Are Spain, Germany developing another regional duopoly?

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When Italy defeated Germany in Euro 2012’s semifinals, the Azzurri temporarily calmed the notion UEFA was becoming a duopoly: Spain, Germany, and everybody else. The idea had been born not only from the countries’ huge stocks of talent but also their performances in South Africa and (to that point) Poland-Ukraine. But then Cesare Prandelli’s team happened. They knocked Germany from their perch before helping to confirm suspicions Spain are in a class by themselves.

In theory, there is a huge difference between a monopoly and a duopoly. If it’s just one team, their results can be written off as an aberration – a unique synergy of timing, talent influx, and luck that’s not worth trying to emulate. The solution would be to wait it out. But if two teams dominate, then not only is the aberration theory dispelled but there’s no longer a single target. While the two surging teams have each other to compete with (to use as motivation), the rest of the continent’s left to form a peloton trying to pull back the two driven leaders.

Unfortunately for 51 of UEFA’s member nations, Friday’s results hint the duopoly may still develop. Spain and Germany posted lopsided road results against decent teams. The world champions got three goals from Pedro Rodríguez en route to a 4-0 win in Belarus, while Germany put Giovanni Trapattoni’s job in jeopardy by routing the Republic of Ireland, 6-1. The results leave the teams a combined 5-0-0 in World Cup Qualifying, having scored 19 goals while allowing only two.

There are five other nations who remain perfect through UEFA qualifying, so it’s unclear these two are pulling (further) away from the pack. If they are, however, UEFA would fall into the curious pattern of confederations falling into duopolies:

  • There are a number of strong teams in South America, yet there’s still an unquestioned big two: Brazil and Argentina. Although the Selecao’s absence from qualifying will give them little chance to affirm that status before 2014, Argentina’s Friday win over Uruguay (3-0 in Mendoza) may be the first hint that the Americas’ titans are rising to the Celeste’s challenge.
  • Though the last Gold Cup showed CONCACAF’s pack is increasingly capable, the region is still Mexico and the United States. Although both teams have seen recent dips (the U.S. debatably still going through theirs), those are aberrations, not patterns.
  • After Australia made their mark during Asia’s 2010 cycle, Japan and South Korea are again the class of the region, the confederation having adjusted to the Socceroos. The two nations have unmatched talent, infrastructure and support. They were the two AFC nations to make South Africa’s knockout rounds, a result they’re on track to emulate in Brazil.
  • And for a number of reasons, Oceania was a duopoly before the Australia left. Now, New Zealand wait for the likes of New Caledonia to catch up.

It’s not difficult to see how these duopolies developed. In the Western Hemisphere, the most successful nations are their regions’ biggest, though Asia shows size isn’t sufficient. While China and India struggle for relevance, two of the region’s richer nations have leveraged their World Cup hosting experience to surge ahead. With Japanese and Korean culture having developed a true love of soccer, it’s unclear whether the duo will allow the region to catch up.

Spain and Germany are both large countries, but they’re not so much bigger than some of their rivals. One nation is affluent while the other is struggling financially. Each have hosted a World Cup (Germany hosted one as West Germany, one after reunification).

Though it’s easy to see why Spain and Germany have thrived, it’s harder to explain why they’re starting to be so much more successful than their nearest rivals. Spain was a sleeping giant, but the same was said about Portugal 20 years ago (size of the countries notwithstanding). Germany’s development has been spectacular, but France’s Clairefontaine was once the continent’s standard. Spain and Germany may be pulling away, even if it’s unclear why they’ve been allowed to do so.

Wenger: Arsenal “complacent, had no ideas” in Ostersunds loss

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Perhaps Sunday’s League Cup final had already reached the forefront of their minds, but Arsene Wenger admonished his players, whom he said were “complacent, not focused” and “had no ideas” for much of Thursday’s Europa League defeat, at home, to Swedish side Ostersunds.

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The Gunners advanced to the round of 16 on the back of their 3-0 first-leg victory last week, but Wenger was understandably displeased by the effort he saw and expressed such feelings in no uncertain terms, before quickly easing up and praising the fact they were able to pull back a goal against the current fifth-place team from Sweden — quotes from the BBC:

“We were not at the races in the first half,” said Wenger, who saw his side booed off at half-time and full-time. I think in the second half it was much better and we should have scored a few goals.

“In the first half, we were in trouble and in danger because we were complacent, not focused and were open every time we lost the ball. We had no ideas with the ball and that’s why we were in trouble.

