Archive for the ‘FIFA’ Category

MY WORLD CUP IS BACK: The Raw Emotions of the Beautiful Game

Friday, June 20th, 2014

by Nwaji Jibunoh

Nwaji Blog

 

(Image courtesy of SoccerLens.com)

(Image courtesy of SoccerLens.com)

The year was 1982 and among my earliest memories in life. My twin brother and I struggling for space on our father’s lap as he attempted to balance the two of us while he watched the Brazilian squad of that year play possibly some the finest football the world had ever seen. That team consisted of the great Socrates, Zico, and Juninho. Players that mesmerized opponents with the Samba style Jorgo Bonito. Brazil was knocked out that year by a well-disciplined Italian team that would eventually go and win the World Cup, but what they did for me as a toddler was instantly convert me to a worshipper of the sport.

Subsequent tournaments such as Mexico ’86, Italia ’90, USA ’94, France ’98, South Korea/Japan ‘02 brought out the best players the world ever saw. What we also began to see as the years stacked on were the overt corporate commercialization of the sport and the introduction of prima donna global stars that had bigger personalities than the actual tournament itself. By Germany ’06 and South Africa ’10, players were no longer going to the World Cup for the same reasons that generations did before them. It became one big party, an opportunity to showcase to the world pure individualism. The core elements of the game were lacking, and it was starting to turn into pure entertainment. Yes, there was good football, I cannot lie (The ’06 final between France and Italy was quite epic), but something was missing. I did not feel the uncanny attachments and sheer euphoria I used to experience from days gone by.

Fast forward to Brazil 2014 where the beautiful game returns to the spiritual home of football. The games are being hosted in a country that produced the one and only Edson Arantes do Nascimento, better known as Pelé, the Royal Prince of this Sport, a record holding 5-time champions, and a team that combined the musical sensation Samba into the very fabric of their playing style.

We are only in the group stages, and we have already witnessed some of the finest football, ecstasy, and euphoria that this tournament has produced in the last 24 years. I honestly do not know if the game being played in Brazil is the reason for what we are witnessing or if players’ donning the colors of their national team is bringing the sexy back.

So far, we have seen absolutely sensational goals and goal celebrations. Let me quickly point out the Colombians. Every time they score, I honestly do not know what to expect, but their rhythmic Latin American inspired dance moves invigorate my soul each and every time. We are watching the Dutch National Team; La Orange returning to their Johann Cruyff philosophy of Total football by being the team of the tournament so far with comprehensive victories against current holders and two-time Euro champions Spain and a dogged Australian side. The German national team bringing their machinery of efficiency by blowing out a star studded Cristiano Ronaldo led Portuguese team. Then of course, we saw the USA national team beating the Black Stars of Africa Ghana in the game of the tournament so far. The US coming into their own despite heavy hating from individuals like myself, showing that yes indeed they belong here. We saw Lionel Messi finally walking into his own destiny and leading the Argentinian national team to victory. England being England as usual by underachieving each and every tournament, and then there was Mexico holding down the indefectible Brazilian, led by Neymar da Silva Santos in an Iron Clad match where their Goalie Ochoa becomes a cult legend.

My World Cup is back, because the Raw Emotions are back. We are seeing fans in the stadium weeping when their National Anthem is played. We have superstar players literally going bananas when they score goals and are instantly besotted by the enormity of the situation that they find themselves in. We are witnessing the relatively unknowns becoming Gods overnight. We are watching the Beautiful Game!

YES, YES, YES, MY WORLD CUP IS BACK!!!!!

 

Nwaji Jibunoh, International Correspondent for War Room Sports

Located in Lagos, Nigeria, Nwaji Jibunoh is War Room Sports’ International Soccer Contributor.  Nwaji also contributes commentary on U.S. sports from an international perspective.  He’s an Atlanta Falcons fan, Howard University alum, and former tight end for the North Atlanta High School Warriors.

USA vs Ghana: Upon Further Review

Wednesday, June 18th, 2014

by Veree Bampoe-Addo

veree blog

 

 

 

 

 

USA vs. Ghana (Image courtesy of mlssoccer.com)

USA vs. Ghana
(Image courtesy of mlssoccer.com)

Finally had a chance to take another look at Monday’s World Cup opener for USA and Ghana – let’s be honest, it’s hard to thoroughly analyze a game while having a few cold ones at the bar. Great football game overall, big win for USA, here are some final notes:

