (JP Angel 42,82, P Portocarrero 88)

Ecuador - 1 (N Ascencio 61)

Colombia were the only team in the CONMEBOL qualifiers without a win until their guardian Angel arrived in Bogotá. Juan Pablo Angel led Los Cafeteros' attack with authority and opened the scoring after 42 minutes through a direct free-kick. Ecuador newcomer Nicolás Ascencio equalised after an hour, but when he twisted his knee about 10 minutes later, when the visitors had already used all three subs. Colombia inevitably made the most of the extra man, with Angel securing a brace before right-back Pedro Portocarrero completed a 3-1 victory.


Paraguay - 0

Venezuela - 1 (P Santos 14)

Where do I start? First, Paraguay had midfielder Carlos Paredes sent off after 11 minutes for collecting two early bookings. Three minutes later, a 20-yarder from Pedro Santos saw Venezuela take the lead. However, the visitors were reduced to 10 men themselves in the 29th minute, after Daniel Noriega pushed Paraguay winger Jorge Luis Campos. Campos was so badly shaken that he suffered a serious ankle injury a few minutes later, and his young team-mate Diego Gavilan would also have to come off hurt late in the second period. To top it all off, La Albirroja's goalkeeping captain José Luis Chilavert was named 'man of the match', even though he was on the losing team!


Uruguay - 1 (Á Gutiérrez 10)

Chile - 0

Chile increasingly look like being frozen out of the World Cup. Their second qualifying loss in a row came at the hands - or, rather, feet - of Uruguay's defensive midfielder Álvaro Gutiérrez. The Sporting Gijón workhorse hadn't scored in his previous 52 caps for La Celeste, though that didn't deter him from chipping Chilean goalkeeper Nelson Tapia in the 10th minute. Tapia then produced a string of amazing saves to prevent Uruguay from going further in front. Álvaro Núñez was rather less busy in the home goal, such was the limited attacking threat posed by Marcelo Salas and co.


                                   P     W     D     L     F     A     GD    PTS
1.          Venezuela              5     3     2     0     6     3     3     11
2.          Brazil                 5     3     1     1     5     1     4     10
3.          Uruguay                5     2     2     1     7     5     2     8
4.          Argentina              5     2     1     2     7     9     -2    7
5.          Paraguay               5     1     3     1     7     4     3     6
6.          Colombia               5     1     3     1     8     8     0     6
7.          Chile                  5     1     2     2     3     5     -2    5
8.          Bolivia                5     1     2     2     3     6     -3    5
9.          Peru                   5     1     1     3     2     4     -2    4
10.         Ecuador                5     1     1     3     3     6     -3    4


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26 JULY 2000

Two weeks ago, North America's big-hitters all opened their World Cup qualifying campaigns with straightforward victories. Things won't be quite so easy for them tonight, as they face what will surely be their toughest tests of the CONCACAF Semi Finals.


Canada's eclectic squad could slip up for the first time in Group 1 when they visit Costa Rica. Los Ticos might have lost their group opener to Honduras, but having home advantage could spur Paulo Wanchope and co to pick up their first points.


In Group 2, we've got a mouth-watering battle between the United States of America and Jamaica. You should always expect fireworks when these two countries compete, whether it's on an athletics track or a football pitch. (If any prospective West Ham owners are reading this, I'd like to point out that it's probably not a good idea to combine the two.)


The USA have a very experienced team, and to be honest, I thought they would've freshened things up after the debacle that was their France '98 campaign. However, the likes of Predrag Radosavljevic (37), Thomas Dooley (39) and Marcelo Balboa (55 - no, wait, that's Rocky Balboa) have been retained by new head coach Bruce Arena.


Heh, heh... Bruce Arena. That sounds like what Aston Villa's new 60,000-seater stadium would be called if Steve led them to the 2022 Champions League title on FM18. It's possible, y'know...


Before I lose my train of thought, I'll quickly touch on Mexico in Group 3. They made light work of Guyana last time out, but I suspect El Tri might struggle to put 'tri' goals past a decent El Salvador team tonight. I certainly don't expect Los Cuscatlecos to score another 'tri', as they did in Panama.



Group 1 Results

Barbados - 2 (M McCammon 3, G Goodridge 18)

Honduras - 1 (J Martínez 1)

Honduras were very quick out of the blocks, with Coventry's Jairo Martínez exploiting some sleepiness in the Barbadian defence in the very first minute. At the other end, the Central Americans' own defenders took their time to wake up as well. Mark McCammon levelled for the Bajans after three minutes, and he then set up a goal for Greg Goodridge a quarter-hour later. Honduras had plenty of time to try and get back in the game, but they couldn't, and succumbed to a surprise defeat.


Costa Rica - 0

Canada - 3 (D Xausa 2, A Bunbury 43, K McKenna pen84)

It's two wins in two for Canada, and Costa Rica are in a real battle to save themselves. Los Ticos were up against it as early as the second minute, when Davide Xausa volleyed Paul Fenwick's header home. Alex Bunbury then had a host of opportunities to double Canada's advantage, eventually doing so just before half-time. The Canucks' third, game-clinching goal came from the penalty spot four minutes from the end. Kevin McKenna scored after Jason De Vos had had his jersey pulled by Costa Rican right-back Vinicio Montero, who perhaps couldn't wait to swap shirts with the Dundee United defender.


GROUP 1                            P     W     D     L     F     A     GD    PTS
1.          Canada                 2     2     0     0     6     0     6     6
2.          Honduras               2     1     0     1     2     2     0     3
3.          Barbados               2     1     0     1     2     4     -2    3
4.          Costa Rica             2     0     0     2     0     4     -4    0


Group 2 Results

Netherlands Antilles - 2 (R Nelisse 30, N Wau 35)

St Kitts & Nevis - 1 (C Willock 69)

Netherlands Antilles got their Semi Final campaign up and running upon their return to Curacao. Star striker Robin Nelisse rounded off a sublime team move with an emphatic finish past St Kitts goalkeeper D Perpetuini (yeah) in the 30th minute. Teenager Nelson Wau wowed the home fans with a second goal five minutes later, and the Kittitians never really recovered. Though Callum Willock did get a goal back in the second period, he and his countrymen are finding out just how strong you need to be at this level to progress further.


United States of America - 2 (E Wynalda 20,23)

Jamaica - 0

Miami's Eric Wynalda is challenging to be the top scorer in the 2000 Major League Soccer season. Based on this performance, he might have a chance of winning the Golden Cleats, or whatever they call that award over there. A couple of first-half goals - both assisted by Predrag Radosavljevic - helped Wynalda to fire the USA towards a second group win in succession. The Yanks lost Frankie Hejduk to injury in the first half, while Jamaican midfielder Darryl Powell was injured himself in the 75th minute. Powell was replaced with Jason Euell... who was sent off within two minutes for pushing Eddie Pope.


GROUP 2                            P     W     D     L     F     A     GD    PTS
1.          USA                    2     2     0     0     6     0     6     6
2.          Jamaica                2     1     0     1     3     3     0     3
3.          Netherlands Antilles   2     1     0     1     3     4     -1    3
4.          St Kitts & Nevis       2     0     0     2     1     6     -5    0


Group 3 Results

El Salvador - 1 (R Diaz Arce 81)

Mexico - 1 (B Galindo 63)

Does this count as a shock? Considering that Mexico had three times as many shots at goal as El Salvador, perhaps one would. Mexico's 39-year-old midfielder Benjamin Galindo rattled the bar just before half-time, though he would eventually score in the 63rd minute. It looked like Old Man Ben's strike would be the decisive one, until El Salvador registered their first shot on target nine minutes from time. Raul Diaz Arce struck his free-kick past El Tri goalkeeper Jorge Campos - who signed for West Brom literally today - and salvaged a point for the hosts.


Guyana - 0

Panama - 0

Okay, this draw was so poor that I can't be bothered to make any of my usual quips about the Cort brothers or 1980s glam metal. These two teams only managed a couple of shots on target apiece in a low-quality 'contest'. Both teams remain winless in the group, and to be honest, I can't see either of them making it to the Final Round. Feel free to mock me if I prove to be wrong.


GROUP 3                            P     W     D     L     F     A     GD    PTS
1.          Mexico                 2     1     1     0     4     1     3     4
2.          El Salvador            2     1     1     0     4     3     1     4
3.          Panama                 2     0     1     1     2     3     -1    1
4.          Guyana                 2     0     1     1     0     3     -3    1


29 JULY 2000

We're about to reach a critical stage in CONMEBOL's World Cup qualifiers. Tonight, we could learn a lot about whether Venezuela are ready to make their debut appearance in the global showpiece.


Improbable as it sounds, La Vinotinto currently head the pack in the race for qualification. They also have the last remaining unbeaten record, but that will surely be put to the test when Argentina face them in Caracas. We know that La Albiceleste have enough firepower to fill the home defence with holes, but whether their own backline survives intact will probably determine the result.


If Venezuela do slip up, that would open the door for Brazil to potentially take top spot. A draw against Uruguay in Rio de Janeiro would do the job, but they will want a victory to assert themselves as South America's top dogs.


That's the current top four covered. The other matches concerning the bottom six are genuinely too close to call, and I'm not going to bother predicting anything. For all I know, the opposite would probably happen instead.


Instead, I'll just mention that Chile and Paraguay are meeting in the battle of the so-called one-man bands. It's the unstoppable force (Marcelo Salas) versus the immovable object (José Luis Chilavert).


Bottom-dwellers Ecuador are hoping to climb up the table by defeating Bolivia, which would leave La Verde at risk of dropping to last place. That would depend on Peru avoiding defeat against mid-table Colombia.


CONMEBOL Qualifiers


Brazil - 1 (Vágner 90)

Uruguay - 1 (Á Recoba 88)

50 years after 'Maracanaço', we very nearly had a repeat result in Rio de Janeiro! Brazil set their stall out to attack Uruguay immediately, but were routinely thwarted by tough tackling from Martín Rivas and fine goalkeeping from Álvaro Núñez. And when Álvaro Recoba curled in a beautiful shot against the run of play in the 88th minute, it looked like Uruguay would emulate their heroes from the 1950 World Cup decider. That was until the dying moments, when another sublime solo goal from Celta's defensive midfielder Vágner earned Brazil a point.


Chile - 1 (M Salas 45)

Paraguay - 0

Is Marcelo Salas the only Chilean capable of scoring a goal? Paraguay goalkeeper José Luis Chilavert put in a typically outstanding display to keep out shots from Manuel Alejandro Neira, Alejandro Osorio and Esteban Valencia in the first period. However, just as the ref was about to blow for half-time, Lazio's Salas popped up to stab in a Valencia cross for his - and Chile's - fourth goal of the qualifiers. That was the decisive moment in a one-sided contest that saw Paraguay come away with nothing, except an injury sustained by forward Derlis Soto nine minutes from the end.


Ecuador - 2 (H Carabalí 31, A Graziani 90)

Bolivia - 0

Ecuador were bottom going into tonight's matches, but they aren't anymore! After a slow start, Héctor Carabalí showed Los Amarillos the way to victory with a superb strike in the 31st minute. Franklin Anangono could've put Ecuador 2-0 up from the penalty spot five minutes later, but Bolivia goalkeeper Gato Fernández saved his spot-kick after defender Juan Andrés Alcaraz had upended Iván Kaviedes. The hosts would have to wait until the 90th minute for Ariel Graziani to rubber-stamp the win. Defeat now leaves La Verde in last place, because...


Peru - 2 (C Pizarro pen49,pen69)

Colombia - 2 (FE Rincón 56, M Yepes 63)

...Peru drew with Colombia in a second-half thriller! The hosts opened the scoring in the 49th minute, with Claudio Pizarro converting a penalty after strike partner Abel Augusto Lobatón was floored in the Colombian box by Jorge Bermúdez. Los Cafeteros then turned the tie around with a couple of set-pieces from Freddy Euzébio Rincón - a free-kick fired straight into the net, and a corner nodded home by Mario Yepes. Rincón's heroics were rendered almost academic, though, when another careless foul on Lobatón from Iván Córdoba in the 69th minute allowed Pizarro to score second Peruvian penalty.


Venezuela - 0

Argentina - 2 (M Posse 45, G Batistuta 50)

It was only a matter of time before Venezuela crashed back down to earth. Argentina dominated them from start to finish in Caracas. Martín Posse's Party Posse were singing loud and proud just before half-time, when the Espanyol striker opened the scoring against a home team weakened by an injury to their own frontman Christián Casseress. Posse then hit the bar in the 48th minute, though Gabriel Batistuta did make it 2-0 a couple of minutes later. 'Batigol' ran off with the 'man of the match' award, plus a few more female admirers, after ending La Vinotinto's unbeaten record.


                                   P     W     D     L     F     A     GD    PTS
1.          Brazil                 6     4     1     1     6     2     4     13
2.          Venezuela              6     3     2     1     6     5     1     11
3.          Argentina              6     3     1     2     9     9     0     10
4.          Uruguay                6     2     3     1     8     6     2     9
5.          Chile                  6     2     2     2     4     5     -1    8
6.          Colombia               6     1     4     1     10    10    0     7
7.          Ecuador                6     2     1     2     5     6     -1    7
8.          Paraguay               6     1     3     2     7     5     2     6
9.          Peru                   6     1     2     3     4     6     -2    5
10.         Bolivia                6     1     2     3     3     8     -5    5


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16 AUGUST 2000

We've only got one day of action this month, but it sure is a busy one. We've got qualifying matches from three - that's right, THREE - confederations coming up!


