Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: adidas, Algarve Cup, Argentina, Arsenal, Azzurri, Belgium, Borrusia Dortmund, Brussels, Cesare Prandelli, Clint Dempsey, Colombia, CONCACAF Gold Cup, Copa America, Denmark, England, FIFA Confederations Cup, Genoa, Germany, Gianluigi Buffon, Italian National Team, Juergen Klinsmann, Juventus, Mexico, Miami, Nike, Portugal, Sebastian Giovinco, Serie A, Spain, Stadio Luigi Ferraris, Terrence Boyd, Tim Howard, U.S. Cup, U.S. National Team, U.S. National Under-23 Team, U.S. National Women's Team
The U.S. National Team upset Italy, 1-0, in a friendly at Genoa’s Stadio Luigi Ferraris to post its first victory over the Italians in 78 years. Clint Dempsey rolled a shot from the top of the penalty area past the outstretched hands of goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon in the 55th minute and the Americans, behind some stout defending, held on for their fourth consecutive win under new coach Juergen Klinsman. [February 29]
Comment I: The triumph was described in many quarters as historic, and given the fact that the U.S. went into the match with a 0-7-3 record against the Azzurri and had been out-scored, 32-4, over those 10 matches, the feat was indeed historic. Italian commentators no doubt shrugged it off as an aberration. Dempsey’s goal, they no doubt pointed out, came against the run of play–decidedly. Italy out-shot the U.S., 19-4, and would have had more had the pesky Sebastian Giovinco and mates not been flagged for offside nine times (to the USA’s zero), mostly on hopeful balls lofted over the U.S. back line. Italy also had the edge in corner kicks, 8-2, and Buffon was forced to make only one save to U.S. ‘keeper Tim Howard’s seven, which included a clutch kick-save in the fourth minute. This also wasn’t a full-strength Italian squad; neither could it be said of the U.S., but while the Americans remain sorely lacking in depth, Italy coach Cesare Prandelli could trot out a starting lineup heavy on players from Juventus, at the moment Serie A’s second-place club. Moreover, all would agree that a better look at reality came in the teams’ last meeting, at the 2009 FIFA Confederations Cup in South Africa, a competitive match in which Italy took the U.S. to school in a 3-1 win that left the Americans’ hopes in that tournament on life support.
So was this upset truly meaningful? If so, the U.S. in recent years has enough such moments to fill a history book, starting with the 2-0 win over Mexico in the 1991 CONCACAF Gold Cup semifinals, and followed on a semi-regular basis by England 2-0 at U.S. Cup ’93, Colombia 2-1 at the 1994 World Cup, Argentina 3-0 at the 1995 Copa America, Brazil 1-0 at the 1998 Gold Cup semifinals, Germany 2-0 at the 1999 FIFA Confederations Cup, Portugal 3-2 at the 2002 World Cup, and the biggest of all, World-Cup-champion-to-be Spain 2-0 at the 2009 Confederations Cup semifinals.
The best way to describe what happened in Genoa is to suggest that the U.S. further cemented its reputation as a team capable of anything at anytime, an erratic opponent who’s a no-win proposition for the world powers. Why should they relish facing an opponent they’re expected to beat when, on the odd day, they’ll fall victim to grit, fitness and just enough skill to get the job done? At the same time, this giant killer can’t get past the mid-level teams on a consistent basis, as it demonstrated in its 1-0 loss to Belgium in Brussels in September, Klinsmann’s third match in charge.
What may have been most noteworthy about Italy 0, U.S. 1 is that Klinsmann stuck his neck out and agreed to have the game scheduled at all. He rolled the dice in Genoa and won with a conservative 4-5-1. His 4-4-2 may come and go, depending on the opposition and the circumstances, but it’s clear that he intends, as he’s said, to pull the Americans out of their “comfort zone” and tap into the bravura and blue-collar characteristics that made the U.S. job so appealing to the German in the first place. In sum, Klinsmann with nothing to lose, the fellow hired to be the anti-Bob Bradley.
