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The match-ups to contest the final four European tickets to the 2018 FIFA World Russia have been decided, as the play-off ties featuring the group stage’s eight best second-placed sides were confirmed in Zurich on Tuesday.

Drawn by Spain legend Fernando Hierro at the Home of FIFA, the results mean Germany 2006 winners Italy will face Sweden, while Switzerland were paired with Northern Ireland, Croatia meet Greece and Denmark will take on Republic of Ireland.

The first and second legs will take place between 9-11 and 12-14 November respectively, with the winners clinching one of the last remaining World Cup tickets and joining the nine representatives from the continent already set for the finals.

“It was interesting to be the first team out,” Northern Ireland manager Micheal O’Neill said after the draw.

“We knew whatever team we got was going to be a very difficult game, and Switzerland have had a great qualifying campaign: nine wins, one defeat.  We’ve only lost one competitive game in Belfast in four years, which was against Germany, so we intend to make it a very difficult night for Switzerland.


“Sweden coach, Jan Andersson similarly expects a tough challenge, having been drawn against the side that only finished second to a near-perfect Spain in Group I.

“We will start now and historically Italian football is good, with good individual players who have been to the world championships before, so they will have good experience,” he admitted. “They are a good team, but we will go for it.”

There is also set to be an intriguing reunion when Republic of Ireland take on Denmark. “I know Denmark and the manager Age Hareide, he and I used to play together, so it is going to be an interesting confrontation,” Martin O’Neill said of his opposite number.

But, having clinched a nail-biting win to qualify against Wales, he feels it will work in their advantage. “Momentum is very, very important, it was a great win for us – we won our last two games to get here into this position. I’m just concerned now about the next couple of weeks and our players not picking up injuries at club level.”

“I would view this as having a second opportunity and that I will be playing in a 180-minute final,” Hierro, who was capped 89 times for Spain, said during the ceremony. “They all know how important it is to make it to the World Cup in Russia. Good luck to them all.”


Growing line-up
Qualifying as hosts, Russia have since been joined by France, Portugal, Germany, Serbia, Poland, England, Spain, Belgium and Iceland, with 23 of the 32 nations now decided for next year’s festival of football.

On top of the four additional European places, the remaining five spots will be decided between 10-15 November, as three sides from Africa are yet to book their tickets, while the intercontinental play-offs will confirm the last two names in the hat for the Final Draw.

That will take place on 1 December in Moscow, where the eight groups will be decided, using pot allocations based on the October edition of the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking. Pot 1, which is already confirmed, will feature Russia, Germany, Brazil, Portugal, Argentina, Belgium, Poland and France.




Croatia-Greece (Thursday 9 November, 20.45)
Northern Ireland-Switzerland (Thursday 9 November, 19.45)
Sweden-Italy (Friday 10 November, 20.45)
Denmark-Republic of Ireland (Saturday 11 November, 20.45)


Second leg:
Greece-Croatia (Sunday 12 November, 21.45)
Switzerland-Northern Ireland (Sunday 12 November, 18.00)
Italy-Sweden (Monday 13 November 20.45)
Republic of Ireland-Denmark (Tuesday 14 November, 19.45)

Kunle Solaja is the author of landmark books on sports and journalism as well as being a multiple award-winning journalist and editor of long standing. He is easily Nigeria’s foremost soccer diarist and Africa's most capped FIFA World Cup journalist, having attended all FIFA World Cup finals from Italia ’90 to Qatar 2022. He was honoured at the Qatar 2022 World Cup by FIFA and AIPS.

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World Cup

Floored twice in two months, South Africa tremble ahead of treble with Nigeria



Sadiq Umar, Ndidi And Awoniyi Return To Super Eagles As NFF Secure Friendly Duel With Ghana And Mali In Morocco -

Exactly four months after they were bumped and relegated to the third-place match of the Africa Cup of Nations by the Super Eagles, South Africa’s Bafana Bafana are in jitters as they will come up against the three-time African champions again, in a crucial 2026 World Cup qualifying match in Uyo.

Only three days ago, the Super Falcons pushed the Banyana Banyana, reigning African champions, off the bus to this year’s Women’s Olympic Football Tournament, instead grabbing the ticket to make sure of a first appearance at the glamour tournament for the first time in 16 years.

The assured manner of Nigeria’s victories in the two fixtures have left the hierarchy of South African football flummoxed, and there is no adequate time to recover or rejig strategies before the Bafana Bafana come up against the Super Eagles in a Day 3 encounter of the 2026 FIFA World Cup qualifying series at the Godswill Akpabio Stadium, Uyo on Friday, 7th June.

