Rugamas and El Salvador dreaming big

David Rugamas (L), Andres Flores (C) and Gerson Mayén of El Salvador celebrate after scoring against Grenada during a Concacaf Qatar 2022 World Cup Qualifying soccer match at Cuscatlan stadium in San Salvador, El Salvador
  • El Salvador dreaming of a return to the World Cup
  • Firm favourites to reach third round after emphatic first-leg win over St. Kitts and Nevis
  • "We have that dream, and nothing is impossible"

Anyone following El Salvador’s recent games can not have failed to notice one name cropping up again and again on the scoresheet: that of David Antonio "Tony" Rugamas. Whether in the starting XI or coming off the bench, the 31-year-old striker has been finding the net with such regularity that fans of La Selecta are growing in excitement and hope during the Concacaf qualifiers for the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022™.

"Undoubtedly, I’m enjoying the best spell of my career. Performing like this for the national team is something you always dream about as a professional player. Everything about it is very different: when you play for your national team you have the entire country watching you. It’s something I’m enjoying immensely," he reveals in an exclusive chat with

But while Rugamas cannot stop scoring at present, he has had to show a great deal of patience to get himself in this position.

"I started the first two games of the qualifying campaign and scored in each of them. Then we had a change of coach and the new boss, Hugo Perez, left me on the bench. Through it all, though, I stayed mentally strong and told myself I had to make the most of any playing time I got, even if it was only 15 or 20 minutes. You don’t need to start a game to score in it."

In the end, the player’s patience was rewarded, as his impressive stats attest. He has found the target in each of the last five qualifying games (racking up eight goals in total) and now finds himself back in the starting line-up.

Of course, Rugamas’ rich vein of form is also a reflection of El Salvador's fine recent form.

"I think the togetherness we have as a group has been transcendental for all of this. As a team, we’re also very tactically disciplined and organised; we all work together in defence and attack. No one thinks they’re special or not required to run their socks off; we all work equally hard. I think it’s a combination of all those things that has really helped us, because everyone's performance has improved considerably."

The results this improvement brought about now sees them strongly positioned to advance from Round 2 of Concacaf qualifying for the Qatar 2022™ and take their place in the eight-team final group phase.

After losing 4-0 at home in the first leg on Saturday, St. Kitts and Nevis will have their work cut out if they are to end the Salvadorans' nine-match unbeaten run when they meet for the return leg this Tuesday. On top of that, in eight of those nine fixtures, La Selecta kept clean sheets.

That said, Rugamas and his team-mates are taking nothing for granted, knowing full well that overconfidence could thwart their ambition. "We don't have that kind of mindset. The coach has already mentioned it a few times, so we’ll be treating this match like any other and not thinking about our sizable first-leg advantage. We want to go out and conclude the tie definitively."

World Cup nostalgia

Next year, when Qatar 2022™ takes place, it will be the 40th anniversary of El Salvador’s last appearance on the world stage. Nothing would please the Central Americans more than ending that drought.

"Our collective ambition is to reach the World Cup again. We share a desire to make history and have our names associated with a return to the World Cup. We have that dream, and nothing is impossible. We’re going to fight and give everything we’ve got to achieve it."

In their quest to prevent the country’s World Cup hiatus going beyond four decades, Rugamas has no problem assuming responsibility for scoring the goals, regardless of the pressure that this entails.

"It suddenly feels like the pressure has eased considerably thanks to the games we’ve recently come through. I’m not going to say that we're already in the octagonal, but practically speaking we’ve taken a big step in that direction. So I don't feel under pressure; on the contrary, I’m really enjoying this period and my team-mates share that sentiment," he concludes.

Concacaf trio put one hand on ticket to final round

Image of the match between St. Kitts and Nevis and El Salvador as part of Concacaf Qualifier for Qatar 2022 (Photo: @LaSelecta_SLV)
  • Three Concacaf Round 2 first leg matches played on Saturday
  • Canada, El Salvador and Panama all victorious
  • Three winners will advance to the Octagonal

There were wins for the three favoured teams during Round 2 first leg matches of FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022™ qualifying in the Concacaf zone on Saturday.

Canada and El Salvador picked up away victories to be in a strong position ahead of Tuesday’s return, but Panama’s tight 2-1 home win leaves opponents Curacao with cause for optimism.

🔢 Results

St. Kitts and Nevis 0–4 El Salvador
Haiti 0–1 Canada
Panama 2-1 Curaçao

In-form El Salvador have one hand on a spot in the final stage of Concacaf qualifying after a one-sided 4-0 win over surprise qualifiers St. Kitts and Nevis. David Rugamas maintained his goalscoring form to help the two-time World Cup finalists stretch their unbeaten run in competition matches to nine.

Canada were made to significantly harder to quell a resilient Haiti in Port Au Prince. A lone first-half strike from the lethal Cyle Larin proved the difference with the striker having now bagged six goals in his last five outings.

Russia 2018 participants Panama face a nervy return leg in Willemstad as unheralded Curacao left Panama City with a slim one goal defeat and a potentially invaluable away goal. Rangelo Janga netted in the dying minutes for the visitors after Panama had scored twice in the second half.

The three winners will join Costa Rica, Honduras, Jamaica, Mexico and USA in the newly-expanded Octagonal.

📸 The day in photos

Concacaf Qatar 2022 qualifiers - 12 June 2021
Image of the match between Panama and Curaçao as part of Concacaf Qualifier for Qatar 2022 (Photo: @Fepafut)
Image of the match between Panama and Curaçao as part of Concacaf Qualifier for Qatar 2022 (Photo: @Fepafut)
Image of the match between Panama and Curaçao as part of Concacaf Qualifier for Qatar 2022 (Photo: @Fepafut)
Image of the match between Panama and Curaçao as part of Concacaf Qualifier for Qatar 2022 (Photo: @Fepafut)
Image of the match between Panama and Curaçao as part of Concacaf Qualifier for Qatar 2022 (Photo: @Fepafut)
Image of the match between Panama and Curaçao as part of Concacaf Qualifier for Qatar 2022 (Photo: @Fepafut)
Image of the match between Panama and Curaçao as part of Concacaf Qualifier for Qatar 2022 (Photo: @Fepafut)
Image of the match between Panama and Curaçao as part of Concacaf Qualifier for Qatar 2022 (Photo: @Fepafut)
Image of the match between Panama and Curaçao as part of Concacaf Qualifier for Qatar 2022 (Photo: @Fepafut)
Image of the match between St. Kitts and Nevis and El Salvador as part of Concacaf Qualifier for Qatar 2022 (Photo: @LaSelecta_SLV)
Image of the match between St. Kitts and Nevis and El Salvador as part of Concacaf Qualifier for Qatar 2022 (Photo: @LaSelecta_SLV)
Image of the match between St. Kitts and Nevis and El Salvador as part of Concacaf Qualifier for Qatar 2022 (Photo: @LaSelecta_SLV)
Image of the match between St. Kitts and Nevis and El Salvador as part of Concacaf Qualifier for Qatar 2022 (Photo: @LaSelecta_SLV)
Image of the match between St. Kitts and Nevis and El Salvador as part of Concacaf Qualifier for Qatar 2022 (Photo: @LaSelecta_SLV)
Image of the match between St. Kitts and Nevis and El Salvador as part of Concacaf Qualifier for Qatar 2022 (Photo: @LaSelecta_SLV)
Image of the match between St. Kitts and Nevis and El Salvador as part of Concacaf Qualifier for Qatar 2022 (Photo: @LaSelecta_SLV)
Image of the match between St. Kitts and Nevis and El Salvador as part of Concacaf Qualifier for Qatar 2022 (Photo: @LaSelecta_SLV)

📸Photos courtesy Federación Salvadoreña de Fútbol (@LaSelectaSLV) and Federación Panameña de Fútbol (@Fepafut)

Octagonal final round within touching distance

Armando Cooper (R) and Omar Cordoba of the Panama national team, National team celebrate a goal
  • Three places in Concacaf’s final qualifying round up for grabs
  • Six contenders to face off in three two-legged ties
  • St. Kitts and Nevis and Curaçao aiming to spring further surprises

With barely time to catch their breath: the six North, Central America and Caribbean zone teams that advanced to the region’s second qualifying round for the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022™ are gearing up for their next challenge.

