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This blog reflects on soccer qua football all over the world. The blog has a specific investment in attractive, attacking football and, as such, focuses on Brazil, the most emphatic historical exponent of the beautiful game.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Mano Menezes Announces Brazil Squad for Germany Friendly

Mano Menezes named one of his trademark, experimental squads for the Brazilian national team's friendly against Germany in Stuttgart on August 10. The Brazilian coach dropped Elano, Sandro, Jadson, Luisao and Adriano and replaced them with Fernandinho, Luis Gustavo, Renato Augusto, Dede and striker Jonas. Once again, Mano omitted Kaka and Ronaldinho from the national team. The Hulk marked another surprising omission given Brazil's problems scoring goals at Copa America. Predictably, Mano's squad prizes youth over experience, but it fails to address the lack of cohesion in Brazil's midfield that resulted from Mano's 4-3-3 formation. Copa America illustrated how Ganso needs help running the Brazilian midfield. Moreover, the tournament embarassingly revealed how the three pronged strike formation of Pato, Neymar and Robinho failed to pose more of an offensive threat than two strikers. Brazil may be better off returning to a 4-2-2-2 formation with Lucas and Ramires behind Ganso and Renato Augusto, who in turn lie behind Robinho and Pato. Kaka and Ronaldinho would have been strong choices to field against Germany alongside Ganso, but Mano has once again opted to select young players that are likely to bring speed and vitality to the squad. All in all, the squad selection represents a highly courageous move on Mano's part to stick with his conviction to renovate the Brazilian national team at precisely the time when he badly needs a victory to shore up the security of his position as coach.

Brazil's squad for the August 10 friendly against Germany is as follows:

Goalkeepers: Julio Cesar (Inter Milan), Victor (Gremio)

Defenders: Andre Santos (Fenerbahce), Daniel Alves (Barcelona), Maicon (Inter Milan), David Luiz (Chelsea), Dede (Vasco de Gama), Lucio, Thiago Silva (AC Milan)

Midfielders: Lucas Leiva (Liverpool), Ramires (Chelsea), Fernandinho (Shakhtar Donetsk), Ganso (Santos), Elias (Atletico Madrid), Lucas (Sao Paulo), Luis Gustavo (Bayern Munich), Ralf (Corinthians), Renato Augusto (Bayer Leverkusen)

Forwards: Alexandre Pato (AC Milan), Fred (Fluminense), Neymar (Santos), Robinho (AC Milan), Jonas (Valencia)

Monday, July 18, 2011

Brazil Make Disgraceful Exit from Copa America 2011

Brazil made a disgraceful exit from the 2011 Copa America by losing to Paraguay on penalties after failing to convert four consecutive penalty kicks by Elano, Thiago Silva, Andre Santos and Fred in the extra time shoot-out. The Selecao controlled possession but displayed what has begun to become their trademark, under Mano Menezes, of failing to find the back of the net. Ganso’s presence was negligible in midfield and although the Selecao created some high percentage chances for Lucio, Neymar and Pato, they failed to break down the Paraguayan defense. Clearly, Mano’s experiment in transforming Brazil’s midfield is not working. Ganso does not have the experience to wear the number 10 jersey and orchestrate the Brazilian attack in the way he does for Santos. Meanwhile, the three pronged strike formation of Robinho, Neymar and Pato has failed to score goals as needed. Although Ricardo Teixera, President of the Brazilian Confederation of Football, confirmed that Mano will continue as coach, rumors abound that only months separate him from replacement by Muricy Ramalho or Luiz Felipe Scolari.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Women's World Cup: Japan Beats USA to Earn World Cup Title

Japan 2-USA 2 (Japan wins 3-1 on penalties)

USA: Alex Morgan (69)
JAPAN: Aya Miyama (82)
USA: Abby Wambach (105)
JAPAN: Homare Sawa (117)

Japan beat the USA on penalties in a thrilling match that witnessed the Nadeshiko come from behind twice and win the World Cup on penalties. The match highlighted the failure of the USA to capitalize on a multitude of scoring opportunities as well as the strength of Japan’s passing game and its grace under pressure. Although U.S. coach Pia Sundhage's replacement of Alex Rodriguez with Megan Rapinoe in the starting line-up sparked the U.S. offense, Japan soaked up the pressure and surged forward using their short passing game and skilled distribution to the flanks.

