Tag Archives: zlatan ibrahimovic

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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AC Milan: Il Diavolo is in the Details

C'mon Thiago, give us a kiss...

One club is considered the best in the world; the other is a team that has found its way back to the top of its domestic league.  Both were surprised this weekend by so-called lesser sides.  Tonight, it was Barcelona that showed its quality over AC Milan.  Unfortunately for Barca, the scoresheet didn’t reflect it.

Two goals by Milan’s Brazilian stars bookended the game and stole a point for the Rossoneri.  The World Champions dominated up until that point: Barcelona had 80% possession at the 75th-minute mark… a calling card for the Catalonians.  Gaffer Pep Guardiola says he’s not worried… nor should he be.

It’s the Italian club that should be wringing its hands.   The consensus is that AC Milan will have a tough time defending the scudetto…  and judging by their last two performances, they may prove the pundits right.  Not only did Barca’s tiki-taka have Milan on the back heel for most of the match, but the Italian champs kicked off the Serie A season on Thursday by having to fight back against a new-look Lazio.  Add the Roman club to Milan’s growing list of league rivals:

– Internazionale is aging but still potent.
– Juventus may be an Old Lady, but she may find a sabbatical from Europe rejuvenating.  
– Udinese was the better team against Arsenal in CL qualifiers, and could build on last year’s success.
– The South seems to be rising again with Palermo beating Inter 4-3 (again, the Nerrazzurri looked slow and old)… and Napoli being picked as a dark horse for the title.

Zlatan the Terrible

And while he didn’t play tonight, Milan still has its good luck charm: Zlatan Ibrahimovic.  Every team he has played on since 2004 has won its domestic title (if you include Juventus’ revoked trophies).  He is a big, black belt-wearing nutter who has a goals-per-game average of at least 50% in the last six seasons.  Plus, NOW he’s eating his Wheaties.

Brent Lanthier

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Yid Army invades New York City

I’ve finally cooled off from my time in the blast furnace better known as New York City, where I spent the past few days and saw Tottenham take on Sporting Lisbon in the back half of the Barclays Challenge at Red Bulls Arena.

Our long weekend in the red hot Big Apple, which also featured a game at Yankee Stadium, plenty of tasty eats and some gentle walking tours between Manhattan bars, was certainly a lot of fun, and a great chance to see my Yid Army without crossing the Atlantic. But thanks to the long travel and blistering heat and humidity, ’Arry still seems a bit hot under the collar, unsure of whether a three-game swing from California to the Empire State and back home was the best way to prepare for his team’s inaugural Champions League campaign.

Spilt milk now, of course, and hopefully a few dollars and pounds earned for a bolstering of the back line before qualifying begins, especially now that Jonathan Woodgate looks less and less likely to be fit anytime soon, while Ledley King also remains a doubt.

Tottenham take the field to face Sporting at Red Bulls Arena.

Tottenham played four right backs against Sporting, with Alan Hutton in his regular role, Vedran Corluka, Kyle Walker and Kyle Naughton rounding out the defense. Redknapp used the US tour to fiddle around up front with his formation up front a bit, and even though Robbie Keane looked good up front against the Portuguese, there’s still no guarantee he’ll be a Yid when the transfer window closes. It was great to see 90 minutes of strong running by Gareth Bale and passing from Tom Huddlestone, interesting to watch Adel Taraabt, who unfortunately didn’t distinguish himself too much, unlike Jonathan Obika, who came on as a substitute and blasted home the tying goal.

That strike, and a late Huddlestone miss from half with the keeper out of his net, meant the matched ended a 2-2 draw. It was certainly entertaining and the Spurs support was surprisingly and pleasantly vocal…our tickets were at the other end of the ground but we moved down and sat behind the rowdies for the second half to join in the singing, which was a blast. We totally drowned out the Sporting fans, even though there’s a big Portuguese community in Newark, across the river from where the Red Bulls play in Harrison, New Jersey. Didn’t see too much of the town that bears my name, but the land around the brand new stadium was pretty desolate. They’re planning to develop the area with shops and restaurants, but for now it’s the same forlorn industrial wasteland so commonly associated with the Garden State.

I haven’t had too many nice things to say about Thierry Henry over the past while, not much of a surprise considering he’s a cheating ex-Gooner, but I am pretty impressed that he travelled to his first Red Bulls game the same way I did – by paying $1.75 for the four-stop, 20-minute PATH train ride from the World Trade Center site in Manhattan. Speaking of which – this was my first trip to NYC since April, 2001 and thus my first look at the hole in the ground in lower Manhattan. It’s hard to imagine the old WTC anymore…I had to watch Tribe Called Quest’s Electric Relaxation video when I got home to remind myself. With the twin towers gone, the Empire State Building is back to being the anchor of what Kurt Vonnegut once called ‘Skyscraper National Park.’

Inside, the stadium offers comfortable, covered seating and solid sightlines of the (thinning) grass pitch, with two levels of private boxes replacing the upper deck on the side of the pitch behind the benches and press seating blended into the stands, as at some European grounds. The concourses are a bit narrow and crowded but offer a wide selection of ethnic foods, like empanadas, Brazilian food, and several European beers. Not surprisingly, a can of Red Bull ($3) is cheaper than a bottle of water ($4).  Overall, a solid soccer experience. We stayed for the first 15 minutes of the Red Bulls’ 2-1 win over Manchester City (one of two losses by Manc clubs to MLS opponents on the day, with United losing by the same score to the KC Wizards), enough time to see a glowing welcome for Henry and NY’s opening goal. The flag-waving supporters clubs behind the goal were in full voice, although they were led in their cheers by a dude with a megaphone.

At the game with my Futbol Guapa.

Finally, here are a couple more soccer stories that caught my eye today (not including Diego’s ouster in Argentina, which Dr. Z will likely chime in on later). First, a new survey says only seven percent of people wouldn’t accept a gay footballer, which could mean fewer offers of reporter sister sex from Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Of course, there’s still plenty of love for hot women in the football world, which is why it’s news that some lucky crooks in Brazil got to pluck a cell phone from between curvy Paraguayan Larissa Riquelme’s mountainous mammaries. A grand theft, indeed.

Ian Harrison

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