2018 FIFA World Cup Rooting Preferences – Knockout Stage


After an exciting, weird, and sometimes disappointing group round, the knockout round of the 2018 World Cup in Russia begins tomorrow.  Following up on my picks for group play, here are my picks for the knockout rounds of the tournament.  Remember these are more wishes of what I’d like to see happen than predictions of what will actually happen.  I tend to favor the underdog, so these things are not likely to pass.

Let me know who you think will win this year’s World Cup trophy, and who you want to win it most (if that’s different) in the comments!

ROUND OF 16

June 30 – Uruguay vs. Portugal

I’m kind of partial to both sides, but I’ll lean toward Portugal since they’ve never won a title.

EDITED 7/3: It’s Uruguay, I’m ok with that.

June 30 – France vs. Argentina

Seems kind of early for a matchup of these powerhouses, and I like both of them, but I’ll go for Argentina for Messi’s sake.

EDITED 7/3: Messi needs better teammates.

July 1 – Spain vs. Russia

It will be nice to see a classy side like Spain bounce the hosts out of the tournament.

EDITED 7/3: This was a huge shocker!

July 1 – Croatia vs. Denmark

Hmm…no strong feelings on either team and neither are really a powerhouse nor an underdog.  I guess I’ll go with Denmark since Copenhagen is such a great city for biking, but if anyone has a good argument for Croatia, let me hear it.

EDITED 7/3: Well, Croatia has been the surprise of the tournament so good for them.

July 2 – Belgium vs. Japan

I’ll be pulling for Japan here as the last surviving representative of Asia.  Sadly there will be no one from Africa to root for as well.

EDITED 7/3: Hah, I forgot I picked Japan and was actually rooting for Belgium while I was watching it.  What an exciting game for both sides! Belgium is my favorite surviving side from Europe.

July 2 – Brazil vs. Mexico

No offense to Brazil, but I’m pulling for our neighbors to the south, and based on what I saw in group play, I think that they could pull it off.

EDITED 7/3: The result here was not surprising.  Brazil seems to have the best chance of a non-European side winning the Cup, but they’re not new and exciting either.

July 3 – Sweden vs. Switzerland

Hmm…another match that doesn’t promise to be exciting, but I’ve enjoyed Sweden’s play thus far.

EDITED 7/3: Well, bully for Sweden.

July 3 – Colombia vs. England

Colombia all the way! Perhaps one of the most fun teams to watch and a South American underdog who’ve been bubbling under for some time. And what better team to user England out the door?

EDITED 7/3: The team I most wanted to win lost to the the team I most wanted to lose.  What a bummer!

QUARTERFINALS

July 6 – QF #1: Portugal vs. Argentina

Every tv station in the world is rooting for Ronaldo vs. Messi.  I expect that if Argentina makes it this far, Messi won’t be able to carry the team any further, and Portugal will get a deserved win.  Doesn’t necessarily mean that Ronaldo is better, although that is the conclusion every sports pundit will make.

EDITED 7/3: Uruguay vs. France

Leaning toward Uruguay, but like elements of each side.

July 6 – QF #2: Mexico vs. Japan

Sticking with Mexico here.

EDITED 7/3: Brazil vs. Belgium

Cheering for fancy beers and peeing boys.

July 7 – QF #3: Spain vs. Denmark

Spain will win this, although I’ll root for Denmark to be the final surviving Scandanivian side.

EDITED 7/3: Sweden vs. England

Lets go Sweden! <clap, clap, clapclapclap>

July 7 – QF #4: Sweden vs. Colombia

Colombia may my favorite remaining team, so this is easy.

EDITED 7/3: Russia vs. Croatia

Croatians must have some score to settle with the former Soviet Union, right?

SEMIFINALS

July 10 – SF #1: Portugal vs. Mexico

This would be an interesting, albeit unlikely, matchup.  I’ll give Portugal the nod.

EDITED 7/3: Uruguay vs. Belgium

Should probably go with Uruguay as the last non-European side in this scenario, but I’m really liking Belgium.

July 11 – SF #2:  Denmark vs. Colombia

Still with Colombia.

EDITED 7/3: Croatia vs. Sweden

Keep the Croatian win streak going

THIRD PLACE

July 14 – Mexico vs. Denmark

El Tri for Third Place!

EDITED 7/3: Uruguay vs. Sweden

Uruguay gets the bronze.

FINAL

July 15 – Portugal vs. Colombia

Colombia all the way!

EDITED 7/3: Belgium vs. Croatia

The biggest victory since Waterloo!

After writing this out, I know how ridiculous this all looks, but hey, if it actually happens…

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2018 FIFA World Cup Rooting Preferences


The FIFA World Cup starts today.  I’ve been finding it hard to find the enthusiasm I usually have this year partly because corrupt FIFA is holding the tournament in corrupt Russia.  (Finding out that North America will be getting a share of that corruption, er, soccer excitement in 2026 takes away the sting a little bit).  Of course it also sucks that the USA failed (miserably) to qualify, and my backup squads in Ireland and the Netherlands are also staying home.

With that it mind here is who I’ll be rooting for in each group (I’m not event going to make an attempt to predict the outcome for this thing):

Group A – Egypt is the natural underdog here, appearing in their first Cup in 28 years with their superstar Mohamed Salah.  I also have a fondness for Uruguay, who tend to punch above their weight in the soccer world.

Hoped for outcome: Uruguay, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Russia

Group B – No strong feelings in any direction here.  I’ve come to appreciate Cristiano Ronaldo and Portugal through reading children’s biographies.  I also like to see African teams succeed.

Hoped for outcome: Portugal, Morocco, Spain, and Iran.

Group C – Peru emerged from the tough South American qualifying group for their first World Cup in 36 years and thus the natural feel-good story for this group.  I also have a fondness for Australia as the antipodean counterpart of the US national team.

Hoped for outcome: Australia, Peru, France, and Denmark.

Group D –  OMG, how can you root for anyone but Iceland!  I’m also hoping Lionel Messi can do something good in what is likely his final World Cup.

Hoped for outcome: Iceland, Argentina, Nigeria, and Croatia.

Group E – Costa Rica won hearts and minds, if not quite enough games in 2014.  Let’s hope they bring the CONCACAF Thunder in 2018! And may Brazil atone for their embarrassment versus Germany.

Hoped for outcome: Costa Rica, Brazil, Switzerland, and Serbia.

Group F – I know I’m supposed to hate Mexico, but, screw it, I’m rooting for Mexico.

Hoped for outcome: Mexico, South Korea, Germany, and Sweden.

Group G – Panama qualified for their first World Cup at the USA’s expense, so they’d better make it worth it.  No strong feelings on the rest of this group, but it seems deserving for England to make an early Brexit.

Hoped for outcome: Panama, Belgium, Tunisia, and England.

Group H – Colombia was another exciting team in 2014 that I’d like to see go farther this year.

Hoped for outcome: Colombia, Senegal, Japan, and Poland.

 

And if any of this comes to pass, I’ll be the most surprised.

Are you watching the World Cup this year? If so, who are you rooting for?  Let me know in the comments!