First off, let's look at the CONCACAF Semi Finals, which have reached their halfway point. We've not had many shocks yet, but there is still plenty of time for that to change.


Honduras and Canada go head-to-head, with the latter looking to assert their authority over Group 1. To be honest, I'm a little surprised Canada have started so well. Soccer is not even close to becoming the most popular sport in a country that much prefers ice hockey, curling, and simply being less arrogant than their noisy neighbours to the south and the north-west.


Speaking of those 'noisy neighbours' (you can have that one on me, Sir Alex), the United States of America have also enjoyed a fine start to their campaign. Victory over the Netherlands Antilles would see them take control of Group 2, after which I'd expect them to reach the Final Round, get through that... and then forget how to play non-American football as soon as they set foot in Asia.


Mexico and El Salvador are the early favourites to progress from Group 3, yet that could all change. The Mexicans have a potentially difficult trip to Panama, while El Salvador could be tripped up by Guyana. Let's not forget that the Golden Jaguars' attack is headed up by a certain Carl Cort (or, as Bobby Robson probably calls him, Shola Ameobi).


The actual South American qualifiers are heating up as well, with the seventh round of fixtures being played today. CONMEBOL giants Argentina, Brazil and, er, Venezuela are bidding to consolidate their top-four places by racking up more victories.


Let's start with La Albiceleste, who could claim a third win in a row if they get past Ecuador on home soil. The Seleção are away to a rather weak Peru side, and dark horses Venezuela are entertaining Marcelo Salas plus 10 of his mates (or Chile, if you prefer).


And what's this... the first UEFA qualifier starts today? That's right, folks! We've got one group match that - for reasons unknown to anyone with any sense of logic - is being played two weeks early!


The match in question takes place in Tallinn, where Estonia are hosting Andorra. Those two teams are in Group 2 along with Cyprus, Portugal, Republic of Ireland, and Louis van Gaal's 1998 Semi Finalists - the Netherlands. To be honest, I don't think that result will have much of a bearing on who qualifies for the finals.


There will be a full UEFA Group Stage preview on 2 September, when pretty much all the other European teams set off on their respective quests to join France in the World Cup. Why couldn't those bloomin' Estonians wait another fortnight like everyone else? This is why we can't have nice things!



Group 1 Results

Costa Rica - 1 (R Row Arias 10)

Barbados - 0

Costa Rica took the lead after just 10 minutes through Saprissa defender Randall Row Arias. He stabbed a shot past Barbadian goalkeeper Che Finley after compatriot Paulo Wanchope had been tackled by visiting centre-half Lorraine Eastall. (Hmm, I guess Wendy Weaver isn't the only woman playing in these World Cup qualifiers.) It could have gone wrong for Los Ticos when Row Arias' defensive colleague Mauricio Wright was sent off for pushing Mark McCammon in the 59th minute, but some excellent goalkeeping by Erick Lonis Bolaños saw them through.


Honduras - 1 (T Nuñez 27)

Canada - 1 (C Corazzin 28)

Canadian goalkeeper Craig Forrest's spotless record in the qualifiers was ruined after 27 minutes, when Sunderland midfielder Tyson Nuñez thumped Honduras into the lead. Just a minute later, however, Oldham's Carlo Corazzin headed in a swift equaliser for the Canucks. Corazzin was handy with his head, but what about with his feet? We would find out after Honduran captain Josep Yeste pushed him in the penalty area in the 53rd minute. Corazzin's spot-kick proved to be a poor one, as Faustino Manuel Arkotxa pushed it behind to help his country claim a draw.


GROUP 1                            P     W     D     L     F     A     GD    PTS
1.          Canada                 3     2     1     0     7     1     6     7
2.          Honduras               3     1     1     1     3     3     0     4
3.          Barbados               3     1     0     2     2     5     -3    3
4.          Costa Rica             3     1     0     2     1     4     -3    3


Group 2 Results

St Kitts & Nevis - 0

Jamaica - 1 (D Burton 22)

After a somewhat sluggish start, Derby striker Deon Burton headed home a cross from Jamie Lawrence to give Jamaica the lead in Basseterre. It proved to be the only goal that the Reggae Boyz would need. They sat back and then watched St Kitts & Nevis launch some feeble attempts to pull a goal back and get their group campaign back on track. Sugar Boyz captain Dean Walling proved to be particularly awful - but then again, the midfielder plays in Northern Ireland for Portadown, so it was hardly a surprise.


United States of America - 2 (JM Moore 32, E Wynalda 40)

Netherlands Antilles - 0

USA still have a 100% record for wins and clean sheets in Group 2, but this was rather more of a battle than they've experienced so far. Winger Anthony Sanneh had to come off in the 25th minute after stubbing his toe. Seven minutes later, Joe Max Moore headed Team USA into the lead. Moore would later hobble off with an ankle sprain, though not before Eric Wynalda scored a fantastic second American goal. The Netherlands Antilles were thoroughly outclassed and are perhaps starting to feel that they might not make it to the World Cup.


GROUP 2                            P     W     D     L     F     A     GD    PTS
1.          USA                    3     3     0     0     8     0     8     9
2.          Jamaica                3     2     0     1     4     3     1     6
3.          Netherlands Antilles   3     1     0     2     3     6     -3    3
4.          St Kitts & Nevis       3     0     0     3     1     7     -6    0


Group 3 Results

El Salvador - 0

Guyana - 1 (C Cort 20)

Carl Cort is love; Carl Cort is life. Carl Cort took the ball across the halfway line and then ran all the way into the Salvadorean penalty, where he thrashed home Guyana's first goal after 20 minutes. Leon Cort was delighted. Mrs Cort was ecstatic. Farrell Ishmael was fantastic in the Guyanese goal, saving eight shots from El Salvador to record a shock away win. The hosts were stunned, and their midfielder Mauricio Cienfuegos was broken in the 75th minute, having torn his groin muscle. Fortunes might have turned in San Salvador.


Panama - 0

Mexico - 1 (L Hernandez 63)

There was no revolution in Panama City's Estadio Revolución, because Mexico dominated from the first whistle to the last. Only some great saves from Iurgi Besora prevented El Tri from scoring more than a solitary goal, which experienced Los Angeles striker Luis Hernandez headed home in the 63rd minute. Note that Hernandez - nicknamed 'El Matador' - is not the father of a certain Javier 'Chicharito' Hernandez. That was Javier 'Chícharo' Hernandez, who last played for Mexico in 1994. Anyway, it's seven points in three games for Mexico, who should secure their Final Round spot sooner or later.


GROUP 3                            P     W     D     L     F     A     GD    PTS
1.          Mexico                 3     2     1     0     5     1     4     7
2.          El Salvador            3     1     1     1     4     4     0     4
3.          Guyana                 3     1     1     1     1     3     -2    4
4.          Panama                 3     0     1     2     2     4     -2    1


UEFA Group Stage

Group 2 Result

Estonia - 3 (T Krõm 42, J Lindpere 47, J Õun 65)

Andorra - 0

Estonia claimed an extremely early victory in their quest to qualify for a maiden World Cup. That was even after they took about 42 minutes to arrive at the ground and open the scoring through Toomas Krõm. The Sinisärgid then doubled their advantage early in the second half, as winger Sergei Terehhov slipped the ball through the Andorran penalty area for Joel Lindpere to finish. A second Terehhov assist in the 65th minute saw Jan Õun complete the rout for Estonia. The Pyrenean motley crew of butchers, bakers and candlestick-makers have been left with a mountain to climb already.


CONMEBOL Qualifiers


Argentina - 3 (JS Verón 13, JP Sorin 21, GL Siviero 31)

Ecuador - 0

There ain't no stopping Argentina now! Lazio midfielder Juan Sebastian Verón kicked off their latest victory in the 13th minute, by scoring one of the trademark fierce shots that'll soon earn him a big-money move to the Premiership. Left wing-back Juan Pablo Sorín rubbed more salt into Ecuadorean wounds in the 21st minute, and was then joined on the scoresheet ten minutes later by fellow defender Gustavo Lionel Siviero. Ecuador faced a grand total of 21 shots and were lucky not to be subjected to further torture.


Paraguay - 4 (R Santa Cruz 14,57, A Da Silva 32, D Soto pen68)

Bolivia - 1 (O Sánchez 19)

Bolivia's woes continued in Asunción, where things looked ominous for the visitors as soon as Roque Santa Cruz volleyed home in the 14th minute. Oscar Sánchez's equaliser five minutes later proved to be as good as things got for La Verde, who were back behind by the 32nd minute thanks to 17-year-old Alejandro Da Silva. Santa Cruz's second goal then made it 3-1 Paraguay on 57 minutes. About 10 minutes after that, Bolivia goalkeeper Gato Fernández upended Carlos Morales Santos and conceded a penalty, which Derlis Soto emphatically fired past him to seal a 4-1 home win.


Peru - 2 (P Zegarra 14,35)

Brazil - 3 (Edmundo 16, Vágner 20, Rivaldo 87)

Pablo Zegarra's 14th-minute opener for Peru put them ahead for just two minutes until the eccentric Edmundo chimed in with a Brazilian equaliser. Another of Vágner's now-customary solo goals followed four minutes after that, giving the Seleção a 2-1 advantage. They remained in front until Zegarra scored again on 35 minutes. The action then died down until Peru's Juan Reynoso and Brazil's Flávio Conceição were injured in the same incident in the 81st minute. Barcelona ace Rivaldo entered the game after that incident, and it was he who would secure a hard-fought win for the leaders late on.


Uruguay - 3 (D Alonso 15, W Pandiani 18, D Fonseca 72)

Colombia - 1 (J Montaño 82)

Uruguay didn't take long to take control of proceedings, with La Liga strikers Diego Alonso and Walter Pandiani each helping themselves to goal within the opening quarter. La Celeste then piled on the pressure, but it wasn't until the 72nd minute that they secured the win. Left-winger Javier Delgado was just seconds into his debut when his cross set up a goal for fellow sub Daniel Fonseca. 17-year-old Parma striker Johnnier Montaño - who would always rack up well over 100 Colombia caps in CM00/01 as well as CM99/00* - grabbed a late consolation for Los Cafeteros.

* In reality, Montaño won six caps for Colombia and scored one goal, making his final international appearance in 2003.


Venezuela - 1 (JC Socorro 19)

Chile - 0

Okay, now I'm starting to believe that Venezuela weren't just having beginner's luck. The World Cup novices claimed a fourth win in seven qualifying games, thanks to Juan Carlos Socorro's majestic half-volley from a Juan García cross in the 19th minute. That was the only one of La Vinotinto's four shots on target to actually find the net, but it would be all they needed to stay 2nd. Marcelo Salas couldn't score for Chile, so it was no surprise that none of his team-mates could either. In all honesty, nobody was seriously expecting anyone like David Pizarro to grab a last-minute equaliser for the visitors.


                                   P     W     D     L     F     A     GD    PTS
1.          Brazil                 7     4     2     1     9     4     5     14
2.          Venezuela              7     4     2     1     7     5     2     14
3.          Argentina              7     4     1     2     12    9     3     13
4.          Uruguay                7     3     3     1     11    7     4     12
5.          Paraguay               7     2     3     2     11    6     5     9
6.          Chile                  7     2     2     3     4     6     -2    8
7.          Colombia               7     1     4     2     11    13    -2    7
8.          Ecuador                7     2     1     4     5     9     -4    7
9.          Peru                   7     1     2     4     6     9     -3    5
10.         Bolivia                7     1     2     4     4     12    -8    5


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Forget that match between Estonia and Andorra from a fortnight ago. Tonight is when the European qualifiers for the 2002 World Cup really start.


50 UEFA members will battle it out over the next 14 months for the right to join current World and now European champions France in the Far East. At least 13 of them will be successful.


The teams have been split up into nine groups, consisting of either five or six teams, and they will play all their group opponents home-and-away. The group winners will automatically progress to the World Cup, while the runners-up will have to go through the two-legged Playoffs to qualify (though one of them will be randomly drawn into an Intercontinental Playoff with a team from another confederation).


The draw was made in December 1999, well in advance of the European Championship. Seedings were based on qualifying results from Euro 2000 and France '98. That meant Italy - who only missed out on winning the continental title this summer because of a golden goal from David Trezeguet - were actually amongst the second seeds. James Richardson was said to be mortified.


England and Scotland were also in the second pot of teams, which meant they would be paired with a top seed in the draw. That would prove to be particularly bad news for the Three Lions - even worse than Alan Shearer's announcement that he would soon retire from performing his one goal celebration in an all-white jersey.


That first pot contained a few teams you might expect (Germany, Netherlands, Spain), but also a few more surprising names. If you told a young football fan in 2018 that Norway, Romania and Yugoslavia were ranked amongst Europe's leading teams two decades ago, they would probably think you were having them on. They would probably also ask, "What's a Yugoslavia?"


Belgium, Czech Republic and Sweden completed our top nine, but they were probably the weakest of the lot. Belgium in particular did not look imposing at all, certainly not compared to later teams. The 2018 Red Devils have Kevin De Bruyne and Eden Hazard, whereas the 'Class of 2000' had... erm, Johan Walem and Branko Strupar.


While the big European scramble for World Cup tickets is about to begin, excitement across the Atlantic is intensifying. The CONCACAF Semi Finals have so far gone very well for two North American teams, who could secure their Final Round places tonight.


