It’s a funny paradox that when the season ends there’s just more and more football. I was looking forward to a brief moment of stasis after the weekend’s full slate of friendlies, world cup qualifiers, and U21 action, but the Americas would just not listen. There were fewer matches, but the ones that occurred had moments of brilliance and absurdity. Let me help you separate the meat from the bone.
Ibrahimovic’s “No-Look Pass” (0:50 into the video)
Zlatan and a strong defensive effort, albeit against the anemic Faroe Islands, led Sweden to another 3 points last night and strengthened their claim for World Cup Qualification. But after Ibra picked up the second goal in his brace from the penalty spot and screamed at the keeper, this happened:
Apparently the interview before the footage is loosely translated (thanks to groterfy on youtube) as
Reporter: When you threw the ball at the keeper..
Zlatan: ..he was talking to much, he must be quiet
Reporter: yeah but weren’t you afraid to get a yellow card and be suspended?
Zlatan: Absolutely not..
Reporter: but you should’ve got an yellow card there
Zlatan: Absolutely not..maybe if you were the referee, and you know better than me, right?
Reporter: No No, but..
Zlatan: that’s what you’re saying…
Having braved through a brief period without taekwondo tricks, bicycle kicks, or egoistic statements THE ZLATAN, author of I Am Zlatan, has returned in the stead of Zlatan Ibrahimović. Football purists obviously will have a bit of disdain for this moment as well as the totality of his career, but I can’t help but love the mentalist; especially after reading Lars Silverstein’s eyeopening piece “The Bicycle Thief” (released in Volume 8 of The Blizzard). The article delved into how Zlatan’s rough childhood in Malmö as a stigmatized “immigrant” affected on his psychology and playing career. Highly recommended reading.
Amenia 4 - Denmark 0
I’m in Mexico, but Denmark consumed a lot, arguably too much, of my Tuesday. Here are some Danish points.
1. The scoreline may be self-evident, the Danish defense was terrible against Armenia and, as is typical when you lose 4-0, there wasn’t one specific culpable factor, but rather a veritable maelstrom of shit. Here are grainy images of two of the four goals.
Armenia 2-0 - 19’
Just look at that flat back four. Look at it. Stare into the abyss. Imagine you are Morten Olsen and you see this, what do you even say? Kjaer and Poulsen are obviously the most ridiculously out of place, but the entire defense has gone a bit mental. Left Center-Half Andreas Bjelland, who was taken off for Jores Okore(!) at halftime, moves up the defense for no reason and Poulsen, without actually looking down the line moves up with him. Kjaer, who could just as well be contemplating nihilism and its implications for the categorical imperative, does absolutely nothing.
But, if we want to go deeper, and I think we do. We can see that the problem initially stems from a lack of initial organization and intermediary communication.
Their defensive sequence starts with Kjaer actually the defender pressing the furthest up the pitch, man-marking the CF (most likely Mkhitaryan, the danger man) and the organization in shambles. You don’t want your defense make a rhombus.
As the play evolves, Bjelland recovers with Poulsen and Jacobsen, to move in line with Kjaer and leave the eventual goal-scorer Aras Özbiliz offsides.
For some reason, as seen in the first image, Bjelland just keeps moving forward after this brief period of correctness. The communication here is terrible. Kjaer should either be telling Bjelland to stay put, or Bjelland should be telling Kjaer to move forward, but its apparent that neither did anything proactive.
Here is where Denmark really missed Daniel Agger in their defense. Leadership along with being technically proficient, left-footed, tattoed, and, generally metal-as-hell is one of Agger’s key traits and without him they lacked the concentration, organization, and pace to deal with Armenia on the counter-attack. Here is another perfect example.
Armenia 3-0 - 59’
This goal is being blamed by many who only see the last defender on Jores Okore(!), but lets review what actually happened here. Despite being slightly unorganized the Danes look prepared to deal with the Armenian threat here. The move has broken down and there are two defenders near the ball. Notice that number 6, Lars Jacobsen, is marking Armenia’s number 14, Yura Movsisyan. Next slide.
Okore was in position to muscle his man off the ball after an attempted dribble, but the loose touch goes through to a certain Yura Movsisyan, who expertly slots the ball home for the third goal. Note that Lars Jacobsen has moved a mere meter or two in this time span. Absolutely mental.
The Danes actually played decent attacking football all match. They created a lot of chances, controlled the ball, but were not clinical enough with only 5 of their 21 of their shots needing saving. This is just another lesson that, without organization and teamwork in defense, a victory in possession is often phyrric in the context of the match.
