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Europe’s Poor Performance… and Other Useless Stats

Ronaldo_2956126bThe major story lines leading up to this World Cup were all about things that had little or nothing to do with football.  Faulty or incomplete stadiums, paltry labour conditions, a populace acting as unhappy hosts, the ever-present whispers of bribes and corruption… this is how we talked about Brazil.

Two weeks into the tournament, however, and the story is very much about the game itself.   Wide-open play has meant a treasure chest of goals, the most ever for the group stage.  Out of the 48 matches so far, only eight of them have been draws, and only five of those have been nil-nil.  Meanwhile, there have been a lot of shutouts (almost half of the matches) but only 13 games have been either 0-0 or 1-0 finals.  For this writer anyway, this has been the best World Cup since France ’98.

However, several European nations might disagree with me.   Out of the 13 UEFA teams in the tournament, only the Netherlands, Greece (a first for Ethniki), Belgium, Germany, France and Switzerland are going to the Group of 16.   For the second World Cup in a row, less than half of the European teams are progressing.  Is this because the former colonial powers can’t play away from their home continent? Maybe… but the European influence has been declining for some time.

If you take the percentage of total participants in each tournament* allocated to UEFA (in 2010, that was 13/32 or 40.625%) and multiply it by the percentage of European teams that make the knockout round (again in 2010, it was 6/16 or 37.5%), you can — imperfectly — see well how the confederation performs.

There are a couple of trends that emerge.  First of all, the number of UEFA spots have pretty much stayed the same, with one or two additions or subtractions.  But as the tournament has expanded, this has meant the Europeans’ share of World Cup berths has declined.  Nothing shocking here.

A familiar sight for England fans over the last half-century

A familiar sight for England fans over the last half-century

What is changing is who are winning the knockout berths.  At least three CONMEBOL teams have qualified for the next round in three out of the last five tournaments; they only got two spots in 1994 and 2002, and Brazil won both of those anyway (FYI the Brazilians have only missed the knockout round once, in 1966… between World Cup victories in 1962 and 1970).   Last tournament, two CONCACAF teams reached the knockout stage; this year, there are three.  For the first time ever, two African teams have reached the Group of 16 in 2014.

The reason for the European decline are fuzzy.  Some blame the flood of foreign players — particularly South Americans — into the big European leagues, pushing home-grown players aside and making big clubs less likely to develop their own youngsters.  Others say European players lack the desire to achieve greatness for country, because they are getting paid so much by their clubs.

However, it could all back to simple maths.  The change starts to be noticeable in Mexico’s 1986 World Cup.  João Havelange had won the FIFA presidency in 1974 on promises to let more developing nations into the tournament.   Twelve years later, Morocco was the first African Nation to qualify for the knockout round along with hosts, Mexico.  It was the first time two teams from one of the “other” confederations made it through with the big boys.   Since then, both CAF and CONCACAF have had at least one team in the elimination rounds, and CONMEBOL get at least 50 percent of its teams into the knockouts.

Capello

Capello thinks about how to spend his millions

What is more interesting is who is out.  The platinum generation of Spanish footballers finally ran out of currency, dropping out at the group stage for the first time since 1998.  Their Euro 2012 final opponents, Italy, missed two successive knockout rounds for the first time since the 1960’s.   The “golden generations” of Portugal and England both finally sputtered out.   Bosnia-Herzegovina and Croatia still have far to go to match the prowess of their Yugoslavian predecessors.  Russia may be rethinking Fabio Capello’s £6.7M annual salary… although the gaffer claims he did his job by getting the side into the tournament for the first time in 12 years.  In fairness to Capello, he didn’t have his talisman, Roman Shirokov.  Imagine if Óscar Tabárez’ Uruguay had to play with Luis Suarez… oh right.

Some caveats:

– like Brazil in ’94 and ’02, Spain won in 2010 despite a record-low representation by European teams.  However, the other three tournaments that had a low knockout representation by Europe went to South American sides: 1950, 1970, and 2002.

– a more likely determinate of World Cup success is tournament location.  If it’s in Europe, a UEFA team will likely win the whole thing.  If not, look to CONMEBOL.  The only exceptions are South Africa 2010 for Europe and Sweden 1958 for South America (where UEFA had seven of eight playoff births but Brazil still won).

