Tuesday, June 30, 2009
Coming off of a strong performance in the Confederations Cup (enough to be the final's man of the match and receive the tournament's Golden Ball) Kaka arrives to Madrid having buried some of the doubts associated with his huge signing. At 27 Kaka's relevance on the world stage was called into question by many. Whether the reduced visibility of Milan in recent years, Milan surrounding him with slower, aging players, or his own dip in form, there was some sense that Kaka's best was past.
At his position, however, his prime may arguably be the next three years of his career, especially considering that pace has never been an integral part of his game. The undisputed leader of the Brazilian national side and AC Milan, Kaka is a born leader. The rare upper-middle class footballer, Kaka is a practicing evangelical who has stated that he will likely become a pastor after retiring from football. He shies away from the nightlife and has avoided the scandals and stereotypes that so often follow professional footballers, in particular Brazilians.
A consummate team player, Kaka is a distributor and creator above all else. At AC Milan he won a Serie A title, a Champions League (2007), two European Supercups, and one Club World Cup. Individually 2007 was, to date, his peak as an individual, when he won the FIFA World Player and the Golden Ball. That same year he was the Champions League's top goalscorer, and was named best the most valuable player of the Club World Cup. Questions remain if he will ever reach those heights again. Even in the event that he doesn't, Real Madrid has undoubtedly signed one of the world's top ten players in Kaka - especially in the notoriously difficult position to fill of creative midfielder.
While transfer fee is undisclosed, it is believed the transfer fee was of 17 million pounds, or approximately $28 million.
Barcelona daily Sport reports that Albiol's apparent love for Valencia and seemingly apathetic response to being signed by Real Madrid have sparked the alarms at the Bernabeu's office. Sport adds that madridistas fans simply can't understand why a player wouldn't dream with a move to Real Madrid, and that the club would have done well in finding out the player's reaction before signing him.
Kaka will be presented in the Bernabeu today. He's passed the medical exam and approximately 20,000 fans and 450 journalists are expected.
Arshavin claims he would be "really happy" to play in Barcelona. I'm sure Wenger's thrilled.
Speaking of Wenger, he explained to the Dauphine Libere why he didn't accept the offer to coach Madrid. Admitting that Real demanded football as spectacle, he also explained that he valued building a team with style, a culture at a club, and a youth system. He noted that the signing of Kaka and Ronaldo needed to be looked upon not from a moral perspective, but that of an investor. Wenger declared that if things work out for Madrid, they could do much harm (to other teams). Perhaps most tellingly, however, was Wenger's own assertion that to sign more than three players is to assume a tactical or managerial risk. The age old question of whether Arsenal's checkbook or Wenger's own philosophy has impeded Arsenal from collecting silverware in recent years continues.
Another outspoken coach, Luis Felipe Scolari, reveals that the problem Real Madrid will face this year is none other than Raul. Scolari believes that despite being a "veteran" Raul still controls the lockeroom, much to the chagrin of other players and even the coach. Scolari believes Ronaldo and Kaka will get along fabulously (he's coached both at the national team level). In recent days Scolari's also stated that Ronaldinho is overweight and undermotivated. Oh, and since Chelsea hasn't had enough with Deco's verbal assaults on Abramovich, Scolari adds that his departure from Stamford Bridge was a result Drogba, Cech, and Ballack never buying into his methods.
And now for outspoken players - Tevez continues his PR campaign against Ferguson claiming you can't argue with the man. Isn't he the coach, and are we surprised?
And finally, rumors continue that Ecuador and Wigan winger Valencia is on his way to Old Trafford.
Monday, June 29, 2009
That said, almost all good things to say about yesterday. Dempsey got a terrific touch on an early ball from Spector, who needs to stay in the lineup. Just thought I'd say that again. The second goal featured some wonderful interplay between Donovan and Davies, with Donovan getting a goal that he certainly deserved. I thought the most impressive part of the play was actually Davies' ball back to Donovan, a one touch play that went past the defender and put the ball directly on Landon's feet. So often we lack the class to complete that ball at a key moment like that. Davies has continued to impress. Kudos also to Donovan, for not attempting to pass when he was all alone 15 yards from goal (I kid, I kid). My only criticism is of Feilhaber, who simply needs to stop committing dumb fouls. And I wish he would, because he's an orchestrator out on the pitch.
I mostly agree with ArmenoRican about the subs. I thought that Bornstein in as a midfielder was particuarly strange at that phase of the game, though I didn't think he played badly necessarily. The Casey substitution I sort of understood, if only because so little time was left and we had an opportunity on a corner kick. But the lack of depth (Bradley suspended, no Maurice Edu, the fact that DeMarcus Beasley died five years ago) really hurt in terms of the substitutions available too, to be fair.
It's interesting watching this Brazil team. I can see why Dunga gets criticized, because they really don't play with flair, even when they win. I do think some of that is just about personnel; Brazil doesn't really have as many "showy" players as they've had in the past, Robinho aside. That backline is full of tough, physical players like Maicon. Hell, they're practically Italy back there. Except good. And they still get forward. In the end, the Brazilian fans are just going to have to accept that this will never be the most beautiful team they have. But they just might win the World Cup anyway.
For the United States, the B team is evidently starting out the Gold Cup, but a date in Mexico City isn't too far away. Hopefully this is the American squad we'll see from now on.
Sunday, June 28, 2009
Saturday, June 27, 2009
Never at a loss for words, Tevez continues to explain the motivations behind his denial of Manchester's offer - this time Berbatov's signing at the forefront.
Real might have a buyer for Ruud in Blackburn's Sam Allardyce.
