Mighty Mexico lead New Zealand-bound CONCACAF quartet(FIFA.com) 25 Jan 2015

Mexico, Panama, Honduras and USA have booked their tickets to the FIFA U-20 World Cup New Zealand 2015, with El Tri leading the foursome after triumphing at the 2015 CONCACAF U-20 Championship in Jamaica. 

Sergio Almauer’s men captured their third consecutive regional title – their 13th U-20 CONCACAF title overall – by beating Panama 4-2 on penalties after the two sides battled to a 1-1 draw in the final. The title served as icing on the cake for El Tri as both Panama and Mexico, having finished atop Group A and B respectively had already secured a spot at the U-20 World Cup, which will begin in May.

Meanwhile, Honduras edged Central American neighbours Guatemala 2-1 in Saturday’s first play-off, and the Americans then followed suit in their play-off with a 2-0 win over ten-man El Salvador.

Panama perfect in group play
Despite Mexico taking the trophy home, it was Panama who were the only side to escape the group stage with a perfect record. Los Canaleros set the bar high with victories against Aruba, USA, hosts Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago and Guatemala, scoring nine goals and impressively keeping a clean sheet throughout the five-game group stage

Mexico had a stronger goal difference heading into the final, scoring a lofty 18 goals and only conceding three, but the champions slipped up in their final group stage game with a 1-1 draw against Haiti, who finished bottom of Group B. USA had a harder time in Group A than coach Tab Ramos might have initially imagined, and the Stars and Stripes only made it to the play-offs after a 1-0 win over Trinidad and Tobago in their fifth and final group stage match.

Guatemala took advantage of USA’s victory against T&T and secured third place in Group A despite losing to group leaders Panama 1-0 in their final group stage game. Honduras and El Salvador had a fairly straightforward path to the play-offs, finishing second and third respectively behind Mexico, with Cuba the closest competitors for a play-off spot, but still four points behind the mark. 

Gonzalez’s goalkeeping heroics
Guillermo Martinez put Mexico ahead in the final in the 50th minute, heading in from a corner kick, but Panama equalised from the penalty spot 22 minutes later when Fidel Escobar fired past goalkeeper Jose Gonzalez.

Gonzalez redeemed himself in the penalty shootout, however, saving Panama’s final two attempts to give Mexico the 4-2 win. Mexico were perfect from the spot as Martinez, Alejandro Diaz, Erick Aguirre and Jose Robles successfully converted for El Tri.

Ben Spencer and Paul Arriola scored on either side of half-time to give the Americans their 2-0 win over El Salvador and ticket to New Zealand. However, the game could have been much closer had Jose Villavicencio buried his penalty, which would have levelled matters, but USA goalkeeper Zack Steffen did well to push the ball wide. El Salvador finished the match a man short for the final ten minutes after Andres Flores was sent off, all but sealing the win for the Americans.

Honduras’ 2-1 win over Guatemala sends Los Catrachos to the U-20 World Cup for the first time since 2009. Guatemala were given an early boost when goalkeeper Nicholas Hagen saved Bryan Rochez’s 17th-minute penalty, but Honduras took the lead shortly thereafter through Michaell Chirinos.

Honduras doubled their lead after half-time from Alberth Elis’ tap in, set up by Chirinos. Guatemala were given a late lifeline after Diego Alvarez’s delightful free-kick from 35 yards cut Honduras’ lead in half. The Guatemalans nearly equalised deep into stoppage time, but Carlos Estrada’s header missed just wide.

The four CONCACAF sides heading to the U-20 World Cup, particularly USA and Honduras, can breathe a sigh of relief having punched their tickets to New Zealand, though they will now continue to train in earnest with their sights set on the final in Auckland on 20 June.

USA secure final CONCACAF ticket(FIFA.com) 25 Jan 2015

Tab Ramos’s side defeated El Salvador 2-0 in the second play-off of the day with Ben Spencer and Paul Arriola scoring the decisive goals for the Stars and Stripes. 

USA will compete in their 14th U-20 World Cup when the tournament in New Zealand kicks off on 30 May. 

They become the fourth and final CONCACAF team to qualify, joining Mexico, Honduras and Panama. Earlier in the day, Honduras edged Guatemala 2-1 to book their ticket thanks to goals from Michaell Chirinos and Alberth Elis. 


Honduras seal place in New Zealand(FIFA.com) 24 Jan 2015

Honduras defeated Guatemala 2-1 in the CONCACAF U-20 Championship play-offs in Jamaica, joining Mexico and Panama as qualified nations for the FIFA U-20 World Cup New Zealand 2015. 

