Friday, July 14, 2006

Au Revoir, Goodbye, Peace out!

As one door closes, another opens. This is my final post on this site. Throughout the World Cup the blog was visited by people from Australia, Ghana, Croatia, Singapore, Malaysia, Italy, Belgium, the UK and, of course, the U.S. I hope many of you will continue reading over at my new blog:

http://worldfoootebol.blogspot.com/

Hope to hear from you over there.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

It's Not Over.

The blog is not dead. Initially I intended to keep it just as a means of chronicling the World Cup. Now it will carry over into the domestic European seasons and maybe with some South American things thrown in here and there. I may take things to a different URL to preserve this is a World Cup only experience. I haven't made that decision yet. In any case, thanks to everyone who visited the blog throughout the World Cup. All comments were appreciated. I hope everyone continues to read once I switch over to domestic coverage in August. My first game will be a Barcelona v. Chivas friendly in Los Angeles. I don't think hosting a blog is enough to get me press credentials so I'll be in the cheap seats with everyone else. Stay tuned.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Scores are Down but Excitement Is Up

In the wake of the Cup many people are complaining about how there wasn't enough scoring and the games were boring. I think this is all hogwash. Scoring is down for a slew of reasons that have little to do with a decline in talent of the game. In fact, I would argue that scores in the games are going down because of the exact opposite: An increase in talent.

Think about it, in the 1982 World Cup Hungary defeated El Salvador 10-1, Poland defeated Peru 5-1, Scotland defeated New Zealand 5-1. In 1986 the Soviet Union defeated Hungary 6-0 and in that same tournament Denmark defeated Uruguay 6-1 and Spain, the home team, later defeated Hungary 5-1. In 1990 Czechoslovakia defeated the U.S. 5-1 and West Germany defeated the United Arab Emirates 5-1 also. Fast forward to today's game and I can only think of two games that were a true no contest: Germany's 8-0 victory over Saudi Arabia and Argentina's 6-0 win over Serbia & Montenegro. Otherwise, the smaller countries have equipped themselves well on the big stage. Trinidad tied Sweden and played England even for 84 minutes. Angola tied Mexico and lost 0-1 to Portugal. We also saw Ghana defeat the Czech Republic 2-0. and the U.S. Italy needed a last second penalty to beat Australia while Ivory Coast hung tough against both Argentina and the Netherlands

What I hope the foregoing shows is that the smaller countries are getting closer to the bigger ones and therefore the cricket scores that we used to see back in the day no longer happen. There are no more whipping boys. Although you may occasionally see a game like Argentina played against Serbia & Montenegro, it is no longer the norm. The reason for this is that the increasing globalization of the game has brought parity. The game is no longer Balkanized with South Americans playing in South America, Africans playing in Africa, and so on. Players from all over the world now ply their trade in Europe and this has enhanced the experience of players from smaller countries. They get an opportunity to play in the top leagues and compete against the top players. By the time the World Cup comes around they are not in awe of these players because they have either played against them before or have some of the players from bigger countries as teammates.

By way of comparison you can look at the development of international basketball since the first Dream Team. In '92 the world was in awe of the dream team in Barcelona and the result was that the U.S. pounded every team. At the time there were few foreign players plying their trade in the NBA. I remember Drazen Petrovic was there and few others. Fast forward 14 years and the NBA is replete with foreigners playing against Americans and getting better every year. The result of that in the 2004 Olympics that it was Argentina and not the U.S. who ended up winning the Gold Medal. One could argue that U.S. basketball has gotten worse over the past 14 years and although I think it has a better explanation is that the rest of the world is catching up in basketball and as a result our scoring in the olympics has gone down. The next step then for soccer is for one of the smaller countries to actually win the World Cup. Unfortunately, we may be a generation or two away from that happening.

The improvement of the smaller sides is not the only thing that has contributed to the reduction in scoring. The dreaded 4-5-1 formation can also be blamed for this. Thirty years ago many teams played 3-4-3 then gradually it became 4-4-2, which at the time was regarded as a defensive formation. Today, the 4-5-1 makes the 4-4-2 look like an offensive onslaught. It makes me wonder what's next? The 5-5-0? The 4-5-1 is really a negative move because it crowds the midfield and stops the ball from flowing freely from end to end. Teams are employing two defensive midfielders(see france with Vieira and Makelele and Italy with Perrotta and Gattuso) instead of just using one. This has probably contributed to the scoring going down as much as the smaller nations getting better. I think coaches are using this formation because the game is more result oriented today than it was before. Granted Brazil still talks about playing the beautiful game but had they won the World Cup Nike would have paid them 20 million dollars. Such a financial payoff can lead to coaches employing negative tactics just to get the results. The emphasis on free flowing attacking football has taken a backseat. When you see a team like the dutch playing like thugs as they did against portugal, you get the feeling that the game is moving in a new direction. Miroslav Klose won the golden boot with just five goals. You have to go all the way back to 1962 to see someone win it with a number that low.

