Antigua and Barbuda 1 USA 2
England 5 San Marino 0
FIFA World Cup qualifying for Brazil 2014 is once more in full swing, or full something. In both Europe and the New World, all over the planet, everywhere except in Brazil who qualifies automatically because they’re the cordial hosts for 2014, and Africa, whose next qualifying tilts won’t tee off ’til March of next year, the hopeful and the hopeless square off, and well…in a lot of cases it’s probably safer for you not to know….like last month’s tilt between Australia and Jordan, which Jordan won 2-1…the Socceroos, winless? And losing to Jordan? Not even I want to know that.
So we come to our two of favourite national teams (other than Germany, Spain, Ireland, The Czech Republic & Mexico of course) who had group stage qualifiers yesterday (Friday the 12th as I hunker down and engrave these words in acid-resistant wax). USA and England faced the first of two opponents during this International break. And while the results were as expected….that is, both USA and England won….all was not as bright as it might seem
Let’s a take a look at the FIFA rankings. Not that those really provide any surefire insight when you consider that FIFA ranks England as the 5th best team in the world. Do you believe for one minute that The Three Lions are the 5th best in the world? Better than Uruguay, Netherlands, Russia, and…..wait for it…….better than BRAZIL (( who FIFA ranks 15th at the moment))?? If you do, you can buy me a drink right now. Team USA, meanwhile comes in at 32nd in the world. And as hard as that is for our inflated sense of self-importance to take, it’s a ranking far closer to the truth than England’s. USA is considered a step or three below Ghana, and Belgium, and Bosnia-Hezegovina ((really?? wtf??), and Ireland….yes, we rank below Ireland who got royally buggered and roasted 1-6 by Germany yesterday at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin.
The opposition yesterday was nothing to fear on the surface. Especially poor San Marino, who is tied for WORST in the World with mighty Bhutan, and mighty Turks & Caicos Islands (who were thumped out of CONCACAF’s 1st round of qualifying by Bahamas by a 10-0 aggregate) at 207th. England was expected by everyone to unleash hell upon them. They did, but only sort of. Hold that thought. Antigua & Barbuda is ranked a reasonably respectable 106th in the world, which puts them alongside such European luminaries as Cyprus, and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. Not the sternest stuff, but….potentially troublesome. And they were. But USA took the win at the death. So hold that thought as well.
The numbers might tell one tale. But true tale was told within the game itself.
Unleash Hell?? You mean, as in bloody hell?? ; Win at the death?? Why wait?!!
In the lead-up to the England-San Marino tilt, the talk the English press whas not IF, but by HOW MUCH. There was talk of a double digit score for England. Roy Hodgson packed the squad with attackers. Even defender Gary Cahill thought, “fuck all” and came forward to take a poke at the goal. San Marino played a 9-1 formation ((that means they parked every focking bus they could find in front of the goal, for those of you keeping score on this one while having a swig at Nig’s in Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin)). While a 5-0 tromping of San Marino is no one’s idea of unleashing Hell, it got England all three points, and 5+ on the goal differential which might come in handy later. But make no mistake about it, this was NOT the match you’d have expected out of a team ranked 5th (allegedly) in the world. I watched every minute of this, and by the 20th minute I got to wondering when the fuck HELL was going to be unleashed. What is Roy waiting for? I kept wondering about that for another 15 minutes until Wayne Rooney stepped up a smacked home a penalty after Welbeck was tripped in the area by San Marino goalie Aldo Simoncini. Welbeck back-heeled one home 2 minutes later and I thought, Bring On The Hell!! But not to be….the ugly head of Satan laid it’s head down to rest and it was another 33 before it awoke to belch out 3 goals in a 7 minute span, including a beauty from Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain at the 77th minute that marked his first goal for England…a goal that came 30 years after his father Mark scored for England in HIS debut in a similar drubbing for England (9-0 over Liechtenstein). Correct me if I’m wrong, I do believe that’s the only Father/Son combo to score for England.
San Marino, whose population of 32,404 is roughly the equivalent of, say Manitowoc, Wisconsin; who was playing in front of crowd at Wembley that was 2.65 times the entire population of their country; played remarkably well, all things considered, since the final tally could have, and perhaps should have, been much worse. They even had one breakaway that had the English fans actually CHEERING….and hold THAT thought as well….but the cheers turns to groans as the threat was quickly snuffed out. So fair play to the lads in cobalt blue, none of whom are professional footballers, for holding their own. The play of England, however, concerns me. They were playing the worst team in the world, and yes, that team parked the bus. But there was very little that was lively about England’s play. They didn’t look even close to being the 5th best team in the world (allegedly). There was a spark that was lacking for most of the match, and THAT’S what concerns me for their future matches, especially the upcoming tilt with Poland on Tuesday. England can NOT play like this going forward if they hope to even qualify for the World Cup, let alone advance out of the group stage if they do.
I did not watch USA pull one out their ass against Antigua & Barbuda. I should have, I suppose, but I didn’t. Instead, I was tuned in to the Dollar General 300 Nationwide race from the Charlotte Motor Speedway. A hard fought tilt that was won by Joey Logano. Yeh yeh…I suppose I’m just a bloody pisshead anglophile wanker ((the England version of a weeaboo)) perhaps…because I made an effort to watch England but did not make an effort to watch USA. Maybe I’m just unpatriotic. But not really. I just wanted to watch NASCAR. And what’s more patriotic than focking NASCAR!!? I don’t know, you tell me.
