Saturday, July 29, 2006

World Cup Wrap up

Okay the world cup finals happened 20 days ago, so why am I revisiting the World Cup, especially after les bleus lost? Mainly because I started to get over my malaise from France's lose as well as needing to vent before the start of the club season.

So some final awards, others have created their own best of, most overrated, biggest dissapointments etc I decided why not, so here are my "lists"

I will give you my all tournament team, all overrated team, and the good bad and ugly of Germany 2006

All Tournament Team:

Goalkeeper: Buffon, Italy. What can you say about the Italian, gave up 2 goals all tournament (granted had to face the power houses of Australia and Ukraine in the knock out stages). Without some solid goalkeeping against France, we might have had the parade on the Champs Elysee, the save on Zidane's header was a spectacular reflex save.

Honorable mention: Dida, Brazil. Surpising to see a Brazilian keeper shine, but that is an indication of how poorly his defense and team did.

Fullbacks: Miguel, Portugal and Grosso, Italy. Miguel was huge for Portugal, tremendous pace and defending ability. The only Portugese that was not diving everywhere. Grosso was a revelation, winning the penalty against Australia and scoring a memorable goal versus Germany.

Honorable mention: Sagnol, France. Sagnol was huge for France in the knock out stage. His offensive contributions have never been in question and he demonstrated a solid defensive ability as well. Lahm, Germany. Scored an amazing goal in the first game and continued to play a vital role in the German run to a 3rd place finish.

Centerbacks:Cannavaro Italy, Thuram France. The Juventus teammates both showed their outstanding abilities during the tournament. Cannavaro and Buffon were the stabilizing forces on the back line for Italy, his positioning and recovery ability were world class. Thuram, who many had questioned whether or not should even be selected proved everyone wrong. He was a rock at the back, were it not for Thuram Italy might have put the finals away in the first half, against Portugal in the semis, Thuram was absolutely dominating, not bad for a 34 year old!

Honorable mention: Gallas, France. Gallas and Thuram formed a dynamic duo, France should not miss too much when Thuram retires.

Midfielders: Pirlo, Italy. Vieira, France. Essein, Ghana. Zidane, France. Okay so my French bias is showing. But how can you question Zidane? Headbutt aside, he made us all dream starting with the Spain game. For those who called for him to be dropped (myself included) he made us all eat crow. His game against Brazil will live in World Cup lore, he completely dominated and was the only "brazilian" on the field. Pirlo was the maestro for Italy. A magical pass against Germany sealed their fate, a great cross gave Italy the equalizer against France...overall he was the one Italian player that showed the necessary flare and imagination to give Italy the necessary offense to win the tournament. Essein and his Ghanian teammates opened many eyes this tournament, unfortunately he missed the Brazil game which could have made things much more difficult for Brazil. Released from the Mourinho shackles, Essien was allowed to demonstrated his enormous work rate all over the pitch. Vieira, much like Zidane, also showed all those questioning him that the Pat we knew and loved was still there. He willed France during the Togo game, played a monster game against Spain (setting up Ribery and scoring the winner) his understanding with Makelele proved to be rock solid. Pat still has something in the tank!

Honorable mention: Makelele, France. Kaka, Brazil. Ze Roberto, Brazil. Hargreaves, England. Cahill, Australia. Appaih, Ghana. Cesc, Spain. Yes lots of folks get honorable mentions. Makelele was the engine for the French, doing all the dirty work every team needs to be successful. Kaka and Ze Roberto were the lesser known of the Brazilian midfield yet they both turned in solid tournaments. Kaka did dissappear a bit against France but still was one of the reasons Brazil got as far as they did. Ze Roberto was a dynamo, running all over the pitch, too bad his Brazilian teammates forgot how to follow. Hargreaves was much maligned after being selected, but proved to be the best midfielder for an overrated English midfield. His efforts against Portugal were amazing, he seemed to want to win that game singlehandly, too bad his fellow teammates were more worried about what their wifes were purchasing. Cahill helped push Australia to the knock out stage, his goals against Japan were a lighting bolt for the Soccerroos. Appaih was a huge threat for Ghana's opponents, teamed with Essein he formed a formidible duo for Ghana. Cesc showed glimmers of why he could be a top 5 player for years to come. He did not show any intimidation being on the largest stage of football, his pass to Torres against Tunisia was clinical.

Stikers:Klose, Germany. Henry, France. How can you not select the "golden boot" award, Klose and Podolski carried the German offense. Henry still did not break out on the big stage, but was dangerous in every game, scored 3 vital goals and was influential in each game. With the retirement of Zidane the French will now build around their talesman.

Honorable mention: Podolski, Germany. Tevez, Argentina. Torres, Spain. Podolski and Klose formed a strong stike duo. Podolski demonstrated why he is an emerging star. Tevez was the work horse up front for Argentina, while he was not scoring like Crespo he was the player that was influential with his incredible talent and work rate, the future for Argentina is bright when you combine him with Messi. Torres showed that he can finish, and that he is the world class stiker Spain has looked for. His combination with Cesc bodes well for Spain.

Okay now onto the overrated!

Goalkeeper: Kasey Keller, USA. Okay this might be a little unfair, Keller was not the reason the US looked terrible, but after hearing all the American pundits wax about how Keller was a top 3 keeper in the world yaddy yaddy yadda, he was not able to steal any games for the US. Keller did have some superb saves against Italy, but again I think he was a victim of all the pre tournament hype. I thought about Barthez but how can one say he was overrated? No one thought he should really start, except for the French coaches!

Fullbacks: Cafu and Carlos, Brazil. What were these two dinosaurs doing on the pitch??? Roberto Carlos is useless, he cannot even taken effect free kicks any more, nice to see him watch Henry stoll into the 5 yard box to score the winning goal in the 1/4 finals...what a waste. Cafu is too old and showed his age....he could not keep up with anyone and was worthless attacking.

Centerbacks: Terry, England. Puyol, Spain. Not sure why Terry was selected for all tournament teams. He did nothing for me all tournament, the most memorable moment was when his gaff forced Cole to back track and save his team. Terry was no threat on any set pieces, something he does for Chelsea. Ferdinand looked better in my eyes that Terry. Puyol did not have a horrible tournament but he must be called out as a central defender when you allow a free kick to float into the middle of your goal box with 10 minutes left of a knock out game! Players like Puyol are suppose to take charge on set pieces.

Midfielders: Beckham, England. Ballack, Germany. Ronaldino, Brazil. Beasley, USA. Donovan, USA. Totti, Italy. Again a long list but all deserving! Beckham remained lethal on set pieces, but did very little otherwise. He has become a shell of himself, while I was never convinced that Beckham was as good as his marketing team made him appear, he was able to threaten teams with his crossing ability, something we never saw in Germany. Ballack was deemed the only German Superstar, too bad his head was in London thinking on his riches awaiting him with Chelsea. He took a back seat to the German stike combo, he never controlled the midfield. A nice pass to get the equalizer against Argentina but otherwise completely overrated. Ronaldino, zero goals! That is all that needs to be said, what happened to the world's greatest player? Not sure if it was the system, Nike marketing hype, or a long club season but Roro was a complete disappointment. A statue of him was even burned in Brazil....I guess providing videos for Nike commercials was more important than playing hard at the WC.