Movie Review: Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait (2006) #atozchallenge


This is my entry for “Z” in the Blogging A to Z Challenge. Throughout April I will be watching and reviewing a documentary movie from A to Z.  This is the first “Z” documentary I’ve reviewed.

TitleZidane: A 21st Century Portrait
Release Date: May 24, 2006
Director:  Douglas Gordon and Philippe Parreno
Production Company:  Anna Lena Films
Summary/Review:

Zinedine Zidane, the French football player of Algerian descent, is widely considered to be one of the greatest football players of all time.  In his career, he played for top European football clubs – including Bordeaux, Juventus, and Real Madrid – winning domestic league championships, Champions League titles, and numerous individual awards.  For the French national team, Zidane scored 2 goals in the championship game of the 1998 World Cup, leading France to its first ever World Cup title.  And if you don’t know him for any of those things, you probably know him as the guy thrown out of the 2006 World Cup championship for headbutting an Italian player.  Today he continues his career as a manager for Real Madrid.

This film documents one game Zidane played as midfielder for Real Madrid on April 23, 2005 against Villareal at the Santiago Bernabéu Stadium.  17 synchronized cameras were set up around of the stadium, all of them set to follow Zidane in real-time.  This is a high concept idea that challenges the way a spectator watches a game, which usually means following the ball rather than an individual player.  Fortunately, Zidane is usually in the center of action, if not actually holding the ball himself.

Some things one can observe from watching one player is that Zidane, late in his career, has lost a step in speed and conserves his energy for when he’s going to run.  In quieter moments we get to see him adjust his socks or share a joke with a teammate.  The microphones are also good at picking up sounds off the field that one doesn’t usually hear over the crowd. It’s a chippy game, and we get to Zidane and others hit the ground hard as dirt and grass fly artistically in the air.

Still, it’s hard to maintain interest in an ordinary football match from 13 years ago.  For one thing, Zidane keeps running off-screen and the images are often out of focus.  The editing is jarring and seems to obscure what Zidane is doing in context of the game much of the time. I mean the whole concept was to follow one player with 17 cameras – you had one job!  Some parts of the film have a crawling subtitle with quotes of Zidane describing his thoughts during a game.  It’s a somewhat interesting addition, but also seems to be an admission that the film of the match itself is not enough to hold the viewer’s attention.  Portions of the film are scored with music by Scottish post-rock band Mogwai, which while I like the music, doesn’t seem suited to the pace of the match. Finally, Zidane is red-carded near the end of the match for brawling which is kind of hilarious and makes you wonder what the filmmakers would have done had he exited the game earlier.

I’m going to chalk this up to an interesting concept, poorly executed.

What Can One Learn From Watching This Documentary:

I watched this over the course of three nights because I kept dozing off.  High-def images of Zidane running around accompanied by Mogwai is a good sleep aid.

If You Like This You Might Also Want To …:

Go watch a game of any sport and focus exclusively on your favorite player and see what happens.

Source: I watched this movie on YouTube
Rating: **

Book Review: Eight World Cups by George Vecsey


Author: George Vecsey
TitleEight World Cups
Publication Info: Times Books (May 13, 2014)
ISBN: 9780805098488
Summary/Review:

Vecsey, a sportswriter for The New York Times, writes a series of essays and memories of international soccer dating back to the 1982 World Cup in Spain, tying it in with his own love of the game back to his childhood.  The title is a misnomer, because Vecsey writes about Women’s World Cups and Olympic games among other competitions, but the eight men’s World Cup finals he attends from 1982 to 2010 are the core of the book. In addition to some lovely writing describing the games and controversies of the each World Cup, Vecsey gives a sense of the host nation where he and his wife generally set a up a home base for a month.  He writes about the great players of each era from Diego Maradona to Zinedine Zidane.  A major focus is the rise of the United States men’s team from a non-entity to one that regular qualifies for the World Cup and is competitive.  Vecsey also explores the seamy underside of FIFA and CONFACAF with the greed and corruption that runs alongside the beautiful game.  All in all, this is a nice American take on World Cup football from a personal perspective.

Recommended booksThe Grass of Another Country: A Journey Through the World of Soccer by Christopher Merrill, The Girls of Summer: The U.S. Women’s Soccer Team and How It Changed the World by Jere Longman, and Goooal! a Celebration of Soccer by Andres Cantor
Rating: ****

World Cup of Reading


So, the FIFA World Cup ended over a month ago, but I still used this year’s tournament as inspiration to revive my ongoing Around the World for a Good Book project.  The basic gist is that I’m attempting to read a work of fiction (in English or English translation) from every country in the world.  So far I’ve been able to read literature from more fifty nations, but I’ve stalled out the past couple of years.

My goal for 2014 is to try to read a book for all 32 nations represented in this years World Cup.  Luckily, countries I’ve read abundantly – such as England and the United States – as well as other countries I’ve read for the project were represented in the tournament, so I will only have 12 books to read to complete the field.

Here are the books I’ve read, or plan to read, for the World Cup nations of 2014.  As always, I’m open to suggestions.

 

Movie Review: 30 for 30: Soccer Stories


Title: 30 for 30: Soccer Stories
Production Co:ESPN Films
Country: United States
Language: English (and other languages in interviews and archival footage)
Genre: Documentary | Sports | History

In preparation for this year’s World Cup tournament, I watched this series of ESPN films about football/futbol/soccer on Netflix. They all touch upon themes beyond sports and into the realms of politics and human drama.

Title:Hillsborough
Release Date: April 15, 2014
Director: Daniel Gordon
The feature-length documentary tells the story of the 1989 FA Cup Semifinal where 96 supporters of Liverpool FC were crushed to death, and the ongoing story of survivors and family to find justice. I knew a fair bit about the disaster coming in, but the film filled me in on some startling details. For example, the Hillsborough stadium had experienced crushing incidents at previous games. Then there is the extent the police went to slander the victims, ranging from the coroner’s unprecedented decision to take blood alcohol samples from all of the dead (including children) to editing and sanitizing over a hundred reports written by police officers on the scene. The documentary features interviews with survivors, family of the dead, police, and legal experts as well as television and close-circuit camera film of the events of the day. One deficit of the film is the use of dramatic reenactments which are confusing and unnecessary (for example, the story of some police officers playing a cruel hazing prank a few weeks before the match and leading to the transfer of a police chief experienced with crowd control did not need to be acted out). Of all the films in the series this one is the most effective and a must see although very disturbing to watch.

Rating: ****1/2

Title: The Opposition
Release Date: April 22, 2014
Director: Ezra Edelman and Jeffrey Plunkett
Another disturbing film where politics intrudes into sport focuses on the Chilean national team attempting to qualify for the 1974 World Cup. When the democratically elected government is overthrown by Augusto Pinochet, Chile’s national stadium is turned into a prison and torture camp for those deemed dissidents by the new regime. When the USSR boycotts a qualifier game, the Chilean team is forced to participate in a farce of scoring a goal against no opposition in the same stadium. The United States, for supporting the coup, and FIFA, for turning a blind eye to the human rights violations in their midst, come off looking very bad. It’s all very grim, and it feels like this story deserved more than 22 minutes.