– the set up of this year’s tournament tree means that only one of Brazil, Chile, Colombia and Uruguay will advance to the semi-finals, while the Europeans could still end up having six teams in the quarter-finals.

Brent P. Lanthier

*Only post-war World Cups. The three tournaments before 1950 had no group stage, and were straight knockout competitions.

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Those Who Can’t… Kick

wils

Goals are coming fast and furious in this World Cup, which is a refreshing change from the cautious approach of the last couple of tournaments.  However, some teams can’t defend so they resort to grimier tactics.

Seferovic scores in WC debut

Seferovic scores in WC debut

Switzerland‘s reputation as a tournament dark horse was tested right away, as Ecuador pushed them high up and got the first goal (off a free kick, mind you).   However, the Swiss substitutions made the difference.  Admir Mehmedi came on for Valentin Stocker after the break, and three minutes later, he headed in the first Swiss goal off a Ricardo Rodríguez corner.  Rodríguez had a super game, especially during the free-for-all at the end when he sent the cross across the net for substitute Haris Seferovic to send the ball into the net, breaking the deadlock in extra-time and sending Swiss supporters into delirium.  Switzerland 2-1 Ecuador

Benzema was involved with all three goals

Benzema was involved with all three goals

Honduras didn’t exactly cover themselves in glory yesterday.  Besides sitting back while France came at them, they forgot to aim for the ball.  Consequently many of their kicks finished on the shins and hamstrings of French players.   The height of stupidity was achieved by Stoke City’s Wilson Palacios, who drove Paul Pogba in the back while the French player went for the ball.  A second yellow for the Honduran meant his team was down to 10 men for the entire second half.   Karim Benzema easily put home the penalty and France were on the board.   Benzema actually had a hand in all three goals: the second was a shot off the post that the goalkeeper bobbled into the net (requiring the use of goal-line technology), and the third was a cracker.   France 3-0 Honduras

Brent P. Lanthier

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Painful day for Europe’s giants

Less than two months after the World Cup final in Johannesburg — and with their club seasons in their infancy — Europe’s finest met up again for the first qualifying games for Euro 2012.  But it seems many national sides have just picked up from where they left off in June/July.

Witness England’s 4-0 demolition of lowly Bulgaria.  Even though the Three Lions impressed in front of a packed Wembley… storm clouds will continue to linger over the head of Don Fabio Capello.  The British press have been incredibly derisory towards the Italian, unwilling to forgive him for England’s performance in South Africa. Despite success against Hungary in last month’s friendly — and despite Wayne Rooney’s impressive partnership today with hat-trick scorer Jermain Defoe — it will never be good enough for several sections of St. George’s Army.

On the positive side, outstanding shot-stopping for both England and Man City — including a life rope to salvage an almost-own-goal by Glen Johnson — means 23-year-old Joe Hart may stay in net for a entire generation.  But there continues to be fitness problems… including Defoe limping off with a knock to his ankle. As well, a horrible knee injury to Michael Dawson adds to Capello’s centre-back crisis… and the rubbish play of the aformentioned Johnson means more of the same defensive headaches.  It will be interesting to see whether the stingy Swiss will allow England to run roughshod in Basel.

Those injuries mean the club vs. country debate will also continue.  The loss of Spurs starters Dawson and Defoe will likely have ‘Arry Redknapp sputtering, since he’s not allowed to wheel and deal buy replacement players after the trade deadline.  Yikes!

Les Trois Stooges

It was more humiliation for France as they lost 1-0 at home to lowly Belarus.  Midfielder Florent Malouda chided the French fans for booing… because apparently, it is the fans’ fault that Les Bleus are 1) awful, and 2) spoiled millionaires who have to be goaded into singing their own national anthem.

The World Cup hangover continues for the Italians as well.  They had to come from behind to scrape past Estonia 2-1. And the Portuguese had to battle in a tit-for-tat scrap with Cyprus. A Seleccao had to settle for a 4-4 draw after the Cypriots scored in the 89th minute.

