Monday, November 21, 2011

Happy Trails #175-144

Some people sneak peeks at game scores between spreadsheets and meetings, I managed to find a way to sneak peeks at the results from World Cup qualifiers between activities and lessons. Heck, I tried to squeeze score updates into classroom conversation (it helps teaching world literature to kids from diverse backgrounds...all the more reason to say--and hey, since we've read about Sumeria let's check in on how their great, great, great (x10 to the 25th) grand kids are doing in world cup qualifying!).

But for now, let's just satisfy ourselves with digging into the nitty gritty of who fell flat, and why.

175 Where'd you go, Mauritius?
Why They Lost: Generally speaking, not playing the games at all doesn't help your chances. (Though being nicknamed the Dodos, an extinct bird probably didn't help any.) Mauritius became the third team to back out of the competition, due to lack of funds.
Who/What We'll Miss: Cheering for our favorite strikers from Mauritius' Pamplemousse FC (aka Grapefruit FC)

174 Ka Kite, Cook Islands
Why They Lost: They only have 24,000 citizens from which to draw a team (Helena could have a deeper bench)
Who/What We'll Miss: Food Network mistakingly airing games from Oceanic qualifiers.
Diamond Ott at Right

173 Tofa, American Samoa
Why They Lost: Despite having gotten schellacked by an international record score of 31-0 by Australia in April, American Samoa nearly got into Round Two of OFC qualifying. Needing a win against hosts Samoa in their final match they unfortunately lost 1-0 and went home in third place after notching their first four points EVER in World Cup Qualifying
Who/What We'll Miss: His last second near-equalizer almost made him a hero but really, just being named Diamond Ott makes you a winner in our books.



172 Mou Nofo A, Tonga
Why They Lost: Despite a win in their rivalry game against Cook Islands (known as the Battle for James Cook's Love) they couldn't come up with needed results against either American Samoa or Samoa.
Who/What We'll Miss: We have to assume the erstwhile "Friendly Islands" would have made a great host for various matches.

171: Ma'as salaama, Djibouti
Why They Lost: It sure looked like the Djibouti never stood a chance, getting whooped 4-0 on both legs of their home-and-away series with titans Namibia. So don't color us surprised.
Who/What We'll Miss: Let's be honest...north, south, east or west, "Djibouti" is about the most enjoyable name of a nation to say.
No luck for you
Kevin Betsy!

170: Orevwar, Seychelles
Why They Lost: Despite establishing themselves as the most dominant island nation in the Indian ocean, that's still a little like being the toughest kid in the sou-southeasterly corner of the sandbox, and they never stood a chance against the heavyweights in Kenya.
Who/What We'll Miss: It's a shame that after 14 years bouncing around the divisions of English football that Kevin Betsy's only been able to play a few games for the Seychelles, it's even more disappointing that he's done in World Cup qualifiers before he even got started.

169: Sala Kahle, Swaziland
Why They Lost: Perhaps the King's Shield was still riding high off a stunning win against Togo prior to the 2010 World Cup, but they looked totally over matched losing 8-2 aggregate to Congo DR.
Who/What We'll Miss: I had a grad school advisor who was tight with the King of Swaziland...so based on two degrees of separation I'm sorry they came up so short.
mmmm....sponge bread

168: Nabad geylo, Somalia
Why They Lost: Inexplicably, after a 0:0 draw in the first leg the Ocean Stars got pummeled by Ethiopia 5-0 in the second leg.
Who/What We'll Miss: Minneapolis is a haven for Somalian refugees, it would have been nice to eat some canjeero during the matches from Brazil.




167: Tchau, Sao Tome e Principe
Why They Lost: Like Somalia, Sao Tome e Principe followed up a strong draw with Congo in the first leg with a brutal 5-0 drubbing in the second match.
Who/What We'll Miss: If Sao Tome e Principe had qualified for the second round they would have proven a remarkable story; coming back after 8 years off from relevant matches to pull a stunner like that? Amazing. Of course, they lost....but if it HAD happened!

166: Namkwaheri, Comoros
Why They Lost: Losing the first leg 4-1 in Mozambique dug a hole that the Coelacanth's could not come back from.
Who/What We'll Miss: In addition to a young and growing team, it's a shame that we no longer have a team in the competition whose nickname is a prehistoric fish.
Afewerki's stunned into silence
by my brutal burn

165: Selamet, Eritrea
Why They Lost: After two years without participating in international competition, the Eritreans might have been a little under prepared for the next round of competition.
Who/What We'll Miss: Another despotic tyrant's team is out of the picture, meaning one less figure to mock with the immunity of American internet anonymity. So let's get the joke out while we can: Isaias Afewerki impinges on freedom of the press so much he won't even let people iron their shirts! (KA ZING!!!)

164: Nabai, Guinea Bissau
Why They Lost: Despite being neck-and-neck with Togo through two legs of qualification, Guinea-Bissau fell a goal short because Emmanuel Adebayor loves crushing people's dreams.
Who/What We'll Miss: At 19, midfielder Zezinho is already a valuable part of Sporting's reserve squad. Maturing into a leader could make him and the Djurtus a future force.

163: N'agasaka, Burundi
Why They Lost: Only managing a 2-2 draw at home against fellow minnow Lesotho left the Swallows helpless to move on.
Who/What We'll Miss: The opportunity to keep running this video clip of Eddie Izzard's imagined cup of coffee with the president of Burundi (Pierre Nkurunziza)

162: Adieu, Chad
Why They Lost: The 2-1 loss at home gave Les Sao a lot to overcome in the second leg, and though they notched a win in Tanzania, the 1-0 score line had them head home on away goals.
Who/What We'll Miss: The chance to talk to the perpetually underrated Japhet "The Wizard" N'Doram.

161: Veloma, Madagascar
Why They Lost: After falling 2-0 in the oppressive oil baron dictatorship of Equitorial Guinea, and conceding another goal at home, Madagascar needed four second half goals to move ahead--they settled for 2 goals and a hard fought victory.
Who/What We'll Miss: Insinuating that they sold their national football soul to Dreamworks in association for positive references in the Madagascar cartoon series.

160: So long, US Virgin Islands
Why They Lost: Our "Well-I'll-Be-Damned" Minnow to Watch in CONCACAF's 2nd Round of qualifying had a problem keeping balls out of the back of their net scoring 2 and allowing 40 to finish last in their group.
Who/What We'll Miss: Finding more parallels between Tim Duncan and Peter Crouch.

159: See you later, Barbados
TRIDENT TEAM, ASSEMBLE!
Why They Lost: While their goal differential of -12 is a far cry from USVI's -38, they still lost all six matches.
Who/What We'll Miss: I still love this set of Barbadian superheroes I found on a random google search...seriously, where can I find these action figures?

158: Bon swe, Dominica
Why They Lost: Deprived of two matches against Bermuda in Group C, Dominica was the weakest of that lot failing to score a single goal (see, something to be proud of Barbados/USVI)
Who/What We'll Miss: The chance to talk to our most random club team affiliation so far--Midfielder Chad Bertrand, born Dominican, yet playing in Goa, India.

157: Catch you later, St. Lucia
Why They Lost: Though they did muster a draw against St. Kitts & Nevis, St. Lucia came up empty in all their other matches
Who/What We'll Miss: They still dance quadrilles for fun down there! It's like Jane Austen in a tropical climate!

156: Time to cash in, Cayman Islands
Why They Lost: The "Shell Corporations" round out our bottom five of CONCACAF because they, like their fellow cellar dwellars couldn't do much offensively or defensively (notice a theme coaches?)
Who/What We'll Miss: Tax evasion jokes

It's not like England
would try him again anyway
155: Gotta go, Grenada
Why They Lost: While Grenada has players among top flight leagues in the US and England, most are at/or near their 30 year old season, making them a little old to keep up with younger fresher teams.
Who/What We'll Miss: They are known as "The Spice Boys" which makes the chance of buying David Beckham's nationality before 2014 all the more tempting.

154: Fare thee well, St. Vincent/Grenadines
Why They Lost: Just a step ahead of Grenada, come the Grenadines who can thank their spot to an extra draw against Belize...of course it didn't help them win the group...but isn't beating Grenada more important? (No? Oh, right...no)
Who/What We'll Miss: Yet another cool nickname for a team: "Vincy Heat"...you can almost hear LeBron James switching teams again...

153: Adios, Nicaragua
Why They Lost: Handily beat Dominica both times they played but couldn't muster much against Panama losing both of those. Clearly they should have tried to play Dominica four times...that's just bad planning.
Who/What We'll Miss: The US Men's team could have had guinea pigs, iguanas, armadillos and boas in local restaurants! Frownie face for the foodies :(

152: Doei, Suriname
Why They Lost: Despite two solid wins, Suriname allowed 11 goals and scored just 5, leaving a clear gap between themselves and the leading teams in their group.
Who/What We'll Miss: We'd say goalkeeper Ronny Aloema, but as the goal difference shows he missed enough things for all of us (Sorry, Ronny...that might have been mean...)


