Tuesday, 9 August 2011


Good evening sports fans.
Your beloved I like football me has moved to its new home at http://ilikefootballme.wordpress.com

The move is just simply down to wanting to try something new in terms of layout and style, and I was getting very frustrated with the Blogger interface...

Please bookmark/favourite the new site and keep following the blog!! There will be plenty more stuff there and I will need everyone's help to get it on the map.



Saturday, 6 August 2011

Campeonato Brasileiro 2011 preview: Round 15 (part two)

Continuing on with the preview of this weekend's Brasileirão, let's turn our attention to Sunday's afternoon matches.

Santos x Ceará (Sunday 7th - 16h00 Pacaembu)

Both Santos and Ceará have been struggling of late, so a win for either side would be vital. Ceará are coming into this game off the back of an extremely disappointing defeat at home to Avaí, where they were completely outplayed and beaten 3x0. Santos, the 2011 Copa Libertadores champions, are also in a poor phase, losing their last three matches and gaining heavy criticism from their supporters.

Against Ceará, Santos should not really have many problems and will more than likely win comfortably. They will be without wonderkid Neymar, who is suspended, but they will still be able to field a strong lineup capable of seeing off the Vozão.

Internacional x Cruzeiro (Sunday 7th - 16h00 Beira-Rio)

Internacional and Cruzeiro face off against one another in Porto Alegre in what could certainly turn out to be the game of the round. Both teams have slumped a little over the past month, but they possess strong squads and we should see in exciting yet even match. Inter and Cruzeiro are both poised to go on a good run of form, and a win in this match could be perfect to kick that off.

Inter remain with several selection issues, Guiñazu, Zé Roberto, Bolatti and Gilberto are all injured, Oscar and Juan are away with the Brazilian U-20 squad, and Kleber and Wilson Matias are suspended. Coach Osmar Loss has been using a 4-5-1 formation recently, but with so many injuries in the midfield, it is expected that he will have to change his shape. 

Cruzeiro aren't without their own problems either, Thiago Ribeiro and Roger remain on the sidelines injured, but coach Joel Santana can still count on Montillo and Wallyson going forward. This will be an intriguing match, where we should see some goals and excitement. In my opinion, Cruzeiro will come through as narrow winners, but in truth this game could go either way.

Atlético-PR x Corinthians (Sunday 7th - 16h00 Arena da Baixada)

Leaders Corinthians continue on their run of favourable fixtures, in the past week they have faced 17th placed Avaí, 20th placed América and now they take on Atlético Paranaense in 19th place. This game could be dangerous though, as o Furacão have hit some decent form of late and look tough to beat at home in Curitiba. 

Corinthians have had their leader credentials well tested over the past few weeks, and some cracks are beginning to appear. Their defence does not look as assured as it was earlier in the season, and some particularly poor performances from young goalkeeper Renan has now made coach Tite axe him in favour of their terribly inexperienced third goalkeeper Danilo Fernandes. With their opponents visibly rattled by recent results, Atlético will be going all out for the upset.

América-MG x Fluminense (Sunday 7th - 16h00 Arena do Jacaré)

InternaciIn the last of Sunday's afternoon matches América Mineiro host last year's champions Fluminense in Sete Lagoas. América, currently in 20th position in the league standings, have been in some real trouble of late and team morale appears to be at an all-time low. Fan's favourite Givanildo has came in as their new manager to try and steady the ship, but they will find it extremely hard against this Fluminense side.

Fluminense coach Abel Braga looks to have finally settled into the job and Fluminense are on their best run of form of this season so far. This week the club has been rocked with speculation surrounding the possible exit of national team striker Fred, with the 27 year old claiming he has recieved death threats from certain sections of the Fluminense support. They will continue without him this weekend, with Rafael Moura and Rafael Sobis playing up front. 

In Brasil, scandals like this often seem to affect on-field performance, but Fluminense are looking too good at this moment and should win this match comfortably.

There you have it, Sunday's afternoon games all previewed. The final part of the preview is coming soon, a look at the three matches on Sunday evening, which includes an interesting clássico.

Friday, 5 August 2011

Campeonato Brasileiro 2011 preview: Round 15 (part one)

The 2011 Brasileirão continues this weekend with another card full of interesting ties and a nice clássico on Sunday night. Read on for previews of the weekend, starting with the three matches on Saturday.

Palmeiras x Grêmio (Saturday 6th - 18h30 Canindé)

Round 15 kicks off with an interesting clash between two traditional giants, Palmeiras and Grêmio. Both sides came away with a draw in Round 14, but the morale in the respective camps could not be more different. Palmeiras were away from home against Coritiba, and despite playing a large portion of the second half with only ten men, they managed to draw 1x1. Grêmio were at home to Atlético Mineiro and drew 2x2 after conceding a very late goal. Grêmio coach Julinho Camargo was sacked the following day after only 33 days in charge, and he has been swiftly replaced by Celso Roth, who will be managing the Tricolor for the fourth time.

