Friday, July 27, 2012

Let the games begin! The XXX Olympics

Let the games begin! The XXX Olympics will commence today, well the opening ceremony. Events have already take place, such as football. Including a huge shock - Japan defeating Spain 1-0. Spain could be going for an unprecedented footballing feat - holding the World Cup, Gold Medal and European Cup at the same time!

In honor of the Olympics, one of the greatest moments of Olympic history -

Monday, July 16, 2012

Wonderful story on titi

Good article in the NYT about Titi Henry and his time in New York - click here. Wonderful description of how one of France's greatest soccer stars lives his life and enjoys the Big Apple. What is the most interesting part is how Titi is viewed and how he views his life...all outside of France and Paris. There have been many stories and rumors floating around as to why Henry is loved in England, Spain and the rest of the world but not in his native France. Strange for a player that is the all time leading scorer for the French national team!

Monday, July 09, 2012

Les Bleus get their man - Deschamps takes over France

After a tempest in a tea cup of a soap opera, the FFF lands their man - Didier Deschamps. Not a huge surprise. DD had been in the conversation for the past 4 years, many thought he would get the role after Domenech left.

DD's resume is nothing to sneeze at - captained Les Bleus during the golden era winning the World Cup in 1998 and the Euros in 2000. He then managed Monaco, getting the French side to the Champions League finals, falling to Mourinho's Porto side 3-0. He then had stints at Juventus and most recently Marseilles, winning silver ware at each stop. DD was destined to manage Les Bleus....but....I am wary of his future with France. Why?

In most circumstances, having the former captain of France run the team would instantly change the atmosphere. Just having a World Cup and European Cup winner at the helm would and should dictate a different attitude from the players. At least for a honeymoon period. Unfortunately this time the former captain is replacing...another former World Cup and European Cup champion. Another player that held a very similar stature when it comes to the French national team. Deschamps replaces Blanc...Le a strange way it feels as if Blanc is taking the left overs from Blanc. Blanc is the one that decided not to renew his contract and now Deschamps is the "second choice."

What I fear is that Blanc might have resigned since he felt his team and the players had tuned him out. So why would they all of a sudden listen to his former teammate.

Deschamps has the pedigree and experience to be successful, but he will have to deal with the challenge of replacing his former teammate. Meet the new boss same as the old boss?

Wednesday, July 04, 2012

Zidane, plan B for Les Bleus?

Hmmmm....after Deschamps asked the FFF to give him some time to reflect, the latest is that the heat has been turned up on Zizou. Is this is little gamesmanship on the part of Le Graet? Giving Deschamps a small kick in the back end, not allow him to waffle too long. Or is Le Graet about Zidane? Zizou has made it clear recently that taking the reigns of France is something he would be interested in doing...but not necessarily today.

France's next manager?

To me I think Zidane is not ready to take over the reigns for France. Both Blanc and Deschamps cut their teeth at the club level before Blanc ended up taking over Les Bleus, and Deschamps looks like he might follow those footsteps. Zizou's ability on the pitch is without question, arguably one of the top 5 players of all time, but that does not necessarily translate to the management role. Like in many sports, it is usually the non-super stars that make the best managers - they are more students of the game, they did not have the superhuman natural ability that made them so good. Of course this is not a hard rule -

  • Platini managed Les Bleus to a 100% qualifying campaign, with victories over Spain and Czechoslovakia. A 19 game unbeaten streak led to Platini getting manager of the year awards, but the 1992 Euros saw France crash out after the group stages.
  • Beckenbauer managed the German national team to the 1990 World Cup title as well as the 1986 runner up finish, his first managerial role. Not bad.
The difference is both these players were leaders on the field with their talents and also in the dressing room...I am not sure Zizou was all that great at the latter.

I think that Le Graet really wants to see Deschamp running the national team, this smells like a ruse to get DD to sign on the dotted line. If he has to try an persuade Zidane to manage the national team, it would not be a PR move. Just not sure the results will come on the pitch.

