April 20, 2018

Lionel Messi Wins FIFA Ballon d’Or

Argentinian soccer superstar Lionel Messi took home the first FIFA Ballon d’Or award earlier today. The FIFA Ballon d’Or is a new award based on the merging of the FIFA World Player of the Year and the France Football magazine “European Footballer of the Year” prize. Messi scored an astonishing 60 goals for Argentina and Barcelona during the calendar year of 2010. Lionel currently has 18 goals (more than seven entire clubs from La Liga) and 12 assists through 15 matches this season for FC Barcelona. Long live Lionel!

Possible 2022 World Cup Destination

In case you haven’t heard the extremely wealthy country of Qatar is making a pitch for the 2022 World Cup. The video below summarizes the initial five design proposals for stadiums where the games would be played. Each stadium would provide on-pitch air conditioning along with cooling technology in the stands. Also, once the competition is over the upper tiers of the stadiums would be disassembled and donated to developing countries. I’m speechless after watching the video!

More World Cup Controversy!

Yesterday I watched another day of World Cup football, and again there was more conversation surrounding the officiating than there was about the quality of the games. A disallowed Frank Lampard goal in the England v. Germany game changed the complexion of the match, leading to a 4-1 Germany victory.

In Argentina’s 3-1 victory over Mexico, Argentine striker, Carlos Tévez, scored Argentina’s first goal of the match from an obvious offside position. Again, a goal at this stage of a match changed how Mexico played tactically and defended subsequently.

I was chatting with my friend, “Tommy D,” the other day. Like me, Tommy’s a big sports fan, but relatively new to soccer. He explained he started following the World Cup, but was baffled by the officiating. All his points and questions were valid and, unfortunately, I had no good answers for him. What a shame for fans old and new to the game that terrible officiating is the main talking point.

Countries wait four years and go through trying qualifying rounds to reach the World Cup. Players leave their club teams and drag their butt’s around the world to help their country qualify. People spend their hard-earned money to support their teams and to go to games. Fans travel thousands of miles around the globe to cheer their teams in what is supposed to be the pinnacle of sports. This is the planet’s most watched sport. It is not too much to ask that we have competent officiating.

It’s not a complicated sport but—like all world class athletics—challenging to officiate. Nevertheless, FIFA, football’s governing body continually resists sensible changes like goal line technology and extra officials on the pitch. We don’t care how many officials it takes, just get it right, man! Most other international sports adopted these changes years ago. Wake up FIFA! Wake up Sepp Blatter, you jackass.

Footnote:

I believe the best teams prevailed in both matches referenced above, which is important, but we could very well have had more exciting matches were the officiating competent.

2010 World Cup Vignettes: What we know about Group C

General:

• World powerhouse, England, and a scrappy, up-and-coming US team beat up on Slovenia and Algeria and slide easily into the knockout round, right? Nope!

• We have controversy; we have drama; we have The Holy Grail of sports: the World Cup.

Group C:

How tasty is this? Going into the final round of group play, any of the four teams in this group still have an opportunity to advance to the knockout phase. The variables are many; therefore, I won’t elaborate on all scenarios. If I know my audience, however, here’s what most readers of this commentary need to know: the US and England advance if they defeat Algeria and Slovenia respectively (win = in).

I sense England and the U.S. handle business and move forward, but this is the World Cup. Expect the US v. Algeria to be a more open game, with both teams needing goals/points to feel secure about advancement. Slovenia may adapt a defensive strategy and “park the bus” in front of the Slovenia goal knowing they need only tie England to advance.

The hyperbole leading up to the group’s first match between England and the U.S. was insane. Soccer fans around the world filled pubs, hoisted pints and fixated on giant televisions to witness what turned out to be a decent match.

England jumped quickly into the lead when England’s captain, Steven Gerrard, tallied at the four-minute mark. Thirty-six minutes later, U.S. midfielder, Clint Dempsey, found himself with the ball at his feet, just outside England’s penalty area. Dempsey pivoted and struck the ball low and right at English keeper, Robert Green. Green initially appeared to handle the shot easily, and then the unthinkable: Green fumbled the ball and it dribbled across the goal line.

Against the run of play, the US snatched a point from the jaws of defeat and hung on to tie England 1-1. This was a tremendous result for the US as it managed to get a point against the group’s highest ranked team and would, presumably, face lesser competition in its other group matches, right? Not so fast Speed Racer.

Slovenia, the smallest country in the World Cup, scored a late goal against a 10-man Algerian team to secure first place in the group after the first round of games. Unbelievable! I don’t even know where Slovenia and Algeria are on a map.

Commentary:

We’ve heard and read much about England’s struggles to get results and the injustice suffered by the US team by a terrible piece of officiating. That’s yesterday’s news, and I hope both teams can put earlier matches behind them and focus on the task at hand.