Palmeiras will be without Luan and Thiago Heleno who are suspended, but they should be buoyed by the inclusion of centre-back Henrique for his first start since returning to the club from Barcelona. Playmaker Douglas returns for Grêmio, and he will play in Roth's favoured 4-2-3-1 formation. Grêmio may be able to pull off a surprise result as so often occurs when a team brings in a new manager, but Palmeiras have a great record against Grêmio and are heavily favoured in this one.

Flamengo x Coritiba (Saturday 6th - 18h30 Engenhão)

In Rio de Janeiro, Flamengo will be trying to continue their assault on leaders Corinthians with a home match against Coritiba. Fresh from a vital 1x0 win over Cruzeiro, Ronaldinho Gaúcho &co will take the game to Coritiba and are clear favourites to win. Coritiba played well against Palmeiras on Wednesday, but could not find a winning goal and left very disappointed with their 1x1 draw.

Flamengo are without Ronaldo Angelim and Airton - suspended after picking up a third yellow card against Cruzeiro - but will have battling midfielder Willians back in the team. Coritiba should field the same side that played against Palmeiras, the only change should be the inclusion of Jonas ahead of Maranhão at right back. Coxa will give it everything they've got against Flamengo, but a resounding win for the home side is the safest bet.

Atlético-MG x Figueirense (Saturday 6th - 21h00 Ipatingão)

Atlético Mineiro take on Figueirense in Saturday's late game. Despite an excellent and unexpected win over Botafogo mid-week, this is a Figueirense side that appear to be losing momentum and feeling the pressure. Atlético Mineiro look to be returning to form after a disappointing start and will be expected to win this one and climb up the table.

O Galo will make one change to the side that drew with Grêmio on Wednesday, with Giovanni Augusto entering in the place of the suspended Caio.  Dorival Junior should keep the team in the same 3-5-2 shape with André and Magno Alves up front. This will be a closer game than some are predicting, but I would still expect Galo to come out on top.

There you go, that's all of Saturday's games done, I'll be back very soon with the seven Sunday games, both afternoon and evening.

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

Campeonato Brasileiro 2011 preview: Round 14 (part two)

We are back with the preview for Round 14 of the 2011 Brasileirão, we still have two move games tonight to cover, and then tomorrow's match-ups.

Cruzeiro x Flamengo (Wednesday 3rd - 21h50 Arena do Jacaré)

Cruzeiro host Flamengo in Sete Lagoas in what is certainly this week’s headline match. The home side have had some difficulties of late and after some good performances in the past month or so, they have now suffered two straight defeats against lesser opponents. Sitting in mid-table, they will be desperate to claw their way back up into a Copa Libertadores place. Cruzeiro are still without Thiago Ribeiro and Roger, but will have a strong line-up to call upon.

Flamengo are the league's form team at the moment and they remain as the only unbeaten side in the Brasileirão. Craque Ronaldinho Gaúcho is hitting form and sits at the top of the goalscoring charts, while Thiago Neves is putting in some excellent performances in the midfield. On paper, this one looks like a nailed-on Flamengo win, but Cruzeiro have an uncanny knack of beating Flamengo, in fact they have been victorious in the last six league meetings between the sides. Expect an even game without many goals.

Coritiba x Palmeiras (Wednesday 3rd - 21h50 Couto Pereira)

The last time that Coritiba and Palmeiras met at the Couto Pereira, the home side recorded a historic win, defeating Palmeiras 6x0 in the Copa do Brasil. Times have changed now, Palmeiras are a much stronger side who are secure in defence and Coritiba's momentum seems to have slowed down.

Palmeiras welcome back ídolos Marcos and Kleber to the starting 11, and new signing Henrique makes in the squad, although he will most likely start on the bench. Coritiba are the favourites for this one, despite Palmeiras' high league position. This should be an interesting match, with Coritiba investing their hopes in their attack and Palmeiras doing the same only in defence. Expect a tight scoreline, perhaps even a 0x0 draw with plently of missed chances.

São Paulo x Bahia (Thursday 4th - 21h00 Morumbi)

Moving on to Thursday's games, we start at the Morumbi as São Paulo take on Bahia. New São Paulo boss Adílson Batista has had a pretty unconvincing start to his reign, especially at home. His only two home games in charge have ended in disappointment, with a defeat to Vasco and a draw against Atlético-GO. On Thursday they will be looking to bounce back against a Bahia side struggling in defence.

