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World Cup debutantes decided, Real Madrid speedrun a UCL comeback & more

Besides another week’s worth of continental club football action, we were treated to some inter-confederation World Cup qualifying play-off finals in the last few days.

That makes up most of the agenda in this edition of This Week In Football.

🌏 World Cup Qualification Inter-Confederation Play-off: Chile 1-2 Haiti

Although the draw for the tournament had been made a while back, three spots remained up for grabs at the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup.

They were to be decided by the inter-confederation play-offs, featuring ten teams split into three groups involving direct knockout matches.

After the semi-finals were played over the weekend, it was time for the finals on Tuesday and Wednesday. Each of them featured at least one team that had never made the tournament in the past. In the first match, Haiti took on 2019 debutantes Chile.

The CONCACAF side had looked impressive in a convincing 4-0 semi-final win over Senegal, while Chile had been given a bye to the final in the three-team Group A.

Therefore, they might have been a little less match-sharp than their opponents but would have been considered the favourites nevertheless.

They were in for a surprise as teenage sensation Melchie Dumornay put them in front on the stroke of half-time.

Chile pushed for an equaliser in the second period, but Dumornay scored again in stoppage-time to put the result beyond doubt, rendering María José Rojas’ late goal meaningless.

Haitian football hit on a new high on the pitch to start 2023, which looks set to be a great year for them in that context. However, some concerning off-pitch issues remain, where larger governing bodies do not seem to be proving helpful.

🏆 UEFA Champions League: Liverpool 2-5 Real Madrid

Some of the Champions League last-16 ties this year are incredible match-ups on paper, but not all have lived up to their billing. Paris Saint-Germain vs Bayern Munich last week was not the most exciting of football matches, but the exact opposite was true of Liverpool vs Real Madrid this Tuesday.

Last year’s two finalists played out an epic match at Anfield, where the game state swung well in both directions before settling in favour of the visitors.

Jürgen Klopp’s side got off to a great start as Darwin Núñez smartly turned in Mohamed Salah’s cross early on before the Egyptian international made it 2-0 after a howler from Thibaut Courtois.

Real Madrid looked totally lost at this point, but Vinícius Júnior provided the spark to ignite their performance. He pulled one back with an individual effort in the box, before benefitting from a similar mistake on Alisson’s part that brought the teams level going into the break.

The visitors had all the momentum, though, and they made good use of it to hit the front three minutes into the second half through Éder Militão.

Karim Benzema scored twice thereafter to bump up the visitors’ lead to a margin of three goals, so the La Liga holders flew away with the tie firmly in their hand after an efficient performance.

🏆 UEFA Europa League: Union Berlin 3-1 Ajax (3-1 on aggregate)

Union Berlin have been one of the surprise packages of the season so far as they are level on points at the top of the Bundesliga and on a great European adventure.

Getting out of their group was a success that should be celebrated in its own right, but then came a knockout tie against European giants Ajax.

Although the Eredivisie champions were having a shaky season which led to manager Alfred Schreuder being sacked earlier this year, they would still have been backed to progress.

Johnny Heitinga had stabilised the side since taking over on an interim basis, and they seemed to be heading back on track now.

They had scored 12 goals in three league matches before the first leg in Amsterdam, where Union’s defensive solidity once again dictated proceedings, so much so that they would have been disappointed to come away with a goalless draw having had a goal ruled out.

In the second leg, VAR gave what it took away as Union were awarded a penalty for a handball in the 20th minute, leading to Robin Knoche’s opener.

Josip Juranović doubled the hosts’ lead on the stroke of half-time, which Mohammed Kudus halved just seconds into the second half. Danilho Doekhi was having none of that, though, as he restored his side’s cushion from a set-piece, leading to the final score of the tie.

🏆 Copa Libertadores: Magallanes 3-0 Always Ready

The second round of the Copa Libertadores qualifiers got underway this week, featuring teams from the big nations including Brazil and Argentina. The most interesting result came between Chilean side Magallanes and their Bolivian visitors Always Ready.

As the scoreline would suggest, the home side are in a commanding position going into the second leg. They took the lead fairly early on in the first half but failed to capitalise on a golden opportunity to double it from the spot.

Two late goals in the last 10 minutes ensured they would not have any regrets, as they will take a three-goal lead to the heights of the Estadio Municipal de El Alto next week.

Should they advance, Chile’s first-ever national champions will be one tie away from making their first-ever Copa Libertadores group stage in the current format. They have featured in the tournament once in the past, but at the time the participating teams were paired by nationality to form groups of four.

That was in 1985, after which Magallanes spent over three decades in the lower divisions before returning to the top-flight this season. They are participating in these qualifiers by virtue of winning the Copa Chile, which was their first major title since the 1930s.

We could be witnessing the start of a special continental run.

🇪🇸 Spain: Getafe 1-0 Valencia

There was a huge relegation six-pointer in Spain on Monday, when Getafe hosted Valencia. The home side’s manager Quique Sánchez Flores was under serious pressure, while Rubén Baraja sat in the hot seat of the Valencia dugout for the first time.

As one might expect while watching the teams placed 18th and 19th, this was not the most entertaining of football matches in terms of viewing pleasure. It was quite scrappy for the most part, but there were noteworthy chances at both ends.

Atlético Madrid loanee Samuel Dias Lino got on the end of a good chance for the visitors early on, and Borja Mayoral headed a corner goalwards from close range close to half-time.

The match grew cagier in the second half, so we entered the last ten minutes with nothing to separate the sides. A goal then had the potential to be season-defining, and Getafe got one through Mayoral from – you guessed it – a set-piece.

That saw them shoot up to 16th in the table but they are only out of the relegation zone on goal difference, while Valencia slip to 19th and remain a couple of points from safety.

(Image credit: FotMob)

Baraja has a real job on his hands if he is to prevent his team from suffering their first relegation in close to half a century.

👀 What To Watch Next:

Here are some interesting matches to look forward to this weekend.

🇪🇸 Spain: Real Madrid vs Atlético Madrid (Saturday, 17:30 UTC)
After their Champions League success, Real Madrid must turn their attention back to domestic matters. They have an eight-point deficit to Barcelona, which their local rivals will be keen to help widen.

🇩🇪 Germany: Bayern Munich vs Union Berlin (Sunday, 16:30 UTC)
There’s a three-way tie at the top of the Bundesliga, but it all could change this weekend. Defending champions Bayern take on Union Berlin, but only after Borussia Dortmund play Hoffenheim with a chance to temporarily lead the league.

🏴󠁧󠁢󠁥󠁮󠁧󠁿 England: Manchester United vs Newcastle United (Sunday, 16:30 UTC)
Newcastle United will play their first major cup final since the turn of the century this Sunday, facing a Manchester United side looking to end a five-year trophy drought. Both sides will be desperate to win the Carabao Cup, but obviously only one of them can.

🇫🇷 France Olympique Marseille vs Paris Saint-Germain (Sunday, 19:30 UTC)
PSG’s dramatic late comeback against Lille last weekend was all the more important because it kept their position at the top of Ligue 1 unassailable ahead of Le Classique. Marseille sent them out of the Coupe de France recently, so the Parisians will travel to the Orange Vélodrome in search of revenge.

Stats courtesy FotMob and Transfermarkt.

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