World Cup Musings

Interest in the 2018 World Cup hasn’t been where it was in years past. Maybe it has something to do with Italy not being involved. Not that I expected much from the Azzurri, seeing as they didn’t qualify that alone speaks volumes. So without nation, not that I would ever think of supporting the US…then again, they couldn’t qualify either…that could be be related to the lack of excitement I have for the tournament.
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2018 World Cup: Round 1

At the conclusion of Monday’s World Cup games, I felt more like Leo Messi, rather than Christiano Ronaldo, as my overall rank plummeted 400k. Bad decisions? Poor player selection? Or the ultimate factor, luck? Round 1 ends today and three hours later Round 2 begins. For me, the decision was made prior to kick off, as I activated my Wild Card during the Russia v Saudi Arabia match for Round 2. The Bench Boost was also activated for the first round.
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2018 World Cup: Starting XI Thoughts

I swore to myself I wasn’t going to participate, as I recall loosing interesting Euro 2016 and the 2014 World Cup fantasy games last time around. Truth be told, I am bored, as I sit and refresh Twitter all day looking for some nugget of information on which to strike up a conversation. Thankfully we are just three days away from Russia and I have put together a starting XI.
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2014 FIFA World Cup – Brazil

FIFA-world-cup-2014Four years of waiting is over and it all begins today as Brazil host Croatia in the opening game of the 2014 FIFA World Cup. The beautiful game returns to the heart of football, as São Paulo takes center stage today kicking off 30 days of football bliss. In a true world competition, it’s great to see 32 nations come together with the goal of winning the FIFA World Cup Trophy.

Much has been made of the draw and group selections, from the team who surprisingly made it and those who did not qualify. Looking over the 32 teams, it can quickly be reduced to a small, handful of teams who have a chance to win the competition this year.

Top of the bunch, EURO 2012 and World Cup 2010 winners, Spain top the list. Arguably, one of the best countries that have dominated the sport and major competitions the last few years. This country has one of the best starting XI and a very deep bench. Yet repeating as World Cup Champions is never an easy task, as host country Brazil has repeated 1958 and 1962 and Italy back in 1930 and 1934. Spain starts their quest on Friday against their 2010 World Cup final opponent, Holland. Talk about a game setting the tone for the rest of the cup, this is it.

My heart continues to scream “ITALIA!” but realistically I am not thrilled at their prospects past the group stage. Yet, they were a dark horse in the in the EURO 2012, when they made the finals after an amazing 2-1 victory over a stronger Germany team, but ended up burnt out dropping a 4-0 decision to Spain. Italy will go the way of Mario Balotelli. If Cesare Prandelli can keep the big man involved and happy, Italy could make it to the quarterfinals. A great mix of young and old in the midfield led my Andrea Pirlo and Danielle DeRossi with a stalwart, Gigi Buffon between the posts.

This year I am picking Argentina, La Albiceleste, to win the 2014 FIFA World Cup in neighboring Brazil. Argentina should cruise through the group stage with Bosnia-Herzegovina, Iran and Nigeria. Their ticket out of Group F should be punched to the semifinals, where they could end up playing defending champions, Spain. Not an easy task, but the offense that La Albiceleste brings is going to be tough to stop. Lionel Messi, Sergio Agüero and Gonzalo Higuain lead the attack with Angel DeMaria, Maxi Rodriguez, Fernando Gago and Javier Mascherano anchoring a good midfield. Their weakness could be on defense, but if their offense can find the back of the net 3-4 times games, Argentina will be set.

Brazil will carry the weight of their countrymen on their shoulder as the host nation this year. You can never count these skilled footballers out, but could their inexperience be their downfall? Neymar is being put in the spotlight up front to do the damage for Brazil, with Jô, Fred and Hulk. The midfield stacks up nicely with Ramires and playmaker, Oscar. The defense is very potent on offense with Dani Alves, Marcelo and David Luiz. Good to see AS Roma defender Maicon part of the squad in could be his final World Cup at age 32.

I do think highly of Germany and Uruguay, but both teams have been struck with injury that could affect their run at the World Cup. The Germans lost their goal scoring threat in Marco Reus and will most likely be replaced by Chelsea star, André Schürrle. Four Germans have 100+ caps, Philipp Lahm, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Lukas Poldolski and Miraslov Klose, they have the experience, which could play a major role in Brazil, as long as they can find some goals.

