Thursday, December 31, 2009

Youth Coaches: Wither the Cone?

I have the great honor and pleasure of coaching my son's 13-under soccer team. I'm not the best teacher, but I do my best and we win our share of games, and certainly by the end of the season, there's a marked uptick in the quality of play from the start of the season. That's my benchmark.

Trust me, I'm competitive and I want us to win every time we're on the field, but I hold that back from my team. I try to get them to execute on the things we practice, think defense first and good things will happen. It's the way I do things.

Now honestly, these kids aren't innately skilled with a soccer ball. I choose that word innately very carefully and purposefully. Most of them can't juggle a ball. Most can't really dribble very smoothly through cones. Most rely on their athleticism to succeed. When I was a kid and played youth ball, it was for a Portuguese social club. Our coaches were immigrants who played for the club's senior team and volunteered to get a youth program off the ground. We spent a few minutes at the start of every practice in a big circle just passing the ball to one another. Then we'd play games. Right foot. Left foot. Not to get too Dr. Seuss, but it worked. Soon, the ball was very friendly to me. I knew how to deaden it and redirect it in the direction I wanted. At home, I would try to juggle it the way our coaches and older players would. I'd manage a few taps and touches, and steadily got better at it.

It's kinda like catching a baseball in your glove. You really can't explain how you do it, but you know you can. The ball becomes part of you. I know before it gets to me what I want to do with it.

My team doesn't. And it's my fault. Our fault.

We put down cones and do it by the textbook. And while it's our fault, it's not our fault. Americans don't play soccer. Our coaches didn't grow up playing soccer. They grew up playing baseball in the park with friends. There were no textbooks on playing second base, you just knew to keep your glove down, use two hands to catch it, and throw to first. No one talked about positioning, footwork. There were no cones, no drills, it was "Hey, who's got the ball? Someone bring a bat?" American soccer coaches at the youth level are volunteers, just like me. Guys and girls who coach because their kids want to play and the town league needs coaches. Some of us play and know how to coach. Others do their best. We're all to be applauded.

But as the applause dies down, I think it's time to leave the cones at home.

There was a thought-provoking article in the Boston Globe recently about soccer development in the U.S. The gist of the article was that youth players should Hog the ball, kid, as the headline suggests. While I think the article makes a big leap to suggest that the U.S.'s World Cup woes come from this passing-oriented, dull, void-of-creativity approach at the youth level, I think there's a lot of validity to the overall premise. We don't nurture football players to play the game. We teach them from a manual, and don't nurture any instincts for the game. And again, it's not our fault. Volunteer moms and dads don't know any better, especially about this low-scoring, boring-to-watch-on-TV game that usually ends in a riot [how's that for a capsule of football cliches?].

I don't know how many of you coach, but do you cut your best players loose? Do you scold a kid for trying to dribble through the opposing team's defense and take a difficult shot if chubby Bobby or Susie is open, even though chubby Bobby or Susie couldn't shoot the ball into an open goal if they were standing on the goal line?

Who knows? Maybe there's a bigger statement to be made here about how our kids are being raised and society's ills. I won't let my kids ride their bikes to the park, which is maybe just two miles away from us. Never. Too many creeps in this world. That's our thinking today, and it's sound thinking. But 25-30 years ago, I rode my bike 2-3 miles to the park to shoot hoops or get into a baseball game with other kids. Wouldn't think twice about it. Times have changed.

It's New Year's Eve and the end of a decade. America has grown up a lot as a football nation, and our kids have grown up playing youth soccer. It may take another decade or generation to see if we were right about our clipboard-and-cones approach to teaching the game.

Me, personally, I'm leaving the cones at home next season.

Bless you guys. Thanks for reading. And a happy, safe new year to you all.

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Wednesday, December 30, 2009

T's To Consider for 2010

I honestly can't get past Thierry Henry's double-dutch touch that put France into the World Cup and sent Ireland to the Europa League (well, not really). I mean, I was more than 4,000 miles away from the Stade de France that day, and I saw it clear as day. So did most of the 80,000 people in-house and the millions more like me who were watching the game.

Yet, the guy who had to see it, the guy who should have seen it, the guy who had no excuse for not seeing it, well, he didn't see it.