Bahia are a side that have been suffering from similar problems, they have managed good results against big sides away from home, but their home form is lamentable. O tricolor baiano should make it very difficult for São Paulo, and if their defence can manage to stop São Paulo's wonderkid Lucas, they might just be able to sneak a result.

Fluminense x Internacional (Thursday 4th - 21h00 Engenhão)

Internacional travel to Rio de Janeiro to take on a rejuvenated Fluminense side at the Engenhão, and with the return of some key players for the away side, we could be in for a cracking match. Since Abel Braga took over as Fluminense boss, the morale amongst the squad has beed good, but results have been poor. Last weekend though, Flu managed a 4x0 win over Ceará in what was certainly their best performance of the season so far. Forwards Fred, Souza and Marquinho all seem to be in good form, and they will certainly be very hard to beat at the moment.

Their opponents Internacional are trying to pull themselves out of a disappointing phase, littered with injury problems and unconvincing results. However striker Leandro Damião will make his return against Flu and when he is in the side the whole team seem to function better. Zé Roberto is still injured and Oscar and Juan are with the Brazilian under-20 squad, but Inter are starting to get their big men back. This promises to be an excellent game, both sides are needing the points and there should be goals.

Atlético-GO x Atlético-PR (Thursday 4th - 21h00 Serra Dourada)

The last game of the weekend sees a battle of the atléticos as Atlético Goianiense take on Atlético Paranaense in Goiânia. This match may be forgotten amongst the other more high profile encounters, but it promises to be an intriguing game with both sides making big improvements over the past few weeks. The home side are unbeaten in their last three games, and when you consider those games were against São Paulo, Cruzeiro and then Internacional, that is even more impressive. 

Atlético Paranaense, o Furacão, had a terrible start to this year's campaign, only picking up two points in their first ten matches. However, wins against Botafogo and Santos (a thrilling 3x2) in the past ten days has breathed new life into the players and lifted them up off the bottom of the league. The signing of Uruguayan striker Santiágo 'Morro' García has given their attack some much-needed firepower and who knows how far this resurgence can take them.


Campeonato Brasileiro 2011 preview: Round 14 (part one)

We are rapidly approaching the half-way point already in this year's Brasileirão and the league table is really starting to take shape. Round 14 is another midweek round and we have all twenty teams in action in some potentially fantastic match-ups.

Corinthians x América-MG (Wednesday 3rd - 19h30 Pacaembu)

League leaders Corinthians kick-off Round 14 with a home game against bottom-side América. Playing at home in São Paulo, Corinthians will be widely expected to dispatch of o Coelho rather easily and pick up another three points, but things may not be that simple. On Sunday, Corinthians suffered their first loss away from home this season against 19th placed Avaí and that has definitely left an air of doubt and uncertainty around the Timão squad.

On the other hand, América are going through some tough times of their own. With one win from thirteen games and a goal difference of -14, this is a side that has really struggled since their promotion this year. Fan's favourite Givanildo Oliveira has taken over as manager to try and steady the ship, but he will only be watching from the stands on Wednesday night. With the return of Corinthians captain Chicão, and the obvious gap in quality between the two sides, I would expect nothing less than a convincing win for the home side in this one.

Grêmio x Atlético-MG (Wednesday 3rd - 19h30 Estádio Olímpico)

Over in Porto Alegre, we have a battle between two underachievers as Grêmio host Atlético-MG. Both of these sides are traditionally big clubs in Brasil, but at this stage of the championship they both find themselves hovering precociously above the relegation zone. Without a win in their last three games, Grêmio go in to this one absolutely desperate for points. Manager Julinho Camargo has only been in charge for a month and already he is under pressure. Grêmio will more than likely be without forward André Lima, who is suffering from a muscle strain, young Leandro should replace him.

Atlético have actually been making some progress over the past few weeks under new coach Dorival Junior, but they have been hurt by some very unfortunate defeats, particularly Saturday's 3x2 loss to Palmeiras. O Galo have Dudu Cearense and Toró back from suspensions, and it is expected that ex-Santos and Dynamo Kiev striker André will get his first start for the club alongside Magno Alves. This is certainly going to be a close match, with goals from both sides expected. It is very hard to pick a winner here, but if I was a betting man my money would be on a score draw.

Figueirense x Botafogo (Wednesday 3rd - 19h30 Orlando Scarpelli)

Despite a fabulous start to the season, newly promoted Figueirense appear to be in freefall. Figueira are without a win in their last six league games and are dropping down the league table at an alarming rate. On Wednesday night they host Botafogo, who appear to be on the opposite trajectory after winning their last two games.

