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World Cup Qualifying Preview, Groups E-H

 Posted by on December 14, 2013 at 10:31 pm  Blogs/Media
Dec 142013

Fifa World Cup 2014 Brazil 3 213x300 World Cup Qualifying Preview, Groups E H(




Author’s Note: To check out Groups A through D, Go Here.)

“The Team’s Every Other Team Wanted to Play.”

Group  E


Most Exciting Game to Watch: Ecuador vs Honduras (06/20)

Best Player that You Have Probably Never Heard Of: Forward Xherden Shaqiri, Switzerland.

The 22 year-old Bayern Munich winger has been a key cog for the Swiss attack, scoring two goals during qualifying. He is a very fast winger that often sets up other opportunities for the center forward through crosses and balls into the box. He has only played in 7 leagues matches for Munich, but has scored two goals in limited time.

Early Projected Finish: 1.) Switzerland 2.) Ecuador 3.)France 4.) Honduras

The Swiss are woefully underrated in World Cup Qualifying. Although they are not exactly Germany or Spain, this is a very deadly squad that features the likes of Gokhan Inler and Blerim Dzmaili of Napoli. Stefan Lichsteiner (Juventus) is also one of the top defenders in all of Serie A. The Swiss defense was very difficult for opponents to break during qualifying, allowing only 6 goals in ten matches. As a National Team, the Swiss have not lost a match since May 2012 to Romania.

Anyone who thinks that Ecuador will be run over by France should take a look at the 2-2 draw that Ecuador had against Spain back in October. La Tri took it to Spain for ninety minutes playing an aggressive attack with Anderson (Manchester United) orchestrating the attack from the midfield. Of course Ecuador is still coping with the loss of Midfielder Christian Bentiez, who died last July due to a car crash. France is going to struggle against Ecuador because they always have difficulty against teams that are composed and who rely on the counter-attack. It is this inability to defend which is what put France in the hole 2-0 going into the second leg of their playoff against Ukraine.

As much as I like Honduras, and as happy as I am that they have qualified for their second consecutive World Cup, it just does not seem like they have enough squad depth to match up against the Swiss, the French, and the Ecuadoreans. Midfielder Emilio Izaguirre (Celtic) will be looked upon to create most of their opportunities from the midfield.  What will be interesting to see from them is how their MLS players adapt to step above in competition. Players like Forward Jerry Bengston (New England Revolution,) Defender Victor Bernardez (San Jose Earthquakes,) and Midfielder Marvin Chavez (San Jose Earthquakes) have long been quality players in MLS and may use this tournament as an opportunity to make their moves to Europe.


High Upside Group.”

Group F


Most Exciting Game to Watch: Argentina vs Nigeria (06/25)

A rematch of pretty much every major tournament in the past twenty years, Nigeria and Argentina have developed quite a little rivalry on the big stage.

Best Player that You Probably Have Never Heard Of: Lionel Messi, Argentina. Nah just kidding.

Early Projected Finish: 1.) Argentina 2.) Nigeria 3.) Bosnia-Herzegovina 4.) Iran

Argentina is going to qualify. The only question is by how much. After Brazil, the team with the highest expectations has to be Argentina. With a one-in-a lifetime player like Lionel Messi in their squad, there is no excuse for this team to not make a deep run.

As for second place, I really like what Nigeria has done over the past year to completely revamp the team. The 2013 Africa Cup of Nations Champions have looked very strong all year, playing tough dominant defense and running explosive counter-attacks. Full credit goes to Head Coach Stephen Kechi, who inherited an aging roster in 2011 that had bottomed out at the 2010 World Cup and missed the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations and has turned it into one of the more interesting sides in the world. Playing a younger roster at the Confederations Cup has given the team squad depth and prepared their less seasoned players for the challenge ahead.

As for Bosnia-Herzegovina and Iran, it feels like both teams are about 4 years away from hitting their form. While Iran did look promising during Qualifying, they had too many 1-0 results against the likes of Uzbekistan and Lebanon to make one think they have a chance against Argentina. Coach Carlos Quieroz, who won the 1994 World Cup in Brazil, is certainly an asset in preparing for the World Cup. Iran is a very good defensive team, allowing only two goals during the final round of qualification. But this team cannot score (only eight goals in 8 matches,) and against strong offenses like Nigeria, Bosnia, and Argentina they are going to let in goals.

With Bosnia, what I am more interested in seeing is how this team and this country will build off of this World Cup. With this being their first World Cup as an independent nation, obviously the learning curve will be high. Having players like Edin Dzeko and Vedad Ibisevic will help. But this feels more like a long-term project than short-term success in Brazil.

“Group of Death”

Group G
United States

Most Exciting Game to Watch: Germany vs Ghana (06/21.)