The referee blew it. There, I said it. Henry cheated, but the referee and his two linesmen are the ones who should be fitted for goat horns. And it's not their fault. There's no redundancy, no failover built into football officiating. No, instead we have three middle-aged men in short pants running with a flag in their hand or a whistle in their mouth in charge of an enterprise worth billions of dollars worldwide. And they get no help, no disaster recovery plan, no checks and balances.

Instead, it's all on them and if they get it wrong, at least we're preserving the human element of football. Nice. Tell that to the Irish.

Other sports have embraced technology and the 21st century and have made a commitment to at least try to get the call right. They're not leaving it to the striped shirts in American football or ice hockey, or God forbid, the Fat Bastard umpires in Major League baseball who can't get down the foul line quick enough to make the right call on home runs. There's too much at stake and it's frankly too big a job for the referee. He needs help and we're here to give it to him.

Inspired by a blog post from Patrick Barclay of the Times of London, here are a few T's To Consider for 2010 (they all start with T -- duh!)

  • Timekeeper: Can we end the charade of the referee holding the game time. Please. The game starts on his whistle but it has to end at 45 minutes, not 48:22 because he called for three minutes of extra time, and shit-I-forgot-to-look-at-my-watch-and-it's-22-seconds-over-and-Liverpool-is-gonna-tie-the-game-if-I-don't-blow-the-whistle-soon. We need a timekeeper. Someone who can talk to the ref via his earpiece. A player goes down, the ref signals the timekeeper to stop the clock. Player gets up, ref signals to start the clock. And oh yeah, WE SEE THE CLOCK IN THE STADIUM. God, it's so amateurish.
  • Transparency: Speaking of the referee's earpiece, how about we get let in on the conversation pal? Who exactly are you talking to? And why? If it's a timekeeper, I'm all for it. Otherwise, you're not Jon Bon Jovi at soundcheck. And while we're at it, let's hear the referee's conversations with the players, turn that mic on brother. And while you're at it, let's hear your voice as you make the call. Offside. Obstruction. Penalty. C'mon, you can do it.
  • Technology: Let's put this one on hold for second. I'm all for video replays and reviews of goal-line and offside disputes, but can we try more officials. How about two more linesmen? And an official behind each goal? Why not?
  • Transfers: Can we impose some limits on transfers if your books are not in shape. I'm mean, I've been an advocate of leagues and federations staying out of business operations for individual clubs, but some parity would be nice and this would be a way of getting some.

And now for two others that aren't T's:

  • Away-Goals Rule: GO AWAY. If it's 4-4 after two legs, don't tell me that your away goals are worth more than my total goals.
  • Shirts and Skins: Jeez, if some metrosexual wants to take off his shirt after he scores a goal, does it matter? I mean, if Hope Solo wants to Brandi Chastain after heading in a game-winner in extra time, are we gonna bemoan her decision to rip off her bulky goalie jersey in a moment of sheer joy? Never! Life is about tradeoffs folks!

Happy Frickin' New Year.

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Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Football Predictions for the Next Decade: 2010-2020

OK, so the last time I had premonitions and make prognostications, you only had to wait a few days to see how I did. After today's post, we'll have to check in 10 years! Bummer man!

Any way, I've tried to avoid the temptation to do any end-of-the-decade lists, but to no avail, I'm going to look ahead instead. Here's 10 things I expect to happen before 2020 (and no, I'm not going to far out on a limb).

  1. Gambling and match-fixing scandals worsen and by decade's end topple a major European club, sending them tumbling worse than Juventus.
  2. Steroids invade football in a big way. Lesser known players at first, but eventually, big names will tumble and we'll be dumbfounded how we never saw it coming.
  3. Video replay will be instituted soon in all football matches, and it will decide a major championship (i.e., a Champions League final)
  4. Scottish football's top division will dissolve and be integrated into the Premiership.
  5. To that end, the Premier League will adopt U.S.-style playoffs and crown a champion in a Super Bowl-type of final.
  6. An African team will not win a World Cup
  7. An Asian team will.
  8. The United States will not advance beyond the quarterfinals of either the 2014 or 2018 World Cup.
  9. Just prior to the 2018 World Cup, which will be held in the U.S, MLS will abandon its current single-entity ownership system and open its purse strings to attract major European and South American players.
  10. Jose Mourinho will coach Portugal to the 2018 World Cup title in the U.S., winning the championship in New Jersey at the new Giants Stadium in front of a partizan "home" crowd of Ports from NJ and Massachusetts.

