Falcao, Pekerman have Colombia slowly changing South America’s landscape

1 Comment

Radamel Falcao’s running out of ways to react. Scoring has become such a frequent occurrence, the Colombia star has had to find new ways to describe his goals.

After a double on Friday, Falcao resorted to comedy.

“[T]he right leg is getting jealous,” he said after scoring twice with his left in Colombia’s 2-0 win over Paraguay.

“Paraguay were a very tough obstacle to break down,” according to Falcao. “We had to really fight hard to get the job done.”

The performance wasn’t as convincing as last break’s blowout of Uruguay. Colombia struggled through the first half against a dogged but unthreatening Paraguay.

Seven minutes into the second, Falcao broke through.

“Thank God my goals (got us the win), but it was the work of the whole team … I’m very happy with the win and the goals.”

Both have been coming in bunches for Falcão. The Atlético Madrid striker has scored eight times in six Liga matches. He’s bagged another five in qualifying. Just as the Atleti sit second in Spain, the Cafeteros are behind only Argentina in South America.

“Our goal is the World Cup and it is a long way there,” Falcao said Friday. “We must continue with the same intensity and mentality (to achieve this goal.)”

At this point, Colombia missing out on Brazil would require a major dip in form, even if they’re only five points up on sixth place Venezuela. Four CONMEBOL teams will earn automatic qualification for the 2014 World Cup, with the fifth place team destined for a playoff against a representative from Asia.

In 2010, Colombia finished seventh in qualifying, scoring only 14 goals in 18 games while coming up one point short of the playoff spot. After qualifying for every World Cup in the 1990s, Colombia has missed out on the last three finals.

With a new decade has come a new regime and new hope. In January, José Pekerman became Colombia’s third coach of the decade. Under the former Argentina boss, the Cafeteros are a changed team, having already matched last cycle’s goal output during a 5-2-1 start.

Along with Falcao’s emergence, Pekerman’s presence is reason to believe this is more than just a hot streak for Colombia. Pekerman’s successes with Argentina’s youth teams (three U-20 World Cups) along with a strong showing with the senior team at the 2006 World Cup make him one of the most respected coaches in South America. His failures in Mexico (with Toluca and Tigres) did little to dampen his reputation, making his capture by Colombia a minor coup.

Pekerman made an immediate impact, leading the team to a 2-0 win over Mexico in his debut, implementing more proactive tactics that took advantage of talents like Falcao, Porto’s James Rodríguez, and Napoli’s Juan Camilo Zuniga. In defense, Colombia has moved even more stingy than the previous cycle, their goals allowed rate dropping from one per match to 0.75.

The Cafeteros‘ improvement makes an already crowded South American scene almost unfair. Even though the number of World Cup spots available to CONMEBOL has increased from 4.5 to 5.5 (with Brazil already awarded one), two good teams from South America are destined to miss out on the finals.

Paraguay, participants in four-straight World Cups, will almost certainly miss 2014. Friday’s match was viewed as make-or-break for a team that had lost its four previous qualifiers. While they were able to take a scoreless tie into halftime, the second half showed a Paraguayan team that has regressed starkly from last cycle. After the loss in Baranquilla, they sit in last place with only four points through eight matches.

Venezuela may be the team most hurt by Colombia’s resurgence. After a strong showing at the 2011 Copa America, the Vinotinto was picked by many to make their first finals in 2014. Halfway through the qualifying tournament, César Farías’s team sits sixth, one point out of a playoff spot. With only seven goals through eight matches, their troubles emulate Colombia’s during the 2010 cycle. Aside from 23-year-old striker Salomón Rondón, no Venezuela player has scored more than one goal in the tournament.

That Ecuador (like Colombia) is also experiencing a surge makes it even less likely Venezuela will break through for 2014. But unlike the Ecuadorians, who could push a team like Chile or Uruguay into the intercontinental playoff, Colombia’s rise looks like more like an awakening than a run. The second-most populated country on the continent, Colombia has always had the resources to challenge the big two. The only thing they lacked were the roots to cultivate those resources.

Thanks to Pekerman and Falcao, Colombia has awaken from a dormant decade. They’ve risen into the top 10 of FIFA’s world rankings, and while that may flatter the still improving team, Colombia may yet develop into the giant many used to see emerging.

Jurgen Klinsmann denies Sunderland links

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Jurgen Klinsmann had quashed speculation linking him with taking the vacant managerial position at Sunderland.

[ MORE: Hazard & Co. start NASL club

The Black Cats were relegated from the Premier League last season and as they prepare for life in England’s second-tier they are managerless and American owner Ellis Short is still searching for a new owner for the club.

That’s how reports linking former U.S. national team boss Klinsmann to the job emanated, as a German consortium are interested in buying Sunderland.

However, Klinsmann had the following to say on his Facebook page about the Sunderland job.

“No truth on rumors coaching Sunderland FC in the near future,” Klinsmann said.

The 52-year-old German national team legend has kept a pretty low profile since being fired by the USMNT back in November 2016 following two defeats to open up the final round of 2018 World Cup qualifying. His five years in charge of the U.S. had plenty of ups and downs, but you can’t argue with how he helped reorganize the entire structure of U.S. Soccer during his role as Technical Director which coincided with him being head coach of the national team.

Last month Klinsmann was seen in South Korea watching his son, Jonathan, playing in goal for the U.S. U-20 side at the U-20 World Cup, but apart from that he seems no closer to getting back involved in the game via a managerial position.