The sextet have been put into three pairings to contest a home-and-away tie, with the winners progressing to the eight-team final round. There, alongside Costa Rica, USA, Honduras, Jamaica and Mexico, they will do battle for Concacaf’s 3.5 World Cup berths. previews the three high-stakes fixtures that make up the second round.

St. Kitts and Nevis - El Salvador

St. Kitts and Nevis have undoubtedly been one of the revelations of these qualifiers. Heading into the final matchday in Group F, they had already secured their passage with three wins from three and no goals conceded.

However, facing them now is an El Salvador side that also showcased their attacking prowess in the opening round. Moreover, the Central American nation has World Cup pedigree, having twice before graced football’s flagship event.

Their standout player is perhaps David Rugamas, who has top scored for them in this campaign with six goals – and that despite not being an automatic starter.

That said, St. Kitts and Nevis are a team capable of varying their play without conceding goals. Indeed, they have scored the fewest goals (8) of the six qualified teams, meaning El Salvador will have their work cut out to unlock their well-drilled defence.

Haiti - Canada

Canada were one of the favourites to progress from the first round and justified that billing by topping Group B. They also showcased their considerable firepower by finishing with a goal difference of +26.

Particularly impressive in the opening round was Alphonso Davies, who weighed in with four goals and five assists. Cyle Larin and Lucas Cavallini, who scored five goals apiece, had Davies to thank for many of their scoring opportunities.

Haiti, by contrast, head into the tie with more modest stats, but still with the potential to cause serious problems for the Canucks. The Caribbean side have racked up 13 goals thus far without conceding any themselves. Not even Nicaragua, who before facing them in the final matchday of Group E had managed ten goals, could find a way past their defence.

Panama - Curaçao

Curaçao have been the other big revelation of these qualifiers. In a fiercely contested Group C, they had to pull out all the stops to keep Guatemala scoreless in their final showdown to edge out their opponents on goal difference.

The team’s forte is its versatility when it comes to creating opportunities up front, evidenced by nine different players getting on the scoresheet in the first round.

Panama, on the other hand, have their sights set on repeating their historic qualification for Russia 2018. Their hopes of reaching the octagonal final group rest with a renovated young side headed by Gabriel Torres, who thus far has been the team’s top scorer and most influential player.

Clarke: Scotland must maintain EURO momentum

Steve Clarke is unveiled as the new Scotland National Team head coach at Hampden Park on May 21, 2019 in Glasgow, Scotland. 
  • Steve Clarke led Scotland to their first major tournament in 23 years
  • UEFA EURO 2020 campaign kicks off on Monday against Czech Republic
  • Clarke tells about raising a nation's spirits and avoiding a return to bad habits

The interview went viral because it struck a chord. Ryan Christie – emotionally exhausted, tears welling, head in hands – spoke for Scots the world over in exclaiming, “Ohhh, I’m gone!”

Even Sir Alex Ferguson, famed as the personification of steely, unmoving ruthlessness, has admitted to having cried as he watched the midfielder speak. Scotland had just qualified for the UEFA European Championship, surviving an injury-time equaliser and heart-stopping penalty shootout in Serbia to end an agonising 23-year absence from major international tournaments.

Yet as Christie acknowledged, for all the long, hard years that had passed since the 1998 FIFA World Cup™, there had never been one like 2020. His description - “horrible” - would have resonated across the globe. It rung especially true in a country mired in seemingly perpetual lockdown and with some of the highest death rates in Europe.

“That was a very tough period,” Steve Clarke, the Scotland manager, told “The country was deep into lockdown, in the middle of the winter, and there wasn’t much to smile about.

“There didn’t seem much hope on the horizon at that stage; the virus was still spreading and the vaccines hadn’t yet shown their worth. A lot of people were finding it very tough. To qualify, and give everyone a reason to celebrate, was something we took a lot of satisfaction from.

“It was just nice to see people smiling again. It was also a reminder of how much football means to the people of Scotland. It means a lot round the world, I know, but there’s no doubt it holds a special place here. And the fans had been waiting a long time.”

Scott McTominay of Scotland celebrates during the UEFA EURO 2020 Play-Off Final between Serbia and Scotland at Rajko Mitic Stadium on November 12, 2020 in Belgrade, Serbia.

The pace of the national vaccination programme also means that those fans will be there, albeit in reduced, restricted numbers, for Monday’s EURO opener at Hampden against Czech Republic.

“We’d love it to be a full stadium, but even with only 12,000 fans I know the Tartan Army will create a great atmosphere,” Clarke said. “It will be important to the players too; it will give them that added bit of fire and motivation to do well.”

Unflashy and undemonstrative, their coach will provide the ice to complement that national fire. A former Scotland international who first made his name in coaching assisting the likes of Ruud Gullit, Jose Mourinho and Kenny Dalglish, Clarke has been typically measured and methodical in addressing failings and maximising strengths since his 2019 appointment.

Sport, Football, pic: 22nd March 1988, Friendly International in Valetta, Malta 1, v Scotland 1, Steve Clarke, Scotland

The squad he inherited was talented but hopelessly imbalanced, with two world-class left-backs in Andrew Robertson and Kieran Tierney, a plethora of high-calibre central midfielders but a dearth of options at striker and centre-half.

Clarke’s response has been to combine the development of unsung existing players with convincing attackers Lyndon Dykes and Che Adams, born in Australia and England respectively, to declare for Scotland. A flexible and pragmatic approach to tactics has also proved crucial.

“A big thing was tweaking the system,” he reflected. “I’m a coach who normally always plays with a back four but I recognised that we had qualities that lent themselves to playing in a three. It was also important to get Lyndon in, to persuade him he was Scottish, and to add Che to the mix too. That’s given us a better choice up front and more options, different ways of playing.

“The boys already in the squad can also see that those sorts of things improve the squad and the team. With that comes confidence, and with confidence comes better performances, and with better performances come results.”

Scotland Head Coach Steve Clarke is seen during a training session at Oriam on October 07, 2019 in Edinburgh, Scotland. 

Further flexibility will be required over the coming weeks, with injury having robbed Scotland of two holding midfielders – first choice Ryan Jack and deputy Kenny McLean – in the build-up to the EURO.

“We have other very good midfielders, but with different attributes,” admitted Clarke, who has drafted in the erstwhile uncapped and more progressive Billy Gilmour and David Turnbull.

“It’s up to me to find the right balance between defensive solidity and being a bit more creative going forward because we know that, to progress in this tournament, we’ll need to score goals. We won’t be looking to reinvent the wheel. But we’re certainly looking at a slight tweak in personnel and in how we shape up.”

