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Tag: "soccer"

LGM World Cup Reminder

[ 5 ] June 10, 2010 |

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
Password: zevon

World Cup Challenge

[ 6 ] June 2, 2010 |

I have created an LGM World Cup Challenge group at ESPN:

Group Name: Lawyers, Guns and Money

Password: zevon

Deadline is June 11.

Speaking of pointless competition, here are the current LGM Baseball Challenge Standings:

RNK ENTRY, OWNER 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 SEGMENT TOTAL PCT
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

NAC Breda 0 – 2 FC Twente

[ 2 ] May 2, 2010 |

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 . . . “

Plymouth Argyle 0 – 2 Newcastle United: Relegation.

[ 20 ] April 20, 2010 |

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.

Donovan 1, Cole 0 and Other Random Soccer Observations

[ 0 ] February 12, 2010 |

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.

Cole is out for three months, and while it’s not impossible for him to make England’s World Cup 23, will not be at 100% match fitness even if he does make the squad.
There are a couple delightful ironies here. First, it’s Donovan, the USA’s best player, taking out a dead cert member of the England starting XI in the run in to their opening group match in South Africa.
More ironic is that Cole’s likely replacement in the starting XI is Man City’s Wayne Bridge. Meaning, Bridge would play alongside John Terry in the England back four. I’m only going to treat this briefly for those LGM readers who do not follow soccer (and care even less about who is shagging whom), but there was a spot of bother over the last couple of weeks fuelled by the English tabloid media (as only the English tabloids can do) that alleges Terry had an affair with the ex partner of Bridge, with whom Bridge and said partner have a son. Terry himself is married with twins. While this non-story story remains an allegation, it has had an effect on Terry’s career; Fabio Capello stripped Terry of the England captaincy last Friday, and Chelsea have since allowed Terry to go on leave because of the allegations and concomitant media furor.
The ever erudite, eloquent, and quite possibly existential FIFA President Sepp Blatter sagely opined that “Terry would have been ‘applauded’ in Latin countries.” Because, well, we know that Catholics are all about adultery, especially the women who presumably constitute over 50% of the population of said Latin countries. This is the same Blatter who once suggested that women’s soccer would be more popular if only it were sexier, advice from the sage that was not well received by its target audience, oddly enough. This is too good to pass up:

“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?”

Whatever, Sepp. When are you going to just go away?
In other random soccer / football news:
My local side Plymouth Argyle are edging closer to certain relegation from the English second-tier. When I arrived in Plymouth too many years ago now, they were enjoying their second promotion season in three years; this will be my first experience of a relegation season. At least the lads still have the fight in them. They’ll need it next season when matched against another Devon side, Exeter City, in League 1. And, ah, Millwall. Oh yes, I think I’d rather be in Glasgow during an Old Firm derby than in Plymouth when Millwall come to town.
Speaking of the Old Firm, astonishingly Celtic managed to score goals while at the same time keeping a clean sheet, against Hearts no less, which usually secures three points (but with this Celtic side, I don’t assume anything.)
On the same night, Rangers dropped points, narrowing the gap at the top of the table to a mere eight points. There’s hope for Mowbray and the Bhoys yet, but don’t get too excited, Marc-Antoine. I sure as hell can’t. An eight point gap in mid February is not quite Everest or K-2, but it is an uphill slog, made more difficult with half the squad now playing for Middlesbrough.
I know it’s difficult to get excited about the SPL, especially when we’re eight points down, but I’m trying to have some faith. I certainly have more faith in Celtic’s chances than President Obama’s chances at reaching a bi-partisan agreement for Health Care Reform that includes the word “reform”.

Clint Dempsey

[ 0 ] January 18, 2010 |
I have a post on the small matter of tomorrow’s Massachusetts Senate election underway, but figured I’d fire this off ASAP. Dempsey was injured in Fulham’s 2-0 loss to Blackburn Rovers yesterday, which is not a positive development for the US MNT’s chances in the upcoming World Cup.

