There’s a host of soccer options today, particularly around the kick-off time of 1500 hrs. Probably just as well I’m going to a wedding, or I’d not see the light of day in all this fine Montreal weather ...
Nigeria takes on two-times World Champion, Germany in Grenoble this afternoon, hoping the French Alpine venue proves lucky. It’s where they recorded their only win so far in the tournament, 2-0 over South Korea. To prevail in today’s test however, against one of the tournament favourites, they will have to breach a rearguard that has not conceded a goal so far.
These two nations met in Montreal in the final of the 2014 Women’s u20 World Cup Final in 2014, and a few of the cast from that evening will face each other again at the Stade des Alpes today. Germany won 1-0 after extra time, on that occasion, after Asisat Oshoala looked to have given the African nation the lead in the 85th minute, only to be chalked off for offside. Oshoala is likely to be on the bench for the Falconets today, while for Germany, 28-year-old Alexandra Popp is preparing to win her 100th senior cap.
The Falconets have not defeated a European side at the World Cup since 1999, providing some perspective around the task that besets them today.
In the second R16 game today, the name on everyone’s lips is Sam Kerr, Australia’s star striker and tournament joint-top scorer. The Matildas have never gone further than the quarter-finals (3 times) and in Norway, meet the 1995 winners.
The nations have met in two of the last three World Cups, Australia winning 2-1 in 2011, after a tie (1-1) four years previously, but neither side has a good record in the knockout stages, Australia winning one in their last four, and Norway one victory in their last seven.
Australia’s solitary win was against Brazil in 2015, and it was against the same opposition they staged an epic comeback just over a week ago, coming from two down to win 3-2, thus cementing their credentials after a narrow 1-2 defeat to Italy in their opener.
Norway have won two group games comfortably, losing narrowly only to hosts France. This should be a well-balanced affair, and could go either way, or indeed go all the way to penalties.
Three games today involving two countries making their first-ever appearance at the finals, Burundi, who have a particularly tough encounter with Nigeria, and Madagascar who kick off at 1600 hrs EST against Guinea. The games run concurrently, a double-header in Alexandria.
Interestingly Burundi’s Swallows in War are captained by Saido Berahino, who once scored a winning goal for West Brom at Old Trafford, and who has just had his contract terminated by English second-tier club, Stoke City.
One of the 20th smallest nations on the continent, the challenge in facing the Super Eagles is huge, although Berahino hopes his country’s relative anonymity can help spring a surprise or two.
With only two wins, both in qualifying matches against whipping boys South Sudan, in their last 12 outings, anything Burundi can get from this meeting will be met with wild enthusiasm back in Gitega, the capital.
Much is expected from Paul Onuacho (24), Nigeria’s new 6 ft 7 in striker, developed in Denmark and hoping to excel in Egypt. He’s top marksman for Midtjylland, the Danish title-chasers, and was sourced from the same Nigerian academy, Edebei, that produced Obafemi Martens and Jon Obi Mikel.
It will be a huge upset should the Super Eagles not prevail in their opening fixture.
Madagascar’s task is perhaps only a little simpler against a Guinea side that boasts the likes of Liverpool midfielder Naby Keita and Napoli’s Amadou Diawara. Football administration on the island is a huge mess, and has attracted FIFA intervention. The national team’s resurgence has been underwritten by the integration of players with Malagasy connections, primarily from French clubs, and to get anything from this game seems a stretch against a side which topped its group and won 3-2 away to Cote d’Ivoire in qualifying.
Before we leave AFCON, Montreal Impact fans may get a glimpse of their midfielder, Michael Azira in what should be the tournament’s game of the day as his Uganda take on DR Congo. The Leopards have been perennial qualifiers, but rarely make progress. They did two years ago, winning a group that contained Morocco and will be slight favourites over Uganda, who probably represent East Africa’s best chance to reach the knock-out stage.
Another 3 o’clock kick-off that will be attractive to some, simply because it involves Brazil, is the hosts’ meeting with Peru at the Corinthians Arena in Sao Paulo. It’s an intriguing situation in Group A. Brazil need only a draw to win the group, provided Venezuela do not defeat Bolivia in the other game by four goals (both Venezuela’s games thus far have ended scoreless).
And although they’d have to defeat Brazil to do so, Peru can also win the group. But all three nations, excepting Bolivia, should progress to the last eight, as it looks likely that one of the best third placed sides will emerge from this pool of teams.
Two Group D games take place in Cleveland this evening. The USA (and Daniel Lovitz) will be hoping to make it two wins in two, when they take on Trinidad & Tobago, who will likely exit the competition should they lose. That’s predicated on Panama prevailing over Guyana, the weakest side in the group, who lost their first-ever Gold Cup finals match 0-4 to the USA four days ago.
Finally in the UEFA u21 Championship, Bologna’s Stadio Renato Dall’Ara, hosts Spain and Italy’s conquerors, Poland, while Belgium and The young Azzurri clash in Citta Del Tricolore.
Belgium have suffered narrow defeats against both Poland and Spain, and cannot now reach the semi-finals, so the Italians will fully expect to get three points. But they will have one eye on proceedings elsewhere. There are no quarter-finals and only the three group winners progress to the semis, along with the best second-place team (currently France). For the Italians to win the Group, they must rely on Spain to defeat Poland, who have won both their games so far. However should Spain defeat the Poles by two goals more than any winning margin that Italy establishes over Belgium, it is they who will top the group, not Italy. It gets complicated.
A draw is enough for Poland to win the group however, regardless what happens elsewhere, but the Spanish are still very much still alive in the competition. The game in Bologna promises to be a tense affair and should be the better watch of the pair.
Today’s Games (all EST) -
1030 - DR Congo v Uganda - African Cup of Nations - BeIN Sports Canada
1130 - Germany v Nigeria - Womens World Cup R16 - TSN1, TSN3, TSN4, TSN GO, RDS
1300 - Nigeria v Burundi - African Cup of Nations - BeIN Sports Canada
1500 - Norway v Australia - Womens World Cup R16 - TSN1, TSN3, TSN GO, RDS
1500 - Belgium u21 v Italy u21 - UEFA u21 Championship - UEFA TV, YouTube
1500 - Spain u21 v Poland u21 - UEFA u21 Championship - UEFA TV, YouTube
1500 - Peru v Brazil - Copa America - TSN2, TSN GO
1500 - Bolivia v Venezuela - Copa America - TSN GO
1600 - Guinea v Madagascar - African Cup of Nations - BeIN Sports Canada
1730 - Guyana v Panama - Gold Cup - TSN.ca, TSN GO
2000 - USA v Trinida & Tobago - Gold Cup - TSN5, TSN.ca, TSN GO