Sunday, July 31, 2011

Domenech's sweet revenge - France drawn with Spain in 2014 qualification group

Earlier this weekend, FIFA held the draw to determine the groups for each region and how nations will qualify for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. The big news heading into the draw for the European region was that France would not be in Pot 1, meaning they could risk being drawn with another one of Europe's big football nations. Much of this is due to the fact France have shown very poorly in the last two international tournaments - Euro 2008 and World Cup 2010, both times leaving the tournaments after the group stages...Thank You Dumenech! So what do we get for our sins...Spain! Click here to see the European groups.

So France will have to fight it out with defending World Cup Champion and current European Cup champion for the #1 spot in the group and hope they don't slip on a banana peel as the rest of the group is not a cake walk either.

The French group:

Group I
Spain Spain0000000
France France0000000
Belarus Belarus0000000
Georgia Georgia0000000
Finland Finland0000000

France have faced Belarus during the current Euro qualifier....and taken a whole 1 point from 2 matches! France have faced Georgia in recent campaigns and fared well against the former Soviet nation, as would be expected. Finland will be no push over, while the Scandinavian nation has not seen a major football tournament since well never. Recently their form has been a bit underwhelming, even losing to Moldova in qualifiers for the Euro. But they have quality, and I could see them causing more problems than one would expect for France and Spain.

On the surface this group should come down to the home and away fixtures between France and Spain. Much will also be determined as to when those matches are scheduled. Will they both be in the heart of the calendar, meaning both teams will be looking for points. Or could one be late or even the last match when both nations might already know their destiny? Much will depend on that schedule.

When I informed the Gooner about this draw, he kind of scoffed at France's chances. The reality is I think this could prove a good draw for France. Why?

  • France will have 2 fewer matches. The group has 5 teams as opposed to the 6 in the other groups. This means 2 fewer games. Now one might argue that playing the likes of a Luxembourg or San Marino should not really "count" as matches. But if recent form has demonstrated anything they still present challenges and with players having full club schedules 2 fewer matches could be beneficial.
  • France should not fear Spain. Okay I realize that might sound silly, but I do not think Spain is a team that France really fear. Had France drawn Germany or even Italy, I think they would have presented a greater "fear" factor. Spain and France have always had a footballing rivalry that gets overshadowed by other rivalries - England, Germany and Italy. Recent matches would dictate that Spain has the upper hand. But that was also Domenech, now we have a real coach. If recent form dictates anything it is clear that Blanc and Les Bleus do not fear any team, they are still working out the kinks but would fancy their chances against any nation - see their victory versus Brazil in Paris. Or France going into Sarajevo and beating a fancied Bosnian side.
  • Key French players are playing in La Liga - Benzema, Abidal and Rami - will have all been playing for clubs in Spain. That familiarity and motivation will go a long way.
  • International football goes in cycles. I realize this might be just some wishful thinking, but Spain has been at the top of the football world for a good 4 years, at some point you naturally drop in level. France on the other hand, has been mired in the middle of International Football. Primarily due to Domenech, but they still retain the talent and system to be better than their last two tournaments would indicate.
I realize some of this might be wishful thinking or just hope, but France can and will do well against their southern neighbor. Having to work through a tough group will benefit Les Bleus. If France cannot win the top of the group nor accumulate enough points to be in the playoffs, then they do not deserve to head to Brazil. It is a tough draw, but one that can be had.

Allez les Bleus!

Saturday, July 30, 2011

PSG - Manchester City on the Seine

I will say that the Gooner called PSG, MCFC south, but I prefer calling PSG - Manchester City on the Seine! Why this new name? With the cash infusion from new Middle Eastern backers, PSG has started to spend like the Citizens did when they also received a cash infusion from wealthy middle eastern backers. Yet, I would say the parallels stop there. Why?

Let us look at the recent purchases by PSG.

