Tag Archives | Soccer

Why You Shouldn’t be Surprised When England Lose

2016 06 27 england iceland euro

In about five hours England play Iceland in a Euro 2016 final 16 game. England may not lose this match, but they will almost certainly not win the tournament.

Here’s why you shouldn’t be surprised that the England national team aren’t more successful than they are.

Are you ready?

Here it is:

They’re actually not a global footballing power.

Now, this may come as a surprise, given that the guy who coached the soccer team at your high school had an English accent, as do many of the pundits who commentate on football games on TV. And yes, England is home to world’s most popular league.

2016 06 27 england crest

In addition, as British people may remind you, England invented the game and in 1966 won the World Cup — though it was at home in England and the team benefited from a dubious refereeing decision.

In the half century since then, however, they have won…not a single title.

The closest they came was making it to the World Cup semi-final in 1990 — a benchmark even the U.S. nearly achieved in 2002, when Gregg Berhalter* would have scored had it not been for a Torsten Frings handball that went unpunished.

But I digress.

Among the factors I have heard people give for England’s failure to win tournaments:

  • The Premier League is too fast-paced and physically demanding
  • There’s no winter break, so players can’t recuperate properly
  • There are too many foreigners playing in the Premier League, so English players don’t get a chance to develop
  • Highly paid players are more devoted to their clubs than to England
  • The youth team coaching isn’t good enough, so players don’t reach their full potential
  • Previous coaches, like Fabio Capello, were too strict or didn’t understand English culture or communicate with their players
  • English players typically play their best in cold weather; they can’t win in the heat.
  • They’re just so unlucky, with inevitable pre-tournament injuries
  • Penalties! They’re a crapshoot!
  • The English media are too hard on players, who then crack under the pressure of carrying a nation’s weight on their shoulders
  • Wives and girlfriends coming along to tournaments distract the players

And I honestly wouldn’t be surprised if another reason is added to the list after this tournament: Brexit somehow distracted the players, or sapped the fans of their enthusiasm.

But, as some have pointed out, England only under-achieve if you think they should do better.

I don’t. They do about as well as you could expect.

When you think England, don’t think Brazil, Germany, or Italy.

Think Portugal.

In other words: pretty good, but not absolutely top-tier.

Let’s look at their Fifa world rankings since 1993:

2016 06 27 england fifa ranking

So, they’re now ranked 11th in the world, and their average ranking since 1993 is ten. That’s pretty good! But it doesn’t make them elite.

Other sides that have won the World Cup once, like England, include France, which won in 1998 and have an average ranking of nine, and Spain, which won in 2010 and has an average ranking of five. Both are better than England.

What about the big boys?

Brazil have won five World Cups. This is what their ranking — which averages out to three over the years — looks like:

2016 06 27 brazil fifa ranking

Germany (average ranking: five) and Italy (average ranking: seven) have won four times each. This is what their rankings look like:

2016 06 27 germany fifa ranking

2016 06 27 italy fifa ranking

Portugal, which have an average ranking of 11, are much more like England:

2016 06 27 portugal fifa rankings

So, again: England don’t underperform. They perform as they always have.

They’re basically Portugal, except they won the World Cup fifty years ago. And they don’t have a Cristiano Ronaldo.

*My own personal footballing claim to fame: In a college game against the University of North Carolina, Gregg Berhalter scored a penalty on me. I dove the right way, guessing the left footer would blast it to my left, and came absolutely nowhere near it.

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Mesmerizing Vine: Levandowski Scores 5 Goals in 9 Min.

I’m, like, nearly a fortnight late in pointing this out, but still: It’s incredible.

You may have seen the news that Bayern Munich’s Robert Lewandowski recently scored five times in nine minutes against Wolfsburg. This link shows all of the goals in the run of play.

I also found, embedded above and online here, a mesmerizing Vine showing all five stitched together.

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Video: Italians Try to Pronounce Wojciech Szczesny’s Name

With the recent signing of goalkeeper Petr Cech — see my previous post and bold prediction — it looks like Arsenal’s Wojciech Szczesny is heading to AS Roma on loan.

This tweet from football writer James Horncastle alerted me to an excellent video in which Roma fans try to pronounce their new Polish goalkeeper’s name.

The video is embedded above and online here.

For the record, here’s how you say his name:

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THAT MESSI GOAL

You have got to be kidding me.

Update: Original video is no longer available on YouTube. So I switched it out for a new one. If the one above is yanked, search YouTube for “Messi goal Athletic Bilbao.”

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Arsenal Players + Durian = Funny

English Premier League sides Arsenal, Everton and Stoke are coming here to Singapore in July for some pre-season exhibition matches.

Ahead of the trip, Arsenal players were asked to try the notoriously stinky durian fruit, native to Southeast Asia. Love their reactions.

The video is embedded above and on YouTube here.

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Yes, This is a Photo of Me with Giorgio Chiellini

2015 01 11 np chielini

File under: Brushes with iconic soccer players in Jakarta. Related post from May: Meeting Fulham and Manchester United great Edwin van der Sar in the Jakarta airport.

I’m back after an excellent holiday break.

In the week or so I spent offline with friends and family, I had plenty of time to daydream, catch up on sleep, read books — books!* — and consider all the excellent things that happened during 2014.