151: See ya, St Kitts & Nevis
Why They Lost: If any team needed to hear the Mortal Kombat "FINISH HIM", it was St. Kitts & Nevis, 1 win and 4 draws left them with just 7 points. Switching just two of those results to wins would have left them top of the table.
Who/What We'll Miss: Atiba Harris--stealthy winger and all-around MLS gun-for-hire.

150: Best wishes, Belize
Why They Lost: Belize lost when it mattered most, giving Guatemala an easy route to round 2 with 3-1 and 2-1 defeats
Who/What We'll Miss: The general blood feud between Belize (formerly British Honduras) and Honduras (formerly Regular Honduras)

149: Ayo, Curacao
Why They Lost: While they scored 15 times only just eked out a positive goal differential (playing USVI might have helped with that though)
Who/What We'll Miss: Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands knighting 9/10ths of the team...she knights pretty much everybody after all (heck, Sidney Ponson got knighted!)

I seek the futbol grail
148: Hasta la juego, Dominican Republic
Why They Lost: In all likelihood, the Dominican winter league probably had most players distracted.
Who/What We'll Miss: The Quisqueyanos have my favorite federation logo of this set of Happy Trails teams--I'm not sure why the ball is in some sort of chalice-type thing, but I like the classiness.

147: Hasta la bye bye, Puerto Rico
Why They Lost: It's very simple--if Ivan Rodriguez isn't blocking the plate or goal or whatever, Puerto Rico is not as strong as they could be.
Who/What We'll Miss: The opportunity to settle the whole Puerto Rican statehood issue by a game of football...not unlike the plot to the classic made for tv film FUTURESPORT!

146: Bye bye, Bermuda
Why They Lost: In the nip-tuck race to win Group B, Bermuda's draw to Guyana (on home turf) was the difference between finishing three points back and being on top of the group.
Who/What We'll Miss: As the last island left from that old Kokomo song, our last chance to sing chillaxed Beach Boys tunes is out the window.

145: Happy trails, Trinidad andTabago
Why They Lost: Honestly, your guess is as good as mine, T and T had a +7 goal differential, and a great start to their campaign. But the wheels came off the wagon in the final month dropping two matches to Bermuda and Guyana to open the door for Golden Jaguars to vault into the next round
Who/What We'll Miss: Stern John's swan song goes silent and the Soca Warriors last chance to relieve their glory days in Germany.

144: Au revoir, Haiti
Why They Lost: A mid-campaign swoon left Haiti needing two big results against Antigua & Barbuda to move on, while the 2-1 victory at home helped, losing 1-0 in St. John's left them one point short of the next round.
Who/What We'll Miss: Cheering on the rebuilding of Haitian pride through futbol would have made for a tremendous feel-good story, but with a scad of young talent coming into clubs in the US, UK and France, we won't miss Les Grenadires for long

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Oh...that's why 11.11.11. matters!

So, admittedly, I'm a little behind in posts (and if you think this blog's bad, you should see my other ones), but I thought I ought to post before tomorrow in advance of a major day in World Cup qualifying.

Apparently the powers that be in FIFA decided they ought to schedule matches on every continent on this most auspicious of palindromy days.  So, there's a whole mess of soccer going on tomorrow: here now, the matches we're most excited to see on each continent:

South America:
Chile v.s. Uruguay; It's more than just the match up of two countries whose names sound like English language words--it's the rising power of South America (complete with greasy haired stars in the making), versus one of the continents perennial dark horses. So, senors, bring it on.


North America:
Antigua & Barbuda v.s. Haiti; So Haiti--despite all the financial, bureaucratic, and--you know--earthquake-y related things, was actually favored to win their group. Then along came underdogs Antigua & Barbuda...so if you think about it: we're guaranteed to see one adorable underdog vault into the next round...and see another underdog suffer humiliating defeat and broken dreams.

Asia:
Saudi Arabia v.s. Thailand; While I'm biased in favor of the Elephants and have made more than my share of jokes at the expense of the turmoil in Saudi Arabia, the match will be crucial to finding the second-place team in the group. Australia's guaranteed the top spot (barring some kind of freak team-wide spontaneous combustion), so this one will matter more than a little.


Africa:
Somalia v.s. Ethiopia; Here's the real barnburner, and while it's not the highest profile match and doesn't have any of the big name continental stars; as a Montanan who currently lives in Minnesota (with its high population of Ethiopians and Somalis) we can think of several people who really care how it turns out.

So whether you prefer rising powers, underdogs, high-stakes contests, or serious rivals there's something for you tomorrow. And if you prefer being gainfully employed and just looking up the scores during your coffee/tea break...you can do that too.

Enjoy the games!

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

CONMEBOL'S WIBD: Crushed into Bolivian!

If you haven't noticed while reading this blog, we are not overly concerned with the legends and the superstars. Lionel Messi gets enough attention when he heads for the gents' lavatory, he doesn't really need more from our minor sphere of the blogoverse. Blood, sweat, tears and ink is spilled by the gallon over the Three Lions, why not take a break by looking into the little glimpsed underdogs of our World Cup?

In that spirit we turn our attention to CONMEBOL, the South American confederation, and it's nascent qualifying campaign. Unlike most other competitions, to march into the game's grandest stage, South American squads have only one round. Play all the other teams in your continent, play them again, top four records go to the Cup (for more details and South American sass, click the Conmebol link at the top of the page, or here).

The open-ended style of the qualification means that the strongest teams rise to the top and shocking upsets have relatively little effect on the overall results. Over 16 matches even the best teams will lose a few and worst teams will win a couple...but what if there was a stunning turn of affairs? What if someone could pull off a stunning, unpredictable, rags-to-riches meteoric triumph?

That would be awesome. Of course, given the strength of South American teams, it would also be pretty hard to fathom. There aren't many scrappy underdog squads...except, of course, for Bolivia.

Marcelo Martins is #1-#100
in Bolivian hearts
Bolivia, the land that futbol forgot. While every other team in South America has several players in premier European leagues (Italy, Spain or England), Bolivia's top player, Marcelo Martins, is freezing his butt off in the Ukraine. It's a little hard to keep up with the Joneses and the Escobarses when you only play against them during World Cup Qualifier Whoopings.

Sure they've made three World Cups and reached #18 in the world less than 15 years ago...but right now (after tanking their first two matches) they are ranked last in South America and #115 in the world. If Bolivia could somehow, someway, beat four other teams in their continental zone it would be like the President of your High School AV Club winning the girl over the Beatles at the height of their power.
This logo goes great with white wine

Heck, Bolivia's federation logo is a chicken holding a ball...other teams have the good sense to limit themselves to their national flag colors. Bolivia must root for a bird that looks desperate for a beheading...

With all of that going against them, it's painfully clear. WE MUST CHEER FOR BOLIVIA!! To hell with the big guns and the dominant squads and the powerful players, let's go Chickens, let's go under-appreciated whelps, let's go BOLIVIA!!

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Analysis our Way

The next round of qualifying has kicked off, home-and-away matches that will set the Caribbean and Asia alight with furious competition. While these matches may turn into do or die affairs for the players and supporters, we have the liberty of remaining aloof, objective, and totally uninformed.

In that spirit here are our previews of the next round of Asian and North American qualifying rounds: group by group, with special insight from our fellow Hooligans--Edemame Pajyamas and Celestial Aly

Don't fight it...she always wins
AFC
Group A What a special group. You've got a plucky underdog in Iraq, a hulking Goliath in China, a cast of diverse, quirky characters from Singapore and a mysterious unknown in Jordan. Given all those story lines to make movies out of, you have to think that the powers that be in Hollywood would love to see the Iraqis come through with China...if only for the chance to make a sequel. I'm sure there's a part in there for Zoe Saldana (eager, interpid reporter, maybe?) and whatever Zoe Saldana wants, Zoe Saldana gets.

Group B While we've already discussed Lebanon's chances, it should be noted that South Korea's track record, top flight talent and willingness to set themselves on fire for victory make them the odds on favorite to win the group. Second place should be a toss up between Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates: since their nicknames are the white and the blue we fully expect that Parisian fashion designers will let us know which one is in and which is out this season.

Group C Kim Jong-Il's son--Kim Jong-Un--can firmly establish his power base if he oversees his team's ascendency to the next round of the World Cup. The best strategy to do that would be to kidnapped and indoctrinate the Japanese and Uzbeki players who visit Pyongyang for matches in the country. So if something that unlikely happens (and hey, it's North Korea, so it might!) then it'll be North Korea and Tajikistan (by default, natch.)

