Tag Archives: England

US focusing on 2022 World Cup bid

In the official report, that goes down as a Ronaldo-style laser into the back of the net

The United States withdrew its bid to host the 2018 World Cup in order to focus on the 2022 finals. That means two things. One, that Europe is guaranteed to host the 2018 World Cup (England, Russia, Netherlands/Belgium, and Spain/Portugal are the only remaining bidders). And two, that the US will likely get the 2022 World Cup, which is fantastic. Granted, the latter is only my speculation because I don’t think the US would withdraw unless it got Europe’s support. Then again, since Europe is now competing against itself, who knows if there was a deal made (I do think the US will support England for 2018, with the reverse being true for 2022).

So, what of 2022? The remaining bidders, other than the US, are Australia, Japan, Qatar, and South Korea. Of those, I think Japan and South Korea are longshots at best, simply because they hosted the World Cup in 2002. Australia may or may not have the stadiums (there are five with capacities over 45,000 and eight between 20,000 and 31,000). The weather will be fine, though, which is nice.

I figure Qatar will be the main competition, if only because of the money it has. The problem is the temperature, which is about 50 degrees Celsius (122 degrees Fahrenheit), during the World Cup. That will necessitate covered stadiums, or very odd game times. Speaking of stadiums, there is only one 50,000 seat stadium in the country, while the others are either 20,000 or 25,000. I still think Qatar will be a serious bidder, but that the US will win out.

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Marginal players quit England

Wes Brown, one of the rare times he's worn an England shirt (Getty Images)

So acceptably decent goalkeeper Paul Robinson announced that he is retiring from international soccer because he’s a fringe player in Fabio Capello’s squad. Of course, he’s not that good, either. So there’s that. And then Peanut Head joined him a few hours later. Well, at least the latter told Capello in person (both were called up for next week’s friendly against Hungary).

It’s not like either is a big loss for England: Robinson is a third-string keeper on a second-team squad while Peanut Head barely made the squad as Don Fabio looks at different and younger players. So the world looks on and shrugs and moves on.

Of more interest is Don Fabio’s squad, which includes teenager Jack Wilshere, as well as Kieran Gibbs and Theo Walcott. This is a good thing: Capello needs to know which of the younger players will be key players at Euro 2012 and World Cup 2014, and their respective qualifying campaigns.

Hungary won’t provide much of a challenge, but it should give Don Fabio and idea of who can handle some of the media circus around the England national team.

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Manager a-go-go

Roy Hodgson introduced as the new Liverpool manager

Now that some of the good teams are knocked out of the World Cup, expect a lot of movement in terms of managers in the next few weeks, for both club and country.

Javier Aguirre, Mexico. Aguirre resigned as Mexico manager, falling on his sword and taking responsibility for Mexico’s showing. To a degree, he’s right (it was a stupid decision to go with Oscar Pérez in goal and he had misplaced faith in the obviously overwhelmed Efraín Juárez). At the same time, he’s wrong because Mexico’s expectations were too high. The team that went to South Africa was a 2nd round team (perhaps a quarterfinal team if it played its socks off). That’s the first problem. The second problem was skill level. Mexico is very talented in midfield, especially with Giovanni dos Santos’s improvement over the last year. But the team has no strikers: Guillermo Franco isn’t that good and Carlos Vela isn’t developing (here’s hoping he makes a dos Santos-like breakthrough in the next year or so). When Cuauhtémoc Blano is still seriously considered for national team duty, the cupboard is bare. Mexico needs to develop young players and put its faith in them (Javier Hernández comes to mind), much like Germany has done.

