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.

 

Best Players Not At World Cup 2018

Alexis Sanchez and Chile missing from World Cup 2018

A number of high profile teams or those with history at the World Cup failed to qualify for World Cup 2018. Any World Cup includes a few such teams and this time is no different. Of course Italy is number one in this edition’s list but others like the USA, Holland, Chile, Cameroon, Ivory Coast and Ghana are surprising missing teams too.

Italy fell to Sweden in the UEFA playoffs. Holland finished only third in the qualifying group that included Sweden and France. USA missed out by finishing a shocking fifth, behind Honduras, in the CONCAFAF hexagonal. Chile finished 6th in CONMEBOL qualifying. Cameroon finished third in the CAF final stage behind Nigeria and Zambia, Ivory Coast fell at the same stage to Morocco and Ghana was third behind Egypt and Ghana.

The following are some of the best players that are missing out on possible glory in Russia.

Italy
Lorenzo Insigne. Not often used by various coaches but a creative force for the Azzurri nevertheless.
Ginaluigi Buffon. Missed out on a chance to leave the pitch at the highest level.

USA
Christian Pulisic. One of the young stars of world football, the now 19 year old could have made a bigger name for himself.

Holland
Virgil van Dijk. Lost the chance to showcase why he is the world’s most expensive defender, having just joined Liverpool (from Celtic) for €85 million.

Chile
Alexis Sanchez. Only just joined Manchester United (from Arsenal). One of the best creative and goalscorers in his country’s history.

Cameroon
Clinton N’Jie. Marseille striker could be a bigger star.

Ivory Coast
Eric Bailly. Not always a starter at Manchester United but a solid defender with youth on his side.

Ghana
Thomas Partey. A solid defensive midfielder at Atletico Madrid who can help any team defensively.

Coaches At World Cup 2018

Longest serving coaches: Oscar Tabarez and Joachim Low

Here is a list of the coaches that will guide the 32 teams at World Cup 2018 in Russia. A number of nations are notorious for changing coaches even within months of major competitions. For example Saudi Arabia are on their third national team coach since September 2017. The current coach Juan Antonio Pizzi succeeded Edgardo Bauza who lasted only weeks and was preceded by Bert van Marwijk.

The competition begins on June 14, 2018 and further changes are unlikely but not impossible.