Sunday, July 01, 2012

Congratulations to Espana...greatest team of all time

Well that was anticlimactic...for a team that was "boring" yes I called them that! A team with no true striker. A team that seemed content with a 1-0 lead....that was an ass-whooping. It was so bad that I stopped watching at half time...but kudos to the Spanish for winning 4-0 against Italy. Also credit to the Azzurri who came out and tried to impose their will on Spain, only to be overrun. Maybe Blanc was right in starting the team he did in the 1/4 finals!

I will spend time going over the game, especially since I didn't watch half of it! I will say the second goal was a thing of beauty. Watching your left back start the move and make a full sprint from the half way line, latch onto a caviar of a pass from Xavi and then a clinic finish that would make any striker proud was nothing short of jaw dropping.

So the real question now becomes where does this collection fit in the all time greatest national teams? I have to the top. Here are my top five international teams of all time:

Beckenbauer doing Kung Fu dancing..
  1. 2008 - 2012 Spain. European Cup - World Cup - European Cup...nuff said. Granted it is a little difficult for Brazil or Argentina to win the Euros, but you get the point. Scary thing is the core of this team will most likely be in Brazil in 2 years.
  2. 1962 - 1970 Brazil. Two World Cup titles. Some would argue that they could have and should have done better in the 1966 edition where the officials allowed teams to hack the living day lights out of Pele. I realize the generations are different but watch those Brazil teams and you see the dominance in terms of ball possession and attacks coming from any position, similar to La Roja.
  3. 1972 - 1976 West Germany. They reached 3 straight major tournament finals. Winning the 1972 Euros, the 1974 World Cup but falling short in a shoot out loss to Czechoslovakia in the 1976 Euro Finals (made famous by a certain Panenka). Those German teams had the likes of Beckenbauer, Muller and Maier to lean on. That same team reached the 1/2 finals of the 1970 World Cup where they lost to Italy in what is deemed the greatest World Cup game of all time.
  4. 1996 - 2000 France. Les Bleus also made an attempt at winning three straight titles, but unlike Spain and West Germany, fell horribly short. Failing to get out of the group stages at the 2002 World Cup....what could have been had Zidane been healthy or Lemerre realized what he had in Micoud...anyways I digress. France won the World Cup in 1998 and then followed it up with a European title in 2000. Let's not forget that team reached the Euro 1/2 finals in 1996 losing to the Czech Republic in PKs.
  5. The Flying Magyar!
  6.  1952 - 1954 Hungary. The only team that didn't win a trophy let alone multiple ones....but the Flying Magyars were a great team. They recorded a run of 49 games without tasting defeat. They won a gold medal (at that time the gold medal in soccer was on par if not more important than the world cup). They demolished England twice, a team that was seem as the standard bearer of world football. The team had one of the greatest players of all time in Puskas. The fact they did not win a World Cup title is criminal, once again some dodgy officiating in the finals against West Germany cost them a title!
There are some teams that might have made the list had they had greater longevity in terms of success (or just one victory in a final!) - 1988 Holland, 1986 Argentina, 1982 Italy, 1950 Uruguay, 1984 France, 1974 - 1978 Holland....

Spain sits atop this list, and in order to knock them off it is going to take something special. Viva Espana.

Forza Azzurri v La with destiny

The Euros' finals will come to an end later today when a team looking destiny in the face comes up against one of football's most storied sides. Spain v Italy. Many pundits thought it would be Spain v Germany, but the Azzurri put a stop to that. A month ago these two sides faced off in their first group games, a game that ended 1-1. Much has changed for both sides since that match. So who is going to win?

