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Dec 082013

At long last we have our field of 32 set!

The 2014 FIFA World Cup draw has finally been announced and we know the fate of our favorite (and least favorite) nations. The tournament won’t start until June, but that doesn’t mean we can’t take an early look at all eight groups and some of the story lines presented by each one. Let’s get started!

Group A: Brazil, Croatia, Mexico, Cameroon

Biggest Question: Who will finish 2nd?

Must See Match: Brazil-Mexico

Best Player: Neymar (Brazil)

Most Likely To Land A Big Summer Transfer: Dejan Lovren (Croatia)

Predicted Finish: 1) Brazil 2) Mexico 3) Croatia 4) Cameroon

It’s a fairly easy draw for the hosts, but there’s legitimate confusion over who could take second. Croatia probably has the most individual talent, but they didn’t look convincing in qualifying and outside of their 1998 semifinal run they haven’t had much success since gaining their independence. Mexico also looked weak in qualifying, but they’ve got Brazil’s number at the moment having defeated them twice in 2012; once in a friendly and once at the gold medal match of the 2012 Summer Olympic Games. Cameroon have qualified more than any other African nation, but they fail impress when they get to the final and star striker Samuel Eto’o is a shell of his former self.

Look for Mexico to finish second and keep an eye on Croatia center back Dejan Lovren who has impressed with England’s Southampton so far this season.

Group B: Spain, Netherlands, Chile, Australia

Biggest Question: Who fails to advance?

Must See Match: Spain-Chile

Best Player: Alexis Sanchez (Chile)

Most Likely To Land A Big Summer Transfer: Matthew Leckie (Australia)

Predicted Finish: 1) Spain 2) Netherlands 3) Chile 4) Australia

This is about as close as it gets to a true “Group Of Death”. We open with a re-match of the 2010 final while Chile, led by Barcelona star Alexis Sanchez, will challenge for second place and the Aussies will be a difficult matchup for the favorites. The Dutch breezed through qualifying and are still a bit of an unknown quantity because of it. Spain and Chile finished 2-2 in a recent friendly and should provide another thrilling match when they meet again in June.

Spain are advancing out of this group, it’s simply a question of who will join them. I like the Netherlands to beat Chile in what will prove to be the decisive match in this group and advance with the defending champions. This would give us Spain-Mexico and Brazil-Netherlands in the Round of 16 and that’s an incredibly enticing prospect!

Group C: Colombia, Greece, Ivory Coast, Japan

Biggest Question: Who is the favorite?

Must See Match: Colombia-Greece

Best Player: Falcao (Colombia)

Most Likely To Land A Big Summer Transfer: Konstantinos Mitroglou (Greece)

Predicted Finish: 1) Colombia 2) Greece 3) Japan 4) Ivory Coast

This group is completely up for grabs. All four are capable of advancing and they all have very different playing styles. Colombia are led by strikers Radamel Falcao and Jackson Martinez. Greece have a rock solid defense and one of the hottest strikers in Konstantinos Mitroglou. Ivory Coast are led by veterans like the Toure Brothers (Kolo and Yaya) and Didier Drogba. Japan have a very technical side that values possession and features creative playmakers Keisuke Honda and Shinji Kagawa.

Ultimately I think Colombia are the only team good enough to score on Greece (thanks mostly to Falcao’s ability) and the winner of that game could wind up deciding who wins and who comes in second. If you’re high on tactical variety this is your group.

Group D: Uruguay, Costa Rica, England, Italy

Biggest Question: Which Mario Balotelli Shows Up?

Must See Match: Uruguay-England

Best Player: Luis Suarez (Uruguay)

Most Likely To Land A Big Summer Transfer: Nicolas Lodeiro (Uruguay)

Predicted Finish: 1) Uruguay 2) England 3) Italy 4) Costa Rica

If you ask me, this is the best group from top to bottom. Costa Rica came in second in CONCACAF qualifying and feature a handful of players playing in Europe while the other three members of this group are very much known quantities. The key to this group is how Mario Balotelli plays. If he performs like he did at the Confederations Cup, Italy can win this group. If he loses his cool and can’t score, Italy will have a tough time advancing past England and Uruguay. All eyes in England will be fixed upon their match against Uruguay and their polarizing striker Luis Suarez. Keep an eye on Uruguay central midfielder Nicolas Lodeiro who, somehow, still hasn’t made a big money move to Europe and currently plays for Botafogo in Brazil.

The potential Round of 16 matchups would give us Luis Suarez against what is possibly the best defense in the tournament as well as England and Colombia doing battle.

Group E: France, Ecuador, Honduras, Switzerland

Biggest Question: How Good Is Switzerland?

Must See Match: France-Switzerland

Best Player: Franck Ribery (France)

Most Likely To Land A Big Summer Transfer: Granit Xhaka (Switzerland)

Predicted Finish: 1) Switzerland 2) France 3) Ecuador 4) Honduras

I’m sure I’m in the minority on this, but I think Switzerland are pretty darn good. They’ve got a great mix of veterans (Juventus’s Stephan Lichsteiner, Fulham’s Philippe Senderos) and youth (Borussia M’Gladbach’s Granit Xhaka, Bayern Munich’s Xherdan Shaqiri) and I think they’ll shock us all by winning this group; assuming they get the necessary result when they face France. France are easily the most talented team, but they’re national team fortunes have been on a steady downturn ever since the 2006 Final when they lost to Italy. I’m not sure they’ve put it together enough to win this group.

Group F: Argentina, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Iran, Nigeria

Biggest Question: Will Lionel Messi finally shine at the World Cup?

Must See Match: Iran-Nigeria

Best Player: Lionel Messi (Argentina)

Most Likely To Land A Big Summer Transfer: Uche Nwofor (Nigeria)

Predicted Finish: 1) Argentina 2) Bosnia-Herzegovina 3) Nigeria 4) Iran

Will all due respect to those involved, this is the the worst group in the tournament. Argentina and Bosnia-Herzegovina should advance comfortably. Nigeria and Iran help open this group and I’ve highlighted it only because Iran have qualified before back in 2002 and should manage to shock Nigeria and steal three points it could make this group a bit more interesting.