  • USA was pretty much on their back heel most of the game especially in the 2nd half but the defensive effort was impressive. The USA defenders marked the Ghanaian forwards well and managed to frustrate them. Ghana was actually exhausted in search for the elusive equalizer.
  • USA played pretty well on offense the few times they actually did have possession up front. They created the more threatening chances and most of their shots were quality looks. Only 8 shots the entire game but 7 of them were on goal.
  • USA needs to figure out how to maintain possession a little more – while it’s not “everything”, it helps if you can control the flow of the game a little bit. That would also help them create more chances and take some pressure off the defense. Maybe a different formation? Would be good to see Bradley more involved.
  • Ghana was the better team on Monday – unfortunately it comes down to the ability to put the ball in the net and they couldn’t do it; was kind of like the 2010 Quarterfinal between Netherlands and Brazil.
  • Ghana attempted a ridiculous amount of shots and yet weren’t able to cash in. They need to work on finishing because they definitely won’t get that many chances vs Germany on Saturday.
  • Starting lineup for Ghana was very questionable. Kwesi  Appiah had months to tamper with it and it doesn’t seem like he’s figured it out yet. Kevin Prince Boateng didn’t have a good game but his presence opened things up for the other forwards once he entered the game; he looked rusty and struggled to get with the flow of the game – attempted a few wild off-target shots. He’s better off in the starting lineup.
  • Goals: Both Clint Dempsey and Andre Ayew’s were World Class finishes. Hell of a set piece that set up the game winner for Brooks.
  • Man of the Match for Ghana was #7 Christian Atsu – a star in the making, great facilitator, had a key moment where he switched direction on Damarcus Beasley and sat him right on his butt – shows how dangerous he can be.
  • Man of the Match for USA was #13 Jermaine Jones in my opinion – made some key tackles, assisted on some of the better looks and seemed to be a part of every play.
  • USA’s preparation has to be in question – Altidore and Besler both pulled hamstrings. Are you kidding me? They knew that conditions would be humid, makes you wonder what approach they took in warm up drills leading up to the game.
  • Coach Kwesi Appiah will need to make major line up adjustments going into the Germany game on Saturday – he should consider benching John Boye, Johnathan Mensah and GK Adam Kawarasey for terrible mistakes they made on the field – they weren’t ready for the big stage.
  • I love the confidence that Klinsmann has this young team playing with. They believe in what they’re doing and despite talent limitations, they’re in a position to advance if they can get a few good bounces vs a vulnerable Portugal side on Sunday.

 

Veree Bampoe-Addo of The Sports Forum, for War Room Sports

 

The Gaffer & Hooligan Blog: CONCACAF Standing Strong

Wednesday, June 18th, 2014

by Kamal Hylton

Kamal Hylton Blog

 

 

 

 

Gaffer & Hooligan logo

 

Being a writer and podcaster that mainly covers MLS and CONCACAF, I’m taking a fair bit of pride in how well the region has done so far at the 2014 World Cup.
(Image courtesy of IslandMix.com)

(Image courtesy of IslandMix.com)

Not the most heralded of regions compared to UEFA (Europe) or CONMEBOL (South America), currently CONCACAF are 3-1-1 in the tournament. A record that is highlighted by Costa Rica’s 3-1 win against Uruguay, USA’s 2-1 win over Ghana and Mexico’s 0-0 draw over tournament hosts Brazil.

I’ve already touched on the Costa Rica game in my last Gaffer and Hooligan blog, but that was more from a Uruguay perspective.

The Ticos pulled off what has to be the shock of the tournament, not only winning but completely outplaying a far more talented side like Uruguay. Earning three huge points has turned Group D on its head, star forward Joel Campbell coming up big and helping set the table for what was to come.

Another big result for CONCACAF came Monday evening, USA picking up a much needed three points against Ghana.

John Brooks’ eighty-sixth minute winner is one of the moments of the tournament so far. The timing of his headed goal, his reaction after scoring and the numerous vine videos on social media of American Outlaw supporters groups all over the country going crazy will be a standout moment for me when the World Cup is over.

USA vs. Ghana was billed as a “must win game” for two reasons, as the Stars and Stripes attempted to get revenge on its African rivals for defeating and ultimately eliminating them from the last two World Cups. Other results also worked in the Americans favor, knowing there’s now a huge opportunity with Germany defeating Portugal 4-0 in the earlier group match.

Mexico followed up its 1-0 win over Cameroon with a credible 0-0 draw over Brazil, getting an otherworldly performance from goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa.

Standing tall under fire from the Brazilian attack, he kept his second clean sheet. Setting up El Tri very nicely for its final group match against Croatia next week.

Coming into the tournament, few will have had any CONCACAF teams advancing to the next round in their brackets. However, if the teams continue to perform there’s a chance that the region could see three of its four teams move on to the knockout rounds.

