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Nov 192013

Fifa World Cup 2014 Brazil 3 213x300 Tuesday World Cup Qualifying Preview: The Final Frontier


It is with a heavy heart that I put out this last World Cup Qualifying Preview. To me, one of the most enjoyable parts of the World Cup is the journey to the World Cup. As a fan, there is nothing better than watching games at all hours of the day and watching countries that you would normally not get to see. One of my favorite World Cup moments is getting up at 4:30 in the morning on a Tuesday, pulling together an omelet, and watching Australia qualify for the World Cup against Iraq. And of course, watching the United States whip Mexico 2-0 with the Frederick Soccer Drinking Society to secure their spot in Brazil.

That being said, it will be great to finally have a full field of teams and start thinking about the potential group matchups. I don’t have a crystal ball and frankly trying to give thought to the multiple permutations of who can play who gives me a headache. What I can say is that this is shaping up to be a very competitive field. With the additions of Cameroon, Cote D’Ivoire, and Nigeria, it is looking like all of the major regional powers from the past twenty years will be going to Brazil (with the exception of one, but we will get to them shortly.) So with that in mind, here is the latest list of teams that have qualified for the World Cup, with the recent additions in bold.

Federation Country
CONMEBOL Argentina
AFC Australia
UEFA Belgium
UEFA Bosnia and Herzegovinian
CONMEBOL Brazil-Host
CAF Cameroon
CAF Cote D’Ivoire
UEFA England
UEFA Germany
AFC Iran
UEFA Italy
AFC Japan
UEFA Netherlands
CAF Nigeria
UEFA Russia
AFC South Korea
UEFA Spain
UEFA Switzerland



Now this set of previews is a bit different from the previous weeks. With the small number of matches remaining, and goal difference playing a role in some matches, there are only a few close matches worth paying attention. Chances are Mexico and Uruguay will qualify on Wednesday given their superior goal difference.

So here is a look at three of the top matches today:

Portugal v Sweden (2:45 ESPN2) Portugal leads on goal differential 1-0

In Friday’s World Cup Preview, I talked a little bit about how Portugal has had difficulties putting teams away at home. Friday’s match against Sweden was no exception. In a match where Portugal had the advantage in both possession and shots, they were only able to score 1 goal off of a deflection by Swedish goalkeeper. Now a 1-0 result is not bad, but anytime you have to travel to not only a different country, but a different climate makes things very problematic. Portugal’s biggest problem in the match was finishing. They flat out dominated Sweden in the midfield and were able to make countless crisp decisive passes to their strikers. But their attackers were not able to make the best of the attempts, only placing three of their 19 shots on target. While Cristiano Ronaldo should be given full credit for his goal in the 82nd minute, he did not look particularly sharp.

While Portugal’s attack may have been lacking, Sweden’s entire game plan was terrible. Their passing was at best poor, and the players just looked like they lacked confidence. They were only able to get 6 shots on goal and were often on their heels against a much faster, more efficient Portuguese squad. The thing that really bothered me the most was how often the team relied on striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic. While that is certainly a justifiable idea when they are setting up their attack, you could often see him shouting out assignments to the defense, which should never be the case. I was very disappointed in Sebastian Larsson who should be the maestro in the midfield. Far too often did he cede control over to Ibrahimovic, who should be playing the role of the leading man up front.  I am also not really sure why coach Erik Hamren chose to go with a 4-2-3-1 formation, but Sweden has had most of their success  during qualifying playing out of a 4-4-2.

To overcome this deficit, Sweden is going to have to show more energy on offense. Although the team runs through Zlatan he cannot be responsible for both setting up the plays and finishing them. Larsson and Olsson have to take a more prominent role in creating opportunities for Ibrahimovic. The thing to bear to mind is that Portugal has gone through these two-leg playoffs  prior to the 2010 World Cup and the 2012 European Championships. On both occasions against Bosnia and Herzegovina they took the lead in the first leg and were able to hold on in the second leg on the road. If Sweden can get a goal early on then they will force Portugal to be more aggressive.

