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Archive for December, 2009

Bright and early here today in the US they drew the pairings for the final 16 of the 09/10 Champions League.  Here are the pairings with a brief bit of my feelings on each one….

AC Milan v Man Utd: Feb 16/March 10

One of the two marquee draws in this round takes David Beckham back to Old Trafford for what should be a fascinating second leg.  Last year MU totally outclassed Inter in this same round and surely Alex Ferguson will have some similar tricks up his sleeve.  AC Milan has turned it around after a rough patch to start the season and will surely hope that Beckham adds to their depth as they seek a return to European glory; I think they have the better chance of the two Italian sides although its so hard to bet against anyone with the title of Sir.

Olympique Lyon v Real Madrid: Feb 16/March 10

The pressure is on Real Madrid to show that they have the class to make a European run along with an actual La Liga title challenge.  OL lost at this same stage to eventual champions Barcelona last year but put together a strong run this year despite losing Karim Benzema/Juninho/Fabio Grosso.  Always a talented and well managed side, they will be looking for the upset but face an uphill challenge as the second leg is at the Bernabeu.

Bayern Munich v Fiorentina: Feb 17/March 9

BM has begun to get rolling in both Europe and at home as was clear in their 4-1 smoking of Juve in Torino needed to push them through to the knockout stage.  Fiorentina was one of the more impressive sides in group play, 2nd among all teams with 15 points from 6 games.  They also enjoy the home field advantage and have to like their chances of advancing to the final 8.  Should be one of the more enjoyable fixtures.

Porto v Arsenal:  Feb 17/March 9

Despite Porto’s impressive 12 pts from 6 matches, they came in 2nd and therefore drew one of the always tough EPL sides in the round of 16.  All is not lost though as Arsenal has been nothing if not inconsistent this year and w/o Robin Van Persie have had some trouble finding the net recently.  A January signing could be on the books for Arsene Wenger but either way, this could be a upset in the making.

Olympiakos v Bordeaux: Feb 23/March 17

After impressively leading all teams with 16 points from the 6 group stage matches Bordeaux looks to continue their form against the Greek side.  If Bordeaux can hold onto Marouane Chamakh in the January window, I like the French side to make a run into the final four this year.  Greece is quite a trip to make but GdB has shown nothing but class throughout the tournament thus far, beating Bayern 2x and Juve once.

Stuttgart v Barcelona: Feb 23/March 17

The defending champions have to like the fact that they avoided Milan in this round and should advance with out too much trouble.  I see Stuttgart trying to defend w/the house in the first leg but over 180 minutes Barcelona’s class should see them through w/o much of a problem.

Inter Milan v Chelsea: Feb 24/March 16

The other marquee fixture from the group stage is another Italian/English matchup.  As mentioned Mourinho had trouble with Man Utd last year in this stage but I am sure he will find inspiration in his return to Stamford Bridge.  Inter is also blessed with a little more depth up front this year as Mario Balotelli has shown an extremely keen eye for the net.  Chelsea however are playing as well as any team in Europe right now and after two years of heartbreak in a row, definitely have the final in Madrid as a goal of theirs.  I think maybe Milan can go through but Chelsea are too good and if they escape the African Cup of Nations with no major injuries, I think they will move on.

CSKA Moscow v Sevilla: Feb 24/March 16

Sevilla started out the group stage in fine form but have faded on both the domestic and European front as of late.  They do have the quality up front to keep up with a talented Moscow side and the 2nd leg advantage though and will definitely be favorites to advance.  One of these Eastern European sides will make a run eventually but the battle of free flowing football should play to Spainards advantage.

Americans

In other news…Landon Donovan followed up his MLS contract extension with a brief loan spell at Everton.  He will only be there until March and this could be a great experience for him.  Everton could use some depth and David Moyes has said he will make a few more signings in January.  Hopefully he is able to find the field though and put this time to use rather than spending a dreary British winter on the bench.  Everton will still be in the FA Cup, Europa League, and the EPL so the minutes are there for the taking, it is now up to Landon to seize them.

Probably no more updates for the next 10 days or so….so Happy Holidays to everyone!

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So the draw for the 2010 World Cup is complete and we now have the framework for the biggest sporting event in the world.  It will also provide endless fodder for the Sports Journalist community over the next 6 months aka 187 Days.  I promise I won’t dwell for too long and will provide some interesting links on occasion but here is a look group by group….(PINK is my prediction to move on, for shits and giggles)

Group ASouth Africa/Mexico/Uruguay/France

An interesting group because of the inclusion of South Africa from Pot 1.  France does put a legitimate title contender into the group and with Mexico as well, this becomes a very interesting group.  FIFA and South Africa would obviously love to see SA advance but this becomes difficult with the addition of Mexico, who always seem to make the last 16.  The host country always has a genuine advantage and therefore that match against Mexico becomes very intriguing.  Uruguay also cannot be discounted as they bring plenty of talent, beginning with Europe’s leading league goal scorer from last season, Diego Forlan.  I, however, cannot get over the home field advantage factor.

