Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Football Americana Week 15: Landon who? (just kidding!)

Wow, what a week for American football! The national team rose from the dead in South Africa to stun Spain and Brazil in the Confederations Cup, eventually running out of steam in the final against Dunga's men. Make no mistake, it was an historic tournament for the USA - but while Landon Donovan was impressing us all with some fine performances for Bob Bradley, the Galaxy did some impressive business without their talismanic captain.

A truncated week was made all the more stunted by a Wednesday start. Two games took place, with two goals apiece. In Canada, struggling New York Red Bulls went down 2-0 against Toronto FC. Pablo Vitti opened the scoring, nodding over a stranded (through his own fault) Danny Cepero, and Dwayne DeRosario sealed the win with a delightful lob.

The points were shared at Dick's Sporting Goods Park, where David Ferreira put FC Dallas in front, dinking the ball over the goalkeeper against the run of play. The first half hour saw some excellent goalkeeping by FCD's Ray Burse. The in-form Omar Cummings missed a sackful of chances for Colorado Rapids, but finally equalised with a more difficult opportunity with six minutes to go.

On Saturday, New York and Toronto were back in action. The Red Bulls travelled to Ohio to face Columbus Crew but were beaten 1-0 thanks to Chad Marshall, who headed in a corner on the stroke of half time.

Toronto were also on the wrong end of the result, slumping to a 3-0 hiding by Real Salt Lake at Rio Tinto. RSL took the lead with a a cool Yura Movsisyan finish after he pounced on a stray backpass. Dreadlocked captain Kyle Beckerman made it two before half time, and Clint Mathis killed off Toronto by driving in a third.

The Rapids were back in action on Sunday, travelling to Qwest Field to face Seattle Sounders. Fredy Montero took the credit after glancing in a Nate Jaqua header, but he more than made up for it. First he acted as the wall in a one-two which Jaqua finished for 2-0, and then mis-controlled to tee Jaqua up perfectly to thump in his second. Cummings had missed a penalty for the Rapids at 1-0.

But it was Los Angeles Galaxy who provided the week's big surprise. With skipper Landon Donovan putting in a couple of brilliant shifts for the national team, the Galaxy still upset league leaders Houston Dynamo in Carson. Todd Dunivant won it, turning a Mike Magee cross past Pat Onstad and into the corner to earn all three points for the Galaxy.

The Dynamo remain at the top, looking down on the rest of the West on 28 points along with Chivas USA on 27. DC United lead the East with 23 points from Columbus Crew who move up to 22. The next four are Seattle (West, 25), Toronto (East, 22), Colorado (West, 21) and Chicago Fire (East, 21). RSL and LA closed the gap on the Rapids, while Toronto's weekend defeat leaves them vulnerable to the Fire and Kansas City.

Full results and standings here.

For more great football writing by Chris Nee, visit TwoFootedTackle.com...

Monday, June 29, 2009

Confederations Cup Final: Review

USA 2 Brazil 3

The 2009 Confederations Cup Final lived fully up to expectations last night. From the moment we heard the distinctive sound those vuvuzelas to the moment when Brazil lifted the trophy for a record third time, everything seemed to be perfectly predictable and ultimately satisfying.

The USA, fresh from their outstanding 2-0 semi-final win over Spain, arrived intent on making the world sit up and take notice. Brazil merely had their reputation as purveyors of fine football to protect, although the prospect of a defeat to their North American neighbours was also something worth trying to avoid.

Bob Bradley’s USMNT disappointed none of their home fans by being up and out of the blocks first. Fulham’s Clint Dempsey flicked home a Jonathan Spector cross to put the Americans 1-0 up after just ten minutes and a repeat performance of the Spanish win was once again on the cards.

et Brazil didn’t sit back as Robinho tried and failed to grab an equaliser only moments later, his shot saved well by Tim Howard. In fact the US keeper had to be on his mettle again on two subsequent occasions when Maicon and Felipe Melo tested the Everton number 1, and to his credit he remained consistently strong.

It would prove vital in enabling the US to extend their lead and extend it they did when Charlie Davies counter-attacked with speed and crossed for Landon Donovan to drive neatly past Julio Cesar. The Americans led 2-0 and with Howard blocking anything the Brazilians could throw at them, the half time lead was certainly deserved.

Brazil came out in the second half knowing that they had to convert their greater possession and better chances into goals, and within moments of the restart, they got one. Maicon managed to get the ball to Luis Fabiano and with a deft turn and shot, the ball was in and finally past Tim Howard.

With the game standing at 2-1 to the USA, Brazil needed to push on and they thought they had an equaliser just after the hour mark when Kaka’s header was cleared from behind the goalline by Howard – out of sight from any of the officials.

After 74 minutes, the equaliser did arrive. Kaka played a firm, low cross into the area which found Robinho who could only shoot onto the underside of the bar. When the ball bounced out, it was tournament top scorer Luis Fabiano that was first to reach it, heading in from close range to make it 2-2.

With only six minutes remaining and US spirits (and energy levels) flagging, Brazil did what they always seem to do – grab a winning goal when it matters. Elano’s corner was met by Lucio who deftly powered in a header off the inside of the post to win the game 3-2.

It was cruel on the Americans and a great shame for a team that had tried so hard to transform itself from tournament non-achievers to potential tournament winners. In the end, however, our words from the second semi-final rang true again: Brazil are devilishly difficult to beat and can never be written off.

Here in the Final, the US had come out with a plan in mind which so very nearly worked. They defended well, played efficiently on the break and scored important goals, but critically only for one half of the match. It was always going to be difficult to maintain that level of proficiency over the full 90 minutes, and Brazil exposed that harsh truth all too well.

Dunga’s team are to be applauded for their trophy win. They looked professional without really trying to be on occasions, and that in itself requires great skill and technical ability, but let’s acknowledge America’s role in all this.

Not so long ago, they were heading home in something approaching shame for the way they started this competition, yet here they were asking Brazil to score three in 45 minutes to prevent them from being proclaimed the victors. They almost made it, but the fact that they didn’t doesn’t matter. They played their part in entertaining and inspiring all those who watched them and that must also be recognised as adding great value to what has been a very enjoyable tournament indeed.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Confederations Cup Review: Brazil v South Africa

Semi Final
Brazil 1 South Africa 0

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the fireworks we saw in the previous match between Spain and the US were unsustainable. When the host country South Africa played Brazil on Thursday evening there was little in the way of eye-catching surprises or extraordinary upsets, but it's fair to say we came relatively close to one.

One gets the feeling that Brazil often play on auto-pilot and evidence of this was seen here against their African opponents. Without the need to make any rash, ill thought out gestures, they have the innate ability to pass the ball around until fate decrees that an opportunity presents itself. When it does, they try to score, but if they don’t, no worries – another chance generally comes along shortly after anyway.

The downside to this approach (if indeed there is one) is that the Brazilians sometimes give the impression they’re not bothered about scoring goals and winning matches. Far from the truth as that may be, it certainly gives teams like South Africa the belief that they can win and there were signs in this match that they might.

In the first half, the hosts went straight for the jugular with several decent chances that left Brazil in no doubt they’d have to fight for their place in the Final. Siboniso Gaxa went close early on with a decent 30-yard effort that was only just wide, while new Portsmouth signing Aaron Mokoena headed just over the bar with 20 minutes on the clock. Tsepo Masilela watched his shot tipped over by Julio Cesar shortly after and, for a while, there looked like being only one team in this match.

Brazil, however, managed to rally round as the end of the first half approached and it was Kaka that seemed most intent on engineering something with a range of passing and shooting that briefly threatened a goal against the run of play.

