Posts Tagged ‘ Mesut Ozil ’

World Cup 2014: Second Round Review

worldcup (easports)

This past week saw the 2014 World Cup enter the knockout phase, as the last sixteen teams battled it out for a place in the quarter-finals. The obvious lack of a truly exceptional team remains, and the parity among the remaining sides was very evident, as five of the eight games went to extra time, before penalties in some cases. Here is our full review of the action. Continue reading

World Cup 2014: Predictions For Every Team

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With the kick-off of World Cup 2014 now less than a week away, the excitement is starting to build. Coverage of the event is starting to really pick up, as the footballing world gets ready for the beginning of it’s biggest event of any calendar year. With that in mind, I would like to put forward my predictions for every team and how they will fare, including all the teams who will fall at the group stage hurdle, all the way on to who I predict will be the eventual winners.

Group stage eliminations

Cameroon

The most likely victim of what is a very tough draw, Cameroon seem like long shots to emerge from Group A. Hosts Brazil, potential dark horses Croatia and Mexico make up the rest of the group, and it may well prove too much for Cameroon to claim enough points to sneak in to the knockout stages. An experienced squad led by captain Samuel Eto’o as well as veterans Alex Song and Jean Makoun, Cameroon also boast young defensive talent in Nicolas N’Koulou and Joel Matip. Unfortunately for them, it seems unlikely that they will prove good enough to edge out two of the other teams, and so it looks like three games and out for Cameroon.

Mexico

It looks quite likely that Brazil and Croatia will emerge from this group, especially if the Croatians can get a point in the tournament’s inaugural match. Mexico had a very ugly qualifying campaign to even reach Brazil, finishing fourth in their group, behind the United States, Costa Rica and Honduras. They eventually beat New Zealand comfortably in a play-off, but it does not augur well for them in such a tough group. Still, Mexico boast a very experienced squad, with the likes of Rafael Marquez still around to organise them. If the likes of Javier Hernandez (who has a scoring rate of better than one every two games for his country) catches fire, then maybe they have a shot. But all signs point to an early exit for Mexico.

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World Cup 2014: The Favourites

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2014 is shaping up to be a great year for football. With exciting finishes ahead in the Premier League and La Liga, both of whom are currently topped by pre-season outsiders with only a few games to go, and a couple of exciting ties remaining in the Champions League, it will be a year to remember. There is, of course, a World Cup coming straight after the end of the club season, so quality football will continue well into the middle of the summer. Here, in the first of a two part special, we will examine the favourites for the competition, who look set to take Brazil 2014 by storm. Continue reading

A Beautiful Game No More

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In the last number of weeks, we have been treated to a flurry of high-profile football games, with clashes at the top of the Premier League, big name ties in the FA Cup and the return of the Champions League with the first knock-out round. But did any of those big games bring about a truly enjoyable and competitive game? And if not, why not?

This week’s Champions League ties saw Barcelona take on Manchester City and Bayern Munich against Arsenal. All four teams would have to be considered expansive and attacking in their play, and with both English sides at home, the onus was on them to come out and attack. In theory, we were set up for two classic encounters with sides attacking and counter-attacking constantly. Yet the City game in particular was a huge disappointment. Manuel Pellegrini’s side have averaged 3.5 goals per home game, but ceded ground to the Catalan side from the off, which must have been why Aleksandar Kolarov was picked to play from the left wing. They only looked vaguely threatening and hugely dependent on Yaya Toure to roam forward from midfield and David Silva to create the chances. In fairness, it almost came off when Silva played in Alvaro Negredo, who rounded the goalkeeper only to be driven too wide to apply the finish. By and large though, City were happy to sit back and soak up the pressure, and their attacks were few and far between.

They were largely successful in containing Barcelona until their defensive unit were complicit in giving up the lead. Barca won the ball up the field, Vincent Kompany dropped too deep too fast and played on Lionel Messi, and Martin Demichelis brought him down, giving up the penalty and earning a red card, and changing the complexion of the game from then on. It’s almost impossible to play gung ho against this Barca team at the best of times, but with ten men it becomes time to batten down the hatches. It is interesting to note that it was Jesus Navas, as well as Kolarov, who got withdrawn, as he had the genuine pace that could have offered City a swift counter-attacking option.

