Filed under: 2026 World Cup expanded to 48 teams, Uncategorized | Tags: 1982 World Cup in Spain, 2014 World Cup in Brazil, 2018 World Cup in Russia, 2026 World Cup, Africa, Angola, Argentina, Asia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Brazil, Canada, China, CONCACAF, Costa Rica, Czechoslovakia, Egypt, England, Europe, FIFA, FIFA Executive Committee, FIFA governing council, France, Germany, Gianni Infantino, Hungary, Italy, Jordan, Mexico, Netherlands, New Zealand, North Korea, Oceania, Saudi Arabia, Serbia, Serbia & Montenegro, Slovenia, South America, Spain, Sunil Gulati, Sweden, Togo, Trinidad & Tobago, Tunisia, United States, Uruguay, Yugoslavia
The 2026 World Cup will have 48 teams.
The move from 32 teams to four dozen was approved unanimously by the FIFA governing council, an expansion of world soccer’s championship tournament that was welcomed by supporters as a victory for inclusion but criticized by others as another cynical, money-driven effort by an organization still in the throes of a financial and ethical scandal.
The percentage of the expansion will be the largest ever, from the original 16 (1930-78) to 24 (1982-94) to 32 (1998-2022). More teams mean more matches, in this case an increase from 64 games to 80. It also means greater revenue: the 2018 World Cup in Russia is expected to pull in $5.5 billion through television rights, sponsorships and tickets; the 48-nation ’26 cup will bring in an additional billion. Some of the expected increased profit–approximately $640 million–will find its way into the coffers of soccer’s six continental confederations and–presumably–on to FIFA’s 211 member national federations.
New FIFA boss Gianni Infantino had pushed for the change in 2016 when he ran for the presidency in an effort to include more nations and invigorate what was already the world’s most popular sporting event.
But critics contend that opening the World Cup doors to lesser soccer-playing nations will result in a weaker tournament, with nearly a quarter of FIFA’s membership reaching its most prestigious competition every four years and more matches crammed into an already crowded international calendar. Infantino was unconcerned. “We are in the 21st century, and we have to shape the football World Cup of the 21st century,” he said after the vote. “Football is more than just Europe and South America. Football is global.”
For Russia ’18, Europe, as usual, will have the lion’s share of berths, 13, plus the automatic slot that goes to the host nation. Ten-nation South America gets four berths, as does 47-nation Asia. Africa’s 56 members will battle for five slots. CONCACAF gets three. The 31st and 32nd berths will go to the winners of home-and-home playoffs between CONCACAF and Asian also-rans and between the Oceania winner and a South American also-ran. A decision on how the 2026 pie will be sliced will be made in May. [January 10]
Comment: No surprise here. A huge expansion of the World Cup field for 2026 became inevitable with Infantino’s early Christmas present to the likes of Asia, Africa, CONCACAF and Oceania: release of a 65-page analysis by a FIFA in-house group of five options in growing the World Cup. The 48-team concept was rated best (and most profitable), with 16–sixteen!–groups of three teams each playing round-robin to open the tournament. Another 48-team format called for a 32-team knockout round, followed by a group stage involving the 16 survivors and 16 seeded teams, for 80 total games. Then there was the idea of 40 teams divided into eight groups of five and, in the end, 88 games played. Or, 40 teams with 10 groups of four for a total of 76 games.
The opposition, not surprisingly, was led by the European Club Association, which represents 220 clubs on the Continent. It called the present 32-team format “the perfect formula from all perspectives.” The ECA added, “We understand that this decision has been taken based on political reasons rather than sporting ones and under considerable political pressure, something ECA believes is regrettable.”
The FIFA analysis indeed conceded the expansion would diminish the level of play at that World Cup, but it also explicitly stated that the FIFA governing council must make its decision purely for “sporting” reasons. But back to reality.
