Archive for the ‘Internationals’ Category

UEFA President Platini attends a news conference after the first UEFA Executive Committee reunion of the year at the UEFA headquarters in Nyon

The spark has been lost. International soccer is no longer the charming, compelling spectacle it once was. The same teams qualify for the major tournaments and the same teams win them (namely, Spain). But fear not. A plan is afoot.

According to a report by The Guardian, UEFA is set to propose a radical overhaul of the international soccer calendar, which would see European national teams participate in a new competition called the Nations League.

Existing dates allocated for friendly fixtures would be used to launch the new league, forming the central pillar of an initiative to improve international soccer. The idea has already been presented to the UEFA executive committee and could be implemented from 2018.

The concept of adding a competitive edge to exhibition fixtures is a noble one. It’s hard to muster up any sense of national pride when faced with an irrelevant and monotonous international friendly.

Yet a degree of scepticism should be applied to the proposal. The underlying motives are questionable.

Given their success in the rebranding and repackaging of the Champions League UEFA now views international soccer as the focus of its next marketing renovation.

The intense politicking between associations and confederations underpins the power struggle between UEFA and FIFA. They are the two most powerful bodies in world soccer and the Nations League would give UEFA more authority in an arena otherwise controlled by FIFA.

At club level the concept of a pan-European league has been explored before but the Nations League applies the proposition to international soccer for the first time. UEFA seems to have identified the final frontier of European soccer not to have had every last penny wrung out.

Brazil has demonstrated how lucrative the international game can be. The self-styled ‘Brasil World Tour’ has translated the innate allure and romance of the Selecao into hard cash (Brazil command an appearance fee of $3 million per game). The Nations League plan suggests UEFA has been casting envious glances and hopes to market the European game in the same way.

If the Champions League financial distribution model is to be taken as precedent those who compete at the top-end of the Nations League would receive higher royalties than those at foot of the pyramid.

Last season’s Champions League winners, Bayern Munich, were awarded €30.5 million in prize money and bonuses, supplemented by their share of the competition’s TV money, €21.8 million, making their triumph worth over €52 million. By comparison Celtic, who exited just three rounds before the Germans, received around €25 million.

UEFA has already started the process of centralizing media rights for World Cups and European Championships, with broadcasters negotiating contracts directly with the European governing body rather than the national associations. Just as it does from the Champions League and Europa League, UEFA would stand to claim its own share of the riches.

The proposed model would protect the elite, with UEFA’s 54 member nations split into nine divisions depending on their seeding. For instance, Spain, Germany, the Netherlands, Italy, England and Portugal would form the top flight.

Naturally, the most prestigious nations draw the most interest, and highest fees, from broadcasters. It is therefore in UEFA’s interest to group those countries together, giving them the most attractive and lucrative product to sell. The status quo would effectively be sheltered by a new constitution, in the form of the new TV agreements struck with broadcasters.

But is the Nations League proposal in the best interests of those below the line? It doesn’t appear so.

Mobility is the essence of soccer. Without the means to meet ambition the sport loses its charm. How can a side improve themselves without the challenge of playing superior opposition? The glamour friendly might appear a futile and frankly tedious exercise to the neutral but it provides lesser teams with the opportunity to measure up against the best.

While the purpose might have been obscured in recent years international friendly games do have one. Their role as preparation for major tournaments, with associations tailoring their build-up to World Cups and European Championships, is invaluable.

The new league set-up wouldn’t interfere with the current qualification schedule, but would increase the number of international matchdays. Countries would be obligated to partake in both qualification campaigns and the newly formed Nations League.

Such a reorganization of the international schedule risks a backlash from Europe’s biggest and most powerful clubs.

Managers already complain about the number of international dates. The club versus country row is founded on the premise of a player returning to his club with an injury picked up on international duty. Are Europe’s elite clubs likely to back a proposal that introduces even more opportunities for that to happen?

The G14 body was disbanded in 2008, replaced by the less concentrated European Club Association, but UEFA mustn’t underestimate the impact a concerted protest by Europe’s leagues and clubs could have.

National associations maintain control within the jurisdiction of their respective leagues and competitions but their grip on the European game is slipping. Not just slipping, being clawed away from them.

The Nations League might well make international soccer more attractive but its execution could come at a cost. That cost is the one UEFA is charging.

FBL-WC2014-GER-SWE

Every country has them. Some call them traitors. Others refer to them as trophy hunters or self-serving opportunists. In Canada, the names Jonathan de Guzman and Owen Hargreaves have become synonymous with national betrayal. But it’s presumptuous to approach the topic of nationalism and football from this angle alone.

In his book ‘Imagined Communities’ professor Benedict Anderson once said that nationalism is a state of mind rather than a tangible reality:

“It is an imagined political community—and imagined as both inherently limited and sovereign. It is imagined because the members of even the smallest nation will never know most of their fellow-members, meet them, or even hear of them, yet in the minds of each lives the image of their communion… The nation is imagined as limited because even the largest of them, encompassing perhaps a billion living human beings, has finite, if elastic boundaries, beyond which lie other nations.”

Anderson makes a plausible case that the collective bonds of nation and country exist only in our heads. Following that self-evident premise, should it matter if an individual within this ‘imagined community’ opts to represent another? After all, why are we bothered by something that perhaps is nothing more than an illusion? Or perhaps the illusion itself is all that fuels the passion of international football.

There was uproar in Canada when De Guzman chose to choose the Dutch national team. While de Guzman has been covered extensively in both media and on the Counter Attack blog, it may be refreshing for some Canadians to hear that we’re not alone in feeling a sense of deep betrayal.

