Monday, June 29, 2009

Some conclusions on this Confederations Cup

The Confederations Cup has ended with a great match between Brazil and the surprising US, and I guess it is time for some conclusions:
  • I have to admit that the tournament was not such a bore as I had initially predicted it would be. There were some very dramatic matches, surprises and good goals, promising well for the World Cup. However, I would insist that quality is generally low.
  • Refereeing was good, but still, FIFA refuses to introduce use of visual aids for the matches, something that could surely improve refereeing. In the final, Kaká scored a goal that only TV saw in. A minimum could be the introduction of goal-referees?
  • Spain is not as good as we (or they) thought. Although they are now the most unbeat team in history, they displayed some of their traditional tournament weaknesses in this tournament: not playing to level when it counted against teams they should be far superior to.
  • USA is better than everyone thought, confirming the upward trend of US football over the years. I don't understand why anyone would still underestimate them after a World Cup quarterfinal in 2002!? No matter my personal view on it, the US is a football power, and many new young players will be supplemented by some of the more experienced players that didn't play in this tournament. On Danish TV last night, Ove Christensen said that the US should be considered outsiders for the title next year, and I totally agree.
  • Italy's World Champions had a poor show, and the team needs renewal and spirit. They no longer seem to be up to defend their title next year, and the performances against Egypt and Brazil were simply pathetic.
  • Brazil was outstanding, and it seems that Dunga has managed to incite the ever-talented Brazilians to play as a solid team, confident of their individual abilities and true to their status as the mightiest football nation in the universe.
  • Egypt had charm and good players, but showed poor discipline and no winner mentality like the USA. It is no loss at all that they will not be at the World Cup next year.
  • New Zealand doesn't belong at this level, while Iraq seems on its way up, but won't be at the World Cup anyway.

More specifically in regard to the World Cup:

  • This was a test for South Africa, and they largely passed it, making it to the semifinals, where they played a fine game against Brazil, and an entertaining third-place match against Spain, although this latter match is pretty useless for both. I still believe that South Africa will be the weakest host in the history of World Cup football - they are a rugby nation!
  • The rugby nation status was seen with the state of the pitches, that were generally in a much poorer state than is expected from a World Cup...
  • There was some amusing discussion on the vuvuzela, horns used by South African fans during the matches, that sound like a long mosquito buzz. It certainly sounds horrible, but banning them would be ridiculous, and is outright hipocritical considering the many instruments used in other parts of the world! Of course football fans have the right to make all the noise they want!
  • At least if the vuvuzela can make South Africans more interested in the World Cup... Stadiums were not full, and FIFA had to give away tickets to boost attendance. Well, South Africa is a cricket-nation, so it should not surprise.

So all in all, the tournament turned out better than I had thought. Still, I believe that South Africa was the wrong choice to host the World Cup.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Mighty mighty Brazil

That USA defeated Spain in the semifinal of the Confederations Cup was perhaps the best that could happen, since the USA contributed to a quite exciting final against Brazil, where two outstanding counter-attacks in the first half made them believe that they could actually do it. 2-0 at half-time was probably more than most dared believe!
Still, Brazil has been the best team of this Confederations Cup, and proved beyond doubt that they are still a far better team than the USA. Second half was simply a question of survival for the US, and although one can have sympathy for the US, Brazil was the rightful winner.
But don't worry, I am sure that this is not the last we have seen of this US side!
This Brazil side is excellent, harmonious, and spirited, and should now again stand as favourites to win the world title in South Africa next year.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Underestimating the Gringos

One of the most recurrent things in football is that everybody always seem to underestimate the United States side, leading to way too many surprises. The first such surprise was the legendary victory of the USA in the 1950 World Cup over England, but it has happened in later times as well, such as Colombia-USA in 1994, Argentina-USA in 1995 and Portugal-USA in 2002.
In this years Cofederations Cup in South Africa we have seen the Egyptians underestimate the Gringos, and now even the Spanish European Champions ran into a defensive but spirited and efficient US side in the semifinals, and were defeated 0-2.
The USA are a good side, and they have always been quite good since their return to World Cup football in 1990.
But they should not be that good!

With the USA in the final of the Confederations Cup, the US is now on the verge of a major international triumph on the mens' side, and I think this may be the prelude to something that eventually had to happen: the USA winning the world championship!