While Option No. 2 (an opening knockout round involving 32 teams, with the losers going home after one match), may seem ridiculous, what the governing council–the body created to replace the greedy, seedy and disgraced Executive Committee–settled on is only slightly better. Expansion itself is a bad idea. Despite three expansions since the late 1970s, the World Cup has remained a relatively compact monthlong festival of soccer. The approved 48-team formula would mean a reasonable increase by one or two days to 32; the two finalists would still play the customary seven games; and the usual 12 stadiums would be required of the host nation(s). But the addition of no-hopers only means an erosion in the level of play and a resulting decline in interest among the general public. If Brasil ’14 had been expanded to 48, the tournament might have included the likes Egypt, Tunisia, and Jordan–and the forgettable matches they were likely to contribute. As for inclusion, today’s 32-team format has already allowed otherwise outsiders Trinidad & Tobago, China, Slovenia, Angola, North Korea, New Zealand, Tunisia, Togo and Saudi Arabia to have their day in the sun, not to mention splinters from the former Yugoslavia–Serbia & Montenegro (2006), Serbia (’10) and Bosnia & Herzegovina (’14).
Beyond concerns over the drop in level of play, the 16 x 3 format given FIFA’s blessing contains a serious flaw. Forty-eight teams divided into 16 groups of three might require penalty-kick tiebreakers after drawn matches in the first round to ensure there is a “winner.” After all, there has to be a brutally quick method to determine a group’s top two finishers and send the third-place team home. That radical change to how the opening round of a World Cup is run also would be necessary to prevent teams from conspiring to arrange a favorable result in the final group game.
Just what we need: More chances for PK tiebreakers to rear their ugly head before a global audience. And more of just what we need: A reprise of the three-team group, with each team playing just two games. That was tried at Espana ’82, the first go-round with a 24-team field, when four three-team groups followed the first round and those group winners advanced to the semifinals. Three teams playing two matches each promised nothing more than mostly defensive, nervy encounters that would please no one, and while there was Italy’s classic 3-2 win over favored Brazil, the 12 games averaged less than 2 1/2 goals–a half goal fewer than the tournament average–and included three scoreless draws. Happily, that format was jettisoned for Mexico ’86 in favor of the now-familiar 16-team knockout second round.
There’s also the matter of what the bigger field will mean to the qualifying competition for ’26. If Europe and South America gain only a couple of extra berths, the traditional powers there will have even less to fear. Even in CONCACAF, the U.S. and Mexico, which survived a mighty scare before slipping into the 2014 World Cup, have no worries. And with still less drama during what is an interminable qualifying process, the fans lose.
Finally, the expansion in ’26 also will mean a greater burden on the host, which will have to find accommodations and training facilities for an additional 16 teams, a new consideration that will hike the organizing nation’s bill from $2 billion to $2.3 billion. That’s why there has been talk of the job of hosting that first 48-team event going to the triumvirate of the United States, Mexico and Canada. Informal talks among the three have already begun. The decision will be made in May 2020, and FIFA’s World Cup rotation among the continents would put North America in line to host. Fueling the speculation is that Infantino owes U.S. Soccer President Sunil Gulati, who was instrumental in getting the Swiss-Italian elected FIFA boss in February. There’s also the matter of the now-disgraced FIFA Executive Committee having given the U.S. the shaft in 2010 when it chose to award the 2022 World Cup to Qatar, ignoring the stronger American bid. But beyond ’26, FIFA will have created a monster event that few potential hosts can handle. Potential hosts like . . . China, which, on the heels of its 2008 Beijing Olympics, is keen to play host to the world’s biggest single-sport event.
There can be no denying that the soccer-playing world is a much more level playing field today than it was back in the days when the World Cup was an exclusive club of 16. You could start with surprise packages like Costa Rica, which at Brasil ’14 stunned Uruguay and Italy and tied England before nipping Greece on penalty kicks in the second round and bowing in the quarterfinals to the Netherlands, 4-3 on PKs, after a brave scoreless draw. But the World Cup remains a competition won by only eight nations–Brazil, Germany, Italy, Uruguay, Argentina, Spain, England and France–and the list of worthy also-rans remains limited to the Dutch; Hungary of long ago; Czechoslovakia, which no longer exists; and, in a bit of a stretch, Sweden. That’s it. Infantino’s gambit does nothing more than give hope to the hopeless and directs those extra one billion bucks into FIFA’s coffers at the final accounting of the 2026 World Cup. And for the fans, if gives them countless more forgettable, hardly watchable matches between giants and minnows under the guise of FIFA World Cup soccer. And World Cup games, even those not so great, should be somewhat memorable.