Barcelona's first big signing could arrive from Brazil in the form of Palmeiras striker Keirrison. The player's said as much on his website, and Barcelona's sports dailies are announcing it as well. Perhaps more tellingly, coach Vanderlei Luxemburgo announced on his Twitter site that he'd been fired for criticizing Keirrison's attitude regarding move to Barca.
Keirrison again. He could form part of the Barca-Valencia deal for Villa. Less than Manchester United' s 48 million euro offer, but more that Real's 25 million plus Negredor offer. Barca proposes Caceres and Keirrison loaned out for 40 million and Villa. Eto'o moves to Manchester City for 30 million in this scenario.
Who won't be Barca's first signing? Skillful Brazilian wingback Filipe Luis. Depor's president thinks the first offer is too low.
Marca reports in its front page that ex-Real Madrid president and current person of interest in a corruption scandal Ramon Calderon paid a 22% commission on the winter window signing Lass Diarra - 4 million euros! Headlining, however is the supposed 32 million euro offer on the table for Manchester United target Benzema.
OFFICIAL. And yes, it deserves all caps - CR7, soon to be CR9 or 10, is a Real Madrid player. To be presented on July 6th. And with a buyout clause of 1 billion euros, no less.
On Tuesday, some dude named Kaka is presented. Thursday, Albiol. Never heard of either one, sorry. Check it, here.
Chilean midfielder and national team standout Matias Fernandez has completed a move from Villareal to Sporting. One of the engines of the the new Chilean golden age, Fernandez was never able to have the same impact in La Liga that he had with Colo Colo or on the Chilean team. Whether or not this move happens without Pellegrini's move to greener pastures is unknown. That said, even under Pellegrini, Matias saw the field only as a substitute.
Operation Exit begins with the "Lil' Bunny" Saviola on his way out at Real Madrid. Signed for free from Barca during Schuster's tenure, Javier will be going to Benfica for 5 million euros. Not bad, especially considering Saviola agreed to reduce his 3 million euro a year salary for the move. The ex-Sevilla, Monaco, and Barca man wants to play regular football and feel useful again. He''ll be reuniting with his Argentine cohorts Aimar and young winger DiMaria at Sporting, as well as Real youth team player, Balboa.
Villareal continues to unravel - or are they rebuilding - as Nihat moves to Turkish champs Besiktas.
Daniel Harris writes an article-length temper tantrum and crying fit on how Real's signing are ruining the game, and are "morally repugnant, crass and vulgar." It's about as understated as Pacino's performance in Scarface.
Friday, June 26, 2009
Which is not to say South Africa let the Brazilians off the hook easily. Tied 0-0 until the 88th minute, South Africa, as was their style throughout the tournament, did their fair share of attacking, coming dangerously close to drawing first blood several times. On several interventions Julio Cesar proved that not only is he the best keeper Brazil has had in ages, but very well may be on his way to being one of the best in the world. Meanwhile, the Brazilians, perhaps cognizant of Wednesday's upset seemed less attack-minded and more willing to bide their time for the right moment.
South Africa locked Kaka up tightly, reducing him to two standout plays and little more. But, as is so often the case, one individual's brilliance can win a game in the snap of a finger. And the pentacampeones had more players capable of just that level of footballing genius. As the game wore on, the South Africans, perhaps feeling the pressure of the moment, began to reduce their offensive output and played to hold the game until extra time and penalties. The Brazilians, sensing blood in the water turned it up a notch. Dunga took off Santos for Dani Alves (usually a rightback) at the leftback position in the 82nd minute. Alves proceeded to prove that when a team has the two best wingbacks in the world, both should start, even if both are right footed.
In the 88th minute Ramires drew a foul on the edge of the box, and Alves dropped the hammer, ripping it around the right side of the wall and past Khune. In the South African keeper's defense, he was well-positioned and did what we could, but perhaps only two or three keepers in the world could have stopped that ball, and only on their best day. For all intents and purposes the game was over, and the referee's whistle minutes later was a mere formality. Brazil moves on to play the U.S. this Sunday, while Spain will play South Africa for third place.
As is so often the case when a good team is stuck playing for third, South Africa will probably take the bronze as Spain has been completely deflated by their loss. Add in that South Africa plays at home, and no one should be surprised with such a result. But honestly, no one will care one way or the other.
The more interesting question, of course, is this: Can the U.S. beat Brazil? We've seen Egypt push the Brazilians to the edge by attacking them. South Africa seemed to improve on Egypt's strategy by blending it with stouter defense. Then again, the Italians tried to attack and were thrashed by Brazil. Throw in the inherent difficulty of beating a team twice (at times overstated), and it seems inevitable that we're likely in for a tight game on Sunday. Bradley will be sorely missed, especially considering Kaka will want to improve on yesterday's performance.
Check in on Saturday or Sunday for a preview of both the third place match and the final.
Thursday, June 25, 2009
There's been a lot of discussion on where this victory ranks among the greatest US upsets. I'm certainly not old enough to speak to the 1950 victory over England, but I have witnessed all the victories since the 1994 World Cup. As an overall performance, this ranks up there as maybe the best (Colombia was beaten on an own goal, the first half against Portugal in 2002 was great, but the second half was a matter of hanging on by a thread, beating Brazil in 1998 was basically the result of one man - Kasey Keller - playing out of his mind).
The Portugal game elicited a pure joy because it was so stunning to go up 3-0 and it was so unexpected - the US was coming off the 1998 World Cup debacle, Portugal were heavy favorites, etc. The subsequent dos-a-cero against Mexico in the second round was not as thrilling but possibly more meaningful and brings greater joy to this day, at least personally, because it was a victory over our hated rivals on the biggest stage possible. This match didn't carry the significance of the World Cup and I think more is expected of the US than in 2002 (at least within the US soccer community). But the joy is just as great because of the who and how - the US beat the unquestioned number 1 team in the World, a Spanish side that is absolutely loaded from top to bottom, and the US tried to attack with purpose and produced good football. Furthermore, the heart and grit and determination was simply amazing, and it just makes me proud to support a team that can turn around its form within a week and produce such a display.
