All posts by karleite

Winners and Losers of World Cup Qualifying

World Cup Qualifying has come to an end and 32 teams have proven their worth to participate in Russia 2018. Like always, there are teams who qualified at the top of their group and showed amazing growth and potential leading to the World Cup Finals. To contrast, there are also teams who failed to qualify that shocked the world. We will be taking a look at the winners and losers of this year’s qualifying leading up to the World Cup this summer.

Winner: Brazil

After a disappointing 2014 World Cup performance and 2016 Copa America campaign, Brazilians looked to the board of directors and demanded change. Eight-time Copa America champions aren’t supposed to get eliminated in the group stages, but that’s exactly what happened. Brazilians sitting in Gillette Stadium on a windy June night were stunned as the Canaries were eliminated at the hands of Peru by a score of 1-0. In the following days, to every Brazilian’s relief, Dunga was fired, and a new manager was appointed. Adenor Leonardo Bacchi, better known as Tite was selected. Coaching Brazil is difficult because the fans demand perfection, but Tite was up to the task. The 56-year old has a history of success as in managing Corinthians to Copa Libertadores glory in 2012 and beating Chelsea in the Club World Cup final in December that same year. In 2015, Tite guided Corinthians to a Brasileiro championship by racking up a tournament-best 81 points out of a possible 114. Tite is a manager of the people and of the media, which is rare for a coach of Brazil. They say that when the coach has the same starting eleven as the people on the street, that Brazil will win again, Tite has been doing exactly that in World Cup Qualifying. He has been experimenting with young talents such as Gabriel Jesus, Luan, Alex Sandro, Ederson and Marquinhos, while also taking chances on veterans like Renato Augusto and Paulinho, which has seemed to pay off. The media loves him, the fans love him, the players love him and it shows on the field.

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Brazil finished on top of CONMEBOL qualifying with 41 points (10 points clear of second place Uruguay), scoring the most goals (41), and giving up the least amount of goals (11). The Brazilian samba way of playing is back, and the team is playing more fluidly than they ever did under Dunga. Brazil has also earned the number two ranking in the world according to FIFA. If Brazil can translate the performances from this past year to the World Cup, the spectators are truly in for some magic.

Loser: Chile

For the past three years, Chile has been on top of the soccer world. They won two straight Copa America finals (2015, 2016), beating Argentina on penalties both times, and advanced to the Confederation Cup Final this past summer (losing to Germany 1-0). They were in good shape to be in Russia next year, until the second half of qualifying. Chile finished their last five games with one win, one draw, three losses and overall poor performances. To be in the last three major tournament finals and not qualify for the World Cup is a disgrace.

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You can blame it on a lack of leadership, bad coaching, or whatever you want, but nonetheless, Chile will miss out on its first World Cup since 2006. This outcome caused confusion and heartbreak to several Chileans including Arturo Vidal, who retired, then unretired from international play stating, “This is not the end. Realistically, though, it is – Chile’s golden age is over. For Chile’s big three: Alexis (28), Vidal (30), and Vargas (27), this is the end. This was supposed to be the end of a great run. The Word Cup in Russia was going to be their finish line and whether they ran across the line in first place or not, fans would still applaud. Their efforts over the past four years will stick with fans forever, but they will unfortunately not have the sendoff they would have liked.

Winner: Germany

As of now, Germany is the best team in the world. Going 10-0-0 in Group C while scoring 43 goals and only conceding four has been impressive to say the least. Although their qualifying group wasn’t extremely challenging, the Germans put on a clinic in almost every match. This past summer, Germany defeated Chile 1-0 to lift its first Confederation Cup. Numerous awards were handed out to the Germans. Julian Draxler won the golden ball, Leon Goretzka won the bronze ball, Timo Werner won the golden boot, and Lars Stindl won the silver boot. Most of these players that Joachim Low brought to the Confederation Cup were very young, and this team was considered to be Germany’s B-squad. This only means that Germany’s future is bright – possibly brighter than the present.

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Germany was very convincing in World Cup Qualifying, thus being named the number one team in the world by FIFA a couple of weeks ago. Toni Kroos, who came off of two excellent seasons with Real Madrid in winning the Champions League and La Liga this past year, will be Germany’s number one man in the midfield. His vision and tempo have proved to help Los Blancos be successful. Hopefully, he can replicate his stellar club play to the international stage when he hooks up with Thomas Müller and Mesut Özil in their upcoming friendlies.