Russia: Stanislav Cherchesov, coach since August 2016, 54 years old. Previously at Legia Warsaw, Dynamo Moscow and others.
Saudia Arabia: Juan Antonio Pizzi, 49. Previously coach of Chile’s national team and several clubs in Mexico, Chile, his native Argentina and a season at Valencia in Spain.
Egypt: Hector Cuper, since March 2015, 62. Previously a successful coach in Europe with Inter Milan, Mallorca, Valencia and others, also briefly coached the Georgia national team.
Uruguay: Oscar Tabarez, since 2006, 70. One of the longest serving coaches at any level. Brief Uruguayan and European club stints in the years prior to 2006.
Portugal: Fernando Santos, since 2014, 63. Many years in the Portuguese and Greek leagues. Has been at all three big Portuguese teams (Benfica, Porto, and Sporting Lisbon) and the Greece national team as coach.
Spain: Julen Lopetegui, since July 2016, 51. Formerly coach of Spain’s U21, U20 and U19 teams.
Morocco: Herve Renard, since February 2016, 49. Coach of two Africa Cup of Nations winners (Zambia and Ivory Coast)
Iran: Carlos Queiroz, since April 2011, 64. Coached Real Mardrid for a season and was assistant at Manchester United under Alex Ferguson. Also coached Portugal and South Africa’s national teams.
France: Didier Deschamps, since July 2012, 49. World Cup winner as player. Coached Monaco, Juventus and Marseille.
Australia: Bert van Marwijk, since this month. Coached his native Holland to the final of World Cup 2010. Replaced the departing Ange Postecoglou.
Peru: Ricardo Gareca, since 2015, 59. Numerous coaching stints around his native Argentina and elsewhere in South America.
Denmark: Age Hareide, since December 2015, 64. A Norwegian who has had success at club level with Rosenberg. Coached his native country in the 2000s.
Argentina: Jorge Sampaoli, since summer 2017, 57. Left the high profile job of coaching Sevilla in Spain to rescue his native country’s faltering qualification for World Cup 2018. Succeeded Edgardo Bauza and Gerardo Martino. Previously coached Chile’s national team.
Iceland: Heimir Hallgrimsson, in sole charge since summer 2016, 50. Previously co-coach with Lars Lagerback.
Croatia: Zlatko Dalic, since October 2017, 51. Controversially replaced Ante Cacic.
Nigeria: Gernot Rohr, since August 2016, 64. Relative unknown who nevertheless has plenty of experience around the African continent.
Brazil: Tite, since June 2016, 56. Wanted as the coach long before he finally accepted following disasters of previous coach, Dunga.
Switzerland: Vladimir Petkovic, since 2014, 54. Previously coached Lazio and clubs in Switzerland and Turkey.
Costa Rica: Oscar Ramirez, since 2015, 53. Short stint as national team assistant and clubs around Costa Rica.
Serbia: Mladen Krstajic, since October 2017, 43. Controversially replaced Slavoljub Muslin after the latter helped secure qualification.
Germany: Joachim Low, since July 2006, 57. Succeeded Jurgen Klinsmann and has won the World Cup and been runners up and semi finalists too.
Mexico: Juan Carlos Osorio since October 2015, 56. Colombian who has held on to his job despite constant pressure. Previously an assistant at Manchester City.
Sweden: Janne Andersson, since 2016, 55. Previously assistant and head coach at several clubs in his native land.
South Korea: Shin Tae-yong, since 2017, 48. Replaced Uli Stielike after the German was on the verge of failing to get the team to World Cup 2018.
Belgium: Roberto Martinez, since August 2016, 44. Surprise choice to replace Marc Wilmots. Brought in Thierry Henry as assistant.
Panama: Hernan Dario Gomez, since February 2014, 61. Colombian previously in charge of the Colombia, Ecuador and Guatemala national teams.
Tunisia: Nabil Maaloul, since April 2017, 55. Succeeded the highly experienced Henryk Kasperczak. Previously coached the national teams at senior and Olympic levels.
England: Gareth Southgate, since September 2016, 47. Former England U21 coach appointed after Sam Allardyce resigned.
Poland: Adam Nawalka, since October 2013, 60. One of the stars of the 1978 World Cup.
Senegal: Aliou Cisse, since 2015, 41. Formerly the U23 coach. As a player some experience in England and France.
Colombia: Jose Pekerman, since January 2012, 71. Highly regarded Argentinian with extensive experience and somewhat strange coaching style, including time as Argentina’s U20 and national teams.
Japan: Vahid Halilhodzic, since March 2015, 65. Replaced Javier Aguirre after the Mexican had to leave due to match fixing issues in Spain. Had success with Algeria at World Cup 2014

The Italian Mess: Italian Football’s Decline

Roberto Baggio was unable to kick start a change in Italian football

The Italian league and the administrators running the league and the teams have been accused of plenty and the teams don’t have the best reputation when it comes to promoting youth, there are exceptions but notables ones like Marco Verratti end up in France to get regular game time.

What some have recognized the Italians need is a more structured youth system. In some other countries like Spain, Portugal and Germany B or II teams of top level teams play in the second or lower divisions. It is also important that the teams realize and agree collectively that youth promotion and emphasis on it can also be cheaper and better. Much like it happened in Germany where Bundesliga teams, in partnership with the federation, took action after German national team’s failures in the late 1990s and early 2000s. As an almost direct result German football rose again and has been consistently successful in the last decade or so.

Attempts have been made in Italy to improve this and to set up such structures. The national team, the Azzurri, have done relatively well at times under good coaching and the talent that is nevertheless plentiful. Winning the World Cup in 2006 and reaching the final of Euro 2012 to name two such successes in the not too distant past. However the negatives and shortcomings have never been eliminated.

Back in 2010 Roberto Baggio, the famous and legendary Italian player, was given the task of reforms within the FIGC (The Italian federation), in particular youth development. He quit less than three years later unable to enact much, the Italian system resisting major changes. Not long after that Carlo Tavecchio was elected to be the president of the federation. Promises were made, crucially of reducing the size of the Serie A to 18 teams from 20. However Tavecchio was also of the old ways and was racist as well, using banana eating to describe some players and later conversations of him regarding gays and jews were leaked as well. His choice to appoint Giampiero Ventura to follow Antonio Conte in 2016 was seen as a mistake and so it proved to be. After the failure to reach the World Cup for the first time in 60 years they both resigned or were forced out.