The real story line from this group isn’t about the group itself as much as the tournament. We’re all waiting for Lionel Messi to have his World Cup “moment” and this draw gives him a great opportunity to do so. If predictions hold, we get a tantalizing France-Argentina showdown in the Round of 16.

Group G: Germany, Portugal, Ghana, United States

Biggest Question: How Good Is Portugal?

Must See Match: Portugal-United States

Best Player: Cristiano Ronaldo (Portugal)

Most Likely To Land A Big Summer Transfer: Aron Johannsson (United States)

Predicted Finish: 1) Germany 2) United States 3) Portugal 4) Ghana

Another “Group Of Death” that is stacked from top to bottom. Germany should have no issues winning this group, but who comes in second is still up for grabs. The US got the best of Portugal in 2002 and will look to do so again this time around. They need to get a win in their first game against Ghana and that’s entirely possible given they’ll want revenge after the Black Stars knocked them out of the Round of 16 in South Africa. Much like Italy, Portugal are dependent upon their one proven star: Cristiano Ronaldo.

If anything happens to him between now and June (and for some reason I have a sneaky suspicion it will) they will be left with a lot more questions than answers.

Group H: Belgium, Algeria, Russia, South Korea

Biggest Question: How far can Belgium go?

Must See Match: Russia-South Korea

Best Player: Vincent Kompany (Belgium)

Most Likely To Land A Big Summer Transfer: Faouzi Ghoulam (Algeria)

Predicted Finish: 1) Belgium 2) Russia 3) South Korea 4) Algeria

Belgium should win this group, but everyone wants to know how far they can go in the knockout rounds. The battle for second between Russia and South Korea should be a lot of fun to watch and Algeria has done a good job producing players via France. If my predictions hold we’ll get some great Round of 16 matchups between USA/Belgium and Germany/Russia.


Nov 202013

I love the internet. Thanks to the internet we can simulate the group draw for the 2014 FIFA World Cup because some kind soul took the time to create such a simulator.

And now that the field of 32 is set after Uruguay tied Jordan 0-0 in the second leg of their playoff, we can starting to look ahead to some potentially mouth watering groups. Let’s get to it!

Group Of Death (Host Edition)

Brazil, Japan, Ivory Coast, Netherlands

There will probably be two legitimate “Groups of Death”. Since Brazil is the host, they get one of the top seeds. Japan is the best team from Asia, Ivory Coast is the most talented team from Africa, and the Netherlands are the best team in Pot 4, which is comprised entirely of European teams who aren’t one of the Top 8 seeds. The last two were paired in a “Group of Death” in 2006 with Argentina and Serbia, but this group might just top that one. Japan is better than people give them credit for and the Ivory Coast is full of veteran stars like Didier Drogba who will likely be playing in their last World Cup and will want to go out on a high note.

Group Of Death (Non-Host Edition)

Spain, South Korea, Chile, Italy

This one doesn’t look like a traditional Group of Death on paper, but it’s stacked from top to bottom. Here we have a rematch of the 2012 Euro final as well as two of the world’s most underrated teams. South Korea is a very disciplined, cohesive unit and Chile feature some of the best players you may not have heard of; not to mention they might be the most entertaining team in this field. The last hurrah of Spain’s “golden generation” squaring off against Asia’s second best team, South America’s most thrilling, and the ever polarizing Mario Balotelli. Every match in this group is must see and all four have a legitimate chance to advance.

The Snoozer (Most Boring Group)

Switzerland, Iran, Algeria, Greece

Switzerland is the least exciting of the seeded teams in Pot 1, Iran and Algeria might be the two least talented teams in the entire field, and nobody plays with more of a bunker-mentality than the Greeks. Next!

The Track Meet (The Fastest Group)

Colombia, Mexico, Nigeria, Portugal

There’s no real way to quantify this, so I’m just going to view it as the most “athletic” group. These teams have some of the fastest players and have the potential to score the most goals in one group. Colombia features the likes of Falcao and Jackson Martinez. Mexico, despite their qualifying troubles, are a very technical side with some great wingers like Andres Guardado and Javier Aquino. Nigeria trots out Liverpool winger Victor Moses and MLS prospect Bright Dike. Portugal gives us the great Cristiano Ronaldo plus Manchester United winger Nani. Usain Bolt would be proud of this group.

Group Of Stars (USA Edition)

Argentina, USA, France, Portugal

Yes, there is a possibility we could see Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo in the same group. Throw in the other Ballon d’Or candidate (Franck Ribery) and you have plenty of star power to satisfy casual American fans. Of course, advancing out of such a group would be a daunting task for the Yanks. This group also has some lesser known stars like Manchester City striker Sergio Aguero and Juventus wonderkid Paul Pogba. This one’s also a Group of Death candidate and it’s all thanks to the individual brilliance that would be on display.

Study Your Colonial History (Most Political Rivalries)

Germany, Australia, Ghana, England

The rivalry between Germany and England obviously stems from World War II. Australia was a British colony until the early 20th century as was Ghana, although they didn’t manage to secure their independence until after World War II ended. Colonialism and political animosity abound in this group for history nerds.

The Dark Horses (Least Talked About Good Teams Group)

Uruguay, Costa Rica, Cameroon, Bosnia-Herzegovina

Uruguay may have “snuck in” via a playoff after finishing fifth in South America, but they still have a very talented roster that is capable of repeating their 2010 run to the semifinals. Luis Suarez might be the hottest striker on the planet, Edinson Cavani is a proven threat, and the midfield is anchored by 24 year old Nicolas Lodeiro, who (shockingly) plays his club ball in Brazil. Costa Rica finished second behind the US in CONCACAF and finished with a goal differential of +6; just one off from USA’s +7. Cameroon has made more World Cups than any other African nation and Bosnia-Herzegovina features the likes of Manchester City striker Edin Dzeko, Roma’s Miralem Pjanic, and Stuttgart’s Vedad Ibisevic. 

World War II Group

Germany, USA, Algeria, Russia

In a different take on the Colonial History group, we have the three biggest forces from World War II as well as the only North African squad.