Ukraine v France (2:45pm ESPN3)- Ukraine leads 2-0

Sacre Bleu! The French Men’s National Team once again did not show up for a major game! In what seems like a yearly tradition, France once again buckled under expectations losing 2-0 to the Ukraine in Friday’s match in Kiev. I know that everyone sees the name “France” and thinks of the Zidane years, but can we finally move beyond that era and call France for what they are. This group of underachievers has lived off of years of hype and failed to deliver time and time again. It almost seems like Zidane’s head-butt in the 2006 World Cup is a curse on the team. They lack discipline, chemistry, and the basic fundamentals that make good teams great. There is enough talent on this team that they can hide their blemishes against opponents like Finland and Georgia. But against someone like the Ukraine, their flaws are exposed.

It would be fairly easy to spend the remainder of this preview talking about the faults of France, but the truth is that the Ukraine is a really good squad. Last year’s European Championship was an excellent training ground for a team that is looking to move beyond the likes of Andriy Shevchenko and Andriy Voronin. Coach Mykhalo Fomenko has relied on a contingent of young players from Dynamo Kiev and Shaktar Donetsk to create a very aggressive attacking team that can also play stellar defense. Their success should not be a shock to anyone: this team very nearly beat England for the automatic qualification spot in Group E and was able to overtake veteran teams like Poland and Montenegro for the playoff spot.  During Qualification, the Yellow-Blue only gave up 4 goals one of the lowest in all of Europe.

In the first match, the Ukraine found success on the counter- attack, which they used to set up the first goal in the 62nd to go up 2-0. Ukraine is not going to be able to matchup man to man against the French midfield of Yohan Cabaye (Newcastle,) Franck Ribery (Bayern Munich,) and Samir Nasri (Manchester City.) But what they can do is give themselves space on the wings and force the aging French defense to run. Midfielder Andriy Yarmolenko (Dynamo Kiev) and Forward Roman Zozulya  (Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk) exposed this weakness in the French defenses by setting up a penalty and scoring off of another opportunity in the 56th minute. France will also be without Laurent Koscielny (Arsenal,) who was given a red card in the first leg. Ukraine Goalkeeper Andriy Pyatov (Shaktar Donetsk) will be under fire for most of the match and is prone to making the occasional mistake. Though France has had their problems, they do have one of the best attacking players in the world in Ribery(16 goals in 79 appearances).

2-0 leads are often considered the most dangerous leads in all of soccer. France has an advantage in technical skill and athletic ability, but as evidenced in the first leg they still lack chemistry and the basic skills that make a football team work. Ukraine may not have the big names, but they have enough to get through a tough road game in Paris to qualify for the World Cup. Hopefully, France will finally undergo a rebuilding project, much like Germany did after the 2006 World Cup, and get back to the glory that they once had.

 Burkina Faso v Algeria (2:00pm beINSPORT) Burkina Faso leads 3-2

If you would have said to me at the beginning of World Cup Qualifying that Burkina Faso and Algeria would have produced one of the best matches in qualifying, I would have not believed you. A minnow vs. Algeria, a team who just merely showed at the last World Cup? Never would have thought about. But amidst the adulations given to the power teams in Africa like Ghana, Cote D’Ivoire, Cameroon, and Nigeria, two teams that are not as well-known put on a clinic in their first match in Ouagadougou. Despite the score-line, both teams played tactically efficient defense and showed flair and chemistry that one rarely sees in African football. Although African players have been making an impact in international soccer for close to 30 years, the emphasis has always been on developing the player not the team or the country. It is why teams like the 1990 Cameroon team and the 1994 Nigeria team are regarded so highly. Watching Algeria and Burkina Faso operate as units as opposed to parts gives me confidence that the game is now finally developing in Africa.

I almost feel bad for Algeria because they deserved more than just a narrow loss. For the first 45 minutes, they matched Burkina Faso blow for blow. On defense, they were cutthroat, allowing few strikes in their 18 yard box and making precise, physical tackles on Burkina Faso Forward Aristides Bane (Fortuna Dusseldorf). On offense, Sofia Veghouli (Valencia) was brilliant. On the right wing, he was able to stretch out the Stallions defense forcing them to play wide. His goal in the 50th minute was splendid, an excellent display of patience, poise, and accuracy.

