Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Les Bleus - Le Horreur....

WC qualifing wednesday has come and gone and once again France has demonstrated their aggravating run of form, ending the match 1-1 after leading most of the second half and once again squandering numerous opportunities. Having been able to watch the replay (thanks Fox Soccer Channel!), it is apparant that France has not found itself, granted that might have been a lot to ask in the two days between the Switerland match.

But once again playing a team that is by no means an upper echelon futbol side, they appear to be themselves far from their upper echelon "status."

The Good:
  • Barthez once again saved the few but dangerous opportunities.
  • Wiltord, this guy just keeps on going, he is overlooked and never really talked about but he is always there.
  • Trezeguet, great opportunistic goal, always a danger up front
The Bad:
  • Lack of killer instinct, I thought that once France scored it would make them play a much looser style of flowing football...far from it.
  • Pedretti, he has all the tools but needs to put it together and take over games with his passing and long balls.
The Ugly:
  • Trezeguet, granted it was a bad tackle but you have to keep your head on straight (no pun intended)
  • Domenech: just don't see the ability to motivate, adapt and change tactics. Why were their no substitutes once France was down to 10 players? Start using your 3 subs strategically, put in your defensive players, waste time, break the rythm of the game...rather he sits by and makes changes when France is already level with Israel at 1-1 in stoppage time! I have to also question his selection of Henry when it appears that he was physically not ready to play, why waste a spot on a roster?
  • Ben Haim, the Israeli defender is getting more and more of a reputation of a diver and a not so clean player (remember the "collapse" from the Rooney "love tap")
This team is teetering on the edge of danger...I am more and more convinced that they will not get the automatic qualification by winning the group, I think that Ireland is clearly the favorite now since they will receive France at Landsdown Road. France will find itself in a battle with Israel and Switzerland for the second place, there is no way the "top 2 second place" teams will come from this group either, not when teams are toiling at 10 points. Assuming that Poland and The Czech Rep/Holland end up as best of second place, meaning that France will most likely (if they are lucky enough to be in second) play one of the following:

  • Serbia (not sure they will beat out Spain for that group)
  • Slovakia/Russia
  • Norway
  • Sweden
  • Greece (could they knock France out of the WC after their 1-0 win in the Euros?)
None of these teams give me faith, they all play a grinding style of football and are all extremely tough to play at home....France needs to wake up and figure out what they are doing this summer. If not they might be looking for their 4th coach in 4 major tournaments, maybe this time they can get Deschamps!

Monday, March 28, 2005

World Cup Qualifiers....what a missed opportunity

I had the joy, well at least the ability, to watch my "patrie" playing this weekend as France played Switzerland in a world cup qualifier at Stade de France. After ending their domestic season with ZERO victories (zero loses as well) the French look like a far cry from the team that dominated international football from 1998 - 2000. Yet when I look at the players Domenech can select from and I still scratch my head as to why France cannot find its rythm.

Now, when you lose a player of Zidane's caliber there is no doubt that you will struggle to redefine yourself. But it is not the same as after the last great French team of the 1980s, the one that won the Euro in 1984, and made it to the world cup semi finals in 1982 and 1986 both times losing heartbreakers to our nemisis the RFA. That French team lost the likes of Platini, Giresse, Bossis, Battiston, Tresor, Rocheteau, Tigana, to name a few. It took a while for the French to rebuild themselves and floundered for years, even thought they had world class players such as Cantona and Papin to rebuild around. They did have a an amazing undefeated qualifying run to get to the European Cup in Sweden (beating Spain twice), only to see their run end in the group stage. And how can we forget France's melt down prior to World Cup USA, where only needing a draw against Bulgaria and Israel both at Paris, the French lost both (seeing Bulgaria's run in the World Cup makes that lose less painful, but Isreal?). Not until a young son of Algerian immigrants emerge did France rise to the top of the football food chain. But it was not simply Zidane that made France a power house, it was the development and meshing of players such as Desailly, Blanc, Deschamps, Thuram, Lizarazu, Barthez, Petit, Djorkaef that gave the French the complete "team" to fill their trophy case. So what does that mean for this generation of players and the next great French team? Are the current versions of Les Bleus trying to find themselves?

