Group C. American Revolution?

•May 21, 2010 • Leave a Comment
Algeria
England
Slovenia
United States

This is only Algeria’s third trip in history to the World Cup, having never made it past the group stage. Their greatest (only 1 of 2 overall) win was against West Germany in 1982, and they will yet again be another team of homegrown players that lack European experience. A positive for the team, however, is that they led their group in qualifying, defeating the likes of Senegal and Liberia. This team lacks any real start talent, and I am quite sure they will be at the bottom of this group.

Ahhh, England. Get ready for the long haul, for this is one of the teams I’ll be supporting (after USA, of course) and could see making it to the finals or semis at least. England has been a mixture of unlucky, stupid, and naive in the last few World Cups, and has only won the trophy once, in 1966 when they were the host nation. Simon Kuper and Stefan Szymanski, in their book Soccernomics attribute it to various reasons, some having to do with numbers as well as a certain arrogance at claiming to be the home of the game. One main problem is sort of an ironic one–there is not a single player on the England squad that plays outside of England. Yes, the English Premier League is one of, if not the best, league in the world. Many of their players have experience playing against the myriad of foreigners in England that will be in South Africa, but the only experience English players have against the style of play that many other countries will bring to the table is that of the Champions’ League. This will be England’s only saving grace–that players like Wayne Rooney, Steven Gerrard, Rio Ferdinand, John Terry, and Ashley Cole have played in the Champions’ League since they started at their clubs. Rooney, Gerrard, Ferdinand and other Man United and Liverpool players have won the Champions’ League as well. This kind of experience makes up for the apparent xenophobia apparent in the England roster. But I digress, how will England do in the group stage? Will they progress even further? I definitely believe so; the only real test England has in the group will be the USA, though I’ll admit Slovenia will be a tough nut to crack but England can do it. (I’ll touch on the US v England match later) In the goal we have a couple world class keepers in Joe Hart (has won multiple awards for his amazing goalkeeping at Birmingham this year) as well as experience (lots and lots) with David James. I’d honestly pick Hart first, for he is young and could prove to be England’s savior. Next, defenders–this is an area that has been a pain in the arse for Fabio Capello in the past months. Injuries to John Terry, Rio Ferdinand, Ledley King, and Ashley Cole have wrought the brains of the manager as well as the rest of England. Capello begged Jamie Carragher (Liverpool player, ‘retired’ from international football in 2007 over a fallout with then-manager Steve McLaren) to come back, which he did, in order to be used as cover at right-back for Liverpool right-back Glen Johnson as well as centre back cover if needed. The midfield is also an interesting issue for Capello–England has some of the best midfielders in the world, but how do you choose who and where? In my opinion the best thing England can do is go with a 4-4-2 diamond (two wingers, one attacking mid, one holding/defensive mid), especially against stronger opposition. If Gareth Barry is fit, he would be the most obvious choice for that holding mid position, but if he isn’t able to play and England needs this anchor man position, Capello must turn to Tom Huddlestone or Michael Carrick, but it could also be the ever-useful James Milner, whose versatility I admire just as Capello does. I’d prefer Milner on a wing, but he has the tackling ability and passing vision to play in the anchor man role if needed. Now as far as the two wingers go, I think they need to be playing far outside, hugging the touchline so as to stretch out play. Frank Lampard or Steven Gerrard could play on either side, but I’d prefer Frank on the right, with either Aaron Lennon, James Milner, Theo Walcott, or Adam Johnson on the left. (though I suppose those could be switched) I think that any of these young talents has the speed to rip through defenses and cross inside. Lampard has great all-over skill and is perfect for overlapping and cutting inside from the wing. Next, the top of the diamond. I admit I’m a little biased in that Steven Gerrard is my favorite player and I consider him to be the absolute best around. He has an amazing shot, great speed, and the creative vision to know what to do and when to do it on the attack. Some say it should be a 4-4-1-1 with Stevie being the deeply withdrawn striker, but I disagree in that another striker should be in this position so that Stevie can feed the ball to him or play a quick 1-2. Ahhh, the striker debate. Wayne Rooney is obviously England’s main striker and will, other than weak group matches (cough Algeria, cough) he will be playing furthest forward, ready to do whatever is necessary to score. Now for his striker partner…I’m gonna go with Peter Crouch or Emile Heskey starting, in order to bring down high balls or crosses to feed to Rooney (or score themselves, Crouchy is on terrific form at present), but in games where goals have not been easily scored, Jermain Defoe should either come in as a substitute or start alongside Rooney. He may be short, but he has great finishing ability and seems to work fairly well with Rooney in that Rooney will be the target man of sorts that must fight defenses on his own, with Defoe playing ‘off the shoulder’ in order to poach loose balls or finish off a pass from Rooney.

