Send us a message

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


Nov 082012

From Miami the draw was made and the stage is set for the fourth and final round of World Cup Qualifying for CONCACAF as the six remaining nations found out who plays who when.

For the United States a tough start to qualifying as three of their first four matches are on the road.  What is of note is that the dates against Mexico on the road and at home are different than in the last few qualifying cycles. Instead of a visit to Estadio Azteca in the summer months a more manageable trip during March than in the heat of summer.

The United States begins their qualification journey with a trip to San Pedro Sula, Honduras on February 22. In late March, the 22, the first home match is against Costa Rica followed by the all important trip to Mexico City on the 26. Into June and three matches which can make the journey to Brazil easy or otherwise; the 7th in Kingston at Jamaica, the 11th home to Panama, the 18th home to Honduras. Into September, the 6th, a visit to San Jose, Costa Rica and the new Chinese built and financed Estadio National de Costa Rica before the crucial home match against Mexico on the 10th. In October as qualifying concludes hosting Jamaica occurs on the 11th before the finale at Panama on the 15th.

Other matches of note, aside from the always highlighted USA-Mexico matches, the Clasico Centroamericano, between Costa Rica and Honduras, is first in Costa Rica on June 7th then the reverse fixture in Honduras on October 11th.

Oct 122012

The team goes into their next set of World Cup qualifier as clear favorites to win over Antigua & Barbuda. The U.S. is tied at the top of the group with Guatemala and Jamaica with Antigua and Barbuda trailing behind. Back in June, the Yanks beat the Benna Boys 3-1, in a match were most believed the score should have been more like 6-0. The Benna Boys will be focusing their efforts in the back and strategizing on their defense against the Americans.

After the team’s 2-1 loss to Guatemala in June, Jurgen Klinsmann is trying to change the mentality of the players going into these next two qualifiers, as is shown with his decision to omit Jozy Altidore from the American’s roster stating, “I was not happy about his latest performances with us, maybe even over the last 14 months”. Klinsmann also added “I think Jozy can do much, much better, and the reason why he’s not coming in is mainly about the performances in Jamaica and at home, also in training. Also certain things that went on through the May-June camp.” Altidore is having his best club season so far and is tied in the Eredivisie leading in goals for AZ Alkmaar. With Altidore’s absence, most of the pressure upfront will be put on Clint Dempsey and Herculez Gomez.

Another person left off the roster is Timmy Chandler who has turned down his previous call-ups with the U.S. to remain with his club team. Chandler has recently stated he is very much open to returning to play with the U.S. The next opportunity for Chandler to be cap-tied will not come until next summer during other qualifier matches. Klinsmann instead made the surprise decision to call-up Eddie Johnson who is making a return to the national teams after two years without a call-up. Johnson has recently been having a breakout year after joining the Seattle Sounders, and as Klinsmann stated, Johnson provides much needed versatility in the air up-front.

The Americans will be aiming for a win these next two matches without some of their starting players. Landon Donovan and Brek Shea were both dropped from the roster last week because of injuries and returned to their clubs for recovery. Later in the week, U.S. Soccer announced that both left backs Fabian Johnson and Edgar Castillo would also be dropped from the roster because of an injury and illness. Johnson is sick with the flu and will hopefully recover in time to meet up the team in Kansas City next week for the match against Guatemala. The changes to the roster will likely force Klinsmann to start Carlos Bocanegra in the left back position for the upcoming match.

Despite, the home field advantage for Antigua the final score should reflect this new mentality Klinsmann is trying to enforce after the team’s loss in Guatemala City. “The mentality we are bringing into these two games is to get six points. We must have urgency within the group and a clear understanding that we need to deliver, which means each player has to bring a 100 percent effort”, Klinsmann said.

Following their match against Antigua & Barbuda, the Yanks will once again take on Guatemala in the semifinal round of qualifying next Tuesday. Guatemala is heavily favored to finish in the top two of the group behind the U.S, and will be a tougher opponent than the Benna Boys.

Sep 102012

A few hours ago I engaged a couple friends in a healthy debate about Crew Stadium’s place in history and whether or not it would be a suitable home for the US Men’s National Team.

