>> Thursday, September 10, 2009
unlike LGM's new favorite South Carolina Republican.
Note: I will standardize the home / away nomenclature to the European norm of home team first. I know this is socialist, it makes me appear unpatriotic, a hater of America, and, worse, a Democrat. I'll cope somehow, but I expect my daughter will be routinely beat up in school.
Except she will attend a British school . . .
This match was closer than it should have been, but in general with the USMNT and this stage of CONCACAF qualifying, this can be said about most matches. I like that Ricardo Clark, he of the red card in the 1-3 defeat against Italy this past summer fame, scored what was by all accounts a cracking goal. Donovan with the assist, added to his two assists against El Salvador . . . when is he going to return to Europe?
Donovan appeared to enjoy his loan spell with Bayern Munich last winter, unlike his previous two forays in the Bundesliga. A good friend of mine back in Plymouth, a German Bayern supporter, was thrilled to have him and thought his was a class addition. Allegedly, the sticking point for a permanent deal was the transfer fee expected by the Galaxy and the MLS. Donovan had a great Confederations Cup this past summer, and his form in WC quals has been equally excellent. For the sake of his career and the US MNT, it's time Donovan returns to one of the top 5 European leagues, and allow David Beckham to assume the mantle of the "best player on the LA Galaxy".
You can find additional succinct analysis of the T&T match here.
The current CONCACAF table, with two matches remaining, has the US on top, a point ahead of Mexico. The US are close to qualification now: a win against Honduras will do it, a Costa Rica defeat will do it, or draws by each in the next round will do it. Yes Mexico are resurgent, which isn't too surprising really. Their defeat of Honduras 1-0 was critical. Apparently dumping SGE has made the difference.
Briefly, in South America things are interesting. With two matches to go, Argentina do occupy the 5th place spot, which I hinted at as a distinct possibility in my previous soccer post. In the unlikely event that they do miss out on South Africa, it would be the first time since 1970 they have missed a finals . . . but that master
of the hand of god tactician Maradona vows to fight on. With Peru, already eliminated, and Uraguay their remaining matches, they should qualify at least for the playoff against the 4th team from CONCACAF.
Qualification in Europe is drawing to a close as well. There aren't many surprises at this stage, save for England's absolutely dominant qualification performance. This is a side that perennially disappoints (which is partially a function of the unrealistically high expectations the English and the English media set for the national side) and couldn't even qualify for the Europeans in 2008 (I watched that final match against Croatia in one of my locals . . . and the second I saw the McClaren umbrella pose reckoned he was done.) I'm not an England supporter (nor am I a detractor), but follow the side out of necessity, and this qualification run has been sublime. They haven't dropped a point in eight matches, qualifying perfect with two matches to go (against sides who have both been eliminated). What is remarkable is the manner in which England simply destroyed Croatia in their two meetings during this qualification round: it was Croatia who ended their Europe 2008 campaign. 5-1 on Wednesday, as well as wining 4-1 away to Croatia last September (the sublime Theo Walcott hat-trick match) . . . these are scorelines that the English aren't all that used to. Even against Andorra. Credit has to be given to Fabio Capello. They core of the team isn't all that different from the debacle of the 2008 campaign -- the management is. As I am due to return to that island early next week, I anticipate a wet, yet strangely optimistic, English people upon my return.
This creates an aside I would like to explore some day. We know from sabermetrics that managers in baseball have, at best, the slightest of marginal influence on the outcomes -- at least that we have been able to observe and measure. In soccer, it seems to me that the manager can make a significant difference. I'm open to suggestions as to how to go about measuring and testing this theory.
Group 1 in Europe will see one of Denmark, Sweden, or Portugal not qualify. Given the remaining schedules, I see Portugal making it through to at least the second place playoff, and it will come down to the match between Denmark and Sweden. Tough group, this one.
Group 3 is a real surprise: it looks as though neither of the favorites (Czech Republic or Poland) will qualify. Both were present at Germany 2006. Leo Beehakker gets the sack by Poland (it's good that they didn't qualify, because I bristle as the British policy of consistently mispronouncing his name) and yet Northern Ireland, whom I do support as part of my small "if not the USA"collection of national sides, have not yet been mathematically eliminated, but it would take a miracle. If they beat the Czechs away, while Slovenia drop five points against Slovakia and the mighty San Marino . . . hey, it's away to San Marino. Er, when was the last time San Marino picked up a single point in the qualification for anything? Holy crap, it has happened. A draw at home to Turkey in 1993? The little mountaintop that could . . . should the likely happen, Northern Ireland not qualify, and Worthington get the sack, can I be cheeky enough to propose Neil Lennon as his replacement?
Group 5 have Bosnia & Herzegovina possibly edging out both Turkey and Belgium for the second place playoff spot (the latter are already eliminated). France find themselves second to Serbia in Group 7, the Republic of Ireland may finish second in Group 8.
Finally, neither Scotland nor Wales qualified. The latter isn't surprising. Nor is the former, unless you're Scottish. Like England, I don't really support Scotland. However, as I support a Scottish club, the vast, vast majority of the members of the Celtic Supporters Club Plymouth are oddly Scottish, hence I've watched a few matches with the lads down the pub, and it's another case of I can't help but follow them through association. A 0-1 home defeat to Holland eliminated Scotland, and has likely cost George Burley his job. Why, I'm not sure; I've liked him since his remarkable half-season with Hearts in 2005-06 where it looked like Hearts would split the Old Firm in the SPL (if not finish 1st), and more realistically, who is available to replace him?
Oh, I know. Berti Vogts could be pried away from Azerbaijan to have a second go at managing Scotland.
UPDATE: find a more thorough analysis of the state of UEFA qualification over here.