With two points from their previous two matches, but aware of the hold they have over the Bafana Bafana, the African vice champions are confident of the three points on the day, which could see them fly to the top of the pool.

It was on 7th February at the Stade de la Paix, Bouake that the Super Eagles kicked Bafana to the third-place match of the 34th Africa Cup of Nations. Despite achieving parity late in the game, the Bafana were cut to size during the penalty shootout with Nigeria’s South Africa-based goalkeeper Stanley Nwabali saving two of the kicks by the Bafana.


South Africans’ boasts of bouncing the Super Falcons in the Women’s Olympic Football Tournament fixture in revenge, ended belly-up with the Banyana failing to score a goal in 180 minutes of action, with the two teams separated by Rasheedat Ajibade’s goal from the penalty spot in Abuja on Friday, 5th April.

Despite being a point ahead of the Super Eagles in their World Cup qualifying group, the Bafana will fall behind once they submit to the superior strength, skill and savvy of the Super Eagles on another Friday in June.

It can be recalled that when the two teams also met at the Africa Cup of Nations in 2019, at the quarter-final stage, Nigeria triumphed 2-1 in Cairo.

Players of the Super Eagles are already getting in the mood to deliver the big punches to Bafana in Uyo in a few weeks’ time. Only on Thursday night, top striker Victor Boniface returned from the injury that kept him out of the AFCON, by coming off the bench to score in Bayer Leverkusen’s Europa League quarter-final duel with West Ham of England.

African Player of the Year Victor Osimhen has also been unable to stop scoring for his Italian Serie A side, SC Napoli.


Goalkeeper Nwabali remains in awesome shape, and midfielder Alex Iwobi and Ademola Lookman shone brightly in the defeat of Ghana in a friendly in Morocco last month.

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Morocco To Launch World’s Biggest Stadium Ahead Of 2030 World Cup –



Morocco To Launch World’s Biggest Stadium Ahead Of 2030 World Cup -

There is no end to aspirations. That is what Morocco is doing as they planned the world’s largest stadium as one of their package for the milestone 2030 World Cup which marks the 100th year of the tournament.

A British firm, Populous has reportedly won the  bid for the design of the what is called Morocco’s Grand Casablanca Stadium. It is being designed to hold 115,000 spectators in its bowel.

According to Populous in its website, the stadium derives its identity from the culture of the “season” in Morocco, as its structure is located under a large tent roof that appears as an exciting intervention in the forest landscape, noting that the stadium site extends over an area of 100 hectares in the city of Mansouria in the province of Benslimane (38 km north of Casablanca).

The British company explained that the stadium will be compatible with the FIFA standard. The company’s president, Francois Clément, said that the expected pace of construction “indicates the commitment of all parties concerned to deliver this project on time and within budget, and will constitute a rich asset for the Kingdom of Morocco, as well as raise it to the highest global platform for the development of sports infrastructure.”

The proposed stadium will compete with the Santiago Bernabeu and Camp Nou stadiums in Spain. Morocco is co-hosting the World Cup with Spain and Portugal Preparatory work has already begun to build the stadium on a 100-hectare site after funding for the project was approved last October.


According to the Morocco World News website, the budget for the new stadium project amounts to 5 billion Moroccan dirhams (460 million euros).

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World Cup

Japan Handed 3-0 Win After North Korea Call Off World Cup Qualifier –



Japan Handed 3-0 Win After North Korea Call Off World Cup Qualifier -

Japan have been awarded a 3-0 victory after North Korea called off a World Cup qualifier between the sides that was scheduled to be held in Pyongyang earlier this month, Japan’s Football Association (JFA) said on Saturday.

The JFA said FIFA’s Disciplinary Committee had informed them that the match had been forfeited, which means Japan are guaranteed a top-two finish in their group which also includes Syria and Myanmar.

With 12 points after four games, Japan have qualified for the third round of World Cup qualifiers as well as the 2027 Asian Cup. Japan beaten North Korea 1-0 in another qualifying match in Tokyo this month.

“Although the players lost an important opportunity to play, I see this as a positive step forward,” Japan coach Hajime Moriyasu said in a statement.

“Naturally, we will not be satisfied with this result, but will continue to build up our strength for the national team activities in June, the final qualifying round, and the World Cup.”


North Korea, which has no formal diplomatic relations with Tokyo, decided not to stage the match in Pyongyang over worries about infectious diseases in Japan and had asked for the game to be moved to a neutral venue.

FIFA said the game would not be rescheduled due to the lack of dates on the fixture calendar.






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