The Pope’s Favorite Group

Spain, Mexico, Ecuador, Italy

The current pope is from Argentina, but Spain gets the nod from Pot 1 as the more traditional Catholic power. You won’t find more fans of the Holy Father and one of the oldest denominations of Christianity outside of this group.


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



Nov 132013

Fifa World Cup 2014 Brazil 3 213x300 World Cup Qualifying Preview: A Survivor Series




We are at the grand finale of what has been a truly captivating World Cup Qualifying Campaign. Qualification began on June 16th 2011 in a CONCACAF match between Montserrat and Belize. Over 816 matches have been played to create a 32 team field for Brazil. Although those 32 teams will have the opportunity to go for glory, to me the World Cup is made by teams like Montserrat and Belize with players who hold 9-5 jobs and whose only desire is to one day make the World Cup. I still remember listening to the story of the American Samoa team that claimed their first ever victory in a World Cup Qualifying in a 2-1 defeat of Tonga. It is these small stories that make the World Cup tournament such a truly remarkable event.

That being said, there are still 11 spots to be decided over the next seven days in Africa, Europe, and intercontinental matches between Uruguay and Jordan, and Mexico and New Zealand. Here is the latest list of teams to qualify for Brazil 2014:

Federation Country
CONMEBOL Argentina
AFC Australia
UEFA Belgium
UEFA Bosnia and Herzegovinian
CONMEBOL Brazil-Host
UEFA England
AFC Iran
UEFA Italy
AFC Japan
UEFA Netherlands
UEFA Russia
AFC South Korea
UEFA Spain
UEFA Switzerland



With the table set, let’s take a look at who still is looking to join them in Brazil.

(Author’s Note: There will be a follow-up preview and review for Tuesday and Wednesday’s matches next week.)

Matches You Will Most Likely Be Watching

Mexico v New Zealand (11/12 ESPN2 and Univision)

I sincerely hope someone is printing out T-Shirts that is calling this the $600 million dollar match because that is how Mexico stands to lose should they be unable to defeat the Kiwis of New Zealand.

Now over the duration of these World Cup previews, I have routinely criticized the Mexican Football Association for their sheer ineptitude at hiring and firing coaches, upsetting their best players, and for giving half-hearted performances in winnable games. But I am going to have to give some credit here, I like the hiring of former Club America coach Miguel Herrera for this two game playoff. During last night’s epic Global Football Today podcast (available for your listening pleasure on the GFT website) my partner in crime Brian Sanders made a couple of good points in regards to the selection of Herrera and of a squad of all domestic players. First, he mentioned the discrepancy between the European players and the domestic players. The domestic players, should Mexico lose this match, will hear it from their fans in every club match for the rest of their professional lives. The European-based players? They get to fly back to their club squads and stay away from the anger and resentment of Mexico City. So it makes sense to bring players who have more to lose with a Mexico defeat.

Second, the team is made up by a healthy number of players from Club America so there should be very little issues in regards to chemistry. I am very interested to see what happens when Raul Jimenez is given the keys to the Mexico attack. The 22 year old has shown immense progress this summer, scoring two goals in the Gold Cup and providing Mexico the spark in their 2-1 victory over Panama in Mexico City.

It would be easy to say that New Zealand is at a tremendous disadvantage in this two legged playoff. Having qualified for this playoff match back in March and not playing in the FIFA Confederations Cup due to their loss to Tahiti back in 2012, New Zealand has only played in three international friendlies leading up to this match. It is a squad mostly composed of players from the Australian A-League. They were also dealt a further blow when Captain Winston Reid, who starts for West Ham United, was ruled out of this two-legged playoff due to a hamstring injury. Without Reid, the club will rely heavily on Forward Shane Smeltz and Midfielder Marco Rojas, who just signed a major contract with German side Stuttgart. New Zealand has always shown themselves to be a very good defensive side, as evidenced by their run in the 2010 World Cup where they held the defending champions Italy scoreless. But New Zealand will have to score some goals to make this competitive. Smeltz (23 goals for New Zealand,) and Leicester City Forward Chris Wood (10 goals in 32 appearances) are their best options up front.

What this really comes down to is how New Zealand will react in the first match in Mexico City. If they can be able to get a result, or at least hold them to a 1-0 loss, then that gives them a tremendous chance at getting a victory in Wellington next week. Mexico has not looked good throughout this entire tournament and I am not expecting them to light the world on fire so late into the tournament. But they have been playing better in their past few matches and they should have the advantage against New Zealand.

Sweden v Portugal (11/15 2:40pm, ESPN Deportes)

Without question the crown jewel of all of the European Playoff matches this is the match that all soccer fans are looking forward to. Anytime a match features two of the best players in the world like Sweden’s Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo it should deliver at least one or two incredible goals. If you are looking to show a friend a soccer match that will have a few Sportscenter highlights, this is the match.

I would like to say that the Swedes have the advantage, given their recent run of form. The Blue-Yellows have only lost three matches all year, two of which were against Germany and Argentina, and have a particularly good record against Portugal all time going 6-6-3 (W-D-L) in head to head matchups. Having watched a lot of their Group this year during World Cup Qualifying, what I have been most impressed with is how well they move the ball, with or without Ibrahimovic. Midfielder Sebastian Larsson (Sunderland) has provided excellent pace for their offense giving Ibrahimovic and strike partner Johan Elmander (Norwich City) space to work their magic.  Sweden loves the “jail break” goal, where the midfield either crosses or passes a ball into deep open space for one of their forwards.

In what seems like a tradition every four years, Portugal once again does just enough to make the playoffs. To say that their form has been a bit lacking during qualifying is a bit of an understatement. While their record in qualifying may look good (6-3-1), if you look a bit deeper into the results you see a team that often had to rely on late minute heroics to get a result. Their two draws at home against Israel and Northern Ireland look particularly bad. They also received a very favorable call on the road in Israel when Fabio Coentrao (Real Madrid) should have been called for offsides on his game-winning goal. Don’t get me wrong: Portugal deserves to be here. They got the results they needed to make it to the next round. I guess what I am interested to see is how they will shape against a much better opponent in Sweden.