Canada currently top Group 1, with two wins and a draw to their name. If they can beat Barbados, and 2nd-placed Honduras can avoid defeat against Costa Rica, the Canucks will be guaranteed to be amongst the final six.


The United States of America are almost there as well. The Stars and Stripes are widely expected to beat St Kitts & Nevis comfortably in Los Angeles for their fourth straight win. If that happens, and the Netherlands Antilles can't spring a surprise at home to Jamaica, Team USA will go through with a couple of matches to spare.


Mexico are also unbeaten in Group 3, though they cannot guarantee a Final Round spot tonight. What they can do is put themselves on the brink by winning in Guyana, who've been significantly weakened by only having 50% of the Cort brothers at their disposal. Meanwhile, El Salvador will attempt to consolidate 2nd place against Panama, who can ill afford a third defeat.



Group 1 Results

Barbados - 0

Canada - 1 (MA O'Connor 6)

Canada's unbeaten start goes on, thanks to 19-year-old Miles Anthony O'Connor. The Lille attacking midfielder buried a Davide Xausa cross past Bevan Hawthorne after just six minutes. Hawthorne was obviously fired up, as the Barbados goalie saved nine further Canadian efforts - including three from late sub Paul Stalteri - to keep the deficit at 1-0. The Bajans also gave a competitive debut to a little-known Arsenal left-back named Ashley Cole, but we might not see much more of him in the qualifiers. As for the Canucks, they've secured their place in the Final Round, thanks partly to tonight's other results.


Costa Rica - 2 (M Solis 64, R Row Arias 79)

Honduras - 3 (T Nuñez 8, JM Carcamo 39, PA Rimblas Gómez 68)

A devastating blow for Costa Rica, and a potentially significant win for Honduras. Los Catrachos took a 2-0 half-time lead through a couple of stunning strikes from winger Tyson Nuñez and striker Juan Manuel Carcamo. Costa Rica also had Roy Myers sent off in the 43rd minute, as he reacted furiously to being booked for a foul on visiting winger Josep María González Villanueva. Though Mauricio Solis pulled it back to 2-1 for Los Ticos in the 64th minute, Pedro Antonio Rimblas Gómez effectively secured a Honduran win just four minutes later. Another consolation goal from Randall Row Arias was not enough for Costa Rica to avoid a 3-2 defeat, which leaves them needing a miracle to displace Honduras from 2nd spot.


GROUP 1                            P     W     D     L     F     A     GD    PTS
1.    Q     Canada                 4     3     1     0     8     1     7     10
2.          Honduras               4     2     1     1     6     5     1     7
3.          Costa Rica             4     1     0     3     3     7     -4    3
4.          Barbados               4     1     0     3     2     6     -4    3


Group 2 Results

Netherlands Antilles - 0

Jamaica - 2 (M Gayle 66, D Burton 81)

Netherlands Antilles would've gone level on points with Jamaica if they'd won this match. As it was, they failed to get a single shot on target. Aaron Lawrence had the quietest of afternoons in the away goal as his Jamaican colleagues eventually overpowered the hosts in Curacao. New Preston midfielder Micah Hyde created both away goals, setting up Marcus Gayle first on 66 minutes, and then assisting Deon Burton a quarter of an hour later. The Reggae Boyz now need just one more point to ensure that they will be in the Final Round.


United States of America - 6 (P Bravo 9, CJ Brown pen22,pen25,37,pen45, A Razov 40)

St Kitts & Nevis - 0

An extraordinary first-half display saw the United States of America comfortably secure a Final Round berth. The Yanks' rout began after nine minutes through Paul Bravo, but the man who deserved all the acclaim at half-time was CJ Brown. The Chicago centre-half scored a hat-trick of penalties between the 22nd and 45th minutes, as well as a fourth goal from Claudio Reyna's 37th-minute corner. Brown's club-mate Ante Razov was also on the scoreboard against St Kitts & Nevis, whose only consolation from a fateful evening was that they didn't concede in the second half.


GROUP 2                            P     W     D     L     F     A     GD    PTS
1.    Q     USA                    4     4     0     0     14    0     14    12
2.          Jamaica                4     3     0     1     6     3     3     9
3.          Netherlands Antilles   4     1     0     3     3     8     -5    3
4.          St Kitts & Nevis       4     0     0     4     1     13    -12   0


Group 3 Results

El Salvador - 4 (O Sueiro 27, Y Pérez Escamilla 32, R Cerritos 57, RJ Cuéllar 90)

Panama - 2 (R Bello 29,48)

El Salvador closed in on the next phase after winning a thrilling end-to-end encounter with their Central American rivals. Panama midfielder Rayco Bello cancelled out home goals from Omar Sueiro and Yosu Pérez Escamilla, but his double was not enough to keep alive Los Canaleros' realistic hopes of reaching the World Cup. Right-winger Ronald Cerritos of San Jose restored El Salvador's lead after 57 minutes, and when sub Rodolfo José Cuéllar thundered a last-minute shot home, it was all over. It looks like one more win might be enough for Los Cuscatlecos to progress.


Guyana - 0

Mexico - 3 (C Suarez 12, L Hernandez 41, R Pelaez 45)

Mexico's 30-something brigade struck a blow for football's Victor Meldrews as they showed the Guyanese whipper-snappers a thing or three. Claudio Suarez (31) got above Leon Cort, whose sibling Carl was out injured, to head home El Tri's first goal on 12 minutes. Luis Hernandez (also 31) then struck in the 41st minute before Ricardo Pelaez (36) effectively sealed victory on the stroke of half-time. Both the first and the third goal were created by Benjamin Galindo (39). Mexico couldn't add to their lead in the second half, thanks partly to an ankle injury sustained by Galindo's midfield colleague Germán Villa (er... 27).


GROUP 3                            P     W     D     L     F     A     GD    PTS
1.          Mexico                 4     3     1     0     8     1     7     10
2.          El Salvador            4     2     1     1     8     6     2     7
3.          Guyana                 4     1     1     2     1     6     -5    4
4.          Panama                 4     0     1     3     4     8     -4    1


UEFA Group Stage

Group Draw

GROUP 1: Faroe Islands, Luxembourg, Russia, Slovenia, Switzerland, Yugoslavia

This looks like being a very competitive group, at least where the top four are concerned. Yugoslavia start as my narrow favourites, despite their horror show against the Netherlands in the Euro 2000 Quarter Finals. Russia and Switzerland should also be up there with them, and Slovenia have 'dark horse' potential after qualifying for the Euros.


GROUP 2: Andorra, Cyprus, Estonia, Netherlands, Portugal, Republic of Ireland

The two losing Semi Finalists from Euro 2000 are in the same group. I would've had the Netherlands and Portugal down as dead certs to qualify had they been kept apart, but now I look forward to seeing which of Patrick Kluivert or Figo will prevail. The Republic of Ireland look like their only serious opposition, though Estonia might have something to say about that.


GROUP 3: Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Denmark, Iceland, Malta, Northern Ireland

We've got three pretty decent teams in this group... and three pretty poor ones. I'm expecting a fierce battle between the Bulgarians, Czechs and Danes for automatic qualification. Denmark are the narrowest of favourites in my eyes, as even though the Laudrup brothers are long gone, they still have the similarly legendary Peter Schmeichel between the posts.


GROUP 4: Azerbaijan, Macedonia, Moldova, Slovakia, Sweden, Turkey

Sweden are coming good again after a lean period, so I have high hopes for them in a somewhat easy group. Turkey were quite poor about a decade or two ago, but they look like the Scandinavians' main rivals for automatic qualification. As for the rest, Slovakia might be able to spring a surprise every now and then, but the other teams just aren't up to scratch.


GROUP 5: Armenia, Belarus, Norway, Poland, Ukraine, Wales

You'd think from looking at that group that Norway start as favourites. I'm not so sure, because most of their greats from the mid-1990s are drifting out of the national team. Poland look best-placed to take top spot at their expense, though Ukraine and Wales each have a couple of outstanding players who could pull them into contention.


GROUP 6: Belgium, Croatia, Latvia, San Marino, Scotland

Croatia finished 3rd at the last World Cup, but then failed to even make the Group Stage of Euro 2000. I'm not sure what to make of an ageing Vatreni side that might struggle to keep up with Belgium at the top. Latvia are unlikely to serious challenge those two, and neither are the group's obvious minnows... or even San Marino, for that matter.


GROUP 7: Austria, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Israel, Liechtenstein, Spain

Spain are experts when it comes to breezing through the qualifiers and then capitulating at a tournament. Don't expect that to change here, as La Furia Roja should breeze through an easy group. Austria are in pole position to take the Playoff place, though they could face some opposition from Bosnia & Herzegovina and/or Israel.


GROUP 8: Georgia, Hungary, Italy, Lithuania, Romania

Italy might be a laughing stock in 2018, but they're amongst the footballing elite in 2000. Expect the European Championship runners-up to make simple work of this group. Romania are still a pretty strong team, but they and talisman Gheorghe Hagi appear to be on the wane. That could open the door for a team like Hungary to claim an unlikely Playoff spot.


GROUP 9: Albania, England, Finland, Germany, Greece

Two of European football's great rivals meet yet again. England and Germany might have been in a two-way battle to see who could make a bigger Horlicks of Euro 2000, but a fierce qualifying campaign should bring out the best in them. Add in Finland and Greece as potential challengers, and you have arguably the most competitive of the nine European groups.


Group 1 Results

Faroe Islands - 1 (J Petersen 32)

Slovenia - 2 (S Cimerotic 56, Z Pavlovic 78)

We nearly had an almighty shock on the first official day of the European qualifiers! Despite losing holding midfielder Óli Johannesen to a knee ligament injury in the 11th minute, the Faroe Islands took the game to the Slovenes. They eventually took the lead through John Petersen on 32 minutes. However, goalkeeper Jákup Mikkelsen made a costly mistake in the 56th minute, spilling Sebastijan Cimerotic's shot back to the Hapoel Tel Aviv striker, who drew Slovenia level. A late header from Zoran Pavlovic then broke Faroese hearts.


Luxembourg - 0

Yugoslavia - 4 (P Mijatovic 5,14, D Kovacevic 26,33)

One former Yugoslav republic might have toiled in their Group 1 opener, but another had it much easier in Luxembourg. A couple of strikes from Predrag Mijatovic within the first 14 minutes sent Yugoslavia - or Serbia & Montenegro, to be pedantic - on their way. Those were the Fiorentina forward's first goals for his country according to the CM00/01 database, but if you'd watched him at the 1998 World Cup, you'd have known that simply wasn't true. Juventus' Darko Kovacevic got a double of his own later in the half, but the Blues' scoring run ended there.


Switzerland - 1 (U Güntensperger 84)

Russia - 1 (I Kolyvanov 24)

It was Russia who struck first at Bern's Wankdorf stadium, with Igor Kolyvanov converting a 24th-minute cross from Dmitry Khokhlov. After that, though, a spirited Swiss rearguard ensured that the Russians wouldn't score again. Young PSV midfielder Johann Vogel then ran the show for Switzerland in the second half, helping to create several equalising opportunities. One eventually paid off with six minutes to go, as Urs Güntensperger clawed one point back. The Lausanne striker could have claimed the other two in the 87th minute, but he unfortunately hit the post.


Group 2 Results

Andorra - 1 (F López pen12)

Cyprus - 1 (G Okkas 76)

Andorra fans must've thought they were in dreaming when their team took the lead after 12 minutes. Gustavo Adolfo Iturraspe was shoved in the Cypriot by defender Kostas Konstadinou, whose centre-back counterpart Francesco López then dispatched the spot-kick. The Tricolors had never won a competitive international in their history... but by full-time, they still hadn't. Cyprus silenced the home supporters when PAOK striker Giannakis Okkas volleyed home a 76th-minute equaliser. More Andorran agony followed when winger Jorge Bazán hit the bar in the final minute.


Netherlands - 2 (P Kluivert 84, A van der Meyde 88)

Republic of Ireland - 0

This was very much the late, late show at the Amsterdam Arena. The Netherlands - or Holland, as they're known in-game - had countless scoring opportunities, but the Irish boys' luck held out all the way until the 84th minute. That was when a wonderful through-ball from Kees van Wonderen allowed Patrick Kluivert to burst behind the defence and beat Dean Kiely. The future Newcastle striker would be joined on the scoresheet four minutes later by prospective Everton midfielder Andy van der Meyde. Ireland centre-half Ian Harte couldn't take any more, and he was sent off in stoppage time for shoving Richard Knopper.


Group 3 Results

Bulgaria - 1 (K Balakov 22)

Czech Republic - 1 (M Cizek 79)

Hristo Stoichkov might have only made a cameo appearance in Bulgaria's first qualifier for the 2002 World Cup, but fellow 34-year-old Krassimir Balakov is very much still going strong. The Leverkusen midfielder's fierce drive midway through the first period left Czech goalie Pavel Srnicek stranded. Bulgaria then survived a series of close shaves, but their lead was jeopardised when debutant midfielder Zvetomir Tchipev chopped Pavel Nedved down in the 73rd minute. Tchipev was sent off, and the visitors went on to snatch a point through Unterhaching's Martin Cizek six minutes later.


