Saturday, December 23, 2006

Higuain goes to Real

The young franco - argentin star finds his way to Real Madrid. Question becomes, how will he find any playing time. With Van Nistelrooy, Ronaldo, Ronaldino, Reyes and Raul ahead of him the time will be hard fought is theory...maybe Real will loan him out to PSG. PSG is desperate for some buzz and the addition of the teenage sensation might just revive the team from the French Capital, in addition this would give Domenech a chance to see him compete closer to home as well as get him acclimated to French and other French players (maybe getting him closer to selecting the Tri-colors as his national side). Real would ensure that PSG bloods Higuain to the European game, he might even get some UEFA cup experience. Then Real could look to move Ronaldo in the summer transfer market and bring back Higuain......just a thought

Friday, December 15, 2006

Champions League Draw

We now know who will match up in the Champions League, as well as the UEFA cup....

Here is the Champions League Draw:

FC Porto (Portugal) vs. Chelsea (England)
Celtic (Scotland) vs. AC Milan (Italy)
PSV Eindhoven (Netherlands) vs. Arsenal (England)
Lille (France) vs. Manchester United (England)
AS Roma (Italy) vs. Lyon (France)
FC Barcelona (Spain) vs. Liverpool (England)
Real Madrid (Spain) vs. Bayern Munich (Germany)
Inter Milan (Italy) vs. Valencia (Spain)

We get our Porto - Chelsea match up. I will be very interested in seeing what reception Mourinho will get coming home. I think the Portugese team will find extra motivation to defeat their prior manager. A couple of thoughts:

  • Manchester United fans should not be salivating at playing the minnows - Lille. Last year in the Champions League these two clubs were matched up in the group stages, the aggragate score was 1-0 in favor of the northern french team. Unlike the victory Lille enjoyed over a second squad Milan this year, these matches last season were in the middle of the group stages when clubs were fighting for their knock out lives. I cannot envisage Lille upsetting Manchester United but it will be much more difficult than pundits would think.
  • Lyon has a good draw, Roma is a quality team but they at least avoided Barca. Lyon should emerge victorious but it will be a tough test.
  • Arsenal received a decent draw, although PSV is never a push over. If Henry comes back, the Gunners should find themselves in the second round.
  • Barca - surprise but this is the match up of the first round of knock out. A match up of the last two European Champions. Both teams have had their struggles, Barca during the group stages and Liverpool in domestic run. This match up, I believe, will see two cautious teams, someone will emerge with a 1-0 aggragate win.
Some early predictions:
Porto upsets Chelesea: 2-1 aggragate
Milan beats Celtic: 4-2
Arsenal beats PSV: 1-1 on away goal
Manchester United beats Lille: 2-1
Lyon beats Roma: 5-2
Barca beats Liverpool: 1-0
Bayern beats Real: 2-0
Valencia beats Inter: 4-3

Monday, December 11, 2006

Arsenal Gunners vs Chelsea Whiners

What a match yesterday...amazing how a 1-1 draw can be a fascinating and exciting match, but that is what we had after a memorable Arsenal v Chelsea, London Derby.

Chelsea was unlucky not to win, having hit the wood work 3 times. But Arsenal should some true grit playing with a young team, missing some crucial players - Gallas, Toure, Rosicky and Henry. We had diving, hard tackles, whining from the Chelsea team, riveting goals, and near scores.

Some Thoughts:
  • Arsenal did not look intimidated, and played their style of football. They passed the ball around well and showed some toughness in their tackles early on in the match. Arsenal showed that they were not afraid to battle the Chelsea superstars on a physical level. But they seem to run out of steam in the second half.
  • Senderos.....oh he is aweful. He looks like the next coming of Pascal Cygan. Drogba is completely in his head, completely has his number. Senderos looked terrible from the get go, always shaky, never confident against the Giant from the Ivory Coast. Senderos was fortunate not get a penalty in the second half when he pulled down Drogba inside the 5 yard box. Senderos has not improved since he was first brought to Arsenal....he is still slow, he does not position himself well, and is clumsy in challenges. Maybe getting Abidal is not for cover on the left side but for cover in the middle of the defense.
  • Clichy, Fabergas, Eboue, and Flamini - the youth looked good in this heated derby. Fabergas was doing a great job distributing and running the attack and transition for Arsenal. He showed some good flair yapping with the little traitor Cole in the first half. Clichy played well at left back, needs to be stronger on tackles late in the match, but had some great attacking runs. The same can be said for Eboue, he was a rock, unlike Senderos, showed that he was not intimidated by any of the Chelsea strikers. He too made some blazing runs on the wings. Flamini is showing that he is a good cover in the midfield. He had some good spurts and was not afraid to mix it up in the midfield. His goal was a pure Arsenalesc build up and strike.
  • The Chelsea Whiners...I wish that Makelele would leave the club, that way my building hatred for them could truly blossom. They have taken on an arrogance and whining attitude that is so grating that I am actually rooting for Manchester United this season. Here are the biggest whiners:
    • Drogba - he has become a world class striker, taking the success he had in France and finally showing it in England. I think it took him a season to really feel comfortable with the english game. But he is the biggest baby. Diouf is accused of being a diver and cheat, but I think Drogba is far worse. Any contact and he crumbles, surprising for someone of his build.
    • Carvahlo - every time I watch him I wonder, how is he an international? He is terrible, not as bad as Senderos, but not far. He gets constantly beat to the spot, has horrible positioning, and constantly lunges when beat. He is the worst when it comes to clumsy tackles, yet when he is touched starts crying and complaining. If Mourinho did not have an infatuation with his fellow countryman he would be on the bench or back in Portugal.
    • Terry - Since he has assumed both the captaincy of Chelsea and England he has become a prima dona, whiny, baby. Every time he comes up for a corner and someone puts a hand on him he acts with such contempt and anger that you would think he was Paris Hilton addressing some papa ratzi. I am sure when he is defending corner kicks he never grabs or pulls players...every time he is talking to the refs he acts as if Chelsea is entitled to get whatever calls they want. John, stop your antics and whining and be a true captain.
    • Lampard - Another whiner, he too feels entitled, heaven forbid a defender or goalkeeper plays he tough and gives him a little physical play. He and Terry are acting like the prima donas they aspire to be.
    • Shevchenko - I just feel bad for him, he is pushing to hard....maybe he should head back to AC Milan. He has no place starting....Robbens or SWP should be starting, give Chelsea some real pace on the wings.
    • Cole - Ashley was all worked up, he should shut his trap and stop trying to be the next Shakespeare with his books. I was glad to see Fabergas stand up to him, I think the return match will be harder for Mr Tweedy with the Arsenal fans showing their "feelings" for their returning son.

I think this game was a push for Chelsea, Arsenal needed the win. Chelsea should and can defeat Newcastle midweek, that would leave Chelsea 4 points behind Manchester United. It will make the rest of the season very interesting...but I think I will root for Manchester United and well as any team Chelsea meets in the Champions League.

Friday, December 08, 2006

A 24 team Euro....maybe we just eliminate qualifying

I just saw this story on the BBC web site:

I must say I have my doubts about the reasoning behind this. Let us look at the last tournament when we had 16 nations. If we take all the nations that lost in the playoff we would add: Scotland, Slovenia, Wales, Norway and Turkey, we would still have to take THREE more nations. Doing a quick scan of the best of the rest we could envisage having had to take 3 teams from the following: Iceland, Poland, Belgium, Serbia or Ireland. So for the sake of this rant, we say that Poland, Ireland and Belgium would have also qualified.

Why would we even need to have a qualifying tournament??? If the European Nations tournment expands to 24 teams, we might as well say - the "top" 15 nations in Europe: Italy, France, England, Germany, Spain, Portugal, Holland, Czech Republic, Sweden, Denmark, Switzerland, Croatia, Romania, Bulgaria, and Serbia, automatically get in, the rest fight for the remaining 9 spots....I am being completely ridiculous but the point is every good to decent football nation will have an almost 80% chance of guaranteeing a spot in the finals.

With 24 teams why even put the players and teams under the physical strain of qualifying. The existing system already guarantees that the football powers are guaranteed a spot. It a rarity that we do not see a Holland or England miss out on the tournament, such as we saw when the actual tournament had the best of best from Europe, such as in 1984 when England, Holland, Italy, and the USSR did not make the final stages. Or that 4 years later, two of the semi final teams (one of which was defending champ) France and Portugal did not make it out of qualifiers.

