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Tag: "soccer"

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:

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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:

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“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.

1-6

[ 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.

Klinsmann

[ 20 ] July 29, 2011 |

It took less than a day, but LGM called for his hiring, and the US FA took note and duly responded.  Correlation, or causality?  You be the judge.  And for our next trick, we’ll solve the manufactured debt ceiling crisis.

Considering how swift the appointment was made, especially in light of the past difficulties the US FA have had with negotiating with Klinsmann, it’s safe to assume that this hiring was a done deal before Bradley was fired.

What I like about this hiring, as I implied in yesterday’s post, is that Klinsmann is more likely to give the next generation a solid look.  Bradley was in stasis, and we were left wondering how the next generation would be discovered, let alone develop.  Plus, Bradley let Giuseppe Rossi get away.  Klinsmann is a solid tournament manager, as evidenced by Germany’s 2006 run with an sub-par side — my German mate in Plymouth during that tournament predicted that they wouldn’t get out of the group stage, and yet they finished third.  His brief tenure with Bayern was largely successful, and he’s credited with revamping their youth academy.  Consistent with his negotiations with the US FA, he demanded considerable control at Bayern, and was eventually sacked for not getting along with the directors.  Hopefully the US FA have given him acres of space to just get on with his job.

What I don’t like about this hiring: Klinsmann scored 30-odd goals for Spurs.

While Bradley’s career with the USMNT is over, and I believe his replacement is a superior choice, he should be lauded for the run in the 2009 Confederations Cup, especially that match against Spain in the semi finals, which I posted about here at LGM at the time (I’d link to the posts, but I can’t seem to make the archive work that far back.)

Bradley Sacked

[ 10 ] July 28, 2011 |

Bob Bradley has been sacked as head coach of the USMNT, allegedly because of the performance of the side during the CONCACAF (could somebody please rename the regional association?) Gold Cup.  This has been long in coming, and Bradley has had his share of detractors since replacing Bruce Arena following Germany 2006.  Of course he was always second choice; and the then first choice, Jurgen Klinsmann, is without a job at the moment.  The side is going to go through a fallow period over the next five years or so as a solid generation ages with no visible replacements playing with decent European clubs, which makes the gig less attractive than it was in ’06.  However, we require a top shelf manager who knows the game at the highest level, which, I’m sorry to note, rules out any extant MLS managers.

Give Klinsmann what he wants, and get him in now.

 

France 1 – 3 USA; USA to face Japan in the World Cup Final

[ 23 ] July 13, 2011 |

We watched France v USA at a friend’s house this morning, and while not quite the dramatic classic that was Brazil v USA, it did have its moments.  Our main concern was stamina; while both France and the USA played full 120 minute matches plus penalty shootouts, France had the advantage of an extra day of rest.  We were hoping that the Americans’ superior fitness training would pay off, but it didn’t.

The US seemed to control the match for the first 15 minutes.  France was incapable of retaining their shape, which gave the US the odd opening.  After the first goal at nine minutes, the Americans pulled back; I’m not sure if this was a tactical decision or simple tiredness, but France spent the next 60 minutes firmly in control, superior in technique, passing accuracy, and critically, possession.  Where the French failed was in peppering Hope Solo’s goal from range, but eventually something was going to sneak through.  I don’t fault the American keeper for the equalizer.  Bompastor’s nice cross was directed towards Thiney, hence Solo had to concentrate on the direct threat Thiney provided.  Whether Thiney missed, or as I believe, cleverly feinted, Solo couldn’t be expected to protect the far post; that’s what defenders are for in this situation.  None was there, and the goal was scored.  Around this point ESPN had flashed a shots on goal stat, and it was something like 26 for France to 4 for the USA, and tellingly the last American shot on goal was the Cheney goal at 9 minutes.

The US would find its way eventually, and this was a result of substitutions and a change in tactics.  While Carli Lloyd’s lovely back flick to Heather O’Reilly allowed the latter to feed Cheney for the first goal, that was Lloyd’s only decent touch of the game.  Replacing her with Megan Rapinoe at the 65th minute (provider of that sublime cross to Wambach against Brazil), placing Rapinoe on the left wing thus allowing Cheney to move inside along Boxx subtly changed the American’s shape and ability to go forward.  Combined with forward Alex Morgan’s substitution of the perennially invisible Amy Rodriguez, suddenly the US looked like team capable of finding the opposition final third of the pitch again, even, possibly, scoring (and that they did, twice, at 80 and 82 minutes).