Uruguay looks to be competitive, but Luiz Suarez’s status is still in doubt for the first game. He put up some excellent numbers this year for Liverpool scoring 31 times. If he can’t go, then it will be the experience of Diego Forlan to take over the striker duties. Edison Cavani would need to step up his play to make up for the loss of Suarez. However I think La Celeste comes up just a bit short this World Cup.

While not really sleepers or dark horses, I do like Chile and Belgium both having great showings in Brazil. Belgium has been on everyone’s radar for some time with talent and experience and a game changer in Eden Hazard. Without doubht Thibaut Courtois is the best goalkeeper in the world as World Cup play starts. Pele has already tipped Chile as a favorite this year in Brazil. With a high tempo offense led by Alexi Sanchez and anchored by Autro Vidal, manager Jorge Sampaoli has his work cut out for him.

Beyond this group, I don’t see any other surprises in the tournament. You already know what little I think of US Soccer, Jurgen Klinsmann has similar thoughts. They MIGHT win one game in their group, but will be going home early. Portugal might be the only team some would see as a surprise not to progress. You can’t replace the FIFA Ballon d’Or winner, Christiano Ronaldo, if he can’t go Portugal will struggle. Even if he plays, I don’t see Portugal advancing past the second round. France is the other team, after quitting on Raymond Domenech in South Africa 4 years ago, Les Bleus was stuck with an injury to Franck Ribery, which is the heart of their offense. While they should advance out of Group E, their run will end in the second round.

Can’t wait for a month full of world class football from one of the greatest footballing countries in the world, Brazil. Hopefully the protests don’t interfere and the stadiums are ready and safe. Football is here, get ready to enjoy the 2014 FIFA World Cup!

World Cup 2014 Draw

brazil2014The die has been cast and the 2014 World Cup Draw is complete. It will be another year the Men’s US Soccer Team will be eliminated before the World Cup kicks off in Brazil in 2014.  It’s no secret, I am not a fan of American “soccer” but the US has been dealt into the “Group of Death” (Group G) with Germany, Ghana and Portugal. Germany eliminated the US in 2002 and Ghana got them back to back in 2006 and 2010. Germany is currently ranked #2 and Portugal, #5 in the FIFA World Rankings. Ghana, currently ranked #24 took third place in the 2013 African Cup of Nations.

Many eyes and commentary will come from Group G because of 3 quality teams that could come out of this group. I believe it will be Germany and Portugal coming out of the group and moving on. A case could be made for Group D as the Group of Death with Uruguay, Costa Rica, England and Italy. 2010 World Cup and Euro 2010 and 2012 Champions, Spain will be looking to retain their title and the #1 ranking as they are grouped with Netherlands, Chile and Australia.

The host nation, Brazil has a golden path to the knockout stage facing Croatia, Mexico and Cameroon. I am not fooled by their #10 ranking, as they have been playing some great football, most recently defeating Chile 2-1 in November. Another South American powerhouse, Argentina (#3 in the world) probably have the easiest of all groups with Bosnia-Herzegovina, Iran and Nigeria.

Group C has #4 Columbia with Côte d’Ivoire, Greece and Japan. Columbia most recently defeated Belgium, 2-0 and drew against Netherlands. Côte d’Ivoire brings the last hurrah for Didier Drogba, now 35, but CIV is loaded with talent. France celebrated when they shocked the football world by making it out of qualifying and now the fooball gods give them a favorable draw in Group E with Switzerland, Ecuador and Honduras.

While I like the draw for the Azzurri, I still believe they don’t have enough talent to make it to the finals. Much like Euro 2012, Italy advanced defeated England, then Germany in the semi-finals (2-1), but had nothing left for the finals versus Spain, losing 4-0. Speaking of Spain, I like them to repeat as World Cup Champions. They play on level above most every other team with some of the best players in the world at their core. I do like Brazil, but as the host nations, they have the weight of the county on their shoulders. Brazil at home will be tough to stop. My dark horse this year, Belgium. Although some will argue they are a contender, they have a loads of young talent ready to take the world stage.

Matches begin June 12, 2014 as host, Brazil take on Croatia in Arena de São Paulo, São Paulo.

Sorry USA

Why some will view it as anti-American, I am not a fan of U.S. Men’s Soccer. Overall they do not have (or had in the past) a team that can compete on an international stage, regardless of the manager. The bottom line, their players who don the red, white and blue are not experienced, nor do many of them be quality minutes in top flight football. I don’t believe starting a full season in the MLS really counts, as the competition is no better than a lower division in countries such as England, Spain or Brazil.