Iceland - 0

Denmark - 2 (P Møller 16, M Jørgensen pen48)

Remember when Iceland were rubbish? This Nordic derby was a total whitewash for Denmark, who had seven shots at goal compared to their hosts' zero. The deadlock was broken after 16 minutes through Peter Møller's header from a Martin Jørgensen cross. The Danish Dynamite exploded again in the 48th minute, though only after Icelandic keeper Gunnar Sigurðsson imploded by committing a professional foul on Ebbe Sand. Replacement goalie Omar Johansson failed to keep out Jørgensen's penalty, and the 10 remaining Icemen couldn't cometh back against a solid Danish outfit.


Northern Ireland - 2 (S Lomas 31, J Quinn 85)

Malta - 0

Malta probably won't be topping Group 3 if their pitiful display in Belfast is anything to go by. Northern Ireland were determined to kick off the campaign with a win, and a stunning first-half strike from Steve Lomas set them on their way. West Brom striker James Quinn then had three chances to double NI's lead in the second period. He eventually succeeded five minutes from the end, blasting home a superb pass from man of the match Lomas. Sammy McIlroy and his boys still have some way to go if they're to reach the World Cup, but this is a good start.


Group 4 Results

Azerbaijan - 0

Sweden - 4 (J Pettersson 7,88, H Larsson 15, D Andersson 75)

Azerbaijan's national stadium is named after 1966 World Cup linesman Tofik Bakhramov. They could probably have done with some questionable officiating in this opener against group favourites Sweden. Kaiserslautern hotshot Jörgen Pettersson led the way for the Blågult, with goals at the start and the end of proceedings. Henrik Larsson was also on target in the 15th minute, as was midfielder Daniel Andersson in the 75th. Andersson had a superb game, but he was outshone by left-winger Kristian Bergström, who incredibly set up THREE of Sweden's four goals!


Slovakia - 2 (I Demo 35, M Majoros 51)

Macedonia - 0

Macedonia defended from the very first whistle, meaning that we got 34 minutes of pretty much nothing. In the 35th, though, Slovakia found a way through their backline, as Igor Demo broke the deadlock with a superb daisy-cutter. The PSV right-winger also created Slovakia's second goal, for 19-year-old club-mate Marcel Majoros six minutes into the second half. If Demo can do all that, then I can't wait to see what Igor Full Version has in store! However, Macedonia might have to uninstall Aleksandar Markoski for the time being after the Hajduk midfielder broke his foot in the dying moments.


Turkey - 4 (G Stratulat og3, H Sükür 10,22, A Serkan 68)

Moldova - 1 (R Rebeja 71)

The real-life bronze-medallists from the 2002 World Cup got off to a great start, thanks to a shocking own goal from Moldova midfielder Georgy Stratulat. Turkey later strengthened their position with a couple of goals from Inter's new striker Hakan Sükür, the latter of which was his 30th at international level. The Crescent-Stars weren't just happy with a 3-0 half-time lead, though. Sükür created their fourth goal after 68 minutes by setting up Aykut Serkan - the man who'd expectively replaced him at Galatasaray. Wideman Radu Rebeja's strike for Moldova three minutes later was just a consolation.


Group 5 Results

Belarus - 1 (D Ogorodnik 71)

Wales - 2 (G Taylor 13, R Giggs 56)

Manchester's finest inspired Wales to an opening-round win in Minsk. Manchester United winger Ryan Giggs went on one of his traditional mazy runs in the 13th minute, and then crossed for Manchester City forward Gareth Taylor to head home. Giggs would then get on the scoresheet himself early in the second half. Sadly, the Red Dragons later lost midfielder John Oster to a calf strain. They would also lose half their lead to a strike from Dmitry Ogorodnik in the 71st minute, but Belarus could not force in a second goal. So far, so good for Mark Hughes and his valley boys.


Norway - 3 (TA Flo 11,25, Ø Leonhardsen 23)

Armenia - 0

Norway used to have scores of players in the Premiership, and several of them came to the fore here. Tore Andre Flo - who's just left Chelsea for Rangers - opened the scoring against Armenia by burying a pass from Liverpool right-back Vegard Heggem in the 11th minute. Tottenham's Øyvind Leonhardsen made it 2-0 on 23 minutes, before another Heggem-assisted Flo goal two minutes later piled on further pain for the Havakakan. A series of great saves by the visitors' goalkeeping skipper Roman Berezovskiy kept the deficit down to three goals, but it could have been a heck of a lot worse.


Ukraine - 1 (S Rebrov 83)

Poland - 1 (M Trzeciak 81)

The future Euro 2012 co-hosts fought out a scrappy, though somewhat enthralling draw. Both teams missed chances in the first half, which saw full-backs Waldemar Kryger (Poland) and Oleg Luzhniy (Ukraine) limp off with injuries. The Poles were first to score nine minutes from the end, thanks to a marvellous curling shot from Osasuna's skilful striker Miroslav Trzeciak. Just a couple of minutes later, though, Sergei Rebrov's header gave the Zhovto-Blakytni a hard-fought point. Rebrov has only scored once in his first three outings for new club Tottenham, but I think he's just warming up.


Group 6 Results

Belgium - 2 (B Strupar 11, G Verheyen 82)

Croatia - 1 (A Boksic 44)

These are the two favourites to go through from Group 6, and it was Belgium who struck an early blow. Derby's Branko Strupar broke the deadlock for Belgium after 11 minutes, heading in a floating delivery from US Presidential candidate Bart Goor. Croatia retaliated just before half-time through a superb goal from another Premiership frontman, but it was Alen Boksic - not Davor Suker - who scored it. The Vatreni looked set for a creditable away draw until Belgian captain Gert Verheyen skipped past a couple of their defenders and scored the winner on 82 minutes.


Latvia - 0

Scotland - 1 (S Glass 56)

This was the dictionary definition of a close-run thing, but it was Scotland who unexpectedly prevailed. Perhaps even more surprising was the identity of the match-winning goalscorer. In the 56th minute, Newcastle winger Stephen Glass cast aside his North East rivalry with Don Hutchison to run onto the Sunderland midfielder's flick-on and take it goalwards. He then powered it past Alexandrs Kolinko to send the Tartan Army into raptures. Braveheart defending from Gary Naysmith and skipper Colin Hendry later on ensured that Scotland would take the points.


Group 7 Result

Bosnia & Herzegovina - 1 (E Bolic 78)

Spain - 0

Group 7's opener produced a real turn-up for the books. Spain were guilty of missing too many opportunities, the best of which came Luis Enrique's way on 33 minutes. The Barcelona forward's half-volley was somehow kept out by Bosnian goalkeeper Kenan Becirevic. The hosts then looked to deliver a knockout blow in the second half. Though midfielder Nikola Milinkovic came off with a bruised shin in the 69th minute, his compatriot Elvir Bolic drove in what proved to be the decisive goal nine minutes later. La Furia Roja will be furious and red-faced at letting this match slip away.


Group 8 Results

Hungary - 0

Italy - 5 (C Vieri 25, D Albertini pen39,48, F Totti 83, A Del Piero pen90)

Hungary... it's not a good idea to have TWO goalkeepers sent off in the same match! Gabor Kiràly was first to go in the 38th minute. Having already been beaten once by Christian Vieri, the Hungarian number 1 clipped Vieri's feet when he was the last man. Substitute keeper Balázs Rabóczki conceded the subsequent penalty to Demetrio Albertini, who then made it 3-0 from open play early in the second half. Once Francesco Totti scored a fourth goal for Italy seven minutes from time, Rabóczki lost his head as well. He recklessly hacked the Roma striker down in the 90th minute, leaving Alessandro Del Piero free to fire the Azzurri's second spot-kick past Kiràly's discarded sweatpants. (Actually, it was striker Attila Tököli whom Del Piero beat, but let me use some artistic licence, for goodness sake!)


Romania - 2 (D Serban 50,53)

Lithuania - 0

Adrian Mihalcea was very unlucky not to score a couple of goals for Romania in a frustrating first half. Dennis Serban had rather better luck for the Tricolorii early in the second period. The 23-year-old attacking midfielder - currently transfer-listed at Valencia - would have impressed potential suitors when he scored a sublime solo goal on 50 minutes. Serban added a second shortly afterwards, powering Dorinel Munteanu's corner past visiting keeper Gintaras Stauce. If you want to know how Lithuania fared in their pursuit of a comeback, the fact they had Tomas Danilevicius up front should give you a clue.


Group 9 Results

Finland - 1 (D Sjölund 57)

Albania - 0

Most people are saying that Group 9 will be a three-horse race between England, Germany and Greece. However, don't discount the flying Finns. They put in a strong attacking display against likely group minnows Albania, and were very unlucky not to score more than a single goal. It was an international debut to remember for 17-year-old Liverpool striker Daniel Sjölund, who scored in the 57th minute with the assistance of legendary mentor Jari Litmanen. Captain Sami Hyypiä also starred in defence for Finland, making it a trio of Anfield aces in the Huuhkajat line-up. Like I said, don't discount them.


Germany - 2 (O Bierhoff 11, A Zickler 54)

Greece - 1 (S Konstantinidis 10)

Germany's post-Euro 2000 inquest looked set to be extended when they fell behind after 10 minutes to a goal from Greek newcomer Sotiris Konstantinidis. A minute later, however, 32-year-old Oliver Bierhoff equalised, showing that he could still lead the Mannschaft to glory. Incidentally, that goal was assisted by Bayern München forward Alexander Zickler. Bierhoff and Zickler exchanged roles in the 54th minute, when the latter's header from the former's flick-on sent Germany 2-1 ahead. Rudi Völler's charges maintained that lead until full-time, leaving the Galanolefki wondering what might have been.

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3 hours ago, mark wilson27 said:

Spain getting done over is enough to make me happy. Loving seeing some of the older player names turning up. Del Piero what a legend

Even with Raúl, Spain in 2000 were renowned for choking and were nothing like the unstoppable force they were in 2008-2012, or even today's team. That said, losing to Bosnia & Herzegovina was a surprise, and it could seriously set them back.

Looking at the Italy team in CM00/01 reminds you of just how many exceptional players they had in those days - besides Del Piero, they also had Cannavaro, Maldini, Nesta, Totti, Vieri... I could go on. There's also this brilliant young goalkeeper named Gianluigi Buffon. I wonder what he's doing now. :D

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Estonia's World Cup qualifying schedule is... well, very peculiar, to say the least.


The boys from the Baltic played their opening match in Group 3 against Andorra about a fortnight before most other European teams kicked off. And now, on the first full weekend of UEFA qualifiers, they've held their second game back by 24 hours. Goodness knows what excuse the Estonians have come up with this time, after the floodlight farce against Scotland in 1996.


Portugal are the second team to visit Tallinn in these qualifiers. With the likes of Figo and Nuno Gomes in their ranks, they should make light work of the hosts and join the Netherlands at the top of the group.


We also have one match in Group 7 that has been held back from yesterday. Israel are at home to group minnows Liechtenstein, and I suspect that only some horrific shooting worthy of Ronny Rosenthal will prevent the Blue & Whites from opening with a comfortable win.


UEFA Group Stage

Group 3 Result

Estonia - 0

Portugal - 2 (Edgar 24, S Conceição 34)

Let this be a lesson, Estonia: don't start too quickly. The Sinisärgid might have swept Andorra aside already, but Portugal were a cut above, even three years before the arrival of Cristiano Ronaldo. The Seleção's left-wing wizard Edgar - of Málaga fame - opened the scoring with a superb banana shot in the 24th minute, and right-winger Sergio Conceição also found the net 10 minutes later. Though Portugal goalkeeper Vítor Baía hurt his foot and had to be replaced at half-time with Quim (don't laugh), Estonia's slim hopes faded as soon as their star striker Toomas Krõm strained his thigh early in the second period.


Group 7 Result

Israel - 4 (A Nimni 16,29, S Nagar 24, E Berkovic 42)

Liechtenstein - 0

It could be a long old qualification campaign for Liechtenstein. Avi Nimni opened the scoring for Israel in the 14th minute after Haim Revivo's header was tipped to his feet by visiting goalkeeper Martin Heeb. Nimni would beat Heeb again in the 29th minute, shortly after Shuki Nagar scored a sublime solo effort. To cap off a fine first-half display for the Blue & Whites, Celtic playmaker Eyal Berkovic showed he'd fully recovered from his encounter with John Hartson by pinging in a superb 42nd-minute drive. Israel eased up in the second half, which was just as well for Group 7's likely whipping boys.



Things are really heating up in South America now. The eighth round of CONMEBOL's World Cup qualifiers sees the continent's fiercest foes go head-to-head. Tackles will fly in from all angles, as will a few goals (hopefully), and no love will be lost on the pitch.


But that's enough about Venezuela vs Colombia. There are four other matches to look forward to, you know.


Firstly, we've the small matter of Brazil vs Argentina. It's 1st against 3rd, Samba against Tango, Pelé against Maradona... okay, maybe not the last one. Still, any match that features Romário, Rivaldo, Gabriel Batistuta AND Juan Sebastián Verón has to be a stonker.


Another match that could be worth plenty of column inches in tomorrow's papers (or at least a small paragraph in The Guardian) is Bolivia's meeting with 4th-placed Uruguay. La Verde might be bottom of the table, but victory in this match could kick-start their campaign.


Peru always seem to be last up whenever I preview the CONMEBOL qualifiers, and I'm afraid they're again bringing up the rear, which could literally be the case if they lose tonight. The 9th-placed Blanquirroja are in Santiago, where Marcelo Salas is attempting to single-handedly fire Chile to a third victory in eight games.