From Brazil to Turkey, players are often vilified for the choices they make, especially when it comes to citizenship and international representation.
Read the rest of this entry »

Minnows don’t suck

I mean, they do, but there is something singularly wonderful about a world in which 90,000 people will watch a team that represents a country with 30,000 citizens. James Tyler has a great piece up on the importance of respecting the little guys:

But such suggestions ignore the important point: these qualifying rounds are all about the minnows, not Steven Gerrard’s comfort or Franck Ribery’s accruement of air miles. Though the bulk of attention invariably fixates on the minor dramas of big players, niggling injuries or monotonous press conferences, the minnows and their stories enliven normally drab, perfunctory bouts of football.

It’s about Andy Selva, the 35-year-old Sammarinese striker with a lifetime spent in Italian soccer’s doldrums and scorer of eight goals for San Marino, a country that has scored just 19 in 112 games dating back to 1990. Davide Gualtieri versus England, 1993! Or Leweck scoring in a 2-1 WCQ win in Switzerland, one of the biggest shocks in recent memory.

There is a romanticism in this argument, and it could be argued that the qualifying rounds shouldn’t exist in their current form just for the sake of a perky narrative now and again. But I’ve made the case before (and will make it over and over until I’m sick of the sound of my keyboard clacking) that there is a principle to be upheld as well. As I wrote the last time this subject came up:

This is football. There are in-built competitive advantages for certain countries based on population, GDP, and footballing history. But a nation is a nation, regardless of size or footballing prowess. They deserve a fair shake against the best of the best teams in their federation, regardless of the likely but not absolutely guaranteed results. The boredom of fans of so-called big nations (you know, the ones that get booted out of the first WC round against Slovakia) shouldn’t overrule the principle of fair play…

There are some cases where these provisions cannot be realistically made, as in CAF or CONCACAF where many of the smaller nations don’t have the financial means to slog through a giant group stage in geographically daunting federations (the Guyanese manager has to coach his team over SKYPE against Mexico). But Europe isn’t like that, and so we get the group stage in their current form.

DEAL.

England thrashed Moldova away 5-0, the kind of scoreline England believes they run up all the time, but according to this:

 

And many of the minnows put up a decent fight; Luxembourg gave Portugal a brief scare until the inevitable comeback. And Faroe Islands only lost 3-0 to Germany in Hanover after a spirited performance and more than a few chances in the first half, with some sloppy defensive passes and more than one error from the Germans.

Italy 2-2 Bulgaria may have thrown Cesare Prandelli for a loop, except for the traditional Italian ‘slow start’ to tournament qualifying. The Netherlands scraped up a 2-0 win over Turkey, apparently a close-ish match for a while. And Belgium proved all the football smarty-pants right in beating Wales, although interestingly enough in a team with Fellaini and Hazard the goals came from defenders Jan Vertonghen and Vincent Kompany.

Rather unfortunate for Canada: Honduras currently leads Cuba 2-0. If the result holds, the two nations will be tied on points in their group.

Honduras bowed out of the 2012 Olympic football tournament, Saturday, after losing 3-2 to Brazil at St. James’ Park. The matter of their defeat earned them no shortage of admirers, however—such was their commitment to the cause that even after being reduced to 10 men in the 33rd minute they quite nearly caused an upset. Mario Martinez, on loan at Seattle Sounders, and Sporting Kansas City’s Roger Espinoza were especially impressive, and the Newcastle crowd seemed to appreciate Espinoza, in particular.

Thankfully, we’ll get several chances over the next few years to see Honduras thrill on the international stage. Honduran football is experiencing a competitive cycle that began in the quadrennial ahead of the last World Cup and should last until after the current one. Many of the players who competed in the U-23 side at these Olympics are also full internationals, which means the group of them will continue to mature together ahead of next summer’s CONCACAF Gold Cup and the World Cup in Brazil the year after that.

It was the 2009 FIFA Youth Championship that signalled the arrival of this generation of Honduran footballers. After coming third at the CONCACAF U-20 Championship the previous March Honduras opened their campaign in Egypt with a 3-0 win over Honduras (in which Martinez scored twice) before going out at the group stage. Several of the players who just participated in the Olympics were involved in that squad, and their contributions in the senior side will have a lot to do with whether Honduras can, for the first time, qualify for successive World Cups. Read the rest of this entry »

Spain’s exit from the 2012 Olympic football tournament was as early as it was ignominious. Two matches; no goals scored; nine bookings and one ejection—the final moments of Sunday’s 1-0 loss to Honduras spent in a rage after referee Juan Soto’s decision not to award a penalty to the world and European champions near the end of normal time. La Furia, indeed.

Perhaps they underestimated their opposition. Perhaps, given their recent success on the international stage (they arrived at the Games having already won two titles in July—Euro 2012 and the UEFA U-19 crown) they figured they could get results just by showing up. Perhaps they merely had a poor week.

But to say they didn’t care would be to devalue the importance Olympic football has had on the sport in this country over the past 92 years. It was at the 1920 Games in Antwerp, after all, that Spanish football carved out a place for itself in the national psyche; it was in 1992 in Barcelona that a star-studded team including the likes of Santiago Canizares, Luis Enrique and Pep Guardiola finally conquered the world. Read the rest of this entry »


While Cristiano Ronaldo made his inauspicious debut at Euro 2012 Lionel Messi picked up right where he left off.

Argentina beat Brazil 4-3 in a friendly played at Met Life Stadium this afternoon. Messi recorded his second career hat-trick to bring his season total to a ridiculous 82 goals for Barcelona and Argentina.

Reuters’ William Schomberg caught up with the superstar after the game:

“I don’t feel like I’m one of the best players yet,” Messi said. “I want to keep growing, getting stronger and be in front of my team — and win, of course, because when you win, everything’s easier.”

Take note, Cristiano.

You can catch all the goals from a pretty damn good game in the video below.(Yes, I know it was just a friendly.)