And while Scotland remains fixated on its first major tournament in almost a quarter of a century, Clarke is taking a wider, longer-term view. He is aiming to shape a team not just for the EURO, but three key FIFA World Cup qualifiers in September that begin with a Copenhagen clash against Group F pacesetters Denmark.

“Although we’ve done well recently, there are one or two tactical areas that I definitely feel we can tighten up on,” he explained. “That’s why it’s so great to have a good amount of training time with the players at the moment. I think it will stand us in good stead not only for the EURO, but the World Cup matches coming up in autumn.

“That week in September is going to be massive for our hopes. The sequence of matches – Denmark away, Moldova at home, Austria away – will have an almighty bearing on whether we finish first, third or second in the group. And it’s a hugely important campaign for us.

“When I was younger, it was taken for granted that Scotland would be at major tournaments. What’s happened over the past couple of decades shows you how quickly you can lose that and drift away. We lost the knack of qualifying for these competitions.

“That was why making it to this EURO was important, and it’s why the World Cup is vital too. Maintaining momentum is massive. We don’t want to get back into bad habits, back into that rut of being almost resigned to the fact that we’re not going to qualify. That’s why we’re so determined to have a good EURO and follow that up by qualifying for Qatar.”

Socceroos book Round 3 ticket on goal-filled day in Asia

Fran Karacic celebrates scoring against Nepal
  • Penultimate matchday in AFC World Cup qualifying Round 2
  • Several decisive encounters took place, including Malaysia-Vietnam and Kuwait-Jordan
  • Australia claimed their ticket to Round 3 with win over Nepal

FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022™ qualifying continued on Friday with another massive matchday as Round 2 heads towards its conclusion.

Much remains up for grabs heading into the final matches of the round with seven group winners advancing (excluding World Cup hosts Qatar), plus the best five runners-up.

Iraq and IR Iran both won as they joust in Group C ahead of an exciting showdown between the pair. It is a similar story in Group D for Saudi Arabia and Uzbekistan.

In a fascinating Group G, Vietnam and the United Arab Emirates lead the charge. Meanwhile, Australia claimed their ticket to Round 3 with a comfortable win against Nepal. rounds up all the major storylines from today's matches.

Asia results

2022 FIFA World Cup Asia Qualifiers: 11 June 2021
Morteza Pouraliganji of IR Iran walks out to the pitch
Myanmar v Kyrgyz Republic
Myanmar v Kyrgyz Republic
Myanmar v Kyrgyz Republic
Iran players celebrate after scoring against Cambodia
Action from Nepal and Australia match
Australia players celebrate after scoring against Nepal
Rotana Sor of Cambodia walks out to the pitch
Action from Cambodia and IR Iran match
Mehdi Taremi of IR Iran celebates a goal against Cambodia
Action from Hong Kong and Iraq match
Iraq players celebrate after scoring against Hong Kong
Coach of Cambodia Keisuke Honda on the touchline
China PR vs Maldives, FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 qualifying
China PR vs Maldives - Wu Lei runs on to the ball
Action from Indonesia and UAE match
Ali Mabkhout celebrates after scoring against Indonesia
Afganistan vs Oman, FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 qualifying
Abdullah Fawaz of Oman celebrates scoring a goal against Afghanistan
Singapore vs Saudi Arabia - Ali Hassan Alasmari dribbles the ball
Singapore vs Saudi Arabia - Saudi Arabia team huddle
Kuwait vs Jordan, FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 qualifying
Kuwait vs Jordan, FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 qualifying

China PR made it three wins in their last three qualifiers with a resounding 5-0 victory over Maldives in Group A. Li Tie's team have now kept six clean sheets in their last seven Qatar 2022 qualifying matches. Star man Wu Lei has also shown himself to be reliable on the big stage as he now has seven goals this campaign. The Philippines defeated Guam 3-0 earlier in the day to move on to 10 points in the group.

Australia were the only team to advance to Round 3 today. The Socceroos' 3-0 defeat of ten-man Nepal saw them continue their flawless Round 2 campaign and seal their spot at the top of Group B. Graham Arnold's Australia have now taken the lead within the first 15 minutes of play in all seven of their matches. Kuwait and Jordan closed out the day with a goalless draw in Kuwait City, which means the race for the runners-up spot in the group will be decided on the final day.

As anticipated, it will all come down to the final game for Group C leaders Iraq and challengers IR Iran. Iraq extended their unbeaten run in World Cup qualifying to ten matches and held on to edge Hong Kong 1-0 thanks to an early Mohammad Qasim goal, while Team Melli thrashed Keisuke Honda's Cambodia 10-0, following up on IR Iran's 14-0 win over Cambodia back in October 2019. A ticket to the next round will be at stake when IR Iran and Iraq meet on 15 June.

It's a near-identical scenario in Group D as Saudi Arabia lead Uzbekistan by two points heading into the two teams' clash on the same day. Saudi Arabia left it late against Singapore, scoring three goals from the 84th-minute onward in a 3-0 win. Herve Renard's side are unbeaten in their last eight World Cup qualifiers and have kept six clean sheets in their last eight games as well. It will be a tall task for Uzbekistan, who edged Yemen 1-0 on Friday, but the White Wolves will be encouraged by the fact they have scored eight goals in their last three World Cup qualifiers without conceding.

There was just the one game in Group E, which saw Abdullah Fawaz inspire Oman with a brace in a 2-1 victory over Afghanistan. The win is hugely significant for Branko Ivankovic's side as it strengthens their chances of advancing to the next round as one of the five best runners-up.

Kyrgyz Republic made light work of Myanmar in an 8-1 victory in Osaka. Mirlan Murzaev scored a hat-trick to bring the White Falcons level on 10 points with Tajikistan in Group F. However, Tajikistan will be favoured to finish as runners-up as they welcome bottom-of-the-group Myanmar on the final day, while Kyrgyz Republic face group winners Japan.

Arguably one of the most fascinating sections is Group G, which will see current runners-up United Arab Emirates (15 points) host leaders Vietnam (17 points) on the final day. Vietnam remain unbeaten in the group thanks to Que Ngoc Hai's late penalty that saw them edge Malaysia 2-1 in Dubai, while Bert van Marwijk's UAE breezed past Indonesia 5-0.

UAE's Fabio Lima and Ali Mabkhout both scored braces and continued their fine form. Lima has scored a total of 23 goals in his last 21 matches for club and country, while Mabkhout has notched 25 goals in his last 15 international matches, during which time he has scored five hat-tricks. It's bound to be a fascinating conclusion to Round 2 in Asia.

Remaining Asia Round 2 World Cup qualifying matches

13 June

Korea Republic-Lebanon

15 June

Chinese Taipei-Kuwait
Japan-Kyrgyz Republic
IR Iran-Iraq
Bahrain-Hong Kong
United Arab Emirates-Vietnam
Saudi Arabia-Uzbekistan
China PR-Syria

Veteran playmaker Nguyen leads charge as Vietnam chase history

Vietnam vs United Arab Emirates, 2022 FIFA World Cup qualifying
  • Nguyen Trong Hoang is the most capped player on the current Vietnam squad
  • Midfielder has figured prominently in their qualifying campaign
  • He aims to help Vietnam to maiden progression into the decisive third round

Vietnam midfielder Nguyen Trong Hoang enters Friday's penultimate game against Malaysia in Asia's second round of qualifying for the 2022 FIFA World Cup Qatar™ knowing that his country are on the verge of making history.

