The International Break is about over. While most people will be excited to watch club soccer again (code word for EPL), there is A LOT of soccer to be excited about TODAY! Yes, that is right – a TUESDAY! You have to love soccer for giving us these wonderful, competitive, dramatic, storytelling matches on a Tuesday. Thank you soccer. And, since soccerthought.com has adopted Belgium as our darkhorse, today is especially big for they host Croatia in their qualifier. There is no bigger game for Belgium in their qualification schedule than today. Yes, it is early and Brazil seems a long time from now, but Belgium needs a result against the top team from Group A. Croatia is currently ranked 9th in the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Rankings, while Belgium has moved up to 40. Based on the FIFA rankings, Croatia seems to be the favorite for Group A — they are a country that consistently punch above their weight class in soccer. At the same time, Belgium’s starting 11 is the third highest paid team of all the World Cup national teams – and that was before Witsel signed with Zenit for 40 million Euros. The game is at 1:45 pm today and you can watch it on ESPN3. In “UEFA” (“Union of European Football Associations”) qualifying, the top team from each group advances to Brazil (A-I). The next 8 highest point getters will then compete in home and aways for 4 more spots, making it 13 from UEFA for Brazil.
Here are the other games you can watch on ESPN3:
Cyprus v. Iceland (12:00 pm)
Israel v. Russia (12:00 pm)
Georgia v. Spain (12:30 pm)
Romania v. Andorra (12:30 pm)
Bosnia-Herz. v. Latvia (1:00 pm)
Turkey v. Estonia (1:00 pm)
Bulgaria v. Armenia (1:00 pm)
Slovakia v. Liechtenstein (1:15 pm)
Switzerland v. Albania (1:30 pm)
Hungary v. Netherlands (1:30 pm)
Serbia v. Wales (1:30 pm)
No. Ireland v. Luxembourg (1:45 pm)
Greece v. Lithuania (1:45 pm)
Poland v. Moldova (1:45 pm)
Scotland v. Macedonia (2:00 pm)
France v. Belarus (2:00 pm)
Portugal v. Azerbaijan (2:15 pm)
England v. Ukraine (1:00 pm) (on Fox Soccer)
UNITED STATES v. JAMAICA (7:00 pm on ESPN2)!.
The HOME team in each match is listed first. Here are another couple of story lines:
Can Hungary defeat Spain at home?
Hungary is in the dawning of its next great generation. Maybe. While Hungary’s greatness is still defined by its Wunderteam of the 1950s, they have been largely quiet in recent years, failing to qualify since the 1986 World Cup. Can they get a result hosting Spain? Spain has won the last three major tournaments (2008 Euros, 2010 World Cup, 2012 Euros), a feat unmatched. Can they make it four in a row? This match is more important for Hungary than for Spain, who, you have to assume, will qualify.
Will there be a changing of the Guard in England?
Roy Hodgson is having to relying on inexperienced youth in their home qualifier against the Ukraine. Walcott is out, Adam Johnson is out, Sturridge is having stomach cramps, John Terry is injured, Ashley Cole is out, Rooneyis out and almost died after the last match, and Andy Carroll was injured in his debut with West Ham. Will a virus spoil England’s qualifier opener? For those following, is it wise for Hodgson to keep trotting out Carrick, Gerrard, and Lampard, with a combined age of 97? In the summer of 2014, Lampard will be 36, Gerrard 34, and Carrick 33 — how is that for your midfield? It is a good thing Arsene Wenger is selecting the squad.
Is the US in danger of not Qualifying for the World Cup?
No, but Klinnsman is being judged harshly for the result in Kingstown on Friday night, a game nobody saw because of its limited televevision coverage — who ever heard of the beIN Sport network anyway? Well, tonight’s game is on ESPN 2 so there is no excuse not to watch the US men play host to Jamaica. US currently sits in second place in their group behind Jamaica. After this match, the US will have matches against Antiqua and Barabuda away and against Guatemala at home on October 12 and 16 respectively. The US needs to finish in the top 2 of their group of 4 to qualify for Round 4 in CONCACAF qualifying. For those that do not know, “CONCACAF” stands for Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football and is the organization the US plays within FIFA. 3.5 teams from CONCACAF qualify for the World Cup — the US has qualified for six consecutive World Cups. While the US is struggling behind Jamaica in Group A, Mexico is cruising in Group B and and Group C is tight between Canada, Panama, and Honduras. As long as the US finishes in the top 2 of its group (a virtual certainty), it will make it to Round 4 (the “Hexagonal” stage). In Round 4, ones and twos from Groups A-C compete in home and aways. Three teams will emerge from Round 4 with the fourth highest point team participating in an Intercontinental Playoff November 15& 19 of 2013. The North, Central American & Caribbean Zone playoff structure is laid out here. There is some talk about merging the qualification with South America in the future – that would improve the competitiveness of the tournament. South American countries qualify through FIFA from their association CONMEBOL meaning CONfederacion SudaMEricana de FutBOL (yes, that is Spanish). CONMEBOL are allocated 4.5 teams plus Brazil, the host country.
Some are already criticizing Klinnsman’s shift to possession soccer stating that we do not have the players. The argument is that our first ever victory over Italy (in a friendly which Italy notoriously blows off) and the surprise win in Mexico City, we played just like Bradley’s team or Bruce Arena, etc. Typical of Americans, patience is not in our vocabulary. It is a disease that effects our youth leagues and impedes growth – win at all cost no matter what it means for the program. For now, that means, like it has always meant, sitting back and playing defensive counter-attacking football while relying on our superior size and athleticism to out-muscle the other team. Yes, the team is having to do that now, but remember Bradley is out–a possession style player that quarterbacks our midfield. I hope we are patient with the development process because Klinnsman’s ideas have percolated down to the youth levels, which is where the real change can hopefully come.
Enjoy the games today! USA! USA! No excuse for not watching the game on ESPN2 tonight!