venerdì 27 giugno 2014

Game over for Capello?

Fabio Capello’s salary is bigger than the salary of the head coaches of Belgium, South Korea and Algeria all combined. It is also almost twice that of his successor with England, Roy Hodgson. It means that Capello is the highest-paid national team head coach in the world. By the way, Capello was unable to lead Russia to get out of the Group H. The knocked stage were unattainable for Russia, once again. Capello’s side underperformed in Brazil during this 2014 World Cup. A 1-1 draw with South Korea in the opener due to a Igor Akinfeev’s mistake generated the first criticisms. Then, the 1-0 defeat against Belgium occurred, contributing to rise up some questions about Capello’s tactics and methods. The final act against Algeria resulted in another mess for Russian fans that quickly stab at Capello. A list of Capello’s mistakes abruptly sorted on Russian newspapers. Is team debacle 100% Capello’s fault, as Sovetsky Sport wrote? Russia failed to create clear scoring chances during its three games. Surely, Roman Shirokov's injury didn’t help as it was a major blow for the midfield and Russia roster wasn’t loaded with talent to compete at the highest level. The fact all Russian players came from the domestic league is a clear disadvantage for Russia because Russian Premier League’s level is not so high compared to Western Europe championships. Key players such as Denis Glushakov or Viktor Fayzulin spent all their careers at home. Russia's national team could be much stronger if their league was better or if their players would make use of play in England or Spain. That said, Capello contributed to this downfall with his decisions. Not starting  Alan Dzagoev, the most suited to replace Shirokov, were one of those. Benching  Zenit forward Aleksandr Kerzhakov, one of the best offensive options at Capello’s disposal, in favour of inconsistent Maksim Kanunnikov also wasn’t a great idea. Capello also took the blame for the choice of Akinfeev. Once touted as one of the best Russian goalkeepers, the CSKA Moscow’s netminder committed two pivotal mistakes against South Korea and Algeria. Why Capello insisted that he was his goalkeeping number one after Akinfeev first game’s blunder? On defence, problems at full-backs were expected, specially on the right side. Despite that, Capello opted for the inexperienced Aleksey Kozlov and Andrey Eschenko leaving veteran Aleksandr Anyukov at home. He sidelined Yuri Zhirkov and cut Artyom Dzyuba from the final 23-man roster. Capello has now coached in seven World Cup games, winning just one match when he was in charge of England. Former Real Madrid head coach thinks he “did a pretty good job” leading Russia to the World Cup for the first time after 12 years of failed attempts. It is enough for him to keep the job? Capello thinks so and he’s ready to continue as Russia boss, taking on the challenge to build a team for the 2018 World Cup, when Russia will host the tournament. Fans and media’s thoughts are different as none is satisfied with the way the manager coached Russia. Russia’s playing style were less than spectacular under him. Above all, they also judge the Italian manager has still to justify his big salary. At the end a questions remains unsolved: is Capello the coach who can lead Russia to progress?