Next, Slovenia. Another snoozeville team that has players playing all around the world–in second divisions and places like Belgium. This team simply has no terrific talents, and despite a well-fought playoff win against Russia, this team seems to always be hanging by a thread. I only see Slovenia beating Algeria, with draws even seeming unlikely against England or the US.

Finally, the great US of A. The main reason I’m extremely excited about the World Cup, to see my country play with the big boys that I watch day in and day out in England, Spain, Italy. I first want to recognize Charlie Davies, who was in horrific car crash only a few months ago and was told he would definitely not be at the World Cup, much less be able to train. But, he has healed tremendously and has been training for a couple months now, after having so many surgeries to places all over his body. He’s been nicknamed the Terminator, and would have been a great talisman for the US in South Africa. However, his damned club, Sochaux FC in France, is supposedly not allowing him to leave because he had barely played for Sochaux after arriving and they want to be sure they have their money’s worth. It pains me deeply to not see him this summer, he would have been stupendous to have on the squad. Ok, enough sorrow. The United States has one of the best goalkeepers in the English Premier League, top 10 in all of Europe–Tim Howard, of Everton FC. (yeah, yeah, I know. he’s a bluenose) Tim is a very commanding keeper, and has experience against some of the best strikers at the World Cup, such as Drogba, Torres, and Rooney. On defense the US has solid back-four options, though they are admittedly far from the best in the world. Oguchi Onyewu, who recently renewed his AC Milan contract to play for an entire year for free to make up his injury-prone past year, is a solid rock at centre back and has the strength to outmuscle even the biggest strikers. The other constant for the US defense is captain Carlos Bocanegra–this guy is an excellent defender, available to play as a full-back or centre back and is an inspiring presence on the field as well. As quick and pacey as Jonathan Spector (swooping in the cross that Dempsey headed in to score against Brazil last year), the US’ now-likely-to-start right-back, who play for West Ham in England, is easily outstripped by wingers and strikers, and will have to improve his pace if he’s going to stop the likes of Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard, or James Milner. For midfield, the USA has a few options for some of the positions, with Sasha Kljestan, Stu Holden, Michael Bradley and DeMarcus Beasley all being solid at most positions. The two midfielders that will truly make the difference in the United States’ matches are Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey. Dempsey has made a huge name for himself at Fulham in England, and all the doubters of Landon Donovan (myself included) were proved wrong when he went on loan to Everton earlier this year and was an absolute nightmare to every defense he played against. These two both have speed, accuracy, and skill to make any position, from left wing to striker even, their own. Finally, strikers. Charlie aside, the US only has one truly solid striker in Jozy Altidore, who had an unfortunately less-than-amazing season on loan at Hull City (which was relegated) in England. Nevertheless, Jozy is a stronger, quick, and intelligent attacker that will likely start every game for the US. Possibly one of the better ways to play with Jozy is to have, say Landon Donovan, playing a withdrawn striker role so that he can burst into the box and play a 1-2 or something with Jozy, as long as there is adequate midfield cover behind him. Depending on the game, I think the US is likely to play a narrow midfield that allows the fullbacks to attack up the flanks to give depth, for the US needs to congest the midfield as much as possible if they want to work the ball forward. The one truly good thing about the US midfield is that they communicate well and many of the experienced players do well with Bradley’s tactics.

Wow, that was long winded, I apologize. If you read all of that, I admire you deeply.

Most interesting match: US v England, the match of the tournament for me. I’m going to be in Orlando and have already started researching a pub I can go to to watch this match. My country against some of my favorite players as well as a team and country that I’ve sort of adopted through my consumption of British media. This match will be hard fought, with the midfield battle raging constantly. I don’t imagine Jozy and/or his striker partner to have a lot of service. In fact, I expect something of a 4-2-3-1 or strict 4-5-1 from Bob Bradley in order to counter Rooney’s speed and the English midfield’s skill and passing ability. Unfortunately, I peg this as a 2-1 to England. Rooney and either Gerrard or Lampard score and Clint Dempsey or Landon Donovan managing to strip England’s wishy washy fullbacks.

