Midway through the 2014/15 Australian A-League season, the nation came to a standstill as the AFC Asian Cup came to town. After featuring in a 2-0 defeat to Central Coast Mariners for his club side Melbourne City in early January 2015, the then 24-year-old Aaron Mooy took up a bittersweet watching brief for the rest of the month.
He was not selected for the Socceroos squad for the Asian Cup, nor had he really expected to be, with just a few minutes of international action in the years preceding the flagship tournament. Ange Postecoglou ultimately led his side to a first continental title in Asia, with a dramatic 2-1 extra-time victory against Korea Republic.
You would think after such a historic victory, it would be difficult to secure a place in the Socceroos’ starting line-up, with those Asian Cup heroes holding a distinct advantage. Mooy has defied that expectation. After 20 minutes against Germany in a March 2015 friendly, the midfielder secured a spot in the Australian XI, impressing with his measured playmaking approach and incisive passing. Of the eight FIFA World Cup™ qualifiers on Australia’s road to Russia so far, Mooy has played in seven, scoring twice and setting up six goals. Is that creative spark the reason for his continued inclusion in Postecoglou’s line-ups?
“I like to get on the ball and pass it forwards, try and create chances,” Mooy toldFIFA.com. “That’s what my game is about. I’m playing more games, which builds confidence. I’ve played for a number of years in the A-League and I’m improving.”
Mooy has been back in Australia since late 2012, to be precise, after a spell in the United Kingdom at firstly Bolton Wanderers (where he spent his latter teenage years in the English side’s youth teams), and then in Scotland at St Mirren where he made his professional debut. After his return in 2012, everything seemed to be going right for Mooy, he was playing regularly at hometown club, Western Sydney Wanderers, and scored on his full debut for the national side against Guam in December 2012.
He seemed destined for a spot in the national team for years to come, especially after being part of the Young Socceroos squad at the FIFA U-20 World Cup in 2009, an experience Mooy described as “unbelievable”. The transition seemed seamless. But then he played no part in World Cup qualifying for Brazil, making one start at the 2013 East Asian Football Championship.
Shared philosophy The midfielder was effusive in his praise for the former Socceroo-turned-coach. “He’s a very good coach,” Mooy said. “The style that he wants to play is the way I like playing as well. I’m happy to be playing under him. He’s intimidating! But the way he wants to play football, I want to play like that as well. I’m enjoying it.”
The Aussies have certainly been easy on the eye on the road to Russia, with no other side in Asia scoring more goals than their 29 in Round 2. They now face Iraq, Japan, Saudi Arabia, Thailand and United Arab Emirates in a difficult-looking Round 3 group.
“It’s definitely a tough group,” Mooy said. “There are a few hard nations in there, especially the away games are always difficult. We’re confident the way we’re playing and improving. Each game that I’ve been involved in I’ve seen an improvement in the way we’re playing. Hopefully, by the time the qualifiers come around, we’ll be at the top of our game.”
Mooy will now have time zone differences to contend with when World Cup qualifying resumes in September, after making a move to Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City from their sister club in Melbourne. Mooy has often drawn comparisons from sections of the Socceroos’ support with one of Guardiola’s proteges, Andres Iniesta.
“He’s obviously a player that I’ve grown up watching,” Mooy grinned, rather sheepishly. “He’s right at the top of the game. He’s a great player, great to watch.”
Upon signing for City, Mooy has been loaned immediately to second-tier outfit Huddersfield Town, and it seems more than likely that he will settle well into the area after his initial sojourn in England. Huddersfield is less than an hour from Bolton and his Scottish fiancée (they met during his St Mirren spell) will also help Mooy feel at ‘home’.
However Mooy gets on with his return to the UK, he will not be taking his spot in any of Postecoglou’s future line-ups for granted. “Anything can happen,” Mooy said. “You could go back to your club, be in bad form and not get picked. I just try and play my way into the team every single time.”
It is that kind of attitude which means Mooy is likely to be front and centre, not watching from the sidelines with the rest of planet football, when the Socceroos next capture the world’s imagination.
Going into this season's CAF Champions League, Al Ahly had won a record eight titles, but if the Red Devils want to add a ninth, they will have to make history. The goalless draw against Wydad Casablanca saw the Cairo giants pick up their first point in the group phase. However, never before in the history of the competition has a club that had just one point after their first three games, advanced to the semi-finals.
