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Surprisingly, Libya lacked purpose and Equatorial Guinea had it in spades. January 21, 2012

Posted by Alex Tomchak Scott in Africa Cup of Nations, African soccer, Equatoguinean soccer, Libyan soccer.
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Walid El Khatrouchi (in white) was Libya's most dangerous player. Photo credit: MTNfootball

The great deal written in the British media about Libya’s qualification for the African Nations Cup suggested that the Desert Knights would be a team with real inspiration. Libya is like a new country now, and in the players’ minds, we were told, that meant they had everything to prove both on behalf of themselves and their countrymen.

But Libya did not play like a team that had a burning purpose. Indeed, the contrast with Equatorial Guinea, their opponent in the tournament opener, was stark. Marcos Paqueta has been Libya’s coach for a long time, while Gilson Paulo has been in charge of Equatorial Guinea for a matter of weeks. It was Gilson, however, who seemed to have a clear grasp of his players’ strengths and weaknesses and how best to exploit them.

Strategically, Equatorial Guinea resembled North Korea at the last World Cup, with a reliance on packing men behind the ball and breaking quickly to exploit the speed, technique and finishing ability of the front two. Tactically, the hosts were very sophisticated for a team thrown together in such a short time. They focused on keeping two spare men at the back when Libya had the ball and responded well to what passed for Libya’s shape, with left wingback Randy exploiting right-back Abdulaziz Belrrish’s weakness on high balls and playmaker Ivan Bolado taking advantage of the space left by the ill-discipline of Djamal Mahamat.

Libya was tactically a mess. Where it was clear Equatorial Guinea was playing 3-4-1-2, it was impossible to say what Libya’s formation was. There were definitely four at the back and Ahmed Al Zuway was a lone forward, but none of the players in between had a clear role. They all seemed to get sucked into the center, making it easy for the Equatorial Guineans’ back three to cope with them.

The system didn’t play to the Libyans’ strengths. Zuway is clearly slow and ponderous, but in the first half, he kept trying to turn and run at the Equatorial Guinea defense, losing the ball every time. Even in the second half, though, he was at a clear disadvantage, since he was outnumbered three to one.

Belrrish looked overmatched against Randy no matter what he did, even missing simple headers, but when he tried to break forward, he made matters worse, since his runs were bad and left the defense at Randy’s mercy. And there didn’t seem to be anyone covering him, Mahamat, nominally a defensive midfielder, kept charging forward too.

Libya’s only bright spot was attacking midfielder Walid El Khatrouchi. The Al-Ittihad player actually took up arms against Muammar Gahdaffi, so it’s no surprise he was the single most determined man on the field, but he also seemed to be the most consistently inventive. His runs were good and he was full of improvised flicks and dribbles. When he went off, Libya’s hopes left with him.

There are mitigating factors. The crowd was definitely a big part of Equatorial Guinea’s performance and the noise from the supporters may have cowed Libya. It’s also possible that the weight of representing what feels like a whole new nation was too much for the Libyans. In any case, they’ve got a lot of improving to do.

Milijas wasted on Wolves. January 21, 2012

Posted by Alex Tomchak Scott in English soccer.
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Photo credit: Richard Heathcote/Getty.

Nenad Milijas is wasted on Wolves. What’s the point of having an elegant deep-lying playmaker if you’re going to spend 90 minutes bypassing midfield?

Milijas glides across the turf in a permanent, portable oasis of space. It’s a rare gift that Wolverhampton seems almost contemptuously determined not to exploit. He offers himself up for the simple pass and forms triangles again and again, as if he doesn’t know he is just going to be ignored.

When he plays one of his precise, tempo-setting, play-spreading passes, his teammates look almost offended.

He must realize he doesn’t fit, so why has he been there for three years?

Losing to Aston Villa January 21, 2012

Posted by Alex Tomchak Scott in English soccer.
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Image credit: Skysports

There is great shame in losing to Aston Villa. The current Aston Villa team is the first one I have ever seen trying to clear its lines around the center circle. Villa virulently opposes ambition.

If there’s a reason Alex McLeish’s teams are always relegated, it’s because he preaches complacency. McLeish specializes in creating deserts of character. Don’t think: play within yourself and let the system do its job. Nobody needs to take responsibility. Nobody steps up when the going gets tough.

Shay Given, Richard Dunne and Stiliyan Petrov are all natural leaders. It’s no coincidence their eyes have gone dead. After less than a month, Robbie Keane’s eyes are dead too.

Long time coming, this. January 2, 2012

Posted by Alex Tomchak Scott in All that is good.
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 But of course the big question is: which team has the dishiest manager? My money’s on big Mick … — from the Guardian’s Clockwatch for today’s games