The tournament, with 16 nations, still is small enough to make it an exciting tournament, one where groups are guaranteed to have football power houses: such as Group D in 2004 Germany, Latvia, Czech Rep and Holland....or Group A in 2000 England, Germany, Portugal and Roumania.....or Group D of the same year Denmark, France, Holland, Czech Rep.

With 16 nations it made the games exciting from the outset, and it kept the qualifications facsinating. All one has to do is look at the interest the qualifiers are having for the next Euro. If the tournament gets expand to 24 teams I fear that the 2 years of qualifying that leads up to the tournament will be a bore for the large national powers and even the second tier powers, it might be interesting to see if a smaller nation such as Cyprus, Albania or Georgia can qualify but will that make the final product any better, when these smaller nations will most likely get shown an early exit when the tournament starts?

I thought the tournament was great when it was only 8 teams, that made the qualifiers that much more interesting and nerve wraking...the tournament itself was great since there were no "weak" teams. Alas the might Euro has spoken, advertising and TV revenue drives the day which means having a larger tournament is good....but we don't need 24 teams...especially since the World Cup only grants Europe 14 spots.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Champions League final round set

So we have the final teams in the Champions League:

Group Winners:
Manchester United

Group Runner Ups:
Real Madrid

Due to the long list of rules stating how teams can match up for the knock out stage, here are matches up I would love to see:

Chelsea - Porto :Mourinho's old team vs new team, wonder how the "special one" will be received back in Portugal
Bayern - PSV :always fun to have a Germany-Holland match up, cannot wait to see the bright orange army helmets in the stands.
Liverpool - Inter :same match up as the Champions League finals from Istanbul, well at least from a city point of view(Liverpool vs Milan)....Inter rather than AC Milan
Valencia - Lille : Can Lille keep the Cinderella run alive against Spains lesser known footballing power.
Lyon - Roma: Match up out of necessity or else the rest of my list cannot work.....
Manchester United - Real Madrid: Clash of two of the world's best known clubs
Arsenal - Barca: Rematch of last years finals
Milan - Celtic: Rematch of the 1966-7 finals....well again with regards to the same city. In that finals Celtic beat Internazionale of Milan 2-1.

Okay enough of a pie in the sky idea. Here are the teams I see as favorites:

Manchester United: Pains me to ever say that the Red Devils are favorites. But they showed that they have the fire power and team to win the big games. The Saha - Rooney tandem up front with Ronaldo and Giggs supporting seems to be a winning combo. They demonstrated against Benefica that they could come back after being down to win a must win game.

Chelsea: How can you not include a team that has international caliber players sitting on the their bench? I think that Morinho's men will find a way to choke away the championship, but they cruised through what was thought be to be the hardest qualifying group. Drogba is unstoppable, Essein and Makelele create a formidable holding midfield. Their weak link is the keeper, with Cech out and Cudacini questionable this might prove their down fall.

Bayern: While the Bavarian club is struggling in their domestic league, they have the right mix for Europe. They can play defense with Sagnol, Van Buyten and Lahm. Their goalkeeping, while long in the tooth is solid with Kahn. The midfield and attack have the talent to carry them deep - Makaay, Podoloski up front, van Bommel, Schweinsteiger in the midfield.

Lyon: The French Champions are once again poised to make a run...they have talent through out the entire squad. Additionally they have made 1/4 final runs the past two seasons, question is can they take the next step. This could be the year, especially when Fred returns.

Inter Milan: They collected a number of players after Juventus got slapped for their match fixing...adding Vieira and Ibrahimovic, in addition to WC hero Grosso, bolstered an already strong squad. And Crespo is clicking in the domestic league, he should be able to carry this success over to Europe.

Of course no one will know what or who would be favorite until we see the actually match ups for the knock out rounds. If I was to predict the finals, I will say Chelsea vs Lyon....Lyon wins on a last minute goal by Tiago after Essien loses a 50 - 50 ball at can always dream.

On another topic, many cries about the dominance of the "big three" leagues - Serie A, Premiership and La Ligua, 11 of the final 18 teams are from these leagues. There are cries to do something to give clubs from other leagues the chance to get into the final 18. I think the argument to limit leagues to sending only 3 clubs has some merit, if we look historically the Champions League winner (or the old Cup of Champions) comes from these very leagues. 31 of the total 51 winners have come from Spain, Italy or England. Real Madrid alone has 9 titles.

The main issue is these domestic leagues contain some of the European football powers - Real Madrid, Barcalona, Manchester United, Liverpool, Milan, and Juventus. These are the clubs that have the history, the system and ability to attract the talent and money needed to compete at the highest level. "Smaller" clubs such as Porto or Dortmund will sneak in and win a Champions title every so often. But unless we completely overhaul the football system, payment structure and player movement the top clubs in the Big Three leagues will always challenge for the title. As much as we would like to see the CSKA Moscow, Galatassary, or Hertha Berlins of the world getting into the knock out stages and get to the semi finals, I doubt we will see such a revolution in European Football until we have a massive change.

Until then the complaining that the Champions League is an exclusive club for the "Big Three Leagues" will remain the status quo.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Klose - a Wenger purchase?

Werder Breme has made it know that their star striker, Klose, was potentially available. Could Wenger take a look at the German striker? He could be a good partner up front to Henry. Klose is a pocher similar to Trezeguet and Crespo, maybe a good partner for Henry up front. He could fit in well with a striker rotation.....

New "Ideas" from Blatter

Just noticed this story of FIFA president looking to have club football play through out the summer: hmmmmm...once again I scratch my head about the thinking behind this. What would he offer during the World Cup and European Cup seasons?

I think this idea is ridiculous and here is why:

  • The World Cup and European Cup seasons would be complete chaos. For those seasons (remember Sep that is basically every other season) would have to stop for at least 6 weeks more likely 8 weeks. That would allow the national teams to recover their players, train, play the tournaments and then have some recovery time. This would completely throw the club schedules into chaos, wear on all players (what would you do with the other players who are not on national teams?), and make the season ripe for disaster.
  • Play footie in the summer....hmmmmm....weren't there complaints of the sweltering heat during this past world cup? European clubs would suffer in the sweltering heat that can at times descend on Europe in the summer months.
I think if Sep and his "genius" wants to limit the stress on players, then force all leagues to take a mandatory 1 - 2 week break during the winter, maybe after Xmas until the new year. Cut back on ridiculous "cup" games, who really cares about the Carling Cup or the Ligue Cup (well maybe Middlesboro in the case of the former). These minor cups give clubs nothing more than an opportunity to play their bench and youth, while a good exercise not worth the strain it places on the greater club. I would also argue to cut down the Champions League and UEFA Cups, here I agree with the Platini proposal - limit the Champions League to 3 teams per nation (does the 4th place team really deserve to compete to become the "Champions of Europe?" I would argue that you really should only have the top 2 teams...but with all the money that horse is well gone from the barn).

Cut down on the number of nations for qualifying in Europe (something Blatter did endorse to his credit). Have a prequalifying tournament as they do for the club teams, that way Macedonia, Faroe Islands, etc need to pre qualify. This could cut down the number of groups, teams and games. While all nations should be invited to qualify, there needs to be tiers of qualification. Andorra or Luxembourg could still get to the Euro or World Cup, but make it so they are truly deserving to play with the large footballing nations. UEFA could even do a ranking of all the nations, those that fall below a certain level play in a prequalifying round tournament, but gives nations the ability, based on good results, to stay in the top pool or drop if their results do not allow them to maintain a high level.

This will cut back on the stain we are putting on players, not playing over the summer. I think Blatter is, once again, throwing "stuff" on the wall to see what sticks. Remember that floated the idea of having the World Cup every two years......Sep if you really want to do something good for the game think with your head and make the hard decisions, I am here if you want to chat.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Adu, the next "great" american?

So Adu finished his two week trial with Man U, and appears to be coming home without a contract. Is that really a surprise? Manchester United also took on the Swede Henrik Larsson on loan to shore up their offensive front line, same position the prodigy Adu plays.....interesting.

Here comes my rant, you have been warned.

Freddy Adu, while some day may become a great player, is an OVER HYPED product of MLS, corporate sponsors and the media. Those of us who live in the land of the MLS have been told for the past few years that this young sensation, from Ghanaian origins, would be the next Pele. He was given a million dollar shoe deal from Nike, he was paraded in front of us when he signed with DC United.