CONMEBOL Qualifiers


Bolivia - 1 (R Tufiño 90)

Uruguay - 2 (F O'Neill 18, C Delgado 43)

No disrespect to Uruguay, but if Bolivia can't beat teams like them on home soil, I don't hold much hope for them. Switching their home venue to Santa Cruz didn't help La Verde, who fell behind after 18 minutes to Fabián 'Father Ted' O'Neill. Numancia striker 'Chispa' Delgado - known as Jorge to his mum - climbed above Bolivian goalkeeper Gato Fernández to double Uruguay's lead just before half-time. The hosts battled back in the second half. However, a 90th minute daisy-cutter from Rubén Tufiño - who played for the local club - was far too little, too Blooming late.


Brazil - 3 (DP Simeone og7, Romário 23,58)

Argentina - 0

The latest Superclásico at the Maracanã was a complete blow-out. Things went wrong for Argentina as soon as Diego Pablo Simeone inadvertently sent a Romário cross into his own net after seven minutes. Another seven minutes passed, and then La Albiceleste lost left-back José Antonio Chamot to a red card, for a reckless lunge on Edmundo. Goals in either half from Brazilian captain Romário consolidated the Seleção's place at the top, and piled on the misery for Argentina, whose replacement left-back Juan Pablo Sorín twisted his ankle late in the first half.


Chile - 1 (M Salas 89)

Peru - 2 (C Pizarro 53, AA Lobatón 66)

The first half was a bit of a bore, but things livened up after the resumption. Peru were on a run of three straight defeats when Claudio Pizarro got them back on track with a superb solo strike in the 53rd minute. The 21-year-old's similarly fresh-faced strike partner Abel Augusto Lobatón added a second goal on 66 minutes, and the match was effectively won. But for some excellent defending from left-back Alessandro Escalona, Chile might well have conceded more than six goals. Escalona even set up a consolation goal for La Roja in the 89th minute. Marcelo Salas scored it, of course.


Ecuador - 0

Paraguay - 2 (C Morales Santos 9, R Santa Cruz 77)

I might often wax lyrical about Paraguay's goalkeeper/captain José Luis Chilavert, but he was upstaged by teenage striker Roque Santa Cruz here in Guayaquil. Santa Cruz helped to set up the visitors' first goal in the ninth minute, with his flick-on being taken through the Ecuadorean defence and then fired home by Carlos Morales Santos. Paraguay had countless attempts to double their lead, and Santa Cruz eventually succeeded in the 77th minute. La Albirroja stay in the Playoff place, while Ecuador's hopes of a maiden World Cup appearance look increasingly forlorn.


Venezuela - 0

Colombia - 2 (A Viveros 2, L Preciado 84)

Have the wheels come off the Venezuelan wagon? Colombia raided their neighbours after just two minutes, when Juan Pablo Angel did all the hard work before midfielder Alexander Viveros claimed the opening goal. The Colombians were briefly knocked off their stride when captain Freddy Euzébio Rincón sustained a knee ligament injury in the 35th minute. They were rocking and rolling again by the second half, and Leyder Preciado's first international goal secured victory six minutes from the end. La Vinotino have now suffered two defeats - both on home soil.


                                   P     W     D     L     F     A     GD    PTS
1.          Brazil                 8     5     2     1     12    4     8     17
2.          Uruguay                8     4     3     1     13    8     5     15
3.          Venezuela              8     4     2     2     7     7     0     14
4.          Argentina              8     4     1     3     12    12    0     13
5.          Paraguay               8     3     3     2     13    6     7     12
6.          Colombia               8     2     4     2     13    13    0     10
7.          Peru                   8     2     2     4     8     10    -2    8
8.          Chile                  8     2     2     4     5     8     -3    8
9.          Ecuador                8     2     1     5     5     11    -6    7
10.         Bolivia                8     1     2     5     5     14    -9    5


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7 OCTOBER 2000

I've been looking forward to this for a while now. My home nation England are about to begin their quest to qualify for the 2002 World Cup, where millions of fans - and a couple of jingoistic tabloid newspapers - expect nothing less than victory.


Euro 2000 did not go well for Kevin Keegan's men, but the addition of some fresh talent has raised hopes that things will be different this time around. Their Group 9 opener against fellow underachievers Germany takes place at Anfield in Liverpool, as the demolition and rebuilding of Wembley Stadium has been brought forward. Incredibly, the FA in this universe were actually decisive.


Another mouth-watering tie in tonight's UEFA qualifiers comes from Group 4, where Sweden and Turkey clash in Stockholm. Both teams won their opening matches convincingly, and whoever prevails here will have the upper hand in the race to top the group. My money is on the Swedes, who have Arsenal winger - and part-time model - Fredrik Ljungberg at their disposal.


Group 8 sees Italy play host to Romania, with both teams vying for early supremacy in the pool. Though Romania are the group's top seeds, the Azzurri are hot favourites, having come within a whisker of winning the Euros this summer under Dino Zoff. New head coach Giovanni Trapattoni has certainly continued where Dino left Z-off, thrashing Hungary 5-0 last month.


Lastly, I'll have a quick look at the first group, because I'm a bit of an oddball. Group 1 favourites Yugoslavia and Russia meet in a battle of the once-great eastern powers, and the latter will be keen to make amends after slipping up in their opener against Switzerland.


Meanwhile, the CONMEBOL qualifiers reach the halfway stage. Brazil will ensure that they stay top of the table after nine games if they can break through Paraguay's stubborn defence. The Seleção have certainly come a long way since their rather shaky start.


Argentina aren't quite out of the woods themselves, having lost last month's Superclásico. The knives will be out for Marcelo Bielsa if they can't win at home to a mediocre Chile team who are far too reliant on one player nowadays. At least the Roja team who got to Round 2 at France '98 had Javier Margas.


Like Brazil, Uruguay have lost just one of their first eight qualifiers. Few will expect La Celeste to suffer a second reverse when they host Ecuador, who are second-from-bottom.


UEFA Group Stage

Group 1 Results

Luxembourg - 0

Slovenia - 2 (S Cimerotic 57,72)

After brushing the Faroe Islands aside, Slovenia made heavier weather of Luxembourg. They toiled through the first half without scoring, but manager Srecko Katanec's decision to bench Portsmouth striker Mladen Rudonja at half-time paid dividends. His replacement Sebastijan Cimerotic would break the deadlock after 57 minutes, and he struck again a quarter-hour later, with captain Zlatko Zahovic setting up both goals. Slovenia have a couple of away wins under their belt already, but to be honest, it's all been a little too easy for them so far.


Switzerland - 4 (C Sforza pen2, J Vogel 4, D Sesa 12, K Turkyilmaz 45)

Faroe Islands - 0

The Swiss stars only turned up for the first half, but boy was it some first half. Bayern München midfielder Ciriaco Sforza set the ball rolling when he converted a second-minute penalty after David Sesa had been felled in the area by Faroes defender Johan Nielsen. Sesa then added his name to the scoresheet, though not before Johann Vogel helped himself to a strike. Brescia veteran Kubilay Turkyilmaz completed the scoring just before half-time. The Faroe Islands tried to reduce the damage in the second half, but midfielder Julian Johnsson hit the post late on.


Yugoslavia - 2 (S Milosevic 33, S Mihajlovic 40)

Russia - 0

This was a typically full-blooded contest in Belgrade, but only one team was really on song. While Russia failed to get any of their shots on target, Yugoslavia proved to be rather more clinical. Parma's clinical centre-forward Savo Milosevic got them off the mark after 33 minutes. Seven minutes later, Lazio defender and Yugoslav captain Sinisa Mihajlovic went for goal himself, emphatically beating Sergei Ovchinnikov. Yep, I'm afraid the Russians didn't have any good goalkeepers back in 2000. Igor Akinfeev was still a few years away from bursting onto the scene.


GROUP 1                            P     W     D     L     F     A     GD    PTS
1.          Yugoslavia             2     2     0     0     6     0     6     6
2.          Slovenia               2     2     0     0     4     1     3     6
3.          Switzerland            2     1     1     0     5     1     4     4
4.          Russia                 2     0     1     1     1     3     -2    1
5.          Faroe Islands          2     0     0     2     1     6     -5    0
6.          Luxembourg             2     0     0     2     0     6     -6    0


Group 2 Results

Andorra - 0

Estonia - 3 (J Õun 30, M Smirnov 38, K Viikmäe 80)

This rematch of the 'Game That Started Very Early' had the same outcome - a 3-0 Estonian win. Though the boys from the Baltic lost Andres Oper to injury after just 21 minutes, his replacement Jan Õun opened the scoring nine minutes later. Maksim Smirnov then drank to a second away goal in the 38th minute. Andorra's geriatric right-back Albert Carnice could have done with a drink in the 68th minute, after tearing his 42-year-old hamstring. The hosts were down to 10 men, but Estonia showed no mercy, as Kristen Viikmäe blasted Mario Kristal's right-wing cross home in the 80th minute.


Cyprus - 0

Netherlands - 5 (E Davids 3, C Seedorf 11,41, M Overmars 31, P Kluivert 35)

Louis van Gaal's Dutch destroyers were utterly relentless. Edgar Davids set the tone for things to come when he struck after just three minutes. The bespectacled one was joined on the scoresheet eight minutes later by Clarence Seedorf, and by Marc Overmars in the 31st minute. Cypriot defender Kostas Konstadinou couldn't cope with the onslaught, pulling his hamstring shortly afterwards. He missed a couple more Dutch goals - one from Patrick Kluivert in the 35th minute, and then a second from Seedorf. The Netherlands eased up in the second half, with back-to-back victories safely in the bag.


Portugal - 1 (Figo pen82)

Republic of Ireland - 0

That scoreline could easily have been reversed. Irish captain Niall Quinn had the ball in the Portuguese net after 25 minutes, but his goal was ruled out by a foul from team-mate Steven Carr. (Yes, Stephen's first name is spelt incorrectly in the database.) That was a rare away attack in a match that Portugal dominated, though they didn't take the lead until the closing stages. Republic centre-half Steve Staunton recklessly lunged in two-footed on Portugal captain João Pinto, and he was given his marching orders before home hero Figo powered in the winning penalty.


GROUP 2                            P     W     D     L     F     A     GD    PTS
1.          Portugal               2     2     0     0     3     0     3     6
2.          Netherlands            2     2     0     0     7     0     7     6
3.          Estonia                3     2     0     1     6     2     4     6
4.          Cyprus                 2     0     1     1     1     6     -5    1
5.          Andorra                3     0     1     2     1     7     -6    1
6.          Republic of Ireland    2     0     0     2     0     3     -3    0


Group 3 Results

Bulgaria - 3 (A Aleksandrov 6, D Donsev 54, K Balakov 77)

Malta - 2 (G Agius 79, D Sylla 90)

Both teams played attacking football and served up a thriller. Bulgaria right-winger Aleksandar Aleksandrov celebrated winning the 'Most Original Name' award from FIFA by scoring the first goal after six minutes. 19-year-old team-mate Dimitar Berbatov sadly had to leave the game with a thigh strain just before the interval, but substitute full-back Dian Donsev made it 2-0 early in the second half. Lions captain Krassimir Balakov was also on the scoresheet in the 77th minute, and the scoring ended there... at least as far as Bulgaria were concerned. Gilbert Agius and Djibriel Sylla each found the target in the closing moments for Malta, who were too slow off the mark to launch a meaningful fightback.


Czech Republic - 2 (K Poborsky 18, M Heinz 36)

Iceland - 0

The Czech Republic have their first win, and they have a couple of Premiership midfielders past and present to thank. Former Manchester United star Karel Poborsky - now of Lazio - was first to find a way past would-be Manchester City goalkeeper Arni Gautur Arason in the 18th minute. Exactly 18 minutes later, Liverpool's Patrik Berger set up a first international goal for Hamburg striker and future baked-bean entrepreneur Marek Heinz. Iceland never stood a chance thereafter, and a knee injury for attacking midfielder Thordur Gudjonsson in the 71st minute caused them more pain.


Northern Ireland - 0

Denmark - 1 (M Jørgensen 40)

Northern Ireland's German-born goalkeeper Maik Taylor (who's about as Irish as Kraftwerk) withstood some early attacks, but his goalmouth would soon be blown up by Danish Dynamite. Udinese midfielder Martin Jørgensen did the damage in the 40th minute, heading Ebbe Sand's corner past the Fulham gloveman. There arguably should have been more goals for the visitors, but the excellent Peter Møller had no fewer than five shots saved by Taylor. Man City defender Kevin Horlock also deserved credit for keeping NI's deficit down to 1-0, but the strikers surely would've been disappointed with themselves.


GROUP 3                            P     W     D     L     F     A     GD    PTS
1.          Denmark                2     2     0     0     3     0     3     6
2.          Czech Republic         2     1     1     0     3     1     2     4
3.          Bulgaria               2     1     1     0     4     3     1     4
4.          Northern Ireland       2     1     0     1     2     1     1     3
5.          Malta                  2     0     0     2     2     5     -3    0
6.          Iceland                2     0     0     2     0     4     -4    0


Group 4 Results

Macedonia - 2 (T Micevski 61, S Ciric 63)

Azerbaijan - 0

Macedonia's best chance of the first half saw Sasa Ciric power a header against the woodwork in the 27th minute. The Red Lynxes continued to create openings throughout the match, though it wasn't until the 61st minute that they finally scored. Midfielder Toni Micevski - not to be confused with captain Tony Savevski - volleyed in a superb cross from full-back Marjan Gerasimovski. Two minutes later, Savevski assisted Ciric for the game's second goal. Azerbaijan couldn't battle back, though midfielder (No Forename Provided) Diniev missed a late chance to save some face.