Group D Sure the Saudi's and the Aussies are the top teams in the group, sure they've got a bundle of World Cup appearances between them, sure they are the most likely teams to win the group...but I don't own one of their jerseys. Buoyed by my support Thailand should slip in to the next round in group two...if only because they risk incurring my wrath if they do not.

Group E A hard group to handicap. Iran has a dangerous attacking squad but might be past it's prime. Rising young powers Bahrain has made great strides recently in suppressing the opposition (through force if need be) and you should never underestimate Qatar's resources and determination to prove themselves. And hey! I just realized that my analysis of each nation's questionable governmental structures could also be applied to their football...how about that!

CONCACAF
Group A Just look at the Dominican's line-up. Manny Ramirez, Albert Pujols, evenan aging Pedro Martinez is better than anybody that Suriname, the Cayman Islands or El Salvador could scrounge up...oh, wait a second...I got confused about which sport I was writing about...uhh...let's just say El Salvador.

Now this is a line-up that could
get all the way to Brazil!
Group B There's not a lot of soccer power in Guyana or Bermuda, but Barbados could have a great chance...if they could pull the trident off of the flag and use it to impale the opposition. Other than that there's nobody to touch Trinidad or Tobago (and with their powers combined...well, they're not quite Captain Planet...but they're close)

Group C With the Bahamanians already picking up their ball and going home, there are only three teams left to fight. It will be the first group decided, the first one that sends someone on to the next round, so let's just go ahead and say the first team listed alphabetically wins, congratulations Dominica!!

Group D Canadian's are already excited about their chances to get through--and who could blame them? On top of their talent, Canadian fans are prone to throwing things on rinks and fields of every size and shape--it's doubtful that their only real challenge (St. Kitts & Nevis) are going to know what to do when octopi, hats or maple syrup rains down on them.


Hipster Zombies prefer their brains
at gastropubs with chipotle aioli
Group E Group E is brought to you by the letter G as Grenada, Guatemala and Grenadines(/St. Vincent). For that reason (and no other) Belize wins the group.

Group F I've written before about the US Virgin Islands having as much chance as anybody in a wildly unpredictable group. But, even with all their struggles, the smart money still has to be on Haiti. They gave us the modern form of Zombies, now they can unleash a 21st century strain of zombie (hipsters oversaturated on zombie memes)

Monday, August 29, 2011

AFC's WIBD #2 (GO TREES!)

Yes, it's an eco-friendly version of the "Well, I'll Be Damned!"Minnow of the Round award as we recognize the most adorable of Asian underdogs: Lebanon.


Setting aside the unlikely ascent of Tajikistan (who lost two matches, then got into the next round anyway by virtue of Syria getting disqualified), Lebanon is easily the most rank outsider in the third round of Asian qualifying ranking in the bottom half of Asian teams. They are 21 spots below Bangladesh, even after a 4-0 drubbing of the Bengal Tigers in Beruit (Hey, even in soccer the Bengals can't win!)



Despite that big win (recapped in English here), there hasn't been much to
celebrate of late. First Lebanon slipped into the next round despite losing 2-0 in Bangladesh. Then they bid farewell to the coach who led them this far (Emile Rustom) and brought back old coach Theo Bucker (Booker? Booger?). Add to this the whole Lebanon/Hezbollah/Arab Spring/general unrest thing and you have a place that's not exactly conducive to sporting glory. (To be clear though, I have to give credit to Lebanon writer Kenny Laurie who wrote a scathing smackdown of Sepp Blatter)

If the Cedars are going to have any chance against the slightly more intimidating force of South Korea's Taegeuk Warriors and the White & Blue of the UAE and Kuwait, they'll need the very best of 23-year-old star-in-the-making Hassan Maatouk (he of the Futsaal fame, pictured at left). It probably wouldn't hurt to get returns from Roda Antar and Youssef Mohamed (two Lebanese stars who have built careers overseas), and hey, while we're at it maybe punch Srecko Katanec in the face (he who claimed the UAE would quote: "have no problem with Lebanon")...clearly Mr. Katanec does not know much about Lebanon.

All in all we here at the Montanan Hooligans' World Cup Center want to go green as we cast our vote for best underdog in Asia. So here's to you Lebanon and your Mighty Cedars! Go forth and conquer...oh wait, you're trees...well, just stand still and conquer!

Sunday, August 28, 2011

CONCACAF's Minnow to Watch (Round 2)

We're a week away from the next World Cup Qualifier Match Day with action brewing in North America and Asia. Before those matches kick off we're going to try and introduce some of the unlikely squads still standing and offer our comprehensive, utterly illogical analyses of each qualifying group.

Let's start out by introducing the "Well I'll Be Damned" team in the North American 2nd Round: the US Virgin Islands (USVI for short).

How unlikely is the 2nd round berth for the "Dashing Eagles" of the USVI? Bear in mind that they only became a FIFA recognized team in 2000. Over the last decade the team's record was 1 Win, 6 Draws and 20 Losses. In June they neared a personal best in the World Rankings by getting to 193rd in the World. The area is known more for being a port for cruise ships than for having any football fortunes to speak of.

Then this happened:

After 2 wins over the British Virgin Islands and advancing on to the Second Round of the Cup competition, the USVI has leapt up to 149th in the World--in a dead heat with Madagascar. They've already gone farther than any USVI team ever has in the Cup...can the go even farther?

Honestly...Maybe. Top ranked Haiti has been in disarray of late (with good reason) and neither Antigua and Barbuda nor Curacao have a larger international legacy than the USVI does. Some of the local press have got high hopes for a third round tussle with the big bad U.S. of A, but that might be putting the cart before the horse--or in USVI terms, putting the sales before the conch shells--especially given the inexperience of the team.

Most players ply their trade in the amateur league that dots the three islands (St. Thomas, St. John and St. Croix), but a young squad has gotten better by incorporating college players into the mix including a Seton Hall Griffin, a Pitt Panther and Alberto Van Grup--a Virginia Tech Hokie. Unfortuantely, it's not clear yet whether the college boys will be able to squeeze Cup qualifiers into their course schedule...I mean, can you imagine selling that to a professor? "Yeah, I know that we have a mid-term but I have to fly to Curacao...to play soccer...please...". Not the most compelling excuse I've yet heard.

But the best player may be Reid Klopp who has made two appearances and scored two goals to boost the Dashing Eagles into the second round. He lives on the islands so no worries about his arrival, and hey...if the NBA's locked the USVI could always ask Tim Duncan to come home and use his height in a Peter Crouchian manner. (He's already got the Robot thing wired!)

But win lose or draw you've gotta root for the Dashing Eagles and the US Virgin Islands. If only because they play and pump themselves up like your local high school squad. (Seriously, hard to imagine snobby Frenchmen doing this)

So best of luck Dashing Eagles! Rise on!

Monday, August 22, 2011

Happy Trails #186 & 176 (Second Thoughts Edition)

I was all set to write about cinderella stories, and then I read the news that FIFA has decided to eliminate two teams, because--according to the official press releases--Sepp Blatter does what he wants to bitches!!

Seriously, there's no detail in either posting just: "TEAM X is hereby disqualified for violating Rule Y Subsection 43d. In accordance with FIFA regulations, this decision is binding and will not be subject to appeal or reversal, so suck on that."

As a result we have to make a couple quick corrections to the Happy Trails posts, and here they are

186 Ma'a As Salaamah Syria
Why They Lost: Yeah, remember when I said that Syria won the first leg 2-1 and the second leg 4-0? Yeah, what I meant to say was: "Tajikistan won both legs 3-0" Minor mistake I know...but, as you can tell...a pretty clear difference.

Who/What We'll Miss: I can't say for certain, but I'm pretty sure that this
George Mourad guy looks pretty good. I mean, he not only score a vital goal early in the first leg against Tajikistan, he also managed to change from Swedish to Syrian in just six short years! Or wait...you don't suppose that his doing that and failing to ask for FIFA's permission was the root cause of the whole problem do you?
176 Buh-Bye Bahamas

Why They Lost: They didn't. FIFA didn't even pretend they did. We all just looked up one morning and POOF no more Bahamas. The Press release from CONCACAF makes a little more sense: apparently the Bahamas FA built a beautiful new stadium, but forgot to build those pesky roads that would get fans TO said stadium. Once it became clear that they wouldn't be able to host any matches (or draw any revenue from said matches) the Bahamas became a whole lot less inclined to fly its team all around Central America just so that slightly bigger teams like Panama and Nicaragua could kick them around for 90 minutes. So, instead the team will sit back and enjoy the beautiful Bahamanian scenery.
Who/What We'll Miss: Not for nothing but the team captain's name is Happy Hall. If we picked the best players just by their name, he'd be a sure fire member of the squad. Also..to be sure, that stadium does look pretty sweet.