The idea of Arena bringing him to the World Cup in Germany was toyed with, he might be the "joker" to get the US over the hump into the semi finals or further.

The main issue with Freddie is that he is a solid player, but not the savior that we have been told he is. The story is nice, grew up in Ghana where his mother won a lottery to come to the United States, a true immigrant success story. But when it comes to the world of international football to me he is just another good teenager, one that has much to prove.

Let us look at some other 17 - 18 year olds getting press: Gonzalo Higuain and Theo Walcott. The first is a year older, but Theo is only three months older. Higuain plays for River Plate. Theo for Arsenal....Freddy for DC United.....Higuain and Theo both came up through the youth systems of the Argentinian and English leagues, much harder competition than can be found in the MLS.

Both these players are deemed part of the next generation of great players, and both have been blooded in some of the most difficult competitive environments in the footballing world. Freddy Adu has been playing in the MLS. He has a grand total of 11 goals in three years. How many goals would Theo score in the MLS or how about a 17 year old Rooney?

Freddy, if he is such a superstar, should dominate the MLS. He is not even the best player in the league. He should at least be the best player on his team....which I do not believe he is.

The best move for Adu would be to head to Europe, and not for Manchester United (who does not seem interested) but for a continental league: France or Holland. Go to a club in Holland that has experience with national players from areas outside of South America, Europe and Africa - PSV does a great job cultivating talent from North America and Asia. These teams play in good domestic leagues, but nothing as brutal as the Premier League and gets European play...all good for development. They are also well versed in developing and selling these players to the big teams in Europe. Maybe then Freddy can develop to whatever level his potential will allow him to achieve.

Had Freddy been from any of the international world football powers none of us would have ever heard of him, but because he put on the stars and stripes, a nation desperate for a star to pull their footie fortunes places an unfair amount of expectations on his slim shoulders. Hopefully he lives up to half the hype surrounding him....don't forget that Pele at 17 won his first World Cup. Adu at 17 has not even won a MLS cup.....

Thursday, November 30, 2006

No Mas No Mas

A terrible run of three games for the Gunners -

  • 1-1 Draw versus Newcastle
  • 3-1 Loss to Bolton
  • 2-1 Loss to Fulham
ONE point from 3 games! Arsenal dominated Newcastle and were unlucky not to get the full complement of points. Bolton has owned Arsenal in the past few seasons, the team from the Reebok just mauls the Gunners and Wenger has never really figured it out. Maybe next time Arsenal should look to have the "Beast" on the pitch from the opening whistle. And finally a terrible loss to their London rival, Fulham....

These three games have ended Arsenal's threat for the Premiership. Assuming that Arsenal gets three points from their game in hand (again a big "if"), that will still put them 13 points behind leaders Man U and 10 points behind Chelsea. Granted Arsenal still have two games against Chelsea and a home match against Manchester United, that means Arsenal could cut Man U's lead to 10 points.....but then they must see Man U loss 4 games more than Arsenal...a daunting task. Arsenal are back in the chase for the third spot in england.

Wenger needs to make some moves this January to get the team ready for next season. Items on the shopping list for me - another striker, attacking midfielder, defender, and goalkeeper...okay that covers most of the pitch but I think they need another option to Henry...maybe David Villa? The midfield is solid but could us Ribery to add pace in the right or left flanks, I also think Yaya Toure could be had to give more muscle in the midfield, Monaco is falling rapidly in France and could use some cash. Defender, I think the loss of Gallas has hurt the defense, Senderos is useless to me, he has no speed and repeatedly gets beaten due to poor positioning. Abidal has been rumored, I think that is because he could play in the middle of the pitch as well as on the wings. Goalkeeper, Lehman is not a problem but getting older by the day, maybe we can revisit the Buffon idea althought it looks as if Juventus will be promoted after the end of the year.

Second half of season will give Wenger a chance to mesh and build a young team, but he needs to add some toughness to compete in England.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Racism rears its ugly head once again

It was bit ironic or tragic that after I posted my last rant about PSG that we learn that a fan was killed post UEFA cup match this past week. What is even more disgusting and terrible is the manner in which the incident occurred.

From the early reports a group of PSG "fans," were so bitter about their teams humiliation against the Tel Aviv club that they looked to work out their anger and frustrations on the opposing fans. With a team from Israel it is not hard to imagine the crassness and unacceptable jeers that were sent spewing towards the opposing fans. Again from early reports, an under cover police officer, who is black and also became the target of ugly and unacceptable name calling, bravely defended the fan from the ugly crowd. It appears that the police officer used justifiable force to attempt at controlling the crowd, pepper spray and final his fire arm. A member of the crowd fell victim to gun shots, no doubt tragic, but not as tragic as what would have happened had this officer not responded to what must have been an overwhelming situation for one officer to handle.

While our sympathies go out to the victims family, it uncovers an ugly wound festering in the world of football - xenophobia, racism, and antisemitism. The problem has long been known to occur at the Parc des Princes where PSG play their home matches. The "Ultras" who are part of the Boulogne Boys are known trouble makers, known hooligans of the worst type. This latest situation needs to be addressed by the city of Paris, the French government, and more importantly the Paris St Germain club. PSG needs to do a better job policing and weeding out these hooligans from the stadium and the surroundings. If PSG needs to play a few games in an empty stadium than so be it.

However this problem is greater than PSG and is rampant through out Europe, and needs to be continually addressed. We have seen teams walk off the pitch because one of their players is treated to monkey calls each time he touches the ball, other players have bananas thrown in their direction. One can debate for weeks about the cause: stupidity, fear of globalization, ignorance, the disguise of being a fan to give one the outlet for racism, mob mentality, and the list goes on.

Players like Henry and Ronaldino have made efforts to address racism and need to continue in these efforts. Federations are the ones that need to take more responsibility for the actions of their national and domestic teams. The fact the Spanish FA did nothing when Aragones made derogatory remarks about Henry, what kind of message does that send? Federations need to ban together and agree on harsh sanctions against clubs and venues that allow such behavior. Cause teams to give all game revenues to anti racism associations, force teams to lose points (and I don't mean lose points like the Italian justice system sees it....where as long as you whine enough you get most back), force national teams to forfeit qualifying games, ban teams from European competition (a harsh but effective technique leveraged after the tragedy in Heysel, 39 fans died prior to the Juventus - Liverpool Champions Cup finals, English teams were banned from continental European championships for 5 years), and if teams do not properly address the situation drop them to a lower division or disband them for a season or more. Maybe that will send the message that this behavior has no place in football or society.

While the unfortunate reality is racism will remain in society, where we can control it we need to. Football matches are entertainment, fans are passionate which makes it enjoyable and fun, but there is no room for the ugliness we saw in Paris this week. The real world is hard enough, our entertainment venues need not be.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

PSG, another lost season

For those fans of PSG that remain, it is once again a lost season. Mired in the middle of the table in Ligue 1, and lets face it with little hope of usurping the Lyon juggernaut that is steam rolling France once again, we had little to hope for, maybe a good run in the French Cup and a decent run in the UEFA Cup. It is now clear that second is not likely to happen. After barely qualifying for the group stages, PSG had to beat a bunch of post men and firefighters from the amateur club from somewhere in the UK, and now they fall hard to l’Hapoël Tel-Aviv....uh who?

While the Israeli national team and championship has become stronger in recent history, taking a 4-2 defeat at HOME is inexcusable. The PSG manger, Bernard Lacombe, must be sacked. Granted this will continue the trend of PSG looking to have at least two managers per season. But this team is in complete ruin. They have the resources and fan base to be a player in France and Europe, but fall hopelessly short of both.

PSG was in the "running" for Gonzalo Higuain...please....not going to happen. Their best signing Landreau must be wondering what he is doing playing for a team with such a weak defense...maybe Wenger should take a look at him for his long term goalkeeping solution. Dhorasso, which was a coupe a year ago, left the team in disgrace. Rothen has not found the form that had managers around Europe salivating while he played for Monaco.

PSG has been whallowing as underacheivers since the last great PSG teams of the 1990s, when players such as Djorkaef, N'Gotty, etc would actually play well for the capital club. It is amazing that PSG with one of the greatest players of the world Ronaldino, could muster not as much as a peep in Europe and France while he plied his trade in southwest paris. The last time PSG made the Champions League they went out the side door in embarassing fashiom, not even getting the UEFA spot!

I think the main problem is PSG needs to find a high profile manager, pay him what he wants and guarantee him 4 years or 5. Have an owner that is dedicated to winning, who not just spend the money but so wisely. Revamp the youth system, they use to find players like Anelka, no longer.

