Wednesday, November 17, 2021

Canada Number 1 (!)

"Canada number 1" is something I have never said before, but it is the truth in the CONCACAF region´s qualifiers, where the top three qualify directly for Qatar, while the fourth gest a play-off. Although everyone who has been watching Canada lately knows that the team, captained by the phenomenal Alphonse Davies from Bayern Munich, is to be reckoned with, their rise culminated yesterday with a 2-1 victory over Mexico, the team that has historically always dominated CONCACAF. Canada already tied 1-1 in Mexico City, and recent victories over Costa Rica and Panama has put them on top, and we should all be looking forward to a clash between USA and Canada, going for first spot. 

Mexico, traditionally dominant in CONCACAF has fallen to third place after their two defeats to USA and Canada respectively, with 14 points, alongside Panama on fourth spot, also with 14 points. That said, it appears that the top four in CONCACAF is taking shape: after defeating El Salvador 2-1, Panama and Mexico are five points clear of Costa Rica on fifth place. Panama, coached by the Spanish-Dane Thomas Christiansen, are looking for their second World Cup in a row, and have already played some epic matches to defeat the USA, and coming from behind to defeat both Honduras and El Salvador. 

My prediction is that the CONCACAF will end as its stands, with Mexico, USA and Canada qualifying, and Panama going to the play-offs. 

 In the meantime, I should say something about El Salvador, because it is the country in which I am currently residing. El Salvador´s manager Hugo Perez is being widely criticised for the lack of results and from some quarters also for his selection of some players who were not born and bred in the country, but are rather a product of the country´s huge diaspora, mainly in the USA. The team is relatively young, and I think Mr. Perez has a long-term plan, to build up a base of young foreign-based players who are now gaining experience and could compete for the 2026 World Cup. Right now, the team is clearly not competitive at the highest levels; even when they went ahead early against Panama they lacked a high pressure and controlling the match against a much more experiences and tactically savvy Panamanian side. The problem appears a lack of patience with the lack of quick results and what I consider a strange lack of support when things are not going well: last week´s home match against Jamaica was not sold out in San Salvador even though it was a crucial match for a team that could still qualify for the World Cup. 

These are the matches where the stadium should be sold out. Instead, with lacklustre support, El Salvador and Jamaica tied 1-1, and with the defeat to Panama, El Salvador are likely out of the contest. Good luck, and hope they can get more support next time.

Heading for Qatar

 I must admit that I have been watching a lot of football the last few days; World Cup qualifiers from Europe, South America, Concacaf, and even watched good ole’ Liberia lose 0-2 to Nigeria, who goes on to win the group and is in the run for a World Cup spot.

In Europe all Group winners have been decided, with the two big surprises being Switzerland and Serbia. They Serbians did the unexpected by winning 1-2 in Lisbon to take first spot in the group ahead of Portugal, who were even 1-0 ahead and would have won the group with a tie. The other surprise were Switzerland, who did what they had to do by defeating Bulgaria 4-0, as Italy’s European champions were unable to get past 0-0 against Northern Ireland. Four years ago Italy also missed out on the World Cup in the play-offs, and although I think they will make it, the play-offs will be nerve wrecking: twelve teams will fight for three World Cup spots, and some of the teams besides Italy and Portugal include Russia, Poland, Wales, Sweden and Scotland.

The European sides going straight to Qatar from Europe are:

  • Group A: Serbia
  • Group B: Spain
  • Group C: Switzerland 
  • Group D: France 
  • Group E: Belgium 
  • Group F: Denmark
  • Group G: Netherlands
  • Group H: Croatia
  • Group I: England
  • Group J: Germany
In the meantime in South America Brazil and Argentina tied 0-0; Brazil has qualified while Argentina are on the verge of qualifying. Ecuador appears a relatively solid third after a strong 0-2 away win in Chile, while there is a bitter fight for he next two spots. Colombia, after yet another 0-0 against Paraguay is on fourth place with 17 points, with only two points down to Bolivia on 8th place. Bolivia defeated Uruguay 3-0 in La Paz, and are thus still playing for a place in Qatar. The only team that has no option of qualifying is Venezuela, while all other teams are still in the contest with just four matches left. Peru is currently in fifth place, with 17 points, following a win over Venezuela, and will face Colombia in the next match.
Await some epic matches in South America!

Friday, November 12, 2021

Brazil to the World Cup

There has never been a World Cup without Brazil, and Qatar will not be the first one. In fact, Brazil is looking as strong as ever. After twelve matches in the South American qualifiers they have eleven victories and only one tie, after today’s 1-0 home victory over Colombia. The Colombians were looking good in the first half, well-organized and occasionally dangerous despite their lack of goals. In the second half Brazil nevertheless pressed forward, and got their goal through Lucas Paquetá following a great pass from Neymar, who does a fantastic work on this team. All in all Brazil is strong on every position, playing great football, and are looking like a team determined to break the European hold on the World Cup title.

Despite Colombians lack of optimism, I still think that they will qualify. They are currently on the fifth play-off spot with 16 points alongside Chile on fourth and Uruguay on sixth. Colombians main problem is that they are not scoring many goals, although their defense is now looking solid after their debacle against Ecuador. The return of James and Falcao are in my view on the solution to their goal-scoring problem, although I still believe that with their quality they should make it to Qatar.

A World Cup without Brazil is unthinkable, but a World Cup without Colombia would be disappointing.

Friday, October 29, 2021

Coming Barcelona manager?

Ronald Koeman had to go after another recent loss of FC Barcelona, this time against Rayo Vallecano in the Spanish League. While Lionel Messi's exit and the clubs financial troubles were bound to affect the Catalan powerhouse, the impact has been much worse than was expected. That said, it is not only due to Messi's exit; already before the Argentine wizard leaving, the team appeared in trouble and largely depending on Messi. Without Messi, Koeman's tactical weaknesses have been exposed, because the team has sufficient talented players to be competitive. Koeman's plan with the team does not appear clear, and perhaps a new manager can give a push to the club and its talented players.

FC Barcelona is a complicated football club to manage (they are, indeed as their motto says "more than a club"), and a manager should know well the culture of the club. Koeman knew the club from his playing career, but did not manage to steer them in the right direction. The next manager appears likely to be another legend of the club: Xavi Hernandez, who left the club in 2015 after winning everything, is set to return. His experience as manager has only been at Qatar's Al Sadd, where he has won one League title, but his in-depth knowledge of the club makes him an obvious candidate for manager, perhaps to retake what other former players have done at their former clubs.

It will be a challenge for Xavi, but interesting to follow whatever happens at FC Barcelona.