Moldova - 0

Slovakia - 1 (M Majoros 58)

A poor-quality game witnessed only two shots on target - one for each side. Moldova were first to threaten to break the deadlock after 31 minutes, but Burnley midfielder Sergiu Epureanu's was tipped behind by Slovakia goalkeeper/captain Alexandre Vencel. That turned out to be Moldova's only shot of the whole match. The visitors had their best opportunity on 58 minutes, and Marcel Majoros took it, driving in an excellent shot from an angle. Majoros sadly twisted his knee in the closing stages, but his strike was enough to earn the Repre a second straight win.


Sweden - 0

Turkey - 0

Sweden are probably wondering how the heck they didn't win this match. Tommy Söderberg's team were by far the more attacking in this encounter, but their advances were frequently stopped by great saves from Turkey goalkeeper Reçber Rüstü. Bari midfielder Daniel Andersson was particularly unlucky, having two impressive shots kept out by Rüstü. Conversely, the Crescent-Stars hardly threatened their opponents, though industrial tackling did see middlemen Tayfun and Ercan Abdullah get booked.


GROUP 4                            P     W     D     L     F     A     GD    PTS
1.          Slovakia               2     2     0     0     3     0     3     6
2.          Sweden                 2     1     1     0     4     0     4     4
3.          Turkey                 2     1     1     0     4     1     3     4
4.          Macedonia              2     1     0     1     2     2     0     3
5.          Moldova                2     0     0     2     1     5     -4    0
6.          Azerbaijan             2     0     0     2     0     6     -6    0


Group 5 Results

Armenia - 0

Ukraine - 2 (S Kandaurov 20, A Holovko 31)

Ukraine have their first win on the board - and frankly, they didn't need either Andriy Shevchenko or Sergei Rebrov to be anywhere near their best. The Zhovto-Blakytni's two goals in Yerevan came from rather more surprising sources. Benfica midfielder Serguei Kandaurov broke the deadlock on 20 minutes after Armenian goalie Roman Berezovskiy spilled a Shevchenko free-kick. Kandaurov then assisted centre-half Alexander Holovko for the second goal 11 minutes later. Though Ukraine lost midfielder Alexandr Prizetko to injury shortly afterwards, they still recorded a comfortable victory.


Poland - 2 (P Kryzalowicz 10, T Iwan 15)

Belarus - 0

It's another two-goal win for one of the future Euro 2012 co-hosts. Poland's Eagles got off to a flyer, with Pawel Kryzalowicz driving in an early goal in the 10th minute after Belarus keeper Valery Shantalosov made hard work of Tomasz Klos' initial shot. When Tomasz Iwan made it 2-0 five minutes later, the die was cast, and Belarus had to defend resolutely just to avoid total humiliation. The victorious Biało-czerwoni also gave an international debut to Kaiserslautern striker Miroslav Klose, presumably to stop Germany stealing him from under their noses.


Wales - 2 (C Bellamy 40, D Saunders 54)

Norway - 0

Now I understand why Ryan Giggs doesn't play in many friendlies for Wales; he likes to save his energy for the big games! Manchester United's Welsh wizard put on a magical display at the Millennium Stadium to stun a highly-rated Norway team. Giggs got the Red Dragons up and running when his low cross was smashed in off the bar by Craig Bellamy. Captain Dean Saunders also benefitted hugely from a Giggsy special in the 54th minute. Norway's United striker Ole Gunnar Solskjær will probably sleep like a baby-faced baby tonight - and wake up screaming every 15 minutes.


GROUP 5                            P     W     D     L     F     A     GD    PTS
1.          Wales                  2     2     0     0     4     1     3     6
2.          Ukraine                2     1     1     0     3     1     2     4
3.          Poland                 2     1     1     0     3     1     2     4
4.          Norway                 2     1     0     1     3     2     1     3
5.          Belarus                2     0     0     2     1     4     -3    0
6.          Armenia                2     0     0     2     0     5     -5    0


Group 6 Results

Latvia - 1 (A Stolcers 64)

Belgium - 1 (E Mpenza 7)

Latvia launched their first attack after four minutes, but Marian Pahars sent his shot clean over the bar. Emile Mpenza was more accurate for Belgium three minutes later, and the Red Devils' 1-0 lead looked a reasonably comfortable one for some time. Mind you, while Southampton's Pahars was not in the best of form, Latvia did have two other English-based aces to help them out. Fulham winger Andrey Stolcers drew the Sarkanbaltsarkanie level midway through the second half, and a strong defensive shift from Arsenal's Igors Stepanovs (yeah, right) helped them to hold onto a point.


San Marino - 0

Scotland - 3 (G McSwegan 1, B Dodds 30, C Burley 34)

Deary me, San Marino. You must be very poor if you concede three away goals against Scotland, and concede the first one within a minute of kick-off! Gary McSwegan's very early opener would be followed up by a couple more strikes later in the first period. Billy Dodds and Craig Burnley made it three goals from as many shots, and though the Tartan Army couldn't keep that 100% record going into the second half, they didn't need to. A miserable afternoon for San Marino ended with grey left-back Palmiro Di Fausto limping off injured after 88 minutes.


GROUP 6                            P     W     D     L     F     A     GD    PTS
1.          Scotland               2     2     0     0     4     0     4     6
2.          Belgium                2     1     1     0     3     2     1     4
3.          Latvia                 2     0     1     1     1     2     -1    1
4.          Croatia                1     0     0     1     1     2     -1    0
5.          San Marino             1     0     0     1     0     3     -3    0


Group 7 Results

Liechtenstein - 0

Austria - 1 (T Flögel 63)

As local rivalries go, this was supposed to be a no-contest. Austria battered tiny Liechtenstein with shot after shot - but, as has been the case so many times in these situations, they only managed a single goal. In the 61st minute, versatile Hearts man Thomas Flögel and debutant midfielder Michael Wagner came off the bench to replace Mario Haas and Ivica Vastic respectively. Two minutes later, Wagner's knock-down was thundered into the net by Flögel. Martin Heeb was soundly beaten, though a series of great saves from the Liechtenstein keeper ensured that he wouldn't concede again.


Spain - 4 (Gerard 18,33, Raúl 21, Luis Enrique 57)

Israel - 0

That's some way to battle back after a chastening opening-round defeat. Spain banished their Bosnian blues by lashing four goals past a sorry Israel team. Barcelona midfielder Gerard surprisingly scored twice in the first half, while also finding time to assist Real Madrid striker Raúl for his 20th international goal. Luis Enrique completed the rout early in the second half, powering a superb shot past a hopeless Shavit Elimelech in the Israeli goal. Another player who had a shocker for the visitors was winger Idan Tal, who's apparently homesick already at Everton, even though he's been there for about seven hours.


GROUP 7                            P     W     D     L     F     A     GD    PTS
1.          Spain                  2     1     0     1     4     1     3     3
2.          Bosnia & Herzegovina   1     1     0     0     1     0     1     3
3.          Austria                1     1     0     0     1     0     1     3
4.          Israel                 2     1     0     1     4     4     0     3
5.          Liechtenstein          2     0     0     2     0     5     -5    0


Group 8 Results

Italy - 4 (S Fiore 15,28, G Zambrotta 41, R Baggio 88)

Romania - 0

You'll do well to find a more complete performance in the qualifiers than Italy's against Romania. The Tricolorii were torched by the awesome Azzurri, who started off with a couple of clinical headers by Stefano Fiore in the first half-hour. Juventus right-back Gianluca Zambrotta made it a hat-trick of headed goals for Italy on 41 minutes. As Romania looked on in both horror and admiration, they conceded a fourth goal to Roberto Baggio two minutes from the end. I think Giovanni Trapattoni and his killer Italians mean business. Those non-grey, bottle-nosed, intelligent Italians!


Lithuania - 1 (T Razanauskas 25)

Georgia - 0

Don't let the scoreline fool you into thinking this was close. If Georgian goalkeeper David Guaramadze hadn't been on song, Lithuania would have won very comfortably indeed. Guaramadze's only lapse in an otherwise valiant performance saw him concede to Tomas Razanauskas' header from left-winger Saulius Mikalajunas. Note that Mikalajunas is not related to right-winger Saulius Mikoliunas, who would blow very hot and very cold at Hearts in the late 2000s. Incidentally, future Jambos striker Edgaras Jankauskas was unlucky not to add a second Lithuanian goal later on.


GROUP 8                            P     W     D     L     F     A     GD    PTS
1.          Italy                  2     2     0     0     9     0     9     6
2.          Romania                2     1     0     1     2     4     -2    3
3.          Lithuania              2     1     0     1     1     2     -1    3
4.          Georgia                1     0     0     1     0     1     -1    0
5.          Hungary                1     0     0     1     0     5     -5    0


Group 9 Results

England - 2 (S McManaman 43, K Phillips 90)

Germany - 0

England got a glorious win over Germany at Euro 2000, and they've done it again in the qualifiers for the 2002 World Cup! Representing his nation at Anfield seemed to inspire Liverpool's returning hero Steve McManaman, who made a lung-busting solo run before beating Oliver Kahn in the 43rd minute. Germany battled hard to try and restore parity, but the twin forces of goalkeeper Tim Flowers and teenage centre-half Gareth Barry kept them at bay. Then, in the 90th minute, Kevin Phillips volleyed Chelsea winger Jon Harley's cross to secure victory for England. No, I'm not kidding. Jon Harley.


Greece - 2 (N Liberopoulos 63, V Tsartas 73)

Finland - 1 (H Tihinen pen66)

The less said about the first half, the better. Thankfully, the second was rather more exciting. It ended prematurely for Greece midfielder Nikos Dabizas when he twisted his knee in the 53rd minute. He was replaced with Vassilis Tsartas, who went on to assist Nikos Liberopoulos for the Galanolefki's opening goal ten minutes later. Finland quickly drew level, as Hannu Tihinen struck from the penalty spot after Daniel Sjölund was upended by Greek keeper Ilias Atmatzidis. However, Tsartas restored Greece's advantage in the 73rd minute, and the hosts managed to stay in front this time.


GROUP 9                            P     W     D     L     F     A     GD    PTS
1.          England                1     1     0     0     2     0     2     3
2.          Greece                 2     1     0     1     3     3     0     3
3.          Germany                2     1     0     1     2     3     -1    3
4.          Finland                2     1     0     1     2     2     0     3
5.          Albania                1     0     0     1     0     1     -1    0


CONMEBOL Qualifiers


Argentina - 3 (W Samuel 2, DP Simeone 3, JS Verón 85)

Chile - 0

Chile started the match with a very defensive outlook... and the outlook was certainly not looking good after the first three minutes. Argentina flew out of the traps, with first Walter Samuel and then Diego Pablo Simeone finding the net against a flimsy Chilean backline. It was looking even flimsier when left-back César Elías Santis came off with a shin injury after 18 minutes. Despite that, some outstanding saves from La Roja goalkeeper Nelson Tapias prevented Argentina from scoring again... at least until La Albiceleste's star player Juan Sebastián Verón made it 3-0 late on.


Colombia - 2 (P Portocarrero 5, L Preciado 78)

Bolivia - 1 (J Moreno 64)

Colombia also started their match brightly, as defender Pedro Portocarrero broke through Bolivia's backline after just five minutes. Unlike Chile, though, Bolivia chose not to sit back and take their punishment. They bravely battled on, eventually equalising through DC United forward Jaime Moreno after 64 minutes. Alas, a torturous qualifying campaign for La Verde was to get worse still. With 12 minutes to go, Colombian captain Freddy Euzébio Rincón chipped the ball into their penalty area for Leyder Preciado to head home. It's now six defeats in nine for Bolivia.


Paraguay - 0

Brazil - 3 (Rivaldo 22, P Sarabia og24, Romário 44)

Paraguay tried to rough Brazil up in the early stages, collecting a couple of yellow cards in doing so. However, things started to go badly wrong for La Albirroja in the 15th minute, when striker Roque Santa Cruz gashed his leg and had to be subbed. Rivaldo headed Roberto Carlos' cross past José Luis Chilavert seven minutes later to put Brazil 1-0 up, and that lead would soon be doubled by an unfortunate own goal from Pedro Sarabia. Seleção skipper Romário completed the first-half blitz from another Roberto Carlos assist, and the leaders recorded another comfortable victory.


Peru - 1 (P Zegarra 84)

Venezuela - 0

It was all going so well for Venezuela, but back-to-back defeats have really put the mockers on their charge. At first, they did well to withstand a torrent of Peruvian attacks, with the improbably-named left-back Davis McIntosh proving particularly resilient. With six minutes to go, however, La Vinotinto were finally broken. Goalkeeper/captain Emilio Haberli could only parry Dario Muchodrigo's header on to Pablo Zegarra, who drove in the rebound to secure the points for Peru. To make matters worse for Venezuela, their right-winger Daniel Noriega had broken his toe in the build-up to that goal.


Uruguay - 3 (M Rivas 6, W Cohelo 17, D Alonso 90)

Ecuador - 0

Ecuador should know by now that playing defensive football from the start is just asking for trouble. Uruguay went for the win immediately, and defender Martín Rivas took just six minutes to break the deadlock. That was Rivas' first international goal, and midfielder Walter Cohelo emulated that feat 11 minutes later. La Celeste huffed and puffed for another goal, with Walter Pandiani going close from a spectacular overhead kick in the 89th minute. Strike partner Diego Alonso had better luck a minute later, and a solid 3-0 win kept Uruguay second-from-top. Ecuador remained second-from-bottom.


