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Tag: "soccer"

Cup Shenanigans and Other Soccer Musings

[ 35 ] January 28, 2013 |

One of the (few) joys of following soccer football in Britain are the annual surprises generated by the various and sundry domestic cup competitions. The big news of the past week or so is in the lesser of the two English cups, the (insert sponsor du jour) League Cup, open only to teams in the top four tiers of English club soccer.

As an aside, the term League has lost a lot of its meaning in the past generation or so; with the breakaway of the Premier League, the top flight is technically not part of the old Football League. Over the past 34 seasons the Football Conference, at the fifth tier, acquired an automatic promotion slot to the League (1987), a second slot (2003), and an ever increasing number of clubs operating on a full time status, 19 of 24 in 2011/12.  The Conference is a national league, and in 2004 it acquired its own regional feeder leagues (North and South).  Thus, the distinction between League and “non-League” football has lost some of its meaning.

Nevertheless, the League 2 (fourth tier) side Bradford City will be playing in the League Cup final, against Premiership side Swansea City (the last four words appearing in that order still seems strange).  This is the first time since 1962 that a club from the fourth tier of the English leagues has made the League Cup final, and by my reckoning only the second instance of this happening (as this competition was only inaugurated in 1960/61). On paper at least, Bradford City did not have an easy progression to the final. By definition, every team they faced was in their division or higher, and as it turned out, only one of the six were in their division. En route to the final, they defeated Notts County (3rd tier), Watford (2nd), Burton Albion (4th), Wigan, Arsenal, and Aston Villa; the latter three all top tier sides. I say on paper, because at least for Arsenal (the English side I follow) I know Arsène Wenger’s tacit policy for the League Cup has always been to play the kids. I have no idea what sort of side Wigan played, but given the dreadful season Villa are having, winning the semi-final of this competition had to be a priority (they’re currently 17th in the table, only one point above the relegation zone, and lost in the FA Cup fourth round to second tier side Millwall on Friday.)

While it’s not exceptionally rare for a team outside of the top flight to make the League Cup final (by my quick count it’s happened 15 times since 1961), a fourth tier side in the final is remarkable. Even more remarkable is that if Bradford City defeat Swansea City in the final, they’ll gain entry to the third qualifying round for the 2013-14 Europa League, the lesser of the two European club tournaments. Liverpool, winners of the League Cup in 2012, faced Belorussian Premier League side FC Gomel in the qualifying round of this year’s Europa League (and won 4-0 on aggregate) to give an idea what sort of competition would await a fourth division Bradford City side.  Note, this wouldn’t be their first foray into European competition; in 2000 they had ties against a Lithuanian, Dutch, and Russian club in the defunct Intertoto Cup.  How they qualified I do not know, as they only had a two year run in the Premiership, finishing 17th in 99/00 and relegated in 00/01.

The FA Cup fourth round threw up some surprises this past weekend as well.  Millwall (2nd) beat Aston Villa; MK Dons (3rd) beat relegation bound QPR; Leeds (2nd) beat Spurs; Brentford (3rd) drew with Chelsea, and Arsenal’s youth academy barely got past Brighton (2).  The biggest stories are Oldham Athletic (3) defeating Liverpool, and Luton Town, of the fifth tier Conference, defeating Premiership side Norwich City.  To use a not completely valid baseball analogy, that would be similar to the Eugene Emeralds of the short-season A Northwest League (who used to play in one of the best baseball venues ever, Civic Stadium) defeating the San Francisco Giants.

I’d rather not discuss St Mirren 3-2 Celtic in the Scottish League Cup semi-final, however.

Low Hanging Fruit of the Day: Sepp Blatter

[ 73 ] December 31, 2012 |

Blatter is critical of the MLS.  To wit:

But don’t forget that soccer — as they call football there — is the most popular game in the youth. It’s not American football or baseball; it is soccer. But there is no very strong professional league. There have just the M.L.S. But they have not these professional leagues that are recognized by the American society.