Unfortunately I had to watch the match from my office via ESPN360, and I missed out in sharing the experience at the side of fellow fans. But even just exchanging texts, IMs, and emails during the match, and the responses after the final whistle, you could feel connected to everyone else who was watching and could revel in the victory together as a community of fans having witnessed a moment that epitomizes why we are fans of sport in the first place, and of the beautiful game in particular.
On a side note regarding ESPN, there are many reasons to decry their coverage generally (and more specifically, how bad is their primary broadcast team, JP Dellacamera in particular) but I was happy to see the US victory as the lead story on ESPN.com and SportsCenter. Of course ESPN had to run a poll asking whether this victory made you care more/less/the same about US soccer. I hate those stupid polls because it just reinforces the idea that people don't care in the first place, but all those voters who say they will pay more attention to US soccer and the World Cup in the future, well I suppose I can only hope it turns out to be true.
Coach Vicente Del Bosque says the Americans caught his side by surprise.
Coach Bradley says shutting down Xavi was the key. See HalaMadrid's entry for more analysis on Xavi.
Charlie Davies says that the Spanish backs were scared of his pace.
Iker Casillas demonstrates how to not display class in defeat, then throw his teammates under the bus: “In all sincerity, only one time in 10 do I think we would lose against them. But yesterday, they deserved to reach the final.”
Then: "It just goes to show that the team that plays better and holds better possession doesn’t always win. Luck doesn’t always follow you, so you have to look at positives."
And finally: "Defensively, we lacked the final 10 meters in front of goal. Those two absurd, rare plays cost us the goals."
For the record, all of those statements are of course totally true. It's just that making "well, we're still better, so there" statements right after losing has to be the worst, most petty kind of revenge.
Also on the sour grapes front, Capdevila thought a foul should have been whistled on the play against Altidore, winning the award for the single dumbest thing a Spanish player said in response to the defeat. Altidore would have gotten more resistance from a lawn chair.
Five reasons Spain lost according to Eduardo Alvarez.
Martin Rogers says the US no longer have to be afraid to play top competition.
Shane Evans apparently will be taking ballet dancing lessons.
Carlos Bocanegra returned to lead the defense.
Grant Wahl ranks the victory fifth all time in US Soccer history, behind Mexico (2002 World Cup), England (1950 World Cup), Portugal (2002 World Cup) and Colombia (1994 World Cup). Jamie Trecker says it's the biggest victory ever. The NYT Soccer blog Goal asks the question but doesn't give the answer. I tend to agree with Wahl. We may have defeated a better side yesterday then the 2002 Mexico win, but a national side's "biggest win" should come on the world's biggest stage. The Confederations Cup is an official tournament afterthought. Everyone knows Italy won the World Cup. Who won the last Confederations Cup? It was Brazil. And I had to look it up, because I forgot. So maybe this could be the "best win", but I don't see how it could be the biggest.
This Guardian take describes the rise of the United States as a footballing nation.
Finally George Vecsey of the Times dubs the victory a "Miracle on Grass".
Wednesday, June 24, 2009
This looks to shore up a defensive spot opened by Cannavaro's departure, and that Metzelder looked unable to fill adequately.
So hats off to a wonderful U.S. side who dealt with Spain's pressure, controlled the tempo of the midfield and game generally, and made the most of their opportunities. My cohorts at this blog have and will do a wonderful job extolling the U.S.'s virtues in what was nothing less than a historic and magnificent victory. My allegiances, however, work out like this: Chile, Spain, and the United States. Mostly in that order. And I did want to see a Brazil-Spain final. But the truth is that the Americans played a perfect game, and the Spanish played a very flawed one.
Make no mistake, Spain is still a favorite for next year's World Cup, but some serious flaws have been exposed in these team at the Confederations Cup. Flaws that this defeat, if a positive is to be drawn form it, should help remedy. The Spanish are lamenting the absences of Iniesta and Silva, but the fact is that even without those two, the Spanish were and are more talented at every position and still lost.
First, terrible defending all around by the Spanish side. Sergio Ramos culminated an off year with the inexcusable error in his assist to Dempsey on the second goal. Pique may have been the only Spanish defender who acquitted himself. Puyol played decently, but there remain questions to be asked of the Catalan's ability to be a starter in one year's time. He's not getting any faster, and was sorely exposed at times by a young American frontline. Capdevilla was woeful as well, pushing up ineptly, and defending poorly as well. Casillas remains the best in the world, but like the Spanish team as a whole, was bested by Howard in the American goal.
Second, the Spanish strikers were both off form. Judging by Spain's record going into the game, this hadn't happened very often. Both Torres and Villa mishit several shots that usually go to the back of the net. Neither striker could muster up a good first touch, and the American defenders took care of the rest.
Finally, and I've saved the most worrisome trend for last, Del Bosque's tactics failed miserably and played directly into the hands of the United States. The Spanish came out looking rushed. The appeared to want to score quickly and get the game over with. They may have been looking past the U.S. and towards Brazil. Indeed, with the euphoria that has surrounded the Spanish side recently it would come as no surprise if some of the players started buying their own hype. The Spanish press has a way of being positive bordering on arrogant, or negative bordering on suicidal. In the 2006 World Cup Spain was considered too young to do anything, and not very good. A 4-0 win over the Ukraine and they were favorites. Neither was true. But I digress.
