Monday, January 31, 2011

Giampaolo Pazzini: Scoring Anywhere He Goes

Last Friday, Giampaolo Pazzini transferred to Inter Milan. "You can't say no to Inter", Pazzini said, and he's right. How could he?

Since Leonardo has taken over for Rafa Benitez, Inter has showed the championship pedigree we saw last season. With the addition of Pazzini, another championship could be in the making. As a Roma fan, I shuddered when I saw Pazzini shaking hands with Massimo Moratti.

If that wasn't enough for you, see how Pazzo did for Inter on Sunday:

A dream debut. Not to mention a header any striker would be proud of.

One last piece of Pazzini magic for you:

Sampdoria vs. Werder Bremen

A very smart signing by Inter. A very frightening sight for Scudetto contenders.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Asian Cup 2011: We Missed Out

This year's Asian Cup was exhilarating! Those who watched were treated to dark horses defying expectations, dramatic injury-time equalizers, late-great winners and a cagey final between powerhouses Australia and Japan. Sensible Soccer finds the media's lack of coverage for the tournament to be shocking!

Here are some things you may have missed from the 2011 AFC Asian cup:

1. A good look at Qatar
The tournament, hosted by Qatar, gave us a little preview of what we could see in 2022. I was furious when I found out the World Cup would be hosted by Qatar in 2022, but I have learned to accept it based on its impending occurrence and the success of this year's Asian Cup.

Khalifa Stadium
The stadiums, though not the mega-stadiums we will see in 2022, were great. Unfortunately, capacity was not met in most matches, but as the years progress the fever for football will grow in this area. Overall, the tournament was run very efficiently, with little problems. The Asian Football Confederation President and Sepp Blatter detractor (which makes me a fan), Mohammed bin Hammam, exclaimed delight at Qatar's handling of this year's cup.

Aside from that, this cup serves as a reference point for FIFA when deciding on the time of year in which the 2022 World Cup will be played: summer or winter. The Asian Cup is usually played in the summer, as many other cup finals are, but since Qatar is basically a desert, the tournament was played over this past month, amid 60 - 70 degree weather. I would say that was probably for the best, when thinking about the possibility of 110 degree weather during the summer months. Dry-heat? Get off of it.

A final point to note is the success of the hosts in the tournament. When I heard Qatar would be hosting a soccer-related event, I wasn't even sure if they had an able team. The Asian Cup disproved this thought. Qatar had an excellent showing in this tournament, progressing to the quarterfinals.

2. The emergence of 'other' Asian sides
Australia, Japan and South Korea normally grab the headlines in the Asian footballing world, but this year, there were a few other sides that sparkled. I mentioned dark horses and Uzbekistan is as dark as they come. The Uzbeks, who were a very outside chance in this tournament, made an unbelievable run to the semifinals and eventually settled for fourth place. Not bad for a country ranked 108th in the world by FIFA. Qatar's progression in the tournament was just as impressive, given their 105th ranking in the world. The play of these teams added value to a typically powerhouse controlled cup.

3. Incredible efforts
This year's Asian Cup was rife with incredible efforts. Particularly beginning in the quarters, Australian hitman Harry Kewell sent his country into the semis with an extremely late goal in extra-time against Iraq. On the same vein, South Korea raced into the semifinals with a goal in extra-time to sink Iran.

Harry Kewell celebrating his winner  
The match of the tournament had to be the semifinal between Japan and South Korea. It was an absolute classic, as Japan grabbed the lead early in extra-time, only to have South Korea equalize in the 121st minute to force penalties (which Japan eventually won). See highlights here.

The cagey final between Australia and Japan also brought us another moment of magic in extra-time. Japan's Tadanari Lee, a late sub enjoying his 2nd cap, scored an incredible volley that left Mark Schwarzer rooted to the spot and won it for the Japanese. Check out this sensational goal, here.

4. Continual growth of the Asian talent pool
It is clear that Asian footballers are emerging as top players. Aside from this exciting tournament, over the past few World Cups, Asian teams have steadily become threats to top countries. This is the direct result of an increase in ability of Asian footballers. Some major talents include Japan's Keisuke Honda (by far the coolest name in the world), Shiniji Kagawa, and Yuto Nagatomo (a wanted left back in the market). South Korea's Ji Dong-Won and Koo Ja-Cheol also raised their profiles after exceptional performances during the tournament.