Rating:***

Title: Maradona ’86
Release Date: April 22, 2014
Director: Sam Blair
This is more of a traditional sports documentary focusing on Diego Maradona’s magnificent performance at the 1986 World Cup in Mexico. A divisive figure, he’s able to capture the appreciation of the world in these games. The documentary excels in its use of archival footage to tell the story, especially the clips from Argentina and the poetic descriptions of Maradona’s goals.

Rating:***

Title: Ceasefire Massacre
Release Date: April 29, 2014
Director: Alex Gibney and Trevor Birney
In 1994, Ireland won a surprising World Cup group match over Italy in front of a fervent crowd of Irish-American supporters in the Meadowlands of New Jersey. This great moment for a perennially poor team came after qualifying in a game over Northern Ireland, earning respect and admiration for the team across the island. But during half-time of this World Cup match, a bar in the tiny of Loughisland was targeted by Protestant terrorists, who opened fire killing six and wounding five. Both stories are interesting, but seem tenuously connected, even as the documentary suggests that the players learning of the massacre affected their play in the rest of the tournament.

Rating:**1/2

Title: The Myth of Garrincha
Release Date: April 29, 2014
Director: Marcos Horacio Azevedo

Mané Garrincha, knees bent by childhood illness, should not have been a professional athlete, but turned out to be an unpredictable and entertaining goal-scorer. He gained great fame from leading Brazil to World Cup Championships in 1958 and 1962. This documentary has a “Behind the Music” feel as it goes into the effect of the “price of fame” that manifested in Garrincha in severe alcoholism and the public turning against him when he marries a samba singer who had been married before. He died bankrupt and alone in 1983, but his funeral turns out to be another big change in public perception as there’s an outpouring of affection for the forgotten hero.

Rating:**1/2

Title: Mysteries of the Rimet Trophy
Release Date: May 6, 2014
Director: Brett Ratner

This is the weakest of the bunch, a hodge-podge of stories of people trying to steal the World Cup trophy (well, some are successful as it is still missing to this day). It feels like a cheezy History Channel doc from the 1990s, complete with archival footage of parading Nazis.

Rating:*1/2

Title: Barbosa: The Man Who Made Brazil Cry
Release Date: May 6, 2014
Director: Loch Phillipps

The goalkeeper for Brazil’s 1950 World Cup team, Barbosa was unfairly blamed for the loss to Uruquay at the Maracanã in Rio. Like Garrincha, he lives out his life treated as a villain in Brazil, but unlike Garrincha is a gentle soul who never deserved any reprobation. It’s an interesting glimpse into the 1950 World Cup and it’s long-lasting after affects, although I still have trouble buying into the mourning that continues over this loss in Brazil when the country subsequently won five World Cups (and counting).

Rating:***

World Cup Round of 16 Rooting Interests and Predictions


After an exciting round of group play, the knock-out rounds for the 2014 World Cup begin today.  Below I’ve listed the teams I’m rooting for and the teams I expect to win (not always the same) for each game.

28 June 2014

Brazil vs. Chile

This is a tough call.  I have a soft spot for Chile and they acquitted themselves well in group play, but I’ve always liked Brazil and it would be tragic if the host nation exited the tournament this early (especially after having to endure all the corporate, government, and FIFA corruption).  That being said, I expect Brazil will have no problem winning this game and probably advance at least to the semifinals.

Supporting: Brazil           Prediction: Brazil

Colombia vs. Uruguay

Colombia is one of the most exciting teams in the tournament with the most feverish fans.  Uruguay did well in group play, but aren’t going to go far without their bitey star Luis Suarez.  Colombia is an easy team to support and pick for the win.

Supporting: Colombia         Prediction: Colombia

It’s interesting that four of the five remaining South American teams are essentially playing for one semifinal spot.  I expect that Brazil will advance from this group of four, but the Brazil versus Colombia quarterfinal has the potential to be an exciting match.

29 June 2014

Netherlands vs. Mexico

Mexico is our biggest rival, but I’ve been swayed to their side this World Cup for several reasons:  CONCACAF regional pride, the performance of goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa, the exburance of coach Miguel Herrera, and their exciting style of play in a tough group.  I adopted the Netherlands in 2010 as my team to support after the US elimination (mainly because I had just visited Amsterdam that year), but the karate chop performance of the final kind of took the bloom off that rose.  Still, the Netherlands look like a dominant side that may advance all the way to the final again, and will be hard for Mexico to beat.

Supporting: Mexico          Prediction: Netherlands

Costa Rica vs. Greece

Costa Rica’s team is the surprise of the tournament, giant-killers in what should’ve been the toughest group.  It’s hard not to like Los Ticos.  Greece are also surprise members of the final 16.  However, they haven’t shown a lot of skill in the group stage.  I expect another Costa Rica win.

Supporting: Costa Rica     Prediction: Costa Rica

An all CONCACAF quarterfinal would be a thrilling thing, but I expect that the Netherlands will progress to the semifinals from this group of four.

30 June 2014

France vs. Nigeria

I tend to root for the underdogs, so I have to favor Nigeria here, but France is looking like one of the top teams in the tournament, so I don’t have much hope for the African side.

Supporting: Nigeria         Prediction: France

Germany vs. Algeria

Algeria is the other surviving African team who’ve drawn tough European competition in Germany.  I’ll root for Algeria, but expect Germany to make it at least to the semifinal.

Supporting: Algeria          Prediction: Germany

There’s an opportunity for an all-African quarterfinal coming out this group of four, but it’s more likely that European neighbors Germany and  France will meet to decide a spot in the final four.

1 July 2014

Argentina vs. Switzerland

I’ve not been impressed by Argentina who  won a weak group by basically holding out for a Lionel Messi wondergoal.  On the other hand, Argentina has enough talent that should be able to advance as far as the semifinal without breaking much of a sweat.  I haven’t got much of a sense of Switzerland, but I’ll be rooting for them just so that USA would have a more potentially beatable side in the quarterfinal, should it come to that.

Supporting: Switzerland       Prediction:  Argentina

Belgium vs. United States

Sure, Belgium is a dark horse to win the World Cup, and sure they won all three of their group matches.  Sure, the United States has struggled and only just made it out of group play.  But Belgium played in one of the weakest groups, while the United States faced down three challenging opponents without ever throwing in the towel.  I believe that we will win.

Supporting:  United States       Prediction: United States

While I think that the United States can make it to the quarterfinal, Argentina is the prohibitive favorite of this group of four.  Still, Iran held Argentina scoreless for 90 minutes, so maybe someone can pull of a miracle win.

World Cup Qualifying – A World-Wide Approach?


The past week featured another round of qualifying games for the upcoming FIFA World Cup 2014 to be held in Brazil.  Under the current rules, the six association football confederations (loosely representing the 6 continents inhabited by humans) each conduct a qualifying tournament to determine which teams will represent their confederation.  The number of places in the World Cup Finals varies depending on confederation ranging from 14 places for UEFA (Europe) to 0 or 1 place for OFC (Oceania).

I got to thinking that perhaps it may be more fun and fair if for World Cup qualifying, the confederations were dispensed with entirely and qualifiers were played among national teams from around the world just as they play together in the finals.  The confederations are oddly aligned as it is with Australia, a continent in its own right, has been a member of the Asian Football Confederation since 2006 so they could play more competitive matches.  The South American nations of  Guyana, Suriname, and French Guiana do not play in qualifiers with their South American neighbors in CONMEBOL but instead compete in the larger Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football.  So why not mix them all up and create a world-wide tournament.

