During the Week: Cape Verde Out, Räikkönen Back with Ferrari & More

Not sure what should have me more pissed off, that the C in one of Apple’s two new iPhones – after the hype around it – does not stand for cheap apparently or that Cape Verde got themselves bundled out of the 2014 World Cup race by world football’s governing body FIFA?

The latter came about after it was found that the Islanders had fielded an ineligible player in what was an historic match at Tunisia, which Cape Verde had won 2-0 on the field but eventually lost 3-0 in the ‘boardroom’ no thanks to Fernando Varela.

Varela was given a straight red card in the 88th minute of an earlier qualifying match at Equatorial Guinea and was consequently punished with a four match ban; with the trip to Tunisia for that crucial qualifying match supposed to be the last match of that ban.

But all that is nothing to the great and amusing irony the football gods had in store in this dramatic episode… Varela was sent off in a match that was later awarded as a 3-0 win to Cape Verde, after it was found that Equatorial Guinea had fielded an ineligible player. Wherever realm it is these gods reside, the song of the day there was Justin Timberlake’s ”What Goes Around… ”.

The melodramatic mood of the song can be said to be same aura under which the penultimate round of World Cup qualifying in Africa ended. On other continents meanwhile, a number of countries sealed their passage to the World Cup including the Netherlands and Italy while Germany and Switzerland moved a step closer to doing just that.

A Robin van Persie brace helped the Dutch men to a 2-0 success at Andorra, Switzerland got a 2-0 win at Norway, goals from Arsenal duo Per Mertesacker and Mesut Özil as well as another from Bayern Munich’s Thomas Müller gave Germany a 3-0 win over Faroe Islands and Italy on their part were made to sweat a bit, coming from behind to subdue the Czech Republic 2-1.

That loss all but ended the Czech’s hope of at least finishing in a playoff spot, falling four points behind second placed Bulgaria in Group B after the latter won 2-1 at Malta to remain a point ahead of third placed Denmark that won by a lone goal at Armenia.

Scandinavian neighbours Sweden also won by a lone goal scored after only 30 seconds by Zlatan Ibrahimovic at Kazakhstan and edge closer to claiming a playoff spot ahead of third placed Austria that trail by three points following a lone goal win at home to the Republic of Ireland.

In other groups, Russia defeated Israel 3-1 to go top of Group F, a point ahead of Portugal who were busy getting beat 3-1 by Brazil in a friendly match, Turkey began yet another reign under Fatih Terim with a crucial 2-0 win at Romania while Hungary went second in Group D, a point ahead of those two, courtesy of a 5-1 win over Estonia.

Then there was England’s bore draw at Ukraine, which put the Three Lions top of Group H with 16 points and – coupled with Poland’s 5-1 win at San Marino – meant the top four nations in that group are separated by three points and each now have a chance of picking the World Cup spot or settle for the playoff spot.

Four nations also are meanwhile vying for two World Cup spots while a further fifth nation remain outsiders to clinch a playoff spot from the South American section of qualifying. All of that would be none of Argentina’s business however, following a 5-2 win at bottom nation Paraguay.

PSG’s record signing striker Edinson Cavani meanwhile scored in Uruguay’s 2-0 win over Colombia, preventing Monaco’s record signing striker Radamel Falcao and compatriots from joining Argentina right away.

Uruguay now lie fifth with 22 points, behind Ecuador on goal difference while Chile is third with 24 points and travel to Colombia, who have 26 points, in the next round of qualifying matches next month.

By that time, a more likely destination of this season’s Nigeria Profesional Football League title would be clearer. For now, Kano Pillars remain on course to defend the league title after claiming a lone goal win at home to former champions Enyimba in a Matchday 31 encounter during the week.

The result left Enyimba trailing Pillars by five points with seven matches left in the season. El-Kanemi Warriors meanwhile remain in second spot with 52 points, two points behind Pillars, after a lone goal win over Kwara United while Bayelsa United stay third on goal difference following a lone goal win at home to Enugu Rangers.

