At almost any point of the last 20 years, a national team friendly against Belgium would rate an “Oh, that’s nice,” from most U.S. Soccer supporters. A little bit like average pizza for lunch; it’s pizza and all, and that’s not terrible, but you know there are better slices out there.
Since some better days in the 80s, Belgium has dwelled in the middle class of European soccer, leaning toward the bottom end of the continent’s mid-level over the last decade or so.
But today’s Belgium is absolutely brimming with bright potential. Which is why a May 29 U.S. friendly at FirstEnergy Stadium in Cleveland, just announced today by U.S. Soccer, is something U.S. supporters can truly toast.
From U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann: “Belgium is definitely a team on the rise. If you look at their roster, they have quality players from top to bottom who are on some of the biggest clubs in Europe. It’s a big opportunity for us and a great way to start the summer as we prepare for the World Cup qualifiers.”
Belgium is currently tied with Croatia atop Group A in World Cup qualifying out of Europe. No wonder, really, when a young standout like Chelsea’s Eden Hazard has trouble making the starting lineup in those qualifiers. He was on the bench to start Belgian’s contest last fall at the King Baudouin Stadium in Brussels, where Marc Wilmots’ team was dominant in a 2-0 win.
With a defense orchestrated by Manchester City’s Vincent Kompany (pictured in Belgian uniform), a midfield run buy Everton’s Marouane Fellaini and Tottenham’s Moussa Dembele, plus stars in the making like Hazard and Aston Villa’s Christian Benteke to score the goals, this truly is one of Europe’s wow-wow sides of the moment.
And about the team spirit and accord that can sometimes be difficult in a land with competing cultures and languages? Team captain Kompany says that part is right as can be these days.
Pep Guardiola‘s Manchester City have set a new English top-flight record with 15 consecutive wins and, of course, comparisons are already being made as to just how good this City side are.
Runaway leaders of the Premier League with an 11-point lead heading into the busy festive period, City are being compared to the great teams in PL history.
Their winning run means they’ve accomplished something none of the other great PL teams have, and it seems like there is no stopping City.
Speaking to the media after the 4-0 win at Swansea on Wednesday which clinched the record, Guardiola praised his players for breaking the record but also their ability to not only excel when they have the ball but to hunt in packs to win it back.
“In history there have been some amazing teams – Liverpool, [Manchester] United with Sir Alex Ferguson, Chelsea with Jose Mourinho. A lot of good, good teams and we are the first ones to win 15 games in a row,” Mourinho said. “Of course that will not make sense if we do not win the title, if we don’t win the title it will just be a record. This record will be broken but it will not be easy. When (my players) don’t have the ball they go to win it like animals. At this level it’s so competitive. That means we are strong in the head.”
Guardiola’s team have made the best start in Premier League history to a season with 49 points from their opening 17 games and 16 wins from those matches.
They’ve scored 52 goals and the duo of David Silva and Kevin De Bruyne are controlling the tempo of each and every game they play in, but not much has been said about the tenacity in City’s play to win the ball back.
That quality has always been a hallmark of Guardiola’s teams at Barcelona and Bayern Munich with the fabled “six second rule” mentioned time and time again as he set his players a target of six seconds to win back possession of the ball.
City did that time and time again against Swansea on Wednesday with Silva regaining possession on multiple occasions in midfield and releasing the likes of Sterling and Sergio Aguero to attack.
There is a lot more behind this ruthless City side than just breaking winning and scoring records. Their extreme hunger for success and doing the dirty work was duly noted by Guardiola.
CHICAGO (AP) The U.S. Soccer Federation says it received the required three letters of nomination for eight candidates in its presidential election, one fewer than the total of people who announced their intention to run.
The USSF is conducting background checks on the candidates whose nominations were received by Tuesday night’s deadline. The governing body said the check is to ascertain that a candidate has “no conviction or no contest plea to a felony or crime of moral turpitude” and it will announce the candidate slate after completing the process.
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Sunil Gulati, the USSF president since 2006, decided after the Americans failed to qualify for the World Cup that he will not seek a fourth four-year term.
The nine people who announced they are running include former men’s national team players Paul Caligiuri, Eric Wynalda and Kyle Martino; U.S. women’s goalkeeper Hope Solo; Soccer United Marketing president Kathy Carter; USSF vice president Carlos Cordeiro; Boston lawyer Steve Gans; New York lawyer Michael Winograd; and Paul LaPointe, Northeast Conference manager of the United Premier Soccer League.
The election will be held in February.
ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates (AP) Gareth Bale scored an 81st-minute winner as Real Madrid came from behind to beat Emirates club Al Jazira 2-1 on Wednesday and reach the Club World Cup final.
Madrid will try to win its third world title in four seasons when its faces South American champion Gremio on Saturday.
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The match had two goals disallowed by video review, one for each team.
Madrid struggled early and allowed the local league winners to open the scoring with a goal by Brazilian forward Romarinho just before halftime.
But Cristiano Ronaldo equalized early in the second half and Bale netted the winner less than a minute after entering the match as a substitute for Karim Benzema.
Swansea City manager Paul Clement may have the enduring quote of the season so far when it comes to facing the behemoth that is Manchester City.
[ RECAP – City hammer Swansea ]
The suffering Swans have had their share of poor performances this season — Clement later said January transfer spending “is a must” if the club wants to stay up — but he’s throwing his hands up in the air when it comes to Wednesday’s loss at the Liberty Stadium.
The man sounds exasperated, and sorry for his team. From the BBC:
“At times it was horrible to be on the sideline watching that, seeing my side trying but suffering for long periods. They’re not the games that will decide our season but it was hard to watch at times because they were so dominant. For me, one of the best sides I’ve ever come across. So many good athletes, so many intelligent footballers and it’s really hard to pin them down. We actually had some attempts on their goal so I’m disappointed we didn’t get on the score sheet but they were a far superior side to us. We’ve got to put it aside that game. We’ve got Everton away (next) and we’ve got to try and pick something up there.”
All that’s left is for Clement to pick up a clarinet, awkwardly blow into it, then point at Pep Guardiola and say, “He’s good.”
Free message board points to the first one to name the reference.