My thoughts on the world-wide approach to World Cup qualifying is that it would provide several benefits:

  • Dispense with the somewhat arbitrary number of places awarded to each confederation allowing places in the finals to be earned through qualifying competition.
  • Allow nations with weaker teams to increase their level of competitiveness by matching up against some of the world’s best national teams.
  • On the other hand, the higher ranking teams may use matches against minnows as an opportunity to test younger players under tournament conditions.
  • Increase cultural exchange and international awareness among football players and supporters.
  • Standardize the number of qualifying matches played.  Currently, depending on the confederation, a national team may play as few as 8 matches and as many as 24 matches in qualification rounds, plus intercontinental playoffs for teams that did not qualify directly.  My proposal would have each team that makes it to the finals playing in 12 or 18 games.
  • Extend the drama and tension of the World Cup by having it build up over a two-year period of tournament play with the number of teams winnowed away until the 31 places for the finals are filled.

There are 209 member nations in FIFA.  With the host nation automatically qualifying, that leaves as many as 208 national teams fighting for the remaining 31 spots.  My proposal below works on the premise that all 208 national teams will be participating, although historically the greatest number of teams to enter qualification was 205 for the 2010 World Cup qualifying rounds.

Initially, I considered that the 208 teams could be drawn into 52 groups of four for the first round of qualification.  Then I considered the possibility of high-ranking teams getting eliminated by other high-ranking teams early on while weaker sides advanced from less competitive groups.  So for the round of qualification, some of the best teams in the world will have a bye as is already the common practice in the early round(s) of confederation-based qualification.

FIRST ROUND BYES

32 national teams will be granted a bye from participating in the first round.  The byes may be awarded to the top 32 teams in the FIFA World Ranking at the time qualifying is to begin, or they may be given to the 32 teams that participated in the previous World Cup finals, or some other methodology agreed upon as fair by FIFA member nations.

FIRST ROUND

Up to 176 teams may participate in the First Round of World Cup Qualifiers.  They would be drawn into 44 groups of 4 teams each.  Within the groups the teams play a double round robin (home and away against each opponent in the group) for a total of six games.  The top two teams at the end of group play advance to the second round while the remaining teams are eliminated from qualification.  To determine the order of teams in their group they will be ranked by points,then  goal difference, and then total number of goals scored.  If two or more teams are still equal on all three criteria then they will be ranked on head-to-head points, goal differential, and total goals.  If teams remain tied and it affects what team may advance to the next round then a one-game playoff will be played at a neutral location.

SECOND ROUND

The 88 teams that advance from the First Round and the 32 teams that received first round byes come together for a total of 120 national teams.  These teams will be drawn into 30 groups of 4 teams each.  In this round the top 30 teams will be seeded based on the current world rankings prior to the draw. Once again teams will play a total of 6 matches in a double round robin.  The top two teams of each group advanced to the third and final qualifying round.  The same ranking order and  tie breakers described in the first round apply.

THIRD ROUND

The 60 teams that survive the second round will once again be seeded into 15 groups of 4 with the top 15 teams seeded.  Similar to the first two rounds, the teams play a double round robin within their groups for a total of 6 games.  The top teams from each group advance to World Cup Finals.  Third place teams may have one more chance in a playoff for the final spot.  The same ranking order and  tie breakers described in the first round apply.

PLAYOFF FOR THE 32nd SPOT

With 30 teams qualified joining the host nation, one last spot remains in the 32-team field.  The 15 teams that finished third place in their groups will be ranked according to their performance in the second and third rounds combined (12 games total), with the top two teams (using the standard criteria for ranking and tiebreaker( advancing to a playoff for the 32nd place in the World Cup Finals.  The playoff would be a simple two-legged home-and-away tie determined on aggregate goals with away goals, extra time, and then a penalty shootout used to break any draws.

***

And so we have our field of 32 teams winnowed down from 209.  I’d think as each round progresses the tension and excitement would build leading into an exciting finals.  What do you think?  Would this be a fair and entertaining way of determining which national teams participate in the quadrennial event?  Or would it be bogged down by unbalanced matches between top ranked sides and minnows?  Would UEFA and CONMEBOL dominate the qualifiers and shut out the other confederations entirely or would we learn that the world is more competitively balanced than we ever imagined?  Let me know your thoughts in the comments.

Soccer Spectating Report 7-26 June: Gold Cup Edition


The CONCACAF Gold Cup came and went with the US Men’s National Team’s uninspiring loss. The Boston Breakers are treading water and the New England Revolution are abysmal so things are pretty miserable in my soccer world. Luckily the Women’s World Cup is starting and hopefully that will lift my spirits.

Canada 0:2 United States (June 7)

The USMNT opened their Gold Cup campaign with a satisfying win against our neighbors to the north.  Clint Dempsey’s goal was especially pleasing.  Tim Howard made several dramatic saves in the second half to keep Canada from getting back in the game.

New York Red Bulls 2:1 New England Revolution (10 June)

The Revolution once again fought back late, showing that at times they do have some talent, but it was too little too late to get a point on the road against Thierry Henry and the Red Bulls.

Panama 2:1 United States (11 June)

Hopefully this game can be a wake-up call about underestimating one’s opponents.  Panama is better than expected but the US really shot themselves in the foot in their first ever loss in Gold Cup group play.

United States 1:0 Guadeloupe (14 June)

This was a “must-win” for the USMNT and the game was really not much in doubt, but the result is still startlingly close considering how often the US tested the Guadeloupe goal.

New England Revolution 1:1 Chicago Fire (18 June)

Once again the Revs were shaky in the first half and settled down to play in the second half.  Rajko Lekic got off the schneid with his 48th minute goal, but once again too little too late.  This game was marred also by Gillette Stadium security using excessive force to regulate profanity by supporters in The Fort.  This team and this season are just ugly, ugly, ugly.

United States 2:0 Jamaica (19 June)

After a shaky group stage the USMNT finally appeared to be coming into form with this quarterfinal victory over the Reggae Boyz.  Jermaine Jones and Clint Dempsey scored the goals.

Atlanta 0:0 Boston (19 June)

With the top players off to prepare for the Women’s World Cup and Georgia under some oppressive heat, the two sides endured a grueling if lethargic draw.  Hey, a point on the road, right?

United States 1:0 Panama (22 June)

The USMNT extracted a measure of revenge against the still competitive Panama side with this semifinal victory.  Clint Dempsey once again provided the goal scoring on an assist by Landon Donovan.  Freddy Adu was a surprise substitute and played impressively.

Mexico 2:0 Honduras (22 June)

I had good intentions of watching more than just the USMNT games in the Gold Cup but this semifinal is the only non-US game I caught.  Mexico was truly the class of the tournament but a scrappy Honduran side held them scoreless until extra time.  Then the wheels fell off and Mexico scored twice including a “crotch shot” by Chicharito.

