DUBAI: The world’s top footballing teams were left scratching their heads as they suffered major upsets against minor teams in qualifying matches for the World Cup 2018 in Russia and the Euro 2016 tournament.
Giants Brazil and Argentina were surprised with stunning performances in their World Cup qualifiers against Chile and Ecuador, while world champions Germany suffered a shock 1-0 defeat against Ireland in the qualifying rounds for the Euro 2016 event.
Argentina and Brazil both lost their opening World Cup qualifiers on Thursday as the South American campaign for Russia 2018 started in unexpected fashion.
Argentina, who were missing injured Barcelona striker Lionel Messi, were surprisingly beaten 2-0 at home by Ecuador, a side 30 places behind them in the FIFA rankings.
Frickson Erazo got Ecuador’s first goal after 80 minutes and Felipe Caicedo doubled their lead when he finished off a quick counter attack just a minute later.
“It’s no use just looking at the score,” Argentine midfielder Javier Mascherano said after the match. “We were never superior to them.”
“We could never find answers to the problems that Ecuador gave us, we were never comfortable,” he added.
To compound Argentina’s misery, Manchester City striker Sergio Aguero limped off injured midway through the first half and will miss next Tuesday’s match away to Paraguay.
Things were no better for five-time World Cup champions Brazil, who went to Chile looking to rebuild their reputation after being hammered 7-1 by eventual winners Germany in last year’s semi-final.
However, coach Dunga’s side could not match the relentless running of a Chilean team that had the momentum with them after winning the Copa America in July.
Hoffenheim striker Eduardo Vargas volleyed home a cross in 72 minutes to put the home side ahead and then Arsenal’s Alexis Sanchez got a second from close in with a minute remaining.
Earlier in the evening, Uruguay, Paraguay and Colombia all made wining starts to their campaigns.
Meanwhile, fans of Germany, Poland and Ireland will be scratching their heads and sporting furrowed brows as they try to figure out their teams’ chances of qualifying for Euro 2016 ahead of Sunday’s final round of Group D matches.
In football parlance, everything is still to play for as one point separates the top three after world champions Germany suffered a shock 1-0 defeat away to Ireland and Poland secured a last-gasp 2-2 draw against hosts Scotland on Thursday.
Group leaders Germany, with 19 points, remain in the box seat and will go through with a win or a draw in their final encounter against Georgia.
Should they lose that match, however, they could find themselves outside of the top two.
Poland and Ireland face each other in Warsaw on Sunday. A win for either team will send them through, but the complexities of the group mean that both could qualify with a draw.
After the first match between the two teams ended 1-1 in Dublin in March, a 0-0 draw on Sunday would ensure Poland finish above Ireland because they would have scored more away goals in meetings between the sides.
Poland would also finish above Ireland with a 1-1 draw due to their superior goal difference in all their group matches.
Should their final match end 2-2 or a higher scoring draw, then Ireland would finish above Poland, having scored more away goals in matches between the sides.
Should the unthinkable happen and world champions Germany lose their final match at home to Georgia then any draw between Poland and Ireland would see all three teams finish on 19 points and Germany would go out due to an inferior head-to-head record.