Teams in Ligue 1 remain a tier below the powerhouse leagues or England and Spain, which makes the developement program that much more vital. They cannot hope to purchase what they need as does Real, Man U, Barca, Chelsea, etc. Until there are some radical changes I fear that PSG will once again be an after thought in both France and Europe...then again no one has really "thought" of PSG in Europe in over a decade.

Monday, November 13, 2006

3-0 drubbing

Arsenal with a famous 3-0 victory this weekend over the pretenders - Liverpool. The score might have been much worse had a end of game break away been collected by Henry rather than one of the Arsenal's fullbacks.

Of course had anyone thought that Flamini, Toure and Gallas would have found the back of the net for the Gunners one would have thought you to be crazy. But Arsenal showed why they are a team that will play a role in this season's premiership title chase.

Liverpool played well, but once again Benitez stuck Gerrard out on the wing when he needed desperately to control the middle of the pitch. This gave Arsenal the freedom and ability to build the play via the middle of the pitch. This was especially surprising since Sissoko was out through injury. Arsenal demonstrated its passing class and ability, when they are passing the ball like this they are hard to beat.

This loss puts an end to Liverpool's title hopes, 14 points behind Manchester United, with Arsenal and Chelsea between the two, Benitez's boyz will have to focus on other trophies since for one more season Liverpool will be without a Championship title. This cannot be well regarded at Anfield Road, Benitez took over for Monsieur Houllier, looking to take Liverpool to the next level. However, were it not for a crazy second half in Istanbul, might Benitez be on a hotter seat than he is today? I think so. Yes he has won titles, FA cup last year, the above mentioned Champions League title against AC Milan, but he has not been competitive in the Premiership, the one title Liverpool fans really want to see the Red bring home. Houllier also brought home titles both European - UEFA cup and domestic cups, but could not break the duopoloy of Arsenal and Manchester United at the top of the Premiership mountain, who would have thought the last time Liverpool won a league title, 1990, that it would be Chelsea breaking the duopoly of these teams?

Benitez deserves much of the blame. He has demonstrated a stubborn streak that has brought down many other coaches, former Lyon, France and Tottenham manager Santini comes to mind. Benitez constant desire to change line ups, force Gerrard on the wing (much like Santini did with Zidane), and overall stubborness with regards to going it his way frustrate the Liverpool supporter. I think Benitez will find his way out the door once again unless he finds another miracle such as the one in Istanbul. And so the rotating door continues at manager Paul Le Guen....too bad his star has fallen to West Ham levels.....

Friday, November 10, 2006

Higuain say "No thanks"....for now

So the young Franco-Argetina star, Higuain has declined the invitation to join the World Cup Vice Champions for their match against the defending Euro Champs. This does not really come as a surprise. It was clear that the young prospect was feeling a tremendous amount of pressure from his club, River Plate, as well as others to not accept to play, at this time, for his birth nation - France.

And lets face it, he really is Argentinian....having spent a total of 10 months of his life in France. Now do I wanted him, if he is as good as the media makes him out to be, to play for Les Bleus? Absolutely! If he is the talent the press makes him out to be, he would make a nice combination with the young attacking talent France has such as Ribery, Gourcuff, Benzema, etc.

Something tells me this entire story has been drummed up by his father to get his name on the front pages and to get his stock in Europe on the rise. Granted, he is young, plays for one of the premier South American teams and has been producing. But until he turned down a call up for the Argentina national team, stating he was interested in playing for France, he was just another prospect from South America.

This is what I think will happen - he will refuse call up to either nation until he lands his new job. With clubs like Real Madrid, Chelsea, Liverpool, AC Milan and others expressing interest in his signature there appears no shortage of suitors for him to transfer too come the Jan transfer window. Assuming he is comfortably installed at Stamford Bridge, the Bernabeu or the San Siro by then, we will all turn a curious gaze towards the Feb 7th friendly between....France v Argentina in Paris......we might see all the fireworks starting again then.

My heart and mind tell me we will see him line up next to Crespo and Messi in the sky blue striped kit before he is receiving passes from Ribery and Malouda wearing the blue of France.

It would be too easy and nice to France to get such a potential talent drop into their laps....ah what could have been.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Wait for Monday

So Higuain will make a decision on Monday wether or not he will accept the call up to the French national team. So goes the soap opera for the talented 18 year old. We have seen more of these situations the past few years as nations vie to grab talented players who have multiple eligible national teams, notably two cases in the US. As well as players that would not otherwise be national team quality players for their native land find parents or employement situations allow them to be naturalized and play for an adopted nation.

Freddie Adu was offered a post on the Ghana national team over the summer and Giuseppe Rossi is being coveted by the US national team but had his heart set on the Azurri of Italy. We have also seen a number of lesser Brazilian players end up on Japan or Serbia's national teams, as well as two Italians playing for the Soccerroos.

As travel and employement becomes more international and easy, we will see a growing number of these cases. However it is rare to see tug of wars between National team powers like Argentina and France....

Higuain doubts

So the latest on Higuain, he will turn down the selection offered to him by Domenech. Rumor is that his club River Plate has made it difficult for him to accept the selection and not to play for the Argentinian national squad.

Rumor is Higuain wants to play for France, but will not accept a selection for the French team at least until he leaves River Plate....where his contract expires in June 2007. There is a fear that if Higuain plays for the French his return to Argentina would be very difficult, fans and managers would not be "happy." Supposedly his father has been visiting Europe and some large clubs, see Real Madrid, also spending time in Paris, assume chatting with Domenech and others, see PSG.....the plot thickens

Domenech picks his squad....the next Trezeguet?

So Domenech makes his selection for next week's friendly against the Greeks. Here is the squad -

Les 24 joueurs retenus
Gardiens : Grégory Coupet (Lyon), Mickaël Landreau (Paris-SG)
Défenseurs : Eric Abidal (Lyon), François Clerc (Lyon), Julien Escudé (FC Séville/ESP), Patrice Evra (Manchester United/ANG), William Gallas (Arsenal/ANG), Philippe Mexès (AS Rome/ITA), Willy Sagnol (Bayern Munich/ALL), Lilian Thuram (FC Barcelone/ESP)
Milieux : Alou Diarra (Lyon), Sidney Govou (Lyon), Gonzalo Higuain (River Plate/ARG), Claude Makelele (Chelsea/ANG), Florent Malouda (Lyon), Rio Mavuba (Bordeaux), Franck Ribéry (Marseille), Jérémy Toulalan (Lyon), Patrick Vieira (Inter Milan/ITA), Sylvain Wiltord (Lyon)
Attaquants : Nicolas Anelka (Bolton/ANG), Karim Benzema (Lyon), Thierry Henry (Arsenal/ANG), Louis Saha (Manchester United/ANG)

Here is what strikes me:

  • Why does Domenech insist on selecting Makelele? I understand why he wants him available for the qualifiers for the Euro, but maybe if he allowed him to stay home during friendlies he might win some points with the club managers. I doubt he will even play Keke, so why not let him sit at home for some R&R.
  • I like seeing Anelka back in the squad, I think he is going to be valuable to the French squad moving forward. Had he been selected for the WC finals he was the type of striker that can make the difference by himself.
  • I understand why Trezeguet was not selected (0 goals in 5 games). But I think he deserved to be recalled, especially since the team will be honoring the 1998 WC winning squad during the he could help Higuain...
  • Speaking of which, surprise selection of Mr Higuain. The 18 year old prodigy who plies his trade for River Plate was unknown in France untill a few months ago, when he turned down a selection to the Argetinian under-20 national team stating he wanted to play for Les Bleus. This created a flurry of speculation that Domenech would call him up etc, which he has done. The question becomes will he accept the call up...I do not see why he would not. The arguement that he turned down the Argentina call up was to preserve his French citizen does not hold water. Having been born in Brest, Higuain held a French passport, had he played for Argentina he would still have a French passport making his ability to play for a European club seemless, last time I checked Crespo plays in Europe and for Argentina, as does Heintz, Riquilme, etc. It will be interesting to see the dynamics if Higuain ends up in the Stade de France next week wearing the "rooster." I think Trezeguet might have been useful having around, he made the same move. He being of Argentinian - French decent, decided to play for Les Bleus rather than Argentina (seems like a good choice, since he has been playing with Les Bleus he has won two major titles and reached another world cup final...Argentina...not so much)
  • Chimbonda....again not sure why he did not get the call but Evra did. An article I read alluded to the fact he might have forfeited due to injury, if that is the case I retract my rant.
  • Boumsong not called due to injury...he should not be called up due to the fact he is not good. Mexes or Escude are the ones that should be getting his time
  • Benezema - It is great seeing Domenech call up another youngster. His run of form lately at Lyon and with the under -20s gives him the right to play with the big club.