Comment II: Klinsmann’s boldness crossed a line when he substituted a spent Jozy Altidore with Terrence Boyd. a striker who has yet to work his way from the Borussia Dortmund reserves into the club’s first team. Boyd was clearly a fish out of water, and it can be gently said that he was lucky not to be shown a yellow card for a high foot a few minutes into his 11-minute cameo. A 21-year-old kid making his debut against Italy in a one-goal game? There are limits.
Comment III: It’s been nearly 20 years since Nike took over for adidas as the national teams’ outfitter, and it still hasn’t gotten it right. The same company that has repeatedly ruined Brazil’s classic jersey–and those of the countless other national teams and prominent clubs it has come to sponsor–dressed the U.S. for its Italy match in something that could best be described as a bad version of Arsenal in navy blue. In fact, it simply looked like the Americans had their sleeves ripped off, revealing their white long underwear. Fortunately, the U.S. played better than it looked, sartorially speaking.
Comment IV: On one day, the U.S. National Women’s Team routed Denmark, 5-0, in Portugal in its Algarve Cup opener; the U.S. National Under-23 Team blanked Mexico’s U-23s, 2-0, in Dallas in an Olympic qualifying tune-up; and the U.S. National Team shocked Italy, 1-0, in a friendly in Genoa. Oh, and the Mexican National Team bowed to Colombia, 2-0, in a friendly in Miami.
It won’t take away the sting of a day like June 25 last year, when Mexico thumped the U.S., 4-2, at the CONCACAF Gold Cup final … but for American fans, it doesn’t hurt.
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: 2012 European Championship, Belgium, Brussels, Denmark, FIFA Confederations Cup, FIFA World Rankings, Germany, Jose Torres, Juergen Klinsmann, Nicholas Lombaerts, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Scotland, Spain, Sweden, Tim Howard, Turkey, United States
Belgium defeated the United States, 1-0, in a friendly in Brussels, leaving new coach Juergen Klinsmann winless in his first three matches at the U.S. helm.
The youthful Belgians, whose chances of qualifying for the 2012 European Championship are slim at best, outplayed the Americans for long stretches and got the winning goal on a half-volley from distance by Nicholas Lombaerts 10 minutes into the second half after the U.S. couldn’t clear a long throw-in. [September 6].
Comment: It was only a friendly for a U.S. squad that has plenty of time for experimentation before CONCACAF qualifying for the 2014 World Cup gets underway in June. And there were bright spots, including the play of goalkeeper Tim Howard, who spared the U.S. a lopsided loss, and Jose Torres, whose all-around performance gave Klinsmann plenty to consider as he constructs his midfield. But it was yet another reminder of exactly where the United States stands in the international soccer community.
Since defeating Poland, 3-0, in Krakow in March 2008, the U.S. has tumbled in its last six trips to Europe. While fans can celebrate some startling high points over the years, like upset victories over Portugal in the World Cup and Spain and Germany in the FIFA Confederations Cup, the fact remains that the U.S. hasn’t improved to the point where it can consistently beat Europe’s mid-level teams–the Belgiums, the Turkeys, the Romanias, the Denmarks, the Swedens, the Scotlands–in non-competitive games in Europe. That means that the USA hasn’t made true progress and puts the lie to its place in the FIFA World Rankings, where it usually hovers in the 20s but for one laughably heady moment in April 2006 found the Americans at No. 4. (For the record, within weeks, FIFA overhauled its rankings formula.)
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: All-World XI, Andres Iniesta, Argentina, Carlos Puyol, Cristiano Ronaldo, David Villa, European Footballer of the Year, Fabio Cannavaro, FC Barcelona, FIFA awards gala, FIFA Ballon d'Or, FIFA Player of the Year, France Football magazine, Gerard Pique, Golden Ball, Iker Casillas, Inter Milan, Jose Mourinho, Lionel Messi, Lucio, Maicon, Marta, Portugal, Real Madrid, Rivaldo, Romario, Ronaldinho, Ronaldo, Silvia Neid, South Africa '10, UEFA Champions League, Wesley Sneijder, Xavi Hernandez, Zinedine Zidane, Zurich
Lionel Messi won a second consecutive World Player of the Year trophy, topping the bill at the annual FIFA awards gala in Zurich.
