UEFA European Championship Predictions

This year footballers and their fans get to experience UEFA European Championship 2012 co-hosted by Poland and the Ukraine. Matches begin June 8, with the final being played on July 1. This championship is played every 4 years, the years in which the World Cup is not played. Next to that event, this is the championship that gives some indication as to potential winners or contenders in the upcoming World Cup, the next one to be played in Brazil in 2014.

This season Spain comes in as heavy favorites, winning this championship in 2008 defeating Germany, 1-0. Two years later Spain defeated Netherlands, 1-0 to record their first World Cup win. This vaulted Spain to the top spot in the FIFA/Coke Cola World Ranking. This year for the European Championship, Spain enters as the top ranked team and the favorite, in my opinion to hoist the Henri Delaunay Trophy in Kiev, Ukraine on July 1.

As a nation, Spain has been playing some outstanding football. Looking back on the 2011-2012 season it’s no surprise to see Real Madrid and Barcalona end up in the semi-finals of the 2011-2012 UEFA Champions League. Add to that the 2011-2012 UEFA Europa League saw two Spanish sides – Atlético Madrid and Athletic Bilbao in the finals. While neither Real Madrid or Barcelona made the finals, they still contribute 12 players (out of 23) to the national team (15 if you include Atlético Madrid and Athletic Bilbao).

One player Spain won’t have will be David Villa, who suffered a broken tibia in a Club World Cup match in Yokohama against Al Sadd. His skills and experience (82 caps, 51 goals) will be missed in this competition, but I feel it opens the door for Fernando Torres (92 caps, 28 goals), while not in form much of the year for Chelsea could bring his name back into prominence. Even with this injury, Spain still will be the beast to contend with. They should have very few problems winning Group C (Italy, Ireland, Croatia) to face the runner-up from Group D (Ukraine, Sweden, France, England) in the quarterfinals, which in my opinion will be England, as France wins the group.

Of the 16 teams involved in the championship, I feel there are only 5 teams with a legitimate chance to win in Poland/Ukraine. I have already cited Spain, who I feel are the odds on favorite. The other 4 teams; Netherlands, Germany and Portugal. My dark horse team, France. Sorry England. Sorry Italy. I don’t feel either of these teams are complete, especially Italy who’s off the field problems and lack of talent could be evident in his competition. As for England, the Premiership is one of the best leagues in the world (right there with La Liga), but many players involved are not English, coming to England to play. Outside of Wayne Rooney up front, his 3 goals on the international stage since 2010 is a big concern. Thankfully Joe Hart has really come on the last season or two and will be the starting keeper, which is a big improvement over what we saw in the 2012 World Cup. By way of comparison with teams like Spain and Germany, the midfield and defense of England is just average.

Netherlands seems to be solid all around on the pitch. With Edwin Van de Saar retiring from football, Maarten Stekelenburg (46 caps) will be asked to fill some big shoes between the pipes as he leads the Dutch in this competition. Up front The Flying Dutchmen are strong led by Robin Van Persie (64 caps, 26 goals), Klaas-Jan Huntelaar (52 caps, 31 goals) and Dirk Kuyt (87 caps, 24 goals). Van Persie comes off his best season for Arsenal scoring 30 goals and in very good form. The midfield is strong and controlling with the elder statesman, Mark van Bommel, Wesley Sneijder, Arjen Robben and Rafael van der Vaart. The defense would be considered their weak point, but they are anchored by John Heitinga and Joris Mathijsen. Netherlands will battle Portugal and Germany for top honors in Group B, which is my “Group of Death” with one of those three teams going home.

“Zee Germans!” They are coming and fielding one of the most experienced group of footballers in this competition. Much like the Italy World Cup team in 2006, this German squad is composed mainly of players who play in Germany. There are a few exception, such as Sami Khedira (Real Madrid), Mesut Özil Real Madrid), Per Mertesacker (Arsenal) and Miroslav Klose (Lazio). Watching Manuel Neuer play in the final few games of the Champions League, proved me they have a world class stopper. Germany does have experience on defense with Philipp Lahm (86 caps), Per Mertesacker (81 caps), in the midfield with Bastian Schweinsteiger (90 caps), Lukas Podolski (97 caps) and up front with Miroslav Klose (116 caps).

Currently Germany is ranked #2 in the FIFA/Coke Cola World Rankings, but much like Netherlands are in Group B and don’t have easy matches against the Dutch and Portugal. Germany were runners-up back in 2008 when they were defeated by Spain, 1-0. While I still like the Dutch, Germany has the work ethic and experience to win this group and much weaker opponent in the quarterfinals. It would not surprise me a bit to see Germany back in the finals. In order to do that, they may have to face Spain in the semi-finals if both nations win their respective groups.