Michaell Chirinos and Alberth Elis scored the crucial goals for La Bicolor, but Guatemala did threaten a comeback when Diego Alvarez scored a spectacular free-kick in the 74th minute.

Honduras qualified for their sixth FIFA U-20 World Cup having participated in 1977, 1995, 1999, 2005 and 2011.

The FIFA U-20 World Cup New Zealand 2015 will be played between 30 May and 20 June and will have four representatives from CONCACAF with either USA or El Salvador filling the last spot.

Fans flock to FIFA Women’s World Cup tour(FIFA.com) 17 Jan 2015

Between January and the end of March, the FIFA Women’s World Cup Winner’s Trophy is attempting to emulate Phileas Fogg, by travelling the world in eighty days, on the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2015 Live Your Goals Tour.

On Wednesday, the trophy arrived in Shenzhen, China, where four of the countries qualified for this summer’s FIFA Women’s World Cup were kick-starting their preparations. Following a press conference with delegates from the Chinese Football Association and Mayi Cruz Blanco, FIFA’s Senior Women’s Football Development Manager, children from local schools were called one-by-one to have their photos taken with the trophy, and some of the participating players.

Rebecca Quinn and Janine Beckie of Canada, Mariel Gutierrez and Estefania Fuentes of Mexico, Korea Republic’s Lim Seonjoo and Kim Hyeri, and China Head Coach Hao Wei, plus players Li Ying, Tang Jiali, Wang Fei all gave the children some memories to treasure.

Two days later, and the annual NSCAA Coaching Convention in Philadelphia, USA was the Tour’s destination. Some of the country’s top women’s football writers – in town for the NWSL College Draft – were up bright and early to quiz US Soccer Technical Director (and captain of the USA 1991 Women’s World Cup winning side) April Heinrichs, alongside Tatjana Haenni, FIFA’s Deputy Director, Head of Women’s Competitions, and Mayi Cruz Blanco.

Questions ranged from Football Turf to FIFA’s global women’s football development programme – 148 countries have currently requested FIFA’s support to develop sustainable grassroots infrastructure for girls – as well as refereeing standards, and the expansion to 24 teams at Canada 2015. But Heinrichs stole the show, admitting to having to choke back emotion at her memories from 1991, and how the FIFA Women’s World Cup will once again create stories around the world, turning unknown players into overnight heroes.

Later in the afternoon, Jim Gabarra, Head Coach of NWSL side Sky Blue FC joined the aforementioned trio, plus FIFA Executive Committee member, and President of the Turks & Caicos Islands FA, Sonia Bien Aime for a panel discussion. But of course, with a footfall of more than 10,000 delegates, the Trophy was unwilling to be kept in the shadows, and posed for countless photos in the Grand Hall of the Convention Centre, including with over 100 members of the Alliance of Women Coaches, and Head Coach of Chelsea Ladies FC, Emma Hayes.

Before the crowds could disperse, the trophy was packed away, and like a reformed rock star, it had an early night, before attending the DFB’s Women’s Indoor Football Tournament in Magdeburg today, with former New Zealand player Rebecca Smith, and FIFA’s Manager of Women’s Competitions, watching on. On the field, Bayer Leverkusen beat VFL Wolfsburg in the final. But off the field, once again the trophy was the star, as fans young and old flocked for a photo, and a permanent memento of its visit.

The trophy will next be in Sao Paulo, Brazil this coming Wednesday, with a couple of special guests set to appear. Naturally, we’ll bring you some of the best photos of the event. You can also follow the tour on Twitter @FIFAWWC and on Facebook at: www.facebook.com/fifawomensworldcup

Montoya: I hope James wins Puskás Award(FIFA.com) 11 Jan 2015

Juan Pablo Montoya has lived his life at an impressive pace, on and off the track, the 39-year-old Colombian racing driver having proven himself one of motorsport’s finest all-round competitors over the past two decades – distinguishing himself in the high-octane and elite worlds of Formula 1, CART and NASCAR.

Montoya not only still holds the F1 speed record, thanks to racking up 372.6 km/h at the Italian GP back in 2005, he is also the sole currently active driver to have won both the Monaco GP and the Indianapolis 500, two of motor-racing’s legendary ‘Triple Crown’. And though he has yet to complete the triple feat by claiming the 24 Hours of Le Mans, three wins in the 24 Hours of Daytona provide further proof of his immense driving ability.

