Filed under: Alfredo Di Stefano, Hungary | Tags: Alfredo Di Stefano, Argentina, Bogota, Czechoslovakia, Eintracht Frankfurt, European Cup, European Footballer of the Year, FC Barcelona, Ferenc Puskas, FIFA, Glasgow, Gregorio Maranon hospital, Hampden Park, Hungary, Ladislao Kubala, Millonarios, Real Madrid, River Plate, The Blond Arrow, UEFA Champions League
Alfredo Di Stefano, the greatest player of the 1950s, has died in Madrid. He celebrated his 88th birthday on July 4 but suffered a heart attack the following day and passed away at Gregorio Maranon hospital two days after that.
Known as “The Blond Arrow,” the Argentine-born Di Stefano scored more than 800 goals in his career and was named European Footballer of the Year in 1957 and ’59. Through his all-round skills and considerable leadership, Real Madrid won the first European Cup (now the UEFA Champions League) in 1956 and the next four that followed. His record of 49 goals in 59 Euro Cup games still stands. In the 1960 final before a crowd of 135,000 at Glasgow’s Hampden Park, Di Stefano scored four goals and teammate Ferenc Puskas three as Real Madrid pounded Eintracht Frankfurt, 7-3, in a match regarded by many as the greatest ever played.
Di Stefano’s career began in 1944 with River Plate. He jumped to a Colombian pirate league in 1949 to play for Millonarios of Bogota, winning four titles in as many years. Real Madrid tried to sign him in 1953, but, River Plate, which still technically owned his rights, struck a deal with Real’s arch rival, FC Barcelona, and FIFA approved the transaction. The Spanish soccer federation, however, decreed that Di Stefano stay in Spain for four years, playing alternate seasons for Barcelona and Madrid. Barca officials threw up their hands over the ludicrous decision and sold their share in Di Stefano to Madrid. [July 8]
Comment: Di Stefano never played in a World Cup, but nevertheless his career included a hat trick of national teams. Early in his career he played seven games for his native Argentina. While with Millonarios, he played four for Colombia. And when he joined Real Madrid, he became a Spanish citizen and played 31 games for Spain, scoring 23 goals. Had it not been for an injury, he would have played in the 1962 World Cup in Chile, where he would’ve teamed with his Madrid strike mate, Puskas, the Hungarian legend who was playing for his second country, and a third star forward in the twilight of his career, Barcelona’s Ladislao Kubala, who was playing for his third country. (Kubala earlier had represented Czechoslovakia and his native Hungary). Not long after, FIFA tightened up its rules on players playing for more than one country in full internationals.
Filed under: U.S. 1, Uncategorized | Tags: Alamo, Andres Iniesta, Argentina, Belgium, Brad Guzan, Brazil, Chile, Chris Wondolowski, Clint Dempsey, Colombia, Costa Rica, Czechoslovakia, DaMarcus Beasley, Dino Zoff, France '98, Geoff Cameron, Ghana, Golden Generation, Group of Death, Holland, Hungary, Juergen Klinsmann, Julian Green, Kevin De Bruyne, Korea/Japan '02, Matt Besler, Mexico, Michael Bradley, Norway, Omar Gonzalez, Paraguay, Pele Generation, Portugal, Romania, Romelu Lukaku, Russia 2018, Salvador, Soviet Union, Spain, Sweden, Thibaut Courtois, Tim Howard, U.S., Uruguay, World Cup, Xavi
In a match that looked like a re-enactment of the siege of the Alamo, Belgium pounded away at the U.S. defense for 93 minutes before breaking through and ultimately winning, 2-1, in overtime to earn a World Cup quarterfinal showdown with Argentina.
Midfield dynamo Kevin De Bruyne and substitute striker Romelu Lukaku combined on both Belgian goals, beating an exhausted U.S. defense that was bombarded with 38 shots. Three minutes into extra time, Lukaku beat U.S. defender Matt Besler down the right wing to set up De Bruyne for the first goal, then a pass by De Bruyne allowed Lukaku to score on a powerful short-range shot. The desperate Americans staged a furious comeback and were rewarded in the 107th minute when 18-year-old substitute Julian Green volleyed home a chipped pass into the box by Michael Bradley, but the rally fell short.
