A lot has happened since my last soccer update.
First, there was the draw for the 2011 FIFA Women’s World Cup. The USA were drawn in Group C with Korea DPR, Sweden, and Colombia which looks like a tough group. I expect the USA will probably advance, but I could see a scenario where they finish behind Sweden and North Korea as well. Group A with the hosts and two-time defending champions Germany, Canada, France, and Nigeria looks like a tough group as well.
The bigger news for many people was the announcement of the hosts for the men’s World Cup in 2018 and 2022. I find myself have mixed reactions to the whole thing.
On the one hand, I was really hoping the World Cup would return to the US (and to a lesser extent I would have liked the Netherlands & Belgium to get a chance to host). The USA, England, and some other bidders seemed much better prepared to host a World Cup than Russia and Qatar. On the other hand, it’s good that countries that have never hosted the World Cup before to get a chance. And the World Cup is going to have great attendance and be a great success no matter where it is held. Experienced fans will travel anywhere in the world, and new fans from those regions will have a chance to see the games. On the other hand, there seems to be a lot of evidence of corruption in how FIFA awarded the bids. Yet, corruption or not there is some virtue in the World Cup going from South Africa to Brazil to Russia to Qatar, about as four different places in the world as I can imagine and sign that this is a truly global event. Yet Qatar hasn’t yet built the stadiums and it could be 120 degrees in the summer. Building a dozen new stadiums and air conditioning them doesn’t seem very economical. But the plans for Qatar’s systems call for solar power of the air cooling system and the stadiums will be dismantled and donated to developing nations after the World Cup. Still it seems that countries with lots of money are being awarded as hosts rather than countries with a true love of the game. So what, they have the money, let them spend it on creating a great stage for the world’s greatest sporting event. Let the US spend money on player development. Let developing nations spend on more important things than soccer. But Russia is a bastion of racism against black players and Qatar discriminates against Israelis and homosexuals. This is a tough one to rationalize, but there is a case to be made for the World Cup being a way of pushing a progressive message through in these countries. So, I don’t know what to think, but I’m not going to worry about it too much.
Here are the games I’ve watched the past two weeks.
Barcelona 5:0 Real Madrid (29 November 2010)
Deep inside I have no real reason to hate Real Madrid or to support Barcelona, but damn if this wasn’t a satisfying result in the first El Classico I’ve ever watched. It helped that Real’s Cristiano Ronald was a total brat in pushing Barça Pep Guardiola for no apparent reason, while Barcelona played a beautiful game of passing and possession. The goals for lovely too, my favorite being David Villa’s second goal through the keeper’s legs and then gently bouncing into the net.
Chelsea 1:1 Everton (4 December 2010)
After the Blues poor form through November and coming off a 1:4 home loss to West Brom, a trip to Stamford Bridge didn’t look to promising. Luckily Everton put in a good performance against (an admittedly slumping) Chelsea strong on possession and attacking in the second half. Jermain Beckford’s header to equalize in the 85th minutes was a lovely sight to see.
Arsenal 2:1 Fulham (4 December 2010)
For a loss to a top side, this was still a pretty impressive game for Fulham. The goal by Diomansy Kamara in the 29th minute tied the score and Fulham had some good chances to go ahead even as Arsenal squandered some excellent chances of their own. Unfortunately for Fulham, they were victims of the beautiful footwork and scoring of Samir Nasri and his two amazing goals.
Ajax 1:1 NEC Nijmegen (4 December 2010)
A tense and frustrating match saw Ajax go winless at home for the third straight game. The disappointing season for Ajax resulted in head coach Martin Jol leaving the team after this game.
Napoli 1:0 Palermo (6 December 2010)
This was a low-scoring game but not for lack of trying as there was lots of end-to-end play with each side attacking well but meeting up with even better defending and some great saves by both goalkeepers. The game nearly ended in a scoreless tie but for Christian Maggio’s last minute goal in the fifth minute of stoppage time.
Barcelona 2:0 Rubin Kazan (7 December 2010)
Barça finished up Champions League group play (winning Group D) with a pretty easy win over the defensive Russian side.
AC Milan 0:2 Ajax (8 December 2010)
In their first match under their new coach and last match in Champions League play, Ajax had to try to earn a win in hopes of securing a spot in the Europa League. Unexpectedly, the result was a satisfying road win at Milan with goals by Demy de Zeeuw and an awesome long range shot by Alderweireld. Milan brought on former Ajax players Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Clarence Seedorf, but didn’t have much fight in them.
Everton 0-0 Wigan (11 December 2010)
Ugh! The less said about this match the better. There’s no reason that Everton shouldn’t have won this game dominating play throughout. To go scoreless defies belief.
Newcastle United 3-1 Liverpool (11 December 2010)
Not teams I would usually watch but I’ve made friends with a NUFC supporter on Tumblr and this game was on the tv at the James Gate pub when I went in for lunch. I didn’t see the whole match but I did see Liverpool equalize early in the second half and then the impressive goals by Joey Barton and Andy Carroll to give the Magpies a deserved win.