The Boateng brawl. Although Chris Farley would contend that “Brother’s don’t shake hands. Brothers hug” I am not sure if he had a World Cup match in mind. With no easy games in this group, it will be interesting to see how the two brother’s interact on the pitch. If it is anything like my brother and myself when we would play World Cup in a front yard when we were kids, there might be a few elbows thrown around.

Best Player You Have Probably Never Heard Of: Forward Andre Ayew, Ghana.

Early Projected Finish: 1.) Germany 2.) United States 3.) Ghana 4.) Portugal

I have already kind of covered this group at great lengths so I am going to leave this pretty short: I think that the United States can proceed from this group. All of the games against European teams on the road, playing full squads in Central America, and the general efforts to change the culture of this team and this game in this country has led to this. Whether you like Jürgen Klinsmann and some of his decisions or not, the dynamic of this team has changed. Ever since 1994, this program has lacked a backbone. If they were down, they would wilt. Not anymore. They can handle playing the likes of Portugal and Ghana now. But can and will are two different things. They still need to prove it.

To me the really interesting team is Germany. No one expects that the United States will go through so any result they receive will be a bonus. Same for Ghana, and Portugal to a lesser extent. Not for Germany. Germany must make it out of this group. And for a team that has billed as a “Golden Generation” of sorts that can be a difficult term to live up to. They certainly had their difficulties in the 2012 European Championships where they struggled against Greece and lost to Italy in the semi-finals. While some would see that as a success, for Germany the only thing that matters is winning. Losing Sami Khedira certainly does not help the situation. Germany should have enough to get through, but this is going to be a much tougher assignment than many believe.

Of course, perhaps no one person or team has more to live up to during the World Cup than Cristiano Ronaldo. While football fans are split between Ronaldo and Lionel Messi as to who the best player in the world is, it is fair to say that both players have not lived up to their potential on the international stage. Whether all of the blame for their team’s failures can be chalked up to them is debatable. This is a team sport. But for any football fan, one of the major moments in Ronaldo’s career right now is sitting on the sidelines during penalty kicks of the European Championship semi-finals. That moment is a scar on Ronaldo’s professional career. Leading this team out of a Group of Death would be a start to resurrecting his international career. 2014 may decide who really the best player in the world is.

“The Group of Life”

Group H
South Korea


Most Exciting Game: Russia vs. South Korea (06/17.)

These two sides actually just met last month ago in a very entertaining match that saw Russia win 2-1. The South Koreans got the early lead when Kim Shin-Wook (Ulsan Hyundai) scored the opening goal in the 6th minute off of a solid shot to the right corner. But the Russians used their size advantage to press the South Korean defense back and eventually win the match. Forward Fyodor Smolnov, the 24 year old who plays for Dynamo Moscow, scored the opening goal for the Russians while Dmitri Tarasov (Dynamo Moscow) added the second.

These two teams seem to be heading in different directions entering the World Cup. While the Russians seem to rounding into form under Head Coach Fabio Capello, ending years of promises going unfulfilled, South Korea seems to be entering a rebuilding phase. Gone are the days of Ji-Seung Park and Long Byung Pyo commanding the midfield and South Korea being seriously considered one of the top teams in the world. Their new coach, Hong Myung Byo, is a legend in South Korea having led the team to four World Cups and semi-final appearance in 2002. He also has experience coaching in the Russian Premier League as an assistant for Anzhi Makhachkala. He has inherited a squad who only have five players over the age of 35.

Best Player That You Have Probably Never Heard Of:  Midfielder Sofiane Feghouli, Algeria

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

Perhaps the Belgians are a bit overhyped, but they were given the best possible draw in the tournament for a team in their position. Against three flawed teams the Belgians should be able to overcome each of their opponents rather easily. The one team that actually concerns me for Belgium is Algeria. The Desert foxes are a very stubborn team. They are a very good defensive team that does not take too many chances on offense and would be happy to settle for a draw against a team that they have probably no chance of beating straight up. In the 2010 World Cup, they frustrated much stronger teams like England and the United States because they gave them very little room to maneuver in the midfield. Against a young Belgian side, they may be able to walk out with a point or sneak a goal in by being patient and playing good defense.

That being said, this group will come down to the match between South Korea and Russia. With South Korea going through a bit of a rebuilding phase, and with Russia playing so well under Capello, the edge has to go to Russia.


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.


Dec 072013

untitled Classic Football Theater: The 1966 World Cup Final, England versus West Germany


Quick Introduction: A couple of weeks ago, I was listening to the BBC World Football Phone In, one of the best programs on international football. The panelists were asked the question, “What is your favorite World Cup?” As eloquent as always, the panelists ran through some of the greatest matches of all time. Brazil versus the Netherlands, 1976. Argentina versus the Netherlands, 1976.  England versus Argentina, 1982. As the panelists were running down these classic matches and some of the all-time great players, I realized something: I have never seen any of these matches. Although I have watched countless World Cup, Premier League, and Champions League matches my viewing experience dates back to right around 1994. Sure I have seen a few matches here or there or the highlights of a couple of games but never the full 90 minutes. And I would imagine I am not the only one.