The game was played in Salvador, and fittingly the man of the match was the USA’s savior, Tim Howard, who put on a two-hour goalkeeping clinic. He made 16 saves, many of them spectacular, in sparing his side an embarrassingly lopsided defeat. It was the most saves in a World Cup game since the statistic was first kept in 1966.
Remarkably, the Americans nearly won the game in the final seconds of regulation added-on time. Substitute Chris Wondolowski, a natural poacher, latched onto the ball in a goalmouth scramble but put his shot over the bar in an effort to lift it over sprawling Belgian goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois. [July 1]
Comment: Now, following the handwringing, the postmortems start. Americans caught World Cup fever in a big way for the first time. But the Belgian police banged on the door and broke up their party, and they want the next party to last beyond midnight.
How can the U.S. get better and go farther at Russia 2018 (the team’s qualification being a given)? A stronger Major League Soccer? An expanded U.S. academy program developing more and more young talent? The U.S. goal will soon be in the capable hands of Brad Guzan–unless the unpredictable Juergen Klinsmann tries to make Howard, now 35, the USA’s answer to Dino Zoff. DaMarcus Beasley isn’t likely to play in a fifth World Cup, so there is a need for a left back, and forward Clint Dempsey will be 35 in four years. Whether it’s Besler or Omar Gonzalez or Geoff Cameron or a newcomer in the central defense, Klinsmann needs to find the right duo and stick with it. And the midfield must somehow get better without a Xavi or Andres Iniesta on the horizon.
Who knows if a “Group of Death” awaits the U.S. if it reaches Russia. And if it reaches the second round there, will its opponent be Belgium, or a side like Ghana (2010), or Mexico (2002) … or Brazil (1994). But it is a sure thing that the U.S. will be better–by how much is unknown, but it will be better.
The U.S. is nowhere near reaching its considerable potential. Participation figures that exceed 20 million and our soccer infrastructure say so. There’s also that intangible, the slowly continuing evolution of the soccer culture here. Since the Pele Generation of the 1970s, the sport has improved on the grassroots level by leaps and bounds–and, admittedly, sometimes by small increments–but it has improved, and that improvement goes on uninterrupted . Compare that, then, with countries where soccer is well-established and yet the fortunes of the national team waxes and wanes, like Belgium. Or Chile, or Portugal, or Uruguay, or Romania, or Holland, or Norway, or Colombia, or Costa Rica, or Paraguay, or Sweden, or the remnants of the former Soviet Union or former Czechoslovakia. Most are left awaiting the emergence of its next “golden generation,” which may require several generations of waiting. A nation like Spain played in the first World Cup in 1930 and didn’t win one for 80 years. Hungary peaked in the early 1950s with one of the greatest teams ever and has been mostly an international soccer afterthought since.
The U.S. isn’t any of those nations. Plot the national team’s progress on a graph and the red line continues upward, sometimes sharply (Korea/Japan ’02), sometimes not (France ’98). It’s why many of the countries in the soccer-playing world would trade their past and present for the USA’s future in a heartbeat.
