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Lost in translation October 30, 2013

Posted by michaeltomlinson in The World Cup.
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This is possibly the most awkward youtube video i’ve ever seen.. The premise is basically…. “Don’t have sex with our children.” While I understand this is a legitimate problem in the country that is set to host the World Cup next year, the execution was well, somewhat poor. Also why is Frank Lampard there?

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.

Even Ottoman geography doesn’t make sense of Capello’s five-Turk claim December 30, 2011

Posted by Alex Tomchak Scott in English soccer, German soccer, The World Cup.
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Fabio Capello’s recent tirade about “player threft” is so surreally bizarre it’s difficult to know where even to begin with it.

Capello apparently said regarding the last World Cup, “Germany had five of Turkish origin who opted to represent them and we all know what happened.”

That’s not true. Germany had only two, Serdar Tasci and Mesut Ozil, at the last World Cup. The Soccernet article quoting Capello makes the very gentle assumption that, when Capello said “Germany,” what he meant was “Germany and Switzerland,” meaning that the three Swiss players of Turkish origin could be counted as well.

It’s bizarre enough that Capello can’t keep the distinction between Central European countries clear in his head. Did he even know what players Germany was fielding against him in the World Cup round of 16? Which five did he think were Turkish, or did he assume he was facing the combined national team of Germany and Switzerland? Is he using a bizarre, outdated definition of “Turkish”? If we define Turkey as “the former Ottoman Empire,” we can squeeze in only two more “players of Turkish origin” (Sami Khedira and Marko Marin).

Half Volley eleven of the year: Goalkeeper December 29, 2011

Posted by Alex Tomchak Scott in American Samoa soccer, International soccer, The World Cup.
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For finally getting the joy he deserved after a decade of the kind of psychological trauma most footballers will never know, for defeating his demons, Nicky Salapu is our goalkeeper of the year.

Photo credit: Next Goal Wins

Ten years ago, Nicky Salapu suffered perhaps the biggest disgrace ever handed out on a soccer field. He was in goal for American Samoa as Australia thrashed the Pacific Island nation dishing out the most lopsided defeat in the history of international soccer, 31-0 during the qualifying tournament for the 2002 World Cup.

That defeat certainly wasn’t Salapu’s fault. A passport dispute meant that American Samoa was forced to field its youth team, since Salapu was the only member of the seniors with proper documentation. At just 21, the keeper was thrust into the role of captain. He played behind a suicidal 3-3-4 formation and pulled off nearly a dozen saves, some of them spectacular, to keep the score down, relatively speaking.

But the game made international headlines and, fairly or not, Salapu’s name became synonymous with it. Caption writers lampooned him, despite his monumental performance.

It wrecked Salapu psychologically. It was a turning point in his life.

“This guy’s got major demons going on,” American Samoa coach Thomas Rongen told the BBC this year. “Totally driven by the 31-nothing, erasing this for himself, for his family. Every time you talk to him that back comes up, to a point where he’s so preoccupied and almost crazed about that. He gets confronted in Seattle (where Salapu now lives), when he talks about American Samoa, and he gets, ‘Oh, are you the guy that gave up 31 goals?’ There’s some incredible scars.”

News outlets reported that the keeper was in tears after the match. Salapu told the Guardian’s Rob Bagchi that he drank to ease the pain for a while. He scored goals ritually against an unmanned Australia team in a PlayStation video game to purge the ill-feeling.

“My teammates were celebrating,” he told the BBC. “I was like, this is the worst thing ever.”

A lesser man would have let the result destroy him. The disgrace was so intense that Salapu intimated to the BBC that his son had even been teased about the result against Australia. Salapu had a stint in Austrian soccer, but he’s an amateur. He has a day job at a Seattle supermarket.

Travelling to the South Pacific to play must be an inconvenience, for a man trying to hold down a job and raise a family. And Salapu’s only reward for a decade of dedication and sacrifice to the team was more pain. The team lost every game it played without scoring once. Salapu conceded more than 200 goals. By November of this year, American Samoa was the bottom-ranked team in the world.

Salapu was determined to keep fighting. This year he finally purged his ghosts. Dutch coach Rongen came in for American Samoa, changed the team’s mentality, and brought in new training methods. In this year’s World Cup qualifiers, the American Samoa team beat Tonga 2-1. It was the first goal and win ever for the team in an official game.

Ten years after the Australian disgrace, American Samoa’s soccer team made worldwide headlines, this time for the right reasons. The same media outlets that had gotten cheap laughs at Salapu’s expense in 2001 were cheering for his team in 2011. Indeed, for a week, the whole world was behind American Samoa.