By the end of the game it was clear the Spanish looked rushed (not quick, but antsy) because they didn't quite understand how they were supposed to play. You see, the Spanish have dubbed their style of play "tiqui-taca." It's a name that represents the quick, pass-oriented style that the Spanish have become famous for in the past two years. But this style always focused on interior passing with the wings largely a support and outlet rather than a primary point of attack. Spain, like Barcelona (whose players form the crux of this Spanish side), possesses, possesses, possesses waiting for the right time to attack. Today, Spain barely maintained possession, instead barrelling towards the goal in waves of oftentimes mindless attacks. But why?
It appears that despite the success of tiqui-taca, Vicente Del Bosque is a man who like to play on the wings. Which is fine, and I find aesthetically pleasing. Indeed, Del Bosque himself said that Aragones had left him the "toy with the batteries" after the Euro. Then why is Del Bosque changing the style? Riera, on the wing pushed up incessantly. Sergio Ramos and Capdevilla also pushed up on the wings, to the detriment of the defense. Meanwhile, Xavi was unrecognizable in the midfield. Some credit must be give to Bradley, and Xavi was certainly off, but this is likely due to the fact that he was reduced to feeding the balls to the wing. How is it that Cesc, Xavi and Xabi Alonso at no time were able to string four passes together through the middle of the field? Or maintain possession for an extended period of time on the edge of the box? That's a strategic decision by Del Bosque - push up on the wings.
So they looked rushed. Their defenders were out of position early and often. Their key players on the interior of the midfield - who thrive and grow with the ball at their feet - were reduced to opening the game up to the wings. And, for shame, what was the major advantage the U.S. defense had against the Spanish? Height in the defense. So those crooses from the wing - not so helpful. And finally, as if to prove his point, just as Spain was pouring the pressure on looking for the equalizer - Cesc comes off. For who? Cazorla, who is great, but is a winger. Why? Did Del Bosque believe the field of play, already completely open, could have opened more? Spain would have been better served sticking to their style and possessing the ball and trying to beat the U.S. with sharp interior passing using the wings more sparingly. It worked for Barcelona against Chelsea.
So Casillas has said that of these games Spain wins 9 out of 10. And he's right. Del Bosque said they were unlucky in front of goal. Also true. Xabi Alonso said that as the streak continued, defeat always grew closer. Why not. But none of these things, nor the bad defending, the lack of touch and precision are necessarily lethal to Spain. They'll move on, qualify for the World Cup, and in all likelihood do better than the U.S. in that, the most important of tournaments. But if Del Bosque doesn't learn, and quickly, that you don't change a winning formula, Spain could quickly squander their golden generation, a loss for fans and football alike.
Now, after progressing over Italy on total goals scored, the second tiebreaker, the United States have shocked the football world by defeating the European champions 2-0. Spain had won 15 straight games and hadn't lost in 35, tying the record set by Brazil from 1993-1996.
-More inventiveness from the United States going forward today. At times the play was still too direct (Altidore isn't likely to beat four defenders for the header, and even if he wins it has nowhere to go), but much better anticipation on through balls into space, both by the midfielders delivering the ball and by the attacking players making the runs. Even Onyewu got in on the act early playing a threatening through ball to Davies that Casillas had to come out and deal with.
-Just as important was the attitude going forward. While there were definitely times the Americans packed in it in order to survive wave after wave of Spanish attackers, the Americans were willing to push on counterattacks and often were threatening doing so. And there were times where the Americans actually possessed the ball convincingly, even if that was the minority of the game.
-Jozy. That first touch still needs a lot of work, and his game as a whole is still so unrefined. But the ability has always been obvious, and was on full display in his brilliant turn and strike that gave the United States the lead.
-Howard. Unbelievable game. Made the brilliant save on Villa to hold the lead. If United States goes level there they may never get the game back.
-The entire United States backline, as well as the midfield when they were in support, deserve as many words as I could devote for them. Time after time when the Spanish had possesssion in and around the box, there was a United States defender perfectly in position to block a shot or a cross. This happened so many times during the game I can't imagine trying to count. Since Onyewu has been praised virtually the whole tournament for his clearances in the air, let me point out the outstanding play today of his center back partner Jay DeMerit. Couldn't have asked for anything more. On the wings Spector and Bocanegra were exceptional as well. Bocanegra's return obviously made an enormous difference for the back line. World Cup starters: Bocanegra, Demerit, Onyewu, Spector? That's certainly the lineup I'd pick after today.
-Conversely, it must be said that the Spanish defending cost them dearly today. On the first goal Capdevila was on Altidore, and failed at any measure of containment by letting Altidore muscle past him and turn on goal. That shot also wrong-footed Casillas, who it must be said makes that save more often than not. On the second goal, a beautiful buildup gives Donovan a wonderful chance. Donovan then inexplicably tries to play Dempsey in instead of hitting the target, despite Pique standing directly in his way. The ball sneaks through Pique's legs to Sergio Ramos, who has to come back for it. Sergio Ramos chooses the worst of all possible options and simply leaves it for Dempsey, who hammers the gift into the back of the net. From Sergio Ramos' reaction he must have not known Dempsey was there, but that's simply not acceptable given that Dempsey had cut across him three seconds earlier. Some bad defending today from the Spanish.
-Finally, have to bring the party down a little by mentioning Bradley's red card. At first I thought he won the ball, but after watching it again I'm not so sure. It was the third red card for the US this tournament, and I'm not convinced any of them actually merited a straight red. Bradley's challenge was low and obviously directed at the ball, given that I'm still not sure if he touched it. That said, Bradley goes studs up with three minutes left to play and manages to get himself thrown off the pitch and excluded for the final. Bad call or not, Bradley simply can't put himself in that situation. He has a history of dumb challenges, and he's way too important to what the US does to put himself at risk. Obviously his presence against Brazil (or South Africa, I suppose nothing should be presumed after today) will be greatly missed.