Filed under: 2014 World Cup predictions, Uncategorized | Tags: ABC, Amazon, Angel Di Maria, Argentina, Belgium, Bob Bradley, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Brad Friedel, Brasil '14, Brazil, CONCACAF, Croatia, ESPN, ESPN2, Europe, FIFA World Player of the Year, Germany, Gold Cup, Gonzalo Higuain, Group "A", Group "F", Group "G", Group of Death, Ian Darke, Iran, Italy, Juergen Klinsmann, Korea/Japan 2002, Lionel Messi, Luis Montes, Manaus, Maracana Stadium, Mexico, Natal, Nigeria, Nobel Prize, Real Salt Lake, Recife, Riccardo Montolivo, Rio de Janeiro, Sao Paulo, Sergio Aguero, South Africa, South Africa '10, Spain, Switzerland, United States, Uruguay, Western Hemisphere, World Cup
The 20th World Cup will kick off Thursday, June 12, in Sao Paulo when host Brazil plays Croatia in a Group “A” match. The Brazilians go into the 32-nation, 64-game tournament as an 11-4 favorite to lift the World Cup trophy for a record sixth time. Oddsmakers also have established Argentina as a 4-1 pick to win it, followed by defending champ Spain and Germany, both at 6-1. The United States is a 250-1 longshot. [June 11]
Comment: Here are predictions for Brasil ’14:
o Argentina will defeat Brazil in the final on July 13 at Rio de Janeiro’s Maracana Stadium, site of Brazil’s nightmare 2-1 loss to Uruguay in the last match of the 1950 World Cup. This time, the Argentines will win an end-to-end thriller, 3-2, to capture its third world championship and its first in 28 years. Why? Because of Lionel Messi, who four years ago in South Africa played a part in several Argentine goals but scored only one. This time, the four-time FIFA World Player of the Year runs wild. Along with Gonzalo Higuain, Sergio Aguero and Angel Di Maria, the Argentine attack builds momentum against soft Group “F” opponents Bosnia-Herzegovina, Iran and Nigeria, a momentum that only grows in the knockout rounds. In the third-place match, a banged-up Germany defeats an aging Spain … unless an outsider crashes the semifinals. Uruguay and Belgium are popular picks for that role, but Switzerland lurks.
o The U.S. will confound the experts, defy common sense, and advance out of Group “G”, the so-called “Group of Death”–and it won’t require a brutal tackle on Portuguese star Cristiano Ronaldo. Juergen Klinsmann’s side has enjoyed an encouraging run-up to Brazil without suffering injury, and its considerable fitness level gives it an edge in the heat of coastal cities Natal and Recife and the Amazon jungle’s Manaus. Under Klinsmann the U.S. has become the attack-minded side it was not under then-coach Bob Bradley four years ago, and he has established a culture of winning, from placing first in the CONCACAF World Cup qualifiers to taking the 2013 Gold Cup to beating Italy in Italy. More important, he has instilled in his team the belief that it’s not just Germany that’s capable of a late miracle comeback. The U.S. enters its seventh straight World Cup without international stars, as usual, but as goalkeeper Brad Friedel, hero of the USA’s 2002 quarterfinal run, said in a recent interview, the Americans can do it as a team, if every player earns a 1-to-10 rating of 7 for every match.
o World Cup television viewership in the U.S. will dwarf the ratings numbers established at South Africa ’10. No matter where a World Cup is played, a World Cup game is scheduled to kick off in what is prime time in Europe, or close to it–the rest of the world be damned. With this being the first World Cup played in the Western Hemisphere in two decades, we Americans finally get reasonable game times: noon, 3 p.m. and 6 p.m. EDT on most days. That’s a far cry from Korea/Japan 2002, when some games started at 2 a.m. on the West Coast. Meanwhile, greasing the skids is the fact that, with apps and expanded streaming services, this will be the most digitally interactive World Cup ever.
o ESPN/ESPN2/ABC has once again gone all-British with its play-by-play commentators. Ian Darke rightfully gets the choice assignments, including the final, but it will only influence more in the American soccer media to go Brit. A player, wearing a “kit” and a pair of “boots” and playing not on a field but a “pitch” will score two goals, which will be referred to as a “brace.” One goal will have been made possible by a teammate who, at “pace,” sends him an “inch-perfect pass.” That will leave the opposition “on its back foot” yet possibly inspire it into a “purple patch.” Anyway, look forward to another four-year period in which an increasingly number of Americans who know better refer to any singular thing in soccer as a collective: “France are,” “Uruguay are,” and the “Real Salt Lake are.” I are looking forward to it. Or we am looking forward to it.