2. Now for some Aston Villa things: I watched Me, Myself, and Martin Laursen, which bills itself on IMDB as “A humorous look into professional football and why director / football player Anthony Tullberg never made it to a top club, when international football star Martin Laursen went all the way.” The film is a short (42 min) documentary, but I found it rather insightful and the interviews with Ibrahimovic, Morten Olsen, Gattuso, Pirlo, et al are brilliant. Following the (cliche) ethos of “show don’t tell”, the segments with Laursen elucidate upon the character of the man. Tullberg constantly insults his technique, but Laursen just laughs it off and tries to make him understand why he’s a top class footballer without coming off as arrogant or self-centered. Perhaps the most interesting scene in the film, though, concerns the time period when Laursen was bullied in the Milan dressing room. Shevchenko, Pirlo, and Gattuso all basically said that they picked on him because he wouldn’t fight back and “wasn’t stylish”. The pressure got to Laursen, caused him to lose his self-confidence, and, ultimately, dread appearing in the Champions League final and look for a move away from the club. Fascinating stuff and recommended viewing, especially for Villa fans.
3. Jores Okore looks to be on his way to a medical at Bodymoor Heath and moving to Villa (hence the exclamation points) for £4m. The tall, strong, and surprisingly quick, 20 year old was valued at £5m and had been targeted by manager Paul Lambert this summer. After an initial £3m pound bid was rejected Nordsjaellund, apparently saw the Denmark result and said “right, you can have him, let’s split the difference”. He turned down Chelsea in January and I’m really excited about his prospects at the club. Here’s the aforementioned Martin Laursen waxing lyrical about him.
Brief side note: Enjoy what Villa has done with using former players as part of their scouting network. Laursen and Stilyan Petrov have both personally vouched for the clubs two first summer signings Aleksander Tonev and (hopefully) Okore.
Cavani Pushes Uruguay into Purgatory with a Heaven-Sent Strike
The scene is set. Uruguay desperately needs a win and they are away to Venezuela at the raucous Estadio Polideportivo Cachamay. The stadium, which looks kind of like a space invader according to wikipedia, is draped in white awnings and has two orange rotundas that stretch towards the stars. They just might find Cavani there, approximately 4.367 light years away from the confluence of Caroni and Orinoco Rivers. But, for a moment, he is here, on Earth. And out on the right wing. The red shirts running at him are plumes of fire in a burning building, hoping to incinerate his quest to bring Uruguay to safety. His first touch, off the chest is just deceptively long enough, to make you think the red shirts have a chance. But…oh no…the left back…where are you going, lad. Cavani cuts inside on his left foot so quickly that the red shirt slips and slides out of the picture and I mix my metaphors. He sees a glimmer of hope, respite for the weary ranchers in the Uruguayan countryside and the businessmen in Montevideo, and seizes it with a left foot that neither smashes nor caresses, but rather guides the ball like a shepherd into the bottom left-hand corner of the net. The lights in Uruguay flicker for a second. The stars twinkle.
Apologies for waxing poetical there, but the 53-million pound man continues to live up to and exceed my expectations of him. I’m running out of blasé things to say and it is difficult to understate just how important this goal was to Uruguay’s World Cup qualification hopes. A draw here would have left them 3 points adrift of the playoff round and 7 from qualification and a loss would have been all but damning for their hopes. Cavani saves.
Mascherano Loses his Mind
Argentina’s tilt with Ecuador was curious. After going down early to a Sergio Aguero penalty, the Ecuadorians dominated the rest of the match and created more and better chances and Messi was aloof and uncharacteristically wasteful after coming on for Aguero. Then, in the 87th minute:
The most bizarre thing about the whole incident is Mascherano acting indignantly as if to say “What did I do?” and then going off to fight the entire world because he was being a twat on a medical table that he evidently didn’t need. Football’s seen Joey Barton put a cigar out in an youth teamer’s eye, Cantona kung-fu kick a Crystal Palace supporter, and numerous referees be battered and bludgeoned. Now we can add Mascherano having a go at a medic to the list. I don’t think I’ll see anything so ridiculous or just stupid this year….oh wait, I also saw this yesterday:
Watching that is like watching the scene in Boogie Nights where Philip Seymour Hoffman’s Scotty character comes up to Mark Wahlberg’s Dirk Diggler in the driveway and shows him that he bought the same car as him and is wearing the same clothes and the tries to make out with him. At first you think he’s pathetic, then you’re shocked, then you’re just embarrassed for the man. What was he thinking? It turns out, nothing. But he’s since been released by his club for misconduct.
Wesley Sneijder did this against China
The “Hex” that Just Keeps Giving
The murky picture of CONCACAF World Cup qualification has not cleared up at all and just gotten more intriguing. Here’s what we know:
- The United States, Costa Rica, and Honduras are well positioned
- Panama and Mexico might want to start worrying
- After taking 2 points from 6 matches, Jamaica are not going to make the World Cup barring a ridiculous run of form.
