Olympic Qualifying, Wednesday: Giants follow suit, while Avila puts Guatemala in the driver’s seat

Canada 1, Mexico 1

Luis Angel Landin converted a penalty to give Mexico a somewhat undeserved point against Canada. Their defense was sloppy and it showed glaringly in the first 5 minutes. Andrazes Ornoch intercepted a shoddy Julio Dominguez clearance. He then found Will Johnson almost at the penalty spot. Johnson converted putting Canada up. It took Mexico about 80 minutes to wake up, but the last 10 minutes they had the Canadians on the backtrack, almost putting away an injury-time stunner. Their equalizer came well before that though when Cesar Villaluz – a prospect I’m still waiting to see shine – was taken down in the 22nd minute. Landin converted only to get sent off in the middle of the second half. Actually, both goalscorers, Landin and Canada’s Johnson were sent off 10 minutes apart from each other. Three Toronto FC players – goalkeeper Josh Wagenaar, forward Andrea Lombardo, and Tyler Hemming saw time. Wagenaar looked great in goal.

Guatemala 1, Haiti 0

Guatemala got the three points and the early group lead through an early Martin Avila goal. Former Rapid Fabrice Noel got in for the last half and played moderately well. Both looked poised to make this group an interesting one which – like the United States – if Mexico doesn’t wake up, there could be two unknowns heading to Beijing.

Standings look like this:

Group/Grupo A GP/PJ W/G L/D T/E +/- PTS
Honduras 1 1 0 0 1:0 3
Cuba 1 0 0 1 1:1 1
USA 1 0 0 1 1:1 1
Panama 1 0 1 0 0:1 0
Group/Grupo B GP/PJ W/G L/D T/E +/- PTS
Guatemala 1 1 0 0 1:0 3
Canada 1 0 0 1 1:1 1
Mexico 1 0 0 1 1:1 1
Haiti 1 0 1 0 0:1 0

CONCACAF Qualifying: C’mon, People, Worry With Me!

I don’t like this particular line of thinking from Greg Lalas’ look ahead to the U.S. Men’s National Team’s (aka, Yanquis) 2008:

“All of that [ed. – “what’s ‘that’ you’re asking? Well, read his article and find out.”] will pay massive dividends come ’09, when the U.S. heads to South Africa for the Confederations Cup and World Cup 2010 qualifying opponents are not pinpricks on the map. Clichés exist for a reason. Because they’re true. Sophomore slumps also exist for a reason. Because you’re preparing for what comes next.”

Well, yeah. But what if “what comes next” never comes because you didn’t sweat the necessary stuff that comes before it?

The whole tone of that article, along with the idea that we’re entering something of a “nothing” year with 2008, irks me a little. The list of probable 2008 opposition on our way to the 2010 World Cup does have a kind of “who’s that?” feel. We start in June with either Barbados or Dominica, whichever of them makes it past their upcoming home-and-home ties in the CONCACAF qualifying tournament’s first round (are these things being televised, by the way; if not, why not? I’m seeing a shitstack of “FA Cup Films” out of Fox Soccer Channel and, no, I don’t stick around to watch them). Sure, we should beat either team, and handily, but…well, what if? I know two things about this: 1) my world would, personally, end; 2) am I alone in detecting some shaky moments in our defense, specifically our central defense? And what happens when we go down a freak goal at home and need to score – as we did against Guatemala in last year’s Gold Cup – and we just….can’t….do….it? Shit…I lost a few more hairs just thinking about it.

Speaking of Guatemala, they’re one of our likely opponents in the round-robin semifinal Hexagonal that will round out our qualifying schedule for 2008, them along with Trinidad & Tobago and Cuba (you can piece together pretty easily from this page). Going by the tentative Yanquis’ schedule Du Nord slapped on the ol’ left-hand sidebar, we’ll be five games into the six required to wrap up the penultimate Hexagonal by the end of this year – and this is a time when Lalas recommends we “afford some of the players some necessary rest?” Now, this could just be the anxiety talking, but am I alone in thinking all three of those teams are entirely capable of forcing ties with the U.S. team? We know Guatemala is a pain in the ass, that the Cubans get up for games against the Yanquis like no one else (half of them, no doubt, by way of putting on a pre-defection audition), and Trinidad had it’s moments in the 2006 World Cup (does Tobago get pissed when people leave them out?). For all that the odds favor the Yanquis, accidents happen…sometimes several of them in a row.