o Americans who really, really don’t like soccer–that is, those who feel threatened by it–will dig in their heels even further over the next four weeks. Everyone from newspaper columnists and radio sports talkers to Internet commentators will call the World Cup a dull, overblown waste of time and make xenophobic remarks about the participating nations and their fans. But with each World Cup, their footing is growing more unsteady. Those cracks about foreigners and soccer can’t be so easily excused anymore, not with some of our cherished sports–like golf, basketball, hockey and tennis–now a virtual United Nations of participants. Those jokes about one-named Brazilian soccer players? See “LeBron,” “Kobe.” The argument that soccer in the U.S. is a game for kids? The estimated number of soccer players in this country has ballooned from 8 million in 1982 to 25 million today. Hard to believe that a few of those millions aren’t adult players, particularly when what we see at the local park doesn’t say otherwise. And the line about soccer and 1-0 games leaving Americans bored beyond belief? That kinda lost something with Landon Donovan’s goal against Algeria four years ago. What’s left is the complaint that penalty kicks are ridiculous and the charge that players feigning injury make soccer players crying, whining wimps. PKs are ridiculous, and a Nobel Prize awaits the first person who figures out a better tie-breaker. As for the macho involved in playing soccer compared to more manful, manly and masculine American sports, you could start with the hundreds of thousands of soccer players recovering from concussions caused by head-to-head contact. Or ACL tears. Or you could go straight to last Saturday, when Italy’s Riccardo Montolivo and Mexico’s Luis Montes sustained broken legs–in friendlies.
o Finally, this official World Cup song will be forgotten three days after the Brazil-Croatia opener: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TGtWWb9emYI
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: 2016 European Championship, 2016 Summer Olympics, Argentina, Brazil, Chile, CONCACAF Gold Cup, Confederacion Sudamericana de Futbol, CONMEBOL, Copa America, Costa Rica, Honduras, Major League Soccer, Mexico, Miami, Rio de Janeiro, South America, Sunil Gulati, U.S. National Team, United States, Venezuela
The long-rumored centennial Copa America in America became a reality when CONMEBOL announced in Miami that it would play its 2016 championship in the United States.
The tournament, to be held outside South America for the first time, is scheduled for June 3 through 26. In addition to CONMEBOL’s 10 members, the host U.S., Mexico and four other CONCACAF nations will round out a field of 16 teams.
Many questions remain, among them the cities that will host matches.
“One benefit we have in a country like the U.S. is that we have many, many venues that can host this,” said U.S. Soccer President Sunil Gulati. “A number of venues have been in contact with us in the last 48 hours that want to host it. Some [candidates] in person here in Miami have talked to us, and a number by e-mail.”
Also at issue is the timing of the tournament, which would be a special edition wedged between the regularly scheduled 2015 Copa America in Chile and 2019 Copa in Brazil. It would overlap with the 2016 European Championship, which kicks off June 10, and conflict with the same season as the 2016 Summer Olympics soccer tournament in Rio de Janeiro. It would mean the cancellation of that year’s CONCACAF Gold Cup, and CONCACAF clubs are not obligated to release players to play in an event that is a South American tournament. For the U.S., that issue becomes problematic because Major League Soccer will be in mid-season.
The Copa America is the world’s oldest continental soccer competition, first held in Argentina in 1916 to commemorate that nation’s founding as an independent nation; midway through the tournament, the four participants announced the formation of the first-ever continental soccer confederation, the Confederacion Sudamericana de Futbol. It’s 14 years older than the World Cup and 44 years older than the European Championship. [May 1]
Comment: For those who see this as a way for South American soccer to milk the U.S. of many millions of dollars, keep in mind that clubs and national teams from South America, CONCACAF and, especially, Mexico, have been coming here to feed at the trough not for years but for decades.
Of course, there are always the dollars. But when it comes to sense, the big winner here is the U.S. National Team.
The U.S., like Mexico, cannot progress living on a steady diet of regional competition–regardless of how hard it is to win a World Cup qualifier at Costa Rica or Honduras. Playing competitive, non-World Cup games against European opposition is an impossibility, which is unfortunate considering that U.S. internationals play for European, not South American, clubs. South America and its Copa America, then, makes perfect sense.