And here’s how we got there:
Mexico 0 - Costa Rica 0
The Mexican’s here in San Miguel de Allende were replete with ambivalence and excuses for their performance away at Panama: a draw away is a decent result (true), the Mexican’s probably should have had a penalty (true), and they hadn’t had enough matches at the Azteca to be “worried” (true). After another inept and toothless performance in attack, despite the tactical switch to a 4-4-2 and the Azteca crowd, the Mexican’s should and are worried. Here are some notes I took during the game:
Hey, here’s a big middle finger to you too Mexican television! Half-time wasn’t enough was it? Is Integrity just the name of a ship? Don’t you care about the people? First it was a Chevrolet ad that overlaid the crowd during a goalkick and displayed their new models of trucks standing on a rock-based podium. I was kind of quizzical, but didn’t think that much of it. Then it was a Movistar ad that covered up where the ball was to show off their great new plans, but then I had it when a graphic of a Barritas (akin to Nutri-grain) factory covered up the crowd, play, and a crucial counter attack to show their fruit bars being processed. What on Earth is going on? No. Stop. I don’t want to see your Chili’s ad. I’m trying to watch the game. Is this the end of civilization? It is isn’t it? Thanks a lot Cinco Plus.
Joel Campbell is the best player on the pitch right now and, by best, I mean the only one that looks like actually scoring or doing anything inventive. From the chapeau that he just attempted to his strike that stung the palms of Joe Corona he’s looked like he can create something out of nothing and I hope he can finally figure out that work permit issue and play for Arsenal. The Premier League will be better for it.
Hector Moreno is really good.
Aldo Di Nigris just got hit in the genitals, didn’t flinch, and still fluffed a chance.
I’m in two minds about this incident involving Bryan Ruiz. Part of me thinks he should just get on with it and get it over with and stop time wasting, but the other says good on him for not just putting up with that garbage. He’s literally being pelted from the upper deck with bottles, trash, and who knows what else. For years people have just taken it, but Ruiz put his foot in the dirt and said “I’m not taking this kick unless they stop throwing dead batteries and piss at me” so good on him for that.
USA 2 - Panama 0
I might not be the best person to recap this considering that there are a million other USMNT bloggers that a better equipped than me, but here are a couple quick thoughts.
- Jozy was awesome
- Geoff Cameron was awesome
- Brad Evans was not as good as he was against Germany
- Seattle was awesome and the USMNT should play all their games there until a worthy challenger of a city appears.
- Dempsey decided to argue with the referee instead of win the ball back approximately 8 times
- The referee was a bit shit
- Omar Gonzalez did not hit the self-destruct button
- Stuart Holden!
- Matt Besler is pretty good.
- A victory at home against Honduras would almost certainly guarantee US qualification
Honduras 2 - Jamaica 0
There’s something unsettling about massive passive discontent. The Mexicans at the small bar we were in weren’t even angry when the final whistle blew, they no longer cared and whisked out like an ebbing tide into the dark cobblestone streets of San Miguel de Allende.
Mexican’s obviously love El Tri, but they hate this team. It’s all been downhill since October 16th, home to El Salvador at the Estadio Corona. That was the last time that the Mexican’s achieved a victory that was anything resembling comprehensive. The Wingers are selfish, preferring to cut inside rather than to provide service to Chicharito and “the little pea” is isolated and frustrated for most of the match. His body language evokes Edvard Munch’s “Melankoli”, seemingly happier once off the pitch than on it.
And one has to wonder, after a superlative and catalytic season at Real Sociedad, where is Carlos Vela? How have the Mexican Federation not swallowed their pride and made amends with the creative second striker? His presence would certainly aid Chicharito more than that of the listless Javier Aquino.
The Mexican back five (including the fantastic Joe Corona) has been excellent all qualification, but their performances have been merely keeping a team that cannot score afloat. The challenge that Jose Manuel de la Torre is to get this team operating as a cohesive unit in attack as well as defense. Panama moved in packs for each other and produced a frightening amount of clear cut chances for a side with markedly less true quality. The ego’s of Mexico need to be checked and the team needs to fight for each other, but its hard to see that ideal becoming reality as long as the Mexican Federation makes decisions that divide the team father than bind it. When was the last time the Mexican’s looked to be having fun on the pitch? The olympics, with a team that fought tooth and nail for each other and played damn well doing it.
That brings us back to San Miguel de Allende, where 15 minutes after time the bar has cleared out in silence and the bartender is pouring liquor on the countertop for a “brujeria”. The bartender lights the liquor on fire, the blue flames engulf and pour up from the counter to the glass, which then ignites the liquid and makes the flames stretch for the ceiling. Maybe some witchcraft is all the Mexican’s need?