Into the second half and Brazil picked up from where they left off – Kaka heading over the bar – but the South Africans were soon back in the game as Everton’s Steven Pienaar pulled more and more strings in midfield. Shortly after one of his own shots was saved, Teko Modise went close to opening the scoring when his deflected effort had to be tipped wide by Julio Cesar.

With Brazil showing signs of laxity in the way they were converting their chances, the South Africans would have been justified in thinking they’d at least force the game into extra time. Sadly for them it was not to be. In the 82nd minute, Barcelona right back Daniel Alves came on to replace Andre Santos and the effect was emphatic. Only six minutes later, a Mokoena foul led to Alves curling a beautiful free kick beyond the reach of Itumeleng Khune to effectively seal the win for the South Americans.

The defeat must have been hard to take for Joel Santana’s men after they’d showed so much spirit and determination throughout the game, but the Bafana Bafana can take great succour from their performance. But for a better choice of top quality finishers, they’d have probably wrapped the game up by the early part of the second half, but at least the end of their Confederations Cup campaign isn’t entirely shrouded in despair.

After a dismal run of form over the last year or two, they’ve finally instilled a sense of optimism and respect in their fans and observers worldwide, and many now think they’re capable of a decent run in the World Cup when it arrives next year.

As for Brazil, they’ll no doubt go most (if not all) of the way towards lifting the trophy on this basis. Despite being well short of the classic Brazilian teams of the past, they’re at least capable of achieving much while just in auto-pilot, and that in itself is quite something.

Friday, June 26, 2009

The Friday List of Little or No Consequence #119

Missing in action
14 Penalties Missed By England Players In The Last Fifty Years
(not including penalty shoot-outs)

1. Bobby Charlton (v Scotland, 1960)
2. Alan Ball (v Finland, 1966)
3. Francis Lee (v Wales, 1969)
4. Allan Clarke (v Malta, 1971)
5. Kevin Keegan (v Switzerland, 1975)
6. Trevor Francis (v Australia, 1983)
7. Glenn Hoddle (v USA, 1985)
8. Gary Lineker (v Brazil, 1992)
9. David Platt (v San Marino, 1993)
10. Alan Shearer (v Poland, 1997)
11. David Beckham (v Turkey, 2003)
12. David Beckham (v France, 2004)
13. Frank Lampard (v Hungary, 2006)
14. Peter Crouch (v Jamaica, 2006)

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Confederations Cup Review: Spain 0 USA 2

"This is no fantasy - no careless product of wild imagination." - Marlon Brando

You could argue that the Confederations Cup is the least important of the senior competitions and had last night's game been a World Cup match, Spain would have ramped up the intensity and pulled the win out of their collective behinds. You could also say that the European champions had a bad day at the office and on any other occasion would have done to the US what pretty much everyone expected and reduce them to a smear. And you'd be right.

But these factors don't tell even half the story behind the Yank's win over Spain so it would be unfair to dwell on them further. If you did not see the game be under no illusion - this was not a freak result made up of a bizarre set of circumstances that contrived to deny a Spanish victory. The US won this game fair and square.

It would be difficult to find anyone who would argue that, player for player, Spain are the better side. I can't be alone in the belief that the current Spanish team is one of the best international football teams ever. I still believe that now. This makes the US' victory even more special and even more important.

In the midfield, Dempsey and Donovan provided attacking dynamism, while the excellent Michael Bradley and Ricardo Clark disrupted Spain's diamond formation just enough to keep them off balance. There were times when you felt that Spain were about to swamp the US but in fact, looking back, they were reduced to only a few chances which Tim Howard was equal to. The back four were extremely well disciplined and I would never have believed that Jay DeMerit was capable of playing as well as he did had I not seen it with my own eyes.

Jozy Altidore is clearly a decent player and performed like a man desperate to prove his worth. His pace, strength and directness are the definition of a modern European striker and his lung-bursting display will surely force the coaching staff at Villareal to reassess him come pre-season.

Also, any doubts about Bob Bradley's ability to coach under these conditions must be put to one side. To reach the final after such a shocking start to the competition required the team to draw on some serious reserves. It is impossible to believe that Bradley did not play some part in that and his tactics were absolutely spot on.

On the basis of last night's performance, my earlier description of the US team as journeymen seems harsh. And while one swallow does not make a summer, it is clear that some of these players are much better than they are given credit for -perhaps even better than they give themselves credit for. Their combination of industry, guts and dynamism going forward contributed to a match that has set a new marker in the progress of the game in the States and increased their standing in the global football community. They have given us a life affirming result that was a triumph for the game in general and for international football in particular. If anyone asks why you love football so much, the answer is simple:

Spain 0 USA 2

If they play like that in the Final, they stand an excellent chance of winning.

(PHOTO: Martin Meissner and Paul Thomas / Associated Press)

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Confederations Cup - Day 6 Review

Group B
Italy 0 Brazil 3 (Tshwane/Pretoria)
Egypt 0 USA 3 (Rustenburg)

The term "swing" is not one used readily outside the world of politics or non-conformist sexual practice, but it was a word that could be heard above the vuvuzelas with regularity on Sunday during the extraordinary events in Rustenberg and Bloemfontein. The swing of course refers to the extraordinary and unlikely six goals that needed to be conceded and scored to allow for the current line up of the Confederations Cup semi-finals.

It seems that the hotels in South Africa aren't the only places providing wake up calls. Both Italy and Egypt have been dining out on their recent achievements but this tournament is proving to be a bridge too far for their respective squads.

Italy's collapse against the Brazilians in their final Group B match has confirmed what many suspected, i.e. (1) there needs to be some changes, and (2) no-one's quite sure if those changes will be good enough. Their midfield still benefits from the industrious Pirlo but Iaquinta and Luca Toni were not convincing throughout the tournament and coach Lippi was weighed down by his conservative selection and did not use this competition to bring the outstanding Giuseppe Rossi through by playing him from the start. Brazilain centre back Lucio proved to be a match for the Italian forwards and the brilliant Luis Fabiano turned the world champions inside out reducing the great Fabio Cannavaro to ashes and surely considering his position.

As the carnage ensued at Loftus Versfield, Italy's early exit was being sealed in Bloemfontein but not quite in the way we expected. The African champions must have been supremely confident by their narrow defeat to Brazil and famous victory over the Italians. With the two tough games out of the way, the Egyptians had supposedly done the hard part and surely a win was doable against a frankly dreadful US team.

Sadly for them and astonishingly for the US, the team imploded. You could put the States' opening goal down to a touch of good fortune if you wanted to be charitable but the reality is that Egypt got it badly wrong and allowed their opponents, who themselves weren't living up to the expectations of their supporters, into a semi-final game against the European champions. For their part, the US, buoyed by outside events, seized their moment brilliantly and presented their coach Bob Bradley with a signature moment that he scarcely deserves. But hey, that's football.

So while Egypt and Italy are sent home to face their respective media and scratch their heads, we are down to the final four. US fans will love their shot at the Spanish and South Africa get a mouthwatering dream match against Brazil. Both games may be a touch one sided but they'll be intriguing nonetheless.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Football Americana Week 14: Double-header too much for DC

With the US national team storming to victory over Egypt this weekend, domestic matters may have snuck under the radar. But plenty happened in Major League Soccer in Week 14, and where better to bone up on yo' skillz than right here at SPAOTP?

