The World Cup kicks off with Mexico-South Africa tomorrow morning, giving you precious few hours to register and/or update your LGM World Cup Challenge entry.
League Name: Lawyers, Guns and Money
I have created an LGM World Cup Challenge group at ESPN:
Group Name: Lawyers, Guns and Money
Deadline is June 11.
Speaking of pointless competition, here are the current LGM Baseball Challenge Standings:
|1||Feces Flingers, B. Drunk||366||99||0||0||0||0||0||2801||2801||98.4|
|2||free leonard, M. Ricci||357||98||0||0||0||0||0||2787||2787||98.2|
|3||kolmogorov-smirnov, W. Krummenacher||203||95||0||0||0||0||0||2738||2738||97.1|
|4||C. Quentin’s Unicorn, A. Katz||301||127||0||0||0||0||0||2722||2722||96.7|
|5||HeadlessThompson Gunner, S. Hickey||302||90||0||0||0||0||0||2711||2711||96.4|
|6||Dwarf Mammoths, T. Mohr||233||127||0||0||0||0||0||2700||2700||96.1|
|7||Ambulance Chasers, J. Shurberg||326||67||0||0||0||0||0||2672||2672||95.3|
|8||Bangers and M*A*S*H, N. Beaudrot||337||91||0||0||0||0||0||2644||2644||94.3|
|9||Signal/Noise, B. Petti||252||92||0||0||0||0||0||2619||2619||93.3|
|10||Better Arms on Chairs, B. Mizelle||337||124||0||0||0||0||0||2610||2610||93.0|
FC Twente Enschede win the Dutch Eredivisie. Why does this matter, the uninformed might ask?
1. Twente have never won the Dutch league (at least in their current form, or in “modern times”). They nipped Ajax Amsterdam (whom one or two around LGM might have heard of) by a single point on the final table.
2. Before the University of Plymouth saw fit to pay me money to do my hobby, I worked for three years at Universiteit Twente, in Enschede. U Twente is literally across the street (and train tracks) from what was then known as Arke Stadion, and now goes by De Grolsch Veste (Grolsch is brewed in Enschede). When I lived in the west (first Amsterdam, then later Rotterdam), I would take the train into the Enschede Drienerlo station, which is in the shadow of the stadium.
3. OK, enough about me. Steve McClaren is the manager. The same McClaren who failed miserably as England manager, in the post-Sven, pre-Capello months, and became something of a national joke. He is now something of a hero in Enschede and Twente more generally.
Words I never thought I’d hear in my life time in this precise order: “There’s Only One Steve McClaren . . . “
Something I’ve always loved about the way soccer football is organized virtually everywhere not called North America is promotion and relegation. For the uninitiated, league “systems” are set up in a pyramid fashion. England’s is the most elaborate, extending down 21 tiers, and in theory, a team at the bottom tier could some day be playing in the English Premier League. In practice this is virtually impossible, of course; however there is a team in the EPL this season who were playing “non league” football a generation or two ago (“league” football is considered the top four divisions in the English structure). Wigan Athletic, for example, were only first added to the Football League in 1978, and have been in the EPL for several seasons now.
An easily understood analogy is baseball. Imagine the constituent teams in the minor leagues to be independent entities, with promotion and relegation existing between the divisions. The lower teams in the “major leagues” would be relegated to AAA, with the top teams in AAA promoted to the “major leagues”, and so on down the divisions. Of course, while I favor promotion and relegation, as a fan of the Seattle Mariners I’ve long realized that they would have been playing beer league softball by the early 1980s.
There are several strengths to this system. Most notably, towards the end of the season, not only the teams towards the top of the table have something to play for, hence attract crowds. With relegation, fans of teams at the bottom of the table also have reason to show up: their team is fighting for their very survival in their division.
When I moved to Plymouth in 2003, the local side, Plymouth Argyle, was in the midst of a period of sustained success. From flirting with relegation from the bottom tier of the Football League (the fourth tier overall) in 2000-01, Argyle were promoted two out of three seasons to the “Championship”, the current brand name of the second tier. Argyle won the fourth tier in 2001-02, and the third tier in 2003-04. I arrived in the midst of that season, and the talk in the pub was not if, but when the then manager would be hired by a higher ranked club (Paul Sturrock did leave before the 03-04 season ended for a brief spell with Premiership side Southampton). Argyle even flirted with the play off spaces for the Premiership a couple seasons ago under Ian Holloway. Then, the discussion in the pub wasn’t whether or not Argyle would finally be promoted to the top flight of English football, but whether or not that season was “too soon”. As Argyle had never been in the top division, the consensus was “too soon”.
