Saturday, October 31, 2015

Liverpool up, Chelsea down

Jurgen Klopp's long-awaited first victory as Liverpool manager came with a 1-3 away win against the defending champions of Chelsea. This will surely put expectations even higher for Liverpool, who looked confident and organized. There is much work to do though, and while I firmly believe that Klopp is the right man to make Liverpool better over the next year, I do not believe in immediate short term success.
As deserved as Liverpool's victory was though, one can only look in wonder at Chelsea and Jose Mourinho. Last season's awesome champions are a shadow of themselves. This was their third home defeat this season, and their third defeat in a week. It is not just that they are losing, but that they are playing dreadful! The commonly strong defense looks insecure and slow (Christian Benteke's third goal for Liverpool was an example of this), while players such as Eden Hazard, John Terry or Diego Costa, who were so strong last season, seem reduced to second-rate players.
Everyone is perplexed (if not a certain "Schadenfreude" at Chelsea). But the one who seems most perplexed is Jose Mourinho, whose normal arrogant confident makes him seem more and more like a man who does not have what it takes to lift his team from below. Perhaps he has been too long at the top, and this should be a test of whether he really is one of the greatest manager in the world.
Rumours of Mourinho being fired abound, although he seems to have the support of the fans and the players. But in Chelsea only Roman Abramovich decides, and he may not have patience with Mourinho, as he has never had patience with any managers. At the same time, this is his most winning coach ever, and it is not clear that there is anyone at his level to replace him.
So expect the Chelsea struggle to continue...

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

The Euro Qualified nations

20 out of 24 nations are ready for the 2016 European Championship in France. Despite the fact that I am those who think that a European Championship of 24 teams is way too much, I cannot help but notice some notable newcomers among the 20 nations, some of which would even have qualified with 16 nations, showing what is perhaps a power shift going on in European football:
  • Group A: The Czech Republic and Iceland qualified. Besides the big surprise of Iceland, ending on second place, the upset here was that the Netherlands did not qualify at all, not even taking the third spot, which gave Turkey direct qualification (and is it really something to be proud of to qualify as third out of six...?)
  • Group B: While not surprising that Belgium qualified on first place, it is perhaps a bit more surprising that Wales took second spot to participate in their first major tournament since 1958. That said, the group did not look that strong, with Bosnia-Hercegovina being the other contenders, and taking the play-off third spot.
  • Group C: Spain never seemed in doubt as group winners, although Slovakia did threaten them on the way. Ukraine will be going to the play-offs.
  • Group D: This was a surprisingly close group for the World Champions of Germany, who despite defeats to Poland and Ireland on the way, took the first spot and were followed by Poland. Ireland will be someone's difficult opponent for the play-off.
  • Group E: Perhaps the most surprising thing in this group is that England, as the only side in Europe, won all their matches, and scored a record 31 goals. Switzerland came on second spot with little competition from third placed Slovenia.
  • Group F: The big surprise of this group is that the 2004 European Champions of Greece ended in the last place, behind even little Faroe Islands. For a big nation, this is a bigger humiliation than the Netherlands fourth place in group A, and show the crisis Greece is in. The winners were also a surprise: Northern Ireland qualified ahead of Romania, while Hungary will be going into the play-ff.
  • Group G: Austria is the new country to watch in the European Championship as they won the group in style and swept aside their opponents. Russia came in second, with Sweden going into the play-offs.
  • Group H: One of the few groups with no surprises as Italy and Croatia took the two qualifying spots, and Norway not as unsurprising taking a play-off spot.
  • Group I: Portugal won the group with seven victories and only one defeat, to second placed surprise of Albania, who qualified deservedly despite also having been awarded a 0-3 victory after a scandalous match against Serbia. A Danish side which completely lacks the quality of former times took the play-off spot.
Of course, the 20th nation, not among the above, are the hosts of France!
The draw for the play-off matches that will decide the last four participating teams will take place next Sunday. 
We will soon know all 24 participating countries!