Last night I watch Brazil play out an easy 4-1 victory over the USA in Washington DC. While I missed the first half, I was not at all impressed with their play after watching 45 minutes. They were resilient and did not give up. Some will say they were unlucky and could have been rewarded with another goal or two. Conversely Brazil missed out on a few easy goals as well. The USA should not be hoping luck will get them to World Cup 2014.

Outside Clint Dempsey (Fulham), Carlos Bocanegro (Rangers), Michael Bradley (Chievo), Maurice Edu (Rangers), Steve Cherundolo (Hannover 96) and Tim Howard (Everton), the team is light on quality footballers applying their trade in top leagues abroad. Unfortunately starting in the MLS doesn’t provide the level of talent many of these players will experience on the international stage. Given many of the elder statesmen, like Landon Donovan, Carlos Bocanegro  and Tim Howard, who constitute the bulk of international experience will probably not play after the 2014 World Cup.

It would surprise me if the USA missed out on qualifying for the World Cup in 2014. I do like Jurgen Klinsmann at the helm, a manager with years of experience, with that international flair that had been missing on US teams for many years. Chalk that up to  the national team staying domestic with names like Steve Sampson, Bruce Arena and most recently Bob Bradley. I wish Klinsmann all the luck in the world, but unless he can make something out of this team, the clock is already ticking.

2010 World Cup: Final Thoughts

So I have just finished watching Espana defeat the Netherlands, 1-0 in the 2010 World Cup final. The game was not all that pretty, many yellow cards and a single red card marred the match, but a late goal in the 117 minute by Andrés Iniesta gave Spain their first Jules Rimet Trophy.

I won’t say I lost interest in the finals this year as opposed to 2006. I was frustrated at the display the Azzurri put on as defending World Cup Champions, but when you play like shit, you usually end up going home after the group stage, which they and the other 2006 finalist, France, did. Then again France got what they deserved after how they secured the final spot in the field of 32 for South Africa.

I was more upset with EPSN and their terrible coverage, once again. Sorry, but their in studio talent was terrible. Alexi Lalas was just as bad as his counterpart 4 years ago, Eric Wynalda. While not as negative he was unwatchable. Props to Jurgen Klinsmann, Steve McManaman, Roberto Martinez and Ruud Gullit, all provided good studio insight to upcoming matches. But the likes of Mike Trico, Chris Fowler, Bob Ley are terrible. Why? Because they don’t follow the beautiful game. I will give them their due credit for American sports (MLB,NFL, NBA, NHL), but football they don’t have the knowledge or the understanding of the game to bring out best of the in studio talent.

I had no problems with their actual coverage, but the commentary was bad all around, much like 2006. Why? Because Americans don’t follow soccer…football for the rest of the world. Derek Rae, Adrian Healey, Martin Tyler (outstanding!) and Ian Darke brought their talents, as well as accents to bring the matches alive. All are very talented, as well as knowledgeable when it comes to the game. Ally McCoist and Robby Mustoe were the others worth mentioning.

John Harkes. GO AWAY! Sure you played the game, but you don’t have a very good studio presence when it comes to calling a game and lending your insight. Not to mention we always had to hear about the US team when they were not even playing. I DON’T CARE ABOUT THE USA WHEN THEY ARE NOT PLAYING, so stop! I doubt we will see him in 4 years. Hopefully we don’t get the likes of Landon Donovan.

Sadly, I would have to catch the first half of many games driving in listening to ESPN Radio, which was worse than watching it on television. The only voice worth a mention, Tommy Smyth for obvious reasons. If you don’t know the voice or the experience, then it’s your loss. The rest of the bunch were awful!

As I said in 2006 about 2010, I don’t think the commentary will get any better. Chances are it won’t get better in 2014 down in Brazil. I guess I make the effort to learn Spanish and watch the games elsewhere, because ESPN fails again in bringing the World Cup to America.

Soccer bandwagon

I find it quite amazing. Suddenly EVERYONE in the states is a soccer fan, especially after the run of the the Men’s National Team recently in South Africa for the 2010 World Cup. I don’t expect the buzz about the sport to remain after July 11 when the World Cup comes to a close in South Africa. After the limited success the US tasted there could possibly be more interest in 2014 if they qualify for Brazil.