Along with the smaller nations getting better at playing the game and teams using defensive formations I think the play acting and chicanery that has snuck into the game must be removed by FIFA. The play acting that exists in the game is shameful, but I can't blame the players. When you step on the field your only goal today is to beat your opponent. Italian players got 330k per game for winning the World Cup. You think they care if they have to flop to get it? Me neither. When players flop and go down as if they've been shot and the stretchers come out, we lose almost 3 minutes of game time and in the end we only get 1 minute of added time. We spend less time playing the game and therefore don't have enough time to score goals as we otherwise would. What FIFA can do to get rid of this is an automatic yellow card if the ref thinks that you dove. Diving then becomes a cost benefit analysis and we will probably see less of it. However, right now all we have are rewards for diving. If you fake it you make get a penalty if you don't you can milk three minutes off the clock. If I were a player I cannot say I would not do the same thing under the current rules. FIFA needs to take a hard look at the game it is selling and think of ways to improve it. There's nothing you can do about the overall improvement of talent nor can you stop coaches from employing negative tactics but a low scoring game isn't the end of the world. The Germany v. Italy game was scoreless for nearly 120 minutes and it was exhilerating stuff with open, end to end soccer being played. I don't mind a 0-0 scoreline if both teams are going for it. It's like a Bears v. Packers game in December. There's beauty in the 6-3 scoreline for hardcore fans of the game but the casual fan would rather watch a 42-14 game indoors on turf. FIFA needs to change the game to not alienate it's core fans while at the same time trying to draw in the casual fan so they can stay around long after the drama of the World Cup is over. However, the suggestion I heard floated that we should increase the size of the goals because today's goalkeepers are bigger than they were before is, well, hogwash. We don't increase the height of the basketball hoop because players are getting taller, do we?

Even though scores are down, the game is in a healthy stage. This World Cup garnered more viewers than any other. There seems to be a greater buzz in the U.S. about the World Cup than there was in '02 even when the U.S. did much better than they did previously. The success of the sport in America is inevitable. The only question now is when will it happen.

Argentine connection...

I got this little tidbit from my buddy Ilan...

Now to the weird Argentine connection in this cup. Although Argentina did not win the cup, argentines definitely altered the outcome.

Here it goes:
1) Argentine ref. gives Rooney a red card. England is eliminated.
2) Argentina fight with Germany causes German to lose its best defensive midfielder for a game. Germany is eliminated
3) Argentine ref gives Zidane a red card...France loses
4) But wait, Trezeguet misses the penalty kick. Guess where his parents are from and where he first started paying? Argentina

Wrap Up From The Big Game

The World Cup is over. Kudos to Italy for winning it. With their fourth Cup they have reestablished themselves as a force in the game. It was a shame that the game was decided on penalty kicks but in extra time both teams started playing for a shootout. The only players on the field who were really going for it were the younger players like Ribery and Malouda. Once Domenech took off Ribery he conceded that the game would go to penalty kicks. Once it got to penalty kicks each team did extremely well. The fact that the only thing to separate the two sides was David Trezeguet missing a penalty kick underscores the point that there was very little difference between the sides. Zidane could have won it on a header, no not that one, that was saved by Buffon and Luca Toni could have won it with his header but he was well offsides once the ball was played. All in all it was a good tournament and I'm glad to see Italy on top because this is good for Italian soccer after the black eye they took from the match fixing scandal. They needed this more than any other team, I think.

