Monday, May 31, 2010

Ballgate 2010!!

Since Adidas released the official world cup ball back in January, the world's top strikers and goalkeepers have been complaining about the aerodynamics of the ball. The most recent criticism had come from Italian striker Giampaolo Pazzini and Brazilian number 1 keeper Julio Cesar, in which the latter called the ball an "utter disgrace" and the former calling it Terrible, and comparing it to the cheap ball you can buy at the supermarket.

Now it is understandable that some players maybe concerned about the ball since may rely on the ball dynamics to either score at stop a shot. However I argue that these are in most cases million dollar players who really should not be that concerned with the design of a ball, and be more concerned on doing what's necessary to help their side win matches.

The funny thing about these complaints is that none of them are new, during the 1998 and 2002 Adidas heard complaints about the match balls in those tournaments. Keepers especially were upset about the fact that the balls we designed to curl at faster and sharper angles, therefore making it impossible for them to stop shots. Some went as far as saying the balls were designed to aid free kick specialists like David Beckham and Zinedine Zidane who were Adidas sponsored players. Of course all these claims were discredited as 1998 & 2002 had one of the lowest goal totals of any recent world cup.

Past players have had to deal with ball improvements at a world cup and it has neither affected their play, or the overall quality of the matches during the world cup. I would also question the mental strength of players who during final preparations would be more worried about a ball to which they have no control over, than getting into the best form of there lives to play in the biggest tournament of their lives.

Frankly the fact that this has become a issues just a few weeks before the world cup is straight balls!

Check out the Adidas Trailer on the ball below:

And here is some critics about the ball-God help us!


Friday, May 28, 2010

Group D preview!

Group D maybe the one of the hardest groups to preview, as every team in this group is capable of making it to the round of 16. The group is headlined by European power Germany who normally are favorites in win every World Cup. The group also houses one of the African pre tournament favorites Ghana, who is coming off the high of winning the World U-20 world cup earlier this year in Egypt. After controversy helped to eliminate the Australia from the 2006 Cup, they are back in this group with alot to prove. However this could end in disaster for them if they are unable to unlock a very stingy back 4 of Serbia.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Got To check out this art work!

So I usually not a massive fan of ESPN's coverage of soccer, although I have to admit it has been getting better over the past 3 years. This year ESPN has the North American rights to show the majority of the games in the U.S (CBC are the rights holders here in Canada). In the build up to June 11th ESPN has released artwork for all 32 countries involved in this year's tournament, like the one for Argentina on the left. I must say that though some are pretty stereotypical, most look pretty good. Let me know what you think of the ads! I've added the link where you can see all 32 of them.

Click here for artwork link.

Can Football bridge the race gap in South Africa?

As we all get prepared for the thrilling games of the 2010 World Cup, one issue that is rumbling below the surface is the one of race relations in the host nation South Africa. Even after the downfall of Apartheid there is a massive divide in the identities and feelings between Blacks and Whites. This is best shown through attendance in the two most popular sports Football and Rugby. While Football has now been integrated and is mainly a "Black sport", Rugby is still a largely White sport and the Springbok (National Rugby team) sign of White Afrikaner nationalism.

As Farouk Chothia's article below states, the 1995 Rugby World Cup was seen as a bridging moment in which hate might have finally been buried. The film Invictus portrays the story, however it does not display the disharmony that took place afterwards in which racism showed it ugly head again. This question now becomes, can the World Cup of Football do what the Rugby one could not? Bring the isolated and divided peoples of South Africa together to support not just Bafana Banfana, but each other.

Click here for Farouk Chothia's article, a must read.


Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Group C Preview!

