Thursday, August 28, 2014

EPL Table Week 2 - The Undefeateds

Ok, I must apologize off the bat for breaking rank but to me undefeated means you have won every match you’ve competed in. Yes, that means no ties. That said in week two of the EPL we’ve already been reduced to just four, so let’s take a look at who will be the last club left standing. Tottenham Hotspur – Wow, how many of you said Spurs would be at the top of the table in week 2? Liars. This comes as a huge surprise despite their 6th place finish last season and a productive off-season. Truth is they’re playing some of the best football in England with an impressive win at West Ham and an easy disposal of QPR at home on top of two wins over AEL in the Europa League. As good a they look right now they will be further tested this week as they host Liverpool and travel to Emirates to take on Arsenal at the end of September. Chelsea – This is no surprise as the Blues were expected to be at the top of the table to start the campaign and perhaps in May as well. However check back with me in a month and we’ll see if we’re still as confident as an early 2 vs. 3 matchup with Swansea will be a litmus test for both sides then they come right back one week later and take on city. They will either establish some distance at the top or find them themselves on the fringe of the Champions League cutoff to start off the season. Man City – The defending champs already look in mid-season form in both their victories but of the four undefeated sides they by far have the toughest stretch over the next month. A stretch that includes Sotke, Man City, and Chelsea but with two of the three at home 2 out of 3 results is probable and 9 points isn’t out of the question so the Sky Blues may already be setting their mark early in the season. Swansea – Similar to Spurs not many outside of Liberty Stadium thought they’d be this high on the poll, but the challenge will be how long they can maintain their vantage point. We already spoke about their matchup with Chelsea but before they get to the Blues they’re have to face a hungry West Brom side but if they can pull off a split they’ll be in pretty good shape for mid-September. Barclays Premier League Table August 28

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Happy New Year!!! EPL Kicks off the 2014 Campaign

The EPL season kicked off the new campaign this weekend the same way it ended with Manchester City and Liverpool on top of the division. Of course they have much more company than they did last May as Arsenal also won and certainly plans to crash the party throughout the season, Swansea, Villa’, Hull, and Spurs also welcomed the new year with a pint and victory. Manchester United also started how they ended the 2013’ campaign, in very disappointing fashion with a loss at Old Trafford vs Swansea as new skipper Louis van Gaal got a rude awakening and will wake up on Monday and find the Red Devils tied at the bottom of the table. Burnley will make its EPL return on Monday and it may be quite surly as the Blue Lions come to town. Barclays Premier League Pos Team P Pts 1 Manchester City 1 3 2 Arsenal 1 3 3 Liverpool 1 3 4 Swansea City 1 3 5 Aston Villa 1 3 6 Hull City 1 3 7 Tottenham Hotspur 1 3 8 Everton 1 1 9 Leicester City 1 1 10 Sunderland 1 1 11 West Bromwich Albion 1 1 12 Burnley 0 0 13 Chelsea 0 0 14 Crystal Palace 1 0 15 Manchester United 1 0 16 Southampton 1 0 17 Queens Park Rangers 1 0 18 Stoke City 1 0 19 West Ham United 1 0 20 Newcastle United 1 0 See the complete EPL week in review, tables, stats, and more on the main site here.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Reflections from the World Stage