Most goals: Wayne Rooney- 2

Predictions:

1. England – 9 points
2. USA – 6 points
3. Slovenia – 3 points
4. Algeria – 0 points

Group B. Slightly, but only slightly, predictable.

•May 20, 2010 • Leave a Comment

Argentina
Greece
Nigeria
South Korea

This is one group that will probably be one of the least exciting to watch, unless passion and drive prove to help the minnows overcome the sharks.

Argentina. Probably one of the most recognizable soccer countries in South America, much less the world. They’ve progressed to the quarters and semis many times and even won the tournament twice (under dubious circumstances in 1978, mind you). Within this team is a cornucopia of talent that isn’t really matched anywhere else. Lionel Messi is the greatest player in the world right now, and as he is only 22 he can only get better. I think he will become the greatest player in history, edging out his manager Maradona and possibly even Pele. But he isn’t the only valuable player in this Argentina squad. Gonzalo Higuain was one of the most prolific goalscorers in Spain this year, as well as Carlos Tevez and Sergio Aguero racking up goals and assists for their clubs. A midfield that includes highly experienced Juan Veron and the Liverpool duo of Maxi Rodriguez and Javier Mascherano provides intense passing and tackling ability with the potential to start great attacks from midfield. Defenders like Gabriel Heinze, Walter Samuel, and Martin Demichelis have a great ability to read the game, and the latter two will be playing against each other this weekend in the Champion’s League final. This squad obviously has a ton of talent, but a few omissions have to be recognized–Esteban Cambiasso and Javier Zanetti especially. These guys are some of Argentina’s greatest assets and have proven themselves over and over–they’re also playing in the Champions’ League final this weekend for Internazionale, to not include their skill and experience could be one of Maradona’s downfalls. All this to say that Argentina has loads of talent and experience, but their one greatest weakness that saw them barely qualify for South Africa could be their downfall–Diego Maradona. Still known as one of the greatest players in history, Maradona is also a former (some say still is) drug addict and certifiably insane (in my opinion). His managerial experience is small, to say the least, but Argentina’s deification of him allow the normally crazy South Americans to support him even in his craziest decisions. Argentina could easily win the whole Cup if they had the right manager–thing is, they don’t.

–this is why many people hate Maradona–> http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DbbsytHDp2o to this he responded that the goal was ‘a little with the head of Maradona, a little with the hand of God’

Greece, unlikely winners of the European Championship in 2004, suffer from a similar problem that other small countries have–not enough players playing abroad. Fortunately for them, they still have a good number of talented players playing home and abroad. Experienced Liverpool defender Sotirios Kyrgiakos has a very acute tactical awareness as well as the height and strength to outmuscle even the strongest of strikers. The other key man for Greece is Theofanis Gekas, a favorite of mine in Football Manager (video game), this striker has experience and finishing ability rivaling many of the world’s greatest strikers. But, with experience comes a slowing of pace, which Gekas occasionally has problems with. If Greece are to do well in this group it’s going to come down to unbreakable defending and a lightning counterattack. Unfortunately for them, the other members of Group B are extremely quick and will make counterattacking hard, but if Greece does it right they can expose the weaknesses that teams like Argentina will have left open, not expecting Greece to exploit them.

Next up, Nigeria. Probably the second greatest African team in the World Cup, after Ivory Coast. One positive thing about African football is that, because the domestic leagues are poorly run and just generally in disarray, African players often end up playing abroad. Nigeria has players everywhere from Everton, Fulham, and Chelsea in England to Sochaux and Marseilles in France. The players that will make the difference here are John Obi Mikel (despite his lack of playing time at Chelsea, his has loads of quality), Joseph Yobo, Obafemi Martins, and if he can stay under control–Dickson Etuhu. Taking maximum points in their group from teams such as hosts South Africa, and they have the talent to hold Argentina to a draw–provided they can mark Messi, Aguero, and Tevez without any relenting. One slip and Messi will be flying into the penalty area with the ball at his feet. I expect Nigeria to go farther than ever before, assuming they get a fairly easy knockout round opponent.