On the surface this should be one of the easiest groups to handicap. England is coming into the tournament as a favorite to at least reach the semi finals, coming off a strong qualifying campaign. The United States also enters the tournament off another strong CONCACAF qualifying group finishing first. The fortunes of the other two teams was not as smooth, both Algeria and Slovenia had to qualify on the last days via playoffs against Egypt and Russia respectively. However this can be be seen as an ability to perform under pressure, which could hurt the to group front runners if they underestimate their opponents.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

How Football helped to heal Honduras

I'm not an expert on Honduran football, but I just read this interesting article on the BBC site. I highly urge you to read this. It talks about how the national football team qualifying for the World Cup has helped the nation after last year's coup.

Click here for the Article by Paul Fletcher


Friday, May 21, 2010

Champions League Final Preview

The 18th Champions league final will take place from the Estadio Santiago Bernabéu in Madrid, Spain between Italian champions Inter Milan and German champs Bayern Munich. This is an unlikely match up as neither team were expected to make it as far as they have. Both teams stared off slow in the tournament, especially Bayern who were a game away from not even making it out of the group stages.

This game also provides an interesting match up between the managers, José Mourinho and Louis van Gaal. The Latter was the formers mentor during their time at Barcelona when Van Gaal was manager. Their friendship runs deep however and it will be interesting to see how the two teams line up on Saturday. Each of the managers know how each other thinks about the game. They both know each others tactics, as Van Gaal relies on wingers and Mourinho loves to pack the midfield.

Overall the match favours Inter based on the battle of that very same midfield Mourinho loves. The play of Wesley Sneijder, Sulley Muntari and Thiago Motta has been outstanding during the tournament. They can carry the play to the forwards like Samuel Eto'o and Diego Milito. With Sneijder going forward it allows Muntari and Motta to cover any of the possible counter attacking play. It was one of the big reasons they were able to see of Barcelona in the semi finals.

For Bayern, the key will be to hold at the back four and try to counter via the wings. Philipp Lahm, Bastian Schweinsteiger and Arjen Robben will have to play wide in order to create chances for the strikers. Robben in particular has been in white hot form during the tournament. He could be the difference maker in the match as he was during the Quarter final tie against Manchester United. Robben and Schweinsteiger will have to raise their games to another level as influential playmaker Franck Ribéry will be suspended for the final.

My final prediction is that Inter Milan will walk away from Madrid with their first European Cup in 45 years, and will complete a historic Treble for Italy.

Enjoy the match and I'll post after the match.


A blast from the past!

This Nike ad was the predecessor to the new 2010 World Cup ad, is it about Robin Van Persie? take a look and let me know! So from 2008...the original awesome major tournament Nike ad.


Thursday, May 20, 2010

New Awesome Nike World cup video!

Give you and idea of what Wayne Rooney would do if he didn't play football! lol


World Cup previews...Group B

Another day another group, as it's group B's turn. This is one of those tricky groups to handicap as all three teams are capable of moving on to the next round of the tournament. Argentina, Greece, Nigeria and South Korea have all been to the dance before and have Strong experienced teams, who can surprise us with a deep run.

South Korea:
After Co-hosting the 2002 World Cup and making a run into the semis, big things were expected from them. The growing strength of the Korean domestic league plus the spread of Korean players to top leagues in Europe indicated that a balance of power shift might be immanent. However 2006 was a disappointing tournament as they failed to make it out of their group. However they have had a strong qualifying campaign, and were the first nation to qualify for WC 2010. With largely the same group retuning for 2010, the question becomes will they be able to parlay their experience into another deep run?

The squad as a whole is strong going forward, their strength lies in playing a team game in which everyone plays for each other. Captain Park Ji-Sung is the key play maker and most of the offence will run through him. The Manchester United midfielder has gained the trust of Sir Alex to play in big matches and will be a difference maker for the Tigers. Striker Park Chu-Young will have to be a factor upfront for the Republic, the Monaco player has the technical ability to score plenty of goals and set up any of his strike partners.

The one area The Tigers will have to improve on is their tendency to give up late goals.In 2006 they gave up a late goals that cost them a place in the round of 16. This is an area that can be corrected with more experience and mental strength in the back four. The Tigers must over keep out late goals or they may miss out on another strong run.