  • Gameiro - leading scorer in Ligue 1 for the past few seasons. He was playing for small side Lorient but always one of Ligue 1's most sought after transfers. In the past, players such as Gameiro would either go to Lyon or head to another league. PSG finally did what a club of their stature should do - secure the best players from within your league. Gameiro will add another element to the PSG side, with Hourau struggling to regain his consistent scoring touch and recent misses at the striker level - Erding and Kezman. I would not be surprised if Gameiro became PSG's #1 striker from day 1. Solid signing.
  • Menez and Matuidi - I lump these two players together because they signed close to one another but they also slot in nicely to fill in for Giuly and Makelele. Menez will slot in on the right channel while Matuidi will become the anchor at the holding midfield role. Matuidi is like Gameiro - one of Ligue 1's best players being acquired by one of France's largest clubs. Menez was a minor coup, getting a player in his prime to leave one of the bigger leagues and clubs: AS Roma to come back to Ligue 1. 
  • Sissoko and Sirigu - As two players from Serie A I will also lump them together. I am luke warm on both signing, warmer on Sirigu, always need quality keepers and last season proved that you will most likely need to use both of your keepers. The Sissoko signing I understand for depth, but not sure I would have gone over this Sissoko, I would have preferred the one from TFC. Regardless I think he will be in the defensive midfield rotation with Bodmer and Chantome, so in the end it could prove a good move for depth.
  • Douchez - This was a free as the former Rennes keeper was at the end of a contract. The fringe national team keeper was an easy choice for PSG as Coupet was retiring and let's face it, Edel was not going to be the answer long term. Coupled this move with the recent signing of Italian #3 keeper Sirigu and you have the makings of a good tandem of keepers for PSG. The question becomes does the #2 keeper become disgruntled, but if so, you can always sell him and make back some of your money. 
  • Bisevac - The Serbian international was brought in to add depth and talent at central defense, and some insurance as the rumors of Sakho being lured to a larger European club will not go away. Again, another player from within Ligue 1, who was reasonably priced and a know entity.
All these signings are what PSG should have been doing for the past few seasons. As one of France's largest and richest clubs (even before the new investments) they should have always been more aggressive with the talent within Ligue 1. What makes them creep into Manchester City territory is the bid for Pastore. The Argentine is also a target of Chelsea. The latest is that he has signed of PSG for a whopping 38m pounds. This is the one signing that I feel is a "Manchester City" type signing. Get a new cash infusion and spend it like a Russian Oligarch. But unlike some of these other spenders, this move makes sense for PSG. They need a playmaking midfielder, I realize the have also purchased Menez but he is creates from the right flank. Ever since PSG sold Sessegnon to Sunderland they have not had a true attacking midfielder, now they do.

All in all very good signings for PSG. Unlike Chelsea or Manchester City, they have not gone out and signed players just for their names and then wondered where they fit in the system. PSG have acquired pieces that were desperately needed to either replace players leaving or bolster areas that needed addressing.

Call them what you want, I, for one look forward to seeing them on the pitch with all these new assets!

    Wednesday, July 20, 2011

    Penalty row...much to do about nothing

    So I was reading how Theyab Awana will be punished for his taking of penalty kick in a manner "disrespectful" of the game, click here for article. I will give the UAE manager credit for taking action and for calling out his player. I do think it appears to have become a tempest in a tea cup. Was the kick a bit of showboating? Sure. Did it go in, yes. If the American Women's National team has demonstrated anything this past weekend is that taking and making a penalty kick is not necessarily as easy as it looks. For those who have not seen it, the actual penalty (the US Women's Team could have used him on Sunday!)

    Was the manner in which Awana took his kick disrespectful? I say no. Mind you I, myself have play and have logged many matches as a goalie. Trust me, any time I give up a goal in any manner I am not happy and even less so if I think the opponent is disrespecting the game. Full disclosure, I have given up a goal on a back heel and it was not "pleasant." But the bottom line is, the keeper's job is to stop goals, regardless of how they are shot at you. The brilliance of the manner in which Awana took his PK was that the keeper was completely thrown off his rhythm. As the UAE player approaches the ball then pirouettes the keeper stutter steps, leans to his right and is caught completely flat footed....mission accomplished by the penalty taker. Had the keeper not been completely thrown off, he could have made what would have been a routine save to his left.

    The UAE manager is entirely in his right to punish the player. And I am sure that Awana would not have attempted this had the match been a World Cup qualification match. But it will make the next keeper give pause for thought when facing him in a penalty kick situation. That too is mission accomplished as a PK taker.

    I will say, if I were Awana I would be careful next time he plays that keeper and drifts into the penalty box on a cross or had a 1v1 with the keeper. Goalkeepers tend to have long memories...

    Monday, July 18, 2011

    Football world shocker! Not what you are thinking...