Botafogo should field the same side that defeated Cruzeiro at the weekend, the only change being Fábio Ferreira returning to the centre of defence. Talismanic Uruguayan striker Sebastián 'Loco' Abreu leads the line alongside Argentine Germán Herrera, and they will both be looking for goals against a fragile Figueirense side.

Ceará x Avaí (Wednesday 3rd - 19h30 Presidente Vargas)

In the last of the early evening games on Wednesday, Ceará host southerners Avaí in a match which sees both teams looking to get their respective campaigns back on track. Ceará started superbly this year, having a great run in the Copa do Brasil and achieving some excellent results in the first few rounds of the Brasileirão. Recently, things have gotten considerably tougher for the Vozão, underlined by their heavy 4x0 defeat at the hands of Fluminense on Sunday.

Avaí have been in trouble ever since the season started. A terrible defence and less than impressive attack sees them firmly in the relegation zone, but they have started to get things together with their only two wins of the season coming in the last two weeks. However on Wednesday night they will have an extra obstacle to overcome, as the climates in the north and south of Brasil differ greatly, especially at this time of year. Today in Avaí's home town Florianópolis, the temperature reached a maximum of 16 degrees celsius, while in Fortaleza, where Wednesday's game will be played, the temperature reached 28 degrees celsius. This is often very taxing on players from the south, and it gives Ceará a clear advantage on Wednesday night.

Vasco x Santos (Wednesday 3rd - 21h50 São Januário)

Going on to Wednesday's late games, Vasco face Santos in what is a truly mouthwatering tie for the neutral supporter. Vasco are in superb form of late and are unbeaten in their last five matches, whilst Santos come in to this game off the back of two consecutive defeats.

The home side will be without a few important players, star man Juninho Pernambucano will miss out through injury, and left-backs Julinho and Márcio Careca are both suspended. Jumar should continue to deputise at left-back, and Eduardo Costa will come in to replace Juninho. Santos have no new selection worries and should play the same side that lost to Atlético Paranaense on Sunday, which means starts for Neymar and Ganso.

Oddly enough, both of these sides are already guaranteed a place in the 2012 Copa Libertadores - Vasco through winning the Copa do Brasil and Santos as reigning Libertadores champions - and in Brasil this sometimes leads to complacency throughout the remainder of the league season. No such complacency should be expected in this match however, and we should see plenty of action and excitement.

Without wanting to overload you with information, that will be all for today. I'll be back tomorrow with the second part of the Round 14 review, covering the rest of Wednesday's games and the three ties on Thursday.

Monday, 25 July 2011

Copa América review: BRAZIL

Now on to the five-time world champions, winners of eight... Ah forget it, they need no introduction. Let's talk about BRAZIL.

After a poor showing at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, big changes had to be made to the Seleção with the next World Cup taking place on home soil in 2014. The CBF (the Brazilian football association) moved swiftly, sacking Dunga and bringing in ex-Corinthians and Grêmio boss Mano Menezes. The transformations brought about by Menezes have been well documented and I myself talked about this at length in a previous article over at BornOffside.net (shameless self-promotion, I know!).

Even with the public more focussed on preparing for 2014, anything other than victory still means disappointment in Brazil. This time, the Seleção were eliminated at the hands of Paraguay in the quarter finals after topping Group B. Things started slowly with two draws in their opening two matches, but they secured a vital 4x2 win over Ecuador in their final group game. In the quarter final, Brazil played well and were certainly the better team, but they failed to score and were beaten on penalties.

Mano Menezes' tactics (as touched on in my previous article) were to set up in a 4-2-1-3 formation and attempt to be more creative without relying on counter-attacks. The central midfield duo changed from Gilberto Silva and Felipe Melo to the much more athletic Premier League partnership of Lucas Leiva and Ramires. Santos' highly rated midfielder Paulo Henrique Ganso sits in the playmaking role behind the three forwards. Menezes tinkered with the shape a little, especially during the group match with Paraguay, but the strategy was generally the same.

Against Venezuela in La Plata, Brazil made a superb start and they were in control for the majority of the match. However, Venezuela's defensive midfield pairing of Rincón and Lucena grew into the tie and marked Ganso very well, forcing Brazil to alter their focus. Ganso's position was far too high for his role, meaning that Brazil struggled to link up their midfield and attack, the only direct link they had was the forward runs of Ramires. However that brought about its own dangers, as whenever Ramiers burst forward his midfield partner Lucas Leiva was left totally exposed to the counter attack.
Formations for Brazil x Venezuela [Note Ganso (10) playing very high, leaving the Brazil shape disjointed]
In the second half Menezes brought on Fred, Lucas and Elano to try and change the match, but the ended up relying on set-pieces and long balls and the match finished 0x0.

