World Cup Qualifiers Recap and American Hypocrisy

Last Friday started another round of World Cup Qualifying matches.  They resume tomorrow during this international break from league play.  Here is a summary a Friday’s action and a preview of tomorrow’s:

CONCACAF: Update on the HEX

Standings here.

In case you haven’t heard, this round of the CONCACAF playoffs is referred to as the HEX.  Group play consisted of three groups of four.  Two teams from each group advanced to the HEX round.  The HEX is a 6-team round where everyone plays each other home and away.  The top 3 teams qualify for the World Cup Finals in Brazil and the 4th placed team will play the Oceania winner (New Zealand) in a playoff series for the last spot.

Going into Friday, the US had zero points, Honduras three, and everyone else (teams…) had one.  The US hosted Costa Rica in Denver Friday night.  The game, a must win, was played in a blizzard.  The US secured an early game and held on for the win.  Lots of story lines coming out of this one.  Costa Rica is appealing the result of the game stating that it should not have been played.  Americans, by and large, are aghast at such a position.  The Costa Ricans are getting blasted by the American press and airwaves, but, you have to ask, if we were down 0-1 in that game, would we have wanted the game to continue past the half?  I think we all know the answer to that question.  We have become great at crying foul when it serves our purpose, and eerily quiet when it doesn’t.

On Tuesday, the USMNT travel to Mexico City in a must win game for Mexico, who, after two games have only 2 points.  We secured a result there last summer, but I expect this will be a tad tougher.  In other games, HEX leader Honduras, who drew with Mexico at home on Friday after being down 0-2, travel to Panama, who has drawn even against both Jamaica and Costa Rica.  Jamaica travel to Costa Rica after having drawn with both Mexico and, last Friday, with Panama. Here are some news pieces:

FIFA confirm protest by Costa Rica

Mexico faces must win game vs US

Grant Wahl defends game result 

UEFA Update

Standings here.

UEFA’s much more onerous road to the World Cup Finals continued last Friday too.  Groups and standings are here.  SoccerThought is following Belgium, who won away from home, and sit atop Group A (tied with Croatia).  Only the winners of the Groups are automatically in, the eight best runners up (of 9 groups) go to a playoff where 4 more teams are added bringing the UEFA total to 13 teams in Brazil.

Group A

Belgium and Croatia are tied with 13 points each.  Belgium host Macedonia and Croatia travel to Wales.

Group B

Italy has 10 points, Bulgaria 9 and Denmark and Czech Republic, always strong teams, have only 5.  Denmark host Bulgaria in an interesting match while the Czech Republic goes to Armenia and Italy travel to Malta.

Group C

Germany, a Word Cup favorite, is running away with the group with 13 points.  Sweden, Austria, and Ireland follow with 8, 7, and 7 points respectively.  Only two matches tomorrow with the best being Ireland hosting Austria.

Group D

Holland is running away with this group collecting max points (15 points in 5 games).  Hungary and Romania are vying for the playoff spot with 10 points each.  Turkey is underachieving with 6 points.  Interesting match tomorrow pits Turkey hosting Hungary while Holland hosts Romania — could Turkey rebound?  Will Hungary separate from Romania?

Group E

The Swiss lead the group but there is little difference between #1 and #4 Norway, with only 3 points separating the two.   No matches tomorrow.

Group F

Russia is leading the group with 12 points from 4 matches while Israel and Portugal only show 8 points from 5 matches.  Is the golden age of Portugal going to end without a major trophy?  Israel and Portugal are both in action tomorrow away from their home — who can get the three points?

Group G

Bosnia-Herz. sit atop the group with 13 points and Greece trails with 10.  No games tomorrow.

Group H 

This is the interesting one.  Montenegro are atop the group with 13 points while England have 11.  They play tomorrow at Montenegro.  This may be the best match of the day.  The Montenegro coach has called out the England squad, labeled them long-ballers and arrogant, and reminded everyone that they are on top of the group.

England are long-ballers.

Montegro to park bus with 2 Ferraris up front. 

Arrogant England running scared. 

You get the feeling that the English press are seizing on the Montenegro’s manager’s words to add some drama here. Can England get a result?  Will England be resorted to entering a playoff to qualify for the World Cup Finals?

