Thursday, June 27, 2013

Unsurprising stuff

The Confederations Cup has been without surprises, and everything points to a final between the Brazilian hosts and the world champions of Spain. Both sides won all their matches in the first round, but Spain was surely the better team, winning all matches with style, except against Uruguay, but that they can only blame themselves for.
Africa, North American, Asia and Oceania (poor little Tahiti!) were swept aside in the first round for it to become a South American and a European semi-final respectively, setting the stage for the Brazil-Spain final: Brazil won a hard-fought 2-1 victory today against Uruguay and I doubt that Spain can avoid defeating Italy in a repeat of the 2012 Euro final.
I also doubt that Brazil has a chance against Spain: the Brazilians have not looked overwhelmingly strong despite winning their matches. They have committed serious defense mistakes, such as in Cavani's goal for Uruguay today, and will be under enormous pressure from their own fans at a time when only a victory could defuse some of the protests in the country.
No, Spain is by far the better side, and if the unsurprising tournament continues, the Spaniards will also take the title.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

The World Cup in Brazil

I  want to share this video. Perhaps a lot of people disagree, surely a lot of people, football fans, would rather ignore it. But there is truth in the fact that a world cup overshadows a lot of things that are, much, much more important. Football is the most important of all unimportant thins, but sadly a lot of powerful and rich people want to make us think that it is the most important to fill their own power and money needs.
Watch this.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Ireland-England, 1988

A couple of years ago I did a series of posts on this blog about the Greatest World Cup matches of all time. Truth is that I have been working on the greatest European Championship matches of all time, and just this week I was looking at a match that had its 25-year anniversary this week, namely Ireland-England in 1988. The Republic of Ireland had until 1988 been midgets of European football. This was in spite of the fact that almost all its players were professionals in the strong English and Scottish leagues, where some clubs had distinctive Irish symbols. Glasgow Celtic for instance, where three Irish players in the 1988 squad came from: the goalkeeper Pat Bonner, and the experienced defenders Mick McCarthy and Chris Morris. Three players were stars in one of England's best clubs, Liverpool, namely Ronnie Wheelan, John Aldridge and Ray Houghton, while another three played in a club that was known for its Irish players, Manchester United: Kevin Moran, Paul McGrath and Liam O'Brien. The team captain was the Derby County veteran Frank Stapleton. Given that these players played top level football in England and Scotland, it seemed somewhat strange, not to say arrogant, that England seemed to underestimate Ireland. When you added to this that Ireland was coached by one of the greatest players England had ever produced, Jackie Charlton, and a great manager, England should expect a difficult match. England indeed had one of the best generations it had produced for a long time. In 1986 they had made it to the World Cup quarterfinals, only to be eliminated by the ingenuity and brilliance of Diego Maradona. Up front England had a powerful duo with the top-scorer of the 1986 World Cup, FC Barcelona's Gary Lineker together with Liverpool's Peter Beardsley, and right behind them the magnificent John Barnes, also from Liverpool. The veteran Peter Shilton from Derby County guarded the goal, while the veteran from Manchester United, Bryan Robson, was the team captain. The side also included the legendary Glenn Hoddle from AS Monaco, one of the most gifted players of that generation. English football in the 1980s had nevertheless been tarnished by hooliganism. After the tragedy at Heysel in 1985, English clubs had been banned from playing in Europe. Still, the national team continued to attract hordes of beasts, and England's games were considered high security risk. Ireland had qualified the tournament just ahead of Bulgaria, and it was the first time ever that the Republic of Ireland participated in a major tournament. England had not had much difficulty qualifying ahead of Yugoslavia, Northern Ireland and Turkey, and it was, as always, a team full of expectations of glory that went into the tournament. England was a bit weakened going into the match as their experienced central defender Terry Butcher suffered an injury and had to be replaced by the young Mark Wright from Derby County. After only six minutes the English central defense, unable to get the ball away, conceded Ireland's first goal: Kevin Moran kicked a high ball towards the right side of the English penalty area. Tony Galvin put in a cross that an English central defender just managed to shoot up in the air. John Aldridge headed the ball coming down to Ray Houghton who completely unmarked headed the ball into goal for a very unexpected Irish lead. England seemed in shock, and produced nothing in the first half, as Ireland waited for the English to attack. In the second half England started putting more pressure, but the biggest chance came to the Irish when Ronnie Wheelan had an excellent volley shot that hit the English crossbar. With England putting more pressure Pat Bonner stepped into the match when his hard-fighting defense was beaten: twice he saved shots from Gary Lineker who had gotten through, and he also had an outstanding save on a shot by Bryan Robson. But as most fans watching, it seemed like the Irish more and more believed that this would be their game, and in the end it was a deserved and hard-fought victory for the side's debut in a major tournament. Ireland then tied the USSR and was close to making it to the semi-finals. England on the other hand lost its following two matches and exited the tournament with three defeats.

Go Tahiti!