Klinsmann and his family are settled in Huntington Beach, California and unless and incredible job comes up in Europe or elsewhere in the U.S., it’s tough to see him taking it. The 1990 World Cup winner is constantly linked with every big job which becomes available in England, largely due to his popularity after successful spells at Tottenham Hotspur, but it would be no big surprise if his coaching career was on more than a temporary hiatus.

Major League Soccer’s new franchise in Los Angeles, LAFC, arrive in March 2018 and have yet to hire a new head coach. Given his history with MLS it’s also tough to see Klinsmann getting involved with that franchise. Right now it seems like his future in the soccer world could be in advising clubs or national teams on how to rebuild themselves as he did with Germany ahead of the 2006 World Cup and more recently with the U.S. who have had success at youth national team level.

Report: Everton agree to deal to sign Nigerian striker Onyekuru

KAS Eupen
Leave a comment

Everton have reportedly agreed to sign Nigerian striker Henry Onyekuru from Belgian club KAS Eupen.

The teenage striker was the top scorer in Belgium’s top-flight last season, scoring 22 times, and had been attracting interest from Arsenal and many others with a release clause of just $8.6 million.

However multiple reports state that Onyekuru had a medical at Everton on Monday, with the Toffees agreeing a deal to sign the Nigerian international.

It has also been suggested that Onyekuru will be loaned out to Anderlecht next season as he continues his development, plus he is yet to be granted a UK work permit.

Onyekuru, 20, took the Belgian top-flight by storm last season and has scored 30 goals in 60 games for Eupen following his move to Belgium from the Aspire Academy in Qatar where he spent time from 2010-15. Eupen finished 13th in the Belgium’s top-flight after being promoted from the second-tier.

Below is a look at some of his highlights from last season as the young striker has plenty of pace and is cool in front of goal. Toffees fans will be hoping he develops in the mold of former Anderlecht and Chelsea forward Romelu Lukaku and that Onyekuru could step into his shoes if the Belgian striker leaves Goodison Park over the next 12 months.

If that proves to be the case then Onyekuru could be one of the best pieces of business in recent history. Everton’s Director of Football Steve Walsh certainly has an eye for plucking young talent from lower leagues and across Europe when you think about Jamie Vardy, Riyad Mahrez and N'Golo Kante during his time at Leicester, plus the likes of Dominic Calvert-Lewin already shining at Everton.

Report: Liverpool to escape punishment over Van Dijk pursuit

Getty Images
Leave a comment

The Times states that Liverpool will not be punished further for pursuing Southampton defender Virgil Van Dijk.

[ MORE: Expectations for PL managers

Earlier this month the Reds issued a public apology to Southampton and stated they had ended their interest in the 25-year-old Dutch defender following allegations that Van Dijk was flown to Blackpool (just north of Liverpool) to meet with Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp and their manager messaged VVD “regularly” as they chased the Dutch international.

Southampton, as you would expect, were far from happy about this so-called “tapping up” from Liverpool and reported the Reds to the Premier League by making an official complaint.

Liverpool’s apology was then followed by a preliminary investigation, but reports state that there will be no further action taken against Liverpool by the PL with “insufficient evidence” to support the claims surrounding the alleged “tapping up” of Van Dijk and unless new evidence arrives then the case will be closed.

Regardless, this whole episode has been incredibly embarrassing for Liverpool, especially when you take into account their current ban from signing academy players when a similar case cropped up over chasing a youngster in Stoke City’s academy.

Klopp has not only lost the chance to sign Van Dijk (at least, that’s the way it seems for now) but Liverpool have also lost some respect for the way they supposedly went about this business. American owners Fenway Sports Group (FSG) went to great lengths to apologize for this situation and are keen to stress they always conduct their business in a respect manner.

Now, we would all be a little naive to believe that this type of thing doesn’t happen a lot in soccer. A player (usually through his agent) will perhaps gently let another team know he’s interested in a move to them, and the ball gets rolling from there. Of course, the two clubs are supposed to agree a fee for the player first and then said player can meet with his potential new club to square away the details.

Southampton are said to still be furious about the approach from Liverpool to Van Dijk, so much so that if they were to sell their star player and captain this summer (they maintain he’s not for sale) they’d rather take less money from another club (Man City, Chelsea and Arsenal are all said to be interested) than let him leave for Anfield for over $70 million.

After Liverpool plucked Adam Lallana, Dejan Lovren, Nathaniel Clyne and Sadio Mane from Saints in the past few years, it’s easy to understand why the South Coast club are now standing firm and saying enough is enough.

Vidal rips Ronaldo ahead of Confederations Cup semifinal

LLUIS GENE/AFP/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Chile hopes to make a statement on Wednesday when it faces EURO 2016 champions Portugal and Ballon d’Or champion Cristiano Ronaldo.

The 2015 and 2016 Copa America champions can lay claim to another inter-confederation title with two more wins in the 2017 Confederations Cup, beginning with the semifinal in Kazan.

[ MORE: Chelsea sells Traore ]

Chile finished behind Germany in Group B but didn’t lose a match and only allowed two goals. That’ll be tested by Portugal and its seven goals in three matches.

Two of those goals came from Ronaldo, but don’t tell that to Arturo Vidal. Chile’s hard-edged midfielder doesn’t like him much.

From Goal.com:

“Cristiano is a smart ass,” he told reporters. “For me he does not exist.

“I have already told my Bayern Munich team-mate Joshua Kimmich that we will meet again in the final.”

Germany will have to take care of Mexico to make that happen, though we have a feeling a certain smart ass will have a thing or two to say before it’s all said and done.

Vidal has spoken loudly of his desire to get Chilean teammate Alexis Sanchez, a former Barcelona man, at his club Bayern Munich. If Ronaldo is on the market, this isn’t a great recruiting tool. Ah, jokes.