Beasley and Donovan, again this comes from the pre tournament hype. But both players were useless this tournament. Against the Czech's both players looked scared, granted Beasley was being played completely out of position...what was Arena thinking? Donovan once again demonstrated what being an overhyped American looks like. Donovan showed no heart and no killer instinct. If he had any of the heart that Reyna or Dempsey demonstrated he could live up to some of the hype that surrounds him. A telling moment was when Donovan had the ball on the right of the goal box against Ghana, no one picked him up and rather that attacking the goal him wimpishly sent the ball into a gaggle of players. I cannot blame Donovan entirely, this goes back to the American Media pre tournament hype machine....Finally there is Totti, after he injured himself this season everyone was wondering could he make it back in time. While Italy was not hurt by his inactivety, and Totti did score the winner against Autralia, one has to wonder what exactly did Totti bring the Italian team???? Pirlo was clearly the one running the midfield, Gattuso was the one doing much of the dirty work....Totti who was also suppose to be the spark proved to be completely absent.

Strikers: Ronaldo and Adriano, Brazil. Kuyt, Holland. Ronaldo made the all tournament team...why? Because he broke Mueller's goal scoring record? Otherwise he was completely fat, out of shape and useless this tournament. He scored against has become the athelete that has achieved the pinnacle and has become lax and has not demonstrated any drive to stay there. Adriano was a dissapointement as well, he did not take over games and show his wealth of talent. Anyone who watched the Confederation Cup saw what Adriano could do for Brazil, he was lethal during that tournament (granted a minor tournament), but much like the entire Brazilian team a major dissapointment. Finally Kuyt, he proved to be a pedestrian striker one that cannot play alone at top. How could Van Nistelrooy be left on the bench for this stiff? Rumor is that he will soon be appearing in the EPL, curious to see what he can do.

Other Thoughts: Best up and comer - Ribery, France. (Podolski and CRonaldo are well known in International circles). Ribery was not even suppose to be on the squad, he was a last minute selection for France. He proved to be the spark plug and catalyst France was looking for. His goal against Spain was the turning point for the French. I look forward to seeing him develop along side Henry, Malouda, Trezeguet, etc......Looking out to 2010, I see Argentina and Spain as potential favorites, they both have some great young talent that got a taste of the big show in Germany. I think that if Spain has a good showing in the Euro they will have the confidence needed to challenge in 4 years. Argentina have Messi and Tevez...scarey......Germany, played better than anyone expected, but I do not foresee this as a long term trend, their defense is terrible, midfield is pedestrian, strikers are lethal but Klose is no spring chicken, and what to do in goal, neither Lehmann or Kahn are youthful.....England is a mess, they have a ton of talent but no system......Brazil, hired Dunga to manage the team, interesting decision. He was the "hard man" for Brazil, we will see if he instills some of that mentality to this team, he still has obscene amounts of talent to work with........The US has a ton of work to do, and I don't think Freddie Adu is the answer......More Mexican national team players are heading to Europe, this could bode well. While the Mexican league is not that bad, getting exposure to the European game will do them a world of good.....So we now wait for another 4 years for the madness (2 years for those Euro fans, but not the same as the WC), I think that the next WC we might see an African team make the semi finals, Ivory Coast and Ghana looked very strong, Cameroon and Nigeria who did not even make the WC could field solid teams, especially Nigeria, playing on their Home Continent my be what is needed to get to the next level.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Ruud leaves England

Ruud Van Nistelrooy finally leaves Manchester United after a difficult season. No one should be surprised. He will be plying his trade for Real Madrid after a 15m pound sum was agreed upon for the transfer.

If anything Ferguson has shown consistency when it comes to players that have fallen out of favor with him, see David Beckham and Roy Keane. Van Nisterlrooy had a difficult season last year, even seeing himself relegated to the replacement's bench in favor of Frenchman Louis Saha.

I am glad to see Ruud leave, mainly cause I thought he was a baby, a whiner, and a cheap shot artist (see his hip check on Vieira's head a few seasons back at Old Trafford, then acting all innocent when Vieira confronted him). However, I cannot deny his goal scoring talents, 150 goals while at Man U. I think this move, right now, seriously weakens Manchester United. To make it through a long season you need stike options, with Van Nistelrooy they had 3 quality strikers: Rooney, Saha and Van Nistelrooy. Even with three that is thin, since you tend to want to have 4 so you can develop pairings up front. What will Man U do know, look to Alan Smith to fill this goal scoring void? The same Alan Smith that was slotted as holding midfielder at times last season....unless Ferguson has something up his sleeve: Abromovich, Trezeguet (too bad Deschamps said the sales were done at Juventus), or maybe Kuyt (not convinced he can fill Ruud's boots), Manchester United might be in for a long season on the goal scoring front. With Giggs and Scholes not getting any younger and Ronaldo seeming to be on the outs at Man U, the offense may be lacking this season....Too Bad for Manchester United.....

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

The Cole saga continues

The latest news is that Ashley Cole is heading to cross town rivals Chelsea for 16m pounds. Of course we have been hearing about this for 2 years already.

Mourinho has never made it a secret that he covets the England international left back. Cole was at the center of the "tap up" scandal from a year ago when Chelsea officials were photographed having secret meetings with the Arsenal defender.

So what is Arsene and Aresenal to do? The latest rumor has Wenger asking for the money as well as William Gallas in return...which would be a huge deal for both teams more so for Arsenal. Here is why:

Cole is as good as gone, wether he moves addresses inside London or heads to warmer climates and plays for Real Madrid. Cole, for whatever reason, seems to want to leave the north london club. Wenger has options at left back - Clichy and Flamini. Clichy is a great up and coming talent, always being a good second to Cole and really proving his worth. The main issue with Clichy is an apparent fragility exhibited the past season, this is concerning. Flamini, originally brought on as a midfielder, demonstrated an ability to slot back to left back last season and did more than an admirable job. I believe that Arsenal will be fine leaning on a Clichy-Flamini left back tandem, however much depends on Clichy being able to remain healthy for a season. What I think Wenger needs to do is ensure that Gallas is included in the deal. Gallas is one of the best defenders in the world and can play multiple positions on the back line (he could also slot at left back if need be). Where Gallas would be vital for Arsenal would be to shore up the middle of the defense. A partnership of Toure - Gallas, with Eboue and Clichy on the wings would be rock solid. Senderos would be a good back up for the Toure-Gallas duo once he returns. Additionally I am sure that Gallas would relish a move to north london, to get away from Mourninho's constant insistence that he play left back.

Come on Wenger, lower the money amount but ensure that Gallas comes to Emirates for next season, if we are going to lose Cole to an EPL rival lets get back a player of the caliber of Gallas.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Thuram to Barca

The latest news is Lilian Thuram and Gianluca Zambrotta , this instantly upgrades an already solid Barca club. I am a little disappointed that Thuram did not end up in North London with the Gunners. The Barca defense will become that much more formidable. This follows their bitter rival Real Madrid signing - Fabio Cannavaro and Emerson.

Cannavaro is a great signing, something Real has need for a long time, someone that will actually play defense. But Emerson? Not sure he has anything left in the tank. Just proves again that recently Barca has had a monopoly on futball acumen on the Iberian peninsula.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Best Show in town: Manchester United Training sessions

Anyone who watched the World Cup remembers the bust up between Rooney and Ronaldo during the England-Portugal match. This came after Rooney decided to "push off" on Carvalho's privates. Many argue that Ronaldo lobbied for Rooney to get the Red Card, even "winking" at the Portugese bench after Rooney got sent off.

Of course once this happened, everyone started wondering if the
two Manchester United players could ever coexist at Old Trafford. From what Fergunson is stating it would appear this will be the case. If ManU gets Vieira, and does not sell Van Nistelrooy, you might have an interesting training sessions, there might be harder tackles between ManU players than in real games!

I think that Ronaldo will end up leaving, Rooney is such a hot head, but clearly the future for ManU, that Ferguson will have no choice but to sell one of his talismatic youngsters. I think that the ManU fans will not accept seeing the Portugese star doning the Red Devils strip during the season.