I have to say, also, how proud I am of “Team USA” for the fight, maturity and determination exhibited. This team has no quit in them and they are—in my opinion—the best US team fielded at a World Cup final. Good on you guys regardless of what happens tomorrow. Buen suerte.

2010 World Cup Vignettes: What we know about Group B

General:

• One thoroughbred; three hopefuls

• The greatest players don’t always make the best tacticians or coaches.

Group B:

My beloved Argentina appears to be the class of the group. A two-time World Cup winner, Argentina, boasts a cadre of talent, particularly at the striker position, and they have the pedigree and a belief they can win.

Several things concern me about Argentina, however. I don’t see solid tactical decisions in the form of in-game adjustments, formations and substitutions. I see old players in important central midfield positions being asked to perform beyond their capabilities. I see a Swiss cheese defense that better teams will expose as Argentina progresses to the knockout round.

Coach Diego Maradona is god in Argentina, and he brings passsion and a tremendous desire to win to his team. I also commend his commitment to attacking football; however, this team needs better defensive organization and discipline and a coach willing to recognize it. Oh Diego, you will ultimately break my heart.

Nigeria is the only African team in the group, and the only team with little to no chance of advancing to the knockout round. Nigeria has no points from two of the three games they’ll play in the group stage. While not impossible, it’s highly unlikely the “Super Eagles” advance beyond the group stage.

That leaves Greece and South Korea to battle for the remaining spot in the knockout round. South Korea beat Greece 2-0 in Group B’s first game; nevertheless, I give both teams about even odds of advancing. Greece bounced back with a 2-1 win over Nigeria, while Argentina trounced South Korea 4-1.

Greece finishes the group stage against Argentina, and North Korea finishes with Nigeria. Flip a coin or take your pick. Will Nigeria battle South Korea tooth and nail to salvage a result for national pride? Can Greece surprise an Argentinean team, possibly resting important players for the knockout round?

I know who I think will advance but, like most of you, I have no crystal ball handy. That’s what makes watching the Cup so great. Watch and enjoy, amigos.

2010 World Cup Vignettes: What we know about Group A

General:

Vuvuzelas, present at every Cup game, are among the most annoying noisemakers on Earth. It’s like watching a football game from inside a bee’s nest.

South Africa has done a solid job of preparing for and pulling off the World Cup. Several months ago there were worries galore. However, logistics, transportation and security all seem top notch, so far.

Group A:

This is a delicious group.

Uruguay is no joke. Top scorer, Diego Forlan, scores goals aplenty for Athletico Madrid, a Spanish club team from one of the best leagues in the world. Forlan already tallied two goals against host nation, South Africa.

Countryman, Luis Suraez, plays for Dutch giants, Ajax, and he’ll surely generate plenty of interest from big European teams following the cup. He’s yet to prove himself of the World Cup stage, however.

Uruguay, a previous cup winner, is well-coached, has balance, poise and enough talent to reach the knockout round. This is a sleeper team to watch.

South Africa managed a 1-1 tie against Mexico in its first game, a tremendous achievement for the host nation. Unfortunately, the Bafana Bafana simply don’t have the talent or pedigree to progress from this strong group. The South African’s must win against France to make it out of group play and, despite not playing well, France still has too much talent and experience for South Africa.

Mexico managed only a tie against South Africa in opening round play, so it’s pending game with France is critical, for both teams. The team winning the Mexico/France match should advance to the knockout round with Uruguay.

France has more talent on its bench than most teams have period. France’s problem: its coach, Raymond Domenech. Domenech’s players dislike him; the French Football Association dislikes him; and French fans dislike him. His replacement as national team coach waits in the wings until after the tournament. I can’t help but believe this ambiguity, ultimately, stunts France’s chances for progression.

That said, I have no prediction for the France v. Mexico game. There are plenty of intangibles in play. My mind tells me the talent and pedigree of France prevails; my heart tells me not to underestimate Mexico’s passion and desire to win. Those variables generally equate to a terrific game. Let’s hope so for the fans of the world’s most beautiful game.

Vuvuzelas Gone Wild

If you have watched a World Cup game in the past week you have without a doubt noticed the ominous bee swarm sound surrounding the TV coverage. The sound you hear actually isn’t the largest swarm of bees to ever sync up rather they are horns called vuvuzelas which are a South African staple at soccer games. These funny looking horns emit 127 decibels which exceeds 125 decibels the threshold for human pain. While most spectators are thoroughly disgusted with the noise pollution two earplug suppliers from South Africa are reaping the benefits in a major way. Sheppard Medical and Ear Plugs Online have sold almost a half million since last Friday and there is still over three weeks to go. Even if ESPN or other networks try to filter out the pollution for TV coverage the earplug companies should have no problem peddling their goods due to those lovely vuvuzelas.