Portugal’s difficulties in qualifying seem to be part of much larger problem: Where is this team going? Gone are the days of the “Golden Generation” of Figo, Deco, and Rui Costa. While Cristiano Ronaldo is obviously one of the best players in the world and Pepe and Coentrao are two of the best defenders in the world, they have never truly been able to make that leap in international competition. I still think last year’s failure at the European Championship hangs over this team.

It seems simplistic to say, but this series will come down to which one of the two best players in soccer has the better game: Ronaldo or Ibrahimovic. Ronaldo has scored 6 goals in qualifying including 3 in the 4-2 comeback victory over Northern Ireland in September. Meanwhile, Ibrahimovic has scored 6 goals in qualifying. Both players have shown that they are able to lift their team and get a goal when they need it. But neither has really seen success on the international level. This playoff match may provide an indicator as to who is the best in the world.

Games Worth Watching This Weekend

Cameroon v Tunisia (11/17 9:30am, beINSPORT):0-0

The only African qualifier during this week’s slate of games where there is no clear leader, Cameroon and Tunisia should both come into this match fully expecting to earn a spot in Brazil. Historically two of the best national teams in all of African football, Cameroon were able to survive an onslaught of shots by Tunisia and secure a 0-0 draw in the first leg. Cameroon starting goalkeeper Charles Itandje (Konyaspor-Turkey) made several key stops to be able to keep the teams level.

Going into the second leg, Cameroon is going to have to find some spark on offense. His holiness, Samuel Eto’o, decided that he once again that he wants to play for Cameroon but did very little in ninety minutes against Tunisia. Although he is without question one of the best footballers that Cameroon, and Africa as a whole, has ever produced Eto’o no longer has the pace to play a full match. In the Tunisia match he often missed passes and was not able to break away from defenders like he once could. His talents would best be served as a 65th minute sub, somebody who can come off of the bench and give them a last minute goal. It would be wise that the Indomitable Lions look towards Forward Eric Maxim Cuopo-Moting for the scoring touch. He already has 4 goals for Mainz 05 in the Bundesliga this season and has scored two other goals for Cameroon in qualifying this year.

While Cameroon should be expected to defeat Tunisia at home, I would not be surprised if the Eagles of Carthage pull this one out. The partnership up front of Saber Khalefa (Marseille) and Amine Chermiti (Zurich) looked very promising during long stretches of the Cameroon match setting a couple of decent opportunities. The key will be whether or not they can hold back what can be a dangerous Cameroon attack. Without Captain Karim Haggui (Stuttgart,) who is out due to injury, Tunisia will have to rely on Aleddine Yahia (Lens) to lead a relatively inexperienced defense against the likes of Alexandre Song (F.C. Barcelona,) and Stephane Mbia (Sevilla).

The good news for Tunisia is that this Cameroon side has not looked particularly strong recently, only winning one of their last five matches. So they have a chance to pull off an upset, but they are going to have to finish their opportunities, something that they were not able to do in the first leg.

Other Games of Note:

Nigeria v Ethiopia (11/16 10am, beINSPORT): Nigeria leads 2-1

Senegal v Ivory Coast (11/16 2pm, beINSPORT): Ivory Coast leads 3-1

Games Worth Scouring the Internet For

Iceland v Croatia (11/15, 2pm ESPN3)

There aren’t many “David vs. Goliath” matches in this round of World Cup Qualifying but this match between Iceland and Croatia is pretty darn close. Never has the term minnow been more appropriate than in describing Iceland, a country that not only loves its fish but also only has a population of 298,000. But despite their, Iceland fields a team of players who are not quality professionals but play in some of the top leagues in Europe. Of course, the first name that pops into any football fan’s head is Gylfi Sigurdsson, the Midfielder who plays for Tottenham Hotspur. A specialist on set pieces and someone who has a devastating right foot, Sigurdsson will act as the conduit for the Icelandic attack.

Iceland also features two tremendous strikers up front in Eiour Smari Guojohnsen (Club Brugge- Belgium) and Kolbenin Sigborsson (Ajax). Sigurdsson, Guojohnsen, and Sigborsson combined for 11 of Iceland’s 17 goals during qualifying. Sigborsson is also tied for third in the Eredivisie with 6 goals and will be looking to make a move to major European club team in the next transfer window. Although Iceland may be a minnow in size they have teeth and should be an interesting matchup against a Croatia defense that has looked shaky against teams with more than quality striker.

While everything has been going smoothly for Iceland leading up to this two-legged playoff, for Croatia it has been quite the opposite. After a promising start in their qualifying group, Croatia stumbled losing three of their last four matches and falling out of contention for the automatic qualification spot. After such a disastrous end to the group stage, the Croatian Football Association fired Manager Igor Stimac and replaced him their Under-21 Coach Igor Kovac. Kovac, who spent most of his career in the Bundesliga, has very little coaching experience outside of being an assistant to the Austrian club Red Bull Salzburg. But Kovac did have 83 caps with Croatia during his playing career so he is very familiar with the Croatian style of play. I am not sure if this is the best time to bleed a new coach (I wonder Croatian FA President Davor Sukur made any overtures to Guus Hiddink, who would have been my choice,) but Croatia has enough veterans on their squad that they should be able to make up for any  lapses in experience.

Part of the reason why Croatia has had such difficulties recently is that they are missing their scoring touch. You would think with a team that can call on the likes of Midfielder Luka Modric (Real Madrid,) and Forwards Mario Mandzukic (Bayern Munich) and Eduardo (Shakhtar Donetsk) to fill out their lineup sheet that there would be no problem scoring. But in their last three qualifying matches, Croatia was only able to score one goal (a garbage time goal by Niko Kranjcar against Belgium). They should have plenty of opportunities to score against Iceland, who gave up 15 goals during qualification, including 6 to Switzerland.

Ukraine v France (11/15 2:40pm ESPN3)

Greece v Romania (11/15 2:40pm ESPN3)

Wait! This Game is Actually Happening?