Unlike Mexico, a regular guest over the past 20 years at the Copa America and twice a finalist, the USA’s participation has been spotty. It crashed in the group stage in 1993, surprised all by reaching the semifinals against Brazil in 1995 and predictably crashed again in the first round after sending an experimental team to the 2007 Copa in Venezuela.
It is hoped that the Centennial Copa America is a rousing success and a good U.S. performance inspires–compels–the U.S. Soccer Federation to find a way to make its national team a regular guest participant in future South American championships. Otherwise, it’s a continuation of a dull treadmill involving the Gold Cup and friendlies against international opponents who, depending on the circumstances, may be under strength and/or under inspired.
Filed under: Uncategorized, World Cup tickets sold to U.S. | Tags: 125, 2007 Women's World Cup, 2009 FIFA Confederations Cup, 2010 World Cup, 2011 Women's World Cup, 2013 FIFA Confederations Cup, 2014 FIFA World Cup, 2018 World Cup, 2022 World Cup, 465 tickets sold to U.S., ABC, Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, CONCACAF, England, ESPN, FIFA, Fox, France, Germany, Ghana, Group "G", Group of Death, Italia '90, Italy, Manaus, Mexico, Natal, Portugal, Recife, Royal Bafokeng Stadium, South Africa, South Korea, Spain, Sunil Gulati, Telemundo, U.S. National Team, U.S. Soccer, U.S. Soccer Supporters Club, United States, Univision
With nearly four months remaining before kickoff, the United States has the highest number of allocated tickets among visiting countries for the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil.
Though its odds of getting out of the so-called “Group of Death” and winning Brasil ’14 are a daunting 100-to-1, the United States, on every level, has become a significant part of the planet’s most-watched sporting event. That’s a far cry from the beginning of its World Cup run at Italia ’90, when a U.S. team of current and former college standouts needed a miracle to qualify for the first time in four decades, then crashed out in three games, supported by a smattering of American fans, many of whom were already in Italy on vacation and decided, on a whim, to have a look.
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: 1962 Intercontinental Cup, Argentina, Ballon d'Or, Bayern Munich, Benfica, Black Panther, Black Pearl, Brasilia, Bulgaria, Cristiano Ronaldo, El Copa del Rey, Eusebio, FC Barcelona, FIFA World Player of the Year, Franck Ribery, Jupp Heynckes, La Liga, Lionel Messi, Manchester United, Nadine Angerer, Pele, Portugal, Real Madrid, Rio de Janeiro, Santos, Stockholm, Sweden, Sylvia Neid, UEFA Champions League, World Cup qualifier
Cristiano Ronaldo was named the world’s best player of 2013 in balloting by national team captains and coaches and selected journalists, receiving 1,365 votes to Lionel Messi’s 1,205 and Franck Ribery’s 1,127.
The Portugal and Real Madrid star received his Ballon d’Or trophy at the annual FIFA awards gala in Zurich. Germany goalkeeper Nadine Angerer was the women’s winner. Jupp Heynckes, who led Bayern Munich to the UEFA Champions League crown, plus the German league and cup double, was the top men’s coach. Germany’s Sylvia Neid was selected the world’s best women’s coach.
Ronaldo’s triumph was his first since 2008, when he won what was then known as the FIFA World Player of the Year award, while with Manchester United. The following year, he finished second to Argentina’s Messi. The FC Barcelona striker would go on to capture the honor the next three years as well, with Ronaldo the runner-up in 2011 and 2012. [January 13]
Comment: It was an emotional Ronaldo who accepted the trophy as world’s best from Pele, who earlier had accepted an honorary Ballon d’Or of his own. Still, he had to be thinking about “the little man” in his rear-view mirror.
Though Ronaldo scored 69 goals in 2013, capping it in November with a stirring hat trick in Stockholm that lifted the Portuguese to victory in its World Cup playoff with Sweden, he won by default. Messi may have finished second, but he was hobbled three times by injury during the year–and opened 2014 like he’d never missed a beat.
