Hope for a Big Footie Weekend

Euro 2008 is progressing through the second set of matches and Saturday will be the highly-touted Spaniards vs. Sweden in Group D.

For the first 67 agonizing minutes against Greece, it was boring, tactical soccer (hereafter known as football). Then, a quick give-and-go via Henrik Larsson, Zlatan Ibrahimovic's right foot secured Sweden a 3 point win, and momentum into Saturday's match against Spain.

It will be a completely different battle than that versus Greece. The creative Spaniards are known to make the simple look difficult and the difficult look simple. What is more, they are a talented team composed of rivalling factions - defenders Ramos (Real Madrid) and Puyol (FC Barcelona) reportedly had a yelling match during the first 10 minutes of their opening match against Russia.

Sweden will need to control the midfield and have solid communication along the backline. Two problems of this strategy are in the form of injuries to speedy right midfielder, and lone La Liga player, Christian Wilhelmsson and experienced back Niklas Alexandersson.

In their two meetings during Euro qualifying, Sweden won at home 2-0 (fall of 2006!), and lost in Madrid, 3-0.

If I were coach Lagerbäck, I'd be studying film of Manchester United's 1-0 win over Barcelona in the 2nd leg of the Champions League semi-final. It may not be completely an apples to apples comparison, although it was a brilliant demonstration of how to stifle and counter the lively tick-tack-toe Spanish style.

I hope for a draw.

Sunday, June 15, sees the Canadian national team (ranked 60) begin its quest for South Africa 2010 as the men's national team faces island nation, St. Vincent and the Grenadines (ranked 147). Hopes for this team are high, as the bitter taste of 2006's World Cup campaign fell enormously short of expectations.

Much talk on the forums of Canadian-soccer.com have been over the surprise roster spot given to Nigerian born, Ugo Ihemelu. Strangely enough, the Colorado Rapids player holds both Canadian and American citizenship and played 14 minutes of a 2006 friendly against Norway. The key issue is that those 14 minutes were for the United States national team. Word going around the forums is that the friendly was a so-called B-game and he is apparently still able to change nations. One would hope the CSA has done the due diligence to ensure Ihemelu is eligible for Canada.

I have hopes for a significant win to start the WC campaign. Mid-fielder Julian De Guzman may be injured, but the rest of the "Golden Generation" will be on the pitch and ready to pummel the St VAG zone with offence.

UPDATE: the Globe and Mail published an article where a couple players spoke out about the disorganization at the CSA. It is refreshing to hear that is not just us fans who are frustrated.

Finally, on a "Canadians in Sweden" note, Hammarby IF had 3 young Canadians on trial at the end of May.

Tyler Hemming, Vahid Assadpour and Tosaint Ricketts got a good look during a week of trainings. Though none were offered contracts, it is promising to see that young Canadians are getting attention at this level.

Hammarby coach, Tony Gustavsson had some kind, yet constructive critique for the lads.

Translated from the site:

Among this week's guests, he (Tosaint Ricketts) stood out. He was quickest of all
participants in the team's physical training tests, conducted Tuesday (May
20th).Quoting coach Tony Gustavsson "He confirmed the physical assets I'd heard
about, he's a player with unique agility and quickness. It was almost awful,
in a positive way of course. Then, he also was a bit un-schooled in both
technique and tactics."

Ricketts countrymen, midfield Vahid Assadpour and back Tyler Hemming, did not look out of place. "Vahid is a quick thinker and quite all-round. Tyler is the wisest of those who have been here. He has very good sense of the play and technically very secure with both feet, yet lacking quickness," says Gustavsson.

At present, it does not look realistic to write any contracts with any
of the players attending the camp. At the same time, the head coach is still
seeking talent at striker, inside midfield and midback during the summer.


EURO 2008 - Sweden vs. Greece

Tonight, Sweden jumps into the fray among the 16 nations fighting for European soccer (hereafter known as football) supremacy. The match against defending champions Greece will be a vital benchmark for the hopes of both teams.

Sweden made Euro2008 after finishing second to Spain in what was a rollercoaster qualifying campaign. For every dominant performance, such as the 2-0 home win over Spain, there would be an uninspired 2-1 loss to the likes of Northern Ireland. Amongst all this, one never really got a sense of who was the real Swedish team. Never mind the fact that qualifying also included a near debacle in the form of the bizarre 3-0 default win over Denmark*.
With a roster composed of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Fredrik Ljungberg and Henrik Larsson, the Swedes should be almost feared when it is a big competition. Unfortunately, the cast of players is not all a Zlatan, Freddie or Henke. Although it is a blend of experience with youth and European league stars with domestic dignataries, one can only hope the team gels and that a top class team shows up tonight.
It is not that Sweden is inexperienced, internationally. In fact, Sweden is in its fifth straight international tournament (Euro 2000, 04, 08 & World Cup 02, 06) and will field a team quite similar to that which exited the 2006 World Cup in the quarter-finals against the host Germans.
Most of this nation is football mad at the moment. Every possible newspaper is pushing their own “exclusive Euro2008 supplement” or major retailers flog their own blue and yellow merchandise.
I have yet to see a media outlet, even most of the Swedish ones, give the Swedish team much hope of advancing past the quarter-finals. That said, this is the European Championship, and like Denmark in 1992 and Greece in 2004, with a bit of teamwork and luck, any country can win it all. Greece proved in 2004 that a strong defensive strategy can win a championship.

