Mexico Impressive in Loss to England

An entertaining little friendly today at Wembley between England and Mexico that should be of considerable interest to U.S fans less than three weeks ahead of the World Cup.

First-round opponent England won 3-1 over our neighbors bitter, much-loathed rivals, but it was the Mexican team that carried the play in the first 45 minutes with a quality display of possession and flair that proved a handful for the Three Lions. It was something of a makeshift back-line deployed by Fabio Capello, as he held out the five Chelsea players on the roster (only 9 days removed from the FA Cup Final), including near-certain starters John Terry, Ashley Cole and Frank Lampard. It was their slow-witted replacements, notably Ledley King, whose statuesque (not in the complimentary meaning of the word, but in the fact he appeared to have the range and effectiveness of a statue) performance was hardly saved by his goal off a set-piece.

engmex

Both King and fellow centreback Rio Ferdinand were caught by the lively Mexican duo of Giovani dos Santos and Carlos Vela, the latter going 0-2 on shots where he had only goalkeeper Robert Green to beat. That was the story of the night for El Tri as, despite a possession advantage and sending 23 shots goalward, they managed just to convert the one time.

England were more assertive in the second 45 minutes and a Glen Johnson stunner early in the second half killed off the tie. But there were precious few highlights for the England men, who will hope the return of the Chelsea Five produces a better all-around effort next time out. England head to Austria for pre-Cup training and a friendly on Sunday against Japan, while Mexico get right back at it with a Wednesday tilt against Netherlands.

In other notable friendlies, host South Africa was held 1-1 by Bulgaria and Portugal stumbled to a scoreless draw with Cape Verde. That doesn’t bode well for the Portuguese.

Place Yer Bets

In previous years, I’d be preparing for the Champions League Final today. By preparing, I mean convincing my boss I need to take a 3-hour lunch break at the Irish Pub near my work. But they moved the Final (Inter Milan v. Bayern Munich) from its traditional Wednesday to Saturday this year, which is a good bit of scheduling moxie, so instead I sit here in the cubicle jonesing for action.

How to remedy that? World Cup futures bets! If, you know, that kind of thing were legal.

I’m not much of a chalk bettor. Boring. I always scoff at the guys jumping around when their 3/5 shot hits the wire first, so I look for value. No wagers on Brazil or Spain for me.

Odds to win:

Brazil +450
Spain +450
England +550
Argentina +900
Germany +1100
Italy +1200
Holland +1200
France +1400
Ivory Coast +2500
Portugal +2500
Chile +4000
Paraguay +5000
Serbia +5000
Ghana +6600
Denmark +8000
Mexico +8000
Uruguay +10000
Greece +10000
Cameroon +10000
Australia +10000
Nigeria +10000
USA +10000
South Africa +12500
Switzerland +15000
Japan +20000
Slovenia +20000
Slovakia +20000
South Korea +20000
Algeria +40000
Honduras +50000
North Korea +75000
New Zealand +100000

England are laughably low. A nod to the furious amount of wagers they will attract and what looks to be easy progression from the group stages. Germany are cooked without Ballack. The Italy price looks good. So would France if they had a different coach. Beyond them, however, you’d have to be a remarkable optimist (or ardent homer) to risk cash on any of the longer shots.

So I’m going with Holland at 12-1. Total Football. I can feel satisfied I am backing a club that will entertain (while at the same time knowing their defensive and psychological frailties). A possible quarterfinal matchup with Brazil doesn’t inspire confidence, but we know the Oranj will go toe-to-toe with the South American heavyweights. Wesley Sneijder has arguably been the best playmaker in the world for Inter this season and, even though all his teammates hate him, Arjen Robbin is in amazing form and has scored huge goals for Bayern.

As long as neither of them pick up a knock in Madrid this Saturday, I’m going Dutch.

Soccer Blogs from English Football People

I’m just starting to get my mind around this World Cup that’s ready to fall upon us. Perhaps shamefully, I missed the whole second half of this EPL season … playoffs included. (Do they call it “playoffs” in Europe?)

Big thanks to AlCantHang and Joe Speaker for sharing bits and pieces here so I could have at least a bit of a clue what’s been going on. (Go USA!)

Anyhow, I swear I’m not a soccer moron … I just happen to have been one recently. But thus, as I begin to figure out my World Cup Days, they will surely include regular visits to probably a half dozen or so soccer websites to see what’s up. Naturally, my first and last stops will be Soccerati … because, frankly, I trust you guys to keep me better informed and intelligently engaged than a website from some random hooligan.

