Asian Cup Quarterfinals Preview

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It’s something of a shame that there wasn’t some sort of elaborate Asian Cup bracket, because looking at the quarterfinal matches it reads across the board as though it could’ve been drawn up on paper. Japan, Australia and South Korea were arguably the three favorites heading in, with shouts from Iran and Qatar, all three have to be favorites to make the semifinals, along with the Uzbek upstart (Jordan’s miracles may have run dry) and the insane training regime which has spawned a new Asian power.

Of course, maybe splitting the final prize 5,000 ways wouldn’t be all that wonderful.

Friday, 21 Jan 2011:

Uzbekistan vs. Jordan
Japan vs. Qatar

Saturday, 22 Jan 2011:

Australia vs. Iraq
Iran vs. South Korea

Semifinal fixtures (with corrections)

25 Jan 2011: Semifinal 1: Japan/Qatar winner vs. Iran/South Korea winner
25 Jan 2011: Semifinal 2: Uzbekistan/Jordan winner vs. Australia/Iraq winner

The Blue Samurai take their continued evolution and sweet nickname into the house that Qatar built, simply because it’s in Doha. Form team/better team versus the home team.

Earlier in the day it’s Uzbekistan and Jordan, arguably the two most surprisingly impressive teams of the groups; Jordan, in fact, was most stunningly so, but Uzbekistan seems as though it may have a little bit more. Cinderella looks as though she’ll lose her shoe here.

South Korea gets Iran, a quietly good football team, but not quite as good as South Korea, while Australia gets the defending champions, Iraq, looking for a second miracle.

A brave soul would pick something a great distance from Japan v. South Korea and Australia v. Uzbekistan; the smart mind wouldn’t.

Drifting Towards A Winter World Cup

schnee-11186122-262kgOne of the major concerns, if not the major concern, of the World Cup in Qatar has been that pesky issue of its location – a very, very warm location. The summers are scorching and though their big promise to world football was air conditioned stadiums, as many have said: you can’t air condition Qatar. Though they damn well might try.

With this in mind, figures have been popping up advocating a winter World Cup, touting its possibilities. Only they’re not just figures, they’re powerful figures, with titles and clout behind them; names like Beckenbauer and Platini.

And, much as we may not like him, the most powerful name of all: Sepp.

Blatter told a press conference in Abu Dhabi where the club World Cup is taking place that he too supported a winter World Cup.

“It is important to play when the climate is appropriate and I’m thinking about the footballers, not only the fans but the actors,” he said.

“Personally I think it would be better that it is played in the winter … but it’s not easy to realise.”

I’m fascinated by this for one reason and one reason only; one which has nothing at all to do with heat, but rather one of the more underrated aspects of the World Cup: midseason form.

It’s not some fallacy or media-derived buzzword; it’s very, very real. Equally as real as the fact that the majority of the best players in the World Cup, those plying their club trade in Europe, partake in the World Cup after a gruelling domestic season, many of them with little left in the tank but adrenaline and their childhood dreams. Often enough, but less than ideal.

Now imagine you take those players, the best in the world, and toss them into the World Cup at peak fitness, peak form, and with a topped-up tank with which to dazzle the world. The summer World Cup may be tradition, but once, just once, we have to see a winter World Cup, for the sake of football itself. It may be unlike anything we’ve ever seen before, on a number of fronts.

Danny Jordaan Cleanses His Soul

FIFA-Headquarter-In-Zuric-001Now’s probably not the best time to announce this, not with Sepp basking in his powerful glory and FIFA in heaps of trouble as it is, but alas, Danny Jordaan must cleanse his soul of all its evils.

Portuspain 2018 and Qatar 2022 have been accused of colluding for the upcoming World Cup decisions, supposedly agreeing to swap votes. While this is investigated by FIFA and a team of novice, possibly fictional, pre-teen sleuths, Jordaan, head of the South African World Cup, admitted they did as much to win this summer’s World Cup.

He’s got to stay relevant somehow.


The man who secured this year’s World Cup for South Africa says he tried to get England to withdraw from the 2006 bidding by offering Nelson Mandela’s support for a 2010 English bid.

While South Africa did get Brazil to pull out of the 2006 bidding, England stayed in the contest with South Africa—and the tournament went to Germany instead. “In the end we wanted a straight fight, so we sent an emissary to the English bid, but the English believed they were going to win 2006,” Jordaan told the International Sports Event Management conference in London.

Jordaan recalled that England was told: “If you withdraw we will get Nelson Mandela to come to London, to praise you and say nice things about you, and then in 2010 you will be stronger because then you will have dealt with the difficulty of the debate of 1966-2006. But, of course, we didn’t convince them.”

Jordaan later said such deals would be harder to attempt now because bidding nations have lucrative deals with commercial partners that would prevent a late withdrawal.

England? Overconfident regarding a World Cup? Never.

As collusion is “explicitly forbidden” by FIFA, Jordaan is lucky that the South African World Cup is done and dusted, and nothing short of Sepp inventing a time machine (wait for next month’s Forbes) can bring it back. Because it’s not like he’s involved with FIFA as part of FIFA’s official inspection team. Oh, he is.

They just don’t care to be subtle anymore, do they?

Larissa Riquelme Gives Everyone a Reason to Support Paraguay

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I didn’t know who Larissa Riquelme was before today. I’d seen her picture in Chris’ World Cup Awards post last week (and had felt an overwhelming desire to make phone calls for the rest of the day) and had seen multiple photos of her since, but had assumed the attractive lady in red, white and blue was just a particularly stunning soccer fan.

