Monday, November 25, 2013

Brondby on a roll

In the Danish league Brondby defeated the number one team, FC Midtjylland, 0-1 in Herning. After a near bankruptcy and starting the league as dead last, the end of the year is finally bringing positive news for the fans of this beleaguered side. I am one of those fans. Who know? It may become interesting to watch the Danish league again!

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Qualified for Brazil

The participants for the World Cup are ready, and there is an excellent list of participants for what could be the most exciting World Cup for decades. The draw of the groups will be on December 6th, but here is a little pre-estimate of the teams:

  • Spain: No matter what people say they are the favourites to win the title. Indeed, they are not the same as four years ago, and there may be a little fatigue in a side that has won it all. Nevertheless, they have become a team that know to pace themselves in competition. Only a few teams will be able to match them, and they need to hope Spain has a bad day (like when Brazil won the Confederations Cup).
  • Portugal: It would be a great loss for the World Cup if Cristiano Ronaldo did not play in it. And indeed, he almost single-handedly brought Portugal to Brazil, and will be important in carrying them far.
  • France: Classified in the last game with a good 3-0 victory over Ukraine in spite numerous difficulties along the way. While it is impossible to deny the talent of French football, the national team has been hugely disappointing for a long time now. Frank Ribery will be hugely important to carry them forward, but I doubt they will do anything memorable.
  • England: The last World Cup in Brazil was also historic for England, who were brought down by little USA. This time expectations will not be as high as back then, and England will be more humble. But do not count humility to get them far either.
  • Belgium: One of the dark horses of the World Cup, with one of the most exciting young teams in the world right now. While they may play some great matches and could cause some serious upsets, it is doubtful they can go all the way. Will be nice to see them go far though.
  • Netherlands: As always they will enter the tournament as favourites, having been awesome in qualification. Still, they have always had difficulties, just like in 2012 in Ukraine, and while they have the capacity to go all the way, it remains to be seen.
  • Germany: Surely will be a favourite to win the tournament with an excellent and organized side; one of the best of the world.
  • Switzerland: The Swiss have a solid side of many strong players but qualified from what many considered an easy group (ahead of Iceland). Still, due to their results over the last years they will be seeded in the highest group, where many will look to face them. But care must be taken not to underestimate them (remember Spain in 2012...?).
  • Italy: Was strong in qualification in a weak group. The side under Prandelli is more offensive and is surely to be reckoned with, although not many will think them likely to take the title.
  • Croatia: Qualified in the play-offs against Iceland after trailing Belgiun in the qualifying group. They are not as strong as in former years.
  • Greece: A strong and organized defense took them to the World Cup after a play-off match against Romania. Greece is not going to be World Champion in Brazil.
  • Bosnia-Hercegovina: The only first-timer in the 2014 World Cup. They won their group ahead of Greece, and will surely want to proudly show their flag in Brazil.
  • Russia:Won their group perhaps a bit surprising ahead of Portugal when the Portuguese could not defeat Israel at home. The side is coached by the almost-legendary Fabio Capello, and it will be very interesting to see what they can do in Brazil.
North America and the Caribbean:
  • USA: After a bit shaky start they profited well from the results in the CONCACAF qualification zone to win the group and qualify directly.
  • Honduras: After defeating the USA and tying Mexico at the start of qualification Honduras fell somehow behind until they stunned Mexico by defeating them 1-2 in Estadio Azteca in Mexico City, a match that put them well-deserved in a world cup position.