While some fellow Canadian National Team fans can’t bring themselves to cheer for CONCACAF rivals [particularly Honduras after losing 8-1 in World Cup Qualifying] or don’t see the regions success reflecting on or helping Canada in anyway, I take the opposite approach.

The further USA, Mexico and Costa Rica [or even Honduras if they play better] go there’s a better chance big teams around the world will look at CONCACAF players and more fans [particularly in North America] will be drawn to watching its national team, players or even local club on a more regular basis.

Be sure to keep up with my World Cup experience on the War Room Sports Blog and catch the Gaffer & Hooligan World Cup mini-shows on the War Room Sports Podcast Network.

The Gaffer & Hooligan Blog: A Nervous and Anxious time with Uruguayans

Sunday, June 15th, 2014

by Kamal Hylton

Kamal Hylton Blog

 

 

 

 

Gaffer & Hooligan logo
Since I’ve been following soccer, I’ve only watched four World Cup tournaments before Brazil 2014.

In that time, I’ve never watched a national team game at a real supporters hangout… until today.

However rather than watch one of the major nations that has a mixture of die-hards and casuals, I was fortunate to be invited by fans of a nation that as I’ve witnessed has pure passion and national pride for its team.

(Image courtesy of TorontoHispano.com)

(Image courtesy of TorontoHispano.com)

For my first genuine experience, that nation was Uruguay and the venue was Club Uruguay in Vaughan, Ontario, Canada (just outside Toronto).

La Celeste taking on the Ticos of Costa Rica to open up its tournament.

The South American nation has a relatively small population of about 3 million people, but with what they lack in numbers they make up for in emotion and devotion.

Being an outsider, I came into this match thinking the fans would exude confidence against a side like Costa Rica.

This was way off base.

Whether it has to do with past history or being one of the last teams to qualify for the big dance in both 2010 (advancing 2-1 on aggregate against Costa Rica) and 2014 (advancing 5-0 on aggregate against Jordan), there was a feeling of nervous energy and anxiety.

Ultimately losing the game 3-1, the feeling at Club Uruguay changed to despair.
Uruguay vs. Costa Rica (Photo courtesy of The Guardian.com)

Uruguay vs. Costa Rica
(Photo courtesy of The Guardian.com)

Part of this is knowing that the matches only get tougher, with England and Italy to come in the next two group games.

Even though the result wasn’t favourable, I did come away with an appreciation for the soccer supporters of Uruguay.

I’m particularly impressed with the soccer intelligence of the people, not only cheering when Edinson Cavani scored the team’s lone goal on a penalty but doing so at other less obvious moments as well. The place erupting when the team won throw-ins and corners, made smart tackles that gained possession and on clearances out of the penalty area.

Being a nervous fellow by nature, I’m not sure if my heart can handle watching another Uruguay game with Uruguayans, but if I do I’ll now be prepared and ready to hopefully experience the joy that I’m all too sure would be pouring out of the supporters with a win.

Be sure to keep up with my World Cup experience on the War Room Sports Blog and catch the Gaffer & Hooligan World Cup mini-shows on the War Room Sports Podcast Network.

Kamal Hylton of The Gaffer & Hooligan Soccer Podcast, for War Room Sports

The Gaffer & Hooligan Blog: Riding the Emotional Australian Roller Coaster

Saturday, June 14th, 2014

by Kamal Hylton

Kamal Hylton Blog

 

 

 

 

 

Gaffer & Hooligan logo

 

The 2014 World Cup is only a few days old and there have already been a number of talking points, including horrible refereeing calls in both the Brazil vs. Croatia and Mexico vs. Cameroon matches, as well as the Netherlands overthrowing Spanish kings with a 5-1 #BEATEMDOWN (shoutout to Bomani Jones) in a rematch of the 2010 World Cup Final.
 
However, I’ve also had a great experience during the unlikeliest of games.
On a personal level, one match has seen me go through a range of emotions. The match I’m referring to is…. Chile vs. Australia?
Chile vs. Australia (Image courtesy of fivesee.com)

Chile vs. Australia
(Image courtesy of fivesee.com)

This game really doesn’t jump off the page in any meaningful way and certainly it doesn’t produce a multitude of reasons why a Canadian-born Jamaican would get emotionally invested, but that’s what the World Cup can do to you.

Having quite a few Australian friends, I found myself living and dying with every chance and going through 1000 different emotions.
 
I started out intimidated by the pro Chilean crowd in full voice singing their national anthem. This quickly led to anguish going 2-0 down in the first 15 minutes, goals being scored by Alexis Sanchez and Jorge Valdivia.
 