domenica 22 giugno 2014

Football matters in Iran

The history of football in Iran from the early beginnings dates back to the 1920s. But their National team didn’t reach the bigger football world stage until the ‘70s. In fact, it was in 1978 that Team Melli, as it is called by Iranians, took its place into a World Cup tournament. It was in 1978, when the World Cup was held by the military junta of General Videla in Argentina. Iran’s appearance wasn’t so glorious as they didn’t score any point out from a group stage including Netherlands, Scotland and Peru. By the way, Iran left its trademark contributing to add shame to  Ally's tartan army by earning a point in the game against Scottish. After the 1979 Iranian Revolution, football took a huge step back in Persia. With the infamous Iran-Iraq War going through, Iranians had other things to worry about. Both people and domestic football suffered the effects of conflict. In the mid ‘90s,  a lot of skillful players raised up into Iranian football scene, leading Team Melli to their second World Cup berth in 1998. It was the generation of Karim Bagheri, Khodadad Azizi, Mehdi Mahdavikia, and Ali Daei. Iran once again failed to go out from the group stage but their 1998 experience was highlighted by the victory over USA. It was more than a simple a game. At the same time, with a higher number of Iralian footballers going overseas, Iranian football is growth. There is evidence as Team Melli have qualified for World Cup 2014 in Brazil. Thousands of Iranians drawn  into the streets to celebrate their heroes. Iranians see World Cup as a chance to restore their national pride. A huge credit goes to Portuguese head coach Carlos Queiroz. Former Real Madrid coach and Alex Ferguson’s assistant achieved a lot of results since he was appointed in 2011. A life under sanctions made though Iran’s approach to Brazil: the national federation was plagued by financial issues and it drastically reduced the number of friendly games against top level teams Team Melli played. Usually perceived as an underdog team, Iran will have to face a hard task to beat Bosnia and Nigeria in the way to advance into the World Cup second stage. Many of Iran’s hopes to get out of the group are based on Dutch- Iranian Reza Ghoochannejhad as Charlton Athletic’s forward is Team Melli’s main threat. Football meaning goes over the field. On June 17, 2009, six players of a Team Melli playing a World Cup qualifier against South Korea hit the field wearing green wristbands.  For many Iranians, a sign of solidarity with the protesters of Green Movement. Football continues to be highly politicized in Iran, as Wikileaks too stated: “the Iranian government worries that public unrest over a Team Melli loss could add fire to the increasingly volatile [pre-election] political demonstrations that have paralyzed Tehran in recent nights.”  The 1998 and 2006 public celebrations burned up into the streets following National Team’s qualifications to the World Cup, with women removing their hijabs, raised concerns between Iranian politicians. Whether or not Iran will play successfully into the field, this World Cup campaign will help Iranians to change their worldwide image. Or it is to be hope by Persian politicians. Hassan Rouhani, the Iran president, twitted a photograph of himself wearing an Iranian team shirt. He also took to Twitter to praise Team Melli’s 0-0 draw with Nigeria in their World Cup opener. With over 60 percent of Iran's 73 million people being under 30 years old, football is becoming a significant part of Iranian culture. Surely, some things remains to be fixed. Women are still be forbidden by law from attending football games as the brilliant Offside movie, directed by Jafar Panahi, showed in 2006 and despite Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s will to allow women to attend national football matches. This move was quickly opposed by the religion supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and the ban reinstalled. In 2007, FIFA forced Mohammad Aliabadi, head of the athletics in Iran, to withdraw from his position after he violated FIFA rules which prohibit governmental interference in the game. Aliabadi fired the head of the Iranian Football Federation after the poor performances of Team Melli at the 2006 World Cup in Germany. That said, you know how football and politics are linked in Persia. Former president Ahmadinejad’s love for football is well known. In 2012, he lost political elections and also suffered a huge blow when he wasn’t able to impede the re-election of Iranian Football Federation president Ali Kafashian. In the 2009 he ensured the firing of former star Ali Daei as Team Melli’s coach. All the requests to separate the game from politics cause to be fruitless. We don’t know if Iran’s campaign at 2014 Brazil World Cup will be successful or not. And who knows if Team Melli’s performances on the field will become a pretext for politics-related demonstrations. For sure, we know that football and politics has been strictly related in Iran. And they continue to be.