And what of the headbutt heard around the world? Very unfortunate way to end a great career. I don't doubt that Zidane will be forgiven and his lasting memory will be his all around excellence on the field, but his last act on a football field will never be forgotten. He will be as synonymous with his great performance in '98 as his meltdown in 2006. Great players who live on the edge are always forgiven, however. The Eric Cantona kung fu kick in '95 comes to mind. Now Cantona is the jolly fat man on Nike commercials encouraging the world to "play beautiful." Diego Maradona had the hand of god and the cocaine suspension in '94 but most people remember him for his amazing goal in the 86 Cup where he beat no fewer than 8 defenders in scoring the greatest goal I've seen. The only question to be answered is 'what could have Materazzi have said?' My sources(I watch a little too much of Steven A. Smith) tell me that Materazzi said something very racist, still to be confirmed, and called Zidane an Arab terrorist. Given the general xenophobia against certain ethnicities that surrounds Italian football it wouldn't surprise me if this is proven true. Still, I am not sure if this would be enough provocation for a player of such status to lose it but as Chris Rock said about O.J. Simpson, 'i aint saying i woulda did it, but i understand.'

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Forza Italia: Italy wins 5-3 on Penalty Kicks.

Minute 91: Henry is offering no movement to make himself available. As a result, Ribery is doing a lot of running but with nobody to give the ball to. France is starting the first overtime period right where they left off. They are dominating the ball while Italy are standing around right now.

Minute 93: Malouda wins a corner from a nice run down the left side. This is where youth may come in handy as the game goes on longer Ribery and Malouda will have more reserves in the tank to battle on for 120 minutes.

Minute 95: Malouda splits two defenders, including nutmeging Cannavaro but he takes a dive after slapping Gattuso in the face. Malouda is looking livelier as the game has gone on.

Minute 98: This is a true marathon game. The age on both sides is starting to show. The only two players who are moving are Ribery and Malouda. Ribery just had a shot goe a little wide. The youngster is playing an excellent game in the later stages.

Minute 100: Ribery comes off for Trezeguet. This is a bad substitution, not because Trezeguet is on the field but because France has just taken off the only player who has been running in the attack. Trezeguet gets a chance now to bury the Italians again.

Minute 103: EVERYONE looks tired on the field right now. This one has penalty kicks written all over it right now.

Minute 104: BUFFON with an excellent save from a Zidane header. Wonderful save because had that gone in the Zidane legend would have grown even larger. First half of extra time is over. Time for the last 15 minutes. A hero needs to be born because I don't want to see this game end like the '94 final where the Italians lost to Brazil.

Minute 107: Henry is subbed out for Sylvain Wiltord. This is strange that Domenech would take out Henry for Wiltord if penalties are looming.

Minute 109: Zidane is sent off for headbutting Materazzi in the chest. This is amazing. Zizou has "lost the plot." France now have to play a man down and if this goes to PKs there's no Henry and no Zidane. In the words of George Costanza "I am speechless. I am without speech."

Minute 115: There's nothing left for the French. There's nobody to create for them and get hte ball into dangerous positions. There's no Vieira, no Zidane, no Henry. This is absolutely bizarre. Who could have predicted this? Somehow I still think if this goes to penalties the Italians will find a way to lose it and that's with Buffon and the French being without Zidane and Henry. The NEED A GOAL RIGHT NOW.

Minute 120: Game over. Time for Penalty kicks. France has made 75% of their penalties throughout World Cup history and Italy is at 53%. This is not pretty for the Italians. Buffon does not look like a happy man. The angst is written all over his face.

First kick: Pirlo steps up. Cooly places it in the roof of the net. 1-0 Italy

Second kick: Wiltord. Places it to the right, Buffon goes left. 1-1.
Third kick: Materazzi. Not sure why he is taking the second kick but let's see what happens. Materazzi goes straight to the corner although Barthez guesses right Materazzi gets it right. 2-1 Italy.

Fourth Kick: Trezeguet steps up against his teammate. Trezeguet blasts it off the crossbar but unlike Zidane's penalty he doesn't get the nice bounce. still 2-1 Italy.

Fifth kick: Daniele De Rossi stes up. Blasts it in the roof of the net. 3-1 ITaly. They are so close right now.

Sixth Kick: Eric Abidal. Tough for the Lyon defender. Let's see what he does. Abidal places it coolly in the net. Buffon, for all his excellence, hasn't guessed right yet. 3-2

Seventh Kick: Alex Del Piero, one of the all time greats in Italian soccer. All time leading scorer for Juventus. Alex again places it in the roof of the net. 4-2

Eighth kick: Sagnol steps up he has to make it or France loses. He makes it. 4-3

Ninth kick: Fabio Gross steps up. If he makes this Italy wins it all. Grosso steps up and he .... puts it past Barthez. Italy wins their fourth World Cup on penalty kicks. This is a sad way to end the tournament on penalties. The teams were very close and the only thing separating them was David Trezeguet missing a penalty kick. Trezeguet burried Italy at Euro 2000 and now Trezeguet's miss is the reason France lost.
Italians gather around Camoranesi in the middle of the field and cut off his pony tail.