Happy Holidays boys and girls. This is probably it for me for the year. Be safe.

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Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Starting Eleven Football Blog Roundup

OK Barcelona, so six trophies in one calendar year isn't enough for you?? Wow, talk about what have you done for me lately! You guys got nothin' on Janet Jackson. Hopefully Pep Guardiola gets his money, either at Barca or somewhere else because that guy, granted has the talent, but it does take someone at the top to mix and match the players and put the right 11 out there. Pay the man, Shirley [My Norman Chad tribute for the day].

Now dash away, dash away all around the football blogosophere:

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Monday, December 21, 2009

Messi Assumes His Spot as
World's Best Football Player

It was late Saturday night. Not a creature was stirring, not even my chocolate lab puppy.

When all through the house there was a shout; Estudiantes had--again--almost knocked Leo Messi out.

Nobody in football takes more knocks than Messi. Hello, Manny Paquiao doesn't get hit as much as Messi. Yet Messi almost always gets the final word. Just as he did Saturday in the Club World Cup final against Argentina's Estudiantes, the South American champions.

Battered for more than 90 minutes, Messi scored the winning goal at 110 minutes redirecting a Dani Alves cross with his chest. Yes, that same chest that absorbs too many elbows, too many nudges that put him to the ground, too interactions with enemy colors. Only Messi's ankles have cause to complain more than his chest.

Messi is the best player in the world. I've transitioned away from Cristiano Ronaldo, and it's a tough move. Ronaldo is spectacular. He's fast, scores many goals and draws attention away from his talented teammates. You can say all of those things about Messi, but there's something about Little Leo. His burst of speed and magnetic feet enable him to dazzle opposing defenses and leave them wondering just how he got through the crowd of legs and elbows. Where Ronaldo's first instinct in a crowd is to dive, Messi's first instinct is to maintain balance and get a shot off.

Messi is part of the greatest midfield in the world today with Xavi and Iniesta; they could be the greatest midfield of all time. But none gets punished more, and produces more than the little Argentinian.

So three cheers to Leo Messi, happy holidays and stay healthy. Selfishly, I want to watch you play for many years to come.

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Friday, December 18, 2009

Champions League Draw:
Of Consipiracies and History

Ain't it curious that Jose Mourinho always seems to get an interesting pairing in the Champions League? Ain't the Champions League draw always curious?

I mean, I ain't into no conspiracy theories here (although I do have a crush on Secret Agent Dana Scully), but it does seem that Mourinho and his big mouth and his flamboyant coaching style and his good teams always do seem to hit at least an interesting story line in the Champions League.

Let's look at past history (cue the X-Files theme)

  • 2008-2009 -- Inter v. Chelsea (Jose v. Ancellotti)
  • 2006-2007 -- Chelsea v Barcelona (group stage after knockout matchup year previous)
  • 2006-2007 -- Chelsea v Porto (knockout)
  • 2005-2006 -- Chelsea v Barcelona (knockout)
  • 2004-2005 -- Chelsea v Porto (group stage, year after leaving Porto as defending champion)

Since winning the European title with Porto in '04 and moving from Portugal to the Premiership, Mourinho has slammed headfirst into old ghosts and monster draws. Not that he can't handle it (wait a minute, his teams haven't gotten out of the knockout round for three years now), he has twice gone to the semifinals since winning it, but it seems curiouser and curiouser that lot if life ol' Jose gets.

Not that I'm sayin' anyone is out to get him. I mean, look at ol' David Beckham. No sooner does Becks hint that he's going to back to Milano for another stint with A.C., do the football gods pair him up against his old boss and his old club Manchester United. What a co-inky-dink.

Man, we're so lucky that the balls just happened to fall this way and that the draw ended up the way it did. What a hoot.