Roy Hodgson, Liverpool. Hodgson left a decent Fulham team for a Liverpool squad in disarray. What he does get is a massive step up in reputation (no matter what I think about Liverpool, it’s one of the biggest clubs in the world). Hodgson is clearly a stop-gap and he might not even have been the first choice (Didier Deschamps reportedly turned Liverpool down). So, one of the biggest clubs in the world hires a middling manager with precious little success on his resume. Fascinating. I think this was a political choice and I hope Hodgson makes the best of it. But when the clear-out comes – and it will come sooner rather than later, what with the owner debt and lack of European competition – Hodgson will be the sacrificial lamb. He should’ve stayed at Fulham.

Bob Bradley, United States. Let’s make this clear: Bob Bradley should NOT be fired. Although starting Ricardo Clark was a massive error, Bradley’s system works for the United States, as it’s currently constructed. In short, he gets good results out of sometimes lacking talent (the distressing habit of allowing goals in the first 20 minutes notwithstanding). The bigger problem is that, like Mexico, the US has no go-to striker (if we’re being honest, the two best strikers are midfielders: Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey). Jozy Altidore has the potential to be very good but he needs to play like he did against Algeria all the time (he was virtually absent against Ghana). Some of that is the coach’s fault. But national team managers are put in a position where they only get to see their players for weeks at a time. It falls on the USSF, MLS, and players to get into situations to maximize their skill development.

Fabio Capello, England. Of course, the English tabloids are calling for his head. They are, if nothing else, predictable. England’s problem is similar to Mexico’s: it fancies itself a world soccer power when, in reality, it’s a middle-of-the-road player capable of extraordinary results once in a while. In fact, according to Soccernomics, England consistently punches above its weight and wins a lot of its matches, except when it counts. England’s problems are twofold: first, it’s a relatively small country, in terms of population (meaning there are fewer players to choose from) and it’s relatively insular in terms of coaching and skills development (the Everton academy is a bit of an exception). Don Fabio helps with both of those by exposing English players to Italian soccer philosophy. Second, the players it develops are all the same. Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard. Emile Heskey and Wayne Rooney. John Terry, Rio Ferdinand, and Jamie Carragher. Aside from skill level, they’re all basically the same player. And they can’t play together. I think Capello will learn from his mistakes and I think he has the stones to leave some of those players out next time (clearly Gerrard was England’s best player at the World Cup – he should be the captain).

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FIFA and the Ministry of Truth

In the official report, that goes down as a Ronaldo-style laser into the back of the net

Let it be known that Big Brother, a.k.a. Sepp Blatter, is an idiot. That, I believe, is a commonly accepted truth.

Let it also be known that FIFA’s attempts at control in the past couple of weeks have reeked of the Ministry of Truth. First, it was decreed that there was no problem and that the referees were doing fine jobs. Now stop asking questions! Next, the Ministry decided that the stadium jumbotrons would not show replays, lest it upset the masses (or show how the referees screwed up). Although the FIFA spokesman used the word “mistake” it was not in response to on-field human error, but in response to showing replays on the big boards.

Now, however, after yelling at him a lot, Blatter has changed his mind and said that us of video technology will be reviewed. Again. So Big Brother will stick to his guns, unless Europe is affected (yes, I think that the tune has changed because England was involved; it was just Mexico and the US, Blatter would be telling us that everything is fine).

So Blatter finally removed his head from his ass. That’s good. But it doesn’t solve anything. “Reviewing” is just that: a platitude that will mollify some people for now until, sometime after the World Cup (maybe 6 or 7 months), the issue will be quietly dropped again. FIFA will not change unless it’s forced to. And the only thing that will force it to change is a colossal mistake during the final. And I, for one, am hoping that happens.

There are several easy ways to fix this without messing up the games. All referees wear microphones that, so far as I can tell, don’t actually do anything. Add a fifth referee who’s watching a video feed and is empowered to tell the referee on the field of any fouls or missed calls. Simple. For the scrums in the box on free kicks and corner kicks, add one referee behind each goal whose sole job is to watch those scrums for infractions. As a bonus, he/she can also watch the goal line. Blatter’s beloved human element is still in place, and it might even clean up the game.