South Korea, though a burgeoning talent, is still fairly susceptible to the attacking power and solid defenses of the three other group teams. Ji-Sung Park is their main superstar and likely to be their only goalscorer. He is fairly consistent for Manchester United, but one solid player will not win games. As I’ve mentioned before and will mention again, this country doesn’t have enough players playing in Europe and will therefore not have the experience needed against hardened Premier League, etc., players. I predict 2 losses and MAYBE a draw with Greece.

Most interesting match: Argentina v Nigeria–only if Nigeria locks down their defense will they even have a chance at winning this one. I could feasibly see a draw, for Nigeria plays a slow, calculated game that could easily stop Argentina but also slow their own attack. This match will likely end either 1-0 to either or 0-0.

Most goals: Lionel Messi. There’s a reason he scored 4 goals against Arsenal.

Predictions:

1. Argentina- 7 pts
2. Nigeria- 5 pts
3. Greece- 1
4. S Korea- 1

Group A, far from boring

•May 19, 2010 • Leave a Comment

France
Mexico
South Africa
Uruguay

The first of my World Cup group series is obviously Group A. This is actually a very interesting group to keep track of, and I am extremely intrigued to see who makes it through to the knockout stage. I’ll give a little background on each squad and then what my predictions are.

First we’ve got France. One of the names synonymous with international football, and in recent years, the World Cup. Most of us, even non soccer fans, remember Zinedine Zidane’s headbutt in the 2006 World Cup final that could easily be seen as the deciding factor in France’s loss during the penalty shootout. (Zidane was one of the world’s best penalty takers, and his red card put him out of being able to take a kick) France also won the 1998 World Cup, the aforementioned Zidane scoring 2 goals in their 3-0 destruction of giants Brazil. As far as 2010, France still has a very strong squad but their villainy (yet again, it seems), this time due to Thierry Henry’s handball that allowed France to squeak through the continental playoff, as well as glaring omissions, could set France back this summer.

If anything is going to be France’s greatest downfall, however, it’s going to be manager Raymond Domenech. Reviled by all of France, this man seems to be taking France on a crash course into South Africa. The main omissions from the prelim squad are Karim Benzema (Real Madrid, Striker) and Patrick Vieira (Manchester City, Defensive Midfielder), Benzema being a very promising young talent that was bought by Real Madrid in their second galacticos (superstars) era. In my opinion, he’s much better than Djibril Cisse, who is a waste of space. However, France has some amazing players that could make the difference in South Africa. Franck Ribery, whose pace and touch are second to none in the world as a left winger, can destroy defenders without a second thought. Next, Yoann Gourcuff, probably one of the best player in France right now, has a beautiful shot and genius passing ability that could contribute greatly to France’s run. Other key players are Nicolas Anelka, as well as the numerous defenders that France has playing all over the world–Bacary Sagna, Eric Abidal, William Gallas, Patrice Evra. Don’t expect a lot of goals to be scored against France with a back four like that. France’s main problem will be creativity; Domenech’s tactics are way too creative to allow his main creative players like Ribery, Gourcuff, Florent Malouda, the space and options to build beautiful attacks. Because of his insecurity and fear, Domenech plays with two defensive mids very often, in a 4-2-3-1 situation, which puts too few players upfield to attack with. This limits the play of the wingers and stifles service to Anelka or Henry up front.

Alright, now we have Mexico. Another team that suffers from what America has in the past as well as what many pundits (Simon Kuper one of them) say is England’s problem–they don’t have enough players playing abroad. Exactly half of Mexico’s provisional squad currently plays in Mexico, limiting their ability to play players of a high caliber in European leagues that they’ll be facing at the World Cup. Many of the players that do play in Europe either play in places like the Netherlands or Turkey. Key players are Carlos Vela, who plays for Arsenal in England, and Rafael Marquez who is making a name for himself at Barcelona. One exception to the abroad rule is likely Cuauhtemoc Blanco, a playmaker who has been a pain in CONCACAF teams’ side for years. He may be getting old, but he still has brilliant vision and skill that will provide creativity and international experience to his team.