But I will be seeking other perspectives, too, and one of them will come from a Brit pal of mine who happens to live in Germany. He’s @DaveAllan on twitter — Sang needn’t worry, he’s a Liverpool guy, not some douchethug Gooner — and he runs the Betfair Blog over on the poker side of the world.

He and his mate’s new soccer blog, er, sorry, an “England World Cup” blog is A2B World Cup. Check it out … as I will be because it should be particularly fun during the group stage.

BTW, since this is will be my first World Cup perusing the soccer blogosphere, let me know if there are any other sites — American or British — I should be sure not to miss … especially as it relates to Group C play.

Ballack Shellacked

Germany midfielder Michael Ballack will miss the World Cup after tearing an ankle ligament or three in the FA Cup Final won this last weekend by Ballack’s Chelsea over Portsmouth. He sustained he injury after a tackle–termed “brutal” by Germany manager Joachim Low–from Pompey’s Kevin-Prince Boateng, who also happens to be on the provisional roster of Ghana, which also happens to be in Germany’s group.

For further intrigue, Boateng was born in Berlin and featured for several German national youth teams before committing to Ghana on the senior level. His half-brother, Jerome, decided to stick with Der Mannschaft (gayest team nickname ever? Gayest team nickname ever) and is on Germany’s provisional World Cup roster.

ballack

Ballack, at 33, is not the dominant player he was in his prime (he had an especially potent tournament in ’02), but was expected to start and lend experience in midfield. The Germans have undertaken something of a youth movement, bringing in a new generation of players and Ballack’s steadying force was seen as integral. Definitely a blow to their chances, but it is never wise to count out the Germans. As former England marksman Gary Lineker once said,

“Football is a simple game; 22 men chase a ball for 90 minutes and at the end, the Germans win.”

Davies Out

An apparent disappointing end to Charlie Davies quest to return from a horrific car accident in time for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. He was not named to Coach Bob Bradley’s provisional 30-man roster that will convene for training camp next week in Princeton, N.J.

Said Bradley, “He (Davies) hadn’t been given full medical clearance and therefore was not given a full release to join the camp.”

Bummer. Feel bad for the kid.

In-form strikers Edson Buddle, Eddie Johnson and Herculez Gomez were preferred to Davies, who has resumed full training but has not played a competitive match since the October accident which left one person dead and Davies with severe injuries. Considering that group, as well as surprise inclusion Robbie Findley, the competition appears wide-open for the slot along-side automatic selection Jozy Altidore.

No other shocking names on the roster (Kljestan might shock some, but not anyone who is aware of his long association with Bradley) and those left out, aside from Davies, were only peripheral names like Frankie Hejduk, Edgar Castillo, Freddy Adu and Conor Casey.

Coach Bradley has until June 1 to cut the roster to the final 23 and the U.S. will play two friendlies prior to that, May 25 v. Czech Republic in East Hartford, CT and May 29 v. Turkey in Philadelphia.

The full squad:

Goalkeepers- Tim Howard, Marcus Hahnemann, Brad Guzan

Defenders- Carlos Bocanegra, Oguchi Onyewu, Steve Cherundolo, Jonathan Spector, Jay DeMerit, Clarence Goodson, Jonathan Bornstein, Heath Pearce, Chad Marshall

Midfielders- Landon Donovan, Clint Dempsey, Michael Bradley, Stuart Holden, Ricardo Clark, Maurice Edu, Benny Feilhaber, Jose Francisco Torres, Alejandro Bedoya, DaMarcus Beasley, Sacha Kljestan, Robbie Rogers

Forwards- Jozy Altidore, Robbie Findley, Brian Ching, Edson Buddle, Eddie Johnson, Herculez Gomez

It’s Raining Footballers

So many unpronounceable names.

A dozen other international teams have named their preliminary rosters for South Africa, highlighted by perennial World Cup contenders Brazil and Italy.

With a powerhouse side such as Brazil, a few notable names are sure to be left on the sidelines, but this year’s selection has some superstars on the outside looking in. Ronaldinho failed to sway Coach Dunga. Same with midfielder Diego, AC Milan striker Pato, holdovers like Adriano and the emerging starlet Neymar. To me, Diego is the biggest omission, the only true creator available behind Kaka.