  • Costa Rica: Winning all their home matches in "la hexagonal" was what effectively put Costa Rica in their fourth World Cup. I have fond memories of Costa Rica from their 1990 participation where they stunned the world.
  • Mexico: One of the most difficult qualification campaigns ever for Mexico: it started in the first stage with five players being suspended for doping, and then they struggle in "la hexagonal"  where their formerly impregnable home stadium Azteca was suddenly not so impregnable. After losing at home to Honduras coach Chepo de la Torre was fired, and Mexico just managed to get the fourth spot and a play-off match against New Zealand. Here, Mexico made no doubt that they belong in Brazil, winning 9-3 on aggregate.
  • Ivory Coast: The Ivorians again go to a World Cup with one of the strongest African sides, even with an ageing Didier Drogba. Still, it will be wonderful to see the veteran in Brazil.
  • Ghana: Ghana is in their third World Cup in a row, and after destroying the strong Egyptians in the qualification play-off, the Black Stars will also be a team to watch, and perhaps again keep the African hopes alive.
  • Algeria: Were lucky to qualify in the end with their play-off against Burkina Faso. Algeria will always get sympathy since they were cheated in the World Cup of 1982, but still, I think I would have loved to see Burkina Faso in Brazil.
  • Cameroun: The legendary Cameroonians made no doubt they wanted to be in Brazil when they trounced Tunisia 4-1 in their last play-off match. It will be their seventh World Cup and hopefully the legendary Samuel Eto'o will be there one last time.
  • Nigeria: The African champions had no major problems qualifying, even defeating a good Ethiopian side in the play-offs. They will be under pressure to do well in Brazil from their expectant fans after not having done well in the latest World Cups.
South America:
  • Brazil: Brazil is under huge pressure and expectations to win the World Cup, and they are surely favourites. It has helped that they now have Felipe Scolari as coach, who is the one man who may lead the Brazilians beyond the pressure to success. Together with Spain, they are the favourites.
  • Colombia: A likeable and strong team, Jose Pekerman has an important challenge in trying to tie together his offensive players in the most efficient manner. While Colombia may be a dark horse for the title, I think their defense weaknesses and the enormous pressure their fans always puts on them, will likely prove their demise.
  • Chile: Because of its attractive playing style Chile is likely to win even more friends in Brazil than they did in South Africa. Also, the side looks even stronger, making Chile another of the sides to watch out for in Brazil.
  • Argentina: While they apparently have some of the best attacking power in the world, Argentina does not look to be an unbeatable side. Coach Alejandro Sabella has himself admitted that they are weak in defense, and denied that Argentina is a favourite. I agree.
  • Ecuador: They started well in qualification but foundered a bit towards the end, although their participation never really looked threatened.
  • Uruguay: They had some problems in qualification, and at one point their participation looked unlikely. But towards the end they came back strongly, with some of their excellent strikers putting up strong performances to give them a play-off match against Jordan. There was really no contest when Uruguay destroyed the Jordanians in Amman. Last time Uruguay played a World Cup in Brazil they won it in front of an astonished Maracana Stadium. While they may not win it again, their participation in Brazil is one of the most necessary ones for the tournament.
  • Japan: The Japanese were the first side to qualify to Brazil, where they will surely have many fans following them, something that will give them extra energy. They did well in South Africa and are bound to do well in Brazil.
  • South Corea: Perhaps not as strong as before, but still the most consistent team from Asia, having participated in every World Cup since 1986.
  • Australia: Now part of the Asian qualification Australia had little trouble qualifying behind Japan in their group. This will be their third consecutive World Cup.
  • Iran: Qualified well by winning the second round group ahead of South Corea and Uzbekistan to make it to their fourth World Cup.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Ronaldo to Brazil

