Distraction: My Latest Assault on the DP Rule (posted elsewhere)

As promised down below, here’s a link to the post I wrote for the swap with Starting Eleven.  My basic point is that the rule, by encouraging Major League Soccer teams to go “sexy” first, distorts the normal business of building a team.  I pick on DC United to do this; not out of hostility, but because the issue came to me as I weighed what I view as their problems against their latest, likely signing (see the first bulleted item).

I like the post well enough, but don’t think much about my ending…I panicked on deadline.

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Guest Post: Euro 2008’s Underwhelming Co-Hosts

A fellow blogger, a fella who runs a site called Starting Eleven, contacted me about doing a post-hosting swap. That sounded like “Post Toasties” to me and who doesn’t like those? So I said, yeah, what the the hey?

He’ll be posting my item shortly – and I’ll link to that when it’s up. As for this space, his item is below, a tidy commentary on the competitive quandary of allowing two nations to co-host major soccer tournaments. I liked it plenty and hope all y’all like it as well. And, if you like it, pop over to Starting Eleven and enjoy; he’ll be churning out the content for you.

On with the show:

Soccer’s principal governing bodies, FIFA and UEFA, have fallen in love with the notion of co-hosts for their major championships. Blame UEFA because it was first with Belgium and the Netherlands hosting the 2000 Euro, but it didn’t take long for copycat FIFA to fall in line with the 2002 World Cup taking place in Japan and South Korea.

While it may be a noble gesture to allow two countries to experience big tournaments simultaneously, exposing both to more media attention and the opportunity for massive amounts of revenue, fans are left with a soul-less event. We’re left to suffer with an inferior tournament because of FIFA’s and UEFA’s transparent motives and decision to reward mediocrity.

Look no further than next summer’s Euro; Austria and Switzerland will co-host and also earned automatic qualification for the tournament. Under normal circumstances, neither nation would get in without paying for tickets. Austria has made one previous Euro, Switzerland three. Neither has ever finished in the top four, nor has either made it out of the initial group stage of the finals.

Yet there they’ll be next summer, occupying two spots normally reserved for deserving teams. And therein lies the problem with the concept of co-hosts. If 16, 24 or 32 teams are good enough to qualify for a tournament, and two of the spots are reserved for hosts with no business being in the competition, how does UEFA or FIFA look at Nos. 17, 25 or 33 with a straight face and tell them they don’t belong.

If UEFA’s logic, for example, is spreading the wealth and the experience of hosting the tournament, fair enough. But once the host nations are excused after three games, that’s really out the door. Right now, England, Bulgaria, Ukraine, Belgium, Norway and exciting Israel are ranked higher than both Austria and Switzerland, and any of them would have a better showing than Austria or Switzerland, yet they’re on the outside looking in because of the decision to have co-hosts.

Sadly, this is a concept that isn’t going away any time soon. Poland and Ukraine are on tap to host the 2012 Euro, and Portugal and Spain are expected to make a bid for the 2018 World Cup [why? Portugal hosted a great Euro on its own in 2004.]

It’s time for FIFA and UEFA to find the courage to turn away these bids. If a country doesn’t have the infrastructure to host the game’s biggest tournaments, than it just doesn’t deserve them. It is doubtful fans would complain about somewhat permanent host nations for the Euro, in a rotation between say, England, Italy, France, Portugal, Spain and Germany. Same goes for the World Cup: Any of those European nations, along with the U.S., Mexico, Brazil, Argentina, South Africa, Japan, China and perhaps Australia.

To quote a funny guy: “Two of shit, is still shit.”

World Club Cup: Today and Tomorrow

Urawa Red Diamonds 3-1 Sepahan

Looks like a case of same result, different score.  As they did when the same two sides contested the AFC Champions’ League final in the middle of November, Urawa Red Diamonds beat Iran’s Sepahan by two goals.  And, in spite of this being the most evenly contested game of the FIFA Club World Cup so far, Urawa looked likely winners from the get-go.  The Japanese club pushed a frenetic pace through the first half and, after a series of attacks, forced a goal from the left though the hard work of Takahito Soma (great last name).

Sepahan, to their credit, fought hard from the back foot – for instance, it took the crossbar to prevent them from knotting the score at 1-1 through Emad Mohammed just after the start of the second half – but Urawa always stayed one step ahead of them.  Well, two when all was said and done, after Urawa’s Brazilian, Washington, scored from a crazy tight angle and Sepahan defender Hadi Aghily nodded in an own-goal (the second credited to him this tournament; poor in luck, but rich with hair, that one).

The general quality of this game put me in a mind to revise my estimation from yesterday’s post where I plopped CONCACAF into the thick of the fight for the #3 confederation in international soccer.  They’re still in there, but after watching Urawa run Sepahan ragged – and, not coincidentally, after watching Sepahan hold them off for long stretches – it seems the AFC (that’s the Asian Football Confederation…I’m pretty sure) has a dog in the fight boiling beneath the top two confederations, UEFA and CONMEBOL.  Put another way, I don’t doubt Urawa would run a team like Pachuca just as ragged as they did Sepahan.

And that constitutes something of a warning to AC Milan: if the Italians come out flat or complacent, the Asian club has enough in the tank to pull off the upset.  Urawa may not punch toe-to-toe with Milan when it comes to the technical and tactical, but, like most East Asian teams, they can go the full 90 and run a marathon besides, all of it flat-out.  They defend pretty well, too; had Marcus Tulio Tanaka not flubbed a moderately tricky touch, the Iranians’ consolation goal probably would never have come.  Milan’s offense poses more of a threat, of course, but, if this morning’s game is any indication, they’ll have to make space or struggle to find it.