It is a question of time. I thought, when we had the World Cup in 1994. … But we are now in 2012 — it’s been 18 years — it should have been done now. But they are still struggling.

Consistent with previous form, Blatter is wrong. The MLS ranked eighth in Association Football leagues in average attendance according to most recent data. In a broader table of association football attendances, the MLS doesn’t look too bad:

1 Germany 45,179
2 England 34,601
3 Spain 30,275
4 Mexico 25,434
5 Italy 23,459
6 Netherlands 19,538
7 France 18,869
8 USA 18,807
9 China 18,740
10 Argentina 18,165
11 England II 17,738
12 Japan 17,566
13 Germany II 17,266
14 Brazil 14,976
15 Turkey 14,058
16 Scotland 13,861

 

For a league that has only completed 17 seasons, ranking eighth globally is not bad progress, certainly not “still struggling”.  By this measure, the Scottish league has been struggling since the formation of the SFL in 1890 (oh, hang on . . . ).  Some observations on these data include that the MLS ranks higher in average attendance to both the NHL (17,455 0) and NBA (17,274).  This places the MLS third among professional leagues in the USA (NFL: 67,538; MLB: 30,884), fourth among professional leagues in the US and Canada (Canadian Football League: 28,103), and fourth among all leagues in the US when the “amateur” NCAA Division 1 BCS is included (46,074).

This success has been achieved with a tedious “foreign” sport in a context with the established MLB (74,859,268 total attendance in 2011), NFL (17,124,389 / 67,538), and NCAA BCS (37,411,795 / 46,074), as well as the NHL (21,470,155 / 17,274), and NBA (17,100,861 / 17,274).

There are many ways to spin these numbers to make the MLS appear better or worse than it actually is, including pointing out that the average attendance of 18,807 is skewed by Seattle’s average 43,144 (the next four clubs are LA Galaxy and Montreal at 23K, Houston at 21K, Portland at 20K), but then Seattle’s attendance would rank sixth in the English Premier League’s current season, behind only Man U, Arsenal, Newcastle United, Man City, and Liverpool.  Notably, the entire MLS averages similar to the average for QPR in the current season.  While QPR will likely be relegated, their fans do get to see 19 better clubs come through.

One way we can’t spin these figures, however, is the way the perennially clueless Blatter did.  If the MLS is not a “very strong professional league”, then only the seven above it might qualify for “very strong”.  It’s certainly not “still struggling”.

Justice for the 96

[ 60 ] September 13, 2012 |

The Hillsborough Independent Panel’s report was released yesterday, following nearly three years of work re-examining the Hillsborough disaster of April 15, 1989.  A good summary of the findings are here.  The NYT has a story here.  For those unaware, Hillsborough (the ground of Sheffield Wednesday FC) was the neutral venue for an FA Cup semi final between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest.  96 Liverpool supporters lost their lives [*] immediately before and in the opening minutes of the match in a crush at one end of the ground — the match was cancelled only six minutes in.  The official narrative blamed the Liverpool fans themselves; drunk, violent, ticketless trying to force their way into the ground.  This myth was helped along by the print media, most notoriously The Sun.  Indeed, Boris Johnson, present Conservative mayor of London and all around moppy clown, oversaw if not wrote an unsigned editorial which reiterated blaming the fans, specifically “the part played in the disaster by drunken fans at the back of the crowd who mindlessly tried to fight their way into the ground” while editor of The Spectator as recently as 2004.  Today (literally), he is “very, very sorry“.  As is David Cameron, who exonerated the fans role yesterday in Parliament.