The living memory will probably be Zidane's headbut on Materazzi. Fabio Cannavaro should get the Golden Ball. That's it and that's all.

Final 1-1. Extra Time to be Played.

Second half is underway. 45 minutes from glory for one team. How likely is it that one newspaper will have the headline of "Les Bleus(or Il Azzurri) sings the Blues?"

Minute 46: Second half opens up with Henry bursting into the box and having his shot saved easily by Buffon.

Minute 48: Within 3 minutes of the second half we see again Zambrotta's total dominance over Malouda today. It's amazing to me that the French aren't counter attacking well off the Italians sending both their fullbacks up the field. ANother Corner for the Italians which they play short before sending it into the box but the header is deflected.

Minute 50: Henry beats three Italianas in the box but Zambrotta clears for a France corner. At least Henry is doing enough to get his name called. Nothing from Totti so far.

Minute 52: Henry gets the ball in acres of space in the box and instead of hiting it one time he dwells on the ball and Cannavaro steps in and clears. The French are really piling on the pressure here early in the second half.

Minute 53: Excellent counter attack from the French. For once they catch Grosso out of position and Ribery breaks and passes to Zidane who lays it off for Malouda but the young winger hesitates and Zambrotta dives in and clears. Zambrotta gets the better of him again.

Minute 55: Vieira goes down with what looks like a cramp or a strained hamstring. Vieira is subbed out and replaced by Alou Diarra. This is Diarra's first game in the World Cup since coming on as a sub against Togo. He's a quality young player but I'm not sure if he's ready for this stage. More importantaly Zidane loses his shield for the rest of the gam. Tme for Henry and Zidane to turn it up and carry the French team.

Minute 59: France is really dominating possession right now. How much more pressure can the Italians soak up? A long ball from Camoranesi finds no one. Again, Italy are you England in disguise? Why the long balls? knock it around a bit.

Minute 61: A great free kick to Toni who heads it in but he was well offsides before the ball was played. Scores are still level. Italians have made two substitutions bringing on Iaquinta and De Rossi for Perotta and Totti.

Minute 63: Henry breaks and is one on one with Cannavaro in the box. He beats Cannavaro but again Buffon is there to make the stop.

Minute 65: Cannavaro shows why he's been the best defender in the tournament taking the ball off Henry's foot then dribbling out the back before losing it.

Minute 70: Five minutes of nothing really. France is spending more time in the Italian half of the field. Ribery wins a free kick off Cannavaro. Buffon comes out to knock it away for a French throw in.

Minute 74: Cannavaro does a bicycle kick clearance. This man clearly deserves the Golden Ball.

Minute 75: Zidane lines up a free kick but sends it too long and it goes out for a goal kick for Italy.

Minute 77: Pirlo lines up a free kick from about 35 yards out. Dave Obrien says "he can be deadly with these." Well it looks like Pirlo hit it well but it was about a yard wide of the target.

Minute 82: France is getting nothing from Ribery and Malouda. Maybe the lights on the big stage are a little too bright for them. Zidane continues to be active in the middle of the field though and does not seem to be missing Vieira.

Minute 85: There's nothing from the Italians right now. France is keeping the ball in the ITalian half and there does not seem to be any outlets for the Italians.

Minute 86: Del Piero comes in for Camoranesi. The crowd is going wild for the introduction of the all time leading scorer for Juventus.

Minute 87: Claude Makelele takes a shot from outside the box but it goes well over the bar. That's pretty much like Ben Wallace taking a three pointer. Everyone knows it's gonna be off. The Italians are doing nothing like they were doing in the first half. They are creating absoolutely nothing going forward. It is all France right now.

Minute 90: Two minutes are added. Looks like we are going to to be playing 120 minutes today. Ribery is doing a lot of running looking to unlock the ITalian defense but the rest of the team looks tired. And there you have it. The Old Men of Europe are going to extra time. tied at 1-1.

First Half Diary: France 1 Italy 1

The World Cup Final is finally here. It just dawned on me that in my previous post I bet against the team with the greatest player of the past 20 years and one of the top 3 players in the world. France's team is replet with players who have won championships in Italy, Spain, England and France. They have Champions league, World Cup and European Championship winners medals. The Italian team boasts only a few players who have won in Serie A and by my count only Del Piero, Gattuso and Pirlo have own the champions league. The championship experience definitely lies with France. But yet I'm picking Italy? I must be mental.