Loser: Netherlands

The Netherlands were rejuvenated after their World Cup run in 2010. With the likes of Wesley Sneijder, Arjen Robben and Robin van Persie, they were a fun team to watch. After finishing fourth in group play and missing out on Euro 2016 action, soccer fans were starting to doubt the Dutch, as their core golden age players were getting old. The Dutch had a strong start to World Cup Qualifying, but dropped crucial points including an embarrassing 4-0 loss to France and a 2-0 loss to Bulgaria and would ultimately lead to their exclusion from Russia 2018. This is the end of an era for the Oranje and definitely a disappointment for the veteran players.

Winner: Peru

After knocking off Brazil in the group stages of 2016 Copa America competition, Peru’s future was looking bright. The Peruvian team finished in fifth place in CONMEBOL Qualifying with 26 points, barely edging out Chile on goal differential. Led by Sao Paulo FC midfielder Christian Cueva, Peru’s attack and chemistry has been convincing. Striker Paolo Guerrero has been another standout for Peru. The 33-year old plays for Flamengo in Brazil and is a highly rated striker amongst viewers of the Brasileiro Serie A. Failing a doping test in early November ruled him out for 30 days, thus missing the qualifying leg against New Zealand. Although the drug he used was undisclosed, a close source of ESPN Brazil said that it was a social drug. With all of this chaos going on and Peru missing their number one striker, they somehow pulled through and will be in Russia 2018. Their fans are one of a kind and I’m sure that they can pull off some surprises next summer.

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Loser: USA

Not much needs to be said about this one. The USA puts millions of dollars into their program and still didn’t qualify for the World Cup. As if the entire planet doesn’t have enough to poke fun at when it comes to the United States, they had to add getting knocked out of Russia 2018 by Trinidad to it. US Soccer took back their old coach in begging fashion, and he did a mediocre job and made a fool of himself on international television by stating, “I would love to see one of these hotshot teams from Europe come here and play in our CONCACAF qualifying and really get a taste of this and see what that’s about.”

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The only thing he did was put more pressure on his team and made the United States the laughing stock of the soccer world after they failed to qualify. After defeating Panama and putting on an excellent performance in Orlando, everyone expected them to bring the same energy to Trinidad, but that wasn’t the case at all. Everyone watching expected them to qualify in “USA fashion” in the last game at the last possible moment, but that didn’t happen either. The team simply didn’t show up and got exactly what they deserved, so now they will be watching the World Cup with the rest of us this summer – at home. The team was lead by Christian Pulisic, who is a kid. He’s 19 years old and hands down the best player on the squad. Jozy Altidore, Michael Bradley and Clint Dempsey, who are supposed to lead by example, were ghosts for most of qualifying and especially in the last game. Some serious soul searching needs to be done within the program if the United States wants to be taken seriously by the rest of the world and by those “European hotshots”.

Loser: Italy

Italy is a four-time World Cup champion and has been a European powerhouse for generations. In the past few years, Italy has been known for their great defense, especially under Antonio Conte. The shape of the midfield and defense is what got them to the quarterfinal of the European Championships last summer. Key results against big teams like Belgium and Spain gave life to the Italians, but they would eventually be eliminated by Germany in penalty kicks. Italy finished second to Spain in a very weak qualifying group. They were matched up against Sweden in a two-leg playoff. Losing the first game in Sweden 1-0 (even though they dominated ball possession along with the game), Italy desperately needed a result in the second leg. Unfortunately for the Italians, they couldn’t get a goal and would ultimately miss out on their first World Cup since 1958.

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Head coach Gian Piero Ventura received much criticism on his tactics as well as for his lack of charisma. He was often compared to the previous manager, Antonio Conte, and it was never going to end well. Italy desperately needed a playmaker and Napoli midfielder Jorginho was waiting patiently. He failed to get a call up from Brazil so he and his agent waited on Italy. Ventura would eventually call up Jorginho for the qualifying playoff against New Zealand and after seeing his performance it was obvious that Ventura could have used him earlier. Anyone who watched the game saw how he controlled the midfield and looked so comfortable along with his Italian counterparts. Italy was missing a playmaker, but it was too late. Players like Buffon, De Rossi, and Chiellini have most likely played their last game for the Azzurri.