The Arsenal game was fairly similar, in that it was changed by the red card to goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny, but really by that time Munich had taken hold of the game. But Arsenal did come out and play hard and fast for the first fifteen minutes, making Bayern look like a ragged bunch of journeymen. This spell culminated with the penalty won and missed by Mesut Ozil, who was presented with the chance to answer the bandwagon jumpers who have blamed him for most of Arsenal’s problems of late. Unfortunately for him and that game, he missed and the belief seemed to transfer from the Arsenal players to Bayern’s almost immediately. Arsenal barely had an attack of note after that, and certainly none after the red card.

In the case of Champions League ties, the home tie is a tricky one, given the importance of away goals. Even though the crowd are roaring you on and looking to take a lead for the away leg, it may suit a lot of teams to come out with a nil-nil, knowing a score draw in the next leg would see them through. For instance, if City had registered a scoreless draw the other night, would it have seemed farfetched that they could have nodded in a couple of goals from corners or free kicks in the Camp Nou, and put the game beyond Barcelona? Down a man, it is obviously pertinent to minimise the damage, and the couple of away goals both sides gave up mean they are highly unlikely to overturn the deficit and win their ties.

Pellegrini clearly has a lot of fear when thinking of this Barcelona side. Who wouldn’t? He has seen this team first hand a little too often for his own good in the last ten years, as he managed Villareal, Real Madrid and Malaga against them in La Liga during their pomp. It is unlikely he didn’t carry battle scars from all those encounters, and they possess great weapons. But Man City went away from their own strengths in the face of all this, when really they might have been better served by trying to put them on the back foot. Going forward, Barca’s most impressive player was Dani Alves, but he was on a yellow card from early on and is not the most accomplished defender on the planet, could they not have looked to exploit him more? Fortune favours the bold, and Man City had the team that could have troubled Barca a lot more than they did.

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What made these games in particular quite dull affairs was the possession-based game plan of both winning sides. As Bayern and Barca camped out in the English sides halves for the second half of their games, who was visibly enthralled? Toni Kroos smashed in a beautiful goal from outside the box, but Bayern didn’t really carve Arsenal open. Rafinha and Alves as full backs were the most incisive players of the midweek action as they had lots of space when defenders were already sucked in, but Bayern had to resort to lumping on big centre forwards to get the second goal. Nothing wrong with it, but they weren’t exactly cutting holes in the Arsenal rearguard by passing slowly and laterally outside the box. It was dull.

There is a trend in football now, largely thanks to the successes of Barcelona in the last decade, to play possession-based attacking games. Hog the ball, wear down your opponent, wait for your moment when the concentration levels drop, then pounce.  This has seen the rise of the offensive full-back, who is seemingly the player with the most space available to them. In turn, it now seems the centre-back is the new full-back, as the wider areas are closed down and the middle is where the space lies, so if you are lucky enough to have a centre-back with good ball skills they can drive forward and pick a pass, allowing your team to recycle possession effectively. But it is this type of dominant attacking that is making games less open. Opponents are generally pinned back and have to play with a defensive mind-set. There have been examples of teams capable of getting results with strong counter-attacking, such as Gareth Bale’s Spurs (no offense, AVB) and Jose Mourinho’s Inter Milan team. These sides were able to take advantage of the major weakness of teams like Barca and Bayern, which is the defensive side of the game. Inter were able to knock out Barcelona and eventually win the Champions League by attacking when the moment was right, and defending solidly otherwise. But teams down the bottom of the league rarely have the speed of thought found in that Inter team’s Samuel Eto’o or Wesley Sneijder, nor the clinical finishing of Diego Milito. Thus, they spend the whole game defending and more or less awaiting the inevitable.