South Africa. Bafana bafana. It’s unfortunate, but this side would probably not have made it to the World Cup if it weren’t for the mere fact that they are the hosts. Don’t get me wrong, they have some strong players, including Steven Pienaar (strong player for the blue team from Liverpool, Everton) as well as aging striker Benni McCarthy who still plays well for West Ham United in England. The sad truth is yet again that this squad has mostly little to no experience on the level of the World Cup, and two somewhat above-average players can’t stand up to the likes of France and even Mexico. I sadly predict that, without some crazy luck or home advantage, South Africa will lose every group game. The only chance they have is to draw with maybe Mexico or Uruguay if they can successfully ‘park the bus’ while being cheered on by their home fans. Unfortunately I fear their defense isn’t even strong enough to hold up against an onslaught of attack from any of the other four teams in the group.

Finally, we have Uruguay. A historical powerhouse that has won two World Cups, albeit the last one was 60 years ago. This was one of the first powerful footballing countries in South America, bringing the continent to prominence that has been carried over by Brazil and Argentina in years since. Uruguay had a tough qualification for this World Cup, finishing in 5th place, leaving them to play off with CONCACAF for the final spot from both Americas. Nevertheless, Uruguay has a fairly strong squad, with their only superstar being Diego Forlan, currently with Atletico Madrid and one of the most prolific strikers in Europe over the past couple years. His partnership with Ajax’s Luis Suarez has proved valuable in qualification, and could be the turning point in how this group pans out. The rest of the squad, while lacking in superstars, still holds a sea of talented players from clubs literally all over Europe. This will most likely be the turning point for their ability to pip Mexico especially out of the group.

Some pundits have quoted that Uruguay will be leading this group, mainly because of the aforementioned dynamic duo of Forlan and Suarez. However, my only way of seeing this is if Domenech completely mishandles France tactically. This is obviously a distinct possibility, and unfortunately for Domenech the France v Uruguay game is going to be the most interesting game of the group and one of the most interesting from the whole group stage. What Domenech will likely do is play too defensively, and I can see why. He will want to have 2 holding midfielders to help counter the strikers, but that is a little too foolhardy in my opinion. One holding midfielder, Jeremy Toulalan or Lassana Diarra are best, should be playing in the middle zone from the penalty spot to the halfway line, marking Forlan as best he can, he’ll be playing the farthest forward. Whichever side Suarez plays on should be covered by one of the French centre backs, Gallas or Abidal maybe, with the other centre back covering the middle for wingers cutting inside. This way France has three midfielders in attack mode (though Gourcuff has the speed and tackling ability to play defensively on whichever side is weakest) and two strikers (I vote Anelka with Henry playing deep) ready to attack with shape and strength.

My predictions:

1. France- 7
2. Uruguay- 6
3. Mexico- 4
4. South Africa- 0

Most exciting match: France v Uruguay (predicted score: 2-1)
Most goals: Diego Forlan- 3

Also see: http://soccernet.espn.go.com/world-cup/story/_/page/worldcup101-03262010/ce/us/best-striker-duos?cc=5901&ver=us

A few notes on positions.

•May 18, 2010 • Leave a Comment

I had a realization last night, that most of you will have no idea what I’m referring to when I say things like ‘striker’ or ‘full-back’, so I thought it’d be a good idea to brief you on the different positions in a soccer game, just to help you out.

**Note, a set piece is a corner kick (when the ball is put behind the opposing goal and is taken from the corner flag), free kick (given for a foul, direct [can be shot on goal] or indirect [must touch another player before it can score a goal]), throw-in (when the ball goes out of play), or penalty kick (shot taken by one player at the penalty spot, with only the keeper in front of him, given for a foul in the penalty area).

First off, the goalkeeper. Seems pretty obvious, I suppose. The goalkeeper, also referred to as the goalie or the keeper, is one of the most important positions on the pitch and there aren’t many that are considered legendary.

Next, we have defenders. The most common types of defenders we see in the modern games are centre backs and fullbacks. The centre back is the stalwart of any team’s defense, his job is to mark the opposing strikers, clear the ball from the penalty area, and do as much as possible to stop the other team from even having a shot on goal. He rarely ventures out of his own half other than to participate in corners or free kicks (centre backs require more height than other positions, so they can be called on to get a header in off a set piece), though sometimes in the hour of need a centre back will push forward and start an attack.