To kick start this series I have chosen one of the true classics of soccer, the 1966 World Cup Final between England and West Germany. With the game being played at-now Old Wembley Stadium, the stakes are incredibly high for this match. Although this is not where the England-West Germany rivalry started, it certainly poured gas on the fire. Keep in mind that many of the players, the coaches, and the fans either served or were alive during World War II.

Although you do not hear as many curse words as you do in a match today, you can hear the intensity of the crowd as minute goes by. A simply electric crowd for the first ever World Cup Final to go to extra time.

Also, if you have any suggestions on quality matches worth reviewing, please include them in the comment section below!

Link to the match: The match can be found here. A big thanks to Youtube.

Lineups(Defenders and Midfielders are Right to Left:)

West Germany: (4-2-4) Coach: Helmut Schon;  Goalkeeper: Hans Tilkowski (Borussia Dortmund;) Defenders: Horst Dieter-Hottges (Werder Bremen,) Wili Schulz (Hamburger SV,) Wolfgang Weber (F.C. Koln,) and Karl Heinz Schnellinger (A.C. Milan;) Midfielders: Franz Beckenbauer (Bayern Munich,) and Wolfgang Overath (F.C. Koln;) Forwards: Helmut Haller (Bologna,) Uwe Seeler (Hamburger SV,) Siegfried Held (Borussia Dortmund,) and Lothar Emmerich (Borussia Dortmund.)

England: (4-1-3-2) Coach: Alfred Ramsey; Goalkeeper: Gordon Banks (Leicester City;) Defenders: George Cohen (Fulham,) Jack Charlton (Leeds United,) Bobby Moore (West Ham United,) and  Ray Wilson (Everton;) Defensive Midfielder : Nobby Stiles (Manchester United;) Midfielder: Alan Ball (Everton,) Bobby Charlton (Manchester United,) and Martin Peters (West Ham United;) Forwards: Geoff Hurst (West Ham United,) and Roger Hunt (Liverpool.)

Love of country is certainly in the air in this match. As soon as the BBC Production begins, I feel like I need a cup of tea and some Yorkshire scones. The entire match, from the Union Jack flags waving to the loud singing of “God Save the Queen” to the actual Royal Family showing up as a viewer you get how much this means to the United Kingdom. This atmosphere is unlike any other World Cup match that I have ever seen, much less a final. There is less style to the lead up to the match, but the substance is stronger.

But aside from the fans cleaning up their language for the queen (during a couple of moments in the game you can hear fans say “show off” as opposed to saying “sod off”) this was probably one of the best crowds that I have ever heard in a World Cup match.  The one funny thing that I found during the pregame warm up was the BBC getting a close up of the Queen during “God Save the Queen.” For those wondering, no she did not sing, “God Save Myself.” I am still not quite sure what the BBC was looking for her to do but she looked a little embarrassed to have people singing to her.

When the lineups were announced, one of the first things that I noticed was the sheer number of legends in this match. Of course the first name that pops off of the list of players for the West Germans is Franz Beckenbauer. Der Kaiser during his career would lead West Germany to the 1974 World Cup and the 1972 European Championship. He was having a pretty good World Cup, scoring 4 goals including  one to hold off the Soviet Union in the semi-finals. But he was only 18 in this match so he is very much the understudy of this German team playing second fiddle to the likes of Karl Heinz Schnellinger ,Uwe Seeler, and Helmut Haller(6 goals.) The spine of this West German team (Siegfried Held, Lothar Emmerich, and Hans Tilowski) played for Borussia Dortmund which had just won the 1966 UEFA Cup Winners Cup and finished second in the Bundesliga.

From the English perspective, Leeds United fans will immediately recognize the name of Captain Jack Charlton. Charlton is perhaps better known as the manager of Ireland during the early 1990’s, but in the 1960’s he was part of a Leeds team that twice finish first in the English first division, which is now known as the Premier League. His impression on this match was felt from the first blow of the whistle, controlling possession in the midfield, relaying instructions from Manager Sir Alfred Ramsey, and help setting up two of England’s three goals. The partnership that Charlton had with his brother, Jack, and Midfielder Bobby Moore was quite special and was the catalyst for England’s success through the World Cup. In 2009, the International Federation of Football Statistics and History named England goalkeeper Gordon Banks as the second greatest goalkeeper in the 20th century, which I think sums up his career.