Portugal is currently ranked #5 in the world rankings. When one thinks of Portugal, Cristiano Ronaldo is the image conjured up. He is the captain of the squad and the most experienced (89 caps, 32 goals). As I have already mentioned they are in a difficult position having to play Germany and the Netherlands in Group C and if I had to pick a team not to make it out of qualifying, it would be Portugal.

Their friendly matches up to this point haven’t been all that impressive, playing some very weak teams, such as Bosnia and Herzegovina, Cyprus, Finland and Luxembourg. In many of their victories though, they did put up 4 or more goals (last 6 matches). We will have to see if they are able to play with the challenging competition in their group. They open the European Championship with Germany.

My dark horse this year’s European Cup is France. Many who know me probably thought I would say Italy, but with their national team being “in transition” with a mix of experience and lots of youth, they will struggle. France, while not overly experienced have been played good football internationally, losing only (to Germany) dating back to August, 2011. They drew England in their first match, which will be the toughest nation to face in their group.

This nation has much to prove after the failing to get out of the group stage in South Africa during the 2010 World Cup, going 0-1-2. I never was a big fan of their former manager, Raymond Domenech who was at the head of the controversy after “Nicolas Anelka’s expulsion from the squad, prompted by a profanity-laced tirade against coach Raymond Domenech” (source). It was an ugly situation for the FFF. Hopefully under Laurent Blanc, Les Bleus can return to the international stage with a good showing.

As it stands, the other 11 teams just filling out the groups. I don’t doubt these national squads are composed of the best each nation has to offer, but they are all under Spain. Regardless of who wins, this will be a great start to the summer with only a short break before the new seasons kick off in August. If it’s not evident I will pick Spain to retain their championship with the Netherlands as the runners-up.

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.

Chelsea: Best in Europe

Another amazing football final last night in Munich as Bayern Munich hosted Chelsea in the Champions League Final. Much like that last few games I have watch, including the nPower Championship Final yesterday, the last day of the Barclay’s Premiership and the semifinal match featuring Real Madrid and Chelsea, this has been one of the best finishes I can recall.

I wrote about the Manchester City thriller in stoppage time to steal the Premiership trophy away from Manchester United. Yesterday was another thrilling finale as West Ham United defeated Blackpool to gain entry into the Premiership next season in a late goal thriller from Ricardo Vaz Te. This game seemed to set the stage for the main attraction, Bayern Munich, hosting Chelsea in their home country, on their home pitch.

While it started a bit slow and didn’t seem like it had the pizazz the semifinals had when Chelsea played Real Madrid, the game alive in the second half. The football Gods must have been wearing blue, because Chelsea got break after break, not only for the 90 minutes of the match, but into extra time and then the shoot out.

It was Bayern’s night, yet they seemed to have forgotten their shooting boots last night as very little went on target.  After Thomas Müller put Bayern up 1-0 in the 83rd minute, it seemed the game was over, yet there was more magic to come for a team who’s destiny was written during this Champions League.

Chelsea struck back in the 88th minute when Mata corner kick found the head of Didier Drogba. The power and finesse of the header beat Neuer and we were tied. For much of the game, it was Bayern on attack and  Chelsea defending. Yet Chelsea was able to capitalize when it was needed.

Drogba, nearly turned goat when he committed a foul in the penalty box and Arjen Robben stepped up to take it. Even the sure footed Arjen Robben failed from the penalty spot as Petr Cech dove to his left to make a sure stop on Robber. The rest of the extra time periods went scoreless, it was off to the penalty shoot out.

Not sure where I stand on penalty shoot outs, as it’s a crappy way to lose a game, but there is much thrill and excitement in a 1v1 situation from 12 yards out. While Chelsea started off with a save from Neuer, it came down to the final kick for Chelsea and the boot of Drogba again. He sent Neuer the opposite was as he tucked the ball in the lower left corner of the net and sent Chelsea on to victory.

Much like the end of the Premier League, the last few rounds for Chelsea fans were heart stopping and thrilling to view, even as a non-Chelsea fan. They now take their place atop all others as Champions League Champions and the best in Europe. Some debate still will arise as to Chelsea being the best. Madrid is a very solid team, I was highly impressed with Bayern last night. Unfortunately much of the make up of Chelsea don’t hail from England, so while it’s a great club victory for the Blues, I fear England will have a tough time in the upcoming Euro 2012. As for the $1 billion spent on this Chelsea team, time will tell who stays and who goes.

Match Day 38 was Premier!

It’s called The Premier League for a reason and Match Day 38 culminated in one of the best climax’s in English football I have seen. Many announcers commented on the excitement this season as Manchester United and Manchester City battled with 18 other teams, which came down to 5 minutes of extra time before the league champion was crowned.