• There were fewer red cards at the 2014 World Cup than any other edition since 1986 (8). • The 2014 World Cup saw a joint-high number of goals scored (171). • Germany reached the World Cup final for the eighth time; more often than any other side in the history of the competition. • Germany scored 18 goals – the last team to score as many in a World Cup tournament were Brazil (also 18) in 2002. • Argentina trailed for just seven minutes in the entire tournament (excluding injury time). • Belgium reached the quarter-final stage, despite only holding a lead for 52 minutes in their five matches combined. belgium Belgium led for just 52 minutes of the tournament, but still made the last eight. Photograph: Felipe Dana/AP • Brazil committed 31 fouls in their quarter-final win over Colombia; the most fouls that they had made in a single World Cup game since records began in 1966. • James Rodríguez became the first player to score in his first five career World Cup appearances since Peru’s Teófilo Cubillas (across the 1970 and 1978 tournaments). Gerd Müller in 1970 was the last player to do it in a single tournament. • Miroslav Klose became the top scoring player in World Cup history with his strike against Brazil in the semi-finals (16 goals). • This was the first time that three sides from the Concafaf region made it out of the group stages and into the last 16 (since the format began in 1986). • Costa Rica knocked out Italy, England, Greece and beat Uruguay, four sides placed in the top 12 positions of the Fifa Rankings (Uruguay – 7th, Italy – 9th, England – 10th, Greece – 12th). • Only six European nations made it to the last 16; a joint-World Cup low since the round of 16 was introduced in 1986. • All eight group stage winners progressed to the quarter-finals stage for the first time in World Cup history. • One point was England’s lowest-ever return in a World Cup group stage. rooney England's lowest-ever group stage points return. Photograph: Michael Regan - The FA/The FA via Getty Images • This was the first time that England have been eliminated from a World Cup at the group stage since 1958. • Three of the last four teams to win the World Cup have gone out in the following group stage (France 2002, Italy 2010, Spain 2014). • There were more goals scored by substitutes in this World Cup than in any previous edition (32). • Silvestre Varela’s goal for Portugal v USA was the latest during normal time of a World Cup finals match since 1994 (94min 33sec). • Tim Howard made 15 saves in the USA’s quarter-final defeat to Belgium – no goalkeeper has ever made as many saves in a single World Cup game (1966-2014). • Three of Holland’s five outright victories in this World Cup tournament were from losing positions in normal time. • Italy have exited at the group stage in their last two World Cups. The last time they managed this was in the 1960s (1962 and 1966). • Germany are the first European team to win the World Cup in Latin America. • Teams from Uefa have won the last three World Cups, the first time a single confederation has won three in a row. • Germany’s 7-1 win was the biggest margin of victory ever seen in a World Cup semi-final. Brazil's captain David Luiz reacts during the match against Germany. David Luiz contemplates the biggest World Cup semi-final defeat ever. Photograph: Fernando Bizerra Jr./EPA • With their destruction of Brazil, Germany became the top scoring nation in World Cup history (223), overtaking Brazil in the process. Germany ended the tournament with 224 goals, three ahead of Brazil. • Luke Shaw was the youngest player to play at this World Cup finals, when he played for England v Costa Rica (18 years 348 days). • 13.3% of shots have been scored at these finals; a higher proportion than in any other World Cup tournament since records began in 1966. • There were only three direct free-kicks scored at these finals, the fewest since 1986 (3). In 2010 there were five scored, while in 2006 and 2002, nine were scored. • The only World Cup to see more own goals than this tournament (5) was the 1998 finals (6). • Switzerland’s Diego Benaglio was the only goalkeeper to register a shot at the 2014 tournament, thanks to a late effort v Argentina. • The Algeria goalkeeper Rais M’Bolhi created two goalscoring chances; only three of his team-mates managed more in the tournament. Algeria goalkeeper Rais M'Bolhi. Rais M'Bolhi: creative Algerian genius. Photograph: Caetano Barreira/Fotoarena/Corbis • Brazil have topped every group they have played in at a World Cup from 1982 onwards. • Spain conceded 5+ goals in an international (5-1 v Holland) for the first time since losing 6-2 to Scotland in June 1963. • That four-goal margin is the biggest losing margin by a defending champion at a World Cup. • Brazil’s 7-1 defeat to Germany was the biggest losing margin by a host nation at a World Cup. • Tim Cahill has scored in three World Cups for Australia; no other Australian has done so in more than one tournament • Ghana’s Asamoah Gyan (6) overtook Cameroon’s Roger Milla (5) as all-time top scoring African player at a World Cup. • Algeria became the first African team to score four goals in a World Cup game when they beat South Korea 4-2. • England’s Wayne Rooney recorded his first World Cup assist in his team’s opening game v Italy and his first goal in their game v Uruguay. • Keisuke Honda became the first Japanese player to score at two different World Cups. • Switzerland’s Xherdan Shaqiri scored the first entirely left-footed hat-trick at a World Cup (1966-2014). Xherdan Shaqiri Xherdan Shaqiri scores one of his left-footed treble against Honduras. Photograph: Andres Stapff/Reuters • His treble was also the 50th hat-trick in the history of the World Cup. • In losing 4-0 to Germany, Portugal conceded four goals in a World Cup for the first time in their history. • Clint Dempsey’s goal (29 seconds) v Ghana for the USA was the fifth fastest in World Cup history. • The England goalkeeper Joe Hart made only one save in two World Cup games. • In his 126 minutes of World Cup action, Diego Costa failed to muster a single shot on target (only five shots in total). • In winning Euro 2008, World Cup 2010 and Euro 2012, Spain conceded a total of six goals, one fewer than they did in their three matches at World Cup 2014. • Alex Song picked up Cameroon’s eighth red card in their World Cup history. His cousin Rigobert Song is one of only two players (along with Zinedine Zidane) to be sent off twice at World Cups, meaning the Song family is responsible for three of Cameroon’s eight reds. • Olivier Giroud’s opening goal v Switzerland was France’s 100th goal at World Cup finals. • Neymar scored the 100th goal of the 2014 World Cup in Brazil’s 100th game in World Cup finals history. • Against Japan Colombia’s substitute goalkeeper Faryd Mondragon became the oldest ever player to feature in a World Cup match, at 43 years and three days. Faryd Mondragon. Faryd Mondragon: record breaker. Photograph: Matthias Hangst/Getty Images • Honduras have now played nine games without a win at the World Cup (D3 L6). They have played more matches at the World Cup without winning than any other side (New Zealand, El Salvador and Bolivia – all six). • Ghana went out in the group stage for the first time ever (in their third World Cup). Now only three teams have never exited in a World Cup opening group stage: Germany, Holland and the Republic of Ireland. • Fabio Capello has won one of his seven World Cup games as a manager. • Mexico have been knocked out of the World Cup finals at the second-round stage in all six editions since 1994; no team has been knocked out at this stage as often as this. • Nigeria have lost all three of their World Cup second-round ties (0-2 v France in 2014, 1-2 v Italy in 1994 and 1-4 v Denmark in 1998). • Ángel di María’s goal v Switzerland was the latest ever scored by Argentina at the World Cup (118 minutes). • Switzerland have failed to score in their last three World Cup knockout matches, last scoring in one in 1954. • Belgium conceded only three goals in five games at the 2014 World Cup. • Holland progressed to the semi-finals for the third time in their last four World Cups. • Costa Rica’s Keylor Navas saved 21 of the 23 shots on target that he faced at this World Cup (91%). • Thomas Müller has scored 10 goals and provided six assists in just 13 World Cup matches. Thomas Mueller celebrates scoring the third for Germany. Thomas Müller scores. Again. Photograph: Francois Xavier Marit/AFP/Getty • Against Brazil in the semi-final, Germany were 5-0 up faster than any other team in World Cup history (29 minutes). • The 7-1 defeat to Germany equalled Brazil’s all-time biggest margin of defeat (lost 6-0 to Uruguay in 1920). • Germany scored two more goals v Brazil than England have in their past two World Cup campaigns combined. • Argentina have progressed from all four of their World Cup semi-finals. • Argentina v Holland was the first World Cup semi-final to finish 0-0 (including extra-time). Lionel Messi did not touch the ball in the opposition box in the entire 120 minutes. • Nine of the 14 goals Brazil conceded in this World Cup came in the first 30 minutes of their games. • Brazil conceded 10 goals from 14 shots on target conceded in the semi-final and third place play-off game combined. • Mario Götze is the first substitute to score a winning goal in the World Cup final. • Mario Götze is the youngest scorer of a goal in a World Cup final since Wolfgang Weber in 1966 (22 years, 33 days). • Sami Khedira is the 10th player to win the European Cup/Champions League and World Cup in the same season.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