Football is the only great global sport that is not driven by US culture and media, but by international passion. The USA is the only country in the world where passion for the beautiful game does not build bridges between people and culture.
The USA may be a great sporting nation, and may become the best footballing nation within a decade, but this will indeed be the saddest thing that could happen to football ever, because the USA is not a footballing nation!
When the USA becomes world champion, I will not watch international football any more, because that will be when the sport will be driven by commercial breaks in both halves; that will be when the teams will be owned by magnates who will move them away from their cities; that will be when victories are not celebrated with dance and parties in the street, but with a boring reception; that will be when we stop calling it the football world cup, but soccer world cup....
In short, it will be when football finally stops being the game of the peoples' of the world, but becomes just another thing among the US global power.

While I think the 11 lads on the US team won a rightful and deserved victory against Spain last night, the rise of USA football will be the demise of football's beauty.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Confederations Cup semifinals

Brazil destroyed Italy's world champions 3-0 last night, and thus prevented us from seeing a dramatic semifinal between the eternal rivals of Italy and Spain. The world champions are out, and the United States surprisingly took the spot in the semifinal against Spain by defeating Egypt 3-0.
Egypt were a huge disappointing after their first two extraordinary matches against Brazil and Italy, and one would have them suspected of falling in the common trap of excited arrogance that often affects small teams that manage to pull off good results against bigger teams, but then flop against smaller ones.
With the two semifinals being Brazil-South Africa and Spain-USA, things should be set for a super final between Spain and Brazil, that would see some of the best players in the world, and surely a prelude to a world cup classic!
That is, if neither Spain or Brazil messes it up, because that would be the only reason that they don't defeat such second-rate teams as South Africa or the USA.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Iraqi football

I just read a very interesting article in the Danish newspaper Weekendavisen, by Asker Hedegaard Boye, on Iraqi football. This is exactly interesting as the Iraqi national team has now been participating in the Confederations Cup in South Africa as Asian champions.
The development of Iraqi football has been quite extraordinary in the face of the problems that the country has faced: in the 1980s Iraq did very well, and even made it to the World Cup in Mexico in 1986, in spite of the abuses by Uday Hussein, the sadistic sports minister. In later years, in spite of the violence under US occupation, Iraqi football has flourished: in 2004 they sensationally made it to the Olympic quarterfinals and then became Asian champions. Its players are surely flourishing, and with the proper talent development we are probably looking at a future football power!

Thursday, June 18, 2009

FIFA prohibits video refereeing

In the match between Brazil and Egypt, an Egyptian player made a save on the line in the last minute of the match. Initially, the referee called a corner, but apparently, after his 4th referee called his attention, called the penalty kick, whereby Brazil won on a goal by Kaká. This was the just thing, and should show that TV images are useful for referees.
However, after protests by Egypt, FIFA has denied that video images of the situation influenced the referee, and has instead stated that all TV screens near the box are to be outlawed in this Confederations Cup.
What a sad day for all football fans, fair football teams, and for all referees who want to be as just as possible...
When something unjust, illegal, and unfar happens, isn't it in the interest of everyone to find out!? And if technology can help to improve this, without interrupting the flow and beauty of the match, shouldn't this be the way to go!?!?
I understand that we shouldn't call TV for every penalty, but this is not necessary - in most matches no situation calls for it, and in a few matches, only one situation does, like the situation was the case in the Brazil-Egypt match, and it didn't interrupt the flow of the game, but gave the match a more fair result!
It is a pity, a shame, that FIFA does not even want to test this. I think it can only be in the interest of FIFA to have as fair a match as possible.
Why not use the opportunities at hand? Why not help the referees to be better? Why not create a more fair game?
It would be for the best of the most beautiful game on the planet. FIFA's apparent intransigence on this is a hindrance to a better game.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Prelude to boredom

The Confederations Cup 2009 in South Africa started yesterday with two matches in group A: South Africa-Iraq and Spain-New Zealand. The most characteristic thing of these two matches was how boring they were, and although there is nothing else to watch, this does not make one feel like watching football!
It is quite notable that the home-side, the cricket-nation of South Africa, cannot even fill their stadium for an important match. Is this really a football nation that will host a world cup!?!? And furthermore, that they proved unable to score against an overly defensive Iraqi side (who is unlikely to qualify for the World Cup), just shows that we are talking second-rate football.
There was not so much second rate about the Spanish European champions against the third-rate New Zealanders. It was barely 17 minutes into the match when Fernando Torres scored a hat-trick, and Spain barely broke a sweat in the rest of the match to win 5-0.
Spain has not lost for 33 matches and is looking very strong, so it is perhaps unfair to compare them to such a country as New Zealand. But truth is that watching these types of matches is as exciting as watching Sdr. Omme's 12-year old girls's side play against FC Barcelona. The difference is simply enormous!
The more interesting matches are only bound the be the ones involving Brazil, Italy and Spain. The rest of the teams in the Confederations Cup are just there as well-paid spectators.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Ronaldo to Real Madrid