A Couple Random Soccer Bits

[ 0 ] December 10, 2009 |

As the USA and England are renewing their bitter competitive rivalry after a 60 year hiatus (not counting friendlies), the NYT reprises the 1950 World Cup match won by the USA, 1-0.

I’m going to love being in England for the England v USA WC match. Just love it.
Landon Donovan appears set for a three-month loan move to Everton. As regular readers know, I naturally support this.
I’m probably going to be largely inactive over the next few days, as on Saturday morning I depart for a month in the USA, and have a sea of lectures to give between then and now. The only lengthy layover I have on this itinerary is at SEA, eagerly awaiting a wee little Horizon flight down to PDX that was originally forecast to deposit me in the midst of an ice storm. At least I’ll have a long spell on board an Air France A330 across the Atlantic to consider that flight, which will get my mind off of the less-than-perfect record those AF A330s have going across the Atlantic.

World Cup draw Part II

[ 1 ] December 6, 2009 |

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.

I’ll take this group by group, and go out on a limb and predict the qualifiers (in order), and then have a bit more to say about our [*] chances at the end, tomorrow.
Group A: South Africa, Mexico, Uruguay, France.
Prediction: Mexico, France.
This group has been underrated, especially by the French media. Yes, S.A. are not so good, and in the international media they are two names, in this order: Pienaar and McCarthy. But I own a Kaizer Chiefs jersey so I figure I should defend these guys (the Chiefs were in Durban the same time I was; they for a match, me for a conference, they checked in as I checked out, and I said hey, can I? Couldn’t tell the lads that I really wanted an Orlando Pirates jersey, could I?) SA will have the home side advantage, and as Paul notes, the host side has pretty much always made it out of the group stage. Second, there is talent there. I know this kid probably will only see garbage time, but a name to remember is Claasen. Plays for Jonge Ajax. If I remember anything from my three years in Amsterdam and Holland, it’s that Ajax still have one of the best youth academies on the planet.
All that said, they don’t qualify. Why Mexico over France? Having watched both legs of an above average Ireland side against France, the latter were out played. France aren’t France any longer. Furthermore, and critically as any Yank knows, altitude matters. Mexico are conditioned and used to playing in Azteca Stadium. I haven’t looked at the fixtures that close, but the critical match in this group, France v Mexico, is at altitude.
Our rivals to the south take this group. And Uruguay don’t suck either, even though they did a France themselves to get past Costa Rica in the playoff.
Group B: Argentina, Nigeria, South Korea, Greece.
Prediction: Argentina, Greece.
This is a tough group on several levels. First, who manages Argentina? If it’s the original Hand of God, he has, as one British broadsheet said yesterday, an inimitable ability to make a good side look crap. Give Messi, Aimar, et al. a proper manager, they top the group easy. But it gets a bit more complicated below Argentina. Greece are not what they were in Euro 2004. But then Nigeria also aren’t what they once were. These days, the Super Eagles have Nwankwo Kanu leading the side (and the front line), with the still emerging talent of Mikel Obi as the future. Any Arsenal fan will have an opinion on the soon-to-be relegated Kanu. I don’t see Nigeria being what they once were. I suspect that South Korea finish third ahead of Nigeria, and it’s not because Celtic signed Ki Sung-Yong. There’s more talent in every position on this side, whereas Nigeria seem to be isolating their value in a few key players.
Group C: England, United States, Algeria, Slovenia.
Prediction: England, United States.
Right. Don’t underestimate Slovenia, any of you.
Group D: Germany, Australia, Serbia, Ghana.
Prediction: Germany and Serbia (and a punt).
Germany win this group. But any of the other three can finish second. If I had to bet, I would bet on Serbia, but don’t underestimate the Australians (see 2006.) And if England finish first, and the Australians finish second, your best match of the last 16 (outside of the match the Americans are playing in) is England – Australia, just for the sheer provincial jingoistic value of it (it would be like cricket in reverse).
And Ghana may be all about Essien in the international media, but they have a reputation of being well organized in a disorganized way. Which, as a faux statistician, I can appreciate. But more critically, they have a lot of youth, and their kids have done well in FIFA tournaments in the past decade or so. That said, I still see them finishing last in this tough group. Serbia are that good.
It’s a tough one to call, Group D.
Group E: Netherlands, Denmark, Japan, Cameroon.
Prediction: Holland and Denmark.
