Biggest Winners and Losers from World Football's Weekend
There might not have been any domestic action around the world this weekend, but with international football taking center stage, plenty of big winners and losers were to be found.
Across Europe, Africa, America and much more, World Cup qualifiers dominated discussion and gave us plenty of insight into what we might be seeing when we eventually get to Brazil.
In the meantime, here are the biggest winners and losers from the weekend.
Winner: Mario Balotelli
We kick our list of winners off this week with everyone's favorite Italian, Mario Balotelli, who again showed just how good he can be when playing for the national team.
With newfound confidence following his transfer from Manchester City to Milan, Balotelli netted an absolute stunner of a goal as Italy drew 2-2 with World Cup hosts Brazil in a friendly match.
The goal itself was a pearler, and whilst no celebration followed it (as per usual), it reminded us all for a moment that in amongst the craziness was still a very talented footballer indeed.
Portugal came into this weekend knowing that they really needed to start winning qualifying matches if they wanted to find themselves in the 2014 World Cup. They had, after all, struggled in some of their opening games—dropping fixtures they were expected to win—and were giving up a big lead to Russia.
Well, that lead simply extended itself after this weekend.
Cristiano Ronaldo's men were incredibly lucky to finish with a 3-3 draw on the night against Israel after being completely outplayed by their opponents.
Yet, even still, the 3-3 draw was not what they would have envisaged coming into this weekend. And while there are still several qualifying matches to come, the four-point lead currently being given to Russia makes for a very fascinating storyline to watch over the next few months.
Portugal could very well be out of the World Cup in 2014.
Croatia needed a win to keep pace with group leaders Belgium and continue their perfect record in the competition so far (three wins, one draw).
Not only did they do that, they did it over fierce rivals Serbia, with whom the Croats share a long and notorious political and social history.
Few rivalries exist in world football like this one, so Croatia's win—and them keeping pace with Belgium on top of Group A in the process—was big this weekend.
Mexico will definitely take the point they got from their 2-2 draw against Honduras this weekend, but they'll look back and know they squandered a big opportunity in these World Cup qualifiers.
Traveling to Honduras (a very tough road trip) and playing in over 100-degree heat, Mexico took an early two-goal lead over the home side thanks to a brace from Javier Hernandez. However, they allowed that margin to be pegged back in the second half and finished with shared points on the night.
With United States winning in the blizzard, Mexico now find themselves behind the USMNT and Honduras in their qualifying group for the World Cup—making Tuesday's fixture at the Aztec Stadium one of the most important fixtures for the national team all year.
It might have only been San Marino, and there might have been some big names missing, but anytime a team chalks up an 8-0 victory in a World Cup match, they have to be considered big winners.
England's thrashing of San Marino was actually not that bad to watch from the Three Lions, who were clinical in attack and strong throughout the middle and wide areas of the pitch.
They'll obviously face a much tougher time in the rest of their World Cup games, but even still—to win 8-0 and look as good as they did in doing so, makes them big winners this weekend.
Nobody predicted Spain (three-time international champion) would struggle against Finland (last in qualifying group) coming into this weekend—especially given the match was played in Spain.
However, somehow, Finland managed to chalk up a 1-1 draw against La Fura Roja, thanks in part to a 79th-minute goal from Teemu Pukki.
Spain will bounce back and still be the favorites for the World Cup. But the result did prove to many that Spain are beatable and that there are ways to stop their dominant attack.
For if Finland can do it, then seemingly anyone can do it.
African powerhouse Cameroon came into this weekend without a win in their two previous qualifying matches and in dire need of a result to fall their way.
Cameroon captain Samuel Eto’o netted a brace in the 2-1 victory over Togo, and thanks to other results falling their way, they soon found themselves on top of Group I with six points.
Moreover, the Indomitable Lions looked very strong and cohesive, seemingly signaling their return as a dominant side in African football once more. If they can play like they did this weekend, they'll be a tough team to break down in the latter stages of qualifying.
Sweden, at home, should have beaten the Republic of Ireland this weekend.
Granted, Ireland played very well and have done right throughout the World Cup qualifiers so far. But the reality is that Sweden simply had more talent on the pitch and should have won on the night.
Alas, it was not to be for the European powerhouse, who saw their 0-0 draw allow Germany to gain an even bigger lead on top of their Group C standings.
And with Austria and Ireland just one point behind them now in the group, Sweden will certainly have an interesting fight on their hands to ensure qualification in 2013.
Winner: United States
We'll save our discussion on whether this match should have been played in the snow or not for another side. For now, let us simply applaud the United States for getting the job done in less-than-desirable conditions and setting themselves up well in the group standings because of it.
In abysmal conditions that resembled a winter wonderland more than a football pitch, the USMNT hung on for a gritty 1-0 win over Costa Rica. And whilst they were always expected to beat their opponents, the fact they didn't get sucked into the poor playing conditions and held their nerve makes them big winners.
Mexico dropping their lead to Honduras and allowing them to jump ahead in the group also came as a nice bonus, though that could all change in Tuesday's game.
Loser: Costa Rica
OK, now we'll talk about the conditions.
The reality is that there is no way this game should have gone on. It wasn't that the conditions were unplayable as such or necessarily endangered the players, but they just weren't the conditions needed to play international football.
Especially not a match that will have profound consequences on the respective World Cup dreams of the United States and Costa Rica.
There was no bigger loser than Costa Rica this weekend. But whilst we all feel sorry for them, what else can be done?
Who do you think were the biggest winners and losers this weekend?
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