Why Spain will win:
How many Croats does it take to stop Iniesta?
  1. They have a date with destiny. No national team has won three straight major titles. Both West Germany and France attempted the feat and fell short. Spain has a chance to put themselves in a place in history no other team has enjoyed. What is even more impressive is that this coming from a nation that was always seen as an underachiever in international tournaments. Spain has not looked like the world beaters they were 4 years ago when this run started...but they have shown the ability of a champion: finding a way to win. They seem destined to continue this run.
  2. The tiki-taka is too difficult to break down. The constant triangle passing has been perfected by the likes of Xavi, Iniesta, Cesc and the rest. No team has been able to break this down in competitive play, not sure that Italy will be able to find a solution. Iniesta is also playing at a different level. Watching him this tournament it is amazing to see his ability to hold on to the ball in the most precarious situation. With the play of Alba giving Spain width from the fullback position, the tiki-taka is getting increasingly dangerous to defend.
  3. Spain is too deep. La Roja have a deep bench. Being able to throw on the likes of Nava or Torres or Llorente (hasn't been used once!) or Pedro is lethal late in a game. After having to defend for the bulk of a match, chasing ghosts to then have to defend the pace of a Nava is too much for most teams to contend with. Spain showed against Portugal that they can change gears late in the game and few teams have an answer. Italy is an older team and has a lot of football in their legs, chasing the tiki-taka for 60 minutes to then have to defend the fresh players coming in from the bench will be too much.
Why Italy will win:
  1. Italy is the team that has the momentum. The old cliche is true, it is not how you start but how you finish. The Italians have progressively played better as the tournament has moved on. They did the necessary in the group stages: drew their opening game against Spain, got a point from Croatia and won their last game against Ireland. Granted they had to rely on the Spain - Croatia result to ensure they went through. Against England they started showing their class and finally against Germany they took the next step. They have been building up to this final. They are the hot team.
  2. Super Mario. For my Pittsburgh readers and Penguin fans...I am not talking about Lemieux, I am talking about Balotelli. Super Mario is....well.....super! Mario started his little run during the Ireland game, scoring a wonderful goal. He was a dangerous man against England, unfortunate to not have scored. In the semi finals he was a beast. The German back line had no solutions for him and partnering with Cassano was lethal. Spain's system seems to struggle against sides that line up 2 strikers, putting a tremendous amount of pressure on the Spanish center backs. I am not sure that either Pique nor Ramos will be able to keep Super Mario in check. As he demonstrated against Germany, all he needs is a sliver of space and he will punish you. The question remains can Mario play a full 90 minutes and will he keep his cool facing Ramos who I know will try to get under his skin. While Balotelli's second goal against Germany was ridiculous, the goal against Ireland was a greater piece of artistry -

  3. Italy has the system to beat Tiki-Taka. Portugal and Croatia gave a glimpse of how you can give La Roja some problems - timely pressure and break from deep. One of the reasons Spain has not looked the side it was a few years back, is their pace. I know I said they have pacy players, and they do, but the majority of the games they seem content to build slowly, get the triangles going from deep and methodically work their way up the pitch. They seem to just want to go up 1-0 and then sit back and hold the ball. Look at the France game. They came out fast and put France on their heels. However once they went up 1-0 they just sat back and didn't really threaten Lloris. The Italians came out and pressured the Germans, and did so high on the pitch. They threw the Mannshaft's game plan off. I do not think that they will look to put high pressure on Spain the entire game, but Portugal demonstrated that if you can do so you can get some chances to break. Unlike Portugal, the presence of Pirlo will make these breaks much more dangerous. In addition, Pirlo sits much deeper than traditional play makers. Why is this important? Italy can start their attacks deeper, away from the congestion that is in the middle of the park. If the likes of Busquets and Alonso pinch higher to pressure the Italians, that will open up space for Super Mario....not a wise move! The Italians know how to defend, know hot to absorb pressure and are not going to be afraid of the defending European and World Cup champions.
So who will win? I have waffled back and forth. My head tells me Spain....because they are doing what champions do - win ugly. But my heart tells me Italy, maybe because Spain is getting on my nerves - Ramos, Busquets, Cesc and the other whiners are irritating! I do think the game will be good, unlike recent finals. I look for a 1-1 in regulation and head to extra time - goals from Iniesta and Cassano.....and the game will end

Italy 2 - Spain 1. Super Mario will find a way late in the extra time to spring a goal on Spain. Ramos will try to get him off his game only to see Super Mario beat the Real Madrid gadfly for the winning goal.

Forza Italia!!!!