Tag Archives: Xabi Alonso

Ballon d’Or shortlist revealed

26 Oct

The shortlist for the 2010 FIFA Ballon D’Or, the award for the world’s best footballer, was announced earlier today.  The award combines the FIFA World Player of the Year and the France Football ballon d’Or trophy, which previously were given out seperately.  Spanish players dominate the list and rightfully so after winning the country’s first World Cup trophy over the summer.  There are seven Spanish players and three each from Germany and Brazil.  Lionel Messi, the winner of both awards in 2009, makes the list along with Diego Forlan, the Golden Ball winner at the World Cup.  Conspicuously absent? Anyone English, but I can’t say that’s surprising after their less-than-impressive World Cup performance, coupled with the absence of any English squad in the Champions League semifinals.

It’s a formidable list to be sure and if I had to pick five finalists and a winner, I’d go with (in no particular order)…
1. Diego Forlan – The catalyst in Uruguay’s third place finish at the World Cup…Ended the tournament with five goals…Also led Atletico Madrid to the Europa League title, scoring both goals in the final against Fulham, as well as twice in the semifinals against Liverpool.
2. Arjen Robben – A large reason why the Netherlands made it to the World Cup final (although he did choke away a couple stellar chances in the final)…Clutch goals for Bayern were also huge as the team reached the Champions League final for the first time since 2001.
3. Xavi –
Lynchpin of Spain’s marvelous passing game…Excellent distribution…Completed 81% of his tournament-leading 669 passes at the World Cup, highest percentage of any player…Led Barcelona to La Liga title and the Champions League semifinals.
4. Wesley Sneijder – Big-time performer for the Netherlands, including two goals in somewhat surprising win over Brazil…Major player for Inter as the Italian side claimed the Champions League title…Extremely influential for both squads.
5. Lionel Messi – Electrifying player, especially for Barcelona…Played well in the World Cup despite not scoring any goals…Helped lead Barcelona to La Liga title…And let’s be honest, who is more exciting to watch? That’s right, no one.

And the award goes to…
Xavi – He is a true game-changer and Spain does not hoist the World Cup trophy without him.

Xabi Alonso (Spain/Real Madrid)
Dani Alves (Brazil/Barcelona)
Iker Casillas (Spain/Real Madrid)
Cristiano Ronaldo (Portugal/Real Madrid)
Didier Drogba (Ivory Coast/Chelsea)
Samuel Eto’o (Cameroon/Inter)
Cesc Fabregas (Spain/Arsenal)
Diego Forlan (Uruguay/Atletico Madrid)
Asamoah Gyan (Ghana/Sunderland)
Andres Iniesta (Spain/Barcelona)
Julio Cesar (Brazil/Inter)
Miroslav Klose (Germany/Bayern Munich)
Philipp Lahm (Germany/Bayern Munich)
Maicon (Brazil/Inter)
Lionel Messi (Argentina/Barcelona)
Carles Puyol (Spain/Barcelona)
Arjen Robben (Netherlands/Bayern Munich)
Bastian Schweinsteiger (Germany/Bayern Munich)
Wesley Sneijder (Netherlands/Inter)
David Villa (Spain/Barcelona)
Xavi (Spain/Barcelona)

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Final thoughts on the 2010 World Cup

13 Jul

I am still slightly saddened by the fact that the most glorious month of football is over for another four years.  It all went by so fast.  I’m resigned to watching MLS and waiting on transfer rumours until the Premier League starts August 14.  Lame.  Anyways, I got the idea for this post from Sports Illustrated’s 50 observations story and figured it was a good way to do things since I have too many jumbled up thoughts in my head to actually write a coherent post.

My 27 thoughts on South Africa 2010 (in no particular order and which I’m sure to add to)

1. There was no better way to start the tournament than Siphiwe Tshabalala’s rocket shot.  An awesome start for the host nation.

2. I still can’t believe what a disaster the French team was.  Those players are going to be embarassed when they look back on this.

3. I lost track of the number of times I wished that Charlie Davies was healthy and able to play for the U.S. Robbie Findley’s inability to get a decent shot off was so damn frustrating.

4. The more replays I see of Nigel De Jong’s karate kick to Xabi Alonso’s chest, the more I’m amazed that he only ended up with a yellow card.

5. The emotion in this sport is phenomenal.  You can go from tears to cheers to outrage, all over the course of 90 minutes.  What a fantastic sport.

