Howard Webb Was Not Good Enough

Disclaimer: I hate Howard Webb. All Spurs fans do. When Webb officiates a Spurs game, often against one of the big four, the big calls always go against Tottenham. Harry Redknapp himself said “I never seem to get a decision out of Howard Webb.” Now it might be that Webb hates Spurs, but it also might be (and this is my Howard Webb theory – that he tends to err or lean towards the more favored teams.

Now both teams after the final can complain about fouls/cards not given, as both teams did vehemently after the game. They were right to. But in the end I think the Dutch got the worst of it and feel right to be aggrieved. Webb overall did nothing to distinguish himself, got some very big calls wrong, and on those big calls, as my Spurs experience attests, they went to the team that was favored.
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Spain’s negative tactics and broing soccer killed the World Cup

That was miserable. It is remarkable what Vicente del Bosque has done to an awesome collection of skilled players.

Spain's negativity killed the World Cup

Spain’s most potent attacking play is a corner kick. Spain’s negativity is entirely elective – with that array of attacking skill they could overwhelm teams. But they choose to destroy the game by clogging  the middle of the field and keep possession without trying to score goals until the defense made a mistake. Only it hardly ever happend. The result was a dire final unworthy of Spanish and Dutch tradition. Italy and France, yest. Spain and the Netherlands, no.

Spain are very skilled. So what. They won their last four games 1-0.  They scored only 8 goals in the seven games of the tournament, eerily reminiscent of the 7 goals Greece scored to win Euro 2004 in six games.  The Americans scored 5 (really 7) in just four games and just one of the US games had more chances and excitement than all of Spain’s combined. You don’t believe me? The Guardian’s Richard Williams, who said, “Holland and Spain’s anti-football let Europe down.” Continue reading

FIFA to change officiating: Two refs is the best answer

Soccer should follow hockey and go to two refs

This World Cup has been plagued by poor officiating. From the mystery foul that ruled out a perfectly good Maurice Edu winner against Slovenia, or Frank Lampard’s goal that wasn’t against Germany, or Carlos Tevez’s offside goal to open the scoring against Mexico, referees have been at the center of attention too often and for the wrong reasons. FIFA seemed embarrassed by the number and shocking nature of the mistakes, and now it looks like refereeing changes are coming. Goal line technology and two end line officals are the most commonly discussed options, but both of those would only solve one problem – goal decisions. If changes are going to be made, FIFA should address officiating throughout the game, and two on field referees will improve goal line decisions but also make the entire game easier to officiate.

Human error is part of the game for officials too. One line of argument goes that controversial calls actually help the game as it elevates interest and media attention. That, frankly, is crap. Of all the major team sports, soccer is by far the most difficult in which to score, just one moment can turn a game. The stakes are magnified exponentially when they come in a tournament as important to players and fans as the World Cup that only happens once every four years. Who knows what would have happened in the second half of England v Germany if the score was tied 2-2, but it certainly could have been a much different game.

Despite earlier comments from FIFA President Sepp Blatter that no changes were coming, FIFA General Secretary Jermone Valke told the BBC Thursday that this “is the final World Cup with the current refereeing system.” Continue reading

Don’t Underestimate The Dutch

From absorbing the press hype prior to the World Cup final it would seem that either Spain has already won or that the Dutch are one of the weakest teams to make the final. If Spain are over looking the Dutch they are making a huge mistake. The Dutch have won every game they have played in the tournament and have often done so through grit, determination, and at times individual brilliance. Spain have not played a better side this in tournament.

