Monthly Archives: June 2009

Confederations Cup: Close only counts in horseshoes and handgrenades

The saddest part about today’s Confederations Cup final, which finished 3-2 in Brazil’s favor, is that the US should have won the game. They got the breaks – Kaká’s header was clearly a goal on replay – and they were out in front. The problem was the Brazil outclassed them in the second half. And, even though the US didn’t really miss Michael Bradley in the first half, they missed him dearly in the second.

With all that said, close wasn’t enough.

The US played a perfect first half. They found space and kept possession. Landycakes, as he has for the entire tournament, played like a man possessed. I may have to retire the Landycakes nickname, which would be a shame. Most importantly, they made their chances count. That was a continuation of the strategies applied in the game against Spain. The problem is that in the second half, Brazil was able to both build up their attack and finish it; that was the crucial difference between Spain and Brazil.

I’m not sure what to make of the US side. One of my goals was to try to gauge exactly how good the US could be. Assuming they qualify for the World Cup, I would have to say that how far they get in South Africa next summer depends mightily on their group. Perhaps, if they get a more difficult group, they’ll come out fighting right away. The squad seems like it has multiple personalities: one when they play lesser teams and one when they play better teams. In fairness, the latter only appeared just recently.

It would be instructive to go back to the World Cup Qualifiers in March when this whole “allow a goal or two in the first 20 minutes” thing first started. It seems to me that poor marking was the problem. In the Confederations Cup, their marking improved substantially – I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Onyewu and Demerit are big-time centerbacks – mainly because (a) their back line improved; and (b) the central mids tracked back. Playing Landycakes as sort of an attacking midfielder just to one side gave him the freedom to roam and really showed what he can do (no, he’s not a striker; accept it and move on). It also demanded that the two central mids track back: Michael Bradley was born for that role because he can run all day; Ricardo Clark appears set to claim the other spot. So long as the mistakes that happened in the second half today don’t happen again (i.e. center backs pushing too far up and people not realizing who they’re marking), the US can hang with Brazil and Spain and others.

Until then, though, they’ll be able to put together one half but not two. The goal for the rest of the CONCACAF qualifiers should be nothing less than total domination. I don’t care that it’s hard to play in Estadio Azteca; the US must beat a Mexico side that is, in truth, not very good. Further evaluation will come at the end of the CONCACAF qualifiers.

With all that said, congratulations to Brazil (even though they used the thoroughly despicable Daniel Alves) and congratulations to the US for putting in a good game.

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Ronaldo transfer completed

Cristiano RonaldoAccording to ESPN Soccernet, Real Madrid and Manchester United have completed the £80 million Cristiano Ronaldo transfer today. He signed a 6-year contract with the Spanish club. He will be presented to the media and fans on 6 July.

Speculation is that Ronaldo will wear number 9 with Real Madrid. He apparently trademarked a new logo and brand, called CR9. I expect he’ll switch to number 9 for the Portugal national team, as well (unless he can’t because someone else has claimed the number; I can’t see that scenario happening).

I still think this can work out for Manchester United, if Sir Alex makes the right call on replacing him. As of right now, I’m in favor of him spending £30 million on Karim Benzema from Lyon and about £25 million on David Silva from Valencia. Although, United are apparently the favorits to get Luis Antonio Valencia from Wigan for approximately £15-19 million.

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Off to a rousing start

My adventure/Quixotic quest to get Canada into the 2010 World Cup is off to a far better start that I’d planned. As mentioned before, I decided to take a defensive/counter-attacking approach in the hope of minimizing the damage. The whole plan hinged on two things: 1) not giving up a lot of goals and 2) being able to make my chances count. Since I went into my first game with 1 point from the previous 6 matches (under the previous manager, who was canned after a horrible Gold Cup showing), I realized that I needed about 9 points from my next 6 matches to be in contention for the 4th spot (which is a playoff with the South American 5th place team).

I figured my first match would be an experimental match, in which I’d try the tactics and see how they worked. I didn’t know this would happen:

Canada 2-1 Mexico

Canada 2-1 Mexico

Yeah, you read that correctly. Two goals from Olivier Occean sealed the deal for me. I still don’t know how I did it, even after looking at the stats. I took my victory and moved on, though, to the next two World Cup Qualifiers, against Honduras and the US.