The Confederations Cup is on! While it promises to be one of the most interesting Confederations Cup ever, the opening match between Brazil and Japan was a disappointment. Brazil did just what they had to do to defeat a poor Japanese side 3-0. While the Japanese were indeed a huge disappointment one did not have the feeling that Brazil was feeling comfortable. Neymar's first goal was spectacular, and the two other goals were efficient given that Brazil did not create that much. It will be interesting to see them against better sides, because there are surely better sides than Japan today!
Tomorrow there will be two fascinating matches: Mexico will face Italy and Spain take on Uruguay. Mexico will want to improve on their poor goal scoring record, while Italy is finally caring about the Confederations Cup. Spain is also testing some new constellations and should be hungry to win this tournament that eluded them four years ago when they were eliminated by the USA. In the meantime Uruguay will want to continue their resurgence and show they are as good as in South Africa.
But with all these fantastic teams I think and hope that the darling of all neutral football fans will be Tahiti. They will never make it to a World Cup, and their side of amateurs is living the dream of any football player who never dreamed of playing against these teams. I truly hope they do not become the walkover everyone is expecting, but can put up a fight against all these footballing giants!
Go Tahiti!

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

The revival of the Charrua

Great times are known to be great because they rise to the occasion. Defending South American champions Uruguay have had a difficult qualifying campaign for the World Cup in Brazil, and it had come down to them needing a victory away to Venezuela, who is desperately trying to clinch its first time in a world cup.
In the first match away Uruguay and Venezuela tied 1-1, and Uruguay had been dreadful away, winning no matches and only getting one tie.
But with all these odds against them, the Uruguayans rose to the occasion. Venezuela started well and had some fine chances, but it was Edison Cavani, who was a constant threat to the Venezuelans, who scored when Venezuela seemed to be playing best. For the rest of the match Uruguay played safely in defense, with dangerous counterattacks and intelligence to take home a much-needed victory.
Uruguay are now on the fifth play-off spot with 16 points, same as Venezuela, but better goal difference and one match less. Venezuela, whose world cup participation no longer depends on themselves has three matches left, the next one a crucial away clash against Chile, who took fourth spot by defeating Bolivia 3-1 tonight.
I do not mind if Venezuela does not qualify to the world cup. While well-organised and difficult to play against, Venezuela is not a side that will add anything new to the football world in Brazil 2014. I want Uruguay and Chile, countries with a proud footballing history, to participate instead of a country that is more into baseball and whose fans are generally ignorant about football.
Today Uruguay showed that they belong more in Brazil than Venezuela.

Good thing they do not show Danish football in South America

I did not watch Denmark's humiliating defeat to Armenia in today's world cup qualifier in Copenhagen, so I cannot comment much on the actual match. That said, to lose 0-4 at home to the world's number 89 is a debacle no matter how you turn it. Denmark is effectively out of the world cup and in any country they should seriously consider whether Morten Olsen should continue as coach. Even though the Danish talent pool is small, his choices are what have left Denmark out.
Pathetic. Good thing there is quality football to watch in South America.

Thursday, June 06, 2013

Venezuelan banter

There is not much "friendly" banter in South America, where tempers swell. And as we know in Europe, banter can sometimes go overboard, but fortunately it is mostly a thing where one teases your coming opponents for being useless drunks and crybabies before a match.
Like all FC Copenhagen fans ;)
So I found it quite amusing when the Bolivian football star,  Marco Etcheverry ("el Diablo"), before the world qualifying match Bolivia-Venezuela in La Paz next Friday, said that Venezuela "in my view are the best to make soap operas, with the Mexicans, and they have the best Miss Universes, for which I congratulate them", but then went on to say that Venezuela has done nothing on the football pitch and will leave La Paz "on their knees". (
(Etcheverry was wrong on one point: Venezuelan soap operas are much better than the Mexican ones!)
When Venezuela was facing Chile earlier in the qualification, some Chilean reporters said the same and it also infuriated many Venezuelans, and I find this amazing: it is so innocent and funny that it should be rather laughed at than angered at! Normally Venezuelans are funny and quick-witted, but here they continue to act rather like little offended children.
I must admit find it harder and harder to support Venezuela in their effort to qualify to their first world cup given how sensitive people are about it, and how offended they get when one criticises anything about their team or fans.
That said, since the Venezuelans apparently need it, I help them by providing my top-five come-back phrases to use on the Bolivians:
  • 5) Yeah, you made it to one world cup. Congratulations. 20 years ago. Wow. How did you do in it anyway?
  • 4) At least we do not need to play at 4000 meters to win.
  • 3) Even though we do not play at 4000 meters, we do win at home anyway.
  • 2) We may "only" be fifth in the qualification group. But where are you? We never look below us.
  • 1) There will surely be another Venezuelan Miss Universe someday, but there will NEVER be a Bolivian Miss Universe.

Monday, June 03, 2013

Is Neymar that good?

One of the many interesting things in today's clash in a new Maracana Stadium between England and Brazil was to see how Neymar, who has just been signed by mighty FC Barcelona, might do against English defenders.
In the first half Neymar and the entire Brazilian team were far superior to an English side that the South American commentators where I watched it, were rightly quite unimpressed about. But a few changes in the second half and it seemed that England got Brazil under control, and a 2-2 draw was in the end a pretty good result.
And what about Neymar? I think that like most of Brazil's team he fell back into a comfortable life, believing that the match was won before it ended. That is why Brazil will not be world champions. They made the same mistake in the Olympics and they have not learned the lesson.
Neymar is a hugely gifted player. He has been doing spectacularly for Santos, but in the national team he has done nothing when it counts, neither at the Olympics or Copa America. And in Europe he will be up against completely different defenders, and will not be protected by the referees. I do not believe he has the mentality or discipline to be worth all the hype, and I believe that rather like Robinho, he will be a nomad of big European sides, without breaking through in any, but will be remembered as just another really good Brazilian player.