I am sorry to say most American’s can’t understand the excitement of football…soccer as many know it as. Not sure why, maybe because 45 minutes of continuous action is too long to follow. No commercials, means no beer runs. For some it’s the lack of scoring, a 1-0 game can be a thrilling game, much like a pitchers duel in baseball. Many I know find the game of football…err soccer boring. That’s fine. Many people give me about 3 minutes of watching the beautiful game with me, while at work, make a few comments and move on.

Fair enough, but today’s action some of the most amazing football I have seen played! It came down to the final day as both teams came in tied on points, but Manchester City had the goal differential advantage, a number that Manchester United would not be able to overcome. Unfortunately Manchester United let a lead slip away between Match Days 33-36, scoring only 3 points to Manchester City’s 12 points including a shocking loss to Wigan Athletic and derby loss 1-0. Either one of those games go for 3 points, even a 1 poin and Manchester United would have won their 13th Premier title, but it wasn’t to be today.

Queens Park Rangers played all out today, especially after thug, Joey Barton was sent off with a red card for an elbow thrown at Carlos Tevez in the 55th minute. Just 7 minutes prior Djibril Cisse had tied the game at 1-1, after a defensive lapse by Joleon Lescott. It would be 11 minutes later that would change the course of the game as Armand Traoré made a run past the Man City defense down the left side and his cross found an unmarked Jamie Mackie, who’s diving header put QPR up 2-1.

It was the 10 men defense of QPR and the play of Paddy Kenny that kept QPR on top, as Manchester City dominated possession and the shot advantage, but they came out without their shooting boots on. Yet Kenny came up with very big saves until the end of the game.

Thanks in part to Joey Barton’s red card and the ensuing drama getting him off the pitch, 5 minutes of stoppage time were added. This would be costly for QPR and conversely Manchester United, who played out their 3 minutes of stoppage time, defeating Sunderland, 1-0 and claiming the Premier League. Their celebration was very short lived.

Back to back goals in the 94th and 95th minute of the match sealed the victory and the league for Manchester City. Edin Džeko came off the bench in the 69th minute and his head found the ball off a corner kick, which brought Etihad Stadium to it’s feet! On the ensuing kickoff, QPR gave up the ball and went back into it’s defensive posture, which had been very good since going down to 10 men. Unfortunately the last minute of stoppage time saw Sergio Aguero beat the slide tackle of Taiwo and launch a shot near post, which found it’s way past the defense and Kenny to seal the victory for Manchester City.

It was truly an amazing end to an amazing season. Hopefully the Champions League Final between Bayern München and Chelsea prove to be just as exciting. For those who watched the semi-final between Barcalona v Chelsea, today’s Man Cit v QPR game was similar in nature, as Chelsea played down a man for much of the second half in that game and turned back every attack that Barcalona (arguably the best team in the world) threw at them. As a result of the 2 goals today, QPR gained a bit of respect and will remain in the Premier League for another season, avoiding relegation.

Football Weekend….in the UK

It’s more often than not I wish we lived in the U.K. where the nation’s sport was football. No, not the American kind you find owners locking out players over their collective bargaining agreement and not being able to agree on $9 billion. That’s the NFL for you. This weekend kicked of the action in the English Premier League. Unfortunately being stuck at work on opening weekend I was only able to catch parts of about 4 games, along with highlights from the day.

For me the match of the day was Liverpool v. Sunderland. After the frustrating 2010-2011 season for L’pool it started off on the wrong foot with a draw against the Black Cats. After missing a penalty shot, Luis Suárez redeemed himself with a 12′ goal. That lead would last until 57′ minute when a beautiful volley found the far side of the goal from Sebastian Larsson. An early season goal that could end up being the goal of the year.

Not too surprising to see four games end in draws on Saturday, including the Gunners v. Newcastle and Joey Barton. Barton was deliberately stepped on by Alex Song, the officials missed it and that incident led to a later disagreement that involved Barton and Gervinho, who was red carded.

Today we will see how Manchester United starts against West Brom and Chelsea against Stoke City. Monday we will see other big off-season spenders, Manchester City v. Swansea City. It looks to be another great season in top flight football in the EPL. I plan to be very involved watching this season, as well as Serie A and the battle at the top in La Liga! Also great to know the Mexican League is very early to watch on Saturday afternoons. Viva Cruz Azul!

WWC: Not For Me

While I am a footie fan and follow the game worldwide, I am not a fan of the MLS, WPS or either the men’s or women’s USA national teams. Some individuals I talk to were surprised that I had no interest in watching the Women’s World Cup. Maybe it’s much like the WNBA, while their skills could be technically sound, watching them play is not my idea of exciting. I won’t deny what the women’s team have achieved in the past as they go for their third World Cup Championship (as I understand it).