Even away from the elite teams in Europe, this trend can still be the case. The Europa League game between Swansea and Napoli had a similar plot. Swansea were always going to enforce their possession game too, but with all due respect they are not at the same standard as Barca or Bayern. The Napoli line-up was also one that boasted great talent, particularly going forward with the tremendous Gonzalo Higuain and the high profile Marek Hamsik, as well as winger Lorenzo Insigne who has played for Italy and Jose Callejon, who came through the ranks for Real Madrid before making a summer move to Naples. Add in counter-attacking away-leg specialist Rafa Benitez (see; any successful Liverpool European tie during his reign), and this should have been a rip-roaring tie with back and forth attacks. Unfortunately, not the case. Swansea played well but didn’t create too many clear chances, while Napoli were quite poor and resigned themselves to defending from early on.

Liverpool have played Arsenal twice in the last few weeks, with the first game a one-sided slaughter as Liverpool exposed Arsenal’s defence repeatedly in the first twenty minutes. The game was over after those early exchanges, and the second game could have gone the same way, with Daniel Sturridge having two great chances early on. Admittedly, the FA Cup game was a much more competitive game than any of the others mentioned, particularly in the second half. But it still wasn’t an end to end kind of game, as Liverpool dominated possession while pushing for an equaliser. The dross served up in the Arsenal versus Manchester United fixture was perhaps explainable by the frailty of both sides. Arsenal were just coming off the hiding at Liverpool, while United have struggled all year as a particular game plan and style remains unclear.

This is not to say anything is wrong with being a strong defensive side. Some of the best games in history have been based on a strong defensive effort defying a ferocious attack, like the Italian win over Brazil in the 1982 World Cup. There is certainly an art to defending, and it seems to evade the Pep Guardiola inspired teams like Munich and Barcelona. But if opposing teams are unwilling or unable to launch attacks and get at their back four, they will continue to get steamrollered. A fascinating encounter (not unlikely after the first leg results) would be a two-legged affair between these two teams down the Champions League line. None of the other games mentioned were uninteresting in their own right, but a tie between Bayern Munich and Barcelona might give us the furious, frenetic end to end game we’d all love to see.

Images courtesy of uefa.com, uefa.com/AFP/Getty Images

The Theatre Of Dreams Wasn’t Built In A Day

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At what point does the blame go on the players at a football club rather than the man picking the starting XI? Is the media purely trying to change public perception of David Moyes? Is Moyes the easiest and most obvious target for United’s gloomy season?

Granted, this article may sound like a rant at the players at Manchester United but it’s not. I’m not a United fan, either.

The current situation at Manchester United is their manager, David Moyes, is being roasted alive for problems out of his current control. Is it his fault players aren’t up to the standard? Sir Alex Ferguson had a type of ‘fear factor’ above each and every player that walked through the doors at Old Trafford. David Moyes doesn’t.

He was never going to have this factor over the players in his first season, and being honest, some players are just there for the handy pay cheque at the end of the week. Players that wouldn’t get into other big sides throughout the world of football such as Barcelona,  Bayern Munich or Real Madrid. Continue reading

What We Learned This Past Week

 

It’s been quite a mad week in sport, as per usual. I take a look at some of the lighter moments, the dark moments and the down right crazy moments.

It’s a bad week for:

It’s a bad week for a foreign newspaper called ‘Critica’ as they gave us the best headline thus far;

The headline was created on Friday evening after Panama lost in epic fashion, 2-1 to Mexico in a crucial World Cup qualifier. Raul Jiminez’s late bicycle kick, or Chilena in Latin, essentially kept Mexico’s hopes alive while ending Panama’s in the process. Continue reading

United Supporters Call For Ed’s Head

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Manchester United chief executive Ed Woodward would do well to fly under the radar for the foreseeable future, following a summer transfer window which can be fairly described as ridiculous, by Manchester United’s supporters at any rate. Two acquisitions in three months, neither of them high-profile, wasn’t exactly what the fans would have been hoping for, and it must be galling to have been outspent by Arsenal and Arsene Wenger, whose reputation for refusing to spend large sums was spectacularly shattered through the €50 million signing of Mesut Özil on Monday, the same player who was reportedly offered to United at some stage last week. Newly promoted from his previous role as United’s head of commercial operation, Woodward has spent the summer having a rude awakening as he discovers that handling player transfers is a whole new ball game compared to thrashing out sponsorship deals, and that his own negotiation skills aren’t as fantastic as he evidently expected.

