Tag Archives: Marek Hamsik

A World Cup Without Them

zlatanWe are now 164 days away from the opening ceremony of the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil, and with almost every league hunkered down for a Christmas break (with the exception of the Barmy Brits… but that’s a discussion for another post), we can start to look towards June in what should be an epic tournament.

Why epic? When you look at the teams that have qualified for Brazil 2014, there isn’t a nation that makes you think, “They shouldn’t be there”.  Conversely, I can’t think of a team that, based on recent form, has been hard done by not qualifying.   That means that all the past champions will be going, all the heavy hitters and nearly men (Dutchies, I’m looking at you).

I was recently reminded that, despite appearing in three World Cups, the great Zico had never won the thing.  That’s gotta hurt, but he’s not alone.  In fact, the list of players who have never lifted the Jules Rimet trophy is extensive.  Think about it: Sindelar, Puskas, Di Stefano, Fontaine, Eusebio, Cruyff, Platini, Stoichkov, Baggio, Maldini, Figo… none of them have ever won the biggest tournament on the planet.   It’s probably as good as any argument that football is won and lost as a team, at least internationally.

But you can’t win the Coupe du Monde if you don’t get to go in the first place.  Some major marquee players won’t be appearing in Brazil because they and their compatriots couldn’t get it done.  Here are the top 10 players staying home in June:

Alaba: still only 21

Alaba: still only 21

10) David Alaba (AUT) — Is he a fullback? Is he a midfielder? All we know is that the Austrian wunderkind will be off the pitch, while  just about every other one of his Bayern Munich teammates will be in Brazil (except for Claudio Pizarro).  Austria actually held their own in qualifying , but were done in by double losses to Germany and then to Sweden on the penultimate match day.  No worries though, as Austria’s youngest-ever Player of the Year is only 21 years old, so he’ll have a few more shots at it.

Serbs have to sit out

Serbs have to sit out

9) Branislav Ivanovic (SER) — Speaking of fullbacks, pundits are calling Ivanovic the best right back in the world right now.   His is the first name on Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea team sheet, and he is a menace in attack and defence.  But after starting with a 1-1-3 record in qualifying, the Serbians were pretty much doomed, even though ultra-rivals Croatia finished with two losses.  The Croats went through, which has to sting more than a little.

Ta ra, Turan...

Ta ra, Turan…

8) Arda Turan (TUR) — There was a time when Turkey’s national football team was filled with German-born Bundesliga players who were considered too much Türken and not enough Deutsch.  The DFB has become far more progressive — look at Germany’s multicultural line-up now — and Turkish football has come into its own, with Turkish-born players staying in the Superlig.  The one notable exception is Arda Turan, the tough winger who has helped put Atlético Madrid in the running for its first Liga title in 18 years.  The good news for the Atleti?  Turan will be able to rest up this summer before they sell him off to a bigger club.  Hooray.

Trying to read the name on his kit…

7) Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (GAB) — Like many African players, Aubameyang was born in France, but decided to represent the nation of his parents.   Too bad.  The young Gabonese had a high enough profile at St. Etienne, before lighting up the Bundesliga with Dortmund this season, to find a place on a troubled French squad.  Instead, he has become the African version of Dimitar Berbatov playing for Bulgaria, a great player on a team that will do nothing.   It’s just as well: that name is a nightmare for the kit makers.

DAMN YOU, ARMENIA!!!

DAMN YOU, ARMENIA!!!

6) Petr Cech (CZE) — Oh how the strong and steady goalkeeper must pine for the days of Koller, Baroš and Nedved, when his countrymen were qualifying for European semi-finals and actually appearing at the World Cup.  Alas, the veteran netminder (a 31-year-old who has looked 50 since he was 20) will have to settle for glory at Chelsea, where he and his club have won every major European and English title.

Hamsik

“Oh Mamma Mia, let me go!”