With two draws and four victories, including Monday's 4-0 rout of eliminated Indonesia, Park Hangseo's Golden Star Warriors are sitting top of a tricky Group G leading hosts United Arab Emirates and the likes of Thailand and Malaysia by two and five points respectively.

A victory against the Malayan Tigers is likely to seal their maiden progression into the next round - at least as one of the best runners-up - ahead of the closing game against United Arab Emirates four days later.

"Vietnam have never reached the decisive [World Cup] qualifying round before," the 32-year-old Viettel winger, who missed the Indonesia game due to suspension, told "However, we are now seeing the chance of progressing to the next stage for the first time in history. Playing in the World Cup is the national dream for us Vietnamese. So we play with the country's dream to realise.

"[Before arriving in UAE], coach Park had stated the ambitions of grabbing at least six points from the three remaining matches," he went on. "This is also the goal of the team. We always set the ultimate goals for each match. My team-mates and I will do whatever we can to do our country and supporters proud."

Vietnam vs United Arab Emirates, 2022 FIFA World Cup qualifying

Leading by experience

Those following Vietnam's game closely are aware of how important Nguyen is to the team. Indeed, in coach Park's largely young line-up - nearly half of which are under 23-years-old - Nguyen is a cornerstone figure. With 70 international appearances, he is the current team's most experienced player.

And he is no stranger on the World Cup qualifying scene, having featured for his country in their bid for the past two global extravaganzas. Notably, he was on target in a 2-1 defeat of Qatar on the road to Brazil 2014. In this qualifying campaign for Qatar 2022, Nguyen started in all of the opening five fixtures as Vietnam emerged as the surprise leaders with an undefeated record, including a spirited 1-0 defeat of the UAE.

"Yes, I have played for the national team for many years. But in our team, every player is playing an important role," said a modest Nguyen, who was at pains to downplay his role for the team. "We are parts of a machine and we need to connect well to be at our strongest. Personally, I will try my best and share my experiences with my youth team-mates."

Progress under Park

Vietnam have made remarkable progress since Park took over in 2017. Under the South Korean manager, they reached the last eight at the 2019 AFC Asian Cup only to be edged out by eventual champions Japan 1-0. Even more exciting is the fact that a host of youth talents have been nurtured and form the backbone of the current national team.

"Many said that the biggest progress the team have made are in tactical terms," continued Nguyen. "And we have improved a lot physically, too. We are better in many details like controlling of the ball, passing and even throw-ins. Last but not least, the chemistry in the team is very good."

Notable among Vietnam's hottest prospects are Nguyen Tien Linh and Nguyen Van Toan, both of whom figured against Indonesia with the former breaking the deadlock. "They are very talented youngsters. Both of them have good technique and vision and are physically strong. They are the hopes for the future of the Vietnam team."

Vietnam vs Indonesia, FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 qualifying

Brilliant form

If Nguyen's form with Viettel in the past V.League 1 season is anything to go by, he looks set to lead the team to unprecedented qualifying success. He excelled throughout the league campaign, helping the side to their first domestic title in 2020.

"I have won four league titles with three different clubs. But with Viettel it was different. After all, it was only their second season in the top flight. In Viettel, our slogan is 'Shine for a second' so I really want to keep moving forward and achieving fresh goals [in this World Cup qualifying]."

Thailand vs Vietnam, FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 qualifying

Natiq: Iraq need complete solidarity to reach the World Cup

Iraq player Saad Natiq celebrates
  • Saad Natiq played for Iraq at the FIFA U-20 World Cup 2013
  • He also faced a Brazilian side containing Neymar at Rio 2016
  • His aim is now to help Iraq return to the World Cup after a long absence

Thirty-five years have passed since Iraq debuted at the FIFA World Cup™. That team was spearheaded by the late Ahmed Radi, who beat none other than Belgium’s Jean-Marie Pfaff to score the country's one and only goal at football’s premier event.

Now, three-and-a-half decades on, a new generation of Iraqis believe they can end the team's long hiatus. With two matchdays remaining in the second round of qualifying for the FIFA World Cup Qatar2022™, the Lions of Mesopotamia lead the way in Group C.

Srecko Katanec's side face Hong Kong next Friday then IR Iran on Tuesday 15 June in a fascinating duel that will most likely determine who tops the group and qualifies directly for the third and decisive qualifying round.

As well as a potent attack headed by Mohanad Ali, the Slovenian coach will be counting on his formidable rearguard for the next two games. With only three goals conceded in six fixtures, Iraq unsurprisingly boast the meanest defence in the group.

Defender Saad Natiq, who played the first five group games before missing the last one against Cambodia due to suspension, returns to the side. He found time to chat with FIFA.comabout Iraq's dreams of reaching the next World Cup in Qatar.

"We’re top of the group so have a good chance of securing qualification [for the next round] in the next two matches," he says of his team’s chances.

"We had a good period of preparation with the squad all together and contesting two friendlies. Right now, the team are in top form, so I hope we can perform to a good level in these two fixtures to make the Iraqi fans happy.

"The role of the coach has been key, because he’s worked a lot on how we set up at the back, giving us the best defensive record in the group. This motivates us to continue pushing ourselves to maintain that level," added the 27-year-old.

Saad Natiq profile:

  • Born on 19 March 1994 in Naiaf, Iraq
  • Measures 1.88m and weighs 80kg
  • Played for Iraqi sides Masafi Alwasat and Al Quwa Al Jawiya, and currently on the books of Al Shorta, also from his homeland
  • For the 2017/18 season, he wore the colours of Qatari side Al Arabi
Saad Natiq of Iraq during their Group A match between Iraq and Brazil in Rio 2016

Man for the big occasion

Saad Natiq shone brightly in 2013 when, along with many of his current team-mates, he led Iraq to the semi-finals of the FIFA U-20 World Cup in Turkey. There they came up short against Uruguay and subsequently lost to Ghana in the third-place match.

Three years later, the commanding defender represented his country at the Men's Olympic Football Tournament at Rio 2016, playing two games. As well as acquiring invaluable experience, Natiq had the distinction of helping his side earn a deserved draw with Neymar’s Brazil during the group phase.

"Getting fourth place with the U-20s at a World Cup was a magnificent experience that we got to enjoy with our coach Hakeem Shakir. We also performed well at the Olympics but weren't lucky enough to get past the group stage," he recalls.

"It was a great adventure that taught us a lot. Taking part in those two tournaments gave us a lot of experience, so we’re hoping we can reach another World Cup. We’ll be doing all we can to achieve this goal," the player adds.

Natiq insists that Iraq’s fine results in recent years are mainly due to the great understanding that exists between team members who have been playing together since U-20 level.

"Most of us have been playing together for a long time, as far back as 2013. We started with the U-20s, then we moved on to the Olympic team for Rio de Janeiro, and now we’re in the senior side. The end result is that there’s now a great rapport between the players, which has had a positive effect on the team," he says.

"We hope to appear again at a major international tournament, such as the World Cup," concluded Natiq, who would love to return to Qatar having played there for Al Arabi. "However, reaching Qatar 2022 will require complete solidarity and support for the current generation. Only then will we achieve our goal and be able to face the best teams on the planet."