With world class players such as Henry, Trezeguet, Gallas, and Viera to name a few, how can a team be held to 3 home draws against the likes of Israel, Ireland, and Switzerland? The FFF also drew 1-1 with perinnial power house Bosnia during this time frame as well....the former World and European champion will need to define themselves, and do so quickly. They need to figure out what type of formation they want to run. They have not defined who their "number 10" will be or will they leverage two holding midfielders and then attack down the wings with players like Guily and Wiltord, and then look to Trezeguet in front of the net and allow Henry to adlib? And who will step up to control the defense? They have solid defenders both at the midfield level as well as on the defensive back, but they have yet to find the Desailly - Blanc bloc, the one that commands the back. Boumsong could be the one to build on, but remains raw. And where is Mexes? I thought a Boumsong - Mexes axe with Gallas/Sagnol on the wings, would be a solid back 4.

Having said that, the French have the talent to deserve their #2 world ranking, but they still lack the cohesion and system...they have time but time is fleating.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

The MLS - not as bad as otherwise thought

I watched part of the USA - Guatamala match this weekend. Something struck me. Bruce Arena fielded a team full of MLS based players. Now the USA won 1-0, against Honduras (the 58 ranked team http://www.fifa.com/en/mens/statistics/index/0,2548,All-Feb-2005,00.html# ) and don't get me started with the Coca Cola world Rankings, they are as confusing as RPI rankings for college basketball...but what made me think as I watched this game was how far the US have come. 20 years ago I remember watching the US national team lose to Racing Club de Paris 7-0. Now they have reached the 1/4 finals of the world cup and are a perennial presence in the World Cups. I think that having a domestic league like MLS is good for US soccer, the players get a domestic league where to hone their skills, while playing with or against one another giving themselves some cohesion for the world game. Granted some of the best US players decide to go abroad to try to compete in the world's best leagues (and make the big $$), but they do so after having spent some time in the MLS (granted not all are doing this, but it appears the majority do so). This means when the US competes their team is more cohesive, better working as a unit. We saw this again in the Euro 2004 when Greece came out of no where to win the trophy beating more talent filled teams such as Portugal (twice), defending champion France, and the Czech Republic. Does this mean that the US will hoist the World Cup soon? Not sure, and I strongly doubt it. Winning the World Cup takes lots of talent and luck. But I must say, that the US will remain competitive in the world scene, just don't let the magic formula get away.


Saturday, March 19, 2005

Steriods....the ugly part of sports

While my posts to date have been about Arsenal, I have prefaced my Blog as a rants about many things, so here is one about the latest round of "hearings" about the steroid problem in baseball. I watched the hearings and came away as did many observers with the feeling that McGwire was a hiding something and frankly not doing a good job of it, that Schilling retracked from his usualy outspoken nature, that baseball in general is living in such a fantasy land that sometimes I wonder if steroids have not been taken by selig and fehr and completely distorted their ability to think rationally.

Steroids is a huge (pun intended) problem with professional sports. We mocked, yet watched in somewhat horror and awe, as the East German and Soviet teams won medal after medal in numerous olympics, their female atheletes at times looking more like offensive linemen than women. We stared in amazement when Ben Johnson BLEW away the field in the 100 meter dash, only to find out later that he failed a drug test. Scarey part was when you watched Ben Johnson destroy the world class field in the olympics you had to wonder in the back of your mind what was going on. While the olympics have many issues of their own, they have taken the proper stance with drug testing. No loop holes, no lawyers, no 5 strikes and you may be out....baseball has much to learn.

Watching the hearings, I felt as if I was watching a bunch of grown men who had been caught in the cookie jar and rather than admit it claimed there was no cookie jar to start with. McGwire the worst of the lot. I must preface this with stating that I have never been a McGwire fan. Being a Red Sox fan, the A's were a team I detested, the bash brothers were like two giants always waiting to pound your team into submission, twice they took the Red Sox behind the woodshed in ALCSs. I never got caught up in the chase for Maris, because I knew something was wrong. People said the baseballs were smaller, ball parks smaller, pitchers worse, etc etc. Yet no one talked about the fact that players like McGwire were noticibly different. How could a record that stood for so long before Maris broke it...by ONE home run, then be shattered by 9, then to be broken again a few years down the road. It was not the bats, the balls, the pitchers, it was the simple chemicals that players like McGwire was using to give themselves unfair levels of strength and power.