5) Marek Hamsik (SLO) — Slovakia did alright at South Africa 2010, their first major tournament since they split from the Czechs.  Hamsik captained his side to the Group of 16 by shocking the Italians 3-2, before losing to eventual finalists, Netherlands.  But when they tried to qualify for Brazil, they were outdone by a lack of adventure: only once did the Slovaks score more than one goal from open play.  Too bad… because Hamsik’s Mohawk/Kid n’ Play fade looks awesome streaking up the pitch.

Wales v Scotland

Air guitar…

4) Aaron Ramsey (WAL) — This one will elicit the most groans as undeserving,  but the young Taffy has been a revelation this season.  Arsene Wenger has kept faith in his midfielder, who has had trouble keeping off the treatment table.  But he has been Arsenal’s best player since August and has overshadowed teammates who are offensive threats in their own right.

"Will not let you go!"

“Will not let you go!”

3) Robert Lewandowski (POL) — Poland’s failure to qualify for even the playoffs is a case of a team’s parts being better than the team itself.  The squad has some great talent (with tricky names): Blaszczykowski, Piszczek, Boruc, Szczesny, and Dortmund’s highest scorer over the last three seasons, Lewandowski.  Last year, he was a goal away from the Bundesliga scoring title, and two away from being the Champions League’s top marksman.  He is among the top 10 strikers in the world, but unfortunately he will not be able to play with his peers in Brazil.

Bale hearts Wales... which means no World Cup

Bale hearts Wales… which means no World Cup

2) Gareth Bale (WAL) — Surely the world’s biggest tournament should feature the world’s most expensive player.  When Gareth Bale went to Real Madrid for €100M, most people thought that the whole affair was ridiculous.  But the spectacle of the transaction should not take away from a player who is starting to reach the height of his powers.  Nine goals in fifteen games for Madrid: he’s no Ronaldo, but he doesn’t need to be.  Unfortunately, he plays for a nation that has never fully embraced association football and may not qualify for a major tournament for some time.

1) Zlatan Ibrahimovic (SWE) — You could hear the collective groans around the soccer world when Sweden was paired with Portugal in the qualifying play-offs.  We knew that either Christiano Ronaldo or Zlatan Ibrahimovic would not be playing in this summer’s tournament.   That’s a shame because if there is ever a place for massive egos, it is the World Cup… and they don’t get much bigger than CR7 or Ibra.   In the end, it was a battle between two huge talents on otherwise mediocre teams.  After a tight first leg, it was left to the big striker to tie everything up on aggregate. Unfortunately for the Scandanavians, Ronaldo showed why he is better than everyone else… include Kung Fu Zlatan.  Still, we will miss the sound bites, the temper tantrums, and the awesome, awesome goals.  Ibra’s take on the loss: “One thing is for sure, a World Cup without me is nothing to watch.”

Brent Lanthier

No Ibra means none of this...

No Ibra means none of this…

... or this...

… or this…

... or this.

… or this.

 

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Dr. Z’s World Cup Predictions: Group F

Dentist by day, football prognosticator by night, our own Dr. Hadi Zogheib is scouting out each group at World Cup 2010 and predicting first round scores and standings. Today, the good doctor explains why he won’t be betting against the defending champions in Group F:

Italy:  Coach Marcelo Lippi has received heaps of criticism regarding his squad selection this time around.  Notable omissions from the Azzuri include Antonio Cassano, Fabrizio Miccoli, Luca Toni, and, of course Francesco Totti.  Questionable inclusions include Gianluca Zambrotta, Gennaro Gattuso, and even capitano Fabio Cannavaro, all of whom are believed to be too old and slow to compete this time around.  Then again, Lippi is a world champion.  The critics are not.  Look for Italy to challenge again.

Paraguay:  Take a glance at the South American qualifying results, and you’ll notice that Paraguay took 10 out of a possible 18 points against the other South American qualifiers, including wins against Argentina and Brazil.  Having a Paraguayan mother has allowed Argentine Lucas Barrios of Dortmund to join the squad, and he has scored in every friendly he has played in. Expect him to have a big tournament. The men in red and white will also have a great incentive to play well for their teammate Salvador Cabanas, who is recovering from a bullet wound to the head suffered in an altercation at a Mexican nightclub in January.  This team will be no pushover.

