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Posts Tagged ‘Lionel Messi’

As this blog is nothing if not about the the US National Team, today’s focus is on tomorrow’s matchup with Slovenia. I will touch on today’s results and tomorrow’s other games towards the end.

Most importantly, if you are unable to watch on a TV, Univision.com has live streaming of every game.  Yes, the commentary is Spanish, but soccer sounds better in Spanish anyway. The quality is much better and the site more reliable than the other two, shadier options from earlier in the week.

A tie in the first game was a quality result for the American side. However, whether or not they qualified for the knockout round was always going to depend on the results vs Slovenia and Algeria. Slovenia did make things a little more interesting through their victory vs Algeria last Saturday.

The read on tomorrow’s opposition is that they are content to pack the back, focus on defending, and hope to capitalize on the counter.  The style presents an interesting situation for the Americans; they thrive when they are able to play in that format but have struggled when teams invite them to attack.

They are also a physically imposing team, both CBs measure over 6’1”.  It will be an interesting test for Mr. Altidore who can sometimes succeed on pure physical superiority.  He will need to be smart and not just a man child tomorrow.

A draw wouldn’t rule out progression but it does take their fate out of their own hands. If the US is as good as we like to think, they must beat those teams to which they are clearly superior, especially in the World Cup.  Being competitive with Spain and England and Brazil is fun, but this is where the bread is buttered.

Since the US will need to score, we will start up front…

Strikers

8 guys behind the ball will make it hard for Robbie Findlay to utilize his speed to full effect.  He is most effective in the open spaces and on the break, circumstances which probably won’t arise that often tomorrow.

Personally I would like to see BB employ a more natural striker (read: better finisher) alongside Jozy; preferably Herculez Gomez but Edson Buddle would work too.

He could also push Dempsey up front and bring in Stuart Holden along the right hand side.  Holden is very strong in possession and is full of good offensive ideas, while I maintain that the Texan is at his best when he is close to the goal.

Based on Slovenia’s willingness to sit back, the US will have chances in the area.  It is imperative that they are able to finish when the opportunity presents itself.

Midfield

There has been a lot of talk about Ricardo Clark in both the build up to the tournament and in the time since the England game.  The media seems to think he isn’t the best option but it is clear that Bob has other thoughts.  Clark was burned on the goal last weekend, allowing Steven Gerrard to slip right behind him.  If he starts again, it will either be a sign that he doesn’t trust anyone else out there or has an absurd amount of faith in him.

I think that to start it will be Clark or Edu in the midfield, as they need a strong defensive midfielder to help control counterattacks, especially if they start pushing people forward.  I would imagine the first part of this effort will be Michael Bradley getting  some more offensive freedom, a good thing.

Landon Donovan is the integral piece of the attack though.  He thrives in counterattacking situations and it will be different for him to receive the ball, look up, and see 6/7/8 defenders.  Patience will be key, as will a willingness to make some short passes.  He should find some space on the outside, but needs to capitalize with good crosses.

If the US get’s to halftime with out scoring, the 2nd half could see a more attack minded partner for Bradley Jr; Feilhaber or Torres or possibly Holden.

Defense

I expect this to stay exactly the same.  They will probably position themselves further up the field than usual but I don’t expect them to try to hold around the halfway point or anything crazy.

It will be a different game from what they are used to.  Rather than playing in their own penalty area for long periods, they will probably be cleaning up long balls and feeding the wings.  They must not get impatient early and rely on sending the ball forward and hoping.

As stated, the Slovenians are a physically imposing side and the US has very little chance of a game of long ball like that working.

They must also be wary of the counter attack.  I expect Steve Cherundolo will continue his offensive journeys, a great thing, but it does leave some exposure at the back.  The remaining.

Overall

This is a game the US should win.  That statement alone has caused issues for them in the past and that is why this game is such a measure of how far they have actually come.  The Swiss showed on Tuesday that the US is not alone or extraordinary in their ability to pack the back and score on the counter.  If this team is actually the most talented the US has seen, then they must go out tomorrow and win.

