March 2018 Friendly Matches

With less than three months to go World Cup 2018 in Russia teams around the world use the FIFA international dates to prepare for the games. The March international break will be busy with many teams playing two or even games. The next times teams play friendlies will be in May and days before the World Cup starts.

In other news:
Te use of VAR (Video Assistant Referee) was given the final seal of approval and it is deemed ready for Russia.
Neymar has undergone surgery for a broken metatarsal and will miss three months. He is due to be ready on the eve of the World Cup but not before.

Below are some of the bigger friendly matches scheduled for this period.

March 23, 2018
Russia – Brazil
Germany – Spain
Italy – Argentina
Netherlands – England
France – Colombia
Portugal – Egypt
Poland – Nigeria

March 26, 2018
Portugal – Netherlands

March 27, 2018
Nigeria – Serbia
Russia – France
Spain – Netherlands
Germany – Brazil
England – Italy
Spain – Argentina

England At World Cup 2018

England, the so called inventor and home of football, have struggled at the international stage. The record of the English national team at the World Cup and European Championship is at best disappointing. The UEFA European Championship has never been won and the World Cup was last won at home in 1966. The best result since has been the being the semi finalists at Italia 90. At Brazil 2014 England finished last in a group featuring Costa Rica, Uruguay and Italy.

The road to Russia 2018 has been smooth on the pitch but anything but off of it. England took 26 out of 30 point in qualifying but went through two coaches after Sam Allardyce left the team after one game as coach due to malpractice issues. Gareth Southgate, the then under 21 coach, replaced Allardyce.

The coach, no matter who he is, faces many questions in finding ready players. The English Premiership doesn’t always help in developing English players so choices and options will not offer the best possible. Goalkeeping has been one of the most difficult. The recent first choice, Joe Hart, has been struggling at West Ham following time in Italy and after being discarded at Manchester City. Jordan Pickford is a young goalkeeper at Everton and is still relatively inexperienced. Others considered are Stoke City’s Jack Butland, Southampton’s Fraser Forster and Burnley’s Tom Heaton. All are the right age perhaps but neither is really experienced at international level.

Other positions are also not filled with players that are sure to inspire confidence. In defence the likes of Gary Cahill and John Stones can be good on their day but are also mistake prone. In midfield there is a mix of every kind of player from an Eric Dier to a Jesse Lingard and from a Dele Alli to a Fabian Delph. Good but not world beaters. Harry Kane has been prolific at club level for Tottenham and will need to be healthy and continue scoring for English as well. Jamie Vardy, Marcus Rashford and Raheem Sterling will all need to be at their best for England to have a chance to move forward in Russia.

Whether Southgate can find the player and achieve something more and whether the players can minimize mistakes are all big questions to be answered this June.

Germany At World Cup 2018

Germany is of course one of the favourites to win in Russia. Being a world power and World Cup holders are just one of the many reasons for being a top contender for World Cup 2018.

Germany’s national team boasts a large pool of talent who are almost all 30 years or younger. The reset and planning that the German football association (DFB) along with Bundesliga clubs worked on after disappointments between 1998 and 2004 is still producing results at most levels of football. Academies were opened and work on tactical and mental aspects of the game restarted. Money was spent on regional centers. Youth development – crucially agreed up on by the clubs – and training and coaching modernization has meant a steady supply of very capable players that generated successes and culminated with a World Cup win in 2014.

The team that will travel to Russia this June is very deep and very talented. The midfield of the team is filled with great players who have vast experience without being old. Here are some names with the number of international caps, goals and most if not all are regulars at big club level.