Some old guards that make us smile include Australia's Harry Kewell, who had a great tournament, and everyone's favorite South Korean, Park Ji-Sung, who retired from international play after the cup.

I wouldn't be surprised if we saw some of these players packing their bags for Europe in the next few days. Undoubtedly, we will see more and more Asian players emerging in top sides as the years progress.

5. Awesome nicknames

Asian teams have awesome nicknames: the Socceroos - Australia; the Blue Samurai - Japan; the Lions of Mesopotamia - Iraq (my personal favorite); the White Wolves - Uzbekistan. Country's around the footballing world need to adopt the Asian way of naming themselves. Les Blues? Azzurri?? Italy and France: your squad names both mean blue. Consider "Blue Warriors" or "Blue Fighting Carabineri" or something.

2011 AFC Asian Cup winners Japan, with consolation fruit bowls
I hope this post gave some of you an idea of how awesome this year's Asian Cup was. I urge you to learn more about the world of Asian soccer and don't shy away games featuring these teams. Have a look and enjoy!

Friday, January 28, 2011

Michael Bradley On the Move?

Numerous reports suggest USMNT midfielder Michael Bradley will leave Bundesliga side Borussia Monchengladbach in the next few days. Bradley featured in the side's first 17 games, contributing three goals, before being relegated to the bench after the holiday break. All signs point to a transfer.

SoccerAmerica reports that Palermo, Galatasaray and Sunderland are interested in the $4 million rated midfielder. The Shin Guardian asserts a deal is all but done with the Turkish side.

Stay tuned for more news about our favorite bald, marauding midfielder!

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Deadlocks in the Transfer Window

This transfer window has been exceptional thus far, as many big names have completed transfers to top teams. However, it has also been unnerving. Teams have stalled deals by disagreeing on transfer fees and players have held up moves by asking for higher wages. The inability to make deals has caused a myriad of transfer window headlines, which detail every flinch made during deadlocked talks, on a daily basis. Being there are only a few days left in this window, I thought it would be prudent to present a few deadlocked transfer sagas:

David Luiz Benfica to Chelsea
Chelsea's need for a quality centre back is clear, given the departure of Ricardo Carvalho in the Summer, the chronic injuries to Alex and John Terry's increasing age. Accordingly, the Blues have taken a run at Benfica's top defender, David Luiz. The champions showed their urgency for the player by making first contact early in the transfer window. The Portugese side have responded by continually upping the price tag and dragging out the move. Could you blame them, given Chelsea's piggy bank? Benfica are looking for £25 million. Reports today state Chelsea are willing to pay £21.5 million, plus one of the club's young players. Will this move finally go through? I'd like to see it happen. See the Soccernet and reports for more information.

Luis Suarez Ajax to Liverpool
There isn't a team out there who could use the services of the Uruguayan hitman, Luis Suarez, more than Liverpool. The struggling club have taken a big shot at the Ajax striker, in what would be a spectacular move. Initially, the Reds wanted to offer money and Ryan Babel in exchange for Suarez, but the deal was squashed earlier in the week (with Babel ultimately completing a move to Bundesliga side Hoffenheim). Suarez seems to want this move, and the Amsterdam club seems intent on selling him, yet negotiations have been unsuccessful thus far. Earlier this week, Ajax decided to give Liverpool until Saturday to make a final bid. Liverpool's initial bid was £15 million. Ajax values the player at a very inflated £35 million, and have stated they would accept no less than £25 million for the player. I, along with my friends at Football Spy, believe Liverpool needs to hold strong and wait Ajax out on this price. A probable bid could be somewhere around £20 million, plus one of the club's younger players. I would love to see Liverpool get this player, but it may be yet another failure for the hard-luck Reds.

Charlie Adam Blackpool to Liverpool
Another tense, ongoing negotiation involving Liverpool is for Blackpool's midfielder Charlie Adam. The two teams are at a stand-off, as Blackpool are asking for a ridiculous £12 million for the player, who I would value at £5 million, tops. Liverpool need to keep their offer on the table and let it stand as a 'take it or leave it', since they really have nothing to lose in this transfer.