Things to watch for in today's game:

-Thierry Henry has played in six finals but has only a solitary goal to show for his efforts.
-Fabio Cannavaro is looking to be the first defender to have his name etched on the Golden ball.
-Can Gattuso, Camoranesi and Perotta slow down Zidane and Ribery?
-Can Totti and Toni cause the near impregnable partnership of Lilian Thuram and William Gallas some problems today?
-And the biggest story that everyone is reporting, can Zidane craft the perfect ending to an excellent career? We will find out over the next 90 minutes or, more likely, over the next 120. Let the games begin.

Minute 1: We've kicked off with the Azzurri passing the ball around between them early. Carelss giveaway in midfield by the Italians but Zidane plays it too far ahead. Already THIERRY HENRY IS DOWN from a collision with Fabio Cannavaro. Is this a Michael Owne situation? Henry is still down. The stretchers are out. Is Henry milking the clock already? He looks really out of it. Maybe Ronaldo put somethin in his food to pay back for '98. Marcelo Balboa gives his first contribution to the game "this could be a concussion."

Minute 3: We're still dealing with Henry here. This is no good for les Bleus. If Henry has to go out this will no doubt strengthen the claims that Henry is not a big game player.

Minute 4: On comes Henry, the pride of Guadalupe and play has picked up again. A good Italian attack ends with Zambrotta totally taking out Patrick Vieira's knees. Zambrotta gets a yellow card for his efforts.

MInute 6: PENALTY!!! Florent Malouda goes down after barely being touched by Materazzi. This is a shame that the game is being tarnished by Malouda's dive. Cagey stuff.

Minute 7: Zidane chips his penalty that goes off the crossbar and back down a few inches across the goalline. What a wonderful chip and it's game on. This isn't looking good. Italy needs two goals to win it against a French defense that's only given up one goal from open play.

MInute 9: I'm really hoping that another goal is scored here because to have the tournament decided on a dubious penalty like that would be unfortunate. ....Just like that Materazzi almost obliges me by heading the ball nearly into his own net. Corner for France but nothing comes of it. Before the game started many thought Materazzi would be the weak link for Italy. He's proving everyone right so far.

Minute 11: Collision on the right side between Grosso and Sagnol and both players go down as if they've been shot. Sagnol gets a yellow card and we continue playing.

Minute 13: We've seen nothing yet from the Italians in attack. The ball's been pinging around in midfield . The only real attacking threat from either side ended up Zidane scoring the penalty.

Minute 14: Great defensive header from Thuram on a Pirlo free kick. Corner for ITaly which comes to nothing. Pirlo has really come alive in the last two minutes. I still can't get over that early penalty decision. This game CANNOT end 1-0.

Minute 17: Longball from Pirlo finds no one on the other end. Italy, are you England in disguise?

Minute 19: WHOOOO!!! GOAL!!! Apparently poetic justice is on display here. Andrea Pirlo takes a free kick and Materazzi connects with it, rising well above Vieira to knock it in. You can't really say that it was poor defending from Vieira. He was just outjumped by a taller player. NOW we have a game on our hands.

Minute 21: We area halfway into the first half and I haven't heard Totti's name called a single time. Ditto for Henry (besides getting hurt). There sare two of the best players in the game but seem to always come up short in big games. Nothing would make me happier than to see one of them score the winning goal today.

Minute 24: The Italians are starting to get their flow going. Pirlo is playing extremely well but seems to be getting the ball too deep to make a difference.

Minute 25: First sign of Henry. He picks the ball up in the center circle and takes it into the box and passes to Ribery but the play is broken up by Totti. Again, Pirlo picks up the ball but about 10 yards from his box. He can't be effective playing that deep. Pirlo needs to get farther up the field and give the defensive duties to someone else.

Minute 27: Another corner kick for Italy and another great header from Materazzi but the ball is cleared by Thuram. All for naught anyway because a foul was called on the big defender.

Minute 29: Great play from Camoranesi so far. Everytime he gets the ball Italy look to do something positive. Camoranesi wins a free kick and now Totti is looking to take it from about 40 yards out. Predictably, the shot is blocked and the French take possession.

Minute 31: Not much out of the young French players right now. Malouda and Ribery are bystanders. Everything for France is going through henry and Zidane but the Italians are doing a good job at soaking up pressure. Another Italy longball finds no one. Again, Italy are you England in disguise?