But Burkina Faso were stubborn literally as the mules in their nickname. In the second half, they came in with a more aggressive style. Using Djakarindja Bande as an attacking midfielder paid off with their goal in the 65th minute. You can argue that the penalty should not have been awarded as the foul on Bance was suspect, but Burkina had been knocking on the Desert Foxes door for most of the second half.

For the match today, it is critical that the Stallions do not park the bus in this match. They must push for at least another goal. Algeria showed that they are no longer a team that will settle for a 0-0 draw. They are aggressive, they have pace, and they understand how to push a defense outwards to be able to create spaces. Going back as far as the Africa Cup of Nations final with Nigeria, Burkina Faso has shown that they do break down later in the match. If they are going to make the next step, if they are going to move beyond being a “team on the cusp” and be a team that goes to the World Cup, they are going to have to take it to Algeria.


Other games worth checking out:

Ghana v Egypt (11am beINSPORT:) 5-1. (Author’s Note: Egypt defeated Ghana 2-1 earlier today, but Ghana will qualify for the World Cup based on besting Egypt on Goal Differential by a score of 7-3.)

Iceland v Croatia (2:45 pm ESPN3:) 0-0

Romania v Greece (2:45 ESPN3:) 1-3

Jordan v Uruguay (Wednesday 6pm beINSPORT:) 0-5

Mexico v New Zealand ( Wednesday 1am ESPN2:) 1-5



Oct 182013

Fifa World Cup 2014 Brazil 269x300 Three Quick Thoughts on The Latest Round of World Cup Qualifiers


#1 Experience Matters

While it is always nice to see new teams break through the glass ceiling that is world football, there is a reason why it seems like the same teams always make the World Cup. When you look at the USA-Panama match from last night, there is no reason whatsoever why Panama should be celebrating in the 84th minute in the manner that they did. There was still 6 minutes left in the match (plus stoppage time) and they were playing against the United States, a team that they had only beaten once before. If it was the 92nd minute and there was no chance for the United States to even up, then dance until your heart is content. But you cannot let up against a team of the caliber of the United States. And that is just what they did.

The same can be said for Egypt in the Ghana match. Although Egypt had looked very sharp in World Cup Qualifying before Tuesday’s match, there is a difference between playing Lesotho and playing Ghana. Playing a lesser opponent you can hide weaknesses in your defense and general match fitness. But it was evident from the start of the first half that Ghana had a considerable advantage in the midfield and on the attack. As I said in the preview on Tuesday, most of Egypt’s defenders play in the Egyptian Premier League, which has not played since 2012 after the violence in the Port Said Riot, which left 179 people killed.  It is very difficult to go from playing in scrimmages and Lesotho to playing against Asamoah Gyan and Sulley Muntari of Ghana. That is why Ghana thrashed them 6-1. Egypt will need to make some considerable adjustments before the second leg of their playoff against the Black Stars to give them even a glimmer of a chance of qualifying.

I think that there are some lessons that both Egypt and Panama can take from Bosnia –Herzegovina. In the past two qualifying campaigns, Bosnia has come very close to making the World Cup, losing to Portugal both times in a two-game playoff. The country, much like Egypt, was in the process of recovering from a civil war that left their country divided (it still is in certain regards.)  Also like Egypt, Bosnia has a rich footballing history as a part of the Yugoslavia. Despite not making the World Cup, they continued to work on developing players, finding players outside of the country who could play for Bosnia (like Neven Subotic and Vedad Ibisevic,) and like Panama got their best players to play outside of their home country so that they can gain experience.  All of the hard work in developing a quality program paid for Bosnia, as they are heading to the World Cup in Brazil.

It is very difficult to qualify for the World Cup, and there are plenty of other countries that would like to be in the position that both Egypt and Panama find themselves in (Canada, China, and India, to name a few.) To make that next step, they should look to Bosnia-Herzegovina on how to get that experience to beat the better teams in their region.

