Archive for the ‘The Beautiful Game’ Category

The Biggest El Classico Yet…

El Clasico

There are always big games to be played each year, whether it be club or country. We as fans love rivalries. We either support one of the teams and hate the other, or we watch the game as neutrals, anticipating fireworks, good play and heated battles.

International games between rivals are few and far between, but we always enjoy Argentina – Brazil, England – Germany, Spain – Portugal, USA – Mexico etc…,but typically only during World Cups or regional competitions every 2 to 4 years. “Friendlies” fail to measure up.

Club games though, are far more frequent and because they are often played twice a season and sometimes in the case of cup competitions, 2 to 4 times more. This breeds anticipation and each win or loss, or hard tackle or dubious goal, is fresh in each club supporters minds when the sides meet again. Unlike a Yankees – Red Sox series, which in my opinion has lost some of its intensity, due to the fact they meet 17 times a season (playoffs aside), these soccer games are talked about for weeks ahead of time.

The two best players in the world going head to head...again

Rangers/Celtic, the Merseyside Derby, North London Derby, Milan Derby, Galatasaray/Fenerbache, Roma/Lazio, Boca/River Plate to name a few, are all great matches, where league standing is cast aside. It’s all about beating your rival at all costs.

Often in these situations, skill and smooth play is thrown out the window and the referee is handing out cards like a dealer at the Bellagio, but Mondays Clasico between Real Madrid and Barcelona at the Camp Nou could prove to be something different and here is why.

For the first time in awhile, we have two of the best players to ever play the game around at the same time (too young to see if they will eclipse Maradona, Pele, Zidane, Cruyff etc… but don’t bet against it if they continue down this vein) Not only that, they play in the same league and on Monday, Cristiano Ronaldo will face off against Lionel Messi.

Their supporting cast is not too shabby either and the managers are world class as well.

To borrow some stats from the other Guardian publication. 13 World Champions will be playing. The last two winners of the Balon D’or will be there. The reason its not the last 5 is that Kaka is injured and Cannavaro and Ronaldinho have been let go to “greener pastures”. The last 4 top goal scorers of the Champions League will be there. Basically one will be hard pressed to ever have had a club game with this much talent on the pitch.

Hopefully Mourinho will let them play attacking football

Currently Real Madrid are one point leaders with 32 points and Barcelona are second with 31. No offense to the rest of La Liga, but this is now a two horse race and the title might well come down to goal difference.

The only thing that will stop this being an amazing goal fest will be the “special ones” defensive tactics, but with Higuain, Ozil, Ronaldo, Alonso, Di Maria et al, how can one be defensive. Barcelona will be going with “guns a blazing”. Lets hope, the game will live up to its billing, if not, there will be another one very soon!

TSG will be doing our best to do live commentary. If not, we can all blame COMCAST for being a bunch of douchebags!

The Beautiful Game: The Amputee World Cup

TSG’s The Beautiful Game series explores how soccer makes a difference around the globe.

Wish I had found this video yesterday, as many of the participants are veterans of war.

The Amputee World Cup concluded just over a week ago with Uzbekistan defeating Argentina 3-1 in the final match in front of 10,000 fans.

Here’s the only video I could find of a game between England and Haiti.

Much respect:

PSA: A Little Support For Ben’s Endeavor

Beat this!

Update: 08/27

Update: From Ben, “I am definitely going on that world tour and see Central and South America with O’l Nellie.
Life is short someone once told me…smile.”

Ben responds to your comments below as well. Please drop a line if you haven’t.

———-

A few months we introduced you to Ben Oude Kamphuis, perhaps the biggest Netherlands fan outside of Holland (and maybe inside too.)

San Francisco resident and Dutch national Ben Oude Kamphuis with "Ol Nellie"

Ben’s easily mistaken for Hulk Hogan so much so that commenting as such is almost cliche.

He’s also the constructor behind Nellie (pictured), perhaps the best fan vehicle I have ever seen. I’d put that up against anything in parade.

The reason I write today is that Ben is considering taking a more than year journey from San Francisco, California to Brazil for World Cup 2014 and using Nellie to get him there.

This is no small or casual undertaking for Ben; his leadership is highly valued in San Francisco.

He’s a Jefferson Award winner who runs Project Insight, an organic farming program where deaf and blind senior citizens help him grow the harvest.