United States 2:4 Mexico (25 June)

First the positives.  It was an exciting, dramatic game and it was great to see the USMNT get off to a hot start with two early games.  After that, it was awful.  The US could not defend to save their lives and Mexico scored four unanswered goals in front of an audience largely made up of Mexico supporters.  Mexico is obviously the better team right now but it didn’t need to be this ugly.  This is obviously a wake-up call for the USMNT if they hope to get the team deep into the 2014 World Cup.

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Soccer Spectating Report 16 May-6 June


With the Champions League final, the European season comes to the end. I watched a lot of teams and lot of games and determined that the clubs I like best are Everton of the English Premier League and Ajax of the Dutch Eredivisie. Next year I’m thinking I’ll try to watch as many games featuring those clubs as possible as well as pick out one other “game of the week” featuring European sides. I’ll also continue following Ireland in their Euro 2012 campaign. Of course I plan to continue supporting my home teams the New England Revolution and the Boston Breakers and maybe check out some games from Mexico, South America, Australia and Japan. But I do plan to lower the intensity and I don’t intend to continue writing about it.

I figured this would be my last soccer spectating report, but with the USMNT competing in the CONCACAF Gold Cup and the USWNT hoping to regain the Women’s World Cup, I think I will make two more soccer spectating reports before I quit.

United States 2:0 Japan (18 May)

Another Women’s World Cup warm-up for the USWNT and it felt like it.  It was not an exciting win and Japan seemed overmatched while both sides were more focused on testing things out.  But a win’s a win.

Everton 1:0 Chelsea (22 May)

An exciting final game for Everton who defeated Chelsea on a late-game goal by Jermaine Beckford after they’d been reduced to 10 men.  Everton’s  late season form helps them finish in 7th place which is about as good as one can expect right now with the Big 6 dominating the top 6 spots.

Sporting KC 5:0 New England Revolution (25 May)

Egads, the Revs crushed all the hopes built up by their good performance in their game against DC United in this truly awful US Open Cup qualifier in a torrential downpour in Kansas City.  Well, let’s hope they can make something of the league season at least.

Barcelona 3:1 Manchester United (28 May)

United started off strong, and the goal by Wayne Rooney was impressive, but otherwise were totally overmatched by Barcelona in this UEFA Champions League final.  Barça showed that they are truly great teams of all time by dominating the English league champions.

New England Revolution 0:1 Los Angeles Galaxy (28 May)

The Revs showed some signs of life in the second life, but not enough to avoid yet another shutout.  One kind of hopes that they’ll finally pull things together and start playing more competitively for all 90 minutes, but the season is slipping away.

United States 0:4 Spain (4 June)

I had tickets to this game but did not see it live because after being stuck in horrendous traffic was faced with paying $40 for parking at Gillette Stadium who would not accept credit cars.  So rather than find a bank and pay extortionate rates for half a  game I gave up.  It’s really a shame that the Krafts built their temple of greed in the middle of nowhere rather than in the urban core near public transportation.  We watched the replay on ESPN3 and it was disappointing as well.  Spain started their best players and dominated.  Bob Bradley tinkered with his lineup – perhaps a little understandable with the the Gold Cup coming up – but disappointing to people who paid a lot of money to see (or not be able to see) their team compete.

Macedonia 0:2 Ireland (4 June)

Ireland kept themselves in a good position for Euro 2012 qualifying with captain Robbie Keane scoring both the goals.

Boston Breakers 2:1 magicJack (5 June)

Boston picks up another 3 points against the worst-named team in WPS with Meghan Klingenberg scoring her first goal for the team.

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Soccer Spectating Report 10-15 May


Palermo 2:1 AC Milan (10 May)

It’s been a while since I checked in on Italian football so when I saw that my putative favorite Serie A side was hosting the home leg  of the Coppa Italia semi-final, I decided to check it out.  It was a fun game with some  exciting goals and Berlusconi’s Bandits reduced to ten men.   It looked closer than in reality since the Milan goal did not come until stoppage time.  Palermo are now through to the Coppa Italia final for the first time since 1979 where they face Inter.

Western New York Flash 3:2 Boston Breakers (13 May)

I’m kind of stretching the limits of soccer games I watched since there was no tv or radio coverage of this game and thus I was left to following the online match tracker.  Western NY are rapidly becoming the team to beat and hated rivals as they were able to defeat Boston without Marta, Christine Sinclair and Alex  Morgan playing. The Breakers managed to make things respectable by coming back from 2 goals down twice and playing a good second half but too little too late to steal a point.

New England Revolution 1:0 Vancouver Whitecaps (14 May)

The Revolution are taking their time getting things together as a team, but this game was mostly another positive step forward.  The Revs earned a win and their second straight shutout under sloppy, wet conditions.  Benny Feilhaber drew a penalty shortly after halftime and Shalrie Joseph converted the penalty kick.  Feilhaber should have doubled the score but his goal was erroneously called back as offside.  The Revs strong second half also saw a good shot by Sainey Nyassi stopped by Whitecaps goalkeeper Jay Nolly.

Ajax 3:1 FC Twente (15 May)

One of the downsides (for me) of European football it lacks the drama of an end-of-season match to decide the league championship.  By serendipity the Dutch Eredvisie season ended with the first place team Twente (71 points) playing at second place Ajax (70 points) effectively making the final game of the season a championship game.  Twente had the advantage of a win or tie giving them the title, while Ajax had home field advantage.  Siem de Jong scored 2 goals for the home side and a Twente own goal gave Ajax a comfortable win for their first championship in 7 years and 30th total.  It’s very exciting to see one of “my teams” earn a championship.

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Soccer Spectating Report 19 April-9 May


The European season is coming to an exciting conclusion while the MLS gets into full swing. Here’s three weeks of soccer highlights.

New England Revolution 3:2 Sporting Kansas City (23 April)

This game was the culmination of an exciting week – striker Rajko Levic’s first home game, the debut of midfielder Benny Feilhaber and the premier of the Revolution’s new shirt sponsor.  While I’m not too excited by corporate advertising on the jerseys themselves I do appreciate that it will improve revenue for the team.  The game was exciting come from behind win with Feilhaber helping set up the first goal and Lekic scoring the game winner with captain Shalrie Joseph scoring as well.

DC United 2:3 New England Revolution (26 April)

The Revs traveled to Maryland for a US Open Cup qualifier, playing an almost entirely different lineup from their previous game against Kansas City.  It was a good sign of the depth of the team as the Revs easily took a 3-goal lead with two goals by Kheli Dube and one by Alan Koger.  They let up towards the end of the game allowing United to get back two points but the Revs held on for the win and advance to the next qualifier versus KC.

Real Madrid 0:2 Barcelona (27 April)

This game had everything: the mad rants and eventual expulsion of José Mourinho, Real’s negative play and hard tackles,  Barça’s excessive play-acting, and lots of fisticuffs on and off the field.  Of course none of these were good soccer and an embarrassment to the game.  Imagine a novice soccer spectator being told that two of the best clubs in the world were playing in the world’s premier tournament and then seeing every soccer stereotype acted out.  Luckily there is Lionel Messi whose two brilliant goals in the final 15 minutes were a joy to behold.