So there you go, two more teams bite the dust, and the Tajiks get a second chance. Next up we'll finally get around to celebrating the little minnows who can still dream of an utterly implausible World Cup berth. Assuming they don't forget a critical part of their infrastructure or accidently employ a psuedo-Swede.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Happy Trails #191-177 (AFC Rd. 2)

Before we look ahead to the next set of matches kicking off in early September, let's pour one out for the teams who have fallen out of the competition.

191 Sok Dee Der Laos
Why they lost: Perhaps I put a bit of a jinx on Thim Xad by giving them the recognition of being the first "Well I'll Be Damned" Award. Perhaps the Laotian sport press was right that the team was weak in defense. Perhaps the Chinese national team was a little tougher than the Cambodian one. What ever the case, conceding 13 goals in two matches rarely works out well, and definitely led to the Laos loss.
Who/What we'll miss: A great Cinderella/scrappy underdog story would have been awesome--hence the whole post that I wrote about them...not to mention crushing Chinese hopes. Ah well...better luck next time.

190 Namaste Nepal
Why they lost: The Gorkha Warriors were another team that couldn't quite keep pace with a bigger, stronger Asian power, falling to Jordan 10:1 on aggregate. But they did pull together an excellent second leg, getting a 1:1 draw that was a small comfort after a 9:0 drubbing in Aman.
Who/What we'll miss: The big name in Nepal is Rohit Chand, a 19 year old center back who has been pumped up as a player good enough to make it in the upper echelons of Europe. Wikipedia claims that he's getting a shot with Kettering Town FC in England's 5th tier, which might make him easier to scout than if he was in...say...Kathmandu.

189 Joigin Hong Kong
Why they lost: While Laos gave up goals, they did score a few. The same can't be said for Hong Kong who were blanked by a Saudi Arabian team that has been in the midst of a tumultuous year.
Who/What we'll miss: Hopefully nothing. We'll hope that this is Hong Kong's nadir, 25 years after almost qualifying for Mexico '86. Though they've made less progress in each subsequent Cup campaign, this should be the end of that unfortunate trend.

188 Jakshy Kalyngydzar Kyrgyzstan
Why they lost: I might place the explanation for this one on facing an up-and-coming opponent in an Uzbekistani side that made the out rounds at the Asian Cup, and seemed dangerous at the U-20 Tournament in Colombia. Facing that, it's gotta be tough for Kyrgyzstan to keep up. So their 7 goal wipe-out makes a little more sense.
Who/What we'll miss: Confusing attempts to settle on one nickname for a side that is occasionally called the "snow leopards", The Eagles, and the Blue Eagle (even though their kits are red).

187 Dhanee Maldives
Why they lost: Take your pick. No goals, giving up 5, having to make do with a team of locally based players while facing an Iranian side that's one of the most well-established in Asia, having a population approximately .5% of Iran's. Any one of those would probably explain the Red Snapper's failure to advance.
Who/What we'll miss: Ali Ashfaq, a man called "The Best Striker in South Asia" isn't well known outside his own country--but when you captain the national side and celebrate like this...you should be.

186 To Bozdid Tajikistan
Why they lost: Though a 2:1 loss in Syria was a tough beat, the series still could have gone the Tajiks way. But a stunning 4:0 loss at home knocked them out. If you can't defend your home pitch, you can't go far in qualifying.
Who/What we'll miss: Coach Pulod Kodirov, the winningest coach in history for "The Persian Lions" of the national team won't get any more matches to prove his bowing out after 3 years in charge of the team. (Of course, if you ask Tajik fans, that might be a good thing)

185 Paalam The Philippines
Why they lost: A 3-0 loss in Kuwait gave them a major task for the home-leg, and they simply couldn't make it up falling 2-1 at home to finish 4 goals out.
Who/What we'll miss: Hard to pick. There's Midfielder Simon Greatwitch who could help Hartwick college known for something more than...okay he could help Hartwick College be known. Then there's Neil Ethridge, Fulham's Reserve Goalkeeper and ex-Chealsea trainee. And of course...there's the fact that their nickname is "The Street Dogs" which is a kind of badass in an adorably scruffy way.


184 Thwa Dau Me Myanmar
Why they lost: You mean besides the fact that their military junta creates a national atmosphere of blind fear and anxiety which makes playing a children's game one of the few escapes...unless you play for the national team and must face the spectre of bringing shame on the nation and being sent for "re-education"? Well, their fans throwing garbage on the field at half-time during the home-leg probably didn't help matters--especially since refs cancelled the second half and Myanmar's last chance at a comeback.
Who/What we'll miss: The feeling that maybe, just maybe watching 22 men kick a ball for 90 minutes might distract the citizens of Myanmar from that aforementioned military junta.

183 Phir Milenge India
Why they lost: It's either because of FIFA's ancient curse against the country that declined to play in the 1950 World Cup (What do you mean we can't play barefoot?) or the fact that, as children, Sachin Tendulkar & MS Dhoni picked up cricket bats instead of cleats.
Who/What we'll miss: An inevitable Bollywood soccer movie with a star studded song and dance number...wait...there already are some like that...well, I know what's going into my Netflix queue.


182 Selamat Tinggal Malaysia
Why they lost: After a thrilling 5-3 loss in Singapore in the first leg, Malaysia had some work to do, but 3 away goals to help their cause. If they won by two they would be in pretty good position for advancement. While they led 1-0 after 60 minutes and were one goal (and solid defnese) away from moving on a Singapore equalizer in the 73rd minute knocked them out
Who/What we'll miss: The Malay Tigers might have my new favorite football kit. As if the black and yellow stripes weren't unusual enough--they also have an ad campaign that makes it painfully clear that you're either a Malaysian fan or you are unwilling to rip your own skin off.

181 Tam Biet Vietnam
Why they lost: Despite a thrilling 2-1 win at home in the second leg, Vietnam simply couldn't overcome a 3-0 loss in Qatar in the first leg. Meaning that, once again, the Qataris crush the dreams of other people (FIST SHAKE!)
Who/What we'll miss: A pretty solid underdog story is one thing. A pretty solid underdog story that could have knocked out the internationally mocked Qatari side...that's a great thing.

180 Bhalo Thakben Bangladesh
Why they lost: Like Vietnam, Bangladesh got a great win at home 2-0 over Lebanon. Like Vietnam, Bangladesh couldn't overcome a big loss (4-0) in the first leg.
Who/What we'll miss: The chance for a doggie fight between Bangladesh and the Phillipines (don't bet against the street dogs)
179 Ila Al-Liqa Yemen
Why they lost: Continuing the trend of the last two teams, Yemen played better in the second leg, with a goalless draw; but they lost 2-0 in Iraq and head home despite their fine performance.
Who/What we'll miss: Yemen has won fewer games by smaller margins in each consecutive World Cup qualifying campaign. So, hopefully we'll only miss them until they reorganize their team and reverse that trend.

178 Ila Al-Liqa Palestine
Why they lost: I know Grant Wahl meant well, but clearly this is another case of the Sports Illustrated Jinx. After a nailbiting 1-0 loss in Thailand, Palestine nearly pulled a stunner in the second-leg back home but had to settle for a 2-2 draw against a higher ranked team. That was great--but if SI hadn't been there?
Who/What we'll miss: A team full of college kids, biologists, and dreamers who play international football in their spare time after work? We'll be missing a stirring underdog movie just waiting to happen. (And this "Happy Trails" winner of coolest Federation logo)

177 Sag Bolun Turkmenistan
Why they lost: With everything to play for after a 1-1 draw at home, the Green Men Turkmen waited too long, ceding 4 goals to Singapore in the first 75 minutes. An own goal and two late, intentionally Turkmen, goals made it close, but not close enough.
Who/What we'll miss: The sophomoric humor potential of the most popular club sides in Turkmenistan FC/HTTU Asgabat...Heehee..Asgabat.

PHEW! That's a lot of teams to bid farewell. In our next posts will look ahead to the next rounds of competition in North America and Asia, the start of South American qualifying, some unlikely teams to root for and predictions from a host of Hooligans.

World Cup OVERLOAD

I stopped posting for a little while the last few weeks (in case there is a devout reader out there who was wondering). Between a spurt of job applications and a two-week honeymoon in Thailand, I thought that would be for the best. And while I was gone, quite a bit happened. The 2nd Round of Asian qualifying concluded. Teams were drawn into dozens of qualifying groups in Rio de Jinero. The US National Team hired J├╝rgen Klinsmann to coach the men's team (thereby giving me many more excuses to write with umlauts!). And hey! FIFA's still awash in scandalous bribery allegations which means there's still a shot (an extremely outside shot, but a shot) that the US could host the 2022 World Cup.