6. How awesome would it have been to be in Spain for the final on Sunday? 

7. Spain’s win emphasized the team over individual.  That team is full of all-stars, but they put their egos aside for their country.  Take note of that, England.

8. While entertaining, Diego Maradona is not fit for coaching.  Like I’ve said before, being a great player does not make you a good coach.

9. Germany was the most fun to watch (well, except against Spain).  The way they could move the ball up the pitch so quickly and finish so well was awesome. 

10. I still think refs needs to be held accountable for their decisions during a game.  There’s no real punishment if they screw up.

11. Landon Donovan’s stoppage time goal against Algeria was one of the highlights of my U.S. soccer watching career.  Absolutely amazing.  It made me cry.

12. Who would have thought Uruguay would make it to the semifinals?  Diego Forlan was a complete stud throughout the tournament and rightly won the Golden Ball as the tournament’s best player.

13. Italy’s failure to advance out of the group stage was all about cockiness. They thought they could cakewalk through the group and that wasn’t the case.

14. I think the vuvuzela will stay a South African tradition.  I’m sure a few will pop up in other places, but there’s no way it’s going to replace a good old-fashioned yell.

15. Tim Howard was disappointing for team USA.  Yeah, he had a couple of good saves against England, but he was otherwise pedestrian.  I expected more from a top-class keeper.

16. Fernando Torres was clearly not 100% fit.  His touch was off and he couldn’t find the back of the net to save his life.  An apparent hamstring? groin? injury was just the crappy end he needed.  Well, at least he ended up with a winner’s medal as consolation.

17. I think there should be retroactive punishments for horrible diving.  Example: Ivory Coast’s Kader Keita’s dramatic “facial injury” after running into Kaka, which earned the Brazilian his second yellow of the game.  The game does not need that shizz.

18. How did Lionel Messi not score a goal?  He had some pretty wicked shots on goal and had some goalies make some terrific saves.

19. I have absolutely no problem with what Luis Suarez did in the Uruguay-Ghana game.  Was it illegal? Yes.  Did he get punished appropriately? Yes. It was such a big deal because Ghana was the last African team left, but I’m glad FIFA wasn’t jaded by that fact.  If things had gone the other way around, I’m sure the Ghana fans would’ve said it was worth it.

20. I would not want to be a national team manager, especially for a team like England.  Too many egos involved.  Props to those managers that put up with that crap on a regular basis.

21. My call for biggest upset: tie between Slovakia 3, Italy 2 and New Zealand 1, Italy 1.  I hate the Italian national team so these results were amazing.

22. The World Cup brought out some really good journalism.  It also brought out some total crap.  After Rick Reilly’s horrible WC column, I refuse to read anything he writes.

23. For the love of all that is holy, Bob Bradley, what the hell were you thinking with the lineup against Ghana?

24. The whole Paul the Octopus phenomenon really amused me.  It was crazy to see how seriously people were taking his predictions.  It’s an octopus, people!

25. Game of the tournament: Uruguay-Ghana, hands down.

26. I don’t think Robert Green will ever live down his howler against the United States.  He’s just lucky that draw didn’t cost England a spot in the knockout round or it could’ve gotten a lot uglier.

27. The supposed “stars” of this World Cup didn’t shine, but I’m ok with that.  It allowed players that are equally as awesome like Diego Forlan, Xavi, Asamoah Gyan and more to get their deserved chance in the spotlight.

Three reasons Spain will win

9 Jul

Spain and the Netherlands play Sunday in the World Cup final.  One of the two will be lucky enough to become the eighth country ever to hoist the trophy.  Here’s three reasons Spain will win.  (Netherlands post coming later.)

1. Possession.  No team in the tournament can play the possession game like Spain.  They’ve won the possession battle in all six games they’ve played so far, averaging 58.5%, which is rather awesome.  Because of the fact that they pass so well (81% pass completion rate in the tournament), they force teams to play Spain’s way.  That’s what happened with Germany; Spain played such a controlled passing game that Germany never had a chance to launch counterattacks.  If they can do the same thing to the Dutch and make them play Spain’s brand of football, it bodes well for the European champions.