Wonder if Big Phil will look to get a "friendly" with England any time soon.....

Monday, July 17, 2006

Post world cup hang over - now back to the club scene

The world cup final were over a week ago, I am still mourning the lose of Les Bleus, but I have started to recover. Now I am focused on the upcoming club seasons, as well as the Euro Qualifiers. But first the club scene.

With the demotion of Juventus, many players will flood the market - Trezeguet, Cannavaro, Camoranesi, Ibrahimovic, and Del Piero to mention a few. But the players I want to discuss are two that reinvented themselves during the world cup and showed everyone that they remain world class players:

Lilian Thuram - For the second half of the Serie A season he was relegated to bench duty. If the world cup is any indication it is clear that he still has something to bring to the pitch.

The latest rumor is to have Lilian play for 2 seasons at Barca where he would be added to an already strong central defense with Puyol and Marquez. The addition of Thuram would allow for Barca to rotate these players through the long domestic and cup season. Of course where I would really like to see him (other than PSG) would be a
t Emirates Stadium in North London. Arsenal could use such a defender. He would not be asked play every game, but he would be invaluable starting certain games, and coming in as a defensive replacement. His experience would give the young gunners someone to turn to and learn from, something Campbell was not able to provide recently. And even an older Thuram would be worlds better than Cygan!

Pat Vieira - The latest rumor has Vieira heading to Milan to play for Internazional. Which is a fine place for Patrick to ply his trade, what I could not stomach would be to see him head to Old Trafford. Rumor is that Sir Alex is looking to offer 8m pounds for the midfielder. That would ruin my day seeing him done the Red Devils kit. Having to see Arsenal face him twice a year would turn my stomach. Then again as long as Van Nistelrooy is there I cannot see Vieira agreeing to go.

Question is would Wenger welcome him back? Not sure Arsenal would explore this, with Fabergas firmly entrenched in the deep lying midfield role. But at times last season Arsenal were a bit soft, something that bringing back Vieira would remedy. Could be an interesting midfield of: Cesc, Vieira, Rosicky, and Hleb/Ljunberg. Players like Diaby would learn a tremendous amount on the training pitch from someone like Vieira.....could be interesting.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Another manager in the unemployement line

No surprise, Bruce Arena leaves the world of international football. He joins the likes of Lippi, Klinsman, Janas, Kranjcar, Hiddink, Ericksson, and Pekerman in the unemployed line. Such is the world of international football, for many of us (myself included) thought that Domenech would be joining these names had the French not reached the finals.

I think that in defeat, Arena gets too much blame just as he received too much credit for their 2002 world cup run.

The US was drawn in a very difficult group, and after the 2002 world cup, the expectations were irrational. Listening to talking heads like Balboa and Wynalda a few months ago, you would think that semi-finalists France and Germany were "frauds" while the USA was for "real." It was irrational expectations that put Arena square in the target. Had the US emerged from their group, they would have most likely faced Brazil (as bad as Brazil was, they probably would have still beaten the US), would the pundits still come down hard on Arena?

Granted, Arena must assume some of the blame. How could he leave Twellman at home but bring Ching? How can he not get his team motivated for a first round game of the World Cup? His over reliance on Donovan was also questionable. Playing with one striker, McBride, he placed too much pressure on Donovan, who has yet to show can produce on the highest stage (and no the MLS finals is not that stage). His playing of Beasley out of position was also questionable. But looking back, the US was one questionable PK away from maybe sneaking into the second round. They played Italy decently, surviving all the referee's questionable calls.

The US has a chance to infuse some new blood into its national team, question is who would really want to take the role? As long as the US plays in CONCACAF they will stand a good chance to qualify for the world cup, but going much further will always be a stretch.

Other Thoughts: I think Argentina need to grab a solid tactician as their next coach, Hiddink? They have a world of talent built around Tevez and Messi. I think if they had a coach that had the ability to take chances and make the right decision they could emerge as the World Cup Champion in 2010 (I am still baffled as to how Pekerman could leave Messi on the bench in the finals......). Brazil needs to bring in a hard nosed coach, one that is not in awe of the collection of superstars they have at their disposal, someone that will play the right system not just throw out a bunch of players (granted all world class) and hope something works. Klinsman leaving is not surprising, I think that Germany played over their heads this year, showing how valuable the home crowd can be.

Italian politicians cover themselves in World Cup "glory"

This blog focuses on sports and more importantly on the beautiful game: futball. But sometimes politics creeps into the discussion...well not really since this is related to Les Bleus and Zidane. I came across an interesting article, from Time Magazine. The part that stuck me was the comments by a member of former prime minister Berlusconi government -

"Italian soccer has long been a magnet for fascist nostalgia of the far right, and festivities following its triumph were marred by Swastikas spray-painted on the walls of Rome's historic Jewish quarter, as well as a comment by a former minister in the previous government of Silvio Berlusconi that Italy had triumphed over a team of "negroes, communists and Moslems.",8599,1213502,00.html

Coupled with the idiotic comments from LePen that the France cannot see themselves in the French team, this shows that we have still not solved racism, ignorance and sheer stupidity in the world. Whatever Materazzi said to Zidane may never be found out, but any time you have leaders that show this level of ignorance and stupidity it should be of no surprise that this type of ignorance trickles down to the futball pitch.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Zidane apologizes

Today Zidane spoke publically and apologized for his actions on Sunday. While he did not state exactly what was said to him, we know that yes it had to do with his mother and sister. Knowing that his mother was hospitalized prior to the finals, and still not knowing if there were some racial adjectives included in the mother/sister comment one can better understand why Zidane reacted.

Again, I do not think what he did was appropriate, but it can be understood. I think that two pieces I read in CNNSI really gave the issue a proper light:

Neither say that Zidane was right in doing what he did, but rather we need to becareful before we judge.

As stated in the Dr Z article, Zidane will have to live with his actions for the rest of his life a much greater burden than any fan or spectator will ever have to live with....but somewhere inside his soul Materazzi will have to live with his actions as well. Materazzi claims ignorance with regards to "international terrorists" and to take one's mother as sacred...ignorance and hyporcacy aside, he will have to live with his place in history.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

The emotion of the beautiful game

Among all the "ugliness" that marred the end of the world cup finals, I think we need to remember what makes this tournament so special.

When I heard and saw the images of Trezeguet, obviously emotional during the celebration of the French run at the World Cup it captured what this means for the world (even for some in North America!).

I am sure there will be jokes about grown men crying over a kid's game, when they are all multi-millionaires. Or that the tears are for the endorsement potential unachieved, or for the fact that Trezeguet's club team might be dropped three divisions. But for those of us less cynical I think this exemplifies why billions of the world's citizens live the highs and lows ever 4 years. Unlike other sports, these players do not get payed by their national teams, their clubs pick up those tabs. Players put on their nation's kit to represent something bigger than their paychecks, shoe deals, endorsements, villas, cars etc. Football players wear the national team shirts with honor. I read somewhere that Adriano stated he would never think of turning his back on Brazil, in response to some US basketball players refusing to play for the US Basketball team at the Olympics. You hear players state that they dream of wearing their nation's jersey, many times they play hard in order to be fortunate enough to be selected for the national team, not to get their next big contract.