The Oranje are not playing ‘total football’, and they’re better for it — they haven’t had a Cruyff, Neeskens, or even a van Basten in a generation or two. Hell, Bergkamp hasn’t played for the Oranje since Euro 2000. They win easily. The Ajax keeper is solid, van Bronckhorst only gets better with age, van Bommel has peaked but is still useful, hopefully van Persie is fit, and the rest, man, we wish we had this side. Denmark have a core of talent that has peaked under excellent management — allowing Martin Olsen to manage the side since . . . when? 2000. This has instilled a sense of stability, and considering, superficially, the relatively thin side talent-wise, this is impressive. They topped Portugal and Sweden (and an impressive Hungary side) in qualification. Japan always play well, and are smattered with some talent (Nakamura, who plays for Espanyol, has the best free kick on the planet, Beckham be damned, but then I am a Celtic supporter), but aren’t up to the Danes. Cameroon have to be a dark horse here. Look at their squad on Wiki, and you’ll see if I am not mistaken, aside from two poor souls who play for Spurs, they each play at different top flight clubs in the top five leagues (aside from the few stragglers who are playing for clubs in Turkey (2), Scotland (N’Guemo has the misfortune of playing for Tony Mowbray at Celtic), Austria and Switzerland). A lot of quality in that side.
Group F: Italy, Paraguay, New Zealand, Slovakia.
Prediction: Italy, Paraguay.
Italy are old, over rated, and I dislike them with a passion I would normally hold in reserve for Rangers. But this group is a cakewalk. Slovakia are touted in the European media, because of their group performance. But let’s look at that closely. Who were in that group:
Slovakia
Slovenia
Czech Republic
Norn Iron
Poland
The Mountaintop (San Marino)
I know I gave Slovenia some cred above, but that’s based on their playoff performance against a real side: Russia. This group ought to have resulted in the Czechs and Poland, but both sides were fragile and thin. And as much as I love Northern Ireland and David Healy et al., let’s be realistic: Norn Iron gave this group a respectable run. If the Northern Irish are giving your group a run, it’s not a strong group. There is some quality in Slovakia, especially at the back, but I don’t see them going through.
Paraguay, on the other hand, took four points out of six from Argentina in qualification, won at home and lost away with Brazil (but the goal differential was in Paraguay’s favor: 3-2), lost at home to Chile 0-2 yet won away 3-0 . . . I have to go with Paraguay for second here.
Who was the fourth side in this group? Oh right. The All Whites. Who wouldn’t even be here if it wasn’t for Australia’s defection to Asia. If their playoff hero is one Rory Fallon, of my local side Plymouth Argyle (who have been in the relegation zone all season of the English second tier) and one of their best players is Chris Killen, of Celtic (who rarely sees the pitch), you’re in trouble. They do have Ryan Nelson, who allegedly plays respectfully for Blackburn Rovers . . .
Group G: Brazil, North Korea, Cote D’Ivoire, Portugal.
Prediction: Brazil (going out on a limb here I am), Cote D’Ivoire.
The so called group of death. It isn’t. It’s not as though every tournament every year requires a group of death. In 2006, Italy, USA, Czech Republic, Ghana, now that was a group of death. On paper, at least until Arena’s side played, there was no pushover. Everybody should get 3 from our nuclear-eneabled friends of the Axis of Evil. Unless Kim calls in an airstrike.
Why Cote D’Ivoire and not Portugal? I’d like to say it’s because the Ivory Coast had a much more impressive qualification run than Portugal did, but let’s be honest: they didn’t. Portugal had a more difficult path, until the playoffs, where they barely managed to get past Bosnia and Herzegovina. This is gut instinct here, Portugal are over-rated, I have a dislike for one Ronaldo that I would normally reserve for the Kenny Millers and Barry Fergusons of the world, and I feel it’s Cote D’Ivorie’s time.
Oh, and they have a couple blokes who play up front for Chelsea.
Group H: Spain, Switzerland, Honduras, Chile.
Prediction: Spain, Chile.
Spain are Spain. The Confederations Cup blip aside, they’re currently in my (Yank) opinion, the best side on the planet. This group comes down to second, and even here, it’s an easy call. Chile performed admirably in a difficult qualification group, finishing second. As much respect as I have for the Swiss side, who have done a good job in the past several tournaments (they have a tendency to qualify . . . and I’ll leave others to exploit the obvious stereotypical cliches) their qualification run wasn’t exactly challenging. It was Greece. Whom they beat by a single point. Somehow, Luxembourg took five points out of this group.
[*] Being a beersnob of some repute, I belong to something of an ad-hoc yet exclusive international mailing list of like minded arrogant fucks (and this is as exclusive as I ever will be: a bunch of pissheads who know their way around a pint). Several of the guys (and yes, sadly, we’re all guys) on the list follow this game. So when the draw was made, I sent out an email to said list, and said something to the effect that “we can make it out of this group”. The first response was from a friend of mine who resides in Manhattan (and by virtue of his owning season tickets to the Yankees, an eternal enemy of LGM): “Who is the “we” (though I have a feeling you mean both your native and adopted lands)?”
I don’t mean both.
UPDATE: Randy Paul’s predictions at Beautiful Horizons match mine, aside from having France win their group (I predict Mexico) and swapping Chile and Switzerland . . . more people seem to be going for the Swiss, but I’m sticking to my guns.