Against Paraguay, Menezes altered the formation a little, bringing in Shakhtar Donetsk's Jadson (whom Menezes trained in Internacional's youth team) for Robinho. This switch nudged the shape of the forward quartet a bit, resulting in something close to a slanted 4-2-2-2, the same formation used by Dunga at the 2010 World Cup. Jadson seemed like a good addition and he formed an impressive partnership with Ganso, the two combining well for Jadson to score the opening goal. Oddly enough, after a great first half performance Jadson was substituted at the half time break.
Menezes' standed 4-2-2-2
Going into the second half, it became plain to see that Brazil's defence were having an off day and Paraguay really started to take an advantage. Daniel Alves was particularly poor, exuberant winger Estigarribia gave him the run-around for the entire match. Paraguay scored twice and it looked like Brazil would be defeated until substitute Fred scored a last minute equaliser.

In the all-important final group match against Ecuador, Menezes went back to the 4-2-1-3 by reinstating Robinho at the expense of Jadson. Maicon also started ahead of Daniel Alves at right back after the latter's shocking performance in the previous match. The game was very open, with Brazil's attack playing well and looking like an improved version of the Venezuela match. Ganso played in a much smarter position closer to the midfield and Brazil managed to create chances and put four goals past Ecuador. At the other end of the field though, the centre back pairing and goalkeeper Júlio César looked very suspect. Júlio made some glaring errors and Ecuador managed to hit the back of the net twice as the game finished 4x2.

That three points meant that Brazil ended up winning Group B and progressed to the quarter finals to play the second best third-placed side, which happened to be a rematch with group rivals Paraguay. For that clash, Mano Menezes maintained the same side that defeated Ecuador and Brazil probably played their best football of the tournament, creating well and controlling the match.

The only problem was that they could not seem to score the opening goal and thanks to some heroic saves from Justo Villar in the Paraguay goal, the match stayed goalless throughout the ninety minutes and subsequent extra time. So, the decision went to a penalty shoot-out and everyone looked on open-mouthed as Brazil missed all four of their spot-kicks and were eliminated.

As I mentioned at the start of the article, anything less than victory spells great disappointment when it comes to the Brazilian national team, but it was hard to find many reasons to blame the squad for this particular exit. Granted the execution of the penalty kicks was an aberration, but throughout the match Brazil were the better team and played some really attractive football.

Something that was picked up on by the media outside of Brazil was the percieved failure of the Seleção's two big rising stars Ganso and Neymar. The Santos duo were hyped-up greatly before the tournament, but both only managed to display brief flashes of the quality that they do possess. Although something that has to be kept in mind when talking about their performances is that their inclusion in this tournament was purely about integrating the two into the national side, giving them tournament experience that will be invaluable when that all-important 2014 World Cup comes around.

Another promise for the future, Lucas Moura of São Paulo, was brought into the side and I am not completely sure thats this tournament turned out to be a particularly positive experience for him. Personally, I share the somewhat unpopular view that he should not have been in the squad for this tournament, instead he would have been better suited going to the U-20 World Cup in Colombia next month. There, Lucas would have been the main man in attack and the experience of leading that team would have been considerably more useful for him as opposed to some frustrating minutes off the bench for the senior side.

But it is back to business as usual for Mano Menezes and this Brazil side. As I write, the squad for Brazil's upcoming friendly against Germany has just been announced with six of the Copa América squad cut, and Brazilian eyes are all firmly fixed on the big party in 2014.

Sunday, 24 July 2011

Copa América review: COSTA RICA

Now to the fourth and last of the sides eliminated at the group stage, the second invitee from the CONCACAF region, COSTA RICA.

As guests, Costa Rica, like Mexico, brought their Olympic squad with under-23 players to this tournament. Along with that, twelve of this Copa América squad were members of the Costa Rican party that participated in the 2011 Gold Cup in the United States the month before.

Without many high expectations weighing them down, this youthful Ticos side gave a great account of themselves, narrowly missing out on qualifying for the knockout stages. In Group A alongside Argentina, Colombia and Bolivia, they managed three points in a 2x0 win over Bolivia, a result which was sandwiched in between a tight 1x0 loss to Colombia and a rather humbling 3x0 defeat at the hands of hosts Argentina.

One of the more intriguing elements to consider regarding this Costa Rican side was their unorthodox and exciting tactics. With eccentric Argentine coach Ricardo La Volpe on the sidelines, enthusiasts have learned to expect the unexpected and in his bizarre 3-5-2/3-3-4 system, el Bigotón ('the Moustache') certainly delivered.