So, that’s one more of this tournament’s – what? – seven games in the book and I’m again having to readjust my preferences.  There was just something about Sepahan I kind of liked.  Maybe it’s the thought of trying to get their Iraqi forward, Emad Mohammed, playing in MLS; he looked a bit like Maykel Galindo out there.  Whatever it was, they’re gone.  So…now who do I pull for?

I’ll stick with the underdogs, of course, but think I’ll pull for Etoile Sportive du Sahel; maybe they can stun Boca Juniors Wednedsay morning.  Probably not, I know, but, another upset – and a big one – would do this tournament good.

EPL: Arsenal falls to M’Boro…ew but Liverpool follows suit

STANDINGS 

Saturday, December 8th

Portsmouth 3, Aston Villa 1

Pompey is starting to look like the squad I had originally predicted at the beginning of the year. Both Sulley Muntari and Niko Kranjcar have almost full adapted to EPL play and are now driving that midfield to productivity. It was Muntari’s day though scoring two in the 40th and 61st minute and putting the game out of the Villans reach.

Manchester United 4, Derby County 1

Poor Derby. A thorough out-classing – even though the Rams kept Man Yoo from scoring for a good half. Ryan Giggs opened the can of whoop-ass right before half-time. Derby thought they would walk in at half with only a 1-0 deficit – but Tevez pounced in injury time, making it 2-0. Tevez got his second in the 60th and could have added a third at the end, but Ronaldo was so incensed with his upending in the box that he felt his pain deserved a PK conversion. There was an upside to Derby’s down-trodden day – Giles Barnes – the young 18 year old was the only thing remotely threatening to Man U’s backline of Vidic and Ferdinand.

Chelsea 2, Sunderland 0

The Black Cats never really woke up. Despite the two goals, no real action to this game. Shevchenko – thanks to the Drogba injury – got his chance on net and put it in but still looked well-off from old AC Milan days. Joe Cole did look pretty good though. He’s like a Michael Owen – you get excited that he’s on the field, start to follow him – and then he’s out for two months with a torn quad or something. Regardless, he was industrious and crafty as ever.

Everton 3, Fulham 0

This is an example of having the playmaker and target man in perfect synergy. Tim Cahill/Mikel Arteta powered the machine that is Yakubu to a classy hat-trick. Clint Dempsey was ineffective and taken off early in the second half, but by then, it seemed nothing was sparking the Cottagers to action. Timmy Howard had little to do but captain the back with Joseph Yobo back in the mix. Bocanegra never got on.

Reading 3, Liverpool 1

Stephen Hunt’s penalty in the 17th minute really hurt the pride of the Reds. Either that, or the Reds just figured the scoreline would take care of itself as missed chances and defensive lapses led to Reading’s inflated offensive talent. Steven Gerrard equalized less than 10 minutes later, but the Reds never connected. In the second half, it was Kevin Doyle and James Harper who converted their chances (Harper being fed by the improving Bobby Convey) making it 3-1. In Rafa Benitez’s defense, the game was a little suspect in the refereeing end but the Liverpool had PLENTY of chances that came close, but never snuck across Marcus Hahnemann’s goalline.

Newcastle 2, Birmingham 1

A much-needed win for the Magpies. Obafemi Martins’ converted a 37th minute penalty to snuff out an opening minutes lead grabbed by Birmingham’s Cameron Jerome. The Nigerian – normally a shoe-in for last minute heroics – took the backseat to Senegal-international Habib Beye who took home the glory and his first Newcastle goal in the 90th minute. Newcastle deserved the win, no doubt, but this underperformance curse really needs to end – it’s getting old.  

Sunday, December 9th

Middlesbrough 2, Arsenal 1

It all started with a 4th minute Stewart Downing PK conversion after a clumsy Kolo Toure challenge in the box on former Gunner Jeremie Aliadiere. Arsenal looked borderline lost without their midfield general Cesc Fabregas – oft-intercepted passes, possessional mishaps, positional confusion – it wasn’t the Arsenal team we’re used to. Sanli Tuncay wrapped it up with a 74th minute strike. Tomas Rosicky pulled one back in the waning moments, but nothing could spring the Gunners into urgent offensive mode. 

Bolton 4, Wigan 1

Certainly could be one of those games where Bolton wasted all of their offensive power on one game instead of spreading it out evenly over several matches (look for Bolton to be shut out their next couple games). Or maybe it was just the fact that Wigan looks god-awful right now and a firm candidate for relegation this season. The Wanderers made a statement on finishing even though Wigan outshot them. After going one-up on a Paul Scharner own goal, Wigan equalized, only to see three unanswered Bolton goals break the game wide open. From Kevin Nolan, Kevin Davies, and Nicolas Anelka respectively.

Tottenham 2, Manchester City 1

Like Fabregas with Arsenal, we’re starting to see who the driving force behind Sven’s Citeh is. Without Elano again and facing White Hart Lane, City fought valiantly but was overcome by Tottenham’s forgotten striker – Jermain Defoe. Defore scored in 83rd minute effectively snuffing out any worries that the Hotspur faithful had in their dispatching of Citeh. The Blues helped Tottenham’s cause though as Defoe’s game winner came right after Stephen Ireland’s sending off in the 82nd minute.

West Ham 1, Blackburn 0

Jonathan Spector played the last 15 minutes helping to secure a 1-0 win over Brad Friedel’s Blackburn. It was Dean Ashton who broke the seemingly endless deadlock. Friedel looked solid in goal yet again, with 6 saves but it was Benny McCarthy and Roque Santa Cruz who made West Ham’s life hell pouring on shot after shot. Robert Green – with his performance between the posts – will most likely boost his chances at England’s #1 spot.