But no reason to end this post on a downer. Beating Spain in a genuine Cup competition is one of the greatest victories in US Soccer history. Take a bow, Bob Bradley. We didn't think this team had it in them.
The rich get richer? Ribery's agent says he favors a move to Real Madrid.
Barcelona targeting Javier Mascherano, will he stay or go? Benitez says he's staying, Mauricio Pellegrino thinks he may move on.
In more positive Liverpool news, Glen Johnson has joined the squad from Portsmouth. It seems likely that Arbeloa will move to Spain. Some are worried that Liverpool overpaid, but Benitez defends the signing.
The Guardian's Andy Hunter defends the cost.
Liverpool owners Gillett and Hicks are selling other pieces of their sports empires to be able to pay the debt for Liverpool. It certainly looks as though the Americans are here to stay. Here's Phil Holland's take over at ESPN.
Atletico Madrid attempted to squash the Manchester United-Sergio Aguero rumors (or at least drive up the price for their star).
Robinho would like Manchester City to sign Eto'o. And Tevez. After already signing Rogue Santa Cruz. No one has ever won anything defending anyway.
Casillas insists he's staying at the Bernabeu.
And finally, a very interesting take on the death of Italian football from Dominic Raynor.
If you're too lazy to read the article (seriously, it would take two minutes), the basic premise is that Italian football, both at the club and international level, is losing its luster. Not a hard case to make after the national side failed to advance out of the group stage in the Confederations Cup, and no Italian side managed to make the Champions League quarters. Oh, and the best player in Serie A just went to Madrid. And Pato might leave too. And Ibrahimovic. And Maicon. And Pirlo.
I don't really enjoy the deeply tactical Italian football, but I also appreciate diversity in quality sides, particularly in the Champions League. But in the era of money in football, so far the Italians are not able to compete. The last two years have featured three British sides and Barcelona in the Champions League semis. Can anyone really claim that there are more than six sides (four British and two Spanish, you know who they are) with a realistic chance to win the Champions League next year? Porto's magical run seems like a long time ago. Who else could even make a case? The Italians were nowhere close to good enough last year, and the best players in Italy are being poached by those "Big Six" world clubs (and Man City I suppose, but that's a topic for another day). Bayern were humiliated last year when they still had Ribery, which they surely will not next year. Porto? A lesser Spanish club? Hard to imagine.
I appreciate titanic Champions League clashes among the big clubs as much as anyone. But it would be nice if the rest of the clubs felt like they had a reason to show up.
More critically, six Iranian players wore green wristbands to protest the stolen election and political turmoil in Iran. At halftime the players were ordered to remove the bands. Now, four of these players, including the legendary Ali Karimi have been banned or "retired" from playing with the national team. The repurcussions on the remaining two players is currently unknown.
While politics and football are always intertwined, this is one particularly sad example of this fact. For the full story click here
Spain is expected to run a 4-3-1-2 lineup with Casillas in goal, Puyol and Pique in the center of the defense and Sergio Ramos and Capdevilla as wingbacks. The midfield will almost certainly be anchored by Xabi Alonso with Riera on the left. Cazorla would play on the right wing, although no one should be surprised to see Cesc out there to shore up the interior of the midfield, one of the U.S.'s brighter spots with Bradley and Clark/Feilhaber. Up top, who else, Villa and Torres. Just two of the best strikers in the world.
For the U.S., Howard will make return in goal, with Onyewu and Demerit in the center of the defense. If Bocanegra passes a late fitness test, expect him to replace Demerit. Spector and Bornstein will man the defensive wings. Clark and Bradley will play in the midfield, with Altidore up top. Dempsey, Donovan, and Davies will be on hand as well.
It's obvious who has the better players, with Spain's lineup made up of stars and starters from some of the world's best teams. But the days of MLS players making up most of the U.S. national team are gone. Most of the Americans have played or currently play in the second and third tier European leagues. In this way, they've seen top flight opposition much more often then their predecessors, and shouldn't be stunned by what's in front of them.
Better yet, the States played Spain very tough a little over a year ago, during a Euro preparation friendly, when only a second half goal from Xavi gave Spain the 1-0 win. While it was in the Euro that Spain actually came into their own, the side that played against the U.S. was no makeshift squad - all the stars were there. Add to this the fact that the U.S. has nothing to lose, and has seemingly begun to believe in itself, and we could be in for a very interesting matchup in Bloemfontein.
The keys for a competitive match, and perhaps another miracle, will be to exhibit poise and patience in the face of Spain's likely overwhelming possession of the ball. The centerbacks will have to bring their A-game as their major advantage, height, will be of little use against a Spain side that exploits quick interior passing and darting runs to perfection. Bradley must try and take as much control as he can in the midfield, a daunting task with the two figurative and litera "X" factors in Spain's midfield. Finally, the State's counters must develop quickly and incisively. Altidore must do better than he has this tournament, and Dempsey's scoring touch needs to figure prominantly. Donovan, the best American on the ball, needs to have a big game as well, as he and Bradley may determine how the counters develop, and what possession the U.S. can have. A strong Spector would help as well, keeping Capdevilla occupied with defense instead of pushing forward. Otherwise, the U.S. could well end up locked in their half for much of 90 minutes.
For Spain the key is, well, to play like Spain. Puyol and Pique have seen much better attackers than what the U.S. can offer, and shouldn't be tested by the indiviual players as much as they may be by good team play. Puyol's lack of speed in particular may be an issue against a younger U.S. side. Patience, possession, and passing are Spain's virtues, and may be all they need to beat the U.S. That said, Spain suffered against a well organized Iraq team that was comfortable without the ball. Coach Bradley's interviews seem to imply that his team is ready to give up possession and wait for the counter. While some say this plays right into Spain's hands, I don't think the U.S. has any other option. To fight fire with fire against Spain is to try and out-attack and out-pass them. Brazil may be the only side in the world that could possibly do that as of today.