The elections to replace Tavecchio have now failed to produce a result. After four ballots no one was able to gain the necessary number of votes (50%+ required for the fourth ballot) and the recognized change candidate, former Roma player Damiano Tommasi, fell after the first ballot. Sooner or later someone new will be in charge and the next federation president will have the opportunity to make changes. A proper youth strategy and set up and boldly pushing in a reduction in Serie A’s size to 18 teams to allow for more training and recuperation time plus a less congested fixture list are at least two steps forward. He would also have the important decision of choosing the next national team coach. That coach would hopefully have more ready players at his disposal and uses them well.

World Cup 2018 Serie A Based Players

Italy didn’t qualify for the World Cup for the first time in 60 years. The administration of Italian football has been backward, racist and unable to adapt or see the problems that are in plain site. Having chosen a top level inexperienced national team coach in Giampiero Ventura to lead the national team after Antonio Conte the resulting disasters were almost unbelievably clear and many have been ignored for years before the current failure. The state of the Italian league and the larger questions facing Italian football deserve their own analysis of course.

The Serie A has fallen down the pecking order in European football, from its heights of the 1990s, but still features many stars of world football and is still ranked highly in UEFA tables.

Below is a list of some of the players that are likely to feature for their national teams this summer in Russia. The Azzurri are not going to be there but many Italian based players will be.

Juventus
Medhi Benatia Defender Morocco 30
Juan Cuadrado Midfielder Colombia 29
Gonzalo Higuain Forward Argentina 30
Mario Mandzukic Forward Croatia 31

Napoli
Arkadiusz Milik Forward Poland 23
Piotr Zielinski Midfielder Poland 23
Kalidou Koulibaly Defender Senegal 26

Roma
Radja Nainggolan Midfielder Belgium 29 (Player has been in and out of Belgium’s team under coach Roberto Martinez)
Aleksandar Kolarov Defender Serbia 32
Alisson Becker Goalkeeper Brazil 25

Inter Milan
Ivan Perisic Winger Croatia 28
Yuto Nagatomo Defender Japan 31
Mauro Icardi Forward Argentina 24

AC Milan
Andre Silva Forward Portugal 22
Cristian Zapata Defender Colombia 31
Ricardo Rodriguez Defender Switzerland 25

Lazio
Nani Winger Portugal 31
Sergej Milinkovic-Savic Midfielder Serbia 22

Udinese
Emil Hallfredsson Midfielder Iceland 33

Russian Premier League Based Players

Zenit’s Argentinian Contingent

With the 2018 World Cup taking place in Russia for the first time it is perhaps useful to look at the number of players who play their club football in Russia and specifically the Russian Premier League. It could be that a player who is more familiar with the stadiums, the infrastructure and the nature of football in Russia can feel more comfortable and confident at the World Cup and give his national team a small edge.

Russian football is dominated by the more traditional Moscow based teams like Lokomotiv Moscow, Spartak Moscow and CSKA Moscow. Post Soviet big money and rich ownership has propelled teams into the heights of European football with, briefly, Anzhi Makhachkala, FK Krasnodar and Zenit St. Petersburg helping Russia to 6th place in the UEFA country ranking.

Below is a list of some of the foreign players who play for the aforementioned clubs and others in the Russian Premier League and may represent their country there starting on June 14, 2018.

Manuel Fernandes Central Midfielder Portugal 31 years old Lokomotiv Moscow
Eder Forward Portugal 30 Lokomotiv Moscow
Milad Mohammadi Right back Iran 24 Akhmat Grozny
Sardar Azmoun Forward Iran 23 Rubin Kazan
Jefferson Farfan Winger Peru 33 Lokomotiv Moscow
Emanuel Mammana Defender Argentina 21 Zenit St. Petersburg
Leandro Paredes Central midfielder Argentina 23 Zenit St. Petersburg
Matias Kranevitter Central midfielder Argentina 24 Zenit St. Petersburg
Emiliano Rigoni Winger Argentina 24 Zenit St. Petersburg
Ragnar Sigurdsson Defender Iceland 31 FK Rostov
Sverrir Ingi Ingason Defender Iceland 24 FK Rostov
Mario Pasalic Central midfielder Croatia 22 Spartak Moscow
Vedran Corluka Defender Croatia 31 Lokomotiv Moscow
Bryan Idowu Left back Nigeria 25 Amkar Perm
Aaron Olanare Forward Nigeria 23 CSKA Moscow
Branislav Ivanovic Defender Serbia 33 Zenit St. Petersburg
Andreas Granqvist Defender Sweden 32 FK Krasnodar
Sebastian Holmen Defender Sweden 25 Dinamo Moscow
Viktor Claesson Midfielder Sweden 26 FK Krasnodar
Maciej Rybus Midfielder Poland 28 Lokomotiv Moscow