Jersey-born Giuseppe Rossi was called into the Italian camp after a few weeks of nail-biting. Some big names left out of the Azzurri set-up, including Alessandro Del Piero, Luca Toni and Roma’s Francesco Totti, who probably hasn’t done himself any favors by just running around and kicking people.

If you’re studying up for your World Cup fantasy team and need to know who’s starting at left back for Cameroon, here are links to the complete preliminary rosters released so far today:

Brazil
Italy
Netherlands
Spain
Portugal
Switzerland
Denmark
Greece
Cameroon
Ghana
Australia
Ivory Coast
NewZealand
Honduras
Japan
South Africa

Thirty for England

England Coach Fabio Capello has named his provisional 30-man roster for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. England will line up against the United States in their opening game on June 12 in Rustenberg.

The most surprising inclusion is Liverpool defender Jamie Carragher, who “retired” from international duty in 2007. His recall may confirm that the only reason he ditched the national side is because previous gaffer Steve McClaren is a twit. Or Capello’s desperation–with the brittle nature of Rio Ferdinand and Ledley King–was enough to sway the Reds stalwart.

Tottenham, who finished 4th in the Premier League and grabbed the last Champions League spot, place six players on the list, including Abbey Clancy’s boyfriend. Let’s hope Crouchie goes to SA for the crowd shots alone.

abbey

England 30-Man Preliminary Squad

GOALKEEPERS (3): Joe Hart (Manchester City), David James (Portsmouth), Robert Green (West Ham Utd.)

DEFENDERS (10): Leighton Baines (Everton), Jamie Carragher (Liverpool), Ashley Cole (Chelsea), Michael Dawson (Tottenham), Rio Ferdinand (Manchester Utd.), Glen Johnson (Liverpool), Ledley King (Tottenham), John Terry (Chelsea), Matthew Upson (West Ham Utd.), Stephen Warnock (Aston Villa)

MIDFIELDERS (12): Gareth Barry (Manchester City), Michael Carrick (Manchester Utd.), Joe Cole (Chelsea), Steven Gerrard (Liverpool), Tom Huddlestone (Tottenham), Adam Johnson (Manchester City), Frank Lampard (Chelsea), Aaron Lennon (Tottenham), James Milner (Aston Villa), Scott Parker (West Ham Utd.), Theo Walcott (Arsenal), Shaun Wright-Phillips (Manchester City)

FORWARDS (5): Darren Bent (Sunderland), Peter Crouch (Tottenham), Jermain Defoe (Tottenham), Emile Heskey (Aston Villa), Wayne Rooney (Manchester Utd.)

Premature Selection

U.S. Coach Bob Bradley is set to announce his provisional 30-man roster for South Africa tomorrow at 2 p.m. (Eastern), which gives me perfect opportunity to speculate which Americans might be on the list.

That’s what blogs are for, yes? Let’s get right to the action.

roster1

Shoe-ins

Goalkeepers: Tim Howard, Brad Guzan, Marcus Hahnemann

And done. Doubt a 4th GK will get called into camp.

Defenders: Steve Cherundolo, Jonathan Spector, Oguchi Onyewu, Jay DeMerit, Carlos Bocanegra, Jonathan Bornstein

Midfielders: Landon Donovan, Clint Dempsey, Michael Bradley, Ricardo Clark, Maurice Edu, Stuart Holden, Jose Francisco Torres, Benny Feilhaber

Forwards: Jozy Altidore

That’s 18. Lotta work still to do.

Hopefuls

Defenders

Heath Pearce, Chad Marshall, Clarence Goodson, Edgar Castillo, Frankie Hejduk

Goodson has shown well in recent call-ups, so he has a leg up. Pearce is playing midfield in MLS, but is a Bradley favorite and and Marshall is just returning from injury. Everybody likes having Frankie around, but he’s showing his age recently and without pace his is nothing. Castillo is a long-shot due to his (lack of) size.

Joe Speaker’s picks: Goodson, Marshall, Castillo
Bob Bradley’s picks: Goodson, Marshall, Pearce

Midfield

DaMarcus Beasley, Sacha Kljestan, Freddy Adu, Kyle Beckerman, Alejandro Bedoya, Robbie Rogers

A few months ago, as my friend Jorginho and I tried to pick a 23-man roster, I surprised him by including Beckerman. My thinking is this: both Bradley and Clark have shown themselves to be card prone, so if one of them gets a suspension, we’re left without cover in the middle of the park, so Beckerman needs to be included as a “destroyer,” since Coach Bradley is loathe to have a more offensive-minded player in the middle (ie Feilhaber). Beasley would be a useful option off the bench and Kljestan’s ties to Bradley Sr. make him a likely candidate and make me liable to puke in my mouth a little. Adu and Rogers are longshots thanks to poor form and middling results with the national team, but the inclusion of youngster Bedoya might surprise.

