Send us a message

Interested in being a part of the team? Get in touch with us today.
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 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.



 Posted by on August 25, 2013 at 9:06 pm  Barcelona FC, Chelsea, Europe, Global Football Today, La Liga, Spain
Aug 252013

Ronaldinho deco 300x126 #20

Football has a strange way of placing some players up on a pedestal as ‘legends of the game’, while relegating others to the category of also-rans in the pantheon of greats.  Maradona is revered as one of, if not the, greatest footballer of all time, while Michel Platini is seen as the incompetent Frenchman who runs UEFA by many English fans.  Everyone seems to remember the 86’ World Cup but the 84’ European Championships are seemingly forgotten.

This phenomenon is not limited to the more casual observers of the game.  Franco Baresi narrowly lost out to Bobby Moore and Franz Beckenbauer as the greatest defender of all time according to World Soccer magazine, receiving 22 votes from a panel of respected journalists from around the world.

In comparison, Gaetano Scirea received only one vote, the same amount at England’s brave John Terry, despite the fact that he kept Barsei out of the national side for some time, won everything there is to win at club level for Juventus, in addition to the 82’ World Cup, and is rivaled only by the aforementioned Kaiser in his mastery of the Libero role.  Surely he deserves more than equal footing with ‘JT’?

Turning now from comparing ‘Mr. Chelsea’ with legends of calico to the actual subject of this piece, let’s see if you can guess the identity of a player who is also seemingly being forgotten by many fans of the beautiful game, despite the fact that this individual is still playing professionally today.

He’s one of only a handful of players to have won the Champions League with two different clubs, receiving the UEFA midfielder of the year award on both occasions, he has won eight league titles in four different countries, he was a Balon D’or runner up, and earned 75 caps for his country, highlighted by playing in a European Championships final and World Cup semifinal.

The player’s name is Anderson Luís de Souza of course, or as you might better know him, Deco.

Some might say Deco was born in the wrong time period.  There was seemingly no place in Brazilian football for a 174cm tall ball-playing midfielder in 1997.  Of course, this seemed to be the case over in Europe as well, with midfield partnerships consisting of one creator, a Zidane or Scholes, and one destroyer, a Davids or Keane, the norm.

Though Brazil had produced elegant ball-playing midfielders in the past such as Didi, Rivelino, Gérson, Zico, Socrates, Falcão,  et al, those within Brazilian football came to believe, perhaps as a result of the failure of the 82’ side, that centre midfielders had to be tall, strong players who could physically dominate the midfield battle.

This is evident in the Brazil side that won the World Cup in 2002; Brazil employed a back three with two destroyers in Kléberson and Gilberto Silva ahead of them, with the creative work left to an attacking three of Ronaldinho, Rivaldo, and Ronaldo.

This left no room for a slight midfielder like Deco, neither a traditional playmaker nor a player in the mold of Kaka who could drive past defenders with his great pace, but a versatile, inventive midfielder who could link up play and also had an eye for goal.

Never establishing himself in domestic Brazilian football, Deco moved to Portugal at age 19 after Benfica bought him from Corinthians.  He was then loaned out to second division side F.C. Alverca, where he quickly adapted to European football, helping the club gain promotion to the top flight with 13 goals in 32 appearances.

Despite his fine performances, on his return to Benfica, manager Graham Souness decided Deco wouldn’t be able to cut it at the top level and instead brought in Mark Pembridge from Sheffield Wednesday.  There’s a reason Souness topped the Guardian’s 2008 list of ten worst football managers.  Deco was sold to S.C. Salgueiros, where his play caught the eye of FC Porto, and he subsequently joined the club in 1999.

After an indifferent first year, Deco established himself as a regular with the Portuguese giants in his next three seasons with the side, helping Porto to a league title and two domestic cup triumphs. He also impressed individually, scoring 19 goals in 48 games in the 2001/2002 season, including six in Europe.

Despite this early success, his career really took off when a certain Jose Mourinho arrived in 2002.  As is evident by his 17 yellow cards and one red card in 2002/2003 season, Mourinho helped Deco improve the tactical aspect of his game, asking him to help press the opposition from his position at the top of Porto’s midfield diamond.

Deco became an integral part of Mourinho’s Porto side, scoring 12 goals as Porto won the league title after a three year drought, triumphed over Celtic in the UEFA cup final, and added the Portuguese Cup to complete the Treble in the Portuguese manager’s first year at the helm.