UEFA Nations League Draw

The draw for the UEFA Nations League was today on January 24th, 2018. As expected League A with top ranked European teams features some hard match ups. In particular Group A Germany, France and Holland should be a good one despite the fact that the latter team has not done well recently and failed to qualify for World Cup 2018 in Russia. Russsia, Sweden and Turkey in League B’s Group 2 should mean interesting competition as well.

Early favorites for the four winners are likely Germany, Portugal, Spain and Belgium in League A. Slovakia, Sweden, Bosnia and Ireland in B. Scotland, Greece, Bulgaria and Serbia in C. Georgia, Belarus, Azerbaijan and Macedonia in D.

It should be fascinating to see which countries get relegated from each League. Perhaps Iceland, Poland and Switzerland are early candidates to fall off League A. Wales, Austria, Turkey and Slovakia from League B and Lithuania and Cyprus at risk in League C.

The league starts in September 2018.

The UEFA Nations League full draw:

League A

Group 1

Germany
France
Netherlands
 

Group 2

Belgium
Switzerland
Iceland
 

Group 3

Portugal
Italy
Poland
 
 

Group 4

Spain
England
Croatia

League B

Group 1

Slovakia
Ukraine
Czech Republic
 

Group 2

Russia
Sweden
Turkey
 

Group 3

Austria
Bosnia and Herzegovina
Northern Ireland

Group 4

Wales
Republic of Ireland
Denmark

League C

Group 1

Scotland
Albania
Israel
 

Group 2

Hungary
Greece
Finland
Estonia

Group 3

Slovenia
Norway
Bulgaria
Cyprus
 

Group 4

Romania
Serbia
Montenegro
Lithuania
 
 

League D

Group 1

Georgia
Latvia
Kazakhstan
Andorra

Group 2

Belarus
Luxembourg
Moldova
San Marino

Group 3

Azerbaijan
Faroe Islands
Malta
Kosovo
 

Group 4

FYR Macedonia
Armenia
Liechtenstein
Gibraltar

The Unruly UEFA Nations League

The now ousted UEFA president Michel Platini brought many ideas to the table, as a former star player his contribution on the pitch was significant and so it has been off the pitch as an administrator. Under his reign the European Championship was spread around to venues around Europe for the 2020 edition, also in an effort to give more importance to so called national team friendly dates he presented the idea of the Nations League, so friendly matches are actually a contest for a new title. Unfortunately as with his other ideas this is a complicated one that has fans scrambling to understand formats and figure out implications for their team and the European Championship tournament.

Back in 2014 the Nations League idea was presented and divided the (now) 55 UEFA members into four leagues. A for the best to D for the worst ranked teams.

Germany, Portugal, Belgium, Spain, France, England, Switzerland, Italy, Poland, Iceland, Croatia, Netherlands are in league A.

Austria, Wales, Russia, Slovakia, Sweden, Ukraine, Republic of Ireland, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Northern Ireland, Denmark, Czech Republic, Turkey in B.

Hungary, Romania, Scotland, Slovenia, Greece, Serbia, Albania, Norway, Montenegro, Israel, Bulgaria, Finland, Cyprus, Estonia, Lithuania in C.

Azerbaijan, FYR Macedonia, Belarus, Georgia, Armenia, Latvia, Faroe Islands, Luxembourg, Kazakhstan, Moldova, Liechtenstein, Malta, Andorra, Kosovo, San Marino, Gibraltar in D.

Teams in league A will be split into four groups of three playing in a home and away format, with the draw on January 24th 2018, the four group winners will then play for the UEFA Nations League title in 2019.

