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It’s time FIFA reconsiders the Confederations Cup bid to the Oceania region

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Everybody loves an underdog. Everybody enjoys rooting for those with the odds stacked against them. It makes for a great story, makes for great television, and makes for great sport.

Unless those underdogs get slaughtered. Over and over and over.

Since FIFA took over the King Fahd Cup and made it the Confederations Cup in 1997, it’s been about bringing the best from every region and pitting them against each other in a warmup tournament for the World Cup.

Obviously, some regions are typically much stronger than others. Europe has dominated world soccer for a long time, with both top teams and wonderful depth. But every now and then countries from other regions such as South America, Africa, and even North America have made noise on an international level, and even Asia has a touch of ability.

Underdogs such as Japan, Australia, and the United States have made noise in both the Confederations Cup and the World Cup, and that doesn’t even scratch the surface on Cinderella stories over the years.

Then there’s Oceania. The bid from the Oceania region to the Confederations Cup is a stretch, and one that does nobody any good.

After watching tiny little Tahiti get manhandled at the hands of Nigeria in their opening match of this year’s competition, I cringe at the thought of them facing Spain and Uruguay in the coming days. The African representatives “only” won 6-1, but it probably should have been about 12-1 had they been more focused.

It’s all well and good to give countries a chance to compete at the highest level, and by all accounts it’s probably their “right” to appear in the tournament like any other region. But do we really want to allow countries like Tahiti to appear in the competition just to watch them get embarrassed in front of a worldwide audience every four years? New Zealand may have half a chance to grab a point or two, but is thay enough to justify it?

The little Oceanic country had one aim coming into the competition: don’t concede a goal for a half. They even scored a goal against a Nigerian team clearly looking ahead to other matches, a beautiful moment no doubt. But European oddsmakers set the chances for the Iron Warriors of Tahiti to beat Nigeria at 500/1, and odds to win the competition at anywhere from 1000/1 to 10000/1.

Since the birth of the modern Confederations Cup in 1997, teams from the Oceania region have amassed a measly 11 points in group play over the 7 tournaments. 10 of those points were obtained by Australia, who have now left the Oceania region to play in Asia.

That leaves New Zealand with the only point by any country currently in the region. Thrice the Oceanic country was blanked in group play.

The countries currently forming the Oceania Football Confederation (OFC) are: American Samoa, Cook Islands, Fiji, Kiribati, New Caledonia, New Zealand, Niue, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tahiti, Tonga, Tuvalu, and Vanutau. Kiribati, Niue, and Tuvalu aren’t even FIFA members. Only three of those countries have a population higher than 300,000 people.

Nigeria’s Nnamdi Oduamadi scored a hat-trick against Tahiti, the ninth hat-trick in Confederations Cup history. Five of those have come against Oceania opponents.

Only four times have a member of the OFC made it to the World Cup. The OFC are the only region which does not have a guaranteed World Cup spot – the top teams must compete in playoffs with other confederations for spots – so why are they guaranteed a spot in the Confederations Cup?

There are plenty of other ways to give out the spot in order to maintain an even eight members of the competition. The best idea I’ve been able to come up with is to give the spot to the highest-ranking country not already invited. The FIFA rankings are a bit arbitrary, but seeing as the competition is FIFA sanctioned, why not?

If FIFA is insistent on keeping the competition based on regional tournaments, they could just dub Europe as the dominant region and give it to the runners-up in the Euros. They could allow Oceania the ability to make the competition with a playoff against some other opponent, but it would probably be too much to expand a non-World Cup tournament into a “qualifier.”

Finally, there’s the option of just condensing Oceania into Asia either partially or altogether, but that would put a burden of high expense on small countries in Oceania to travel long distances on a regular basis, and it would obviously have widespread consequences on the Asian Cup, World Cup qualifiers, etc.

I understand it’s a world competition, and therefore the right of everyone to take place in the tournament. However, it must be earned to play at the highest level. Oceania flat out hasn’t proven they have the ability to have any chance of competing. And it’s not like they’d be completely eliminated from contention. Anyone in the world can qualify through either hosting the World Cup, or winning the Big One. Clearly almost impossible if not incredibly unlikely, but aren’t their chances of making any noise in the Confederations Cup pretty much the same?

I give the Tahiti players an immense amount of credit for their bravery in taking this opportunity with open arms, and I’m sure these matches mean the world to them. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for the players.

However, it’s painful to watch these poor players play so hard and still get slaughtered. It’s a wonderful story for Tahiti to be in the competition, but it’s not fun to watch them get picked apart. They have one professional player, and it showed. It would make for much better competition and therefore a much better watch if the spot were given to a more deserving, worthy, and able opponent.

Brazilian midfielder Fred has doping ban extended to club, out until June

VIENNA, AUSTRIA - AUGUST 19:  Fred of Donetsk goes for a header during the UEFA Champions League: Qualifying Round Play Off First Leg match between SK Rapid Vienna and FC Shakhtar Donetsk on August 19, 2015 in Vienna, Austria.  (Photo by Christian Hofer/Getty Images)
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Shakhtar Donetsk striker Fred, a regular for the Brazilian national team, has seen his CONMEBOL doping ban extended worldwide to all competitions.

A FIFA disciplinary committee announced that Fred’s suspension now covers “all types of matches, including domestic, international, friendly and official fixtures.”

The 22-year-old tested positive for the diuretic hydrochlorothiazide during last summer’s Copa America, and has not played for the Brazilian national team since, having been banned for a year by CONMEBOL. He had been playing for his Ukranian club while FIFA was reviewing the case, making 12 appearances in league play and scoring two goals. He also played six times in the Champions League without scoring a goal.