Alex Morgan opened the scoring for USA in the 69th minute after latching onto a long through ball from Megan Rapinoe and using her pace and skill to one-touch the ball into the back of the net. The Nadeshiko kept pressing patiently and earned an equalizer in the 82nd minute when some confusion in the U.S. box allowed Aya Miyama to score from close range. As the match went to extra time, team USA's fitness and experience in high pressure situations seemed destined to earn them their third World Cup trophy as they threatened through set pieces and attacking plays featuring Rapinoe, Alex Morgan and Abby Wambach.

After a bevy of missed opportunities, Wambach put the USA ahead in the 105th minute with a header from an Alex Morgan cross that marked her fourth goal in four consecutive World Cup games. But just when it looked like the USA was sailing to its third World Cup title, the Nadeshiko’s skilled passing game and legendary patience blossomed again, this time three minutes from the final whistle. Homare Sawa flicked an Aya Miyama corner into the back of the net to make the score 2-2 in the 117th minute and send the 2011 World Cup final to penalties.

For the USA, Shannon Boxx, Tobin Heath and Carli Lloyd missed penalties one, two and three, while Abby Wambach scored on spot kick number four. For Japan, Aya Miyama, Mizuho Sakaguchi and Saki Kumagai scored penalties one, three and four, after Hope Solo saved penalty number two from Yuki Nagasoto. Japan scored from three penalty kicks, to one from the USA, with one penalty remaining and hence won the trophy upon Kumagai’s penalty conversion.

Japan now join Norway, USA and Germany in an elite group of four nations who have won the Women’s World Cup. Homare Sawa won the Golden Boot award for top goalscorer with five goals as well as the Golden Ball award for the tournament’s best player. Japan can claim victories over Germany, Sweden and the USA on its way to World Cup glory.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Japan vs. USA: 2011 Women's World Cup Final Preview

Update: For more on Japan's 7/17 World Cup victory, see "Women's World Cup: Japan Beats USA to Earn World Cup Title"

On Sunday, the USA face Japan in the finals of the sixth Women's World Cup in Frankfurt, Germany. The match pits the experience, athleticism and success of the U.S. team against a Japanese team that is slowly but surely emerging as a major player on the women's soccer stage. The USA has displayed an extraordinary will to win and ability to overcome adversity in World Cup 2011 thus far. Against Brazil in the quarterfinals, the USA was outplayed for much of the match but found a way to earn a last minute equalizer to take the match to penalty kicks. Against France, in the semifinals, team USA was similarly outplayed in the midfield for at least forty minutes following its early goal but managed to carve out two winning goals within the last twenty minutes to earn a 3-1 victory and place in the World Cup final.

Against Japan, however, matters will be more complicated. While the USA can leverage its aerial strength and height superiority over the Japanese, it will confront one of the most organized, efficient and effective midfield formations in the women's game. Japan's midfield typically features Homare Sawa, Aya Miyama, Mizuho Sakaguchi and Kozue Ando, who play behind a two pronged attack composed of a paired combination of Shinobu Ohno, Nahomi Kawasumi, Mana Iwabuchi, Yuki Nagasoto or Karina Maruyama.

Against Sweden, Japan's starting 4-4-2 formation featured:

Goalkeeper
Ayumi Kaihori

Defenders:
Yukari Kinga (Right defender), Azusa Iwasimizu, Saki Kumagai, Aya Sameshima (Left defender)

Midfield:
Aya Miyama, Mizuho Sakaguchi, Homare Sawa, Kozue Ando

Strikers:
Shinobu Ohno, Nahomi Kawasumi

The notable change that Japan coach Norio Sasaki made against Sweden was the surprise inclusion of Nahomi Kawasumi in the starting line-up instead of striker Yuki Nagasoto. Sasaki is likely to start Kawasumi again, particularly since the USA will have fewer recent games from which to scout her playing style in preparation for the final.