I think domenech has called up some youth, some players that it will be good for him to take a look at. I do think that he should push that more with these friendly matches. Maybe he is starting to think about the future for the squad.....

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

How the mighty have fallen, at least for a week

This past weekend was full of crazy are some observations -

Lyon Finally Loses! Lyon lost a tough match to Rennes 1-0. On a missed assignment on a corner kick, Toulalan again lost his man...similar to what happened during the France - Scotland match to his teammate Abidal. Lyon saw their brazilian talisman, Juninho get red carded...and without Fred found it difficult up front. Wiltord did have some chances, Carew was a serviceable striker, but the run had to end. I do not see this being an omen of things to come. Lyon is still too talented and has a huge lead against Nancy, that is playing over its head. The main teams that you would think would challenge are too far behind - Marseilles, Bordeaux or the dysfunctional PSG. The lose was a blip on the season.

Tottenham wins, Tottenham wins! The Lily Whites post a historic victory over west london rivals - Chelsea. This match was fantastic. Tottenham's defender, Chimbonda and King were absolutely huge. King's back track on Robben was nothing short of spectacular. Chimbonda showed why, Domenech should not forget him for the French national team. Michael Dawson was also a rock, and his equalizing goal was smashing. The goal from Lennon was equally impressive, but what was more impressive was the run Keane made on the wing, the irishman made the Cannibal look more like Clarese rather than Hannibal. The opening goal was equally fabulous....had Lampard scored the goal we would all be praising its power and beauty, but the fact it was originated from the goal challenged Makelele makes it that much more impressive (not that anyone should criticize Makelele for not contributing a goal here and there)

What struck me of this game was the signs of some cracks in the Chelesea armor. I think that not seeing Sheva on the pitch at any point is an indication of how little Mourinho trusts the Ukrainian striker. Terry's sending off was an idication to me of the Chelsea arrogance and frustration that they are not running away with the Prem. Terry was being a thug all game, handing in late tackles, cross checking players in the box, etc....Terry has taken on the attitude that he "plays for chelsea and is therefore superior"...maybe he gets that from his boss. I think Chelsea, while still the odds on favorite to win the prem, will find the road much more difficult to navigate. I think they are feeling a little entitled and they are becoming a team of superstars. While they always had internationals at every position, they were players like Duff, Gudjonsson, and even Gallas....solid players, but not prima donas - Ballack, Shevchenko, Cole etc....I think players come to Chelsea expecting to just be handed a champions medal. Every team needs its plodders.....the rest of the season should be interested.

Arsenal - West Ham boxing match... Wenger and Pardew had to be seperated after West Ham scored the winner in the 89th minute. Classic moment, usually reserved to Arsenal - Manchester United matches. Arsenal looked shaky, while they had opportunities they allowed West Ham to threaten, and the lack of finishing for Arsenal is a little frustrating.....

Barca loses to Sevilla....The lose of Edo'o is really hurting the Catalan Giant. Ronaldino is having a terrible year, maybe the world cup was a prelude of what was to happen to the Brazilians - Ronaldo, Ronaldino, Adriano are all having subpar years....

Finally, has anyone seem the Scottish PL? Le Guen's Rangers are struggling in THIRD place! I cannot see a manager's stock fall so much...when he left Lyon he was the toast of not so much

Friday, November 03, 2006

France v Argentina

France will be playing Argentina in a friendly on Feb 7th....maybe I can a way to be in Paris for that match. This will be the first time in 20 years since the two nations will face one another. Here is a crazy thought, Gonzalo Higuain of River Plate has just turn down a call up to the Argentina under 20 squad (Higuain was born in France and still hold a french passport). He stated his desire to play for Les Bleus, maybe Domenech calls him up for this match....that would be interesting.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Champions league results

Much to image of Titi Henry, Arsenal should be disappointed after a 0-0 draw with CSKA Moscow. After numerous occasions, especially in the first half, Arsenal needs to be kicking themselves for not emerging without the full 3 point complement after yesterday's showing.

Arsenal could have and should have won easily 3 0r 4 nothing....the image of Rosicky missing a WIDE open net from inside the 5 yard box was exemplification of the evening. Cesc, Henry, Rosicky et al. missed golden chances the first half. The Russian keeper was left high and dry the first half, having to face 1v1 confrontations with the Arsenal attackers, being saved by the Gunners lack of finishing rather than "standing on his head." The CSKA keeper made a spectacular save in the second half from a Gilberto header that seemed destined for the bottom corner. With Porto winning convincingly, the group remains up in the air. CSKA, Porto and Arsenal all sit within 1 point with 2 more games to go. Arsenal who had a very promising first two games, now face a dog fight to qualify. All is left to play for....

In other matches - Barcelona is in real danger of not going through, all will come down to the last match between Barca and Bremen....Milan and Lyon look the strongest teams (an arguement could be made for Chelsea as well), getting Fred back for Lyon will determine if they can advance further than the past two seasons....Manchester United now faces a potentially trap game versus Celtic, after dropping points in Denmark.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Hmmmm.....maybe trouble ahead for OL

Fred out for 2 months...this could prove difficult for the aspirations for Lyon. Might force the club to look for a striker during the winter transfer window. I could argue that Fred has been a top 5 striker in Europe - Henry, Saha, Van Nistelroy, Drogba and Fred (no particular order).

These five strikers have been scoring domestically and in European competitions.

I am not sure that Carew will be a player that can fill in for Fred and keep up the pace. Can Lyon continue playing at their current level without their talesmatic striker? Can a combination of Wiltord, Carew and Govou make up for the lose of Fred? And will the youngsters Ben Arfa and Benzema get a chance for regular first team action?

If any team can navigate this, it is Lyon. I do not think that the lose of Fred will impact their domestic run, but it could impact what they do in Europe. Lyon has enough of a cushion where they should not need Fred to get through to the knock out stages. With the knock out stages starting in Feb, Lyon should have a healthy Fred ready to go.

But again it is a chink in the armor....

Olympique Lyon Juggernaut

After this weekends demolishing of their nearest competitor, OM, by a 4-1 score it seems apparant that the French Ligue 1 is going to be won by Lyon. This is amazing that before the
winter break it would appear that a major championship is almost out of reach for all the other competitors. Lyon is looking to win a record 6th title in a row. The funny part is the last two clubs to have won the championship prior to Lyon's amazing run are in danger of relegation - Monaco and Nantes.

Lyon now sits 8 points ahead of Marseilles. Having beaten Zidane's home town team at the Stade Velodrome, Lyon will receive OM back at the friendly confines of Lyon on the return match. With other traditional rivals: PSG, Bordeaux, Monaco, and Lille at least 10 points back, it is hard to invision a melt down by OL. Lyon is also cruising in its group stages for the Champions League. They have a maximum 9 points from 3 games, including a demolishon of Real Madrid. The question becomes, can Houllier find the right formula to get Lyon into the Champions League semifinals, and further? The last 3 Champions Leagues Lyon has crashed out, twice against PSV and once against AC Milan. All three times they had their fates in their hands. With this domestic and Champions League group stage cushions, this might give Lyon an opportunity to rest some players and focus on the knock out stages.

This might be the best opportunity for Lyon to achieve European glory. They do not have the talent that Chelsea has, but they play better as a team. Barca, without Eto'o seems to be missing a gear. Bayern is strong but are still trying to find their way and Podoloski has not put his stamp on the team. Manchester United looks very dangerous, but with Rooney in a funk that might come back to haunt them.

I think an Arsenal - Lyon finals would be tantelizing.....not sure who I would root for, probably Lyon since my loyalty needs to go to the team from France as opposed to the Frenchies from Northern London.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Another Frenchie to Arsenal?

No I am not talking about Ribery heading to North London, I read an interesting interview with a French football commenatator he floated the idea of Sebastian Frey as a replacement for Lehman at Arsenal. Not a far fetched idea. Lehman is not spring chicken, and Frey is playing for punished Fiorentina in Italy. A move to the Premiership could be exactly what he needs.