The Argentine forward out-polled FC Barcelona teammates Andres Iniesta and Xavi Hernandez in a vote of national team coaches and captains and selected journalists. Messi received 22.65 percent to Iniesta’s 17.36 and Xavi’s 16.48. In addition to winning the award last year, Messi finished second in 2008 and 2007; Xavi placed third in 2009. In the 20-year history of the award, eight winners have come from Barcelona, including Brazilians Romario, Rivaldo, and two-time winners Ronaldinho and Ronaldo.
The award marked the merger of the FIFA Player of the Year and the Golden Ball, first handed out by France Football Magazine in 1956 to honor the European Footballer of the Year. The new honor is the FIFA Ballon d’Or.
Other winners that evening were Brazil’s Marta, named the best woman player for the fifth straight year; top men’s coach Jose Mourinho of Portugal, who guided Inter Milan to the UEFA Champions League crown; and Germany’s Silvia Neid, top women’s coach.
Named to the All-World XI were Messi, Xavi, Iniesta and three other Barcelona teammates, Spanish defenders Carlos Puyol and Gerard Pique and forward David Villa; plus Spanish goalkeeper Iker Casillas and Portuguese forward Cristiano Ronaldo, both of Real Madrid; and Brazilian defenders Lucio and Maicon and Dutch midfielder Wesley Sneijder, all of Inter. [January 10]
Comment: The voters got it right.
It would be tempting in a World Cup year to hand the award to the leading player on the world championship team. Four years earlier, it was Real Madrid defender Fabio Cannavaro, who captained Italy to its fourth World Cup title. But was Cannavaro the world’s greatest player the moment he lifted the trophy? Subtract one ill-conceived head butt and the voters’ choice have been the voters’ second choice, three-time winner Zinedine Zidane, if not its third-place finisher, Ronaldinho.
Messi, from the recent past to the foreseeable future, is the world’s greatest player. Along with Spaniards Xavi and Iniesta, he led FC Barcelona to five titles in 2010, and though he failed to score at South Africa ’10 for Argentina (some will remember his near-misses and the goals he set up), this 23-year-old only grew in stature. From 25 yards out to the top of the goalie box, an unstoppable ball bearing on legs.
Ask any coach around whom he’d like to build a team and he’d reach past Xavi and Iniesta and grab Messi. The same couldn’t have been said for Cannavaro, then 33, four years ago.
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: 1991 FIFA Under-17 World Championship, 2007 Asian Cup, 2018 World Cup, 2022 World Cup, Albert Speer, Asian Football Confederation, Australia, Belgium, Christians, England, FIFA Executive Committee, Holland, Iraq, Japan, Kurds, Mohamed bin Hammam, Morocco, Persian Gulf, Portugal, Qatar, Qatari Stars League, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Sheika Moza bint Nasser al-Missned, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, Shiites, South Korea, Spain, Sunnis, Tunisia, U.S., United Arab Emirates, West Germany
Qatar beat out a strong bid by the U.S. to win the right to host the 2022 World Cup while Russia was awarded the 2018 tournament in balloting by the FIFA Executive Committee in Zurich.
With 22 members taking part, 12 votes were needed to win. The last-place finisher in each round was eliminated.
The 2022 vote:
First Round — Qatar 11, U.S. 3, South Korea 4, Japan 3, Australia 1.
Second Round — Qater 10, U.S. 5, South Korea 5, Japan 2.
Third Round — Qatar 11, U.S. 6, South Korea 5.
Fourth Round — Qatar 14, U.S. 8.
The 2018 vote:
First round — Russia 9, Spain/Portugal 7, Holland/Belgium 4, England 2.