In a previous post I slagged off Spain – in a slightly over the top and provocative way – for boring stifling play – ie they use possession to stifle not to open up their opponents and create chances. Whether one loves or hates Spain’s style, I think it is worth noting that they have been playing on a bit of a knifes edge throughout the tournament and the bounces have largely gone their way. Against Germany, Ramos could have been called for a penalty for clipping Ozil’s heels in the box. Against Paraguay they could have easily fallen behind both on a correct, but marginal, offside decision and as a result of a penalty that was saved. Roque Santa Cruz also nearly equalized at the death. And against Portugal, while Spain again dominated possession, Portugal created some dangerous chances on the break and looked a bit vulnerable during Portugal’s late flourish. This is not to say that Spain didn’t “deserve” to win each of these games – but winning by such small margins (no team has scored fewer goals and gotten to the World Cup final) is always a dangerous way of winning.
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Spain Play Ugly And Boring – Stifle Germany’s Beautiful Football

Spain are now getting heaped with praise because they won. But I figured I would be a little bit like a Spaniard, and complain about how they won. I am ready to be called a Philistine – but I hate watching this Spanish team and found myself desperately rooting for Germany just so I wouldn’t have to watch the Spaniards play again.

Let’s be clear – Spain didn’t win because their possession after much futility finally unlocked the German defense. There was no beautiful moment. No, instead there was a committed, yet unmarked, defender scoring off a free header on a corner kick. How very German of them.

See, as a general fan of the Premier League, I have in the past been annoyed by the Spanish press and its football aficionados who complain that English teams (or those managed by Jose Morinho) don’t let Barca “play” their beautiful game. But what Spain have showed thus far in this tournament is anything but beautiful. I hate to say it, but Spain play boring uneventful soccer. Spain make it look like the objective of the game is to simply have more possession than the other team. They create few chances and play at a slow, er NBA, like pace. They bore the opponent into submission. They are the reincarnation of the famous Simpson’s take on soccer.

Spain have dominated possession in every game they have played and yet create shockingly few chances. Gary Lineker’s famous saying about football being played by 22 men running around a pitch and in the end the Germans win 1-0, could just as easily apply to Spain. The point here is that in many ways Spain are not dissimilar to the 2004 Greece team that won the European Championships or the classic organized and defensive German teams that won by sucking the life out of games and winning 1-0 on a free kick.
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Spain v Germany: Loew’s tactics against Spain’s skill

Joachim Loew has transformed Germany into potent attacking force

This is one for both the purists and the neutrals. Spain are the best team in the world at passing, possession, and controlling the ball. Germany are the best team in the world at counter-attacking with pace and efficiency, seeming to control the game without dominating possession. German coach Joachim Loew has displayed a master-class of tactical soccer while Spain’s Vicente del Bosque has struggled to get the most out of his unholy wealth of talent. Its the third straight match-up for Germany against a squad that seems to be less than the sum of its parts, but the one key difference is that Spain’s midfield strength and creativity will deny the Germans easy turnovers and transition opportunities. As much as it pains me to see German Chancellor Angela Merkel giggling in the stands, I hope Loew’s transformation of Germany into a flowing attacking force is rewarded with a spot in the finals.

Spain’s five attacking players are the envy of the world – Xavi, Iniesta, Xabi Alonso, David Villa, and Fernando Torres. Its hard to imagine a country for which any of those individual players would not start. Their technical ability and precision passing is second to none – as a team, their pass completion rate is 80%, the best in the tournament (USA was at 67%) – and Spain holds the ball for nearly 60% of the game. But they have struggled to turn those passes into goals, scoring only six in five matches. Continue reading

US Players that increased their stock

As the World Cup is slowly coming to an end, the summer transfer season is about to pick up. In past World Cups for the US, MLS based players gained significant attention and used the tournament to initiate moves to Europe. In 2002, Brian McBride and Damarcus Beasley and in 2006 Clint Dempsey drew Fulham’s eye. This time around it is a bit different situation.

With just three unknown MLS players (Robbie Findley, Edson Buddle, and Jonathan Bornstein) on the US squad and none of whom particularly impressed, it seems unlikely that these players did enough to attract European attention. Yet this does not mean that this summer’s transfer season will be uneventful. While 19 of the 23 US players on the squad play in Europe, only one – Oguchi Onyewu with AC Milan – plays for a big champions league club (although one could say Maurice Edu and Beasley with Glasgow Rangers qualify, since Rangers is in the Champions League). It is a sign of significant progress to have 19 players on the squad playing abroad, especially since just 12 played abroad in 06 and 02. However, the next step and what should be an objective for US soccer for 2014 is to get more players playing on big clubs against even better competition.