I mean how lucky are we from an outsider's point of view to have been granted our biggest Christmas football wishes. I mean Mourinho and Ancelotti, the new Chelsea boss, hate each other! How cool that they'll be up against each other in the knockout round. Imagine!

And Beckham. Back to Old Traffod. Super Cool! And here I was slamming the Champions League for being boring and uninteresting. Shame on me!

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Thursday, December 17, 2009

Top Football Stories and Figures of the Decade: Too Big a Job for One Man

Don't know why, but it really hadn't dawned on me that the decade of the naughts has like, what, two weeks left? Jeez. Where did it go? Seems like just the other day we were whining about our inability to watch the 2000 Euro on cable TV.

Look at how far we've come. Fox Soccer and Gol TV are 24-hour operations and FSC is going to go HD after the first of the year. We're hopefully closer to video reviews of controversies and adding an official or two to every game.

In the meantime, we still can't shake match-fixing scandals, diving escapades and FIFA/UEFA incompetence.

It's a natural impulse to try to determine what is the story of the decade. But I think it's too big a job. Too many games. Too many trophies. Too many emotions to rank one above all others. Beside, if I try, I'm likely to come up with the same kind of mess that Yahoo! Sports did. Martin Rogers posted his top five of the decade on Dec. 1 and thankfully, it took me more than two weeks to find this disaster. Among his five gems: Hope Solo's tantrum at the Women's World Cup and, ahem, David Beckham joining MLS (he's still with us?). [It's almost as bad as this "Hottest Women of the '90s List that includes Shannon Doherty, Sarah Michelle Gellar and God Forbid Alicia Silverstone at No. 3!--Lovely Jenny McCarthy was tops.)

I don't know, maybe it's just me, but a purist might look in other directions.

  • How about Greece winning the '04 Euro?
  • Or Liverpool's incredulous win over Milan in the '04-'05 Champions League?
  • Arsenal's ubeatens?
  • Juventus and Fiorentina relegated after a betting scandal.
  • Hell, even the two versions of Galacticos we've had to Real Madrid are more interesting and newsworthy than Zidane's World Cup headbutt.
  • Did Maradona go into rehab this decade? Hahaha, I know, dumb question. But hey, he does close out the decade running the show in Argentina!

Top figures for the last 10 years?

  • Jose Mourinho.
  • Cristiano Ronaldo.
  • Fabio Capello.
  • Wayne Rooney.
  • Iniesta.
  • Xavi.
  • SAF.
  • The great Raul.

Like I said, too great a job. And too easy to screw up totally. Just ask Yahoo. Sheesh.

Either way, send me your thoughts--in comments below--on what you think the top stories/figures of the last 10 years are.

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Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Starting Eleven Football Blog Roundup

Time for some link love shout-outs to my football blogger peeps. In the spirit of the holidays, I have posted a picture of a hot elf chick. To any of my female followers and/or fellow bloggers, sorry.

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Monday, December 14, 2009

Upset Saturday, Close But No Cigar

So no, I wasn't delusional as a fellow blogger put it ;) I smelled blood in the water on Saturday in Europe's biggest leagues, and gosh darn it, I came thisclose to getting my predictions and premonitions right for what I had deemed "Upset Saturday."

You can check it out for yourself at the link above, but basically, I'd posted that Barcelona, Chelsea, Inter and Benfica would tumble like weeds in the Ol' West this weekend. And I came close--horseshoes and hand grenades close. Close but no (Lewinski) cigar.

As it turned out, Barca squeaked past Espanyol 1-0, Chelsea and Everton slugged it out 3-3, while Benfica and Olhanense went 2-2, and Inter-Atalanta 1-1.

Wow, would I have looked wicked smart.

But that's why I don't bet. Those four games looked like locks from the outside--giants playing against minnows--and the giants got a mere 6 of 12 possible points. Ugh.

So save the attaboys. Close ain't good enough, but it was a fun weekend-for me any way.

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Friday, December 11, 2009

Make Book on It;
Tomorrow is Upset Saturday

I'm prone to premonitions. I can visualize what Seinfeld rerun is going to be on next week before it's broadcast. I can see what kind of stupid things my mother will say over the holidays. I know what I know and when I know it -- which is sometimes before it happens.