 

The Favorites to Win the 2017-2018 English Premier League

Manchester United has started out strong in the current EPL season by signing Romelu Lukaku from Everton in July. Lukaku snubbed Chelsea, his former club, and instead signed with United for £75 million. The 24-year old has shown his worth by tallying seven goals and one assist in eight matches in the Premier League, while scoring three goals in two Champions League appearances. Manchester United found a real striker in the Belgian, and he has proven to be lethal in front of goal. His strength and shot power almost reminds us of a young Adriano in his Inter Milan days.

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Manchester United has been a bully to the opposition so far by scoring 24 goals and only conceding four. It seems as though the Red Devils are really starting to shine again, as many of the starting 11 have consistently been featured on team of the week selections. Antonio Valencia, Phil Jones, Marcus Rashford, and to everyone’s surprise, Marouane Fellaini, was featured last week.

Fellaini has been criticized by teammates such as Zlatan Ibrahmovic, and slammed by fans on twitter in the past for horrid mistakes and performances. Recently though, the 6’4” Afro-sporting Belgian has been a huge contributor to United’s recent success. With the injury of Paul Pogba looking to be a long-term concern, Jose Mourinho may have found a steady replacement in Marouane Fellaini this year. Unfortunately for United, Fellaini has been sidelined due to a knee sprain on international duty, which means that United needs immediate backup. A possible solution is to call back Andreas Pereira who is currently on loan with Valencia. Another option may be 19-year old Timothy Fosu-Mensah who was loaned out to Crystal Palace. Despite these choices, Spanish midfielder Ander Herrera would be the most logical solution to be placed alongside Matic.

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Manchester City

Manchester City has arguably been the most fun team to watch this season in the English Premier League. With a goal differential of +25 after eight matches, one could argue that City is the strongest team and favorites to lift the trophy in May. The Citizens have four players on the top-ten scorer sheet (Aguero, Sterling, Gabriel Jesus and Leroy Sané) thus far and their chemistry looks better than it did last season.

Kevin de Bruyne has had a great start that included a world-class finish against Chelsea. He has truly earned his Ballon d’Or nomination in the way that he controls City’s midfield game in and game out. Another key player for City has been the 21-year old German, Leroy Sané. His pace and foot skills have earned the youngster praise from manager Pep Guardiola on numerous occasions.

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Gabriel Jesus is another young player who is constantly proving doubters wrong. The Brazilian won the Brazil Serie A with Palmerias and the Olympics with Brazil in 2016. His accomplishments on the pitch earned him several transfer requests from European giants, but Manchester City would eventually earn his signature. Fans were concerned with how much playing time the 20-year old would get, but he has capitalized on every chance he has gotten, scoring seven goals and assisting four times in just 11 games in the 2016-17 EPL season. This year, he has already done enough to score 6 goals, and tally an assist.

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Experts questioned if the partnership with Sergio Agüero in 2017-2018 would actually help the team. Two major strikers playing at once sometimes causes controversy, and many argued that the two would not be able to compliment each other. The duo proved the nonbelievers wrong once again as the goals kept pouring on for City. With Agüero out injured due to a car accident for a short stint, City will look to the young guns to provide precious points to stay top of the Premier League.

 

Casemiro – O Monstro

Casemiro is one of the most in-form players at Real Madrid at the moment. After an impressive UEFA Super Cup performance against Manchester United and praise from manager Zinedine Zidane to go with it, it seems that the Brazilian midfielder is going nowhere this transfer window.

Casemiro began his career with the youth team at Sao Paulo Futebol Club. In 2010, he was called up to the senior team to replace Hernanes, who transferred to Lazio around the same time that summer. It was while training at the Morumbi in Sao Paulo that he began to turn heads with his aggressive defensive style.

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He caught the attention of Spanish giants Real Madrid in January 2013, who had a loan deal worked out for the Brazilian. Casemiro would spend some time in the second division with Real Madrid B before being called up. Real Madrid eventually activated his six million Euro buyout clause, thus making him a first team player. Sami Khedira and Xabi Alonso were in good form at the time, so Casemiro found himself as a reserve with limited minutes under Rafa Benitez.

FC Porto would come knocking in July of 2014, so Madrid sent Casemiro out for a season long loan. After his spell in the Portuguese league, Casemiro became a regular first-team player under new manager Zinedine Zidane. As the assistant manager, Zidane pushed for Casemiro’s minutes to increase, and now as head of the team, he could make that a reality.