mercoledì 11 giugno 2014

Mexico unpredictable 3-5-2

For the third consecutive World Cup, Mexico will play a back three. Although Mexico want to play offensively, trying to retain ball possession, they will try to produce this out from a 5-3-2, a system not usually linked with proactive game. But the way Mexico will play this formation make it more like a 3-5-2 than a 5-3-2. Miguel Herrera, the fourth different coach to take charge of El Tri after a troubled qualifying tournament, likes to fill his starting lineup with a high number of attacking midfielders in the same way of his predecessor, Argentinian Ricardo La Volpe. Herrera is an offensive-minded coach and wants his team attacking. A more defensive tactics is expected against Brazil. All that said, after have been eliminated at the second round of every World Cup between 1994 and 2010, Mexico’s goal is to reach the quarter-finals for the first time since 1986, when they were the World Cup’s hosts. Appointed just before the play-off against New Zealand, Herrera had few time to make changes into the troubled Mexican side. He beat New Zealand relying on Mexican-based players, waiting to be sure to get the World Cup qualification before to fuel his side with the European talents. For the fourth consecutive World Cup, Rafael Marquez will play a key role into this side. Former Bacelona’s defender lost some of his pace, but he’s still able to lead the backline, playing as spare-man and leading the two center-backs playing at his side,  thanks to his increased knowledge of the game. Francisco Rodriguez and Hector Moreno should be the starting markers selected to play alongside Marquez. Both are good, mobile center-back, but both too are prone to mistakes so Mexican back three could easily show a good level of insecurity. Diego Reyes is another option over there. As for the netminder, fans’ favourite Guillermo Ochoa is a better option although José de Jesús Corona, a gold medalist at the 2012 London Olympics, still got the edge. Paul Aguilar will play the right-wingback role while there is a bigger incertitude on who will start on the left-side. Veteran Carlos Salcido should be Herrera’s pick but both Miguel Layún and Andrés Guardado have some chances to start there. The midfield is the area with more question marks. Porto’s midfielder Hector Herrera should occupy the central spot while the other two midfielders are unpredictable. Jose Vazquez is an option but Herrera likes Juan Carlos Medina as they worked together at América. Should Herrera opt for a more defensive side, Carlos Peña could share the holding midfielder’s duty with Hector Herrera. Otherwise, should the Mexican coach line up just one holder flanked by two more offensive teammates, Luis Montes and Guardado remain as the main options. Guardado is a likeble dribbler and could add offensive flair should he start in the middle of the pitch while Montes knows well Peña as they both play for León. Upfront, the only almost sure thing is that Herrera has made Javier Hernandez expendable. The Manchester United forward doesn’t appear fit enough after a season mostly spent on the bench. So the duty to be fielded up top paired to the finisher Oribe Peralta should happen to Giovani dos Santos. Former Mexican star club career hit up and downs but  Dos Santos remain one of the best Mexican talent you have heard of. He had a good season with Villarreal as he showed flashes of the past form he enjoyed during the successful 2012 Olympics campaign. Both Dos Santos and Peralta have a lot of speed and their main tool is the ability to exploit the space behind the opposite’s backline. At the end, this is not a bad side. It is a typical Mexican team: a mistake-prone defensive unit paired to a gifted midfield section and to an attack with skills. Brazil aside, Mexico’s group, one that includes Cameroon and Croatia, appears tough but not impossible. They could be able to get the knockout stage.

lunedì 9 giugno 2014

Greece World Cup 2014 preview

Defend, defend and defend. There are not secret at the center of Greece’s strategy. A solid defensive approach is Greece’s trademark, once again. The gameplane that led Greece to its glory days in 2004, a decade ago, still remains Greek national team’s philosophy. In Fernando Santos, the head coach that took the reign over from legendary Otto Rehhagel, Greece found a disciple of this kind of approach as Santos’ tactics are based on tactical compactness and a defensive focus whoever gets the field. The 4-3-3 formation Santos opted for is more a 4-5-1 system then an offensive shape featuring three pure forwards. The defensive back four rarely push forward and the main attacking threat still relies on a powerful, centre-forward able to hold up the ball, counter-attacking play and set pieces. It worked defensively as Greek conceded only four goals in 10 qualifying games. In front of Granada’s goalkeeper Orestis Karnezis, Borussia Dortmund’s Sokratis Papastathopoulos is the centerpiece of that backline. With Avraam Papadopoulos left at home due to his poor form, and Kyriakos Papadopoulos injured, it’s time for Papastathopoulos to rise up and show what he’s able to do at the top level. He will be paired to Kostas Manolas at center-back slots while Vasilis Torosidis and José Holebas are the wingbacks. Holebas’ attacking tendency has been heavily criticized and he were sometime utilized as a left winger by his club’s coach, Ernesto Valverde. By the way, Holebas is still expected to start at left-back during this World Cup.