The 2004 European champions enter this tournament much like they did the 04' tournament, under the radar. After an up and down qualifying campaign which saw them make the World Cup via playoff, will the is Greek team be able to pull of another miracle to make it out of this group stage?

Ok so miracle may be harsh considering a large part of this squad was apart of the Euro winning team 6 years ago. However this may also prove to be an issue as like then, they will struggle to score goals. National team manager Otto Rehhagel has built this squad from the back four out. Meaning they can stop most teams from scoring, but lack the quality to put that all important goal away to win. It's one thing to get away with it during qualifying, but it's near impossible to repeat the feat in the World Cup against so many quality sides.

The key players will be defenders Sotirios Kyrgiakos, Vasilis Torosidis and midfielder and captain Giorgos Karagounis. They will have to organize the team and make sure they play within the Greek system. Theofanis Gekas and Angelos Charisteas will have to bang in the goals for Greece in order for them to have a chance to battle for the second place slot. Both have been big game players for Greece when called upon.

Greece will rely on its veterans to get to the next round, however this may be a hill to large to climb for Hellas.

Like many other teams in this tournament The Super Eagles have a very strong team on paper, but like I said for France in yesterday's post the game is not played on paper and Nigeria is a bit of an unknown product. Yes I know the majority of the starting 11 will stay the same however with new manager Lars Lagerbäck, will the Super Eagles revert to a more defensive style as Lagerbäck likes?

Nigeria has been and African power for years on the world football scene, producing some of the best young talent in the world. The "Flying Eagles" U-20 teams have won 5 African youth championships and placed 2nd in world competitions on 2 occasions. This has greatly benefited the senior squad as these youth players have risen through the ranks to help strengthen the World Cup team. This has also helped the team do well in previous World Cups. However it can be said that for all it success at the youth level the Super Eagles have not been able to replicate this at the highest level.

This has at times been due to a lack of stability at the manager position. This World Cup is no different as the Nigerian Football Association fired former manager long term manager Shaibu Amodu after the African Cup in January. The hiring of Lagerbäck may represent a lack of faith in African born managers during major tournaments.

Key players for Nigeria will be Yakubu Aiyegbeni, Obafemi Martins, Mikel John Obi, Taye Taiwo and Joseph Yobo. Martins and Yakubu will have to be the offensive stars for Nigeria, as they will need to score plenty of goals in order to compete in the group. At the back Taiwo and Yobo will lead a strong arguably the strongest back four in the group, but they will have to stay away from committing silly fouls in order to be effective.

Simply put this is the strongest team in the group. The two time champions are easily the most experienced and, most exciting teams in the tournament. I have very little doubt that this team will qualify for the round of 16. The question will be can they take all 9 points or will it be dragged into a dog fight by the other teams in the group.

The press has tired to jump on the fact that Argentina had a poor qualifying campaign. They have also tried to pin all of this on manager Diego Maradona. However it has to be said that Maradona called up no less than 100 different players to the national team during qualifying. This to some this will look like a manager who has no idea of what is team should look like. However I think it is more of trying to find the right fit for this tournament. Look Maradona for all his faults is not stupid when it comes to football, he knows Argentinian talent and knows how to play this type of tournament. Now that he knows his best 11, you could see this team return to the powerhouse we've come to know over the past 30 years.

The Key players on this squad are Lionel Messi, Carlos Tévez, Javier Mascherano, Ángel Di María and Walter Samuel. Now having the best player on planet earth on your team always helps in Leo Messi, and yes he can turn the balance of a game and indeed a whole tournament; But he will need help from the likes of Tévez, Di Maria, Sergio Agüero and Gonzalo Higuaín to score goals.

Front to back this team is stacked, especially upfront where Argentina could win this tournament alone (Hint, hint). The midfield can both create and defend, an the back four can do the same. I cannot see this team failing to make it out of the group stage in first place.