In a previous post I asked who I would rather see walking down Copacabana: a Portuguese or a Swede? This was partly because I was afraid of asking whether Ronaldo or Ibrahimovic would be best in te World Cup.
I am not afraid of comparing any more. While it will be a pity that Ibrahimovic (who scored two goals tonight), it would be a much greater pity to miss Cristiano Ronaldo, who at the moment, together with Frank Ribery, is the best player in the world, far better than the little Argetinean, who is becoming more of a boring soap opera star.
Who would have thought...?
With three goals tonight it was Cristiano Ronaldo who took Portugal to Brazil. Portugal often annoys me me because they become cocky, and lose matches against worse teams. They may do the same in Brazil, but if they keep their head cold and with a magical Ronaldo, Portugal could well conquer the world in their former colony...

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Who would you rather see walking on Copacabana?

With Sweden facing Portugal in the World Cup play-offs one thing is certain: a side with great haircuts will be out. And yesterday Portugal took the first round by winning 1-0 on a late goal by Cristiano Ronaldo. After a shaky start Portugal were indeed the better side, but 1-0 is a very narrow victory to go to Sweden with, and it will be a thrilling second match.
I admit that both teams are great sides that surely belong in a World Cup. So I have to use other criteria to decide on who to support. The question is: who would I rather see walking in a bikini on Copacabana? A Portuguese or a Swedish lady...?

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Uruguayan superiority

Uruguay is almost certain to be in Brazil next year after having trashed Jordan 0-5 in Amman in the first leg of their play-off match. Next week's match in Montevideo is now just a formality where the Uruguayans will nevertheless be forced to entertain a sold-out stadium, so it seem likely Jordan are up for another beating.
Edison Cavani, who scored a beautiful fifth goal for Uruguay, was only too nice to Jordan when he said that "it looked like it was easy, but it was not" (he even added that "we still have a difficult match ahead of us").
Of course it was easy, because let us face it, Asian football is many light years away from South American football, and there is not a single of the ten South American sides that would not have defeated the fourth best Asian side to make it to the World Cup. That is what makes it so grotesque when some people talk about Asia and Africa deserving to get more spots in the World Cup, mostly instead of Europe, but certainly also instead of South America.
Really? That would mean that number four in Asia, Jordan, would have qualified, but we would have missed Uruguay!?
Any right-minded football fan (even Jordanian football fans) have to agree that the World Cup would only be weaker and more boring with teams like Jordan instead of Uruguay, and the humongous difference in quality between the sides was only much too obvious today.
I am not saying it will always be like that. Perhaps one day number four in Asia will be as good as number five (or six if we count Brazil) in South America. But frankly, I do not believe I will see this happen for many decades!
Congratulations to Uruguay! Cannot wait to see them in Brazil! (let us not forget what happened last time Uruguay played a World Cup in Brazil....).

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

"A boring league"

Just read an interview with the successful Atletico Madrid coach, Diego Simeone, in which he calls the Spanish league "boring". In spite of his team's second place in the league he says his only expectation when the league started was to bother the two great teams, and this he has greatly succeeded at. But still, his team has to fight hard to win every match, and their second place is also, in my view, because of the prolonged crisis that Real Madrid has been in. And I certainly agree with Diego Simeone when he says it is laughable to talk about crisis in FC Barcelona, when the team has won 12 league matches and is quite uncontested in first spot.
In reality one needs only to look at the history of the Spanish league in the last years to see how boring it is: not since 2008 has another team than Real Madrid and Barcelona been in top-2 (Villarreal, who trailed Real Madrid for the title). Not since 2004 has another team than Real Madrid or FC Barcelona won the title (Valencia, ahead of Barcelona). In 2012 the point difference between number 2 (FC Barcelona) and number 3 (Valencia), was 30 points, which was greater than the difference between number 3 and number 19 (Sporting de Gijon), who went down to second division, just showing the Spanish league to be a league of two teams fighting for the title and 18 teams fighting for survival.
One can say that this is because Real Madrid and Barcelona simply are better, but this is overly to simplify it. Both teams have advantages that the other teams can only dream about. While all teams struggle financially, both teams seem to have never-ending amounts of money, negotiating their own TV deals, which are worth more than the entire rest of the league together. As such, they continue promoting themselves as global brands and making money, perpetuating their superiority.
It is refreshing that Atletico Madrid is up there, bothering the dominance of the two Monster-clubs, but just as Simeone, we all know it is just for a little while, and that Atletico has no chance of taking the title in the near future. Maybe they can take second spot, but that will also require all the hard work and luck that Simeone and his players can find.
In any case, the Spanish league is slightly better for it, but continues to be the second most boring league in the world.