                                   P     W     D     L     F     A     GD    PTS
1.          Brazil                 9     6     2     1     15    4     11    20
2.          Uruguay                9     5     3     1     16    8     8     18
3.          Argentina              9     5     1     3     15    12    3     16
4.          Venezuela              9     4     2     3     7     8     -1    14
5.          Colombia               9     3     4     2     15    14    1     13
6.          Paraguay               9     3     3     3     13    9     4     12
7.          Peru                   9     3     2     4     9     10    -1    11
8.          Chile                  9     2     2     5     5     11    -6    8
9.          Ecuador                9     2     1     6     5     14    -9    7
10.         Bolivia                9     1     2     6     6     16    -10   5


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6 hours ago, gibbo11 said:

Venezuela in danger.. Was really hoping they'd keep the form up!

Venezuela's early results were very surprising, but I think they've now been found out and other teams are taking them more seriously. They seriously lack quality up front and might well continue to falter.

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11 OCTOBER 2000

Good news: we've got plenty of 'Titanic' tussles on both sides of the Atlantic tonight. Even better news: there's no Celine Dion in sight!


The United States of America have already secured their progression from the CONCACAF Semi Finals. Their next opponents in Group 2 are Jamaica, who only require a draw in Kingston to ensure that they too will be progressing to the Final Round.


Canada are set to go through as Group 1 winners, and they now have a chance to wreck Costa Rica's dreams of making the finals. Los Ticos' local rivals Honduras are on the brink of qualification for the Final Round, which they can seal by beating Barbados.


And in Group 3, Mexico take on El Salvador in a match that could see either team celebrate progression. A point will be enough for the Mexicans, but El Salvador will qualify if they can cause an upset and Panama vs Guyana ends in a draw.


Just like in North America (and Central America, and the Caribbean), tonight's most thrilling encounter in the European qualifiers comes from Group 2. Something must give when the Netherlands and Portugal put their 100% records on the line in Amsterdam.


That fixture pits together two of the most outstanding players in world football - Oranje striker Patrick Kluivert, and Seleção maestro Figo. They used to be team-mates at Barcelona, but now there's some bad blood after Figo's controversial summer move to Real Madrid. Expect plenty of fireworks (but hopefully no flying pig's heads) in Amsterdam.


Two of the toughest teams in Group 3 collide in Copenhagen, where Denmark entertain Bulgaria. Like Figo, Denmark's midfield icon Michael Laudrup infamously crossed the Barca/Real divide in 1994. We shan't be seeing any beheaded pork in the bacon-loving Danish capital either, though, as Laudrup retired from internationals a couple of years ago.


Any vegetarians will be relieved to know that there'll be no more meat talk from hereon in. Instead, we turn to Group 4, where Slovakia have a chance to continue their perfect record against Sweden. Though the Slovaks have been overshadowed by their Czech neighbours since the Velvet Divorce of 1993, they're now starting to make names for themselves.


Croatia are at home to Scotland in Group 6, and they'll be desperate to start winning again after their opening defeat against Belgium. In Group 7, perennial underachievers Spain - who are away to Austria - will look to continue their recovery from an early wobble of their own.


Finally, there's a potentially intriguing Group 9 match-up between Finland and England. The Three Lions are the only team in the group who haven't lost yet, and confidence is high amongst Kevin Keegan's men following a straightforward 2-0 win over Germany. They can expect a difficult ride in Helsinki, though, because the Finns look pretty good in Championship Manager.



Group 1 Results

Canada - 4 (P Stalteri 11,31, T Dunfield 17, D Xausa 89)

Costa Rica - 0

Canada might have already qualified for the Final Round, but they've made darn sure that Costa Rica WON'T be joining them. Paul Stalteri was in sensational form, scoring in the 11th and 31st minutes. Erick Lonis Bolaños had denied him another goal on 17 minutes, but 18-year-old Manchester City midfielder Terry Dunfield drove in the follow-up. The clinical Canucks would add to their 3-0 half-time lead in the dying moments of the second half, with Davide Xausa finishing off Costa Rica for good. Unlike in real life, Los Ticos have failed to qualify for the 2002 World Cup.


Honduras - 2 (T Nuñez 16, E Bennett 73)

Barbados - 3 (M Harewood 63, M Hall pen76, G Goodridge 78)

Honduras should have wrapped up their Final Round place here, but they blew it big-time. All appeared to be going well for Los Catrachos when Tyson Nuñez put them ahead on 16 minutes. Marlon Harewood equalised for Barbados after a little over an hour, but Eduardo Bennett sent Honduras back in front in the 73rd minute. Bennett then undid his good work three minutes later by bringing Greg Goodridge down in his penalty area. Slough winger Mark Hall converted the spot-kick, and Goodridge then grabbed a sensational winner for the Bajans shortly afterwards! Barbados could well sneak into the next phase at Honduras' expense, provided they beat Costa Rica on home soil next month.


GROUP 1                            P     W     D     L     F     A     GD    PTS
1.    Q     Canada                 5     4     1     0     12    1     11    13
2.          Honduras               5     2     1     2     8     8     0     7
3.          Barbados               5     2     0     3     5     8     -3    6
4.          Costa Rica             5     1     0     4     3     11    -8    3


Group 2 Results

Jamaica - 0

United States of America - 0

Jamaica needed just one more point to reach the Final Round, and boy did they have to work hard to get it. A cagey match saw both teams miss several opportunities to break the deadlock. Jamaica's newly-capped Leicester striker Trevor Benjamin was particularly unlucky not to score, as he had three shots saved by USA goalie Kasey Keller, who maintained his perfect record of clean sheets. Alas, Keller's fellow Americans couldn't keep up their fine scoring run, thanks a spirited display in the centre of the Reggae Boyz' defence from Michael Johnson. That's a bit ironic, isn't it?


St Kitts & Nevis - 0

Netherlands Antilles - 0

Even if the Netherlands Antilles had won this match, it wouldn't have mattered because of tonight's other result. They were eliminated from World Cup contention with more of a whimper than a bang. A low-quality contest in Basseterre saw the two teams rack up four shots on target between them. Lutel James and Edward Vickers had the best of St Kitts' efforts, but a brave effort from Dutch Antillean centre-half Nelson Wau kept them quiet. A last-minute opportunity for the visitors was volleyed high and wide by Robin Nelisse, who screamed so loud afterwards that he broke his jaw.


GROUP 2                            P     W     D     L     F     A     GD    PTS
1.    Q     USA                    5     4     1     0     14    0     14    13
2.    Q     Jamaica                5     3     1     1     6     3     3     10
3.          Netherlands Antilles   5     1     1     3     3     8     -5    4
4.          St Kitts & Nevis       5     0     1     4     1     13    -12   1


Group 3 Results

Mexico - 5 (R Pelaez 23,pen63, G Villa 39, L Garcia 70,80)

El Salvador - 1 (R Diaz Arce 60)

Mexico booked their Final Round place in some style, and emphatically denied El Salvador the chance to secure theirs at the same time. Goals from Ricardo Pelaez and Germán Villa put El Tri into a 2-0 lead at half-time. An 11th goal in the qualifiers by Raul Diaz Arce briefly had the Salvadoreans dreaming of a comeback, until Arkaitz Alcaraz' penalty-area shove on Pelaez allowed the 36-year-old striker to make it 3-1 from the spot. Luis Garcia - not the same one of future Liverpool infamy - finished proceedings off with a brace, and Mexico sailed through with a game to spare.


Panama - 4 (JC Dely Valdés 45,63,67,90)

Guyana - 2 (J Thomas 2, B Bradley 68)

Whisper it quietly... WE MIGHT SEE PANAMA! IN THE FINAL ROUND! Los Canaleros appeared to be heading for another defeat when Arsenal teenager Jerome Thomas sent Guyana ahead after just two minutes. However, a header on the stroke of half-time from Julio César Dely Valdés knocked the Carl Cort-less Golden Jaguars off their stride. Málaga striker Dely Valdés helped himself to a couple more goals midway through the half, and then added a FOURTH after Guyana captain Bernard Bradley had pulled one back. Panama's first Semi Final win means that 2nd place in Group 3 is still up for grabs!


GROUP 3                            P     W     D     L     F     A     GD    PTS
1.    Q     Mexico                 5     4     1     0     13    2     11    13
2.          El Salvador            5     2     1     2     9     11    -2    7
3.          Panama                 5     1     1     3     8     10    -2    4
4.          Guyana                 5     1     1     3     3     10    -7    4


UEFA Group Stage

Group 1 Results

Russia - 4 (Y Titov 11, A Shirko 25,75, Y Nikiforov 41)

Luxembourg - 0

Luxembourg never really stood a chance in Moscow's Luzhniki stadium. As soon as goalie Stéphane Gillet fumbled Yegor Titov's 11th-minute shot back to the Russia midfielder for him to convert the rebound, the Red Lions looked like the proverbial pub team. Alexander Shirko joined his Spartak Moscow team-mate Titov on the scoresheet in the 25th minute, and PSV defender Yuri Nikiforov added a third goal on the stroke of half-time. Shirko completed an emphatic 4-0 win - Russia's first of the qualifiers - by heading in a late corner from Sergey Semak.


Slovenia - 3 (M Acimovic 1,19, Z Pavlovic 29)

Switzerland - 1 (J Vogel 70)

If Tottenham need a new striker in the near-future, they could do worse than look at Milenko Acimovic. The Red Star Belgrade man was on target twice in the first 19 minutes, with Zlatko Zahovic assisting him on each occasion. Zoran Pavlovic made it 3-0 after nearly half an hour, piling further misery on a Switzerland team who'd already lost young winger Philippe Eich to a shin injury. Young-ish midfielder Johann Vogel did give the Swiss a glimmer of hope by scoring in the 70th minute, but they couldn't follow it up.


Yugoslavia - 2 (D Stankovic 15, D Kovacevic 73)

Faroe Islands - 1 (JB Hansen 79)

Even with some of Serie A's leading lights in their team, Yugoslavia didn't make things easy for themselves against the Faroe Islands. When Lazio's Dejan Stankovic found the net in the 15th minute, it should've started off a Yugoslav scoring spree. That could well have happened were it not for the presence of an excellent Jákup Mikkelsen in the Faroese goal. He would only be beaten once more, by Darko Kovacevic of Juventus in the 73rd minute. Right-back Johan Byrial Hansen then stole an away goal against the run of play, prompting a few jitters in the Blues' camp before they held onto the win.


GROUP 1                            P     W     D     L     F     A     GD    PTS
1.          Yugoslavia             3     3     0     0     8     1     7     9
2.          Slovenia               3     3     0     0     7     2     5     9
3.          Switzerland            3     1     1     1     6     4     2     4
4.          Russia                 3     1     1     1     5     3     2     4
5.          Faroe Islands          3     0     0     3     2     8     -6    0
6.          Luxembourg             3     0     0     3     0     10    -10   0


Group 2 Results

Netherlands - 2 (E Davids 27, P Kluivert 33)

Portugal - 1 (P Bento 62)

A heavyweight contest lived up to expectations, with Edgar Davids ultimately stealing the show for the Netherlands. Juventus' superstar defensive midfielder kicked off the scoring after 27 minutes, heading in a cross from Clarence Seedorf. Six minutes later, Patrick Kluivert doubled Holland's lead with a little help from Winston Bogarde, who's already made 10 appearances for Chelsea (Hmm... that last bit doesn't sound quite right to me). Paulo Bento's first goal for Portugal in the 62nd minute had some away supporters dreaming of an away draw, if not more. However, despite finishing the match with 10 men after substitute defender Tieme Klompe hurt his shin in the 84th minute, the Oranje defended resiliently and grabbed a big win in their qualification bid.


Republic of Ireland - 3 (M Kennedy 45, Roy Keane 60, M Kinsella 79)

Estonia - 0

A tense match at Lansdowne Road only really got going on the brink of half-time. Man City left-winger Mark Kennedy left Irish eyes smiling when he scored from Steven Carr's cross. Estonian wideman Mario Kristal twisted his knee while trying to stop Kennedy, and the visitors' woes would worsen at the start of the second half. A professional foul on Robbie Keane by left-back Urmas Rooba reduced Estonia to 10 men. Robbie's scarier namesake Roy Keane doubled Ireland's lead on the hour, and Mark Kinsella then rounded off what was ultimately a very comfortable win for the Republic.


GROUP 2                            P     W     D     L     F     A     GD    PTS
1.          Netherlands            3     3     0     0     9     1     8     9
2.          Portugal               3     2     0     1     4     2     2     6
3.          Estonia                4     2     0     2     6     5     1     6
4.          Republic of Ireland    3     1     0     2     3     3     0     3
5.          Cyprus                 2     0     1     1     1     6     -5    1
6.          Andorra                3     0     1     2     1     7     -6    1


Group 3 Results

Denmark - 2 (E Sand 52,60)

Bulgaria - 0

Denmark spent the first 45 minutes struggling to break through a Bulgarian team who got off to an extremely cagey start. Then it was a case of "Enter Sand man" for Metallica drummer Lars Ulrich's compatriots. Ebbe Sand made up for a lacklustre first half by powering home a free-kick seven minutes into the second period, following a clumsy challenge from Bulgaria defender Gocho Guintchev. The Schalke 04 striker doubled his and the hosts' tally eight minutes later, half-volleying in a fine delivery from substitute Morten Bisgaard. It's three shut-out wins in three for the Dynamite Danes.