Given that intro, I'm going to call it. Tomorrow is Upset Saturday in Europe. The giants will fall. I got a feelin' (though I'm not putting any money on it).

ENGLAND: Mercy(side)! Everton will take down Premier League leaders Chelsea. I just know it! All this Landon Donovan talk has the city of Liverpool all-a-tingle. Landon is coming. Landon is coming. Who cares about Santa (Father Christmas?), we want Landon. Call it, Everton 1, Chelsea 0.

SPAIN: This one could get Messi. Derbies are dubious and Barcelona is in trouble tomorrow in the Catalan clash. Lionel Messi has a boo-boo on his ankle and won't play (mean ol' Russians--I hate CSKA ever since the 2005 UEFA Cup final). Espanyon closes the gap in La Liga with three points. It's in the bag, Espanyol 2, Barcelona 1.

ITALY: I'm taking blogger's liberty and extending Upset Saturday to Sunday just for Serie A. Inter is hung over after it's Champions League win this week over Ruben Kazan (wasn't he in the Breakfast Club? Carl the janitor?) So what if Atalanta has lost five of six, it's going to beat Inter. Yeppers, Atalanta 2, Inter 0.

PORTUGAL: I can smell it. Fabulously offensive Benfica (yes, pun intended, Go Sporting) will fall to Olhanense. Benfica and Braga are jammed together at the top of the table with 29 points, but it will matter not. Olhanense will have 11 points by the time tomorrow's match in Olhao is over. Mark it, Olhanense 2, Benfica 0.

GERMANY: I loathe German soccer. Don't care. Next.

FRANCE: See my thoughts on German soccer.

BTW, I will revisit this post on Monday. Feel free to call me out when all of these picks fall flat on their face, but dammit, if I get them right, I better hear the attaboys too.

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Thursday, December 10, 2009

Is Toffee on Landon Donovan's
Menu as He May Be Headed to Everton

Landon Donovan could be suited up for Everton on Jan. 9 against Arsenal if goes according to various reports today. America's best player landing in the Premier League, granted it will be on team perilously close to relegation.

If this were last December, I'd say awesome.

This December, eh, not so much.

Hey, I'm not the biggest Donovan fan, but he's turned me around this year. His performance with the U.S. men's national team at the Confederations Cup and during World Cup qualifying has been leaps and bounds ahead of past performances. He's led by example. He stood up to David Beckham, split with his wife, reclaimed the Galaxy as his own and was within a poorly taken pair of PKs from winning another MLS championship.

The guy is for real--right now. And that's why I don't want him in the Premier League. I don't want him tired for South Africa. I don't want him injured for South Africa. I don't want him to go. There, I said it.

Say what you will about Donovan, but this will be his third World Cup. He's been there for the lows of 2006, the almost-made-the-World Cup-semifinals of 2002, the emotional breakthrough of last summer's Confederations Cup. He's not going to be flustered by the obnoxious horns of South Africa's football stadia. The USMNT is going to need him, especially if there's no Charlie Davies or Oguchi Onyewu.

These are selfish rants because the U.S. finally has a favorable draw in the World Cup. England is no pushover and neither is Slovenia. But I still say there's not excuse for them not to get out of the group stage with 6 points. It's supposed to be difficult. It's supposed to be tense. And you're supposed to be there with your best players.

And that's where I want Donovan, not in Liverpool with Everton.

From Donovan's point of view, he's 27 and after two go-rounds in Germany that failed, this has to be a welcome shot at another gig on football's biggest stage. Everton manager David Moyes reportedly likes Donovan and is pushing the club to finalize the deal.

Everton is 15th in the Premiership and miserably out of the title chase. It's racked with injuries and some pundits are calling the Donovan signing a desperate act. It is moving on to the knockout stages of the Europa League, finishing second to Benfica in its group. Everton has two fights on its hands--avoid relegation, and keep going in Europe. It's likely Everton will eventually be drawn against one of the eight outcasts from the Champions League (Juventus? Liverpool?) and the glare on Donovan will be greater.

Donovan's MLS season ended a few weeks ago with the loss to Real Salt Lake. It's been a grind with World Cup qualifying and every player needs a proper offseason to rest. It doesn't look like Donovan will get that if he goes to Everton.