The one-year ban is back-dated to Fred’s last international squad appearance, when he was on the bench for the Copa America quarterfinals on June 27 of last summer. That date will allow Fred to be eligible for the Rio Olympics, which start August 5.

Men In Blazers podcast: Irvine Welsh Pod Special

Men In Blazers - Sept. 22
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Rog talks with “Trainspotting” author Irvine Welsh about his new novel “A Decent Ride,” unconventional career arc, and love for West Ham United/Hibernian.

Listen to the latest pod by clicking play below.

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LA Galaxy newcomer Ashley Cole takes responsibility for previous MLS quote

CARSON, CA - FEBRUARY 5: Ashley Cole #3 of the Los Angeles Galaxy speaks after he was introduced during a news conference at StubHub Center February 5, 2016, in Carson, California. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Wireimage)
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During Ashley Cole‘s introductory press conference today, where the former Chelsea legend was officially unveiled by the LA Galaxy to the media alongside Belgian defender Jelle Van Damme, a predictable question came his way.

Cole was asked about comments he made a year and a half ago when he joined AS Roma, where he said he turned down offers from Major League Soccer because he didn’t want to go “relax on the beach.”

The 35-year-old took responsibility for the quote, saying, “Of course, I hold my hands up, it was said.” However, he defended himself saying he was baited into the comments by the Italian reporter.

“I’m not going to come here and try to defend myself,” Cole said. “It was said, but it was for sure taken out of content. I was talking to the reporter, and he kind of said it to me, ‘We’re glad to have you at Roma. We didn’t expect you to be here, we thought you would go and relax on the beach.'”

“Of course you have to understand, I was at a new team, I have to tell the fans at Roma I was here to fight, I was there to win things and play in the Champions League.”

Cole said he spoke to Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard, and Robbie Keane about the league before deciding to join Major League Soccer. “I know it’s going to be hard for me for sure, but I’m happy to be here, I’m going to work as hard as I can, change a few views on me being here, and we’ll see. I’m a winner, I always want to win, I didn’t come here to sit on the beach – to rest – I’m here to play football and work hard. I’m not a diva, I’m not this egotistical guy that comes and thinks he’s bigger than anyone.”

3 key battles for USMNT against Canada

CARSON, CA - JANUARY 31:  Jozy Altidore #17 of the United States chases down a pass against Iceland during the first half at StubHub Center on January 31, 2016 in Carson, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
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The United States takes on Canada in the second of two matches throughout January camp to test those brought in and see who stands out.

They took out Iceland in the first match, and now the Canadians stand in the way at the Stubhub Center in Carson, CA at 10:30 on Friday night.

[ PREVIEW: Get the full look at US vs Canada ]

Head coach Jurgen Klinsmann no doubt has already run through is list of positives and negatives in the win over Iceland. While the win is nice, the overriding purpose here is to both evaluate certain players and determine the best formula for success moving forward into World Cup qualifying, the Copa America, and the Olympics.

So, with that in mind, here are three key matchups to keep an eye on as the USMNT players battle both Canada and each other for spots on the roster in future meaningful games.

1) United States attack vs Canada’s organization

The US was solid in possession against Iceland, but it came against an opponent that showed a more attacking intent and also appeared to have limited motivation. Canada would not be what you call a “defensive” team, but they are very organized under Benito Floro, and it shows. They’ve conceded 1 or 0 goals in each of their last 13 matches, losing just once across that time. Their goalscoring numbers have suffered, but it’s translated into marginal success.

To hold the ball against Iceland, the US used a slow build-up process beginning with Jermaine Jones (who stayed surprisingly composed and centralized during his time on the field) who fed Michael Bradley and Lee Nguyen further up the pitch. That tactic may not be as effective against a less erratic opponent, but it will be interesting to see how Klinsmann decides to break down the Canadian defensive unit. The wide areas may be vital.

The 0-0 scoreline has been a fixture in this matchup, finishing goalless the last two times and in four of the last eight, so the US will no doubt be looking to break that deadlock early lest they get frustrated as time progresses.

2) USMNT full-backs vs wide play

Michael Orozco and Brad Evans were sent back to their clubs, leaving the United States incredibly thin at a position the nation has already been weak at for years. Jurgen Klinsmann has been searching far and wide for an answer to this question, and with young Kellyn Acosta slightly out of his depth or potentially star-struck in his debut against Iceland, there are a few other question marks.

The options are limited. Acosta could get another shot if Klinsmann likes what he sees in training, or he could move to the likes of Brandon Vincent or Matt Polster. The latter logged 30 matches for Chicago last year as a rookie, while Vincent was just drafted by FC Dallas and has yet to even make a professional appearance. Either way, it’s likely Canada targets the wide areas as a point of weakness for the US, so whoever plays will be in the spotlight.

[ VIDEO: Bobby Wood scores skillful goal for club ]

3) Central defenders vs Akindele and Larin

Whether Floro decides to play Larin centrally by himself, or partner him with Akindele, the striker(s) will be the main target for Canada’s attack. Larin and Akindele both have not seen the scoresheet since a 4-0 win over the Dominican Republic in World Cup qualifying last June, so they will be itching to get back on board. Should one be deployed centrally, look for the lone wolf to split the central defenders and receive service from wide areas where Canada may exploit the aforementioned weaknesses along the outside of the US back line.

How do you see the US matching up against Canada, and visa-versa?