World Cup Semi-Finals

The World Cup has reached it’s final four and in the end it’s the usual suspects that are left standing, Germany, Brazil, Holland, and Argentina. For all of the upsets heartbreaks, injuries, and controversial calls when all the rubble has been cleared no country is left that hasn’t won it multiple times (Bra 5, Ger 3, Arg 2) or been to multiple finals (Ned 3). However there’s no denying that despite the traditional names these aren’t your daddy’s behemoths. There has been much more scoring than we have ever seen, more comebacks, extra time goals, and most importantly lack of defense. It seems that despite the individual talents of Neymar, Messi, Ronaldo, etc. the isn’t one great TEAM in this tournament. Everyone has been scored on, and been pressed to the limit by winning matches they should have lost. This is the typical type of tournament that yields a very unexpected final and perhaps winner, but prior to that, we have the semis so let’s take a look at those matchups. Brazil vs. Germany – The clash of the titans of the most storied names in world football, 38 appearances between them, 206 total matches, and 8 titles (BRA 5 Ger 3). Brazil is a wounded Lion trying to fend off a worthy predator that wants to rule the jungle in the form of Germans. At full strength one would think Germany would need a break, get an early goal, then use their tactical skill to keep Brazil from equalizing. However now Brazil will be without their captain and also their leading scorer Neymar, the poster boy for the ’14 cup which changes the dynamic considerably. Germany can win this playing their normal game, frustrating the perhaps more skilled Brazilian side but now not the better cohesive unit. Favoring Brazil is that enormous fervor of home field which will be an eruption waiting to happen. Also coach Luiz felipe scolari has never lost a world cup match while coaching Brazil, including already having a World Cup championship top his credit in 2002. Lastly, the motivation of playing for a fallen teammate that they’ve dedicated the match to. It makes for great theater but when you get to this level one let alone two players can make the difference, it will be interesting to see if the external factors can compensate for the lost talent on the pitch. We don’t think it can and like the Germans to pull the upset and advance.

Friday, July 4, 2014

For US Soccer, The House May Be Closing In

Ok now we’ve had a week to fully get over the US Men’s National Team’s loss exit from the world cup, once again in the round of 16. My initial reaction, like many fans was “man, that was sooo close, if that flick would have been just a little bit lower” and “if Dempsey could have just flicked that set-piece by the keeper”….on and on about what could have been. Then much like when my NFL team loses a big game a week or so passes and I’m able to watch Sports Center again, and I’m able to analyze things more clearly. Now that I’ve seemed to find my center and more importantly watch the quarter-final matches I realize our finish was just where we were supposed to be. We came into the World Cup with a very generous ranking of 12 and (partly due to scheduling) we were among 9 countries left standing. You don’t come into the NCAA Tournament ranked 25 and expect to reach the Final Four. Moreover when you watch the play of the remaining countries to immediately notice that the level of play is just one little notch higher. They’re just a little more technically sound, a tad bit more fundamental, and if you understand the game it may seem like a little bit, but when the stakes are raised it swells to the size of the Grand Canyon. Watching the Germans hold the ball and nurse a 1-0 lead that they obtained in the 11th minute and make that stand up against a French team that was easily more athletic, and never seem pressed makes that slim lead seem like a 21-3 NFL lead in the 4th quarter when you have a good running game. Or the Brazilians, who seem to have strikers that are a threat to score from anywhere on the pitch from just inside mid-field, just give them enough space to turn and face the goal or better yet, on a set piece where they can actually take some time to size up the goal, and they’re chances seem better than even money that it’s going in. Once again, we just don’t have that type of guy that can crack one from 10 yards outside the box if he gets space, and that is the difference. I know one can argue that Germany only beat us 1-0, and that we got out of the Group of Death, but when looked at objectively, at the end of the day we went 1-2-1 and but for not a really stupid foul by a Portuguese defender whom we’ve already lambasted in a prior post (ok Pepe) then Portugal doesn’t lose 0-4, might even fight back for a draw, let alone have such an egregious goal differential, and they not the US make it out of the group. Then how are we viewing our performance? People, the sad truth is on paper this will look like a decent run but at the end of the day we haven’t made any progress in 12 years, and suddenly the house has won back a lot of their money that we’ve been playing with since we hosted the Cup back in 1994. After hosting the tournament, the country was enamored with the game and it brought back fond memories of our failed soccer league of the 1970’s and the current MLS which was founded the year before the 94’ cup hoping to piggy back on the momentum, a very wise move which worked to perfection and the MLS parlayed the cup into a position that surpasses NASCAR and is on par with the NHL. However now we’ve given back most of those profits and are approaching break-even. MLS is strong in some cities, but has also had some franchises go BK and I would wager that most Americans couldn’t name 7 clubs in the MLS as opposed to almost every NFL, NBA, and MLB team. Come 2018 our chip count will be in the red in regards to the tolerance of the nation as this whole, “local boys make good” polish will long have worn off and we’re going to need to not only get out of the group stage, or through the round of 16, but seriously make the final four and perhaps the finals or the fervent fans that packed stadium viewing parties will quickly lose faith as this country does not have a tolerance for losing, let alone to countries who are the size of some our larger cities. Mark my words, this will take some work as it may seem like ONLY a goal here or a goal there and we’re through but to earn those extra goals will take years of training and I don’t know if our farm system is growing enough young talent to yield the returns necessary to make up that gap by 2018. The Euro powers like England, Italy, and Portugal will be even more hungry, and under more pressure so add those to the South American staples and it will make for a brutal field where they may be 3 “Group of Deaths” just to get into the round of 16. I’ll tell you, this may not be pretty and we had better start counting cards because the house has come back and there will be no running to the ATM in 2018.

