World Cup Qualifying Highlights and Lowlights

Michael Cummings@MikeCummings37World Football Lead WriterSeptember 10, 2012

World Cup Qualifying Highlights and Lowlights

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    Domestic leagues around the world took the weekend off as the international game returned to center stage.

    World Cup qualifying kicked off in Europe as it continued all across the globe. Not surprisingly, the highlights poured in from the dozens of matches around the world.

    Keep reading for some highlights and lowlights from international weekend.

Fastest Goal

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    Clint Dempsey enjoyed a breakthrough season in 2011-12 with Fulham. On Friday night, Tottenham Hotspur's new signing made history at the international level.

    Dempsey scored 35 seconds into the United States' World Cup qualifier against Jamaica in Kingston. That goal was the fastest American goal ever in World Cup qualifying.

    It didn't help the Yanks too much, though. Jamaica recorded some history of their own, beating the U.S. 2-1 for their first ever win over the Americans.

Best Free-Kick Goal: Runner-Up

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    International week featured a number of great free-kick goals. My pick for the second best of the weekend came during the same Jamaica-USA match in which Clint Dempsey scored his quick opener.

    Jamaica turned the deficit around and won via Luton Shelton's expert free kick in the second half.

    Watch and enjoy the goal in the video at left.

Worst Fears Confirmed?

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    Corruption and match-fixing continue to plague football, with high-profile match-fixing scandals hitting Italy in 2006 and again in 2012.

    Over the weekend, former Ghana keeper Richard Kingson revealed that he was offered a bribe to throw a match against the Czech Republic during the 2006 World Cup (via ESPN FC).

    Kingson claimed he turned down an offer of $300,000 to influence the outcome of the match, which Ghana won 2-0. He said his wife convinced him not to take the money.

    A Ghanaian led me to some people to take a bribe and it was this woman [his wife] who delivered me and delivered Ghanaians. I was very confused and I didn't know what to do but I called her and told her. My wife said: "Richard, I love you not because of your money, so don't get tempted by this offer to lose your dignity and credibility."

Worst Team Spirit

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    Italy began their World Cup qualification campaign with a disappointing 2-2 draw at Bulgaria.

    However, the most alarming news came afterwards, when reports of in-fighting emerged from the Italy camp.

    Italian publication La Stampa quoted keeper Gianluigi Buffon as saying one of his international teammates "talked a bit too much" on the field, where cameras captured players arguing during the match (via ESPN FC).

    "It's not a good sign when players are arguing on the pitch," said Italy manager Cesare Prandelli following the game. "It shows you have lost your calm, your serenity, and the quality of your game also suffers."

Best Free-Kick Goal: Winner

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    There's only one Lionel Messi, and the miniature maestro's free-kick goal for Argentina against Paraguay was the best of the weekend.

    Argentina won 3-1, keeping their World Cup qualification campaign on track.

Fanciest Footwork

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    Georgia opened UEFA qualifying with a 1-0 home victory over Belarus thanks to Tornike Okriashvili's 51st-minute goal.

    It wasn't just any goal, either. Okriashvili, 20, schooled a gaggle of defenders with some of the fanciest footwork you'll see this side of the Caucasus.

    Watch the goal—and enjoy the footwork—in the video at left.

Most Surprising Start

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    Luxembourg lost to Portugal in a UEFA qualifier over the weekend, and that was hardly a surprise. Portugal currently rank fourth in the world, while Luxembourg rank 106th.

    The surprising part came early in the first half, when tiny Luxembourg took the lead against Cristiano Ronaldo and company.

    Even more surprising was the quality of the goal from Luxembourg's Daniel Da Mota. Check out his powerful strike in the video at left.

Most Thrilling Finish

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    Republic of Ireland trailed Kazakhstan 1-0 heading into the final minutes of their UEFA qualifier over the weekend.

    The Irish would score twice in the closing minutes to steal a dramatic 2-1 victory.

    Robbie Keane equalized with a penalty in the 89th minute, before Kevin Doyle blasted his volley in for the winner.

    The highlights appear in the video at left.

Worst Pitch Maintenance

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    Finally, something from the lighter side of the pitch.

    Maybe that should be the underside of the pitch.

    Fabio Capello's first UEFA qualifier with Russia ended in a 2-0 home victory against Northern Ireland, but it wasn't all good news for the Russians.

    Check out the quality of (or lack thereof) the pitch that goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev had to deal with.