Et al.

Argentina guaranteed themselves passage through to the knockout round early this AM with a convincing win over S Korea.  They definitely established themselves as one of the top teams at this tournament.  Lionel Messi is generally excellent both with and with out the ball, clearly enjoying the reign and responsibility given to him by Maradona.  That goal at the end of the first half did highlight the uncertainity surrounding their defending.

Nigeria seemed to be in good shape until playing with 10 men for 55+ minutes proved too much to bear.  They might say it was a harsh decision but the referees have been punishing any sort of that extra curricular activity harshly throughout the tournament.

South Korea will still advance with a draw in their final group game but you can be sure Nigeria will come out flying.

Mexico’s first goal was a bit lucky not to have been called back for offsides but France cannot go 180 minutes with out scoring and expect to be in good position.  Uruguay and Mexico are now in very good position to advance and France will need to hope one of them loses and they can beat South Africa at least 3-0 to have a hope.  Either way, I think it is clear that this French teams is in bad need of an overhaul.

Tomorrow’s other games are really just the periphery to me.  I fully expect England to come out firing in an attempt to establish their dominance.

I originally had this incorrectly, Germany v Serbia is the early game tomorrow.  Based on a strong backline, many people had Serbia pegged as possibly a surprise winner in Group D.  They were unfortunate to lose to Ghana on a late penalty and will need to come out and try to get a victory vs Germany tomorrow if they want to maintain hope of advancing.  Germany has looked as strong as any team thus far though and it will be a serious test for the Serbians.

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Preview might be a bit of an overstatement but to try and get myself some search engine loved I have moved on from the “WTWF” in the title.  The post is really just some things to watch for from the tournament as a whole; full previews can be found at SI.com, The Guardian, and ESPN.   I would have loved to break down each group but let’s be realistic here.

Soccer Weather: For the first time since Argentina in 1978, the World Cup will be played in what is essentially winter.   Being below the equator and all means that this is actually South Africa’s winter season; not really winter by northeast standards, more like fall, but nonetheless still not summer.

Ideally this milder weather will result in better soccer. Games should be faster paced and more entertaining than “summer” editions of the tournament where games can seem to plod along at times, with players more focused on not dying than on actually playing.

Of course, a majority of these games will be played at altitude which could cancel out the mild weather altogether, but at least it’s not Mexico City in August.

Argentina: because of this man and much moreso, this man.  No team in the tournament is more of a mystery but with a strike force which is absurdly talented they should score, a lot.  Defense wasn’t Diego’s strong suit and he picked a unit that is still fairly suspect.  This gap between in quality should provide some cardiac moments for La Albiceleste but from a neutral point of view, what could be more exciting.

Back to the second “this man,” as my slurping of him is no secret.  Lionel Messi established himself as the best player in the world this past season.  This World Cup is his for the taking, and while pressure never makes anything easier, it will be up to him to authenticate his standing.  A victory for the Argentinians will push him to another level and whether or not he gets there, it will be fascinating to watch him try.

Spain is the squad if you want to see pretty football & Brazil if you want a true team experience, but no team is going to be more exciting to watch than Argentina.

This is an excellent piece from SI on the National team within Argentinian culture, Diego Maradona, and Lionel Messi.

The Africans: while this is all actually happening in South Africa, the whole continent feels that this is their World Cup.  Each of the 6 teams (Ghana, Ivory Coast, Cameroon, Algeria, Nigeria, and South Africa) feel a level of pride in participating in Africa’s first ever world cup, and they will surely feel more at home than they did in Germany.

The Ivory Coast is the popular choice to advance the farthest, even if they do have to make it out of that group. However, the hisorically great African teams, 1990 Cameroon and 2002 Senegal (the only two to make a quarter-final run) were probably on few experts’ lists of the final 8.