I personally hope McGwire never sees his plack in the hall of fame. Even those in St Louis are calling him what he is...a fraud: http://www.stltoday.com/stltoday/sports/columnists.nsf/bryanburwell/story/EE4E22381B91C4AF86256FC8001A4613?OpenDocument

Shame on the players who gave us a strike and steroids, shame on us for always coming back for more.

The Young Gunners...

Watching Arsenal beat Blackburn today and looking at the line up Arsenal put out on the pitch, it does give one hope for next season. With the likes of Senderos, Clichy, Fabregas, Flamini, Cole, Van Persie and Reyes on the pitch and playing fairly well together, the future foundation is there for Arsenal. However, this is Arsenal and not Bolton or Everton, so results are expected immediately. These young Gunners have the opportunity to become the next great Arsenal. I think that blending these talents with Henry, Viera, Berkhamp, Ljundberg et al. in addition to a possible infusion of talent from the transfer market bodes well for next season...but if it takes more than next season then beware of the demanding fans and supporters.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Reyes...should he stay or should he go

Once again we hear the rumors that Reyes is unhappy in London and would rather find himself as part of the Gallatico in his home nation of Espana, kicking the ball under the Real Madrid flag. As an Arsenal supporter I continue to scratch my head as to what should be done with him. One day we hear that Reyes is home sick, then we here that his agent claims he is happy and wants to stay: http://news.bbc.co.uk/sport1/hi/football/teams/a/arsenal/4351577.stm
Another rumor I heard on Fox Sports World the other day was that Owens would be coming back in return to North London. What to make of all of this?

My take - when rumors are abound that a player is unhappy, usually there is a reason for that....he is unhappy! Any way you spin it, it sounds that Reyes is not adjusting to the Premiership or to the land of boiled meats and dark brown ales. While Reyes remains an incredible talent with maximum upside, it does not make sense for Arsenal to hold on to him. Do I love the idea of getting Owens back...indifferent. I think he is a proven scorer but not sure how he would fit with Henry up front. What I would like to see is Aresnal to move Reyes, preferably for cash to add to Wenger's summer coffer. Then pursue Sean Wright Philips, granted I am not keen on such a move if Reyes stays, I feel the two players have a similar style game but SWP is more consistent. While such a move would bring in a proven Premier league player it would only be the first step for Arsenal, since it would not address their other issues - central defender, goalkeeper and what I call "garbage goal" central striker - see Klinsmann, Van Nistelroy, Trezeguet. All great stikers who make their living collecting rebounds, tap ins, crosses, anything from the penalty spot in....not pretty goals but they count the same as the 35 yard rockets of the feet of Laurent Robert, David Beckham, or Roberto Carlos.

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Arsenal - No champions league silverware....again

Once again Arsenal tease us, and once again they fail in their European efforts: http://news.bbc.co.uk/sport2/hi/football/europe/4321517.stm

While overcoming a 1-3 deficit is a hurdle to overcome, especially against an inspired Bayern Munich team, hoping that Arsenal could win 2-0 at home was not too much of a stretch, especially coming on the heals of Chelsea's 4-2 drubbing of Barcelona and Lyon's 7-2 goal fest vs Bremen. This loss once again shows that Arsenal are in need of an overhaul to some extent, this formula has not worked in Europe...Henry is count on too heavily to carry the scoring load, the flowing football Arsenal plays, when it is on, is unstoppable. But there does not appear to be a "second gear" a different style of football that Arsenal can fall back on to win games when need be. I feel that teams like Chelsea can win free flowing with Robbens running around or drag it out and stick Terry, Gallas, Makelele et al in the back and go for the 1-0 win. Man U can come at you with a variety of strike combos - Van Nistelroy, Rooney, Smith, Saha,Ronaldo, Scholes or they also can plod along putting one striker and then sitting back on Keane, Ferdinand, Neville etc. AC Milan can come at you with Kaka and Crespo or control the midfield and defensive half with Maldini et al.