In Group B, Mamelodi Sundowns are turning into surprise packages and remain on course for their first semi-final appearance since 2001, when they went on to qualify for the final. The winner of the event will represent the continent at the FIFA Club World Cup at the end of the year in Japan.
Match of the week Zamalek 1-2 Mamelodi Sundowns Having beaten ES Setif away in their first match, Sundowns were disappointed to see the result annulled after the Algerian club were thrown out of the competition. But that result gave the South African club the confidence of competing in North Africa, and the visitors took the lead in the 17th minute after Tiyani Mabunda scored his first Champions League goal when he was first to a rebound off the post from a shot by Zimbabwe international Khama Billiat. The White Knights drew level before the break after a defensive lapse allowed Mohamed Ibrahim to score into an empty net, but Zamalek's hopes of another three points were dashed midway through the second half when Billiat scored the winner for his side to take Sundowns to six points. Zamalek are on three points, while Nigerian side Enyimba have yet to get a result.
Other matches Having lost their two opening matches, Al Ahly were up against the wall as they took on North African rivals Wydad Casablanca in Alexandria. Although officials allowed fans into the stadium, the home side failed to find a breakthrough against John Toshack's team. They were also unlucky when Walid Soliman's second half goal was controversially adjudged to have been offside, leaving the final score goalless. Ahly's coach Martin Jol lamented after the game that they had missed striker Malick Evouna, who only joined the Cairo giants from Wydad last year, but was sold-on to a Chinese club earlier in the week. The draw keeps Ahly rooted to the bottom of Group A with just one point, while Wydad remain in first place on seven.
The other Group A game saw Zambian underdogs ZESCO United beat the 1998 champions ASEC Mimosas. The home side went into the match with an unblemished record in the Levy Mwanawasa stadium in Ndola and they made their intentions known with two goals within the space of four minutes in the first half when Jackson Mwanza and John Chingandu found the back of the net in the 32nd and 36th minute. After the break, ASEC pushed forward and were rewarded midway through the second half when Youssouf Dao scored, but any hopes of a dramatic comeback ended a few minutes later as striker Idriss Mbombo scored after some impressive individual skill. The three points see ZESCO move second in the group on six points, ahead of ASEC on three.
Player of the week When ZESCO United realised that they would be competing in this year's Champions League, they looked towards boosting their squad and one of the players on their radar was Congo DR-born striker Idriss Mbombo, who had just scored over 20 goals for Kabwe Warriors as they returned to the top flight. Warriors, however, were not interested in selling the striker to a local club – at any price. They did, however, agree that the player could go on loan to ZESCO to help them in their Champions League campaign, and the investment has worked well for them as Mbombo has scored five goals already in the competition, including his team's third goal in Saturday's 3-1 victory against ASEC Mimosas – just minutes after the visitors had pulled one back.
The stat 7 – The lowest number of points that a team has amassed but still finished in a top-two position and advanced to the semi-finals. Record champions Al Ahly will need to win at least two of their remaining three matches to reach that figure if they want to keep their hopes of securing a ninth title alive. Six clubs have managed to go through with eight points, including Ahly (2010) and Wydad (2012).
What they said “We are still competing in the CAF Champions League. I have not lost hope. We are working now to avoid previous mistakes and to return to winning ways. We dominated the game. I think it was one-sided game," Al Ahly coach Martin Jol, after his side were held to a goalless draw at home by Wydad.
Have your saySince the competition changed its format in 1997 and introduced a group phase, only one Zambian club has managed to reach that stage. In 2009 ZESCO United managed to finish third in their group with three points. Can the Ndola-based club go one better this time around and advance to the semi-finals?
Aime Jacquet's coaching career drew to a dream close on 12 July 1998, as the final whistle blew on France's FIFA World Cup™ victory against Brazil. Having led Les Bleus to the greatest triumph in their history, the man in charge decided to call it quits, overcome with euphoria and mentally exhausted after building on the ruins of the team's failed bid to reach USA 1994 – a journey that brought him in for plenty of criticism along the way.
