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Three 2014 World Cup dark horses across three continents


There aren’t too many labels that can cause debate more than “dark horse.” In fact, an earlier post calling Bosnia & Herzegovina a World Cup dark hose was derided by several of you in our comments section.

After all, it’s difficult to pluck a squad from a major tournament that features the best of the best and not meet resistance (save labeling Iran or Australia a favorite for Brazil 2014). Still, let’s take a look at some nations with opportunities to surprise the world.

Japan – The Japanese have challenged themselves with immense competition over the past year and while it hasn’t been all sunshine, Samurai Blue will not be frightened by any opposition. That includes a Group C with the Ivory Coast, Greece and Colombia.

Over the past year Japan has beaten Belgium and drew the Netherlands in Belgium, while defeating Ghana and Australia in Asia. Their Confederations Cup performance — aside from a 3-0 loss to hosts Brazil — proved they can score against anyone, with a 4-3 loss to Italy and a 2-1 defeat versus Mexico, games backed up by a 4-2 loss to Uruguay.

The players who get the lion’s shares of pub are Shinji Kagawa (Manchester United) and Keisuke Honda  (CKSA Moscow), but Japan national teamers have found a foothold  in the Bundesliga; Nine Samurai Blue players are active in Germany’s top flight.

Certainly they’re a dark horse at best, but Alberto Zaccheroni has a 28-11-11 record as manager of the Japan side after plenty of time in Serie A with Milan, Inter and a brief spell at Juventus.

Japan is 2-1 all-time against the Ivory Coast, though the last matchup was a 2-0 loss. They won their only matchup against Greece in the 2005 Confederations Cup and are 0-1-1 against Colombia.

Ghana –  Yes, the Black Stars face what’s widely perceived as the Group of Death, but pressure hasn’t crippled them in previous competitions. Ghana showed up to its first World Cup in 2006 and promptly finished 13th before improving to 7th in 2010.

American fans are well aware that Ghana has beaten the Yanks in successive World Cups heading into their Group G opener in Brazil, but how many know the Black Stars have a 4-0 record all-time against the U.S. with a goal differential of 10-2.

German captain Per Mertesacker has hailed Ghanian star Kevin Prince-Boateng, who will have a family rivalry with half-brother Jerome Boateng. Germany has handled Ghana in both past meetings, 7-1. Portugal and Ghana have never met.

There are questions in net for Ghana — could Richard Kingson be back? — but there’s no lack of international class in attacking, as the team has options from the Premier League to the Bundesliga and beyond.

Anyone who watched the Black Stars simply throttle Egypt 7-3 on aggregate knows they play with flair and swagger, plus surviving Group G can net a nice path to the quarters as we’ve previously detailed. Are you betting against Ghana?

Bosnia and Herzegovina – Let’s finish with the aforementioned Golden Lillies, who sit at No. 21 in the FIFA rankings four months after reaching its peak at No. 13. Until 2010, the nation had never been higher than 44 in the world and were well below that number in years prior.

First, the negative: Competing in a group with Argentina, Iran and Nigeria, Bosnia and Herzegovina has little history with its competition and most of it isn’t good. They lost to Argentina 2-0 in a friendly on American soul on Nov. 18. Sergio Aguero scored both goals though most accounts say the Western Hemisphere powers were put to the test.

They’ve never squared off with Nigeria and haven’t faced Iran since 2009, but the Middle Eastern country boasts a nearly pristine 4-1-0 mark versus Bosnia.

On to the positive: it’s a veteran unit that features the four-most capped players in national history, including its two-highest goal scorers in Edin Dzeko and Zvjezdan Misimović. There’s good depth in the back and up top for Bosnia, who should reverse its Iranian struggles and cause loads of problems for Nigeria’s defense. They’ve got a stud goalkeeper is Asmer Begovic. That’s for certain.

If Bosnia and Herzegovina were to come out of Group F, they face a promising matchup with Group E (Switzerland, Ecuador, France, Honduras).

Mauritania president stops Cup final out of boredom, sends it to PKs

WASHINGTON, DC - AUGUST 06:  President of Mauritania Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz (2nd R) speaks as U.S. President Barack Obama (R) listens during a session on "Investing in Africa's Future" of the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit August 6, 2014 at the State Department in Washington, DC. President Obama hosted the last day of the first-ever summit to strengthen ties between the United States and African nations.  (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images
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Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz has taken over a country by coup d’etat, seen his country taken from him by coup d’etat, and also been shot in a possible assassination attempt — one that was labeled an “accidental shooting” by a soldier — so he’s not much for boredom.

But apparently the Mauritania president wasn’t going to leave his country’s Super Cup final between FC Tevragh-Zeina and ACS Ksar without finding out who won.

[ MORE: Klinsmann backs Altidore ahead of busy 2016 for USMNT ]

Bored by a 1-1 match, Abdel Aziz decided the game didn’t need to be played anymore. The president called down to the field, and demand the match be immediately settled by penalty kicks.

The referee complied, and the match was immediately sent to a shootout.

Of course, this is now being hailed as a misunderstanding of sorts. From Gazetta World, via Deadspin:

“I deny in the strongest terms the intervention of the President of the Republic,” the federation’s president, Ahmed Ould Abderrahmane, wrote in a statement. “The decision was made due ​​to organisational issues in accordance with the presidents and the coaches of the two teams.”

Organizational issues… like the organizations decided that if the president didn’t want the game to go on any longer, the game shouldn’t go on any longer.

What I want to know is how rival fans break this down when arguing.

Tevragh-Zeina supporter: “We won the Super Cup!”

ACS Ksar supporter:Yeah. Cause the President ordered it.”