In the “Hyperbole is the Best Thing Ever!” category: World Cup champions Spain posted a massive victory over Liechtenstein, 4-0.  That’s about as impressive as me remembering to unzip before going to the loo…

In the “Why Won’t He Just P!ss Off?” category: Former Liverpool gaffer Gerrard Houllier is interviewing for the Aston Villa job.  Expect whiny washed-up French players to descend en masse on Birmingham.

More Euro news on Tuesday. Happy Labour Day weekend!

Brent Lanthier

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Man. City pick out another

So, after spending a million pounds a day in the summertime and still failing to win their opening match of the season (rescued by the true England’s number one, Joe Hart, in a first-half barrage at White Hart Lane), Man Citeh’s wealthy owners have reporedly dipped into their pockets once again and inked Villa’s James Milner for 26 million pounds, sending Stephen Ireland back the other way. You’ve got to love these guys. It hasn’t even been a week since they threw 22.5 million quid down on Mario Balotelli, and they’re back at the buffet table. This is now the most expensive lineup in Premier League history.

To relieve their glut, City have rid themselves of Craig Bellamy, now bound for the bright lights of Cardiff. Can’t wait for that Doncaster Rovers clash this weekend, I’ll bet. With Hart’s glittering performance, Roberto Mancini seems willing to let Shay Given leave, possibly for the capital, where two teams are interested.

There’s none of City’s financial largesse at Anfield, where Uncle Woy says Javier Mascherano will be allowed to escape Merseyside as long as someone can meet the price. If you had Liverpool’s debt problems, you’d feel the same way.

City weren’t the only team making a splashy signing today. With just under two weeks left in the transfer window, German playmaker Meszut Ozil is leaving Werder Bremen for Real Madrid.

It’s Learn your Lesson day in France, where Nicolas Anelka has been banned a whopping 18 matches for his central role in les follies du Coupe de Monde, while co-conspirators Patrice Evra, Franck Ribery and Jeremey Toulalan got five, three and one games. Maybe Eric Abidal, who walked away without punishment, ratted them out. According to the BBC, the Learn your Lesson part was lost on Chelsea’s Anelka, who “did not show up at the disciplinary hearing … his international career now appears to be all but over.” Let us not forget that Laurent Blanc has vowed to quit if he can’t reach Euro 2012 with this team, now rather weakened (or strengthened, depending on your point of view). Bonne chance, mon frere.

Ian Harrison

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Hello, I must be going…

News in the football world is dominated today by the international retirement of two, er, giants.

Just a day after the New York Red Bulls signed him (on Bastille Day no less), all-time French scoring leader Thierry Henry announced he would no longer play for Les Bleus. After France’s World Cup performance, saying you’re quitting is like crashing your car, and then saying you don’t want to drive it anymore. Henry will likely make his debut for New York against Tottenham Hotspur on July 22nd.  Look for our own Yid Army member — Ian Harrison — to file as he heads to the Big Apple for the second half of the Red Bulls challenge…NY vs. Man. City and Spurs vs. Sporting Lisbon.

Emile Heskey

As well, the much-maligned Emile Heskey has announced he’s retiring from the English team. The debate rages over Heskey’s value to the Three Lions. The hulking forward didn’t score a lot of goals.  But teammates like Michael Owen said they wouldn’t want to play off anyone else.

German prosecutors have expanded their probe into match-fixing.  The thing now covers more than 270 games in nine countries.  It’s reminds me of my oh-so-clever scheme to try and fix the International Rock-Paper-Scissors Tournament.  Good ol’ rock. Nothing beats rock.

If you’re Michael Ballack’s agent, you’re probably blaming gay people for the crime.

The Premier League kicks off in a month… and with Roy Hodgson up on Merseyside trying to convince his big players to stay, Fulham is looking for his replacement.  There are rumours that U.S. coach Bob Bradley will take over. I hope not. He scares me

The English FA is thinking about eliminating FA Cup replays in order to make room for a winter break.  It seems the poor poppets in England are tired.  Rich and tired.  So very, very tired…

Apparently, Manchester United’s gaffer — Sir Alex Ferguson — is sitting pretty after the World Cup.   The Red Devils are in Toronto tonight and we’ll bring you details from the presser with SAF and Man U midfielder Darren Fletcher later.