On the U.S. side, coach Pia Sundhage is likely to play a 4-4-2 formation as follows:

Goalkeeper
Hope Solo

Defenders:
Ali Krieger (Right defender), Christine Rampone, Rachel Buehler, Amie Le Peilbet (Left defender)

Midfield:
Amy Rodriguez, Heather O'Reilley, Carli Lloyd, Shannon Box

Strikers:
Abby Wambach, Lauren Cheney

Amy Rodriguez is a striker that Sundhage likes to play deeper than Wambach and Cheney. Alex Morgan, who scored the third goal against France, represents another attacking option for the USA. The key in the match will be the battle in midfield and whether Japan can dictate the tempo and rhythm of the game. If Homare Sawa and Aya Miyama can assert themselves in midfield and allow Japan to play its passing game, the USA will encounter a real challenge to lifting the trophy for the third time. On the other hand, if the USA can assert its physical presence in the opposing third of the field and draw set pieces of all stripes, a USA victory is almost assured. The USA also has the advantage of the best goalkeeper in the world in the form of Hope Solo.

Keys for Japan

(1) Play its trademark passing game
(2) Attack down the flanks with Aya Sameshima and Yukari Kinga
(3) Effectively mark U.S. set pieces
(4) Concede few fouls near the box

Keys for USA

(1) Win set pieces in the opposing third of the field
(2) Play aerial balls to test Ayumi Kaihori, the Japanese goalkeeper
(3) Disrupt Japan's free flowing football
(4) Effective defensive play in midfield

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Copa America: Brazil beats Ecuador 4-2 through Pato and Neymar braces

Brazil 4 - Ecuador 2

Brazil beat Ecuador 4-2 in their final Copa America group match to set up a mouthwatering quarterfinal clash against Paraguay. Mano Menezes replaced Dani Alves with Maicon in a move that changed the complexion of the team and the Brazilian offense in particular. Maicon's blistering runs down the right flank effectively gave Brazil another attacking midfielder to supplement Ganso in setting up Robinho, Neymar and Pato. The Selecao started gingerly but began to find their footing after Andre Santos curled in a visionary cross to the center of the box which the onrushing Pato headed into the back of the net. Pato latched onto Santos's cross with all of the majesty and power of a true Brazilian center forward in the number 9 jersey. Scarcely 10 minutes later, Ecuador's Felipe Caceido equalized with a low shot that Julio Cesar let slip through his hands in what amounted to a huge goalkeeping blunder. Neymar put the Samba boys back in front minutes after the break by collecting an assist from Ganso and calmly slotting the ball to the keeper's left to score his first goal of the tournament. But the Ecuadorians refused to lie down while the Brazilians, correspondingly, found it difficult to contain Caceido. The Ecuadorian striker buried another low shot from near the edge of the box to make it 2-2 in the 59th minute.

But from then on, Brazil unleashed a magnificent display of its international experience and goalscoring strength. Pato poached a Neymar shot to score Brazil's third goal and then Neymar completed a brace by one-touching a Maicon cross from the far right to make it 4-2. Mano should be delighted with the fight of his team and the way in which Ganso is gradually finding his place at the heart of the Brazilian attacking midfield. Robinho almost scored on two occasions, once in the first half in which he hit the post, and another in injury time where his goal was judged offside, both times from Maicon assists. After three Copa America matches, the Brazilian team is finally beginning to gel, with the key against Ecuador stemming from the additional space created by the marauding full back Maicon. Maicon stretched the Ecuadorian defense and created more room for the strikers near the box. The Inter Milan right back appeared fresher than Dani Alves and made a compelling case for his inclusion in the starting line-up in Sunday's challenging quarterfinal match against Roque Santa Cruz and Paraguay.