Friday, June 27, 2014

World Cup - Gloves off as we move to the knockout stage

In the World’s largest tournament has sorted through the rubble, rescued the survivors, and has moves into the knockout stage. Needless to say the final 16 countries left standing weren’t what anyone would have expected, and for the second time in one year no brackets are left in tact. It’s because of this that the 2014 may go down as the best ever. In addition to records being set for comebacks, goals, and late game scoring, the upsets have this tournament starting to resemble another American tournament that takes place in March that we’re quite fond of. So to try and predict where the tournament could go from here we have to look at where it came from. As we mentioned in some previous post, one of the things that always stands out for me is the mental game, which sides have it together enough upstairs to handle the stage and who is a time bomb waiting to destruct? We’ve seen examples mental lapses by individuals that have directly cost their country an opportunity to escape the group stage let alone hoisting the trophy, and I’ll pose the same question again, how can you train for 4 years only to get to he pitch and leave your brain at home? Given Portugal’s performance in the final two matches of the group stage will forever raise the question, but for not Pepe’s ‘headbutt’ on Thomas Muller which left “A Seleccao” one man short for the lion’s share of the match resulting in a 4 goal defeat, the goal differential tie-breaker which was the decider in sending the USA through rather than Portugal will live in infamy for years to come on what could have been. Ironically, as egregious as it was, it wasn’t the worst mistake of the first round. That dubious honor goes to Luis Suraez whom brought out his inner Mike Tyson against Giorgio Chiellini by biting his shoulder, and leaving his mark not only on his shoulder but on Uruguay’s world cup as well. FIFA handed him a 9 game/4 month suspension and baring the possibility of a Winter long tsunami, should signify the end of his world cup as well as his countries’ chances. The fact that he is a tree-time offender not only justifies the sentence but leads you to believe as catastrophic as this is for his team, he may have more problems personally. On a team level, that prize goes to the Ivory Coast for basically going to sleep during the entire extra-time period against Greece and allowing them to continually attack without retort, and eventually earing a penalty kick goal when a tie would have sent them through. This collapse is particularly sad as it was the final WC match for Didier Drogba whom deserved to go out much better than that. This was an example where although the manger can’t get out there and play for them, but one with the personality of challenging his players either through enthusiasm or confrontation would have fit really well as now rather than working for four minutes they’ll have forty years to remember what could have been. That said, let’s get to the countries that are still playing and the matchups in the knockout phase. Group A – Probably the only group where there weren’t any surprises. We knew the host nation would go on as the winner of the group. After Brazil, you had to think Mexico would put it together despite literally getting into the tournament because of the good graces of their rivals from the North. They are playing like a team of cancer survivors with a new lease on life which makes them very dangerous. It was either they or Croatia that would advance and it was clear in their head-to-head who the better side was. So from that group we get Brazil vs. Chile – What else can you say? When you look in the dictionary under “home court advantage” there will be a picture of the 2014 World Cup. I don’t know how they actually manage to get to the games as the infrastructure is a mess and God forbid it rains but the fans are there and they are loud. Chile has one shot in this match and that’s to get out first with a goal, and park a bus the size of an unused subway train in front of goal. Oh yea, and stop the poster boy for this year’s world cup from scoring. I know, a lot of correlation and analogy but you get the point that this may be a forgone conclusion with a betting line of +550. But before you lay all of that juice don’t forget the type of Tournament we’ve had so far and the countries we expected to be playing this week that will on be in Brazil if they’re on vacation. True, Spain may have been living on reputation but it was the 2-0 loss to Chile that opened the eyes of the world to that fact. Also true they didn’t look good against Holland but hindsight might prove that no one did and if that is the litmus test of the prowess of this side then don’t be surprised if they pull of their second upset of a world power in one cup. Nigeria/France – France the Group E winner with a 2-1 record but the draw came against Ecuador a side with a similar make up to Nigera in regards to speed throughout the lineup which is rare as that is usually a distinction that Le Bleu holds. The tournament got off to exciting start with the last second win by Switzerland over Ecuador, as it turns out a win that pushed Schweizer Nati through. The knockout match between Nigeria and France should be one of the most exciting we see in this round and will certainly send a shot across the bow to Germany who is heavily favored in it’s match against Algeria, as either one these sides presents a plethora of matchup problems for the Germans. We’ve said from the start that Germany would be better served if they finished as the runner up in the group but that remains to be seen, we’ll either be prophets or punks. Germany/Algeria – Germany comes into the knockout round with the honor of being the winner of the ‘Group of Death’ with the strength of that win coming off their opening blowout win over Portugal, aided by the stupidity of the Pepe red card, leading to the 4-0 win and taking all pressure off of losing the tie-breaker. However much like France, the Germans came into the knockout phase with 7 points, and their tie coming at the hands of an African nation, Ghana, a side laced with speed at every position and it took a late 2nd half goal to produce the result for Die Mannschaft a position they don’t want to find themselves in this match or the next. They should get through this one but we think they pay the piper in the next. Belgium/USA – Belgium came into the tournament ranked 11th in the world according to FIFA but pretty much everyone views them as a much bigger treat than that. Winners of Group H with 9 points, going 3-0, reinforced those perceptions. A collection of stars from some of the best club teams in the top European leagues, The Red Devils have the pedigree of a side that could be still playing in two weeks. The USA meanwhile as already exceeded expectations of even their coach by escaping the group of death despite losing their top striker, could mean there’s more surprises in the cards for The Stars and Stripes. The conflict in this match will be the better team vs. the team with the better players. No doubt on paper the Belgians have more talent, but they haven’t really played a cohesive game yet in the tournament despite their 3 wins, and the quality of their group had the lowest rating 67.5 of all eight (Group G was 36.75). The US has shown better team play than any side they’ve sent to the cup in recent memory and they hope that will prove to be the difference in this match however they are notorious for horrendous starts and egregious mistakes defensively that lead to matches that didn’t yield results despite outplaying their opponent. If that happens on Tuesday, they will be headed home as the margin for error is zero at this level and the question facing this squad is are they ready for a match of that intensity?