#2 UEFA’s Qualification System Needs to Be Fixed

With the exciting qualifiers going on in Africa, North America, and South America yesterday it is pretty easy to overlook some of the qualifiers going on in Europe. Well mostly because so many of them involved incredibly poor teams. Oh, Poland v England was a good match. As was Armenia- Italy, and Iceland- Norway had its moments. But San Marino-Ukraine?  Greece –Liechtenstein? Hungary-Andorra? Three of these teams were in the running to qualify for the World Cup or a playoff spot. The other three had a combined record of 0-2-28 and a goal differential of -79. Although UEFA may have some of the best teams in the world, they also have some of the worst.

UEFA and CONMEBOL are unique among the different confederations in that they are they only two groups that do not have more than one qualifying round. But as opposed to CONMEBOL, which only has 10 countries, UEFA has one round with 53(!) countries playing. I find it very odd that UEFA and their fans, which constantly look down upon American club soccer for not a having promotion and relegation system would essentially employ the same system for international competitions. You won’t see Japan play Afghanistan or the United States play Dominica unless Afghanistan or Dominica qualify through many rounds of qualification, earning their spots by playing against teams of relative strength. But you can see in the final round of European Qualifying the Faroe Islands play Germany. Not because the Faroe Islands earned the spot, but because a man picked a ball out of a bowl and drew their name.

This needs to change. A preliminary round where smaller countries would otherwise be cannon fodder for the Netherlands would help address the problem. It would give the minnows an opportunity to play against teams on their level and be able to develop realistic standards for themselves. Occasionally, they will knock off a better team as well. North Korea and Trinidad and Tobago have both made recent World Cups and did not make it through to the final round of qualifying.  It will also foster competition within the lower ranks of European national teams and ultimately creates better teams. Furthermore, it would make qualification games matter more. Who would not want to see a final day of Germany v Austria or Italy v Czech Republic? The current system does not work and with plans to expand the European Championship in the next few years, I am not sure if they are moving towards my system.

#3 There are going to be some very interesting playoff matchups

November 19th cannot come soon enough. With a lineup that includes playoff matches in CAF, UEFA, and continental clashes between Jordan and Uruguay, and New Zealand and Mexico, World Cup Qualifying looks like it will end with a bang.

One of the great things about World Cup Qualifying is that every so often you get one or two teams that shock the world and qualify over a more established opponent. With countries like Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Iceland, Jordan, and New Zealand still with a shot to qualify, we could still see one or two upsets.

There has been some resolution with first set of matches in the CAF playoffs. Unless Ghana capitulates on itself, I don’t see Egypt going through. It also looks like Cote D’Ivoire is going through after beating Senegal 3-1. Unfortunately for Senegal their home match will be played in Casablanca, Morocco, a penalty for the fan violence after a home match last year. Another wasted opportunity for the likes of Papiss Cisse and Demba Ba.

But the other three matches are up for grabs. Although, a tie was not ideal, Tunisia showed tremendous poise against an aging Cameroon squad and have at least given them a shot in the second leg in Yaounde, Cameroon. Burkina Faso put them in a decent position to qualify, having beaten Algeria 3-2 at home. And Ethiopia still has a chance, though not a great one, to get a decent result against Nigeria.

Despite most pundits believing Mexico will defeat New Zealand, I am still not sure. I think that they have been given a tremendous advantage by having the first match played in Mexico City, but bear in mind this is a team that will have their fourth manager in a calendar year. There seems to be tremendous strife within the Mexican F.A., which has shown up on the pitch. New Zealand is not a great football team. Their last win against a team ranked in the top fifty in FIFA’s world rankings was against Honduras in May of last year.  They do have Marco Rojas (Stuttgart) and Winston Reid (West Ham,) but the rest of the team is made up of players from New Zealand’s first division or the A-League. Mexico has a clear advantage in talent, but as they have shown through qualifying, that matters little if they cannot work together.