Home teams stumble, Brazil look down from the summit

Paraguay v Brazil - FIFA World Cup 2022 Qatar Qualifier
  • Five matches in CONMEBOL without a win for any home teams
  • Brazil remain top, Colombia comeback stuns Argentina
  • South American qualifying for Qatar 2022 returns in September

FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022™ qualifying built further momentum in South America on Tuesday with a third of the matches now having been played in the CONMEBOL region.

Brazil remained perfect with victory in Paraguay and extended their lead to a massive six points as second-placed Colombia denied Argentina with an injury-time equaliser. Peru finally got a win, triumphing on the road in Ecuador, while two other draws added to an already congested mid-table.

South America results (All matches)

Ecuador 1-2 Peru
Venezuela 0-0 Uruguay
Colombia 2-2 Argentina
Paraguay 0-2 Brazil
Chile 1-1 Bolivia

South American World Cup qualifiers - 8 June 2021
Detail of match ball on a plinth before a match between Colombia and Argentina
A fan of Colombia shows a flag during a match between Colombia and Argentina
Cristian Romero #13 of Argentina heads to score 
Cristian Romero of Argentina celebrates with teammates after scoring against Colombia
Wilmar Barrios of Colombia fights for the ball with Lionel Messi of Argentina
Miguel Borja of Colombia celebrates after scoring the tying goal against Argentina
General view of Rodrigo Paz Delgado Stadium before a match between Ecuador and Peru
Players of Peru sing the national anthem before a match between Ecuador and Peru 
Gustavo Alfaro coach of Ecuador and Ricardo Gareca Coach of Peru talk to referee Esteban Ostojich of Uruguay 
Christian Cueva of Peru celebrates after scoring against Ecuador
Christian Cueva of Peru celebrates after scoring 
Jose Carbali of Ecuador fights for the ball with Christian Ramos of Peru
Luis Advíncula of Peru celebrates after scoring the second goal of his team during a match between Ecuador and Per
Players of Venezuela line up prior to a match between Venezuela and Uruguay
Josef Martínez of Venezuela fights for the ball with José Giménez of Uruguay
 Luis Suárez of Uruguay reacts during a match between Venezuela and Uruguay
Rómulo Otero of Venezuela fights for the ball with Matí­as Vecino and José Giménez of Uruguay
Suárez of Uruguay reacts during a match between Venezuela and Uruguay
Neymar of Brazil celebrates with teammates after scoring 
Referee Patricio Loustau argues with Ángel Romero of Paraguay and Neymar of Brazil
Tite coach of Brazil gestures during a match between Paraguay and Brazil 
Players of Chile gather before a match between Chile and Bolivia
Martín Lasarte head coach of Chile wearing a face mask looks on during a match between Chile and Bolivia
Adrián Jusino of Bolivia jumps for the ball with Guillermo Maripán (R) and Gary Medel of Chile 
Eduardo Vargas of Chile kicks the ball during a match between Chile and Bolivia
Henry Vaca of Bolivia controls de ball during a match between Chile and Bolivia

Brazil won 2-0 in Paraguay as Neymar scored within minutes of kick-off before Paqueta netted in stoppage time. These goals secured a sixth win in as many qualifiers for the five-time world champions and ended Paraguay’s unbeaten start.

There was high drama in Barranquilla, meanwhile, as Colombia mounted a stunning comeback to share the spoils with Argentina. Down 2-0 at half-time, the home side pulled a goal back after the break and Miguel Borja headed an equaliser with 94 minutes on the clock.

Out-of-form Peru finally kick-started their campaign with an unlikely 2-1 victory in Ecuador. Without a win in their last seven CONMEBOL World Cup qualifiers, and against a side who had score ten goals in just two matches at home, Peru looked to be clear underdogs. Despite upsetting the odds to triumph, Peru are still anchored at the bottom of the table behind Venezuela on goal difference.

Defending a proud home record, Venezuela could only manage a scoreless draw against the visiting Uruguay, who are now fourth. Mid-table pair Chile and Bolivia rounded out the day with a 1-1 draw in Santiago.

Follow today's FIFA World Cup qualifiers

Alphonso Davies of Canada
  • It's crunch time in Concacaf FIFA World Cup qualifying
  • Round 1 comes to a thrilling conclusion; only group winners move on
  • South American qualifying continues as Messi and Co visit Colombia

There are several do-or-die contests taking place across the Concacaf region as Round 1 of FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022™ qualifying reaches a conclusion.

El Salvador, Antigua and Barbuda and Montserrat all fight for the top spot in Group A, Canada and Suriname battle it out to win Group B, Curacao and Guatemala go head-to-head for Group C's top honours, Panama and Dominican Republic face each other in Group D, Haiti and Nicaragua in Group E, while St. Kitts and Nevis have already won Group F.

In South America, Brazil look to make it six wins from six as they travel to Paraguay, while Lionel Messi and Co visit Colombia among the five matches on the continent.

Concacaf fixtures (All matches)

St. Vincent/Grenadines-Cuba
Guyana-Puerto Rico
Trinidad and Tobago-St. Kitts and Nevis
Bermuda-Cayman Islands
Panama-Dominican Republic
El Salvador-Antigua and Barbuda

South America fixtures (All matches)


World-class Neuer reaches historic milestone

Germany v Latvia - International Friendly
  • Manuel Neuer won his 100th international cap on Monday 7 June 2021
  • He lifted the World Cup Trophy with Germany in 2014
  • The 35-year-old national team captain is not hanging up his gloves any time soon

On 2 June 2009 Germany took on the United Arab Emirates at the Al-Maktoum Stadium in Dubai. Standing between the posts was one of German football’s brightest young talents: Manuel Neuer. As he collects his 100th international cap almost precisely 12 years later, the world-class goalkeeper is the captain of his country. The recipient of The Best FIFA Men’s Goalkeeper 2020 award, Neuer was the winner of the adidas Golden Glove at the 2014 FIFA World Cup™ and, perhaps most importantly of all, a world champion that year.

Germany coach Joachim Low vividly recalls Neuer’s debut 12 years ago: "From the first moment he was with us, I had the feeling he would go on to be one of the world’s great goalkeepers."

Sweeper-keeper inspiring a generation

In addition to the many successes he has celebrated with Germany, the footballing world also has him to thank for a very distinctive playing style. Manuel Neuer embodies the sweeper-keeper like no other player – you could even say that he has defined the role for the modern era.

Any goalkeeping coach looking to give their young charges an insight into this forward-thinking style of play could use Neuer’s performance in Germany’s Round of 16 match against Algeria at Brazil 2014 as an instructional film. The supremely focused shotstopper took risks throughout the encounter, intercepting passes and venturing all the way to the halfway line to clear the ball. Germany ultimately secured a 2-1 victory after extra-time to reach the quarter-finals – and what happened after that is etched in both football’s history books and the hearts of all of the country’s fans.

A conductor and leader

Yet Manuel Neuer’s success is not only down to his goalkeeping qualities – he is also an exceptional leader on the pitch. He has been Germany captain since 2016 and also wears the armband for reigning FIFA Club World Cup champions Bayern Munich.

For Neuer, communication is the key in this role: “If you don’t talk enough or interact enough with your team-mates, the coaching staff and officials, then you don’t have the character required to be a leader,” he explained while giving a talk on leadership to the German Football Association (DFB) Academy. He directs his team from the back and is convinced that his team-mates also pick up on his body language.

Germany’s reserve goalkeepers, Bernd Leno and Kevin Trapp, have no complaints about playing second fiddle to this generational talent. Neuer "feels 25", according to Leno, who says that there is "something new to learn [from him] every day" and that the No.1 has "lightning-fast instincts."