Unfortunately, it didn’t last. The team needed a win from its final game in the qualifying tournament against its neighbor Samoa to advance it to the next round and keep its hopes of making the 2014 World Cup alive. It held out for 90 minutes, with Salapu putting in an octopus-like performance to keep the team in the game against a Samoa team that dominated the game, before finally conceding in stoppage time. American Samoa was eliminated.

After the whistle, Rongen’s players cried openly. But unlike Salapu’s tears ten years before, these were not tears of utter helplessness. There was disappointment, but between sobs the players also spoke of pride. Nobody was happier than Salapu.

“I feel like I’m just released from prison,” he told the BBC after the Tonga game.

All of the coaches shortlisted by the South Korean Football Association would be poor choices. December 20, 2011

Posted by Alex Tomchak Scott in International soccer, South Korean soccer.
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Here are the six candidates shortlisted to be manager of South Korea and reasons why each one would be a horrible choice.

Marco van Basten: More like Marco van Bastard.

Steve Bruce: He is not very good. Seriously, what does he know about a.) tactics or b.) anything else? The only explanation is that Sunderland striker Ji Dongwon is the one doing the nominating, with the sub-explanation that Ji Dongwon must be incredibly stupid because he couldn’t get a game under Bruce, despite the fact that his competition came from the patron saint of self-destructiveness, narcissism and not scoring goals (sometimes described as Nicklas Bendtner, sometimes described as a disappointment) and Jane Austen character Mr. Wickham.

Sven Goran  Eriksson: I can only assume that Sven Goran Eriksson is interested in this job for two reasons. First, he assumes the Korean FA is full of unfeasibly libidinous secretaries. Second, and far more importantly, he will be offered a ridiculous amount of money.

Senol Gunes: When he managed in the Korean league he did not win anything. The managers that did win the league there are probably better than him. They are also Koreans who would probably be happy to manage their national team.

Guus Hiddink: His major accomplishments as Korea manager were sorting out the dressing room dynamic that prevented Korean players from bonding as a team, making them the fittest side at the 2002 World Cup, and getting several suspiciously favorable refereeing decisions. He’s done all he can do. South Korea can’t squeeze anything fresh out of the man, except a tarnished reputation if he goes back.

Luiz Felipe Scolari: Builds his teams around Catholic prayers. The majority of South Korea’s players are not Catholic.

Also, am I the only one who thinks somebody here is entitled to feel left-out? We’ve got the managers of three 2002 World Cup semifinalists, but we’re missing one. Why the slight to Rudi Voller, Korean FA?

The upcoming World Club Cups will be in Morocco. December 19, 2011

Posted by Alex Tomchak Scott in International soccer, Moroccan soccer.
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Note: a previous version of this post stated that the next World Club Cup will be in Morocco. That is incorrect. That tournament will be held in Japan.

Fifa seemingly announced today that the 2013 and 2014 World Club Cups will take place in Morocco. I’m in favor.

The conventional take:

This is a good thing because this is an event that has heretofore only taken place in Asia. Good that it should leave that continent. It doesn’t make money anyway, so why not move it around.

My egostistical take:

If I was to make one change to FIFA, it would be the outlawing of games I personally want to watch at 2:30 a.m. Pacific time. That’s when I had to wake up to see this most recent World Club Cup final. Prime time in Morocco is far more manageable for me. (also, it probably stands a chance of increasing interest in Europe. Probably good for the tournament, but I don’t give a good goddamn about that. Why did I even bring it up.)

Who Is Tim Matavž, and Why Does He Hate Freedom? November 15, 2011

Posted by michaeltomlinson in International soccer, U.S. soccer.
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With a most glorious two goal lead at half time the United States of America, freedom and gastric bypass looked to roll past Italy’s eastern neighbor and footy juggernaut, Slovenia. Comfortably embracing a 3-1 spot at the end of 45 minutes, stars and stripes were all smiles. Just to clarify I don’t like alliteration, that was an accident, forgive me. Someone who shan’t be forgiven is Mr. Matavž and his flamboyant display of rich talent and total disregard for America’s well being.  As if the soccer rich country of a bustling 2.1 million needed anymore help on the pitch, Matavž tried his best to keep our righteous brothers from the best country on earth from what was rightfully their own, a win. With his tricky footwork and top class positioning, Matavž exploited America’s most abundant natural resource, boundlessly slow center backs.


