Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Brøndby on top

Living abroad for many years I have had difficulty following Denmark’s greatest Club, Brøndby. Interestingly a Salvadorean colleague told me she had been in Denmark and said she had enjoyed going to football matches. I was too afraid to ask if it was FC Copenhagen or some other second rate Danish side, but she said: “Brøndby were so great”!
This made me happy, and how it seems to be going is making me even happier. Last time Brøndby won the league was in 2005, with Michael Laudrup as manager. Since then, things have been difficult, also as the club was close to bankruptcy and flirted with relegation. Only in the last couple of years things have begun looking up, and this season seems to have fully grown: they are top of the league, having both defeated the defending champions and runners-up. There is still a long way to go, but this is the best things have gone for years.
So let s dream!

Monday, November 27, 2017

Valencia’s return

I have been happy to see Valencia back where they belong, namely among the top of the Spanish league. After some hapless years with a stream of managers and players who did not perform, things seem to have stabilized under manager Marcelino, and three of the new players are surely becoming the revelation signings of the season: Goncalo Guedes is on loan from PSG, where he has no chance of replacing Neymar. But he is a talented youngster who has flowered in Valencia, and is now surely eyed by the biggest clubs in Europe.
Geoffrey Kondogbia was considered a huge talent when he started, but he faded a bit during his time at Inter, and was surely hoping to get attention again. And he certainly has: he fit perfectly into the Valencia midfield, where he has turned into a dynamo of energy, with running and tackes, as well as a fantastic overview of the field. Also on loan from Inter, they may look to get him back next season.
The Italian striker Simone Zaza was on loan from West Ham last season, and although he did not overly impress Valencia used the buy-out clause. This has proven to be very wise: with nine goals he is currently second, only to Lionel Messi, on the Spanish top scoring list, and looks highly motivated to give many more goals.
While these three players have stood out as new players, others, such as Jose Gaya, Rodrigo and Dani Parejo are also flourishing, and I just hope Valencia is able to keep onto all these players for the next few seasons at least.
Today Valencia, second in the league, played the league leaders FC Barcelona in what was a true test on whether Valencia are in the right direction. After a difficult first half (where Messi had a correct goal annulled, strengthening the call for video referees, something I have always thought was necessary) they put better pressure on the Catalonians in the second half, and even went ahead 1-0 on a goal by Rodrigo, following good combinations of the left side, where Guedes was giving Umtiti problems throughout the second half.
But Jordi Alba managed to equalize for Barcelona following a fantastic pass from Lionel Messi, and the match ended 1-1 despite Valencia getting close to scoring a second in the end. While this does not change the positions at the top of the league, there can be no doubt that Valencia intends to fight for the top, and maybe, probably too much to hope for, even a title....
Let us dream!

Thursday, November 16, 2017

More places for Africa!!

I am going to repeat what I said a couple of days ago: Africa deserves more places in the World Cup.and is plausibly the only continent that deserves more places than their current 5, mostly to the detriment of Europe (please give the four play-off places in Europe to Africa!!!!!!), but I even think that Africa could deserve a play-off with South America´s fifth (Africa´s 6th against South American 5th), against Asia´s 5th, and against Oceania´s 1st (Africa´s 7th would knock out New Zealand).

An African side is not going to be World Champion in my lifetime. But there is no continent where the excitement and passion for football is as alive as in Africa, and the talent is raw and plentiful. Africa should have more places because Africa deserves them.

Now why does Africa not get more places in a 32 team World Cup?
Money, yes, African fans and teams are not as profitable as from other continents (specially fast-growing poor-at-football Asia), and do not attract as many sponsors. Racism, absolutely: in 1966 the rest of the world did not see Africa (or Asia) worth a single spot, and the same tendencies are alive today, where the crumbs of World Cup qualification are thrown at Africa sides. But as an extension of this, there is also the problem of African federations themselves, who band together for the crumbs, instead of insisting more strongly for more African influence in FIFA and in the World Cup.

For Qatar 2022 Africa will go from 5 to 9 teams (17% of their members in the finals) with Europe going from 13 to 16 (29% of their members in the finals. And note that with 6 for South America, it will be more likely to qualify randomly from that federation than not playing at all).
This is an example of more crumbs being given to Africa (and the rest of the World for that sake).

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

The last of the 32

This post will not make me popular, so let me say it from the start: it is about football teams and not countries. The best thing for these teams qualifying is that people can raise their flag and sing their anthem, because in terms of football quality, none will add anything to the tournament.
I have been watching many of these last play-off matches with disappointment, not just at the lack of quality, but also of the fact that in a 32-team World Cup this is a confirmation that there are really too many mediocre sides.
Honduras-Australia: yes the pitch was bad, but frankly that is just a useful excuse for a disciplined match from the Australians and a poor performance by the Hondurans. Will any of these sides contend for the World Cup title? Unlikely. Will they raise any eyebrows in the tournament? Even more unlikely.
Peru is likely to qualify, and being fifth in such a contested qualification as the South American one is always an achievement. That said, I am sure Peru will not raise any eyebrows either. They are from the hard and defensive side of South America, and is unlikely to win many friends, or add anything to the beautiful game.
In Europe we have three of four qualified teams: Switzerland, Croatia and Sweden. Of these, only Croatia, with its talented midfield and young players is one that we will want to see in the World Cup. Granted, the Swiss are a quality but too defensive side, while Sweden has to be credited for eliminating Italy from the World Cup, but little else.
The first World Cup since 1958 without Italy....
Of course they do not deserve to be there if they don´t qualify, but one has to wonder if the distribution of the groups is good enough: Poland won one group, Iceland another, and with all due respect for them, Italy is better than either of these sides, or Denmark and Ireland for that sake.
A World Cup without Italy will simply not be the same.
That brings me to Denmark and Ireland: of course as a Dane I support Denmark, but as a fan I have to face the truth that Denmark will add anything to the tournament, except, as with the Irish, to the beer sales in Russia.

Africa only has 5 spots in the World Cup, and is plausibly the only continent that deserves more, preferably instead of Europe (give the four play-off places in Europe to Africa!!!!!!): Morocco, Tunisia, Egypt, Nigeria and Senegal will all be exciting to watch in Russia, but countries like Ghana, Cote d'Ivoire, Zambia, Burkina Faso, Algeria.... Will all be sorely missed, and would have made the World Cup much more exciting than the four European teams that have qualified.

The World Cup in Qatar will have 48 teams. More for Africa, yes, but also more pretty mediocre sides, all to the excitement of mass nationalism (the football World Cup and the Olympics are the only good reason for countries to exist at all).
Expect a World Cup in Qatar with a lot of 0-0´s and second-rate matches.