Prediction: Too much talent, skill and speed for the Americans to handle. While last year's friendly shows the U.S. can play with Spain, this Spanish side is hitting its stride before the World Cup with a stretch of 35 unbeaten and 15 consecutive wins. Self-belief and nothing to lose can only take you so far. Spain wins a competitive match with their last goal coming late, 3-1.
Tuesday, June 23, 2009
Monday, the dynamic duo at PTI apparently disagreed with the tie breaking method used at the Confederations Cup, the same tiebreaker used in all FIFA events (to my knowledge). Today, apparently after receiving a barrage of tweets and e-mails from viewers defending the tiebreak system, they explained that they did understand the tiebreaker, but simply did not like it. Tony noted that not every win is worth as much as another. Wilbon cited the NFL's retreat from point differential in the past, and Tony simply said, "Head-to-head."
Now, let me be clear. Wilbon actually seems to enjoy and follow international football. Unlike Jim Rome and the Tony Reali (not enough stats in football stat boy?) who embrace their rejection of the sport (albeit, at different levels. I actually think Rome may have watched football kill his parents in his infancy), the guys at PTI try. But in discussing their opposition to the tiebreak system they reinforce how long the U.S. has to go before its mainstream sports journalists embrace the sport the way many fans are.
Head-to-head, suggested by Tony, is an impossibility in an international tournament. It is the tiebreaker preferred by the Spanish Liga, over point differential, where teams play home and away over the course of the season. Here, Brazil beat everyone. The United States, Egypt, and Italy, then beat each other in a circle, with Italy actually receiving the worst beating from the pentacampeones. Egypt played Brazil tight, was slaughtered by the States, and beat Italy. Italy beat the States and lost to Egypt in a game where they deserved better. So who deserved to go through in the absence of point differential?
I'm not arguing that point differential is the ideal tiebreaker. What tiebreaker is? But the boys at PTI, normally well-versed in their commentary, seemed to imply replacing the current tiebreak system for a varying value system for wins, related, one would assume, to the team's ranking upon entry into the tournament, or some subjective idea of what an opponent is worth. Unfortunately, everyone knows the world rankings are terribly flawed, and are more often obviously wrong than right.
The guys at PTI had no solutions for the current tiebreak system. On a superficial level, they did their research. That they didn't pose winning solutions wasn't the problem, that they didn't think through their proposed solutions within the context of the tournament, or the particularities of world football is. No one who proposes a playoff system in college football would discuss it without acknowledging the scheduling conflicts. Why then, should we accept nonsensical tiebreak proposals?
While I applaud PTI for caring, understand the time limitations on the show, and am usually excited just to see them cover football, the truth remains that most of the mainstream media either openly hates, doesn't want, or can't seem to understand football. Meanwhile, a growing number of fans do, or are trying to. We've got a long way to go for major news outlets to appreciate and cover football they way it deserves to be covered in this country (I shudder everytime I think about what ESPN's coverage of football will be now that they've lost the rights to the Champions League). It's time more journalists made like Wilbon and at least started trying to understand it. "Soccerheads," as PTI called us, deserve it.
Monday, June 22, 2009
In 2006-2007 Cappello's side caught a Barcelona team that had set the world afire the previous year in the Champions League and La Liga, winning both. But Capello's vision of the game was the antithesis of what Real Madrid stood for as an entity. Shown the door after a stellar season, Bernd Schuster promised to return "footballing excellence" to the Bernabeu. In truth, Schuster did little more than build off of an incredible team spirit and will to win that Capello had instilled in the team. If Capello's league title was called "La Heroica," then Schuster's 2007-2008 could have been dubbed "La Continuacion," for it was little more than that.
Much of this extended crisis resulted from Florentino's "galacticos" signing policy that was as remembered for the signings of Zidane (and his historic volley in Glasgow), Figo, Ronaldo, and Beckham, as it was for tossing away Makelele and Hierro, team players and stars in their own right, like so much trash. The club, however, was in economic ruin when Florentino arrived and he saved it financially thanks to some creative deal making - a fact any madridista recalls fondly. While Madrid may have returned to its winning ways and picked up two consecutive leagues, the inescapable truth was that it did so in unimpressive fashion, playing a brand of bland and insipid football that aside from testicular fortitude offered little to the demanding Bernabeu.
Add in a corrupt president in Calderon, an ebb in the youth system, and the rise of perhaps the best Barcelona side in history (winning the only treble in Spanish football history), a 6-2 drubbing in the Bernabeu, and the fifth consecutive exit in the first knockout round of the Champions League, and by Real Madrid's standards a spectacular crisis was on hand. Certainly fun for the many haters out there, but dreary for madridistas like myself. Enter Florentino Perez.
Within a week of his uncontested return to the presidency, Florentino had chosen Real legend Jorge Valdano as his General Director and Zidane as his personal adviser. Rebuffed by his own first choice, Arsene Wenger (likely in a not-so-subtle acknowledgement of the lack of stability at the club), Florentino quickly snapped up Valdano's first coaching choice, Villareal 's Manuel "the Engineer" Pellegrini. Pellegrini's unwavering allegiance to attacking football, knowledge of the Spanish game, and (somewhat) proven track record overrode other concerns. Less than a week later, Kaka was signed for 65 million euros. Shortly afterwards, Cristiano Ronaldo was signed for 96 million euros. Suddenly, a Madrid side that had lacked both stars and creative flair since Zidane's departure had two FIFA World Players on its roster again, and every madridista on earth was ecstatic and full of hope once more. The push for Villa, Benzema, Ribery, Xabi Alonso, and Maicon was on, and once again Madrid fans could see the (white) light at the end of the tunnel.