Arsenal goalkeeper Leno does not believe there is a better goalkeeper in the Premier League, with even Brazilian backstops Ederson at Manchester City or Alisson at Liverpool unable to compete. According to Leno, Neuer is "an even more complete player".

Eintracht Frankfurt shotstopper Trapp shares a similar view. The 30-year-old is impressed with Neuer’s "positive presence; you never get the feeling that he lacks confidence in himself". It seems as if the Bayern Munich goalkeeper is in a league of his own.

Manuel Neuer
Goalkeeper Manuel Neuer and coach Andreas Koepke walk over the pitch
Goalkeeper Manuel Neuer of Germany poses in front of an oversized model of the official world cup ball Jabulani
BLOEMFONTEIN, SOUTH AFRICA - JUNE 27: Matthew Upson of England heads the ball past Manuel Neuer of
Milan Jovanovic of Serbia scores the first goal past goalkeeper Manuel Neuer (L) and Arne Friedrich of Germany
Manuel Neuer of Germany in action
Joerg Butt, Tim Wiese and Manuel Neuer of Germany exercise
Goalkeeper Manuel Neuer and Serdar Tasci of the German team arrive
Goalkeeper Manuel Neuer of Germany celebrates after Philipp Lahm scored
Goalkeeper Manuel Neuer of Germany reacts
Goalkeeper Manuel Neuer of Germany speaks to the media during a press conference
Manuel Neuer of Germany is seen in action during the training session
Goalkeeper Manuel Neuer (L) of Germany exercises with a rugby ball whilst German head coach Joachim Loew watches
Manuel Neuer of Germany is seen in action during the German National Team training session
Manuel Neuer, goalkeeper of Germany saves the ball
Goalkeeper Manuel Neuer of Germany reacts

Today Neuer makes his 100th appearance for Germany in their UEFA EURO 2020 warm-up match against Latvia and was presented with the DFB’s medal of honour – a prestigious accolade, particularly for a goalkeeper. To mark this special milestone, he wore gloves with the number 100, his major honours and the years of his international career so far (2009 to 2021) on the strap.

Germany Seefeld Training Camp Day 10

Despite reaching this major landmark, the 35-year-old is not yet contemplating hanging up his gloves. "I’m having so much fun with the lads and have no intention of ending my international career," Neuer explained at a DFB press conference.

And with his former club coach Hansi Flick set to take over from Germany boss Joachim Low after this summer’s EUROs, the future certainly looks bright for Neuer, providing his current form continues. Next stop: Qatar 2022™.

Goalkeeper Manuel Neuer of Germany tackles Islam Slimani of Algeria

Torres: We want a World Cup return

Gabriel Torres of Panama poses for a portrait 
  • Gabriel Torres has taken over as Panama’s attacking spearhead
  • His country’s third-highest all-time goalscorer
  • Setting his sights on next opponents Dominican Republic

Gabriel Torres has been Panama’s main goal threat for some time now.

When Blas Perez and Luis Tejada ended their international careers, both tied on 43 goals as Los Canaleros’ all-time leading scorers, it was only natural that Torres should step into the void and lead the line for Panama.

“It’s a great honour for me to take on this responsibility,” said Torres in an exclusive interview with The striker, who in 2005 became his country’s youngest ever international at the age of only 16, added: “I’m very proud to have the job of being Panama’s main goalscorer. We took a big step forward yesterday and we were part of that.”

Torres was referring to Panama’s thumping 13-0 defeat of Anguilla on Saturday 5 June, their penultimate game in Group D of the first round of the Concacaf qualifiers for the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022™. The biggest win in Panama’s history, the result allowed Los Canaleros to move out front in the section, two points ahead of Dominican Republic, who were held to a draw by Barbados on the same day.

Reflecting on his side’s big win and their impressive progress so far in the qualifiers, Torres said: “We’re delighted because we’ve taken an important step towards our goal, though we know that we’ve still got a very tough match coming up on Tuesday and we want to approach it as such."

Torres scored four of the goals against the Anguillans, becoming the first Panama player to achieve the feat in a World Cup qualifier. In the process, he moved past Julio Dely Valdes as the national team’s third most prolific goalscorer in history.

“I’m obviously very happy, though I also have to say that it’s all down to the hard work of my team-mates on the pitch. That’s what helps us forwards get the goals.”

Torres and Co are now ready to entertain Dominican Republic in their final game in the section. A draw would be enough to take them through to the second round of the preliminaries, though the free-scoring front man is taking nothing for granted.

“I think the unity we’ve got in the dressing room, the intensity with which we play, and the fluidity of our game are all going to be vital if we want to beat Dominican Republic."

Panama’s all-time leading goalscorers

  • Blas Perez: 43
  • Luis Tejada: 43
  • Gabriel Torres: 22
  • Julio Dely Valdes: 19
  • James Santiago Anderson: 18*

*JS Anderson scored the first two international goals in Panama’s history, at the Central American and Caribbean Games in 1938.

Unforgettable memories

Panama made their FIFA World Cup debut at Russia 2018. “It was wonderful to see how much the country enjoyed our first World Cup,” recalled Torres, reflecting on that experience. “It felt amazing to make the Panamanian people so happy. We’ve got our sights set now on reaching the final eight-team round and going on that emotional rollercoaster ride again."

Omar Cordoba (L), Cecilio Waterman (C) and Gabriel Torres of the Panama national team celebrate a goal

Torres has another reason to look back on those times fondly. Just before the end of the Russia 2018 qualifiers, his wife was taken ill and fell into a coma, even losing her memory temporarily. In what were worrying times for him and his family, Torres promised that he would take her to Russia. Happily, she got back on her feet and was able to make the trip.

“Thanks to God I was able to fulfil my promise to my wife,” explained Torres. “She ended up being at the World Cup with me and it was a special moment that I hope we can experience again. This time I want my wife and my children to come and enjoy it.”

Life is good for Torres at the moment. He is scoring goals, his family are all in good health, and he is determined to give the fans something to smile about after so many months of suffering during the pandemic.

“I know the country has been through some very tough times. It’s been nearly a year and half since the fans last saw the national team. Some of them were able to go on Saturday. I hope a lot more of them can go on Tuesday and that we can give them something to cheer about, because they’ve gone so long without seeing us.

"My family is my biggest source of motivation, without doubt: my children, my wife, my mother, my brothers and my father. They support me the whole time. I always try my heart out for them because they’re the ones who are there for me when times get tough and who help me to pull through.”

Pressure intensifies for South American hopefuls

 Lionel Messi of Argentina fights for the ball with Guillermo Cuadrado of Colombia 
  • Colombia-Argentina tops the bill on Matchday 8
  • Fourth plays first as Paraguay host Brazil
  • Relive Matchday 7 here

Matchday 8 of the South American qualifying competition for the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022™ promises to be an exciting one, even if it features just one top-four encounter. looks ahead to Tuesday’s five games.

Matchday 8 schedule

8 June (local time)

Ecuador-Peru (16:00)

Venezuela-Uruguay (18:30)

Colombia-Argentina (18:00)

Paraguay-Brazil (20:30)

Chile-Bolivia (21:30)

The big match

Colombia-Argentina, Estadio Metropolitano Roberto Melendez (Barranquilla)

Buoyed by a comprehensive win in Peru, sixth-placed Colombia will not be lacking in confidence when they take on unbeaten Argentina, who lie second. Victory here will move the Colombians right into contention.