Sami Khedira Juventus 30 years old, 72 caps, 7 goals previously at Real Madrid and Stuttgart

Toni Kroos Real Madrid 28, 80, 12 previously at Bayern Munich and Bayer Leverkusen

Mesut Ozil Arsenal 29, 88, 22 previously at Real Madrid, Werder Bremen and Schalke

Ilkay Gundogan Manchester City 27, 22, 4 previously at Borussia Dortmund

Julian Draxler PSG 24, 40, 6 previously at Wolfsburg and Schalke

Emre Can Liverpool 24, 20, 1 previously at Bayer Leverkusen and Bayern Munich

Julian Weigl Borussia Dortmund 22, 5, 0 previously at 1860 Munich

Leon Goretzka Schalke 23, 12, 6 leaving to Bayern Munich in summer 2018

Sebastian Rudy Bayern Munich 28, 24, 1 previously at 1899 Hoffenheim

This depth of talent will be complemented by forwards such as Thomas Muller and Timo Werner and defenders such as Joshua Kimmich, Mats Hummels and Jerome Boateng along with Manuel Neuer and Marc-Andre ter Stegen in goal to showcase the team to beat.

100 Days To World Cup 2018

The countdown to the World Cup is down to 100 days. On June 14th 2018 the World Cup starts in Russia. The 32 qualified teams will have a series of friendlies later in March and later in the Spring as preparations reach the final stage.

In Russia itself a new aspect of the game is set to dominate the discussions before and surely during and after games. The introduction of the Video Assistant Referee (VAR) has been made official and it’s use in leagues around the world and last year’s Confederations Cup have been mixed at best. The issue of missing a goal where the ball has just crossed the goal line was handled or solved by goal line technology. Now VAR has added four more broad situations where separate referees sitting in a video room can consult with the on pitch referee to correct any possible mistakes.

The four are:

    • Goals, to check if there was any problems during the buildup to them
    • Penalty decisions, to check if one should be given
    • Red cards, if deserved or should be given
    • Mistaken identity in issuing red or yellow cards

So far there have been cases where hand balls in the penalty box or offsides have been missed even after consulting video or when the delay has disrupted the game. Offsides have long been a case where improvements have been required, whether VAR is the solution is somewhat arguable. Assistant referees can do a better job by themselves but video will help.

Controversy is a sure thing but this time it can look different.

Taskade: Lists And Notes

Taskade is an online “lists made easy” tool.

The interface is a simple themed one, after signing up one can start creating lists right away. The background is set to show random images – the theme option is at the bottom left of the window – but can be changed to a solid colour or one of available images, there is no option to choose one’s own. The interface features folders or collections listed on the left hand side and shown and expanded on the right. One can create checklists, free form notes and outlines. It is of course primarily meant as a place to drop in to do lists and ideas.

Lists can be starred and adding the # sign in front of any text creates a hashtag, there doesn’t seem to be a search function and finding other notes or lists with the same hashtag requires clicking on one. The keyboard shortcuts illustrate some of the other features of Taskade such as indenting text, highlighting text and changing them to mark as complete (strikeout), bold, underline or italic. A to do list will show a progress bar tracking the completion of items in it. Selecting or clicking on any text brings up a formatting menu as well with options like changing the text to a heading type.

On sharing and collaboration, it is possible to send any list or note via email, embedding it on a page or sharing its link. It is also possible to invite others to view the note and work on it as a team.

Taskade can be downloaded for Windows and Mac computers or alternatively be used as a Chrome or Firefox extension or addon.

It is currently free with a premium version with support for file attachment and others features to come soon. There will be Taskade iOS and Android apps in the near future.

Brazil At World Cup 2018

Tite and Brazil will seek some redemption in Russia

Overcoming the disappointment and humiliation of the semi final exit at home at World Cup 2014 will haunt Brazil forever. This, a country, which still lives with the 1950 final loss to Uruguay. The still unbelievable 7-1 loss to Germany four years ago is something few but locals understand and even after reading tales and books on it and on the 1950 World Cup and their aftermath one is told that it is impossible to feel how the people and country feel.