But Florentino has done more than save my summer - he may have saved yours as well. What's that you say? You hate Real Madrid, and even more after this post? Fear not, I'll explain how he saved your summer too. Obviously, he saved mine by signing Kaka and Ronaldo, pushing for several other great players, inflating the market so that we're likely to see huge transfer fees across the board and thus making life difficult for our rivals to sign players after we've signed our priorities. Throw in the fact that Barcelona's president and top directors seem to have forgotten their treble and simply CANNOT stop talking about what Madrid's doing (inferiority complex anyone?) and Madrid's back on the map in a big way, and no one in a white jersey has kicked a ball in weeks!
Florentino saved your summer because once the Confederations Cup ends, all you'll have to look forward to is the Gold Cup (or should I say, an extra U.S. v. Mexico game) and the transfer market. A transfer market that had been expected to be one of the worst in history thanks to that little thing called the global economy. But in came Florentino splashing around money like Tony Montana in South Beach circa 1983. Sure, the prices were driven up by Madrid, but so was the need to buy. Manchester United is now holding a cool 96 million euros, missing its best player, and Tevez can't be signed. Benzema anyone? It always fun watching a negotiation with Aulas isn't it? Suddenly, Ibrahimovich is worth 80 million euros, Villa wants out, Manchester City and Chelsea want everyone under the sun, Inter's willing to sell, and Tevez is going to Liverpool, Chelsea, or Manchester City - despite a great offer from Manchester United!
Not to mention, Real Madrid HAS to get rid of 6-14 players, none of which have left yet. That is to say, some talented players, like Robben, Van der Vaart, Huntelaar, Van Nistlerooy, and Drenthe may be making moves to "lesser" teams, and shaking up the middle table teams in Italy and England.
In effect, a number of teams we thought might stand pat, are out shopping. Several quality players that weren't on the market, may be now. Not all of this can be attributed to Florentino, but some of it can be. How many times have you trashed Madrid this summer already for the ludicrous sums of money spent on two players? Do you ever wonder if Kaka and Ronaldo can play together? Who's Real going to let go and since it's a known fact they must go, will they get fleeced on the deals? Who will Manchester United sign? And have you realized that on the club side of world football, Real Madrid is relevant again without winning a game?
Don't get me wrong, there are concerns. The galacticos era ended poorly. Indeed, just the new coach and first two signings of this new Florentino era have raised questions regarding the control and input afforded to the coach, economic stability, economic responsibility (drastically overstated in my opinion), the undervaluing of Spanish players, the endless problems between Real Madrid and Valencia, Florentino stumbling over the same rock again, and many, many others. The rumors of possible future signings also raise doubts. Soon enough, Ill post on these and other issues.
But for now, I'll go ahead and bask in the clean white light of our signings, the return of a gentleman to the presidency, and (hopefully) the return of footballing beauty to its home - the Estadio Santiago Bernabeu.
We know at least two new players will be sporting the shirt next season, but currently only the Raul, Sergio Ramos, and Casillas shirts are available.
Real Madrid posted an interesting video interview with the Adidas designer who worked on the Bernabeu shield and discusses the inspiration behind it. See that here.
With that opening, American viewers learned the steep odds facing their side coming into the day, in case they missed the 3-0 no show against Brazil in the previous match. They also learned that Jerry Lewis jokes are just as relevant as they ever were. Thanks Rece Davis.
Yet somehow, the Americans are through, as the result of a 3-0 victory over Egypt and Brazil's 3-0 smackdown of Italy. This brought the Americans even on goal difference with the Italians but through on goals scored, as the Azzurri managed to score only three times in the whole tournament. And those three goals all came in the second half against the US after Ricardo Clark was harshly given a straight red card, and after Italy had already fallen behind despite the man advantage. Let's just say that Italy have failed to impress in the Confederations Cup. Justice is served by the defending World Cup champions being sent home.
(Whew, I managed to write that whole paragraph without writing "Rossi" or "New Jersey").
I'm not sure the same could be said about the Egyptian side that impressed all neutral observers in the first two matches of the tournament. Egypt impressively rallied from a 3-1 deficit to tie Brazil, led by two goals from Mohamed Zidan, only to lose the match 4-3 on a late (though just) penalty. Egypt then managed to defeat the masters of the 1-0 match, Italy, by that very scoreline.
While the US was certainly playing improved football at the start against Egypt, there was very little sense of what was to come. Egypt also were creating some chances early. The first breakthrough will be described as perseverance by pro-American commentators, perseverance being defined as "a positive way to spin getting lucky." A throw-in and a good turn by Jozy Altidore resulted in a somewhat threatening cross, but one that goalkeeper Essam El Hadary seemed destined to control. Instead, right back Ahmed Fathi managed to knock the ball from his goalkeeper's hands and knee his goalkeeper in the head, a fairly dreadful two-fer. In the scrum that followed, Charlie Davies managed to deflect the ball into the net. US 1-0.
Meanwhile, Brazil was doing their part by scoring three late first half goals thanks to the interplay between Kaka, Robinho and Luis Fabiano. Fabiano scored two, and Robinho's cross resulted in an own goal from Andrea Dossena, who showed he was capable of scoring against teams besides Real Madrid or Manchester United, albeit in the wrong direction.