The Spanish newspaper Marca, has reported that Manchester United has accepted Real Madrid's offer for Cristiano Ronaldo for the dazzling sum of 94 million Euros. After Kaká was just confirmed a few days ago as well, Florentino Perez has really come in with storm to make true his election commitment to make Real Madrid "galactic" again!

Monday, June 08, 2009

2009 Confederations Cup

It will be a quiet summer with no Euro or World Cup. The only rather meager replacement will be the 2009 Confederations Cup to be held in South Africa as the prelude to next years' World Cup. It is the time for th South Africans to show that they are really up for this, although the World Cup is at a completely different level.
Nevertheless there are some interesting matches in this tournament that has consistently improved since its start as King Fahd Cup in 1992. Most participant countries, notably Spain, are going to South Africa with their strongest team, but also Brazil, Italy, USA and Egypt are showing up with strong teams. Add to this the South African hosts who will want to give their team a good preparation for the World Cup, as well as New Zealand and the 2007 Asian champions, Iraq.
The groups are as follows:

Group A:
  • South Africa
  • Iraq
  • New Zealand
  • Spain

Group B:

  • Brazil
  • Egypt
  • USA
  • Italy

Although not to be very exciting, it will surely be interesting to see some of the teams play.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Going to the World Cup

The weekend has been full of World Cup qualifying action, and we now have some of the first teams who can book their tickets to South Africa: Australia and Japan have won their group 2 of Asia with points against Qatar and Uzbekistan respectively. In UEFA Group 9 the Netherlands 1-2 victory over Iceland means that they are sure to win the group.

In the meantime, other teams took gigantic steps towards South Africa. In group 1 Denmark defeated Sweden, and is now all but certain to be in South Africa. England, under Fabio Capello also looks udefeatable, and took its 6th victory in a row in UEFA group 6.
In the Asian Confederations' Group II, North Corea, who is trailing their southern neighbors in first place, only managed a 0-0 against Iran, and may be looking worried at Saudi Arabia behind them by one point.

In South America the top four teams have taken a solid lead over the fifth team. Brazil took over first place from Paraguay after trashing Uruguay 0-4 in Montevideo, while Paraguay lost at home to Chile. In the meantime, Chile is increasingly looking like a team to watch; with the victory over Paraguay they are solidly on third place, ahead of Maradona's Argentina, who managed a hard-fought and important 1-0 victory over Colombia in Buenos Aires.
The fifth place gives a play-off match against the fourth placed of the CONCACAF region, and is currently held by Uruguay, but closely followed by Venezuela and Ecuador.

In the CONCACAF region Costa Rica and USA (who played last week, with Costa Rica winning 3-1) have taken the lead on first and second place respectively, and seem like the sure teams to make it to South Africa. In the meantime Honduras and El Salvador are fighting for 3rd and 4th places, with Mexico increasingly facing one of its most disappointing qualifications ever after losing to El Salvador 1-2.

The World Cup is underway. Can you feel it?

Saturday, June 06, 2009

Denmark to South Africa

Perhaps it is a bit premature and too optimistic for the carefully cautious Danish mentality, but I can simply not see it go wrong: Denmark will qualify for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa! After winning 1-0 against Sweden in Stockholm tonight, Denmark has cemented its lead in Group 1 with 16 points ahead of Hungary, Portugal and Sweden. There are four matches left, three of which are at home in Copenhagen, so it all seems set for the Danes. I have a difficult time seeing how it could go wrong, even more as I consider that the other teams will be taking points away from one another as they fight for the spoils.

The match between Sweden and Denmark was not particularly good. The Danes were better organised and intelligent than a Swedish side that really proved inefficient, showing why they have have such a poor score in the qualification so far. Sweden is a team that needs renewal, and it does not seem readily available; as they are now, they belong at the bottom of European football. Denmark was nevertheless lucky today (with Thomas Sørensen saving a penalty and Thomas Kahlenberg's goal coming after a grave defensive mistake), and one could argue that they have been lucky in the qualification so far, in particular following the win against Portugal in Lisbon.
But this is to simplify the truth: Morten Olsen has skillfully created a solid team that takes advantage of the other teams' weaknesses and gets the best out of players that are otherwise no super-stars. That is a true achievements, and I am certain that Denmark will be one of the teams to avoid in the South African World Cup: they do not look overly scary with only limited stars, but can defeat anyone if the opponent makes a mistake (surely something the Swedes were formerly known for).
That is not luck, but it is skill.
Denmark will surely be in South Africa next year, and I am looking forward to it!