Everything in life is about timing, and from a selfish point of view, the timing of this one sucks.

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Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Ban Penalty Kicks From the World Cup Final?
What Do You Say?

Gabriele Marcotti has an interesting blog post up on the Times of London website; a good chunk of it is about the need to scrap penalties from the World Cup final.

Anyone who loves football loathes it when a major final is decided on penalty kicks. The teams sweat and labor for 120 minutes only to have what is often the biggest day of their professional lives decided by a spot kick 12 yards from goal. It's hardly fair, though it is equitable. And there's a difference I suppose.

But good Lord, it's so against what is right and wonderful about football, that there has to be a way to nuke PKs from the World Cup finals. Honestly, wasn't the 2006 Italy-France final such a downer; such a well-played 120 minutes coming down to PKs made it so anticlimactic and unmemorable. It's such an American answer to the finish of a sporting event that I'm surprised FIFA allows it at all. We here in the States love sudden death. Hockey has sudden death. Golf too. Pro football, our new pastime, perverts sudden death to such an extreme that it's possible the losing team would never even have has possession of the ball and still could lose the game.

But nothing overseas seems to embrace this concept of sudden death or overtimes that don't adhere to the game itself. Hell, even league champions are crowned based on their performance in the table over the course of 30 to 38 games. No playoffs. No wild cards. No sudden death in the Super Bowl.

So why should what is arguably the greatest sporting event on this beautiful planet be allowed if necessary to be decided by an individual action after 120 minutes of team play? It's not right.

The solution? Well Marcotti says there should be a replay of the game three days later, and if that game still ends in a draw after 120 minutes, then bring on the PKs.

Um. Maybe in an ideal world. But you know what? If I hold a ticket for the World Cup final, or I'm shelling out millions to advertise on television during the World Cup final, I damned better well see a champion crowned on the field of play that day. I'm not staying in country another three days and nights--at whose expense by the way--for the Wednesday replay. No, that won't work.

But what would?

Shorter extra periods?

Refresh the sub limit for extra time, giving each team two substitutions for the extra time, no matter how many they've used during the first 90?

Golden goals?

10 v. 10?

No goalies?

Yeah, I'm getting ridiculous, but it's a serious and legitimate problem. Granted, only two of the 18 World Cup finals have been decided on penalty kicks (three others in extra time), but we're seeing it happen with more frequency in the Champions League and even down to the domestic cup level. Teams get to a point in extra time where the game becomes an exercise in killing the clock; short, meaningless passes, no imagination, no strategy.

Marcotti raises an interesting point, and maybe after all is said and done, PKs are the best solution. I'd just hate to see a Spain-England final come down to David Beckham at the spot needing to score to keep it going; the bloke might, well, miss.

If you think you have the answer, I'd love to hear it. Please leave it in comments and I will re-post the best in a future blog.

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Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Dramatic Juventus-Bayern the Lone Drama
of Today's Champions League matches

Today's post is an entirely selfish exercise. Admittedly, I just haven't been into the Champions League this year, and I'm blaming it on ESPN. Not that I miss Derek Rae or Tommy Onion Bags, but Fox Soccer just ain't doing it for me. Talk about a lifeless broadcast; there's no urgency to the games and the best matches are never shown live.

It's cut into my enjoyment of the Champions League.

OK rant over.

Now on to today's Day 6 matches, the final of the group stage:

Group A: Clearly it's all about Juve-Bayern today and it should be a cracker of a match. Bayern has to go on the road and win in Turin, or it's banished to the Europa League where Sporting Lisbon surely awaits in a rematch of last year's 12-1 Champions League debacle. Bordeaux, meanwhile, has 13 points from five games and is already through.

Group B: Manchester United are all but through and take on Wolfsburg, which is second in the table ahead of CSKA, which is reeling from a bout of suspensions and banishments. CSKA takes on Besiktas, which has something to play for: A chance at third place and a spot in the Europa League.

Group C: The match of the day here has Marseille hosting Real Madrid. Madrid has 10 points top of the group, two ahead of Milan, which travels to Zurich and figures to score a precious three points. Madrid needs at least a tie to move through. Marseille needs a lot of help to move past Madrid, starting with having to win by four goals to move on via goal differential. Or if Zurich slips past Milan and Marseille wins, it can get through that way. Which is more likely?