Other results saw ABS beat Sunshine Stars 2-1 in Ilorin and Kaduna United lose 3-0 at Gombe United. Nembe City lost by same score as Kaduna United in their match at Lobi Stars, Nasarawa United beat Wikki Tourists by a lone goal and Warri Wolves lost 2-1 at Dolphins of Port Harcourt… far from ideal preparation for Wolves ahead of the Federations Cup final.

Wolves’ opponent in Sunday’s final also lost during the week but, being their fourth appearance in the last five finals of the Cup, Enyimba will head into the encounter a bit more confident. Wolves could gain some courage from the fact that Enyimba have lost two of the previous three final appearances.

In far away England meanwhile, Sunderland have won just one of their last nine home meetings with Arsenal in the league, making the Gunners favourites in this weekend’s Premier League match at the Stadium of Light; a match that could see record signing Özil make his highly anticipated debut for the visitors.

Elsewhere, Marouane Fellaini could make his Manchester United debut when Crystal Palace visit Old Trafford, Romelo Lukaku will be ‘team tied’ when Everton face his real employer Chelsea while Merseyside rivals and league leaders Liverpool travel to Wales to face that nation’s finest team Swansea City on Monday.

That country’s finest (in the financial and talent context) player meanwhile is set to make his debut in Spain for Real Madrid in a La Liga match at newly promoted Villarreal that have began the season on a high and lie in third place with nine points, ahead of Real on goal difference.

Real coach Carlo Ancelotti confirmed this ahead of the match, despite Gareth Bale only just playing competitive football for the first time this season with a substitute’s appearance in Wales’ 3-0 home loss to Serbia in a World Cup qualifying match.

Elsewhere in Spain, Kevin Gameiro’s Sevilla embark on daunting trip to face Lionel Messi and Neymar at Barcelona while second placed Atletico Madrid, Falcao’s former club, host Almeria in another Liga match on Saturday.

Falcao on his part will be out to help his Monaco side regain top spot in Saturday’s Ligue 1 match at home to Lorient, after champions PSG went top of the league with a 2-0 win at Bordeaux on Friday night, courtesy of goals in each half from midfielders Blaise Matuidi and Lucas.

In Italy, the match of the weekend comes up on Saturday at the San Siro between champions Juventus and an Inter Milan side enjoying an early bloom in the Walter Mazzari era. Another Turin vs. Milan match will be played right after when AC Milan visit Torino.

Over in Formula 1, two big names will compete for same team from next season after Italian Formula 1 giants Ferrari announced Kimi Räikkönen will be driving the for the stallion from next season alongside Fernando Alonso, completing a return to the team where he won the drivers championship half a decade ago.

Räikkönen’s arrival also marked the end of Felipe Massa’s time with Ferrari, finally leaving having drove all his time there as second driver behind the great Michael Schumacher, Räikkönen and till the end of the season, Alonso. Admittedly, the accident he survived four seasons ago at the Hungarian Grand Prix.

It is hoped that with two former champions competing side by side; despite assertions that Räikkönen’s arrival would upset Alonso, Ferrari will be able to launch a real go at the drivers and constructors title next season, more so the former which has been dominated by RedBull’s German driver Sebastien Vettel who has won the last three championships and currently holds a two-race lead over Alonso with seven races left this season.

While a Spaniard and a Finn prepare to get acquaintted and upstage a German, Serbian tennis star and world number one Novak Djokovic is out helping his nation in the Davis Cup, handing Serbia the lead in their semifinal clash against Canada with a straight sets win before Janko Tipsarevic was beaten in five sets by Milos Raonic in the second rubber match to bring the Canadians back on level terms.

The second semifinal sees defending champions Czech Republic well on their way to another final after taking a 2-0 lead against Argentina thanks to wins by Radek Stepanek and Tomas Berdych over Juan Monaco and Leonardo Mayer respectively.

Hoping Djokovic is able to see Serbia through just as I’m looking forward to Özil’s debut more than Bale’s or Fellaini’s… or Eto’o’s… or James McCarthy’s… or whoever else is making a debut this weekend.

And… it’s a wrap from here. Happy birthday to American rapper Nas and every one else born on this day, including my cousin Tinuke. Best wished to them, and a pleasant weekend to us all. Cheers!

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