The system is probably best defined as a 3-5-2, but there are a number of quirks in its application that make it very different. The main source of confusion is the role of the left-sided player, usually Cerro Porteño's Diego Madrigal. In a standard 3-5-2, Madrigal would be the left wing back, sitting a little higher than the centre back line and attacking when the opportunity presented itself (like the right-sided Salvatierra). However, Madrigal's position approached that of a forward's, as he was often the highest player up the pitch but still made big retreating runs back to defence. Another important aspect is the forward runs of the midfielders, but we will go on to discuss that very shortly.
La Volpe's 3-5-2
In their opening match against Colombia they found themselves in trouble very early on, as their captain Randall Brenes was sent off within the first half hour. Colombia then took the initiative and made a tactical switch which really exploited their man advantage. Los Ticos struggled to deal with the alteration and fell a goal behind, but still managed to play a solid game for the rest of the ninety minutes, not conceding more than once.

In their next match against Bolivia, their unconventional system worked perfectly as they brushed off la Verde 2x0. Forward Joel Campbell dropped deep and worked in the channels where he was offered a lot of space. The forward runs from the midfielders (particularly substitute Guevara in the second half) were left largely untracked, and it resulted in Costa Rica having four against four in attacking situations.

Animation of Costa Rica moving into an attacking phase. Note the four defenders having to deal with the four attackers. (CLICK TO PLAY ANIMATION)
In their final game against Argentina, La Volpe attempted to play a little more cautiously against the country of his birth, but their lop-sided and disorganised shape left them exposed and they were picked apart by Lionel Messi. The best player in the world had a delightful match, picking out countless perfect passes to his team-mates as Argentina strolled to a 3x0 victory.

With three points from three games leaving them in third place in Group A, Costa Rica had to rely on results in the other groups to go in their favour to have a chance of qualifying. Unfortunately for Los Ticos, the match between Paraguay and Venezuela finished as a draw, leaving Costa Rica as the worst third-placed team and thus eliminating them from the competition.

Despite the early exit, this was certainly a positive performance from Costa Rica in this year's Copa. One of the main plus points was the continued emergence of young forward Joel Campbell of Saprissa. With the sending off of team captain Randall Brenes in their first match, Campbell took on the job of being Costa Rica's main attacking threat. He impressed throughout the three matches, particularly against Bolivia where his direct dribbling, pace and trickery was a constant thorn in the side of la Verde.

All things cAfter the match against Bolivia, Campbell was subject to interest from some of Europe's biggest clubs, with Arsenal reportedly agreeing a transfer worth around $1,5million. However the move broke down, with Campbell himself stating that he did not want to sign with Arsenal at the present time, believing his own stock will rise further after the upcoming 2011 Youth World Cup. The 19 year-old was the only member of the Costa Rican national pool who played at the Gold Cup, then in this Copa América and now is in the squad for the youth tournament in Colombia.

Copa América review: ECUADOR

Continuing the series, still with the teams eliminated in the first stage, let's take a look at ECUADOR.

Just one point and two goals from three games represents a rather disappointing return for a side that qualified for both the 2002 and 2006 World Cups, but Ecuador went in to this tournament with fairly reduced expectations anyway. When speaking of Ecuador's present team in relation to the World Cup qualifying-teams, it is important to remember how huge an achievement that was at the time.

Ecuador traditionally had the reputation of being 'whipping boys' in the CONMEBOL section and could never seem to build a side strong enough to reach anywhere near World Cup qualification. An important change came in 1996 with the restructuring of CONMEBOL's World Cup qualifying system, moving to a round-robin format where every team would play each other home and away. This meant that the team played more competitive games, resulting in a more unified squad.

Currently managed by Colombian coach Reginaldo Rueda - the man who took Honduras to the 2010 World Cup - they appear to have assembled a decent squad with promising home-based players and some top talent with European pedigree. Manchester United's Antonio Valencia - the first Ecuadorian to play in a Champions League final - is the team's big name, but Rubin Kazan's Christian Noboa is also gaining notoriety on the European scene.

On the pitch, Rueda opts for a 4-4-2 shape with lots of movement amongst the midfield quarter. Cristian "Chucho" Benítez plays an energetic role up front, supporting centre forward Felipe Caicedo and shuttling back and forward into midfield. In their first game against Paraguay, Ecuador played fairly well and caused a great deal of problems for their opponents, but the game still finished 0x0.

The first half of that match saw Paraguay well in control, but an injury to Antonio Valencia forced Ecuador into making a half-time change which actually tipped the balance in their favour. Rueda brought on San Luís' exciting winger Michael Arroyo and played him on the left side, switching Édison Méndez to the right. The aggression of Arroyo managed to pin back Paraguay's enthusiastic right back Iván Piris, which meant that Ecuador's left back - team captain Walter Ayoví - could start to make an impact on the match.
Illustration of the tactical change in the second half (CLICK IMAGE TO PLAY ANIMATION)
In their second match against Venezuela, the story was largely the same. The match was tight and Ecuador again failed to find the net. Near the end Venezuela scored the winning goal, which was probably deserved considering how the match played out.

