Thursday, March 21, 2013

Waning Seconds: Oceania

As we enter the middle months of 2013, World Cup Qualifying is approaching its final throes. While we normally recount the results, honoring winners and losers after they matches have all gone final: we're happy to talk a little about the possibilities that are still afoot as individual confederations wrap up their qualifying campaigns.

Most will finish sometime in September or October, but already tiny little Oceania is approaching its' climactic weekend of matches. Where three teams will go home and the other...will also go home...until November when they have to go play someone in North/Central America.

There's really only one match up that will determine the victor of Oceania and that's the plucky New Zealand Kiwis (they who stymied the divas of Italy back in South Africa). However, in OFC qualifying New Zealand is practically a whale, but they're a whale being hunted by the Kagus of New Caledonia. (Okay, not really hunted...but the Kagu is almost flightless and the Kiwi is totally flightless so that's one feather in the New Caledonia to speak)
Bird (Kagu) with pale grey plumage (lighter on underside), straight red bill and red legs
BEHOLD THE BATTLE OF THE BIRDS! (Kiwi on the left; Kagu on the right)

It's an uphill battle for New Caledonia, they trail the Kiwis by 3 points and a goal. So their best hope is to beat the Kiwis on Friday (ideally by more than a single goal) and then hope they earn an equal or better result in the Monday matches [the Kagus play cellar dwellers Tahiti, while the Kiwis face the Solomon Islands].

Gope-Fenepej puts Kanaks on the attack
Georges Gope-Fenepej
Truth be told, New Caledonia doesn't have a whole lot of experience at this level of competition. The whiff of international prominence must be a heady aroma, and they have only 3 World Cups of experience to go off of. Still there is hope, including rising Caledonian star: Georges Gope-Fenepej (whose last name is real and not the result of accidentally smashing my hand against the keyboard). Gope-Fenepej, recently acquired by Ligue 1 debutante Troyes, has 14 goals in 15 matches that set him apart as a special player on the pitch.

Smeltz like teen spirit
Meanwhile, New Zealand is still basking in the glory of being the big kid on the playground of the South Pacific. A stirring showing in South Africa is a big help, but as the roster of their golden generation ages (leaders Shane Smeltz and Chris Killen are each 31), the Kiwis time at the top might be running out. And yet, there's no one who has come close to touching them in qualifying to this point (they easily dispatched New Caledonia 2-0 in their last meeting back in September. And with hefty wins against Tahiti and the Solomon Islands already in the bag, regardless of Friday's outcome, the qualifiers from 2010 will likely feel confident heading into their final matches again.

We'll have to wait until the weekend to see who walks away from the Oceanic qualifying to fight on (several months and millions of miles away). But whoever it is there will be a grateful endangered bird out there somewhere...

Monday, March 18, 2013

Happy Trails 129-124: Exit the Hexagon...

It's not quite like losing a bout in Ultimate Fighter, but the losers we discuss here might feel just as battered, bruised and beaten. Left in the lurch by grim misfortune, they have to head back to the drawing board and dream of four years from now when they might redeem themselves.

But enough about the Republican party, let's talk about the teams that bowed out of CONCACAF Qualifying in the penultimate group stage. (You know...five months ago when I meant to publish this but apparently didn't.) Failing to make the final hexagonal hurdle is no great shame (the U.S. flirted with that possibility up until their final match), but still that means no trip to Brazil, no fame and fortune, no Vanity Fair cover shoot, just quiet preparation for going to Russia...ugh.

So let's sound a solemn samba for the departed (before starting a joyous Livenka polka for their next chance!)

129: Goodbye Guyana
Why they lost: As we outlined in the WIBD edition for the second round, the Golden Jaguars simply don't have the experience or talent on the roster to make themselves a viable contender in North America.

What we'll miss: Other than sincere satisfaction of seeing a little ol' minnow elevate themselves to the level of a regional spoiler? Just saying the nickname "Golden Jaguars" as often as possible.

128: And we'll see you soon Antigua and Barbuda
Why they lost: Like Guyana, A & B got a single point out of six matches. Facing off against recent Cup qualifiers from Jamaica and the US probably wasn't a tremendous help either.

What we'll miss: There's a serious boom of Antiguans, Barbudans and Antinguan/Barbudans popping up on the rosters of English clubs: Nottingham Forrest, Oxford United, Reading, Motherwell and Wycombe. Plus it'd be cool to see a match in the glorious Cricket Castle of Sir Vivian Richards Stadium

127: Adios Cuba

Why they lost: After FIFA set Cuba up with a bye into round three, the "Lions of the Caribbean" acted much more like pussy cats than kings of the jungle (or tropical sea...or whatever). It didn't help that their players have a nasty habit of seeking asylum whenever they get a breathe of fresh air on foreign soil.

What we'll miss: Cuban pulled pork sandwhiches...oh wait! This is America, we can get those anytime!! (Seriously can't go wrong with a good [or bad] Castro joke)

126: Hasta luego El Salvador

Why they lost: Despite a rather stellar legacy as a Central American soccer state, El Salvador couldn't get over the hump of the more recent continental darlings Costa Rica or true goliath Mexico

What we'll miss: The chance for a touching homage to Forward and international team lynchpin Rudis Corrales who suffered a stroke in April 2012 and would have made for a great angle on the up-and-coming Salvadorans.

125: Farewell/Adieu Canada

Proof that Cuba's better than Canda
at pork products.
Why they lost: Finishing just a point short of both Honduras and Panama, the Canucks have to be grimacing and the lost chance to get a win at home against Honduras (a result made all the more bitter by a subsequent 8-1 drumming in San Pedro Sula).

What we'll miss: Are you serious...there aren't enough jokes about the other countries in the world COMBINED to make up for the mockery we can make of Canada! Like this one: Hey Canada is that Bacon or are you just looking at Ham through Maple Syrup goggles? [crickets chirp]

124: Ciudata Guatemala

File:Gtlogo.pngWhy they lost: Two goals. Two gol' durn goals! That's all that stood between Guatemala and a berth in the next round. If they'd just given up two fewer goals, or scored two more (or split the dang difference for all I care). A 3-1 win at home versus Jamaica? A 3-2 loss against the US? And voila...problem solved!

What we'll miss: Fun times with the Guatemalan immigrant community here in Minnesota, plus the super avant-garde federation logo which win our Happy Trails logo contest for this round.