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:
Back in 2015 I tried to track down a man who had become infamous for one of the most memorable moments in European Championship qualification history. During a qualification match between Albania and Serbia in Belgrade – two countries with a long history of antipathy, to say the least – a drone was flown in to the Partizan Stadium covered in Albanian nationalist symbols.
It sparked a riot, the match was abandoned and the Albanian dressing room was searched. The Albanian prime minister’s brother was briefly held too. But the culprit was someone much more unexpected.
Ismail Morina, a young crane operator living in Italy, had planned the whole operation, an operation that would seem to have had almost a zero chance of success normally. But, somehow, the planets aligned for Morina and he managed to escape.
I ended up making a film with Copa90 about that trip….
But that was just the start of the story. I tracked him down to Kosovo before Serbia was due to travel to Albania for the return leg. I spent a few days with him, before it all went crazy. He was later arrested before the game setting off a chain of events that would have seemed comic if they hadn’t been so serious.
June was a momentous month in football. After expecting another cake walk as president of FIFA, Sepp Blatter suddenly found himself in the centre of corruption investigations in the US and Switzerland. FIFA Ex Co members were arrested in dawn raids and Blatter eventually had to stand down, although he still remains in charge until new elections are called either later this year or early next.
I wrote this lengthy profile of Blatter for CNN. I interviewed him twice over the years and it covers much of his career; how he transformed FIFA, why he remained in power and what led to his downfall.