    No this is not a post about the Woman's World Cup finals, and yes that was a shocker. The US National team can only look at that result as a failure. They were the #1 team in the world. Had a 1 goal lead twice. Gave up said leads late in regulation and then in extra time. The first time on a terrible defensive mistake, you NEVER try to "clear" a ball in your team's penalty box when you down on a knee, facing your goal and then square the ball to the middle...the second Japanese goal was a well taken corner kick, tough to blame the US for that one. Um and missing your first 3 PKs? Unacceptable at this level. Okay that is it for my Woman's World Cup rant, not on to my real topic: Copa America.

    What is wrong with this picture:

    Uruguay v Peru
    Venezuela v Paraguay

    I hope things are better in 2014
    These are the semi final pairings for this year's Copa America. Where are Argentina and Brazil??? Both South American power houses lost to Uruguay and Paraguay respectively, and both on PKs to boot. I was not able to see the Brazil v Paraguay match, but from what I could tell it was all about Brazil inability to finish their chances. I was able to see some of Brazil earlier in the tournament and what struck me was the apparent lack of a "boss" a player of the stature of Pele, Socrates, Zico, Ronaldo, Rivaldo, Romario, Ronaldino or even Dunga to name few. Players that clearly took control when the team needed that kick in the pants, either through emotional leadership or by taking over a game physically. I could not help but think that player could have been Kaka, who instead was playing a meaningless match for Real Madrid against LA Galaxy. Bazil's World Cup is not far away, and there does not seem to be a player on the Copa America roster that can step up and take those reigns. Ganso was seen as the next great playmaker for Brazil, and he very well could be down the road. But can he live up to that pressure by the next world cup? What about Neymar? The next scoring wonder kid looked great at times, but not sure he will put his stamp on the Brazilian side as did the likes of Ronaldo or Romario.  These players have bags of talent and potential, but also expectations, sometimes these do not meet in a happy place! Makes me wonder how a player such as Kaka could have helped this squad. Kaka was once that player, the next great one. While he has not played, recently, at the lofty levels expected of him, he remains one of the world's best. He is a veteran of big club European football and could have been the guiding force for this Brazilian side. Alas that was not to be. Brazil will always have raw talent, but do they have the generation of players that can take them to a title when they play at home in 2014? Maybe not.

    What about Argentina? Much like Brazil in 2014, they were hosting a big international tournament on their turf. Add to this the pressure of a soccer powerhouse that has not won silverware since 1993, an eternity! They were playing at home and had the world's best player - Messi - as well as an embarrassing pool of talent - Tevez, Aguero, Higuian, Zanetti, Mascherano etc. Granted, next to drawing Brazil, pairing up against Uruguay at this stage was tough draw, least we forget Uruguay was the highest finisher at the World Cup. Now Argentina also ran into Muslera who made some ridiculous saves to keep Uruguay in the game, most noticeably his double save on a Tevez deflection, of a free kick where somehow the keeper kicked out the deflection and then had the reaction to make himself "big" on the Higuain follow up...

    Save of the game no doubt! He made another fantastic reflect save on another Higuian shot when the Real Madrid man took a silky pass from Messi, controlled, turned and rifled a shot that called for a fantastic reflect save from the Uruguayan keeper. But the keeper notwithstanding, Argentina spent most of the game with a man advantage (after a silly second yellow by Perez) and had chances. They had a goal disallowed (so did Uruguay) granted, but Messi - Aguero - Di Maria - Higuain seemed out of sorts, they were able to put pressure on the Uruguayan defense but were not able to be clinical in front of goal. Argentina were even getting good width at times from their fullbacks - mainly because with Zanetti and Zabaleta they had NATURAL wide fullbacks, Hey Diego were you paying attention? Uruguay seemed to look to foul high up the pitch, slow down any breaks and if that did not work would just slide deep to protect their 18 yard box - always shadowing Messi. Argentina seemed frustrated by this, noticeable when the likes of Higuain dropped way back to get the ball. Add to this the unexplainable fouling by Milito, that lead to a host of Uruguay free kicks - the only time Uruguay looked very dangerous of scoring. In the end, the game went to penalty kicks, and in that lottery the Albicelestes lost. 