Goals:

Brazil: Pato (28)
Ecuador: Caceido (37)
Brazi: Neymar (49)
Ecuador: Caceido (59)
Brazil: Pato (61)
Brazil: Neymar (72)

Line-ups:

Brazil: Julio Cesar; Maicon, Lucio, Thiago Silva, Andre Santos; Lucas Leiva, Ramires, Ganso; Robinho, Pato, Neymar

Ecuador: Marcelo Elizaga; Neicer Reasco, Norberto Araujo, Frickson Erazo, Walter Ayoví; Oswaldo Minda, Christian Noboa, Michael Arroyo, Edison Méndez; Christian Benítez, Geovanny Caicedo

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Women's World Cup: Nahomi Kawasumi Spectacular Japan Goal Against Sweden

Update: For more on Japan's 7/17 World Cup victory, see "Women's World Cup: Japan Beats USA to Earn World Cup Title"

Semifinal result: Japan 3 - Sweden 1

Japan advances to the Women's World Cup final against USA on Sunday due to two goals by Nahomi Kawasumi and a header by Japan number 10 Homare Sawa. Kawasumi lobs the ball over the Swedish goalkeeper from roughly 35 meters to score Japan's third goal.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Women's World Cup: USA Beats Brazil on Penalties

USA 2 - Brazil 2 (USA wins on penalties, 5-3)

USA: Brazil own goal (Diane -- 2nd minute)
Brazil: Marta (penalty -- 68th minute)
Brazil: Marta (93rd minute)
USA: Abby Wambach (122nd minute)

USA beat Brazil on penalty kicks in the Quarterfinals of the World Cup in a remarkable game in which the USA took an early lead, went down to two Marta goals and equalized from a stunning, injury time goal by Abby Wambach that sent the match to penalty kicks. The USA put Brazil on the defensive through a second minute opening goal in which Brazil defender Diane put the ball into her own net after Shannon Box crossed from the left flank in search of Abby Wambach. Brazil struggled to find their rhythm after the shock of the opening goal but began to impose its authority on the game after 30 minutes of play. The Brazilians finally got the break they deserved in the 68th minute after a remarkable, solo play by Marta resulted in a penalty kick and red card for Rachel Buehler for a foul on Marta in the box. Hope Solo saved Brazil striker Christiane's penalty but the referee judged the USA goalkeeper to have moved off her line before the kick was taken and consequently allowed a retake of the penalty. This time, Marta stepped up to the penalty spot and made no mistake by sending the ball low to Hope Solo’s left.

Brazil continued to dominate possession for the remainder of regular time and re-opened the scoring just minutes into the first half of injury time with a brilliant Marta strike from her left foot that illustrated her game changing ability and designation as FIFA Women’s World Player of the Year for five consecutive years. But the Americans refused to give up and their legendary fitness emerged as a key factor in extra time as they poured players forward in search of the tying goal that would take them through to penalties. With just seconds left on the clock, Megan Rapinoe delivered a curling cross from the left flank to Abby Wambach, who refused to be distracted by Brazilian defenders and headed the ball into the roof of the net for a stunning injury time equalizer in the 122nd minute. In the subsequent penalty kick shoot-out, Hope Solo saved Brazil’s third kick from Diane while all of the USA penalty takers converted. USA's Ali Krieger scored the final kick to clinch a miraculous comeback for the Americans after appearing doomed to World Cup elimination by two goals from Marta, the world’s best player.

The match showcased the comeback and the fight of the U.S. team, their exemplary fitness, Marta's individual skill and a string of poor officiating. While Rachel Buehler's foul on Marta resulted in a deserved red card, Hope Solo's movement off the line was ever so subtle if present at all and did not merit a retake of the penalty. Team USA pressed forward after they lost Rachel Buehler and controlled much of the game despite being a woman down, due in no small part to their fitness and never say die attitude. On Brazil's side, Kleiton Lima's team failed to put the match away despite their one person advantage and lead.


