Iraq have reached their first Men's Olympic Football Tournament since 2004 with a 2-1 extra time victory over Qatar in the AFC U-23 Championship third place play-off. Ahmed Alaa's first-half goal was cancelled out by Mohanad Abdulraheem's late leveller before Aymen Hussein headed home in the 109th minute.
The hosts were looking to bounce back from their last gasp defeat to Korea Republic in Tuesday's semi-final, with opponents Iraq also reeling from a dramatic conclusion to their final four clash, which saw Japan progress to Saturday's finale.
Felix Sanchez's side broke the deadlock in the first half with a swift breakaway, finding Akram Afif in the clear. The Qatari No10 drew out Iraqi goalkeeper Fahad Talib before unselfishly squaring for Alaa to convert with a simple tap-in.
Iraq continued the knockout stage's recent theme of late goals by equalising with just four minutes of normal time remaining. Abdulraheem rose highest to nod home a looped ball into the Qatari penalty area.
The late drama continued as, into the second half of extra time, Aymen Hussein headed another floated Iraqi cross past Muhannad Naim. Qatar hit the crossbar late on, before seeing an effort cleared off the line, but it was not to be their evening.
The final whistle sparked jubilant scenes as the Lions of Mesopotamia joined Japan and Korea Republic, who will contest the tournament's final tomorrow, in booking their ticket to Rio de Janeiro.
The conclusion of Asia's qualifying tournament leaves just one spot left in the Men's Olympic Football Tournament Rio 2016, with Colombia and USA to play-off for the 16th and final place over two legs on 25 and 29 March.
For many, football is not usually something associated with Turkmenistan, a country better known for its rich natural resources. Though only the world's 53rd largest country, the former Soviet republic boasts the fourth-biggest reserves of natural gas. But with the Central Asians excelling in the continent's qualifying for the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™, it is their game rather than resources that has gained increasing attention from across Asia.
As a matter of fact, Amangylyc Kocumow's side had to overcome a disappointing start after a shock one-goal loss to Guam. Yet they have since held group favourites Iran to a 1-1 draw at home before victories against India, Guam and Oman sealed at least a place in the third qualifying round for the 2019 AFC Asian Cup with a game to spare.
"We have had a memorable campaign this time," midfielder Guwanc Abylow toldFIFA.com. "Our results so far are not too bad and these feats can be attributed to the players, managers as well as our fans who made it to the stadiums to support us. They are indeed the twelfth man of our team."
"Looking back over recent years, we have constantly made progress," added the 27-year-old, who opened the scoring in the 2-1 victory against India, and netted the matching winning-goal against Guam as they avenged their opening defeat. "Our Football Federation have focused on consistent development and thanks to their efforts we have reached a new level."
Under the radar Turkmenistan cut a relatively low-key profile heading into Asia's qualifying campaign this time around, having suffered early elimination during the past two FIFA World Cups. They finished bottom in their third-round group in the race for South Africa, and were then knocked out by Indonesia over two legs in the opening matches during qualifying for Brazil 2014.
These are unforgettable experiences for us, both the players and fans.
Guwanc Abylow, Turkmenistan midfielder.
With that disappointment still fresh in mind, few expected the team capable of springing a surprise when they entertained Iran in June. The encounter began as expected with the visitors taking an early lead through striking prodigy Sardar Azmoun. But Ruslan Mingazow drew the hosts level before the break as Turkmenistan stunned Iran with a 1-1 draw in the northern city of Dashoguz.
"In a sense, this game was a big event for not only the city but also our country," Abylow said, recalling one of the most memorable results in the nation’s history. "It was the first time for the city to stage such a high-level international game - a World Cup qualifier. The local boys and girls all went out and gathered in the stadium to cheer us on against such a strong team in Iran. Of course, they were so happy that we didn't let them down."
Success spurs growth Such festivities continued for the Turkmenistan fans as the team clinched their first win against a desperate India at home. Another solitary-goal home victory against Guam followed, before a recent 2-1 defeat of Oman saw Turkmenistan maintain their undefeated record on home soil. "These are unforgettable experiences for us, both the players and fans," continued Abylow. "Especially, through our showings the fans are attracted to the stadiums and it is good for the development of football."