The week got underway at Qwest Field on Wednesday, where DC United faced Seattle Sounders in their first of two games. "Party Boy" Chris Pontius poked United into the lead only for the Sounders to roar into a 3-1 lead with goals from Nate Jaqua (sort of) and Fredy Montero after a thumping top corner finish from Osvaldo Alonso had levelled the game. But United weren't having any of it - Christian Gomez found the bottom corner for 3-2 and a late Tyrone Marshall own goal made it 3-3. At the other end, we'd have been comparing Marshall to Papin.

No such luck second time out. United visited Colorado Rapids on Saturday and Omar Cummings netted a double as the Rapids thumped United 3-0 at altitude. Both goals demonstrated great pace and cool finishing as Colorado triumphed in a thrilling first half. Colin Clark added a third after another run by Cummings, who dominated a tired United defence throughout.

The Sounders also had a second game on Saturday, drawing 1-1 with New York Red Bulls at a drenched Giants Stadium. Juan Pablo Angel took advantage of calamitous defending to put RBNY in front. The Sounders benefited from even worse defending at the other end as Fredy Montero mugged Jeremy Hall in the corner, strode into the box and blasted in his seventh of the season.

Houston Dynamo lost their wonderful winning streak at home on Saturday. Tony Beltran was fortunate to stay on the field for Real Salt Lake after a professional foul, but it was RSL who took the lead thanks to a Fabian Espindola finish which should go down as an own goal by Bobby Boswell. Dynamo had one disallowed before Jamison Olave's second yellow card stupidly earned him a deserved sending off. RSL's Nick Rimando saved an awful penalty from Brad Davis, and it was substitute Brian Ching who earned the draw for Houston, heading home with less than a minute to go. The refereeing in this one was... unusual.

Los Angeles Galaxy visited San Jose Earthquakes in Oakland and fell to a 2-1 defeat. Greg Berhalter fouled Pablo Campos in the box and the same man tucked in an assured penalty to put the Quakes in front. Ryan Johnson poked in the second before Jovan Kirovski headed in his first of the season to drag a Donovanless Galaxy back into the game. The Earthquakes held out for the win.

And it was a freak occurrence at Pizza Hut Park, as FC Dallas picked up all three points (just kidding, Dallas fans). Eric Brunner put Columbus Crew in front, though there's a case for the goal being awarded to FCD's skipper Pablo Richetti. Eric Avila picked out a wonderful curling shot to pull Dallas level, and Kenny Cooper bagged the winner with a late, late penalty after Chad Marshall and David Ferreira came together in the area.

The week's action sees San Jose and Dallas edge a little closer to the Galaxy at the bottom of the West, while New York failed to make up much ground on New England. DC United still lead the East from Chicago Fire and Houston go a point clear of Chivas USA at the top of the West. Seattle, Colorado, Kansas City Wizards and Columbus hold the four remaining play-off spots at this early stage.

Full results and standings here.

For more great football writing by Chris Nee, visit TwoFootedTackle.com...

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Confederations Cup – Day 5 Review

Group A
Spain 2 South Africa 0

Hosts South Africa needed a draw against Spain last night to progress to the semi-finals, but in the end even that wasn’t necessary. With Iraq and New Zealand playing out a goalless draw at the same time in Johannesburg, South Africa could afford their defeat at the hands of the European champions.

Spain, as we’ve seen before in this Confederations Cup, set off at a great pace, testing South African ‘keeper Itumeleng Khune on several occasions. Their slick passing and movement remain a delight to watch and against a weak defence they can be devastating, but in Khune they found someone between the sticks that was determined to shut them out.

Six minutes into the second half and the South African number 16 made his main claim for the Man of the Match award after Cesc Fabregas was felled in his penalty area. Not satisfied with saving David Villa’s penalty, he also caught the resulting follow-up shot from Carles Puyol to keep the score at 0-0.

Sadly for Khune, that scoreline would only be the case for a further minute as Spain launched another attack. Riera chipped through a harmless ball into the penalty and with his back to goal David Villa deftly turned and shot in one movement to give his side a 1-0 lead.

Joel Santana’s men fought back but up front they looked blunt in comparison to the Europeans. With 72 minutes gone, Spain showed their class again when substitute Fernando Llorente managed to divert Cesc Fabregas’ wayward shot into the net and with that a victory was pretty much assured.

The game ended 2-0 to Spain and they were through to the semis, but South Africa’s fate wasn’t immediately apparent as they had to wait for the result to come through from Johannesburg. When it did, both sets of players were able to celebrate following a decent First Round campaign – particularly so for the Spanish.

Group A
Iraq 0 New Zealand 0

Given the chances of either side to progress to the semi-finals, it was perhaps surprising that they managed to put on the show they did. Obviously the 23,295 supporters inside the Ellis Park Stadium thought there was the potential for a good game, and though there were no goals, both teams did their best to notch up a goal or two.

To be brutally honest, both Iraq and New Zealand were guilty of not putting away the chances they generated, but at least there were chances in the first place. The All Whites (playing in all black on this occasion) have particularly tried to play defensively in this competition, but they created a few good openings here.

Celtic’s Chris Killen had a couple of first half opportunities which he saw fit to put over the bar while Shane Smeltz twice opted for the wide-of-the-post option instead. The Kiwis were undoubtedly creating the better chances before the break, but after it they had to defend sternly as Iraq came back on the front foot.

Iraqi coach Bora Milutinovic threw on a couple of forwards during the second half in an attempt to gain advantage from South Africa’s demise against Spain, but New Zealand defended well and the threat of either team scoring was neutralised long before the final whistle went.

The game ended goalless, but both teams had shown good spirit and the All Whites even picked up their first Confederations Cup point in the process. No-one, however, could deny that the best two teams had progressed to the semis and it’ll be interesting seeing how they deal with the might of their Group B counterparts next Wednesday and Thursday.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Confederations Cup – Day 4 Review

Group B
Egypt 1 Italy 0

Let’s lay our cards on the table first of all. We’re more than well aware that we predicted Italy to come second in Group B and go on to play Spain in the semi-finals, but that’s because, like you, we thought Italy would beat Egypt. Just goes to show how wrong you can be, doesn’t it?

Of course it could yet happen, but the Egyptians are now level on points with Italy prior to the last round of games in Group B. Having scored three against Brazil and beaten the Italians, Egypt must surely now fancy their chances of picking up another three points against the USA. Not that we’re making an official prediction, mind you.

Italy easily made the better start of the two teams, Rossi fashioning a couple of good chances in the first half hour. Meanwhile at the other end, Egypt’s goalscoring hero against Brazil, Mohamed Zidan, had been virtually marked out of the game by a resolute Italian defence. It didn’t put off Zidan’s compatriots from attacking, however, and Aboutrika was once again a key figure for the Egyptians.

Five minutes before half time, the deadlock was broken. Egypt had a corner kick and surprise surprise, it was Aboutrika that delivered it direct to the head of Mohamed Homos who powered it into the Italian net.

Keen to avoid a shock upset, Italy ploughed forward with more attacking moves but chance after chance was wasted – most notably by Vincenzo Iaquinta who should have done better with one particular one-on-one with Egyptian ‘keeper El Hadary.

In fact the further the game went on, the more El Hadary was called upon to rescue the African champions on a number of occasions, but ultimately it was the woodwork that saved Egypt from dropping two points. With four minutes remaining, Iaquinta’s speculative shot eluded the Egyptian keeper only to bounce back off the post, and that was pretty much the last chance Italy had of rescuing a point from the game.

Egypt ended the match 1-0 winners and with Italy needing to beat Brazil on Sunday, the smart money will surely be on Spain facing the Pharaohs in the semi-finals. Watch this space to find out more…

Group B
USA 0 Brazil 3

Where last time Brazil scored the goals but failed to prevent them going into their own net, this time there was no such otiosity. Against the Americans they were ruthlessly efficient and had the game effectively sown up in the opening half-hour or so.