Don’t rule out the hosts as well; the power of performing at home, in front of the World has carried all 18 previous hosts.  None have failed to make it out of their group and that alone throws Group A even further into the unknown.  The US was fortunate on some bounces in ’94 and South Korea got the calls in ’02; don’t say nobody warned you when the Soccer gods smile upon Bafana Bafana this month.

I have no idea how it will unfold and I try to stay away from making predictions (except of course if I like the odds) but I believe one of those 6 teams will make a serious run this year; like Shakira says “Waka Waka, it’s time for Africa.”

Goals: Adidas’s Jabulani Ball has been the source of despise from many of the best keepers in SA. The difference this year is that it seems they are afraid because of the unpredictability of the ball in the air.

In my opinion it sounds like whining and preemptive excuses, so I have tended to ignore it.  Just make sure you keep your eyes out for the piped goals that are sure to come from it.

Champions: the fact is that no European team has ever won the World Cup outside of a European country.  History is not on their side, and while this works in favor of the already favored Brazilians, they are still only one of 19 non-European sides.  This is bound to change at some point, but you can bet it will be harped upon endlessly if Spain/Holland/England etc make it to July 11th.

What bodes poorly for the two favorites (Spain and Brazil) is that Pele has tipped them for success.  Interestingly enough, Pele predictions aren’t just wrong but often spectacularly wrong.

Video Fun:

Now some more fun video to get you all excited….which you should be anyway.

Top 10 World Cup goals, courtesy of the BBC:

and now this again, in case you didn’t catch it the first time around:

What about you all out there in the internets?  What are you pumped for over the next month?!

That is all for today, tomorrow we dive into the fun with a US v England WTWF.  O boy, o boy!

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With a 4-0 victory over Valladolid yesterday afternoon Barcelona secured their 2nd straight, and 20th overall, La Liga title.

While it seems to pale in comparison to last years historic trophy haul, 99 pts and only 1 defeat is very impressive. Throw in the unpredictability of knockout style soccer and a run like last years would be of the utmost difficulty to duplicate (no back to back CL champions yet).  Additionally, outclassing the mass of money spent by Real Madrid last summer through a stable of home-grown talent undoubtedly gives Joan Laporta and the FCB brass a level of smug satisfaction.

One of the English language ESPN commentators yesterday stated that this years Barcelona team was probably not as good as last years due to this difference in hardware.  An interesting and valid statement but it should be noted that last years victorious haul of 87 points would have fallen 9 pts behind this year’s Real Madrid squad.  99 points is an all-time record, while the +74 goal differential was also greater than last years mark of +70.  Alas, you must win, and the 2010 version didn’t do that quite as grandly as the 2009 version.

There are too many contrasting variables to really make an accurate comparison of the two teams.  What must be noted is this Barcelona team has continued to play beautiful and consistently victorious soccer for two seasons running now.  They are edging the way into the category of great all time teams (although that is an article for someone with more historical knowledge) and you know that Sr. Guardiola will have them back and hungry for more next September.

The bitterness of losing to Inter Milan in the Champions League semi-final will surely be a motivational tool as they seek to recapture European glory which great teams are judged upon in this globalized version of the game.  The La Liga rivalry with Real Madrid is enough to keep even the most successful Blaugrana teams energized, although one can’t help but imagine Catalans salivating at the idea of Jose Mourinho being the next “Gallactico.”

As far as personnel goes, the core should remain very similar to this year.  Although, after the CL defeat it seems as if there is now a question of what to do with Zlatan Ibrahimovic.  One season at a club is hardly a fair trial period, but given his overall quality there was more expected this season.

Mixth together the news that David Villa and Catalonians seem to be pining for each other along with Bojan Krkic’s late season emergence and all of the sudden you have a very crowded attack force.  Guardiola obviously likes how the team has performed over the final month of the season and probably likes the idea of continuing in that mold.  Ibra could also use a little display that his spot on this squad is far from guaranteed.

