Football has just completed its final international break of 2014, with a mix of friendlies and Euro 2016 qualifiers. We’ll take a look at which teams finished the year on a high, and which teams will be glad to see the back of 2014.
Ronaldo v Messi falls flat in front of disgruntled fans
Portugal played Argentina at Old Trafford, in a match billed as the final audition for the Ballon d’Or. What transpired was a huge disappointment considering all the hype. For starters, the stadium was only just over half full, meaning the organizers failed to break even. Ronaldo and Messi both captained their respective sides, but in a first half controlled by Argentina neither side made any clear cut chances. The two superstars then both made way at half time, much to the dissatisfaction of the fans who had paid the high ticket prices to see them.
The second half was the type of game that can put you to sleep, with Portugal’s stoppage time winner coming about following a lucky deflection. In truth, neither side deserved to win.
Earlier in the international break, Argentina had a come-from-behind win over Croatia, and Portugal recorded a priceless 1-0 home win in their qualifier against Armenia.
Dunga continues perfect start with Brazil
In his second spell in charge, Dunga saw his Brazil side overcome Turkey and Austria to maintain his 100% record, with six wins since the World Cup.
They thrashed a poor Turkey side 4-0, with captain Neymar adding two more goals to his international tally. Austria posed a tougher test, and it took a stunning late strike from Roberto Firmino, winning his second cap, to seal the win. Dragovic’s penalty for Austria was the first goal that Brazil had conceded since the World Cup.
Rooney reaches landmark for the Three Lions
In the Euro 2016 qualifier against Slovenia on Saturday, Wayne Rooney became the ninth Englishman to reach 100 caps for his country, and he celebrated his achievement with the first England goal in the 3-1 win. The Three Lions sit at the top of their group with a maximum 12 points.
Rooney then scored twice as England beat fierce rivals Scotland in Glasgow, a game steeped in history as the first ever official international football match in 1872. Rooney now needs just four more goals to reach a half century for England and become their all-time top scorer, a record currently held by Sir Bobby Charlton. He also looks set to break England’s all-time appearance record of 125 caps held by goalkeeper Peter Shilton.
Jekyll and Hyde performances from Mexico in five-goal thrillers
Mexico visited Netherlands in a grudge match following their controversial last-16 game in the World Cup, decided by a late penalty won by Arjen Robben. This rematch was also notable for the return of Carlos Vela to the side for the first time since March 2011, and he wrote the perfect script by scoring twice. Chicharito netted the third for El Tri as they gained a measure of revenge for their World Cup exit.
Mexico then travelled to Belarus, and despite twice being in front thanks to Raul Jimenez, succumbed to a disappointing 3-2 defeat. Meanwhile, the Netherlands got their qualifying campaign back on track with a 6-0 thrashing of Latvia.
Unsatisfactory end to the year for the USMNT
The USA bowed out of 2014 with consecutive defeats, but this shouldn’t mar what has been an excellent year. They first came unstuck against Colombia at Craven Cottage in London, where despite an early penalty from Altidore, two second half goals from the South Americans earned them the win. Colombia followed this up with a 1-0 friendly win in Slovenia.
The US team then hopped across the Irish Sea to face an Ireland side looking for a morale booster after losing a Euro 2016 qualifier to Scotland. In their first meeting for 12 years, and even first half ended 1-1, but Ireland proved too hot for the US after the break and ran out convincing 4-1 winners.
Germany win the battle of the previous two World champions
Spain and Germany both enjoyed comfortable victories in their qualifying matches, Spain beating Belarus 3-0 and the Germans with a surprisingly low scoring 4-0 win against minnows Gibraltar.
Their clash at Celta Vigo’s Balaidos stadium was a scrappy affair, settled by an 89th minute goal from Toni Kroos, who of course plies his trade in Spain. It was a moment to forget for Spain’s debutant goalkeeper Casilla, who entered the game with 15 minutes remaining and should have saved Kroos’ near post effort.
The defeat was Spain’s first home loss under Vicente Del Bosque, and will provide further ammunition for those who claim that La Furia Roja’s reign at the top is well and truly over.
European minnows enjoy their finest hours
Finally, some of Europe’s smallest nations deserve some recognition for their exploits over the past week. First, San Marino (population 30, 000) secured their first ever European Championship qualifying point with a goalless draw against Estonia. Ranked joint-last with Bhutan at 208 in FIFA’s world rankings, it ends a 61-game losing streak and it their best result since a 1-0 friendly win against Liechtenstein in 2004. They celebrated the point at the final whistle as if they had won the whole tournament, and who can blame them! Andorra and Gibraltar remain the only two nations to have never won a qualifying point, although this is Gibraltar’s first campaign.
An equally big upset was a 1-0 win for Faroe Islands away to Greece, who just months ago were contesting a World Cup quarter final. Ranked 187 in the world, the result is hugely embarrassing for Greece, who sit bottom of their group with one point from four games and face a very tall order to qualify. The result was the final straw for the Greek FA, who sacked manager Claudio Ranieri, the man they only appointed following the World Cup.
Finally, Liechtenstein (world ranking 155) earned a 1-0 win away to Moldova. It was their first win in a competitive match since June 2011, and their first away win in a qualifying match for over a decade. Kudos to the small fry of European football!
What to look out for next week
• Premier League – Two of the giants of English football suffering indifferent starts, Arsenal host Manchester United at the Emirates stadium
• La Liga – Barcelona will face a stern test at home against fifth-place Sevilla
• Bundesliga – Hoffenheim will look to end Bayern’s unbeaten start on Saturday
• Serie A – One of Europe’s fiercest rivalries takes place with the Milan derby on Sunday evening
• Ligue 1 – League leaders Marseille hope to remain top with a home game against fourth-place Bordeaux
• Liga MX – Two of the top four clash when America host Atlas
• MLS – The first leg of the Conference play-off finals are on Sunday, with NY and LA Galaxy the home teams