Now retired, Jacquet has been watching with pride as his former captain and pupil Didier Deschamps has steered France to the semi-finals of UEFA EURO 2016. Just one step away from another showpiece on home soil, the French are preparing to take on Germany next, and out for revenge for their quarter-final defeat at Brazil 2014. With that massive showdown looming, FIFA.com spoke to Jacquet about the current France side, the challenge of being hosts and his overall thoughts on EURO 2016.
FIFA.com: What impression has the tournament left on you so far? Aime Jacquet: I was involved in the European Championship in England in 1996 and I think it's a superb competition. It's a wonderful time for shared experiences and emotions. In my opinion, the big international tournaments put football – which is often criticised, sadly – right back where it should be. They give the game a more likeable and attractive face, with the kind of uncertainty that's always present in football. We've seen that even the best teams aren't spared from failure, and I find that constant challenge fantastic. These tournaments also allow each nation to rediscover itself. The stadiums are full, the crowds are happy, and there's singing and different fans mingling.
There have been surprises too, with Wales and Iceland going far and England suffering a shock loss.I've been very happy to see that because people often say football is all about money. But here we don't have clubs – we have national teams, and that's a completely different story. Take England, for example, who got the result they deserved. The Italians experienced something similar when their clubs brought in the best international players in the world. Their youngsters no longer got a chance to play. In France, we're lucky enough to have the opposite scenario. There's a dimension to national teams at the moment that's more human. The public have really got behind their sides, and we saw that with Ireland, Wales, Northern Ireland, Belgium, Switzerland and so on. They've had an entire nation behind them and it's wonderful to behold. I love to see the combativeness of all the smaller teams. Every nation has its pride, makes its presence felt and doesn't let itself be brushed aside. Football is an eternal cycle and we mustn't forget that. What's also pleased me is the respect we've seen between players. And on that point I'd like to say a word about the referees, who've been excellent. You always get mistakes – that's life – but they've allowed games to flow and only intervened when necessary. For me, they're the ones who've initiated the fantastic spectacle we've seen in these games.
The advantages of playing at home are obvious, as France found out at EURO 1984 and the 1998 World Cup. What are the disadvantages?Make no mistake, in football it's a huge responsibility to be the hosts. Look what happened to Brazil in 2014. Who'd have thought they'd be humiliated on their own pitch, in their own country? It's a double responsibility for the hosts because they have to be competitive and reach the semi-finals at least. The host nation have to go far and they need the public behind them. It's very difficult to maintain unity. For me, it was very tough indeed. You have to prevent anyone getting distracted, because the players' families and friends are there as well. Not easy! (Laughs) You need to be very vigilant.
Didier Deschamps looks to be managing well so far.He knows how to handle things. He has all his experience as an exceptional player and a coach at the highest level, and a wonderful personal journey with the France team. He's been in this situation as a captain with me, and I can assure you he's controlling everything perfectly behind closed doors. That's another reason why we're lucky to have players who've played across Europe. Didier played in Italy, England and Spain – and what a fantastic collection of trophies he has.
He has spoken a lot about you during his time as a coach and national team manager. Is that a source of pride for you?He had some great coaches like Marcello Lippi at Juve, who's an extraordinary individual. But yes, it's a source of pride. He's a lad who was already a coach before he became one. I was like that too. When I started, I looked after the younger players and I liked to take care of everything, coaching and passing on knowledge. He's a bit like that but with much more knowledge and experience because unfortunately I didn't get to play abroad. Didier knows all there is to know.
Are you still in contact with him?Yes, from time to time. But right now I know the challenge he's facing is huge, so I'm leaving him alone. I'd never allow myself to do anything to disturb him. We know each other well. He has a job to do, he's living in a bubble and he knows I used to operate in the same way. I don't want to bother him.
Which players in the current France team do you like the most?A team is all about balance. You need to have a lot of quality but also players experienced enough to cope with big matches on the mental and tactical front. A player's intelligence is called upon at all times during big games, and that's why France are lucky to have players based at the biggest clubs. There are two players who fascinate me, and they are Anthony Martial and Kingsley Coman. They have exceptional technical and physical qualities. They possess incredible power and give off real tactical intelligence. They're the symbols of this new generation which is doing us proud. I was a link in the fantastic French training programme which was there before me and continues to this day. This France team is full of potential.