Robbie Keane Tottenham to West Ham
Out of favor, aging striker Robbie Keane has been the subject of many rumors throughout this window. Tottenham reportedly struck a deal with Birmingham for the striker, but Keane's wage negotiation with the side failed epically, as he refused to take a pay cut. So, here we are Robbie. Keane had a deal, fumbled it, and is now being forced to either perish in reserves or join West Ham on loan. I think we'll see Keano at Upton Park next week.

Sean Wright-Phillips Manchester City to Fulham, Bolton, Newcastle
That little bundle of energy, Sean Wright-Phillips, is again on the move as another club have frozen him out of a star-studded lineup. Manchester City are said to be asking £4 million for the player, but interested parties would rather have him on loan. Football Spy reports that Man City is even willing to let Wright-Phillips go on a free transfer, in an effort to lure Fulham, Bolton or Newcastle into picking up his £65K/week price tag. Wherever the talented England international ends up, he will make an immediate impact.

These seem to be the largest deadlocks in the window at the moment. Check out today's Football Spy for a more comprehensive look:

It should be interesting to see who moves where in the next few days. It is almost assured we will see a dramatic last hour transfer, given the activity in the market over the past month.

Enjoy the rest of the window and stay tuned for Sensible Soccer's review of this January's moves.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Illustrious Italian Hair: Choose Your Favorite!

What is it with Italians and their beautiful hair? Every time I watch the Serie A, I am captivated by wonderful Italian locks. Could it be the water in Italy? Perhaps the beautiful lifestyle? Possibly the babying of Italian men by their mothers until age 32? Whatever the reason, Sensible Soccer would like to present to you some Illustrious Italian Hair:

Francesco Totti AS Roma
Number one in my heart, number one on this list. Totti's hair, cerca 2004, was incredible. His silky smooth mane made watching him even better, especially when fast enough to blow by opponents, leaving only well maintained hair in his wake. Unfortunately, like Samson in the Bible, Totti's abilities have diminished as his hair has. Grow it out, Capitano!

Luca Toni Juventus
I've never tried so hard to get my hair to look like someone else's until I learned of Luca Toni's existence. The towering striker's awesome short-long hair is at its best when goals are scored. When Toni wheels away in celebration his locks gain new life and ferociously taunt the opposition. I wonder what kind of shampoo he uses?

Andrea Pirlo AC Milan
Pirlo's beautifully sleek hair sways gracefully during the course of a match as it follows loyally behind the wily midfielder's tracking runs. His fine hair, which looks sort of like Jesus as an 80s rocker with side burns, makes for a stylish 90 minutes.

Bruno Conti AS Roma
The famed fleet-footed winger had quite the lion-head! Not only did he flash his locks for the Giallorossi, but he put them on display while lifting the World Cup with Italy in 1982. To this day, Conti still maintains his aggressive mane on the sidelines as one of Roma's Directors.

Paolo Maldini AC Milan 
The legendary defender who patrolled the Milan back-line for over 20 years, also boasts hair a barber would be proud of. Maldini, who shows his hair off all over Europe in H&M ads, evidently cared greatly for his hair during his long career, in efforts to solidify his presence on billboards, post-calcio. Smart ragazzo.

Alessandro Del Piero Juventus
Ale Del Piero has a true gentleman's hair cut. He must carry a standard comb with him everywhere! Not to mention it looks like he shaves with an old fashioned knife razor! Pinturicchio always sports cool hair, short or long, and must feel obligated to, since he is an Italian icon and fan favorite in Turin.

Gianluigi Buffon Juventus
No player has the clean-cut, school boyish look that Gigi Buffon does. The World Cup champion is as intense about his hairdo as he is about the organization of his wall. Every single hair is primped with a fine-toothed comb in order to portray a jovial side while Gigi screams at his defense.

Roberto Baggio La Nazionale
Baggio, well known by his nickname Il Divin Codino (The Divine Ponytail), is the definitive Illustrious Italian Hair trendsetter. In the 90s, at least 75% of Italians fashioned their hair after the great hitman's divine-do (even the women). Aside from his goal scoring prowess, Baggio's powerful ponytail was the staple of his career.

Who now wants hair like someone on this list?! I think I'll strive for the Ale Del Piero in the next few months. If it doesn't work out, I'll go for Ale's cut, circa 2006. Choose your favorite, if you dare, and as always, send me your suggestions!