Brazil flew out of the blocks first and were 1-0 up after just seven minutes. A foul by Michael Bradley gave Maicon the chance to steer a free kick towards Felipe Melo who headed it in.

Brazil could have doubled their lead five minutes later were it not for Onyewu’s vital tackle to deny Robinho scoring his first goal of the competition. Yet the Americans were powerless to stop the Man City forward scoring with 20 minutes on the clock. When DaMarcus Beasely allowed the ball to slip under his foot near to the Brazilian goal, Kaka was nearby to initiate a swift and clinical counter-attack which resulted in Robinho slotting past Tim Howard at the other end of the pitch.

When half time came, a huge victory looked highly likely for Brazil and indeed could have already been achieved, but at 2-0 there was a little more work to be done to snuff out the USA’s chances.

In the second period, Brazil launched attack after attack on the American goal, and Tim Howard was easily the busier of the two goalkeepers. The key moment, however, came when American midfielder Sacha Kljestan was sent off in the 55th minute for a bad tackle on Ramires. After that, Bob Bradley’s side were even weaker and paid the ultimate price when Maicon’s slick one-two with Kaka in the box led to a fine shot past Howard to make it 3-0.

In the interests of balance, the USA did hit the crossbar late on in the game, but it would have made little difference had it gone in. They were well beaten by a much more diligent Brazilian side and an imminent exit from this competition now looks almost certain.

Brazil, however, were impressive in the way they controlled the game from start to finish, and their encounter with Italy on Sunday now looks to be nothing short of a mouth-watering prospect.

The Friday List of Little or No Consequence #118

Finals Scores
29 World Cup Matches That Took Place On June 19th In Years Gone By

1. Brazil 4 Sweden 2 (Third Place Play-Off, 1938)
2. Italy 4 Hungary 2 (Final, 1938)
3. Brazil 1 Yugoslavia 1 (a.e.t, First Round, 1954)
4. France 3 Mexico 2 (First Round, 1954)
5. Uruguay 7 Scotland 0 (First Round, 1954)
6. Austria 5 Czechoslovakia 0 (First Round, 1954)
7. Brazil 1 Wales 0 (Quarter Final, 1958)
8. France 4 Northern Ireland 0 (Quarter Final, 1958)
9. West Germany 1 Yugoslavia 0 (Quarter Final, 1958)
10. Sweden 2 USSR 0 (Quarter Final, 1958)
11. Netherlands 0 Sweden 0 (First Round, 1974)
12. Bulgaria 1 Uruguay 1 (First Round, 1974)
13. Haiti 0 Poland 7 (First Round, 1974)
14. Argentina 1 Italy 1 (First Round, 1974)
15. Poland 0 Cameroon 0 (First Round, 1982)
16. Belgium 1 El Salvador 0 (First Round, 1982)
17. USSR 3 New Zealand 0 (First Round, 1982)
18. Italy 2 Czechoslovakia 0 (First Round, 1990)
19. Austria 2 USA 1 (First Round, 1990)
20. West Germany 1 Colombia 1 (First Round, 1990)
21. Yugoslavia 4 UAE 1 (First Round, 1990)
22. Cameroon 2 Sweden 2 (First Round, 1994)
23. Norway 1 Mexico 0 (First Round, 1994)
24. Belgium 1 Morocco 0 (First Round, 1994)
25. Nigeria 1 Bulgaria 0 (First Round, 1998)
26. Spain 0 Paraguay 0 (First Round, 1998)
27. Togo 0 Switzerland 2 (First Round, 2006)
28. Spain 3 Tunisia 1 (First Round, 2006)
29. Saudi Arabia 0 Ukraine 4 (First Round, 2006)

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Confederations Cup – Day 3 Review

Group A
South Africa 2 New Zealand 0

The home fans finally got a taste of glory in Bafana Bafana's second game of the 2009 Confederations Cup as New Zealand were defeated 2-0.

Once again, New Zealand were disappointingly poor just as they were against Spain and if it's any consolation they did at least defend a little better. That said, South Africa were determined to get three points from this match, and with lots of good attacking moves coming via the left wing they were able to claim them comfortably.

Everton's Steven Pienaar was instrumental in much of what the home side produced - indeed he instigated the move that led to the first goal after 21 minutes for Bernard Parker.

Parker, you'll remember, gained international fame and superstardom by accidentally blocking a goal-bound shot from his own team-mate in South Africa's first match against Iraq. This time, there were no such blunders as he flicked the ball past Kiwi 'keeper Glen Moss to put South Africa 1-0 up.

Bernard Parker had another great chance to score later in the first half when he ran straight for goal up the centre of the pitch, only to see his shot deflected wide by the outstretched leg of Moss.

South Africa were all over their opponents, but it wasn't until the 52nd minute that they were able to double their lead. Once again, Pienaar was involved, crossing the ball into the box for Parker to flick in, and that was about all as far as meaningful goal opportunities were concerned.

New Zealand again failed by their inability to keep possession and pass accurately amongst one another. It's actually a wonder they managed to get even one goal against Italy in their pre-competition friendly, let alone three on this basis.

By the time South Africa had scored their second last night, New Zealand were in no position to counter their opponents' new-found confidence and can now only look forward to picking up a consolation point or three in their last match against Iraq on Sunday. If they're lucky.

For South Africa, a draw against Spain will be of benefit to both teams, and given the Spanish team's easing down through the gears against Iraq yesterday, that could be what we end up getting.

Group A
Spain 1 Iraq 0

Iraq decided to try and win a game at this Confederations Cup competition which, following their performance against South Africa on Sunday, was quite a shock. The trouble was, they were up against a Spain side who were looking for their 14th win on the trot and were totally skilled up to get it.

Iraq looked a much more focused unit this time around and were a decent match for the Spaniards, even carving out an early chance through Alaa Abdul Zahra who managed to test Iker Casillas from 20 yards out.

So efficient, in fact, were the Iraqis at containing their opponents that Spain's usual slick passing and movement amounted to very little in the first half. Iraq defended diligently and Vicente Del Bosque's team couldn't find a way through, much to many people's surprise.

Ten minutes into the second half, however, Spain's patience paid off when Joan Capdevila produced another incisive cross which David Villa expertly flicked in with his head. It was the cue for Spain to press on with more possession and self-confidence but a second goal failed to arrive. In fact they almost conceded a late equaliser when Nashat Akram went close with a 25-yard effort which would have easily beaten Casillas in the Spanish goal.

As it is, Spain held on to claim their second victory of the campaign and a record-equalling 14th consecutive win. They're now assured of a place in the semi-finals (as if that were ever in any doubt), and if they draw their last match against South Africa it'll be against the runners-up in Group A - probably Italy, if our guess is anything to go by.

World Cup 2010 Qualifying Report: Asia

Group 2

North Korea have become the fourth and final team from Asia to win an automatic qualification spot for World Cup 2010.

The North Koreans went into yesterday’s final round of matches in Group 2 already occupying second place behind South Korea and only needed a draw to confirm their place in South Africa next year.

After a competitive battle in near 40 degree heat, the Saudis were unable use their home advantage to break down a resolute North Korean defence and the game finished 0-0.

That draw means North Korea have confirmed only their second ever qualification to the World Cup Finals, the previous occasion being the famous campaign of 1966 which featured a famous win over Italy and an exciting 5-3 defeat against Portugal.

