Sweden and Italy advanced to the semi-finals tonight leaving Belarus and Serbia to pack their bags.
The hosts downed Serbia 3-1 in front of almost 20,000 fans in Malmo, the championship’s biggest crowd yet, with tournament top gunner Marcus Berg scoring twice in the first quarter of an hour to lift his goal tally to five. Serbian skipper Situs Bandarq Gojko Kacar pulled one back after 26 minutes before Ola Toivonen scored Sweden’s third just short of the half hour. A fiery evening saw the referee brandish ten yellow cards and send off two Serbs, Nikola Petkovic and Nenad Tomovic.
In Helsingborg, Italy and Belarus fought a ding-dong battle for the last semi-final spot, with the Azzurrini triumphing 2-1 in the end. Sergei Kislyak fired Belarus into a 45th minute lead only for Robert Acquafresca to equalise for the Italians from the spot in added-on time.
Both sides had chances to score before Acquafresca gave Italy the lead in the 75th minute with his second goal of the evening, a lead PierLuigi Casiraghi’s team held until the final whistle.
Sweden play England in Gothenburg on Friday for a place in the final, while Italy tackle Germany in Helsingborg.
Iranian Stars Banned For Green Protest
Four of the six Iranian footballers who wore green armbands in Iran’s 1-1 draw with South Korea in a recent World Cup qualifier have been handed life bans from the national team.
Ali Karimi, 31, team captain Mehdi Mahdavikia, 32, Hosein Ka’abi, 24 and Vahid Hashemian, 32 have been “retired” from national team duty and are reported to have had their passports confiscated.
Karimi, Mahdavikia and Hashemian have all played with top clubs in Germany. Karimi with Bayern and Mahdavikia and Hashemian with Eintracht Frankfurt and Bochum.
Confederations Cup In Full Swing
With South Korea safely qualified for the 2010 World Cup, it was time to head to South Africa and the 2009 FIFA Confederations Cup. This competition is a rehearsal for the massive festival of football that comes next summer. It features the champion of each of the six continental confederations as well as the World Cup host, South Africa obviously, and the world champions, Italy.
The eight-nation quadrennial tournament is one of the better ideas that the world governing body has had over the years. It gives everyone a chance for a dry run and to iron out any rough spots.
The teams that make it get a great opportunity to check out training facilities in South Africa but even the pioneers often have to fight for their favored spots. The United States and Italy have fallen in love with one pristine training park in Centurion just outside Johannesburg. The Europeans used it for this competition but have been shocked as the Americans slipped in behind their backs to do a deal with the authorities. Italy are not happy – in fact, the Azzurri have not had the best of times this summer/winter.
The organizers get a dress rehearsal in logistics and in making sure that the whole thing, and even the Confederations Cup is no small affair, works for most. There have been a number of complaints about Johannesburg’s Park and Ride system that buses fans in from designated car parks around the city but plans are in place to improve this system as well as public transport for next year. For the media too, it is a great chance to become familiar with the country, the football scene, make contacts as well as more prosaic parts like accommodation and transport.
South Korea will be here in 2010 but have to wait until the draw is made in Cape Town in December to find out locations and opponents. The coastal city is one of nine World Cup hosts but not one of the four Confederations Cup sites.
The current quartet comprises of Johannesburg, neighboring Pretoria, Rustenburg to the north-west and Bloemfontein to the south.
Johannesburg – call it Joburg or Jozi as the locals do – is a sprawling metropolis of leafy avenues and shopping malls with little in the way of public transport. The first thing that every single business traveler does upon arriving at OR Tamba International Airport is first rent a car and secondly, rent a navigational system because with the former you can’t go anywhere and without the latter, you can’t find anywhere.
Outside the big cities of Joburg, Cape Town and Durban, accommodation could be hard to come by. Even in the lower profile Confederations Cup, hotels in the Free State city of Bloemfontein were fully-booked. So organization is also key.
Crime is never far from a conversation when you talk about South Africa and especially in a city like Johannesburg, it is something to be considered. Locals warn of going to the downtown area, most businesses upped and moved to the suburbs over a decade ago. There are other parts that are deemed unsafe, and unnecessary, to visit.
Caution is advised but on the whole, the locals are friendly and while any World Cup will struggle to match the smooth convenience of Germany 2006, one part in which South Africa can stand out is in the warmth of its people and the delight they feel at the prospect of being hosts to the world in the summer of 2010.
Ke Nako is the slogan which means ‘The Time Is Now’. It isn’t time yet but the countdown has now broken the one-year barrier. When the clock stops in the summer of 2010, South Korea, as well as 30 other visitors are going to have a great time in the Rainbow Nation.