Thursday, August 30, 2007

Game Over, Rangers

I just saw this year's Champs League draw courtesty The Offside: CL.

Group E

That's what the group looks like going into the competition, and that's about how I expect it to look coming out.

Rangers are fecked.

On the upside, they do have the potential to cause some MAJOR upsets, particularly with a Lyon side that aren't the giant giant-killers they were last year. I have hope yet, but I'll refrain from bets about this one.

Recap: 1st Knockout Round, U-17 World Cup

You can see all the highlights for yourself on the FIFA website, right here.

Germany 2-1 USA
Already recapped.

England 3-1 Syria
A penalty and two team efforts saw England advance over the Asians on Thursday. Though he was powerless to stop Syrian MF Ziad Ajouz' wicked strike early in the second half, GK Alex Smithies was again an outstanding presence between the sticks for the English. The man of the match, however, was surely MF Henri Lansbury who buried yet another penalty for the Brits and assisted on the final goal courtesy FW Rhys Murphy. This win sees England move on to the quarterfinals where they are favored to advance again.

Nigeria 2-1 Columbia
The game was nil-nil coming out of halftime and Nigeria and Columbia looked dead even, suffering the same amount of defensive blunders while the scoreline reflected the same. That is, until FW Yakubu Alfa scored his first goal of the tournament off a beautiful strike eight minutes from time. The Nigerians advance to the quarterfinals. However, while they might have superior athleticism, the Nigerian defense this game left much to be desired and much a potential opponent such as Spain could exploit. They don't impress me as a team to advance past the next round.

Argentina 2-0 Costa Rica
Two well-executed Albiceleste corner kicks sent the young Ticos home, each supplied by FW Santiago Fernandez and finished by DF Gaston Sauro (who enjoyed his first 90 minutes of the tournament, no less). Argentina is establishing itself as the most lethal team from a distance this tournament as they look like scoring every time they penetrate their attacking third. These fearsome South Americans are headed to the quarterfinals and surely they have momentum enough to carry them to the semis.

Peru (5) 1-1 (4) Tajikistan
Though the field was sopping wet and the ball quite slippery, 90 minutes and extra time wasn't enough to settle the score between the Peruvians and Tajiks. Though Tajik GK Farrukh Berdiev made more than a few fantastic saves and was quite possibly the only reason the Tajiks survived to penalties, Peruvian GK Eder Hermoza proved the hero by stopping a Tajik penalty, allowing MF Luis Trujillo to step up for the win. Peru are underdogs going into the quarterfinals. Their chances of advancing are slim.

Ghana 1-0 Brazil
A tremendous performance by Ghana's goalkeeper puts the Africans into the next round. While Brazil looked the worst they had all tournament, they still produced several goal-scoring opportunities, none of which they converted. Considering the Brazilians form and performances prior, I'd call this result an upset, but by no means does it imply that Ghana will be ill-equipped to handle their opponents in the next round. They're having a good run this year and I expect it to continue.

Spain 3-0 Korea DPR
FW Bojan bags a brace as Spain shut out North Korea to advance to the quarterfinals. Korea had little to do with the affair, managing just three shots on goal to show for ninety minutes work. Allowing Korea just 38% possession, Spain maintain their impressive and classy form this tournament and remain my firm favorite to become champions.

France 3-1 Tunisia
10-man Tunisia blocked a penalty during regulation only for a brace from FW Damien Le Tallec to put them away in extra time. The resurgent Bleuettes recovered from their poor performance throughout group stage to menace the hence-fearsome Tunisians the whole match long. France advance to the semi-finals in a limbo of form that appears to be a coach's nightmare, but I for one don't think they'll survive long. You'll see why shortly.


You can see them in a nice, graphically-organized display, but here are the quarterfinal matches, my picks to advance in bold.


France v. Spain
Ghana v. Peru


Argentina v. Nigeria
England v. Germany

The ENG/GER match you'll want to watch. Perennial rivals, both sides have looked champion-quality since the beginning. Fireworks, definitely.


And now, a modified Best XI for the quarterfinals:

Bojan (ESP)
Ransford Osei (GHA)

Toni Kroos (GER)
Henri Lansbury (ENG)
Fran Merida (ESP)
Sheriff Isa (GHA)
Kevin Wolze (GER)

Alexis Machuca (ARG)
Nana Ofori-Twumasi (ENG)
Daniel Opare (GHA)

Alex Smithies (ENG)

FW Macaulay Chrisantus (NGA)
FW Damien Le Tallec (FRA)
MF Rabiu Ibrahim (NGA)
MF Reimond Manco (PER)
DF Gaston Suaro (ARG)
DF Mamadou Sakho (FRA)
GK Eder Hermoza (PER)



U-17's Out: USA 1-2 Germany

Hmmm. Highlights here.