Slovakia:  The Slovaks were the surprise winners of  their group in qualifying, finishing ahead of the more fancied Slovenia, Poland, and the Czech Republic.  They will be heavily reliant on their solitary superstar, Marik Hamsek of Napoli.  Hamsek will no doubt want to have a great tournament to showcase his talents to the big clubs, such as Inter and Chelsea, both of whom are reported to be interested in the spiky-haired one.

New Zealand:  Shayne Smeltz may have been a scoring machine against the likes of New Caledonia and Fiji, but I doubt he’ll have the same luck against slightly tougher opponents like Italy and Paraguay. The Kiwis will hope to gain some valuable experience and pop in a goal or two.  Here’s hoping FIFA will allow them to do the Haka dance before the game like the All Blacks rugby team!

Predicted Results:

Italy 1-1 Paraguay

New Zealand 0-1 Slovakia

Italy 4-0 New Zealand

Paraguay 2-1 Slovakia

Paraguay 2-0 New Zealand

Slovakia 1-2 Italy

Group Standings:

Italy 7 pts

Paraguay 7 pts

Slovakia 3 pts

New Zealand 0 pts

Related: Dr. Z doubts the host’s chances in Group A, expects Greece’s defence-first philsophy will pay off in Group B, and predicts an opening-round sweep for England in Group C. The good doctor expects a three-way dogfight in Group D and is happy to see the Netherlands healthy in Group E.

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Time to rewrite Serie A obituary

Hadi Zogheib

It seems the death of the Serie A has been greatly exaggerated. Just four years ago the top flight of Italian football was mired in a match fixing scandal, the Calciopoli, one that threatened the viability and reputation of the league’s very future. And even though it served as a rallying cry for the Italian national team, who so admirably put the scandal behind them and played their way to a fourth FIFA World Cup crown in Germany that summer, the fallout in the Serie A itself was difficult to ignore.


Photo from fOTOGLIF

In the three years following, the Serie A bore witness to one calamity after another, all of which threatened to label Italian football as a “has been” league. Having Juventus stripped of its 2006 title was just the beginning. Rapidly declining attendance throughout the league soon followed. Italian clubs began finding it difficult to lure bright, young talent, as many starlets opted to play in Spain or England instead. Serie A was quickly garnering a reputation as a league for world stars whose skills were on the decline. There was no Messi, no Ronaldo, no Rooney. Instead, fans watched an aging Beckham, an overweight Ronadinho, and the volatile Adriano.

The once feared European giants of Inter, AC Milan, and Roma couldn’t get a sniff of late round Champions League play in the years following the 2006 World Cup. Time and again they found themselves a step behind Manchester United, Liverpool, Chelsea, Barcelona, Real Madrid, Lyon and Bayern. Worst of all, the league is on the verge of losing a Champions League berth to the Bundisliga. (Serie A currently has four Champions League spots compared to three for the German league).

This year, amid the doom and gloom, something changed and Serie A found its feet again. It’s hard to put your finger on one event that caused the turnaround. Maybe it was the arrival of Jose Mourinho as manager of Inter. Perhaps it was the the rebirth of Juventus through crafty management, or the ability of the lesser teams to scout talent from under the noses of the Spanish or English giants. All of a sudden the Serie A is the place to be once again. Attendance is up in many stadiums. Young stars such as Marek Hamsik, Mario Balotelli, and Javier Pasatore are lighting up YouTube. The league is the most competitive it has been in years, with 10 teams vying for the fourth Champions League place, separated by just eleven points. At the top, there’s a thrilling title race between the three time champions Inter and Roma, who carry one of Europe’s longest domestic unbeaten streaks at 22 matches.

And Italian teams are once again being noticed in Europe. Fiorentina eliminated Liverpool from its Champions League group. AC Milan waltzed into the Bernabeau and handed Real Madrid a rare home loss. And Mourinho’s Inter salvaged Italian pride by marching Inter into the semi-finals of the Champions League, allowing the Serie A to retain its four qualifying places, at least for one more season. Yes, 2010 has been quite a year in Italy.  And with another World Cup just two months away, other nations are no doubt sweating.



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