2. Xavi. This man has been spectacular for Spain and a huge reason why they are in the final at all.  He is one of Spain’s three nominees for the Golden Ball.  Xavi is the lynchpin of the Spanish midfield and much of the organized, calm play runs through him.  He has completed the most passes of any player in South Africa and how he plays on Sunday will be a huge factor in the outcome.  The team’s midfield as a whole has been excellent and Xavi, along with Xabi Alonso and Sergio Busquets lead the passing charts (Spain holds six of the top ten spots. Check it out for yourself.).  Coincidence?  I think not.

3. Defense. Spain has only given up two goals in the tournament thus far.  One in the opening loss to Switzerland and one in a 2-1 win over Chile in the final group game.  Goalie Iker Casillas and the defense have posted four shutouts, including three straight.  Casillas has come up big several times, including a penalty save against Paraguay and a breakaway save against Germany.  As a whole, the defense plays smart and doesn’t commit a lot of stupid fouls.  Of course, it also helps that Spain’s defenders are also talented at going forward too.  After all, it was a defender that got them into the final.

Oh, and let’s not forget that Paul the Psychic Octopus picked them to win the final.  Paul was six for six on picking Germany’s results, so clearly he’s right.

Germany-Spain predictions

6 Jul

Predictions on who will get to play the Netherlands in the final from myself and my former coach.

The Soccer Wall: The Germans have mastered the art of winning pretty, while Spain has mastered the art of the David Villa victory.  

Germany has looked the more dynamic side and has multiple scoring threats going forward (although the team will be missing four goal man Thomas Muller because of suspension – lame rule, btw).  In addition to having a strong attack, the German defense has done a good job of shutting down opponents’ main scoring threats (Lionel Messi, Wayne Rooney) and will have to be on top form to shut down Villa and Fernando Torres, who hasn’t done much, but that could change in an instant.  Bastian Schweinsteiger has had a fantastic tournament anchoring Germany and he will have his hands full with a talented Spanish midfield.

Spain’s strength lies in its midfield play. The play of Xavi, Andres Iniesta and Xabi Alonso will determine how the team does.  This is a team that doesn’t panic when things don’t click right away.  They are patient with the ball in building scoring opportunities.  The defense has also stepped up its game after an opening loss to Switzerland, notching shutouts in three games, including the two knockout matches.  Spain will have to shut down the Germans down the wings as the Germans do an excellent job of stretching the field (both length and width, actually).

I think Germany will continue to play its balls to the wall style and come out on top.  They will be able to shut down David Villa and Miroslav Klose will break the World Cup scoring record (he’s two goals away).  

Final score prediction: Germany 3 – Spain 1

Con (soccer coach at UWA in Perth):  I think the final is going to depend on how the teams go out to play in the semi.

Germany have “looked” awesome when teams have attacked them and allowed them to break quickly.

Against the Aussies, they faced a team that changed it’s formation for the first time in 4 years, played two non-strikers up front (Cahill and Garcia) and were all at sea as to what they were doing. They also had a player sent off and the score was only 4-0 including one goal that should surely have been stopped by Schwarzer had he come out quicker.

Against England, the poms attacked thinking that their previous wins against Ze Germans, could be replicated only to find that they were sucker punched as John Terry was continually drawn out of position leaving Germany with an easy 1 on 1 to goal each time.

Then there was Argentina, whose Plan A was to attack followed by Plans B – E which were… the same as Plan A. Attack they did but with no width (which the Germans realised and basically closed down the space around the top of the box knowing that the Argie wingers were playing on the wrong side (Right Footer on the Left and a Left footer on the right) meaning they could be closed easily without any good deliveries coming in. The argies reply to this was to commit more men forward but do the same thing which saw them open themselves up at the back.

Spain are a different kettle of fish, they aren’t as naive as the Argies and hold posession a lot better, and are more patient at breaking down their opponents. Plus lets not forget that many teams will change their style when it comes to a semi final, the fact that you’re one game away plays on the mind of players and coaches.

One can only hope for a German Dutch final.

Germany, Spain advance to semis

3 Jul

The South American revolution at the World Cup is officially over and it’s now Europe’s show to lose.  Uruguay is the only South American side remaining after wins for Germany and Spain today.

Germany wasted no time getting on the board against Argentina with Thomas Muller heading in a free kick from Bastian Schweinsteiger in the third minute.  The Germans never looked back, putting on a stellar all-around display.  The defense did an excellent job of shutting down the potent attack of Lionel Messi and Gonzalo Higuain.  Germany added three (THREE!) second half goals.  Miroslav Klose scored twice to move into a tie for second on the World Cup all-time scoring list, one behind Fat Ronaldo with two games to play.  Defender Arne Friedrich added one of his own after Schweinsteiger beat three defenders with his dribbling before lying the ball to Friedrich.  