Since I'm now gainfully employed, I may not have much time to write. But I love the whole World Cup event so much that I honestly do want to write whenever I can. I may try to enlist some help from fellow Montanans/soccer fans/gene pool members but until then trust that posts are coming in the next few days that will cover farewells to the eliminated Asian nations, "Well I'll Be Damned" awards for minnows who have survived a shark attack (or perhaps just a "slightly bigger minnow" attack) and advanced to the later rounds of qualifying and maybe even previews of the various groups kicking off in the next few months and weeks.

To keep the space warm for me I'm including a link to Grant Wahl's great writing from Palestine in the second round of the AFC's Qualifying. I read the polished form of his article during my 12 hour flight from Seoul to Chicago (it helped make a long flight--made longer by a lack of sleep and broken video system--much more enjoyable). Since this is the kind of writing I would love to do on this blog but can't (both because I have no funds to finance it, and because I'm not nearly that good of a writer) so I'll let him do it for me.

Enjoy Wahl's writing (if you haven't already), I'll be back with snarky commentary aplenty in the very near future

Friday, July 22, 2011

Happy Trails #196-192 (CONCACAF Rd. 1 Update)

While the AFC's second round will kick off in a matter of hours we want to take a minute to bid adieu to the North American nations who played...and lost a home-and-away playoff series, thereby killing that faint glimmer of hope that maybe, just maybe, a tiny island nation might hoist the world cup in Brazil. (It might not be a hope as much as a dream I had after eating Bacon ice cream with a wasabi glaze)

196 "Farewell" Turks & Caicos Islands
Why they lost: Statistically speaking it's a good idea to limit the number of goals your opponent scores. Turks & Caicos did not do that, giving up 10 goals to the mighty Bahamas' Rake n' Scrape Boyz. It probably didn't help that they scored 0.
Who/What we'll miss: The chance to ask Midfielder Gavin Glinton (T&C's leading international goal scorer) how he ended up playing for Vietnam's Nam Dinh team. {I'm guessing drunken bet}

195 "Take Care" Anguilla
Why they lost: I cannot confirm this, but I imagine that Anguilla assumed they could handle the baseball mad Dominican Republic--you don't get bats in soccer...you would think they'd be okay...but sadly the Dominicans found a way to shut them down...probably by tricking would be shortstops into kicking bigger balls as a training exercise.
Who/What we'll miss: I really couldn't help but dream about a matchup between the Three Lions of England and The Three Dolphins of Anguilla.

194 "Ta-Ta" Montserrat
Why they lost: Because their first round opponent (Belize) narrowly dodged a FIFA suspension that would have killed their team. [EXPLANATION: Apparently Belize's government thought the police should not protect the Monserrat team during the second-leg qualifying match, FIFA thought that was government interference, nearly suspended the Belize team which would have given Monserrat (trailing 2-5 after one game) an unlikely 2nd round berth. BUT FIFA changed its mind just in time for Belize to win the second leg then put them back on suspension. Because that's how Sepp Blatter rolls.]
Who/What We'll Miss: It might be entertaining to play a world cup qualifier with the omnipresent threat of volcanic eruptions mere minutes away.

193 "Goodbye" British Virgin Islands
Why they lost: Clearly because the US Virgin Islands are the superior Virgin islands; just like the US is superior to Britain. Chant it with me! U-S-A (Virgin Islands) U-S-A (Virgin Islands)
Who/What We'll Miss: Awkward conversations with Chelsea manager Andre Villas-Boas; who got his start leading the British Virgin Islands national squad in 2000 and led them to their highest ever ranking (165th in the world)

192 "Tot Gauw" Aruba
Why they lost: St. Lucia's Jamil Joseph took matters into his own hands in the second-leg. With Aruba having won 4-2 at home, it took a tremendous effort for Aruba to make a game of it and Jamil Joseph's hat trick was critical--forcing penalty kicks. Jelano Cruden's miss during PKs was the only blemish on what might well have been THE match of the first rounds.
Who/What We'll Miss: David Abdul may well be the future of Aruban football. A 21 year old and the only Aruban playing in Europe (with Sparta Rotterdam in the Dutch First Division) capitalized on his first cap with a goal and may mature into a much needed team leader...or maybe he'll remember it's just a game and kick back and enjoy the beach.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Thoughts on the Women's World Cup

I was about to write all about the latest round of CONCACAF qualifying for the 2014 World Cup (which finished yesterday), but quite frankly the doings of Turks and Caicos or St. Lucia are a little less important than the final of the Women's World Cup.

First, my apologies for not covering the whole tournament in greater detail. I was busy getting married, my attention was focused elsewhere. So yesterday, after drawing the festivities to a conclusion with a final unwrapping/moving/unpacking of presents I was left to discover Japan's victory over the US a little later than most.



Let's agree on this for starters, clearly futbol is wildly popular, if you're reading this obscure nook of the blogopshere you know this. But like most fans in America I have to hear a great deal from local "sports fans" and "experts" that the game is not really big in America and never will be. Yet, in a game for the sports second highest international honor, ratings were broken and social media sites were jammed by all the Americans who live in a "ambivalent" futbol nation.

If you want any more proof, look no further than that news story that takes what might otherwise be an incredible, moving, underdog story and frequently alludes to the fact that: "It's great Japan won...but how did we lose?!?" The Onion posted a very snarky story last week announcing that the Women's team "better not lose" but I've honestly heard people tossing around the words "choked" and "failed". Proving that there's some serious fandom and major expectations around the women's game.

That's not to take anything away from the gritty, persevering performance by the Japanese team (or the Wild Pink), or sully what was by all accounts a wild and joyous celebration in Japan. (It's a national holiday today, probably in part because so many fans were in bars at 4 AM local time.) For a nation reeling from disasters and dire circumstances this year, it's a joyous occasion and all the more remarkable given that they lost two games to the US just two months ago.

But perhaps my favorite part of Japan's win was reading comments from old students of mine, including these ones from one female student who had played on rocky, uneven surfaces in the Himalayan foothills for the Woodstock Tigers. "We might have finished tied, but we ain't gonna lose!!!" (Have to like it anytime someone turns into a grammatically incorrect fanatic.) And then after it had ended saying "My mom is crying next to me." (Even more adorable and touching).

That's really the best part of futbol, how it brings people together with every goal, save and whistle, and when it comes to international games, it's truly inspiring to see the surge of pride and feel the excitement around the country. Over the last few weeks in Germany we've seen that enthusiasm surge through the US and Japan as well as Germany, Sweden, Brazil and around the world as mothers and daughters and sports nuts of every size and shape cheered through the tournament.

Congratulations Japan, you certainly deserve it.

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

A New Award

Rather than simply saying farewell to teams that have lost we here at the Montanan Hooligans World Cup Center would also like to tip our caps to the best stories and unlikeliest squads to survive a round of qualifying competition. Since the AFC has finished their first round of qualifying it's time to debut this feature with an acknowledgement of the plucky little guppy that could and did win our inaugural "Well, I'll Be Damned" Award": Laos aka Thim Xad (The National Team)

That Laos has made it in to the Second round of Asian Qualifying is remarkable in and of itself. It ranks 174th in the World (lowest of any team advancing from the AFC first round and one spot lower than Vanuatu). It has never ranked higher than 134th (back in 1998). The nation very best players might slip onto a Thai club side, but that's as far as the dream extends for now.

Playing Cambodia took something extra, the two are ranked dead even by Fifa and played that way, with each team winning at home. The first match showed what the Lao Press identified as the team's biggest weakness: Defense. The never seemed to create offensively leaving it to 18 year old midfielder Manolam Phomsouvanh to deliver to cracking goals from set pieces. The rest of the time Cambodia seemed to run all over the Thim Xad defense, despite the fact that they were kept scoreless in the first half.



The second leg showed greater poise for Laos playing in front of their home fans. Team star Lamnao Singto scored twice en route to a 4-2 victory. Singto appears to be the biggest thing in Laotian football (and at 23 one of it's biggest veterans), moving at his will between the Thai Premier League and the local Laotian league, landing an endorsement contract, heck, he even gets the principles of swagger and braggadocio (if this shushing goal celebration is any indication).

But when it came to the end of the match and the referees required 30 minutes of extra time to break the final two goals that sent Laos on came from Visay Phaphovanin and Sysomvang Kanlaya (again from a set piece). Now Thim Xad prepares for Asia's 5th highest ranked team in China, and while the odds are long (and in many cases the names are longer), we here at The Montanan Hooligans World Cup Center will be rooting for Laos, if only so we can say "Well, I'll be Damned" again.