The first match was, once again, at BMO Field. The pundits, in their pre-match analysis, decided this would be a close game. Most predicted a draw. I decided to go for the win. And win I did, except it was a sloppy game. Errors abounded and I was on the edge of my seat the entire time.

Canada 2-1 Honduras

Canada 2-1 Honduras

The third match was the toughest. It was agaisnt the USA, which have already qualified for the World Cup with 17 points from CONCACAF play. I took a decidedly different tone in the press conference, trying to encourage my squad, to give them confidence. Of course, the press miscontrued my remarks. Curse you, MSM!

Pre-match press conference v. USA

Pre-match press conference v. USA

Nevertheless, we didn’t change any tactics though I had to put some different players in, owing to injuries. One of the things about running the national team is that I can’t get players match fit, like I can when I’m running a club. Thus, some of the players I called up were still not in game shape so there were two injuries to deal with. So, I plugged those players in and hoped for the best. And the best happened:

USA 0-1 Canada

USA 0-1 Canada

It was a Josh Simpson goal on 43 minutes that put me up. To be fair, the US played a few players that hadn’t played a lot since they have their World Cup spot locked up. But still, with a squad featuring Altidore, Donovan, and Bradley, it was hardly a U-17 team I was playing. This was, by far, the biggest win during my tenure, even bigger than the Mexico win.

As of right now, Canada is in 4th place, with 10 points. I think I can catch Jamaica for 3rd place, especially since we play Jamaica in our final qualifying game. The next match is against Costa Rica in Costa Rica. It will likely be a very tough game but the Canada squad will have renewed confidence going into the final 2 matches.

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Confederations Cup: Now I know why Keanu says “Whoa”

Clint Dempsey celebrates his goal v. Spain on 24 June 2009

Clint Dempsey celebrates his goal v. Spain on 24 June 2009

Whoa.

Really? Spain just got beat by the US 2-0? No, you’re joking.

Holy crap! You’re not joking.

I’m not sure where to start, so let’s start with me being wrong: I picked Spain to win the Confederations Cup. I figured they’d maybe lose in the final, versus either Italy or Brazil. Then I figured Spain v. Brazil would be epic. Never did I figure that the US, even after beating Egypt, would win. So, I was wrong.

I was wrong because the US played a tactically excellent game. They counter-attacked when they could and made their chances count. Perhaps most importantly, the two center backs – Oguchi Onyewu and Jay DeMerit – were fantastic. Anyone who doesn’t think Oneywu belongs on a top club is hereby declared certifiable. Real Madrid should be signing him ASAP. Or anyone in the Premiership. Landycakes played magnificently, even though the US couldn’t find him on at least two occasions in the early second half.

Spain, on the other hand, had the build-up and the passing but not the finishing. They put constant pressure on the US, especially Albert Riera and Joan Capdevila on the left hand side, but could not finish. Fernando Torres and David Villa will not want to put this match very high on their resumes. Neither will Sergio Ramos, whose poor clearance led to the second US goal.

Where does Spain go from here? Down, most likely. I don’t think this will kill their confidence because the team enjoys playing together and gets along very well. I don’t think this will have any long-term impact on their World Cup hopes; I still think Spain can win the World Cup.

There will be those who will say that Spain is reverting to its pre-Euro 2008 form. That is, the disappointing team that had shown up for the previous several years. Spain is too good for that to happen to them.

What it will do is force Spain to take everyone seriously. I think they strolled through the tournament and then ran into a US team on a good run of form.

Make no mistake: Spain did not lose this game; the US won it. They deserve their win because they played so well. They beat the world’s best team. Now they get to play the winner of Brazil-South Africa for the Confederations Cup final.

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Confederations Cup: One in a million

Charlie Davies scores v. Egypt  (Paul Thomas/Associated Press)

Charlie Davies scores v. Egypt (Paul Thomas/Associated Press)

To paraphrase John Harkes, if South Africa has a Powerball lottery, Bob Bradley should go buy a ticket. It was the opposite of Lemony Snicket’s Series of Unfortunate Events. It was, in fact, a series of very fortunate events.

