Costa Rica 2 - 2 United States

For those of you that were unfortunate enough to watch the Costa Rica vs United States match this past Wednesday night, you were able to witness a disgrace to what I consider the beautiful game of football. Costa Rica, a obscure population of 4.5 million, a nation that has only qualified for the World Cup a mere 3 times, was up against, and beating 2-1, the United States.

With a population of 307 million people within her borders, and a World Cup resume that reads 8 World Cup finals, the U.S. had already qualified for next summers tournament. On the other hand, Costa Rica faced a must win situation heading in knowing that anything less than a win would see them demoted to 4th place in the CONCACAF standings and consequently face the 5th place finisher from the CONMEBOL region (South America).

In what I hope will better be explained in the forthcoming weeks, the 4th official granted FIVE minutes of stoppage time. I've heard of home field advantage, but FIVE minutes was blatantly an attempt by the officials to help the U.S. grab an equalizer. With 1 minute of stoppage time having been played, Costa Rica head coach, Rene Simoes, attempted to make in what appeared to be his last substitution. The 4th official, having probably been given word by his superiors at half time to help the U.S. secure at least a tie, refused to grant Mr. Simoes. What happened next is very ambiguous; Mr. Simoes and 2 of his assistants, apparently receiving red cards, were ordered off the pitch by police officers.

I find myself repeating myself but I have never seen in my experienced, granted young, footballing life a head coach and two of his assistants branded red cards. And yet the game continues.. and inevitably the United States equalized. Ok, ok, ok! We know what was at stake for Costa Rica, but why did this match matter so much for the United States? Oh, that's right, they were playing for "top spot" in the CONCACAF group. Because as you know, it would be a travesty if Mexico were to claim 1st place from the United States in anything. And, in order for the United States to feel as though they've accomplished something grand, they needed to take away a guaranteed World Cup birth from Costa Rica by scoring that equalizer (even though the U.S. had qualified easily a couple games before).

And I'm confused as to why the U.S. thinks it has accomplished something by finishing 1st in a group that includes Costa Rica, Trinidad & Tobago, El Salvador, Honduras, and Mexico. All with a combined population LESS than that of the might United States. My condolences to Costa Rica and its nation. You were hard done by a greedy nation that has still yet to understand how to play the beautiful game. Not to mention the rest of the world would hands down rather see Costa Rica or Trinidad & Tobago playing in next summers World Cup.


World Cup Qualifying - Europe

Qualifying for the World Cup in Europe comes to an end this Wednesday, with battles still taking place for the final spots for South Africa 2010. Follow me as I provide an in-depth look into the possible outcomes, seeing as five of the nine groups are still undecided. Don't forget that second place teams do not qualify right away. The top eight 2nd place teams out of the nine groups play each other in a play-offs that will decide who goes through.

In Group 1, Denmark has already clinched a birth for South Africa 2010. That leaves Portugal (16 points), Sweden (15 points), and Hungary (13 points) still fighting for that coveted second spot. Portugal are clear favorites having to play bottom feeders Malta in their final match needing only a win or a draw coupled with a Sweden draw or loss. Sweden need to win against Albania and a have Portugal lose or draw in order to advance to the second place play-offs. Hungary play group leaders Denmark, and even though a win would be nice, a Portugal loss and Sweden loss coupled with a win over Denmark will still surely see them miss out.

Prediction: 1st place - Denmark 2nd place - Portugal

Group 2 is going to be very interesting. Switzerland (20 points) and Greece (17 points) can finish 1st or 2nd in the group respectively. Switzerland face Israel needing only a draw or win and a Greece draw or loss to finish top of the group. Greece can leap frog Switzerland for first place provided they get a win against Israel and Switzerland loses. Israel is sitting on 15 points needing to beat Switzerland to have any shot at qualifying. If Israel wins, and Greece draws or loses to Luxembourg, Israel advance to the 2nd place playoffs for a chance to qualify, having only appeared once at the World Cup (1970).

Prediction: 1st place - Switzerland 2nd place - Greece

Group 3 is interesting to say the least. Group leaders Slovakia (19 points) play 5th place Poland (11 points) with a win giving Slovakia an automatic birth in the World Cup. A draw or a loss for Slovakia opens the door for 2nd place Slovenia (17 points) to claim top spot in the group. Playing against winless San Marino (0 points), a victory is almost certain for the Slovak team. Czech Republic, group favorites at the start, have slipped down to the 3rd place with 15 points. They need a win against Northern Ireland and a Slovenia loss or draw to progress to the 2nd place playoffs.

Prediction: 1st place - Slovenia 2nd place - Slovakia

Group 4 is already set with Germany clinching a birth in the finals in South Africa with 25 points and Russia grabbing 2nd place with 21 points.

Group 5 sees Spain (27 points) having already qualified for the World Cup with nine wins from nine matches and Bosnia-Herzegovina grabbing 2nd place with19 points.

In Group 6, England (24 points) earned the top spot with Ukraine (18 points) and Croatia (17 points) fighting it out for the pivotal 2nd place. With an inspiring 1-0 victory against England over the weekend, Ukraine are now in complete control over their destiny. Needing only a win against Andorra, who have lost all nine matches, Ukraine look to be in the drivers seat. Croatia face Kazakhstan, and nothing less then a win and a Ukraine draw or loss will see them crash out.

Prediction: 1st place - England 2nd place - Ukraine

Group 7 saw Serbia shock Europe and grab 1st place with a convincing 22 points and a game to spare. France stumbled into 2nd place on 18 points but will have to wait until the 2nd place play-offs to prove their worthy enough for this summers World Cup.

Group 8 was close but in the end saw defending world champions Italy claim top spot with 22 points and Ireland earning 2nd place with 17 points.

Group 9 is the only group comprised of five teams, not six. The Netherlands dominated the group having not lost a single match and claiming all 24 points. Norway finished 2nd with 10 points, but since the top eight 2nd place teams make the play-offs, Norway will be sorely disappointed having missed out.