“We responded very well because we did the job to qualify, but that’s what we have to take from the night and that’s all.”

With Arsenal now trailing fourth-place Chelsea by eight points (and seven back of fifth-place Tottenham Hotspur), winning the Europa League might just be the Gunners’ last chance at qualifying for next season’s Champions League.

Batshuayi racially abused by Atalanta fans

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Borussia Dortmund striker Michy Batshuayi says he was subject to racist chants from Atalanta fans during a Europa League game in Italy.

The Belgium international, on loan from Chelsea, tweeted:

Dortmund advanced to the round of 16 by drawing 1-1 to beat Atalanta 4-3 on aggregate on Thursday.

The game was played at Mapei Stadium in Reggio Emilia because Atalanta’s home stadium is unsuitable for UEFA games.

There have been several incidents of racism at Serie A matches this season.

Whitecaps defender Tim Parker being tracked by several teams from East

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Tim Parker’s next destination could very well be closer to his hometown, however, other MLS sides are in hot pursuit of the U.S. Men’s National Team defender.

[ MORE: CCL recap — FC Dallas falls, Club America struts its stuff ]

The Vancouver Whitecaps center back has been the subject of trade speculation recently, and Pro Soccer Talk has learned that Parker has turned down a new contract with the Cascadia side that would have kept the 24-year-old in Canada for at least three more seasons.

Multiple sources have told PST that the deal Parker rejected was worth over $1.4 million in totality. Metro New York’s Kristian Dyer was the first to report the story.

Parker was subject to make roughly $99,000 in 2017, according to the MLS Players Union, although he’s expected to receive a significant increase with any new deal that he signs. On an average basis, Parker would have made over $400,000 annually had he signed a new contract with the Whitecaps.

A New York-native, Parker has been looking to return to the East Coast after spending three seasons with the Whitecaps. The former Saint John’s University standout was selected in the first round by the Whitecaps in the 2015 MLS SuperDraft, after spending all four years with the Red Storm on the collegiate level.

Sources can also confirm that D.C. United and the Montreal Impact have emerged as the leaders to obtain Parker’s services if a deal is struck with the defender, although a move to the New York Red Bulls hasn’t been ruled out.

The Red Bulls have shown interest in the young defender for some time — and would be the preferred destination for the player — given Parker’s New York roots. A combination of allocation money and a player would likely be needed from the Red Bulls if the Eastern Conference side proved to be serious about pursuing Parker.

D.C. has managed to acquire significant allocation money over recent years, particularly GAM, which would prove to be essential in signing Parker. Ben Olsen’s defense has been built around USMNT center back Steve Birnbaum — who arrived in 2014 — but an addition of Parker would surely benefit a D.C. back line that conceded 60 goals in 34 regular season matches a season ago.

Meanwhile, a move for the Impact would be logical given the fact that the Canadian side lost center back Laurent Ciman this offseason when the Belgian international was traded to expansion side Los Angeles FC.

Police officer dies after fan violence before Bilbao-Spartak Moscow

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BILBAO, Spain (AP) A Spanish riot police officer died of cardiac arrest after clashes involving Russian soccer fans before a Europa League match on Thursday between hosts Athletic Bilbao and Spartak Moscow, raising concerns less than four months before the World Cup in Russia.

Basque Country authorities in northern Spain said the officer died in hospital after the confrontations outside San Mames Stadium in the city of Bilbao, which will host matches in the 2020 European Championship.

Police also said a Russian man was injured but the extent of his injuries was not immediately disclosed. Five people were arrested – three Russian nationals and two Spaniards.

The identity of the dead officer was not immediately disclosed.

Spartak won the match 2-1 but Athletic advanced 4-3 on aggregate.

Earlier Thursday, German police arrested a Russian suspected of seriously injuring a British soccer fan during the European Championship in France two years ago.

The trouble in Spain erupted ahead of the round-of-32 match in the second-tiered European club competition.

Police were escorting some Spartak fans into the stadium but a stray group allegedly started igniting fireworks and throwing flares and objects toward Athletic supporters and police officers.

The fighting spread onto the streets near the stadium and police struggled to restore order. Many fans were seen trying to run away from the trouble as fireworks exploded all around.

There was concern ahead of the match because of the reported presence of `Ultra’ Russian fans in Bilbao, and a large police force was deployed to try to prevent fan trouble.

Six year ago a fan died in Bilbao in clashes after a match between Athletic and German club Schalke.