The success continued in the next season, as Porto defended their league title while pulling off one of the greatest surprises in modern football history by winning the Champions League.  Playing in a slightly deeper role linking midfield and attack, Deco was voted UEFA Club Footballer of the Year and topped the Champions league in.

Also the most fouled player in the competition, Deco helped lead Porto to a famous victory against Manchester United on the way to their final matchup with Monaco where Deco ran the show, scoring Porto’s second goal as well as being voted man of the match.

Andy Brassell writes of Deco’s play that season for Porto in All or Nothing: A Season in the life of the Champions League:

“Deco is pivotal to most good things that Porto do. A player who’s the very definition of flair . . . he’s influential on so many levels – his set pieces are always dangerous, and he has the vision to open up a defense.  The opposition know he can also beat two or three players at a time so he attracts potential markers every time he picks up the ball, leaving spaces elsewhere on the pitch.  Not forgetting, of course, that he’s simply very good a keeping the ball . . .”

Despite these qualities, Deco was never called up by Brazil, and he became eligible to play for Portugal upon earning his passport after spending six years in the country.  Realizing his mistake in never calling him up for Brazil, Deco was immediately brought into the squad by new Portugal manager Luiz Felipe Scolari in 2003.  He scored a free kick in his first game, coincidentally against Brazil, as Portugal defeated the current world champions for the first time since 1966.

Though Scolari clearly was a fan of his, Deco’s inclusion was nevertheless contentious at first, with many in the media, as well as supporters of clubs other than Porto resenting his place in the squad.

Luis Figo went as far as to say of Deco’s call up, “It’s something that distorts team spirit and I don’t agree with it. If you’re born Chinese, well, you have to play for China.”  Figo continued, “It looks like you’re trying to take advantage of something. That’s my opinion and I’m not going to change it because he is in the team.”

Deco responded to the criticism surrounding his selection, saying: “I don’t regret choosing to play for Portugal, I was born in Brazil and it would be a lie to say that I’m Portuguese now and not Brazilian. But I love Portugal and I love playing for the national team.”

His critics were soon silenced as Deco was named part of the Portugal squad for the 2004 European Championships, replacing Rui Costa at halftime against Greece in the first group stage game before playing every minute of Portugal’s remaining games on the way to the final, where Portugal lost to Greece on home soil for a second time.

After the Euro’s, Deco was heavily linked with a move to Chelsea after Mourinho’s arrival at Stamford Bridge, but he instead went to play under Frank Rijkaard at Barcelona.  With Barcelona already having signed fellow Brazilian Ronaldinho the previous summer, some questioned Barcelona’s wisdom is signing another attacking midfielder.  However, Rijkaard had another role in mind for the midfielder, and Deco excelled playing in a midfield three that season, coming second to Andriy Schevchenko in the 2004 Balon D’or voting.

Deco and Ronaldinho, a duo that according to Scolari, “can make rain fall”, helped bring the attractive, free flowing football back to the Camp Nou that had absent for large periods of time since Johan Cruyff’s original Dream Team. Though Deco never achieved the popularity Ronaldinho did, he was a perfect foil for the forward.

While Ronaldinho’s footwork and goals were so spectacular that even that Real Madrid supporters had to stand up and applaud, Deco was a master of keeping the ball circulating by playing simple, never taking five touches when one would suffice.  Showcasing his great passing ability, work rate, and footballing intelligence, Deco helped Barcelona wrest the La Liga title from holders Valencia, scoring ten goals in all competitions.

The following season was perhaps the best of Deco’s career.  Barcelona defended their La Liga title in fine fashion, winning by twelve points as Deco was voted Barcelona’s player of the year for the 2005/2006 season.  In Europe, Barcelona topped their group and knocked off Chelsea, Benfica, and Milan on the way to the final, as Deco collected another UEFA midfielder of the year award after his side defeated Arsenal 2-1 in Paris.

Deco was at the peak of his powers, a complete midfielder who controlled the tempo of the game flawlessly.  Speaking of the possibility of a 4-6-0 formation, former UEFA technical director Andy Roxburg said: “you’d need to have six Decos in midfield – he doesn’t just attack, he runs, tackles, cover all over the pitch.  You find him playing at right-back sometimes.’  High praise indeed.