In the end, the winner is Infantino. His act of patronage has placed dozens of soccer’s have-not nations in his debt, and when it comes to FIFA presidential elections, it’s a one-nation, one-vote world. His power base is assured.
Filed under: Lionel Messi, Uncategorized | Tags: 1986 World Cup, 2005 FIFA U-20 World Championship, 2007 Copa America, 2008 Beijing Olympics, 2014 World Cup, 2015 Copa America, Alfredo Di Stefano, Argentina, Bobby Wood, Chile, Clint Dempsey, CONCACAF, Copa America Centenario, Cristiano Ronaldo, DeAndre Yedlin, Diego Maradona, El Pibe de Oro, FC Barcelona, FIFA World Player of the Year, Gabriel Batistuta, Geoff Cameron, Giants Stadium, Gold Cup, Gyasi Zardes, Italy, John Brooks, Jozy Altidore, Juergen Klinsmann, La Albiceleste, La Liga, Landon Donovan, Lionel Messi, Michael Bradley, Napoli, Panama, UEFA Champions League, Venezuela
Five-time FIFA World Player of the Year Lionel Messi announced his international retirement immediately after Argentina fell in the Copa America Centenario to Chile on penalty kicks, 4-2, following a scoreless draw at Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, NJ, before 82,076.
The defeat capped a string of Argentina disappointments for the 29-year-old, including losses in the 2014 World Cup final and the 2007 and 2015 Copa America finals. Although he led La Albiceleste to an under-20 world championship in 2005 and a gold medal at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, he has never claimed a winners’ medal with the senior team.
A back injury caused Messi to miss Argentina’s Copa opener against Chile, but he came off the bench in the second group game, against Panama, and notched a hat trick in just 19 minutes. He scored against Venezuela in the quarterfinals to equal Gabriel Batistuta’s Argentine scoring record of 54, then surpassed it with a brilliant free-kick strike against the U.S. in the semifinals.
However, in the final he was hounded by multiple Chilean defenders for 120 minutes, and he capped a frustrating night by blasting his attempt over the crossbar on Argentina’s first shot in the tiebreaker.
“For me, the national team is over,” the distraught superstar told reporters. “I’ve done all I can. I’ve been in four finals and it hurts not to be a champion. It’s a hard moment for me and the team, and it’s difficult to say, but it’s over with the Argentina team.” [June 26]
Comment I: Perhaps the frustration got the best of him. Maybe his tax problems back in Spain were weighing heavily. Perhaps Messi will take a deep breath and reconsider. (After all, he didn’t quit last year when Argentina lost on a tiebreaker to Chile–and Messi made his PK that day.) But if he doesn’t change his mind, he’ll rue the day.
Messi has never been embraced by his fellow Argentines the way they adore Diego Maradona. Messi left home as a 13-year-old prodigy for FC Barcelona, where he grew as an academy player and went on to win four UEFA Champions League titles and eight Spanish La Liga crowns. In Argentina, he’s been more closely associated with Barca than the sky blue and white, and while Maradona also played for Barcelona (and later became a hero in Italy with Napoli), El Pibe de Oro was the one who delivered the goods, singlehandedly lifting Argentina to the 1986 World Cup championship. Messi has no such clout.
If Messi does not change his mind, he will have forfeited any chance to change how he will go down in soccer history. As things stand, he will be recorded as probably the greatest player of his generation, better even than Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo. He’ll be regarded as a the third member of Argentina’s holy trinity along with Maradona and Alfredo Di Stefano. But, in a world in which kids still look up to their sports heroes, he’ll also be regarded as a quitter. Worse, a coward.