Group D: Nothing to see here, move on. Chelsea and Porto are through. Porto takes on Atletico Madrid while Chelsea plays Apoel, with Peter Cech already banished to the bench (I had a bet to used the word banish and/or derivatives three times in today's post). Atletico has third by a point right now and there's the only intrigue, who gets the Europa League spot -- yawn.

So much for parity and boredom. I think Michel Platini's machinations to get more smaller clubs into the competition has certainly backfired in further watering down the already tedious group stage. No one cares. Bring back the knockouts from the start of the competition. In the meantime, ring me in February when the real Champions League starts.

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Monday, December 7, 2009

2010 World Cup Group of Death:
Who's Odd Man Out? Brazil? Portugal?

You know, "Dog" spelled backward is Group of Death.

I love the whole notion of a Group of Death. I mean, there are two guarantees you get out of almost every World Cup draw: A GOD and the host being in just a pitifully easy and uninteresting group; it's a random draw, right Charlize?

Looking at the last few:

2006 -- Germany as the host is paired with Ecuador, Poland and Costa Rica. Cakewalk. 3 wins, 9 points. Finishes third overall

GOD -- Argentina, Netherlands, Ivory Coast and Serbia. Ivory Coast tooth and nail loses a pair of 2-1 decisions to Argentina and Holland, both of whom are done by the end of the quarterfinal round.

2002 -- South Korea as the host is paired with the U.S., Poland and Portugal, benefits from the U.S. upset of Portugal and goes all the way to the semis, beating Italy and Spain along the way. A dream run.

Japan as the co-host gets Belgium, Russia and Tunisia. Japan upsets a weak group then loses to semifinalist Turkey in the second round.

GOD -- Sweden, England, Argentina and Nigeria. Brutal group, chock full of political battles and quietly talented upstarts. Sweden and England escape the group. Sweden loses to Senegal in the second round; England loses to Brazil in the quarterfinals.

1998 -- France as the host gets Denmark, South Africa and Saudi Arabia. Dreadful; 3 wins, 9 points. France wins the whole thing at home.

GOD -- Nigeria, Spain, Paraguay, Bulgaria. All four teams were stellar in the '94 Cup in the USA. Spain bombed out, living up to its reputation as dogs in the big tournament. Nigeria and Paraguay move on from the group, losing to Denmark and France respectively in the second round.

Point is, it's very difficult to escape the Group of Death and win the whole thing. Looking at this year, odds are, you're going to lose either Brazil or Portugal coming out of the group stage; I think Ivory Coast is too good not to steal points from either or both. And then, for whomever does escape in second place--again this could be either Brazil or Portugal, their reward is likely Spain in the second round. How would you like to play two wars in the first round (Brazil-Portugal is the final game of the group stage--God I hope things are not decided by then) and then go on to face what is probably the best team in the world at this moment?

It's just tremendous for football fans, even more so if you're emotionally invested in any of the GOD teams.

I honestly have no idea how this will shake out. I'm certainly not of the camp that Brazil is automatic and it will come down to Portugal and Ivory Coast. I can see Brazil slipping against either. Ivory Coast is in its second straight GOD and held its own quite well; its players are older yes, but experience counts for plenty in a short tournament. And Portugal can be deadly; so talented up and down the field. But it does have Carlos Queiroz up top and that isn't going to inspire confidence in anyone [side note: too bad Scolari isn't still coaching Portugal, talk about tasty].

Can't wait for GOD. Too bad we have to wait for GOD. 185 days to go.

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Don't Call it a Comeback, Part II (3?)

I'm going to Lazarus the Starting Eleven blog. I haven't posted since July because, well, for no other reason, than I've been busy.

It won't be daily, but it will be somewhat regular.

For those of you who continue to stop by, I'm truly flattered. Page views are my [only?] best metric, and while they're relatively low, they're still at a steady number. My many thanks to those of you who stop by.

I miss blogging. I still watch football and pay attention to everything. The World Cup draw was sensational. I'll be commenting on it soon.

Please tell your friends, we're back.

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