Real Salt Lake 0:1 Monterrey (27 April)

I rooted against Real in the afternoon in one Champions League and for Real in the evening in another Champions League.  Real Salt Lake historically made it to the final of the CONCACAF Champions League and tied against Monterrey 2:2 on the Mexican leg of the final.  Unfortunately, RSL was not able to secure a MLS bye in the Club World Club despite a lot of pressure on the Monterrey goal and good chances in the final 20 minutes.

Chivas USA 3:0 New England Revolution (30 April)

Hello gut punches, I remember you!  The new players and wins against KC and DC built up a lot of excitement for the road game against one of MLS’s weaker sides.  The Revs lost and lost bad as the Goats scored twice in the first half and sealed the game in the 57th minute.  I guess it was lucky that I wasn’t able to get video of the game, just audio from the Revs website.  And the audio cut out after the third goal and I couldn’t restore it.

SC Herenveen 1:2 AFC Ajax (1 May)

An exciting Eredivisie season is coming to a climax and Ajax came from behind to win their second-to-last match.  Herenveen scored in the 19th minute but Ajax calmly responded in less than a minute with Miralem Sulejmani’s equalizer.  Christian Eriksen put Ajax ahead for good right at the start of the second half.  Ajax stands in second place one point behind FC Twente and face that team at Amsterdam Arena for the final game of the season on 15 May that will decide the Eredivisie championship.  Interestingly the same two teams met for the Dutch Cup final on 8 May which was won by FC Twente 3:2.  Hup Ajax!

Boston Breakers 1:0 Sky Blue FC (1 May)

The Breakers won their first home game and broke a two-game losing streak on Rachael Buhler’s goal in the 53rd minute.  A week later though, they lost 2-0 away to Philadelphia.

Barcelona 1:1 Real Madrid (3 May)

A better game than the first tie of the Champions League semi-finals with the home side dominating the first half and going up 1-0 in Pedro’s goal in the 54th minute.  Real Madrid made things interesting when Marcelo Vieria equalized ten minutes later but it was too little too late.  Barça advances to the final against Manchester United at Wembley on May 28th.

New England Revolution 0:0 Colorado Rapids (7 May)

Accentuate the positive: the Revolution got a point from the defending MLS Cup champions and their first shutout of the season.  On the downside, the Revs failed to score themselves despite having long periods of dominating the attack and shots by both Ryan Cochrane and Benny Feilhaber hit the crossbar and Shalrie Joseph missed a golden opportunity.  I guess this is baby steps for recovering from the Chivas lost and bringing the team together.

Fulham 2:5 Liverpool (8 May)

Things got ugly quick at Craven Cottage as Fulham went down by three goals to Liverpool in the first 15 minutes. Maxi Rodriguez would net a hat trick in this laugher for the Liverpool side.  It’s quite a recovery for Liverpool who were in the relegation zone a few months ago and now are challenging for a spot in the Europa League.  I just wish the Red Sox ownership purchased Everton instead.

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Soccer Spectating Report: Boston Breakers Home Opener


I only managed to watch one soccer game in the past week but I watched it live and in person at Harvard Stadium in Allston, MA.

Boston Breakers 1:2 Western New York Flash (17 April)

Western New York are a WPS expansion team but they have several good players (including some from defunct WPS champions FC Gold Pride) such as Canadian international star Christine Sinclair and rookie and #1 draft pick Alex Morgan.  They also have the best player in the world, Brazilian international Marta, but she was not available for this game.  Sinclair and Morgan seemed to be constantly attacking the Breakers’ nets and the Flash definitely played the better game.  In the first half there were several close calls including one shot that got past Alysa Naeher but was fortunately cleared at the last moment by Breakers’ defender Stephanie Cox.  Western New York’s inevitable first goal came in the 64th minute on a counterattack by the ever-pesty Morgan who fed the ball to Sinclair for the goal.  Gemma Davidson put it out of reach in the final minute of the game.  In stoppage time, Breakers fans did get to cheer Kelly Smith’s goal but it was too little, too late.

My companion for this game was my 3 1/2 year old son Peter.   Heading home from child care on Friday night we passed Harvard Stadium and saw it being set up for the Breakers.  From that moment on, Peter asked over and over again to go to the Breakers’ game.  I figured that we’d end up walking around the stadium, visiting the concession stands often and leaving the game early.  Surprisingly, Peter was entranced by the game, watching the whole thing and asking lots of questions.  He even made us move down to the front row so he could peek over the wall for a better view.  Late in the game he started cheering and shouting for the Breakers and every time the Flash approached the net he would shake and yell “Stop black team, STOP!”  His attention wasn’t totally undivided as he liked watching the drummers in the hardcore supporters section, the frisbee dogs at half-time, and taking dozens of pictures with my camera, but I was pretty impressed.  He enjoys playing soccer with  his friends in the playground which often ends up with them tackling one another to the ground and piling on.  He noticed that the Breakers and the Flash did not tackle one another like this, so perhaps it will inspire a new era of clean soccer tactics at child care.

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Soccer Spectating Report 5-10 April


Barcelona 5:1 Shakhtar Donetsk (6 April)

Barça made quick work of their Ukrainian opponents with half the starting squad scoring goals in this laugher at Camp Nou.  [Note:  I didn’t watch the second leg, but Barcelona won it as well 0-1 for a 6-1 aggregate victory and a secure spot in the Champions League semifinals).

Chelsea 0:1 Manchester United (6 April)

I didn’t plan to watch this game, but it was on the TV in the pub.  I can’t find a rooting interest in the contest of these two clubs because it’s like watching the Yankees play the …. well, the Yankees.  I was impressed by the passing, ball possession, and up-tempo run of play though.  Got to admit that these sides have good quality.  Wayne Rooney score the loan goal.

Vancouver Whitecaps 1:1 New England Revolution (6 April)

A weird game which saw two Whitecaps and one Rev sent off.  Weirdest of all is Vancouver’s Eric Hassli scoring on a penalty kick and then being immediately red carded for removing his jersey (under which he was wearing an identical jersey).  The Revs were up 11 men to 9 for a good part of the game but failed to score.  Ilija Stolica scored a last-gasp goal in stoppage game to save a point for the Revs.  A point on the road amidst a wild crowd and crazy officiating isn’t a bad thing, but the Revs could’ve/should’ve done much better.

Atlanta Beat 1:4 Boston Breakers (9 April)

The Breakers opened their season with an impressive goal barrage in Atlanta.  Not that I got to see this game as there is no web streaming (is there any TV coverage at all?) so I just followed a web cast.  Jordan Angeli, Keelin Winters, Kelly O’Hara & Kasey Moore all scored.  The bad news is that Angeli has suffered an injury that will keep her from playing the rest of the season.

Real Salt Lake 2:0 New England Revolution (9 April)

The Revs undefeated start to the season came to the end with this loss in Foxboro.  Not surprising considering their weak performance and luck in previous matches not to mention that RSL is  one the top sides in MLS.  Still it’s disappointing as the Revs were anemic on the attack and poor at passing.  The officiating once again made itself too well known with three players (2 NE, 1 RSL) finding themselves red carded.

