Tag Archives: Football

Croatia 2-1 England review – part two

Dear readers,

One rarely wants to stick the knife in so soon after another has fallen to the floor. Neither does one want to seem pedantically over-critical when a group of young players did all they could and did so well to get where they did. But I’m going to do that anyway. Maybe not pedantically, yet if we remain in a mist of eurphoria and paint the players as heroes after coming away empty-handed apart from happy memories, nothing shall be learned.

However, I also believe it’s good to start with the positives, as there have been a few.

Positives

Mentality – The team is more professional and less egotistical than years gone by. In recent squads, there were many individuals who believed in their own hype, making it very hard for coaches to mold them into a functioning team. Rio Ferdinand recently admitted the Manchester United lads would sit apart from the Chelsea players, fearing at club level the opposition might use something against them. Gareth Southgate seems to have got rid of that, as well as the irritating WAG culture, and worked on gelling the team and improving the psychology of the players, as well as basic manners i.e. no mobile phones at dinner time.

Positivity – Ties into mentality, but there have lots of positivity coming from the England camp, lots players smiling, not moaning about being bored and enjoying the moment. When I’d hear of boredom at a major tournament in the past it would make me want to scream with frustration. Many of us would swap our legs and arms to be a participant at the World Cup, but the moaning reminded you of how pampered their lives are. In this World Cup, we heard of harmony, family and togetherness; something I am sure Southgate and his coaches focused on. I wonder how many faith healers they had? This calm and harmony was played out a lot on the pitch as well. There were moments of discomfort, of course, but on many occasion the team remained calm and weathered the storm. Mind you, this is the minimal you would expect from a “wannabe champion“, but it’s rarely the case with England. Look what happened against Iceland two years ago. Now, there are no excuses or anger; players owned up to mistakes, accepting referees decisions, dusting ourselves off and getting on with it. There’s also no blaming winter breaks or the amount of foreigners in the Premier League. We have a pool of players who look hungry but lost to a better team. We now have a marker of where we are and where we want to be. In next tournament, we need to ditch the “team of youths” tag for a “team of winners” mentality. The only way to do that is by beating teams, and by that I mean beating the best. That remains to be seen.

In terms of their new found fame after this World Cup though, it will be interesting to see how many players keep their feet on the ground and which lose their heads. We know how the British press likes to build people up, then knock them down when they falter. The team seem pretty mature, but fame can do strange things to people with disastrous outcomes. Remember Paul Gascoigne?

Preparation – Taking the tournament game by game. Well, up until the last game, when the players, media and fans underestimated Croatia and got too excited looking at the final. Of course, the players are only human and they know the rewards of what lies ahead if they beat a certain team. Yet there seems to be more focus on the here and now, being positive and working on things that beat the opposition, rather than disrespecting or under- or over-estimating a team. This, I have read in books about Brazilian, German and Italian football, is what former champions have done. It’s basic and should have been learned years ago. We have read in the past when England have lost in penalties that the players hadn’t practiced in the previous days, with pundits and coaches using the excuse of “It’s a lottery”. Yes it’s hard to recreate the pressures of the scene of the long walk up to the penalty spot, and yes there is an element of luck in which way the goalkeeper dives for the ball, but England were using these reasons as not to practice. Southgate, no. Maybe through his own experience, he had the players practice a lot, with a clear plan of his penalty takers and researching where opposing players place penalties, giving England the tools to success over Colombia. Again, basic, but these were things not being done before. The players seem nicer and more grounded, unlike Wayne Rooney who berated fans after they booed the team off the pitch after England played very uninspiringly in a 0-0 draw with Algeria in the group stages of the 2010 World Cup (a game which I will always remember for a pigeon feeling comfortable enough to sit on the crossbar of the goal England were shooting at), despite many fans paying their right arm to be there. This England team seem more grateful for their support now.