As for the men’s team, their skill level is not on par with that of countries and clubs worldwide. There are some individual players who have made their livelihood playing abroad, for example Tim Howard, goalkeeper for Everton. Unfortunately after his little tirade when he was a sieve against Mexico I have lost much of the respect I had for one of the USA’s best players.

The game played in the states is not on par with the top leagues in countries like England, Spain, Italy just to name a few. Again, I have nothing to compare the women too since I have no idea the level of play of leagues outside the USA. I can’t even begin to comment on the WPS since the league is of no interest.

I am glad to see many non-soccer enthusiasts excited for the Women’s World Cup final, but I won’t be one of the many watching or really caring about the outcome of the game. For me the excitement begins with the new EPL season, August 13th with friendly matches kicking off this weekend.

Futbol Kicks Off

While the Community Shield match usually kicks off the start of the new English Premier League, today started with big names, big teams and big money headlining the weekend matches. While my horse in this race is actually in the Championship League, I have been a supporter of Liverpool over the last 5-7 years.

Today was a enjoyable start to the EPL with Villa putting the smack down on West Ham, 3-0 as Robert Green (England National Team member) looked terrible. On the other hand at least he got a start, unlike Shay Given was was upstaged by youngster Joe Hart. Way to go Roberto Mancini, not quite sure what spurred that move. I guess you can make a few million selling Shay to Arsenal now, since they have no good keepers, but need one in order to compete.

It was a great day for Blackpool supporters, who made their debut in the Prem and came off a highly impressive spanking of Wigan, 4-0. Roberto Martinez must have talked tactics too much during the 2010 World Cup because his squad was downright terrible today. Another loser was Everton, not sure why David Moyes can’t get his boys to start quick, since they finished last season so strong.

It was Spurs and Man City that got things started with a 1-1 draw, but it should have been a match that Spurs took all 3 points, if it were not for the play of Joe Hart. Even though Hart saw no time on the pitch during the World Cup, he played like a veteran today. I still think Given should have started. Hart spent all of last year at Birmingham on loan from Man City, where he played very well.

How about Chelsea, 6-0 over WBA! Welcome back to the Premiership, not quite the return West Brom had in mind. Oh yeah, Drogba netted a hat trick. Chelsea looked good, but West Brom looked bad.

I am participating in only one fantasy football pool this season, sponsored by www.premierleague.com where I finished strong last year, but have gained some more experience and think I am ready for a better year. As for my game predictions, I did not do very well. But it is early and I know I will fair much better in that department this season.

Finally The Super Cup is next weekend between scudetto winners, InterMilan and runner-up, AS Roma. The following week starts the actual Italian Serie A. The beautiful game is back.

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.

America Plays Soccer, the World, Football

I believe there are many fans who are supporting their nation during the 2010 World Cup are not fans of the game, especially in the US. I am sure the same can be said of other countries too, but I chose the US because football…er…soccer as most Americans call it is not one of the top sports played in the states especially at the youth levels cannot compare to that of baseball, football, basketball and even hockey or auto racing.

Now that I have said that, I have received e-mails and comments saying I have “un-American” and “not patriotic” amongst other colorful adjectives when it comes to my lack of support for the US Men’s National Soccer Team. While not Italian, I have support the Azzurri since I started watching football from the Serie A, being a supporter of AS Roma, it stands to reason I fly my colors for Italy when the World Cup comes around.

Many “fans” seem to have a problem because I lend no support to my home nation. Why should I? First, the sport is not popular in America. Their professional league is mediocre at best, usually used as a playground for older European players. Any homegrown talent makes the move to Europe in order to advance their football careers.

Through out this World Cup I have found myself cheering for the likes of North Korea, Switzerland, Japan and New Zealand. Not necessarily strong teams when it comes to international competition, but because they have pushed some of the perennial favorites and in some cases victory. It’s more than just about your home nation. This is “the beautiful game” and watching players of this caliber on the international stage provides for some great football.

I will give credit where it is due, the US did create two nice goals versus Slovenia as they came from behind to draw. Funny, but when the US drew 1-1 with England many in the media and fans called it “a win.” Not sure how they come up with that logic, but whatever makes them feel successful.

Much like England, the US is underachieving in this World Cup, England more so. Another point versus Algeria and they will be on the long flight home possibly ending another three and out campaign at the World Cup. We have already heard the cries of “foul” for the disallowed goal that would have given the US a victory yesterday. Wouldn’t be the first time and I am sure it won’t be the last. Take your lumps and move on. Just ask France, who shouldn’t even be in South Africa if it were not for Thierry Henry’s “Hand of God” moment.