Nothing is perfect and things will be missed, even with HD cameras all over the pitch. The goal is to cut down the number of ridiculous errors, the kind of game-changing errors that cost England, Mexico, and the United States (just to name three). Referees have a difficult job because the game moves at such a fast pace; therefore, FIFA should give them all the help they need, including video technology. To do anything less is idiotic. But I’d expect nothing else from Sepp Blatter.

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A long, bad sports weekend

At least for me. In the span of two days, the three teams I like best (Spain is a close fourth because I love the way they play, but that’s for another day) were eliminated in the knockout round. On Saturday, the United States was eliminated by a sturdy Ghana squad. On Sunday, England crapped the bed against Germany and Mexico was soundly defeated by a very good (though still unappealing) Argentina side.

1. Ghana 2-1 United States. Once again, the US failed to start when the game did. Five minutes in, Ghana’s Kevin-Prince Boateng scored a goal Tim Howard really should have saved. But he still scored. And that, in a nutshell, is the United States’s problem. The back four is leaky and slow. I love Jay DeMerit and I think he’s an excellent defender, but the fact is that he has no pace whatsoever. The goal was as much his fault as Howard’s. But that’s neither here nor there. The real issue is that the US starts slow. Unbelievably slow. It’s like the team needs to play from behind to show any urgency (the exception was the Algeria game, when the urgency of elimination was there from the beginning – where was that in the bleedin’ knockout round??). I’m at a loss to explain why the US does that. It’s unfathomable, to me, that the team cannot get up for an elimination game in the World Cup. Perhaps that’s what’s missing: some sort of killer instinct. Someone who’s ruthless and demands more and more from his teammates. What US soccer needs is some sort of Kobe Bryant or Michael Jordan, at least in terms in competitiveness.

2. Germany 4-1 England. Great players, terrible team. That’s the refrain played in England (though it must be noted that England has an inflated sense of its place in world soccer, much like Mexico; again, fodder for a later post). England never looked good at all. There was something wrong with the team from the beginning. I like Fabio Capello and believed he was the right choice for England manager, but he made a bad call playing Jamie Carragher. Carragher simply doesn’t have the pace to play against the world’s best strikers. Too late, he inserted Matt Upson, who was a much better fit beside John Terry. Compounding that mistake was his misguided faith in James Milner as a wing player when Joe Cole was a much better option. Finally, the team failed to include Wayne Rooney, a top-5 striker in the world (at least this year). The failure to get Rooney involved is the squad’s biggest failure and the best proof that England’s best players cannot play together. Perhaps it’s time to look to support players – players who fill vital roles and rely on a few big names (Rooney, Gerrard, and Terry among them; I remain convinced that Lampard and Gerrard cannot play together and that Gerrard is the better player).

Sergio Romero gets lucky v. Mexico (AP Photo/Guillermo Arias)

3. Argentina 3-1 Mexico. The scoreline is deceiving. Argentina dominated Mexico in this game. In fact, the only thing that could have saved Mexico was if Carlos Salcido’s amazing 8th minute strike had gone in. Instead, shaky Argentine keeper Sergio Romero got just enough of it to direct it off the crossbar. Bad luck went further against Mexico when Carlos Tévez’s goal was wrongly allowed to stand. In the end, that didn’t matter. Argentina outclassed Mexico from the 20th minute on and thoroughly deserved their win, even though I cannot root for them because of Diego Maradona. During the match, the commentators suggested that Maradona was responsible for Argentina’s success. I humbly suggest that my cat could manage Argentina to the knockout round. Maradona doesn’t really have to earn his money so long as Lionel Messi and Javier Mascherano are on the pitch. And that’s all I have to say about that.

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The most important win in US soccer history

US players celebrate Landon Donovan's goal v. Algeria (Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

Sure, that could be hyperbole. And I could be wrong in less than a week. But for now, the United States’ 1-0 victory over Algeria on 23 June 2010 at Loftus Versfeld Stadium in Pretoria, South Africa, is the biggest win in US soccer history.