    And to think...could have played for Spain
    Another tournament lost for Argentina. Another tournament where players such as Messi, Tevez, Mascherano et al did not live up to their expectations. After what happened in South Africa, Argentina is clearly a team in turmoil. They have the talent, almost a ridiculous level of talent, but they still seem to be struggling with formations and how to use Messi in particular. Could it be that the pressure of Barcelona is too much to over come? Everyone expects Messi to be able to replicate his play at the club level with Argentina...unfortunately there is no Xavi or Iniesta wearing the blue and white stripe kit. Then again Barcelona might be challenged to produce the other offensive options Argentina currently have. Argentina must decide how to best leverage Messi within THEIR system, not try to replicate the Barcelona system. Maybe Messi should be allowed to play wide with Di Maria on the other wing, potentially a 4-2-1-3? Three high offensive players, slot Higuain or Aguero in the middle of the top of the formation, question is who slots behind them as the true #10? Lean on Mascherano and Gago to hold. With real full backs, you can leverage their runs to support the high wingers...of course that would mean putting players such as Tevez on the bench, but at the international level that is the name of the game! Maybe the Barcelona expectations are too heavy a curse for Messi...

    Both Argentina and Brazil have some retooling to do, at least Argentina have qualifiers to ensure they get a run of serious games to work out their kinks. Brazil will have a host of friendlies, not sure that will allow a true test. Should be interesting 2 years for these South American powers.

    Friday, July 15, 2011

    Titi frustated...come back to Europe!

    Recent rant from French striker  - Titi Henry - about playing in the MLS, click here to read. Based on the article, the two areas of concern for Henry - the playing surface and the media requirements. For the first rant, not a surprise. I understand why MLS teams play on the turf, they share stadiums with their American football counterparts. While we have made great strides in field turf, it still is not grass! I think all outdoor sports should be played on NATURAL grass. I realize that the new field turf is better than the old astro turf and is starting to mimic natural grass...but it still mimics, why not just have the real thing??? I can hear teams complain, "well in the cold, the snow, the rain and the difficult conditions, field turf is better." Okay I get that, and for the NFL that makes some sense, the playing surface does not impact the ball, but in soccer the ball spends its time on that surface. It changes the game. It impacts the players. Get rid of it for soccer.

    As for the media complaint, I am sure that Henry is just venting. The reality is he is not being treated as a star as he was used to at Arsenal or Barcelona. So instead of being able to do what he wants post match, he has to sit down and answer questions from a 21 year old reporter from the New York Daily News....

    Titi has a long way to go on his contract with Red Bull (another 4 years). Unlike Beckham, I do not think that Titi really views himself as a footballing ambassador. Maybe we will see Titi coming back to Europe and why not back to Ligue 1? Teams such as PSG or Bordeaux could do worse than adding the veteran to their rosters. Maybe even the likes of Lille could try to lure Henry back.

    Reviens en France Titi!

    Thursday, July 14, 2011

    Merci Pat...Vieira hangs up the boots

    Not a surprise but Pat Vieira has announced his retirement today, how appropriate on Bastille day! What a remarkable career for one of the most elegant and powerful "box to box" midfielders the game has seen. Vieira will be most remembered for his days patrolling the midfield for the Gunners. He played 371 games for the Gunners, scored 32 goals, won 3 Premiership Titles, 3 FA Cups and was part of the invincibles. He will also be remembered for his battles with Manchester United's Keane.

    One of my favorite pre-game tunnel bust up. Neither player would back down in these confrontations...too bad Arsenal do not have some of that bite anymore. Maybe Cesc can start yelling at Ferdinand next time Arsenal play Manchester United (assuming Cesc is still on Arsenal and Ferdinand is healthy...two BIG ifs).

    To me Vieira was France's greatest holding/defensive midfielder. Not only was he a crunching tackler and enforcer in the middle of the park, but he could chip in big goals, was clinical with his passing and was a true "box to box" midfielder.

    One aspect overlooked was his leadership at the 2006 Germany World Cup when he stepped in to carry the team when Zidane was suspended. He scored the opening goal versus Togo to get France on its way to the run to the finals. He also latched on to a Zidane free kick late in the Spain 1/4 match to give Les Bleus the lead, and sprung Ribery end of the first half to score the tying goal.

    I will always contend that it was his injury and need to be substituted out of the finals that was the real turning point for the match - he would have been one of the penalty kickers and having a healthy Vieira finish out that game might have sprung the goal that France seemed destined to getting before the head butt! I am also certain that he was not in the planned substitutions and took away one of the substitution options late in the game. Alas his hamstrings had other ideas for Les Bleus.

    Vieira has been one of my favorite players to watch. His combination of pace, power, skill and toughness were invaluable for both club and country.