Just when I thought the route was on, my emotional state changed again.
A feeling of pure joy came over me when Tim Cahill’s header hit the back of the net and cut the lead to 2-1, keeping the Aussies in the match and landing a psychological blow ten minutes before halftime.
 
For the remainder of the game I was filled with stress, everything from a key goal line clearance to keep the score at 2-1 to the slew of near misses and close shaves that nearly leveled the game at 2-2.  The closer the Socceroos came to scoring the more I found myself trying to will the ball into the goal, wanting to see the little guy shock the world.
 
However, Chile scoring a third goal in the 90th minute ending the match 3-1 left me feeling disappointed and sick. Not only for what is a fairly young Australian squad, but also for my friends.
 
Having no official nation to root for in the tournament, moments like these are what the World Cup is all about. I have no roots to Australia at all, but having watched that game and seeing how much it means to many of my Aussie friends, I’ll be wishing them luck and success for however long they’re in the tournament.
 
After going through all of that, one of my Aussie friend James McKern put it best “Honorary Aussie for the game!”.
 
Be sure to keep up with my World Cup experience on the War Room Sports Blog and catch the Gaffer & Hooligan World Cup mini-shows on the War Room Sports Podcast Network.
 
Kamal Hylton of The Gaffer & Hooligan Soccer Podcast, for War Room Sports

One Nation, One Team, #LanDone

Saturday, May 24th, 2014

by Veree Bampoe-Addo

 

Landon Donovan (Photo courtesy of Getty Images)

Landon Donovan
(Photo courtesy of Getty Images)

USMNT supporters were outraged Thursday afternoon when the final 23-Man World Cup roster was revealed. None of us expected this. The most notable player we were all expecting to see wasn’t a part of it. Imagine in 1992 seeing the final Dream Team roster set for Barcelona without MJ? You get the point. Considering the man’s contributions to the growing of US Soccer (Google his accomplishments), he deserves to be on the roster. I’m a big fan of Klinsmann – I followed his career in the 90’s when he made monumental contributions to the success of the German National Team but this move leaves a dark spot on his coaching resume. Being Ghanaian, born here in the States, I support both USMNT and Ghana when it comes to international soccer (imagine the conflict I’ve had the last 2 World Cups). However this move Klinsmann pulled makes me not even want to root for USA in this World Cup…. definitely made it a lot easier for me to root against them when they play Ghana in the opener on June 16th. A power struggle is the only reasonable conclusion I can draw when you take 18-20 year-olds with less than 5 caps combined over Donovan. I’m surprised that the U.S. Soccer Federation concurred his decision. How can you go into this tournament without your icon, proven veteran, the most accomplished player in your program’s history, and fan favorite? I understand Landon going on hiatus during the qualifiers last year didn’t help his case, I also understand he’s 32, and doesn’t have the speed and endurance like he did 4 years ago – I sort of realized that in the last friendly match vs Mexico a few months ago when he subbed in late in the game. He didn’t look sharp but that may have been him not having sufficient playing time to warm up. The least Klinsmann could have done would be to add him as a reserve, even on the bench. His invaluable experience would serve this team well from a mentoring standpoint.

A good World Cup team consists of the right combination of veterans and young players. Only 5 (Beasley, Bradley, Howard, Altidore and Dempsey) of the USMNT’s 23 players have previous World Cup experience. At age 33, Klinsmann captained the German National Team in the 98 World Cup, so at age 32, you would think Landon Donovan has at least 1 more WC left in him. Our program here is not as prolific as Brazil’s who can turn over their World Cup roster every 4 years and yet compete at a high level. I remember ramblings about Ronaldinho not being a part of their 2010 team. With or without Donovan, USA has a tall order being in the “Group of Death” with Germany, Portugal and Ghana. The youngsters just might be intimidated by being in the presence of the top players in the World – Ronaldo, Essien, Ozil, Muller, Nani etc… Landon is on the same plateau as the aforementioned so I like USA’s chances better with him on the roster. It’s disappointing that this happens at a time where interest in U.S. Soccer is rapidly expanding (credit Donovan’s notoriety among the fans as well as “The Outlaws”) – fans will be turned away, ratings and merchandise sales will be also be affected. I started to call World Soccer Shop to cancel my Jersey order after I heard the news – but ultimately decided against it. I’ve seen several marquee players play in their last World Cup Tournament late in their career (Maradona, Henrick Larsson, Zidane) so a part of me is not accepting that we’ve seen the last of Landon Donovan in a World Cup. Didier Drogba and Miroslav Klose will both be 36 when the tournament commences but made their respective national teams’ final cut. Depending on what Donovan does in the next 4 years, there’s a possibility that he gets a call up for the 2018 World Cup at age 36, Klinsmann’s contract will be up by then. Also who knows what will happen between now and kick off on June 16th. Just saying, it could happen. I don’t believe “Lan-done”.