Throughout the campaign, Abylow has dazzled spectators through his goalscoring abilities, fine passing and dribbling. A Lionel Messi fan, the Turkmenistan No10 draws inspiration from the fact that he has the same jersey number as the Argentina and Barcelona star. "Ten is my favourite number. I am glad to have this jersey number. If you look back into the football history, a lot of star-players also had the same number.”
Awaiting Turkmenistan in the concluding matchday on 29 March is an away match in India. Should they win and other results also go their way, they are hopeful of booking their automatic return to the next AFC Asian Cup."I want to score more goals. But the most important thing is that we get the maximum points. We have proved that we are strong as a unit and we are determined to do our best in the remaining game," Abylow concluded.
Players in from the cold on free transfers and tentative loan deals have been the flavour of the month in the January transfer window so far, with a couple of English Premier League ‘old boys’ returning to reasonably familiar surroundings. Further afield in China PR, clubs have been splashing the cash ahead of their respective Chinese Super League and AFC Champions League campaigns beginning in earnest in the coming months. FIFA.com wraps up the latest transfer business from planet football.
Africans and old boysA trio of faces from the mother continent have caught the eye in the last week of transfer activity inEngland, with Ghanaian Daniel Amartey (to Leicester City from Copenhagen), Ivorian Lamine Kone(to Sunderland from Lorient) and Togolese Emmanuel Adebayor (to Crystal Palace) all donning fresh jerseys this month. The latter joins former Newcastle United goalkeeper Steve Harper in a return to the Premier League after a period without a club, with the veteran custodian joining the Magpies’ bitter rivals Sunderland. Harper’s former side continue to splash the cash, after the arrival of Jonjo Shelvey and Henri Saivet, by bringing in England winger Andros Townsend from Tottenham Hotspur, with the club adopting a creative hashtag to welcome the wideman to ‘the Toon’.
Italian loan rangersFormer Lazio and Inter forward Mauro Zarate headed away from England, and back to Italy, sealing a permanent move to Fiorentina from West Ham United. Florence was also a destination for one of a number of loans across the country, and indeed the continent, with Cristian Tello (to Fiorentina from Barcelona), Andrea Ranocchia (to Sampdoria from Inter Milan), Stephan El Shaarawy (to Roma from AC Milan) and Jonathan de Guzman (to Carpi from Napoli) all sealing temporary deals. There was deemed to be no place for the latter in Naples thanks, in part, to the arrival of Alberto Grassi, who headed to the San Paolo from Atalanta in one of the bigger-value transfers in Italy.
Germany, Spain and France remain quietAnother Italian on the move was Giulio Donati, with the former Azzurri youth international switching Bayer Leverkusen for Mainz in the German Bundesliga. Werder Bremen were among the most active sides in Germany, bringing in Sambou Yatabare from Olympiacos and Gerhard Tremmel on loan from Swansea City. Other former English Premier League players Giuseppe Rossi and Christian Atsu made temporary moves to Levante from Fiorentina and to Malaga from Chelsea respectively. Two African frontmen were the most notable movers in France this week, with Ivorian Ismael Diomande (to Caen from Saint-Etienne) and Congolese forward Thievy Bifouma (to Reims from Espanyol) making loan switches – the latter hoping to carry his crucial goalscoring exploits from FIFA World Cup™ qualifying into French Ligue 1.
Chinese clubs flexing their musclesOutside the ‘big five’ European leagues, World Cup winner Victor Valdes’ loan move to Standard Liege ended his unhappy time at Manchester United, while across the Low Countries in the Netherlands,Renato Tapia’s permanent switch from Twente to Feyenoord was the most eye-catching Dutch deal of the window so far.
Over in Asia, China PR’s Super League may not begin for a couple of months, but that has not stopped the clubs opening their wallets to bring in talent from some European heavyweights. A trio of players who starred for their respective countries at Brazil 2014, namely Ivorian Gervinho(HB China Fortune from Roma), Colombian Fredy Guarin (to Shanghai Shenhua from Inter Milan) and Brazilian Ramires(to Jiangsu Suning from Chelsea) all made big money moves to the Chinese Super League, displaying the newfound draw of China PR’s top flight. The Côte d’Ivoire winger’s former Roma team-mate Ashley Colewas also on the move, signing for a club on the other side of the Pacific. He put pen to paper on a deal with LA Galaxy, where he will link up with former England colleague Steven Gerrard and fellow new signing, Belgian defender Jelle Van Damme.