Overall this group is a race for that second place spot between Nigeria, Greece and South Korea.

Prediction: Argentina wins the group comfortably with...South Korea heading to the second round narrowly beating out Nigeria and Greece for 2nd place.

Coming soon...Group C!

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

A quick mention

On the left of this post you'll see a bunch of Youtube clips featuring Leo Messi, the best player in the world! Let me know how this works for you please. I'm testing this feature out and I want to see if it's any good.


Tuesday, May 18, 2010

World Cup 2010 Group previews: Group A

This will start a very busy period for your intrepid blogger. As we get closer and closer to June 11th and the start of the 2010 World Cup, I'll be bringing you stories and opinions on the teams, players and countries involved in the biggest single sport tournament in the world.

For the next week I'll be previewing all 8 groups and predicting who will be going through to the knockout stages. Today I'll be looking at Group A which features the hosts South Africa, along with France, Mexico and Uruguay.

South Africa:
On June 11th history will be made as South Africa kicks off the 2010 World Cup for the first time on African soil against Mexico. This will no doubt be an extra boost in the South African players as they will want to impress in front of the home crowd. However this maybe a step too far for Bafana Bafana, who are massive underdogs for this tournament.
During the Confederations Cup last summer they struggled to score goals or create opportunities in the midfield. The team will rely heavily on Midfielder Steven Pienaar who will have to create much of the scoring opportunities for the forwards, he will lead a relatively inexperienced midfield against some of the best counterparts in Mexico, Uruguay and France.
At the back captain Aaron Mokoena will have to continue the strong late season form he showed at his club side Portsmouth in order to keep the goals from flooding into the South African net. With the large amount of turnover in personnel at the back, we could see a lot of unorganized defending as the player get use to playing with each other. At the same Confederations Cup, the back four were torn apart due to their inability to stay in line and play the offside trap. This is usually a sign of a lack of experience playing with each other.
As for upfront, the on again off again call up of West Ham forward Benni McCarthy could hinder a side without a true goal poacher. McCarthy could provide that, if he can put aside his sometimes massive ego.
Overall this will be a great experience for Bafana Bafana, however I cannot see this side getting out of the group stages.

For years they have been the dominate side in CONCACAF, almost never missing out on qualifying for the world cup tournament. This includes beating Canada on numerous occasions. Once Mexico begins the tournament however the results become a bit disappointing. For a team that produces great talented footballers it has not reached beyond the round of 16 since 1986, the last time the world cup was on home soil. There is little reason to think they will go any further this time around.
The Key to the Mexico side is a blend of young players making their first World Cup, and experienced players like Rafael Márquez, Israel Castro and Guillermo Franco. They will have to lead the young talented players coming onto the squad, and minimize the mistakes they may make during the opening round.
The key young players on this year's squad will be Giovani dos Santos, Carlos Vela, Guillermo Ochoa and Javier Hernández. These players will have to step up in order for Mexico to make a challenge for a top two finish in the group. Aside from South Africa this will be a close group with each of the three teams being each others equal based on recent form.
Mexico's strength is in it forwards and goalkeeping and both will have to be at their very best to continue its run of four straight round of 16 appearances.

The original masters of the World Cup, the two time winners in 1930 and 1950 are looking regain its stance in this tournament after establishing itself as a South American powerhouse. After an impressive qualifying campaign many have the Olympic Sky Blue as a potential darkhorse team to go far in the tournament. The team itself is strong in all areas, however this team will have to be carried by the the forward duo of Diego Forlán and Luis Suárez. If these two cannot find the back of the net then Uruguay will be in trouble as it is hard to see where else the goals will come from.
The back four is strong on its day but can be prone to mental lapses, and it was these mental lapses that dropped them from 2nd in South American qualifying to 5th and into a sudden death playoff with Costa Rica just to make it in. Overall this will be a squad that will live and die on its forward play. If they can unlock the opponents defence and score goals Uruguay could be looking at a Round of 16 birth, if not it could be a very short tournament for the two time champions.

