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....

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Euro 2008 gets underway

The end of the World Cup is barely 2 months ago and we are already on the path of the next major international tournament: Euro 2008.

While there have already been a handful of games, Saturday marked the real beginning of the qualifing. What stands out -

Group A: Finland easily defeated Poland 3-1, after a poor world cup showing, this does not sit well for Polska, they need to find offense and a style soon or else they will miss out of the Euro. Belgium drew with Kazakhstan 0-0, not good for the Belge. I still think this group will go to Portugal with Finland, Belgium, Poland and Serbia fighting it out for second.

Prediction: Portugal and Belgium qualify. Poland has too many question marks, Finland while strong at home always falls short, Serbia could qualify but the world cup has called for too much or a turn over for the squad.

Group B:
This could be seen as the group of death: World Cup winner Italy, World Cup runner up France, World Cup 1/4 finalist Ukraine. The first day was quite telling: France easily defeated Georgia 3-0 and it could have been more. Without Zidane the French went to a 4-4-2 with Ribery and Malouda given free reign of the park, Saha and Henry up front. It was evident that the Georgian team could not handle the speed of Ribery coming off the flanks. The real test will come Wednesday when we have a world cup rematch - France v Italy. Other surprise, Italy held to a draw at home versus Lithuania 1-1. That cannot sit well with the world cup champions. There is no margin for error and dropping points is a cardinal sin. Granted all this can be forgotten if Italy was to find a victory at Stade de France.

Prediction: France and Ukraine qualify. I think that Italy is in a transition and with their poor start they will get surprised by either Ukraine or Scotland. France is motivated after a heartbreaking loss in the WC finals. Scotland might surprise a team or two during this qualifier but will fall short.

Group C: This group is wide open. Norway staking itself as the favorite even before it smacked Hungary around 4-1. Greece and Turkey find themselves again for qualifying. It will be difficult again to go into Turkey to play the Turks, this I think gives them a slight advantage in this group.

Prediction: Turkey and Norway qualify. The defending European Champion does not make it to defend their title. Turkey is too tough at home and good enough to win where need be on the road. Norway is similar to Turkey with their homefield advantage.

Group D: Germany ekks out a 1-0 victory vs Ireland. The Czechs almost lost points to Wales. This groups is full of underachievers. The German team played above itself at its own world cup, it will be hard pressed to match the irratioanal expectations for this squad. The Czechs are in a major rebuilding and the games vs Slovakia should prove facsinating. Ireland is still bitter over their missing the world cup.

Prediction: Germany and Slovakia. Germany will struggle but get through. The Czechs and Irish will find difficulty and not qualify while upstarts Slovakia will surprise and qualify.

Group E: England - Andorra: England defeats Andorra 5-0, braces from Crouch (still think he is useless) and Defoe. Andorra did not even have any threats at the english goal. This was the expected outcome of this match and England should not get too ahead of itself. Granted, the England group is their's to lose, Russia and Croatia being the only two nations that really have a chance to unseed England as favorites.

Prediction: England and Russia. Hiddink will work his miracles with an underachieving Russian team. Croatia will be in a dog fight until the end but will fall short to the Dutch master.

Group F: Spain eases into the qualifiers with a 4-0 win over Liechtenstein, could this be the start of a Spanish run deep into a major tournament? I think so, the spanish squad is young and experienced post world cup. Their group is perfect, it should not be too difficult but enough quality teams to keep the spanish sharp: Sweden and Denmark.

Prediction: Spain and Denmark. The Danes will look to get back to the tournament where they have found the most success.

Group G: Whaooooo, how can Holland "beat" Luxembourg 1-0, that is scarey. Then again for the Euro 2000 qualifiers France beat Andorra 1-0 on a PK in the dying minutes....but Holland that destroyed Ireland a few weeks ago should fare better against one of the smaller European nations. The essential was done however with the 3 points. Also, Romania and Bulgaria ended up with a fascinating 2-2 draw, Bulgaria coming back end of game score two goals to get the point.

Prediction: Holland and Romania. Even with first round scares these teams have too much fire power not to get through.
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