↑ Paco Alcacer (Borussia Dortmund and Spain) 10 goals on 10 shots for club and country this season, Spain 2-3 England UEFA Nations League, League A: Group 4
↑ Raheem Sterling (Manchester City and England) 2 goals in Spain 2-3 England UEFA Nations League, League A: Group 4
↓ Iceland national team 3 losses in UEFA Nations League with 11 goals against
The Dutch international who also played for Ajax, Sampdoria, Inter Milan and Botafogo in Brazil has had an at best indifferent coaching career. He took his first coaching job at Milan and quit his playing career in Brazil to answer the call of his former team. His record was only 11 wins in 22 matches and he lasted only half a season after he had replaced the fired Massimiliano Allegri. He also failed to rescue Deportivo La Coruna from relegation. In between his two European jobs he spent a short in China coaching Shenzhen F.C. where he failed in promoting the club.
Ironically the man who replaced him at Shenzhen F.C., Sven-Goran Eriksson, had been mentioned as Cameroon’s first choice but the The Indomitable Lions failed to agree terms with the veteran Swede.
Patrick Kluivert will assist Seedorf with the Africa Cup of Nations less than a year away. The 2019 edition of the competition is being held in the summer for the first time and starts next June with Cameroon as hosts.
The FIFA World Cup is starting in less than 24 hours on June 14, 2018. One of the powerhouses and favorites to win the trophy has just made a coaching change that has the potential to change the status of the team from favorites to perhaps less so.
Spain fired Julen Lopetegui with two days to go to Spain’s crucial first match vs Portugal. The coach agreed to take over the vacant Real Madrid head coaching position while in Russia preparing for the month long tournament.
It is still somewhat unlikely that Spain’s group stage position is under threat, here is one set predictions for the World Cup (teams in bold to progress)
Germany – Brazil
The Final is to be a repeat of the 2014 World Cup semi final where Germany humiliated the hosts 7-1!
FIFA has released the names of the referees and assistant referees who will take charge of games at World Cup 2018. The list currently contains 36 referees and 63 assistant referees. The VAR (Video Assistant Referees) will also be chosen from these 99.
FIFA chooses referees based on “skills and personality, as well as his level of understanding of football and ability to read both the game and the various tactics employed by teams” and the final list is chosen after three years of seminars that concentrate on fair game, consistency and protecting players.
There are more workshops and seminars to come after which the decisions will be made as to who will be the first ever VARs at a World Cup.
The list of referees does not include any from the United Kingdom, that is a first in 80 years. Mark Clattenburg who would be the leading UK candidate is now working in Saudi Arabia and was not picked.
The referee list includes five from Asia, five from Africa, five from north and central America, five from south America, two from Oceania and 10 from Europe. The assistant referee list includes three from Oceania, 10 each from Asia and Africa, eight from north and central America, 12 from south America and 20 from Europe.
It is hoped that the use VAR will improve the game and cut down on mistakes while not overly delaying games or disrupting the flow of play too long. Recent uses in some leagues have led to confusion and in a few cases offenses not being caught even after review!
France’s record at the World Cup has been very mixed. The French national team finished third at World Cup 1958 in Sweden. The team featuring Just Fontaine provided France with a golden era that was not repeated until decades later. Michel Platini was the star of the rising French team in the 80s that won the UEFA European Championship in 1984 and was semi finalists at the 1982 and 1986 World Cups in Spain and Mexico respectively. There was another shoter lull but Zinedine Zidane and others, including the current coach Didier Deschamps, made for another golden era that had its climax when winning the World Cup at home in 1998 and the European Championship in 2000. The up and down nature of the team, too often mired in squad controversy and divisions, meant a group stage exit in Wold Cup 2002, followed by a runner up spot in 2006 and another group stage exit in 2010.
The current version of the national team is certainly very talented but that hasn’t always proven to be enough. Below are some of the names that illustrate the depth and the quality of the current crop of French players.
Hugo Lloris Goalkeeper at Tottenham, can make occasional costly mistakes but the team captain is solid.
Alphonse Areola Goalkeeper at PSG, a home grown relative low cost player among the expensive stars assembled in Paris.
Laurent Koscielny Veteran defender at Arsenal, provides leadership.
Raphael Varane Young defender at Real Madrid, had a fast rise to stardom, now considered a solid player.
N’Golo Kante One of the best defensive midfielders of the recent past, virtual unknown until three years ago.
Paul Pogba Most expensive player and arguably most hyped player but having a hard time getting game time at Manchester United this season under Jose Mourinho.
Antoine Griezmann The world class goal scorer opted to stay at Atletico Madrid, more than a few teams willing to pay an enormous sum for him.
Kylian Mbappe Fast rise to stardom at Monaco, left to PSG for an initial loan to be made permanent after the World Cup for €145 million plus €35 million in bonuses and add ons. Still a teenager.
The list doesn’t include Karim Benzema, the sometimes prolific Real Madrid forward, due his ongoing exclusion because of the black mail case involving his national team mate Mathieu Valbuena.
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, 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 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.
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.