As for Saudi Arabia, they finish in third place which confirms their place in the play-off against the third-place team in Group 1, Bahrain. The winner of that match will go on to play Oceania champions New Zealand later in the year for a place in the Finals.

Iran started the day knowing that a win over South Korea in Seoul would have given them a great chance of taking second spot in the group but they could only draw 1-1. The Iranians, to their credit, took the lead after 52 minutes thanks to Masoud Shojaei but they struggled to extend their lead and when Park Ji Sung equalised with eight minutes remaining, they had little left to offer.

The North Koreans consequently went into their match knowing a draw would be good enough for them, and as Saudi coach Jose Peseiro said “[they] just came here to bag one point, and they did.”

So the North Koreans become the sixth team on the list for South Africa 2010 and complete a marvellous achievement in their country’s sporting history. Congratulations to them…

Group 1

Meanwhile in the altogether calmer waters of Group 1, the focus was also on third place. Australia and Japan had already taken the automatic qualification places, but it was up to Bahrain (placed third going into yesterday’s games) to earn the draw they need to enter the inter-group play-off.

That they did by beating bottom-of-the-group Uzbekistan 1-0 in Manama. Mahmood Abdulrahman’s 74th-minute strike came after an evenly balanced and tense opening to the game, but in truth the Uzbekis had offered little in the way of decent chances and were unable to find an equaliser when it mattered.

The margin of victory, though small, was good enough to see Bahrain through to a September play-off against previous Finalists Saudi Arabia and it looks to be a tough match to call. More news on that in a few months time.

Also for the record, Australia and Japan played in Melbourne yesterday. The match ended as a 2-1 win for the Aussies, both goals coming from Everton’s Tim Cahill in the second half after Tulio Tanaka had given Japan the lead after 39 minutes.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Premier League Fixtures 2009/10

For those of you that weren't already aware, today's the day the Premier League releases it's fixtures for the 2009/10 season.

It's a day of great excitement but one that's somewhat stifled by the inability of blogsites like us to display any of those fixtures. We'd like to show you who your favourite team's playing in the opening weeks of the season, who they're playing over the Christmas period and who they're playing when the excrement hits the fan as the season's ending in May, but we can't.

We've already discussed the frustration we feel about the Premier League's strict copyright laws in the past, so let's not get too bogged down in all of that now. Instead, let us point you in the direction of the Premier League website where full details of all the important fixtures will be displayed for your viewing pleasure from 10:00 BST today.

(Oh and let's not forget the Football League fixtures too - they're avaiable via the Football League website...)

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Confederations Cup – Day 2 Review

Group B
Brazil 4 Egypt 3

If Group A provided a soporific opening to the 2009 Confederations Cup, Group B was the wake up call everyone must have been hoping for.

The first game of the day was an exciting encounter between the champions of South America and Africa which proved to be a lot closer than expected. Brazil, for their part, entered into battle in familiar fashion, passing the ball well in midfield and generally out-muscling the opposition.

In fact so efficient were they that they took the lead after only five minutes thanks to some nifty ball juggling in the area by Kaka who calmly slotted past Egyptian keeper Essam El Hadary to make it 1-0. Yet it was here that Brazil were to learn their lesson for the day – that Egypt are not a team to dismiss easily.

Just four minutes later, Borussia Dortmund striker Mohamed Zidan was on hand to head in a cross from Mohamed Aboutrika which highlighted Brazil’s defensive frailties no end. But we all know that Brazil play best when on the attack, and so it was proven when a further three minutes later Elano’s free kick found Luis Fabiano in the box who deftly flicked the ball home beyond the reach of El Hadary.

Brazil were back in front 2-1 and they extended their lead eight minutes before the break. Elano executed another perfect set-piece when his corner was headed in from close range by Roma defender Juan.

So far, so predictable perhaps, but Egypt burst out of the blocks at the start of the second half as if they meant business. With 54 minutes on the clock, African Player of the Year Aboutrika showed his ability to pass and move with the best of them when he set up Mohamed Shawky who scored with a fine finish from the edge of the penalty area.

Then, almost straight from the restart, Aboutrika played a through-ball in to FIFA Man of the Match Zidan who only had to slot the ball past Julio Cesar to make it 3-3.

Brazil were reeling from Egypt’s swift fightback but their lack of organisation at the back was entirely the reason why they’d lost their lead for the second time – that, and the fact that Egypt were giving as good as they got offensively.

With the game evenly poised, the defining moment came in the 90th minute when a free kick was volleyed goalwards by Brazilian captain Lucio only for the ball to be cleared off the line. Though referee Howard Webb initially awarded a corner, he later changed his decision to a penalty having been informed that Ahmed Al Muhamadi had used his arm to deliberately block the ball. Al Muhamadi was subsequently sent off and Kaka scored his second from the spot to win the game.

So Brazil pick up the three points from their first game, but it wasn’t a cakewalk for them. Furthermore Egypt’s next opponents, Italy, may now be revaluating Egypt’s chances of winning following their own first game of the competition.

Group B
USA 1 Italy 3

Italy also had a rude awakening as they reignited their tetchy relationship with the Americans in Group B. Almost two years ago to the day, both teams played out a feisty World Cup First Round match in which three players were sent off – two of them for the US team.

This time around, tempers weren’t quite so high although the Americans did lose a man again. Just past the half-hour mark, Ricardo Clark petulantly lashed out at Gennaro Gattuso after losing the ball and the referee decided he didn’t want to see any more of that, thank you very much.

It was all rather unfortunate given the great start Bob Bradley’s men had made to the match. They’d been very organised, were strong at the back and had the best of the chances, if truth be known. Italy, wearing their new pale blue shirts and brown shorts, were left frustrated – particularly when the USA were awarded a penalty four minutes before half time.

Curiously, Giorgio Chiellini’s kick at Jozy Altidore and the subsequent holding back that caused him to fall in the box were not deemed serious enough to warrant a red card, but a penalty was awarded. Landon Donovan, the US captain, stepped up to give his side a 1-0 lead which few could argue hadn’t been hard earned.

Going into the second half with a man down, the Americans had it all to do in order to retain their lead. Playing with only Altidore up front, Italy had every chance to find an equaliser, but it didn’t arrive until former Manchester United striker Giuseppe Rossi came on as a 57th-minute substitute.

Only a minute later, Rossi picked up the ball on the edge of the centre circle in the American half, ran straight at goal and unleashed an unstoppable shot from 30 yards out that eluded Tim Howard’s right hand. Italy were back in the game and full of belief once again.

After 72 minutes, Daniele De Rossi (the Italian sent off when both sides played in the 2006 World Cup) scored a second from long range when he shot across the face of goal beyond Howard’s left hand. Now 2-1 up, Italy looked in control but the final nail in the coffin wasn’t banged in until the fourth minute of injury time.

With the game almost over, Andrea Pirlo danced past Jay DeMerit on the wing, reached the by-line and chipped a neat ball into the area for American-born Rossi to half-volley into the back of the net. The game ended 3-1 to Italy but the USA will be rueing the chances Altidore and Michael Bradley had early on which, if finished better, could have earned them at least a point.

That said, Italy showed enough steel to edge it on the night and they now lead Group B ahead of their game against Egypt on Thursday. The USA play Brazil in the day’s early kick-off.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Football Americana Week 13: No problem for Houston

It's all change at the top of Major League Soccer after a big week for United and the Dynamo.

