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 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.