Saturday, July 9, 2011

Copa America: Brazil Draws 2-2 with Paraguay

Brazil drew 2-2 against Paraguay in their second round match of Copa America, leaving them tied with Paraguay in second place for Group B. Brazil now face Ecuador in their final group match and need a victory to assure qualification into the next round. Jadson opened the scoring for Brazil after his surprise inclusion instead of Robinho. Paraguay continued to apply the pressure they brought to the opening minutes of the game in the second half and were rewarded with two goals in the space of twelve minutes from Roque Santa Cruz and Nelson Valdez. Mano substituted Lucas of Sao Paulo for Ramires and Fred for Neymar in an effort to spark the Brazilian attack but Paraguay packed the defense and were unlucky to concede a last minute goal from Fred. The Fluminense striker turned and fired a low shot past the keeper's right with one touch from a through ball flicked through the center of the defense by Ganso. Fred's goal keeps Brazil's Copa America hopes alive as questions begin to mount about Mano Menezes's tactics and inconsistent midfield formations. Brazil fans can take consolation that Paulo Henrique Ganso provided assists for both goals and will go into the Ecuador game with the confidence that he can pick out the Selecao's strikers. Moreover, Fred showed once again that he can put the ball in the back of the net and fill the center forward role that Brazil otherwise lacks. Meanwhile, defending champions Brazil continue to fight for a place in the knockout stages. Given strong performances by the Brazil substitutes against Paraguay, it's anyone's guess as to who will feature in the Brazil starting line-up on Wednesday against Ecuador.

Women's World Cup: Japan Beats Germany 1-0 in Quarterfinals

Japan beat defending champions Germany in a thrilling World Cup quarterfinal marked by a clinical finish from substitute striker Karina Maruyama off an Homare Sawa assist. Germany threatened Japan’s goal on multiple occasions during the first twenty minutes, even though they suffered the unexpected loss of midfielder Kim Kulig in the 8th minute due to injury. But after Japan weathered the initial period of German dominance, the Nadeshiko began to play their trademark passing game. Japan played deeper than Germany for much of the match and opted for a well organized 4-4-2 formation that attacked down the center. Strong Japanese defending in combination with accurate passing stifled Germany’s midfield and allowed the defending champions few chances to create high percentage shots on goal. The injury time goal in the 108th minute arose from a visionary pass from Homare Sawa in an attacking midfield position. Sawa saw an opening on the far right flank and lofted the ball past the German defense in tandem with a well timed run by Maruyama. The sprinting Maruyama beat German goalkeeper Nadine Angerer at the far post with a first touch strike on the ball that gave Japan the first goal of the match with twelve minutes remaining. Germany piled on the pressure in the remaining minutes with Melanie Behringer, in particular, initiating attacks from the left flank and set pieces. But Japan defended admirably by sending the ball into the stands and piling players in front of the box when necessary. Japan’s victory ended a 15 game unbeaten World Cup winning streak for Germany, which was gunning for its third consecutive World Cup title.

Line-Ups:

Japan

Ayumi Kaihori (GK), Aya Sameshima, Saki Kumagai, Azusa Iwashimizu, Yukari Kinga, Aya Miyama, Homare Sawa, Mizuho Sakaguchi, Shinobu Ohno (Mana Iwabuchi, 66, Rumi Utsugi, 116), Yuki Nagasato (Karina Maruyama, 46), Kozue Ando.

Germany

Nadine Angerer (GK), Babett Peter, Saskia Bartusiak, Linda Bresonik (Lena Goessling, 64), Annike Krahn, Melanie Behringer, Kim Kulig (Bianca Schmnidt, 8), Celia Okoyino da Mbabi, Simone Laudehr, Kerstin Garefrekes, Inka Grings (Alexandra Popp, 102).

Friday, July 8, 2011

Brazil Squad Against Paraguay: Will Mano Menezes Juggle His Line-Up?