And it was. As of tonight, Plymouth Argyle have been officially relegated down to the third tier of English football with their 0-2 home defeat to Newcastle United. As Newcastle won the division with this victory, Argyle fans back in Plymouth suffered the distinct ignominy of watching Newcastle fans celebrate an immediate return to the EPL following only one year in the second tier while considering a return to the third tier following six seasons in this division.
What does this mean? Rather than the visit of Newcastle, Middlesbrough, West Brom, Nottingham Forest, Reading, Crystal Palace, or other recent rejects from the top division, they will now enjoy away journeys to Brentford, Walsall, Brighton, Oldham, and possibly (assuming that they survive in this division) Exeter.
The local paper hasn’t picked it up yet. However, in an article on how the local airport and the airline based in Plymouth (with a fleet of five, and yes, I’ve been on every one of them) are shut down five days running, they offered this bit of optimism:
But Plymouth Argyle could benefit from the mayhem, after tonight’s opponents Newcastle United were forced to make the 400-mile journey to Home Park by coach.
Wishful thinking, it turns out.
I want to preface this by asserting that I don’t revel in sporting injuries, even if they’re players that I loathe. As a result of what the BBC characterizes as a “mundane-looking and perfectly legitimate challenge” by Landon Donovan in Everton’s 2-1 victory over Chelsea at Goodison Park on Wednesday, Ashley Cole was forced to limp off the field in what has since been diagnosed as a broken ankle (which came to my attention over at Prost Amerika). I have loathed Cole since he lamely forced a transfer from Arsenal to Chelsea in 2006.
“They could, for example, have tighter shorts. Female players are pretty, if you excuse me for saying so, and they already have some different rules to men – such as playing with a lighter ball. That decision was taken to create a more female aesthetic, so why not do it in fashion?”
I largely agree with everything that Paul has written, and the comments thread off of that one is excellent. Having had my daughter for the last three days, I’ve not had an opportunity to do much of, well, anything beyond pay her attention and acquiesce to her three-year old demands, so now that I have a moment, I’ll offer some comments.
Some very preliminary thoughts:
Great draw for both the U.S. and England. Algeria is clearly the weakest African team and Slovenia might be the softest Euro side. Right now it looks like it would be a monumental upset for the Mother Country not to make it through group play, while the U.S. will be a very solid favorite to do so. And of course this sets up a replay of the famous 1950 game — quite arguably the biggest upset in the history of major international sports. Another big break for the U.S. is that the world’s four top-ranked teams (Spain, Brazil, the Netherlands, and Italy) are all on the other side of the draw, which means the Americans can reach the semis without facing any of them.
France: Unbelievable. After FIFA did what it could to punish the Gallic hand of God, they draw not only South Africa, but the weakest South American team (Uruguay) as well. Mexico is the other fortunate recipient in this group so two-thirds of NAFTA should be in the knockout round.
Most unlucky team: Probably Portugal. The European power is stuck in a monster group with Brazil and the best African team (Cote d’ Ivoire), and as an extra special bonus will almost surely have to play world #1 Spain in the round of 16 if they manage to get through group play.
Relatedly, Spain probably has the easiest route to group play, but then is bracketed opposite the Group of Death, and will probably have to knock off a very good team in the round of 16 and then Brazil just to reach the semis.
Most certain to go home early: North Korea
Most likely #1 seed not to make it through other than South Africa (no host team has ever failed to get through group play but it seems unlikely they will): It’s tempting to say Brazil, but Brazil is Brazil. I’ll say Italy, which draws tough South American and European sides (Paraguay and Slovakia) to go along with sacrificial lamb New Zealand.
There were some fairly significant changes from past practice. For the past three, four, or five? World Cups, a combination of past performances in the World Cup (either two or more often three tournaments back) with an index based on current, one year, and two years past FIFA rankings. For 2010, it’s the October FIFA ranking (only) combined with geography. The hosts, as is practice, are also seeded.
Teams are divided into four “pots”; each group will be populated with one team from each pot. Here they are:
Pot 1 (seeds): South Africa, Brazil, Spain, Netherlands, Italy, Germany, Argentina, England
Pot 2 (Asia, Oceania and North/Central America): Representing Asia: Japan, South Korea, North Korea, Australia; Oceania: New Zealand; CONCACAF: United States, Mexico, Honduras
Pot 3 (Africa and South America): Africa: Ivory Coast, Ghana, Cameroon, Nigeria, Algeria; S. America: Paraguay, Chile, Uruguay
Pot 4 (Unseeded Europe): France, Portugal, Slovenia, Switzerland, Greece, Serbia, Denmark, Slovakia
The logic is the “best” eight sides are kept apart in the group stage, and no two teams from the same confederation will meet in the group stage (thus making my dream match of South v North Korea highly unlikely) except for Europe — there will be five groups with two European teams.