 

Veree Bampoe-Addo of The Sports Forum, for War Room Sports

FOR THE LOVE OF MONEY: THE BEAUTIFUL GAME AND CRIME (Part 1)

Wednesday, February 6th, 2013

by Nwaji Jibunoh

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

At the 1978 World Cup Finals in Argentina, there was an absent figure that was highly regarded at the time as one of the greatest soccer players after Pele.  His name was Johan Cryuff; the man who invented and executed total football and showcased his skills on the grandest stage throughout the 70’s.  Cryuff had played for his country; The Netherlands in the previous tournament in 1974 and reached the final game losing to Germany.

Everyone was expecting this prolific player to return 4 years later and catapult La Orange (that’s the nickname for the Dutch national team) into super stardom.  At the last minute, their talisman pulled out of the tournament to the shock and awe of the world.  There were all sorts of speculation as to why he dropped out, but it wasn’t until 2008 when he finally spoke out indicating that he and his family had been the victims of an attempted kidnap plot.  He stated that experience and the demands from the assailants with regard to his profession had such a profound effect on him that he decided to exit the world stage of soccer to the disappoint of millions of fans, the expense of several marketing magnates, and a dent in the reputation of the beautiful game.

Criminal elements have always found their way into sports.  Johan Cryuff is one of the first examples of such a high profile case where an organized crime syndicate ultimately affected a decision made by a professional athlete creating the beginning of football scandals influenced by Organized Crime.

Yesterday, Europol in a very bizarre and interesting press conference stated that there are currently almost 700 games whose outcomes where determined as a result of Match Fixing.  Now, match fixing is not new to the World of Soccer.  After all, all you have to do is go back to Olympique Marseille in the French League in 1994 and AC Milan and Juventus from the Italian top flight in 2006 to see evidence of the influence of criminal elements in soccer and their very long reach.  But, this particular situation currently being investigated by Europol showcases a new depth to how bad this scandal has become.  We are talking about 680 games, 15 countries, 425 referees in a span of less than 3 years.  Absolute MADNESS!!!!

In as much as the details are not public right now as the investigations are ongoing, it does spur the question of the integrity of the sport.  For majority of individuals who aspire to be professionals in this sport, it will always be more than just a game.  It is first and foremost a way out of one’s current socioeconomic situation.  In developing countries, this is more apparent than anything else.  So for every young lad from a South American or African ghetto looking to one day make it big in world football, there are countless Europeans already enrolling in youth development programs honing their craft at a very early age.  So even before one can conceptualize it, the disparity already exists.  Some make it through the cracks, others won’t.  What this now creates is a recipe for match fixing.  How so?  Check it; the likes of Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, Wayne Rooney, and Didier Drogba earn on average 200,000  Pounds Sterling per week ($320,000 USD).  These guys play for the likes of Barcelona, Real Madrid, Manchester United, and Drogba who left Chelsea in May 2012.  All these clubs are well funded with billionaire owners.  Now, these clubs will as a result of their schedules play the likes of Accrington Stanley, Real Zaragoza, Reading FC, and Debrecen.  These are clubs that you will probably never hear of on ESPN.  The average salary from these clubs that I have just mentioned is in the ball park of 1000-3000 Pounds Sterling per week ($1600 – $4800).  Any mafiaso, crime agent, etc can easily go to any member of the aforementioned teams as a result of such ridiculous earning disparities and say “I will give $20,000 in cash if you miss a few shots and another $40,000 if you allow Messi to breeze right by you”.  No matter your level of competitive spirit, honesty, and integrity, your morals will be questioned especially when you have responsibilities and even worse when you know the man they are asking you to NOT defend makes 40 times what you’re making.

The lack of having an effective salary cap and salary floor structure in FIFA regulated leagues along with a regimented punitive system to prevent overt betting is partly the cause of this problem, and as Europol begins to release the names of the clubs, players, games, referees, and countries involved in this fiasco, I am sure somebody may want to hire Olivia Pope to fix this Scandal.

 

Nwaji Jibunoh, International Correspondent for War Room Sports

Located in Lagos, Nigeria, Nwaji Jibunoh is War Room Sports’ International Soccer Contributor.  Nwaji also contributes commentary on U.S. sports from an international perspective.  He’s an Atlanta Falcons fan, Howard University alum, and former tight end for the North Atlanta High School Warriors.