To my mind, Cheney and Boxx work together in central midfield than do Lloyd and Boxx; starting Rapinoe on the left wing in the final seems the wise move.  Of course, she was largely invisible in the match against Sweden, and it’s plausible that the spark she added in both the Brazil and France matches was illusory, coming on as a substitute around the 60th minute against a backdrop of 21 other tired players can’t hurt, but the central midfield combination of Lloyd and Boxx doesn’t work, and their inability to retain possession and thwart the opposition did as much to make France look technically superior as the French.  Something also has to be done about Amy Rodriguez.  It’s not a talent, but a confidence issue, but I wouldn’t want her to start the final.  Alex Morgan looked good indeed, and perhaps that’s the player who should start the final.  In reality, this was probably going to be the injured Lindsay Tarpley’s role.

And what about Japan in the final?  They looked very strong against the Sweden side that defeated the USA in the final group stage match, winning 3-1 (with something like 65% of possession).  They finished second in their group to England, to whom they lost 0-2, but beat Mexico 4-0, and impressively, Germany 1-0 in the quarter finals.  They’re ranked fourth according to FIFA.  Japan have only made it out of the group stage in one World Cup (1995), losing to the US 4-0 in the quarter finals.  Their Olympics record is slightly better, finishing fourth in 2008.  In 2008, the US knocked Japan out in the semi finals by a score of 4-2.  Two months ago, the USA and Japan played two friendlies in the US, both of which were won by the US 2-0.

While their run has been impressive (and the Americans’ uneven), I have to go with the USA to win over Japan in the final on Sunday.  Note, this is not patriotic wishful thinking; in my preview of the World Cup on June 23, I predicted a Germany v Brazil final.  However, I like our chances against Japan, chances that could be improved if both Rapinoe and Morgan start in place of Lloyd and Rodriguez.

Random Soccer Notes: 2011 World Cup, US Open Cup, and Relegation

[ 8 ] June 28, 2011 |

USA 2-0 North Korea.

I watched the first half on line, then the ESPN page crapped out on me.  The US did not look great in the first half, but according to what I’ve read, they settled down in the second and took control of the match.  The Koreans have a ready excuse of course; part of the side were struck by lightening on June 8, which allegedly caused this 2-0 defeat three weeks later.

The US Open Cup (the American version of the FA Cup) has its third round proper beginning tonight.  It’s a misnomer to call it an “open” cup, however.  Whereas the English FA Cup is a true open competition, including all teams from the top nine tiers of the pyramid as well as selected teams from the 10th tier, the US Open Cup has a complicated qualifying system based on leagues / tiers in the American “pyramid“.  To wit, the MLS only has eight entrants in the Cup, with the top six sides automatically qualifying based on the league table, the rest go through a mini-tournament to qualify for the remaining two slots.

In effect, the tournament is limited to 40 teams (contrasted with the 762 who entered the 2009-10 edition of the FA Cup).  While there are also four qualifying rounds for the English cup, they’re not seeded nor based on a number of slots per league / division, although the higher divisions enter the competition in later rounds.

That said, the competition still does produce interesting matches, like tonight, the Seattle Sounders (who are the current cup holders and have won it the past two seasons) face the Kitsap Pumas of the USPDL, the fourth tier of American soccer.  They don’t have to travel far, as the Kitsap side are based in Bremerton, WA, just across the Puget Sound from Seattle.

Finally, River Plate were relegated from the Argentinian top tier for the first time, breaking a 110 year string in the top league.  They have more top flight championships than any other team in Argentine soccer; it would be analogous to the New York Yankees being relegated to AAA.  (I’d say Manchester United, but they were relegated in 1974).  This has not quite been met with the approval of their supporters.

Pointless Provincialism, Olympic Soccer Edition

[ 20 ] June 22, 2011 |

I briefly flirted with writing about this, but what’s the point?  By all accounts, including that of the PSNI, the UVF started it, and the “dissident Republicans” shot back.  Whatever.