The United States had the slimmest of margins to get through to the semi-finals yesterday, yet they did. Brazil beat the crap out of a really rather disinterested Italy squad by a score of 3-0. But the final goal, the one that helped put the US through, was an own goal off the foot of defender Andrea Dossena. And every Liverpool fan jumped as one and shouted, “See?!? We told you he was terrible!”

And what of the US-Egypt match? The US scored 3 goals? Really? Are they really that good? Short answer? Hell, no. Is Egypt that bad? Maybe, but I doubt it.

I’m having trouble assessing the US here. They played one good half against Italy and then got trounced by a combination of Giuseppe Rossi and Daniele de Rossi. They were completely and utterly outclassed by Brazil for 90 minutes. Hell, they were probably outclassed in the dressing room, at the pre- and post-match press conferences, and on the ride over from the hotel. The Brazilian hotel likely outclassed the US hotel. That match was a complete and utter destruction. There are no two ways around it.

At the same time, Egypt looked if not good, at least competitive where the US did not. So what happened? I think the Pharaohs ran out of gas, honestly. The one thing that really struck me about the underdogs was the lack of depth. Look at the Spanish, Brazilian, and Italian rosters (okay, Italy’s a bad example, but stay with me): the thing you notice first is that every single player would make the first XI of Egypt, South Africa, New Zealand, Iraq, and the United States. Every single one.

So how do I explain the US in the semi-finals. The easiest answer is luck. Sheer shit luck. The other answer is that they finally put together a good 90 minutes; I think that’s true. I don’t think, however, that Brad Guzan is the new starting keeper or that Conor Casey is the answer at striker. Similarly, I don’t think we’ll get any answers when the US gets annihilated by Spain on Wednesday. The US remains an enigma, one of the dominant teams in CONCACAF but nowhere near the elite on the world stage. Perhaps the next two matches will reveal some pearls of truth.

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Confederations Cup: Italy v. Brazil preview

Daniele de Rossi and Giuseppe Rossi

Daniele de Rossi and Giuseppe Rossi

This is the match I’ve been waiting for since the tournament started. It’s not often that two teams this good would meet in anything other than the World Cup. Which is another reason you should love the Confederations Cup.

But Italy is playing like crap, you say. And Italy are notoriously slow starters and might just get burned by it this time. And you take the time to point out that should Italy lose, it could possibly not go through into the semi-finals. And, because you’re a homer, you point out that the US is still mathematically alive.

So, in descending order of ridiculousness: first, the US will not make it into the semi-finals. I sincerely doubt they’ll even get a point against Egypt. Which means the Pharaohs will win. (I’ll go ahead and pick a score of 2-1.) That gives the Pharaohs 6 points and a plus-1 goal differential.

Which brings us to Italy. If they lose, they and their kickin’ new jerseys and brown (brown!) shorts are out. I don’t think it’s true that they’re playing like crap; I think they took Egypt too lightly and got burned. It’s also true that they’re slow starters; but that can’t be an excuse now. So, they need a win (Italy has a goal differential of plus-1, therefore any win will give them a goal differential of plus-2 at least; problems arise if Egypt lays the hammer down on the US and blows them away). If they draw, they need to hope for an Egypt loss.

So, this is win or go home. And I think Italy will win. I’d like to think that there’s some form of Italian pride. I’d also like to think they learned their lesson from taking Egypt too lightly, which means they’ll come out with both barrels blazing. Which, to me, means Luca Toni joining Vincenzo Iaquinta or Alberto Gilardino up front. Giuseppe Rossi also needs to start. I would sit Fabio Cannavaro because he looked out of shape in the last match.

If all goes well and Italy catch some breaks, they’ll win 1-0 and receive the honor of losing to Spain in the semi-finals.

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Confederations Cup: Spain sets new world record

Getty Images

Getty Images

Spain’s 2-0 victory over South Africa this afternoon set a new world record for consecutive wins, with 15 (also, Spain has no gone 35 matches without losing, which breaks another Brazilian record). They broke the old record of 14, held by Brazil. It was, in fact, the most noteworthy thing to happen today in a lackluster day at the Confederations Cup. I will say that Spain looked good but their first real challenge will be in the semi-finals versus either Brazil or Italy (likely Italy, though my crystal ball has been off for about a year).

In the other semi-final, Iraq looked like crap while New Zealand got their first point ever in Confederations Cup competition. Gotta have something to hang your hat on, eh?

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