The true cause was not the fans or their behavior, but a combination of incredibly amateur crowd control on the part of the South Yorkshire Police and the remarkably decrepit state of stadia serving as the venues for the most popular spectator sport in Britain, against a sociological backdrop that stereotyped soccer fans as lower class hooligans.  The latter in part resulted in the perimeter fences then standard at grounds in the UK.  Indeed, the Leppings Lane end of Hillsborough had been subdivided into five “pens” (yes, they were called pens).  Hillsborough was supposedly one of the better grounds in England at the time, hence being a frequent location for a semi final, but it was in dreadful condition (as was a majority of the grounds around the country up and down the pyramid).  Slightly less than four years prior, 56 fans died in a fire at Valley Parade, home ground of Bradford City, and 66 people died in a crush (on exit) at Ibrox in 1971.  I can’t think of anything remotely similar in US major league sports during my lifetime (the year I was born, Bob Gibson had an ERA of 1.12, and Denny McLain won 31 games).  The best I can come up with on a cursory search is when some bleachers collapsed at the Baker Bowl in Philadelphia in 1903, killing 12.

The incompetence of the police, both in planning and during the match itself, deserves the majority of the blame.  While the tragedy was unfolding, a sizable portion of their presence was employed in making a barrier across the pitch to prevent the Liverpool supporters now on the pitch from rushing the Forest supporters at the other end (because that was precisely on their mind after they got over the relief at simply being alive).  These expressions of incompetence suggest why, in the aftermath, the South Yorkshire Police systematically covered up their responsibility.  In 116 cases, written statements by officers on site had been effectively cleansed, “to remove or alter comments unfavourable” to the police, in preparation for the official inquest.  This conspiracy extended to portions of the media and the government of the day.  It wasn’t the police, it wasn’t the infrastructure, it was those working class hooligans from radical Liverpool.

I have several friends who are Liverpool supporters, including a good friend of mine who lives down the street from my house here in England.  The findings of the report released yesterday have been common knowledge for 23 years.  But, it’s never been official knowledge until now; the official narrative was quite different.  A lot of people have been queuing up to apologise in the past 24 hours, deservedly so, including the FA for hosting the semi final at a ground lacking a safety certificate.  It looks as though the South Yorkshire police will refer this to the independent commission that investigates the police.

Anticipate a criminal investigation to the cover-up in the near future.

[*] 94 died at the ground, two more later in hospital.  I knew that.  Having just read this, I spotted my error I figured I’d correct it before a reader does.

Women’s International Soccer, Olympic Edition

[ 26 ] August 2, 2012 |

Group play, consisting of three groups of four teams, ended two days ago. The tournament gets interesting now, with all four quarter final matches tomorrow (Friday).  Eight of the twelve sides involved in the tournament qualified for the quarter finals, meaning North Korea, Columbia Colombia (duh), South Africa, and Cameroon worked hard at not doing all that well in comparison.

The quarterfinal brackets (full bracket can be found here) follow (times are BST; subtract five for EDT, eight for PDT). FIFA rankings as of June 1 in parentheses. As Great Britain doesn’t have a FIFA recognised team, I’m using the England ranking with apologies to the two non English players on the side: Ifeoma Dieke and Kim Little, both Scots.

Left Bracket:
19:30: (9) Great Britain v (7) Canada
14:30: (1) United States v (23) New Zealand

Right Bracket:
12:00: (4) Sweden v (6) France
17:00: (5) Brazil v (3) Japan

While this appalls the comedy club writing at conservapedia, the US is placed on the left bracket.  (Seriously, there’s so much potential material in their entry on the 2012 Olympics such that posting about it is impossible due to being overcome with laughter every time I try.)

I’ve only been able to watch parts of a few group matches.  The cable package we have where I live in Oregon can only be called “cable” because, well, that’s how we get TV.  I do have a VPN connection to my home institution back in England, allowing me access to all the BBC feeds, but time zones and other responsibilities haven’t helped.  First impressions on the brackets is that the US got lucky, largely due to Great Britain’s surprising victory over Brazil in front of around 70,000 in Wembley.  Brazil wins, Brazil’s in the USA’s bracket.  The USA v Brazil match in the 2011 World Cup was a classic, and an experience best avoided as long as possible.