Group BArgentina/Nigeria/Korea Republic/Greece

One of the more balanced groups from top to bottom.  Nigeria will seek to put together a run to rival ’94 but they have had trouble reproducing that form in any of the WCs since.  Korea is a technically able side but have always had trouble away from the tournament which they hosted.  Greece seems to consistently perform on the national stage; even if it is with a style of the game which is aesthetically boring, a win is a win and their experience could propel them to the 2nd round.  No nation was more enigmatic than Argentina during the qualifying campaign, however, they are much to talented to be held in check by this group and should advance despite the likely chance of losing one of these Group games.

Group CEngland/USA/Algeria/Slovenia

An interesting group right off the bat because of the England v USA match on June 12th.  The British press will surely write off the Americans and see this as a gifted draw for them and a ticket punched to the final.  Obviously an overstatement as there are many games to play and injuries to come about prior to then.  They are an immensely talented bunch but I think they happen to be the beneficiaries of some excessive praise/hype/expectations due to the global appeal of the EPL and loud nature of their journalists.

Slovenia and Algeria were both able to get into the draw based on upsets over Russia and Slovenia respectively but playing far from home (even Algeria is about as far as you can get from SA on that continent) will take its toll on these inexperienced countries.  Hopefully one of the more predictable groups but alas, they must play the games.

Group DGermany/Australia/Serbia/Ghana

One of the 10 laws of international soccer states that Germany will put together an impressive side every four years.  After that, I think Ghana will be a very strong team and could even take the top spot in this group.  Serbia is part of the current rise of Eastern European soccer but once again, the inexperience and distance from home will prove to be difficult.  Australia will surely bring a team that is willing to fight as hard game in and game out, refuse to overlook anyone, and could subsequently prove the spoiler here.

Group ENetherlands/Denmark/Japan/Cameroon

Cameroon is another one of the incredibly powerful African sides who will surely be motivated to play on their home continent.  In addition to the pent up energy that comes from missing out on the ’06 tournament, this is a team to watch out for this year.  Denmark had no problem in group qualifying and could actually benefit from the cooler temperatures expected next “summer” but I don’t think they have quite the talent level to match up with Cameroon and the Netherlands here.  I know very little about Japan but Asian countries do not have a quality history of progressing out of their respective groups.

This new Moneyball-esque soccer book claims that the Netherlands are the most successful soccer nation on a per-capita basis.  An interesting claim and undoubtedly as talented as any team from Europe.  However, there seems to be a gap between the old guard (Van Nistleroy, Van der Sar) and the next generation (Huntelaar, Robben, Sneijder).  They will surely go through but after that, its really a toss up.  They have the talent to progress deep but health and form will be a large part of that.

Group FItaly/Paraguay/New Zealand/Slovakia

New Zealand might be the easiest out of this tournament due to a lack international talent and experience at this level.  Slovakia is another piece of the strong Eastern European contingent in 2010 and while I am not picking them to advance, I will obviously not go 16 for 16 and one of these former Soviet states will go through.  Paraguay put together a quality showing in qualification and two of the last three WC tournaments.  I think this will serve them well this year and they will probably go through.

The Italians are obviously one of the favorites going in as they are the defending champions.  They are not afraid to defend and defend and hope for a lucky break on the other end to capitalize on (see v Australian 2006).  Talent wise they are as powerful as any nation after Spain/Brazil but the questions surrounding goals and Francesco Totti will go a long way in determining this teams fortunes.

Group G Brazil/Korea DPR/Ivory Coast/Portugal

Pretty clearly the GROUP OF DEATH!  Stars come and go but no team in the world avoids the talent wave like Brazil; no matter the year or the tournament they bring in a team which is talented, cohesive, and on form.  They make this group difficult but much moreso for the other teams than for themselves.  They could get into some problems with the talent level of the Ivory Coast but against a team like Portugal which enjoys attacking football, the Brazilians will be in counter attacking heaven….a place they occupy alone.

Korea DPR could be an easier out than New Zealand as no one has any idea about their talent level, I suspect it’s nothing that warrants inclusion in this tournament.  The Ivory Coast and Portugal will fight it out for the 2nd spot in the final 16.  Portugal of course has the experience and talent level but after the Ivory Coast was a popular dark horse pick in 2006, they are able to go into this tournament with a valuable level of experience.  IC also packs a ridiculously talented roster from the European clubs; Drogba, Kalou, Toure (2), Kone (2), Eboue etc.  Portugal can match that but I think the African continent provides the advantage for the Ivorians.