New identity – I’m a wee bit sceptical about this point, something that has been bellowed at us over and over again from the FA’s press team. England’s DNA, etc. I do think, however, Southgate has adopted a new style that England can work with and is more pleasing to the eye, based on high-tempo possession football, something similar to Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City or Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool. We will need a plan B if games aren’t going to plan though, as witnessed against Croatia. Tactical flexibility and being quick to change a faltering system is crucial at this level. Back to the new identity, we saw signs of it in the group stage in Euro 2016. Roy Hodgson, despite being a scapegoat after the Iceland loss, had us playing possession football and dominating teams (apart from against Iceland), while using quite a few of the same players that played at this World Cup. It just lacked the clinical edge, especially against Russia and Slovakia. Southgate has adopted this game-plan, changing the formation to a back three and two high-placed wing-backs, and playing one fast-paced full-back amongst those three centre-backs, being Kyle Walker; a move that raised a few eyebrows at the time but seems to have worked out well. The team play out from defence more effectively and the team strung many good moves together which won many plaudits, including fromthe man who apparently possesses the hand of God, Diego Maradona. They apply pressure when without the ball and attack with speed. They need to be more clinical, especially Raheem Sterling and Jesse Lingard, as well as provide more service to Harry Kane. England also improved their set pieces, looking dangerous at every corner and free-kick near the box, with a great number of goals coming that way. We have a springboard to something.

Smarter – We know how to draw free-kicks and penalties from teams. In years gone by, we were too honest and naive. Now we have learnt the tricks of the trade to go down easily under challenges, helping to win free-kicks in dangerous areas. There were moments where England players were wrestled to the ground and we received nothing, especially against Tunisia. There were other times when we invited the opposition to make a challenge and hit the ground, especially against Panama and Colombia. Both teams looked nervous when England came forward and would use violence to stop Kane and co. It’s just England took advantage, something thtu I’ll. These little advantages count. It’s been the case for years in Southern Europe and South America. England are just catching up. It’s not flopping like Neymar. It’s being smart. It’s not fair play; but fair play wins you monetary prizes, being smart gets you far in tournament football tournaments

New players – Southgate set a good example by selecting players who have played well regularly for their clubs, rather than remaining a little too loyal to players who have been injured or had bad form and walk straight into the squad. Joe Hart, Jack Wilshire and Adam Lallana are three examples. Most the players earn their place rather than get it through privilege, adding competition and quality throughout the ranks. I personally would of still taken Jack Wilshire instead of Fabian Delph due to his excellent range of passing and being a motor in the team, which include could have done with against Croatia. Then again, I’m not the England manager, nor have I coached them to a World Cup semi-final, let alone coached an actual game. What do I know? Gareth Southgate has been in England set up for some time. He knows the young players coming through, as well as lean on the players that were injured, such as Chamberlain.

The World Cup has made heroes out of a few England players, especially Jordan Pickford, Harry Maguire and Kieran Trippier. Kyle Walker, Jordan Henderson, Raheem Sterling and Jesse Lingard played good in parts, while Harry Kane started well, should end up Golden Boot winner, despite fading towards the end.

There we go. A lot of positives. The next post, the negatives…or more so, things to work on.

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Croatia 2-1 England review – Part one

Dear readers,

So, England’s 2018 World Cup journey has come to an end. Been quite a ride, hasn’t it, for all generations of English fans. After years of failure and disappointment, players not putting in their all, scandals, hype, negativity, being trounched by the big guns and getting humiliated by the so-called minnows, getting knocked out in the first round of tournaments and the rest of it. Have England been a laughing stock? I’m sure those with anti-English sentiments have enjoyed our discomfort in recent years, and then again as England was tactically and technically outplayed by Croatia last night as they were knocked out in the semi-final of the 2018 World Cup in Moscow. But even they must have been somewhat impressed by Gareth Southgate’s gelling of young hungry, talented men. The high tiempo game has won a few admirers along the way, playing with enthusiasm, character and positivity. I’ve had many Hondurans congratulating me as England progressed, as well as a Colombian colleague. And it hasn’t gone amiss that England’s youth teams have been winning their respective levels, too.

Nostalgia. Italia ’90. For those who don’t remember or were born after, this is their tournament. More than quarter of a century ago. I don’t think it’s completely healthy for our competitive spirit being heroic about failed tournaments (you don’t see Germany or Brazil doing the same), but then as a nation we managed to turn Dunkirk into a success story. Yet in recent week the euphoria floating around, felt 8,000 miles away in Honduras, has been a massive relief from recent political and terrorism problems and military conflicts around the globe. Not just in the UK but across the world. The power of sports. And the beautiful irony is the tournament has been held in Russia, one of the most controversial countries in the current political sphere, which Putin is using as a propaganda tool to promote his country. There’s no “Nessun Dorma“, but there’s been plenty of drama on the pitch as the favourites fell one by one, which has given the world cup it’s very own romanticism based around shock.