The Germans were easily the more dangerous side, outshooting the US 18-10. FW Richard Sukuta-Pasu scored a brace on the day and was nearly joined on the scoreboard by half a dozen of his teammates. Toni Kroos, a member of the Best XI lineup I posted a few days ago, threatened a good many times from midfield.

On a positive note, the US young guns used their dead-ball and box-packing skills to their utmost, captain and defender Mykell Bates scoring another with his head in the box (this one a messy affair, as opposed to the glorious header versus Belgium which put them through). Josh Lambo put in a hero's performance, keeping Kroos out and the US in for much of the game. I would say that Lambo was nearly the most outstanding player on the pitch, second only to Sukuta-Pasu. I'll be keeping tabs on him as he makes his way through the ranks. Likewise young Mykell Bates; he seems a born leader.

In the end, this result was highly predictable as only a few choice sides present at the tournament look capable of stopping or even slowing the Germans enough to beat them.

Sorry, boys. Better luck next time.

Galaxy Could Have Won It: LAG (3) 1-1 (4) Pachuca

Oh, heartbreaking. Just heartbreaking. After the Gals knocked DC out in the semis I wished them a lot of ill luck, but I wouldn't have wished them that. It must feel awful. See for yourself.

After some powerful threats in the first half, Galaxy concedes an own goal. At the tail end of an unproductive season suffered at breakneck pace, the weary Gals are demoralized. At one point Beckham heedlessly charges for a 50-50 ball only to crack his knee by the force of his momentum. He's assisted off the pitch and by the look on his face, you could tell he realized that he would be off for a very long time. (Six weeks, to be exact.) By the end of the match, he's again wearing a suit and tie.

The game progresses like so towards the dying minutes when suddenly Buddle's header is off the crossbar, thena failed defensive clearance-- and then Chris Klein is skyward for the bike to equalize. It was magical football, an audacious display from a team at the rock bottom of their league, tying a championship final with a team at the top. It meant the world to the Galaxy. The fans loved it. The audience loved it. Who doesn't enjoy a 90-minute Cinderella story?

Penalties. Vagenas saved, Pachuca scores. 0-1. Cobi scores, Pachuca scores, 1-2. Cannon saves, 2-2. Then 3-3. Marvin Cabrera steps up for Pachuca-- and eats crossbar. Donovan steps up to seal the win with a trademark penalty-- and fails. 3-3. Pachuca scores and it's 4-3. Finally: Xavier, in his attempt to keep the Gals alive, misses horribly. Game over, trophy's gone. Heartbreaking.


In its inaugural season the Superliga has produced some of the most exciting matches I have ever seen, undoubtedly. It has all of the drama, pace, and action you want to see when you pay $25, $35, $50 for tickets to see a game. It will keep people coming back, I'm sure.

The league's next developments will be expansion and English-language broadcasting rights, and if these two initiatives succeed the prize money will increase and the tournament will be all the more alluring. Great stuff. I'll look forward to it next year.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

RIP Antonio Puerta

You've heard that twenty-two year-old Sevilla defender Antonio Puerta collapsed mid-game and later passed away in the hospital. You might not have heard that Antonio's girlfriend is expecting next month. Condolences to family, friends, and the Sevilla community.

Monday, August 27, 2007

US U-17's to Face Germany in Round of 16

Very unfortunate draw for the Americans. Germany is a tough, very physically mature side that has been in hot form throughout the tournament. They finished atop their group with a total of 11 goals scored, second only to the Brazil side which thrashed New Zealand 7-0. I'm no journalist, just a lowly pundit, and therefore I have license to publish my opinion: the US won't succeed this match. If, however, we did manage to upset the rampant Germans (they did concede 5 goals in 3 matches, including 3 vs. Columbia and shutting out only T&T), I would gladly eat my share of humble pie.

Match to watch: Brazil vs. Ghana. ESP-ARG/ENG-BRZ are probably still the matches of the tournament, but we'll just wait and see.

View the full Round of 16 draw here.

MLS Goal of the Week 08/27

Ah, this, my hundredth post. I think I will make it something light and frivolous.

This week's Sierra Mist GotW competition is dominated by awesome assists. Blanco's long distance assist for Barrett, Johnson's acrobatic backheel for Burciaga Jr., and Schelotto's hoodoo feint in the box for Moreno's finish are three of the best assists you'll see all season. Only Jaime, with his penalty to take the MLS record, and arguably Altidore, with his cool finish by the outside of his right boot, caption goals produced by individual effort.

I think I voted for Alejandro Moreno's goal because Schelotto's juke in the box was neat. I might have voted for Burciaga because any time a defender wins GotW is a good time (Erpen, where's the repeat?) and I honestly could have voted for Blanco not only for his footballing skill, but because in spite of his badass reputation, he's a class act and a treasure for Chi-Town fans. I didn't vote for Jaime out of respect that he didn't want to take the record off a penalty. I expect him to score a better goal soon.

Anyways, just wanted to point this out.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Benfica Sells Fernandes to Valencia

Benfica has offloaded another Portuguese talent. Valencia scored the 21 year-old for something between 12-15 million Euros.