The Great Britain v Canada match is interesting.  GB don’t have much of a track record, obviously, while Canada’s is recently spotty.  The Canadians finished 16th out of 16 in 2011.  Canada drew 2-2 against Sweden in the group, while GB drew 0-0 in their only friendly immediately prior to the Olympics.  On paper, Canada should probably win, but I’ll go for Team GB because they’ll be playing in front of a sold out City of Coventry Stadium.  Among the 32,000 there should be a few Canadian fans . . .

Winner: Great Britain

USA v New Zealand.  If this were cricket, rugby union, or nuclear non-proliferation, New Zealand.  However, their women’s soccer side has one single point in the history of the world cup (in 2011), and lost 4-0 to the USA in the 2008 Olympics.  An NZ victory would be more of an upset than GB beating Brazil.  They have two things going for them, however.  Crowd support at St. James’ Park in Newcastle should favor New Zealand, and they’ve been stingy on defence, conceding only one goal in each of their three group matches (including against Brazil).

Winner: USA

The right side of the bracket is a lot tougher, both in terms of competition and predictions.  Sweden v France is a rematch of the third-place playoff in the 2011 World Cup, won by Sweden 2-1.  This match will be a reverse of last year.  In the 20 matches that the French have played since that match, they’ve won 19 and only lost one (the 2-4 against the USA last Friday).  This streak features uneven competition (2013 European Championship qualification and friendlies), but to go 19-0 itself is an impressive achievement, and it includes victories over Japan, Canada, England, and North Korea, all top-ten sides.  I might be mistaken, but Sweden’s last victory of note was defeating the USA in the final group stage match in the 2011 World Cup (a favor the US returned 4-0 in March at the Algarve Cup), and as hosts of Euro 2013 haven’t had to go through qualification.

Winner: France

Brazil v Japan.  Both teams have been uneven in this tournament. Japan had two 0-0 draws (Sweden and South Africa) and only beat Canada 2-1. Brazil of course lost to Great Britain, beat New Zealand 1-0, and buried Cameroon. Although Japan is the current holder of the World Cup, I’ve got to go with Brazil. Japan’s past year has been more erratic, and in Marta and Cristiane, Brazil have two of the best players on the planet, and they’re both still at their peak (ages 26 and 27 respectively).

Winner: Brazil

Semi-Finals:  USA over Great Britain.  Brazil over France (just).

Final: USA over Brazil.  That said, I predicted the USA to march through the knock-out rounds at the 2011 World Cup, where they barely got past Brazil on penalties, struggled against France in the semi final, and ultimately lost to Japan on penalties. Hence, take the above with een korreltje zout.

I’d write about the 2012 men’s tournament, but this is predominantly a U-23 competition, thus making it not as interesting.  It is refreshing to see Ryan Giggs finally playing in an international tournament however, much as I loathe Man Utd.

A Tour Through Soccer’s Hinterlands

[ 29 ] July 19, 2012 |

This handy guide describes the venues that Rangers FC (and their travelling support) will be descending upon over the course of the coming season in Scotland’s fourth (and final) tier of professional soccer.  Note that capacities are typically smaller than said travelling support, and average attendances last season ranged from 628 (Elgin City) down to 321 (East Sterlingshire).  The latter, incidentally, are the subject of a decent book I have, Pointless, published in 2006.  It describes a single season in the existence of East Sterling that followed three successive bottom of the table finishes, and should be required reading for travelling Rangers supporters (and hell, the squad).

As there is no automatic relegation out of the bottom division, Rangers need not worry about a dramatically bad season eliminating them from the professional game altogether.  I’d suggest this arrangement would be similar to the Yankees having to play a season in the short-season Single-A Northwest League, but I’ve been to a few of those parks, and they look better than the SFL’s Third Division.