Congrats Laos you won our first WIBD; now try and win another!

Monday, July 04, 2011

Happy Trails #207-197

There are 207 Fifa Member Nations. The World Cup format invites 32. That means that 175 countries will have to bite the dust long before a ball bounces around Brazil. So, from time to time we'll post blogs like this, keeping you up to date on the teams that have just been eliminated, thereby quashing the fevered dreams of young boys and old men who really really thought that this could be Macau, or Vanuatu, or Canada's year.

There are a few countries that decided not to compete this time around, so rather than bid them adieu we'll do the proper Montanan thing and simply nod silently in stoic acknowledgement of their presence (or lack thereof). So here's a quiet, two fingers up on the steering wheel salute to you Guam (207), Brunei Darussalam (206), and Bhutan (205).

Now let's say goodbye to the teams who tried, and failed, to advance and acknowledge just what we fans will miss without them.

204 "Jongin" Macau
Why they lost: Macau got--there's really no polite way to say this--decimated by Vietnam. 6-0 and 7-1, leaving Macau with a -13 goal difference in two matches. I'm not an expert or anything, but losing by 13 goals in the first round makes it hard to win the World Cup.
Who/What we'll miss: Besides the loosest slots in all Asia? Probably Chan Kin Seng Macau's leading goal scorer despite the fact that he's only played 21 matches for the local side.

203 "Hau ba lai" Timor Leste
Why they lost: It's not easy to win a home and away series when both of the matches are played in your opponents capital. Hence, though the "Rising Sun" made a strong showing in the first match (2-1), the second one (5-0) was just too much and the team has still never won an official match against another national side.
Who/What we'll miss: The Portuguese heritage means that Timor Leste has a deep connection to two futbol mad nations (Portugal & Brazil). The most promising young player is probably defender Chris Nunez who plays for a club in Australia and has scored a goal for the national team

202 "Poittu Varen" Sri Lanka
Why they lost: Despite a solid 1-1 draw in Columbo; Sri Lanka could not muster another result in Manila and fell to the Philippines 5-1 on aggregate.
Who/What we'll miss: Sri Lanka may not have any famous players, but they do have one of the coolest flags in the world. Seriously, it's a lion holding a sword! Lions themselves are intimidating, but lions armed with weaponry? Jeepers

201 "Khuda Hafiz" Pakistan
Why they lost: A hard fought 0-0 draw against Bangladesh (aka East Pakistan) wasn't bad, but it could not make up for a 3-0 loss in Dhaka in the first leg.
Who/What we'll miss: There are a few Pakistani players starting to make inroads in to the lower levels of British football, but the biggest loss has to be Pakistan's Federation Emblem. Yes the Green shirts might have my favorite logo of all the flaming footballs of DOOM!!!

200 "Khuda Hafez" Afghanistan
Why they lost: Leaving aside the larger geopolitical issue of trying to field a futbol team while simultaneously fighting insurgent terrorist groups for control of a nation; Afghanistan was already in a hole after losing 2-0 to Palestine in Tajikstan (not exactly home either). A solid 1-1 draw in Palestine was some solace, but not enough to win the day.
Who/What we'll miss: With some national team players as young as 19, our biggest loss is the story of young boys who came of age in a very different nation, survived an incredibly dangerous period and now are thriving young athletes. Maybe, 2018 will give them that shot.

199 "Lia Suhn Hao-y" Cambodia
Why they lost: The Angkor Warriors may be the biggest surprise loser in the first round of AFC qualifying. After a 4-2 win over Laos in Pehnom Penh, they seemed to have a great shot of moving on to face China. But in Laos they not only lost the match 6-2, but the series on an 8-6 aggregate score.
Who/What we'll miss: There's not much notable about Cambodia's squad, but they do have a record of firing coaches. They've gone through 5 in the last 3 years...including 2 who never seem to have coached an official match....crazy coaching carousels, always enjoyable.

198 "Bayarti" Mongolia
Why they lost: The blue wolves won 1-0 at home...but that margin never feels exactly safe and sure enough, after Myanmar won 2-0 in Myanmar (stupid Junta!), Mongolia was headed home empty handed.
Who/What we'll miss: No Mongolian player plies their trade with a foreign club, and no without them sticking around for more matches this will be our last chance to say some absolutely exquisite names, such as: "Bayasgalangiin Garidmagnai" and "Donorovyn Lkhumbengarav"...however you pronounce them, that's a lot of fun.

197 Chinese Taipei
Why they lost: Taipei, Taiwan, whatever you want to call it, they were close...SO CLOSE to sneaking into the next round. A 2-1 lost in Malaysia wasn't great, but a stirring comeback on home soil gave them a great win 3-2 to end the series. The down side? Because Malyasia scored 2 in Taiwan, Malaysia went on and Taiwan stayed home.
Who/What we'll miss: No Chinese Taipei, no chance to show up China...sad days, sad days...

So there went the first 11, before the month is out we're going to lose 15 more Asian teams and 5 Caribbean islands; we'll bid them farewell soon enough, but for now goodnight Asian nations, and goodluck.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

2014 World Cup Qualifying Begins

We're still six weeks away from the first draw to organize qualifying for the 2014 World Cup, but there are a few preliminary matters to deal with first.

Those preliminary matters include getting rid of most miniscule minnows in all of FIFA...you know...the ones who have more sway in the organization's boardrooms and backrooms than on the pitch. Their votes count in presidential elections...their athletes...eh, not so much.

Last night we got started with Belize topping Montserrat 5-2. I know what you're thinking: How could Montserrat lose? Well, let me ask you, if you lived in the place pictured at right...would your first concern be playing futbol...or avoiding volcanic ash and enjoying the sunshine?

At any rate. Belize V. Montserrat is only one of the preliminary games before the draw, the bigger issues are afoot in Asia where the 38 lowest rated teams play home-and-home playoffs to determine the lucky few who will get whomped by medium-sized talents in Bahrain and China...or if you're really lucky...Australia! (eep!) some of these will be all over by July 3rd, others won't even have the first leg start until July 23rd, wrapping up matches two days before the initial draw in Rio.

Whenever I watch or think about these games, I think of the Royal Rumbles I used to watch when I was a kid. If you watch pro wrestling you know what happens, put a bunch of guys in a small space and watch as one by one they throw each other over the side. No one wins anything...just a shot at the title. Only in this case, instead of sweaty men pretending that people believe they really are diabolical morticians or hip-hop heavyweights, there's a bunch of sweaty men pretending that they actually have a shot at the world title (it's adorable!).

The biggest matches kick-off around July 23rd with former World Cup contestants Iran, Saudi Arabia rising threat Uzbekistan and ex-Asian Champ Iraq in action. It's unlikely that they lose to their opponents (the Maldives, Hong Kong, Kyrgystan and Yemen respectively)...but like the Royal Rumble you never really know until it's underway. (Sure Iran's the Randy Macho Man Savage of Asian futbol...but Macho Man is gone...maybe Iran's doomed for the same fate?)

Through all the action we'll try to give a quick update, including quick adieus to each team as they bow out (it may only be a paragraph but it's the least we can do to honor the players, fans and delusional gamblers who thought they might have a shot).

Check back for more news later, after all, you never know when I'm going to randomly connect Randy Savage and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

African Nations Championship--While we were sleeping

So I had a dream last night about using a flashlight to see inside eggs, and spilled soup and my father yelling at me to come watch Wayne Rooney.

I woke up confused, and while piecing things together remembered: "Isn't there a Football Tournament on now?" Answer: Yes...yes there is...not that anyone would notice.

The ANC or African Nations Championship should not to be confused with the ACN or African Cup of Nations nor the other ANC (Nelson Mandela's African National Congress political Party) nor of course CAN (which is an emphatic way of spelling a small storage cylinder, usually made out of tin and valuable for those who like soup).

No, the African Nations Championship is a special tournament designed to highlight the best of African football, by focusing on those players who play in their local African leagues. So there's no Didier Drogba, no Samuel Eto'o and no Michael "The Bison" Essien (our honorary Ghanaian/Montanan). There are however 16 teams vying for the trophy...only...not any more.

It seems that while I was working on my thesis and having dreams about eggs, soup and Wayne Rooney, the tournament has already reached the knock-out stages (sidebar: I'm not a great news man am I?) But! World Football is always intriguing and the fact that this tournament comes fast on the heels of the Asian Cup and massive unrest in North Africa and is being held in Sudan means that things could be interesting both in terms of football and politically.