Minute 33: Simone Perotta goes down clutching his foot after having it stepped on by Franck Ribery. He's writhing in pain. Without a doubt he will continue. This is the World Cup final.

Minute 35: Great play from Pirlowwho gets the ball to Gattuso in the box and it goes out for a corner. Luca Toni hits the bar with his header. The French defense on set pieces is looking very suspect. The Italians are taking advantage of their height.

Minute 36: Great dummmy by Henry to get the ball in the box but Cannavaro unbeatable as usual boots it out for a corner. Nothing comes of the corner and a goal kick for Italy.

Minute 38: Ribery and Malouda are getting eaten up. No positive sign from either of the youngsters. The same can be said for Totti who has contributed nothing to this game. Zambrotta and Grosso continues to push up and keep the French wingers on their toes. That's why everything is going down the middle. Should be interesting to see how the French play without having any width on either side of the pitch, er, field. The French respond by pushing Henry out farther wide on the left.

Minute 44: Materazzi man handles Ribery by the corner flag and breaks up a French attack. Still almost 45 minutes and nothing from Totti. How soon before we see Alex Del Piero?

Minute 45: Halftime. Good stuff from both teams. Should be an exciting second half. France really needs to improve on their defensive efforts on set pieces and Italy needs to get Pirlo farther upfield. Will Totti improve or will he have to be replaced by Del Piero?

Friday, July 07, 2006

Finals Preview

The World Cup final on Sunday presents the most evenly balanced match up of the tournament (well, I suppose Saudi Arabia v. Angola was an even match up too). There is not much that separates the two sides, but I still have to pick a winner. I'm torn between wanting to see Zidane, Vieira, Barthez, Thuram and Henry win their second World Cup and seeing players like Del Piero, Pirlo, Cannavaro, Totti and Buffon get the world championship their excellence deserves.

Italy has been putting on one of the best defensive performances in World Cup history. I think Fabio Cannavaro has been the best player of the World Cup and Gianluca Zambrotta hasn't been too far behind. Cannavaro hasn't put a foot wrong in the entire tournament, making some timely interceptions and covering whenever the midfield gifts possession to the opposition to spark a counter attack. Unfortunately, offensive players get all the plaudits so the focus for Italy will be on their forward players like Totti, Toni and Gilardino.

France has witnessed a renaissance in the knockout stages. After their first two games I thought they might not even make it out the group stages, but they overcame a talented Spanish team and thanks to Roberto Carlos' statuesque figure on a France free kick they beat the Brazilians. Despite tiring against Portugal in the last 25 minutes the Zinedine Zidane penalty was enough to overcome the Portuguese.

When I look at the two teams I don't see any weaknesses. The only appreciable difference between France and Italy is that Buffon is an excellent keeper and Barthez is a joke. The French have won tournaments before (World Cup '98 and Euro '00) in spite of Barthez so this probably should not hold them back too much. Interestingly enough, the French overcame the Italians on their way to both of those titles. In '98 France eliminated Italy in the quarterfinals on penalty kicks and in Euro 2000 a David Trezeguet golden goal was the difference between the two sides.

Looking at France, I can see some of their players like Florent Malouda and Eric Abidal bottling on the big stage. Malouda and Abidal have been providing width for the French down the left side but they will have to overcome Mauro Camoranesi and Gianluca Zambrotta in order to do so. After watching Zambrotta dominate Philip Lahm, Bern Schneider and Bastian Schweinsteiger, my money would be on Zambrotta to continue his play against lesser lights of Abidal and Malouda.

The key then for France, as it has been this entire tournament will be how well Zidane and Henry plays. If they are going to beat the team with the best defensive record in the tournament they will need their best players to produce their best game. Successful attacks from the French have come from Vieira winning the ball then distributing it to Zidane who then beats his man and gets it to either Ribery or Henry. I think France will have some difficulty with this because Italy will likely employ a strategy similar to the one France used against Brazil. Gattuso will likely shadow Zidane with some help from Perotta or Camoranesi if necessary. It is important to nullify Zidane because without him the French can't get anything going from the middle of the field. Players like Vieira and Makelele are essential because their defensive abilities stop you from losing games but they lack the necessary ability going forward to win you games. If Zidane is marked out of the game then Henry will have to drop deeper to collect the ball and run at defenders with some space, something he is good at. I think if he picks up the ball deep he can cause Grosso and Camoranesi problems out on the left side and cause some disorganization in the Italian defense.