Given his status as one of the highest-profile Colombian sportspeople around, FIFA.com was understandably keen to seek out Montoya’s views on the beautiful game, countryman James Rodriguez’s fine form and for him to look ahead to the FIFA Ballon d’Or Gala.

FIFA.com: Juan Pablo, how big a football fan are you?Juan Pablo Montoya: When I was a child we talked about nothing but motor-racing at home, so of course all my free time was taken up by motorsports [Editor’s note: his father was also a racing driver]. People’s passion for football is usually passed down from generation to generation and so I didn’t experience that. My own boy, on the other hand, loves Real Madrid and James. But the other reason I’m not a big footy fan is because I’m a terrible player! (Laughs)

That being the case, how did your son pick up a passion for football?
While I don’t play football myself I do follow nearly every Colombia match, particularly at major tournaments like the World Cup. In fact, the first big match I went to was Colombia against [West] Germany at Italy 1990. What’s more, when I used to be in Formula 1, my then girlfriend, who’s now my wife, lived in Madrid and is a football fan, so we’d go and watch Real.

Did you go and see Colombia at Brazil 2014?
My wife tried to convince me to go, but I was in Pennsylvania training for the Indianapolis 500 so I told her I couldn’t, that she’d have to go by herself. And so off she went, to watch the Colombia versus Côte d’Ivoire match.

What was your verdict on Los Cafeteros’ performance overall?
Very positive, but the [quarter-final] defeat to Brazil was really painful. My team-mate Helio Castroneves is Brazilian and we watched the game together, but the way he celebrated afterwards is still very hard to swallow! (Laughs) Worse still, I thought we might get our own back in a friendly played here in Miami but they beat us again!

What’s your view on the current state of Colombian football?
At international level it’s a very good period for us. Back home football’s always been the people’s game, the No1 sport, but we’ve never had so many good players spread all across the world. Colombia has been connected to things that are less than pleasant, so anything that can help turn that around is good for the country. Football and motor-racing are just two good ways to help change that image.

Can you draw any comparisons between football and motor-racing in a sporting sense?
The way I see it, they’re both team sports. Preparation is very important: what you do before a race in physical and mental terms is vital, such as the strategy you’re going to use, for example. It’s like before a match: footballers have a plan to follow when they go out and play and we do too. It’s true that when you’re driving you’re out there on your own, but then you stop in the pits and it comes down to teamwork once more.

The forthcoming FIFA Ballon d’Or Gala will see individual awards handed out the year’s finest performers. Do you think James has what it takes to one day challenge the likes of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo for the Ballon d’Or?
James has the quality and the skill to push towards being the very best in the world. He’s been showing that in abundance, both for the national team and now for Real Madrid. Colombia’s in the grip of ‘James-mania’! (Laughs)

James’ goal against Uruguay at the World Cup is one of the three finalists for the FIFA Puskás Award for 2014’s best goal. Do you think he deserves the prize?
I’m Colombian, what do you think I’m going to say? (Laughs) I can’t answer impartially… It was a wonderful goal and let’s hope he wins the award. I won’t be able to follow the Gala live, but I’ll keep an eye out for whether he wins or not.

Is it possible to compare a stunning goal like that with a particularly memorable overtaking move?
Yes, quite! His goal came out of nowhere and was brilliantly executed. It’s just like that time, when I was in Formula 1, when I overtook Michael Schumacher on the inside of a bend at the Brazilian GP in 2001. They’re the kind of moments that fans of the sport remember.

Turning back to the Gala, the three players gunning for the Ballon d’Or are Messi, Ronaldo and Manuel Neuer. Given your driving style, which of the three are most similar to you and why?
What a difficult question! I think maybe Messi, he’s less showy and gets straight to the point, trying to win games. For me it doesn’t matter how you see yourself, it’s all about doing a good job. If you get results, then your profile will look after itself. That’s how Messi goes about things.

In your opinion, which of the three ought to win the award?
Don’t put me on the spot, please! All three of them have done plenty to deserve it and, as so much of it depends on the opinions of those who vote, it’s a difficult choice. I wouldn’t be able to pick just one…

At the Gala, professional footballers themselves have a key role in who wins the awards. Do you think something similar would work in motor-racing?It’s very difficult, because everyone looks to back their own cause. In motor-racing, winning a race like the Monaco GP in Formula 1 or the Indianapolis 500 is like winning the World Cup, it’s a one-off. But in racing you compete all year round and, just like in football, there’s individual success and team success. If I don’t win the championship but my team does, that means just as much. From that, though, to one racer voting for another to win an award – I just can’t see it.