Take a moment today, if you would, to write Ben a support note–that’s all I’m asking at this time–if you like as I’ll be sending him a link to this story.

I sure would like to see and hear about his trip to World Cup 2014 and he deserves it.

(Video about Ben.)

Hanging Up The Boots

A kickette favorite, Raul was the heart and soul of Real Madrid for over a decade.

Brett Favre is going through his annual “Will I? Won’t I?” retire charade. Frankly, it’s a joke and I’ve given up trying to figure out what he’s getting out of this media circus The actual impetus for this article, though, was not Favre, but last week’s dual moves of Real Madrid legends Guti and Raul to Beşiktaş and Schalke 04 respectively.

Both players were incredibly successful with Real. They both won the Champions Leagues three times, La Liga multiple times (Guti 5, Raul 6), Copa del Rey multiple times and the Intercontinental Cup (Winner of the European Cup versus the winner of the Copa Libertadores).

They both played over 116 games combined for their national team (Raul with the bulk of the appearances), though both were dropped from the Spanish squad before the team’s recent success.

Individually, Raul has accomplished more than most teams. He is Real’s and Spain’s leading scorer (though Villa is closing in on his national record). He owns records in appearances for club, numerous nominations for World and European player of the year (finishing second and third in 2001). He won the Pichichi twice as well as countless other individual awards.

Both are 33-years-old and in the twilight of their careers. So why not hang up their boots?

Fiery and passionate and at times odd, Guti was a midfield genius for Real.

It’s not like they’re moving onto bigger clubs, nor will playing at these clubs add to their illustrious club careers. With no disrespect to Beşiktaş and Schalke 04, both whom are big clubs in their countries, but they are not Real Madrid.

When I saw the derby match between Real Madrid and Atlético Madrid in April, both players came on midway through the second half. Obviously a clear sign that they were no longer the focal points of the club they had spent their entire footballing careers with, it would have seemed that this summer would have been a perfect time to retire.

Within 24 hours, both had signed new contracts with new clubs.

Is it about the money? This I refuse to believe. They both played their careers at one of the wealthiest clubs in the world, and their good looks ensured that they weren’t short on individual sponsorships.

So maybe it’s for the love of the game…but then what of one’s legacy?

Not quite Mike.

Very few of the best athletes retire on top of their game. They almost always believe they still have what it takes to perform at the highest level. A lot of those that do retire get restless and un-retire with varying degrees of failure and success. Michael Jordan being a prime example of a failed attempt as he un-retired for a second time to play with the Wizards. His first foray from retirement led to 3 more championships with the Bulls.

Both Joe Montana and Jerry Rice had mediocre seasons after leaving the 49ers. While still considered some of the best at their positions, it was a little sad to see them not at their greatest toward the end of their careers. By the same regard, even though he had been at the twilight of his career, Larry Bird retired after winning Olympic Gold. Pete Sampras, too, retired at the top, after winning his 5th US Open and at the time a record 14th Grand Slam title.

In soccer, arguably the best player ever to play the game retired from international football at the age of 29. After winning his third World Cup, Pelé retired from international football by taking a lap of honor at the Azteca stadium in Mexico City after beating Italy 4-1 in the final. There can be no higher point in one’s career in which to call it quits.

Pele retired after scoring in the 1970 World Cup final

Pelé continued to play for Santos for a couple of years and then came out of retirement to play for the Cosmos where he was largely successful and had a rather extravagant last game.

More recently, Giovanni van Bronckhorst, retired from international and club football. He’s had an illustrious career, winning many titles and trophies in different leagues, and the Champions League with Barcelona. He captained his country to the finals of the World Cup, and scored a brilliant goal in the semis to get them there. They sadly lost in the finals, but GVB knew it was time to go.

He no doubt could have gotten offers from many clubs or could have played in Dubai or MLS to earn a little more money, but he chose to end his career on top. Kudos to him.

What makes Guti and Raul’s decisions even more perplexing to me, is that there is no attachment or sentimental value to either of the clubs they chose. They played their entire career in the country of their birth with one club, so why Germany and Turkey?

Some players who are surplus to requirements at the end of their careers, but still want to play the game, go “back home.” Claudio Reyna, after a successful career in Scotland and England, came back to play his last year with the Red Bulls (he was born in New Jersey).