I haven’t been able to (wake up early enough) to watch my favorite European sides lately but they’re doing well.  Everton dispatched Wolverhampton 0-3 this past weekend to extend their unbeaten streak to 6 gamesAfter all the worries about relegation, Everton are now in 7th place with a chance of unseating Liverpool for 6th place, but hopes are slim to none for getting a bid in European competition.  Ajax are also on a hot streak playing 7-2-1 in a recent stretch.  They’re in third place, 3 points behind the table toppers FC Twente who will be there opponents in the final match of the Eredivisie season.

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Soccer Spectating Report 31 March-4 April


England 1:2 United States (2 April)

Bad news:  The US women’s team is clearly outplayed and loses to a much lower ranked England side.  Good news: It was just a friendly and the World Cup is still months away.  Bad news:  The US team lost to Mexico in the World Cup qualifying and should be getting their act together to avoid shocking losses.  Good news:  They played much better in the second half, putting a lot of pressure into the attack and just missing several chances at goal.  Bonus: England’s Kelly Smith played an excellent game and she also plays for the Breakers whose season begins on Saturday.  Also have to appreciate the really great goal by Rachel Yankey and the fact she scored it against the Yanks.

New England Revolution 1:1 Portland Timbers (2 April)

Bad news:  I was not able to find a stream to watch this game online.  Good news:  At least I got to hear the end of the game on streaming audio.  Bad news:  The Revolution failed to defeat an expansion team at home, played sluggishly, and passed poorly.  Good news:  They held on for a tie and continue their unbeaten streak to start the season.

Catania 4:0 Palermo (3 April)

Bad news:  Sloppy defense on Palermo’s part contributed to a second-half barrage of goals for Catania.  Good news: I really have no emotional investment in Italian football whatsoever.  Yay goals!

 

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Soccer Spectating Report 21-30 March


Ireland 2:1 FYROM (26 Mar)

Ireland’s Euro 2012 qualifying campaign resumed with this succesful home match.  The Irish capitalized on errors by Macedonian keeper Edin Nuredinovski for goals by Aiden McGready and Robbie Keane.  Ireland were obviously the better side although they rested on their laurels enough to allow Ivan Trickovski to cut the lead just before the half.  Still, Ireland hung on through second half to preserve the win and an important 3 points.

New England Revolution 2:1 DC United (26 Mar)

The Revolution want you to know that you shouldn’t tune in late for their games as for the second time these season they scored an early goal.  Eight minutes in the game, Shalrie Joseph set up Zack Schilawski (both of whom had an excellent game) for the opening goal.  In the 17th minute, Joseph doubled the score on a penalty kick.  Matt Reis had an excellent game in the net keeping DC scoreless until a penalty kick by Charlie Davies in the 91st minute.  There was some officiating weirdness in this game (benefiting the home side) but overall it was a positive result and a continuation of a great start to the season.

USA 1:1 Argentina (26 Mar)

Although ESPN acted as if it were “The Lionel Messi Show” this was in fact a home game friendly for the United States Men’s National Team.  The US was clearly outplayed in the first half with an Argentine goal inevitable.  They held out into the 42nd minute when Messi dribbled pass the defense passing to Angel DiMaria whose rebounded shot was sunk in the net by Esteban Cambiasso.  Tim Howard – deservedly the man of the match – was rightfully angry with his defenders for failing to help clear the ball.  The US made some positive changes during the half, most importantly adding Juan Agudelo to the attack and Agudelo would equalize for the US in the 59th minute.  The US played a much more positive game in the second half and together the two teams played a fun and exciting game before a massive crowd in New Jersey.

USA 0:1 Paraguay (29 Mar)

Coming after the high of the Argentina game, this was a bit of a disappointment as Paraguay scored early and the US failed to respond.  The home team did play well in the second half putting a lot of pressure on the opposing goal but did not capitalize.  It’s worth noting that it’s a friendly and with Bob Bradley trying out a new lineup it will hopefully be a learning opportunity to help improve the team for the CONCACAF Gold Cup.

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Soccer Spectating Report 22 February – 20 March


Lots of catching up to do.

USA 3:2 El Salvador (22 February)

I managed to tune in to one match in the 2011 CONCACAF Under-17 Championship, this quarterfinal match.  It was odd to watch what looked like a high-school game (albeit highly-skilled) played in a mostly empty stadium in Jamaica.  It got to a rocking start with each side scoring within the first 10 minutes.  Then it slowed down until the 95th minute when Mario Rodriguez put the USA up 2-1.  Another goal by Marc Pelosi in the 112th minute seemed to seal the deal for the USA.  Then it got weird.  Three players (2 USA, 1 El Salvador) got sent off in the final minutes and El Salvador capitalized on a penalty kick, but the USA held on for the win.  I didn’t watch any of the rest of the tournament but the USA U17 team won the semifinal versus Jamaica 2-0 and the championship versus Canada 3-0.

Ajax 2:0 Anderlecht (24 February)

The Europa League duel of the Low Country capitals continued with another easy win for Ajax who won 5-0 on aggregate.  This competition is derided for being meaningless but the fans at Amsterdam ArenA were having a great time.  Ajax advanced to the Round of 16 versus Spartak Moscow where alas they would lose 0-4.

Everton 2:0 Sunderland (26 February)

Everton continued a successful spell with an easy victory over Sunderland.

Mallorca 0:3 Barcelona (26 February)

Despite missing some key players, Barcelona won another easy game on the road with goals by Messi, Villa, and Pedro.

PSV 0:0 Ajax (27 February)

The Amsterdam side had a chance to gain ground in the Eredivisie but failed to do so in this dull, scoreless tie.

Manchester City 1:1 Fulham (27 February)

There was a soap opera plot regarding former City/current Fulham manager Mark Hughes, but the drama was pretty apparent on the field in this tense match.  Damien Duff earned a point for Fulham with his late first half equalizer.

Everton 0:1 Reading (1 March)

After the high of defeating Chelsea in the the FA Cup replay and some good wins in league play, Everton’s anemic attack and loss at home to Championship side Reading was a huge disappointment. Now Everton doesn’t have much to play for the rest of this season, except to avoid relegation.

Ajax 4:0 AZ Alkmaar (6 March)

Willem II Tilburg 1:3 Ajax (13 March)

L.A. Galaxy 1:1 New England Revolution (20 March)

The Revs kicked off their 2011 MLS season in an uncharacteristically wet and windy Southern California against the defending Supporters Shield champion LA Galaxy.  Shalrie Joseph put the Revs on the board in the first three minutes and then the Revs mostly defended against a relentless Galaxy attack.  New England also benefited from the referees calling back three goals on LA, but the refs called it right on at least two of them.  A nice scrappy point well-earned against one of the top teams in the MLS.

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Soccer Spectating Report 15-20 Febuary


A slow week for me.  Lots of things to do and choppy streams that cut out mid-game.

Arsenal 2:1 Barcelona (16 February)

The Champions League match started off looking like it was just going to be Barcelona being awesome again with Lionel Messi feeding David Villa for a goal in the first half.  But then Arsenal made a very impressive comeback late in the game with a narrow-angle shot by Robin Van Persie and then the winner by Andrei Arshavin.  A great win for Arsenal – their first ever versus Barcelona – but I think Barcelona will win by a comfortable margin in their home leg.

