In Soccer’s Hinterlands, World Cup Expansion Opens a Door

January 19, 2017

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Uganda, celebrating a goal against Botswana, is one of the teams that are likely to benefit the most from the coming World Cup expansion.
“While the soccer world was chewing over FIFA’s controversial decision on Tuesday to increase the size of the World Cup finals to 48 teams from 32, Milutin Sredojevic was trying to block out the noise. Sredojevic, a Serbian coach, is in Dubai preparing Uganda’s national team for the Africa Cup of Nations, the continental championship that begins Saturday in Gabon. Uganda, which is in the tournament for the first time since 1978, is a heavy underdog. Yet despite Sredojevic’s best efforts to focus on the task ahead, news of the expansion, which could benefit smaller federations like Uganda’s, filtered through anyway.” NY Times


Serie A 2016/2017: Half Season Review

January 19, 2017

“The first match-day of 2017 coincided with the conclusion of the first half of the 2016/2017 Serie A championship. Or, rather, it should have coincided, since the Italian Super Cup and the snow of this cold start of the year, mixed up the schedule with Juventus, AC Milan, Crotone, Bologna, Fiorentina and Pescara played a game less than the others did. The symbolic turning point of the season remains the best moment to make a partial appraisal of the championship and having fun making some predictions about the league outcomes.” Stats Bomb


Races tighten in La Liga, Serie A; Manchester City stumbles again

January 19, 2017

“While the Bundesliga continues to remain on break, the title races came alive in two of Europe’s other preeminent leagues as Real Madrid and Juventus both slumped to surprise defeats to reignite the drama atop La Liga and Serie A. In England, Pep Guardiola has more problems to deal with at Manchester City, which is now out of the Champions League spots and 10 points behind Chelsea in the Premier League. Meanwhile, there is a new owner in Ligue 1 at one of France’s clubs hoping to rebound and rediscover greatness. This is what caught our eye around Europe this weekend. SI


Algeria 1-2 Tunisia: Afcon 2017 – as it happened

January 19, 2017

“After an even first half, Tunisia emerged the stronger for the second half and were in total control after Naïm Sliti’s penalty made it 2-0. Sofiane Hanni’s goal made the last few minutes edgy for Tunisia, but an Algeria equaliser would have been deeply unfair. Algeria are not out yet, but they will need to beat Senegal, and hope Zimbabwe overcome Tunisia, to stand any chance. On today’s evidence, that’s unlikely. All credit to Tunisia, who lacked star names, but delivered the superior team performance.” Guardian


Afcon 2017: wider spread of talent makes winner impossible to predict

January 19, 2017

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Riyad Mahrez, Diedonnei Mbokani, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Mohamed Salah are among the stars at the Africa Cup of Nations.
“The pattern has become familiar: a country wins the right to host a tournament and there is excitement, then come doubts about costs and readiness, but in the days before the event, the negativity falls away and excitement takes over. Not here. In 2015, Gabon stepped in to replace Libya as the hosts because of the conflict there but, as the 31st Africa Cup of Nations approaches, there is a clear sense a significant proportion of the country does not want it to happen.” Guardian – Jonathan Wilson


FIFA to Expand World Cup to 48 Teams in 2026

January 19, 2017

“The World Cup will grow to 48 teams within a decade under a plan approved unanimously on Tuesday by FIFA’s governing council, an enormous expansion of soccer’s showpiece tournament that was hailed by supporters as a victory for inclusion but that was derided by critics as the latest money grab by an organization still emerging from a series of financial scandals. The move, which will take effect in 2026, was the largest expansion, in percentage terms, for the World Cup since it went to 24 teams from 16 in 1982, and the first since it moved to the current 32-nation format in 1998.” NY Times


Untold Declines: The Tragic Demise of Alemannia Aachen

January 19, 2017

“Show a young football fan the final standings of the 2006/07 Bundesliga and I’m sure they’d be shocked at its differences from the current campaign. Recently relegated Stuttgart are champions. There’s no Hoffenheim, only just promoted from the 3rd division. Red Bull are still two years away from creating Leipzig. European giants Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund languish in 4th and 9th. Mönchengladbach are rock bottom with just twenty-six points to their name. Arguably the biggest question though concerns the identity of the team one place above die Fohlen; Aachener TSV Alemannia 1900.” Outside of the Boot


Everton – Pressure Drop

January 19, 2017

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“Although Everton reached two domestic cup semi-finals in 2015/16 (something the club had not done since 1984), their performances were disappointing in the Premier League, as they finished 11th for the second successive season. As chairman Bill Kenwright observed, ‘Ultimately, our final league positions over the last two seasons were not good enough.’ This culminated in the decision to sack manager Roberto Martinez, replacing him with former Dutch international Ronald Koeman, who was tempted to leave Southampton for the project at Everton.” The Swiss Ramble


Tactical Analysis: Villarreal 1-1 Barcelona | Los Cules held yet again by another masterful defensive display

January 19, 2017

“Two of La Liga’s top sides clashed in this encounter as the Yellow Submarine looked to continue their promising start to the season and cement their place in next season’s Champions League. In contrast, Barcelona came into this game in what could only be described as disappointing form in comparison to their usually high standards. 6 points off leaders Real Madrid who had a game in hand, a win was essential if they wanted to maintain any chance of winning their third straight league title.” Outside of the Boot