The keys for Italy will be how well Totti and Pirlo can launch the counter attacks. Once the ball is won by Gattuso he will be looking to outlet it to Pirlo who wil get it to Totti quickly. It comes down to whether Totti and Pirlo have enough to elude Makelele and Vieira, the two outstanding defensive midfielders of their generation(with apologieis to Roy Keane). The Italians look like they have been getting stronger as the tournament goes on. With each game they have gradually improved while the French against Portugal looked like a tired team that did just enough to get the victory. What it comes down to on Sunday is one game with both teams looking to play their best. The question I ask myself is this: If both teams play the best they can play, who will win? I think that answer is France. If Zidane and Henry are on their game there are few players still breathing who can stop them. If my net worth depended on it who would I pick? France, without a doubt. In big games Zidane is always ready to perform. Two goals in the World Cup final in 98 and a spectacular volley in the Champions League final in 2002 is proof of that. However, I think this Italian team has been playing excellent this tournament and I think they will have just enough to win the game. I think Italy wins this game and Fabio Cannavaro gets his name on the Golden Ball.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

I Want to Shoot Myself.


The Sun is reporting that Sven Goran Eriksson may be bringing his brand of boring football to my homeland, Jamaica for a whopping 3 million pounds. Good work if you can get it. I'm not too excited about this. Sven would definitely be a step up from our current coach, but I would prefer the Jamaican football association go after someone like Guus Hiddink or Louis Van Gaal. I think with the right coaching Jamaica can progress from the CONCACAF region. We have the talent. What we lack is a coach who can organize the players on the field to get the most out of them. I don't think Sven is the right man for the job. Besides, he wouldn't even be willing to commit to the job full time since he would want to juggle coaching our national team with coaching a club team somewhere in Europe. Three million pounds for a part time employee seems a bit steep. Hiring Sven would break the bank. Right now the Prime Minister is talking about redirecting funds from other areas to finance our bid to land Sven. Good to see landing the Swede is more important than redirecting some funds to fix up my old school, Flankers All Age School. Way to go Portia Simpson Miller.

Winning XI

Here is my World Cup Starting XI and my second team. Enjoy.

First Team
Goalkeeper: Gianluigi Buffon
Defenders: Gianluca Zambrotta, Fabio Cannavaro, William Gallas and Miguel
Midfielders: Zinedine Zidane, Andrea Pirlo, Michael Ballack, and Patrick Vieira
Forwards: Miroslav Klose and Thierry Henry.

Second Team:

Goalkeeper: Petr Cech
Defenders: Ashley Cole, Juan, Cristoph Metzelder, and Ricardo Carvalho
Midfielders: Cristiano Ronaldo, Stephen Appiah, Ze Roberto, and Juan Roman Riquelme
Forwards: Ronaldo and Luca Toni

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Institutionalized Choking



The above piece of copyright infringement, pilfered from the London Times, shows the success rate of teams in World Cup shoot outs. The Germans are an amazing 17/18 all time while the Brits have the lowest percentage of any team to have taken more than ten penalty kicks. After viewing the chart and the accompanying story, which can be found at: http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,28782-2253631,00.html, I am now convinced that penalty shoot outs aren't the complete guessing game they are portrayed to be. Portugal keeper Ricardo and German keeper Jens Lehmann both correctly predicted which way each penalty taker would shoot. It is therefore not at all surprising that their teams were victors in their respective shootouts. I just wanted to post this chart as further evidence of the propensity of the Brits to fold whenever the chips are down.

German v. Italy Preview


Germans have not beaten the Italians in World Cup match. The Italians beat the Germans in march 4-1. Why then am I picking Germany to win this game? Home field advantage. The 12th man in the stands. Germany has been playing the best attacking football of any team remaining in the tournament but Italy have the best defensive record having not allowed a single goal from the boot of an opponent. Totti and Toni had good games in the quarters, albeit against Ukraine. There's really no case to be made against Italy. I think they have the better team but the Germans are playing at home. Germany 1-0?

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Quarterfinal Roundup.

By now it should be clear to everyone who reads this blog that I don't know nearly as much about soccer as I profess to know. This weekend's games proved that much. I picked Argentina to beat Germany and they lost. I say that Klose only scores against small countries and he comes out with a huge goal against Argentina. I though England's luck would continue against Portugal and Portugal sent them crashing out of the tournament. Finally, I thought Brazil would overcome France but France elminated the Brazilians again. I know very little my friends.