Joe Speaker’s picks: Beasley, Beckerman, Bedoya
Bob Bradley’s picks: Beasley, Kljestan, Bedoya

Forwards

Brian Ching, Conor Casey, Kenny Cooper, Robbie Findley, Eddie Johnson, Edson Buddle, Herculez Gomez, Charlie Davies

Sigh. Not exactly awe-inspiring, is it? I expect a complete handful of these guys to get the call, considering the state of flux at the position. The final roster might include only three true forwards, but it’s a cattle call for now. Naturally, a healthy Charlie Davies is what we all hope for, but I personally believe the odds are pretty stacked against him. I’ll leave out Casey, Findley and Cooper on general principle (that principle being that they aren’t any good) and include the rest of the gang due to their recent goal-scoring form, although the only one about whom I can even generate the slightest excitement is EJ, who has been scoring recently in Greece and has previously shown to be dangerous when in form.

Joe Speaker’s picks: Ching, EJ, Gomez, Buddle, Davies
Bob Bradley’s picks: Ching, Casey, EJ, Buddle, Davies

That’s only 29. I’m sticking there, because there is no way I’m putting Robbie Findley on this roster.

Your team in comments.

(Bonus note: SI’s team of soccer writers, including the above-mentioned Jorginho, select their final 23 for South Africa–not the 30-man like I’m doing above–and it includes some interesting names Brian McBride?)

Countdown Begins

Five weeks until World Cup 2010 kicks off with Mexico against host South Africa in Johannesburg and the 32 nations are in the process of naming provisional rosters for their respective pre-tournament training camps.

The U.S. is set to announce its initial 30-man roster on Tuesday, with camp opening in Princeton, N.J. on Monday May 17th. There remains some intrigue regarding which players will be named. The primary question is the health of striker Charlie Davies, who is participating in full training for his French club Sochaux, but will not have seen game action since his horrific car accident in October. Davies’ availability, or lack thereof, stands to alter Coach Bob Bradley’s selections considerably.

Most expect either Landon Donovan or Clint Dempsey to fill a striker slot if Davies is unable to go, which would open up another place for a midfielder, an area where the U.S. is considered deep. Stuart Holden, recovered from a broken tibia sustained in a friendly with Netherlands, is a favorite to replace those two in starting midfield, while others, such as Benny Feilhaber, Jose Francisco Torres and DaMarcus Beasley provide cover.

The back line seems set, though centreback Oguchi Onyewu is also just recently recovered from injury, so the other main question will be who joins shoe-in Jozy Altidore on the front line. Brian Ching, also in a fitness race (wow, this is getting redundant), is a Bradley favorite and the team’s best hold-up striker, so he’s likely in. After that, the pool is in such disarray that calls might go out for the likes of Edson Buddle (currently scoring at will for the LA Galaxy) and Herculez Gomez, who lit up the Mexican League with 10 goals for Puebla in the recently-completed Clausura. Neither figured in qualifying nor have they been involved in a National Team set-up in eons (three years for Gomez; seven! for Buddle).

The Nats’ first opponent, England, doesn’t have nearly as many injury worries, though Coach Fabio Capello’s preferred defensive midfielder, Gareth Barry, injured ankle ligaments this week and is now doubtful. And there’s still time for a Three Lions player to break a metatarsal bone, as is their custom every four years (Beckham in ’02; Rooney in ’06).

The world’s greatest sporting spectacle is just around the corner. Better start stretching.

Good Times Alert: Interactive Chalkboards

I hardly get how to use them, but you can track matches and compare stats with the Guardian’s new Interactive Chalkboards feature. Right now it’s all about Premier League, but I can only imagine they’ll have the same movable data display available for World Cup 2010, too.

Football management newbies like myself should check out the FAQ here.