On paper France is clearly the strongest team in the group, and in most years would be an automatic pick to move on to the knockout stages. Unfortunately for Les Bleus the game is not played on paper. After a mediocre European qualifying campaign which saw them struggle to score goals, they were forced into a playoff with the Republic Of Ireland and got through in very controversial fashion. Thierry Henry's second coming of the "hand of god" goal may have book France's ticket to South Africa but it also highlighted may of the squad's issues.
This squad is blessed with many options in attack, the above mentioned Henry, André-Pierre Gignac, Nicolas Anelka and Franck Ribéry. However this team has struggled to score goals. Many in the world football press have been quick to blame France manager Raymond Domenech's tactics or lack there of, plus his team selections but the problem lies deeper than that. It looks at times that this team does not play for each other and that there maybe a disconnect between the stars on the team. It also shows that the team still misses former captain and legend Zinedine Zidane, as it was he who rallied France to the 2006 World Cup final when the team was in a similar state.
With all that said though this team still has a very strong midfield and back four, which at times has carried the team when they have had issues scoring goals. It would be foolish to rule them out of the tournament given its history, and It would be very much like them to defy the odds and make it back to the final on July 11th.

So my overall verdict on this group is that points will be at a premium and it could be one of the weaker groups to watch. My prediction: France and Mexico make it to the round of 16. Uruguay show well but just miss out, and well it'll be fun to see South Africa play in front of their home crowds but it's three and out for Bafana Bafana.

Next up Group B!


Monday, May 17, 2010

Campeones..Campeones Ole ole ole!

Here are you European league champions for for the 2009/2010 season, and now...on to South Africa!

England: Chelsea
Ended the season with the most goals in league history (103) and we truly a class apart from the rest of the table, Manchester United included although a point was all that separated the two in the final table. Carlo Ancelotti's first season in charge of the blues produced a double as the club won the F.A Cup this past Saturday. As the teams gets older the question is can they take this form into next season?

Spain: Barcelona
Like Chelsea, Barca only ended up winning the title by a few points (Three to be exact)over Real Madrid. However they were head and shoulders above anyone else in the league. They won both legs of the El Classico against Real, plus they ended up with the highest points total in La Liga history. This team also produced the European Golden Boot winner in Leo Messi (47 goals in all competitions), I won't go into massive detail on his brilliance please see previous posts for that. What I will say is this with the core of the club expected back next season it would be foolish to rule out a three peat for the blaugrana.

Italy: Internationale (Inter Milan)
Hard to argue with 4 straight league titles, but that's what this club has done since the 2006 Calciopoli match fixing scandal rocked AC Milan and Juventus. Some continue to hate on their style of play since Jose Mourinho took over at the club two years ago. Yes they play a more organized defensive or ``negative`` type of football. However all this has done is fend off a serious challenge to their domestic run by Roma and in the process beat the above mentioned Barcelona to make the Champions League final this coming Saturday against the next to be mentioned Bayern Munich. Hate it or love it the club could pull off the Triple of League, Domestic Cup (Copa Italia) and European Cup should they win on Saturday.

Germany: Bayern Munich
After to terrible start to the domestic and European campaigns it looked like ``FC Hollywood`` as they are sometimes known were on their way to a record low season. Manager Louis Van Gaal was one loss away from the sack, and it looked like the club may fire sale players and start over again. However one night in Turin changed everything. Soon after their come from behind win against Juventus which placed them in the last 16 of champions league, the club went 21 matches unbeaten in the league and never looked back as they took top spot in the table. They will be looking for their 5th European Cup on Saturday, however they will have to do it without their most influential player a Frank Ribery is out due to suspension.