The other major type of defender is the fullback. Where the centre back stays in the middle (center) of the penalty area, the fullbacks (occasionally called wingbacks, which is not particularly correct) are on each side of the penalty area. They often mark opposing wingers and midfielders when on defense, but they often start attacks by flying up the wings with the ball, freeing the midfielders to push up and spread play out a bit. Fullbacks require defensive tenacity as well as speed and ball skills to start attacks.

Now for midfielders. The basic midfielder is going to be one who spends a lot of time running up and down the field, pushing up to attack and dropping back to defend. This is especially true of your box-to-box midfielders such as Xabi Alonso or Michael Ballack (who, sadly, won’t be a the World Cup). However, the modern game has split the midfielder in half so that the box-to-box type player isn’t used nearly as often. Players like Xavi, however, have really changed this into a whole new position where they kind of however in an even smaller area than box-to-box, putting in killer passes that split defenses and provide strikers with that perfect set-up.

The closest thing to that is the winger: the winger makes runs up and down the wing in order to either cut in and shoot/pass or stay outside and cross (passing the ball, usually in the air, to a player in the penalty box to shoot) but the winger also tracks back to try and put in a tackle to begin an attack in his own half. Many times in the modern game the winger will be put on only attacking duty, which is why Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo are some of the most prolific goalscorers in the world–they play on the wing but rarely come back into their own half.

The real split in midfielders in the modern game of football is that of attacking midfielders and defensive midfielders. The attacking midfielder will generally stay right behind the strikers (see below) and is generally a very creative player (meaning he has the technique and awareness to begin an attack) that knows where to be at all times. He will sometimes track back to defend, but usually only in dire situations or set pieces. Players like Steven Gerrard, Kaka, and Andres Iniesta really have this power to surge forward launch a long shot into goal or spearhead an attack with his strikers flanking him.

The defensive midfielder is the typical ‘hard’ (read: bad-ass) man that puts in the bone-crunching tackles on the strikers and attacking midfielders as soon as they even think about attacking the goal. These players also need to have very good passing ability, for they often form a kind of ‘anchor man’ role that forces them into knowing how to string the passes from the defenders to the wings or the more forward players. The perfect defensive mid should be able to tackle away the ball in his own half and then spray it downfield to spark a counter-attack. Players like Javier Mascherano and Gareth Barry are typical defensive midfielders.

Finally, there are strikers. The goalscorers. There isn’t a better way to explain them than that they score goals. However, there are different types of strikers. Since I’m keeping this basic I’ll just describe certain characteristics of a striker and how certain abilities put players into different categories. The idea of a target man is very popular with lower level squads and teams without a large amount of skill–its the concept of firing long balls to the other end of the field to this target man, a player who is both tall and strong that can bring the ball down out of the air and hopefully turn and either shoot or hold the ball up to pass it to his teammates rushing down the field. Not to say this is a bad strategy or that the best teams in the world don’t occasionally employ it, it’s just not the most beautiful of attacking methods.

The true, ideal forward is a very Romantic notion, one that asks a player to be poetic in his movement and brutal in his finishing. The best strikers in the world tend to be strong (to beat defenders for a ball, or make a tackle high up the field), fast (to race past defenders to the goal), have incredible ball control skills, have a certain creative flair (to put off the defenders and goalkeeper), and have a very intricate tactical awareness. The striker needs to be able to know when to make his run to beat the offside flag (the farthest attacker must be behind the farthest defender [not including goalkeeper]) as well as know when it’s best to hold up the ball and pass or when to run towards goal with the ball. The best strikers in the world, such as Fernando Torres (my favorite), Wayne Rooney, and Didier Drogba all possess these qualities.

There are other types of strikers- the deep-lying second striker (links the midfield with the lone striker), the poacher (waits for a loose ball to rocket in to goal), the trequartista (‘spearhead’ that is always waiting as far up the field as possible to spearhead an attack), and finally what I call the ‘Emile Heskey’ striker (one that serves to only knock down the ball for his strike partner).

This is far from comprehensive in describing all of the available positions in a football match, but I hope it at least helps in your understanding of how the game works and that you know a little more about what player does what and why.

What is the World Cup? What is association football?

•May 17, 2010 • Leave a Comment

The FIFA World Cup is an international association football tournament held every 4 years, except for 1942 and 1946 because of World War II.