With the possibility of advancing now a realistic goal, the United States came out with energy in the second half. Altidore found himself essentially alone from 14 yards, and his shot came off the thigh and then the elbow of defender Hani Said. There was obviously no intent on Said's part, but it's fairly rare to get away with handling the ball six inches off the line. But the United States, gifted all kinds of space by an Egyptian defense that failed to close down in the center of the pitch, continued to move deftly through the midfield. If the first goal was mainly the result of good fortune, the second and third were pure attacking magic from a side that too often produces very little. The second goal was a wonderful two man interchange between perhaps the two best American players, Bradley and Donovan, with Bradley side-footing it home from 12 yards. The third goal came on a spectacular cross from Jonathan Spector (any cross that is actually threatening is spectacular by American standards), with the much-criticized Clint Dempsey out-fighting the Egyptian defender and powering it home.
Spector has been a revelation, and belongs in the starting lineup regardless of the health of the rest of the backline. But I'll offer a brief kudos to Dempsey, whose win and direction on the header was absolutely outstanding, and at the biggest of moments. Much is expected of Dempsey on the US side, and it's fair to say he has not lived up to those expectations. But this is Dempsey's moment, so I won't pile on. No one doubts his ability. When the results match the ability, he's a tremendous asset for the side.
Now it's through to the semifinals. All that remains now to win the Confederations Cup is to defeat maybe the two best squads on the planet, Spain and Brazil. But stranger things have happened. I think.
Finally, I'd also like to thank Francisco for putting this blog together. Hopefully we get some good debates going. Glad to be here at FutbolNation. My main allegiances are to US Soccer and Liverpool, although just to be annoying I'll probably make the case for negative football (occasionally) and take potshots at Real Madrid (frequently), if only because when HalaMadrid starts talking about his side he's pretty much intolerable.
It's pretty amazing how 90 minutes can alter one's perception of an entire tournament. As of Sunday morning, the Confederations Cup was a complete disaster for the US, having lost to Italy under unfortunate circumstances and capitulating against Brazil. A day later and the US is essentially telling all their critics to "f--- off!"
Admittedly I've recently increasingly soured on Bob Bradley, and some horrible coaching decisions and subsequent terrible play of some against Italy and Brazil only made matters worse.
No one will ever call Bradley a world class coach, and for the US to ever challenge consistently during international tournaments it will need a coach who has a tactical acumen lacking in the current US soccer coaching circles. But Bradley has still done fairly well during his tenure. The US was not entirely overmatched last summer during a string of friendlies against top sides (Spain, England, and Argentina), they've continued regional dominance over Mexico, and until recently World Cup qualifying has gone smoothly.
On the other hand, Bradley has developed few young players, makes strange team selections, and often plays horrible tactics. He has largely ignored Charlie Davies until the Egypt game, a speedy player that brings qualities often lacking in US forwards. He also has an aversion to Jose Francisco Torres, one of the few US players who is skillful and comfortable on the ball and can help control the tempo of possession. Bradley kept calling on Eddie Johnson long after he brought anything to the table, and the same can be said of DaMarcus Beasley, who needs an extended run at the club level before getting another whiff of the National Team.
But I'll give credit where credit is due. While I was lambasting Bradley's decision to play Clint Dempsey against Egypt after a series of uninspired performances, he stuck with him. The key however was the decision to push Dempsey forward, which is a much better position for him than playing from the wing. Similarly, I've greatly championed Bradley's deployment of Landon Donovan on the wing (despite his continued inability to hit a decent cross -- can anyone on the US team hit a decent free kick?!).
As for the rest of the team, I've been greatly impressed with Oguchi, I think DeMerit has acquitted himself well, and I'm happy to see Jonathan Spector playing closer to the promise many saw in him as a youngster signing originally for Man U. The center of the midfield continues to bring with it selection issues. Clark has replaced Pablo Mastroeni as a walking red card waiting to happen, but deploying him with Michael Bradley allows the younger Bradley to do more damage marauding forward the way he's done so well for Heerenveen and Borussia Mönchengladbach. But playing that duo leaves out Benny Feilhaber, one of the few players who can change a game with his vision and ability on the ball. While I would prefer to have Feilhaber starting in the middle, his current super-sub role has worked out in the Confederations Cup.
So, do you agree/disagree? I don't have any real novel thoughts here, but just wanted to get the discussion rolling. Let me know what you think.
Sunday, June 21, 2009
Luckily, I've got a few friends that are as ardent supporters as myself, so I've recruited them to post on this blog. Our goal is to make FutbolNation a site where both casual and passionate fans can check in and get some news and lots of opinions on the major events in world football. FutbolNation is about how much football matters to us, and it will driven by our interests at any given time. I suspect there will be significant overlap between what we're interested in and what you're interested in. Will there be omissions? Probably. Will there be days with numerous posts? Absolutely. With twenty posts? Chill out buddy, we all have jobs.
We may cover topics we care about and you don't. There's a great technique for dealing with those posts called, "Don't read them." But hopefully, more often than not, you'll want to read them, and,better yet, for casual fans we may be a nice source for commentary on some of the major happenings. For you ardent supporters, we should be passionate enough as to our teams, leagues, and nations that you'll be incensed, amused, or entertained enough to come back for more.
So make no mistake, this site is run by supporters. Our analysis entries, predictions, and editorials will likely be biased (our choice of news postings may not be, but no promises). Log in and comment/attack us if you'd like. Check our bios to see who we favor (Note: U.S. Soccer, Real Madrid, Manchester United, and Liverpool will be shown love - as will some one-offs, like Juventus, Ajax, D.C. United, Chile and the Columbus Crew). That's part of who we are, and we'll be open about it. Our hope is that the inner rivalries among us will offset this lack of objectivity, but also that these allegiances will make the site better.
So welcome to FutbolNation, you're passport just got stamped, but you're welcome to become a citizen anytime.