I can’t say I caught on to the feeling of #ItsComingHome. I never felt it was, in terms of the Jules Rimet trophy, yet the relief its given the country has gone along way to restoring unity in a nation that has been divided since the Brexit vote two years ago. Maybe football did come home in its own way. Funnily enough I told a French friend this, and he replied by saying, “We too need it. Didn’t you see the French elections?” If France does win the World Cup on Sunday, I suppose Jules Rimet really is going home.

The #ItsComingHome slogan, as catchy as it is (as well as the song), is a great assumption that the English own football on some level. Unfortunately we don’t. We’re an improving nation, and it’s nice to believe and be positive, but we do get ahead of ourselves and seemingly patronise countries we feel superior to. Luka Modrić, maybe the world’s best midfielder right now, said as much in the post match interview, saying that they felt motivated by the English pundits and things written by English journalists, eager to prove us wrong. I’m guessing this will never change. It’s an unfortunate part of our culture, an empirical attitude that won’t die.

Saying that, I did start off a small superstition during the World Cup for myself by playing the Fat Les song Vindaloo before an England game. I then forgot to do it play it before the game against Belgium which we lost. Then I made sure I played it for the remaining games, but it seems Croatia jinxed it, if there was anything to it. I showed it to my wife, who was bemused. It’s a strange song. I think its yobbish and rude and arrogant, as well as hilarious and cheeky. I’m putting that song away for a couple of years at least.

What did I want from this tournament? England to play well. And I think I got that in most of the games we played. People are saying England has a bright future in football, but to do that we must look at the things we did wrong as well as right. And in the next piece I’ll be highlighting some of the things the whole England camp needs to improve if it wants to win anything soon.

…says the man who can barely do three keepy-uppies, let alone win anything on the Championship Manager video game. Here I am giving Gareth Southgate coaching tips.

Until the next post.


England v Croatia

Dear readers,

I didn’t think either team would make it to this stage. Both teams can walk away from the tournament proud of themselves. Yet neither team are quite ready for walking away just yet. In England’s case, this semi-final is the most important game in over quarter of a century. Can they beat Croatia? Of course they can! Can Croatia beat England? Yes. And that scares me, too.

Croatia’s midfield

Modric and Ractic. Two of the best midfield players in the world playing for arguably two of the best clubs in the world. They’re going up against England’s one man midfield (Alli and Lingard play as forwards for their respective clubs). Jordan Henderson has his work cut out. He’s had a great tournament but it’ll be interesting (and nerve-wracking) to see how he copes. It will also be interesting to see if Southgate changes the formation or tweaks his tactics a tad, or he sticks to his guns and attacks the way he has been. It’s going to be a key battle area.

Kane v Lovren

Harry Kane destroyed the Croat central defender Dejan Lovren earlier last season. For those not in the know, Kane plays for Tottenham Hotspur and Lovren plays for Liverpool. The game finished 4 -1 to Tottenham and Lovren was substituted around the 30 min mark as Kane had run loose on him.

Lovren has since improved somewhat since then, and reached the final of the Champions League with Liverpool, and Lovren played a great part in the cup run, although he is still seen as something of a weak link for Liverpool. An Englishman is begging Lovren falls apart again; Croatian supporters will be hoping he’s learned since then. It’s a different game, different teams, different competition. The past could mean everything or nothing when the stakes are so high and the line of success/failure is so fine. We’ll see.

Fatigue

It’s no surprise this has come up. Croatia have just come out of two games which have gone to extra time and penalties. This obviously tires a team, but it can also unite and motivate them. You saw how England felt from beating Colombia that very way: more together and focused. Most say this is “Advantage: England”. Again, we’ll see. I’m obviously hoping Croatia dead on their feet in the second half so England can run rampant on them.

Pressure

I would probably say there is more pressure on England, but this is something of a golden era for Croatia and most likely Modric’s last world cup. To an extent, they have little to show for it. This pressure could motivate them to get to the final. It’s 20 years since they got to this stage, although for England it’s even longer. The Croats will be there in numbers; we wait to see how many England fans turn up. But for the English press, football traditions and expectations now, I feel the England have a greater weight on their shoulders, despite being young and having surpassed all expectations all ready.