Others, like Thierry Henry, want a different (and easier) pace to end their careers and want to test themselves in a different market. Henry, aged 32, having won pretty much everything football has to offer, is going to end his career (having already retired from international football) in New York.

GVB's wonder strike helped send the Dutch into the finals

He has made no secret of his desire to live in the Big Apple and for him it will certainly be a less hectic scene than what he was used to. Speaking perfect English, he will be a great ambassador for foreign players in the MLS (something which Beckham failed to do, though he did pave the way), and the US is also great avenue to concentrate on his many charitable causes.

So I guess Guti and Raul are still playing as they still love the game. They could have retired as Real Madrid legends and will probably always be remembered as such. They instead decided to continue their stories elsewhere. I REALLY and TRULY hope they both win their current domestic championships and prove to everyone, and most importantly to themselves what we all know: that they were great players and now it’s time to hang the boots up. Favre…take note!

World Cup’s Best 11 (and honorable mentions)

Took over from the injured Ballack with grit and style

After every major tournament, journalists and the tournament organizers do their best to come up with a starting 11. Often the vast majority of the 11 consists of players from teams who participated in the semis and finals and there is an obvious logic to that.

More often than not, those are the best 4 teams in the tournament, and it’s their players who got them there. That coupled with the last 3 games (4 if there is a placement game) being the most memorable and people tend to forget about outstanding individuals from teams earlier in the competition.

Knowing this, I tried from the group stage on, to remember certain players and keep my eyes on them. I have lists of notes that make no sense to me now, and in the end a lot of the more exciting games were due to sloppy play rather than brilliance.

I often have trouble making final decisions and go back and forth ad nauseam, so I gave myself an escape clause by coming up with an honorable mention for each position. As usual, we welcome your comments!

For this team we’re going to use the formation du jour, the 4-2-3-1.

GOALKEEPER
Diego Benaglio
– (Switzerland)

Benaglio was the main reason that Switzerland only conceded one goal.

There were many great performances by keepers in 2010, though no one was perfect. The ones that stood out were often from the “lesser” teams. Paston from New Zealand and Enyeama from Nigeria, to name a couple. In the group stages, Kinson, Neuer and Stekelenburg all kept their teams in the tournament, though all could have done better with some of the goals they let in.

Switzerland were the only team to keep a clean sheet (and beat) the eventual champions, and that was all to do with Benaglios acrobatic saves and fantastic positioning. Against a prolific Chile, he thwarted Sanchez, Gonzales and Suazo, as the South Americans attacked in waves. When he was finally beaten, it had more to do with poor defending than his skill.

He’s only 26 and currently plays in the Bundesliga for Wolfsburg, but look for some of the bigger clubs to call on him soon!

Honorable mentionIker Casillas (Spain)
The Real Madrid keeper had a dodgy World Cup by his usual high standards. He was clearly responsible for the goal against Switzerland and never looked comfortable with the Jubalani. He didn’t pull a “Green” but there were plenty of bobbles and awkward parries.

That said, when he was called into action during the group stages, he performed admirably, finely saving a penalty against Paraguay, a volleyed shot from Podolski, and a one-on-one with Robben to name just a few. He captained his country, and his fine saves ensured they went home as champions.

LEFT BACK
Fabio Coentrao
– (Portugal)

The Portuguese leftback took it to everyone including Dani Alves

The Portuguese left back was one of the bright moments in a disappointing campaign. Surprisingly, Portugal, with their abundance of creative and attacking players, took a “park the bus” mentality against their opponents (North Korea aside). Coentrao was the exception.

His forays up the wing were always productive and exciting and he was responsible in some way, shape and form for most of Portugal’s World Cup goals, as his attacks from the left side were deliberate and precise.

He also formed a great partnership with Ronaldo, so look for the Spanish giants to inquire about the Benfica defender’s availability!

Honorable mentionGiovanni Van Bronckhorst - (The Netherlands)
The 35-year-old captain of The Netherlands team was one of the few Dutch players to play the final with the classiness that has been prevalent throughout his career. His wonder strike in the semis was a thing of beauty, and his intelligent positioning and experience made up for the lack of speed in his “old” age.