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Perspective-Superior Germans Have Problems Ireland Won’t Exploit

Will Jogi Be Jumping For Joy In Dublin?

Germany visit the Aviva Stadium to play against the Republic of Ireland in the World Cup qualifiers tomorrow. Given the 100% record in the EURO 2012 qualifiers plus reaching the semi finals, the Germans enter the match as clear favourites. The vast majority of the Germany squad play either for the strongest Bundesliga teams like Borussia Dortmund or Bayern München, or have established themselves in some of the biggest teams in Europe, like Mesut Özil and Sami Khedira at Real Madrid, Lukas Podolski and Per Mertesacker at Arsenal or Miroslav Klose at Lazio.

The team continues to be one of youngest and most talented ones in the history of German football, but despite (or because of) that, things are not as rosy as they seem.

There are a couple of things that are certain with a team from Germany. Number one: We could supply several other national teams throughout Europe with goalkeepers. Manuel Neuer, Ron-Robert Zieler and Marc-André ter Stegen are the three selected, but there is another handful of keepers in the Bundesliga other countries would be proud of having on their bench, or even between the posts. René Adler, Roman Weidenfeller, Bernd Leno, Fabian Giefer,….

Number two: There will always be enough attacking midfielders around. Okay, this is a more recent development, but the point stands. Germany have the choice of fielding 3 of the following behind lone striker Miroslav Klose: Müller, Özil, Podolski, Reus, Schürrle or Götze. It is suspected that Müller, Özil and Reus will get to start, but every combination is a threat for the opponent.

But this uber-offer of creative, pacy wingers hints at one of the major problems Germany face now and even more in the future. With Gomez injured, there is only Klose up front. And not many strikers are really showing themselves in the league. As coach Löw hinted before the Euros, it is suspected that a 4-6-0 formation like Spain played last summer with Marco Reus in the “false nine” role might be the solution. However, this formation has never really been tested in a competitive match.

Speaking of problems, there is another one that exists for years and doesn’t look either like being solved in the future; the defence. Mats Hummels misses the qualifiers with a foot injury, Philipp Lahm pulled out of the games as well. This makes a centre back partnership of Per Mertesacker and Holger Badstuber quite likely. Mertesacker was benched recently while Badstuber played left-back for Bayern in their last matches. The two are not used to playing alongside each other, that might leave gaps.

Things on the fullback positions are problematic too. It says a lot about a country as big as Germany, that all hopes relied on Lahm to perform on either side. There simply isn’t a second good to great left- or right-back in Germany, let alone a replacement. Joachim Löw heavily criticized Dortmund left-back Marcel Schmelzer before the upcoming qualifiers because of his recent performances and was complaining he didn’t have many alternatives to choose from. It’s true that Schmelzer had a bad match against Austria last month and he has been occasionally found out against tougher opposition, but there are indeed not many replacements around, sadly. Boateng on the other flank, as Lahm’s backup, is expected to do a solid job, although nothing spectacular.

Okay okay, this is whining on a very high level, compared to Ireland’s problems. But these problems are enough to make people question Löw’s work as coach. However it is not expected to see him leave any time before the World Cup. Qualifying for a major competition is a box ticked by the German public and media, even before it starts. Therefore winning the group is a must for Löw and the team. And despite the Euro 2012 hangover the squad has, a few individual moments can make a difference against a spirited team performance. The game in Vienna last month is the best example, where two good moments in the match guaranteed two goals and the team was just about able to hang on to the three points, they didn’t deserve.

Key Man: Dortmund’s Marco Reus

All in all, these players now have found their form in the Bundesliga or the respective leagues and should be motivated enough to beat Ireland and then Sweden on Tuesday, at home in the Berlin Olympic Stadium.

Germany will line out like this: Neuer – Boateng, Mertesacker, Badstuber, Schmelzer – Khedira, Schweinsteiger – Müller, Özil, Reus – Klose.