While Guardiola’s Barcelona side famously approached this ideal, he was not the first to apply the concept.  Though Rijkaard typically played Deco alongside Mark van Bomel and Edmílson in Europe, in La Liga, he frequently played with a midfield of Xavi Hernandez, Andrés Inietsa, and Deco, certainly a sign of thing to come.

Heading off to Germany for the 2006 World Cup in good form, Deco was by now a key cog in the Scolari’s Portugal side.  Scoring in Portugal’s first game versus Iran, Deco’s metronomic passing led Portugal out of the group stage and past the Netherlands in the infamous ‘Battle of Nuremberg’, where he was one of four players sent off.  Returning to the side after serving his suspension against England, he was unable to stop Zidane’s France as Portugal again fell just short of glory in a tightly contest semifinal.

Back at Barcelona, Deco was again an integral part of the side, making 47 appearances all competitions.  However, Real Madrid captured the league title that season and after a poor 2007/2008 campaign, Deco and Ronaldinho were sold as new manager Pep Guardiola wished to build his side around Xavi, Iniesta, and Messi, among rumors that the two had become a bad influence on the dressing room.

Deco was reunited with ‘Big Phil’ Scolari at Chelsea, and enjoyed a great start to his time with the West Londoners, scoring a couple of spectacular goals and being voted the Premier League player of the month in August 2008.  However, his form dropped off and he found himself consigned to the bench after Scolari was sacked.

Despite speculation that he might leave Stamford Bridge, Deco stayed on after new manager Carlo Ancelotti took over and again had a postive start to the season before injuries curtailed him.  After recovering, Deco played himself back into the side for the title run in and helped Chelsea win the Premier League and a second FA Cup trophy in two years, completing the first Double in club history.

After injuring himself in the first game of 2010 World Cup, Deco would not feature again for Portugal and he announced his retirement from international football after the tournament.  He subsequently joined Brazilian side Fluminense, where he helped the club win two Brazilian Championships.  He also led Fluminense to the Rio State Championship in 2012, where he was voted the tournament’s best player, finally getting the recognition he deserved fifteen years after leaving his home country.

While Brazilian fans have somewhat of an excuse for not fully appreciating Deco considering he left the country so young and never played for Brazil, it is unfortunate that many fans of European football remember him not as the elite player that he was, but simply as another above average midfielder to have played on the continent in recent years.

Never mind that Deco was in many way the archetype for Xavi and Iniesta, two players who are so highly revered in the modern game.  Apparently Guardiola founded FCB in 2008.  Speaking of Guardiola, it is somewhat ironic that a comment by the very man who forced Deco out of Barcelona ultimately sheds some light on what a special player he truly was.

After their victory over Santos in the 2011 Club World Cup Final Pep Guardiola said his Barcelona side played football “as my dad and my grandfather told me Brazil did.”  The Catalan side starting XI included Sergio Busquets, Xavi Hernandez, Andres Iniesta, Cesc Fabregas, and Thiago Alcantar; five Decos one might say.  On the other hand, Santo’s midfield consisted of Arouca and Henrique, two destroyers, with Ganso as the playmaker.  Barcelona utterly dominated, enjoying 71% possession and winning 4-0.  The result was a shock to the system of Brazilian football.

While Spain has produced an extraordinary amount of excellent ball playing midfielders in recent years, Brazil has not.  The closest thing again Brazil coach Luiz Felipe Scolari has at his disposal is probably Oscar of Chelsea, though he plays primarily as the central player in a 4-2-3-1.

A player like Deco, with his adaptability, ability to pass and move, and football acumen is sorely missed not just from Brazil, but from nearly any national team apart perhaps from Spain.  Am I the only one who thinks Deco could still do a job for the Three Lions?

In an age where many fan’s concept of the history of the game began the moment they start paying attention, and the advent of the 24-hour news cycle and social media mean that football is increasingly wrapped up in the present, it is important to not only remember the players that were able to win the World Cup as a result of being part of an exceptional generation, those that wowed fans with great displays of individual skill, or those that scored obscene amounts of goals in teams who frequently steamrolled the opposition.

We should also appreciate players who possess a true love of the game and are capable of that bit of magic, even if it’s only for a few moments or seasons, that show their true class.  In this spirit, I will leave the last words on Deco to Scolari, a man who truly appreciated the midfielder’s genius.

“Deco, obviously, is not Zidane, but he is very similar. You expect one thing and then it changes. That is very important. For me, he is one of the best players 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.