And this with the next World Cup, in Russia, and possible redemption, just two years away.
Comment II: The question concerning the U.S. National Team was whether its Copa America Centenario performance had represented any progress.
Well, a year ago the Americans lost the third-place match at the Gold Cup, making it the fourth-best team in CONCACAF. Now it’s lost the third-place game at the Copa America, technically making it the fourth-best team in South America. What fourth-place mantle would you rather wear?
On a practical front, the mad scientist, coach Juergen Klinsmann, stopped with the tinkering and would’ve trotted out the same lineup throughout the tournament were it not for suspensions and injuries. Young center back John Brooks grew into a genuine partnership with Geoff Cameron and was rewarded with a spot on the Copa America Centenario Best XI team, the only player from the U.S.–or Mexico–so honored. Bobby Wood graduated from minor pest up front to major concern and will challenge Jozy Altidore for playing time in the future.
But then there were the questions raised over the course of the tournament. Such as, will young right back DeAndre Yedlin couple his scintillating runs forward with some reliable defense? Will Gyasi Zardes continue to have the first touch of a block of cement? Will Michael Bradley’s skills as midfield maestro continue to erode? Will 33-year-old Clint Dempsey, who scored three goals at the Copa to close to within five goals of Landon Donovan’s U.S. career record of 57, continue to defy Father Time?
Those are the questions that matter. They were raised at the Copa, not answered, but perhaps they’ll be answered where it really counts, when the U.S. resumes World Cup qualifying for Russia ’18, in September.
Filed under: U.S. Women's Olympic Soccer Team, Uncategorized | Tags: 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics, Alex Morgan, Algarve Cup, Athens, Atlanta, Barcelona, Canada, Carli Lloyd, Colombia, CONCACAF, Costa Rica, Crystal Dunn, Diego Simeone, England, France, Frisco, Houston, Hungary, International Olympic Committee, Ivan Zamorano, Los Angeles, Mexico, Paris, Portugal, Puerto Rico, Rivaldo, Ronaldinho, Ryan Giggs, Socca Princesses, St. Louis, Switzerland, Trinidad & Tobago, United States
The defending champion United States stormed into the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympic women’s soccer tournament, crushing Trinidad & Tobago, 5-0, in Houston in the semifinals of the CONCACAF qualifiers.
Canada defeated Costa Rica, 3-1, in its semifinal earlier in the day to secure the region’s other berth in Rio and set up a tournament championship match with the U.S. on February 21.
Forward Alex Morgan posted a hat trick against the Socca Princesses, eight days after she scored two goals–the first one in the 12th second–in the Americans’ group-opening 5-0 rout of Costa Rica in Frisco, Tex. Three days after the Costa Rica win, reigning FIFA World Player of the Year Carli Lloyd scored off a rebound of her own penalty kick in the 86th minute to allow the U.S. to squeeze past a bunkered-in Mexico, 1-0, and earn a spot in the semifinals. The Americans then won the group by pounding Puerto Rico, 10-0, on a night when young forward Crystal Dunn tied a U.S. women’s record with five goals.
The U.S., 17-0-1 all-time in Olympic qualifying, is seeking its fourth consecutive CONCACAF title against Canada, a team that is 3-46-6 all-time against it southern neighbor. [February 19]
Comment: Consider this the first time an American has suggested that the rest of the soccer-playing world deserves a break on the playing field at the expense of the United States.
That is, now that women’s soccer is a firmly established Olympic sport, it should be changed to a competition for players 22 and younger, with three over-age players per team. Just like the men.
Men’s soccer has had a roller coaster history in the Olympics. Its start was pretty ragged: scores from the very first modern Olympiad, Athens in 1896, have been lost, and the 1904 St. Louis Olympic tournament was a five-match affair involving club teams from Canada and the U.S. By Paris ’24, however, the event had grown into something of a world football championship, and after Uruguay dazzled in winning consecutive gold medals, FIFA was compelled to create its World Cup in 1930 so both amateurs and professionals could compete.