Thursday, June 19, 2014

World Cup - All on the Line in Second Match for Many Favorites

As we reached the end of the first round of games and some have played two things are starting to take shape, and as always there’s no shortage of story lines. The biggest has to be the Spain not just exiting but being the first defending world champions to lose their first two matches and not qualify to move on as a result. No bad calls, no red cards, no excuses. They simply looked too slow, too old, and unprepared to compete in a tournament of this magnitude despite knowing that they would have a target on their back coming in as the defending champs. In that regard Vicente del Bosque has something to answer for as not being prepared to play solely rest on the shoulders of the coach, and he will as the end of an era comes down. It only took to games to send Holland and Chile to the next round out of group B which could have made a case for the real “group of death” and now you can see why. England and Uruguay find themselves in a must win situation in their second game of the group stage after losing game 1. England was a toss-up against Italy in the their first match but Uruguay was a heavy favorite against Costa Rica in their first game as the general census was they would be ‘sacrificial lamb’ of Group D but that didn’t turn out to be the case. Now what was already a must see game of the cup has added drama as the loser will surely be eliminated if not mathematically but realistically. CONCACAF so far has made a statement for gaining respect as it’s representatives have gone 3-1-1 in their first 5 games. The US, Mexico, and Costa Rica all won their first games while Honduras fell easily at the hands of France. Then Mexico drew the host nation in one of the most exciting matches of the tournament thus far even though there weren’t any goals scored. For a team than needed a miracle followed by a playoff win Mexico sure doesn’t look like a feeder fish that won’t be around for the knockout phase rather a contender that if/when they do play for blood, are capable of making a deep run. The US are still viewed as underdogs despite their top 15 world ranking and perhaps why they can still sneak up on people. As Ghana was still walking off the bus the US took the lead inside the first minute then refused to give it back. Now they control their own destiny but even with the win they’re still no lock to move own as the teams waiting for them are the number 2 and 4 sides in the world respectively. Lastly, if I see one more player get ‘red carded’ for doing something stupid I’m going to turn the tele off. Seriously, there truly is no other event in sports where you can say you’re on the “World Stage” like you can at the World Cup. Literally the entire world is watching and the stakes for the country you represent are biblical, and you’re going to lose your head, get tossed and at least cost your team the match, goal differential in a tie-breaker, or at worst the tournament. You build up to this for four years and then get out on the pitch and head butt a player just outside the penalty box as if no one will notice? As a result of Pepe’s bone head play Portugal was down a man early to the second ranked team in the world whom immediately took advantage and dropped a 4-spot on them, sending them to last place in the group and giving them a huge goal differential to make up. Now the cup may not be over for A Seleccao but they have a mountain to climb and must win their next two matches in the group of death (the next one without the services of Pepe) or their world cup is over before it started and he’ll have to explain his actions to a country that has never made it further than 3rd in 1966. Alex Song of Cameroon was almost as egregious chopping the arm of a defender in mid field while on the break, earning him an instant red while the match was still in doubt, but the end result was the same, a 0-4 loss to Croatia, sending them down to the bottom of the group. There have been two other players which have accumulated reds as a result of two yellow, Wilson Palacios of Honduras and Kostas Katsouranis Greece, and both teams couldn’t muster wins although Greece did save their cup chances with a draw. So perhaps now the excitement that often accompanies the end of anticipation is over, perhaps we can see why these players are the best in the world at what they do, on the pitch, not in the stands.