World Cup Fever

In case you happen to be lucky enough to be in South Africa during the 2010 World Cup next month looking for a ‘good time’ you shouldn’t have to look very long. It has been estimated that there will be in upwards of 40,000 prostitutes in and around the World Cup festivities. It should be noted that one in five adults are estimated to be HIV positive in South Africa so ‘party’ at your own risk. President Jacob Zuma has asked the government to supply over 1 billion extra condoms to South Africa before the tournament begins. It sounds as if there will be even more high jinks in South Africa then there was at the 2010 Winter Olympics earlier this year.

Inter and FC Bayern meet in Champions League Final

UEFA Champions League
Home and home competition between Europe’s top football (soccer) clubs from each of Europe’s top domestic leagues: England, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Germany, etc.

Purpose: Determine Europe’s top club team.

Bayern Munich v. Lyon:

Bayern Munich punched its ticket to the Champions League final Tuesday night behind a natural hat-trick from Croatian striker, Ivica Oli. Oli tallied in the 26th, 66th, and 77th to propel Bayern to a comfortable win in front of its home fans at Stade Gerland.

Lyon faced a tough task from the outset, as Bayern brought a 1-0 lead into the game from the first leg. Lyon knew it had to score at least two goals while keeping the German giants scoreless, a challenging endeavor under the circumstances.

Bayer’s dominance, however, ensured the away goals rule never came into play, winning easily 3-0.

Between Oli’s goals Bayern’s mercurial Dutchman, Arjen Robben, wreaked havoc down Lyon’s right side, making slashing runs into the area and testing Lyon goalkeeper, Hugo Lloris. Bayern midfielder and German international, Bastian Schweinsteiger, also brought the crowd to its feet with 25-yard cannon shot that sailed just over the crossbar.

So, it’s off to the finals for Germany’s most well-known and most decorated football club, where they’ll face Italian opponents, Inter Milan.

Barcelona v. Inter Milan:

Inter Milan joined Bayern in finals by defeating defending champions, FC Barcelona, widely regarded as the world’s best club team.

Inter laid the foundation for its championship appearance by bringing a 3-1 lead to the Camp Nou for leg-two. The Catalans played shoddy defense in leg-one and were, quite frankly, outplayed by Inter in the first game as well.

Unfortunately, leg-two epitomized why professional football/soccer is still viewed as a tertiary sport in the United States:

1. This game had more theatrics than Broadway. Players on both teams dived all over the field at the slightest contact. There were grown men rolling on the ground, writhing in thespian pain, only to magically recuperate milliseconds later, jump to their feet and sprint 20 yards downfield.

2. One of the dives described above resulted in the harsh sending off of Inter midfielder, Thiago Motta, in the 28th minute. After Barca’s Sergio Busquets and Motta jostled for a ball, Busquets threw himself onto the pitch, holding his face. The match referee bit hook, line and sinker, issuing Motta a straight red card. I hope the referee watches the tape of the incident and is justifiably embarrassed. That single call impacted everything that remained of the match.

3. Now playing 10 v. 11, Inter employed a tactic football pundits refer to as “parking the bus.” After Motta’s premature departure, Inter immediately adopted a total defensive posture, positioning all of its players in or around its 18-yard box. While sound tactically, it has as much spectator appeal as watching paint dry.

4. Barcelona held possession of the ball for just under 80 percent of the game. Nearly 90 percent of that time spent dribbling and passing just outside Inter’s goal area, but unable to penetrate the wall of Inter players.

Not even the amazing Lionel Messi could save this game from itself. The little Argentine tried repeatedly to pry open Inter’s defense, but even his creativity fell short of solving the Inter puzzle. The current World Player of the Year managed only one dangerous attempt on goal, drawing a world-class, fingertip save from Inter keeper, Julio César.

Barca defender Gerard Pique finally broke through in the 84th minute. Showing true professional poise, Pique settled a Xavi pass and pulled it back from a sliding defender and the onrushing César and coolly put the ball into the goal.

The Pique goal brought the Catalan fans to their feet, but it was too little too late. There were no more miracle goals left in Barca. Final score Barcelona 1 Inter 0. Inter wins based on the 3-2 aggregate score.

World Cup Merchandise Gone Wrong

Do you have your ticket yet for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa? If you do then you might be thinking about how you are going to remain safe around all the amped up Africans along with the typical rowdy fans/hooligans that follow the game of soccer. Well worry no more because a British company based in South Africa called Protektorvest has created a flag-emblazoned stab vest for the low low cost of $69.95 to keep you safe and sound. The Protektorvest will protect “the vital inner body parts from stabs, cuts, slashes and blows from sharp, edged or spiked weapons.” This doesn’t unfortunately protect you from cocktail bombs, rocks, bottles or human stampedes, but those never happen at soccer events, right? I’m not sure what kind of message this really sends when you are basically telling your potential assaulter that I’m scared, I’m British and if you really want to hurt me my head and lower extremities are wide open.