Giovani Becali Goes “Nuts” at Bucharest Poker Tournament

We’ve long been seeing the confluence of poker and soccer. But some of the football people just don’t quite get it yet … the whole gentleman’s game component. Outbursts are not uncommon in poker — but there’s an understanding, whatever you do, don’t mess with the chips … and if you’re gonna come to blows take it away from the table so you don’t slow down the action as authorities come to arrest you.

Check out what happened this weekend at the World Poker Tour’s stop in Bucharest. Football agent Giovani Becali was playing, but supposedly got frustrated at another player hogging the masseuse, and somewhere along the way lost it — throwing chips in the air and cocking his arm as an invitation for the altercation to come to blows:

This was the biggest poker tournament in the history of Romania — so having a brash Romanian sports agent playing seemed a great fit. But after seeing the video of Becali’s spitting in a sportscaster’s face, I can only imagine what it might be like doing a bust-out interview with him.

Earlier this year, Becali got into it with Fiorentina management over his public courting of Man City for his client Adrian Mutu.

Going Dutch

Finally. Enough with the ‘B’ team. On the heels of another lackluster performance by the mostly-MLS-based second (third?) string, U.S. Men’s National Team Coach Bob Bradley has called on the big guns for next Wednesday’s friendly against the Netherlands in Amsterdam.

The ones that aren’t injured, that is.

Only Jonathan Bornstein, Robbie Findley and Clarence Goodson make the cut from the 2-1 win over El Salvador in Tampa last night. Eddie Johnson and Alejandro Bedoya are surprise additions, though for different reasons, as EJ inspires a “WTF?” and Bedoya a “Cool!”

Notable omissions include Brian Ching, who was decent against El Salvador (and “decent” is pretty much the highest rating Ching has ever received in the USA short), fellow target striker Kenny Cooper, Greek exile Freddy Adu and Tigres left back Edgar Castillo. Those four can assume they are outside the bubble for South Africa and will need a change of fortune in the next three months to merit consideration.

The full roster:

GOALKEEPERS- Brad Guzan (Aston Villa), Marcus Hahnemann (Wolverhampton Wanderers), Tim Howard (Everton)

DEFENDERS- Jonathan Bornstein (Chivas USA), Carlos Bocanegra (Rennes), Jay DeMerit (Watford), Clarence Goodson (IK Start), Heath Pearce (FC Dallas), Frank Simek (Sheffield Wednesday), Jonathan Spector (West Ham United)

MIDFIELDERS- DaMarcus Beasley (Rangers), Alejandro Bedoya (Orebro), Michael Bradley (Borussia Mönchengladbach), Landon Donovan (Everton), Maurice Edu (Rangers), Stuart Holden (Bolton Wanderers), José Torres (Pachuca)

FORWARDS- Jozy Altidore (Hull City), Robbie Findley (Real Salt Lake), Eddie Johnson (Aris Thessaloniki)

Here’s how I would line ’em up (4-4-1-1):

Howard
Spector — Bocanegra — DeMerit — Bornstein
Holden — Bradley — Edu — Donovan
Torres
Altidore

Will never happen.

The Scottish Play(or MacBeth or Throne of Blood)

After a long bout of gout, two assasination attempts and a stint in rehab the Dallas office of this venerable institution has crawled out of its refuse infested bunker and finally seen sunlight.And lo and behold one of the first news to hit me square in the head was the loss of the Scottish Premier League’s second spot in the Champions’ League. It turns out the rather anemic performances of Celtic and Rangers in the mega Euro competition has lowered the league’s UEFA coefficient. Coupled with the demise of Setanta sports and the resultant TV revenue, the SPL seems on the brink of a major devaluation. Even the rather non-pulsed Walter Smith has in recent months called for what he refers to as an “Atlantic League”. Clearly there are signs that one of the more venerable European leagues seems to be going through a metamorphasis. What is worrying about this is that this is one league where the current economic downturn may effectively wipe Scottish football off the face of the planet. With each new issue the Scotts face the end result is a loss of money, funds that in turn could be used to nurture, buy, and/or rebuild the human resources needed to keep any league alive. A nation that can boast of producing Kenny Dalgish, Graham Souness, Billy Bremner, Archie Gemmill, and Alex Ferguson is now on the verge of joining the ranks of Europe’s chaff. And this problem may soon spread to other nations. Recently UEFA revealed that the debts of the EPL clubs represent over 55% of all the debts incurred by all European football leagues. Will a soccer bubble or meltdown be the next domino to fall similar to debt crisis of Greece and Dubai.