Speculation abounds that Mano Menezes, coach of the Brazilian national football team, will change his starting line-up for Brazil’s pivotal Copa America match against Paraguay on Saturday. Mano is likely to stick to the 4-2-1-3 formation and squad that he fielded in Brazil’s goalless draw against Venezuela. On Wednesday, Mano replaced Ramires with Lucas and Robinho with Elano in training sessions that suggested that the Brazilian coach was dissatisfied with Robinho and wanted to supplement Ganso with another creative midfielder in the form of Elano as opposed to a defensive, holding midfielder such as Ramires. Mano refused to disclose the line-up for the match against Paraguay to the press, noting that the squad would be released just before kick-off. The most likely change would be Elano for Ramires, which would give Brazil a 4-1-2-3 formation, with Ganso and Elano behind Neymar, Pato and Robinho. Elano’s inclusion would take some playmaking pressure off Ganso and provide another badly needed conduit between the midfield and the strikeforce. Moreover, Elano plays alongside Neymar and Ganso for Santos and can claim national team tournament level experience through his contribution to Dunga’s World Cup squad. But Mano is unlikely to change the balance of the team and, if anything, is more likely to push Ramires into more of an offensive midfield role rather than displace him in favor of Elano. The other vibrant possibility is that Mano will pin down Andre Santos on the left flank and release Dani Alves to supplement the Brazilian attack even more so than usual.

Players to watch:

Alexandre Pato

Expect Pato to assert his authority and trek back into midfield to retrieve the ball in the event he’s not getting the service he needs.

Paulo Henrique Ganso

Needs to have a lifetime performance in the number 10 jersey. Should now be back to full form and fitness with two competitive games under his belt.

Dani Alves

The heir apparent to Robinho’s throne as captain of the Selecao will need to step up and take control of the match if Ganso cannot live up to expectations in midfield.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Copa America: Brazil Play Disappointing 0-0 Draw Against Venezuela

Brazil drew 0-0 against Venezuela on July 3 in a disappointing match for the Selecao that highlighted, once again, its inability to convert high percentage chances into goals despite a bevy of opportunities. The attacking trio of Pato, Neymar and Robinho threatened convincingly throughout the first half. Pato hit the crossbar on the half hour mark and Robinho was unfairly denied a penalty after slipping a ball by the keeper that was blocked by the shoulder of a lunging Venezuelan defender. Disappointingly for Brazil, Paulo Henrique Ganso failed to assert his authority on the game, and consequently the offensive initiative resulted from Neymar, Pato and Robinho returning into deep positions and running at the Venezuelan defense, or else through wide play from Dani Alves and Andre Santos. Just before the half, Neymar missed a golden opportunity given some space in front of goal but he curled the ball high of the top corner of the net. It was the first time that Pato, Robinho, Neymar and Ganso played together since the Brazil-USA friendly in the summer of 2010, and while Brazil sparkled with some of the offensive vision and fluidity of the game against the USA, it lacked the clinical finishing that has begun to plague this revamped, post-World Cup 2010 team. Pato was clearly the most dangerous and nimble footed of the three strikers, but he lacks the international experience and gravitas to take charge of the offensive component of the game, as does Neymar. Herein lies Brazil's quandary as a team loaded with promising young talent without a heavyweight striker to put the ball in the back of the net. That said, Mano is famous for building diamonds out of the rough as he did in Brazil with Gremio and Corinthians from 2005 onwards. Mano is also a master tactician and it will be interesting to see what adjustments he makes in advance of the crucial game against Paraguay on July 9. Expect the same squad with Neymar and Robinho positioned deeper, behind Pato, and thereby playing the attacking midfield role as a complement to Ganso until the Goose begins to find his fitness and form.

Shirt numbers:

Pato: 9
Robinho: 7
Ganso: 10
Neymar: 11

Friday, July 1, 2011

Brazil Copa America 2011 Line-Up and Formation in Pictures

Brazil's likely formation against Venezeula on July 3:













Picture source: http://connect.in.com/

From left to right:

Goalkeeper: Victor (or Julio Cesar)

Defense: Andre Santos, David Luiz (or Lucio), Thiago Silva, Dani Alves

Midfield: Lucas Leiva, Paulo Henrique Ganso, Ramires

Strikers: Robinho, Neymar, Pato

Note the positioning of Pato on the right and Robinho on the wide left with Neymar in the center. Paulo Henrique Ganso, circled, will be expected to run the midfield and dictate the tempo of the game.