After this World Cup some US players significantly increased their stock, and may be able to make upward moves.
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Maradona Sceptics Vindicated – As Germany Becomes The Team To Beat

Argentina had become the darlings of the tournament. But their march through the tournament, while done in style, in retrospect failed to provide the sort of defensive and organizational test that Argentina would confront against the Germans. In the end, coaching and tactics matter. Germany had a great coah – one that was able to get his young team to play exciting organized attacking soccer as a unit. Argentina had a poor coach – one that was outdone tactically and that placed the hopes of a country on the brilliance of his individual players, instead of on the team as a unit.

Maradona tactically got it all wrong. He had put out a team built to dominate a lesser side. Playing a 4-3-3, Argentina essentially had one player in the center of the midfield – Liverpool’s Javier Maschereno. Maschereno is one of the best defensive midfielders in the game, but he is not a distributive creative central midfield player. He is the guy who plays alongside that player and wins back the ball so his team continue their attacking work. Yet Maradona had him essentially playing on his own in the central role. He was outmanned 3-1. The Germans played a 4-2-3-1 – with the impressive Schweinsteiger playing alongside another deep lying player and Mehmet Ozil roaming further up field behind Klose. Ozil in the end had a quiet game, not because he played badly, but because he became redundant, as the Germans simply marched through the central midfield in loads of space playing in wider players Podolski and Muller through. Germany’s midfield dominance was so great in the first half that they could have gone in 2 or 3 up.
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Brazil Collapses From Its Own Petulance

Brazil looked like the favorites to win the tournament, but they didn’t look like champions. Champions rally. Champions keep their composure. Champions score when they are on top. Brazil crumbled to pieces. It looked like a team that felt it was entitled to glory and looked ill-equipped to deal with adversity. Brazil had no team USA spirit. They weren’t fighters, they were performers, and when the show went bad, they pouted.

One would have thought that the Dutch would have had to play their best to Brazil. They didn’t. Poor defending in the first half gifted Brazil an early goal. Holland pushed a bit in the second half and one felt more attacking changes were imminent with Elia, Huntelaar, and Van Der Vaart. But in the end the Dutch didn’t have to make the changes. An own goal and a well worked corner by the Dutch put Brazil behind. It was fortunate, but Brazil never put the game away and one felt the Dutch also had goals in them. But when Brazil went behind – even when they went level they seemed to crumble.
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Jozy Is The Future

There has been a lot of talk about how no US strikers have scored in the last two World Cups. This is an uncomfortable stat and is a fairly solid thing to point to for why the US isn’t in the tournament. Strikers have to score and Altidore’s failure to do so is worth pointing out. But we shouldn’t go over board.

Jozy it seems to me is being treated as if he is a veteran in his prime, with the same expectations of a Donovan or a Dempsey. He is 20 years old. Repeat that. And then repeat that again.

Yes he didn’t score, but in my mind he had a very strong World Cup. he played the target role brilliantly, he scared the crap out of defenses and as a result opened up space for others to come in behind. He drew fouls, created chances, and ran at defenders. He hit the post against England, set up Bradley’s equalizer against Slovenia, and put the ball in to the box for the winning goal against Algeria. Against Ghana the importance of Altidore was evident when he was taken off before extra time. Without Jozy the US lost one of their main focal points in attack and his absence allowed the Ghanaians to focus more on Dempsey and Donovan.

It seems to have been forgotten that target strikers are often late bloomers. No one heard of Didier Drogba until he was about 25. Brian McBride didn’t settle into the premier league until his 30s. Jozy, while not scoring many goals at Hull City this year, started more games at striker than anyone else on the club and he did so as a lonely isolated holding player, where chances were few and far between. I heard some Englishmen remark that they had seen Jozy play and weren’t all that impressed – his touch would elude him, he would drift in and out of games, make the wrong run at times, or try to do too much on his own. But most of these commentators had no idea that Jozy is 20 years old. If Jozy were English, he would be hyped to be the next savior of England and would have a hugely expensive price tag. Think I am over doing it? Crap, marginal players English players like David Bentley even cost 20 million dollars!
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