FIFA stands for Fédération Internationale de Football Association, French for International Federation of Association Football. It’s headquarters are in Zurich, Switzerland, and the current president is Sepp Blatter (a right bastard if you ask me), who is elected by a congress of representatives from each affiliated member association. These are the AFC (Asia), CAF (Africa), CONCACAF (North and Central America), CONMEBOL (South America), OFC (Oceania), and the powerhouse that is UEFA (Europe).

Games like football have been played for hundreds, probably thousands of years, but the first modernization of Association Football happened in English private schools in the mid-19th century. It may not be wholly accurate, but this is part of why England considers itself the birthplace of the game.

FIFA’s standardized rules are called, as they have been since the beginning, the “Laws of the Game.” I’ll surely be referencing these on multiple occasions, but here is a nice link for any of you to reference. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Laws_of_the_Game_(association_football)

Alright, starts with over 200 teams (this year, 204) that go through qualifying rounds within their home federation, finally ending with 32 teams for what the whole tournament is referred to as The Finals. Different federations get a certain amount of ‘berths’, aka number of teams they can send. This is based on FIFA’s judgment of the quality of each federation’s countries. UEFA, for example sends 13 teams to CONCACAF’s 3. This is good though, imagine great countries like Portugal missing out because all the federations sent an equal number of teams. This ensures that the absolute best countries are sent to the tournament. The way UEFA does it is that the 9 winners of the UEFA Qualifying Group stages are automatically sent (England, for example), and the eight best runners-up will play a two-leg (one home game, one away game) playoff to determine the final 4 spots.
*sidenote, the home nation is always guaranteed a group stage berth, no qualifying is required* Certain problems can arise in this playoff system, most recently seen in France’s dubious win over the Republic of Ireland due to Thierry Henry’s handball that was unseen by the referee.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jxw1-Id91lQ (still gets me going, Ireland is a class squad)

Now, the actual Finals is the tournament that we really care about, the one that matters. The whole idea of “one game changes everything” is deeply rooted in the World Cup’s 80-year history.

There are eight groups with four countries in each; the four teams play each other round-robin style within the group. Finally, the top two teams from each group progress to the knockout stage based on points. Three points for a win, one point for a draw, zero for a loss. If there is a tiebreaker in points, it goes first to goal differential (goals scored-goals against), then to most goals scored, then the head to head result.

The knockout stages seed the winner of each group against the runner-up of another group, thus this is the ’round of 16′ since it basically cuts the teams in half. After this, there are the quarterfinals, semifinals, and obviously, the Final.

All matches from the knockout stages on are not to end in a draw: first there are two periods of 15 minutes for extra time, then finally to a penalty kick shootout. Penalties are the ultimate test of nerve, skill, preparation but also of extreme luck. Many say the penalty shootout is a lottery, and with the best players in the world involved, it often is.

Finally, a few notes on the history of the World Cup.

-Brazil has won the most World Cups, 5 in all, followed by Italy’s 4.
-The Golden Ball is awarded to the tournament’s best player, but the Golden Boot is given to the highest goalscorer. There are various other awards, including the Best Young Player and the Most Entertaining Team.
-Brazil’s Ronaldo is the highest all-time goalscorer with 15 goals in 3 tournaments. (He wanted to try and play in 2010, but he’s too fat)

I want to include much more, but I will have to break these down as much as I can, so as to draw your attention as well as give you the least amount to read at a time. That’s probably what will work the best.

Questions? Comments?

See http://soccernet.espn.go.com/world-cup/ for some great analyses and articles that I will surely be drawing upon throughout this series.

One Game Changes Everything

•May 17, 2010 • Leave a Comment

For the past couple years, as my love of the beautiful sport called association football has grown, I’ve become something of a fanatic. I get up at 6:45 AM on certain Saturdays so that I can catch my beloved Liverpool Football Club playing in the English Premier League. I’ve skipped class on multiple occasions, usually to watch Liverpool but occasionally I will make the effort to watch another big game that might happen to be on at 2:00 (Bayern’s amazing win against Man United this season).