The above mentioned leagues I watched the most this season, I`ll list the other champions below. However I won`t comment on their seasons as I either did not follow the league as much this year or at all. For that reason it would not be fair for me to critique, however if you are a follower of the league or the team feel free to comment!

France: Olympique de Marseille
Scotland: Glasgow Rangers
Portugal: S.L Benfica
Turkey: Bursaspor
Greece: Panathinaikos

Tune in Friday for a Champions league final report!

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

The Worst kept secret

After almost two years of speculation and on again off again talks, the Montreal Impact were finally announced as the 20th MLS team commencing play in 2012. Now I'm not here to pan the length of time it took for this deal to happen, as a Canadian Soccer fan I'm just excited for the expansion of the game in Canada. With the Vancouver Whitecaps beginning play in MLS next season not only will Canadian teams have a few true rivalries, it will increase the opportunities for home grown players to develop and train at a high level in Canada. Which in turn will help boost the prospects of the national squad.

At the heart of its creation, the over reaching goal of the MLS was to boost the supply of quality trained U.S players for the American national team. If you take the performances of U.S.A soccer over the life span of the MLS (save World Cup 98) the quality of squad has improved dramatically. The U.S national team has qualified for every world cup since MLS kick off in 1996 and are a constant in CONCACAF Gold Cup tournaments. For all the critics of the league and the standard of play, the MLS has provided USA soccer with a strong youth development system, and a way to "blood" them at the pro level.

So what does this mean for Canada? One of my long standing criticisms of Soccer Canada has been it inability to spot out and maintain relationships with its talented youth players. Canada has lost a ton of quality players to other countries at the international level due to the lack of central scouting.

One thing league expansion into Canada will bring is the ability for club sides to find these talents and bring them into their youth academies. This is already happening at Toronto FC. The Vancouver Whitecaps have one of the best and long standing youth set ups in the country, and no doubt Montreal will do the same in order to compete with TFC and the Caps.

This also can help stem the flow of players who are choosing to leave Canada to pursure their football educations overseas. Example Johnthan DeGuzman, younger brother of Canadian international Julian; who left of Holland at age 16 for the Feyenoord youth system and now wishes to play for the Dutch instead of Canada. Jonathan is an exceptional footballer but due to learning most of his skills in Holland, plus the lack of attention paid by Soccer Canada had lead him to feel more Dutch than Canadian. Bringing more professional teams to Canada will allow players like Jonathan to have the option to stay home and apply their skills.

Overall The addition of Montreal to MLS is a positive all around for Canadian soccer, as this could be the catalyst for a soccer explosion in the country.

Monday, May 3, 2010

My moment with the cup

So this one is going to be short and sweet. The picture attached to this post is me (now you know what I look like) and the World Cup trophy last Wednesday night in downtown Toronto. I was already geeked up for the Toronto FC v Montreal Impact match I was going to see with a friend at 8, however I funny thing happened a day earlier. I was watching CBC Newsworld as I always do before heading out to work when a commercial for the World Cup Trophy tour aired, claiming that it was on it way to Toronto that Wednesday. Now I had absolutely no idea there was even a tour going on I scurried to my laptop and started to google as much info as possible. Once I obtained the the info and ticket needed I started to think of this post and sharing the pic with you all....

However this almost didn't happen, as I said earlier I was meeting a friend for the TFC match and we were heading to BMO by 7. The convoluted process of line ups and mandatory staging areas in which Coca Cola (tour sponsors) were trying to sell you on the infallibility of Coke almost cost me my opportunity with the trophy. Although when I got to the stage and saw the trophy I finally understood why so many people turned out and waited in line for just 10 seconds with it. It is SOLID gold and taller than you probably think. Now I have seen the Stanley Cup and the European Cup both of which are up there as my favorite looking trophies, but the WC trophy is simply breathtaking to stare at.

You may not get the grandeur of it though the picture but take it from me, on June 11th everyone will know why it is the most sought after prize in modern sports.