Frey is young 26, and has worlds of talent having played much of his career in Italy for Parma, Inter and Fiorentina. Could solve some Arsenal's long term goalkeeping issue. He is also a product of the Cannes developement system, the same system that produced the likes of Vieira, Micoud, Faubert, Escude, Clichy, Luis Fernandez and one Zinedine Zidane....not bad.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Euro qualifiers - not all is sunny for the British isles

Well well well, how things change after 72 hours. As of last Sunday, you thought that Scotland was ready to pack their bags for Austria - Switzerland Euro 2008. Yet after a 2-0 correction in the Ukraine all things are up for grabs once again.

After today's matches Group B is completely up for grabs. Scotland 9 pts, France 9pts, Italy 7 pts, Ukraine 6pts. Ukraine has a game in hand, and since it comes against the Faroe Islands we need to assume that on equal matches the Ukrainians would also be at 9 Points.

From everything I have been able to read, the Scots tried to play defensive versus the Ukrainians but unlike this Saturday at home against the French they succumbed to the Ukrainian attacks. I think the Scots will be very hard pressed to continue staying atop the group if they cannot play a style other than 10 men defending. With a displacement to Italy, after a home game versus Georgia (this could be a trap game if the Scots are looking ahead to their match in Italy), the Scots might find themselves in trouble. By the spring of 2007 the Scots will find themselves 3rd or even 4th in the group.

The World Cup champions won an expected 3-1 victory at Georgia. However, not all is well with the Azurri. Held 1-1 at half time they could only find the winning goals after the Georgians went down to 10 men. I think this victory might give the Italians a false sense that all is well in the Italian camp. Receiving the Scots will be a huge test for the Italians. After a poor 1-1 draw with Lithuania in Naples to start the qualifying the campaign, the Italians will be hard pressed to find those lost 2 points. However I think the schedule is kind for the Italians, they will only have one qualifying match during the next international break, while the Scots, who the Italians will be receiving will have to defeat the Georgians first before meeting Italy in Southern European. They will then get a "break" facing the Faroe Islands. While the schedule is kind, the Azurri have not demonstrated the form shown during the World Cup.

I think that France and Ukraine are in solid positions to secure their places in the group. First, the Ukraine gets Faroe Islands and Lithuania upon the restart of qualifying. They can expect to be at least at 10 points after these matches (assuming at worst a victory and draw), but they should have 12 points from 5 games when they travel to Paris to meet Les Bleus.

The French will have a difficult game at Lithuania, where they will most likely face another defensive minded team forcing the French to find the offensive solution. Much of what they have seen the past two games. While not much should be taken from the 5-0 defeat of the Faroe Islands, it was good for the squad that the 4 strikers scored, including a brace by Trezegol and a goal from Anelka. Again the trip to the Eastern European nation will be difficult, but France should be hosting the Ukrainians with 12 points in hand, then knowing they receive Georgia at home a team they dominated away. With the Scots having to make a difficult trip to Italy, the spring should find France - Italy - Ukraine at top of the group with the Scots sliding back to the middle. This group just demonstrates that qualifying is never easy.

Other Notes: England beaten by Croatia, one of the goals was a Neville own goal (supposedly Robinson made some strong saves to keep the score line at 2-0), the trip home will not be a pleasant one for the team members nor Steve McClaren. If the heat was strong under the backside of McClaren, it will only get hotter. After a poor 0-0 draw versus Macedonia at Old Trafford, and now a 2-0 defeat at Croatia, the fortunes of the English national team will be put in question. In a rather weak group, England should be running away with this group. They should still qualify, but it will be a nail bitter for the British....A surprising lose to Poland throws Portugal into a precarious position fighting for their survival in Group A....In another surprise result, Malta earns 3 points in a surprise 2-1 victory versus Hungary, it is a long time from the Flying Magyars of Puskas, a team that was the class of international football in the 1950s.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

France - Faroe Islands

France should emerge from tomorrow's game with the full 3 points....but much will be judged on how France goes about winning this game. Short of a monumental upset, France should be able to score against this minnow. But if what occured in the 2000 Euro qualifications, when France needed a last minute penalty to defeat another minnow Andorra 1-0, should befall this team, we might have the vice-champion of the world in turmoil.

I think Domenech should start Trezeguet with Henry. The reason why Trezeguet did not see enough of the ball on Saturday was the Scots were defending so deep that he would have 2 -3 players marking him, rather than throwing the ball into the penalty area, France looked to weave Arsenalesc passes into the ideal shooting situation. With passers like Ribery, Malouda, Vieira, Henry, Sagnol, etc the French need to take more chances lobbing crosses into the box, looking for Trezeguet to latch onto one, forcing the defense to come out more on the crossers, which will open up channels for the speed of Ribery, Henry, and Malouda.

We will see 11 defenders behind the ball, let us see if Domenech can figure out how to get the ball into the goal this time.

Ribery to Arsenal?

No surprise but there are some stories circulating that Ribery will be headed to North London during the January transfer window. The whispers were more than that during the past summer. After an electric World Cup, Ribery became the player whose stock rose the most. Prior to the tournament there were questions whether or not Ribery would even be selected to the French squad.

I think Ribery would fit in perfectly into the Wenger system, he has the speed, passing and toughness that the Premiership requires. I think his season spent in Galatassary has also given him a taste of brutal derbys he will experience in England, not sure Manchester United - Arsenal matches the hatred between Fenenbrache - Galatassary.....

The one red flag would be Ribery's qualification for playing in Europe, he already played for Marseilles during the UEFA cup...but Wenger would make this move for the long term.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Euro shake up, qualifying is never easy!

Ouch...France suffers a difficult 1-0 loss to Scotland. Ireland gets humiliated by Cyprus 5-2! England held scoreless at home to Macedonia. Spain humiliated again losing 2-0 to Sweden. And the world cup champs finally find the winning ways.

All this shows is that the world of international football and qualifying for major tournaments is a marathon not a sprint.

I was fortunate, or unfortunate to once again watch Les Bleus live on my TV5 from Glasgow.

Some thoughts on the match -

France completely dominated the Scots. Although the Scots played their game plan to perfection, playing France defensive the entire game and hoping to hit on the break or on a dead ball. Against a superior team this does not always work, but it can lead to results as today.

Henry was unlucky with a direct kick in the first 8 minutes that struck the post. He was having his way against the Scottish defense drawing two dangerous direct kicks in the first 15 minutes with electric runs. Vieira was off side on a goal, he was barely in an off side position and could have held his run by a split second, the Scotland defense was absent. The telling sign was seeing Claude Makelele carry the ball up into the Scottish half most of the first 45 minutes. Scotland was content to send 10 players behind the ball, 5 across the back and 4 midfielders in front of them. Their lone striker, McFadden, when the ball came to him found himself taking on the entire French defense alone. With Boumsong stuck to his back pocket it was virtually impossible to imagine an danger for the French. And when it did come it was primarily due to French mistakes and not Scottish ingenuity. At half it seemed only a matter of time before the French found the back of the net.

The second half saw much of the same. However the easy defensive first half lulled France into a false sense of security. It was clear that the only way France would concede would be on a dead ball, and that is exactly what happened. On a bunged corner kick, France allowed Gary Caldwell to beat Abidal to the ball and squeeze the ball past Coupet (a shot I would have expecting the French #1 to do a little better on). The last 4 goals France has conceded in official games have been on such plays: Penalty Shot against Spain in the world cup, Header off a corner against Italy in the world cup, Header off indirect kick against Italy in Euro qualification and finally the goal today off corner. This is a disturbing trend because the last two in particular the French defense looked lost.

I think the victory meant more for Scotland than the loss should mean for France. Scotland now sit alone atop the group with 9 points, France remain second with 6 points...with Italy winning against Ukraine they are back in the mix with 4 points. After this Wednesday we should have a better idea if the Scots can run away with this group. Scotland have a troublesome match away to Ukraine, while France are home to Faeroe Islands and Italy host Georgia. Assuming France wins, and if they cannot then they are in trouble! Italy, again assuming they are back to form, defeats Georgia. If Scotland wins, they have 12 points but if they draw or lose, they are only at 10 or 9 points while France should be at 9 and Italy at 7....this group was deemed the Group of Death and it is living up to the hype. It will be interesting to see how the Scots can hold up to a long qualifying campaign, will they be the Ukraine of the WC qualifiers a team that came out of no where to win a difficult group, or Wales from a few years ago, a nation that teased its fans only to fall short at the end?