Fast forward to 2018 and a new much heralded coach is finally in charge. Tite, finally accepted and left his job at Corinthians to take charge of the Selecao in 2016. The team surged up the CONMEBOL (the South American Football Confederation) qualification group to reach Russia 2018 comfortably. He brought in players like Paulinho (now at Barcelona and playing in the Chinese league at that time) seen by most as a flop while at Tottenham in the English Premiership. He created a not so much new look team but one which played differently. His loyalty and personality that focuses on team moral seems to have played a major part in the change and probably just as much as any tactical changes (Brazil play a 4-1-4-1 or a 4-3-3).

One surprising aspect of that loyalty is that Tite has announced that he knows at least 15 of the 23 players going to Russia, some four months before the World Cup starts.

  • Alisson, Roma Goalkeeper
  • Dani Alves, PSG
  • Marquinhos, PSG
  • Thiago Silva, PSG
  • Miranda, Inter Milan
  • Marcelo, Real Madrid
  • Casemiro, Real Madrid
  • Fernandinho, Manchester City
  • Willian, Chelsea
  • Renato Augusto, Beijing Guoan
  • Paulinho, Barcelona
  • Coutinho, Barcelona
  • Neymar, PSG
  • Roberto Firmino, Liverpool
  • Gabriel Jesus, Manchester City

These 15 will be complemented by the likes of Ederson (Manchester City), Alex Sandro (Juventus), Jemerson (Monaco), Casemiro (Real Madrid) and Fred (Shakhtar Dontesk) to form a great team, on paper and on the pitch. A lot will still depend on the form and temperament of Neymar but Russia provides one early chance at overcoming the pains of 2014.

CONCACAF League of Nations

The need to “maximize the quality, quantity and frequency of competitive matches” has  pushed the CONCACAF region to create an UEFA Nations League style regular match up tournament for the teams in the North American, Central American and Caribbean regions. The idea was proposed late last year.

As reported the match ups and precise format will be unveiled soon. The dates of the matches will have to be the official FIFA international dates therefore the different countries will meet in the inaugural version of the tournament in early September 2018. There are 41 member teams and they will be placed in three leagues which like the European version will features relegation and promotion. It will also feature a chance to qualify for the Gold Cup, the region’s national team competition.


Best Non-European/South American Team

Can Mexico do better than round of 16 in Russia?

In soccer or football European and South American teams are the strongest of course. At the World Cup all winners and teams that dominate have come, with few exceptions, from these two continents. But outside of these regions which team can be considered the best or strongest?

Historically the most consistent answer has been Mexico, currently ranked 17th in the FIFA rankings. Being the strongest in the CONCACAF Central/North American zone has allowed the team to qualify for the World Cup regularly but the team’s record at the World Cup has not been much to brag about. The furthest the Mexicans have advanced is the quarter finals in the two times they hosted the World Cup, 1970 and 1986. In the last six World Cups the Mexican team has fallen in the first knock out round after the group stage. World Cup 2018 might not be any different. The team didn’t have the easiest of qualifications and even though that often means little the team’s group will be a tough one. Mexico drawn in Group F with Germany, Sweden and South Korea will likely have to settle for second at best and that could mean a meeting with Brazil in the first knock out round (Group E features Brazil, Switzerland, Costa Rica and Serbia)

What about the other teams? The latest January 2018 FIFA rankings, such as they are, rank the other qualified teams as follows:

27-Costa Rica
59-South Korea
65-Saudi Arabia

It is hard to see any of these teams making it far in Russia. It is not impossible that only Mexico makes it out of the group stage. Senegal, in form, could create a minor shock and survive at the expense of one of Poland or Colombia in Group H. The other groups don’t leave much hope. Perhaps Egypt can create another shock and survive instead of the hosts or Uruguay in Group A? Not very likely.

World Cup 2018 might go according to conventional form and leave all non-European and South Americans behind.

