The 2023/24 season is well and truly underway, so our This Week In Football column is back.
To start with, we have some qualifiers for UEFA competitions, the Super Cup and a huge World Cup semi-final.
🏆 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup: Australia 1-3 England
The new season might have started but the big summer tournament is yet to end. We are now at the very business end, as the World Cup semi-finals were held this week.
The Matildas were playing their first-ever World Cup semi-final, taking on a side looking to reach the final for the first time in their history.
With Sam Kerr in the starting line-up for the first time at this World Cup, Australia’s attacking threat definitely went up a notch.
So, even though England opened the scoring before half-time through a thunderous strike from Ella Toone, they would not have felt comfortable with just a one-goal lead.
Their fears would prove true just after the hour-mark when the Australian captain picked the ball up around halfway and drove forward before unleashing a piledriver past Mary Earps and into the net.
The momentum was with the hosts now, but England quickly retook the lead against the run of play when a defensive mix-up allowed Lauren Hemp to slot her finish past Mackenzie Arnold.
The Matildas pushed hard for an equaliser thereafter and created a couple of presentable chances for Kerr, but she failed to hit the target again.
Late on, Hemp made another telling contribution at the other end by carrying the ball from her own half to the edge of the box and then slipping in Alessia Russo, who added a much-needed cushion to the English lead.
So, the Lionesses advanced to yet another final and are now within one match of truly bringing it home, while Australia will feature in the third-place play-off on Saturday.
The Matildas will not win the World Cup, but they might have won something greater — the record-breaking support of an entire nation.
🏆 UEFA Super Cup: Manchester City 1-1 Sevilla (5-4 on penalties)
Manchester City and Sevilla had an early trip to Greece in their 2023/24 schedule to contest the UEFA Super Cup, which proved to be an interesting match.
The Europa League champions’ well-crafted and well-executed defensive set-up must be credited for that, as their compact defensive block kept Manchester City at bay for long periods in the match.
More importantly, they opened the scoring in the 25th minute with a towering header from Youssef En-Nesyri. The Morrocan international also had a couple of other presentable opportunities at the end of counterattacks to put Sevilla in a really commanding position, but he failed to do so.
They would rue those untaken chances in the second half, as Manchester City turned up the pressure and eventually equalised through Cole Palmer.
Their quest for a winner was unsuccessful, so the outcome was to be decided by penalties. Everyone hit the back of the net bar Sevilla’s last taker Nemanja Gudelj, so Manchester City lifted their first UEFA Super Cup.
🌍 UEFA Champions League Qualifiers: Molde 2-0 KÍ (aet; 3-2 on aggregate)
The biggest story so far in the UEFA qualifiers is most definitely that of Klaksvíkar Ítróttarfelag. The Faroese champions have already ensured that they will become the first side from the islands to feature in the group stages of a major continental tournament having won their first two ties.
First, they sent the mighty Ferencváros of Hungary out of the Champions League with a statement 3-0 away win, which made it quite clear that they were not here to just participate this time.
Then, they beat first-time Swedish champions BK Häcken on penalties after a thrilling 3-3 away leg, securing a spot in the Europa Conference League at the very least.
Next up were Norwegian champions Molde, who seemed in trouble after losing the first leg 2-1 thanks to a brace from this season’s current Champions League top-scorer Árni Frederiksberg, who runs a wholesale business besides scoring goals. Unfortunately, KÍ were defeated in extra time of the second leg, but their European journey is far from over.
Next up, they will feature in a Europa League play-off tie against FC Sheriff to decide which competition they enter the group stage in, after which at least six fixtures will be added to their schedule.
🏆 Leagues Cup: Philadelphia Union 1-4 Inter Miami
Lionel Messi’s American adventure has got off to a fantastic start.
While he has not had the chance to turn Inter Miami’s dismal Major League Soccer form around yet, the Argentine great has already played a part in writing club history.
Thanks to his nine goals in six games, they have advanced to the final of the Leagues Cup and thereby qualified for the CONCACAF Champions League for the first time ever.
He has made football look terribly easy at times — never more so than in the semi-final when he scored from about 30 yards out by just rolling the ball into the far corner.
This result sent them to their first major final, where they will come up against Nashville SC to decide the winner of the first expanded edition of the Leagues Cup.
🌍 UEFA Europa League Qualifiers: Breiðablik 1-0 Zrinjski Mostar (3-6 on aggregate)
There was history created in the Europa League qualifiers as well, as Zrinjski Mostar became the first-ever Bosnian club to secure a spot in the group stage of a UEFA competition.
All they had to do in the second leg was avoid a catastrophic collapse after a 6-2 win last week, so they advanced quite comfortably. Next up, they will face LASK in the Europa League play-off round to decide which competition they will feature in.
Zrinjski’s success might be met with a slightly mixed reaction in Bosnia and Herzegovina due to their Croatian roots, but they are the record champions of the Premier League and have clearly enjoyed their best days after being revived following the country’s independence.
Meanwhile, Breiðablik still have the chance to emulate Zrinjski and become the first Icelandic club to reach the group stage of a UEFA competition.
They will have to beat Macedonian champions Struga in the Europa Conference League play-off round, so a tough task awaits them.
Stats courtesy Transfermarkt and FotMob.
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