I am also really interested to see how Jordan does against Uruguay. Uruguay are the kings of the playoff system, having entered two of the past three World Cups through the playoffs. Jordan should be a much easier task than their two previous opponents (Australia and Costs Rica,) but I wonder how they are going to do in Amman. Remember: this is the same Jordan team that beat Japan at home in March. Winning in Uruguay may be near impossible, but if they can sneak out a favorable result at home, Jordan may at least make things interesting in the second leg,

Of course, the more interesting matchups are still yet to be determined in Europe, with their matches being announced on Monday. Without knowing how UEFA picks the names out of the hat, it at least looks like the teams who have qualified are quality squads. Greece, France, Portugal, Ukraine, Sweden, Iceland, Romania, and Croatia would all make excellent additions to the World Cup field.

Please continue checking out the Global Football Today page for the latest and World Cup news and information!


African Cup of Nations Preview

 Posted by on February 10, 2013 at 11:52 am  European Champions League
Feb 102013

In this world of football usually you don’t find yourself with a chance to have a totally new country win their continental competition.

Not with the African Cup of Nations.

For the second consecutive tournament the final has the possibility of a new country claiming the title of champion of Africa with Burkina Faso seeking their first Cup of Nations title.

The opposition is the much more stable version of Nigeria, winners of two cups.  Nigeria missed out on the last tournament but with this tournament winner having the opportunity to represent all Africa in the Confederations Cup this summer in Brazil.

Nigeria is led by former Super Eagle Stephen Keshi who has ample experience with coaching national African sides. It has been his experience that has been the needed calming factor in not just qualifying but progress during this competition.

Before arriving to steer this ship Nigeria had missed out on the last tournament and had constant changes going on which can destroy any squad harmony that might be built up.

Should Nigeria succeed in winning lookout other nations because Africa is looming and is ready for combat…but aren’t we forgetting someone…

Surprise, its Burkina Faso.

If someone would’ve said that Faso would be a finalist you could’ve won quite a bit of money based on the odds before the tournament.

While still the underdogs here they have been able to churn out results that were able to put them through.

Sure these two met at the group stage to a 1-1 draw but nobody was sure as to what either teams could do as it was the opening game.

Now we have a confident Nigeria side that has been taking care of business versus a Burkina Faso that churns out results.

Its Africa’s time now.

Prediction: Nigeria uses what they learned in their group stage match-up and know what to expect. Not going to be easy but 2-1, perhaps needing extra time as Nigeria wins

Feb 062013

And then there were four.

The Cup of Nations continues to excite as the semifinals are here with some more twists to the plot.

Mali was able to outlast the hosts on penalties which sets up the chance to progress to the final for only the second time ever.  All things considered when you have the kind of turmoil at home it is sometimes difficult to put together a good run like this.  With captain Seydou Keita running the midfield they have once of the best in Africa to look to when the chips are down.

In a little bit of a surprise Ivory Coast, who looked so dominating in the group stage,was undone by a Sunday Mba goal that put Nigeria through to the semifinals. Can they progress to the final and win for the third time and first since the mid 80s? There is the talent here, it is only a matter of putting in the performance.

In a match-up that was the most interesting between Burkina Faso and Togo it was the lone extra-time goal by Jonathan Pitroipa that was the difference in putting The Stallions through to the semifinals for only the second time ever. There is the chance here if the play off Moumouni Dagano is quality but it will be asking a lot.

Ghana was more than happy with their situation of possible semifinals. After a nervous 2-0 win over Cape Verde they will be extremely tempted to look beyond to the final but that would spell disaster. There is quality at nearly every part of this squad and with as much on the line The Black Stars will be hard to beat.


Ghana v Burkina Faso: Ghana is in a great situation but Burkina Faso has been upsetting the apple cart all tournament. It will take extra-time to find the winner here, but talent will out. Ghana 2-1 a.e.t.

Nigeria v Mali: Nigeria was not anticipated by the betters to be here when they had Ivory Coast as quarterfinal opponents but here they are. Mali will now fancy it more against Nigeria. For Nigeria players, who missed out on the last tournament, they will be thinking that after beating the favorites they can win it all.  Nigeria on penalties 1-1 a.e.t.