In contrast to their first two matches which were tight and low scoring, Ecuador's final group game against Brazil was wide open and had plenty of goals, finishing 4x2 to the Seleção. Rueda made one change from the side that played the second half against Paraguay and started against Venezuela, with defensive midfielder Oswaldo Minda coming in to replace Segundo Castillo.

Ecuador knew they had to win the match to qualify, so they pushed forward a lot more and managed to score twice against a poor Brazil defence. However on the other end of the field, Ecuador stood off Brazil far too much, giving them space and inviting their creative players to play.

All things considered, this was still an intensely disappointing tournament from Ecuador. With their dominant second half performance against Paraguay they were very disappointed not to come away with the win. Against Venezuela they fell to a late goal, and against Brazil they did very little to stop the strong attack of the five-time world champions.

There were some good performances from certain players, particularly Arroyo on the wings, and it appears that the forward pairing of Felipe Caicedo and Chucho Benítez are forming a great understanding. Despite this, it still seems like Rueda and his team have their work cut out to try and construct a team to rival the squads of 2002 and 2006.

Saturday, 23 July 2011

Copa América review: BOLIVIA

Continuing on with my series of nation-by-nation reviews, we move on to this year's 11th ranked side, BOLIVIA.

Ranked 93rd in the world and without a win away from home since 2007, no-one was really expecting much from Bolivia in this Copa América. Furthermore they were drawn into Group A alongside Argentina, Colombia and Costa Rica, and even given the 'honour' of playing the hosts in the tournament's opening match. In the end they only managed to register a paltry one point, but that certainly does not tell the full story of their campaign.

The manager Gustavo Quinteros - a member of the Bolivian team when they last qualified for a World Cup in 1994 - selected a well-balanced and experienced 23-man squad, with only five of them playing their club football outside of Bolivia. La Verde shocked everyone when they managed to draw 1x1 with Argentina in the tournament's opening match, but they later succumbed to two 2x0 defeats against Costa Rica and Colombia. 

Tactically Quinteros had Bolivia set up in a very simple fashion, a defensive 4-4-2 with two solid banks of four playing behind the forwards. Their style worked superbly against Argentina's 4-3-3 in the first game, but struggled in the other two games when they were expected to play more football.

Against Argentina, Bolivia were excellent, staying compact and narrow and giving nothing away to Argentina's jewel-encrusted forward line. Team captain Ronald Raldes in particular gave a fabulous performance in the centre of defence; constantly spurning the hosts' attacking advances.
Line-ups vs. Argentina. (Note Bolivia's two narrow defensive lines, congesting the play and frustrating their opponents)
Bolivia took a surprise lead at the start of the second half when Argentina's Éver Banega let a back heel from Edivaldo Rojas sneak under his foot and roll into the net, and at that moment it looked like la Verde might manoeuvre a famous victory in La Plata. Their defence remained resolute, but eventually they conceded an equaliser through a stunning volley from substitute Sergio Agüero.

The script was quite different for their next match against Costa Rica, as Bolivia were coaxed into opening up and trying to win the match. They lined yp with a 4-4-2 again, but against Costa Rica's unorthodox 3-5-2/3-3-4 formation they ran in to real problems. This game will be discussed further when we cover Costa Rica, but essentially Bolivia's rigid shape struggled to deal with Costa Rica's fluidity and they found it hard to track the forward runs of the Costa Rican midfield.

Bolivia ended up losing the match 2x0, and things got even worse with the sending off of both Ronald Rivero and Walter Flores. This left la Verde needing a win in their final group match against the impressive Colombia to retain any chance of qualifying.

In that match against los Cafeteros in Santa Fe, Bolivia fielded a partially changed side due to the suspensions to Rivero and Flores. Santos Amador and Ronald García filled in at central defence and central midfield respectively, while there was a change at full-back, Christian Vargas coming in to replace Gutiérrez.

Bolivia looked to try and stay narrow like against Argentina, but Colombia's rampaging full-backs made that impossible, leaving the Bolivia defence stretched and full of holes. Colombia's wide midfielders Ramos and Moreno were happy to stay more central and occupy the Bolivia full-backs, which left Colombia's full-backs Armero and Zúñiga with the entire flank to operate in.
Formations vs. Colombia [Note how Vargas (14) and Álvarez (4) are occupied, allowing Colombia to control the flanks]
Despite this obvious advantage down the flanks for Colombia, the first goal went in courtesy of a through ball through the centre of the Bolivia defence. Lacking the regular partnership of Rivero and Raldes, Bolivia looked shaky and disorganised, and a well-timed run from Falcao left him clear on goal and allowed him to finish well.