Uruguay v Jordan (11/12 10:30 am One World Sport)

I don’t really have too much to say about this match because I think it is pretty easy to say that Jordan has no shot in defeating Uruguay. Although I would not be surprised if Jordan gets at least a satisfactory result at home (they did defeat Japan at home earlier this year in qualifying,) Uruguay is far too experienced to be caught napping against Jordan.

There are two things though to look forward to in this match. First, I hope that Uruguay takes this opportunity to give some of their younger, more untested players an opportunity to play. One of Uruguay’s biggest problems is that they have relied too heavily on some of their more established players and we haven’t seen some of their players come up from the U-21 system. I would really like to see Jose Maria Gimenez, 18, of Olimpia get playing time over Andres Scotti, 37, of Nacional. There is nothing for Scotti to gain from this match. However, Gimenez would have the opportunity to play in an important match in a very, very hostile environment.  While I do understand that Uruguay has to start setting its lineup for the World Cup, they also need to start focusing on the future.

Second, no matter what the score ends up being over two legs, this is a very important series for Jordan and football in the Middle East as a whole. To say that football in the Middle East has been on the decline recently is being generous. With Japan and South Korea now firmly entrenched as qualifying favorites, and the addition of Australia to the AFC, qualifying for the World Cup has now become more difficult in Asia. Now obviously with turmoil going on in Iraq, Iran, Syria, Bahrain, Lebanon, Yemen, and Jordan as well football is not the top priority in the region.

But with the World Cup being held in Qatar in 2022, it is important that the region starts to awaken from its slumber and begin to make strides to being a competitive region. Having Iran make the World Cup this year is a great start. If Jordan can pull off at least a respectable showing in the next week against Uruguay, it could only improve football not only Jordan but in the region as well.


Mar 062013

Manchester United 1-2 Real Madrid
66220586 alex ferguson The Gaffer Rages As United See RedFor anyone who hates Manchester United, the pleasure principle really kicked in last night at Old Trafford. In spite of a glorious Spring night and at least two-thirds of a brilliant Manchester United display that was, at moments, the apotheosis of perfection and grace, United’s stunning, late 2-1 loss to Real Madrid may well be the saddest single moment of Sir Alex Ferguson’s long, brilliant career. In spite of a number of controversies before, during and after the game, the Gaffer’s team gave its all in a vain effort to overcome both Jose Mourinho’s team of neuvo galacticos and a shockingly biassed group of EUFA-sactioned officials. Unfortunately, their all was simply not enough to overturn the capricious will of either the football Gods, or Michelle Platini and his caporegimes at EUFA.

After the fact, EUFA officials have called a disciplinary meeting concerned with the manner in which Ferguson was seen jabbing his finger in front of the nose of the game’s pip-squeak Turkish referee, Cuneyt Cakir, and seconds later as Rio Ferdinand gave the officials face a sardonic round of applause. Yet the fact is that a  bomb went off 53 minutes in when Cakir took his sweet time to show the Red Devils’ winger Nani a red card for what he later explained was the act of embedding his studs into Alvaro Arbeloa’s midriff as he went to control a high ball. And although multiple viewings from different angles of the incident show that a careless Nani actually makes contact with Arbeloa’s elbow before the Spaniard falls over as if machine-gunned, rolls over three times and then springs up on his foot, none the worse for wear and tear, Cakir’s decision stands and life goes on. Of course, a careless Nani really could indeed have hurt Arbeloa, but he didn’t. Notions of “intent” versus “accident” will be discussed for weeks . Now they’re moot.

More questions about the referee later, but, finally there’s a devastated, apoplectic Ferguson who, in over 26 years at the club, has never previously sent one of his assistants–in this case Mike Phelan–to face the press at the post-match conference. “It speaks volumes I am sat here,” a tight lipped Phelan said.

Superb throughout. United let Real keep most of the possession. Rather than locking in nine men behind the ball, United defended effectively in small groups, restricting Real’s desperate desire for usable space. At the same time, when United got a chance to break they took it repeatedly and were faster and more effective than their favored opponents, outplaying them at their own specialty.

Sadly, Danny Welbeck, who more often than not creates his own chances out of nothing, is a shockingly erratic erratic finisher and, his partner on the night, Robin Van Persie is either suffering through a barren spell or is turning out to be the prodigal son of Eric Cantona: An assassin in the Premier League, but less effective on the European stage. At any rate, although the team looked fluid, confident and had the lion’s share of quality, Sir Alex Ferguson’s gamble in leaving Rooney and Kagawa out may have hurt the team fatally. Clearly armchair hindsight is a wonderful thing, but it’s an undeniable fact that, over two legs, United squandered way too many genuine chances. Indeed, when United actually scored they were extremely fortunate as Sergío Ramos accidentally touched a Nani cross, deflecting the ball past an otherwise superb Diego Lopez, who had a dream match.

Only six minutes later, while United kept up the kind of neat passing patterns that reminded aficionados of the brilliant lateral and diagonal  A.C. Milan stylings utilized to great affect seven seasons against us, Nani raised his studs in an effort to catch up with an over hit, high Carrick pass. Nani’s boot was definitely raised and whether there was malice in his heart, or not, the consequences were fatal. That said, there was still palpable shock when the red card was brandished. Once Nani was removed by Cekir, Jose Mourinho instantaneously threw the dice, bringing on Luka Modric.

Manchester United v Real Madrid Nani Jose Mou 2910130 The Gaffer Rages As United See RedModric, having been labeled Real Madrid’s ‘worst ever buy’ by the local press and riding the bench pretty much all season, proceeded to play thirty minutes of absolutely brilliant virtuoso football. Normally dependent on the industry of Angel Di Maria, Mehmet Ozil, Gonzalo Higuain and Fabio Coentrao, Real’s Portuguese superstar, Cristiano Ronaldo, was smothered by the selfless hard work of United’s whole starting team, the hard running Rafael Da Silva in particular. But once the tiny Croatian arrived, the passing lines were narrowed and with United’s full backs always aware of the danger posed by Modric’s lightning turn-on-a-dime footwork to aging center backs Ferdinand and Vidic, Ronaldo suddenly had more time to sprint, surf the angles and pick his spots.