Let's take a look at the final 8. (The Quarter Finals kick off tomorrow!) The first matches will see South Africa against Algeria in a battle of two sides with some World Cup experience. Of course, Algeria has a number of players overseas while BafanaBafana is home to what many consider the best African league. Their group results bear that out with BafanaBafana easily topping a group that included a (weakened) Ghana (*tear*) while Algeria barely snuck in after managing draws against Gabon and Sudan. Speaking of the Nile Crocodiles, Sudan will be pitted against Niger [pronounced Nee-jhair for those of you worried about sounding like racists]. The hosts are in for a battle, as Niger boasts a solid midfield of local players, and cruised to second winning two and losing only to South Africa. Meanwhile, I have to base my entire analyses of Sudanese football off of one recent BBC (even Wikipedia is lacking!), but complaints of favoritism to Northern players (as well as the fact that not a single game has been played in the soon-to-be-free Southern sector) mean that uniting the country is probably not gonna happen. (And c'mon, Darfur can't be solved with a single great goal.)

On Saturday, Tunisia tussles The Democratic Republic of the Congo. Fresh off their revolution the Eagles of Carthage boast a wealth of homegrown talent (especially in a cohesive midfield) and topped their group with relative ease, while the defending champions from the most ironically named country in the world got in thanks to a 2-1 win over Cote D'Ivoire (just nudging them ahead of the Elephants). The last match sees Cameroon against Angola. On paper Angola's Black Antelopes should have the more well trained, unified side (rebuilding nicely after their first golden generation led them to the 2006 World Cup)--but they needed two goals to comeback against Rwanda and slip in to the out rounds. Meanwhile the Indomitable Lions (great nickname, ps) should have been easy pickings. None of the national first team plays in Cameroon, that national first team was absolutely shellacked in the World Cup (even with African footballer of the year Samuel Eto'o). Yet they cruised through their group winning each match and allowing nothing.

Based on first round performances it would be hard to bet against Cameroon and South Africa in the final...but if ever there was a team of destiny label to win, it would belong to Tunisia as the right team at the right moment in history. I'll keep trying to find video of this whole shindig, and share it with you if I ever can.

Monday, January 31, 2011

January 2011: 3 On/3 Off

We'll try and set this up so that each month we review the most important information about world football gleaned from matches, competitions and news. (Hopefully there's always something to talk about.) And to do that, we'll think about three heroes subbed onto the pitch, and three out of form slugs heading for the bench with their heads hanging low.
3 Coming On:

Japan in General and Kaisuke Honda in particular:
Winning the Asian Cup is a little like being the greatest best baseball team in triple A. You've got a trophy and god knows you deserve it...but everyone knows in their heart of hearts that it might not be that way if you had to play a big-time, high-profile squad of superstars in the making.
Still, the blue samurai deserve to be congratulated. And unlike the Albuquerque Isotopes, they will get to play some high-profile superstars this summer when they head down to the Copa America to try their luck against Brazil and Argentina. Win that and I'll genuflect and beg forgiveness...until then, I'll just keep clapping politely
Except for Kaisuke Honda. After a sterling World Cup he won man of the tournament honors in Qatar and set the stage for his continued rise to the title of Asia's top footballer. Sniggering over his relationship to the car factory needs to stop...he looks like he's for real.

Feeling Good in Qatar
The Asian Cup was chock full of good stories. The hosts overcame their minnow-ish ranking and made a strong showing against eventual champions Japan. The Uzbeks were a surprise entry into the semi-finals (except not to me...because I predicted it...because I'm AWESOME!). And for a brief period of time the Australians were able to distract their countrymen from surging flood waters with some stellar football and a near miss in the final match. Kudos Asia, Kudos!

Spain...the system everyone wants a part of
Just in case the fawning adoration of the World Cup winners wasn't enough, FIFA pointed out the supremacy of Spanish Football at their annual awards ceremonies in Zurich. And while the Spaniards didn't walk away with any major individual hardware...their system and league gave a full throated power yell of domination to anyone who still thought Spain's best contribution to recent world history was tapas.
Lionel Messi (Barcelona's wunderkind) won the Ballon d'Or. Jose Mourinho (Mr. Jump on the Bandwagon/Real Madrid) won the coach of the year. And the Fifa Pro World XI features 8 La Liga representatives and 6 Spanish Nationals. Investing in all that talented football may have diverted funds from other areas like...say...the crippling Iberian debt crisis...but hey! SHINY TROPHIES!! (Suck on that England)

3 Heading off

Saudi Arabia: The Riyadh Zoo
Here in America we have a long and storied history of teams that are quite simply CRAZY. The Bronx Zoo of the New York Yankees in the 1970s, The Portland Jail Blazers from the turn of the millenia, The Cincinatti Bengals of...well...pretty much forever. But no matter what your preferred local sport, few crazy ass teams can compete with the insanity of Saudi Arabia at the Asian Cup.
Lose your first game (2:1 to Syria), that's bad...but maybe not: fire the coach this second bad. Still, the Saudi's made their choice and went in confident against Jordan...where they lost again (1:0). It's hard to fire a coach after one match, so instead King Abdullah fired federation president (Prince Sultan Bin Fahd) and replaced him with Prince Nawaf Bin Faisal. Surely, after cleaning house of these losers, a meaningless game against a half-strength already progressed Japan would give them the chance to lick their wounds, learn their lessons. Or...lose 5:0 and lead to the sacking of their second coach in three matches. (Cue the slow sarcastic clap)

A Break-away Confederation?
I listen regularly to the BBC's World Football podcast (and if you're reading this website hoping for news I suggest you look there instead). Last week the Beeb broke the story of scuttlebutt surrounding a new Confederation that could be created by merging Oceania with East Asia. The move makes sense for a few people. First, Australia could stop pretending to be Asian. Second, Japan and South Korea could have lovely holidays in New Caldonia. Finally, China could bid for the World Cup in 2026 and really stick it to the Qatari federation and AFC president Mohammed Bin Hammam.
But once you dig a little deeper this is a terrible plan. Oceania gets nothing but a pack of guaranteed ass-kickings in Tokyo, Seoul and Sydney. The whole scheme completely undermines FIFA authority and sets up more snide bickering between bureaucrats (leading to more back stage wheeling and dealing rather than less). North America would likely get bumped to one-side AGAIN in the continental rotation order (and with Europe likely to throw a tantrum for 2030, our next shot would be 2034...22 years after the Mayan apocolypse!). Nice try East Asia (and Australia)...but no...just no.

Qatar's Crickets
One little bone to pick with Qatar after the AFC Cup...seriously? you broke the bank to win the World Cup and you the only two full houses you can draw are for the home team versus Japan...and the final? I've seen bigger houses for operas in Butte! I've met more dedicated footie fans in remote hillside villages of India! Come on guys...show us why you won it. (Unless it's through corruption in which case please give no sign).

Friday, January 21, 2011

AFC Cup Outrounds!

It's crunch time in Qatar and no...I'm not referring to the home stretch of a camel race. Today begins the out rounds of the AFC cup, and shockingly, for someone with absolutely no experience, I did pretty well on my predictions of the quarter finalists.

Japan, Uzbekistan, Australia, South Korea, Iran and Iraq all came through for me, with only China and Saudi Arabia (who fired two coaches in three matches) falling short. So the new darlings are Jordan and...yup...Qatar. I'm wondering if they're winning through illegality or through sheer antagonism towards the rest of the world.

If you've watched any of the highlights (Click here if you're interested) you may well have noticed the somewhat...generally...shall we say..."sparse" crowds at the matches. That's too kind: there are literally HUGE SWATHS of seats available at these games. Seriously, I've seen larger crowds at Craig Kilborn Fan Fests. My brother's high-school games were more attended than these matches...and they played in Bozeman...in November...after shoveling snow off the field.

So, hey, if you want to go on vacation and see some international soccer in the lap of luxury: Qatar's the way to go. (It'll be easier now than in 11 years anyway).

We'll be back in a few days to check on the semi's which will have at least one starry-eyed dreamer playing with the World Cup perennials. (Good luck surviving that one Uzbekistan/Jordan)

Sunday, January 09, 2011

AFC Cup 2011: A half-hearted/belated preview

Since the Asian Cup kicked off two days ago, I suppose I ought to point out precisely who is likely to win this and head on to the Confederations Cup in 2013.

Why? Because it's early January and there's NOTHING ELSE TO DO!

Let's lose Qatar (the deal with the Devil only won the them the world cup hosting, not actual talent), Syria (with only two stars left on their flag they only have so much collateral to trade with), North Korea (a change in management's always tough--for all his problems Kim Jong Il always got the red robot motivated) and much as it pains me to admit it: India. (Where the fans will be cheering right up until the cricket comes back on.