Thierry Henry seems to be on his way out; this was probably sealed when he spent extra time on the field at the Emirates after the first leg draw in the CL quarter finals.  If you play for Barcelona, you are expected to be Barca through and through.  The speculation here is that he will be coming to NY and playing for the Red Bulls in Harrison, NJ as soon as the WC ends.

This would be a major signing for the MLS and provide evidence that David Beckham was not an anomaly but a trend-setter.  However, and I cannot stress this enough, the transfer market is ALWAYS rife with rumors.  Any player is a candidate to go to any club and you should never believe what you hear until the club makes an official announcement, and even then…make sure his work permit is in-line.

News outlets always want to be the first to break the news and then pat themselves on the back.  Honestly, don’t trust it.  ESPN.com says it? SI.com says it?  I know.  Thierry himself has already come out and said that he has not reached an agreement.

I am not saying it won’t happen, it does sound like the two parties are talking, an always necessary step.  However, please temper your expectations.  A good World Cup could see him make a more high profile move and stay in Europe for a few more seasons.  It has been rumored enough to say that his arrival here wouldn’t be a surprise, but please temper your expectations.

Finally, you cannot mention the 2009/2010 campaign with out some form of a shout out to Lionel Messi.  I slurped him some a few months ago and to avoid being redundant, I am not going much further.  The only thing that is worth calling out is his ability in front of goal; his calm demeanor is uncanny and his ability to keep opposing ‘keepers completely in the dark about what is coming has allowed him to finish the season with34 goals in La Liga, tying the cool Ronaldo for the single season mark at FCB.  The range of goals he scores is so broad and the amount of joy he brings to the game unrivaled, one can only hope that he maintains this level for as long as possible.  He really did carry Barcelona on his shoulders this year and proclaimed to the World that he is Barcelona and Barcelona is his.  It should be fascinating to see if he can carry Argentina come June.

Some thoughts from others out there on La Liga/Barcelona:

FC Barcelona’s English language Twitter feed has appropriate reaction from all appropriate parties

Phil Ball from ESPN.com reflects on La Liga in its entirety

Cyrus Malek from Goal.com on Barcelona’s 99 pointer

Videos (I will continue to post here as I find good stuff)

Other random good stuff…

A funny piece from Seth Vertelney at Goal.com about the overload of hackneyed World Cup related pieces.

Oguchi Onyewu makes a gesture that is unheard of in professional sports, even the Italians are gushing

This is a crazy goal from the Paraguayan league…

As the US progresses through their warm-up camp, I think I am going to start one post and just continuously update it when I see anything worth mentioning.  I will get back into the entirely inexact science of providing my own insight as the friendlies approach….

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This was originally going to be a post about the lack of an EPL team in the Champions League final since 2003; however, being a Barcelona fan, I must give due credit to today’s 2-0 result at the Bernabeu. Rather than talk, here are some ghetto highlights…

If anyone had a doubt about the level at which Lionel Messi is playing, there is no longer an argument about him being the best player in the world right now. You could argue that I am just making a statement for the self important reasons of making a statement like that, but it is so easy to say, there should be no illusions about my motive. It’s true, thats it.

Due credit must be given to the team around him with out which this wouldn’t be possible. If I had the resources, I would love to know the % of Messi’s goals which have been assisted by Xavi Hernandez. He served the first one today on a platter and played an inch perfect pass on Pedro’s 2nd half effort to put Barca up 2-0. With out some excellent goal keeping from Iker Casillas, there is no doubt that Lionel could have had an additional 2 goals, both supplied by Xavi.

The game itself was everything it was billed to be, probably only because in my opinion there are fewer things greater than watching Barcelona completely outclass Real Madrid. Carlos Puyol brought his usual ‘reserved only for El Classico’ performance, Pedro continued his breakout season, and it was evident that Real Madrid were frustrated after Messi’s opener.