With the end of World War II came a long, dark period in which communist bloc countries, with their state-supported “amateur” athletes, dominated Olympic soccer. Hungary, for one, claimed three golds. It wasn’t until the 1984 Los Angeles Games that the International Olympic Committee allowed limited professionalism in soccer, and finally the other shoe dropped when the ’92 Barcelona tournament was transformed into an under-23 competition for players regardless of whether they are amateurs or professionals.
The IOC had resisted such a move because it feared a loss of interest in its cash cow event if it made it an age-specific competition. Such an event couldn’t possibly draw 1.4 million spectators, like it did at Los Angeles ’84. But there’s nothing in sports like the Olympics. And the three-overage player allowance gave Olympic spectators the chance to see old hands like Rivaldo, Ryan Giggs, Diego Simeone, Ronaldinho and Ivan Zamorano. It’s worked. Fans appear to have accepted an under-23 world championship–as long as it’s wrapped in the Olympic flag.
Now, the women–with the considerable pressure that FIFA could apply–would do well to follow suit. The first FIFA Women’s World Cup was played in 1991 in China; the first women’s Olympic tournament at Atlanta ’96. Since then we’ve had two competing women’s world soccer championships played on consecutive years followed by two off years, one a stand-alone event involving 24 nations and one half that big that’s buried among some two dozen other Olympic sporting events. Throw in the Algarve Cup, a prestigious 12-nation invitational tournament played every spring in Portugal, and the number of women’s “world soccer championships” is too many.
The 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup in Canada demonstrated that there is a pipeline of nations challenging the established powers. Last year it was Colombia, Switzerland and Costa Rica, and in years past it was France and England and Canada. The women’s Olympic tournament, as a U-23 affair, could expedite that trend by giving the next wave of young standouts a major stage with something precious–an Olympic medal–as an incentive.
So, is this a major concession on the part of an American who’s seen his women’s national team win four of the first five Olympic golds (and lose a fifth to Norway because of a non-handball call in overtime on the deciding goal) to go along with three FIFA World Cup titles? No. The U.S., due to recent retirements, injuries and pregnancies, blew its way through CONCACAF to an Olympic berth this week with a 20-member team that averaged 24 years of age. The U.S. would be quite prepared for a world championship for under-23s.
A similar concession by an American regarding men’s soccer? Check back in, oh, say, 2116.
Filed under: Jordan Morris, Uncategorized | Tags: Ante Razov, Aron Johannsson, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Bobby Wood, Brazil, Canada, Clint Dempsey, Colombia, CONCACAF, Costa Rica, DaMarcus Beasley, Darlington Nagbe, DeAndre Yedlin, FIFA Confederations Cup, FIFA Under-20 World Cup, Foxboro, German Bundesliga, Germany, Gyasi Zardes, Hermann Trophy, Hertha Berlin, Holland, Jermaine Jones, John Brooks, Jordan Morris, Juergen Klinsmann, Kyle Beckerman, Landon Donovan, Liberia, Los Angeles Galaxy, Lukas Podolski, Matt Miazga, Mercer Island, Mexico, MLS Cup, NCAA Division I championship, Nelson Valdez, New Jersey, New York Red Bulls, Obafemi Martins, Per Mertesacker, Philipp Lahm, Port of Spain, Portland Timbers, Rio de Janeiro Olympics, Rose Bowl, Seattle Sounders, Sigi Schmid, St. Louis, St. Vincent & the Grenadines, Stanford University, Sunderland, Sunil Gulati, Tim Howard, Trinidad & Tobago, U.S. National Team, UCLA, Union Berlin, Werder Bremen, World Cup
Homegrown player Jordan Morris signed with the Seattle Sounders in a splashy ceremony at the team’s fan clubhouse in Pioneer Square, capping a whirlwind six weeks in which the 21-year-old striker led Stanford University to the 2015 NCAA Division I men’s national championship, was awarded the Hermann Trophy as the country’s top collegiate player and took part in a trial with Werder Bremen that left the German Bundesliga club poised to offer a contract.