The final was his last game, as he retired from international and club football and he will be missed greatly.

CENTER HALVES
Carlos Puyol
- (Spain) and Juan – (Brazil)

No hair gel needed!

The floppy haired defender was the rock in the Spanish defense. He had a lot of help from his club-mate Pique, but it was his controlling and tireless effort in the back that was the major reason for Spain keeping clean sheets in the knock out rounds.

Not only did he marshal the defense, but he was always a threat in the (h)air of set pieces, and it was his thumping header that secured their passage into the finals.

Juan, like Puyol, is a rock in the center of a defense on a team that is best known for its attacking and fluid play. Often the forgotten one amongst his more celebrated and flashy teammates, the Roma defender has almost 80 caps for his country, and it’s his solid and fundamental play that has enabled Maicon, Lucio and Bastos to venture up field.

Also like the Catalan defender, Juan is a danger on set pieces, and it was off one that he scored the first goal for Brazil against Chile. Sadly, his defensive partners let him down in the quarters, as mistakes by Cesar and Lucio failed to deal with the ever present Sneijder, whose two goals sent Brazil and Juan packing for home.

Honorable mentionsDiego Lugano – (Uruguay) and Marcus Tulio Tanaka – (Japan)

The Juan you can count on

Both center halves were instrumental in their teams’ advancement into the knock out stages. Sadly for Lugano, he was hurt midway through the first half of his quarter and had to miss the semi’s. He came back for the third place game, but was sorely missed against the Dutch.

Marcus Tulio Tanaka not only possessed one of the best names of the tournament, but was tenacious at the back for the Blue Samurai. After dispossessing any attacker, he used his considerable ball skills to bring the ball up from the back to initiate Japan’s attacks. Many a mid-level European team could do with someone of his skill set.

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Update: Little Feet, Big Goals…

TSG’s The Beautiful Game series explores how soccer makes a difference around the globe.

Update:

When last The Shin Guardian talked to Little Feet As part of our The Beautiful Game series it was April…and they weren’t embarking on an amazing journey of completing fundraising on and building a soccer field in Honduras.

They’ve done it….or nearly so.

Take a step back from the World Cup hype to realize just how beautiful the game can be when it makes a social impact.

Little Feet just netted a big goal.

Well done...

As of June 1, 2010, we have completed the entire field and are now waiting for the grass to mature. As you have probably seen on the news, heavy rains in Honduras lately has caused a few problems. For us, it’s mostly with seeds being washed out but we will replenish them when weather permits. The good news is all the drainage we created for the field appears to be working as planned. Due to these heavy rains, we estimate that we need at least another month for the grass to fully mature. For this reason we are keeping the field closed off and are hoping sometime in July or August we will be able to open the field for play. We will have another update towards the end of June.

Original story below…..

…It’s Really That Simple

The people I admire most are those that see a need, have an idea and then start working hard to make a difference. One such person is Trevor Slavick an airline pilot and co-founder of Little Feet; a charity trying to make a difference through the power of soccer.

Some may be familiar with Little Feet by way of this t-shirt. For those that are not, Little Feet’s charitable model is straightforward:

Little Feet does not just send soccer balls overseas, they hand deliver them. Back in January I had a conversation with Trevor about Little Feet and his experiences personally giving ut these incredible gifts to kids. There is plenty of great information and footage on the Little Feet website, but the story of the first ball Trevor gave away is worth sharing here as it is seemingly out of a movie.

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The Dark Horses

Who would have guessed they would have won before the tournament started

With the exception of Brazil, it’s rare that the pre-tournament favorite(s) win(s) the world cup. Whether it be the weight of expectations, an unlucky bounce or deflection, poor refereeing or just a bad game, a lot of favorites don’t even progress to the big game. In the last world cup, one would be hard pressed to find someone who would have bet that the nations with the two oldest squads would have met in Berlin.

Italy were fresh from a domestic match fixing/referee scandal and the French were having managerial and motivational issues (again). Both started out slowly but gained momentum as the tournament went on. In 2002, both hosts South Korea and Turkey were the big surprises, but their Cinderella runs ended in the semi’s.

Once a team makes it to the semifinals all bets are off. Its just one game and anything can happen. Like most sporting events these are usually the best games as the teams have nothing too lose and go all out.

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