The one legend though that does not seem to live up to the hype is old Wembley Stadium. While the stands and the architecture are certainly very nice, the pitch looks like a mess. Even in the days of low definition black and white television you can see the different spots on the ground where the pitch had been torn up by a previous match. To be fair, lawn care has improved dramatically in the past fifty years so this could be an instance of comparing today’s product to the past. But the pitch definitely was a factor in the game, causing players to slip and fall on numerous occasions. Players also did not have interchangeable cleats like they do in the modern so that played a role as well. But Wembley was not in the best condition for this game.

Within the first ten minutes of the match, my expectations for this match had already been met and exceeded. One of my major concerns coming into this match was that I was going to be bored with the pace of the match. I kept thinking that play was going to look like something out of the 1930’s with slow, stodgy play. Instead, play started off at breakneck pace. Both teams were able to build directly from the midfield and distribute out to their wings with relative ease.  In the early minutes, both teams are playing this like a boxing match delivering attacks and counter-attacks. West German goalkeeper Hans Tilowski made an excellent stop in the 6th minute denying Geoff Hurst off of a right-footed attempt.

Early in the matchThere are some differences in how the game is played from today.  The players are much smaller and you do not see as many midfield crosses as you do now. But the passing was much, much better then. This was evidenced by the first goal of the match. Although Helmut Haller’s strike was a textbook example of finishing off one’s right foot some credit should go to Beckenbauer for his right footed cross that delievered the ball to Haller’s feet. While other players were looking for openings to get passed their defenders, Franz would often in this go straight at the English defense. For example, in the 29th minute, Beckenbauer took the ball on the counter-attack and used his speed to blow straight past England Defender Peter Cohen. But rather than take an awkward shot, which many players now would do, he delivered a pinpoint pass Emmerich on a dime that the striker almost puts away.

For the next twenty minutes, the Germans would control most of possession. The main problem with the English attack is that they like to make the long pass to the outside. But with the German defense playing man v man, there is very little room for the English forward to break out.  The one advantage that the English have over the Germans is in goal. Gordon Banks was having a splendid World Cup to this point, only allowing in 3 goals during the tournament. His West German counterpart Hans Tillowski was also having a good tournament. In the 30th minute, his poor play nearly cost the Germans the lead when he bobbled a save off a superb strike from Bobby Moore. The BBC commentator for the match, Kenneth Wolstenhome held true to the English tradition for not mincing word when he said “The goalkeeper in this tournament has been quite terrible.”

But England did have one good opportunity during the first half to score and they made the most out of it. In the 18th minute, Forward Geoff Hurst headed in a free kick off of the foot of Moore to even the match up. The German defense was caught napping on the play as Hurst had no one covering him inside the box. It was a poor challenge by the German Central Defender Wolfgang Overath that gave England the opportunity. Although the tackle would be considered tame by today’s standards, the rules of professional tackles were a bit different back then.

Although England was behind, never once did I hear the fans give up. Whether the team was up, behind, or even, they continued to sing “Oh When the Saints Go Marching In” and other songs throughout the match. But perhaps what I find the most ironic is the use of musical instruments. I wonder what the purists of the game, who gave South Africans so much grief over the use of the vuvuzelas during the 2010 World Cup, would think when they hear bells and accordions being played during one of their countries most important matches ever.

As the second half began, and the game still tied, you could see that the momentum of the game started to shift. Seller, who had room aplenty to move around in the first half and create chances, was now being tackled or taken down every 5 minutes. To make up for this change in pace the Germans started doing something very unprofessional they started to dive. When Haller dropped to the ground in the 56th after a small, innocent tackle by an English defender, Wolstenhome made the comment that “Haller plays in Bologna where he obviously enrolled in the dramatic arts.”

Meanwhile on the English attack, Jack Charlton and Bobby Moore were finally getting space to open up the German defense. What is interesting is that in the first half is that the English were playing a much more up tempo style but not seeing the results. But by being patient and waiting to take their chances, they achieved a higher level of results in the second half. Their hard work paid off in the 78th minute Martin Peters was able to give England the lead by a score of 2-1. Peter’s goal was a result of two things: excellent buildup by England and luck. The goal was set up by a splendid stutter step by Hurst which tangled Overath. Although Hottges was able to get ahold of the ball he Baggio-ed the kick, hitting it directly up into the air where it landed on Peter’s feet for an easy goal. Peter’s goal was also special because it would be the first time that a German team had ever given up more than one goal in a World Cup match.

You would think that after a goal like this that the Germans would send everything into the English attacking third. But instead they looked to be a bit shell-shocked. West Germany had never given up more than two goals in a World Cup match so it should not be shocking that they were thrown off of their rocker a bit. England, meanwhile, were still taking it to the German defense. They were finally able to stretch the German defense out with Ball making long, deep runs on the left hand side. In the background, I could hear very clearly the fans yelling out We want three!” The game looked like it was completely out of hand until the Germans did something miraculous.