Teams in league B will be in four groups of three as well. The four group winners get promoted to League A and the four sides that finish last relegated to League C.

Teams in league C will be in one group of three and three groups of four. The four group winners get promoted to League B and the four sides that finish last relegated to League D.

Teams in league D will be in four groups of four. The four group winners get promoted to League C.

One team form each group will be able – through a special playoffs in March 2020 – to qualify for the European Championships in that same year. This provides an extra incentive for both strong and weak teams to take these formerly friendly dates more seriously by giving them a route Euros via the Nations League, in addition to the normal Euros qualification process.

Platini’s legacy is still felt even after becoming a victim in the FIFA scandal.

A Look At A 48 Team World Cup

In January 2017 the FIFA Council approved a 48 team World Cup for the 2026 edition. Up from the current 32 teams.

A lot of time is left of course and the host(s) are not chosen yet, though a joint bid by USA, Mexico and Canada is the leading candidate. However increasing the number of countries is almost certain to lower the quality of matches. It is also very difficult to come up with a good format that is not as straightforward as 32 (and other numbers that are power of two)

FIFA has already agreed on the format and the plan is to have 16 groups of three teams with two team advancing. This already  makes the group stage meaningless and arguably unfair. A three group means three games per group, take for example,

Group

Team A

Team B

Team C

Matches

Team A vs Team B

Team B vs Team C

Team A vs Team C

How will a group like this be scheduled without team having more rest days than the other? Or that the last match can have both teams qualifying with a mutually beneficial result.

The allocation is another issue and as mentioned can cause a weakening and dilution of the tournament.

Asia will have 8 slots instead of the current 4.5

Africa 9 instead of 5

North, central America 6 instead 3.5

South America 6 instead of 4.5

Oceania 1 instead of 0.5

Europe 16 instead of 13

Plus 2 more slots in as yet undetermined playoffs, which can depend on the number of hosts as well.

An existing football infrastructure or hosts capable of  building it is another barrier that is at least not lessened by this kind of expansion. It remains to be seen if this effects the number of serious bids that are already few enough as it is. FIFA already requires at least one 80,000 capacity stadium and more with 60,000. The final decision on the hosts is expected in 2020.

World Cup 2018: Stars Of The Group Stage

Mohamed Salah & Harry Kane are set to star at the World Cup

Eight groups and 32 teams. Not necessarily world wide stars but some players will shine in the group stage even though their team might not make it out of the group or perhaps fade after reaching the last 16. Below is a list of sixteen such players, two for each group.

Group A
The hosts, Russia, are not favorites to go far in the World Cup and that would be a failure for the country. Alan Dzagoev could be a star and needs to be for Russia to be a hit.
Egypt’s Mohamed Salah is on fire in the English Premier League and if does anywhere near as well in Russia he will be remembered and revered even more.

Group B
Cristiano Ronaldo led his team to the Euro 2016 championship, though he missed most of the final. His World Cup form has been mixed but he will be the star for Portugal.
Isco is Spain’s rising star and primed to leave a mark at the World Cup stage.

Group C
Antoine Griezmann will likely make a very big move after the World Cup. He can also lead France in the group stage and beyond.
Christian Eriksen can score spectacular goals and his goals can come in bunches as they did in the UEFA qualifying playoffs.

Group D
Lionel Messi left his national team mark when his hat trick rescued the Argentina team. Now he can and will do the same in Russia.
Luka Modric, late in his career, will pull the strings in midfield for Croatia.

Group E
Neymar is now the undisputed star of the Brazil national team. The selecao will live by his tricks and goals.
Keylor Navas in the Costa Rican goal will inspire and lead his team in the group stage.

Group F
Manuel Neuer is the leading figure of the German team. The goalie, sweeper will be one of the headliners of the group stage.
Javier Hernandez will score the goals to lead Mexico in the three group matches and beyond.

Group G
Kevin De Bruyne is at his peak for Manchester City. His pace and talent will create and finish for Belgium.
Harry Kane is the prolific goal scorer than can over English disappointments at the World Cup.

Group H
Robert Lewandowski will star and overcome his national team’s shortcomings to be one of the early stars in Russia.
Juan Cuadrado will create and cross from the midfield and wing for Radamel Falcao, Carlos Bacca et al to score the goals for Colombia.