Trezeguet encapsulates the emotion that runs through players, fans and nations. Anyone who watched the English player's emotion after losing the shoot out to Portugal, Christiano Ronaldo's open tears after losing to France, Germany being crushed by two late Italian goals, the Argentinia players completely beside themselves after being mastered by Lehmann, and the list continues. This type of raw emotion is what makes the World Cup the greatest sporting event. 2 years of difficult qualifying which leads to a month of nail biting games. Only to see one team emerge with the trophy. Seeing Trezeguet's genuine emotion on the balcony of the Crillon truly encapsulates the meaning of the tournament. Only one nation gets to have crazy, joyous street celebrations, but all the others get to share in the emotion of the moment and pull together in the desire to return to the tournament and maybe be fortunate enough to also have the joyous street celebrations.

Trezegol will be back
Les Bleus will be back
Allez les Bleus

The drama continues

This might become the lasting image of the World Cup 2006. Unfortunate to say the least, but as more details come out it raises a greater question: is there a line that certain teams and players cross in the name of winning?

As every major new network (outside north america), tries to figure out exactly what the Italian said, the scope of the ugliness gets worse. Anyone who has played sports from the playgrounds, streets, fields, arenas, gyms, back yards, etc of the world knows, in competition emotions and the desire to win bring out tricks and words that otherwise we would not foresee ourselves leverageing. But that does not excuse crossing certain lines. I will try not to judge Materazzi since we do not know for a fact as to what he said. But if any of the rumors are true, that he insulted Zidane's mother and family by wishing them "an ugly death" and then calling him a "terrorist" or a son of a "terrorist whore." Then I can understand Zidane's reaction.

As it is well documented, Zidane was born in Marseille in one of the worst parts of the city to Algerian parents. He is proud of his Algerian heritage, and anyone who knows the history of France understands what a delicate place Algeria has in our past. Additionally, with all the current events, using any "humor" related to terrorism and Arabs has no place on the football pitch nor in every day lives. Finally, Zidane's mother was brought to the hospital prior to the World Cup finals, not an appropriate time to wish death upon her... (this might explain Zidane's stone cold look prior to the game, completely different than the smile he had prior to the Brazil match).

Burying your head into someone's chest is no way to act, but the more I learn about what happened the more I understand why Zidane reacted in the manner he did. For those pundits and fans that critize Zidane, saying he should have known better, he should be used to this treatment, he should have realized the situation, he cost his team....I will say to them to step back a minute and put yourself in Zizou's golden boots. How would you react to racil slurs coupled with insults to your ill mother?

While our atheletes are placed on a pedestile they remain humans with emotions that sometimes are pushed too far. This happens to all of us, we just don't have 1 billion people watching us, or the hopes of a nation riding on our shoulders when we react.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Thanks Zidane...

Glad to see the French getting the proper honor they deserved today in Paris. Thanks Zidane!

Makelele retires again

Adieu Claude. Claude Makelele appears to have annouced his retirement from International Football today during a rally for the French national team.

While we all knew that Zizou and Thuram would be leaving the international arena, Makelele had not commited. However since he came out of retirement to play again for Les Bleus this is not a surprise. If anyone has seen Claude play for Chelsea as well as for the French this past tournament it is clear that he still has a lot left in the tank. Real Madrid should still be kicking themselves for allowing him to leave Madrid. Rather than paying him the money he deserved they allowed him to walk and rather gave the money to "stars" like Beckham.

I was hoping he would stay on through the European Cup. his partnership with Vieira really jelled this tournament. At 33 he looks like he is 25. His ability to break up and destroy the other team's offensive efforts through the midfield allow players like Vieira to push further up the pitch. Had Makelele stayed on, he would have given youngsters like ADiarra, Mavouba, LDiarra, or Toulalan (all who are candidates to assume the defensive midfielder role) a great role model to learn from, someone who exemplifies what you need at the position.

Makelele follows in the footsteps of Tigana and Deschamps, as the tireless midfielders who did all the dirty work so that the stars - Platini, Giresse, Zidane, Henry, etc could work their magic. Makelele has been the unsung hero of this French team, I give him as much credit for the amazing run of the French national team as any other player. I am sad to see him leave from the French. I hope he unretires again....

Merci Claude!

Deschamps to the Old Lady

Didier Deschamps has just annouced he will manage Juventus...interesting. Juventus is one of the 4 clubs at risk of being relegated to Serie C due to the match rigging scandal that is rampant in Italy. I think that Deschamps was waiting to see what would happen to Domenech before making his move. With France emerging in second place of the world cup, it will be hard to see the FFF not extend the Domenech contract through the Euro. But I still wonder why Deschamps, who some feel is an up an coming manager after what he did with Monaco, would elect to run a team that is in the midst of turmoil and might be playing Venezia AC rather than Inter Milan...

The Irony

I had to wake up this morning realizing that Les Bleus will not be the world cup champions and that the last image I will have of Zizou is his leaving the pitch, head down, passing within inches of the world cup trophy both figuratively and literally. Adding to this, I find out that Zizou was voted the player of the tournament. What irony.

Granted, all the votes were most likely submitted before Zidane started his audition for the ultimate fighting championships.

What should have been been a day of celebration for French Football, we instead have a day to scratch our heads and wonder what could have been. What made Zidane so great, so driven also made him react in an inexcusable manner. Zidane's greatness should never be questioned, but sometimes his judgement should be. Without him France would never have reached Berlin, unfortunately without him for the last 10 minutes and shoot out they would not overcome their opposition.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Forza Italia

Congratulations to Italy for winning the 2006 World Cup and adding another (their 4th) star to their kits. They only have Brazil ahead of them in overall titles.

While I am saddened to see Les Bleus lose this match I more deeply saddened to see Zinedine Zidane exit the world stage in such a manner.

First some thoughts on the game. Both teams played well, both teams had great chances. I think that Italy played their style of bend but don't break. France had a chance to really control this game once they scored the early goal. It appears they were shocked to be leading 1-0 after the match barely started. Rather than continue to look for possesion they fell back into a defensive shell, did they really believe they could defend a 1-0 lead for 80 minutes?

Italy took advantage of this and looked to find the equalizer. Which they found through a wonderfully taken Pirlo corner. Materazzi (the new villan for French futball) beating Vieira to the spot to head home the equalizer. It was a deserved equalizer because France allowed Italy to dictate the pace of the game and looked disjointed at the back. This lead to another 20 minutes of Italian pressure. Toni headed another corner off the cross bar, Thuram cleared another header (although a foul had been given to the French), Thuram also had a magnificent sliding tackle in the box to prevent a Toni shot from being on goal. But France looked timid and feel back into a shell.

As the second half started, something must have been said in the locker room to motivate the troops because France came out and started to dictate the pace. Malouda and Ribery started running at and around the Italian flanks. Even the great Cannavaro got burned with a nutmeg from Malouda. Henry also started to pick it up, looking very dangerous from his wide position. Malouda was brought down in the box for what should have been a penalty but I think the referee lost his nerve and allowed the fact he had already granted the French a PK to make him swallow his whistle. Mean while the Italians looked tired, they had a goal called back due to a dubious offside. But they still looked tired. Can anyone tell me where Toti was the entire game? The one Italian that really impressed me was the "snarling dog" Gattuso, he was everywhere. Things became a little bleaker for France when Vieira had to be taken off for injury, this really hampered the French. Diarra had to come in and it was obvious from his first few minutes that he was intimidated by the event. He did recover nicely and actually played quite well the last 20 minutes. But without Vieira the French had no linkage between the defense and attack, although Makelele stepped up to try and fill this role, which he did admirably, but he does not have the offensive ability of Vieira.

I felt that the second half belonged to France. They looked dangerous and were really wearing down the Italians, but just could not get the last step, last shot they needed to grab that decisive goal. The statistics are astounding:

France 14 shots (7 on goal), 7 corners
Italy 5 shots (2 on goal), 5 corners (I think all in the first half!)
Possession was about 50 - 50 but considering that Italy had a 70 - 30 advantage in the first 25 minutes, France was dominating the ball the rest of the game.