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Upcoming USA Friendlies

Sensible Soccer is PUMPED about the upcoming USMNT friendlies! USA will be playing Chile, Egypt, Argentina, and Paraguay in the near future. The games are:

USA vs. Chile
The Home Depot Center; Carson, California
Jan. 22, 2011 @ 7 p.m. PT

USA vs. Egypt
Cairo International Stadium; Cairo, Egypt
Feb. 9. 2011 @ TBD

USA vs. Argentina
New Meadowlands Stadium; East Rutherford, New Jersey
March 26, 2011 @ 7 p.m. ET

USA vs. Paraguay
LP Field; Nashville, Tennessee
March 29, 2011 @ 7 p.m. CT

This is a wonderful set of friendlies, if I do say so myself. The Chile match will be a good chance for younger players to prove themselves in the national team setup. Egypt will be a delightful rematch after the USA shellacked them 3-0 at the Gold Cup in 2009. The Argentina match is of much interest and one that I will be attending. Given the prestige of the Argentineans and last match between the two at the Meadowlands (which I was lucky enough to attend), this game should be a cracker. Last but not least, Paraguay should be a good test for the USA, given their liveliness at the last World Cup and increasing pool of talent.

Enjoy the games, friends!

For more information on the USMNT please visit US Soccer's website.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Fantastic Strikes!

It seems this weekend was ripe with blockbuster goals! I thought it would be prudent to share with you a few which I found particularly fantastic:

Zlatan Ibrahimovic - AC Milan vs. Lecce

Another unbelievable strike by Ibra. Make no mistake, this man was not hitting and hoping. The talented Swede took a quick glance over his shoulder while taking the ball down in stride (amazing) to see Lecce's goalkeeper Antonio Rosati off his line. The result - a ridiculously casual finish. Incredible!

Alberto Aquilani - Juventus vs. Bari

The former Roma dangerman and Liverpool loanee can still hammer them in dramtically! Aquilani saved the Bianconeri further Serie A embarrassment by hitting a 'Gerrardesque' goal late on to give the Old Lady (what a horrible nickname) the win. Bravo Alberto!

Cani - Villarreal vs. Osasuna

Cani's wonderful midfield strike is surely a candidate for European goal of the season. Goals from the halfway line are always special, but Cani's effort that sealed a 2-1 victory for the Yellow Submarine (what an awesome nickname) was truly spectacular. This was hardly a floater - it was drilled in from deep! Cani's supreme awareness spotted the keeper out and his ability made a hero of him.

Carlos Tevez - Manchester City vs. Wolverhampton Wanderers
<a href="" target="_new" title="PL Highlights: Man City/Wolves">Video: PL Highlights: Man City/Wolves</a>
Carlos Tevez's wonderful solo effort versus four Wolves defenders and the keeper (55 seconds into the video) shows his wonderful control with the ball at his feet. A nice brace for the Argentinian in his first game with new strike-partner Edin Dzeko.

Andres Iniesta - Barcelona vs. Malaga

Last week's Ballon d'Or failure didn't stop Andres Iniesta from scoring a splendid goal! This man certainly has a flair for delicately placed shots, and this goal is evidence of it. Iniesta's supreme one-time control of Dani Alves' pass from outside the 18 was brilliant, as the Spaniard kissed the post with his well-placed shot. Very nice.

Roberto Carlos - Corinthians vs. Portuguesa

And last but certainly not least, a throwback from the past: a breathtaking Roberto Carlos set-piece! Watch as the wiley old Brazilian tricks the goalkeeper on a corner kick with yet another special 'other-ways bend' goal. Carlos still has the beautiful swerve that made him a star for club and country.

Any goals of note that I missed from this weekend? As always, let me know your favorite out of the bunch.

Friday, January 14, 2011

10 Big Babies in World Football

Ahh my leg...Ahhh my stomach...Ahhhh my life! The utterance of a football baby.

What's worse than seeing a player sulking up and down the pitch, wailing their arms at a no-call, tantrum style, or flopping to the ground at the slightest contact? These embarrassing gestures have forced Sensible Soccer to take action and identify 10 Big Babies in World Football. I present to you:

 Didier Drogba Chelsea
No man at 6'2, 190lbs should look as though they've been shot out of a cannon upon any sort of contact (see above photograph). Unfortunately, Drogba ignites the gunpowder of his embellishment cannon quite often. Shame on such an excellent player who can have an impact without such antics.