Morris earned seven caps with the U.S. National Team last year, scoring in a 2-0 victory over Mexico in April and becoming the first college player to make an appearance with the full national team since UCLA forward Ante Razov in 1995. He also scored six goals and added four assists in 11 appearances in ’15 for the U.S. under-23 side, including two goals in a 3-1 victory over Canada in its opening qualifier for the ’16 Rio de Janeiro Olympics; that campaign will be decided in March with a home-and-home playoff with Colombia .
The signing of Morris reunites the Mercer Island, Wash., native with U.S. and Sounder striker Clint Dempsey. Sounder coach Sigi Schmid was delighted by Morris’ signing, saying he possesses “unteachable” qualities. The Sounder rookie, however, is expected to spend his first MLS season in a supporting role, watching Dempsey, Obafemi Martins and Nelson Valdez start ahead of him. [January 21]
Comment: Here comes Mr. Jordan, and possibly others. Can embattled U.S. National Team coach Juergen Klinsmann channel his inner 2006?
In recent months Klinsmann has been blessed by an interesting wave of fresh young talent. Before the broad-shouldered, baby-faced Morris there was another forward, Bobby Wood, 23, a promising poacher who scored late winners in friendlies against Holland and Germany last spring, plus equalizers against Mexico in the CONCACAF playoff and the World Cup qualifying opener against St. Vincent & the Grenadines. Wood continues to produce for his club, Union Berlin of the Bundesliga 2. There’s also midfielder Darlington Nagbe. Born in Liberia, raised in the U.S., the 25-year-old naturalized American made his U.S. debut against St. Vincent & the Grenadines and dazzled in leading the Portland Timbers to their first MLS Cup title. Finally, defender Matt Miazga, 6-foot-4 and a mere 20. He went from buried on the New York Red Bulls roster last spring to becoming one of MLS’s best central defenders in ’15. Before bowing in with the full national team in the St. Vincent match, Miaza helped the U.S. reach the quarterfinals of the FIFA Under-20 World Cup and became a starter on the U-23 team.
Then there are youngsters who appeared in the 2014 World Cup: defender John Brooks, 23, of Hertha Berlin, defender-midfielder DeAndre Yedlin, 22, of Sunderland, and forward Aron Johannsson, 25, of Werder Bremen. Johannsson battled injuries in 2015 but Yedlin and another attacking player, Gyasi Zardes, 24, of the Los Angeles Galaxy, appeared in 19 of the USA’s 20 matches in ’15.
Is this the cavalry thundering down the hill? Klinsmann can only hope so. Dempsey is 32. Defensive midfielders Jermaine Jones and Kyle Beckerman and left back DaMarcus Beasley are 33. Goalkeeper Tim Howard is 36.
Klinsmann, in his fifth year as national team coach, is on a hot seat, becoming the first national team coach in this soccer-averse country to experience a modicum of public scrutiny. In 2015, after historic wins against the Netherlands in Amsterdam and Germany in Cologne, the U.S. stumbled badly at the CONCACAF Gold Cup, finishing fourth, its worst showing in a Gold Cup in 15 years. A humiliating 4-1 loss to Brazil in Foxboro followed, which served as a warm-up (or down) to the lifeless 3-2 overtime defeat to Mexico in a CONCACAF playoff at the Rose Bowl that cost the Americans a berth in the 2017 FIFA Confederations Cup. Three days later the U.S. tumbled to Costa Rica, 1-0, in a friendly in New Jersey, but it salvaged the year by opening a new World Cup cycle by routing St. Vincent & the Grenadines, 6-1, in St. Louis and escaping Port of Spain with a scoreless draw and a point against Trinidad & Tobago.
As the mixed results mounted, Klinsmann came under increasing criticism for his often baffling player selections, his lineups (20 different lineups in 20 games), his tinkering with formations (a 3-5-2, a 4-2-3-1, a flat 4-4-2 and a diamond 4-4-2) and tactics. At one point, former U.S. star Landon Donovan said that Klinsmann should lose his job if Mexico won at the Rose Bowl. The U.S. lost, and Klinsmann got a half-hearted vote of confidence from USSF President Sunil Gulati.