Now, I am an ardent Crew supporter but I need to be honest (aka objective) with all of you for a moment. Crew Stadium was the first soccer specific stadium for an MLS franchise. Many people will try to tell you that Crew Stadium is an important part of American soccer folklore/history. They will tell you that without Crew Stadium, there would be no Home Depot Center/PPL Park/BBVA Compass Stadium.

This is simply not true.

Am I supposed to believe that without Crew Stadium, the New York Red Bulls NEVER would’ve wound up with their own facility. Does Toyota Park in Bridgeview, Illinois REALLY exist because of what happened in Columbus? No. Crew Stadium itself is quite simple. It’s four sides of mostly cheap, metal bleachers on a former county fairground parking lot. Only recently did the organization pull enough teeth to remove the central stands at the north end of the stadium and insert a concert stage to help bring in more events to generate more revenue. Outside of that, the stadium has remained largely untouched since it originally opened in 1999. The front office continues to search for a sponsor to sign a long term naming rights deal, but they haven’t really come close in the stadium’s 13 year existence. Meanwhile, pretty much every soccer specific stadium that has come along since then has a lucrative (some more than others) naming rights deal that was completed fairly close to each one’s debut. Some even had naming rights done BEFORE the inaugural game.

So yes, Crew Stadium was the first of its kind and represents a significant footnote in American soccer history. But it’s nothing more than that: a footnote. The facility continues to wither away under the harsh sands of time.

Enter the US Men’s National Team.

The USMNT has never lost a World Cup qualifier inside the confines of Crew Stadium. In fact, the qualifying campaigns for Italy 2006 and South Africa 2010 both featured significant victories by the US over hated CONCACAF rivals Mexico inside Columbus Ohio’s favorite soccer stadium. I was in attendance for the original “Dos a Cero” match when the US clinched its spot in the 2006 World Cup with a resounding 2-0 victory over Mexico in September of 2005.

It was by far the most festive atmosphere I’ve ever experienced at a sporting event. And this was in 2005! The American Outlaws were still in their infant stages. US soccer supporters hadn’t even remotely begun to mobilize at that point in time. The US also won its home qualifying fixture over Mexico in Columbus in 2009 leading up to the 2010 World Cup. Columbus has become a fortress for the Stars And Stripes, especially when it matters most during qualifying. Not only that, but Columbus is ideally located in the heart of America’s Midwest; the home of the middle class. Tuesday night’s sellout crowd will feature fans from Chicago, Indianapolis, Detroit, and Pittsburgh, as well as the rest of the state of Ohio. You could not ask for a more central focal point from to draw fans from surrounding cities/states. It is truly a melting pot when the USMNT comes to the capital of Ohio.

Are there bigger cities than Columbus who feel they deserve a shot? Absolutely. But I seem to recall a match at Chicago’s Soldier Field several years ago in which the US played Honduras and the crowd was overwhelmingly Blue And White. The immigrants put the natives to shame. The same thing happened the last time the US hosted Argentina at MetLife Stadium in New Jersey. The 2011 Gold Cup Final showed us the true colors of Southern California. Places like Portland, Seattle, Kansas City, and Washington DC will also cry out for their voice to be heard. But with the exception of DC, all of those places have solid stadiums already in place. They are no longer in need of a modern home.

If the US Soccer Federation declared Crew Stadium the official home of the USMNT for World Cup qualifying it would create a true sense of urgency to upgrade the archaic facility. The grounds crew regularly receives national awards for its pristine upkeep of the natural grass playing surface itself, but beyond that the stadium is in desperate need of renovations. It must become a modern stadium like so many of its MLS counterparts. A little nudge from the USSF would make all the difference in the world. It would allow things to come full circle and let Crew Stadium leave behind the days of being old and outdated while sleek new stadiums spring up around the country. A wide open parking lot around the stadium leaves plenty of room for tailgating and pregame festivities, but it will take more than that to make Columbus the official home of America’s Team.

When you’re watching the match against Jamaica on Tuesday night, pay close attention to the crowd. See just how skilled Columbus is at hosting  American soccer supporters. Listen to the sounds of AO Columbus and the rest of the Midwestern chapters of America’s best supporters group who traveled to this “cathedral of American soccer”. Then close your eyes and imagine if the stadium had actual chairs and legitimate VIP suites courtesy of a lucrative naming rights deal. Imagine the country’s first soccer specific stadium as the official home of the US Men’s National Team.

Now that would be truly MASSIVE…