This is a once in a lifetime opportunity. The final of the World Cup for the winner. France, I feel, is superior in terms of power and talent compared to either of these teams for the actual final, although strange things happen in this funny old game, and both England and Croatia won’t mind being the “Leicester City of international football.”

I don’t expect it to have much of an impact, but Croatia are the more favored team by the neutral supporter. Maybe it’s because of politcians haven’t coated us in glory in recent years, or Croatia is less of a superpower on football or political stage. Britain is seen as an economic power in both; Croatia less so, but I hear it has lovely beaches.

Prediction

I’ve turned strangely superstitious during this World Cup (something in the Latin American air has made me this way) and I’m afraid to curse England in some way. So, I’m keeping my prediction to myself, thank you very much, and I just hope England win.

Test for Englishmen (and English women)

I saw this meme and it made me giggle. A test for all English reading this blog. Make your comments below.


England in the quarter finals

Dear readers,

So, England are in the quarter-finals of the 2018 FIFA World Cup. They overcame the group stage with relative ease, although I was worried about England’s weak mentality which often underestimates opposition considered inferior to ourselves; a dangerous arrogance. I’m pleased England proved me wrong, although I was a little worried about England’s performance against Belgium, ableit England had already qualified and playing their second team.

Despite England beating Colombia yesterday, I am in two minds about this mentality of avoiding certain teams. I think one has to beat whoever comes their way, be it Brazil or whoever. No other team is trying to avoid playing England right now, and for me it shows a cowardice on our part. Ironically, France is a country that Britons often look down upon for just that: cowardice, yet they played Argentina in the second round, now they face Uruguay and then maybe Brazil in the semi-final; three very tough South American opponents, without complaining or wishing for an easier draw. France, Brazil and co. are not on the favourable side of the draw, but any of those teams could well be better prepared for the final than those on the perceived easier side due to being accustomed to playing seemingly better quality opposition. If England want to show true three lion spirit: stop fearing opposition, and take what comes. By announcing we are in the easier draw is just the impetus opposing teams need to show just how wrong we are. Colombia, using rough ’em up tactics, were anything but easy. Sweden will be even harder, and their media is already reckoning England will be feeling the normal hubris, which we often do against Scandinavian teams. Remember Iceland two years ago? England has to be professional.

Funnily enough, there is also a side of me that thinks Gareth Southgate pulled a stroke of genius by fielding a weaker team against Belgium. Forget what I said about cowardice: of course I’d rather England face Sweden than Brazil. Anyone would. No slight on Sweden. But Brazil are Brazil and have Coutinho et al, as well as five world cups to their name, and Sweden don’t. It’s not a reason to write Sweden off mind; we have a woeful record against them and Southgate has been warning that. Sweden look a more compact and together team without Zlatan Ibrahimovic, knocking out Holland, Italy and Germany (the latter indirectly) along the way: major scalps. Yet, one would be an idiot to prefer playing Brazil over Sweden at this stage.

England v Colombia

Finally England won through penalties. It hasn’t happened since 1996 against Spain at Euro 96. I suffered five heart attacks during the game yesterday. I feel England just about edged Colombia, even though Colombia had the better chances and played without their star man, James Rodriguez. To an extent, I have empathy, especially as we England fans have suffered so much through penalty shoot outs. But on the most part, I think some of their players had a warped view of football rules and tried to kick England off the pitch.

Yes, there are differences in culture in terms of tackling. For example, the Premier League lets a lot more tackles go than mainland Europe. Latin American defences are known for their aggression compared to European or Asian teams, yet in this tournament and the 2014 World Cup, it’s been taken to a whole new level and it’s harming Latin America more than helping them, giving away needless free kicks and penalties through grappling, kicking out, delibrate obstruction and provocation. Hondurans will hate me saying this, but Mexico is one of the few Latin American teams that have played with a cleaner defensive tactics in this world cup, along with Brazil and Uruguay, and it’s no surprise the three teams had/are having good tournaments. VAR and video support is going to harm Latin American teams even more if they don’t clean up their act. Referees can play back and have wisened up to this antics. I say this as a fan of Latin American football, but it’s something teams here have to adjust to if they want success. The World Cup is now being dominated by European teams; 6 of the 8 quarter finalists are European, which have won the last three world cups. European teams will go to ground under heavy challenges and will do so convincingly, and they are no longer provoked as easily. England of old would have lost their cool against Colombia (remember David Beckham against Argentina in 1998?). England of new stayed, more or less, calm throughout. Southgate’s charm rubbing off or England being smarter? I think it’s a lot of both.