Group I

Spain drew on Friday against Iceland.  No typo there.  France now sits atop the group 2 points clear of Spain (10 to 8).  In another huge, must-watch game, the two tangle tomorrow in France.

CONMEBOL (South America)

Group standings here.

The South American qualification tournament is in full swing.  The top 4 teams qualify (plus Brazil) and the 5th place team goes to a playoff.  As of now, it would be Argentina, Colombia, Ecuador, and Uruguay, but there is only 3 to 4 points separating Paraguay (in last position) from Uruguay.  A touch over halfway through, there is still lots of possibilities.  A full slate of games (4) tomorrow, including the top 4 each against different opponents.  So, maybe there will be some turnover at the bottom of the standings.

Remember, the World Cup is not in 2014, it is now!  Here is a link of the television schedule for tomorrow’s games.

Repetitive Headers and Brain Injury

As I have posted on here before, I am concerned with the risk of brain injury to young players not necessarily resulting from head-to-head contact, or contact with the ground or goal post, but because of the cumulative affect of repetitive heading of the ball.  The literature online is lacking.  A few years ago, you could find nothing.  I looked because I was coaching a U10 player (who is a U12 now) who sustained a concussion during a game from heading a punted ball.  From then on, I discouraged our players from heading punted balls.  The only literature I could find suggested that, for boys, heading under the age of 12 should be discouraged because of growth issues.

In the interim, I often asked around.  Among soccer adults (especially Brits!), they mock the idea and immediately get defensive.  It seems that any suggestion that something should be done to reduce the risk of trauma is a indictment of their manhood.  For example, try suggesting or asking an English trainer if your child should wear headgear as a protection from heading injuries…

When I mentioned it to referees, they are completely ignorant.  I usually mention it as they search my bags trying to find the hardest possible ball to play with.  I have decided that this is a sort of false-machismo to which most all referees subscribe.  They get to tell you that your ball is not hard enough — they seem to enjoy it.  Somehow, you get the feeling, the rejection is about more than just the ball.  Ok, maybe I am too sensitive.  (Oddly, the rules do not support their interpretation – the official rules suggest a range, not necessarily “brick” status.  Ask them about this and they will deny).  Why do I care?  I don’t know — maybe in the back of my mind I think the ball will do less harm to my kids’ heads if it is a touch softer.  (I am probably way off base scientifically).  Referees respond to my request similar to English trainers scoffing at headgear — playing with a softer ball threatens the masculinity of the game.  Maybe soccer players and officials are a touch sensitive because, in our country, soccer is always considered a “soft sport.”

(As a side, I will tell you the other reason that referees do this is a shallow way of demonstrating their presence and authority to a coach.  Scene 1: Coach:  “Here is the game ball.”  Referee (after examining it, squeezing it, sniffing it…) “It needs air.” (exasperated tone).  Scene 2:  Mad scramble by opposing coach to “show the official his quality” – by providing the hardest possible ball.  Scene 3:  If successful, opposing  coach gets a “nod” providing the official with support for his demands, while you are left tending a flock of unworthy specimens.)

OK, I got that out of my system, back on course…Today, there is an article by Beth Carter citing a report from a neuroscientist from the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston. She states:

Even repeated light blows to the head can harm cognition, according to a study by neuroscientist Anne Sereno and her team at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston. They don’t know if the impact is permanent, or if there might be cumulative effects over time, and concede more research is needed. But the findings add to a growing body of knowledge about the long-term risks of head trauma in sports and evidence suggesting repeated sub-concussive blows may be detrimental over time.

http://www.wired.com/playbook/2013/03/soccer-headers-cognition/

The actual link to the UTHS article is here.

A recent blog article about the effectiveness of soccer headgear is here.

While heading the ball is a major part of soccer, I prefer to teach the technique and use of it as a control mechanism for bounding balls (rather than balls in flight).  So, go ahead, have your fun.  Call me weak.  But, I think that this is an issue that needs attention.  One of the writers suggested that FIFA will not get involved until they are legally required — they do not want their game to appear dangerous.  Apparently, the same sort of “you are not tough enough” approach was used to suggest there was no need for shin guards.

Cheers, and Happy Spring Break.

/s/ Wimpy American Soccer Coach