This continued into Extra Time. Domenech threw in Trezeguet to try and add some offensive punch, unfortunately Henry cramped up and we could not see the two great strikers on the pitch long enough to have an impact. In both extra time periods the French looked the more dangerous, Ribery missing after an incredible give and go with Malouda. The shot had clearly beaten Buffon but did not have enough spin. Then a great build up between Sagnol and Zidane almost made the latter a hero again. His bullet of a header wonderfully saved by Buffon....Zizou, you should have gone near post!!!

And of course shortly after that disaster struck. Zidane lost his cool and pile drove his head into our friend Materazzi's chest. Not sure what Materazzi said, but it must have been bad...then again Zidane should know better. He has been playing for his entire life, as the captain he knows better. This completely took the wind out of the French sails. While they still pushed and fought on bravely without their captain, it came down to PKs. I knew France was doomed. With their two best takers - Zidane and Henry, as well as Vieira who would have very likely taken one, the French had to turn to their second options for PKs....not something you want to have to do.

It was academic. Of course if Trezeguet does not miss by a few inches who knows. But I don't think the French had the people on the pitch that could have lasted in PKs. Had Zidane been on the pitch, I think Les Bleus would have had the confidence to win at PKs...without his calming factor and ability, and without Henry's PK abilities France were doomed to suffer becoming Vice Champions of the World without losing.

Of course my feeling of saddness is more related to watching Zidane leave the way he did. Part of his genius was his rage, his anger that he could channel to perform at an unprecedented level on the pitch. But it was also this rage that would rear its ugly head through out his career. I never thought it would on such a stage. Irregardless of this match, Zidane needs to be view for the master and genius that he is. Without him France would not be where they are, they might not have even made the tournament. He was amazing against Spain, but was out of the world against Brazil. Until that headbutt I kept thinking he was going to do something special to will France to beat Italy. I hope that Zidane allows France to cap him one more time, in Paris or Marseille to give him the send off he truly deserves. Once the tears and pain die down, we should all remember Zidane as the greatest player France has seen, better than Kopa, Fontaine, Cantona, Henry and yes the immortal Platini.

It is also worth mentioning Lilian Thuram, who played his last competitive game for France. He proved what a top level defender he is. All tournament we heard about Cannavaro, and while the Italian was spectacular I might put Thuram above him. Lilian was the rock that held the French defense together, was always properly placed, and was the calming factor the french back line needed at times. He only scored two goals in his international career in the same game, I would argue the second most important brace a French player has enjoyed in a game (the other one being Zidane's in teh 1998 WC finals). He was a monster in this WC semi finals. And kept the game in control when it looked as if the Italians would add another goal in the first half.

Forza Italia 2006 world cup champions.

Allez les Bleus, they did not deserve such an outcome. But they deserve a hero's welcome for what they did in this world cup. They have made me proud to be French.

The Master goes out head hung...

Zidane's temper flares up again, at the worst time. Zizou has always been known for having a short fuse, this was seen in the 1998 world cup when he decided to clean his cleats on the back of Saudi player. We saw it again when he inexpicably headbutted Materazzi, obviously Materazzi must have said something to him because it was not due to a violent foul. Zidane was almost the hero, when he powered home a penalty in the first ten minutes, he then almost latched on to a great Sagnol cross in Extra Time, only to see Buffon make an incredible save. However he will most likely be remembered for that headbutt, one that will tarnish an otherwise amazing tournament for Zizou and a stellar career....I am a little numb right now. I felt that Italy played a better first half but France looked the better side the remainder of the match. As always penalties, are the cruelest of excercises.

World Cup finals - Half time...about to pass out

We are at half time...France 1 Italy 1.

The Italians have been the better side this half, I think the French are lucky to be even. Italy is picking up France very deep, at times sending 3 players to pressure the ball at the French defensive 1/3...Vieira and Makelele have not been able to fill the gaps, and Sagnol has not been freed to make any flanking runs. Because of this Ribery and Malouda are not getting any room to run....

I am very nervous for the next 45 minutes.....

Saturday, July 08, 2006

World Cup Finals, the last dance for Germany 2006

We have finally made it to the final weekend for the World Cup. Starting out over a month ago we have been privy to the greatest sporting event in the world, bigger than the Champions League, Olympics, Super Bowl, World Series, Daytona 500, or the Coney Island Hot Dog eating contest. Of course had you told me we would have these two teams playing for the title I might have agreed with Italy, but would not have allowed myself to dream of France being there as well...just read my June 18th post -

"Finals - similar to 1978 Argentina plays Holland
Third Place game - Spain vs Czech Rep"

With Holland winning its first title....well I guess I should not quite my job and try to live off gambling on the horses. Argentina lost in the 1/4 finals, Holland could barely threaten the opposition's goal and fell out in 1/8 finals, Spain fell to the Master Zidane in the same round, and the Czechs did not make it out of the group stages.

So let us now focus on what we have - France vs Italia. Two eurpean neighbors with a long history on and off the field. I will not rehash the past, the 2000 Euro Finals, the 1998 1/4 finals, the 1986 1/8 finals, or the 1975 group game. Needless to say that these teams know each other and have had many a classic battle in the past, no reason to believe this will be any different.

Italia: This team has progressed into the finals emerging from what was deemed the group of death. They did enough to beat Ghana, got caught in an ugly game against the americans, and defeated a tired and old looking Czech team. They were fortunate in the knock out draw getting Australia, winning on a very questionable PK in injury time, and then facing surprise Ukraine (thanks to France playing lackluster football the first 2 weeks the Swiss were the team that were tasked to stop the Ukrainian juggernaut in the 1/8 finals, which they did not). The Italians then faced a German team playing above themselves at home, and fought out a hard earned victory after the Italians dominated on the stat sheet through out the game.

Italy has been rock solid in goal and the defense has lived up to its billing, having only conceded one goal, and that on an own goal. Cannavaro has been nothing short of spectacular in the back. Gattuso has lived up to his "snarling dog" moniker. And Toti, Pirlo and Toni have done enough to get the goals when need be. Lippi has also developed a good rotation for his forwards during the game, keeping the offensive pressure on teams, something you would not have seen from past Italian teams.

France: France played some of the most uninspired football the first two games. They were really 45 minutes away from going home until Pat Vieira woke up the French with an inspired second half performance against Togo. They then experienced a motivated Zidane against Spain and Brazil. And slugged it out with Portugal, doing the bare minimum to get through.

France has been questionable in goal, although for part of the semi final, Barthez looked like the old solid Barthez. While he can be a clown at times, he remains a big game keeper for club and country. Hard to forget his amazing save early in the 1998 world cup final against Brazil off a corner. The one thing I like about Barthez is he never really seems rattled, while he sometimes acts too casually he never gets rattled. Many talk about the job Cannavaro has done but I would point to who I think is central midfield 1A - Lilian Thuram. He has been an absolute rock. Unlike Desailly in Euro 2004, who was playing one tournament too many, Thuram has demonstrated an intelligence, understanding, and atheletic ability to control the french back four. His understanding with Gallas has been nothing short of amazing in such a short time. While he no longer has the speed he once had, he uses his intelligence to position himself where he needs to be...just like Cannavaro. I think that without the fear of Yellow cards, Vieira will be back as the hard man in the middle of the pitch. I really think that fear of getting his second yellow card of the knock out stage reigned in his usual aggression against Portugal. Zidane looked tired against Portugal, but he too was looking at missing the finals had he received another yellow, but he still defended and did enough to ensure a french victory.