Other thoughts: Spain is in real trouble, losing to Sweden 2-0, there remains plenty of time for the Spaniards to right the ship in a group that should not be too difficult, but the 3-2 loss to Northern Ireland may prove their downfall...England draws at home to Macedonia and now have to travel to Croatia, not an easy task, seems like the "euphoria" after the defeat of Andorra has lost its luster ... Ireland losing to Cyprus (granted Ireland was wracked by injuries) is awful let alone giving up 5 goals in the process, not sure the Irish have recovered from missing out on the World Cup thanks to the Swiss ... Holland draws with Bulgaria, after only defeating Luxembourg 1-0, and after having players refuse call ups (Van Nistelrooy) not all is well with Oranje, Van Basten better figure this out soon, he has to much talent at his disposal to make this a difficult qualification...Look out but the defending Euro Champs are playing better, a meager 1-0 victory versus Moldova made everyone groan, but a 1-0 victory versus Norway seems to point the Hellenic squad in the right direction, the upcoming Greece-Turkey match looms very large.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Euro Qualifiers

Another full week of Euro Qualifing matches:

I hope we see fewer Germany - San Marino sided shows, speaking of San Marino they will meet the Czechs, who will be hungry for a win. There are some intrigueing games, especially Spain - Sweden, two struggling national teams both needing good results. The matches I am interested in:

France - Scotland: Both nations have the full 6 points from their first games. France having beaten Georgia and Italy, Scotland defeated the Faroe Islands and Lithuania (the same Lithuania that held Italy to a draw in Naples). This game is what we call a "trap" game in the ole US of A. France will be headed for a very challenging ground to play. Scotland sees this as a great oppotunity to steal a victory from the World Cup runner ups. The Scotish fans will be, as always, vocal and supportive of their team. Playing in Scotland will prove a stern test for the French. However Scotland has some injury issues, more than the French. France will need to weather what I expect a very emotional start of the match, if they can weather what I expect to be a blistering first 20 minutes they will be on the right path. What I fear is Scotland's ability to exploit dead ball situations while France continues to struggle defending these set pieces. The game might hinge on these plays. Les Bleus should emerge with 3 points, but they will not be easily won.

France 2 - Scotland 0. Goals from Trezeguet and late goal from Ribery.

Italy - Ukraine: If there was ever a "must" win game this early in the qualifying rounds this is it for the Azurri. They have 1 point from 2 matches, and that came from a poor 1-1 draw with Lithuania in Naples! The Italians then received a "correction" by Les Bleus in Paris 3-1, which could have been 4 or 5 goals to 1 (still makes the WC finals painful). Ukraine wants to show that their 1/4 final at the World Cup was not a fluke. They currently sit with 3 points from one hard fought match versus Georgia. The game is the second for Italy at home, this time at Roma. Italy cannot afford to drop any more points at home. While Ukraine just needs to get 1 point to see this displacement to Italy as a huge success. Ukraine will also be motivated to gain some World Cup vengence after succombing 3-0 during the 1/4 finals. I think this game will be very difficult for Italy, there is a tremendous amount of pressure on the team and with the still dark cloud of match fixing hovering over the Azzuri I see another poor performance.

Ukraine 0 - Italy 0, ugly draw drives Italian home fans crazy...

Merci FaFa

Fabien Barthez hangs up his gloves and cleats for both club and country. This decision does not come as a surprise after no club seemed interested in picking up the bald keeper's services. While I have not been the biggest supporter of Barthez recently, and he supplanted Bernard Lama a keeper I was a fan of, one cannot down play the important role he played in France's success the past few years.

Barthez was pivotal in the French victory in the 1998 world cup and 2000 european cup. Many remember the two goals scored by Zidane to beat Bresil in the 1998 finals, what I will keep in mind was a spectacular save Barthez made on Bebeto's header early in the game off a corner. Had this goal been scored it would have changed the entire outlook of this final. Barthez also made a very courageous intervention on Ronaldo (picture above) that saw both players laying sprawling on the pitch in pain. The last World Cup run was also the Zidane show, but had Barthez not made a strong, half blind (due to the solar glare) save late in the game versus Switerland France might have never emerged from the group stages. Barthez is also one of the most prolific domestic French keeper having won league championships in both France and England (Monaco and Manchester United) as well as a Champion's Cup with Marseille. However his career was also mared by banishments for drug use and spitting on a referee (during a friendly!). He will also be remembered for his unorthodox manners and at times trick or treat goalkeeping...

Love him or fear him, Barthez should be thanked for what he brought to French and World football.

Merci FAFA

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Not all is well with the French

The past 6 months have been a real roller coaster ride for Les Bleus. A horrible world cup qualifying campaign, saved many would say by the return of the old guard: Zidane, Makelele and Thuram. France would qualify at the last possible moment (having to beat Cyprus by a large margin while hoping that Ireland-Switerland did not end in other than a draw). Then France saw a difficult preparation campaign - questions swirling around Coupet vs Barthez (Coupet even left camp threatening to quit the national team). With Barthez finally winning out the starting role....a very questionable selection. The world cup also did not get off to a great start, needing to defeat a weak Togo squad to qualify for the knock out stage...the rest we know is history with a glorious run to the finals, only to cruely lose in shoot out.

It is clear that this amazing run secured Domenech as manager of the national team. However I still scratch my head about some of the activities that are occuring and still swirling around the national team. Granted, France has come out of the starting blocks for the Euro qualifiers with an expected easy victory at Georgia and with an exceptional 3-1 victory versus Italy. A game where France could have easily scored another 1 or 2 goals, in particular a spectacular save Buffon made on Govou in the second half.

Domenech has angered managers such as Houllier, Wenger and Mourinho. Domenech recalled Makelele, a player that had announced his international retirement post World Cup, ending up winning the arm wrestling match with Chelsea to secure the midfielder's services, but in doing so appeared to have lost any good will from Mourinho and possibly alienating Makelele. Domenech then decided to play Henry for the full time in a friendly even though the Premiership had not full started and it would have been prefered by Wenger and Arsenal not to see their star striker play a full 90 minutes in a meaningless match...again not making any friends. With Houllier expressing some irration with Domenech deciding to call up 8 players from the French champion, yet no communications between both managers. Finally, news today out of the French camp is that Coupet still has a major chip on his shoulder with regards to his backup status during the World Cup.

With all these incidents one has to wonder if things go poorly for France will Domenech lose his team and lose his ability to manage the national team. I have never been the biggest fan of the players Domenech has called up, nor his system of play...however results have proven me far. Also, Domenech has never been a "conventional" manager, believing in astrology etc to manage and select his squad. Maybe too much is made of these incidents, we all know that The Portugese Man of Whine, Mourinho, complains about everything and sees everyone against him (and his "poor" club). His use of the term "slavery" in mention of the Makelele call ups were a little over the top, but expected from such a bag of hot air. Houllier and Wenger are more rational managers, but both managers are also masters of using the press to get what they want and get their messages across to others.

These issues always arise when it comes to the club versus country debate in international football. However I think Domenech needs to heed the warning signs, and maybe look to approach the personal side of being a manager with a different tact. He does manage one of the European power houses in football, having come in second at the World Cup makes that spot light's glare even stronger. Domenech has the talent pool to do something special, but he needs to focus on the football as much as possible, allowing issues such as phone calls and strong arm tactics to get players on the field will only distract from this.

Friday, September 29, 2006

Raul dropped

So Raul is dropped from the Spanish this a sign of desperation after Spain unexpectedly lost to North Ireland in qualifiers, or a calculated move to turn over the Spanish team to the youth of Fabregas and Torres?

I cannot give Aragones the credit or the internal fortitude to make the decision to turn the team over to the youth. However I think that this might be the kick in the pants the underachieving Spanish side needs. They have a world of talent (how many times have we heard that) - Fabregas, Villa, Torres, Garcia, Reyes (who looks reborn playing in Spain), et al. They inexplicably lost 3-2 to North Ireland (the second recent big scalp for the north irish after England in the WC 2006 qualifiers). I believe that Raul has hung on to his position on the Spanish side in large part due to his history with the team and spain. Raul did not convince me during the World Cup that he needed to be on the pitch. Having not select Raul might give the spanish team a wake call that no one is untouchable and without better results we might see a revamped line up sooner rather than later.....

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Makelele called up again

Domenech called up Makelele once again, even thought the Chelsea midfielder stated that he wanted to retire from international football.