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Real Madrid's renewal

In an attempt to be the best team in the galaxy yet again, Florentino Perez has again become president of Real Madrid and has initiated sweeping changes already. New coach for the team is the renowned Chilean Manuel Pellegrini who has been Villarreal coach with great success, leading the Valencians to two Champions League semifinals. Without hesitation he has already said that Real Madrid must win by playing entertaining football and aim at winning the Treble, just like FC Barcelona has just done.

At the same time, the rumours have greatly intensified about possible players: AC Milans' Kaká is to be announced as Real Madrid player next week, while Cristiano Ronaldo has again been linked to the club. At the same time Valencia's David Villa and David Silva are both being coveted by the Madridistas.

It will surely be interesting what the result of these major changes will be; but truth is that for a club with Real Madrids' ambition it is not satisfactory to have a season as this, and even less so when their main rivals from Barcelona have won it all!

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Motivational video

Apparently Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola motivated his players in the CL final against Manchester United by showing them a video comparing it to the movie gladiator. The movie is now on YouTube:
It may be a strange way to motivate football players, but hey, these players are all from a generation that has grown up with Hollywood blockbusters, so I am sure that Mr. Guardiola is on to something after seeing them destroy Manchester United in the final.
At least I must admit that after watching it, I have been feeling like going out to play a CL final!

Monday, June 01, 2009

Scandalous Brøndby

In the last few games of the Danish season Brøndby has managed to throw all away and end the season an appalling way. It all started to go wrong when they were destroyed 0-4 by FC Copenhagen in the match that in reality decided the title. But even after the debacle in Copenhagen, Brøndby should have managed to remain in second position ahead of Odense B. However, yesterday, Brøndby lost 2-4 at home to FC Midtjylland, and were surpassed by OB, who won well-deserved silver medals.
Brøndby on the other hand ended as a pathetic team whose season will be sadly remembered for hooliganism and players that were simply not up to the challenge when it was called for. In any other club with great ambitions such a horrible season would be a wake-up call for drastic changes, but I am afraid that Brøndby's leadership is not up to it, since the leadership itself is one of the problems. Brøndby is still led by Per Bjerregaard, the emperor of Brøndby, who quietly pulls all the strings of the club - did so succesfully for some years, but the last few meager seasons for a club of great ambitions should call for a new leadership, who will look into some of the deeper problems of the club.
Firstly, they need to have a serious discussion with the coach, Kent Nielsen. I would often be the first to argue that the coach should be the first to be fired, but the problem is that except for Lars Olsen from OB (who will be unlikely to leave OB for now), I see no alternative to Kent Nielsen. Also, although I feel that he has been too careful and unable to motivate the players, I am not sure whether the problem is Kent Nielsen, or the lack of players. No matter what, Kent Nielsen will have to reconsider his style and approach entering next season, or Brøndby will seriously have to start looking for a new coach.
The second aspect that needs to be looked at are the players. Some are simply not up to this level, most notably the strikers: Morten Duncan and Ousman Jallow are simply not good enough and should go. In midfield there should also be a major resturcturing: Michael Krohn-Dehli may have been one of Brøndby's best players, but truth is that he is a player who only performs when it goes well, and is unable to lift a team. Samuel Holmén should also be taken out, while they need to look for a strong midfielder with good technique, and with strong leadership skills. Finally, a they need a more wide selection of defenders: the only one with any quality is Max von Schleebrügge, and guys like Mikkel Bischoff and Daniel Wass are simply not good enough for this level.
The final aspect that I hope Brøndby looks at in detail next season is the small group of very bad fans that again and again have behaved violently wherever Brøndby plays. The club leadership apparently keeps believing that this has nothing to do with the club, and does not seem eager to want to register and ban people from its games. The club leadership should be much more resolute in tackling this issue if they are not to be seen as accomplices to the violence.
It has been a depressing season yet again for any Brøndby fan, and I hope that next season the club will start showing again what it is all about: Brøndby the best!