At work, I am the only individual who watches football on a regular basis, be it the World Cup or Euro Cup, Serie A or Premiership. When a game is on and I am not working I will be found watching. The going joke is I give people who pass by the break room 3 minutes, after that time, they get bored and walk on, usually commenting something about the low or no score. Typical.

Needless to say the media has been going World Cup crazy with all types of reports from local bars where USA fans gather to support their team. I heard one report of a “fan” who stated, “I am watching because I am a fan of the USA.” Huh? a fan of the USA, not necessarily the sport. Okay, maybe it just give you and many others an opportunity to gather, toss back from beer and watch a game.

I also need to say that ESPN has been worse than they were 4 years ago in Germany. The announcing, which I thought would be better has been horrid. There are some bright spots, such as Ally McCoist and Martin Tyler. Unfortunately ESPN is “renting the British accent” for the worldwide event. Nonetheless the addition commentary being provided by John Harkes I can do without. He like his counterpart 4 years ago don’t lend much to the game. I was tired of hearing about the US team when they were not even playing being televised!

A bright spot has been the insight provided by Roberto Martinez, currently the manager at Wigan. He has been very good in the studio pre-match and at half-time providing his insight to individual players, tactics or the game in general. To a less degree I have also enjoyed listening to Ruud Gullitt. Hopefully 4 years from now they decide to can Alexi Lalas, but PLEASE do not hire Landon Donovan!!! I hope 4 years from now I can get coverage from someone like Sky Sports, where they understand the sport and are passionate about it. Hell maybe I should learn Spanish, as I hear the announcers have been top class on another network from a few friends.

Italy Doesn’t Advance

The 4-time World Cup Champions, Italy are going home. Their performance has been deplorable! From their initial group stage match until the introduction of Andrea Pirlo, during the 56th minute of their match with Slovakia, the drive, creativity and play making of the Azzurri was missing.

Questions will be raised as to the decisions of Marcelo Lippi, his squad, his tactics and his desire to guide the nation through the 2010 World Cup. Unfortunately, one thing he cannot do is step on the pitch, unlike his selection of the starting XI.

Italy was beset with injuries to Gigi Buffon during the first match with Paraguay. A reoccurring back injury has caused him to miss the remaining two games. This was probably the biggest loss to the team, since he was one of the leaders of the team. Federico Marchetti was his replacement during the match with only 7 caps on his resume. There are no ways around this, Buffon’s loss was crucial. Maybe in 4 years Marchetti will be ready on the international level.

The other injury was to Andrea Pirlo, who was the master of the midfield for Italy. His decision and play making in the midfield helped Italy win the cup 4 years ago, but with his current injury there was no one to step up and fill his boots. Riccardo Montolivo was his replacement, but Montolivo is highly inexperienced on the national level and not the same type of player as Pirlo.

The strikers were probably the worst of the group. I am not sure why Lippi decided to stick with Iaquinta. His play was terrible in 2006 and no better in 2010. While he does have a nose for goal inside the 6 yard box, he brought very little to the offensive attack for Italy. Alberto Gilardino was missing in action. Younger players like Pazzini, Quagliarelli and Di Natale (the future) all saw limited action. Not calling up the likes of Rossi, Cassano, Boriello and even Balotelli will be questioned.

I know this has been mentioned before, but there was no on pitch leadership the likes of Francesco Totti. Maybe I am still living in the past, but Totti brought so much to the squad when on the pitch. His leadership was invaluable and there were no current players who stepped up to fill that role.

The creativity, decision making and play making of the Italians was missing. They were not playing with any heart through out the tournament. Only for a brief moment did we see them switch gears, which led to their goal versus Slovakia. Outside of that moment, the performance of Italy was terrible. We kept saying, “next game,” well during the last match we look back and contempt why we did not advance out of the group.

I guess we look forward to the Prandelli era for the Azzuri, as Lippi steps down now and start working for Euro 2012 and the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. None of the old guard will remain, names like Pirlo, Gattuso, Buffon, Iaquinta and Cannavaro will all be gone.

Pathetic Performance

It is getting more and more difficult to watch the Azzurri in the group stage. That would be Italy, for Americans who don’t follow the sport. This has been a very interesting World Cup in South Africa. We have seen perennial powerhouse teams struggle. Earlier in the week, Spain defeated by Switzerland, 1-0. Brazil put to the test in a 2-1 victory over North Korea. France with all their in fighting not performing well on the pitch. That is called karma. Germany looked good in a 4-0 drilling of Australia, but turn around and lose 1-0 to Serbia.