Other one dimensional clubs in Europe have the same problem - Real Madrid...if they are not scoring and pushing the ball up on the backs of Ronaldo, Raul, Owen, Zidane, Beckham then what do they do? Sit back play controling football and go for the 1-0? Granted, Real is still in second place in La Ligua, and Arsenal only 2 back of Man U for second place, but lets face it, these teams all strive for the ultimate prizes...Real have their 9 Champions League titles, even Nottingham Forrests (back to back!) has lifted the trophy... alas it will be one more year that Arsenal does not lift the trophy.

Maradona....how sad

I just saw this, has any star fallen so far. http://uk.sports.yahoo.com/050309/2/9kd8.html

Sad to see what has become of Diego, watching his brilliance in 1986 when he single handly carried Argentina to the World Cup championship (granted Schumacher did his part in the finals to give away the title). Then again in 1990 Maradona brought Argentina to the finals of the World Cup when they had no business being there after losing to Cameron in the opening game. It is hard to look at Maradona today and think that there is debate on whether he or Pele are the greatest players of all time....

Champions League - Chelsea and Lyon

Wow what a day in the Champions League yesterday!

First, I still am shocked of the Chelsea - Barcelona match. Is Terry the new goal scoring machine for Chelsea? And what happened to the Barcelona defense? It still remains to be seen if Chelsea can win this ultimate prize. Mourinho is demonstrating his ability to play the mind games, he focused all the attention the past week on his "rivalry" with Rijkaard allowing his team to prepare away from the searing media lights. But dealing with the possibility of winning the club's first Premiership Title as well as the pressures of a having a huge payroll might take its toll on Chelsea. Remember last year when they finally got the "Arsenal Monkey" off their back in the 1/4 finals only to be surprised and knocked out by Monaco in the semis. We shall is if Chelsea can go further this season.

I personally was smiling when I saw Man U fall to AC...

Finally, what is going on with Lyon, they get through with a 10-2 aggragate...unbelievable. I know that Bremen was pushing to try and overcome their 0-3 deficit from the first leg but giving up 7 GOALS is outrageous. It seemed that at least 3 of the goals were Lyon players walking in one on one versus goalkeeper Reinke, where was the defense? I think Lyon are in a position to surprise teams, much like Monaco did a year ago. This team has demonstrated a solid "system" having won the past 3 French League Titles, finishing in the top 3 since 1999, the foundation was put in place by Santini and follow through with Le Guen. I think that team cohesion and success goes further than teams of superstars cobbled together (see Real Madrid). Will Lyon win the Champion's League, it is still a long road with many solid teams but they have as good a chance as the European Giants that remain...

Monday, March 07, 2005

FA cup

From what I could see Arsenal's win in the FA Cup was nothing to write home about. Now they have to face Bolton which have given them fits, a loss this year and two seasons ago a terrible loss late in the season that gave Man U the title. With Arsenal 10 points adrift, tettering on the edge in the Champions League and facing a tough match agains Bolton could they go a year without any silverware? I am glad to hear that Wenger will have some cash to spend this summer. He needs to get 1)Strong central defender 2)Goalkeeper 3)Goal scrorer to partner with Henry...thoughts?

Arsenal's Troubles

While I have seen the Champions league game, I did read the report http://news.bbc.co.uk/sport2/hi/football/europe/4281683.stm...what a disgrace. What happened to the invicible Arsenal of last season, the team that rewrote the history books in England? They now look like a shell of that team. Granted they did not find Champions League glory last season, nor did they win the double, but in both cases they at least made a case for themselves. This season they get held at home by Sheffield, lose to Bayern and are not really making a great case for even being second in the Premiership this season. With all their funds being sucked into the new stadium they have no way of filling the holes, and there are many....center back, goalkeeper, second goal scorer.....I have a feeling that we will be seeing Arsenal struggle with Chelsea spending like a drunken sailor and Man U being Man U.....Arsenal needs to get into the new stadium ASAP, and start bringing in experienced talent to help the youngsters get up to speed....
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