And I realized: I forgot to tell you, dear friends, about how I met** Juventus and Italy great Giorgio Chiellini*** in Jakarta in August.

Yes, that’s the two of us in the photo above.

I was in Indonesia working on stories and, one afternoon, visited a five star hotel in Jakarta.

It just so happened that storied Italian club side Juventus were staying there, as they were in town for an exhibition game.

And who did I see? Yes, it was Chielini, the powerful Juventus and Italy defender.

Yes, the player who Luis Suarez bit during the World Cup last summer:

It was remarkable to see him in person.

And the answer is: No, I did not pose for the photo — like this one — as if I were biting him.

*More to come soon on a remarkable novel I read during my down time.

**By “met,” I mean that I approached him as he strode across the hotel lobby, gestured to my phone, and then stood next to him for approximately five seconds as we had our photo taken together. After which he walked away. It was not a lengthy interaction.

***No, given my love for all things goalkeeper-related, I did not bump into Juventus and Italy’s legendary Gianluigi Buffon.

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Neymar 4-0 Japan

2014 10 15 neymar show

Just very briefly: Yes, we were at the game here in Singapore last night to see Neymar single handedly demolish Japan and overtake Bebeto to become the Selecao’s fifth leading scorer of all time — at the age of just 22:

Neymar scored all four goals as Brazil eased to a 4-0 friendly win over Japan in Singapore.
The 22-year-old has now taken his tally to 40 in 58 internationals.
He rounded Japan goalkeeper Eiji Kawashima and slotted in for the first, before adding a second from a pass by Liverpool’s Philippe Coutinho.
The Barcelona forward, who helped Brazil to victory against Argentina on Saturday, swept in to make it 3-0 and headed the fourth from Kaka’s cross.
Neymar also went close with a free-kick that hit the post, while Kaka’s header was pushed on to the bar by Kawashima.

The pitch was poor.

Japan were in disarray.

The rest of the Brazil side were less than scintilating.

But Neymar. His quickness, his control, his creativity, his pinpoint finishing.

Yes, he’s that good.

Here’s a video I shot of his third goal, though it’s not great footage:

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Neymar bags his third, a real poacher's goal, against Japan here in Singapore tonight. Brazil 4-0 Japan.

View on Instagram

And here’s a video of all his goals:

Spectacular.

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Jérémy Ménez’s Insane Goal for AC Milan

AC Milan’s French midfielder Jérémy Ménez scored an outrageous goal against Parma in a recent 5-4 win in Italy’s Serie A.

Embedded above are a couple of Vines and a longer YouTube clip. Crazy stuff. Goal of the year, no?

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Must-Follow World Cup Pundits: Men in Blazers

If you’re not following them already — and if, as I’m assuming, you love everything about the World Cup and the U.S. team — be sure to follow Roger Bennett and Michael Davies, a.k.a. Men in Blazers.

The two pundits, Brits who are long-time U.S. residents, combine in depth knowledge of the sport with an immigrant’s love for U.S. soccer.

They are especially well informed about the transformation in style and attitude that U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann has brought to the American side. (For more on that topic, see this WSJ interactive from earlier this month.)

Also, they are delightfully silly.

While I also follow The Guardian‘s World Cup Football Daily podcast and occasionally BBC 5 Live’s World Cup Daily, Rog and Davo, as they’re known, are so enjoyable because they’re lighthearted: They frequently weave in cultural references and inside jokes, and do not at all take themselves seriously.

Here are some of their recent podcasts.

You can also find their ongoing videos and other contributions on ESPN FC here.

They’re on Twitter at: @meninblazers.

Sample Tweet:

Embedded above and online here: their recent take on the U.S.-Germany game, and an audio podcast after the U.S.-Portugal match.

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On England and the World Cup

Snips from “A Soccer Empire, Deeply Confused,” David Winner‘s contribution to the New York Times‘s feature on the World Cup and national playing styles:

Soccer has long been a bastion of a peculiarly 19th-century conception of Englishness the nation seems reluctant to relinquish. The game was born during the era of empire when the country’s elite public schools adapted earlier forms of violent folk football for the purpose of education.

Typical rustic folk games involved hundreds of drunken men from rival villages rampaging through streets and fields, trying to drive, say, a casket of beer (the proto-ball) into the crypt of a church (the proto-goal). The schools distilled such testosterone-fuelled rituals into new formats involving smaller teams, sober boys and sodden leather balls. Codified by the Football Association and later disseminated to the world, this style of soccer was never the so-called beautiful game; the original purpose of educators was to instill manly and martial virtues into future imperial soldiers and administrators.

And:

Just as adapting to their diminished, post-imperial status in international affairs has been a struggle, so the English are taking a long time to abandon the fantasy that, having invented the game, they should still expect to win the World Cup.

The truth — as everyone elsewhere noticed long ago — is that the nation has only once gone further than the quarterfinals of a major tournament played abroad (it reached the semifinals in Italy in 1990).

English soccer confusion, delusion and cloying nostalgia have become tedious. The time for the national team to adopt a bit of modesty and modernity — and to move to embrace change — is long overdue.

Read the whole thing.

(Via Amy Lawrence.)

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