I think that Italy enters this game a slight favorite on the strength of Cannavaro and Buffon. However I think the game will be very tight, possibly a 1-0 game maybe 2-0. I think that France and Italy match up well with one another.

I think France has some tricks - Zidane will throw everything he has in this game, much like the Brazil game. Italy knows this and I think that gives French a possible pyschological advantage. Ribery and Malouda could give the Italian wings problems. Italy had some difficulty handling the speed from Ghana as well as the US on the flanks. Italy will have its hands full with Henry, they are very good at defending strikers like Klose, Podolski, McBride, etc. Strikers that make their living inside the 18 yard box. Stikers who need to have the ball served into the 18 and can create, pounce on loose balls, score with their heads, etc. The Italian defense is world class at clogging the 18 yard box, and denying any entry passes. I am not convinced they are as good when it comes to stopping speedy strikers from running at them.

The Italian strikers will give France trouble because players like Toni are great in the air, and Toti and Pirlo can find them from anywhere on the pitch. The Italians also have the ability to clog the midfield, really slowing down the speed of Ribery, Malouda and Henry. I also think Italy has a great wild card to use late and that is Del Piero. Ever game he has come into he has proven to be a great spark for the attack.

Before the tournament I thought that these two teams would meet in the 1/4 finals (both being group winners). Of course France decided it rather take the path of most resistence to get to the finals. This game is going to be very tight. I think we could see a scoreless first half and a late second half goal. I think that Makelele - Vieira, in front of Sagnol, Thuram, Gallas, Abidal and an inspired Zidane...wills France to a victory.

France 1 Italy 0

Ribery (77)

Allez les Bleus!!!!!!!!!!

Friday, July 07, 2006

3rd place game, why it is worth playing

This Saturday we will have an appetizer prior to the Sunday world cup finals. The host Germans will face Big Phil and his merry Portugese. Is this game worth playing? One team will end their World Cup run with two straight defeats?

I say that yes, this game remains valuable.

  • It gives teams the opportunity to play members of the team that might have never seen the field. Still an amazing experience for players to step on a world cup field.
  • The third place game gives team opportunities to get another game together against a quality side. National teams need friendlies to get ready for big tournaments and qualifiers, games such as this give invaluable experience to these teams, much better than a mid season friendly.
  • Why not, give football fans who wait four years for the World Cup an extra game!
Some thoughts about this game. I think it will be a more intense 3rd place games than others, mainly because of the host being present. Germany will want to exit their World Cup with a victory. Portugal will not roll over, with Figo most likely ending his international career after Saturday, the Portugese will be highly motivated to end his career on a high. Additionally, they want to match the 1966 Portugese team that finished third in that world cup beating the Soviet Union. The great Eusebio ending that tournament as high scorer, and cementing his place in Portugese football lore.

Additionally both teams will look at this game as a launching points for the 2 years of qualifying for the Euro 2008.

I look for an open, flowing game.

Prediction - Portugal 3, Germany 2.

Ronaldo (2), Figo
Klose, Podolski

Thursday, July 06, 2006

France moves on, the Portugese face Deutschland

So I have had 24 hours to digest the France victory over Portugal, sending Les Bleus to a sunday finals show down with the Azurri.

I will provide some thoughts on the finals later but for now I need to express some thoughts on yesterday's game.

The Good:
  • France won
  • Maniche, Deco and Figo really showed me something for Portugal, although I think that Maniche would be better served shooting less from 35 yards out. Figo was solid running up both flanks. Deco demonstrated that he is a great maestro, really controlling the tempo
  • Thuram was rock solid, just like the World Cup semi finals 8 years ago he really dominated this semi final. While he did not score he was the rock that controlled the back, and thwarted numerous attacks from Portugal
  • The referee, while I was fearful that we might see a match marred in Yellow and Red Cards, the Uruguayan ref was excellent, allowing the teams to play and more importantly did not fall for all the Portugese dives.
  • Barthez, he had very little to do much of the tournament, but was called upon to step it up this game. He was solid with all the crosses the Portugese sent in, made some solid saves, and overall demonstated a calmness you need in a world cup level keeper.
  • Zidane's penalty shot: the Master once again showed why he is such a world class player. Facing Ricardo, who can obviously stop PKs, Zidane cooly slotted home the shot. Ricardo seemed to know which side Zidane would go but was powerless against a powerful, well placed strike. Maybe Lampard and Gerrard should take some lessons.
The Bad:
  • Pauleta, while he had 1 or 2 good turns, he was a complete non factor in this game. Granted he was going against Gallas and Thuram, but he really did not show anything.
  • Abidal, he has been solid on the left flank. But he had two huge concentration lapses which the French were lucky not to get penalized for. One time on a goal kick played to him he just watched it go out of bounds for a Portugese throw in, the second time on a simple square pass he seemed absent minded allowing for another dangerous Portugese throw in. He still had some solid defensive work as well as good runs on the flank, but I expect more from a player of his talent.
  • Carvalho, never been a fan of the Chelsea player. This game showed me again why, he is not good. He was beaten like a drum by Henry, before Carvalho brought him down. He then had a ridiculous foul on Wiltord. When I see how other central defenders play, then watch him, I wonder what Mourinho ever saw in him other than the portugese connection.
The Ugly:
  • Portugese diving - Gallas was a genius in calling out the portugese "tactics" to the press, the refs, the Portugese, the ball boys and girls, etc. I think that the refs were well aware of the "style" of play of Portugal and did not allow it to taint the game. But it was a little ridiculous...there was the "tumble by Postiga" when he ran into Gallas but decided that it was clear that Gallas had "fouled" him. Ronaldo was flopping everywhere like a fish out of water. He "dove" in the penalty box when in reality he dove to try and head a cross, but when he could not reach it decided to make it resemble a french foul...drawing the loud complaints of Scolari and his bench. Portugal has too much talent to need to revert to similar tactics to get calls.
  • Ronaldo, see the above, but he needs to be pointed out. He was boat loads of talent. He can run at defenses alone, can distribute, can shoot, can cross, can out pace most defenders...yet he is best known for whining and diving. He is better than that. I fear that this reputation will stay with him through out the remainder of his career. After his antics, or apparent antics during the England game, he better watch his back, especially at practice assuming he remains at Manchester United.
  • Barthez's "save" on the Ronaldo shot....uh what was he doing? I realize the ball was knuckling. Having spent some time between the sticks myself, I understand that those shots are extremely difficult to handle, but usually can at least box the ball straight out...
  • The portugese bench, what was that water bottle tossing, as well as Scolari supposedly ranting and raving against the French after the game. Maybe Scolari were doing their best Argentina imitation, post game ranting and raving.
Overall the game was not a masterpiece. The first 15 minutes were frantic, both sides looked like they were going for an early goal. After France scored they began to start playing more defensively. The French were picking up the Portugese deeper, not as high as they did against Spain and Brazil. Also, the midfielders did not play the second ball on offense, rather staying anchored at midfield. This was a risky strategy, rather than going for the knock out blow they allowed the Portugese to dictate the pace. Granted, had Henry's powerful shot at the start of the second half all this would have been moot.

I think two major aspects played into this French strategy. First, I think they were tired. France played two highly charged games against Spain and Brazil. They had a lot of football in the legs. But more importantly I think they were under a genuine fear of the yellow card suspension. With key players under the yellow card threat: Franck Ribery, Patrick Vieira, Zinedine Zidane, Louis Saha, Willy Sagnol and Lilian Thuram, I think France were a little more gaurded in their efforts. It was evident watching Vieira that the yellow card issue weighed heavily on his mind. In a late second half tackle, one that earlier in the tournament might have drawn a yellow card, Vieira sprang up with a look of fear that he was about to receive that feared yellow card. Fortunately the yellow card did not come out of the ref's pocket. Thuram, still played with unabandoned effort, but he is usually not in a position to receive yellow card.