Though the goals have dried up for their strikers, Reinaldo Rueda’s men have been making the most of their aerial threat, which will come in useful against a side that has conceded just three goals in five games.

After last week’s disappointing 1-1 home draw with Chile, in which he handed debuts to four players, Argentina coach Lionel Scaloni will be hoping his side can show more of their undoubted attacking ability.

Neymar Jr. of Brazil kisses the ball before taking a penalty kick


Following a hard-fought defeat of Ecuador, leaders Brazil travel to fourth-placed Paraguay in the only match of the day that features teams in the direct qualification places, both of whom also happen to be unbeaten. Asuncion is not a happy hunting ground for the Brazilians, who have not won there since 1985, registering two draws and two defeats since then. The hosts will have to work hard to break down the visiting defence, however. Tite’s side have kept four clean sheets in their five matches to date.

Currently third in the table, Ecuador will hope to get back on track against winless Peru, who lie bottom of the table on just one point. La Tri have been in unstoppable form in their Quito fortress, scoring ten goals in winning their first two home matches. Yet there is one stat that will give La Blanquirroja hope: they have won their last three World Cup qualifying matches against the Ecuadorians, including a 2-1 away win in 2017.

Inconsistent to date, fifth-placed Uruguay visit Venezuela, who lie one place off the bottom and need points. La Celeste will still be without the suspended Edinson Cavani, the scorer of the goal that gave them their last victory on Venezuelan soil: a 1-0 win in 2013. The Uruguayans are unbeaten in seven World Cup qualifiers (two wins and five draws) against La Vinotinto, who need to start scoring soon, having failed to do so in their four defeats in the campaign so far.

Without a win in their last two matches, seventh-placed Chile aim to break that run against Bolivia, who lie one place below them in eighth. Chile have won six of the seven World Cup qualifying encounters between the two in Santiago, the other match ending in a draw. La Roja picked up a morale-boosting point in Argentina but need to back it up with three more at home, while the Bolivians will leapfrog their hosts if they come away from the Chilean capital with three points.

Andre Carrillo of Peru celebrates with teammates

Player to watch

Andre Carrillo (Peru)

The 29-year-old forward is Peru’s leading scorer in the competition with three goals. Like the rest of his team-mates, however, he has gone the last three matches without finding the back of the net. “The bad times can’t last forever,” said the man they call La Culebra (“The Snake”) after the defeat to Colombia. His partnership with Paolo Guerrero will be more important than ever for La Blanquirroja in their bid to move up the table.

Did you know?

Colombia’s meeting with Argentina has an interesting subplot, with Cristian Romero, who made his Albiceleste debut against Chile, having to mark his Atalanta team-mates Duvan Zapata and Luis Muriel. The trio have all shone in Italy. The Argentinian has just been named the best defender in Serie A for the 2020/21 season, a campaign in which the two Colombians scored 37 goals between them (15 and 22 respectively).

Syria advance to next round, IR Iran back on track

Syria players celebrate scoring against Guam
  • Round 2 of Asia World Cup qualifiers continued today
  • Eight group winners and four best runners-up will advance to the third round
  • Syria advanced to next round after taking unassailable lead in Group A

The road to Qatar 2022 in Asia is at a crucial juncture as Round 2 nears its conclusion. The eight group winners and four best runners-up will move on to Round 3.

Of the 13 matches today, the headliners have to be Syria, who advanced to the next round following a comfortable victory over Guam. There were also significant developments in Groups B, C, D and G. rounds up all the major storylines from today's matches.

Asia results

Kyrgyz Republic 0-1 Mongolia
Japan 4-1 Tajikistan

Bangladesh 0-2 India
Guam 0-3 Syria
Iraq 4-1 Cambodia
Nepal 0-3 Jordan
IR Iran 3-0 Bahrain
Vietnam 4-0 Indonesia
United Arab Emirates 3-1 Thailand
Oman 0-1 Qatar
China PR 2-0 Philippines
Uzbekistan 5-0 Singapore
Australia 5-1 Chinese Taipei

2022 FIFA World Cup Asia Qualifiers: 7 June 2021
Jordan walk out on to the pitch before their FIFA World Cup qualifier against Nepal
Mongolia players celebrate after scoring against Kyrgyz Republic 
Action from Kyrgyz Republic match against Mongolia
Mongolia celebrate victory over Kyrgyz Republic in FIFA World Cup qualifying
Mongolia celebrate victory over Kyrgyz Republic in FIFA World Cup qualifying
Kyogo Furuhashi (2nd R)of Japan scores his side's first goal during the FIFA World Cup Asian Qualifier 2nd round Group F match between Japan and Tajikistan 
Komron Tursunov of Tajikistan takes on Kyogo Furuhashi and Sho Sasaki of Japan during the FIFA World Cup Asian Qualifier 2nd round Group F match between Japan and Tajikistan
Takumi Minamino of Japan kisses his shoes after his side's 4-1 victory in the FIFA World Cup Asian Qualifier 2nd round Group F match between Japan and Tajikistan
Hayao Kawabe (R) of Japan celebrates scoring his side's fourth goal with his team mate Takuma Asano (R) during the FIFA World Cup Asian Qualifier 2nd round Group F match between Japan and Tajikistan 
Hayao Kawabe (2nd-L) of Japan celebrates 
Mardik Mardikian of Syria celebrates scoring against Guam
Syria players celebrate scoring against Guam
Iraq vs Cambodia, 2022 FIFA World Cup qualifying
Bashar Rasan of Iraq celebrates scoring a goal
Iraq v Cambodia, 2022 FIFA World Cup qualification
Mohanad Ali of Iraq celebrates scoring against Cambodia
Nepal vs Jordan, FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 qualifying
Yazan Al-Arab of Jordan controls the ball
IR Iran vs Bahrain, FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 qualifying
IR Iran vs Bahrain, FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 qualifying
United Arab Emirates vs Thailand, FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022™ qualifying
United Arab Emirates vs Thailand, FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022™ qualifying
United Arab Emirates vs Thailand, FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022™ qualifying
 Wu Xi, the captain of China national football team, leads out the team ahead of the game against the Philippines at Sharjah Stadium
Wu Lei of China celebrates after scoring the first goal from the penalty spot at Sharjah Stadium
Wu Xinghan of China celebrates after scoring the second goal at Sharjah Stadium
Australia vs Chinese Taipei, FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022™ qualifying
Harry Souttar of Australia heads in from a corner kick
Harry Souttar of Australia celebrates scoring against Chinese Taipei

Syria joined Japan as the second nation to qualify for the third round of Asia's FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022™ qualifiers following victory over Guam in Group A. Syria impressively extended their winning streak to seven matches in the group this campaign. China PR had to wait until the second half to find their goals against a resilient Philippines side as they continue their fight to finish as one of the best runners-up. It was coach Li Tie's side's fifth clean sheet in their last six World Cup qualifiers and he'll be pleased that on the other side of the pitch star man Wu Lei has scored six goals in his last six qualifiers.

Australia strengthened their place at the top of Group B with a 5-1 win over Chinese Taipei thanks to four different goalscorers. Jordan beat Nepal earlier in the day to keep up some pressure on the Socceroos. If Jordan beat Kuwait in four days' time, they will have the chance to pip Australia to first place when they face each other on 15 June.