Quarterfinals Set for 2013 ACON

 Posted by on February 2, 2013 at 8:50 am  Africa Cup of Nations 2013
Feb 022013

As usual the thrills and upsets have been found as the unexpected always does in the African Cup of Nations.

Alone from Group A the hosts South Africa, after all the turmoil that they have had in recent years, are looking like they have something together. Debutant Cape Verde took their chance with Angola and Morocco fumbling their chances and voila they are into the knockout stage in their first tournament, bravo.

Group B was more straight forward with continental power Ghana exerting strong dominance over the opposition. The battle for second place was really down to DR Congo failing to take advantage as they drew with all opponents they played. In the deciding game against Mali DR Congo needed to win or not progress but Mali held firm and find themselves in the quarterfinals.

The best thing about Group C was the fans of Ethiopia who, like the Irish in this past summer’s European Championships, were the very best of fans at the tournament so far.  While Nigeria was able to qualify it was the failure of champions Zambia to progress and it was Burkina Faso who were able to take advantage of the constant draws from the reigning champion.

Group D is more of the failure of the North Africans to take advantage of their opportunities and Togo finds themselves in the quarterfinals after the tragedy of the 2008 tournament. Ivory Coast breezed through and are looking like a champion should.


Mali v South Africa:  the hosts are showing that they are progressing as a side and with the home fans it is a real possibility that they can ride this thorough to the semifinals. Prediction: South Africa 1-0

Ivory Coast v Nigeria: this is the most classic match-ups of the four quarterfinals as it is between possibly two of the three most talented sides, on paper. Thing is Ivory Coast has the experience of progression in recent years and its the experience that will make the difference here. Prediction: Ivory Coast 1-0

Burkina Faso v Togo: If someone said that both would make the quarterfinals they would be laughed at constantly, and yet here they are. Possibly the most interesting quarterfinal and most difficult to predict. Team chemistry will count for more than talent here. Prediction: Burkina Faso 2-1

Cape Verde v Ghana: Cape Verde making it this far is a great accomplishment but Ghana is one too far. Ghana has been in good form and should win this easily and have an excellent opportunity to make the finals. Prediction: Ghana 3-1

2013 Cup of Nations Group C

 Posted by on January 17, 2013 at 6:02 pm  Africa, Africa Cup of Nations 2013
Jan 172013
2013 Cup of Nations Logo with edits

Champions Zambia and constant power Nigeria look to give Burkina Faso and Ethiopia headaches as Group C rounds itself out.

Burkina Faso seems to be going for the best ratings players they have got, if you play games like EA Sports FIFA and Football Manager.  They are going with a all foreign based lineup to possibly catch lightning in a bottle as they take on the likes of continental power Nigeria and reigning champions Zambia.  Aside from the problem that surround this nation with fielding ineligable players, a coach that was banned for match fixing striker Alain Traore can give this nation hope as it looks to succeed where other teams have not.

Ethiopia is the other feel good story of the tournament. Having been in the international wilderness the country has returned. Nearly every player is based within the country and so has had little exposure. Former US youth international Faud Ibrahim is a part of the squad. Not much is expected but so were the same expectations of Sudan in 2012 and they made the knockout stage. Third place would be very respectable after so long out side of the international scene.

Nigeria has always been a constant player in the Cup of Nations while stumbling when it comes to the World Cup. Now they have a coach at the helm in Stephen Keshi who was in the same position as these players less than two decades ago.  There is anger in the camp at Newcastle United who refused to release Shola Ameobi but that not withstanding this is a very quality side which can do damage and if on a roll a championship is within their grasp.

After winning for those compatriots who died many years in a plane crash reigning champions Zambia have the monumental task of the follow up to their spectacular play.  The characteristics is they are a cohesive team that doesn’t rely on star power as do other nations to continue their success. The return will be much more difficult than it was last time.  If they win again they will be one of the more desired teams in 2014 in Brazil.

Quarter finalists: Nigeria and Zambia