I cannot wait to hear what the Whiner Mourinho will come up this time....then again for once I have to side with the Portugese Man of Whine. It was evident that Makelele retired from international football after the world cup. Apparently he had done the appropriate paperwork as well....then again according to Domenech he had not or the Poet French Coach just decided to ignore such technicalities. Domenech claims that he will call up the best team for the French qualifying games, but doing so by using threats against Chelsea is not the way to go about it.

While I am an unabashed fan of Keke, I do not think it is good to ask a player to report via threat of sanctions. Now we are not privy to any personal discussions Domenech had with Makelele or Mourinho, but the evidence points to a player that is not 100% convinced he wants to extend his international career but due to professionalism plays hard for his nation when asked.

I think this is another questionable tactic on the part of Domenech. While I have not been the biggest fan of Domenech, I understand that the amazing run at the World Cup grants Domenech one more major tournament. But here are some questionable decisions made by Domenech:

  • Insistence on calling up Makelele. I think it is clear to most observers that Keke wanted to walk away from the international game. He was a great teammate and solid contributer for the French national team. He was a major reason for France reaching the finals in Germany. Assuming he made a personal decision to focus on Chelsea and walk away from the international game, Domenech needed to respect that decision. Granted Makelele remains one of the best holding midfielders in the world, the coach needs to respect a players wish.
  • Calling up Wiltord, while he has also been a strong contributor, he is also on the tail end of this career. France needs to start developing some of its young talent. I am not sure Wiltord's experience warrants keeping a Grourcuff or Faubert of the roster. I think it would have made more sense to look to other veterans such as Guily or Anelka.
  • Boumsong....again why? Domenech LOVES him....not sure why. I would rather see Mexes, at least he plays champions league and Div 1 football....
  • Chimbonda...what happened to the Premier League's best right fullback? Surprise call up to the national team for the World Cup, now the name does not even cross anyone's lips. While I think the French have a wealth of young defenders - Chimbonda, Clichy, Clerc, Reveilliere, Abidal, and Escude (who gets the surprise call up). Pascal is playing for a big Premier team, Tottenham, and still should be part of the fold...while he did not play during the WC he was with the team for the month, that should give him something (then again maybe Domenech saw something during that time...)
I think Domenech needs to focus on the next 2 years, granted he has to win now to get through the next 2 years, but he has to keep an eye on talent that he will need to compete at the Euro 2008. Wiltord, Makelele, Thuram, etc might not be playing for Les Bleus at that point. While Thuram is still a rock in the middle paired with Gallas, but I would try to develop a plan B for pairings with Gallas. Here is what I think Domench should do with the line up:

Coupet (should have been in net during the WC)

Sagnol - Gallas - Thuram - Abidal
Ribery - Toulalan - Vieira (this might place more defense responsibility on Vieira, but Domench needs to get players that want to be there and have the ability on the pitch....I think that Makelele-Vieira is a great duo, but if each call up is going to lead to another drama with Keke, Les Bleus need to move on) - Malouda
Henry - Saha

I also think domench needs to start thinking about depth at striker. Trezeguet seems to have lost his confidence, while he was called up, Domenech does not seem to have great confidence in the Torino striker. I think players like Anelka need to be revisited, as well as some of the youth. There are no guarantees of Cisse being back at 100%...if the world cup finals demonstrated anything was a need for depth at strikers. domenech also needs to find some holding midfield players. Makelele does not want to be there, Vieira is not getting any younger. Malouda and Ribery have great futures but France needs the strong holding midfielders to provide these dynamic wingers the freedom to roam.

Back from vacation - so much to cover

I just returned from a fabulous 3 week visit to London - Paris - Provence....were it not for this need to work to pay off bills I might still be there. I did get a nice blast of 24 hour coverage of the beautiful game, I was even caught watching Div 2 French league games....I think that Grenoble has a real chance to be promoted to Ligue 1! A few topics to cover:

Champions League: The Champions League is in full swing. Here are some initial observations:

  • Chelsea looks less than top form. granted they have collected the maximum of 6 points from two games. A win versus Bremen at home, but one where the German side had many chances none as clear cut as Klose's powerful header that found the post. They rode Drogba's 3 poched goals in Sofia yesterday, not really a power house european club. I think that Morinho might actually have some personel problems. The midfield is gluttonous, can you find a way to play Ballack, Lampard, Essien, Makelele, Robben etc. Right now I think that Lampard and Ballack are too similar and have a difficulty figuring out their roles. Makelele seems to have been dropped in favor of playing Essein alone as the holding/defensive midfielder, which I do think makes sense. But Chelsea have not really figured out how to play the wings, Robben, Mikel, SVP etc where do they go? And has Shevchenko really lived up to the hype yet? I am sure he will show his scoring touch soon, he is too good a player, but there seems to be a less than perfect working relationship with Drogba up front. Their next match is against defending champion Barca, this will show Chelsea's true metal for this tournament.
  • Speaking of Barca, fought for a tough draw against Bremen, after destroying Sofia. Their next match should prove pivotal. With Barca at 4 points and Chelsea at 6, the winner will have a clear path to the next round. Assuming Bremen beats Sofia....
  • Arsenal - Won their first two games, the team is starting to click. I think the addition of Gallas is HUGE. Gallas might be one of the top 5 defenders in the game of football. He is a rock as a central defender and is world class as either a right or left back...still cannot believe Chelsea send him and 5m pounds to Arsenal for Cole. Arsenal still needs to get Baptista on track to really make themselves world beaters. They still need to find another reliable goal scorer, but the fact that Henry scored two goals with his head in a week is a great sign.
  • Real Madrid - Their game agains Lyon shows they still have a way to go, they could have lost 5-0. Granted they thrashed Dynamo Keiv, but that follows form. We will see how Real does on the road against Steaua.
  • Lyon- Shows again why they are a rising European force. Granted, they need to figure out how to get out of the 1/4 final rounds. But with 6 goals scored in two games and the full completement of points they are a clear favorite heading into the games agains Keiv. If they can get 4 points out of the next two games against the Ukrainian club they should go into their last two games qualified for the knock out rounds. Fred is emerging as one of the most underrated strikers in Europe. The midfield is rock solid, Juninho is a maestro at running the midfield and is a dead ball specialist not seen in France since Platini. Toulalan is showing why he is seen as the next holding French midfielder. The defense is stacked with depth and talent. The one short fall might be lack of depth at striker. Wiltord is reliable but getting old, Carew has all but become invisible. Lyon will go as far as Fred can carry the scoring needs.
  • Manchester United - Remain scarey since their offense looks solid, even with Rooney not in top form. Their achilles heal will be that pourous defense.
  • Predictions:
    • Group A - Chelsea and Barca, the european powerhouses are too powerful for either Sofia or Bremen to really challenge.
    • Group B - Bayern and Inter, Inter is sitting last but has only given up 3 goals. The next two games will be crucial for Inter, I think they will find a way to defeating Spartak. However this group is still anyones to take.
    • Group C- Liverpool and PSV, the PSV win over Bordeaux is huge. Liverpool almost gave the game away to the Turkish side, the return leg of Galatassary - Liverpool should be very interesting, Istanbul is not an easy place to play. I think Bordeaux has the talent but is still trying to get players like Dalmat and Micoud into the fold, it will no be in time to get to the knock out stages.
    • Group D - Valencia and Roma, Schaktar and Olyiampiakos are no match for the other clubs.
    • Group E - Lyon and Real Madrid. I think Steaua might give Real a run for the second spot, I am not convinced the Spanish giant has really figured out what they need to do, although I think that the defense emphasis is heading in the right direction. Lyon can put this group away the next two game days and needs to do so, this would allow Houllier to rest players etc.
    • Group F - Man United and Benefica. Celtic will give Benefica a run for the second spot, but the Scottish giants will fall short. Benefica were unlucky to lose to Manchester United at home.
    • Group G - Arsenal and CSKA. The two games between CSKA and Arsenal will be huge, but I think that both clubs will emerge from a difficult group.
    • Group H - Milan and Lille. This group is the weakest of all and also up in the air. I think that Milan is the class of the group. Lille will emerge against AEK and Anderlecht. Lille has the experience and will find a way to get the necessary points to get second place in the group.

I think that Lyon can make a real run in this tournament. They were unluckly last year against AC Milan and the previous season versus PSV. This will be the season they break into the Semi finals or beyond. Barca and Arsenal have a great opportunity to get back to the finals. Bayern might be the surprise team....