Modern Fascist headdress

Sure Slovenia suffers from a large degree of crippling poverty and corruption but who are they, and who is Matavž to try to ruin our dreams on this day. I’m sure the 10’s of hundreds of people watching it on ESPN, like Alexi Lalas were thinking, why am I such an entitled ginger dickhead and who are these Yugoslavian fools trying to beat us at our arguably 4th most heralded sport. I’m not sure if we can prosecute Slovenian’s living in Slovenia who have never been to the States for Treason, but seriously looking into it is on my immediate agenda. Oh America ended up winning 3-2, but that isn’t the point, what is he trying to prove with a chefs hat and gloves on? Is this some sort of fascist attempt to recruit food service employees for a full on revolution? Probably.

Why is the German league messing around with the offside rule? October 20, 2011

Posted by Alex Tomchak Scott in German soccer, International soccer.
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ESPN’s Uli Hesse wrote Tuesday about recent problems interpreting the offside rule in the Bundesliga.

“The German FA’s referees had visited the clubs before the season to inform players and coaches that passive offside would be penalised much more often in the future,” Hesse wrote. “This new directive was the result of a seminar held in May, known as the FIFA Referee Assistance Program, meant to make this particular refereeing decision less of a judgment call.”


The modern offside rule, Jonathan Wilson has written, is a “work of genius.” All of a sudden, passing, possession, technique and, in short, all the things considered beautiful in the sport, have replaced physicality as the dominant mode of modern soccer. Soccer is better now because of the liberalization of the offside law. That is to say, this has pretty much been the only thing FIFA has gotten right this century. And now FIFA is trying to undermine it. Insane.

Hypocrisy probably at hand for Paul Doyle over Cox-Henry comparisons October 12, 2011

Posted by Alex Tomchak Scott in European soccer, International soccer.
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Paul Doyle’s column in today’s Guardian attempts to make a case that we are wrong to compare Simon Cox’s handball for Ireland against Armenia on Tuesday to Theirry Henry’s handball for France against Ireland two years ago. He doesn’t succeed.

There are two fundamental distinctions for Doyle: One, that Cox’s handball was unintentional. Two, that Cox’s “heart and mind were in the right place.”

The first count is inane. For one thing, Doyle says the ball “may have grazed (Cox’s) upper arm as well as his chest,” when it’s clear that the ball in fact touched Cox’s forearm. He appears to me, from the video of the incident, to have extended his arm to settle it.

Doyle seems to know an awful lot about what’s going on in players’ heads. He calls Roman Berezovsky, the Armenian goalkeeper sent off in the wake of the incident, as “sinister bungler” and “crazed and pernicious.” At one point, he compares Berezovsky’s challenge to attempted murder — ‘Intent matters,” he says. “If you make to shoot someone, your panicked would-be victim is fully entitled to punch you in the face even if your trigger jams. Berezovsky had to go.”

Pretty overblown metaphor, but let’s pretend we accept its terms for a moment. And if you discharge a bullet with fully benign intentions and it happens to strike someone, I’m pretty sure your unintended victim should also feel entitled to seek retribution. Intent matters, sure, but it’s not the only variable.

And we should also call into question Doyle’s contention that Cox’s intentions were “in the right place.” In a post-game interview, Cox said: “It brushed my arm, but … To be fair, I didn’t think it hit the keeper’s arm, you know, out of the box. But I just had to appeal with everybody else, and, you know, we got it and, you know, they were a bit unlucky.”

So his “heart and mind were in the right place” even though he a.) knew he used his arm, b.) knew the keeper didn’t, and c.) still plead with the referee to make the wrong decision. Sounds like the wrong place to me, but that seems to be a detail Paul Doyle has conveniently disregarded.

In the wake of the Ireland incident, Ireland coach Giovanni Trapattoni said, “All European people saw the situation. I am sure that, if the referee had asked Henry, he would have admitted to the handball.”

So in terms of character, Cox is actually behind Henry, since even someone wronged by Henry’s infraction admits he is honorable enough to have at least done something if called upon, whereas Cox did the reverse.

The headline to Doyle’s column proclaims “hypocrisy not at hand,” but in Doyle’s case, it definitely is.

Chicharito’s likelier to have learned about bicycle kicks from Hugo Sanchez than from Rooney October 12, 2011

Posted by Alex Tomchak Scott in International soccer, Soccer in the Americas.
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Mexican striker Hugo Sanchez is often erroneously credited with inventing the bicycle kick.

Yahoo blogger Ryan Bailey suggests Chicharito Hernandez learned to perform the bicycle kick from teammate Wayne Rooney, who scored from one against Liverpool last season.

But Hernandez has a countryman so closely associated with the move that people often mistakenly claim he invented it: the great Real Madrid striker Hugo Sanchez. In fact, below is an example of his work from a game against Athletic Bilbao that is almost identical to Hernandez’s top-corner effort in the video Bailey is blogging about: