Spain v France - FIFA 2014 World Cup Qualifier

World Cup Qualifying, Europe: Duopoly collapses in Berlin, Madrid

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Three days after providing evidence of a bipolar European soccer world, Germany and Spain were part of Tuesday’s most shocking results. Granted, home draws against good teams aren’t shocking in and of themselves. It’s the context of the results that make you appreciate what happened in Madrid and Berlin.

Let’s start in Iberia, where the world champions were in the process of another ho-hum, dominant in realtime if not the scoresheet-victory. An early goal from Sergio Ramos had given the Spaniards a 1-0 lead on France, and while Cesc Fábregas failed to double that lead when his spot kick was blocked by Hugo Lloris, this match had the same sense of redundant inevitability that accompanies all of Spain’s redundant and inevitable results.

The last time Spain was drawn at home in an official game was September 2005. They had gone 24 straight qualifiers (World Cup and European Championships) without a draw, let alone a loss. If waiting out a Spain win over France seemed like a waste of time, it’s because we had little reason to think otherwise.

But then, as Spain was trying to kill the clock, there was a  turnover. For some reason or another, France to fight what we all saw coming: Another Spain win. Collecting the ball, Les Bleus quickly moved into the counter, finding a huge, open, unmanned field in front of them. Moussa Sissoko brought the ball forward onto an inexplicably outnumbered Spanish defense.

How could this be happening? How did Spain, up 1-0 in the 94th minute, put themselves in a situation to be outmanned on a counterattack?

The ball went left to Franck Ríbery, his first touch a bullet cross to Olivier Giroud near the spot. Defying his teammates’ attempt to behead him, the Arsenal striker got his head around the ball, redirecting the equalizer just inside Iker Casillas’s right post, somehow giving France a point at the Vicente Calderón.

It’s exactly the outcome you always suspect Spain’s in danger of allowing, yet in 24 previous qualifiers, it hadn’t happened. No team had taken a point in Spain since Serbia seven years ago. Why France, and why now?

While Spain could have played better, it’s difficult to take anything away from a France squad that looked good for an equalizer long before Giroud leveled the score. Fighting through the surroundings, history, and inevitability, Les Bleus exhibited a tenacity for which their new coach is known. Though it’s debatable how often Didier Deschamps’ teams live up to that convenient reputation, tonight France were relentless. Their point in Madrid is an early tent pole for Deschamps’ reign.

MORE: Looking at the rest of Europe’s Tuesday results

At the other end of Tuesday’s spectrum is Germany, who played to some of the negative perceptions of the Joachim Löw era. Up 4-0 after 56 minutes against Sweden (in theory, the second best team of their group), the Germans seemed en route to a second consecutive statement game. At full time, they certainly sent a message, though one entirely different from the 6-1 pasting they gave Ireland on Friday. Instead, Germany gave up four goals in the last half hour and were drawn, 4-4.

The result was far more indicting than Spain’s, and while most of that is due to allowing four goals (instead of one), narrative plays a big part. In the wake of Germany’s disappointment at Euro 2012, it’s become more common to question the team’s mental stength. Call it character, resolve, toughness – whatever adjective you’d like. The complaints seek to explain why a team with so much talent can give performances like Tuesday’s.

With those critiques already in the public domain, there’ll be a temptation to make too much out of this admittedly shocking result. However, this match needs to be looked at for what it was: a shock. Löw and his staff need to determine why it happened and eliminate it, but given the sustained success die Nationalmannschaft have had under Löw, it would be a mistake to assume there are systemic problems in the team. At least, in lieu of further disappointments, “one off” is the far more reasonable conclusion.

With the possible exception to the loss in Ukraine to Italy, there hasn’t been a major setback in German soccer since 2004, tonight included.


WATCH: Chelsea’s Chalobah nutmegs two Manchester United players in seconds

LONDON, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 23:  Nathaniel Chalobah of Chelsea is closed down by Paul Pogba of Manchester United during the Premier League match between Chelsea and Manchester United at Stamford Bridge on October 23, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)
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For the first time since the 2011-12 season, Nathaniel Chalobah is not on loan and getting the chance to show what he can do for Chelsea.

At the very least, the 21-year-old midfielder has given the club a viral video.

[ MORE: Manchester Derby “a final” ]

Chelsea uploaded a video of Chalobah going double nutmeg on Manchester United’s Anthony Martial and Ander Herrera.

Given the opposition, it’s gone quite well to the tune of several hundred thousand views inside of four hours.

Watch the ex-Watford, Nottingham Forest, Middlesbrough, Burnley, Reading, and Napoli man go.

BVB boss Tuchel not worried about Real Madrid links

SHENZHEN, CHINA - JULY 27:  Thomas Tuchel, head coach of Dortmund looks on during team training session for 2016 International Champions Cup match between Manchester City and Borussia Dortmund at Shenzhen Universiade Stadium on July 27, 2016 in Shenzhen, China.  (Photo by Lintao Zhang/Getty Images)
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Less than five months have passed since Real Madrid won the Champions League final, yet in Florentino Perez’s mind that’s a lifetime. ()

Real’s president is anything but patient with managers, the latest example being Carlo Ancelotti. The Italian was fired a year after winning the club’s long-desired Decima and losing a whopping 19 of 119 matches in charge.

[ MORE: Manchester Derby “a final” ]

So even though Real Madrid leads La Liga under Zinedine Zidane and won the UCL last season, people are always imagining the future.

Borussia Dortmund boss Thomas Tuchel’s style of play has captured the imaginations of so many supporters. And with BVB president Hans-Joachim Watzke claiming that Real is tracking the German, the questions are heading for Tuchel.


“It’s dangerous if you are flattered as a coach.You lose focus on the important things. I read it as a rumour before our game in Ingolstadt and so I already said back then that it’s dangerous to admit it and to think about it because it takes on too much importance.”

There’s no reason for Tuchel to have to ask those questions. Perez has called Zidane’s appointment one of his proudest moments, and that was just three days ago. Even in Perez’s world, that’s only a solid month, maybe two. %tags%

“It is a final” — Manchester Derby day finds both City, United craving win

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 10:  Images of Pep Guardiola the manager of Manchester City and Jose Mourinho of Manchester United are seen on a scarf ahead of the Premier League match between Manchester United and Manchester City at Old Trafford on September 10, 2016 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)
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It’s bonus Manchester Derby Day thanks to the EFL Cup, and so many eyes will be trained on Old Trafford come 3 p.m. ET.

There’s plenty at stake on the day, as both Manchester United and Manchester City have undergone a run of disappointing play in recent weeks.

[ MORE: Tues’ EFL Cup roundup ]

United was spanked 4-0 by Chelsea on Sunday, bringing their Premier League run to 1W-2D-1L over four games. City’s had it far worse, winless in five with a trio of draws in the mix.

For those considering that this derby could take on any lesser feel, rest assured that longtime rival bosses Jose Mourinho and Pep Guardiola will not be operating at full blast (even with rumors of youth-heavy teams on Wednesday).

Here’s Guardiola, from Sky Sports:

“I think everyone can believe this competition is not the big one but I am going to prepare to win the game.

“For the players who play, we’ll be depending on them to make the best performance possible. It is a final.”

Mourinho seems under special pressure given the losses against Man City and Chelsea in the Premier League, ones in which the genius was clearly outfoxed. He was talking about the PL when he said Tuesday that Man Utd needed wins, but there’s little doubt he’ll want to lose to City at home in any competition.

Get your proverbial and actual popcorn ready.

‘Ravens’ challenge soccer orthodoxy in Belarus

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MINSK, Belarus (AP) Less than three years ago, Alexander Skshinetsky’s soccer career seemed over.

The former under-21 international found himself unemployed after his career stalled, and was working on construction sites when an offer came. Would he consider joining an amateur team that had been playing seven-a-side soccer but now wanted to go pro, founded by a small group of fans staking thousands of dollars of their own money to build a club from scratch?

Two seasons and two promotions later, the 26-year-old midfielder is a key player in one of European soccer’s most unlikely success stories. In only its third professional season, Krumkachy Minsk is playing top-flight soccer, beating established names and challenging the economic orthodoxy in one of Europe’s most closed-off countries.

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Krumkachy – “Ravens” in Belarusian – has soared into the country’s top league with a shoestring budget but an enthusiastic and growing fan base of hipsters, families and others turned off by the stagnation of soccer in the ex-Soviet nation. Before a recent run of losses, it was even challenging for Europa League qualification.

The secret has been finding talented players on the verge of leaving the game, or even those who have already quit, “people who have been underestimated and put down,” in the words of co-founder Denis Shunto, who set up Krumkachy with friends in 2011. “We get those guys and we can really make them into a team.”

After starting out in recreational competitions, Shunto and his friends decided to aim higher. Belarusian soccer has a three-tier league system packed with clubs backed by various government agencies and state-run factories in the country’s Soviet-style economy, a set-up which prefers predictability over ambition and can give rise to conflicts of interest. With a spot open in the third tier, but without a state patron, Krumkachy scraped together a few thousand dollars to apply. Each subsequent step up the pyramid brought predictions of imminent financial collapse.

“Everyone said we wouldn’t have the money, we couldn’t take part,” said Skshinetsky, the midfielder. “We played for free in the second division, and in the first division it wasn’t much. Maybe $100 for a win in the first division and salaries maybe $150 (a month).”

[ MORE: MLS Cup predictions ]

On a freezing Friday night in Minsk, the crowd was small and the game scrappy. Goalkeeping errors helped to hand Krumkachy a 2-1 win which all but ensured the club’s top-flight survival for 2017 in the Belarusian league’s calendar-year system. Financial survival is always a trickier question.

“We’ve got the smallest budget (in the league) and we’re still putting money in ourselves,” said Shunto, who wonders if the approach of going without government funding may be “too romantic.”

At Friday’s game, commercial tie-ups were prominent and Krumkachy’s shirts were covered in a myriad of small logos from various businesses which have chipped in as sponsors, while opposition Granit Mikashevichi bore only the logo of its backer, a state-run quarry. Consumerism may be the norm in most European leagues, but in Belarus’ state-dominated economy, it’s the mark of the plucky underdog.

After ending a nine-game wait for victory, the players came over to celebrate with the sparse crowd. An hour later, the reserve players were still sharing the field with fans and their children having a kickabout.

“It’s an atmosphere like home, very warm. It’s been helping the guys not to give up,” said Vasily Khomutovsky, one of Krumkachy’s two co-coaches.

At a recent away game, “a woman with two children who went there, with two small kids 7 and 10 years old, she made each player a little souvenir by hand and signed it, something different for each player,” Khomutovsky said.

There’s a family atmosphere within the club, too, with Shunto’s brother serving as a backup goalkeeper and Skshinetsky’s wife in charge of fitness training.

[ MORE: Power rankings — Going to the playoffs edition ]

Vladimir Harlach, one of the team’s supporters, said Krumkachy reminds him of AFC Wimbledon, the English club founded by fans after owners relocated its previous incarnation to another town, and which has since shot up several divisions.

“That’s a bit different, there was history,” Harlach said. “Here, it’s from scratch. History is being written in front of our eyes. You could compare it to other countries 100 years ago, when (soccer) was all being created.”

Krumkachy’s average home attendance of about 1,500 is tiny by European standards, but enough to put it comfortably above all but the biggest clubs in Belarus, as well as higher than that of FC Minsk, the city government-run club whose stadium Krumkachy is using.

Some at the club wonder whether European qualification might be possible next year, another improbable step up, but the top spot in Belarus appears far out of reach. Able to outspend rivals with cash from occasional Champions League appearances, BATE Borisov has just sewn up its 11th straight title.

Khomutovsky welcomes the comparison to Leicester, a team which was promoted to top division in England, survived one season, then won a wildly unlikely title the following year.

“I hope next year,” Khomutovsky said, “we do what we can to become the Belarusian Leicester.”