MELBOURNE (De un enviado especial).- En la rueda de prensa previa a la final de singles del Abierto de Australia , que disputará el sábado desde las 5.30 (hora de la Argentina) frente a Angelique Kerber, Serena Williams no dudó en señalar quiénes son sus héroes deportivos: "Realmente admiro a Roger (Federer) y a Novak (Djokovic). Me encanta verlos jugar, a cualquiera de los dos. Quiero decir, dentro del tenis. Después, tampoco es que miro un montón de deporte. Fuera del fútbol americano me gusta mucho Messi . Es un futbolista alucinante".
Vale recordar que, desde hace algunas semanas, Serena y Messi forman parte de la campaña benéfica "1 en 11", impulsada por Unicef, en colaboración con el club Barcelona y la organización Reach Out to Asia (Acércate a Asia).
La consulta para la número 1 del mundo llegó en la habitual conferencia de presentación de la final femenina, en la que Serena buscará el 22º título de Grand Slam de su carrera, cifra con la que alcanzaría a la alemana Steffi Graf. "Todos tienen sus expectativas. Soy la favorita ahora, y era la favorita el año pasado en el US Open; allí podría haber hecho las cosas mejor. Pero fue una experiencia que me dejó mucho".
Romario’s last spell with Vasco da Gama included a period as player/coach. In his first game in charge after replacing Celso Roth, he led his charges to a 1-0 win over Mexico’s America, even using himself as a second-half substitute.
According to his own calculations, Romario scored his 1,000th goal on 20 May 2007, courtesy of a penalty netted for Vasco de Gama against Sport do Recife on Matchday 2 of that year’s Brasileirao.
In August 2009, a year and a half after hanging up his boots, Romario announced he was coming out of retirement to honour a promise made to his late father Edevair that he would one day play for Rio de Janeiro side America, the club closest to the latter’s heart.
In 2010 Romario was elected to Brazil’s lower house of Congress with a four-year mandate after winning the sixth-highest share of the vote in the state of Rio de Janeiro.
On the occasion of his 50th birthday, we look back at Romario's glittering career...
“Genius is one per cent inspiration and 99 per cent perspiration.” Those were the words of Thomas Edison, coining a phrase that has since become a pillar of popular wisdom. The prolific American inventor had a point, too - or at least he did 99 per cent of the time: in all but a few rare cases, success comes only through complete devotion to a task and a huge amount of work. In other words, genius cannot be improvised.
But what of the exceptions to the rule, the one percenters? Romario de Souza Faria was always convinced he belonged to a different category to his fellow mortals. “When I was born, the man in the sky pointed to me and said, ‘That's the guy’,” the legendary former striker used to enjoy saying, and the chances are that he was only half-joking. Driven by an unswerving belief in his abilities throughout his career, the Brazilian produced feats of genius on the pitch whether he put in the hard work or not.
The ease with which Romario pulled off everything he put his mind to was truly staggering and gave him genuine bargaining power with his coaches. Never comfortable spending too much time away from his homeland, he would regularly suggest deals with the men in the dugout, asking permission for short trips to Brazil if, for example, he scored two goals in the team’s next game. Even Johan Cruyff, his gaffer at Barcelona, could not fail to be swayed by such incredible self-confidence. Accepting OBaixinho’s terms, the Dutchman had to keep his side of the bargain when his star striker promptly weighed in with a pair of strikes. “He had that rare ability to be able to do great things without working hard at them,” marvelled Cruyff, himself no stranger to the spectacular in his own playing days.
‘Take it easy, coach, I’m going to score’Things were not always quite so simple for the man from the impoverished Rio de Janeiro neighbourhood of Vila da Penha, however. His introduction to the game came at Estrelinha, the futsal club founded by his father, Edevair, and it was there that his talents were first spotted. After joining Olaria at the age of 13, he was soon moving up the ladder again as his seemingly boundless potential registered on the radar of Brazilian powerhouse Vasco da Gama.