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Monrovia traffic warning

Last week, at 7 AM, I was on my way to work in Monrovia. I usually pass by the Antoinette Tubman Stadium, but on this day, at that very early hour, the road was closed, causing an enormous traffic jam as cars were being re-directed around the stadium. The same happened in the afternoon, when closed roads led to more chaotic traffic congestions in the narrow pot-holed streets of downtown Monrovia.
The reason? At 4 PM Liberia were playing their first round World Cup qualifier against Guinea Bissau.
The match ended on a disappointing 1-1 for the Liberian fans, and before the away leg, I almost hoped that Liberia would be eliminated in order to avoid another agonizingly frustrating traffic jam.
But fortunately, there will soon be another traffic jam.
To many people's surprise, Liberia took a 1-3 victory in the away match against Guinea Bissau, with three goals by William Jebor, a 23-year old who is currently in the second Spanish Division club Ponferradina. Five goals in five matches for Liberia is not a bad statistic!
Liberia will now be facing none other than the African champions from Cote d'Ivoire! Also their neighbours, this has all the ingredients to be a dramatic match as the Liberians, highly motivated, will go for the upset!
Do not miss it! And plan for heavy traffic in Monrovia for November 12th!

Sunday, October 11, 2015

The South American qualifiers

As Europe is entering the last phase of the Euro 2016 qualifiers, other places are quietly starting their qualification for the 2018 World Cup.
Not so quietly perhaps in South America, where the first round of qualifiers came with a number of results that may be a prelude to what could be one of the most interesting World Cup qualifications ever:
  • Chile defeated Brazil 2-0: As winners of the Copa America, Chile's superiority was only to be expected, although Brazil's weaknesses become ever more exposed. Brazil only shot on goal once in the match, and did not look like a World Cup team at all. While Chile's way to the World Cup seems very likely, Brazil looks like a side that will struggle.
  • Argentina's home loss to Ecuador: this was a huge upset, as no team who has lost at home in the first round has ever qualified for a World Cup. Argentina were a shadow of themselves without Lionel Messi. This may have been arrogance, but is only a reminder to all sides that you cannot underestimate any side in the South American qualifiers, where every side is World class, not least the excellent Ecuatorians.
  • Uruguay's defeat of Bolivia in La Paz: Of course Uruguay are favourites against Bolivia; but the fact is that this was the first time ever Uruguay had won a competitive match in the altitude of La Paz, where many teams have always struggles to play. The victory is also notable for the fact that Uruguay played without two of their best strikers, Luis Suarez and Edison Cavani.
  • Venezuela's home loss to Paraguay: Venezuela had been coming on in strides and have been known to be strong at home, but started with a loss against a Paraguayan side that is rebuilding after having missed the last World Cup. Venezuela seems unlikely to recover, while Paraguay are sure to fight to the end as they always do.
  • After their great World Cup, Colombia have been steadily underperforming, and they surely want to put this right by qualifying to the World Cup. Peru, on the other hand, has been steadily improving, so both teams are looking to make it to Russia. Colombia took their first step winning 2-0, but Peru cannot be counted out at all!

Friday, October 09, 2015

Jurgen Klopp to Liverpool

After the correct firing of Brendan Rogers it has now been confirmed that the ex-Dortmund coach Jurgen Klopp will be going to Liverpool. Mr. Klopp surely has all the experiences to coach Liverpool: strong personality and charisma, a good approach to football, good selection of young players, as well as experience with a club that fought well to remain among the best. And most of all, and very differently from Mr. Rogers in my view, he normally has a plan! That is what most annoyed me with Mr. Rogers, that it was never clear where he wanted to go with his player selection and strategy.
That said, it will not be easy for Mr. Klopp: pressure will be higher to deliver at Liverpool (Dortmund is a big club, yes, but the expectations for titles are strangely lower), and he will no doubt be coaching in a much more competitive league in terms of fighting for the title (the German league is a competitive league in terms of fighting for Bayern Munich's scraps).
But no matter what it is bound to be a good renewal for Liverpool, which has been underperforming for years.