I think an aggressive start will go a long way in facing Greece. The offensive weapons of Zlatan and Henke (Larsson) need to be exploited and Greece’s defensive wall must fall.

By my assessment, Sweden needs at least 4 points (one win, one tie) to emerge from this group. Spain is a heavy favourite and Russia is a wildcard. Greece, though defending champs, are a team Sweden needs to overcome in order to set the record straight that the real Swedish team has shown up to European football’s big dance.

* Sweden led 3-0 after 30 minutes only for Denmark to claw back to 3-3 by the 85th minute, at which time a Danish defender sucker punched Swede Marcus Rosenberg in the penalty area which was a red card to Denmark & penalty shot for Sweden. The penalty shot never got taken, as directly after the red card, a Danish spectator stormed the pitch and attacked the referee. The match was stopped and eventually forfeited. The 3-0 result was awarded to Sweden.


Sweden's National Day

Yesterday, the Swedish Red Wings, er, check that... Detroit Red Wings won the Stanley Cup. Niklas Lidström became the first non-North American to captain a Stanley Cup champion (only the second non-Canadian, if I'm not mistaken) and Henrik Zetterberg won the Conn Smythe Award as playoff MVP.

What's more, today, June 6, is the National Day of Sweden. It was 485 years ago that Gustaf Vasa was elected king, forming what is considered to be modern Sweden.

If anything, this cataclysm of events deserves a cheezy photo set-up.

Yay Sweden... Tomorrow, it's back to Oh Canada and Go Oilers Go!


Canada vs. Mexico = Tip Top vs. Armani

Comparing Canada’s national team coach Dale Mitchell to Swede Sven-Göran Eriksson is like comparing Tip Top Tailors to Georgio Armani. In both cases, one can still show up to the show looking good, but it is really a question of quality, style and above all, money.

The worst kept secret in soccer (hereafter known as football) has finally been made official. Sven-Göran Eriksson, along with his entourage of Tord Grip and Hans “Hasse” Backe, have been named to lead the Mexican national football team, El Tri.

Mexico has paid a sweet bit of money (2 year - $7.5 Million contract) to gain the services of “Svennis” but the return is a proven commodity. Sven is a magnet for winning. As early as 1982 he took the small Swedish club (small by European standards) IFK Göteborg all the way to the UEFA Cup, and won it all, not to mention also winning their own domestic league and Swedish Cup that same year. Svennis has won in Italy, with Lazio, Roma (Coppa Italia ‘86), Fiorentina, and Sampdoria (Coppa Italia ‘94) and Portugal (Benefica). The most recent exploits with England’s national team and Manchester City have been well documented by the vicious, yet loving (tongue-in–cheek), British media.

Although he may be a magnet for success, he also is a magnet of the ladies and controversy. He often spiced up the tabloids when his famous British ladies spoke out. Or, what British football fan could forget the sense of betrail when news broke of his secret meetings/job interview with a Saudi sheikh (in reality a News of the World reporter posing as one)? Despite the scandals, he always seems to somehow conduct himself with poise, yet also maintain an image as shrewd business man and coach. One wonders how he can achieve such success with such a mild mannered demeanour. Must be the suits...

A jump across the pond to CONCACAF should lead to more success for the man from Sweden's Värmland, and Canada will get to experience it first hand.

If Canada wins it’s upcoming series vs. St. Vincent and the Grenadines (which they should) and Mexico disposes of Belize, the two will face each other in stage 3 of World Cup qualifying.

Mexico has always been a powerhouse in CONCACAF and with this move, they can only continue to improve. Their domestic league is strong and they are arguably one of the prime football cultures in the Americas, after Brasil and Argentina.

Quoting Mexican sports analyst David Faitelson about Eriksson's appointment:

  • I celebrate, applaud and delight in the decision Mexican football has taken today. Not only is it about the arrival of Sven-Goran Eriksson... it's about a new conviction and desire on the part of those in charge of Mexican football to explore the kind of horizons we wouldn't have dared look at in the past.

The Canada Soccer Association (CSA) and Dale Mitchell on the other hand, are scraping themselves back into shape after a debacle of resignations and infighting among the CSA executive.

Mitchell's credentials are hardly inspiring in light of Eriksson's. Dale Mitchell never played professional football outside of North America, although he was well capped with the Canadian national team. As a player, he appeared in the '84 Olympics and the '86 World Cup. Prior to taking over the nation's top team, he was at the helm of the Vancouver Whitecaps and the U20 national team. This is hardly a top-class, international football cv, but with consideration to David Faitelson's quote, it is about as far as the CSA's horizon reaches.

How will Canada meet this improvement to its CONCACAF brother? Hopefully, they will start by buying coach Dale Mitchell a good suit.