Finally one more reason to love Steve Gerrard-Gerrard.  Wow.

Brent Lanthier

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French are toast, while Yakubu’s howler burns Nigerians

It was a contrast in dignity. One team — lowly-ranked before the World Cup even began — put up a desparate last-gasp effort to remain in its own tournament. The other team made a mockery of it.  In the end, both France and South Africa are out… with Bafana Bafana winning 2-1, sending last year’s finalists home to face the wrath of their countrymen. Of course, there was a sending-off, and “Le Fou” Domenech couldn’t leave without one last petty gesture. From the Guardian: Not Everybody Loves Raymond.

In the other game, Uruguay won the group, after it beat Mexico 1-0, who have backed into second place. Before the tournament, many pundits talked about the strike force of Forlan and Suarez (who have both scored), but the Uruguayan defence has yet to concede a goal.

In Group B, Diego Maradona made seven changes to his team, yet they still won comfortably against hapless Greece, 2-0. Maradona has started talking sense, as well. That’s no fun…

The other game was South Korea-Nigeria. (Here’s where I admit my few shortcomings: I wrote Nigeria needed to win by more than a goal. Not true; they just needed a win). Lots of back and forth, with a nice first goal by Nigeria. But the Africans got caught on two set pieces and ended up down 2-1. Yakubu missed a goal that I could have scored drunk.  The Nigerians ended converting a penalty kick, making it 2-2, but it wasn’t enough.

So now it’s Uruguay vs. South Korea, and Argentina-Mexico. Note that three of the five South American teams have now qualified, yet three of six African teams are going home.

Brent Lanthier

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European Curse?


A dejected German fan ponders his team’s fate

Call it Vuvuzela’s Revenge: Europe’s traditional soccer powers have certainly been stinking up the pitch.  After they ran roughshod over the Aussies, Germany missed a penalty and lost to Serbia (although some would say there is no shame in that). European champions Spain threw the kitchen sink at Switzerland but couldn’t break them down, losing 1-0. Yesterday, it was the Italians’ turn.

Italy? Defending World Cup champions. New Zealand? Ranked 78th. But on a free kick in the seventh minute, the ball went off Che Capitano Cannavaro and into the path of Shane Smeltz; 1-0 to New Zealand on their only shot on net.  The Italians would eventually tie the game on a penalty.  But the Azzurri have yet to win a match, and now need at least a draw against Slovakia to go through.

Which leads us to The Three Lions. After Saturday’s lacklustre display, Captain Schtupping — who really isn’t captain — decided to hold a captain’s conference, saying the players shouldn’t be afraid to challenge the manager. Fortunately, the players wanted no part of it.  They reminded John Terry that: a) he is no longer their leader, and b) they aren’t going to speak out against Capello. I think they were afraid Don Fabio would have them all whacked…

Of course, the British press are spewing theories on why England have been terrible. Some say fatigue after a long Premier League season, others say a lack of preparation,  yet others say the players are afraid of making a Robert Green-esque error.  Meanwhile, England fans just want them to get on with it.

BTW, best cheeky bit we’ve read so far:

The England football team visited an orphanage in Soweto today. “It was great to be able to put a smile on the faces of people without hope,” said Mbutto, aged six.


Mais oh la la la la la. England and Italy don’t have it as bad as La France.  Nicolas “The Incredible Sulk” Anelka was sent home after directing some swears at French coach Raymond Domenech.  Then the French players showed up for practice but wouldn’t get off the bus.  Then they did.  Then captain Patrice Evra had a bust-up with the team’s fitness coach.  Then Domenech had to read a statement saying the players wouldn’t practice because Anelka was sent home… because Domenech had told the FFF about the swears.  The French are kings of irony but this is a bit much.  If you listen carefully, you can hear Irish laughter…

So what’s their problem? According to one journalist, it’s the economy, stupid. But it’s looking more and more likely that once again, a European team will not win on a foreign continent.

Oh yeah, Brazil qualified yeseterday, with Luis Fabiano scoring two lovely goals against the Ivory Coast. Too bad the game was overshadowed by Kaka being sent off because of Kader Keita’s Rivaldo-like performance.

Brent Lanthier

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