Just missing out on the out rounds we have Jordan (any non Michael form of "Jordan" can't win a title for fear of copyright infringement), Bahrain and the UAE (losing out of sympathy for their fellow obscenely wealthy Arab state: Qatar) and Kuwait...because I flipped a coin and they lost.

Ooops, Uzbekistan stayed alive until the knock out stage, but Japan will take care of that, while China crushes Saudi Arabia and moves wins the title of country that most frustrates Bill O'Rielly. On the other side of the draw, Australia and South Korea will run roughshod over Iraq and Iran because they'll be busy moping over their demotion on O'Rielly's list.

In the semifinals Australia will take China out for "a quick snort" the night before. Several hours and 22 lost pairs of pants later, a bedraggled/hungover China will be dumped from the tournament by a barely winded set of Socceroos. Meanwhile the Japanese and Koreans will do what they do best: hate eachother through a tense draw that ultimately results in a Korean victory.

The final on the 29th we'll have a rematch of a previous game between two group C rivals (as seen on January 14th). And under the blazing Qatari sun, a clear victor will emerge: and that victory will be....AUSTRALIA! (Because the crafty Aussies will spike their opponents Kim Chee...diabolic villainy...that's the Aussie way!)

Sunday, January 02, 2011

The Full 90: 2010/2011

Since we missed a chance to do a year in review, or a year in preview...how about we do both? With two halves covering 45 people, teams, places and moments that turned our heads in 2010, and 45 things to keep an eye on in 2011.

1st Half--2010
At the start of the year Egypt (1) showed us what we would all be missing in June by winning the African Cup of Nations (2). And while the Pharaohs would indeed be missed, you'd be hard pressed to say that The World Cup (3) was a failure without them. To be sure we might have been better served with them than with the whipping boys from Honduras (4) or North Korea (5). Speaking of the Red Robot (The coolest national team nickname of the year) (6) bad news for Kim Jong Il (7) and all fans of a free and independent press; the first live television event in decades, or maybe ever (8) ended with a 7-0 loss to Portugal (9) and professional tabloid headline/underwear model Cristiano Ronaldo (10).
Despite the triumph over the forces of evil on the pitch, Ronaldo lost a much bigger trophy--that of biggest goober in professional football to Wayne Rooney (11). You might recognize Rooney from his starring role in the Very cool Nike World Cup commercials (12) or, possibly, the bizarre Tiwanese computer animated recreations of his sexual exploits (13). Despite the monastic diligence demands of coach Fabio Capello (14) the Three Lions of England (15) were so distracted by injuries, Rooney and fellow horn dog John Terry (16) managed to barely scrape into the second round before getting positively throttled by Germany (16).
But protestations of English incompetence have nothing on France (17) and Italy (18). Les Blus quit on coach Raymond Domenench (19) not only mentally, but LITERALLY quitting and refusing to practice before playing South Africa (20) in their final (pointless) group match, the only Bafana Bafana win of the cup. Meanwhile, the Azzuri sleepwalked their way through two draws against Paraguay (21) and New Zealand (22) before losing to titans Slovakia (23). Point and laugh everyone point and laugh.
Okay, lets cease our focus on the idiots who lost, instead, lets remember those brave fools who managed to win in spite of everything else. Starting with Landon Donavan (24) whose last minute goal over Algeria (25) gave the USA (26) an epic win and begat the reactions that begat the Youtube clip that shut up the nation's soccer haters. Of course one could argue that Ghana's (27) win over us in the next round shut down the love affair, but I think it's probably still got some life left. Besides, as someone who was in Ghana at the time, I know it meant a lot to them (and this might just be my personal fandom highlight of the year (28) ):

video
While I learned to love Kevin Prince Boateng (29) and Andre "Dede" Ayew (30) I've got to feel for the truly impassioned (though slightly stubborn) Asamoah Gyan (31) who had the semi-finals in his fingers only to see them slip away. Of course, my personal tournament villain, Luis Suarez (32) helped with that. But no matter how much we may want to curse Uruguay (33) you've got to love Diego Forlan's (34) hair. Forlan led the way for exciting players captivating a world wide audience, and the raft of others including Mesut Oezil (35), Bastian Schwienstager (36), Wesley Snejieder (37), Keisuke Honda (38), Robert Koren (39) and David Villa (40).
Of course it was Villa who won in the end as the boys of La Furia Roja in Spain (41) finally lifted the World Cup over the perennial bridesmaids from The Netherlands (42). And while their party has lasted well into the new year, and the specter of insulting insinuations of corruption have faded in South Africa, Sepp Blatter (43) has gotten to appreciate scandal and innuendo anew with the awarding of the 2018 World Cup to Russia (44) and the 2022 event to Qatar (45).

2nd Half--2011
The awarding of more cups to future hosts gives us the opportunity to start looking forward into the year 2011 and the tonnage of events that will effect future world cup activities.
Start with the inauguration of Dilma Rousseff (46) the new president of Brazil (47). As the successor to the politician who brought back facial hair: Luiz Inacio "Lula" DeSilva (48). The good news for futbol fans is that Rousseff will likely continue most of DeSilva's policies. The bad news is that she's not quite as popular as DeSilva and might struggle to keep the construction/renovation of the 12 stadiums on track. Hey, why does that sound familiar?
But to start things off nice and easy we've got the Ballon D'Or Awards Spectacle on January 10th (49). Inside the labyrinthine secret lair of FIFA in Switzerland (50) the votes have been tabulated and soon we'll know who has pulled down the big fat trophies. The big prize is down to a race between Andres Iniesta (51), Xavi (52) and Lionel Messi (53). If you're noticing a certain Spanish flavor to that you're not alone. The world game is distinctly connected to the joys of paella and if you aren't part of La Liga (54) you're really just an after thought now (as evidenced by the fact that the three coaches nominated for Coach of the Year (55) all work in Spain). The equally enticing World XI (55) will be announced the same day: but only 3 players on the 55 name shortlist hail from somewhere other than Europe or South America. (Those 3 would be Didier Drogba (56), Samuel Eto'o (57) and, my favorite,
Michael "The Bison" Essien (58).) C'mon FIFA, no token rep for North America? or Asia? Sigh...
Well, Asia will just have to try and find a stand out starting with the Asian Cup (59). Kicking off in just 5 days on January 7th in the arab nation of Qatar (remember them? They're gonna host the World Cup in 12 years?). The 16 teams gearing up include relative minnows Syria (60), Jordan (61) and (even though I love them) India (61). But as the tournament unfolds keep an eye on the dogfight in Group C between South Korea (62) and Australia (63) (two World Cup teams will keep it interesting) and rising power Uzbekistan (64) (drawn into a weak Group A).
That final will kick off a year worth of confederation competitions building to the 2013 Confederations Cup (65). First Panama (66) hosts the Central American Cup (67) to pick up 5 teams to fill out the big dance: the CONCACAF Gold Cup (68) in June, where Mexico (69) will try to re-establish its dominance of the confederation. El Tricolor will follow that up with a trip down to Argentina (70) for the Copa America (71). Oddly, they'll also be with Japan (72)...why precisely Japan is competing for the title of best team in South America...well...uhh...I've got no clue. Just trust that one of the big powers will knock them out, with Chile (73) looking to be the feel good story of the year.
Throughout the summer there will be qualifiers aplenty for the 2012 African Cup of Nations (74) (to be held in Equatorial Guinea (75) and Gabon (76)) and the 2012 Euro Tournament (77) (in Poland (78) and the Ukraine (79)). But just in case you aren't in the mood for Mozambique V. Comoros on October 7th (80) or Luxembourg V. Albania on September 6th (81) don't worry there's plenty of other action to enjoy. Including the Women's World Cup in Germany (82), the U-17 World Cup in Mexico (83) and the U-20 World Cup in Columbia (84). Whether you want to try and spot up-and-coming talents (Alex Nimley (85) anyone?)or a host of women with enough talent and toughness to crush you between their little fingers (I'm looking at you Abby Wambach (86))
there's plenty of futbol to be enjoyed.
Kick back and enjoy the matches wherever you are in the world. Appreciate the patience and consistency of Ji-Su Park (87), the fine touch and goal scoring acumen of Zlatan Ibrahimovic (88) and the eternally entertaining Diego Maradona (89). Best of all...there's the Qualification Draw for the 2014 World Cup, on July 30th in Brazil (90)

Extra Time Predictions:
1: Argentina wins the Copa America at home...Diego Maradona pouts, Brazil goes crazy with the fear that they're in dire straits for futbol matches 3 years away.
2: The qualifying draw for the 2014 World Cup creates one very difficult qualifying group including both New Zealand and New Caldonia...the world press corps does not notice.
3: I won't write another post like this for at least a year.