Monday, June 9, 2014

World Cup Preview - Group by Group

No doubt the country hosting the world cup has a decided advantage besides the automatic entry bid. However this time around it may be more of a hindrance to the host country as in addition to expectations that hoisting the trophy is simply a matter of time, there are also concerns that the stadiums may not be 100% ready and outside those facilities there may be a bit of civil unrest. Fortunately they play in a group they should control so making the knockout round will be rather easy and might ease some of the tensions felt by both the team and the country. However things have not gotten off to a good start as striking subway workers in Sao Paulo needed to restrained with tear gas and several high traffic stations have been shut down. Union officials are threatening to maintain work stoppage through Thursday’s opening matches. So it appears there will not be a dearth of drama either on or off the pitch. That said, lets get to the afore mentioned and take a look at the Groups starting with the host Group. Group A (Group Metric Strength 62.25 – (Brazil #2 Fifa World Ranking), Mexico (25), Croatia (18), Cameroon (38) Brazil - We’ve already established the fervor that will be a tail/head wind for the host nation and no one questions their talent on the pitch itself, but just how Luiz Felipe Scolari will deploy the talents of Neymar, Dani Alves, and Oscar to achieve the maximum potential? They should win the group but beyond that all of the off the field distractions and the national pressure will determine how far they go. Mexico – Hard to believe this is a side that was on life support in regards to their chances of simply qualifying until they got a stoppage time gift from their neighbors to the North and now they’re in and moreover should make the final 16. After an impressive run over the last 8 national matches (barring the exception of an 0-2 result in their last friendly) the question for El Tri will be between their ears. Do they have the mental game to put together a solid string of games and build some consistency that we haven’t seen from them literally in years? Croatia – This is a balanced team with plenty of experience, nine players have 50-plus caps, led by captain Darijo Srna, Lika Modric, Niko Kranjcar, Ivan Rakitic, and striker Mario Mandzukic. They’ll need to blend some youth to go along with the experience if they’re going to get through the group stage and make it to the knockout stage where anything can happen. A place they haven’t seen since 1998. Cameroon – The wild card with enough athleticism to give the others a scare if they get a lead in the 2nd half but they’re best striker Eto’o has proven he can score at the highest level but at 33, he’s not what we’re used to seeing from the Indomitable Lions so they’ll need to unveil a secret weapon to assist him if Cameroon is going to shock the world and move on to the round of 16. The Smacchat take, Brazil and Mexico advance. Group B – (Group Strength 52.5) (Spain #1)(Chile 14)(Netherlands 15)(Australia 40) Spain – Top to bottom the best side in the tournament, David Villa, Cesc Fabregas, Fernando Torres, Juan Mata, it reads like an EPL all-star team, if they had one, and look to be the first repeat winner since the host nation Brazil in 1958 and 62 but it won’t be an easy as it may not be the toughest group in the eyes of many but a trip to the knockout stage is not guaranteed. If they do manage to pull it off they’ll go down as the greatest side ever. Chile – A sleeper pick to win the group as they have steadily moved up the world rankings and will be playing not too far from home. Under new coach Jorge Sampaoli the Chileans play an aggressive style of football that will cause incessant pressure and possibly force mistakes that could lead to easy scores. Netherlands – The Dutch have always been famous for a high scoring game and in years past have been a sexy pick to win the whole thing. That paid off four years ago and they’ve grown wiser after the heartbreaking lose against Spain in the 2010 cup but unfortunately they’ve also grown 4 years older and Arjen Robben and Wesley Sndijder will have to have to be creative to get good looks. A 3-point result against Australia is a necessity but not guaranteed, and in any of the top 3 slip then they’re going home. Australia is coming off their best showing ever in the last World Cup making the round of 16 but many of those players are still on the squad but their mental edge that comes with experience will come back to hinder them in the 2nd half when they need fresh legs to stave off the younger, quicker, compeers in the group. The Smacchat take, Spain and Holland advance in a surprise. Group C – (Group Strength 59.25 – 4th) (Columbia #8), (Ivory Coast 23), (Greece 12), (Japan 36). Columbia - Attempting to return it’s glory days of 1990 when they made the round of 16 Columbia has totally turned around a program that has been absent of the tournament all together let alone getting out of the Group Stage, which they didn’t do in their last two cup appearances in 98’ and 94’. Over the past 16 years the “Los Cafeteros” has made a youth movement literally starting at the beginning, and have come full circle. They come in as the group favorites in a tough group and should make a deep run including marquis matchups with England and Brazil where we thing the winner makes it all the way to the final. Ivory Coast – The “Post Dragba” era is still on hold as the 36 year old striker will still try to be a force in the middle but this time he has a very good supporting cast, perhaps the best in Africa, featuring a trio of dangerous forwards Yay Toure, Giovanni Sio, and Salomon Kalou. Cote D’ivoire should make it out of the group stage where it will probably face the consensus sleeper pick Uruguay who will end their cup run and send the legend into retirement. Greece – This side has played the same way since it won the Euro in 2004, but that defensive style doesn’t fit well in today’s game or particularly with this field. The midfield still relies on the team’s captain, Giorgos Karagounis, and others that have been on the pitch for the “Pirate Ship” for the past few years, whom couldn’t make a deep run and this won’t be any different. Japan – Although a strong team in Asia, very creative and dynamic they may fall short on the world stage. It’s pace of play is fun to watch, especially going forward. It had the best final-round differential in the Asian Football Conference thanks to 16 goals in 8 games so they can put the ball in the back of the net, and they’ll need to do it as they give up a ton and there will not be many shootouts in this group. Group D – (Group Strength 40.5 – 2nd) (Uruguay 7)(England 10)(Italy 9)(Costa Rica 28) This group easily could make a case for carrying the “Group of Death” scarlet letter around their necks but we also gave the nod to Group G, but this was a close runner up. If it were solely based on names and tradition then this would be the clear winner, but a couple of sides have lost a step and are not as strong as they’ve been in previous years. Uruguay – Let’s not bury the lead, we believe they will win the group and make it all the way to the semi-finals where they will face the defending champions and the winner will hoist the cup as the overall winner in a dramatic rematch of the classic 1950 final. How is that for anti-climatic? They are our not-so-sleeper but upset pick as they have the pace, finesse, and skill to beat the host on their home soil. They’re pace is relentlessly aggressive and this side has always had great defenders so it’s hard to score against them. They now have added strikers that are among the most formidable in the world Diego Forlan, Stuani, Luiz Suarez and Edison Cavani. Under the radar due having to qualify via a playoff but the strength of the CONMEBOL was the best in the world. England – The Lions have a history of oscillating between not qualifying for the cup and playing their best football on the biggest stage. They have only failed to get out of the group stage once since 1962 but have not qualified 3 times over that same span. This time around they bypassed the drama of sweating the qualification process and have looked strong. England will have to work to keep their streak of 16 appearances going as somethings gotta’ give between Uruguay, England, and Italy, someone’s going home. Italy – The Italians will be in every match they play because of how strong they are defensively. In qualification they were undefeated in 10 matches with only 9 goals scored against them. It may not be exciting but it gets results and that’s all anyone will remember if they move on. Age will be a factor and if they get behind will they have the firepower to make up a deficit? Costa Rica – Los ticos are proud of their stingy defense, so they’re not going to be embarrassed, but in the end they’re not going to create enough goal-scoring chances to make up for the ones that slip to the cracks. Coach Jorge Luis Pinto traditionally uses five players in the back line, but that often leads to a limited attack and still might not hold the likes of Suarez or Rooney. Pick your poison, and they will be 3 close matches but CR will be doing well if they can get even one result. The Smac take? Uruguay and England advance. Group E (Group Strength – 61.25 5th)(France 17)(Ecuador 26)(Switzerland 6)(Honduras 33) France – The French have been in damage control mode sine the 2010 World Cup were they were embarrassed more for their drama off the pitch than on it. Burdened with the task of repairing the French reputation in addition to making a run worthy of their ranking is quite a bit on their plate but lost in the smoke is the fact that this is a deep and talented side that could surprise the pundits and make a very deep run. Winger Frank Ribery and striker Karim Benzema can score from any situation, meaning they’ll be within striking distance in most matches. Ecuador – The offense is better than the defense although Ecuador scored only 20 goals in qualifying. Captian and man U. midfielder Antonio Valencia is the point of focus he’ll need to elevate the game of rest. However the team has struggled since losing striker Christian Benitez, who died of cardiac arrest last summer. The players my band behind his memory and put together a Cup for ages for them. Switzerland – A young side that is full of confidence at their high seeding in the group which has been the subject of some controversy but they will do their best to show why FIFA has such a lofty view of their skill enough to give them a #6 world ranking. They are capable of adapting to the style of their opponent and will poach goals when facing the upper echelon of the field, and against the rest they will try to take the match to them. Honduras – The Achilles heel for this side will be putting the ball in the back of the net, in the last Cup Los Catrachos game up only three goals in the group stage, which was among the best in the field, but couldn’t put any across the line for themselves, which is a solid recipe for an early ticket home. Their main attacking threat will come from striker Carlo Costly, who had seven in qualifying, but the team’s overall quality might not be there just yet. The young players are a little unseasoned while the veterans might be a little too old. View previews of every group here.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