Saying that, Jose Pekerman, the Colombian football coach, has got to be blind, stupid, a bad loser or saving face after the game against England, when he pretty much blamed the English players for diving. England could have easily had a second penalty and the Colombian player Berrios should have been sent off for the naughty headbutt on Jordan Henderson. The referee, if anything, favoured Colombia. They received 6 yellow cards to England’s 2, which tells the story (although Maguire too was lucky to stay on the pitch for striking out Ospina towards the end of extra time; players have been sent off for much less). Every time England went near their box, they were bombarded by hacking and grappling. That’s one way to stop the opposing team from playing, but it’s not in the rules. Of course I am biased, but Colombia (nor Diego Maradona) cannot complain. Sorry Pekerman, England wasn’t diving.

I am pleased England exorcised a few demons by winning in penalties, and it was a beautiful irony it was Gareth Southgate who coached England to win their first since 1996. It was he who missed that all important penalty in Euro 96, and he has carried the burden for 22 years, with his name synonymous with that missed penalty. He showed great humility to console Carlos Bacca who missed the Colombian penalty and the Colombian team at the end of the game, instead of celebrating. This also inspired the social media phenomenon, #Southgatewould, where fans are listing the hypothetical good deeds Southgate would do. It is also good to see England playing with a bit more character and togetherness, rather than 12 years ago when there was a lot of individual stars but no team. It’s great to see them answering their critics; less than a year ago England fans showed discontent through stadium walkouts and paper aeroplane messages. I doubted Gareth Southgate. I admit it. But I’m glad he’s proving me wrong, along with many other fans. He has introduced new measures to get the team passing and pressing in a new formation, as well as playing together, with a connection with the fans again, reminiscent of Italia 90 with Bobby Robson.

I still doubt England will win the World Cup, but I think they deserve to be in the quarter finals. Let’s hope they continue playing as well as they can. As for the game against Sweden, we’ll see what happens…


VAR – Good, bad or mergh?

Dear readers,

I’ve been a long term advocate of introducing technology in football. Human error had been influencing games for decades. Germany can point back to the World Cup Final in 1966 against my very own country and feel aggrieved. I am guilty: I have called various referees an array of expletives in a loud frustrated voice, often forgetting that referees are human, under great amounts of pressure and they can’t catch everything. Having technological aid would help cancel out some of those mistakes.

For years, FIFA had decided against it, with the former president Sepp Blatter being dead against it. Cynics say it was so FIFA could retain a certain amount of control over games so decisions could go the way of the more money-making teams in football, then excuse themselves with a half-baked apology to the losing team followed by a typical “c’est la vie” shrug of the shoulders. Remember Thierry Henry’s handball against Ireland in the playoff for the 2010 World Cup?

Blatter’s reluctance was based on how it would damage the flow and spontaneity of the beautiful game, and like most of what Sepp Blatter said I passed off as nonsense. Yet with the introduction of VAR (Video Assistant Referee), he might have a point.

The waiting on decisions means fans and players are unable to celebrate (or commiserate) on a goal, losing a undeniable slice of the passion. Players have to wait an age to know if they are being awarded a penalty or not.

There are also questions regarding who decides on what is reviewed; a lack of transparency so to speak (it’s not as if FIFA has never been accused of such things). Is it the referee or other officials who decide? And excuse the bias, why wasn’t the two wrestling incidents by against Harry Kane reviewed in the game against Tunisia? Two very obvious penalties which probably have ended with England winning more than 2-1. Had the match ended 1-1, I daresay there would have been more questions about the officiating, both with the referee and the VAR system. It therefore begs the important question, has VAR improved refereeing?

Sure, the VAR is going through a teething process which hopefully will improve over time.

But what do you think? Keep it, or bin it?


2018 FIFA World Cup: Kick off

Dear readers,

It comes around every four years. It lasts for a month, and in that time we become almost offensively patriotic and xenophobic, blurting out a rich array of mindless slurs and insults against opposing nations, ghetto-blasted even louder by sections of the media. It builds the tension and hype before games, while also giving fans a nervous complex, with finger nails gnawed to the bone.