Romario broke into the Vasco first team aged 19 in 1985, and over the next three years he became the darling of the club’s supporters. International recognition swiftly followed and the youngster made a searing impression at the Men’s Olympic Football Tournament Seoul 1988, finishing top scorer with seven goals in six matches as Brazil took silver. For recently crowned European champions PSV Eindhoven, that sealed the deal, and Romario crossed the Atlantic for his first taste of football on the Old Continent.
Under Guus Hiddink, he helped the Dutch giants clinch three Eredivisie titles and picked up a whole new set of admirers, not least his own coach. “He’s the most interesting player I’ve worked with so far,” said Hiddink. “If he saw that I was a bit more nervous than usual ahead of a big game, he’d come to me and say: ‘Take it easy, coach, I’m going to score and we’re going to win'. What’s incredible is that eight out of the ten times he told me that, he really did score and we really did win.”
Not all the tacticians Romario served under found such overwhelming confidence easy to stomach, however. That proved particularly true at international level, where the day-to-day contact of club life was absent, which goes some way to explaining why his Seleção career played out as a series of highs punctuated by run-ins with the various men in charge.
I’ve never been an athlete. If I’d trained properly, I would have scored even more goals, but perhaps I wouldn’t have been as happy as I am today.
The highs were memorable, though, and Romario attained the status of national hero at the Copa America 1989 as he fired the only goal in the final against Uruguay to end Brazil’s long trophy drought in front of their own fans at the Maracana. Those performances made him one of the players football fans everywhere were most hoping to see at the 1990 FIFA World Cup Italy™, but Romario picked up a serious injury three months before the big kick-off. Despite doing everything he could to recover in time and being rewarded with a spot in Sebastiao Lazaroni’s 22-man squad, his lack of fitness meant he was restricted to a handful of minutes against Scotland.
In the club arena, Romario began a glittering new chapter when he signed for Barcelona in summer 1993, clearly unconcerned about how much action he would see at Camp Nou. Teams were limited to three foreigners in their line-up at the time and, with Bulgarian ace Hristo Stoichkov, Dutch stalwart Ronald Koeman and Danish wizard Michael Laudrup on Barça’s books, competition was always going to be fierce. Nevertheless, Romario arrived in Catalonia without a hint of apprehension. “It’s a pleasure to be here,” he announced at his unveiling, before helping himself to 30 goals in 33 outings in his debut season, adding the title of Pichichi (top scorer) to his La Liga winner’s medal.
For all his achievements in Spain, it was a different matter on the international stage, where Romario was enduring a spell in the wilderness after being cast aside by coach Carlos Alberto Parreira towards the end of 1992. His exclusion provoked a wave of outrage among Brazil supporters, and by extension the entire country, especially when A Seleção made a sluggish start to their USA 1994 qualifying campaign. The clamour for Romario’s return reached a crescendo as Brazil went into their final game against Uruguay needing victory to secure their place, and, when first-choice forward Muller was ruled out with injury, the fans were granted their wish.
Invited back into the fold, Romario responded with both goals at the Maracana – including a truly breathtaking effort – to seal a 2-0 triumph for the hosts. With Brazil’s participation secured, Romario simply went on from there in the tournament proper, earning himself the adidas Golden Ball as best player in the victorious campaign. “Without him, Brazil would never have won that World Cup,” said Cruyff a few years later. “Romario was one of the two or three best players on the planet in the 1990s.”
After that crowning glory, O Baixinho made a string of choices that caught everybody by surprise and, with hindsight, seemed to herald the beginning of the end. Just as everyone expected him to reach even greater heights on European soil, for example, he chose to return to Brazil and sign for Flamengo, sworn enemies of his former side Vasco.
Ill fortune played its hand in the latter part of his career, too, as Romario collected an injury during Brazil’s preparations for France 1998. This time he would not even be granted a few minutes at the main event, and four years later he missed out again as Luiz Felipe Scolari excluded him from his 23-man travelling party. On both occasions, Romario’s tears made the front page of newspapers across the country.
With his form fluctuating, the forward continued his club odyssey with spells at Vasco, Flamengo and Fluminense, not to mention his overseas adventures in the USA and Australia. Every passing season was beginning to look like his last, but striker had other ideas and topped the Brazilian scoring charts one last time in 2005. He was 39 at the time, and two years later he celebrated notching the 1,000th goal of his career by his personal count. Not bad for a player relying on inspiration rather than hard graft.