The Next Italian Coach

Luigi Di Biagio in charge of the Azzurri, for now

After the Giampiero Ventura era which ended with the disaster of not qualifying for World Cup 2018 and the federation’s failure to elect a new president the  transitional phase for Italian football and the national team remains deep in uncertainty. For the time being Luigi Di Biagio, the former and current U21 coach, has been put in caretaker charge of the Azzurri for the up coming friendlies (against Argentina on March 23, England on March 27 and France on June 1) in the spring.
Di Biagio, the former Roma and Inter Milan midfielder, has had a relative poor record as U21 and U20 coach. Such as it is Di Biagio will is a candidate to get the job full time, his case will be helped by good friendly results but even without that the choices are not all that plentiful. Several players retired after the qualifying failure and there is room for new blood. The conditions have changed but it is debatable if the attitude has.
Antonio Conte, Carlo Ancelotti, Roberto Mancini and Claudio Ranieri are the big known names that come to most minds automatically.
Conte is unlikely to accept a return to a national team job. Chelsea are not at their best as of right now but even if he does quit the London team he has options such as a rumoured PSG link.
Ancelotti might seem a natural choice as he is out of a job since being sacked by Bayern Munich. He has a long club coaching career behind him but it is somewhat doubtful that a return to club football is not in the cards.
Roberto Mancini is doing well at Zenit and may be unwilling to leave a lucrative job in Russia for a rebuilding team.
Ranieri rebuilt his reputation at Leicester in England but had been a failure at national team level with Greece just before achieving that miracle in England.
The other names that are obvious in name and reputation are Juventus’ Massimiliano Allegri and Napoli’s Maurizio Sarri. It is also doubtful they could be convinced to let go of a club coaching job. Sampdoria’s Marco Giampaolo is an upcoming coach who has done well with his team, currently sixth in the Serie A. Could he be one option? A surprise name perhaps but who? The answer will probably only arrive in the summer.

Ronald Koeman Takes Charge of Holland National Team

After 20 years working at club level (except an early time as the Holland national team’s assistant coach) Ronald Koeman has become Holland National team’s coach.

The Dutch’s fortunes have faded in recent years. The team did reach the final of World Cup 2010 in South Africa – losing to Spain – and was a semi finalist four years later in Brazil. Holland, however,  didn’t qualify for Euro 2016 and suffered three losses out of three at Euro 2012 and didn’t survive the group stage. The team has had previous highs in the 1970s with Cruyff and co reaching successive World Cup finals and in the late 1980s and 1990s with Milan’s Dutch trio and Koeman himself helping the team win Euro 1988.

Ronald Koeman has won many club trophies as player and manager. With both Ajax and PSV in his homeland and four La Liga titles with the great Barcelona teams of the early 1990s, among others. As manager he led PSV to one title and Ajax to two. His last coaching job was at Everton where the team disappointed after spending big, he was fired after lasting just over one year.

Now he ventures into his first head coaching role at national team level. He replaces Dick Advocaat who was briefly in charge in 2017 having replaced Danny Blind. Both failed to help the team qualify for World Cup 2018.

The national team’s biggest goalscorers and best players are in their 30s now with Arjen Robben, Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, Robin van Persie and Wesley Sneijder very much of the past. Younger players are either not as good or haven’t convinced or been consistent. The likes of Memphis Depay (Lyon), Vincent Janssen (Fenerbahce on loan from Tottenham), Bruno Martins Indi (Stoke City) were expected to be well above their current value. It remains to be seen if others like Rick Karsdorp (Roma), Marco van Ginkel (PSV on loan from Chelsea) and Quincy Promes (Spartak Moscow) can add more to the team going forward. Virgil van Dijk (Liverpool), currently the most expensive defender ever, has to as well.

UEFA Nations League starts in September. Koeman and Holland’s first game is on September 9 in France (Germany being the other team in the three team group). Before that there are also friendlies to play. Two are currently scheduled, versus England on March 23 and Portugal on March 26.