City Living the Dream Agian for the 2nd Title in 3 Years

April 15th is the day taxes are due in the United States it is often seen as a day of reckoning for many and one most want to forget. For Manchester City fans it was worse as Vincent Kompany’s fan on a crucial clearance proved to be the difference in a 3-2 loss at Anfield to start the weekend, placing Liverpool five points clear of City who appeared to be so distant that Captain Fantastic and his closest friends declared the title race to be over as they held on and the team huddle at the end, with an emotional Gerrard offering his words of wisdom accompanied by chants of 'We're gonna win the league'. They seemed almost confirmed after City followed up the loss with a draw with Sunderland taking all eyes off of them and placing them firmly on Chelsea who seemed to be the only worthy adversaries left. Then came the match that will haunt the Blues all summer, an inexcusable 1-0 defeat at the hands of Crystal Palace and then two matches later Sunderland reared its fangs again and took out Chelsea 1-2 ending their quest for another title. Then with nothing but the tape in front of their eyes as they sprinted towards the finish they pulled a Lolo Jones and tripped over one of the last hurdles by losing at home to Chelsea in a match that surely would have sealed it for the them. Now with the door open we’ve come full circle and City walked right through it by going 5-0 after the afore mentioned draw with Sunderland parlaying a very favorable schedule where only one opponent was on the top end of the table, and even then Villa was their easiest match down the stretch. Although it wasn’t as dramatic as their Championship Sunday miracle two years ago, their second championship in three years equally impressive considering the comeback after being cast away as contenders. Now the question turns to weather or not they can repeat the feat in 15’? Until then they, like the once infamous Kompany stated, “are living the dream”.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Canda has the US number, again and agian