It only takes one small miscalculation to have everything come crashing down.  The English defended valiantly in the last few minutes and looked to have everything wrapped up before an ill-timed foul by England gave Germany one last chance. Although Beckenbauer’s free kick was not great he did get into the box, where England defender missed clearing it out. With the ball in the box and Banks on the other side of the goal Saller buried his shot, much to the sheer shock and horror of the English fans. Extra-time was looming.

In a game where both teams were very even, it makes sense that this game would go to extra time. With this being the first-ever World Cup final to go to extra time, both the players and fans seemed very nervous about it. Bear in mind that there had been no substitutions yet in the match and that the players had played over 90 minutes. Keep in mind during this era teams did not make substitutions during the match so everyone was gassed. The fans themselves still seemed very dejected after such a late goal. Who could blame them? Their team was within seconds of winning their first-ever World Cup. Now, it looks like they may come out of this final with nothing.

Extra-time in soccer is always a difficult thing to predict. Often it comes down to the team that can weather an additional thirty minutes of football. Judging by this match, I would say that England had the edge. Throughout the thirty minutes, Moore and the brothers Charlton would push the German backline on their hind legs, often forcing them to make last-minute clearances or dicey tackles. In the 6th minute, Charlton hit a cracker from outside the 18 that went off of the crossbar, while Ball hit a long curling shot that Tillowski was just able to tip out-of-bounds. The Germans looked gassed- they were barely able to muster a significant shot in the first part of overtime.

Normally, when a kid thinks about scoring a game winning goal, it is a feat of pure genius. But the reality is that it does not matter how you score in the moment. All that matters is that you score. With the moments, waning in the first half of overtime, Hurst hit an innocuous ball off of the inside of the cross-bar and into the goal for the winner. What is interesting about the goal is that it reminds me so much of the goal that Frank Lampard scored that was disallowed against Germany during the 2010 World Cup. Although I doubt anyone has thought about the similarities other than me, it does make you wonder if this was a little payback.

With the lead secured, the English clamped down on defense in the second half playing 1-2 defenders on each German attacker. Having cut off the German midfield, England was able to keep their lead and win their first World Cup. What is so astonishing about the end of the match was how simple the celebration was. Where now you would now see a twenty-minute charade of confetti, medals, and FIFA strutting their feathers, the players seemed much more humble back then. They went up to the bleachers, talked to the Queen and the Duke, took their trophy and then did the lap of honor. It is refreshing to see players act with such dignity and grace.

In the stands it was another story. Fans were crying their eyes out, singing the national anthem, and drinking pints by the dozen. Lane Pryce was in New York drinking with his fellow Englishman. Aside from England, only five teams have ever hosted a World Cup and won it (Uruguay, West Germany, Italy, Argentina, and France) because the expectations can sometimes be too much for a team to handle. England did it with class, both on and off the field.

Does this match hold up? Yes. The historical implications of this match has only grown over time. With many events like this, people look at the past with rose-colored glasses. And perhaps this is true to some degree with this match. The pitch did lend itself to some sloppy moments. And the game tying goal was a result of some poor defense. But the free-flowing nature of both sides allowed this game to feel like a major prize-fight with each team getting in their chances. Being able to watch a game with a minimal amount of negative football (diving, complaining, and referee interference) was a breath of fresh air.

Beyond the trophy, I can see why the English hold this team in such high regard. They played such a tough, exciting brand of football that you rarely see these days. This was an England team that would never settle for draws or moral victories. I think what makes English fans so upset now about the quality of their squad is that there is an English model out there that does succeed. It was the model that helped them win the 1966 World Cup.

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.


Sep 052013

Fifa World Cup 2014 Brazil 269x300 World Cup Qualifying Preview Weekend Edition


After a weekend of thrilling matches and league-changing transfers, the good people at FIFA have decided to plug in two World Cup Qualifying matches and international friendlies. Although I do not want to get on a tangent, doesn’t this feel like a weird time to have World Cup Qualifiers? The club season is starting for the European clubs and the Central and South American clubs, Major League Soccer is entering its playoff stretch, and even the prominent Asian league teams are just starting. Although I know time is fleeting during the summer to complete these matches, perhaps if FIFA is looking into changing the 2022 World Cup from summer to winter when they schedule these matches should also be looked into. Just a thought.

That being said, there are plenty of intriguing matches to watch on Friday. So far only 5 teams have qualified for next year’s World Cup (Australia, Brazil, Iran, Japan, and South Korea) and very few clubs have been eliminated… One of the great things about the explosion soccer on television is that many of these matches are readily available to watch on the television dial or on your computer. So here are the matches to watch out for (Please note: The matches listed are only a few of the games that will be played this weekend. Also, I did not include England versus Moldova because England should crush them and that does not seem terribly interesting. If you are interested in any other matches, check out the Washington Post weekend soccer guide icon smile World Cup Qualifying Preview Weekend Edition


Matches You Will Most Likely Be Watching


U.S.A. v Costa Rica (10pm beIN Sport)

I almost put this match in the “Matches You Will Want to Scour the Internet For” since it is being played on beIN SPORT, an upstart sports channel that is funded by the al Jazeera television network. I have very limited experience with beIN SPORT, but from the few times that I have watched over “legal” feeds it reminds me a lot of Fox Soccer Channel when it first started. Pretty low-tech coverage, but their announcers were very good for the Jamaica match in June. And yes for those are wondering Former U.S. Men’s National Team player and current beIN SPORT commentator Cobi Jones still has dreadlocks.