What do I mean by that, players like Vieira are more at risk for a card since he is running all over the field, running at players who are turning, dribbling, changing directions. This makes a player of his style more prone to catching a player's ankles from behind, or having to chase down a player from behind. Others like Ribery are in similar situations due to their position in the midfield, but as a more offensive players they are also at risk of clumsy mistakes leading to cards. While central defenders such as Thuram, tend to have the ball and players in front of them.

The combination of some tired legs and fear of yellow card punishment, made the French game plan more timid than in previous games. I do not think this will be the same for Sunday. There is no more Yellow Card fear, and being tired is trumped by the enormity of the game. More on that topic later.

In the end I think the French deserved the victory, while they did not control the match as well as the previous two, they showed the signs of a champion, winning when you are not 100%.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Thank you Zidane....

Les Bleus in the Too exhausted to I have my own futball match to go to.

For now all I will say is Merci les vieux, Merci Zidane.

One more victory! It will not be easy but it can be done.

Allez les BLEUS!!!!!!

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

One more for Berlin

We are within the 24 hours for the final team to be determined for the World Cup finals next Sunday. And of course one of those teams are my Les Bleus. I have tried not to think about this game too much, I cannot really handle the tension...then again this is a much better feeling than 4 years ago.

I think this game will be very tight (which game at this stage of the tournament is not?). I think that both teams have very strong midfields. The other day when I was watching the beginning of the Holland-Portugal game I realized, "wow the portugese midfield is stacked." Figo, Maniche, Ronaldo, Deco, and Costinha. Scolari has the perfect system set up. Maniche and Costinha are the midfield "destroyers." But with a twisted: Maniche can also push up and prove deadly in front of goal (just ask Holland). They then have Figo on a wing, while he is not the player he once was, he still had the touch and intelligence to create tremendous danger for the opposing defense. Ronaldo does the same from anywhere on the pitch. He is the young dribbler, he can break down any team with his pace and dribbling. Finally there is Deco, who really is the field manager. He slots in nicely in the middle of this midfield, distributing the ball, shooting, dribbling etc. When need be he can also drift further back and allow Maniche to push up more into an offensive role. This is the heart of the Portugese team. Pauleta is the perfect striker, he is not the fastest or deadliest striker of the ball, but he has great postioning and is a fabulous poacher. While he has not scored this tournament he played a vital role in Portugal's victory against Holland, laying off a great ball to Maniche. Portugal's back 4 can be suspect (although Miguel, the right back, has been tremendous for Portugal) but Ricardo is a big time goalkeeper.

Also, let us not forget that Portugal are not the pedigreelight team some might have you believe. Granted they have not always shone in the world cup, this is only their second semi final since 1966. But they have reached the semi-finals of the European cup in 1984, 2000 and to the finals in 2004. They have had great success in the youth tournaments, as well as on the club level. Unlike South Korea and Turkey from 2002, they are not in awe of being in the semi finals of the World Cup. And they still have Big Phil.

As for France. They will be playing their 5th world cup semi final, and this is the second semi final for many of these players. So they will not be intimidated. I also think that Germany losing today will play a role on the French psyche. The one team France fears remains Germany. After 1982 and 1986, France must feel snake bitten against their Eastern neighbor (I will refrain from diving into the
"other" small issues we have had over the centuries with Germany/Prussia). While I am sure no one would have discussed it, I am sure that if Germany had won today that somewhere in the back of all the French player's minds would have been a possible date in Berlin against Deutschland, distracting them from the monumental task they have in the semi finals. I think that Les Bleus will go into this game completely focused on Portugal, they know they can play them well. The defense (Sagnol, Thuram, Gallas, Abidal) and holding midfielders (Makelele and Vieira) are playing extremely well together, defending, covering, starting counter attacks, even flowing up into the attack (especially Vieira who has been a monster the past three games, and Sagnol who has demonstrated a desire to push up, ball at feet more than in the first round games). Zidane, is well the Master Zidane. Ribery and Malouda have been the spark plugs with their tireless work on the wings. Henry has scored, but he has yet to really put together a spurt like we are accustom to seeing him do for Arsenal...could this be the time?

Predictions: I think that the game will be very tight. I hope that our card happy referee imitates the game today and lets the players dictate the outcome, if so I think we could be in for a nerve racking game (Especially for me). I think Big Phil is a tactical genius, but his team was lucky to escape the penalty kick averse English, even down 10 players England was dangerous and Portugal had no real solution for the British defense. Additionally, Portugal have logged some hard minutes in those legs: asked to play down 2 men against Holland and the full extra time against England. I think France are clicking and will not take this opponent lightly. In a drawn out match we have a remake of the 2000 European Cup semi finals - France 2 Portugal 1.

My heart and mind tell me that France will win....but if they lose it will make my depression that much worse!

Oh yes, it is also transfer season

The latest rumor is that Chelsea will battle Real Madrid for the services of Arsenal full back Ashley Cole. This is great news for Arsenal...why you might ask?

Cole was not coming back to Arsenal, with Real and Chelsea rumored the past seasons for his services it was only a matter of time before he got his way. His past season injury gave Arsenal the need to find a replacement left back (Clichy was also hurt). Wenger was able to convert midfielder Flamini to left back, and the picked up Eboue during the transfer window. With Clichy back to full form, Flamini's versatilty, and Eboue, I would gladly see Arsenal sell Cole. I hope that both super clubs drive up his price, and that he ends up at Real Madrid....still don't want to have to face him at Chelsea.

Forza Italia

Italy avoids the dreaded penalties and beat host Germany 2-0. A deserved victory for the team that was the more offensive and dangerous all night. Italy had a 3-1 advantage on corner kicks, hit 2 posts, and overall looked the more aggressive team. The German run is over, but they had been playing with house money since they snuck past Argentina. I think the home crowd really played a factor in this run because, irregardless of what Marcela Balboa says, Germany remains an average team. I think their last two world cup runs have been fraudulent and not a true indication of where German football really is. They have some young players to build around, Odonkor is amazing, he is like Lennon for England or Ribery for France, wing players with loads of pace and skill. Podolski will only get better, but the German defense is very suspect.

As for Italy, they are the odds on favorites to lift the trophy next Sunday (it would be their fourth title, but first major title since 1982). I think the main reason is simply Buffon. He is the best keeper in the world right now, and with that defense in front of him rarely gets tested. When he does, he stops the shots. Lippi also has a solid rotation of forwards he can run at you, constantly testing your defense with fresh legs.

Italy has done a masterful job of putting the match fixing investigation behind them and pulled together as a team. Forza Italia.

Monday, July 03, 2006

Knot in my stomach

The 1/2 finals rapidly approach and I have a nasty knot in my stomach. And it just got worse reading the referee for the France-Portugal match, none other than Jorge Larrionda. For those of you not steeped in refereeing stats, and why should you be. This is the same person that refereed the Italy-USA game where he dispensed red cards like they were hot cakes. He is also the ref that gave Zidane a yellow card in the Korea game when he "nudged" the Korean defender. Why this makes me nervous is that there are many crucial players on both sides that are under threat of missing the next game if they get a yellow.