What surprised me the most about the quarterfinals was that France's plan actually worked. They used Makelele and Vieira to hound the ball all over the midfield and as soon as they won the ball Zidane was always in place, just a few yards back, to receive the ball and turn defending into attacking. The reason I didn't think this would work was that I thought Brazil would have moved the ball much better than it did. Unfortunately, despite the changes that I thought would improve the team, it just didn't pan out. Parreira brought in Juninho and Gilberto Silva and moved Ronaldinho farther forward than he had been playing all tournament. I thought these changes would have brought a more fluid attacking style because now Ronaldinho could get the ball higher up the field and closer to goal where he could creat instead of being jettisoned to the left side like had been for most of the tournament. This was not to be, however, as both Vieira and Makelele turned in great performances, tackling and harrying the Brazilian attackers for most of the game. Once they got the ball and gave it to Zidane it was a treat to watch the old master up to his old tricks again. In the first minute, on his first touch, Zidane slid the ball back with his right foot, turned, pirouetted, and left two Brazilian defenders in his wake. From then on he continued to school Brazilians including a "sombrero" where he flicked the ball over Ronaldo's head and took it down effortlessly and was on his way. Initially I though that if France were to win it would be because they defended with about eight players but this was not the case. On balance I would have to say that the best team on that day won. The loss could not be attributed to anything that Brazil didn't do but more so that France did everything right and, in truth, probably should have had more goals scored. He'll also have to explain how he got outcoached by such a half with like Domenech but the truth is that with Zidane playing the way he was playing there was no way France were going to lose.

In the other game on Saturday, Portugal eliminated England on penalties. This is the fifth major tournament of the last seven that England have been eliminated on penalties (World Cup '90, Euro '96, World Cup '98, Euro '04, World Cup '06). Before the tournament started I wrote in this about the England team:

Traditional also rans. The English team always seems to show up at the major tournaments overhyped and then eventually crash out sheepishly.Two things make me cautious about picking them to make it beyond the quarterfinals though:

1.) Where will the goals come from? Michael Owen has been out since January and hasn't played a competitive match in months. The game against Jamaica can hardly count as competitive since the English walked all over my homeland 6-0. Wayne Rooney the other top English forward has been out with a broken foot for four weeks. His return to the squad may be a little premature and risky. This puts a lot of pressure on poplocking(watch out for his breakdancing if he scores in the cup) forward Peter Crouch who is previously untested at the international level.
2.) Pairing Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard may prove to be a disaster. Both players on their own are probably among the top 10 midfielders in the world. However, their qualities are so similar, they both like to attack, that it may leave a gaping hole in the midfield if they both go forward. It would be best if England played Gerrard with Michael Carrick, a naturally defensive midfielder instead of both Lampard and Gerrard. But it would be hard to justify leaving out a player of Lampard's obvious quality. Because of these two question marks, I have picked the English to go out in the quarterfinals against Portugal, much like in Euro 2004.

Sure enough, I was at least right about England. They just didn't score enough goals in the tournament to deserve to win it and Lampard and Gerrard looked a shell of themselves for the entire tourament. Both players missed their penalties while the much maligned Owen Hargreaves converted his. Two things may have prolonged England's participation in the World Cup: the presence of Jermaine Defoe or Darren Bent(Bent was the top English scorer in the English Premier League this year but was left off the squad. He's definitely a bigger goalscoring threat than Crouch and the same could be said for Defoe.) and a more willingness by the coaching staff to include Aaron Lennon in games at the earlier stages. Lennon came on for Beckham on Saturday and with his first touch set up one of England's best chances of the day. Lennon has something that Beckham does -- an ability to run at defenders and beat them one and one. Beckham is better at free kicks but more of the game is played in open play and it would have been good for England if they had the young player out there supporting the attack.

So the semifinals look like this: France v. Portugal and Germany v. Italy. By picking winners in these games I run the risk of removing all doubt as to my idiocy. Here goes: Germany v. France in the final. Since 1950 only the 1978 World Cup final with Argentina and Holland, was played without either Brazil or Germany in it. Since the Brazilians are now home I'm picking Germany to be in the final. They have homefield at advantage. They are on a roll. The Italians look strong and if the game wasn't on German soil I'd be picking Italy. I actually think they have the better players on the field and they still have not been scored on by an opponent this whole tournament. In the other game, I'm picking France because they beat Brazil. That's really it. Fans of Portugal and Italy must feel very relieved that I didn't pick their team since, judging by my picks in the quarterfinals I have no idea about these things.