(Above: Shielfield Park, home of Berwick Rangers FC.  Below: Links Park, home of Montrose FC)

Scottish Soccer and the Demise of Rangers

[ 40 ] July 4, 2012 |

When I woke this morning (Pacific time), the first thing I wanted to see was the result of the Scottish Premier League vote on whether or not to transfer the SPL certificate from the liquidated “Rangers Football Club plc” to the new corporate structure “The Rangers Football Club”.  The new entity required yes votes from eight of the 12 SPL members (including the old Rangers Football Club plc).  In the run in to the 4 July vote over the past two weeks, enough clubs had publicly stated that they would be voting no such that the newco’s bid to join / remain in the SPL appeared doomed.

Last night (PDT) both Radio 4 and Radio 5 were reporting noises indicating that several of the declared no votes were getting cold feet, and the vote would be deferred.  As I argued elsewhere, it would be surprising if the other clubs in the league did not re-admit Rangers as the Rangers – Celtic rivalry is the financial engine of Scottish soccer.  Lose Rangers, both the Sky and ESPN contracts for the SPL (and the concomitant trickling-down of pennies to the lower three divisions of the Scottish professional game) come into question.

Rangers ultimately failed: “At today’s General Meeting, SPL clubs today voted overwhelmingly to reject the application from Rangers newco to join the SPL.”  10 no votes, Kilmarnock abstained, and (old) Rangers voted yes.  I’m surprised that Celtic voted no instead of abstaining, but there was no possible response from Celtic that wouldn’t open them to criticism from some quarter.  Now Rangers have to apply for the Scottish Football League, comprising tiers two through four.  They obviously want to qualify for the First Division.  They would only require a majority, but at present 11 of the 30 clubs want them in the bottom tier.

This is all a bit bizarre to me.  When Rover or Woolworths were liquidated, they were gone.  Rangers ltd owe somewhere between £75 million and £130 million to various and sundry creditors, including Inland Revenue, but the newco was able to buy its most valuable assets, Ibrox, their training ground Murray Park, and the name, for £5.5 million (but not the players, who have lined up at Glasgow Airport destined for anywhere else) and theoretically continue on as if nothing had happened.

For a soccer club to go bust and vanish completely is not entirely rare.  Gretna FC died in 2008 after one disastrous year in the SPL (and here is a list of defunct Scottish clubs).  But this is obviously different.  It would be more analogous if Ajax, Porto, or Anderlecht were liquidated out of their respective leagues rather than the non-existent financial and competitive loss incurred by the absence of Newport County FC in 1989, or the Tampa Bay Mutiny.

Speaking as a Celtic supporter, it’s going to be a less interesting year (or three) in the domestic league, and the inevitable league championships that Celtic collect can’t possibly have the same meaning.

And In Other News . . .

[ 25 ] June 29, 2012 |

The Europeans are still playing a tournament concerning the soccer.  I managed to watch all of Portugal v Spain Wednesday night, while packing.  That it went to penalties was inconvenient as my bus to Heathrow was departing Plymouth at midnight.  I watched chunks of Italy v Germany during my six hour layover at EWR, where I was surprised to see Balotelli’s finishing prowess the exact opposite of what it was against England.

Sunday, I’ll be able to give the final my undivided attention.  I still suspect it will be Spain who prevail, but Spain have demonstrated some frailties during this tournament, whereas Italy have merely been inconsistent.  I think that their victory yesterday owes more to Germany’s failures rather than Italy’s successes.  Further, allowing England to stay in the match for 120 minutes on Sunday should be scandalous to any top tier international side.

In the words of my friend Niall Ó Murchú, this piece this piece (link corrected) in the Guardian about the tactical questions facing the Spanish is “nerdy but brilliant”, and an excellent read.  Even a non-soccer fan watching Italy would spot the influence of Andrea Pirlo, and the need to close him down.  Xavi can do that, but as the article suggests, this comes with a risk.  The greater risk, of course, is giving Pirlo freedom of the pitch, as England did; it was only Italy’s (especially Balotelli’s) horrendous finishing that prevented Italy from crushing England 3-0.