The second goal however, was a prime example of Colombia's dominance on the wings. Pablo Armero made a huge run down the left flank, burst into the area and was tripped for a penalty. Falcao coolly dispatched the spot-kick and Bolivia were well and truly sank.

Looking back on the tournament, the Bolivia squad and staff will probably be quite disappointed. Despite punching considerably above their weight with their performance in the opening match, they still finished fourth in the group and only managed to score one goal. However there were certainly some huge positives to take from the tournament, namely the draw against Argentina in front of a capacity crowd in La Plata.

Now Bolivia will have their eyes on the 2014 World Cup qualifying, where they will attempt to pull off a few more famous results. At home in La Paz, they are capable of beating any opposition, but their main focus will be to improve their dreadful away record.  

Friday, 22 July 2011

Copa América review: MEXICO

This is the first part of what will be the bulk of my Copa América writing. I will be reviewing all twelve nations in order of their tournament performance and talking results, tactics and players. First off let's take a look at one of the invited teams from CONCACAF, the only side not to record a point in the 2011 tournament, el Tri of MEXICO.

Mexico, fresh from a buoyant triumph at CONCACAF's Gold Cup in June, travelled to Argentina with a squad predominantly made up of players under the age of 23. All but one of the squad was based in Mexico, and that one player (Giovani dos Santos of Tottenham Hotspur) accounted for almost half of the total senior international caps of the entire 23-man party.

Despite bringing a 'weakened' squad, el Tri were very motivated and battled hard in all of their three group games. This effort was not enough however, and they lost all three matches in Group C starting with a 2x1 against Chile in their opener, and two 1x0 losses to both Peru and Uruguay. 

Their tactics were fairly unequivocal; they played a standard Latin American 3-5-2 in their first two matches, and only switched to an unfamiliar 4-4-2 in the meaningless final match against Uruguay. The 3-5-2 is based around the front two, with Giovani dos Santos supporting Rafael Márquez Lugo, and the energy of the two wing backs-cum-wide midfielders Paul Aguilar and Dárvin Chávez.

In their first match against Chile, the previously mentioned duo of Aguilar and Chávez were pinned back by Chile's own attacking wide players Beausejour and Isla. Consequently Mexico found it very hard to link their midfield and attack, with almost all of their hopes placed on the shoulders of dos Santos, who was expected to do everything.

Line ups vs Chile (Note the restriction of the wide players and large gap between midfield and attack
Mexico did manage to take the lead in that match from a Nestor Araujo header, though it was mainly due to Chile's defensive errors as opposed to Mexico's quality.

Mexico lost their lead in the second half due to a tactical masterstroke from Chile's boss Claudio Borghi (which we will discuss in more detail when it's Chile's turn), and ended up losing the match 2x1.

Next up, Mexico took on Peru in Mendoza. Coach Luis Fernando Tena kept the same team and formation from the match against Chile, and once again el Tri struggled for ideas and were overrun in the midfield.

Mexico struggled with the quality of Juan Manuel Vargas on Peru's left wing, and if it had not been for a strong display from goalkeeper Luis Michel, then Peru could have won this match by a much larger deficit. In reality, Michel made some excellent saves and kept the score down to 1x0 to Peru.

As had happened against Chile, Mexico looked extremely one-dimensional in this match. They did manage to register a few attempts on goal during the 90 minutes, but never really deserved anything more than a defeat.

In their final match against Uruguay, Tena altered the team and moved to a 4-4-1-1 shape, seeming more interested in giving his players match experience rather than chasing a result. The only personnel change from the 3-5-2 saw Miguel Ángel Ponce come in to the side to replace Javier Aquino, but the player's positions were tweaked considerably. Hiram Mier moved from the centre back trio to right back - leaving Reynoso and Araujo in the middle - and Dárvin Chávez dropped deeper to left back. Ponce played as Chávez's replacement on the left hand side of the midfield, with the rest of the side was kept the same. 

The 4-4-1-1 formation vs Uruguay

Against Uruguay they went 1x0 down early on, but still had an impressive first half and did not give much away to Uruguay's similar 4-4-2 formation. At half time however, Tena decided to make two substitutions and brought off dos Santos and Aguilar, certainly two of el Tri's more impressive players.

Regarding Mexico's best performers in the tournament, you cannot really look past midfielder Jorge Enríquez of Chivas Guadalajara. Enríquez, who played every minute of Mexico's group games, was imposing in the midfield, showing good dribbling skills and exceptional determination.

So where do Mexico go from here? Well, eight members of the squad (including Enríquez) will join up with the under-20 side to contest the 2011 Youth World Cup taking place in Colombia which runs throughout August.