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The Hat-trick | Jamshedpur FC Halt ATK Mohun Bagan Run; QPR To Take the Knee at The Den; UEFA’s World Cup Qualifiers Serve Up Snooze Fest

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The Hat-trick (Top Football News of the Day): Nerijus Valskis scored twice as Jameshedpur FC beat ATK Mohun Bagan 2-1 in their Indian Super League (ISL 2020-21) match Monday | Millwall and QPR players to stand arm-in-arm in 'show of solidarity' before game | UEFA faces flak for lacklustre qualifiers draw.
Nerijus Valskis of Jamshedpur FC

Nerijus Valskis of Jamshedpur celebrates after scoring against ATK Mohun Bagan in their Indian Super League (ISL) match (Pic: ISL, Twitter).

ATK Mohun Bagan tasted their first defeat in this season of the Indian Super League (ISL), against Jamshedpur FC at the bio-bubbled Tilak Maidan in Goa on Monday. Lithuanian Nerijus Valskis scored a brace for Jamshedpur while ATK Bagan cut the deficit via, well, no points in guessing who. Roy Krishna kept intact his record of scoring in every match through a second half strike that should have been flagged offside. 

Krishna scoring was the only part of the usual Antonio Habas script that was followed on the day. Almost everything went against ATK Bagan who were playing a much organised side than expected. To start with, since Jamshedpur scored first, Habas couldn’t get the Kolkata metro parked in front of goal -- his style of play which yielded wins in the opening three matches, and a clean sheet to boot. 

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Valskis inflicted the first blemish on that clean sheet half an hour into the match when he found the target via a powerful header off Aitor Monroy’s corner. 

Valskis, who had scored a brace against Odisha last week, is in the middle of a hot streak and was a constant threat in front of the ATK Bagan goal. Owen Coyle's men doubled the lead in the 66th minute from another corner. Aitor Monroy's cross was flicked by Mobashir Rahman onto Valskis who smashed it into the roof of the net.

ATK Mohun Bagan pegged one back through Krishna in the 80th minute. The Fijian striker, though, was clearly offside, ATK Bagan had a couple of great chances in the dying moments of the match but Jamshedur held off to record their first win of the season.

With the result, ATK Bagan remain second in the table, level on points with Mumbai City FC, but behind on goal difference. Jamshedpur climbed to seventh spot.

QPR Players to Take a Knee at Millwall

Players from Queens Park Rangers (QPR) will take a knee in support of the Black Lives Matter movement ahead of Tuesday’s Championship game at Millwall, manager Mark Warburton said on Monday.

Both clubs also said that players would “stand arm-in-arm with each other in a show of solidarity for football’s fight against discrimination” before the game kicks off at The Den. In a statement posted on their respective websites, QPR and Millwall added that the two sides would “hold aloft a banner to show their collective commitment towards ongoing efforts to rid the game of racism in a positive move”.

QPR’s players had stopped kneeling after director of football Les Ferdinand said the action had become a PR stunt but Warburton said it was important to show solidarity in the wake of last week’s incident where 2,000 spectators at The Den (Millwall’s home ground), the first of any since Covid-19 protocols were enforced, booed the gesture before the match began.

“In light of certain events, we’ll stand solidly behind the cause and our players will take a knee,” Warburton said. “Tomorrow night we will show solidarity because we will not tolerate any form of discrimination.

“It’s the right thing to do, everyone can see that. The players have come to me and told me their thoughts and I absolutely agree with them. Going forward, this club is so proactive in this area and this is one of the most diverse clubs in the country.” 

Warburton said his players would not walk off in protest if they were met by a chorus of boos.

Lacklustre Draw for European WC Qualifiers

A boring draw for the 2022 European World Cup qualifiers has raised old questions over the format used by UEFA. Many feel the format makes it too easy for the top teams and features too many mismatches in the lead up to the main tournament.

Although Monday’s draw in Zurich produced some interesting fixtures from a historical perspective -- such as England’s games against Poland and Hungary -- there were no heavyweight clashes to get the fans excited.

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This was by design. Most of the biggest teams are kept apart because of a seeding system that leaves them with straightforward qualification processes for Qatar. Moreover, even if the heavyweights fail to win their groups, they get a second bite of the cherry through the play-off system.

Under UEFA’s system, the continent’s 55 teams are divided into 10 groups of five or six, producing mundane fixtures such as Germany v Liechtenstein, England v San Marino and the Netherlands v Gibraltar.

In sharp contrast other continents make the international break (and the qualifiers) the highlight of the footballing season. Take South America for example where 10 teams (and no real minnows) use the smartest system to decide who qualifies for the World Cup: via a single group where everyone plays each other twice. 

Initially considered bloated (when introduced for the 1998 WC qualifiers) the system has helped minnows like Venezuela and Ecuador to improve enormously thanks to greater exposure to competitive matches. It also features old rivalries regularly and forces teams and big players into drama and controversy.

The Confederation of African Football (CAF), Asian Football Confederation (AFC) and the CONCACAF region all use a system of stages, in which the lower-ranked teams take part in preliminary rounds and the bigger teams enter the fray at the subsequent stage. UEFA has avoided this system saying smaller teams deserve the chance to play the bigger nations. And yet, they introduced the Nations League last year, dividing up the continent into divisions with relegation and promotion. It also helped the smaller teams who relished playing opposition at their level and creating history (Gibraltar and Kosovo for example won first-ever competitive internationals in the tournament). 

Their resistance to do so with the qualifiers though points towards one simple thing: UEFA products are more important than those of FIFA.

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