Anderlecht 0:3 Ajax (17 February)

The Europa League is not as exciting as the Champions League but it did set up this match between historic clubs from the capitals of the lowland nations.  When last I saw Anderlecht they were failing to qualify for the Champions League in embarrassing fashion. Ajax qualified for the Champions League but their third place finish in group play demoted them to the Europa League.  The game was a bit of a laugher with everything going Ajax’s way.  Belgian Toby Alderweireld put Ajax up 0-1 with a header in the first half and then set up the second goal with a pass to Christian Eriksen in the second half.  After Anderlecht missed a penalty kick (something they’re apparently not too good at) Mounir El Hamdaoui finished things of with a third goal for Ajax.

Chelsea 1:1 Everton (a.e.t, 3:4 pk) (19 February)

The FA Cup replay at Stamford Bridge looked very grim when Frank Lampard put Chelsea up 1-0 in the 103rd minute.  But then Leighton Baines miraculously tied it up in the 118th minute and it would be decided by penalty kicks.  Baines had his kick blocked by Petr Cech (déjà vu?) and then Tim Howard made a great save on the shot by Nicholas Anelka, but the game would be decided by Ashley Cole skying his kick over the goal.  I’m not a big fan of games decided by penalty kicks, but dang if this wasn’t exciting.  And more important, Everton advances to the next round of the FA Cup.

FC Barcelona 2:1 Athletic Club Bilbao (20 February)

Barcelona recovered from their Champions League loss with yet another win in La Liga.  Not their best match of the season but their was some Messi magic with fancy footwork and the winning goal.

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Soccer Spectating Report 24-31 January 2011


Well, the transfer period is over now.  This week I saw Luis Suarez leave one of my favorite clubs and move to the rival of one of my other favorite clubs.  Not much in positive news for the teams I follow. Ah well.  The games have been entertaining at least.

Liverpool 1:0 Fulham (26 Jan)

In the battle of clubs formerly managed by Roy Hodgson, Fulham got the better of Liverpool overall and were even responsible for all of the goal scoring, but still took the loss.  The loan goal occurred after some defensive miscues by Fulham allowed the ball to bounce around the goal mouth.  John Pantsil’s attempted to clear the ball, but it glanced off his leg and into the Fulham goal.  American star Clint Dempsey played another great attacking game but just couldn’t connect for a goal.

Ajax 4:1 NAC Breda (27 Jan)

While their hopes of an Eredivisie championship are slipping, the Amsterdammers still have a chance to earn some hardware by repeating as KNVB Cup (aka Dutch Cup) champions.  After going down a goal early on, Ajax made it look pretty easy dismantling NAC and advancing to the Cup semifinals.  The same teams met again over the weekend in Breda with Ajax winning by the same scoreline.

RW Oberhausen 1:1 FC Ingolstadt 04 (28 Jan)

I added another new league to my spectating catalog with this match from the German 2. Bundesliga.  American international Edson Buddle lead the MLS in goals while playing for Los Angeles last season and earned a transfer to Europe.  He scored a goal for Ingolstadt in his first match with the team last week.  In this match, Buddle’s team went up on a 27th minute goal by Stefan Leitl.  Shortly after halftime, Ronny König equalized for the opposition.  Buddle himself entered the game in the 61st minute, but there would be no further scoring.

Everton 1:1 Chelsea (29  Jan)

A most-exciting FA Cup match that saw the home side go ahead in the 62nd minute courtesy of Louis Saha.  I held my breath in hopes that Everton could hold or even extend their lead, but alas a Chelsea counterattack resulted in a Salomon Kalou goal 13 minutes later.  Everton seemed to be the better team on the field so it seems something of a wasted opportunity.  It’s going to be a tough replay at Stamford Bridge on 19 February.

Hercules 0:3 Barcelona (29 Jan)

Earlier this season Hercules shocked their hosts at Camp Nou with a 0:2 victory and hoped to upset the La Liga table leaders again in their home grounds.  Barcelona would have none of that and easily dispatched Hercules with a goal by Pedro just before the half and two goals by Lionel Messi in the final minutes.  The highlight of this game was watching with my three-year old son who pointed out things like “that guy fell down” and shouted “goaaaaaaaaaaal!” after Messi’s scores.

Melbourne Victory FC 2:0 Gold Coast United (30 Jan)

I was up late and couldn’t fall asleep so I tuned into some A-League soccer from Australia.  Melbourne is a sister city of Boston, so their teams have my support although for completely arbitrary reasons I’m drawn to the expansion club Melbourne Heart because they have more of an underdog status and the name Heart resonates more with me than the cocky Victory.  There’s also the fact that the captain of Victory is Manny Muscat, a brute of player serving an 8-game suspension for a vicious tackle.  Nevertheless, it was a Victory game that was on so that is what I watched.  The home side won on a hot day where the crowd was thin and hiding in the shade.  Both goals were scored by Danny Allsopp, a one-time DC United player.  The A-League seems to have a lot in common with the MLS.  It’s too bad our countries are so far apart because it would be fun to see an international cup match of some sort featuring North American and Australian teams.

Internazionale 3:2 Palermo (30 Jan)

Now this is some thrilling soccer!  An offensive spectacle and the lead changing hands over the course of the match.  The only thing wrong with is is that Inter ended up victorious as I like to see the mighty fall.  Palermo took the lead 5 minutes into the game thanks to Fabrizio Miccoli and then doubled their lead in the 36th minute Antonio Nocerino.  Inter were able to get one back with a Giampaolo Pazzini goal in the 56th minute.  The big turning point is when Javier Pastore took a penalty kick that would have put Palermo up 1:3 but had his shot blocked by Júlio César.  The momentum shifted to the home side who soon scored two goals in a matter of minutes: Pazzini (73′) and Samuel Eto’o (76′).  Still a great game though.

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Movie Review: The Damned United


Title: The Damned United
Release Date: 27 March 2009
Director: Tom Hooper
Production Co:   Columbia Pictures Corporation
Country:  United Kingdom
Language: English
Genre: Biopic / Sport
Rating: ***1/2

Summary/Review:

This movie is a highly-fictionalized account of the life of English football manager Brian Clough (Michael Sheen) who was able to lead clubs like Derby County and Nottingham Forest to win the First Division championship.  Central to this film is Clough’s short term as manager of Leeds United, one of the most successful clubs of the 1970s and one Clough had been critical of for their dirty style of play.  The film is set up to focus on Clough’s relationships with two different men.  One is Don Revie (the always great Colm Meaney) Clough’s predecessor as manager at Leeds United.  If the film is to be believed Revie’s slight of Clough at a FA Cup match early Clough’s career provided both the motivation for Clough’s success but also his hubris and ultimate failure at Leeds.  The other relationship is with Clough’s assistant coach Peter Taylor (Timothy Spall) who has great skill at scouting players for the team.  The structure of the film with its historical inaccuracies comes off as melodramatic especially since the true story would make as good or better a film.  The Damned United is saved by brilliant acting performances by the Sheen as the mouthy and flashy Clough, Meaney, and especially Spall’s portrayal of the long-suffering Taylor.  I also enjoyed the gritty football action sequences that capture an era of sport long gone.