Rivaldo Mogi Mirim EC
Rivaldo has provided us with two incredible sights in our lifetime: 1) an extraordinary bicycle kick that sailed into the back of the net with precision and pace; 2) a full-fledged flop at the World Cup in 2002 (see above aftermath photograph). In said incident, a Turkish player fired the ball at Rivaldo's legs while the Brazilian was awaiting a corner, to which Rivaldo responded by grabbing his face and hitting the deck. This despicable act got the Turkish player sent off in a precious group match. For this sole incident, Rivaldo deserves to be labeled a baby.

Robinho AC Milan
He cried his way out of Madrid. He cried his way out of Manchester. I'm sure he's already cried once or twice when he hasn't gotten his way in Milan. Robinho is such a baby and wants his snack! Watching the twinkle-toed Brazilian can be awe-inspiring at one moment and extremely frustrating the next. His constant complaining, sulking, and flailing make him a huge cry baby of the sport.

Samuel Eto'o Inter Milan
I was very surprised to learn that Eto'o is a big baby. I had not witnessed his unbelievable tantrums until he transferred to Inter. Given what I know now, I can hardly watch him playing without wanting to jump in the TV and make baby crying noises at him. This character who threatened quit Cameron days before the World Cup after receiving (*gasp) criticism, can be seen on a weekly basis disagreeing with everything a Serie A ref has to say by flailing, stamping, and complaining.

Luca Toni Juventus
"Ma noooooooo" is Luca Toni's term of choice that must be burned in the minds of every Serie A referee and center back, since he says it every single time he is touched by a human being and doesn't get a call. He is not the worst candidate on this list, but the Italian hitman is always playing the honest school boy who feels he should be getting his way.

El Hadji Diouf Blackburn
Not only is Diouf a ridiculous baby who wants his milk, he's also a huge jerk! He reportedly lashed out at QPR's Jamie Mackie, telling him "f**k you and f**k your leg" after the striker had just broken his leg. Nice guy. He also called Jamie Carragher "a brand of ketchup" and is known for spitting at fans and players. What is wrong with this man? When things fail to go Diouf's way, his motive is to wile out in a tantrum and antagonize others.

Fernando Torres Liverpool
Someone needs to give this lad a hug. Torres always looks unbelievably miserable when things are not going his way. He's like the pouty little girl I pointed out in a previous post. It seems that the permanaent look of disappointment will remain etched on Torres' face for the rest of the year, given Liverpool's dreadful form. Hang in there little buddy!

Cuauhtemoc Blanco Mexico
The plus sized Mexican always seems to be scowling and howling his way around the pitch. At times, I can't tell if he's chewing on a tough piece of meat or just hungirly arguing with the referee and/or opposition. Blanco storms around the field and tends to slam his big frame to the ground upon the smallest gale of wind. Strange, for such a big man. I dislike this enemy of the USA very much.

Nicolas Anelka Chelsea
Even after scoring a goal and doing his ridiculous 'peacock hands' celebration, Nicolas Anelka has a sour look on his face. The Frenchman, infamously nicknamed Le Sulk, is the sulkiest player in world football. It seems impossible to make this man happy. I can only imagine what his personal life is like. His friends must be all sad middle-aged men, sad mimes, and sad clowns. Cheer up Anelka, you're netting millions this year.

Cristiano Ronaldo Real Madrid
There's no denying it: Cristiano Ronaldo is the most annoying player on the planet. Hell, even referees agree. Ronaldo crumbles to the ground numerous times during the course of a match and has absolute tantrums when he does not get calls or the ball from his teammates. Mix that with his huge ego and you have a dangerous baby with a loaded diapy ready to explode.

Dishonorable mention goes to: Joe Cole, Sergio Ramos, Felipe Melo, Francesco Totti (sorry Capitano), Vincenzo Iaquinta, Pippo Inzaghi, and the Italian people in general.

Please let me know what you think about my list and as always, share your suggestions for biggest baby in world football. Thanks for reading and stay tuned for more from Sensible Soccer