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Wednesday, January 18, 2006

World Cup Outsiders 2 - USA

Like the Ukraine who I profiled a few days ago, the United States are definite underdogs at Germany 2006. Americans don't like being underdogs. They like to compete and better yet, they like to win.

Unfortunately, this time around they have found themselves in a group containing Italy and the Czech Republic. And - unlike the 2002 World Cup Finals - no one will be taking them lightly this time.

Nevertheless, I still believe it is just possible for them to get through the group stages. As I said, Americans like to win and it looks likely that the core of their World Cup squad will be the same set of players who were at Korea 2002 - Brian McBride, Landon Donovan, Claudio Reyna. Similarly, tough talking manager Bruce Arena is still in place and knows what it takes to turn his players into a team. So they have the experience.

In my opinion, the USA squad is more talented this time round and with some of their best players now having experience in the top European leagues, they are better placed to compete this time round than in 2002.

Of course, it will need one or both of Italy or Czech Republic to slip up for the USA to progress to the next round, but this is soccer and it's very possible that a 'surprise' USA victory in their opening match against the Czechs could set them up for a good run in the tournament. We shall see.

posted by mark_s at 11:44 AM 1 comments

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Iceland vs Trinidad...It Ends in '..Land' , You See

I blogged a week or two ago about England choosing their friendlies based on the the similarity between the names of the teams they are playing in the World Cup and the names of the teams they've chosen for the friendlies. That post is here.

It seems that Trinidad and Tobago are doing the same thing. They are in England's group, so obviously they need to play a team whose name ends in ''. In my original post, I had suggested Holland, but they've very wisely ignored me and decided to play Iceland instead.

The match takes place at Loftus Road (home of QPR) in February and is sure to be well supported by the massive Icelandic community in West London. More info on
QPR's official site here (registration required !)

I'm sincerely hoping that more teams pick their warm up matches on this basis and am particularly looking foward to seeing who Serbia and Montenegro find to play.

posted by mark_s at 11:05 AM 2 comments

Monday, January 16, 2006

World Cup Soccer Goes Nuclear

If Iran weren't finding their World Cup Final preparations difficult enough already (no one wants to play friendlies against them), now there are calls for Iran to be excluded from football's biggest competition altogether.

Why ? What have Iran done to invoke the wrath of Sepp Blatter and FIFA ? Um, well, nothing. But the Iranian leader Mahmoud Ahmadinejad wants to continue with their nuclear programme and isn't afraid to say so. This and some of his more fundamentalist speeches have angered and concerned many Western countries. As a consequence, a bunch of minor league European politicians are calling for
Iran to be thrown out of the World Cup.

As reported in
Deutsche Welle, Angelika Beer, a European Green parliamentarian, said that a country with such a president "has no business at the World Cup." Similarly unimportant politicians desperately trying to make a name for themselves from other countries have made similar statements.

I don't want to get into the rights and wrongs of what Mahmoud is doing but I will say this. Iran have every right to be at the World Cup. They qualified - they should be there. Surely, this kind of sanction would impact only ordinary Iranian people not to mention the millions more around the world who want to see a fair World Cup Finals that is about football. Not politics.

Luckily, FIFA agrees with me. FIFA spokesman John Schumacher is quoted on BBC radio as saying "Fifa is a sporting organization and not a political one."

The World Cup should be a celebration of soccer, not a political tool. It's good to know that FIFA are unlikely to back down on this.

posted by mark_s at 3:13 PM 0 comments

Svennis The Menace and Other Stories

Well, if you're British, you can't fail to have noticed the fuss surrounding yesterday's News of The World story about Sven Goran Eriksson's meeting with an undercover reporter. The reporter - Mazher Mahmood -was posing as an Arab Sheik . Mr Mahmood seems to have something of a Sheik fetish, considering how frequently this particular reporter dons this disguise.

And what was the outcome of this meeting ? What shocking revelations did Mr Mahmood uncover ? Um...well, he found out that Sven likes vintage wine and Dom Perignon champagne. So do I but I'm not splashed all over the cover of the News of the World.

He also found out - and I know this will shock you as much as it did me - that Sven is looking for another job after the World Cup and rates himself very highly as a manager. No, surely not ? How could he be so calculating as to open himself up to other football opportunities while still England manager.

And there's more...having downed a few bottles of wine and champagne, Sven Eriksson was a little bit indiscreet about some of his players. Outrage ! A guy has a few drinks and his tongue loosens. Horror ! Hold the front page.

And what were these revelations. Well, apparently Ryan Giggs would have preferred to play for England than Wales. Really ? I am surprised.

David Beckham wants to come back to England after three trophy-less years playing football for Madrid. No ! You don't say ?

Michael Owen isn't entirely happy playing at Newcastle but the money was too good to turn down. Unbelievable ? A footballer putting money before pride. Who would have thought it ?

Seriously though, this whole story is a bit of non-event. Sven should have been more discreet, sure, but this is a lot of fuss about nothing. The only shocking thing about it is that
Max Clifford has come out in support of Eriksson. Now that really is shocking.

posted by mark_s at 10:57 AM 1 comments