Cam Weaver, traded from the Earthquakes, picked up his first Houston Dynamo assist to create a simple finish for Stuart Holden last Wednesday as the Dynamo defeated Chivas USA. He then poked in his first goal on Saturday against FC Dallas as the Dynamo won 3-1. A masked Richard Mulrooney drilled in a wonderful goal from 25 yards before Weaver grabbed the third. Drew Moor bagged a consolation for Dallas as Houston went top of the table.

It wasn't nearly as pleasant for Chivas, whose double header ended pointless. Eduardo Lillingston put them ahead at Crew Stadium on Sunday, but Columbus Crew won 2-1 thanks to two very composed finishes from Guillermo Barros Schelotto, the second being his 10th of the season.

Over in the East, it was a joyous Saturday for DC United. Tommy Soehn's side defeated Chicago Fire thanks to a double showing from the old masters. Jaime Moreno coolly fired in a controversial(ish) penalty to put United ahead, but a lovely shift and shot by Marco Pappa pulled the Fire level. Christian Gomez won it with an impressive first half free kick to put DC top of their half of the table. United keeper Josh Wicks put in a fine performance including a penalty save.

2009 expansion club Seattle Sounders predictably got back to winning ways against San Jose Earthquakes in a game with a double dose of interest for UK fans. Freddie Ljungberg dinked the ball cheekily over Joe Cannon to put Seattle ahead, and Fredy Montero doubled the lead on the hour with an easy finish. Darren Huckerby dragged the Quakes back into it with a simple tap-in past Kasey Keller, but it wasn't to be for San Jose.

The appalling New York Red Bulls visited BMO Field on Saturday to face Toronto FC, with unsurprising results. Danny Cepero saved an early TFC penalty, but Sam Cronin poked home the rebound. Danny Dichio, celebrating the news that his wife is expecting their third child, found the empty net from distance after more impressive but unsupported goalkeeping from Cepero. Albert Celades scored for RBNY but they were unable to get back into the game.

David Beckham's return is the talk of MLS at the moment, at least officially, and it looks like Los Angeles Galaxy could do with him. Real Salt Lake hit them with a 2-0 defeat at HDC on Saturday thanks to Yura Movsisyan who beat Donovan Ricketts way too easily, Nat Borchers who found the bottom corner to score the second, and a superb performance from goalkeeper Nick Rimando. Temporary Galaxy skipper Eddie Lewis was dismissed in the 65th minute for throwing the ball at Javier Morales.

And at CommunityAmerica Ballpark, Kansas City Wizards beat New England Revolution 3-1. Davy Arnaud tapped in his fifth of the season to put the Wizards in front, but makeshift striker Shalrie Joseph bundled home a header to level for the Revs. Emmanuel Osei saw red for kicking out at Claudio Lopez before the ball bounced off Jeff Larentowicz and into his own goal for 2-1 and Aaron Hohlbein stabbed in the third.

Another entertaining MLS weekend sees Houston Dynamo top the table on goal difference from Chivas USA (both in the West, both on 27 points). DC United and Chicago Fire (East) follow on 22 and 21 respectively, and the next four are Seattle Sounders (20), Kansas City Wizards (19), Columbus Crew (19) and Toronto FC (19). Crew's Schelotto now leads the scoring with 10 from Conor Casey of Colorado Rapids with 8.

Full results and standings here.

Confederations Cup – Day 1 Review

Group A
South Africa 0 Iraq 0


As far as the South Africans are concerned, the Confederations Cup provides the ideal opportunity to fine tune their preparations for next year’s World Cup Finals. Following yesterday’s 0-0 draw that opened this year’s competition, you can’t fail to be impressed by their attention to detail given the number of goalless draws that have opened World Cups in the past.

As predicted in our TV Guide on Friday, this match was high on pathos rather than quality. You have to bear in mind, though, that all the matches in South Africa will be played at altitude, but that’s no excuse for the hosts who just lack anyone that can put the ball in the back of the net.

Macbeth Sibaya had one of the best chances of the match, shooting from well outside the box to force Iraq ‘keeper Mohammed Kassid into a fine save, but that was a bit of a collectors’ item where this match was concerned.

Thembinkosi Fanteni glanced a header over the bar from a corner later on in the game and substitute Katlego Mashego squandered a great chance to finish off a Route One clearance by his keeper, but the worst missed opportunity came just six minutes before the end.

Siboniso Gaxa crossed a high ball into the Iraqi penalty area which Kassid came out to catch and missed. The ball dropped behind him allowing Kagisho Dikgacoi to divert it towards the goal line, however Bernard Parker was loitering in the wrong place at the wrong time and was unable to get out of the ball’s path. His inadvertent block ensured that the game finished 0-0.

That farcical display of non-scoring pretty much summed up South Africa’s potency in this match and indeed the match in general. Iraq lacked ambition and though their passing in midfield was good, their attack lacked any teeth – much like their opponents. Benni McCarthy must have been watching the match from home knowing only too well the difference he could have made to the scoreline.

Group A
New Zealand 0 Spain 5


The simple fact of the matter is that this match could have ended embarrassingly for the All Whites. Predictably, Spain were all over New Zealand and were 4-0 up with only 24 minutes on the clock.

Fernando Torres was undoubtedly the star man for Spain. His hat-trick began with the game only six minutes old following a delightful curled shot from the edge of the penalty area. Eight minutes later, David Villa pulled the ball back from the by-line allowing Torres to side-foot into the net with ease. Three minutes after that, he powerfully headed in a cross from Joan Capdevila to complete an emphatic early display that dominated the scoring.

The game was all over as a contest before Cesc Fabregas added a fourth half-way through the first half. His tap-in was the climax to a brilliant 16-pass move that was as much an advert for Spain’s superb passing game as it was for New Zealand’s inability to mark their opponents efficiently.

Three minutes into the second half, David Villa got a goal of his own when New Zealand defender Andy Boyens produced an air shot of the highest quality which was meant as a clearance. Fernando Torres’ ball into the box ran through to Villa and a simple finish was enough to give the Spaniards their fifth and final goal of the match.

A series of substitutions and a definite intent to ease up on the part of Spanish coach Vicente Del Bosque allowed the Kiwis to hold the ship steady for the rest of the game, but the damage had already been done. Though they often had plenty of men behind the ball, none of them ever troubled their opposite number and when you can pass the ball around as well as Spain can, you’re always in danger of losing heavily.

So it turned out to be. Spain looked every inch the pre-tournament favourites and with such a sublime ability to pass and move to devastating effect, it’s difficult to see where they can go wrong.

New Zealand therefore go into Wednesday’s match against South Africa knowing that a win will all but ensure a place in the semi-finals while a repeat performance by Spain against Iraq is something you can virtually put your house on. The only uncertainty will surround the number of goals that will be scored.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Confederations Cup Group Stage TV Preview

(All times - UK)

Sunday 14 June

15:00 South Africa v Iraq, FIFA Confederations Cup Group A, BBC Interactive
Expect this match to be high on pathos but low on quality. Neither team is in great shape but it's nice to see the Asian champions taking centre stage along with the hosts in front of a packed house and a global(ish) audience.

Chris O: Iraq; Redduffman: Draw; Sp3ktor: Draw; Seb: Iraq; Chris Nee: South Africa

19:30 New Zealand v Spain, FIFA Confederations Cup Group A, BBC3
New Zealand pushed Italy right to the edge last Wednesday in a ding-donger which saw the world champions scrape through 4-3! The All Whites may have brought their shooting boots but will miss Ryan Nelsen. The European champions are a far more complete side and are unlikely to tolerate any shenanigans from Shane Smeltz and his chums. Could be a giggle if Spain start slowly.