Euro 2012, Entering the Final Round of Group Matches

[ 13 ] June 16, 2012 |

UPDATE: Oops, and oops.  I quite clearly suck.

Again, the convenient overview can be found here.  I’ve been able to watch a lot more of the second round of matches than I had the first, and that has allowed me to mentally adjust, ever so slightly, my original expectations, which is a subtle way to say “what the hell was I thinking?” once or twice.  The tie-breaking criteria, simplified, are: 1. head-to-head, 2. goal differential overall, 3. goals scored.  It gets a bit complicated if three teams are tied on points, which could theoretically happen in three of the four groups (A, B, C).  (Note: I’ve seen it also explained as simple goal differential as the first criterion, so I could be wrong).

The final matches in Group A are tonight (BST).  The table, first number current position, second my prediction, third goal difference, fourth, obviously, points.

1 (1) Russia  (+3) 4

2 (2) Czech (-2) 3

3 (4) Poland (0) 2

4 (3) Greece (-1) 1

Anybody from the group of life could still theoretically advance to the quarter finals.  I can’t see Russia don’t less than collecting all three points against the Greeks, while the Czech Republic v Poland match could be a bit of a wild card given Poland’s effective home field advantage.  I predict at least a draw, so the table should finish as it stands.

Group B

1 (2) Germany (+2) 6

2 (3) Portugal (0) 3

3 (4) Denmark (0) 3

4 (1) Netherlands (-2) 0

Relatively under-rating Germany was my biggest sin for this tournament.  They are an exciting, young side.  I thought that two summers ago, especially given their demolition of England 4-1 with relative ease.  I was seduced more by the Dutch than I was dismissive of the Germans, but after watching the two play the other day, I was ever so slightly wrong.  Germany wants to win the group, so I see them easily beating Denmark.  The Dutch could still theoretically qualify in second; under head-to-head it’s a simple victory over Portugal.  Under goal differential, it’s winning by two clear goals.  While the Dutch are an older side, and should be starting van der Vaart ahead of the 35 year-old van Bommel (and knowing they need a victory, I bet they do tomorrow), and are, as usual, sniping, whining, and Arjen Robben is as selfish as ever, I think they pull out a win over Portugal.

Group C

1 (1) Spain (+4) 4

2 (3) Croatia (+2) 4

3 (2) Italy (0) 2

4 (4) Ireland (-6) 0

Monday has Croatia v Spain, Italy v Ireland.  Spain and Italy win, and my honor is preserved for the second group.  When Spain are on, they’re the most interesting, fluid, and entertaining side to watch.  They couldn’t be anything but on against a limited Irish side.  It was a depressingly lovely match.  The draw against Italy was not because of Catenaccio, but a rather defensively minded 3-5-2.  Croatia are better than I thought, but their four points flatter.  Spain over Croatia, and it goes without saying that even if Italy only score one goal against Ireland, it should be enough.  Spain and Italy through.

Group D

1 (2) France (2) 4

2 (1) England (1) 4

3 (4) Ukraine (-1) 3

4 (3) Sweden (-2) 0

England v Ukraine will be an interesting match on Tuesday.  The English are excited because they only need one point to qualify!  Oh, how the mighty have fallen.  I’ve lived hear nearly nine years, and in the past, especially WC 2002, Euro 2004, WC 2006, the media and fan base always naturally assumed that they would win any major tournament that they entered.  I found it smug and annoying (and inconsistent with the empirical reality that they are, especially from a technical perspective, a second tier side).  Then came the failure to qualify at all for Euro 2008, and the debacle of the 2010 WC (not to mention finishing second to the USA in the group).  What was rarely mentioned, but when mentioned correctly so, in the fall out from last night’s match against Sweden is that if they merely finish second in the group, their quarter final match is likely against Spain.  Tournament over, come home.