London (and England, and even a bit of Wales) is hosting the 2012 Olympics.  Normally, this wouldn’t pose a problem to the host nation aside from bleeding out vast amounts of cash for limited material benefit.  The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland aren’t a normal nation, however, when it comes to soccer.  For historical reasons, FIFA recognize the “home nations” of England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland as independent entities for international purposes.  This extends to the rule-making body; with eight votes, the International Football Association Board sets the rules of association football.  The home nations have four of those votes, FIFA the other four, and six votes are required to effect any rule change.

This anachronistic arrangement would be analogous to the Basque Country and Catalonia having their own international sides, or Quebec, or Bavaria, or Utah.  Furthermore, unfortunately for the UK, the IOC doesn’t play by those rules.  For the UK to have a representative soccer side at the Olympics, it has to be under the rubric of “Team Great Britain”.  Team GB want to have a side at the Olympics for the first time since 1960, and will draw players from England, Scotland, Wales, and NI.

Which, logically, has pissed off three of the four home nations.  Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland are fearful that their inclusion in an aggregate Team GB could, possibly, cause FIFA to question their autonomy.  It doesn’t matter that FIFA have repeatedly stated that this would have no effect on the virtual independence of the home nations according to FIFA; these wee nations are jealous of their footballing autonomy.

I have no problem with this quaint arrangement.  David Goldblatt argues in his excellent The Ball is Round: A Global History of Soccer Football, nations, especially small nations, expressed themselves in an international context via soccer.  International soccer became a symbol, and identity, of the nation.  Goldblatt uses Uruguay as one of several examples, arguing that Uruguay as a nation-state had little logic beyond great power machinations (analogous to Africa) thus it relied heavily on success in soccer as a symbol of the nation (and some success it was: World Cup winners in 1930 over Argentina and 1950 over Brazil).  This can be readily generalized to the home nations.  Lacking any of the institutional infrastructure common to the nation state (until 1998 not even a “national” legislature), Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland look to soccer (and with the former two, rugby union) as symbols of their ersatz independence.

I understand why they’re jealous of this autonomy, and I don’t want my Welsh, Scottish, or Irish friends back in the UK to read this as an argument against said autonomy.  It’s not.

That said, not participating in the Olympics under a unified Team GB is just silly.  FIFA have made it clear over the past three years that a one-off Olympic team will not undermine the autonomy of the home nations.  The squad itself, consisting of 18 players, will be a U-23 squad save for three players without age restriction; in other words, not a full international side in any event.  Soccer matches will be hosted in Scotland and Wales in addition to England.  The English FA have the written approval of the three other home nations to select their players, which itself is meaningless, as legally according to the IOC the English FA have the right to choose any player eligible to play an Olympic sport for Great Britain regardless.  Furthermore, in rugby union the four home nations combine quadrennially to form the British and Irish Lions, who tour southern hemisphere nations.  Last I checked, the autonomy of neither the English, Welsh, Scottish, nor Irish RFU has been questioned as a result.

Finally, for the players from Wales, Northern Ireland, and even Scotland, the 2012 Olympics might represent the only opportunity that they have to play in a serious international tournament.  Scotland on occasion have a chance to qualify for tournaments, and nearly did so for Euro 2008, but the last tournaments Scotland participated in were the 1998 World Cup and the 1996 European Championships.  Northern Ireland has only participated in the World Cups of 1958, 1982, and 1986; the only ever appearance of Wales in a major tournament was the 1958 World Cup.  In qualifying for Euro 2012, Wales are doomed already, while Scotland and Northern Ireland find qualification highly unlikely.  Indeed, the current bright hope of Welsh soccer, Gareth Bale, said last month:

“I want to play in the Olympics. I think it would be a great experience.  You see it with the British and Irish Lions in the rugby, they come together as a unit and play against other countries. It’s great and there’s no reason why that can’t happen with the football.  At the moment Wales haven’t qualified for a major tournament in I don’t know how many years so it would be nice to play in one against the best countries in the world.”

Or, one might adopt the attitude of former Scotland manager Craig Brown, who said in 2009:

“If there is an insistence on having UK representation, why not allow all four teams to compete?  Football is already a special case in the Olympics because it discriminates by only allowing players under 23 to compete, so why not allow the four sides from the UK?”