Modric’s equalizer was fantastic. Taking a leaf out of Arjen Robben’s book, Modric gave no inkling of his intentions as he dipped down before straightening up and slotting a bullet off a diving David De Gea’s left-hand post from 23 yards out. Accompanying this dagger to United’s jugular was a an audible whooshing sound. With the Stretford End holding forth at its loudest in years, the pure shock of it was inescapable. And less than three minutes later, with United’s defense trying to regroup and adjust to Modric, the mighty Croatian flea struck again. While holding off a visibly exhausted Evra, Modric fed Gonzalo Higuain. And although Higuain’s attempted diagonal rocket missed the target ,Rafael Da Silva somehow lost his fix on Ronaldo. Whippet-quick the ex-United Wonder Boy made up for all his previous near-misses and failures by arriving at the far post to push Higuain’s errant drive home and give Real the lead.

Despite United being disappointed by the lack of ruthlessness on the part of Van Persie and Welbeck, there can be no doubt that goalkeeper Diego Lopez, bought in as defensive cover for an injured Iker Casillas in January by Real, has in the past week, twice against Barcelona and against United, been playing out of his skin. With Welbeck dominating both Ramos and Varane, Lopez was forced to make save after brilliant save from Nani, Vidic, Welbeck and Carrick. Without their two unlikely heroes, Lopez and Modric, Real Madrid would be headed back to Spain bereft of any hope for silverware this season.

Despite the loss, there are bright spots. Ryan Giggs 1, 000th game is an awesome achievement. 39-years-old and soon to be forty, he is the consummate British professional. David De Gea, Rafael Da Silva and the Reds’ pugnacious captain, Nemanja Vidic were all world-class at the back. Doubtless, because of the loss, Ferguson will be relentlessly criticized by some for leaving out Wayne Rooney. Depending upon which historian you read, it was either Wellington or Napoleon who said: “It was a near run thing!” Sometimes, it seems, you can get it wrong while you’re getting it right!

Finally there’s Cuneyt Cakir, the creepy referee. Having witnessed his card-happy persona previously in games featuring Manchester City, Chelsea, the Republic of Ireland and England, and the very dramatic shows which accompanied red cards for Keith Andrews, John Terry, Vincent Kompany, and Mario Balotelli, I think it’s pretty clear that this referee has political (or other issues) with the British and Irish. Life is like that, of course, and British referees surely own some bigotry’s and prejudices of their own. What rankles, however, is that other powerful managers like Jose Mourinho and Pep Guardiola have protested and won appeals through EUFA against certain referees they feel hold grudges against them before matches are played. Sir Alex Ferguson seems to have missed out on his homework vis-a-vis Mr. Cekir. It will surely not be a mistake he makes again.

66221999 66221303 The Gaffer Rages As United See Red

Mar 042013

sir alex mourinho Manchester United Real Madrid Pre Match Interviews

Videos before the 2nd leg match between Manchester United and Real Madrid at Old Trafford.

Ferguson – Ronaldo will cause problems by PressAssociation

Ryan Giggs set to reach landmark figure by PressAssociation

Mourinho hypes Manchester-Madrid clash by PressAssociation

Alonso talks Ronaldo hype by PressAssociation

Mar 042013

Sing it with me…

You’re the beeest arooounnddd

Nothing’s gonna ever keep ya down!

Doesn’t that feel great?! It certainly felt a lot better than Liverpool’s “routine” 3-0 victory over Wigan over the weekend. The reds controlled the match from the start and left little doubt about the result. The second goal in particular stands out as newcomer Philippe Coutinho calmly collected the ball and played a beautiful through ball to Luis Suarez, who did what he does best and put the ball in the back of the net.

Suarez now has 21 league goals scored, putting himself two ahead of Manchester United’s Robin Van Persie and the ever impressive Keebler Elf Gareth Bale. This stat alone is merit enough for the Uruguayan to be named Player Of The Year. But consider the situation Liverpool was in back in September. They looked foolish in their failed attempt to sign Clint Dempsey after letting Andy Carroll go on loan. Shortly thereafter, Fabio Borini went down with a long term injury and suddenly it was Luis Suarez and…no one else.

Fast forward to today and you’ll find Liverpool in seventh place in the table. They are third in the league in scoring. None of this would be possible without Luis Suarez. And if you think about it, how many other players currently in the EPL are capable of carrying a team on their back the way he has. The previously mentioned Van Persie and Bale are surrounded by more than enough talent.

This is what makes Suarez’s 2012-13 season so remarkable. He has not had world class talent around him. Not that he needs it though. Suarez might be second only to Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo in terms of individual skill. Whenever the ball arrives at his feet, you know for a fact he is firmly in control of it. It does not move unless he commands it. He creates goals with little to no service from his teammates; which is appropriate considering the best passer out of the midfield right now is a 20 year old Brazilian from Inter.

Time will tell if the Uruguayan forward will move on to the likes of Juventus or Bayern Munich (to name a few) this summer. He’s certainly capable of a massive raise the way he has carried Liverpool from the depths of mediocrity. He becomes even more valuable when you consider the latest news about Liverpool’s debt piling up. They may have no choice but to take market value for their prized goal scorer.

But in the meantime, whether you love him or hate him, let’s all stop and celebrate everything he has accomplished so far this season.

He’s the best around.


“Walk on with hope in your heart and you’ll never walk alone!”

Feb 152013

Real Madrid 1-1 Manchester United
Cristiano Ronaldo 008 Simply Marvelous in Madrid!







After an absolute gem of a football game, Manchester United’s former star winger Cristiano took the time to hug his old boss Sir Alex Ferguson long and hard. Having scored an awesome headed goal to tie an adrenaline-powered, brilliant game, CR7 may not have changed the minds of those who believe he’ll never be the equal of Barcelona’s Lionel Messi as the best footballer of his generation, but he did put to rest the rhetoric of the Haters who believe he never shows up mentally prepared for the big games. Indeed, considering just how good the Portuguese pretty-ManBoy is, just how well Manchester United played as a team against him and his supporting cast made for an epic, nerve-jangling, nail-biting night of magnificent football so good that it reminds us that we are human. I won’t be so bold as to believe that we are favorites going into a return match at Old Trafford three weeks from now, but I do sincerely think we own the very slightest, hair-of-my-chinny-chin confidence of owning ever such a slight advantage by virtue of having what will be an especially amped up crowd cheering for us.