Germany is going to be a tough nut to crack for Spain.  The German passing game has been excellent and the counterattack has been second to none.  However, they will be without Muller in the semifinal after he picked up a crap yellow card for a “handball”.  Even without Muller, the team has the weapons to put on another solid display.  

In the day’s second game, there was more penalty drama as Spain earned its first ever berth in the semifinals.  Paraguay did a great job of shutting down Spain’s vaunted attack, often swarming three players around the ball and giving Spain no time to connect their passes.  Despite Spain’s dominance in possession, Paraguay ended up with the best chance of the first half, but the resulting goal was called back on a questionable offsides call.  Things heated up in the second half after Gerard Pique pulled down Oscar Cardozo in the box, earning Paraguay a penalty.  Goalie Iker Casillas came up with a huge save and a mere minute later, Spain had earned a penalty of their own after David Villa was taken down in the box.  (Some people are saying that foul was a red card, but I agree with the yellow.)  Xabi Alonso buried the spot kick, but no!  It was called back for encroachment and he had to retake it.  This time, Paraguay goalie Justo Villar made the save and then got away with taking out Cesc Fabregas on a rebound shot.  Villa came up big again for Spain in the 83rd minute, putting in a shot that ricocheted off both posts off a rebound from a Pedro shot.  He now leads the tournament with five goals and has scored five of Spain’s six goals.

Spain looked shaky for large stretches of the game, especially in the final third.  They couldn’t connect on any crosses and the partnership between Villa and Fernando Torres was continually on two different pages.  

This sets up a rematch of the Euro 2008 final between Germany and Spain.  Spain ended up with its first major title after Torres notched a goal late in the second half.  If Germany continues their stellar run and Spain has a slow start like they did today, I could see this round going to Germany.   Spain will have to have players other than Villa step up to score goals as Germany’s defense can shut out dangerous players very well.  With Germany’s ability for a speedy counterattack, Spain’s defense will have to be on full alert at all times.  The midfield battle will get interesting too since Schweinsteiger has been a rock in the midfield throughout the tournament and Xavi and Iniesta are some of the best in the world.

Pick for the final: Germany, they are just playing too well to be stopped.

World Cup results – June 16

16 Jun

Switzerland pulled the upset of the tournament so far, beating favored Spain 1-0 on a 52nd minute Gelson Fernandes goal.  Spain had several chances to score, but couldn’t ever put it in the back of the net.  Xabi Alonso came closest though, nailing a shot off the cross bar in the final minutes.  In the day’s opening game, Chile knocked off Honduras, 1-0, but it could’ve easily been 3-0 or 4-0.  Honduras just never really got in a groove. In the second set of games in group A, Uruguay dominated host South Africa in a 3-0 win. Diego Forlan became the first player in the tournament to score multiple goals in the same game.

Group H Results
Honduras 0
Chile 1 (Beausejour 34)

Spain 0
Switzerland 1 (Fernandes 52)

Group A Results
South Africa 0
Uruguay 3 (Forlan 24, 80 – pen, Pereira 90)

Group H Standings
Chile – 3
Switzerland – 3
Spain – 0
Honduras – 0

Alonso headed to Real Madrid

4 Aug

Xabi Alonso is set to join Real Madrid with the deal subject only to a medical on Wednesday.  No details about the deal have been released.

It makes me quite sad to see him go since he was such a force in the midfield for Liverpool.  Now the question becomes – who will replace Alonso?  I don’t think there’s currently anyone in the squad who can do what Alonso does.  There have been rumours about David Silva or David Villa, but who knows what will come to fruition.  All i know is that Liverpool needs an Alonso-like player in the midfield if they are going to make a serious run at the league crown.

Alonso joins fellow former Liverpool player Alvaro Albeloa at Real as well as big name signings Cristiano Ronaldo, Kaka and Karim Benzema.

On a slightly different note, I don’t think teams that just buy the best talent (Real Madrid, Manchester City) are a lock to win anything.  There’s no guarantee that the players bought will fit in with the system or the current players or the coach.  Money doesn’t buy championships (as a Washington Redskins fan, I’ve learned that lesson well over the years.