Santos usually builds his midfield around three different kind of players, with a defensive and a holding midfielder alongside an attacking one.  The midfield is still built around Giorgos Karagounis and Kostas Katsouranis. By the way Karagounis is no more a sure starter so the central trio could feature  Karagounis in the middle, flanked by Alexandros Tziolis and Giannis Maniatis. Bologna’s midfielder Panagiotis Kone could add offensive firepower should he be pick to start in the middle of the pitch while Panagiotis Tachtsidis and Lazaros Christodoulopoulos are decent backups.

The only new to their defensive style of play is that, at this moment, Greece seem to can rely on a scoring forward. This player is Kostas Mitroglou. The 26-year-old Fulham striker could be the man charged with the duty to boost the attacking flair. Mitroglou has to regain his form to do it as he came out from a disastrous gig in the English Premier League, where he played just 153 minutes for his relegated club. Santos hopes Mitroglou will be fit enough to join Georgios Samaras as team’s main threats up front. Should Mitroglou regain the form that made him impressive during his spell at Olympiakos and in the qualifying play-off against Romania, Greece could reach a certain level of dangerousness in attack. Otherwise, they will be forced to rely on Theofanis Gekas once again. This could likely be a bad news as Konyaspor forward, a former Bundesliga top goalscorer, failed to repeat his past performances during this season. Santos is likely to rely on coming in Dimitris Salpingidis as third forward, using PAOK’s attacking wingers in a wider area with the drift inside coming from the flank. Against Japan and Ivory Coast, two teams with defensive troubles, his work could be the key to open the box.

A group containing Colombia, Ivory Coast and Japan presents realistic chances of qualification for Greece and this is the final team’s goal. Having a forward able to solve Greece's chronic lack of goals could be helpful. Team is not lacking of willingness to sacrifice and the roster is relatively well loaded to provide Greece’s own version of how the football should be played by smaller sides. That said, it not means Greece will get its first qualification in a World Cup group. But the Greeks have the tools and the opportunity to finally reach the round two of this tournament.

sabato 7 giugno 2014

Belgium could pay for their defensive woes

Belgium emerged as one of the hottest teams in world football and the expectations are very high as fans and media think they will have a successful World Cup campaign in Brazil. “A lot of people are talking about this Belgian team and wondering how we will do in Brazil,” defender Thomas Vermaelen told. Surely, they have to prove they can live up to this hype. Belgium’s side is loaded with talent but there are also a couple of doubts regarding Marc Wilmots’ team. The first one is a concern about the fact Belgium will play in a very hot climate and to play in that type of environment could be a big problem for them. The second raising issue concerns their defence as Belgium’s back line seems to be team’s weak point. In Thibaut Courtois, Wilmots has a top class goalkeeper but the rest of the defensive bunch is a bit suspect. The only tested player at that level is centre-back Vincent Kompany. Wilmots assured Vermaelen a spot in the starting lineup, paired to Manchester City defender. Vermaelen had a troubled season at Arsenal and although he never disappointed playing with Belgium, he was sidelined for the most part of the season with his club. So he’s unfit and in poor form insomuch as the coaching staff seems to have prepared a specific work to get him back in shape for the World Cup opener. The backups, Bayern Munich ‘s Daniel Van Buyten and Nicolas Lombaerts of Zenit, are average at beast. Backline’s play hasn’t been convincing this season as Belgium’s defenders showed a lack of concentration in 2012-13. Also, Van Buyten  aside, this is a young unit lacking experience on the big stage and inclined to mistakes. But the major issue here is the lack of true full-backs. Tottenham’s Jan Vertonghen and Atlético Madrid’s Toby Alderweireld are natural centre-backs but Wilmots rate them as full-back lining up them out wide, Alderweireld on the right and Vertonghen on the left. And this is the weakest point over there. It means Belgium is playing four central defenders across the whole back line with Vertonghen and Alderweireld that could struggle against world’s best wingers, forcing either Eden Hazard and Kevin De Bruyne to come back down the flanks in the way to help them. And both Hazard and De Bruyne aren’t famed for their defensive work. Standard Liege’s Sebastien Pocognoli could have been a nice pick at left-back but he was left home as Wilmots sees Vermaelen as the No. 1 alternative to Vertonghen over there. So, although Belgium’s roster remains impressive, defence is a clear weakness.