0Shares0000Italy, whose players are pictured here in October 2017, are the only one of the eight previous winners not yet sure of their place in the upcoming World Cup © AFP/File / Dimitar DILKOFFPARIS, France, Nov 8 – The last burst of qualifying matches for the 2018 World Cup allows some nations a chance to dream, but for football aristocrats Italy, the next few days are a potential nightmare.The last nine places in Russia will be settled in seven frantic days starting on Thursday. There are four berths up for grabs in Europe, where the eight best runners-up in the nine groups have been paired in home-and-away play-offs.The last three of Africa’s five qualifiers will be settled in the final round of group games, although Senegal and South Africa will squeeze in an extra match on Friday.There are two long-distance play-offs as New Zealand face Peru and Australia play Honduras.In Europe, Italy, Greece, Switzerland and the Republic of Ireland are all seeded and play the second leg at home.– Proud record in peril –For Italy and veteran goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon that might not be such an advantage against Sweden. The Azzurri drew at home with both Spain and Macedonia in its group.The play-off puts Italy’s proud record of World Cup participation is in danger. The Azzurri are tied with Germany for most appearances by a European nation, 18. But Germany have already made sure of a 19th berth.Italy are also the only one of the eight previous winners not yet sure of their place in this World Cup.Italy’s defence needs to beware of Sweden, the top scorer among the eight playoff teams, with 26 goals in 10 games.Switzerland collected 27 points in its 10 group games, more than five of the nations that won their groups. Yet it came second on goal difference to Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal.“They’re obviously the seeded team, so the pressure’s more on them than us,” Northern Ireland forward Jamie Ward said. “We’re always great as the underdogs, so I think it was a bit of a bonus us not being seeded.”The encounter between Greece and Croatia pairs two nations that specialise in winning playoffs. If Greece win, they will become the first European team to reach three successive World Cups through play-offs. Croatia have won all four of their qualifying play-offs for major tournaments.Croatia have the star names with Luka Modric, Ivan Rakitic, Mario Mandzukic and Ivan Perisic, but Greece are seeded and home advantage could prove even greater as the two countries have agreed to ban away fans from the matches.The Republic of Ireland, which takes on Denmark, have a chequered history with playoffs. This is their eighth overall, a European record. They have won three and lost four, including the notorious game in France in 2009 when Thierry Henry’s handball set up the extra-time goal that eliminated the Irish.“When there’s been big questions put to the players, they’ve come up with the answers.” Irish assistant manager Roy Keane said.The Danish danger man is Tottenham’s Christian Eriksen who has scored in each of his last six appearances for his nation.“Denmark have a lot of skilful players, good options going forward and Eriksen is a really big player for them,” Keane said.– Showdown for Morocco –Ivory Coast’s national team players take part in a training session on November 7, 2017 at the Felix Houphouet-Boigny stadium in Abidjan ahead of their FIFA World Cup 2018 qualifying football match against Morocco © AFP/File / ISSOUF SANOGOIn Africa, Nigeria and Egypt have booked their tickets but three of the five group winners are still to be decided.In Group A, Tunisia are almost there. They lead Congo by three points and face last-place Libya at home. The Carthage Eagles could even qualify if they lose and Congo beat Guinea in Kinshasa, provided both games are low-scoring and decided by just one goal.Group C is finely balanced. Morocco travel to Abidjan for a game that will decide who qualifies. Ivory Coast have home advantage but Morocco have a one-point edge in the table and will qualify with a draw.“We need a team that will go to war and every player to be ready to give 200 percent,” said Ivory Coast manager Marc Wilmots.In Group D, Senegal lead by two points and play South Africa home and away, needing two points to be absolutely sure. Senegal’s likely progress has been delayed because their defeat in South Africa last November was scrubbed out. That match was decided by a bizarre penalty which led to a life ban for the referee, Joseph Lamptey.The four teams competing for the two remaining places will have to go the extra kilometre. Australia, who have already squeezed through one tense play-off against Syria, take on Honduras who edged the United States to finish fourth in their region. The first leg is in San Pedro Sula, then the teams must cross the Pacific for the second leg, nearly 14,000 kilometres away in Sydney.New Zealand, which won the 11-nation Oceania group, and Peru which finished fifth in the South American group, will be flying the other way.Their first leg is in Wellington, the second, in Lima late next Wednesday, will bring the long qualifying process to a close..0Shares0000(Visited 1 times, 1 visits today)
NEW YORK – Countrywide Financial Corp. said Thursday its mortgage fundings for September fell 44 percent from the same period a year ago, and the mortgage lender is now facing a potential federal investigation over the timing of stock sales by its chief executive. Countrywide, the nation’s largest mortgage lender, said total mortgage fundings last month fell to $21.2 billion from $38.1 billion a year ago. The steep decline in volume comes as the Calabasas-based company makes a shift to originate traditional, conforming loans instead of more risky, nontraditional loans like subprime mortgages. Countrywide previously packaged the majority of its loans as securities and sold them to investors in the secondary market. During the past few months, rising delinquency and default rates have caused demand for these securities to all but dry up, especially subprime loans. The collapse of the secondary market, coupled with the deteriorating housing market, has led to a steep drop in mortgage origination volume nationwide. AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MOREGame Center: Chargers at Kansas City Chiefs, Sunday, 10 a.m.Housing foreclosures nearly doubled last month, according to real estate information firm RealtyTrac Inc. A total of 223,538 foreclosure filings were reported in September, up from 112,210 during September 2006. Conforming loans – which now account for about 90 percent of Countrywide’s volume – are considered safer because government-sponsored Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are willing to purchase them, and typically these loans are less likely to default. The reduction in nonconforming loans was not much of a surprise, but the speed at which Countrywide shifted its production to fit Fannie and Freddie guidelines was faster than anticipated, Friedman, Billings, Ramsey & Co. analyst Paul Miller said. To cope with the weakening market, Countrywide cut 4,935 jobs in September as part of plans to reduce its work force by 12,000 jobs, or about 20 percent. A larger reduction may be required, Miller said. Nonconforming loans previously represented about 40 percent of origination volume. With that production nearly gone, job cuts may need to be between 30 percent and 40 percent, Miller said. Countrywide’s shares have fallen nearly 56 percent since January, and the company may now be facing an investigation from the Securities and Exchange Commission into the timing of stock sales made by Chief Executive Angelo Mozilo. North Carolina State Treasurer Richard Moore, in a letter to SEC Chairman Christopher Cox, claims that Mozilo “apparently manipulated his trading plans to cash in” as the subprime crisis was heating up. Moore cited reports that Mozilo was unloading 4.9 million Countrywide shares worth more than $138 million between November 2006 and August 2007. Last week, Countrywide announced Mozilo plans to sell more shares under a prearranged trading plan that began Monday and ends today. SEC spokesman John Nester declined to comment and would not say whether the agency was examining or planned to examine Mozilo’s stock trades. Countrywide did not immediately return a call seeking comment on Thursday. In the meantime, Miller expects Countrywide’s production to remain well below last year’s figures, but stabilize in the coming months. As of Sept. 30, Countrywide had $42 billion in its mortgage pipeline – loans in progress that it has yet to fund. Last year, Countrywide had $65 billion in its pipeline. Shares of Countrywide fell to $18.28 in Thursday trading.160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!