Hodgson, regardless of the criticism he’s already receiving after only one competitive match in charge (this is England, after all), is doing a solid job with what he has: one of the least gifted England sides in a generation or two.  England will not play like Spain, Germany, or even Holland in a long, long time.  He’s tactically nimble, a trait not possessed by his three predessors: shifting from his formation used against France to putting Andy Johnson Carroll (yes, I knew that, but I had both my daughter and step daughter nagging me whilst writing this) up front against Sweden obviously paid off (even if that sort of Soccer is precisely what England have been doing for decades: big target man, superb Gerrard cross to the head of said big target man, goal).  When, as usual, England let the opposition back into the match, Hodgson took off the ineffective Milner for Theo Walcott (my man of the match; until Walcott’s arrival it was Ibrahimović), which changed the attack.  (I also question Ashley Young’s contributions, but I’m in the minority here).  I’d bet that Hodgson knows that the chance to top the group is vital, so will go for all three points.  He’ll start Walcott, and of course a well rested Rooney is back.  I predict an England victory over Ukraine, even against the effective home field advantage. England will concede a goal, don’t worry about that, but they score 2. In the other match, I suspect a France victory as well, so it will come down to goal differential to see who wins this group.

 

Euro 2012 Thus Far, and Other Soccer Musings

[ 11 ] June 12, 2012 |

A convenient overview of the state of play of the European Championships can be found here.  My typically ill-conceived predictions can be found here.

I watched three of the matches, and listened to a further two on BBC Radio 5.  The results from the first set of matches don’t make my predictions terribly embarrassing, only marginally so.  Two matches stand out: Russia 4-1 Czech Republic, and the Netherlands 0-1 Denmark.  The latter is egregious in that I predicted the Dutch to win the group and Denmark to finish last.  The Dutch did out play the Danes on almost every metric, aside from the small matter of goals scored.  That said, qualification suddenly looks in doubt: They’ll need to pick up four, and likely all six, points from their matches against Germany and Portugal.  Four is possible: three second place finishers qualified out of the groups in the past two Euros with four points.  Italy in 2008 (finishing second to the Dutch on nine points), both the Dutch and Greeks in 2004.  However, given the dynamics of the group, it’s a long shot.  I could be wrong, but they’d need to beat Germany and draw Portugal, hope the Danes run the table, and even then there would be a tie breaker involved (I very well might be missing something).  Easier just to win out.

The former, while I predicted Russia top and the Czechs second, losing 4-1 doesn’t seem to be what a group runner up should be all about.  That and I wish Arshivin looked that good while wearing an Arsenal shirt.

The other two groups didn’t have any stunning surprises.  Perhaps one could argue that Spain should have beat Italy, and it is possible that Spain’s time is over.  Croatia hammering the Republic, sadly, was not a surprise.  Ukraine pipping Sweden last night maybe, but I essentially have those level on chances.  England were unfamiliar to me: they were . . . organised.  Against a France side that I obviously underrated.

Today we have two more matches in the scintillating Group A, which are of interest to me only for the political overtones attached to Poland v Russia.

In other news, the embarrassing circus that is Rangers F.C. took a bad turn today: they’re dead certain to be liquidated now.  Given the news that HM Revenue and Customs will not vote for a Company Voluntary Agreement, liquidation is unavoidable; the only path back is through the formation of a new company that itself purchases key assets from liquidation.  I don’t see how a new company running the club will be justified its spot in the top tier of Scottish football (or, for that matter, even a position anywhere in the top four professional leagues.)  Chick Young indirectly predicted this over a month ago on the BBC.  As a Celtic supporter, it might strike readers as unlikely (and is definitely not an opinion universally shared amongst my fellow Celtic minded fans) but losing Rangers, even for a few years in the lower divisions, would not be good for Celtic.