There's a new leader in Group C. After Iraq beat Cambodia 4-1 and IR Iran defeated Bahrain 3-0, Iraq now lead one of the most intriguing sections on the continent. Barring any major shocks, IR Iran and Iraq's meeting on 15 June will be a must-watch, winner-takes-all encounter. IR Iran’s Sardar Azmoun scored his 35th and 36th international goals in just his 54th appearance for his nation, while Iraq's Mohanad Ali needed just 19 seconds to score against Cambodia to record his country's fastest-ever World Cup qualifying goal.

There was just the one game in Group D and it saw Uzbekistan win emphatically against Singapore 5-0, which sees the White Wolves keep pace with section leaders Saudi Arabia. They are now just two points behind the Green Falcons and the two sides meet on 15 June.

Uzbekistan celebrate scoring against Singapore 

India defeated Bangladesh 2-0 to move into third in Group E. India's talisman Sunil Chhhetri stole the show with two late second half goals, bringing his international goal tally to 74, taking him above Lionel Messi and one off entering the top 10. World Cup hosts Qatar edged Oman 1-0 thanks to captain Hassan Al-Haydos' penalty to remain unbeaten in the group (seven wins and one draw).

Already-qualified Japan beat Tajikistan 4-1 earlier in the day in Group F. And despite conceding their first goal in a World Cup qualifier since September 2017 against Saudi Arabia, the Samurai Blue took their tally to an impressive 41 goals in seven games played in this campaign. Perhaps the biggest surprise of the day came in the very first match when Mongolia edged Kyrgyz Republic 1-0, a team 93 places above them in the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking. Mijiddorj Oyunbaatar's first-half header secured the shock win.

One of the other groups that is destined to go down to the wire is Group G. Vietnam (14 points) are hanging on to a two-point lead over the United Arab Emirates (12) after the former cruised past Indonesia 4-0 and the latter defeated Thailand 3-1. It's a two-horse race that will see a group winner crowned on 15 June in Dubai. Vietnam will be encouraged by their defensive record - five clean sheets in their last six qualifiers - while the UAE are scoring freely. Bert van Marwijk's charges have now scored 17 goals in their last four matches in all competitions.

Haps debut emblematic of Suriname's progress

Ridgeciano Haps of Feyenoord 
  • Suriname are one win away from next round of Concacaf World Cup qualifying
  • The task? Beat heavy favourites Canada
  • Ridgeciano Haps spoke with about realising a dream

Ridgeciano Haps grew up playing street football in Amsterdam, 7,500 kilometres away from the Franklin Essed Stadium in the Surinamese capital of Paramaribo, where the soon-to-be 28-year-old made his debut in FIFA World Cup™ qualifying on Friday and registered an assist in a 6-0 rout of Bermuda.

Like many of his Suriname team-mates, Haps had to juggle whether to represent the Netherlands national team, where he grew up and watched the likes of Robben, Van Bronckhorst and Van Persie play in the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™ Final, or the birthplace of his parents.

"Every year I came to Suriname to see my family, to enjoy life here and to see the people, who are really nice," Haps told "You feel the love from the people. I want to help Suriname to come up."

By the age of just nine-years-old Haps had already made his way to the holy grail of Dutch football: the Ajax Amsterdam academy. A technically-gifted player, Haps grew up playing as a left winger until the U-17 level when at AZ Alkmaar he shifted to left-back to help fill the team's needs, and he's been there ever since.

However his background as a left winger has naturally aided him in adapting to modern football where full-backs are expected to join attacks more frequently, so it came as no surprise to hear who his football idols are: "Roberto Carlos (laughs)! And I love Marcelo."

Although he never played for Ajax's first team, he says he still has the joy for the game that he played street football with in Amsterdam and that has seen him play 70-plus matches for AZ Alkmaar and now with Feyenoord. "I think about football 24/7."

Haps is one of seven players who ply their trade in the top Dutch divisions, while just one player on the national team plays for a domestic club (Robinhood). The Nato are all over the globe. Team captain Ryan Donk plays for Turkish giants Galatasaray and midfielder Roland Alberg's at Hyderabad in India, while the Cypriot League and the Saudi Pro League are also represented.

"[Representing Suriname] It means a lot. My family, my friends are here. It means everything for me. I will give everything for Suriname; not only for Surinamese football but the whole country. I want to put them on the map."

The Natio have been perfect so far throughout Round 1 of Qatar 2022 qualifying, winning all three matches, scoring 15 goals and conceding none in the process. The last time Suriname have won three World Cup qualifiers in a row was in 2008. Head coach Dean Gorre's side have won eight of their last ten competitive matches and are scoring for fun thanks largely to Israel-based Nigel Hasselbaink, nephew of Jimmy Floyd, who has two hat-tricks this campaign.

"We have a nice team forming. We have a lot of European-based players now. The quality is there. We have a lot of speed and strength. We have everything in our group. We've been training for a week and every training session gets better and better, so I'm really happy with the team."

It will all come down to their next match in Bridgeview, Illinois on 8 June against Canada, a team 66 places above them in the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking and with a UEFA Champions League winner in their side.

"I know a lot of people are surprised about Suriname, but now we have to show it. We are ready for that."

Ridgeciano Haps of Feyenoord prior to the play-offs Conference League game between Feyenoord and Sparta Rotterdam at the Kuip

Big wins set up tense finale, T&T suffer shock exit

Omar Cordoba (L), Cecilio Waterman (C) and Gabriel Torres of the Panama national team celebrate a goal
  • Qatar 2022 qualifying continued in North, Central America and Caribbean zone
  • Fur former World Cup participants win big
  • Trinidad and Tobago held by Bahamas, St. Kitts and Nevis win group

FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022™ qualifying in the North, Central America and Caribbean (Concacaf) region continued on Saturday with some crucial big wins ahead of the Round 1 finale over the coming week.

Former World Cup finals participants Canada, El Salvador, Haiti and Panama all scored goal-laden victories, but there was disaster for Germany 2006 finalists Trinidad and Tobago. wraps up all the action.

Concacaf results

Regular Hexagonal participants Trinidad and Tobago suffered an unusually early exit after a shock scoreless draw against Bahamas in Nassau. Group F bottom side Bahamas, without a World Cup win for a decade, managed their first point of the campaign. With two draws and a single win, T&T can no longer catch St. Kitts and Nevis who will progress to Round 2 regardless of the outcome of Tuesday's match between the pair.

There was no such pain for four other former World Cup nations with Russia 2018 participants Panama leading the way. Los Canaleros collected a national record 13-0 win over an outclassed Anguilla. Panama ran in nine second-half goals in Panama City but they will still need to avoid defeat against Dominican Republic on Tuesday to progress.

Haiti crashed ten unanswered goals past Turks and Caicos Islands with forward Frantzdy Pierrot bagging a four-goal haul before half-time. The scoreline pushes Haiti clear of Nicaragua on goal difference ahead of a winner-takes-all meeting between the pair on Tuesday.

Curaçao are in a similar position ahead of a crucial match-up against Guatemala. Curaçao routed British Virgin Islands 8-0 to move narrowly ahead of their group rivals on goals scored.

Canada remained ahead of Suriname on goal difference with a 7-0 win over Aruba built around a Lucas Cavallini brace. The pair will now match-up in what promises to be an epic finale to Group B.

A flurry of late goals saw El Salvador crush US Virgin Islands 7-0. El Salvador sit ahead of Antigua and Barbuda on goal difference with Montserrat still in the reckoning.