The United States comes into this match with no pressure at all. Having won their past twelve matches in all competitions, including 3 of their past 4 CONCACAF Qualifying, they do not need to necessarily win this match. The U.S. has not won in its past 7 matches in Costa Rica and will face a team that is still angry at the snowmageddon match in February, where the United States beat Costa Rica in Colorado. With 13 points already and an easy win coming up next month at home to Jamaica, all the United States needs to do is get 1-3 points in the next two matches to qualify for Brazil.

For Costa Rica, three points would put them in the same position that the United States currently sits in: they would not qualify, but they would essentially be a lock. The Tica’s do not have another easy match in qualifying with two road matches with Jamaica and Honduras, and a match at home with Mexico so a point with the U.S. is essential.  The player to watch out for in this match is Alvaro Saborio. The Real Salt Lake midfielder has been in top form in MLS recently and should pick apart the shaky U.S. backline.


Mexico v Honduras (8pm ESPNNews)

There are very few matches during this international date that will matter more than Mexico-Honduras. Both teams are fighting for the third and fourth spots in CONCACAF. With Mexico leading Honduras by two points, it would appear that they are the odds-on favorite to advance (4th place goes into a two-game playoff with New Zealand, who won the Oceania Football Confederation tournament.) This Honduras team is also loaded with European club players like Defender Maynor Figueroa (Hull City,) Midfielders Andy Najar (Anderlecht Roger Espinoza (Wigan,) and Wilson Palacios (Stoke City.) Throughout this competition, the smaller countries in CONCACAF have shown how much they have improved both tactically and their skill level. Honduras has taken their experiences both at the 2010 World Cup and the 2012 Olympics and developed a solid defense who can deliver decisive blows on the counter-attack. This is a very dangerous team.

The other reason why this match is important is that it may be the last match for Mexico head coach Jose de la Torre. Mexico has not been playing well in the past few games, going winless at the Estadio Azteca  (the home of the Mexican National Team) in this round of qualifying, not advancing through the Group Stage of the Confederations Cup, and bottoming out of the Gold Cup in the semi-finals to Panama. While Javier Hernandez has looked very good, the rest of their team has been disorganized with sloppy possession on the attack and poor challenges on defense. In particular, Midfielder Giovanni dos Santos has been a disappointment. While they did just pull off a 4-1 victory over the Ivory Coast last month in a friendly, it does not erase the flaws of this team. We may see another upset on Friday night

Uruguay v Peru (10:30 PM, beIN Sport Spanish)

Simply put, this is it for Uruguay. A team who came within a whisker of the 2010 World Cup Final has looked generally pretty poor this time, getting beaten by Bolivia 5-1 in La Paz Bolivia and drawing to Paraguay at home. With three matches coming up against Argentina, Colombia, and Ecuador, they need to demolish Peru in this match if they have any hope of either Qualifying for the final spot in the CONMEBOL Confederation (the Confederation that represents South America,) or to making it into a two-game playoff with the winner of the Asian playoff.

A quick note on the Peruvian team: if you are a Major League Soccer, or in particular a fan of F.C. Dallas, make sure to check out Peruvian Goalkeeper Raul Fernandez. Having watched him all season for F.C. Dallas I can tell that he is certainly on form and will make it difficult for Uruguay. Peru, while technically still in the running for fourth and fifth place, is looking to build off of this performance and further enhance their fledgling program. The Incas finished third in the 2011 Copa America, and have had some pretty impressive victories during this round of World Cup Qualification, beating Chile twice and Ecuador at home. However, they still have two matches on the road against Argentina and Venezuela which are no easy tasks. If they can get points off of this match and at home against Bolivia on the 15th of October, they might just make the playoff spot.


Games Worth Taking a Long Lunchbreak/Happy Hour For On Friday


Italy v Bulgaria (5PM, Univision Deportes)

Italy could secure themselves a spot in Brazil if they can defeat the Lions of Bulgaria. This should be a high scoring match; the two clubs have combined for 23 goals in Group B during qualifying. In their first match, a 2-2 draw in September of last year, the Bulgarians proved to be a very difficult opponent for Italy, breaking down a normally stout Italian defense for two quality goals from Stanoslav Manolev (PSV Eindhoven,) and Georgi Milanov (CSKA Moscow.) Although Bulgaria plays a very tough defensive style, they have always been known for developing skillful midfielders and attackers. The player to watch out for in this match is Ivelin Popov the captain who plays club football for Kuban Krasnodor in the Russian Premier League. He is a highly skilled attacking midfielder who can cut through defenses with precise, accurate passes and can make his own shot off of crosses.