Second Round — Russia 13, Spain/Portugal 7, Holland/Belgium 2. [December 2]
Comment: So how did Qatar do it? How did this nation of 1.7 million people perched on a tiny Persian Gulf peninsula, a country that has never even qualified for a World Cup, win the prize at the expense of the United States, a nation whose bid was the only one among the nine 2018/22 hopefuls to be given a 100 percent score by FIFA?
To many, the immediate answer was, “Follow the petrodollars.” That, however, may be too easy. The U.S. bid, after all, promised record broadcast rights fees and ticket revenues from a land that is home to many of FIFA’s major sponsors.
However, there’s the usual horse trading of votes. In fact, the trading season might have begun not during the bidders’ presentations in Zurich but back in August, when Asian Football Confederation chief Mohamed bin Hammam announced that he would not run for the FIFA presidency in 2011 and instead devote his efforts to ensuring that his native land–Qatar–wins the 2022 World Cup sweepstakes, thus clearing the way for Sepp Blatter to win a fourth four-year term as FIFA supremo next year. And beyond the horse trading, there was the geopolitical factor.
Qatar’s bid borders on the fantastic: Build seven stadiums and enlarge five others and air-condition them to beat July heat that can reach 115 degrees, then dismantle most and reassemble them in needy nations. That grabbed the attention. But two emotional appeals at the end of its slick bid presentation the day before the vote were telling. One young man whose affiliation was listed as Qatar Foundation, a non-profit founded by the Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, told of losing family members in fighting in his native Iraq, then recounted Iraq’s triumph at the 2007 Asian Cup, a feat that united–briefly–that country’s Shiites, Sunnis, Kurds and Christians. The point, though a pipe dream, is that a Qatari World Cup could bring together the Middle East. The emir’s wife, Sheika Moza bint Nasser al-Missned, then addressed committee members, pointedly, dramatically, asking them, “When? When will the World Cup come to the Middle East?”
The United States is not loved in the Arab world. The young Iraqi did not elaborate on the “fighting” that claimed his family members, but most U.S. bid members must have felt their ears burning, at least for a moment. For Executive Committee members with sympathies toward, or obligations to, the Middle East, Her Highness’ question–”When?”–could be regarded as a firm prod, if not an effective bit of guilt tripping. And what would be more delicious to those leaning in that direction than to award a World Cup to a Middle Eastern state at the expense of the Western nation that looms menacingly over the region, from Israel to Iraq to Afghanistan?
At the same time, the vote may have been FIFA’s way of putting the U.S. in its place.
The U.S. bid, on its face, hit all the high notes: stadiums, infrastructure, profits, experience, diversity, and what could be summed up as “give us the World Cup and we’ll finish what was begun in 1994.” However, it could be that FIFA likes the United States exactly where it is, a giant who has, in soccer terms, struggled from a prone position to rise up on one knee. Perhaps that’s the way FIFA wants things for the time being: a United States that is a cash cow of Coca-Colas and Visas, a credible competitor on the international stage but not a perennial champion, a people whose interest in the game is encouraging but not overwhelming.
No country on earth has the soccer potential of the United States. If realized, America could very well become the tail that wags the dog (see U.S. television rights, International Olympic Committee). And what FIFA doesn’t need is another one of its 208 member-nations treating it with disdain. Like England.
o Five of the new stadiums promised by Qatar have been designed by Albert Speer and Partners. Yes, that Albert Speer–Albert Speer Jr., son of Hitler’s most favored architect and ultimately the Nazis’ munitions minister during World War II.
o Russia’s current place in the FIFA World Rankings–No. 10–is a bit flattering. That’s six places above four-time world champion Italy. Qatar’s place–No. 109, one place ahead of Iceland–is not.