Group HSpain/Switzerland/Honduras/Chile

Based on the excellent year for Spanish soccer last year and a dominant qualifying display, Spain comes in as one of the favorites and should be able to progress with no problem.  I don’t see Switzerland making much noise and think the second spot comes down to Honduras and Chile.  Honduras snuck in with CONCACAFs 3rd automatic place thanks to a late goal from Jonathan Borenstein while Chile produced a 2nd overall finish within CONMEBOL qualifying.  This would lend the advantage to Chile, however I think the Honduran combination of a talented yet determined squad should see this team be a surprise member of the final 16.

Overall the draw sets up nicely for a few African nations to progress. They will undoubtedly have a “home-field” advantage and should be able to build on their recent appearances/growing talent levels.

The early favorites are Brazil/Spain/Italy.

Looking way too far ahead to the knock out round sets up an enticing round of 16 game between Spain and the likely 2nd place finisher of Group G.  Also a chance of a Spain v Italy quarter final, a match which would pit two of the most nationalistic styles left out there.

Anyway, that was a ton of fun but now we have just over 6 months until the true fun gets underway.  Enjoy the endless discussion and debate that will fill plenty of the dead time until then.  There is plenty of quality (probably higher absolute quality than during the tournament) soccer which will also be played between now and then as well.  Unfortunately, as goes life, it will undoubtedly result in some controversy and injury which will make life much harder on some teams (see Wayne Rooney 2006).

But remember, no matter what they say or who goes down between now and then, hope still exists for the final 32 and above all….THEY MUST STILL PLAY THE GAME!

Others:

Grant Wahl of SI is real stoked about the US’s apparent good draw.

George Vecsey agrees.

Goal.com chimes in with their own American centric view of the draw as well.

The NYTimes Goal Blog also has a good in depth look at the overall draw.

The WWL (ESPN) will surely have enough coverage between now and June 11th to drive soccer haters insane. Here is some reaction on the groups and their guesses at the final 16.

The US Soccer Twitter contingent has provided plenty of instant feedback as well; Jozy Altidore, Freddy Adu, Maurice Edu.

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Refresh…F5…Updates are at the top here.

In the meantime, draw your own conclusions by taking a look at the groups and match schedule here. Please leave comments on thoughts on any and all pairings below!

Switzerland rounds it out and that is a wrap on the Draw for World Cup 2010.  I will have a bit of a deeper view later today.

Slovakia into groupF leaving Portugal in a group with their language mates Brazil or their Iberian neighbors Spain….and it is Group G with Brazil which will be a dangerous group for one of those teams with Ivory Coast carrying a lot of talent.  GROUP OF DEATH LABEL!!!!!!

Greece into GroupB and rounding out Group C is Slovenia….the US must be relatively pleased with their chances for advancing now.

France into GroupA in what should be a difficult Group for the hosts.

That is all of Pot 3 and now it gets interesting as all groups have unfolded pretty evenly.  No one wants to see France or Portugal end up in their group.

There goes Algeria into GroupC with the US and England in what has to be viewed as a positive for the Americans.

And that is it for the first 2 Pots.  The first two african teams will be placed in B and G and the first non african team from Pot 3 will go into A…something about avoiding multiple African teams.  That first team is Nigeria, into GroupB.

And there is the US…drawn into GroupC with England.  Not a bad initial draw although I am sure the British will disagree.

Mexico gets lucky and draws GroupA.  They will also open the tournament on June 11th v South Africa in Johannesburg.

And that is it for Pot 1 and moving onto Pot 2 is where the US must watch carefully.  Group A has to be what all these teams are hoping for.

And that is David Beckham

Some sort of introduction of the people who will be drawing balls (haha)…not even going to try to spell the names.  Oh I do recognize that Charlize Theron is up there.

I believe that each pot gets exhausted and then they move on to the next pot so I am setting up Groups below to place teams into and will add comments at the top here when I have some commentary on a choice….

GroupA – South Africa/Mexico/Uruguay/France

GroupB – Argentina/Korea Republic (aka S Korea)/Nigeria/Greece

GroupC – England/USA/Algeria/Slovenia

GroupD – Germany/Australia/Ghana/Serbia

GroupE – Netherlands/Japan/Cameroon/Denmark

GroupF – Italy/New Zealand/Paraguay/Slovakia

GroupG – Brazil/Korea DPR (aka N Korea)/Ivory Coast/Portugal

GroupH – Spain/Honduras/Chile/Switzerland

To waste time until then check out this history of World Cup Balls (haha) from the Daily Telegraph and theNYTimes report w/video on the new Adidas Jabulani.

