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
“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
“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
“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
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
“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
“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
“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 displayJanuary 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
“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