This cavalry of young talent may yield a couple of riders or, in Klinsmann’s dreams, a full platoon. And what the U.S. coach does with it will determine the course of the national team for the near-term, although it figures to be closing in on a 2018 World Cup berth when 2017 dawns. He’s nurtured young talent before, steering a bunch of young Germans to third place at the 2006 World Cup, becoming a national hero in the bargain. Among his players were defenders Philipp Lahm, then 22, and Per Mertesacker, 21, midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger, 21, and forward Lukas Podolski, 21. That was a generation of talent that would go on to win the 2014 World Cup.
Can Klinsmann do it again? He could succeed. He could fail. This new crop–and possibly others to emerge over the next 18 months–could win in spite of him. Or too many of them could prove to be all false promise. Time will tell. But for the U.S. to nail down a World Cup berth and go into Russia ’18 with any hope of a better showing than the last World Cup, Klinsmann is going to have to succeed, and once again engineer a successful changing of the guard.
Filed under: 2015 Algarve Cup, Uncategorized | Tags: Abby Wambach, Africa, Alex Morgan, Algarve Cup, Amy Rodriguez, Argentina, Asia, BC Place, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Colombia, CONCACAF, Copa America, Denmark, Estadio Algarve, Estadio Municipal, European Championship, Faro, FIFA Women's World Cup, Fox Sports, France, Germany, Holland, Iceland, Italy, Japan, Lagos, Mexico, NCAA Division I, Norway, Parchal, Portugal, Spain, Stadium Bela Vista, Sweden, Switzerland, U.S., U.S. National Women's Team, Uruguay, Vancouver, Vila Real de Santo Antonio
The U.S. National Women’s Team awoke in the second half to score three goals and cruise past Switzerland, 3-0, in an Algarve Cup match at Vila Real de Santo Antonio and take over first place in Group “B” with a 2-0-0 record. Alex Morgan opened the scoring in the 54th minute, Amy Rodriguez doubled the lead with a brilliant finish off a goalmouth scramble in the 72nd and Abby Wambach, aided by a poor Swiss back pass, sealed the victory nine minutes from time.
The Americans will play Iceland three days later in Lagos their its final group match. The two best group winners will meet in the first-place game; Brazil leads Group “A” (1-0-1) and France tops Group “C” (2-0-0). [March 6]
Comment: This 22nd Algarve Cup underscores how far women’s soccer has come . . . and how far it has to go in comparison to the men’s game.
Held in the tourist-friendly southernmost region of Portugal, it’s the biggest annual tournament in women’s soccer. Nine of this year’s 12 national teams have qualified for this summer’s FIFA Women’s World Cup in Canada. With the exception of host Portugal (No. 42), every team is in the top 20 in FIFA’s latest Women’s World Rankings. How tough is the competition? The U.S. won two Women’s World Cups before it won the first of its nine Algarve Cups. And Fox Sports is televising it live.
Yet despite the prestige and world-class quality of this event, attendance puts the Algarve Cup on a par with a decent NCAA Division I women’s match. The U.S.-Switzerland game at Vila Real de Santo Antonio’s Estadio Municipal drew a crowd generously listed as 500; the USA’s 2-1 win over Norway at the same site two days earlier also attracted “500.” Not all five of the Algarve Cup venues have bothered to report turnstile counts, but through the first two rounds of group play the biggest turnout was 769 for Sweden’s 4-2 upset of top-ranked Germany. Denmark appears to be a particularly hard sell: 133 patrons watched the Danes lose to Japan, 2-1, at Stadium Bela Vista in Parchal, and another 45 returned to see them get thumped by France, 4-1. How seriously are the Portuguese organizers taking all this? The U.S.-Iceland match cannot be televised due to inadequate lighting at Municipal Stadium in Lagos.