The victory, sealed by Landon Donovan’s injury time goal at 91 minutes, was a long time coming. In the last game, a comically bad decision by Koman Coulibaly denied Maurice Edu a winner and the US a victory. But the result – a comeback draw – was still acceptable. Today, in the 20th minute, Clint Dempsey was called offside. Wrongly. The soccer gods were against the US for some reason. To add more insult to injury, the soccer gods rewarded a thoroughly unimpressive England team with a goal from Jermain Defoe. But the US didn’t give up. They kept doing the things that the soccer gods appreciate: work hard, pass crisply, keep shooting. Finally, the soccer gods rewarded them for their effort: Clint Dempsey’s low blast ricocheted off Algerian keeper Rais M’Bolhi and into Landon Donovan’s path. Donovan slotted it home, lighting Loftus Versfeld Stadium in red, white, and blue.

With that goal, the US won its World Cup group for the first time since 1930. It advanced to the knockout stage, and erased the awful memories of 2006. I submit that this win is more important the famous win over England in 1950. To be sure, the 1950 win was less expected (although the US was still seen as a pretty big underdog; witness the newspaper coverage). While the draw was a surprise to some, it was not a surprise to the players.

This US team expects to win games and expects to hang with the soccer elite. This game, the last in the group stage, shows that the US means business. They’ll have a chance to prove that again when they play Ghana on Saturday.

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Jobbed in Joburg

Koman Coulibay looks stunned that he's refereeing a World Cup match (David Cannon/Getty Images)

It’s probably a good thing that I waited this long to write about the US/Slovenia match in the World Cup. Then again, I saw the replays again a few minutes ago, which made me angry again. Almost as angry as I was when it actually happened. But, now that I’ve cooled down, I can safely come to a few conclusions.

1. The referee, Koman Coulibaly, was terrible. Actually, he was beyond terrible. This was, easily, the worst refereeing performance of the World Cup (and that’s saying something given the card-happy Spanish referee’s performance in the Germany/Serbia match). Coulibaly had an awful game. He called phantom fouls and ignored real ones (yes, I realize the game is fast: referees, however, are trained for that and only the best [in theory] get to appear on World Cup pitches). He looked nervous. He looked thoroughly unprepared for the match’s intensity and its speed. All of that, of course, culminated in the horrifying call that denied Maurice Edu the winning goal. I doubt (hope?) Coulibaly will have any more games to referee in this World Cup.

2. The United States came very close to killing itself. The US, going as far back as 2 years, has a terrible habit of conceding early goals. The team under Bob Bradley almost always plays from behind. That needs to stop. I don’t know what the problem is, but the back four is more than a little suspect. I like how Steve Cherundolo has played. He’s been a force on the right. Oguchi Onyewu and Jay DeMerit, while periodically effective, have been abused by speedy forwards. Carlos Bocanegra has not made any mistakes, but he hasn’t been exceptional, either. Bradley needs to consider playing a defensive midfielder for extra cover. Perhaps that will release the other midfielders and the forwards to attack.

But that doesn’t really solve the problem. The US needs to come out committed to defense for the first 20 minutes of the next game (against Algeria). They need to build a wall and then progress from there. The only acceptable outcome is a clean sheet against Algeria. It has to happen.

3. Slovenia deserves to be in the World Cup and will present a challenge to England. Put simply, England must win to progress. England cannot underestimate Slovenia’s skill on the ball or its defensive abilities. And since neither Wayne Rooney nor Emile Heskey has gotten off the schneid yet (really, only Steven Gerrard has looked impressive), I’d be worried if I were England. On the other hand, the US exposed some weaknesses in Slovenia’s defensive wall, perhaps giving Don Fabio a template.

Michael Bradley celebrates scoring his fantastic tying goal (Christof Koepsel/Getty Images)

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