So why is Italy struggling to get out of the group stage? Commentators will claim it’s their age, as Lippi has held on to many of the old guard and did not give talented, younger players a chance on the squad. I have been frustrated with the play because of the lack of play making and creativity by the midfielders. On big problem was the loss of Andrea Pirlo to injury, which has caused him to miss the two group stage games to date. Riccardo Montolivo has played well in Pirlo’s absence, but the creativity from that position is not to the level of Pirlo.

What continues to be lacking through out the team is a lack of leadership on the pitch. Francesco Totti combined leadership and creativity to be one of the best Italian players in recent history. This current squad has no one who has those attributes while on the pitch. I thought Lippi would have been able to lure him out of retirement just one more time. Unfortunately Totti stuck to his guns and I respect him for that.

The game Italy has played in the past included long, lofty passes from 30-40 yards out into the top of the box and let Toni run onto them. I can’t say it really worked then and it’s not working now. I won’t blame the ball for one minute since many crosses are being over hit. It all goes back to team work and working the ball up the pitch in order to create opportunities on goal. The few opportunities they did have were saved by Mark Paston to his credit.

They have one game remaining versus Slovakia, who lost to New Zealand and Paraguay, so Italy will have to sack up and play much better in order to have a good chance to advancing. Lippi should have a few changes in mind. Hopefully Pirlo will be ready to command the midfield. We will know in just a few days if the Italians will be defending their 2006 World Cup.

World Cup Fever

So ham radio has taken a backseat since June 11 because of the 2010 World Cup that is taking place until July 11 in South Africa. It has been a wonderful tournament to date., As I write this I am watching Argentina trying to hang on to a 2-1 lead over South Korea. This cup has already produced some shockers, such as #1 Spain dropped their opening match to Switzerland and an injury time victory by New Zealand.

My morning has consisted of getting up at 4:20am, putting on a pot of coffee and watching football for 6 hours. So far I have caught every minute of every match, some recorded because of my work schedule. No team has really impressed. Germany, by virtue of 4 goals, then again they did play Australia.

The other surprise was the effort put forth by North Korea to drop a 2-1 decision over powerhouse and 5-time winners, Brazil. I found myself pulling for North Korea to upset Brazil, a team that did not really impress me with their play. Dunga has already said he it was not the Brazilian football we had seen in the past.

Couple an unimpressive victory of Brazil with a loss by Spain and the 2010 World Cup could be a wide open tournament. As the tournament moves on in the group stage, teams usually step up their play. Case in point, Argentina is now 4-1 up over South Korea. So talented team can strike and strike quickly putting a game out of reach.

There have been a lack of goals in the first group stage matches, 6 teams scored 2 or more goals. Blame the ball or the defensive style of play early on. Based on the performance by Argentina, a favorite in my book and you will see the better teams open up the play and fill the back of the goal with balls.

Enjoyed the play so far, it’s great seeing all these talented club players come together on a great team. Unfortunately some fans have unreal expectations of their nation and players. Not sure why I even contribute my comments on because there are some really asinine comments from what seems to be people who don’t even follow football.

As for the US, I am still not a supporter. They got a gift and a lucky victory over England. With Tim Howard now injured and a lack of talent up front, coupled with a lack of experience I think the US will have a tough time versus Slovenia.

A Draw?

I find it kind of curious how many articles I had read regarding the 1-1 draw between the US and England and the opinions that Americans are “satisfied” with this outcome. Just add this to a long list of why the US will never be a world power when it comes to the football or on the international stage. While I cannot comment on the match today, since I only caught the second half, this loss lies squarely on the shoulders of England goalkeeper, Robert Green.

Since I have played goalie since I was a kid, the mistake Green made was a basic mistake of not getting his body in front of the ball. I don’t see how you try to half-ass a save at this level of competition. Ultimately, Fabio Capello is to blame, since he decided to use Robert Green and all 10 games of international experience instead of the more experienced, but at time inconsistent, David James. I feel James would have been more comfortable, especially in this game with his experience. I can say pretty confidently he would not have made a blunder of this caliber to cost England the game.

Pending the outcome of the group stage I still feel England will advance, but have more serious problems on defense With Ledley King now injured and James Milner somewhat outclassed by an average US team, Capello will have to rethink his line up in order to gain a maximum of 6 points from his next two games in order to advance. I don’t see England going past the round of 16. Not with the squad they have, the question marks at the goalkeeper position and now some injuries.