Funnily enough, it’s a tournament that is supposed to bring the world together; in a period when it really needs it with political tensions vibrating around the globe. I remember an old drinking friend from Birmingham once suggesting “we could settle wars with a game of footy”. If that were the case, the world might be ruled by Brazil, or dare I say it, Germany.

This year it takes place in Russia, after winning an alleged rigged bidding process back in 2010. There is a lot negativity said about the country, whether it be the widespread homophobia, hooliganism, slaying of political dissidents and journalists (or attempted poisoning of former spies), military aggression against neighbouring countries or trying to influence elections. I’ve never been there; it’s knowing what to believe. We live in a period where truth and real journalism is under attack by fake news and propaganda; it’s very hard to believe much in the Western media or the Russian media, especially where politics plays a hand. However, I don’t think there’s another country quite as controversial to hold a major global sporting event right now. Let’s hope it runs smoothly.

For the last two world cups, I have followed two teams; my country of birth, England, and my country of residence, Honduras. Unfortunately only former made it this year. Honduras missed out, not only due to playing terribly against Australia in the playoffs, but also the ghost goal Panama (who England face a week Saturday in the group stage) scored against Costa Rica affectively taking Honduras out of a direct qualifying position and knocking USA out all together, not forgetting conceding late in at least three games while in winning positions during the qualifiers, costing six points in the process.

I’ve not been in England since 2014. I can only gauge the mood about the team’s chances through the media, but there is a distinct lack of hype about this team, especially compared to the 2006 and 2010 world cups, when on paper England had arguably one of best teams on paper (apart from the goalkeeper), yet they all failed to show up apart from the Canadian born Owen Hargreaves in 2006.

Can England win it?

In short, I doubt it, and I’m guessing much of the world feels the same. There’s less hype, with good reason; it’s an inexperienced squad with a distinct lack of depth of top quality players. Don’t get me wrong; there is talent, yet I’m not sure they possess the character to change games when things are going wrong, nor the wisdom and aggression needed to win ugly. There is less scandal and interruptions like in previous years, with Alex Chamberlain being the only noticeable absentee through injury. The England camp has highlighted the team’s new identity, which I’m not sold on just yet. We have to wait and see when the competition kicks off against Tunisia on Monday.

Of course, it’s not impossible. You need a winning mentality, and with the young lads coming through, I’m sure they want to win it, and of course I hope they do. They seem more hungry and prepared than previous generations.

Some have said that they hope England just play well. Yes. That’s how low expectations are. It’d be nice to make the quarter finals, but if we exit sooner, it wouldn’t be a surprise. To be an England fan is to be eternally disappointed. Don’t feel sorry for us. We’re used to it.

At the same time, there is the returning stink of arrogance brewing up in our naive mentality. Fans are saying England’s group of Belgium, Tunisia and Panama is easy, yet I see plenty of banana skins. Then in the second round, if England make it through the group, we could face Colombia or Poland, which sections of the media have labelled “favourable”; a dangerous mentality to possess, in my opinion. Just at Euro 2016, when England finished second in another relatively easy group, only for England fans to celebrate getting Iceland in the next round and then losing 2-1. It’s a scar on English football, yet we don’t seem to learn from this precariously weak mentality. Opposing teams are watching and listening. When you call a team easy, you know you’ve an even greater battle on your hands; they’re out to prove themselves, especially Panama and Tunisia. The England team is often seen as a representation of the UK government in such events, which has hardly coated itself in glory in recent years; yet another incentive for many. England cannot just raise their game against Belgium. They need to be careful throughout. Under-estimating teams wins you nothing, yet nor does fear. Respect is right mentality.

It might be time England to adopt a Leicester City mentality, rather than believing we’re a global superpower.

Who will win?

One of the usual suspects. Germany has the mentality, while Brazil and Spain have an abundance of skillful talent. France has a wonderful squad, while Argentina have Messi and Aguero. After that, I doubt any other team is strong enough.

After England, I hope for a Latin American team to do well. Not just because I live in a Latin American country; moreso that the World Cup has been dominated by European teams. It’s time for a change.


Honduran national team, the weather and derbies

Dear readers,

Some of you might already know, but I’ve been doing some reporting for Fox Sports Australia in the run up to World Cup playoffs between Honduras and the Soccerroos. Going by the name of my blog, there’s no guessing in who I’m following.