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The Draw

With less than 24 hours until the biggest day in world football up until June 11th 2010, I thought it would be a good idea to provide a quick preview/digest.  December 4th at 12PM EST is the official draw time.  See it on ESPN2 in the US.

Earlier this week, FIFA established a procedure and pools for tomorrow’s draw.  FIFA used their rankings from October 2009 rather than November 2009 with the official ruling that it provided a more level reading of countries based on matches played.  It also conveniently placed the Netherlands in Pot 1 or the seeded Pot and placed France in Pot 2; conspiracy theorists around the world believe that this was some sort of underhanded punishment on French soccer for the Henry handball.  I am not sure FIFA would so this but also believe that if they were to do so….it would be in a shady way like this.

This means there will be at least 1 pool with one of the top 7 teams in the world + France or Portugal.  There is the chance one of them gets drawn into the group with South Africa which would make their lives easier but at least one of those teams will end up in a very powerful group and is the early favorite for the always popular Group of Death.

The NYTimes Goal Blog gives a nice brief breakdown of each of the 32 teams.

The draw also sets up ominously for the Americans as they are guaranteed a European team from Pot 4; however this could range from the aforementioned France down to Slovenia.  These lower level European teams, Slovakia, Denmark, Greece, Serbia and Switzerland should not be overlooked but as continental teams always have trouble away from the continent…it is clear that the US is hoping first and foremost not to be drawn with France or Portugal.  Pot 1 is a no win situation for them unless they get lucky and draw South Africa (12.5% chance) obviously the weakest team but also by no means an easy match as they will be playing at home.  Pot 3 is also a tough draw with Algeria being the weakest, a team which will still garner plenty of support from their home continent.  The remaining African teams all sport a talent level which probably exceeds the US plus a “home-field” advantage. The final 3 unseeded South American teams cannot be underestimated as well, although Uruguay would probably have to be the preferred team.

A dream draw setup would have placed the US in a Pot with the African teams therefore increasing the chances of being drawn with an Asian squad but that is now a moot point and….they must play the game.

US Soccer’s official view on the Draw can be found here and I will be live blogging it tomorrow although can it be considered live blogging if no one looks? haha, we’ll see.  Once again, 12PM EST on 12/4/09.

ESPN and some of their talking heads take a look at how the draw could set up for the US.  I tend to agree with Janish’s (sp?) point of view more than Tommy Smyths.

What Could The Draw Hold For The US?

More Referees? What good would they do!

In other news from the FIFA meetings, apparently they have scraped plans for the five-official system at the World Cup.  Really? WTF FIFA?  I guess it’s a good thing they have left the door open slightly but this is such an easy fix, it’s not going to cause any technological  issues and might result in a slightly longer decision making process but its for the good of the game, an appropriate use of the cliche.

Players in every sport will do what they can to get an advantage, even if it is against the rules; cheap shots, performance enhancing drugs, hand-balls, whatever, FIFA cannot count on self governing professionals.  Athletes reach this level of greatness partially because they are uber-competitive and are always looking for a competitive advantage.  It’s ignorant to act surprised when one of them is caught attempting to break the rules.

One of  FIFA’s roles (or any governing body) is to ensure the game is played fairly and Soccer (as other sports have realized) has been too fast for that job to be done by a limited number of referees for a while now.  They are going to look a lot more stupid if there is a Wolrd Cup elimination game decided by a missed call than if important on field decisions take slightly longer.  There are still 189 days left until kick off, let’s hope they come to their senses before June 11th.

Charlie Davies Update

On a more somber but uplifting note…Charlie Davies was on Sports Center over the weekend and below is a clip someone was able to pull using a webcam.  It might get pulled down by ESPN soon so watch while you can.  He looks and sounds great…he’s also optimistic that he will be travelling to South Africa next summer.  God speed CD9.

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In a break with the regular theme of this blog, here is some breaking news…Lionel Messi has won the 2009 Ballon d’Or award. The most prestigious award in all of football and soocer…combined!!! He garnered an unprecedented 473 of 480 total points from the 96 jurors (a collection of worldwide soccer journalists, 52 European based/44 based elsewhere). In second was deservedly Cristiano Ronaldo who likely missed out due to Man Utds lack of silverware when compared with Barca.

France Football has complete coverage, in French.

Some English detail from the France Football website.

Lionel’s reaction courtesy of Goal.com

Surprisingly he is the first ever Argentinian winner and will be officially honored at what will surely be some extravagant gala event on Sunday evening. This is likely due to the fact that until 1995, only European players at European clubs were eligible for the award. The Liberian George Weah, was the first non-European to win it that same year. In 2007 the rules were again altered and now players from any club team in the world are eligible; prior to ’07 it was only players from European clubs.

In honor of the diminuitive Argentine and now official best footballer on the planet….an epic highlight video approaching 10 minutes in length…enjoy…

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