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Since then, Casemiro has had two impressive seasons for Los Blancos, including back-to-back Champions Leagues, and a La Liga title. He is a wall that rarely gets broken down and has earned himself the nickname O Monstro from Brazilians and Real Madrid supporters. Despite backing up players like Luka Modric, Gareth Bale, Toni Kroos and Cristiano Ronaldo, Casemiro has continued to make a name for himself as a silent destructor who can be relied upon to provide quality in the middle of the pitch. He is one of the main reasons that Real Madrid has been so successful, especially because of how Madrid has been known to be shaky defensively, if one were to nit-pick the best club in the world’s flaws. If a team controls the midfield, they are more likely to dominate possession and therefore win the game, so while Kroos and Modric are constantly trying to orchestrate the attack, Casemiro makes sure to cover the counter. He is everywhere on the field, and silences other midfielders and attacking players. Paulo Dybala was a ghost in the 2017 Champions League Final, being dispossessed by Casemiro several times.

Not only has the 25-year-old been impressive for Real Madrid, but he has also won his spot in the starting eleven for the Brazilian national team. He controls the center of the field, and contains even the flashiest of players.

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Casemiro has grown into a more agile and mobile midfielder that has added more to his arsenal as he has grown into his role. He is one of the best tacklers in the world, great in the air, and his defensive stance enables him to intercept and deflect many passes from opponents. The Brazilian’s passing was noticeably better, finishing with a passing percentage of over 85% in the 2016-17 La Liga season. He has also added a rocket of a right foot to his arsenal and has proven to be a poacher in front of goal for set pieces.

We live in a sports society that is obsessed with triple doubles, hat tricks, and statistics in general. The little things that aren’t usually measured, like defensive positioning and not losing sight of your man are underappreciated. In the final leg of the Spanish Super Cup played at the Bernabeu, Casemiro came on in the final 30 minutes and shut down Lionel Messi. He rarely lost sight of the Argentine, and his defensive positioning was outstanding. When Messi did receive the ball, he didn’t bother to turn because he knew that the six-foot Brazilian was right on his back.

Even though his name isn’t usually the one on the score sheet, players like Casemiro need to be appreciated more for their efforts. The Brazilian has demonstrated what it’s like to be the general of the midfield with his consistent work ethic, and this should be valued and treasured by all supporters.

Neymar Transfer to Improve Brazilian Chemistry

MSN, a worldwide phenomenon, came to an end on August 3, 2017.

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The trio of Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar Jr. is no more, as FC Barcelona accepted roughly a 222 million Euro transfer for Neymar from PSG, demolishing the previous transfer record set by Manchester United for Paul Pogba just a year ago.

Fans are arguing that Neymar can’t reach his full potential in the French Ligue 1 and there’s no question that Spain’s La Liga is more competitive. Yet, a move to Paris may have peaked Neymar’s interests for reasons other than getting paid 30 million Euros a year. The opportunity to play with his Brazilian counterparts in Paris only increases the chances for Neymar and co. to bring home the World Cup in 2018. In 2010, Spain hoisted the World Cup, and in 2014, Germany were the victors.

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These two countries feature a majority of their national team players competing at home in domestic competitions. In La Liga, Real Madrid and Barcelona make up most of the national team, while in the Bundesliga, many members of the national team play for Bayern Munchen and Borussia Dortmund. Chemistry is the backbone to success in the sport of football, and it played a huge role in both Spain’s, and Germany’s World Cup wins.

Neymar will be joining Dani Alves, Thiago Silva, Marquinhos and Lucas Moura in Paris, all candidates to be selected for the national team come next summer. This upcoming season is going to be crucial if Brazil wants to avenge their 7-1 humiliation to Germany in 2014. Chemistry has been a problem for Brazil while Dunga was in charge of Brazil’s national team, but Tite has seemed to unite the Selecao.

Neymar’s transfer may bring that core closer together, thus giving the boys in yellow a chance to bring home the trophy of all trophies in Russia. In order to truly understand Neymar’s decision to leave the great club of Barcelona, we must understand the legacy that Neymar is trying to leave.

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His accomplishments on the international stage pale in comparison to that of his domestic success, and in order for him to truly be seen as the complete package, he wants to achieve success on both fronts. Such a fate can be streamlined in a tenure with PSG, as he will have the opportunity to get practice with his future national team compatriots on a regular basis. Expect big things from the Brazilians in Paris.