For the second time in as many days the US Hockey team’s dream of a gold medal was taken away from our neighbors to the North. Today it was the Men’s side they fell to the Canadians 1-0 on a re-direct goal by Jamie Ben just a minute into the second period. The Canadians had a great game plan that stifled the most prolific offense in the tournament thus far, particularly on Phil Kessel who was tied for the goal lead with 5 and 8 points overall. The story of the day was goal tending with both sides putting up a wall, 68 shots between them in total with only one reaching the back of the net. Using the prior Olympiad as fuel to get back the gold medal game, after “Sid the Kid” won it for the Red Leafs in Vancouver in 2010 in overtime, the US rode into the game poised for revenge as the first five minutes were a flurry of activity and shots on goal (half of the 11 first period shots by the US) but no accomplishment. The game would settle down and good looks would be hard to come by. So it’s back to the drawing board after a couple of really bad beats in this year’s Olympics but suffice to say a new method of motivation might be necessary as this seems to lead to more frustration.

Olympics get their dream matchups, but is it what it needs?

The 2014 Winter Olympic Hockey tournament has had their share of upsets during these games but the marquis matchups have still managed to take place, largely because of the gap between the top countries and the bottom feeders. In both the Men’s and Women’s tournament the US and Canada have fought their way into an elimination game again. Much like overtime thriller four years ago when Sid the kid shot the game winner to beat the US in front of a partisan crowd in Vancouver, or in 02’ when it wasn’t quite as close as Canada won 5-2. The same for the women where Canada and the US have squared off in every final except one since the sports introduction in 1998, and therein lies the problem. For the Men it may be the usual suspects but everyone once in a while there is a sleeper that makes some noise, but there it’s really only four or five powerful countries that have a shot at the gold medal and in women’s it’s only two. The women’s tournament came to a head on Thursday and in epic fashion as Canada pulled the trick again in what should go down as the biggest choke in Olympic history as the US blew a 2 goal lead with just over 3 minutes to play, went into overtime, where the Canadians won it on a power play after the US had their chances early in the extra frame. The fact that it was one of the most dramatic competitions ever to take place in the Winter games will carry the day for a while but then the painful truth will become evident, that the women’s tournament may be in it’s final period if it doesn’t become more of a world-wide competition rather than the North American Championship game. The men’s side doesn’t quite have that problem as there has been several winners over the history of the tournament and for the longest time Russia was the ‘Death Star’ but much like Darth Vader, they haven’t aged well and other countries seem to be beating them to the punch with younger and more skilled talent. As the Russian commentator stated, “losing won’t mean the flags will be at have mass, but it’s close”. Particularly because they’re hosting the dance to not only not win gold but to get kept off the medal stand entirely, will not look good on a coaches resume in the eyes of King Vladimir. It’s been a long time since the “miracle on ice” game in 1980 and the US was even a higher seed this year but it didn’t take away from the drama of a US/Russia matchup which exceeded extra time and went to a shootout won by the US. Looking back I think that was the turning point for both countries as Russians weren’t the same after that and it seemed to be a catalyst for the US. That said, the biggest hurdle for the #3 ranked US team still lies ahead in the semis as they take on seconded seeded Canada, or friends to the north, at least until we step on the ice. Then it becomes as bitter as any of the original 6 getting together during the NHL season and worse. The US has double the revenge on their mind as they would love to give the Red Leafs some payback from 2010 and now to save face after the women’s debacle. There will be no love loss as Sweden takes on Finland in the other semi-final, as much like the US and Canada the distance is about as long as it takes to fly from LA to San Francisco and there is no love-loss between the two either. So other than the host nation being a part of the final four the matchups couldn’t be better, and the Olympic Committee needs to remember that next time around.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Australian Open Serves Up A New Season

Grand Slam season launches this week with the Australian Open with no dearth of story lines on both sides of the locker room. On the men’s side it doesn’t get any bigger than Rafel Nadal who enters the tournament as the World’s #1 ranked player but not seeded number one in this dance, that honor goes to Novak Djokovic. However Nadal has more to play for that just the retention of his top ranking as he can become the first male player to win all Grand Slam titles twice in a career. It certainly won’t be easy as his bracket is stacked with some of the biggest names in the business including Federer, Murray, and Juan Martin del Porto, qualifying it for “group of death” status. Djokovic, the 4-time champion, has won the last three Open Championships and will surely be a factor as the field dwindles but can these two meet up one more time to give us another thriller to kick off the season? We hope so. The ladies side didn’t waste any time making headlines as former #1 Venus Williams made a first round exit at the hands of a familiar nemesis. Victoria Azarenka had already beaten Serena Williams twice last year and knows what it takes as illustrated by the 3-set victory over her big sister. Serena will try to avoid the setback her sister faced when she gets her tournament started in her quest to equal 18 slam titles that would tie her with tennis royalty to likes of Chris Everett and Martina Navrotilova. Serena’s record of 78-4 is worthy of royalty in itself but will be tested to see how many numbers she can add to the left side of the ledger and if number 18 is in the cards. The storylines may be there but so is the heat as triple-digit temps are expected to accompany the festivities. Fatigue may play a factor so you may see some players taking some games off or conversely trying to finish off an opponent early to get off the frying pan surface and end to the locker room with a victory. In any case the potential to have history made and they drop serve tonight.