I’m enjoyed it and so far, pretty much so good. My first story was a big miss due to a mis intepretation of various nuances from some sections of the media. However, a third story seemed to be a massive hit, which has landed me interviews on television and radio, which I will go into in a future post. I feel quite overwhelmed by the positivity I’ve received, and I’ve learned an awful lot about patriotism and the power of words, as well as how sensitive Hondurans feel about how they are portrayed globally. I already knew about it, but this has been a great reminder and a very good learning experience. I’ve gained a lot of friends so far, such as the Barra Brava Catracha group, who I will write about more in a post coming up soon.

I wrote this post yesterday for Fox, but they decided not to run with it. I have therefore adapted it and publishing it here.

Enjoy.


HONDURAN NATIONAL TEAM

With Eddie Hernandez out the playoffs, Jorge Pinto was left sweating after his first choice goalkeeper Donis Escober and Choco Lozano were taken off during their respective teams, Olimpia and Barcelona B. was taken off with a muscular injury in Olimpia’s derby game with Motagua. However, it seems they will be fit for Honduras’s crunch games against Australia.

In the meantime, Jorge Pinto has left fans and media guessing about his select 11, adding that he has a plan for Australia.

The press and social media were surprised by the omission of Ronny Martinez and Rubilio Castillo, and the call up of some lesser known players from Honduras’s provincial teams like Juticalpa. Los Catrachos will be buoyed by the return of Carlo Costly and Mario Martinez, but how the latter fits into a team already boasting a range of talent in defensive midfield remains to be seen. The one surprise omission which has brought little news is Roger Espinoza, also known as El Chino, a utility midfield man with Sporting Kansas City in the MLS, who won the English FA Cup with Wigan Athletic in 2013. The Honduran born, US citizen has been a fans favourite over the years, scoring a few golazos along the way. Pinto obviously sees enough talent in the squad to leave him out.

DERBY GAMES

What did my home city Birmingham and my adopted city Tegucigalpa have in common this weekend? Derby games! Both cities boast fiery rivalies in the city, with Birmingjam and Aston Villa and Olimpia and Motagua respectively. Yet this weekend, both derbies ended in 0-0 draws. Yes, the bragging rights mean everything to the fans in both cities, and both clubs want to claim the throne of el papá de ciudad. That’s where the similarities end though. Both Tegucigalpa’s teams are fighting to take top spot in the league, while Birmingham are locked in a relegation dog fight in the 2nd tier in the English leagues, while Villa, which now stars ex-England man John Terry, are in a rat race to return to the Premier League.

Back to the Tegucigalpa derby, both Olimpia and Motagua represent two of the country’s most powerful clubs, in which anything is possible.

Drama surrounds this fixture, and this weekend will be no different, giving supporters some reprieve of thinking about the play off with the Soccerroos. Just last season an Olimpia supporter invaded the pitch, collected the ball, dazzled two or three Motagua defenders before putting it away, while at the same time, Olimpia team took advantage of Motagua’s confusion and also scored, all of it taking place in injury time. Surprisingly, the goal stood and game finished 2-2. Click here to see the video.

While Olimpia could be labelled the Manchester United of Honduras, playing in very similar colours and being by far the most successful club, yet Motagua have won the previous two titles and currently sit four points clear at the top of the league, while Olimpia are 3rd.

The club’s supporters were mocking each other on the sport’s radio show La Potra Hn on Friday night, who called me while on air to talk about an article I’d written, about Olimpia beating Santos of Costa Rica penalties to claim  the Torneo Liga Concacaf the night before, with Motagua supporters were raining on their counterpart’s parade, claiming the victory was only region’s 2nd tier cup, the Europa League of Central America.

WEATHER

Talking of rain, Tropical Storm Selma entered Honduran territory on the Pacific Coast on Saturday evening, bringing torrential rain to the south side of the country. Honduras has already experienced heavy rainfall throughout the country, with has brought flash floods, landslides, overflowing rivers and reservoirs, one of which left a dam on high alert. It’s brought considerable damage to some poorer neighbourhoods in and around the northern towns and cities, claiming a number of lives.

That being said, emergency services have been quick to react and civilians have been helping one another. Australian fans coming over will be kept well away from the more precarious areas and the game shouldn’t be affected; just remember to bring your waterproofs.