“I’ve never been an athlete,” he explained later. “If I’d trained properly, I would have scored even more goals, but perhaps I wouldn’t have been as happy as I am today.” Romario’s incredible scoring feats make that a philosophy tough to take issue with, but it would be hard to recommend it to his fellow footballers – or 99 per cent of them at least.
Greece is widely known as the birthplace of philosophy. In the centuries before the birth of Christ, it was the country where Aristotle, Plato and Socrates created schools of thought that have endured throughout the ages. A thousand years earlier still, the Greeks invented a ball game with a similarly lasting impact. Known as Episkyros or Phaininda, it served as a forerunner for the most popular sport of modern times: football.
Nevertheless, while these southern European thinkers became renowned across the globe, Greek footballing success has been far harder to come by. The country’s greatest triumph came 12 years ago when the Ethniki snatched the UEFA EURO title against the odds. Their success in Portugal was masterminded by German Otto Rehhagel, who immortalised himself among the nation’s football fans with nuggets of wisdom such as: “The Greeks invented democracy; I’ve introduced democratic dictatorship”, or: “In the past they all did as they pleased. Now they all do what they can.”
In the five years since Rehakles – as the now 77-year-old was dubbed after guiding Greece to European glory – stepped down from the national team hotseat in 2010, several coaches have come and gone from the shores of the Aegean Sea. In October 2015 the Hellenic Football Association once again selected a German, Michael Skibbe, to steer their Piratiko or ‘Pirate Ship’.
In an interview with FIFA.com, the newly appointed head coach explained that he is often stopped on the street and asked about his famous compatriot, as “Rehhagel guaranteed good football from theGreece national team for years. That was certainly a reason, if not the main reason, why the association appointed another German coach.” Skibbe added: “The team have their strengths and weaknesses as they have done for the past two years. Although we’re working hard on defence and are solid at the back, there’s still scope to improve our build-up play and creativity going forward.”
I believe in good discipline and strong tactical awareness on the pitch. That was the foundation forGreece’s strongest years in the 2000s.
There is no doubt that the man who served as co-head coach of Germany between 2000 and 2004 has plenty of work to do – and not just when it comes to imparting wisdom. Greece will be reduced to onlookers when the continent’s biggest teams battle it out at this summer’s UEFA EURO 2016 after finishing last in their qualifying group, while their current FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking position of 41stis their lowest in over a decade. “On the one hand, it’s a shame for Greece that the team aren’t going to France. On the other hand, they probably wouldn’t have gone looking for a new coach if they’d made it to the EUROs. It’s great for me as it means I can calmly prepare the team for the start of World Cup qualification in September.”
After featuring at the last two FIFA World Cups, the Ethniki must now face Belgium, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Estonia and Cyprus in their bid to claim a ticket to the 2018 FIFA World Cup™ - a target Skibbe believes is achievable. “Belgium are certainly favourites; they’ve made terrific progress over the past few years and can boast quick, top-quality footballers who play for several of the world’s leading clubs,” he explained. “That said, we want to take points from them all the same. Our main aim, however, is to outperform Bosnia and Herzegovina or at least the other two teams, so that we can finish no lower than second in the group. After a poor European qualifying campaign, we want to perform better on the road to Russia and book our place at the finals. But to be completely honest, the EURO 2004 title was a unique and exceptional triumph, much like Denmark's in 1992.”
Skibbe knows what he is talking about, having spent almost three decades observing the beautiful game from the touchline. Forced to hang up his boots through injury at the age of 22, he began his coaching career in the youth ranks of his hometown club Schalke before accepting posts in Germany, Switzerland and Turkey. He also paired up with Rudi Voller to guide his homeland to second place at the 2002 FIFA World Cup.
“I believe in good discipline and strong tactical awareness on the pitch,” Skibbe said. “That was the foundation for Greece’s strongest years in the 2000s and their EURO win, and that’s what we want to return to. The players should wear their country’s colours with dignity and dedication.” This approach will be put to the test for the first time against Montenegro and Iceland in March.
The palpable sense of optimism in Greece extends beyond the world of football, with Skibbe perhaps bringing a little German magic back to this corner of the Mediterranean. Nevertheless, among all these innovations and changes, the only thing that counts is the philosophical concept expressed by Rehhagel years earlier: “Modern football is whatever wins games.”