65878713 65878372 Simply Marvelous in Madrid!Magnificent throughout, United performed on a razor’s-edge all night, keeping up a consistent balance between a relentless, hard pressing defensive game refreshingly free of the many errors they’ve been subject to all season and a fine ability to execute quick, probing counterattacks that kept the Spanish champions from ever going about their business on the front foot. With goalkeeper David De Gea taking care of business between the sticks at his old club’s nemesis, a star was born. Indeed, so good was the lean, leopard-like custodian that I imagine the rumors of both Barcelona and Real coming to get him and perhaps ultimately paying out the kind of money that was spent on Ronaldo do not seem unrealistic. As with Ronaldo, who was accused for years of being a one-trick-pony capable only of step overs, De Gea has been attacked relentlessly by critics for having difficulties with high crosses and no stomach for the physical side of the English game. Great players do not develop overnight in a vacuum, however. And although Ronaldo’s expensive supporting cast of Angel Di Maria, Mesut Ozil, Karim Benzema, Sami Khedira, et al, are all fine performers, they were out hustled by the sheer work-rate and commitment of all eleven Manchester United players. Even United’s weakest link, Patrice Evra,, all too often marooned on his old legs somewhere around the center spot, had nine teammates bound and determined to carry his cross.

It was no surprise that the ever-charming Jose Mourinho was more inclined to discuss how badly his tactics were carried out by his players than complimenting United for smothering them. More than a few folks were taken aback by his statement that United “parked the bus” at the Bernabeu. He actually sounded like he was talking about his own team Inter two memorable seasons ago when they played tar-baby to a frustrated Barcelona; but one is never sure whether the self-styled ‘Great One’ is being facetious, or not. Counterattacking has always been a stock-in-trade for Mourinho’s sides. In this sense, with his side built to feed Ronaldo with a relentless conveyor belt’s-worth of passes and attacking relentlessly, Sir Alex Ferguson beat the Great One at his own game.

Just how unfair those bitter comments from Mourinhoare  is born out by just how close United came to scoring at least four times. Robin van Persie, who has been a goal machine, seemed awed at the occasion throughout and even. Ryan Giggs, a substitute who was received by Real fans with the kind of applause the Bernabéu faithful withhold to all but a great few, missed a gaping sitter which he was still be cursing himself over days later.

Those missed chances, however, point to the fact that, tactically, Sir Alex Ferguson got it right. Along with the counterattacking came containment. Phil Jones was incredibly energetic in midfield, both covering for Rafael da Silva as he moved up and slotting in next to him to cut down on Cristiano Ronaldo’s windows of opportunity. Even Wayne Rooney was there backing up Rafael and Jones. Still, even three United warriors couldn’t keep the brilliant winger quiet throughout. Despite being limited in opportunities, Ronaldo came shockingly close with at least three fantastic bazooka-like shots from around 25 yards out that all just missed the goal by a hair’s breadth. And although Real always looked the more relentlessly dangerous team, the only really good chance had by anybody save Ronaldo, happened five minutes in, falling to Fábio Coentrão whose shot hit the post before being pushed away by De Gea’s full-length save.

A weakness every football fans knows about is both sides’ vulnerability to crosses. Yet United, with both Ferdinand and Evans opting to stay close to goal throughout, managing to hold firm. Without the world’s highest-rated goalkeeper, the injured Iker Casillas, Madrid seemed weak at the back. Their stand-in keeper Díego Lopez, bought in January to replace the injured Casillas, along with Sergío Ramos and Rafael Varane, were all given a torrid time by Danny Welbeck.. Criticized by many for not picking a traditional winger like Nani or Young,, the Gaffer opted for Robin Van Persie and Wayne Rooney pumping in the passes the strong, muscular native Manc.

The first goal of the game, 20 minutes in, proved Ferguson right for being a gambler. With Shinji Kagawa, Welbeck and Rooney all behind Van Persie and the pesky Kagawa repeatedly running in behind him, a frustrated Varane gave up a corner. Rooney’s corner went over Jones, but with Varane and Ramos locked in on Robin Van Persie, Welbeck was able to push away both of them in the six-yard-box, dipping his header past Diego López.  Often too hot to handle for either Real center back, Welbeck also came close to scoring again  five minutes after Ronaldo’s equalizer leaving Varane for dead as he raced for Van Persie’s left-wing cross but botching his footwork as he tried to execute a delicate volley.

Ten minutes later, though, after much frustration for both Ozil, and Di Maria, Fabio Da Silva had trouble in the corner with Ozil. Stealing away with the loose ball, Angel Di María whipped his cross into the penalty area for Ronaldo who rose above a very mortal Patrice Evra–remarkably high with both of his ankles conjoined, like a basketball player executing a text book jump shot–and nodded home a bullet header into the bottom left corner that left De Gea clawing at the empty air.

The second half was more of the same. And although Real Madrid owned the lion’s-share of possession, they never looked capable of being lethal when Ronaldo was off the ball. Frustrated throughout, Real consciously upped their foul count. And, ten minutes into the second half, Varane was unbelievably fortunate that the German referee, Felix Brych, gave him the benefit of the doubt after a thuggish challenge on Evra, who was running unmarked  on to a beautiful defense-splitting Michael Carrick pass.

In the waning moments of the match, both teams battled bravely. De Gea saved yet another Sergio Coentrão effort with his feet, thumping the spinning ball away from inside his right-hand post. Then a screaming Ronaldo free-kick dipped on to the roof of the net. Then a selfless Rooney sent Van Persie clear and Diego López reached to finger-tip the shot on to his post. Seconds later, after a lightning transition, Van Persie scuffed at a perfect pass to beat a wrong-footed Lopez only for Xabi Alonso to clear.