My first reaction: wtf is Benfica doing?

My second reaction: Camacho must be at least mildly impressed with Adu to sell Fernandes.

We'll just have to see what happens on Sept. 2nd when Nacional hosts Benfica. According to the poorly-updated Benfica profile, Fernandes' sale leaves Benfica's midfield terribly shorthanded with just five mids to their name. Then again, Freddy's listed as a forward so there's bound to be some mix and match.


Recap: U-17 World Cup, Group Stage

I almost included this in the DC/U-17 recap, but there's absolutely too much to mention for this not to be an entirely new post. Again, FIFA's coverage of the tournament is excellent and these young, budding stars are receiving a lot of great press.


Spain is still my pick to win the tournament. Despite a 1-1 draw with Argentina, they play on a different level than the rest of the competition. Argentina scored from distance and distance definitely seemed their preferred style, but Spain drove straight into their defensive third and molested their back line. They scored off a sick cross from the left flank that Daniel Esquino poked in with a diving header. Incredible. I would have loved to be on hand to watch this match.

Tell you what, though, England vs. Brazil is one to remember. England scored a penalty, stopped a penalty, and scored in the second half to take the game, but above everything else, you need to see Tales' free kick to open the game for the Brazilians. Filthy good.

Germany is riding high after bagging 5 against hapless Trinidad and Tobago, each goal a lesson in clinical finishing (Wolze's screamer for the fifth is a beauty).

Nigeria, another fearsome side to watch, finished 100% in group play by cruising past Haiti 4-1.

And yet another perennial African power, Ghana, qualified with a 2-1 win over Columbia. Ghana and Argentina are my joint bids for hardest shots of the tournament. Absolute benders, those things.

France finished second in their group by winning 2-1 versus Japan, but I really don't see them as champions of the tournament. They don't have quite the offense even the US has, and their defense leaves a lot of questions to be answered. I wouldn't put any money on France this time around.


Here's the unofficial list of the Round of 16:

Costa Rica
North Korea

... and Tajikistan. (Wow, I thought the US scraped through: Tajikistan advances because Japan let in just one more goal than the Tajiks.)

Out of these sixteen, I think seven have what it takes to become champions:


And out of these seven, my top three would be:



And just because it's Sunday and I have too much time on my hands, here's a Best XI of the Tournament so far:

Macauley Chrisantus (Nigeria)
Ransford Osei (Ghana)

Nour Hahria (Tunisia)
Alex (Brazil)
Toni Kroos (Germany)
Fatkhullo Fatkhuloev (Tajikistan)
Ricardo Serna (Columbia)

Mykell Bates (USA)
Fabio (Brazil)
Daniel Opare (Ghana)

Alex Smithies (England)

Bojan Krkic (FW, Spain)
Alex Nimo (FW, USA)
Tales (MF, Brazil)
Greg Garza (MF, USA)
Ganyu Oseni (DF, Nigeria)
Jordan Spence (DF, England)
Luis Ojeda (GK, Argentina)



U-17's Scrape It Out, DC Follows Suit

I don't get Fox Soccer so I didn't see the match yesterday, and honestly, from the sounds of things, I'm rather glad. I saw Fred's goal from the highlights on and that was about all I needed to see. Shout outs to Clyde Simms for holding down the starting position yet again and to Guy-Roland Kpene, who showed more spark in the second half than Addlery and Dyachenko combined. Perkins, I hear, had an outstanding game. However, it goes without saying that the sooner Olsen and Luci recover, the better.


I really want to talk about our U-17's posting a 2-0 shutout win versus Belgium and Tunisia going 100% in group play for US to take second place and advance to the knockouts. Here's how close it was: the US, Belgium, and Tajikistan are all tied for points with 3 each. The US and Tajikistan both have better goal differentials than Belgium with -1 (!!) each. The US advances over Tajikistan only because we have more goals scored, our 6 beating their 4.

In sum: our last two goals, scored in the last match of group play, are the only reason we advance to the next round. Check it out. Watch the goals here.

Looking at the match, however, our level of play is much improved than the dismal performances we saw versus Tajikistan and Tunisia, who turns out to be a youth-soccer powerhouse. Who knew?

Anyways, we possessed the game (61% possession; see wut i did thar?) and used our technical abilities to their utmost, our second goal a beauty of a set play from the corner. Unstoppable. Let's hope our boys use this win as momentum and motivation for the next round.

Where's Alex Nimo? Much has been made about Nimo and his story as a refugee footballer hoping to make it as a professional, a kid with a big heart and big skills who has the potential to be the next Freddy Adu (caveat emptor...). Why hasn't he shown up yet? Despite playing 269 of 270 minutes total, he's only notched only 0 goals and 1 assists. If the hype about him is true, I'd say he's due for a standout performance sometime in the near future. If it doesn't happen, then I'd say he's got some esplaining to do.