Monday 15 June

15:00 Brazil v Egypt, FIFA Confederations Cup Group B, BBC Interactive
Brazil's latest round of World Cup qualifiers puts them top of their group. Add to that a rare win in Montevideo against Uruguay and you have a tooled-up and confident Brazil. Egypt, for their part, are desperate to wash off the stench of failure having lost to their hated rivals Algeria. Expect more pain for the North Africans.

19:30 USA v Italy, FIFA Confederations Cup Group B, BBC3
On paper, this should be Italy's game. However, the world champions' form has been patchy of late so if the US can overcome their own recent shortcomings, they could cause an upset.

Chris O: Italy; Redduffman: Italy; Sp3ktor: Draw; Seb: Italy; Chris Nee: Italy

Wednesday 17 June

15:00 Spain v Iraq, FIFA Confederations Cup Group A, BBC Interactive
If Spain field a full strength team against their Asian counterparts, this should be a pretty one-sided affair. If they don't...

19:30 South Africa v New Zealand, FIFA Confederations Cup Group A, BBC3
The hosts best chance to get a result. However, if NZ managed to carry their goal scoring form this far we could be in for a flawed classic.

Thursday 18 June

15:00 USA v Brazil, FIFA Confederations Cup Group B, BBC Interactive

A fantastic opportunity for the US to test themselves against some of the best attackers on the planet. The competition will be in full swing and Brazil will be sure to test the US defence's resolve.

19:30 Egypt v Italy, FIFA Confederations Cup Group B, BBC3
If Egypt start the tournament as badly as I fear, this could be a bit of a procession. On the other hand, if the ANC champions can muster some spirit then a classic battle of pace versus guile is in store.

Saturday 20 June

19:30 Iraq v New Zealand, FIFA Confederations Cup Group A, BBC Interactive

Group A is pretty open so there is every chance that there will be something to play for in the final round of fixtures, even if it is the wooden spoon.

Chris O: Iraq; Redduffman: New Zealand; Sp3ktor: Iraq; Seb: Iraq; Chris Nee: Iraq

19:30 Spain v South Africa, FIFA Confederations Cup Group A, BBC3
Assuming Spain get maximum points from their first two games they will be able to take their foot off the gas somewhat. This should play into the hands of the hosts as you can be certain that they will slip up somewhere. Could be tense and possibly farcical.

Sunday 21 June

19:30 Egypt v USA, FIFA Confederations Cup Group B, BBC Interactive
By rights this will be the battle to avoid the bottom. Any slip-ups from the two favourites could make things interesting but unless you have a direct interest, the game to watch is...

19:30 Italy v Brazil, FIFA Confederations Cup Group B, BBC3
... which could also be a dead rubber depending on previous results. Either way, an entertaining contrast in styles is on the cards. This pair got together in February at the Emirates and Brazil handed the Italians a bit of a tonking. Let's see what happens this time.

Chris O: Draw; Redduffman: Draw; Sp3ktor: Brazil; Seb: Brazil; Chris Nee: Italy

The Friday List of Little or No Consequence #117

Best of three?
15 Matches Whose Outcome Was Decided By The Toss Of A Coin

1. FC Zurich 4 Galatasaray 4 (on agg.)
Won by FC Zurich, European Cup First Round, 1963/64

2. Racing Strasbourg 2 Barcelona 2 (on agg.)
Won by Racing Strasbourg, Fairs Cup Second Round, 1964/65

3. 1FC Cologne 2 Liverpool 2 (on agg.)
Won by Liverpool, European Cup Quarter Finals, 1964/65

4. AC Milan 3 Racing Strasbourg 3 (on agg.)
Won by AC Milan, Fairs Cup First Round, 1965/66

5. Hannover 96 3 Barcelona 3 (on agg.)
Won by Barcelona, Fairs Cup Third Round, 1965/66

6. AC Milan 4 Chelsea 4 (on agg.)
Won by Chelsea, Fairs Cup Third Round, 1965/66

7. Rangers 2 Real Zaragoza 2 (on agg.)
Won by Rangers, European Cup Winners Cup Quarter Finals, 1966/67

8. Spartak Brno 2 Dynamo Zagreb 2 (on agg.)
Won by Dynamo Zagreb, Fairs Cup First Round 1966/67

9. Porto 3 Bordeaux 3 (on agg.)
Won by Bordeaux, Fairs Cup First Round 1966/67

10. Italy 0 USSR 0
Won by Italy, European Championship Semi Finals, 1968

11. AS Roma 1 PSV Eindhoven 1 (on agg.)
Won by AS Roma, European Cup Winners Cup Quarter Finals, 1968/69

12. Athletic Bilbao 3 Liverpool 3 (on agg.)
Won by Athletic Bilbao, Fairs Cup First Round, 1968/69

13. Lyon 1 Academica Coimbra 1 (on agg.)
Won by Lyon, Fairs Cup First Round, 1968/69

14. Goztepe Izmir 2 Marseille 2 (on agg.)
Won by Goztepe Izmir, Fairs Cup First Round, 1968/69

15. Leeds United 2 Napoli 2 (on agg.)
Won by Leeds United, Fairs Cup Second Round, 1968/69

Thursday, June 11, 2009

The SPAOTP Confederations Cup 2009 Pull-out

Welcome to the Some People Are On The Pitch Confederations Cup 2009 Preview. The tournament starts on Sunday in South Africa and features eight national teams from around the world. While regarded as a minor tournament it has grown in prestige and intensity since its inception in 1992. The coaches will field strong teams and it promises to act as the perfect tonic to football starved fanatics and aficionados of the international game.

History and overview

The Confederations Cup began life in 1992 in Saudi Arabia as the King Fahd Cup. Presumably it was hosted there as an attempt by the Saudis and FIFA to promote the game in the region (although we'd be prepared to stick our necks out and say that quite a lot of money changed hands). The inaugural tournament had four teams: The Saudis themselves, USA, Argentina and Cote d'Ivoire. The Ivorians were African Champions that year. The US were there, presumably, as part of their build up to hosting the World Cup in 1994. Argentina were Copa America winners in 1991 and won this competition by beating Saudi Arabia in the Final in Riyadh 3-1. Leonard Rodriguez, Claudio Caniggia and Diego Simeone scored for the Argentines while Saeed Al Owairan scored for the Saudis. You may remember him for that magnificent solo goal he scored in the '94 World Cup against Belgium.

In 1995 the competition (renamed the Intercontinental Cup) was expanded to include teams from Asia and Europe. The teams were divided into two groups of three and it was the UEFA 92 winners Denmark who won the competition. They beat Argentina in the Final and Michael Laudrup was a scorer in the Danes' 2-0 victory. In 1997 the competition finally arrived at its current title of Confederations Cup and expanded to a further eight teams, to include the champions of the Oceania (OFC) region, Australia. That year, Brazil were the winners.

In 1999 the tournament moved away from Saudi Arabia to Mexico although the Saudis were invited as Asian representatives despite not being the Asian champions. It was the host nation who took the honours after defeating Brazil 4-3 in the Final. 2001 saw the competition settle down to its semi-regular format of dress rehearsal for the World Cup hosts the following year. Japan & South Korea shared the hosting duties in a competition won by the reigning World and European champions France.

And it was the French who played host in 2003. Their second successive win was overshadowed by the tragic death of Cameroon midfielder Marc-Vivien Foe who collapsed during the semi-final against Colombia.

Finally, Germany hosted 2005 and Brazil won their second trophy. There was no competition in 2007 and the tournament seems to have settled into a four-yearly pattern consisting of the hosts, the current world champions and the winners of the CONCACAF, CONMEBOL, UEFA, AFC and OFC regional champions.