In a last bizarre moment during stoppage time Diego López denied Van Persie. Instead of allowing the resultant corner, the referee blew his whistle, simultaneously ignoring an incident that saw substitute Pepe kick Jonny Evans for no apparent reason.. The good Lord Ferg, often the lightning rod for venting vexation in similar Premier League situations, was a surprising island of calm. A rosy-cheeked Pict Buddha, he calmly raised his hands in the direction of both an outraged Jonny Evans and an only slightly calmer Rio Ferdinand, spread his fingers and broke into a Cheshire Cat grin. It wasn’t a perfect display from his team, but there was no way the questionable ethics of any referee were going to spoil this night.
65878714 65873950 Simply Marvelous in Madrid!

Granada 1-0 Real Madrid

 Posted by on February 3, 2013 at 11:43 am  Real Madrid, The Ball is Flat
Feb 032013

josegu3 Granada 1 0 Real Madrid

Real Madrid lost yesterday at Granada from an unlucky own-goal by Cristiano Ronaldo. You can’t fault him, it’s the first time in his career that his marvelous control has left him for that one split second in front of goal, but that’s not the reason why Real Madrid lost the game at Los Carmenes.

When you produce on 17 shots in all (with 4 shots on goal) in the entire game and many of them in desperation during the second half, you can’t just blame the players, that it’s about attitude or that certain players didn’t give it their all as Mourinho said after the game: “I don’t know why some players were tired, because on Wednesday they were on the bench or in the stands.” It’s a deflective measure that is as natural as breathing really. Jose Mourinho’s primary purpose as a professional isn’t merely winning as everyone says, it’s also maintaining his image even if he isn’t winning. So of course he’s going to blame his players, and Ramos, Coentrao and Di Maria get thrown under the bus again, but is it really their fault?

This game is one of matchups, and when the Real Madrid counter-attack is available and running it is devastating, but when it meets a club that is capable of meeting the physical challenges and seceding possession to spring their own counter, essentially pulling up a mirror to Real Madrid’s own game, then they’re in trouble. People talk of Barcelona or Arsenal’s reliance on one style of play with little divergence to necessity but Real Madrid under Mourinho are just as reliant on one facet of the game as they are. Don’t believe me? The stats prove it.

Granada had 30% of possession, one half the corners of Real Madrid (spending most of the game in their own third defending), 20 fewer attacks than their opponents, and more than double the fouls. In this sort of game you need creative players to take advantage of the possession and unlock the opponent’s press. The only player he had on the pitch in that role was Modric who has struggled to find his best form consistently in La Liga. Rather than bring in Ozil who has been sublime, the key offensive element in Wednesday’s match against Barca, he switched Benzema for Higuain who have both been consistently poor all season. Khedira might have helped, he plays a slightly more offensive role for Joachim Low’s Germany squad, but he was sticking close to Xabi, freeing him up for that long ball that never materialized.

Real Madrid didn’t lose this game because of bad luck or exhaustion, nor was it lack of attitude really, but an inability to unlock a club that played Mourinho at his own game. Granada won this match on their own efforts; even if the point comes from a Cristiano Ronaldo own goal. They shortened the game, played well defensively and put themselves in a position to win the game if fortune went their way.  It’s as if they read Mou’s book on tactics.

Jose says that when Madrid wins it’s the players who get the credit and when they lose it’s because of him, or at least that’s what the press says, but that’s not it really. When Madrid won the league last year he received the well-deserved credit of changing the atmosphere at Real Madrid, molding it into his own image and knocking Barcelona off their perch, but if the club have regressed and/or the opponents have responded and caught up to Mourinho’s tactics, then he can’t have it both ways either.

 Granada 1 0 Real Madrid  Granada 1 0 Real Madrid  Granada 1 0 Real Madrid  Granada 1 0 Real Madrid  Granada 1 0 Real Madrid

Aug 032012
cristiano ronaldo 532 celebrating alvaro morata goal in la galaxy vs real madrid pre season 2012 2013 Galaxy Break Attendance Record; Madrid Continually Break Galaxy Defense
Cristiano Ronaldo (#7) and teammates celebrate yet another Real Madrid goal

If you had told someone before the season started David Junior Lopes would score goals against Tottenham Hotspur and Real Madrid this year, they’d have likely had you committed. Then again, if you had said the LA Galaxy would start two Chivas USA rejects at centerback 17 times this season and counting, I’d have laughed in your face.

But in front of a record crowd of 30,317 at the Home Depot Center on Thursday night, Lopes netted the Galaxy’s only goal in a 5 – 1 loss to the reigning Spanish champions, Real Madrid.

Having his full compliment of stars last night, Galaxy Head Coach Bruce Arena fielded likely his strongest line-up with both David Beckham and Landon Donovan starting along with Omar Gonzalez, Robbie Keane, Juninho and Marcelo Sarvas to round out a side that would have been considered star-studded in any city around MLS. Unfortunately for LA, Madrid’s Jose Mourinho had the luxury of fielding Kaka, Gonzalo HiguaínÁngel Di María and José María Callejón, leaving the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Sergio Ramos and Karim Benzema on the bench to start.

It would be Higuaín opening the scoring in just the second minute of the contest, as he ghosted in behind Lopes before finishing an excellent Di María through ball beating goalkeeper Josh Saunders. Di María would continue to wreak havoc, scoring in the match’s 11th minute after twisting and turning leftback Bryan Gaul in the Galaxy penalty area before finishing at Saunders’ near post. 

But after Madrid went up 2 – 0 in quick succession, the Galaxy did find their feet and managed some nice combination play that showed they at least belonged on the field against they European counterparts.

Gonzalez latched on to a Beckham free kick near the Madrid far post and nodded into the path of Lopes in the 23rd minute of the match. The Galaxy centerback bungled the ball into the gaping net for his second goal in Galaxy colors, both coming in midseason friendlies with European competition.

After halving the lead, the Galaxy would get no closer though. Ronaldo was brought on to huge applause at the half, and although the superstar did not find the net for Los Blancos, Madrid would finish the match with three more goals, with the match ending 5 – 1 in favor of Madrid.

The Galaxy now return to MLS play with a critical match-up Sunday at the Seattle Sounders. The Sounders are just one point clear of  LA and with two games in hand, and the result of this match could have playoff implications for both teams.