Credit should also be given to Pique and Milito for anchoring the defense, Keita for being relentlessly active in the midfield, and Dani Alves for providing a right sided attack when Guardiola moves Leo into the middle.

The fact that Real Madrid attempted to spend their way to Barcelona’s level and are already out of Champions League only made it sweeter. Barcelona is now in prime position to win their 2nd La Liga title in a row; 7 games remain and they are up 3 points, leading on the first tiebreaker (head to head record).

Coming less than a week after Messi’s incandescent personal defeat of Arsenal (an obvious overstatement, but more than one website has listed that performance as a perfect 10…video just below) is what has actually put an end to any debate about his current form. His control is immaculate, his time to top speed unmatched, and the overall rythym of his game set him apart from absolutely everyone else out there.  In fact, that statement alone trivializes his game right now.  Enough Slurp?  Ladies and gentlemen, the hilites…

Ever??

The British announcer calls him “the most talented footballer of his generation,” others will make similar statements for various reasons, and there is an argument to be made there.  Personally, I would say that to be considered among the truly great footballers of all time, that  rare tier of 3 or maybe 4 players, he must succeed on the world stage.

He is currently turning himself and Argentina’s success into the main story line during the lead up t0 the upcoming World Cup.  It is a different game though and single elimination can be a doozy for any team.  While failure doesn’t rule him out, it will mean another 4 years until he is afforded the opportunity again.

Others…

A good collection of world reaction to Tuesday’s win from the NYTimes.

A good look at Messi’s status around the World from one of America’s most connected soccer writers.

Champion’s League Final Four

If Barcelona are able to repeat Champions League glory in the May 22nd final in Madrid, it will be the ultimate proverbial icing on the cake of 2 years of beautiful soccer, or cherry on top, or any other food related superlative. They will also be the first ever back to back champions in the “Champions League Era.”

Of course getting there will be very difficult. The upcoming semi-final is against an Inter Milan team which has the class, experience, and determination to stop Barcelona from playing their style. Of course, no one has really been able to effectively do that in a long time.

Eto’o coming back to send Barcelona packing almost seems true before it happens.  He is one of those athletes who elevates his game when he’s convinced he has been slighted or disrespected and the trade of him +43.25 Million Euros is, in my opinion, slightly disrespectful (this is the nature of running a successful professional sports team).

Additionally, Jose Mourinho has provided problems for the Catalans in the past, it should be noted that Barcelona got the better of the group stage battles (0 0 tie in Milan, and a 1 0 victory in the Nou Camp).

Mark it on your Calendar, April 20/28, 2:45 PM EST; second leg in Catalunya.

Donde Esta El Brits?

As stated earlier, up until today the headline from Europe must have been that this is the first time in 7 years that there is no English team in the final four of the Champions League.  While there was the obvious overreaction on the part of the British, this does not a represent a decline in the EPL but rather just the end of a great run of continental football.

In elimination style competitions, even two-leg versions, there are bound to be surprising trends (witness the Big East’s variation from the 2009 NCAA basketball tournament to this year’s version).

It was a brilliant goal from Arjen Robben (one of the deftest signings of last summer) which sent Bayern through to a semi final date with Lyon.  If you haven’t seen it….

While the Inter/Barca semi-final is the marquee matchup, neither of these teams should be counted out in the final. They have both beaten teams which many believe to be better them; Lyon over Madrid in the round of 16 and Bayern outplaying Man Utd in the Quarterfinals.

Lyon has experience in this competition and the confidence that comes with getting to this point. They are willing to sit back and take the goals when the opportunities present themselves. You must be finishing effectively for this to work and Lisandro has spear headed some excellent counter attacking football.

Munich’s attack pairing of Ribery and Robben is as fast and lethal as anything out there. With a goal in each leg vs United, Ivica Olic’s European performances have added that in form striker who can change the game on his own accord.

That is all for now…I continue to want to provide some updates on the USMNT but right now your soccer focus should be on the culmination of the European season over the next 6 weeks.

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