Nonetheless, the Italians should be able to match any Bulgarian attack with their own set of quality strikers. With a club that features the likes of Andrea Pirlo, Daniele De Rossi, and Mario Balotelli you should expect a team that can score goals with relative ease. Balotelli seems to finally have found his rhythm with the Azzuri, scoring three goals in World Cup Qualifying and 5 goals in all competitions this year. And of course, they have the legendary Gigi Buffon in goal, which put on one of the best performances I have ever seen in the FIFA Confederations Cup this past summer. This is one of the most talented teams in international soccer right now and they should qualify for Brazil within the next two matches.

Croatia v Serbia (2:45 ESPN3)

This match is not for the faint of heart. While many World Cup Qualifying matches feature teams that have very little history with one another, this match is nothing but history. For those of you that do not remember your World History: both Serbia and Croatia were originally a part of the country formerly known as Yugoslavia. In the early 1990’s Yugoslavia broke up and violent conflicts between the different ethnic groups (Bosnians, Croats, Serbs, and eventually Kosovars) started up. Although tensions in the Balkans have lessened, these ethnic groups still do not get along on the soccer pitch. Matches are routinely abandoned and riots are very common. The first leg of this match, a 2-0 victory for Croatia in Zagreb, was actually quite peaceful. But with this match being played in Belgrade, the capital of Serbia things may be different.

Instead of worrying about their history, Serbia should be focused on the plight of their current squad. To say that their current form has been disappointing is an understatement. Having lost to Macedonia and been drubbed 5-0 at home to Belgium, Serbia cannot qualify directly for the World Cup and must run the table with their last three matches to have any hope of making it to Brazil. The Serbs are currently 9 points behind Croatia for the second spot in Group A, with matches coming against Macedonia and Wales. Croatia still has to play Belgium at home and Scotland on the road which is why Serbia still has a chance to make it to the playoffs. But first they will have to beat Croatia.

The club will be playing a mostly young squad with only two players over the age of 30 on the squad (Goalkeeper Vladimir Stojkovic and Defender Milan Bisevac.) The Serbian defense should provide quite the challenge for. Defenders Branislav Ivanovic, Aleksandr Kolarov, Matija Nastasic, and Neven Subotic all feature regularly for Chelsea, Manchester City, and Borussia Dortmund.  Croatia will need their attacking duo of Eduardo da Silva and Mario Mandzukic, who 2 goals each during Qualifying, to step up and help bury their rivals.


Sweden v Republic of Ireland (2:45PM GolTV)

Germany v Austria (2:40PM Univision, ESPN3)

With all due respect to the Faroe Islands and Kazakhstan, Qualification in Group C has always been a four horse race. While one would assume that Germany would be leading the pack by a wide margin, the other three contenders (Austria, The Republic of Ireland, and Sweden) have all proven to be difficult opponents for the Germans. Sweden in particular, gave the Germans fits on defense in the 4-4 draw in Munich. With Germany leading the group with 16 points, and the other three teams tied with 11, the Germans could essentially win the group by beating Austria on Friday. The Germans still have an automatic three points against the Faroe Islands coming up and will have the Republic of Ireland at home in October.

Out of the other three teams vying for the second-place playoff berth, the Irish have the most difficult road ahead. Although they are tied with Sweden and Austria on points they are behind in goal differential by 2 (Sweden) and 8 (Austria) goals respectively. They also do not have any more matches against the Faroe Islands and will need to beat Sweden at home on Friday and get points on the road at either Austria or Germany. The 6-1 clobbering that the Republic of Ireland received at the hands of Germany and their 2-2 draw at home to Austria have nearly killed their World Cup campaign.

I have been really impressed with the work that Austria has put on during their last few matches. A team that seemed like it bottomed out during the 2012 European Championship Qualifiers, they have come back to life during this campaign, defeating Sweden and nearly getting a result from Germany. Their team has been led by Bayern Munich striker David Alaba, who has scored 4 goals in the tournament, including a critical goal that allowed them to get a result in Dublin against Ireland. If Austria can either get a result, or keep the game within reason, against Germany then they can set themselves up to make a run for either first or second place in the group.


Match Worth Scouring the Internet For


Jordan v Uzbekistan (Noon This is on a channel called One World Sports. I have no idea what that is, and chances 99% of Americans do not have it.)