Nor the whole of the SPL.  The problem faced by the other 11 SPL sides who are to vote on admitting a “new Rangers” is outlined here.  While it’s in the interests of the companies running the teams to admit Rangers, there is considerable disagreement among the fan support of all 11 sides:

In recent weeks clubs have expressed the dilemma they face: Rangers’ presence in the SPL brings revenue through the turnstiles and from broadcast deals, but many fans have said they will not return if “sporting integrity” is not seen to be upheld.

These supporters have been in contact with their clubs to demand that they vote against Rangers playing in the SPL next season. Their preference is for Rangers to apply to join the Scottish Football League and to start again in the Third Division.

That won’t happen.  The clubs will vote to re-admit (admit?) the new Rangers, and assume the fans will return.

And there’s the small matter of the USMNT away to Guatemala in the third round of the interminable CONCACAF qualifying system for the 2014 World Cup.  This is the most difficult match for the USA in the third round, and based on the sedate performance against Antigua & Barbuda the other day, optimism doesn’t prevail.

A Brief Appreciation

[ 89 ] March 29, 2012 |

Watching last night’s Barcelona-Inter Milan draw reminded me, that for many people on this planet, the most frightening sight in the world is a 5’4″ Argentinian–born the year after the Mets won the ’86 World Series–charging right at them:

Messi01
See how his eyes are already looking at your feet? They’re not. They’re really on their way up to your belly-button, meaning your center-of-gravity’s betrayed you and he knows what lies your feet have told. And that move he’s making? It’s calculated to humiliate you five seconds after you realize its purpose, so there’s only one alternative, and given that Italians are famous for the volumptuousness of their gravity, they chose it with gusto:

Messi02
You would think this tactic successful: share the Jovian gravitational force of 2.58 g that yanks Italian players to the pitch every time the wind considers blowing, but it’s to no avail! The tiny Argentinian spits in the face of Italian-alien gravitational alliances, pauses to shoot a look of shame at his “competitors,” then continues moving toward goal as if he’s bounding over Martian fields. Having no resort, the Italians do what they can:

AP120124021615
Which entails trying to rip his face off. Anyone who wants to complain about the dirtiness of Italian football is welcome to in this thread. Keep it clean, though, my friends, as some players know what best to do when there’s nothing to be done:

AP120115113967
“Keep your distance, lads,” you can almost hear one of them say. “And hope an Italian shows up.”

 

If only you knew the pain I fought through to write this post.

[ 60 ] February 19, 2012 |

Thanks to a deep desire to nap and a DVR that’s threatening to delete everything I want to watch, I spent a few hours this afternoon watching the Heat and Barcelona win sometime in the past week, and I was struck by how casually brilliant LeBron James and Leo Messi look. When you think of Michael Jordan, you invariably think of the image he cultivated, which looks something like this:

He was a winner, no doubt, but he always played up his own struggle. It was never enough for him to be great: he had to sprinkle the floor with Kryptonite just to remind everyone how incredible Superman is on Tuesdays. James and Messi? They’re content to be great. Neither of them is going to pull a Kobe and leak his every bump and bruise to the media in order to score a “heroic” twenty-one points. They’ll leap and weave around the children like the gods they are and that’ll be that. Consider Messi at 1:33 in this video:

Restraint is a talent, I know, but it doesn’t always manifest itself as disdain, and that shot? It mocks the sport. It asks “You want me to do this?” and shrugs its shoulder in consent. Is it as manly a display as Jordan’s? Absolutely not. But I’ll take it or its sibling — The Kid‘s perpetual “I just did what now?” expression — over the now-conventional displays of aggressively false modesty plaguing major American sports.

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[ 47 ] October 23, 2011 |

Manchester United 1 – 6 Manchester City.

In the past, I would have absolutely delighted in this result.  However, the cynic in me observes yet more evidence that in order to challenge for the title, one needs ownership with deep pockets and no business acumen.  Arsenal were forced to sell Samir Nasri to Man City because there was no chance in hell Arsenal could match the wage offer of City, which I’ve read as four to five times what Arsenal offered in their contract extension.

And Nasri started on the bench against United.

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