All this love and passion that I’ve developed has, obviously, been geared toward Liverpool and everything the club stands for, but I’d argue that my love of the game has even superseded my club devotion. I’m obsessed with techniques, tactics, transfer gossip, all of it. This has, over the past year or so during qualification (and during the 2009 Confed Cup), started to have another branch called International Football. This, of course, is most obviously manifested in the FIFA World Cup, which is held every four years, this time in South Africa. Lately I’ve been poring over stats, articles, tactical analyses, and so many other things that are getting me extremely excited for the 2010 World Cup.

For multiple reasons, from giving myself a chance to get semi-regularly writing to helping my many heretical friends come over to the side of the beautiful game. Too often am I ridiculed for being a fan of what many consider a non-American sport. This is highly ignorant and a little stupid, and I want all of my friends to be not only convinced that football is the greatest game in the world but that they should find the passion I do to go crazy watching the World Cup this summer.

I’ll end this note here, but I promise there will be more to come. I hope to publish notes on the format, history, and implications of the World Cup, as well as analyses of every single group as well as my predictions and opinions on how things will turn out.

Sorry, one final thing–despite my adoration for many players on teams from all over the world (which will become apparent in future notes), I am wholeheartedly, 100% rooting for the USA for their entire duration of the tournament.

My Current Dream XI

•June 16, 2009 • Leave a Comment

Goalkeeper: Iker Casillas, hands down. Sure, Real hasn’t been the best ever this season, but they could have done a lot worse without someone like Casillas in between the sticks.  His finesse and reflexes mix perfectly with his aggression and ability to read shots.  There’s a reason Spain didn’t let too many by during Euro 2008.

Right-back: Sergio Ramos. Sorry to use another Spaniard so soon, but this guy is top class.  Whether it’s attacking down the wing to support the front or making a last ditch save when the keeper’s come out, this guy could stop a freight train if necessary.

Left-back: Philip Lahm. The Bayern Munich man can hold his own against any attacker in the world, as he’s proven both on the international level with Germany as well as in the Bundesliga and Champions League with Bayern.  His attacks are mind-blowing, and when he has to turn onto the back heel, he can fend off the best of them.

Centre-back: Rio Ferdinand. A choice that I hate to make.  He is a rock on defence, and is hungry to never let anything past him.  He might be a huge douche, but he’s good when it counts.

Centre-back: John Terry. He’s made his mistakes, and I’d probably never let him take a penalty.  But nevertheless, I’d feel safe with him teamed up with Rio just like they are with the England national team. That is a brick wall that could rarely be beaten.

Left-wing: Kaká.  His technical brilliance mixed with his speed and creativity make him a huge threat to any defender.  The fact that he is extremely tame off the field and has no ego about him makes it even better. His shots are deadly as well as his vision of the game.

Right-wing: Lionel Messi. “The new Maradona” is quite possibly the greatest player in the world right now, and the fact that he scored a goal against Manchester United in the Champions League final only proves my point further. He beats nearly every defender he encounters, and every touch he makes on the ball is pure gold.

Deep-lying playmaker/Defensive mid: Cesc Fabregas. Now some would argue this, but I’m quite confident that Cesc would be the best asset in the very center of the field. His ability to read passes and start attacks is genius, and I think he has yet to be at the top of his prime, he can ONLY get better.

Attacking Midfielder: Steven Gerrard. Stevie is definitely in the top 3 players in the world, because his versatility is met by none.  He has amazing vision, passing ability, and his shots go where he wants them to.  He is also hungry for victory and glory no matter the cost, he goes into tackles with no holds barred, because he knows that ball is his and he WILL obtain it.

Striker (Right): Fernando Torres. El Nino, enough said.

Striker (Left): Zlatan Ibrahimovic. This guy has not only the experience and the proof but I believe he is capable of working well with someone like Torres who can work alone or play off another striker.  This striking team would be deadly and strike fear into the hearts of defenders and goalkeepers the world around.

I know that was the Dream XI, but here’s 6 substitutes that I wouldn’t mind having, just in case.

1. Pepe Reina, I would say the second best goalkeeper in the world.

2. Jamie Carragher, another one of my Reds.

3. Glen Johnson. Yet to be proved, but he’s also made the recent move to Anfield.

4. Frank Lampard. In my opinion, a couple notches below Stevie G, and could fill in in case of injury.

5. Andres Iniesta. Quite the beast all over the field, one of the top players out there.

6. Wayne Rooney. A natural finisher that can also play well with a team as well as solo.

 
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