This is not unusual. The local Portuguese have a history of being completely indifferent to this showcase of women’s international soccer. Most matches have been played before crowds in the dozens–a stark reminder that outstanding women’s soccer doesn’t always draw. A women’s Olympic soccer gold-medal match? Sure. And the 2015 Women’s World Cup final on July 5 in Vancouver will fill the 55,000-seat BC Place. As for last year’s Algarve Cup final at Estadio Algarve in Faro, 600 bothered to show up for Germany’s 3-0 rout of defending world champion Japan.
Imagine, then, a men’s Algarve Cup, an annual tournament involving the world’s 12 best national teams–virtually a combination of the European Championship and Copa America. To the critics of the expansion of the men’s World Cup over the years, this would be a Hyper-World Cup with none of the long-shots and no-hopers from Africa, Asia and CONCACAF (apologies to the U.S. and Mexico) that those critics dismiss as mere fodder. Play it in Portugal, where the national team is currently ranked seventh worldwide, and you’ve got No. 1 Germany, No. 2 Argentina, No. 3 Colombia, No. 4 Belgium, No. 5 Holland, No. 6 Brazil, No. 8 France, No. 9 Uruguay, No. 10 Spain, No. 11 Switzerland and No. 12 Italy. Not bad. And chances are it would out-draw the Algarve Cup.
Filed under: Bright start for CONCACAF, Uncategorized | Tags: Belo Horizonte, Brazil, Cameroon, Colombia, CONCACAF, Costa Rica, Croatia, Diego Forlan, FIFA, Fortaleza, France, Ghana, Greece, Group "A", Group "C", Group "D", Honduras, Japan, Joel Campbell, Luis Suarez, Marcos Urena, Mark Geiger, Mexico, New Jersey, Oscar Duarte, Sean Hurd, South Africa '10, Ticos, U.S., Uruguay, Wilmar Roldan, World Cup, Yuichi Nishimura
Costa Rica pulled off the first major upset of the World Cup, surprising Uruguay, 3-1, in Fortaleza in a Group “D” game.
Joel Campbell, Oscar Duarte and substitute Marcos Urena all scored in the second half to shock the Uruguayans, who reached the semifinals four years ago. Two of Uruguay’s heroes at South Africa ’10 were non-factors; Diego Forlan, still recovering from the flu, was substituted in the 60th minute, and Luis Suarez, 23 days removed from knee surgery, did not play. [June 14]
Comment I: The Ticos’ victory came 24 hours after Mexico defeated Cameroon, 1-0, to join Brazil–a 3-1 winner over Croatia in the tournament opener June 12–atop Group “A”.
The U.S. opens play Monday against Ghana and Honduras will face France on Sunday. But at the moment, it’s a bright start for CONCACAF. The Confederacion Norte-Centroamericana y del Caribe de Futbol has never had much respect from the rest of the world, which can point to the region’s thin World Cup record: the USA’s semifinal adventure at the very first cup in 1930, then three quarterfinal appearances by Mexico and one by the Americans since. At South Africa, Mexico, Honduras and the U.S. combined to win two games, lose five and tie four, with the Mexicans and Americans tumbling in the round of 16.
The victories by Costa Rica and Mexico may not mean much at a time when the combined FIFA rankings of CONCACAF’s four current World Cup finalists is a ponderous 94, but it’s temporary progress for a region still in search of a World Cup group seeding that doesn’t come by way of being a host (Mexico ’70 and ’86, USA ’94).
Comment II: Earlier in the day, Colombia, a dark horse favorite, pounded Greece, 3-0, in Belo Horizonte. The Group “C” game was played at breakneck speed, but it ended without incident.
That bodes well for the referee, Mark Geiger of New Jersey, who was assisted by linesman and fellow countryman Sean Hurd. With a dreadful penalty-kick call by Yuichi Nishimura of Japan in the Brazil-Croatia match and two Mexican goals erroneously called offside by Wilmar Roldan of Colombia the next day, another solid performance by Geiger could get him into the middle for the knockout rounds–a first for an American referee.
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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