Were you optimistic for Les Bleus before the start of the tournament? I saw them getting to the final with Spain. That said, I was a little worried by all the injuries at the start, because when you lose players of the calibre of Raphael Varane and Mamadou Sakho in such a short space of time, look out! Lassana Diarra was a loss as well. Can you imagine? Luckily it didn't get worse after that, because Didier had worked on his team a lot. The way France have overcome all that just goes to show the effectiveness of his management.
What are your thoughts on the semi-final with Germany?They're our eternal rivals. They're a fearsome adversary but not unbeatable. They have a generation coming to the end of its cycle and I hope that, with our new generation, we'll be able to come through this test. It'll be very difficult. I saw Germany against Italy, and it was a tight and tactical contest … (sighs) It's in games like that where you notice that teams don't mess around in top-level games. It wasn't spectacular but the players really gave it everything. They worked so hard to get closer to the other team's goal. Because of the physical preparation that players go through in football today, you don't get a lot of favourable goalscoring situations. And then afterwards there was that penalty shoot-out. That's another situation where it's not such a big advantage to be hosts, because you have a huge psychological burden. We saw some great players miss their penalties – it was incredible.
Head coach Gerardo Martino announced his resignation from the Argentina national team just over a week after losing the Copa America Centenario final against Chile. The news was announced on the Argentine Football Association's official website.
'Tata' had taken over La Albiceleste on 12 August 12 2014, one month after the departure of Alejandro Sabella after the team finished second at the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™.
Martino coached Argentina in 29 games, with a record of 19 wins, 7 draws and 3 defeats. He reached the final of the Copa America Chile 2015 and Copa America Centenario USA 2016, losing to Chile in penalties on both occasions.
Martino, who has also coached Paraguay's naitonal team, resigned just nine days after the continental tournament decider played in New Jersey and just before Argentina's participation at the Olympic Football Tournament Rio 2016, which he had planned to lead and whose preparatory work had not yet begun.
In qualifiers for Russia 2018, Argentina are currently in third place with 11 points from six games, with three wins, two draws and a loss, scoring six goals and conceding four.
Everyone loves to see sporting greats go toe to toe with each other. Ali versus Foreman, Nadal versus Federer and Brady versus Manning are just some of the memorable head-to-heads sport has thrown up over the years. The people fortunate enough to witness these duels cherish memories of them for the rest of their lives, passing on their recollections to their children and grandchildren.
While football is a team sport, it has throughout its history produced some epic battles between some of its foremost exponents. The latest of them will take place in Lyon on Wednesday, when two giants of the modern game, Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale, come face to face with a place in the final of UEFA EURO 2016 at stake.
Led by their star man, Wales have reached the continental semi-finals at the very first attempt, an achievement that few would have believed them capable of. The only problem for the intrepid Welsh is that their path to the final is blocked by a Portugal side led by the three-time FIFA Ballon d’Or winner.
Friends and foes Previous meetings between the two sides have been few and far between. Only three times have they crossed swords – the last of them in 2000 – with the Portuguese securing two wins and the Welsh one. In contrast, their two talismen know each other inside out.
Bale, 26, and Cristiano, five years his senior, are great friends and club-mates, having become vital cogs in a Real Madrid side that has won two UEFA Champions Leagues in the last three years. They have never been rivals with their national teams, however.
Both players will head into the game in fine form. Ronaldo has struck two of his side’s six goals in the competition to date, while Bale has contributed three of Wales’ tournament tally of ten.
The duo bring much more than goals to their respective teams, however. Both are hugely important figures in the dressing room, hence the attention they are attracting in the build-up to Wednesday’s showdown.
Giving his views on his club colleague, Bale said: “Cristiano is a fantastic player. I love playing alongside him and we have a good understanding at Madrid. I don’t know what pressure he’s under with Portugal, but I’m feeling calm and so is the team.”
Reluctant to see the semi-final as a two-man duel, the Welsh forward added: “It’s not a match between him and me, it’s between two countries. If Portugal are in the semis, then it’s for a very good reason. The same with us. There are no stars here. It’s the team that’s the star.”