Just as well I suppose since I’d already spent 90 minute waiting for HELL to be unleashed….it would have been another 90 minutes and change I would have spent waiting for USA to escape from a HELL of it’s own making…the horrible weather at Sir Vivian Richards Stadium and the relatively sterner competition notwithstanding. Eddie Johnson saved the day with a header at the death. But really, what the fock anyway??!! At the death??!! Who the fock do they think they are, Norwich City?? (Of last season of course, always winning or drawing at the DEATH on a Grant Holt wonder goal, not this one). I guess I really didn’need to watch this know what happened and why and what needs to be done.
I’ll be honest. I’ve spent FAR less time obsessing over the USA football team, and the intricacies of team selection, tactics, coaching staff, and all the intrigues derived therefrom, than I have over England’s. A good bit of it stems, I think from the simple truth that my football focus has been more on the English Premier League than on the MLS. Also, the best players on team USA play in the English Premier League, or in Europe, and most of my football focus, as I said has been directed towards England and Europe. I don’t follow MLS as closely as I should. I don’t. I know far more about Chelsea and Norwich City, even Newcastle United than I do about the LA Galaxy, the New Your Red Bulls, or the nearest MLS team to my general vicinity, the Chicago Fire. Fock, I couldn’t even name ONE player who plays for the Chicago Fire. Nor could I name the starting 11 for the LA Galaxy. I know that David Beckham, Landon Donovan and Robbie Keane are starters, when healthy. And I THINK Edison Buddle is a starting striker for them, I think….but I wouldn’t wager my mother-in-law’s money on it. Eddie Johnson who was, thank God, the hero of our tilt with A&B? I really don’t know what team he plays for. The San Jose
Sharks Earthquake, maybe? Sporting KC?? I don’t know. You tell me. What I DO know, is that based on the matches I HAVE watched, and the results that I have seen, team USA absolutely has to be tougher and more alert on defense. They have to show more snap and control from their mid-field play. And they need to finish FAR more consistently than they have. They’ve left FAR to many points and goals on the pitch, and if they expect to make TO Brazil in 2014, let alone out of the Group Stage, they need to step their game up a notch with the talent that they have. They can’t allow teams like Jamaica and Antigua & Barbuda to run them out of the gym. They get caught napping far too often.
Hmmmm. This is the same critique that I make about England. ((I’ve also made the same critique about my beloved Chelsea)) Only with England, I have found that a lot of their problems have stemmed from the fact that quite a number of the players they’ve called up played like they couldn’t be arsed to be there. Roy Hodgson’s appointment as gaffer has helped to mitigate that little problem somewhat. The players they have now seem to like playing for him, and with each other…so unlike the Three Lions team that came home in disarray from the 2010 World Cup, the current squad seems about as solid and unified as one could hope for.
The American team hasn’t had THAT little problem I don’t think, but Klinsmann needs to coach them up a bit. They don’t always function as a cohesive unit in times of crisis. Also, too often, they play DOWN to the level of their competition. Team USA is potentially a LOT better than their 32nd place ranking. They have some truly great players, but….it’s the sum of the whole, not the individual pieces that make a great team ((unless you’re Spain or Germany….and neither England nor the USA is Spain or Germany)). So the real test will how badly they beat Guatemala in Kansas City on Tuesday night. Actually, they don’t need to beat them badly. A 1-0 score will do. What they do need, more than anything, is to keep a clean sheet. They need to keep Carlos Ruiz from even thinking about scoring a goal.
Ditto for the Three Lions….they need to keep a clean sheet and lock out Lewendowski and Błaszczykowski. Or whoever else shows up for Guatemalakowskiville with intentions of scoring. USA and England need to score at least 1. Final scores should be, at worst, USA/England 1 Guatemalakowskiville 0. But don’t wager your mother-in-law’s money on that. Have her buy you a beer, instead. And don’t hold your breath.
Monsieur Clint Bowyer wins the Bank Of America 500
Earlier today, at my local pub, The Firehouse, I predicted this win by Clint Bowyer. And despite what Al Johnson or Scott Petersen might say, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it. My hope was for Matt Kenseth to win, of course, but a tire issue on lap 11 ended any hope of that happening. So for me, it was Bowyer all the way. And when the checkered flag fell, he was the one to take it. He had enough gas left to do one burnout, and then, that was it. His team had to push his car to victory lane. But it was a nice win for him, moves him up to 4th place in the Championship standings, 28 points back of leader Brad Kesolowski. Next week, NASCAR heads to Bowyer’s home track, Kansas Speedway. He could easily win two in a row. Hell, I’ll call that shot right now.
Bowyer will win the Hollywood Casino 400 at Kansas Speedway next weekend.
And with that, I must be off to grab the final beer of the day, and study geography. I know where the hell in the world Poniatowski, Wisconsin is. But I haven’t found Guatemalakowskiville on the map, yet. So I’ll keep looking, and when I find it, like it or not, y’all will be the first to know.