In a recent Foreign Affairs article on the political theory of Game of Thrones, the author posited: “the true moral of the story is that when good rules are disregarded, disorder and ruin follow.” and “the gains that power achieves without justice cannot endure”.
This idealism was certainly born out by today’s football with the (seemingly inevitable) sack of a listless Roberto Mancini and the success of the charismatic Ian Holloway. Holloway’s victory over Crystal Palace’s bitter rivals Brighton has ensured that either he or Gianfranco Zola will be managing in the Premier League next season. In both cases, and specifically Holloway’s, the league will be for the better.
Holloway’s run in the 2010-2011 season with the over-achieving Blackpool was defined by his commitment to attacking and attractive football, bestowing trust in his players to use personal talents their greatest extent. The enrapturing effect of his tenure undoubtedly inspired some of the new young manager’s that have brought forward thinking football to the Premier League since: Brendan Rodgers, Paul Lambert, and Nigel Adkins.
Beyond his tactical style, Holloway has been an entertaining voice in English football, saying (among other things):
- “To put it in gentleman’s terms if you’ve been out for a night and you’re looking for a young lady and you pull one, some weeks they’re good looking and some weeks they’re not the best. Our performance today would have been not the best looking bird but at least we got her in the taxi. She wasn’t the best looking lady we ended up taking home but she was very pleasant and very nice, so thanks very much, let’s have a coffee”
- “In football you need to have everything in your cake mix to make the cake taste right. One little bit of ingredient that Tony uses in his cake gets talked about all the time is Rory’s throw. Call that cinnamon and he’s got a cinnamon flavoured cake. It’s not fair and it’s not right and it’s only a small part of what he does.”
- “I am a football manager. I can’t see into the future. Last year I thought I was going to Cornwall on my holidays but I ended up going to Lyme Regis.”
Holloway seems to make a fan out of everyone that he encounters. The same cannot be said for Roberto. The master of the “is football” press conference, the bewildered stare, and the “this is the referee, and this is his decision”. It was everything that people hated about Sir Alex Ferguson without the scotch/scottish tinged charm or the thrilling results. Mancini was ultimately sacrificed because he couldn’t make an unbelievable team achieve and because his tactics seemed to be: throw on a defensive midfielder if we’re winning, throw on an attacking midfielder/second striker if were losing, switch to 5 at the back if I want acclaim (this always backfired). Modern tactics are a blend of man-management, understanding of space, and understanding of the current state of the game. Mancini didn’t seem to understand how his substitutions would manipulate the space on the field and was often caught out in Europe despite having a preponderance of talent.
Just desserts and all that.
English football seems to only be getting faster paced and more exciting and I, for one, can’t wait for next season.
Some people say football is like life; my life isn’t that shit, unless I’m watching football. Supporting Aston Villa over the past 10 years has become one of the most joyous, proud, and, now, psychologically debilitating components of my life. I am struggling with the pain of knowing that our team is not good and the hope for more. The hope for connection and resonance. The hope that Stephen Ireland will fucking run a few kilometers in a match instead of pouting and admiring his wayward passes. The hope that Brett Holman can cultivate an ounce of class to go with his tremendous work ethic. The hope that Aston Villa can become a successful football club again. These are all hopes because they are not true and they will not be true anytime soon, but I still believe. Belief in lost causes, among all things, leads to pain. We have conceded 12 goals in our past 3 hours of football and scored none, yet what I will remember most from these past two matches is the things outside of the game and how my week of vacation spiraled downwards with the Villa.
The memory of being introduced to 15 people whose names I didn’t remember and whose greetings were so alien that I could not respond. The feeling of otherness, the lack of language, absconding away to watch the match. In this, the Italian men could relate and I was encouraged rather than berated for watching the match in the presence of a feast for family. I pushed through a barrier of language, age, and culture. Of course Villa were shit.
The knowledge of something you are invested in being a losing venture is very depressing. Tottenham’s goals were inevitable, despite the first half clean sheet, I knew it. This Villa side is not good. It is not premiership quality. Watching this team full of bright eyed clumsy 20 year olds recalls a vision of a bright eyed clumsy 20 year old (myself) receiving European kisses and not knowing which side to receive them, sitting in the living room-turned bedroom because it is more comfortable there without with the pain of miscommunication.
I guess that was the most disappointing thing about boxing day. I felt like I could no longer relate to things that I held dear to my heart. We all want to feel understood. This is not the Villa that I grew to love and, although, I truly rate Paul Lambert, its going to be a long, arduous, and, most of all, painful road back to the top half of the premier league. The side lacks purpose and ambition and, because of that, its hard to understand or learn from their failure, it merely frustrates.
Yet, I still believe. I can’t help myself. Bring on the Lactics.