Qatar has been trying to reach a World Cup since 1978, and despite a string of Brazilian and French coaches it has failed all nine times. Its greatest international feat remains its loss to West Germany in the final of the 1981 FIFA World Youth (U-20) Championship, followed by a fourth-place finish at the 1991 FIFA Under-17 World Championship. The hardware in the dusty Qatari trophy case: Winners of the 1992 and 2004 Gulf Cups, both times as host. Qatar also pocketed runners-up medals at the 1998 Arab Nations Cup, an event it hosted. In one of its most recent friendlies, the ultra-rich Qatar lost to the desperately poor Haiti, 1-0, in Doha before a throng of 5,000. According to the FIFA rankings, No. 109 loses to No. 128–at home. Had the U.S. been eliminated in the first round of its 1994 World Cup, it would have been a horror. Then South Africa failed to reach the second round of its 2010 World Cup, and FIFA apparently concluded that losing a host nation after three matches doesn’t signal the end of the world. So it’s on to Qatar.
Meanwhile, don’t look to the Qatari Stars League–a circuit of 12 first division teams and six in the second–to serve as a springboard to international glory. Since its launch in 1963, it has won zero honors in Asian club play. Its most decorated club, at 12 national championships and six second-place finishes, is the aptly named Al-Sadd.
o It remains to be seen what Qatar ’22 will do to grow the game in the Middle East. Soccer is already the region’s passion, so if the event cannot further rachet up the game’s popularity, then FIFA’s aim, surely, is to lift the level of play there. However . . .
Arab nations, despite considerable capital investment, have combined to make 20 World Cup appearances dating back to Argentina ’78. The result is a record of 7-38-15. Tunisia has crashed in the opening round four times, followed by Algeria, three; Egypt, two; and Kuwait, Iraq and the United Arab Emirates, one each. Morocco and Saudi Arabia have both qualified four times, and they lead the parade with one second-round appearance apiece, in 1986 and 1994, respectively.
Because of a reluctance on the part of Westerners to travel to Qatar for the ’22 World Cup, the in-stadium audience for the tournament could very well be overwhelmingly Middle Eastern. And if so, a wave of passion could see the world’s 109th-best team into the Round of 16, the realm of respectability. But don’t count on it.
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: 2018 World Cup, 2022 World Cup, Australia, Belgium, England, FIFA Executive Committee, FIFA General Secretary Jerome Valcke, Japan, Netherlands, Portugal, Qatar, Russia, South Korea, Spain
The U.S. Bid Committee has announced that it has dropped its efforts to host the 2018 World Cup and will concentrate on securing the 2022 cup. [October 15]
Comment: The U.S. thus drops out of a competition in which the likely winner will be European (Belgium/Netherlands, England, Russia or Spain/Portugal, with the English favored) and zeroes in on beating Japan, South Korea, Qatar and Australia for ’22.
Said FIFA General Secretary Jerome Valcke: “We have had an open and constructive dialogue with the USA Bid for some time now, after it became apparent that there was a growing movement to stage the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Europe. The announcement today by the USA Bid to focus solely on the 2022 FIFA World Cup is therefore a welcome gesture which is much appreciated by FIFA.”
Just how much is this gesture appreciated by FIFA? Is the USA’s move to simplify the 2018 situation a quid pro quo? After all, England bid officials said as early as September 28 that they would withdraw from 2022 and concentrate on 2018 if the U.S. dropped its 2018 bid. We’ll find out December 2, when the 24-man FIFA Executive Committee–seven of the members European–selects the hosts of the 21st and 22nd World Cups.
As it stands, what is perceived as a strong American bid only got stronger. Japan and South Korea co-hosted the 2002 World Cup, so there’s no incentive to go back there any time soon. Tiny Qatar (about half the size of Fiji) would win only if FIFA somehow wanted to curry favor with the Middle East. And as for Australia, the land Down Under may resemble another New Frontier, like the U.S. pre-1994, but when it comes to the cash to be raked in, there’s no comparison.
For those who saw FIFA reject the USA’s bid to host 1986 out of hand, who sweated out the vote for 1994, it’s difficult to admit, but start making your ticket plans for 2022 now. You’ll just be 12 years older, not eight.
If you want to soak in the official USA Bid party line, go to http://www.goUSAbid.com/