World Cup draw

[ 0 ] December 4, 2009 |

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.

World Cup 2010 seeds

[ 0 ] December 3, 2009 |

The seedings for Friday’s group stage draw were released yesterday.

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).

La main de Dieu, for a New Generation

[ 0 ] November 19, 2009 |

France 1 (1) – 1 (0) Ireland. AET.

France qualify for the 2010 World Cup.
I recall watching the 1986 World Cup on TV, which was a rarity at the time from the United States. I vaguely recall watching the Argentina v England quarter final match as well. However, not being an England fan, and only an 18 year old American at that, the infamous Hand of God goal by Maradona didn’t resonate at the time as it did on the island where I now reside. Living six + years here, and being a soccer fan, I quickly learned just how fantastically lame that was. In my mind, the so-called “goal of the century” that Maradona scored a few minutes later didn’t absolve him of that central sin. For all of his greatness as a player, his reputation is also blighted for being a cheat.
Thierry Henry’s glorious career, likewise, took an unrecoverable turn last night:

(UPDATE: I originally included a clip from youtube, but Sportsfive, who own the rights to the broadcast from the match, have been busy scouring the intertubes for copyright infringements. Or something like that. Did I mention that they are French? Anyway, check out the comments for an active clip).

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.

I was in the pub for this match (technically only the second half). While Henry claims that he did not do it on purpose, I strongly disagree. The first hand ball was incidental — still a foul, but not purposeful. The second hand ball he appears to direct the ball with intent. Before the replays, we knew something was up: virtually every Republic player had their hands raised, and Shay Given storms out to first the referee, then the linesman, to protest. The replays made the foul plain.
It’s difficult to blame the referee for this; in the main he had a good match. The Anelka dive may have led to a penalty against Given, but that was a judgment call; the hand ball was not. The linesman should have spotted it, and either didn’t, or didn’t believe his eyes. But then he also failed to spot the clear offsides at the same time.
I’m not buying into any of the conspiracy theories — while FIFA and UEFA have a clear preference for large nations to qualify, they sorted this out in the playoff draw. If there was a conspiracy involving the ref, he would have called that penalty against Given, not waited for a few minutes remaining in stoppage time to ignore a hand ball.
As my English club has always been Arsenal, even before the Wenger years, I should be inclined to give Henry the benefit of the doubt and wax eloquent about how any player would have done the same thing.
But I’m not. That hand ball was intentional, and should be called what it is: cheating. And Henry’s legacy will forever be tied to this moment, which is a shame.

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).

The Travails of a One Man Stimulus Package

[ 0 ] November 12, 2009 |

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.

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