Hence, by selecting what FIFA believe to be the top eight sides, even though those top eight sides are not directly related to their own sketchy monthly rankings, and ensuring that those eight sides are placed in eight different group, the odds are significantly enhanced that those eight will make it through to the knock-out stages.
This doesn’t always happen of course; France finishing last in its group in 2002 is a clear memory, but all eight seeded sides did progress in 2006, but it does sharply reduce the odds of, say, an Algeria v North Korea quarter final (but imagine the TV ratings back in Pyongyang).
There are, as usual when it comes to FIFA, some idiosyncrasies. Neither France nor Portugal are seeded, even though they both are (currently) ranked higher than England. I don’t think France are all that any longer, but Portugal did knock England out at the quarter finals of both the 2006 WC and the 2004 European Championships. BBC Radio 5 Live suggested this morning that the French are being punished for the Ireland tie. What has not gone reported is that the seeds were based on the October, not November, rankings, in order to mitigate any built in advantage that teams involved in playoffs (as opposed to friendlies) during the month of November might have enjoyed.
Which is a different way of saying “FIFA sleight of hand”. The only two teams in the top seven in November are Portugal (5th) and France (7th). Neither Argentina nor England would have been seeded.
What does this mean for the USA tomorrow? It’s going to be grim, regardless; put the Confederations Cup performance away (which was uneven in any event). There are several best / worst case scenarios out there in blogosphere, but before we get too depressed, The Times has this worst case scenario for England:
a worst-case scenario would still involve them being drawn in the same group as France, Ivory Coast and the United States.
How sweet of the English media to suggest that the USA are in their own personal group of death. For the US, placing the CONCACAF and Asian and Oceania teams in the same pot means that we can not draw any of them — this screws us as it’s the weakest of the four pots; while ruling out the North v South Korea match, this also rules out the USA v North Korea match (remember France 1998 against Iran? I’d rather I didn’t as well).
Prost Amerika suggests these best / worst cases:
Best Case Scenario: Argentina, USA, Algeria, Switzerland.
Worst Case Scenario: Spain, USA, Ivory Coast, France.
I’d rather draw South Africa from the first pot, but that would rule out Algeria from the third. It’s a worthy trade off I think, so this is my best / worst case scenario:
Best: South Africa, USA, Paraguay, Greece (or Slovenia, or Switzerland . . . )
Worst: Brazil, USA, Ivory Coast, Portugal.
When it comes to drawing from the first pot, outside of the hosts they are all scary; when it comes to drawing the least dangerous of the European pot, there are several that are equally preferable to Portugal, France, or Denmark.
I will be discussing the resulting draw at some point this weekend, possibly even tomorrow evening (UK time).
Granted, it’s not a World Cup quarter final, but it was the final few minutes of qualification, and the match looked to be heading ineluctably towards penalties. It also was not the fifth round of the FA Cup in 1999, either.
UPDATE: The Irish Justice Minister is calling for a replay. I heard rumblings about this on both BBC Radio 4 and 5 Live last night and this morning, which is why I cited the Sheffield United – Arsenal FA Cup Fifth Round tie in the above.
It’s not going to happen. How would it? Any such match has to happen soon, but the next international window is months away, so the players would have to be coaxed from their clubs. While FIFA and UEFA can pry players from their clubs during international breaks, to the best of my knowledge they have no leverage outside of international windows. The current French squad play for such clubs as Chelsea, Real Madrid, Barcelona, Arsenal, Manchester United, Lyon . . . when these clubs say no, and they would within a second of receiving the request, the French players have no incentive to challenge the club position: they’ve already been handed their trip to South Africa (sorry for the dreadful pun, but about half the newspaper headlines today make the obvious easy play).
Apparently, Landon and Becks have kissed and made up.
While there’s doubt on this here island on which I live, if Beckham plays as well for Milan during his loan spell this season as he did last season, he should get a spot on the England team for the World Cup (not so, however, Michael Owen). He won’t be playing in the center of midfield, where Arena has been playing him with Los Angeles, obviously, but he is still in possession of a couple skills that warrants inclusion.
Of course, Beckham is still only the second best player on the Galaxy (if that — I’m sure others will disagree), to Landon Donovan. To wit:
There were other factors in the Galaxy’s resurgence. Donovan has become routinely brilliant.
It would be nice for the routinely brilliant Donovan to move to a league where he can be consistently above-average. There is still time for him to improve as a player, although at 27 (28 at the World Cup) that time is rapidly running short.
I will be discussing the UEFA playoff first leg matches within a day or two; I will be watching the Ireland – France match (not in person, shame) with an Irish colleague of mine.