2009 Competition Format

There are two groups of four teams. Each team will play each other once. The top two from each group goes through to Stage 2. The winners from Stage 2 progress to the Final and the losers will play off for third place.


Group A

South Africa (Hosts)
It's fair to say that Bafana Bafana would be nowhere near qualifying for this tournament or indeed the World Cup were they not the hosts. The knives were out for new coach Joel Santana before he'd even started and the consensus is that South Africa will struggle. Benni McCarthy's stormy relationship with the national team seems to be going through a particularly bad patch and the Blackburn Rovers striker has been left out of the squad - a decision that may result in Santana's head if it backfires. Having said that, McCarthy's replacement, Bernard Parker, scored last Saturday against Poland and South Africa won the match 1-0.

The draw has been kind to the hosts. They have been placed in the weaker group and they don't have to play Spain until the final game. If they can get something out of Iraq in their first fixture, they look good for Stage 2.

Iraq (AFC)
All right thinking football fans should have been moved by Iraq's stunning victory in the Asian Championships in 2007. Since then it's been pretty much downhill. Their progress to the World Cup was halted by Qatar in the qualification rounds (despite the fact that the Qataris use Brazilian ringers and fielded an ineligible player but let's not get into that). After that they failed to win a match. On the plus side their coach Bora Milutinovic is a veteran of tournament football and who knows, maybe Younis Mahmood, the goal-scoring hero of Jakarta, will rise to the occasion once again.

New Zealand (OFC)
Up until this week, there was not much to say about the All Whites. Oceana is an incredibly weak region, which is reflected by them only being awarded half a place in the World Cup. Having said that, New Zealand shocked Italy in a friendly last night. They didn't win but they ran them close. The final score was 4-3 to Italy! Perhaps if they'd had their best player, Ryan Nelsen of Blackburn in the defence they might have won. He is injured and not in the squad. The only other players you may of heard of are Chris Killen of Celtic unless, of course, you recall our A-League Spotlight earlier in the year in which case you'll be interested that last season's League's top scorer Shane Smeltz will line up against Spain next week.

Spain (UEFA)
The European champions are playing the rest of the continent's heads like a pair of bongos at the moment. What is there to say about Spain that has not already been said? They are awesome! A brilliant team of brilliant players playing brilliantly. They haven't lost a game of football since a friendly against Romania in November 2006 (Two Thousand And Six). Don't be surprised if Vicente Del Bosque fully utilises his squad in the early stages and leaves the likes of David Villa, Fernando Torres, Xavi et al on the bench until the later stages.

Group B

MLS fans would liked to have seen more representation from the US domestic league from coach Bob Bradley. From a distance, Kenny Cooper's prolonged absence from the Nats seems a bit strange. Whither also Taylor Twellman? Perhaps our American readers can shed some light on this.

Instead, Coach Bradley has put together an assortment of journeyman European-based players. The usual suspects include Jay Demerit (Watford), DaMarcus Beasley (Scottish team), Clint Dempsey (Cottage legend) and Michael Bradley (bosses son). So far so humdrum. However, there are some players in the squad that may yet get the pulses racing. These include Jozy Altidore (the next Freddy Adu), Freddy Adu (The old Jozy Altidore) and Francisco Torres of Pachuca in Mexico. Plus with Tim Howard between the sticks and Landon Donovan slotting home those last minute penalties, the Gringos could expect to finish second in Group A. It's just a shame that they're in Group B.

Italy (World Champions)
Seems strange to look down an Italian squad list before an international tournament and not find Juventus' Grande Capitano, Alex Del Piero among the names. I suppose we will have to get used to it. The world champions' form going into this competition is not the best. Unconvincing draws with Ireland and Greece along with defeat to Brazil in a recent friendly (not to mention the bizarre game against New Zealand last night) suggests that Italy are in transition.

Coach Marcello (Count) Lippi has drawn on the likes of Gattusso, Pirlo, Zambrotta, Camoranesi and Cannavaro for experience and they'll be tough to beat. However, it will be interesting to see what the pacy Egyptians will make of their back line. Also, the front pair of Gilardino and Luca Toni have something to prove. Still, on the surface you'd expect the Azzuri to progress. At the least they'll be relieved to have avoided New Zealand.

Coach Dunga is a man who is constantly under even more pressure than your average Brazil manager. Criticism of his tactics and some indifferent results earlier in the World Cup qualifying campaign have left the former Cup winner vulnerable. The last two games should go some way in lifting the mood. A 3-0 spanking of whipping boys Peru was followed by an historic 4-0 victory against Uruguay in Montevideo (a place where Brazil never win).

Dunga has picked a full strength side for what will hopefully be an excellent sighter for their challenge next year. Robinho, Kaka, Dani Alves are all coming. So too is Milan wonderkid Alexandre Pato. This is also a chance for the young Nilmar to get the scouts pens scratching as he bids to make a big move to Europe.

Notable absentees are the fading genius Ronaldinho and the Bundesbag is personally disappointed that Diego can't be squeezed in somewhere but you can't have everything. Either way it's a squad to match the world's best and assuming they finish top, looks set for a mouth watering clash with Spain in the Final, depending on the attitude of the players.

Egypt (CAF)

The north Africans preparation for their trip south could not have been worse. They suffered a 3-1 defeat in their latest World Cup qualifier against their bitter rivals Algeria. The two nations share an acrimonious political history and defeat represents a national disgrace to the loser. Apparently the team were awful and as a consequence a return to South Africa one year hence is in doubt. It is suggested that the great squad that won back-to back African Cup Of Nations may be approaching its end.

Mido has been dropped for the tournament and Zaki has just had to pull out due to injury. Coach Hassan Shehata will be looking to Borussia Dortmund striker Mohammed Zidan. Add to that and they're in a stinker of a group. Perhaps the memory of Blida will be enough to spur them on?


Despite the condescending whinges of the western football media, South Africa will be ready for 2010. There are four stadiums in use for the Confederations Cup: Ellis Park (venue for the 1995 Rugby World Cup Final) in Johannesburg; the Free State Stadium in Bloemfontein;
which is in Royal Bafokeng Stadium in Rustenberg and Loftus Versfeld Stadium in Pretoria as opposed to Loftus Road which backs onto South Africa Road in Shepherds Bush.

All venues are at high altitude so the participating teams who return next year should gain from the experience of playing in this competition.

Group Fixtures

June 14 16:00 - Johannesburg
South Africa v Iraq

June 14
20:30 - Rustenburg
New Zealand v Spain

June 15 16:00 - Mangaung/Bloemfontein
Brazil v Egypt

June 15 20:30 - Tshwane/Pretoria
USA v Italy

June 17 16:00 - Mangaung/Bloemfontein

Spain v Iraq

June 17
20:30 - Rustenburg
South Africa v New Zealand

June 18 16:00 - Tshwane/Pretoria
USA v Brazil

June 18 20:30 - Johannesburg
Egypt v Italy

June 20 20:30 - Johannesburg

Iraq v New Zealand

June 20
20:30 - Mangaung/Bloemfontein
Spain v South Africa

June 21 20:30 - Tshwane/Pretoria
Italy v Brazil

June 21 20:30 - Rustenburg
Egypt v USA

Stage 2 fixtures take place on 24th and 25th June. The Final and Third Place Play-Off will be played on 28th June.

TV Coverage

ESPN will be covering the competition in the US and if you ever hear a UK-based football fan complain about the TV License fee again, please direct them to the fact that every game will be covered live on BBC3. More details will be covered in our Confederations Cup TV Preview Special.


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