Ironic that Pele would be honored the same night that his rival, the great Eusebio, was eulogized. The Black Pearl and the Black Panther, who died January 5, met in the 1962 Intercontinental Cup, with the irresistible Santos, behind Pele’s five goals, beating Benfica by an 8-4 aggregate as Eusebio scored once. Four years later, at the World Cup, they met again. Pele had been brutalized by Bulgaria in Brazil’s opener. In its final group match, Brazil and a limping Pele bowed out as Eusebio scored twice and Portugal topped the group. The Black Panther would go on to score a tournament-leading nine goals and the Portuguese would finish an unexpected third.
Unlike Pele and Eusebio, we’ve been treated to several clashes between Ronaldo and Messi in La Liga and El Copa del Rey since Ronaldo joined Real Madrid in 2009. Nevertheless, here’s to a grand showdown in 2014. If the stars align, Portugal and Argentina could meet in the World Cup quarterfinals on July 4 in Rio de Janeiro or July 5 in Brasilia. Who knows? It might determine the ’14 Ballon d’Or.
Filed under: 2014 World Cup draw, USA's Group of Death | Tags: 2014 World Cup draw, Amazon, Argentina, Asia, Australia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Cameroon, Chile, Clint Dempsey, CONCACAF, Costa do Sauipe, Costa Rica, Cristiano Ronaldo, Cuiaba, DeMarcus Beasley, Eddie Johnson, England, FIFA Player of the Year, Fortaleza, Germany, Ghana, Golden Generation, Group "B", Group "D", Group "F", Group "G", Group of Death, Guadalajara, Holland, Honduras, Iran, Italy, Japan, Jogi Loew, Juergen Klinsmann, Landon Donovan, Lionel Messi, Luis Figo, Luxembourg, Major League Soccer, Manaus, Maracana, Mexico, Michael Bradley, Natal, Nigeria, Paris, Portugal, Recife, Rio de Janeiro, Salvador, Sao Paulo, South America, South Korea, Spain, Steve Cherundolo, Sunil Gulati, Sweden, Tim Howard, Torsten Frings, Ulsan, United States, Uruguay, Washington DC
The 2014 World Cup draw, as expected, produced multiple “Groups of Death” as the 32 finalists were sorted into eight groups of four nations each for the 64-match tournament, which will begin June 12 scattered over a dozen Brazilian cities.
The United States got the worst of it, being drawn into Group “G” with three-time champion Germany, the Cristiano Ronaldo-led Portugal and Ghana, the nation that knocked the Americans out of the last two World Cups. Not far behind in terms of difficulty were Group “B” (defending champion Spain, 2010 runner-up Holland, Chile, plus Australia) and Group “D” (2010 third-place finisher Uruguay, four-time champ Italy, England and Costa Rica).
Conducted at the beachfront resort of Costa do Sauipe before an international television audience, the draw also produced a first-round cakewalk for Argentina, which was joined in Group “F” by the tournament’s only World Cup newcomer, Bosnia-Herzegovina, as well as Iran and Nigeria. [December 6]
Comment I: In a repeat of the Brazilian nightmare of 1950, Brazil will tumble in its own World Cup. Argentina will defeat host Brazil on Sunday, July 13, before a stunned, heartbroken crowd of 73,531 at the Maracana in Rio de Janeiro, and lift the World Cup trophy for the third time.
Argentina, unlike host Brazil, has been steeled by 16 World Cup qualifiers in the ultra-tough South American region–and finished first. It went into the draw at 6-1 odds, just behind Brazil and Germany. It will be playing virtually at home, without all the pressure that comes with hosting a World Cup. It will have the motivation of the opportunity to humiliate its neighbor and historic arch-rival. Its only question mark is its defense, while its absolute certainty is up front, four-time FIFA Player of the Year Lionel Messi, who will turn 27 the day before his team meets its final group-stage opponent, Nigeria. And the draw produced brackets that make a Brazil-Argentina final possible.
Comment II: To distraught fans of the U.S. National Team: Enough with the hand-wringing.