Turns out she’s actually a Paraguayan lingerie model with massive massive… enthusiasm for la albirroja.

I should credit Dirty Tackle with my putting two and two together and figuring out who Riquelme was:

Described as Paraguay’s No. 1 fan, Riquelme is a model like so many others you’ve never ever heard of but seen pictured in popular alleys of the Internet. Yet because of her emphatic support of her national team and the hypnosis she holds over cameras far and wide, she now overflows from the pages of leading sports sites like Spain’s AS.com, Italy’s Corriere dello Sport, Brazil’s Globo, and has become one of the most popular names in search engines and on Twitter. On Tuesday, Larissa Riquelme searches on Yahoo rocketed 241%.

Join Larissa in supporting Paraguay over at Paraguay World Cup Blog

Good news for lovers of, erm, enthusiasm is that when Brazil’s Globo suggested Larissa Riquelme match Diego Maradona’s promise to run naked through the streets should her team win the World Cup, she answered “Of course, but with my body painted with the colors of Paraguay.”

So there you have it. If Argentina wins the World Cup we get to see Diego Maradona naked in Buenos Aries. If Paraguay wins the World Cup we get to see Larissa Riquelme naked in Asuncion. I know Argentina plays the more attractive football, but I think I’d prefer a closer look at Riquelme’s enthusiasm than whatever it is Maradona hides under his clothes.

If you need any extra persuading to support Paraguay, here are a few more images of Larissa Riquelme supporting Paraguay:

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Viva la albirroja!!!

If you like your football news mixed with shots of some of the loveliest ladies associated with the game, check out WAGs Offside, getting ready for its new club season.

Oscar Tabarez: A Man So Bold.

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He may not garner the attention of Diego Maradona, incur the wrath like Dunga or keep the world on the edge of its seat like Loco Bielsa, but Oscar Tabarez is making a name for himself in the inane world of South American coaches.

It’s largely due to the exception “start” – if you can call it that – of Uruguay, but it certainly helps that he’s still throwing in his little quirk of naming the lineup days ahead of a match. Even so, you’d think he’d play his cards close to the vest for a World Cup quarterfinal.

Never. The lineup’s below, and he dares Milovan Rajevac & Co. to scheme against it.

The coach, known as The Master because of his days as a schoolteacher, often names his team well before a match. Asked by reporters to do so on Wednesday, he simply shrugged his shoulders and rapidly reeled off the names.

They were Fernando Muslera, Diego Lugano, Mauricio Victorino, Jorge Fucile, Maximiliano Pereira, Diego Perez, Egidio Arevalo, Edinson Cavani, Alvaro Fernandez, Luis Suarez and Diego Forlan.

Part of the reason he’s able to do this is that Uruguay is so adept at changing tactical faces on the fly the personnel is largely irrelevant. They could play four strikers – and it’s close – and still run out a 5-4-1 team picture in front of Fernando Muslera. One of the most versatile teams at this World Cup, and to scheme against them means long, sleepless nights with a crack team of analysts and a minority stock in Red Bull.

That said, it’s still incredibly ballsy to lay one’s cards on the table and say “beat me now”, whether that’s only half the story or not. One could even say he’s really laying his beef on the grill, and unveiling a whole lot more than his Little Diego given what’s on the line.

Spanish Superskills With Juan Mata

There’s a two day break in World Cup action, so we don’t have any goal or other match highlights to share today. But that’s OK. Because what we do have is this footage from one of Spain’s practice sessions in which young Valencia attacker Juan Mata completely befuddles Real Madrid defender Raul Albiol with a trick so complex I have no idea what to call it.

It’s a roll, it’s a change of direction, it’s maybe a crossover, it’s definitely a nutmeg. It’s good enough to warrant a celebration. It’s the sort of trick that makes me wish YouTube had a slow motion button. I want to study this move in detail and then fall over while trying to repeat it. Don’t expect to see Mata pulling this out during an actual World Cup game though. The 22 year old has so far only played 20 minutes of Spain’s campaign. Which I think underlines the quite unfair level of talent that currently exists in this Spain squad. Can anyone explain the Madonna “Like a Prayer” soundtrack though?

Nigerian President Suspends Super Eagles From International Football

sad eagleThe important thing when getting knocked out of the World Cup is not to overreact. It’s not the end of the world. It’s just the end of your tournament. So you dust yourself off, get ready to start again and prepare to do better in the next tournament. Goodluck Jonathan disagrees.

The Nigerian President was apparently so disappointed with the Super Eagles’ World Cup performance (finishing bottom of Group B) that he’s suspended the team from international competition for two years.

“Mr President has directed that Nigeria will withdraw from all international football competition for the next two years to enable Nigeria to reorganise its football,” Ima Niboro, Jonathan’s senior communications adviser, told reporters.

“This directive became necessary following Nigeria’s poor performance in the ongoing FIFA World Cup,” he said.

So if Goodluck Jonathan gets his way, Nigeria won’t even enter qualification for Africa Cup of Nations 2012. Because… that will help Nigeria prepare for future international tournaments? I don’t follow. What I do follow, is that Jonathan appears to have found a loophole in FIFA’s strict policy against government meddling.

Usually any government interference results in FIFA suspending the national team from all international football. Which is usually a punishment too great for the government to risk. But in this case… since President Jonathan actually wants to suspend Nigeria from international football, FIFA’s reaction plays right into hands. So well played President Jonathan, if you pull this off you are officially the first politician to outmaneuver Sepp Blatter. So well done. But it’s still a terrible idea.

For more on the Super Eagles, (who we’re guessing will be playing in the next two years), check in with Nigeria World Cup Blog