Belief runs deep As modest as Bale’s words are, his team-mates in the Wales dressing room are unable to conceal their admiration for him, turning the spotlight right back in his direction. “Cristiano is a world-class player, no question,” Hal Robson-Kanu told FIFA.com. “But we’ve got someone who’s even better and who’s on the way to becoming the number one player in the world,” he added in reference to Bale.
Though a little more reserved, Neil Taylor has nothing but praise for the mercurial No11. “I wouldn’t say it’s just a battle between the two of them, but it’s great that two players of their stature are facing off in the semi-finals of the EUROs. We’re happy for Gareth because these are the times when he can show his quality and change the course of games.”
Individual battles aside, the Wales players are all dreaming big, which is no surprise when you consider that a place in the final at the Stade de France is at stake.
“We’re not scared,” affirmed Sam Vokes, the scorer of the men in red’s third in their 3-1 quarter-final defeat of Belgium. “We haven’t been scared all tournament. If we’d thought about it at the start, it would have been a bit crazy to dream of the final, but here we are, just one step away. We’ve got to make the most of this opportunity now.”
It is an opportunity that Wales have never been presented with before, their previous best achievement on the international stage having come at the 1958 FIFA World Cup Sweden™, where they reached the last eight.
Dreaming and holding its breath as one, the whole nation will come to a halt at 21.00 CET on Wednesday. “It ought to be a national holiday in Wales! I’m sure there’ll be a lot of people who’ll be calling in sick,” said Taylor with a laugh. “What’s happened has been amazing, though I don’t think it’ll really sink in until we get home. We are aware of what’s at stake, though, and we want to keep on making our fans happy.”
That happiness will become euphoria should victory be achieved at Portugal’s expense. And with Bale in his very best, anything seems possible, even against a three-time FIFA Ballon d’Or winner called Cristiano Ronaldo.
The ticket prices for the FIFA Confederations Cup 2017 and the 2018 FIFA World Cup™ were announced in Moscow today following a Local Organising Committee (LOC) board meeting with FIFA participation. As for the South Africa and Brazil FIFA World Cups held in 2010 and 2014, a special category has been reserved for residents of the host country, who will be able to apply for FIFA Confederations Cup Russia group-match tickets starting at RUB 960. At least 100,000 tickets will be available in this specific category 4 for the “Tournament of Champions”, taking place from 17 June to 2 July 2017. The remaining ticket categories are priced from USD 70 to 245.
For the 2018 FIFA World Cup, domestic residents will have access to at least 350,000 tickets in category 4, with prices starting from RUB 1,280. Tickets available to all football fans in the remaining categories will be on sale from 105 USD upwards.
“We wanted to make sure that we priced tickets fairly to make the events accessible to as many people as possible. We therefore conducted thorough market research and have priced the tickets accordingly. The teams that have qualified to date for the ‘Tournament of Champions’ promise a great football festival here in Russia next year,” said FIFA Secretary General Fatma Samoura, who was in Moscow for her first working visit to the hosts.
Ticket sales for fans wishing to attend the FIFA Confederations Cup will begin with a VISA exclusive pre-sales phase running from 8 to 17 November 2016. The first sales phase will then start on 1 December, five days after the Official Draw in Kazan.
Russia, Germany, Australia, Chile, Mexico and New Zealand have already qualified, while the winners of UEFA EURO 2016 – or the runners-up should world champions Germany win – are also guaranteed a spot. The eighth and final participant will be decided in January at the conclusion of the 2017 CAF Africa Cup of Nations, when the full Russia 2017 match schedule will be known.
For the FIFA Confederations Cup 2017, fans will be able to apply not only for individual match tickets, but also for ticket series for a specific host city. As well as those two options, fans wishing to follow their country at the 2018 FIFA World Cup will also be able to apply for team-specific ticket series.
Fans will shortly find all relevant information, including the ticket price list and a FAQ document, on FIFA.com/tickets. To ensure that they do not miss out on anything, fans will also soon be able to sign up for ticketing information in the form of a newsletter.
Ticket sales for the FIFA World Cup will only begin after next year’s FIFA Confederations Cup. For both tournaments, tickets will be available for purchase by the general public exclusively on FIFA.com.
All prices for both tournaments can be found in the photo galleries among the related items.