The point is, the Canadians look like they’re approaching qualifying with due and healthy anxiety (and, provided they play in 2008 like they played this summer, they can definitely survive a group comprised of (again, this is likely) Mexico, Jamaica, and Honduras; and, for the record, I’m glad that’s the Canadians’ group and not ours. So count me happy we’re not in that (highly comparative) Group of Death, but I don’t like so much as the possibility that Lalas’ positively sanguine mood lurks in more hearts than his. We’re the better team – and by far; I have absolutely no doubt of that – but this is about guaranteeing success, as opposed to expecting it.

I mean, how painful would it be to fly to the Confederations’ Cup in 2009 with no South Africa 2010 to follow?

Upset Galore: Euro 2008 eff-ups and a big Mexican letdown

Complete Standings

Russia 2, England 1 

England’s Euro 2008 fate is now firmly out of their control. McLaren’s squad need help from other teams now to secure a spot in next summer’s tournament. Russia looked on the up and up with Roman Pavluchenko scoring the goals that Alexandr Kerzakhov wanted to. The La Liga striker called for an upset and they got it, without much of a contest. Rooney scored early, but it was the Russians who set the tone – putting 10 on frame and scoring a double salvo at the 70 minute mark to dent England’s qualification chances. The English FA is still saying they back McLaren but you can bet that if they don’t book a ticket to Austria/Switzerland this summer, he’ll be gone…and Mourinho in???? Let’s not get ahead of ourselves. The match wasn’t without its controversy as the penalty call was questionable but shit happens, and although the PK swayed the momentum and equalized the game, England had their fair share of chances. Is this another example of Guus Hiddink’s mastery or are the Russians starting to put together the pieces to consistently compete with the best?

Georgia 2, Scotland 0

If this was last year, I probably wouldn’t call this an upset – but with Scotland’s form as of late, this should have been a Scotland win. The Scots dominated the game – possession, shots, all things statistical-ish but it wasn’t to be. A goal from 17-year old Levan McHedlidze (Scottish-Georgian maybe?) in the 16th minute put the Scots in the hole from the get-go. That was enough to throw them off their game as the three M’s (Miller, McFadden, and Maloney) were effectively dealt with by Georgia’s backline.  A six game win streak allows Italy to move ahead of them as the Italians have one game in tow. All it takes is one let down and this might have been it for the Scots.

Liechtenstein 3, Iceland 0

What?!!? I understand that Iceland is somewhat small and that half of Leichtenstein’s population was at the game, but a 3-0 drubbing at the hands of perennial door-mats? No one expected this – especially with Eidur Gudjohnsen in the mix and the Reading boys – Gunnarsson and Ingimarsson in the heart of the line-up. It was Mario Frick and Thomas Beck who led the team – Frick with the early 27th minute goal and Beck with the blow of a brace in the waning moments. Not that Iceland was in contention anyway…but Liechtenstein has had one of their best showings ever in Euro Qualifying registering two wins (Latvia, Iceland).

Guatemala 3, Mexico 2
International Friendly

Yea, it was a young squad with crap-loads of potential but El Tri overcame an early 5th minute Guatamalan goal to score two and go up before giving way to Marvin Avila and a resounding second half brace. At that point in the game, things were getting out of hand. The head ref had already ejected two players from each team as well as Guatemala’s coach and assistant. Would you be surprised if I said one of those ejected was Carlos Ruiz? I doubt it. For Mexico, gone was one of the goalscorers and upcoming stars Cesar Villaluz and Gonzalo Pineda. It was only Guatemala’s 4th win in 29 attempts against Mexico and along with the recent tie to Nigeria, Hugo Sanchez can’t be too happy about the “depth” of his national team pool so far.