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Nov 192013

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


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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Other games worth checking out:

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

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

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

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

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



Feb 272013

Sepp Blatter angry with Uefa over Fifa reform declaration by telegraphvideo

Fifa president Sepp Blatter took a swipe at European governing body Uefa, expressing his surprise at what he said were attempts to block his reform process to make soccer’s governing body more transparent and less prone to corruption.

Oct 112012
Scotland v Romania u19s

 Young Scots qualify for Euro Elite Round with a match to spare

Scotland’s youth players showed their senior counterparts how to compete in a qualifying group tonight when they emerged victorious from their latest European Championship group 9 match with yet another win.

by Marc Roseblade

After Tuesday nights winning start against Armenia, all that was really required to progress to the elite round of qualification was another victory against Romania, leaving their final match against Switzerland as a buffer that would hopefully not be required as a must win to help reduce the pressure that such a situation would bring.

The Scot’s under 19s players had no such illusions of needing Sundays game to emerge from group 9 and although they made heavy weather of the match at Falkirk Stadium, they did hit the back of the net once more than their opponents.

Celtics John Herron grabbed the only goal of the game with just three minutes of the first half remaining and although Romania could feel the result was unjust as they had dominated most of the proceedings, the once again found the path to goal blocked – much like they did on Tuesday against Switzerland.

Despite all Romania’s possession, it was Scotland that should have added more goals.

Marcus Fraser saw his header cleared from the line near the end and just prior to the final whistle, Islam Feruz saw his strike slide wide of the post.

The Romanian players were distraught at the end after news filtered through from New Douglas Park that Switzerland had defeated Armenia 4-0 to clinch the other automatic qualifying spot from Group 9. All that remains to be decided in Sundays clash at Falkirk is who will finish in top spot between the two countries.

Let’s hope the weather is better than it was tonight but the 572 crowd that braved the rain and cold left well chuffed at the eventual outcome – Scotland qualifying for the next round of a major championships.

You can follow Marc on Twitter @myscottishfitba

Joel Lindpere National Team Dilemma Looms

 Posted by on October 15, 2011 at 5:07 pm  Uncategorized
Oct 152011

A funny thing happened to the former Soviet bloc country Estonia during its Euro 2012 qualifying campaign.  They didn’t roll over and die.  In fact they finished a startling second in Group C meaning they head to a two leg playoff against Ireland in November in order to qualify for their first ever Euro Cup.  This is certainly a historic moment for the small Eastern European country. Joel Lindpere, for those who don’t know is Estonian and has been capped 74 times for his country.  The two leg playoff takes place right in between the MLS Conference finals and MLS Cup.  See the dilemma?

The Red Bulls have quite the conundrum on hand.  It would be the decent thing to do, letting the player who’s been the heart and soul of the team compete in a once in a lifetime opportunity for his home country. On the other hand, would it really benefit the team to send it’s player halfway across the world should they be in the midst of an MLS Cup run?  It really wouldn’t.  The team absolutely could not afford to have Joel Lindpere jet lagged and worn out in and MLS Cup final match.  He’s having a career season and his contribution is essential to the Red Bulls’ success.  The fire he brings to this squad is also unmatched by anyone else on this team.  Who scored when the team was clearly done against RSL?  Who acted as if that match wasn’t lost yet?  Joel Lindpere.  As great an opportunity it would be for Lindpere, the Red Bulls have to look out for their own interests and cannot let Lindpere leave.

Or can they.

Lindpere has had plenty of opportunities to be tired.  He’s had plenty of opportunities to quit.  And yet the man keeps on going.  It seemingly would be a smart bet that Lindpere would come back from Europe and put in his usual team MVP performance.  The man just doesn’t quit no matter what’s stacked against him.  Lindpere is also in his contract year and it would be wise for the Red Bulls to do whatever they possibly can to resign him.  Allowing him to partake in this historic opportunity would be a sign of good faith by the organization that Lindpere could very well consider when he decides whether or not to stay in NY or go back to Europe to ply his trade in the top flight.  With that in mind, the Red Bulls may very well have everything to gain from letting him go play for Estonia.

Of course this could all be a moot point as it would require the team to expand upon it’s already miraculous playoff push to a miraculous MLS Cup run.  Should the far more likely scenario of the team getting knocked out earlier happen, then it’s a no brainer for Lindpere and the team to go play for Estonia.  Either way, it’s an interesting story that could get all the more dramatic should the team find late season success.