Tactical Analysis: Sevilla 3-3 Real Madrid | Record breaking Real pushed to the limit

January 19, 2017

“Real Madrid had turned in one of their most comprehensive performances of the season in thumping Sevilla 3-0 last mid-week in the reverse fixture of this Copa del Rey Round of 16 match. The two were set to meet again on Sunday in the league, and with Sevilla able to pull within three points of Los Blancos, manager Jorge Sampaoli opted for a decidedly rotated squad, leaving out the likes of Franco Vazquez, Steven N’Zonzi, Nico Pareja and Mariano. Zinedine Zidane did likewise, with Luka Modric and Cristiano Ronaldo not making the squad and Karim Benzema being restricted to a twenty minute cameo.” Outside of the Boot


Tactical Philosophy: Vincenzo Montella

January 4, 2017

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“Born in Castello di CisternaItaly, Montella has represented his country in 20 international games. He is nicknamed L’Aeroplanino, in reference to his small stature and trademark goal celebration, in which he spread his arms like wings. Montella began his managerial career as Roma’s caretaker manager in 2011, later coaching Catania the following season. In 2012, he moved to Fiorentina, where he spent three seasons, leading the club to three consecutive fourth-place league finishes, the 2014 Coppa Italia Final, and the UEFA Europa League semi-finals in 2015. Despite a successful stint at La Viola, he was sacked as he failed to reach the Champions League spots and he was accused of lack of respect shown to the Fiorentina powers. The following season he joined Sampdoria before going on to join Milan in 2016.” Outside of the Boot


Germany’s ‘second wave’ is giving more opportunities to young coaches

January 4, 2017

“The revolving door of Premier League management turned again with Bob Bradley’s sacking from Swansea City. For the second December running, first-team coach Alan Curtis has been appointed as interim boss as the Swans search for the right man to keep them up. Were this situation played out in Germany, then Curtis would stand a better chance of getting the job full-time – as shown by recent events at Augsburg. It probably slipped under your footballing radar that the Bundesliga club promoted youth team coach Manuel Baum to be in charge of first-team matters on a permanent basis.” the set pieces


Tactical Analysis: Watford 1 – 1 Crystal Palace – Mazzarri’s tactical change stopped Sam Allardyce from winning his first game as the new manager of Crystal Palace

January 4, 2017

“Mazzari’s Watford welcomed Crystal Palace and their new manager Sam Allardyce or ‘Big Sam’ as many choose to call him, to Vicarage Road. This was a game with lots of differences between the two teams. The continuously imposing multinational Watford with Mazzari and his Italian-inspired football, against Crystal Palace and their more British-inspired squad and football philosophy with the nowadays coach Sam Allardyce at the forefront.” Outside of the Boot


Book review: Preston North End – The Rise of the Invincibles by Michael Barrett and David Sque

January 4, 2017

“Ostensibly, this is the story of the 1888-89 unbeaten double-winning Preston North End team in comic book form. As it is, there’s enough reason right there to dive straight in. After all, there’s not a lot to dislike, especially given that the artist responsible for the illustrations is David Sque, who worked on Roy of the Rovers. But let’s take it up a notch. This graphic novel by Michael Barrett – born minutes away from Deepdale – tells not only the tale of the immortal 1888-89 season but also the rise of the professional game as we know it, and the growth of the cotton industry against the socio-economic backdrop of the rise of the working classes in northern England in the late Victorian era.” Football Pink


All Guns Blazing: The Sutton United Story

January 4, 2017

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“Matt Tubbs has been here before. The journeyman striker made his name with goals in FA Cup giant-killings for both Salisbury and Crawley Town before going on to enjoy a league career with the likes of Bournemouth and Portsmouth. Now he is back in that familiar role as the spearhead of an overachieving non-league side as his new club Sutton United prepare to take on one of his former teams, AFC Wimbledon, in the FA Cup third round. There may be an element of familiarity about it all for Tubbs, but there is no disguising his excitement as he sizes up the task facing Sutton in front of a sell-out 5,000-strong crowd at the Borough Sports Ground this Saturday.” the set pieces


Celtic’s rivals face mission impossible; Rob Maclean picks his team of the (half) year

January 4, 2017

“The big problem for Rangers and Aberdeen in trying to play Scottish Premiership catch-up is that runaway leaders Celtic are no sitting target. Manager Brendan Rodgers had some chilling words for the chasing pack after Celtic ended 2016 with their third Old Firm win of the season so far. If they beat St Johnstone in their first game after the winter break, they’ll be 22 points clear at the top after 21 matches. Rodgers says his team, already far too good for any domestic challenge, will be even better on the back of the January shutdown. Celtic will aim to get the title won at what could be a ridiculously early stage, take their first steps towards completing a treble and further strengthen the squad for another crack at the Champions League next season.” BBC


Tactical Analysis: Southampton 1-4 Tottenham | Tottenham bypass the press

January 4, 2017

“Mauricio Pochettino’s Tottenham Hotspur travelled to a buoyant St.Mary’s on Wednesday night, with a view of winning their first away game since their 2-1 win at Riverside over Middlesbrough. Spurs, who have lost only two games this season – the least in the league, alongside Liverpool and Chelsea, were also on the lookout for their third consecutive win following their disappointing loss to Manchester United at Old Trafford.” Outside of the Boot