Iceland - 2 (G Taggart og16, H Gudnason 60)

Northern Ireland - 1 (J Magilton 71)

After just 16 minutes, Northern Ireland had the ball in the net through (and Leicester's) Gerry Taggart. Unfortunately, Taggart met Hilmar Björnsson's volley with a murderous clearance that diverted the ball into his own net. Norn Iron would buckle again in the 60th minute, as Liverpool striker Haukur Gudnason (me neither) put Iceland on course for a first victory. Ipswich midfielder Jim Magilton's retaliatory strike on 71 minutes turned out to be just a consolation for the visitors. And no... contrary to a Mitsubishi TV advert from the late 2000s, Jim Magilton DOES NOT come from Scotland*.

* Actually, on closer examination, the boy in the advert appears to say "Jimmy Johnstone only comes from Scotland", not "Jim Magilton". To be fair, I probably misheard that because Mags was a more contemporary footballer than Celtic's jinking hero from the 1960s, and the lad's Kiwi accent was very difficult to comprehend. But that begs the question: how does a schoolboy from New Zealand know about... [That's enough. -Ed]


Malta - 0

Czech Republic - 3 (P Nedved 22, P Berger 42, R Latal 75)

If Malta wanted to qualify for the 2002 World Cup, it probably wasn't a good idea to give their rivals a big head start. The Falcons fell further off the pace after being overpowered by the Czech Republic in Valletta. Karel Poborsky had a couple of excellent assists in the first half, creating goals for Lazio team-mate Pavel Nedved in the 22nd minute and then for Patrik Berger in the 42nd. Liverpool midfielder Berger then turned creator on 75 minutes, as his delivery was headed home by Radoslav Latal. The Czechs could easily have finished with a bigger lead than 3-0, but they were quite wasteful.


GROUP 3                            P     W     D     L     F     A     GD    PTS
1.          Denmark                3     3     0     0     5     0     5     9
2.          Czech Republic         3     2     1     0     6     1     5     7
3.          Bulgaria               3     1     1     1     4     5     -1    4
4.          Iceland                3     1     0     2     2     5     -3    3
5.          Northern Ireland       3     1     0     2     3     3     0     3
6.          Malta                  3     0     0     3     2     8     -6    0


Group 4 Results

Azerbaijan - 1 (N Sirkhbaev 82)

Turkey - 3 (Hakan Sükür 23, Hami 34,43)

Turkey are looking pretty good in their quest to reach just their second ever World Cup finals. Star striker Hakan Sükür got the scoring underway in Baku, heading Real Sociedad winger Tayfun's cross home midway through the first half. The rather less-heralded Mandirali Hami - a decent frontman in his own right at Trabzonspor - bettered him with a couple of goals later in the period. Though their nameless left-back Dzhabarov injured his thigh in the 75th minute, Azerbaijan did get a late consolation goal through winger Narvik Sirkhaev seven minutes later.


Moldova - 2 (S Rogachev 45, A Popovich 72)

Macedonia - 1 (M Jokic 67)

Macedonia were the more attacking team in this match, but they weren't quite as clinical as Moldova's frontmen. Sergey Rogachev kicked off the scoring on the stroke of half-time, making the best out of strike partner Alexandr Popovich's flick-on. The Red Lynxes equalised in the middle of the second period through Miroslav Jokic, though they would soon fall behind again. In a role reversal of the earlier goal, Rogachev's header teed up Popovich to fire in the opener. Excellent goalkeeping from Eugeny Khmaruk then helped Romania's little brothers to secure a big win.


Slovakia - 0

Sweden - 1 (J Pettersson 33)

Slovakia won their first two group matches, but they've now ceded top spot after a startling loss in Bratislava. Sweden showed plenty of aggression in the opening stages, as captain Patrik Andersson and winger Niclas Alexandersson each picked up yellow cards. Another type of aggression was shown after 33 minutes, when Jörgen Pettersson smashed Andersson's low cross into the net. That was the only goal of this match, though Slovakia's Hearts midfielder Robert Tomaschek smashed the bar with a would-be equaliser on 76 minutes.


GROUP 4                            P     W     D     L     F     A     GD    PTS
1.          Turkey                 3     2     1     0     7     2     5     7
2.          Sweden                 3     2     1     0     5     0     5     7
3.          Slovakia               3     2     0     1     3     1     2     6
4.          Moldova                3     1     0     2     3     6     -3    3
5.          Macedonia              3     1     0     2     3     4     -1    3
6.          Azerbaijan             3     0     0     3     1     9     -8    0


Group 5 Results

Belarus - 5 (A Balashov 14, V Baranov pen28, P Mikhalevitch 44,pen75, D Ogorodnik 49)

Armenia - 0

Bad pun alert: Armenia have been turned into Minsk-meat. They paid the price for a pensive start when Alexander Balashov fired Belarus into the lead after 14 minutes. Vasily Baranov added a second home goal from the penalty spot following a reckless challenge by Armenia's kamikaze keeper Roman Berezovskiy. Pavel Mikhalevitch and Dmitry Ogorodnik added their names to the scoresheet either side of half-time, but there was yet more humiliation to come for the Havakakan. Armenia had already been reduced to 10 men by an injury to winger Albert Sarkisyan when Berezovskiy conceded another penalty in the 75th minute. The goalie somehow stayed on the pitch, but Mikhalevitch's emphatic spot-kick saw him beaten for the fifth and final time.


Norway - 2 (JD Sørensen 28, E Mykland 45)

Ukraine - 0

I had no idea that Derek was a popular name in Norway until I learned the identity of their first scorer in this match. Jan Derek Sørensen - a right-winger with Dortmund - scored his first international goal from a Vegard Heggem cross on 28 minutes. Norway then doubled their lead through another German-based middleman in 1860 München's Erik Mykland on the cusp of half-time. Ukraine had chances to get back in contention in the second half, but Sergei Rebrov was surprisingly off-colour for the men in yellow.


Poland - 3 (A Juskowiak 20,27,42)

Wales - 1 (G Speed 63)

Before there was Robert Lewandowski, there was... Andrzej Juskowiak?! To be fair, the 29-year-old did have a decent scoring record at Wolfsburg. Nevertheless, a first-half hat-trick was not to be expected. That streak began when he headed Tomasz Wisio's corner over the head of Wales goalkeeper Mark Crossley, and was then continued by a couple of fierce drives. Crossley was rather less cross in the second half, though captain Gary Speed's strike in the 63rd minute was the only one that the Red Dragons could muster in response.


GROUP 5                            P     W     D     L     F     A     GD    PTS
1.          Poland                 3     2     1     0     6     2     4     7
2.          Wales                  3     2     0     1     5     4     1     6
3.          Norway                 3     2     0     1     5     2     3     6
4.          Ukraine                3     1     1     1     3     3     0     4
5.          Belarus                3     1     0     2     6     4     2     3
6.          Armenia                3     0     0     3     0     10    -10   0


Group 6 Result

Croatia - 0

Scotland - 1 (D Hutchison 45)

Only one match in Group 6 tonight, but boy could it be an important one. Before kick-off, I considered betting my house on Croatia winning this one comfortably. If I had, I would have been left homeless, as the Vatreni were left still pointless. A close-run encounter only saw one goal - by Scotland's Geordie midfielder Don Hutchinson's header from a Barry Ferguson corner on the stroke of half-time. Croatia's attempts to silence the Tartan Army in the second period were thwarted by Scotland's Yorkshire-born goalkeeper Neil Sullivan, who saved a trio of shots from Mario Stanic. The moral of the story: the Scots can win matches, as long as they nick their players from England.


GROUP 6                            P     W     D     L     F     A     GD    PTS
1.          Scotland               3     3     0     0     5     0     5     9
2.          Belgium                2     1     1     0     3     2     1     4
3.          Latvia                 2     0     1     1     1     2     -1    1
4.          Croatia                2     0     0     2     1     3     -2    0
5.          San Marino             1     0     0     1     0     3     -3    0


Group 7 Results

Austria - 1 (M Weissenberger 62)

Spain - 2 (Abelardo 15, MÁ Angulo 81)

Barcelona defender Abelardo didn't score many goals for Spain, but his 15th-minute header from Armando's corner was as clinical as they came. Austria's goalkeeper Alex Manninger obviously didn't cover himself in glory there, as he was replaced with Herbert Ilsanker at half-time. The 33-year-old debutant saved a strike from Iván De la Peña in the 55th minute, seven minutes before Markus Weissenberger drew Austria level. It wouldn't save the hosts a point, though, as a second Armando assist saw Miguel Ángel Angulo snatch victory for Spain late on.


Israel - 2 (H Revivo 8, K Refoua 78)

Bosnia & Herzegovina - 3 (F Hujdurovic 20, Z Muslimovic 31,47)

Israel had a decent game by all accounts, with Haim Revivo and Kobi Refoua each finding the net in the 8th and 78th minutes respectively. Unfortunately for them, Bosnia & Herzegovina bagged three goals in between. The visitors got their equaliser from the head of Cottbus defender Faruk Hujdurovic after 20 minutes. Elvir Baljic set that goal up, but it was Elvir Bolic who helped Zlatan Muslimovic put Bosnia 2-1 ahead later on. Muslimovic added a second goal early in the second period, with Baljic helping him this time as the Zmajevi closed in on a second straight win.


GROUP 7                            P     W     D     L     F     A     GD    PTS
1.          Bosnia & Herzegovina   2     2     0     0     4     2     2     6
2.          Spain                  3     2     0     1     6     2     4     6
3.          Austria                2     1     0     1     2     2     0     3
4.          Israel                 3     1     0     2     6     7     -1    3
5.          Liechtenstein          2     0     0     2     0     5     -5    0


Group 8 Results

Italy - 4 (A Conte 11, C Vieri 17, G Zambrotta 29,55)

Georgia - 1 (K Natrosvilli pen59)

Italy just CANNOT stop scoring! The imperious Azzurri had a host of scoring opportunities before Juventus midfielder Antonio Conte broke the deadlock from Francesco Totti's 11th-minute corner. Six minutes later, Italy captain Paolo Maldini's long ball into the Georgian box was headed over goalkeeper David Guaramadze by the outstanding Christian Vieri. Wing-back Gianluca Zambrotta then continued his hot scoring form, finding the net twice in the 29th and 55th minutes. Goalkeeper Angelo Peruzzi's clean sheet was later wrecked by a penalty from Georgia midfielder Koderzi Natrosvilli, which was just about the only blot on the hosts' copybook.


Lithuania - 3 (T Razanauskas 41,42, E Jankauskas 51)

Hungary - 0

The days of Ferenc Puskás galloping up the pitch for Hungary are clearly long gone. This was more like a performance from the Dark Ages than the 1950s from the mediocre Magyars. Lithuania midfielder Tomas Razanauskas wreaked havoc on their suspect defence with a couple of sublime solo goals in quick succession late in the first period. Razanauskas then set up a third and final goal in the 51st minute for Real Sociedad striker Edgaras Jankauskas. Needless to say, it was a debut to forget for Hungary goalkeeper Norbert Kerényi, who's... erm, actually a defender by trade. That'll explain it.


GROUP 8                            P     W     D     L     F     A     GD    PTS
1.          Italy                  3     3     0     0     13    1     12    9
2.          Lithuania              3     2     0     1     4     2     2     6
3.          Romania                2     1     0     1     2     4     -2    3
4.          Georgia                2     0     0     2     1     5     -4    0
5.          Hungary                2     0     0     2     0     8     -8    0


Group 9 Results

Albania - 0

Greece - 2 (V Tsartas 15, A Alexandris 68)

Greece might have lost their first group game, but now they're in full flow. The Galanolefki put in a strong display against neighbours Albania, starting with a stunning 15th-minute free-kick from AEK midfielder Vassilis Tsartas. Nikos Machlas skimmed the bar in the 29th minute, but Greece doubled their lead in the 68th. The alliteratively-named Alexandros Alexandris (no relation to Bulgaria's Aleksandar Aleksandrov) pounced on a rebound shot after Nikos Liberopoulos' header was parried by Albania goalie Fotis Strakosia. The hosts would surely have conceded even more goals but for an outstanding display by centre-half Miftar Rama.


Finland - 3 (F Nordback 17, T Grönlund 24, H Tihinen 35)

England - 1 (K Phillips 13)

I warned you that Finland were pretty good. England did start brightly when Kevin Phillips volleyed Steve McManaman's chip past home keeper Jussi Jääskeläinen after just 13 minutes. Once Frederick Nordback grabbed a swift equaliser, though, the Three Lions felt the full force of Finland's attacks. Tommi Grönlund and Hannu Tihinen made the half-time scoreline 3-1 to the flying Finns, who stayed ahead even after Jari Litmanen's game was ended by injury in the 85th minute. I think the FA should now get shot of Kevin Keegan and hire a new, better manager - possibly even a Nordic one.


GROUP 9                            P     W     D     L     F     A     GD    PTS
1.          Greece                 3     2     0     1     5     3     2     6
2.          Finland                3     2     0     1     5     3     2     6
3.          England                2     1     0     1     3     3     0     3
4.          Germany                2     1     0     1     2     3     -1    3
5.          Albania                2     0     0     2     0     3     -3    0


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