I nearly chose the Ghana vs Zambia World Cup Qualifier but I am not even sure if that is being televised in Africa, let alone a feed from a T.V. Channel in some distant country. Which is a real shame because both Ghana and Zambia are very good teams. Having watched plenty of African football during the African Cup of Nations, I hope that more of their matches will be covered in the future.

The match between Jordan and Uzbekistan is interesting because the winner will play the fifth-place team CONMEBOL, which will in all likelihood be Uruguay or Venezuela. While one would think that the Asian teams would be at a disadvantage that is not always the case. Often with different styles and time and temperature changes you get interesting results like Australia defeating Uruguay to advance to the 2006 World Cup or Costa Rica nearly defeating Uruguay to enter the 2010 World Cup. So this match between Jordan and Uzbekistan is an important match for both sides. Neither side has ever made it this far in World Cup Qualifying so it would be huge for either country to advance on with the tournament.

Both teams have had their moments during qualifying. Jordan had some very impressive victories at home against Australia and Japan. It is off of those two victories, and defeating Oman in the final match, that the club found themselves in this position. Their defense has been very poor all tournament, allowing in 16 goals and only scoring 7. In particular, the 6-0 defeat at the hands of Japan stands out as their worst performance.

Unlike Jordan, Uzbekistan features one of the best defenses in all of Asia. Having only allowed in 6 goals all tournament, they were able to secure this playoff match by defeating Iran 1-0 in Tehran and managing to lose only 1-0 to South Korea in Seoul. For minnows like Uzbekistan it is critical to minimize the damage when they go on the road so that goal differential does not become a factor.  Their top player is Captain Server Djerperov, who plays in the South Korean domestic league with Seongnam Ilhwa Chunma. Djerperov was instrumental in the victory over Iran, setting up Forward Ulugbek Bakayev for the winning goal.


Wait, This Match Is Actually Happening?

Belarus versus Kyrgyzstan (Internet)

One of the funny things that happen during international match days is that inevitably there are a few teams that will be left out of the World Cup Qualifying fun. It is during this illustrious time period that we, the soccer fans, get Canada versus Mauritania, Japan versus Guatemala, and this gem of a match. In one corner, you have Kyrgyzstan ranked 135th in the world whose World Cup dreams ended in 2011 after having been thrashed 7-0 in two matches against the aforementioned Uzbekistan. There are a couple of players that play in the lower levels of Ukrainian football, but for the most part all of their players play in the Kyrgyzstani league.

While Kyrgyzstan may be out of World Cup Qualifying, Belarus is still in the heat of it. And by the heat of it I mean trying to avoid catastrophe against France and Spain in Group H. While they did secure a victory against the mighty Georgia and a draw against Finland, France and Spain have crushed Belarus to the tune of 7-1 in two matches. With two matches coming up against France and Spain, I am not really sure what insight Belarus will get from playing the likes of Kyrgyzstan. Perhaps a morale boost is needed before they get thrashed by two of the best teams in the world.



International Round-Up

 Posted by on October 12, 2011 at 12:57 am  Uncategorized
Oct 122011

It was great day for international football as today was the last of the group matches to qualify for Euro 2012 in Ukraine and Poland. Below is a briefing on how some of the boys from Chelsea did.

Frances players celebrate 005 International Round Up

Florent Malouda is the latest Chelsea player to book his place in next summer’s European Championships. He was a part of the French side that earned a 1-1 draw at home to Bosnia & Herzegovina today. The winger played the first hour in Paris as his side trailed, only for Samir Nasri to score a late penalty to send France through. Bosnia and Herzegovina will now go to the play-offs.

Petr Cech and the Czech Republic came out 4-1 winners in Lithuania today, the goalkeeper will now go into next month’s play-offs in second place behind Spain, who defeated Scotland 3-1 in Alicante. Fernando Torres and Juan Mata were unused subs for this match.

Raul Meireles and Portugal will also be in the play-offs as they were defeated 2-1 by Denmark.

Branislav Ivanovic’s Serbia were beaten 1-0 in Slovenia, Ivanovic played the entire match at centre-back. Unfortunately, the defeat eliminates Serbia from qualification so next year it will be a summer break for the defender.

Romelu Lukaku will also have the summer off as Belgium were eliminated after their 3-1 defeat from table leaders Germany. Turkey secured the play-off spot in that group.

John Mikel Obi played the final 20 minutes of Nigeria’s 0-0 friendly draw against Ghana at Vicarage Road. Nigeria were eliminated from the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations so there will be no international football for Mikel in the month of January and early February.

Conor Clifford played the first 66 minutes in Ireland’s Under 21 match where they came out 4-1 winners in Liechtenstein, and Milan Lalkovic player the full ninety as Slovakia were 6-0 winners away at Latvia.

The playoff draw for a spot at Euro 2012 will be made in the Ukrainian capital of Kiev on Thursday, with the two-legged ties set to be played on November 11/12 and 15.