Against a restructuring home team, those eleven (plus subs) should be well able to comfortably beat the Republic of Ireland. However, the last Germany win on Irish soil was in 1979 (3-1). Alright, only two games were played in Ireland afterwards, both ending in a draw. The most recent was a 0-0 in the Euro 2008 qualifiers; only Mertesacker, Schweinsteiger and Podolski are players who featured in that match and are back five years on.

I’ll say Germany has enough quality to beat Ireland comfortably, despite all the defensive problems I predict a 3-0 win for Germany to keep the 100% record in the qualifying group.

By Ansgar Löcke (@ansgarius_90)

Euro 2012 Group Preview

Euro 2012 kicks off on Friday when hosts Poland play Greece in Warsaw. The final will take place 22 days later on 1 July on the Olympic Stadium in Kiev.

Sixteen teams will take part in the tournament, and John Hislop takes a look at four groups and some of the players to watch out for.

Group A

This could be seen as the most open of the four groups, with Dick Advocaat’s Russia favourites to progress. They reached the semi-finals four year ago and most of that team remain, and star player Andrey Arshavin is back on top form after his loan spell with former club Zenit St Petersburg. Second place is anybody’s guess, with hosts Poland determined to reward their long suffering fans who are desperate to see a return to the glory days of the seventies. This squad includes a trio from the Bundesliga double winners, Borussia Dortmund, Robert Lewandowski, Jakub Blaszczykowski and Lukasz Piszczek. Much is expected of Lewandowski in particular who is attracting the attention of Manchester United amongst others. Euro 2004 champions Greece will have something to say about that though, having qualified without losing a game.Panathinaikos midfielder Sotiris Ninis who is also linked with United carries a goal threat, and no-one should underestimate the Czech Republic who saw off the Scots in the qualifying campaign. Arsenal midfielder Tomas Rosicky hopes to continue his end of season form.

Group B

Although the Irish might disagree, this group has been assigned the ‘Group of Death’ tag. Germany start favourites despite a 16 year drought, and the experience gained in South Africa will have done their young stars no harm. Real Madrid star Mesut Ozil hopes to continue where he left off two years ago. The Dutch will be waiting for any slip up after ditching their total football philosophy, and scoring 37 goals in ten qualifying games cannot be ignored. Great things are expected from England’s Player of the Year Robin van Persie who couldn’t stop scoring last term. Portugal, who only qualified via a playoff victory, will need Real Madrid favourite Cristiano Ronaldo to be in top form to stand any chance while Denmark with Arsenal’s Nicklas Bendtner will be determined to show what he can do with his contract at the Emirates up this summer.

Group C

World Cup winners and Euro 2008 champions Spain are hot favourites to carry on where they left off two years ago, and manager Vincente Del Bosque is determined to become only the second manager in history to win both tournaments, whilst Barcelona superstar Andres Iniesta will be a handful for any opponents. Italy, who went out of the World Cup in the group stages two years ago, have dismantled their squad and  replaced many of the old hands with younger players although Juventus midfielder Andrea Pirlo’s experience could prove vital. Liam Brady believes that Croatia could be the dark horses for the actual championship and Spurs star Luka Modric who has hinted that he may leave White Hart Lane will be keen to put himself in the shop window. Never write off the Irish however who always enjoy the big occasion and normally punch well above their weight. Manager Giovanni Trapattoni has a wealth of experience with 10 league championships in four countries, whilst the main goal threat comes from Robbie Keane.

Group D

France are slight favourites in this group with manager Laurent Blanc having united the squad which left South Africa divided under previous boss Raymond Domench. Real Madrid star Karim Benzema is one to watch. For a change, the English media have not already claimed the championship, and the reaction to new manager Roy Hodgson has been underwhelming to say the least. Injuries to key players and star man Wayne Rooney’s suspension have not helped, and his failure to bring back Rio Ferdinand following the injury to Gary Cahill could come back to bite him if results do not go their way. Ukraine are a shadow of the side which did so well in the World Cup in 2006, and the expectancy of the home support could either inspire or otherwise. Andre Shevchenko remains the main goal threat. Not much is expected of Sweden although their 3-2 victory over Holland in the qualifiers demonstrates that they will be no pushovers. AC Milan striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic has proved himself at the highest level, and the Swede’s hopes rest with him.