After writing Thirty One Nil, the story of World Cup qualification told by the underdogs, I have found it quite hard not to keep following the minutiae of the Road to Russia 2018.
It was, again, a vast and colourful campaign across the globe full of intrigue, goals and political controversy. So, for Tifo, I helped put together three YouTube videos that told the story of qualification for the 2018 World Cup finals.
Part one covers qualification in Asia, Oceania and CONCACAF:
Part two covers the tough route teams have to take in Africa and South America:
Finally, part three focuses on qualification in Europe:
In recent months I’ve spent time documenting the migrant and refugee crisis currently afflicting most of country’s on the Mediterranean rim, with implications far beyond the shoreline.
Over a quarter of the migrants crossing the Med (where nearly 2,000 have drowned this year already) are from Eritrea, a tiny country on the east coast of Africa that is perhaps, alongside North Korea, the worst place in the world to be a human.
For my book Thirty One Nil I wrote a chapter about Eritrea. Over 50 international players have fled whilst on international duty as it is the only chance they have of leaving the country safely. Many of the players I met have now found safety in places like Australia and the US. Last year I visited the town in The Netherlands where 17 members of the team and the team’s doctor had been resettled after absconding after a tournament in Uganda.
Monocle radio did a special episode of The Foreign Desk podcast where I talk about the conditions the players face, their escape, and their fear of retribution.
Macedonia has found itself embroiled in a huge political scandal. Over the past few months prime minister Nikola Grievski has been rocked by a series of revelations — from alleged leaked wiretaps — which appear to show his government involved in some unsavoury business.
Threats to journalists, the cover up of a young man’s murder, corruption and the loading of the judiciary are just some of the allegations. There have been huge anti and pro government protests as the opposition has released regular snippets of the recordings.
At the same time, a terror raid in the city of Kumanovo left eight policemen and 10 alleged pro-Albanian separatists dead, reviving ethnic tensions between the minority ethnic Albanians and the majority Slavic Macedonians not seen the country almost tipped into civil war back in 2001.
I went to Macedonia and spoke to both sides for Politico, and found a country on the brink.