Because, until Alex Salmond passes a referendum on Scottish independence, Scotland isn’t quite a real country, yet?

USA v Spain

[ 11 ] June 4, 2011 |

For something a bit lighter.  It’s good that the USMNT are playing Spain immediately before the Gold Cup campaign, which is of far greater importance.  As the ESPN article suggests, the US will be rotating and resting their key players in this friendly, thus do not expect a result similar to the last time the US played Spain, the stunning 2-0 victory in the Confederations Cup from two years ago.

FIFA Shenanigans (Again)

[ 25 ] May 29, 2011 |

It appears that Sepp Blatter’s cunning ploy succeeded.  Mohamed Bin Hammam has pulled out of the race to serve as FIFA President, leaving the field about as competitive as a number of US House seats (though Blatter himself is now also under investigation for corruption).  Refreshingly he didn’t pull out to spend more time with his family, but rather to prevent the sullying of the FIFA name.

However, in the wake of Chuck Blazer’s apparently well evidenced and documented allegations last week, FIFA still have some ‘splaining to do.  Tory MP Damien Collins has launched the charmingly named “International Partnership for the Reform of FIFA“.  As its blog suggests, this is an embryonic organization.  It’s not clear to me just what leverage such a body, or the politicians from among Germany, Australia, and the United States that constitute it, can have to encourage or force reform of FIFA.  The most effective play that they can make is trying to convince member associations to leave FIFA and set up a new governing body.  This is a long shot at best, though Collins has not rejected such a move.  The mere threat of withdrawal may convince FIFA to reform from within in order to save its role in the sport, especially if one of the regional associations (e.g. UEFA) goes along.

With Bin Hammam out of the way leaving the election uncontested, I doubt there will be any substantive reform from within; indeed I fully expect Qatar 2022 to go ahead as insanely planned.  Likewise, any movement for reform brought on exogenous to FIFA lacks the leverage necessary to effect change from without.

I hope I’m wrong, but optimism eludes me.

In other soccer news, there was a small match in London yesterday, where Barcelona owned Manchester United.  I didn’t shed a tear, but then I’d root for the New York Yankees against Man U.

FIFA. Corruption. Qatar. Elections.

[ 5 ] May 25, 2011 |

Chuck Blazer weighs in.

I still believe that this is an admittedly risky tactic that Blatter is using to ensure his reelection, and once that’s secured normal business will resume (FIFA is not corrupt!  How dare you imply otherwise!) but there remains an outside chance that Qatar will be stripped of the 2022 World Cup.

FIFA to take a Mulligan?

[ 29 ] May 23, 2011 |

This hasn’t really been picked up by the media, but according to Prost Amerika Soccer, FIFA is entertaining the possibility of overturning Qatar’s sensible victory in hosting the 2022 World Cup.  Slightly more here at The Guardian.  Of course, refusing to rule out a re-vote is likely a ploy, given that current FIFA chief Sepp Blatter is being challenged by Mohammad Bin Hammam, from . . . Qatar.  Bin Hammam was “heavily involved in lobbying for his nation to win”, hence if corruption existed, he was likely aware.  Anything that tarnishes Qatar’s bid conveniently undermines Blatter’s opponent.

The 2022 selection vote was between Qatar, the USA, South Korea, Japan, and Australia.  Presumably a re-vote would exclude Qatar, and neither South Korea nor Japan ought to receive much attention as they recently hosted it in 2002.  Among the existing bids, it would be between the US and Australia; with Australia only receiving one vote in the first round of voting, the USA should be favored.  A new entrant or entrants is possible, but with 2018 being held in Russia, a European bid would be ruled out (sorry, England).

Blatter, shockingly, is on record as denying that corruption exists in FIFA.

In soccer news not involving corruption, the rise of AFC Wimbledon is good story.  I’ve been loosely following their rise since their founding in 2002.  After five promotions in nine seasons, AFC Wimbledon are now in the Football League proper, promoted to the fourth tier of English soccer.

UPDATE (5/24): Qatar play the “disgruntled ex-employee” card to dismiss the allegations of corruption, pointing out that said allegations are “completely unsubstantiated and false”.  Of course.

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