    Merci Pat. Too bad Arsenal could not have bottled some of that leadership to be used the past few seasons.

    Happy Bastille Day!

    Happy Bastille Day! Let them eat cake!!!

    Thursday, July 07, 2011

    Arsenal implosion getting closer and closer

    Headline on BBC Sports - Arsenal's Samir Nasri remains Manchester United target - sigh. Are we about to see the implosion of Arsenal? Clichy is already out the door, the heat around Nasri leaving is starting to burn hot and the 800 lb gorilla - Cesc to Barcelona. The revolving door at Arsenal seems to continue.

    Barcelona is that way
    A great article about the seeming fire sale that is currently under way at Arsenal, click here. I cannot agree more with the author who points out that Wenger has bemoaned the fact his team does things "right" and that Arsenal is the victim. Problem is, as we waste time crying about the free spending of the likes of Manchester City, Chelsea, Manchester United, Barca or Real Madrid we go another season without any silverware.

    I fear that Wenger's time at Arsenal might be coming to an end, his stubbornness when it comes to signing, as the article points out "a 11 year old wonder kid striker from Belgium" cannot continue. He has brought in some wonderful youth, that he must be praised for, but he has not uncovered the next Vieira or Henry that he can build his team around.

    Time to go Wenger. Please head to PSG where your methods will be met with success.

    Motivational speech...if you need something to get you fired up.

    Great pre-game speech. Too bad this coach wasn't managing Les Bleus rather than Dumbenech...

    Wednesday, July 06, 2011

    Arsenal rumored to be looking at OM winger as potential Nasri replacement...interesting

    The latest rumor is that Arsenal sniffing around Marseilles and their French international - Valbuena. Interesting. The Marseilles winger has never been high on Deschamps list of key pieces for OM. I am not sure how the winger would be seen as a replacement for the potential departures of Nasri and Cesc.

    Wearing #10, but more of a winger than central midfielder

    Cesc and Nasri are closer to the traditional #10, they play in the center of the park can either slot high on the pitch or drop deeper, but always roaming around that middle of the pitch. Granted, Nasri can easily slot out wide as well, but he is at ease pulling the strings in the center. Not sure that Valbuena would be someone at ease in that role. So why is Wenger thinking about adding him to the roster? Unless Arsenal believe they can hold on to Nasri and/or Cesc. Otherwise I fear the void left in the middle of the park will be too much to overcome and having another winger - Valbuena - will be an exercise of deck chair rearrangement on the Titanic. Couple this with the addition of Gervinho and all of sudden you become winger heavy with little depth at the center of the formation.

    Friday, July 01, 2011

    Arsenal - net sellers once again? Next stop Europa League?

    So it appears that once again, Arsenal will end up being in the black after the transfer window closes...meaning they will be a net seller. Good? Bad? Typical?? Here is what it might look like:

    • Purchase Gervinho from LOSC for 11m pounds. Great another winger! Maybe we should look to getting a true #9 instead...
    • Oh Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain at 12m pounds, great, the next wonder kid English winger...he isn't even 18 yet...guess we will have to wait for that impact on the first team.
    • Sell Clichy to Manchester City for 7m pounds, not a surprise that the French left back leaves, it feels as if his time had run its course at Arsenal.
    • Rumor - 18m pounds for Nasri to join Clichy at ManCity...might be more if Manchester United gets serious in the bidding.
    • Rumor - 35m pounds for Cesc to Barcelona, we have all been waiting for this move and I think this is the season it finally happens.
    • Rumor (purchase) - Cahill at 17m pounds
    So net net, 40m pounds out, close to 60m pounds in....great we made a profit! Pop the champagne! Pay down more of the debt! Put some in the player's 401ks! Buy back some outstanding shares! Fund more R&D! Invest in some PP&E!!! Oh wait that is what you would do if Arsenal were a business. But it isn't, Arsenal is a sporting and entertainment entity. Add to these rumors the likelihood that Arshavin, Bendtner and possibly Diaby/Rosicky are all shown the exit and what type of team do we have left?

    Arsenal are making me very nervous with regard to  comings and goings in the transfer market. If they do lose Nasri, Arshavin and Cesc where will the creativity come from? Who will be pulling the strings in midfield? No addition of a true #9 is a concern. What about...the goalkeeping?

    If Wenger and Arsenal do not take a different tact I fear the club might be relegated to competing in the Europa League in the near future.