For Portugal:
Maniche, Nuno Valente, Ricardo Carvalho, Ricardo and Luis Figo
For France:
Franck Ribery, Patrick Vieira, Zinedine Zidane, Louis Saha, Willy Sagnol and Lilian Thuram

A frightening list of possible absentees. What really scares me is with Vieira's manner of playing he is at great risk during this game against a ref that has shown to be card happy (granted no where as bad as the ref that officiated the Portugal-Holland match) And with Portugal's propensity to dive, the cards might go flying....that knot gets tighter.....

Sunday, July 02, 2006

The soap opera that is English football

I have started to recover from my emotions of yesterday and have started to refocus my attentions to the upcoming semi finals (I think both games will be beyond tense, all four teams know each other very well). But that is for another rant. This one is reserved for the soap opera that is English football. Today we received the news that David Beckham was stepping down as England captain, but still wanted to play for the three lions. Thus marks the end of a turbulent time for England.

When Alan Shearer retired from international football many wondered who would inherite the arm band, in stepped Becks. Much to the surprise of many an observer. Beckham was always seen as a bit of an impetuous player. World's of talent but not the best head on his shoulders, see his silly red card in the 1998 world cup. While many would critize Becks, I think that overall he was a good skipper for England. He never shyed away from the difficult questions. He demonstrated an ability to pull his team up, see the remarkable direct free kick goal against Greece in qualifiers. He stepped up in Euro 2004, providing service for the England goal against France. He missed a vital PK that game but never gave excuses, and still took (and missed) the first PK against Portugal in the 1/4 finals...did Lampard ever look like he even wanted to shoot during Saturday's PK round? Far from his best in this world cup he still had a hand in 3 key goals for England, much more than can be said for Lampard, Gerrard or Rooney. We might have seen the last of David Beckham at a World Cup, he will be 35 for the South African version, we might have seen the last of Becks in an England kit. But we cannot blame him or slam him for this tenure as England skipper. As a frenchman, it pains me, but I must tip my cap to his run. He did not bring glory to England, but that was not for lack of effort.

Now to who I think should be blamed for another sub par run in a major tournament - Sven. Mr Erickson rode into the England job with quite a reputation...not sure deserved: one great year at Lazio. He was suppose to bring another start to the 3 lions kit, or at least a European Championship. Instead he brought 3 straight 1/4 games - WC 2002, EC 2004 and WC 2006. This last run was the most perplexing. He picked a curious squad, one which would rely on many fortunate turns inorder to be effective. I know that Ledley King was injured, but he never really had a system in place for his midfield. Rather he put together the 4 "best" english midfielders without regard for thier individual strengths. Our good friends from ESPN stated that the English midfield might be the best in the world during their opening round game against Paraguay....maybe by name but not by system. With Lampard, Gerrard, Cole and Beckham starting who would be tasked with doing the dirty work or defending, tackling, and destroying the opposing team's midfield creativity? Supposed Gerrard was tasked with this....hmmmm curious. Just because he is a world class midfield for Liverpool, but he is that because of his vision and offensive talents, does not mean he can all of a sudden become a defensive genius. Not sure, but if Domenech asked Makelele to be the maestro and run the offensive not sure he could do it...but ask him to defend and he is world class. Last time I checked, I think the only midfielder that can play multiple roles at a world class level might be Essein from Ghana...Erickson allowed a disjointed midfield play together where there was not linkage between the backs and the attack.

Then there is the question of strikers - Owen, Rooney, Walcott, and Crouch. The first two, while both world class, were coming off major injuries. The fact that Rooney even played was a minor miracle. Walcott could not even get time with his club Arsenal, and Crouch...well Crouch to me is useless (although he did an admirable job as the solo striker against Portugal, much to my amazement). Not sure you should enter a tournament with your scoring hopes pinned on two players coming off major injuries, a teenager who has not even played agains Birmingham City let alone Portugal, and stork of a striker that has yet to prove he can be the next Alan Shearer. Once Owen left with another injury, Genius Sven was left with three...when Rooney was sent off he was down to two able bodied strikers. Not sure what England would have done had they gotten past Portugal. Started Crouch with Walcott to make his first potential cap in the World Cup semifinals????? I think Sven would have looked slighty more intelligent had he selected Emile Heskey for this team!

England must now rebuild and look to the Euros. Owen's career might be done with another injury. Beckham's england career might be over. Rooney, while incredibly talented, is also incredibly stupid. I know he is still young, but he is not young when it comes to professional football, he needs to show a little more intelligence before he will become the force that his destiny appears to allow him. Can England play with Gerrard and Lampard together in the midfield. They never looked comfortable together. Maybe because each is used to having midfield cover in the forms of Hamann and Riise for Gerrard and Makelele and Essien for Lampard, which allows them to create and play without too much care about back tracking to defend...something they cannot afford not to do for England. The one player whose stock rose, much to my surprise, was Owen Hargreaves. He was all over the place against Portugal, even in the extra time he was the only one, on either side, that appeared to want to play and run.

The saga that is English football remains. Once again the memories of 1966 grow in folklore. 40 years and counting is a difficult pill to swallow for the country that invented the game.

Saturday, July 01, 2006


Once again Les Bleus come out with a masterful performance and move on to the semi finals. What can you say about this game....

The first 10 minutes looked like a Brazilian team that was motivated by all the pundits claiming they had not put it all together yet but they remained the favorites. Ronaldinho looked full of energy and seemed to want to prove that he was the greatest individual player in the world. Even the old gaurd: Ronaldo, Cafu, Carlos looked energized. But as the game progressed France began to assert their will on the game. Zidane appeared to have rolled the years back and showed a touch on the ball otherwise not seen for a few years. Makelele and Vieira once again destroyed any real creativity in the Brazilian midfield. As the first half worn on, it was apparent that Les Bleus were controlling the flow. All they needed was a goal to reward their efforts.

As the second half started I was nervous that France might get frustrated and allow Brazil more space, but I was rewarded by watching the French continue to press, continue to work the midfield, continue to control play. The 57th minute strike by Henry was masterful. It was also clear that Ribery, Zidane and Henry were giving the aged backs Cafu and Carlos all they could handle.

France was the logical team to advance, as Brazil never got it into gear this tournament. Ronaldo scored 3 goals but against inferiour opponentes, Ronaldinho looked nothing like the Barca star, Adriano was invisible, and the defense looked old and suspect. The best Brazilian might have been their keeper Dida, who made an amazing save against Ghana to preserve a 1-0 lead and then a great intervention against Ribery to preserve the slight hope for the world champions.

Overall thoughts:

  • Henry and Ribery are clicking, this is scarey for France's future opponents. They both have worlds of pace and can beat any defense individually. The turn Ribery had against Cafu on the end line was clinical, he made Cafu look like an amateur (or an old man).
  • I need to apologize to the master - Zidane. The last two games he has been masterful, seeming to get stronger as the competition continues. He is even beating defenses off the dribble, masterfully distributing, even back tracking for big tackles. The farewell tour continues. I will admit to having doubt his value to this team, but he is proving me wrong, shame on me.
  • Brazil got caught up in their own hype. They insisted on playing the old guard - Roberto Carlos, Cafu, Ronaldo etc. They brought in the dangerous Cicinho late in the game for Cafu, I think that Cicinho should have been playing more, teams fear his pace and crossing ability much more than Cafu's veteran experience. I never got the sense that Brazil had a sense of urgencey in any of their games this tournament. I blame that on the coaches. While many of the talking heads kept saying "Brazil will turn it up a notch, they have too many gears, too much talent" The team on the field never did. Maybe it is a case of reaching the 3 last finals, winning 2 of them, that gave this team a sense of entitlement. Shame on them.

Now we need into an all European 1/2 finals....I am too emotionally spent right now for any further thoughts! ALLEZ LES BLEUS!!!!
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