Tevragh-Zeina supporter: “Make your own breaks.”

I’ll stop with the jokes here, because I’ve turned to Google and have learned more about Mauritania in the last 20 minutes than I have in my entire life.

Leicester who? Unlikely Angers thriving, ends PSG’s long win streak

Ludovic Butelle - Angers
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Paris Saint-Germain’s only loss this year came at the hands of Real Madrid in the UEFA Champions League, and only three clubs in France have managed to even split the points with the Ligue 1 giants.

But Tuesday in Angers, the better story in France took hold of the headlines, as Angers became the third club to hold PSG in Ligue 1 play. Les Parisiens entered the 0-0 draw on a nine-match Ligue 1 win streak.

It’s not just the draw that’s impressive, though. While Angers supporters might’ve signed up for that before the season started. it’s par for the course right now (even if Laurent Blanc wasn’t impressed with Tuesday’s bus parking display).

[ MORE: Klopp not seeking an upgrade to Mignolet ]

The draw with the league leaders brought the newly-promoted club into third place, a point behind No. 2 Caen. And while no one’s pegging, well, anyone to overcome PSG’s 14-point lead at the table, Angers is competing for a place in Europe.

A big part of that is a well-traveled 32-year-old goalkeeper playing out of his gourd. Ludovic Butelle has now posted three-straight clean sheets to help Angers rebound from a three-match losing skid, and overcome scoring just 14 goals this season by conceding just nine.

Whether Les Scoïstes can stay ahead of the pack is one thing, but it looks fairly good that Angers can make it multiple top-flight seasons for the first time since 1981.

In another French note, former U.S. coach Bob Bradley earned his first win for Le Havre. The Ligue 2 side is now in fourth place in their promotion chase, six points out of first.


Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS
Paris SG 16 13 3 0 37 8 29 6-1-0 7-2-0 42
Caen 15 9 1 5 18 15 3 5-1-2 4-0-3 28
Angers 16 7 6 3 14 9 5 3-5-1 4-1-2 27
Lyon 16 7 5 4 21 14 7 4-2-2 3-3-2 26
Nice 16 7 4 5 30 19 11 3-1-3 4-3-2 25
St. Etienne 15 8 1 6 20 19 1 5-1-2 3-0-4 25
Monaco 15 6 6 3 21 21 0 2-3-2 4-3-1 24
Lorient 16 5 7 4 24 21 3 4-3-2 1-4-2 22
Rennes 15 5 7 3 21 18 3 2-3-2 3-4-1 22
Nantes 16 6 3 7 12 15 -3 3-2-3 3-1-4 21
Marseille 15 5 4 6 23 17 6 2-3-3 3-1-3 19
Guingamp 15 5 4 6 15 20 -5 3-3-1 2-1-5 19
Montpellier 15 5 3 7 18 19 -1 4-0-4 1-3-3 18
Bordeaux 15 4 6 5 20 25 -5 4-2-2 0-4-3 18
Reims 15 4 4 7 15 19 -4 3-2-3 1-2-4 16
Gazelec Ajaccio 15 4 4 7 14 19 -5 2-3-2 2-1-5 16
SC Bastia 15 4 3 8 15 21 -6 4-0-3 0-3-5 15
Lille 15 2 8 5 8 11 -3 2-2-3 0-6-2 14
Toulouse 15 2 6 7 14 28 -14 2-4-1 0-2-6 12
Troyes 15 0 5 10 8 30 -22 0-4-4 0-1-6 5

Venezuela coach offers to quit if it helps players’ dispute

AP Photo/Juan Karita
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CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) Venezuela coach Noel Sanvicente has offered to step down if it helps the national soccer team’s dispute with their federation.

Fifteen players in the national team are threatening to quit unless the entire board of directors of the Venezuela Football Federation resign.

The federation has yet to make any public reaction to the players, who made their statement on social media on Monday, but released a letter on Tuesday in which Sanvicente apologized to the players for unintended offense by his own previous lack of comment.

“If my departure contributes so that these differences are overcome, then I’ll step aside,” Sanvicente said.

The players accuse interim president Laureano Gonzalez of mistreatment and slander, following recent allegations that several players were conspiring to oust Sanvicente.

[ MORE: League Cup roundup sees Man City, Stoke, Everton advance ]

“We accept criticism of our performances and, as a team, take responsibility for the results, but in no way do we accept that we were preparing a movement to get the national coach out,” the players said. “We are upset and disillusioned by the lack of support from the national team’s coaching staff over these accusations.

“Our integrity isn’t negotiable, and the damage done can only be repaired renewing the federation’s leadership. We can’t continue working in an environment damaged by these officials.”

The signatories included Genoa midfielder Tomas Rincon, and West Bromwich Albion striker Salomon Rondon.

Gonzalez took over as head of the federation after longtime president Rafael Esquivel was arrested in Switzerland in May as part of the U.S. and Swiss investigations into corruption at FIFA. In September, Switzerland agreed to extradite him to the United States.

Despite progress in recent years under former coach Cesar Farias, Venezuela has lost four straight matches in South American qualifying for the 2018 World Cup.

Mounting tensions in the national squad were evident following the recent loss to Ecuador when Sanvicente accused his players of a lack of commitment and a sense of entitlement.

“Sorry to kill your stories”: Klopp not seeking new Liverpool GK

during the UEFA Europa League Group B match between Liverpool FC and FC Girondins de Bordeaux at Anfield on November 26, 2015 in Liverpool, United Kingdom.

The topic of goalkeeper Simon Mignolet is a lightning rod for a certain subset of Liverpool fans, but you can count Jurgen Klopp in the group that likes him just fine, thank you.

[ MORE: USMNT back Alvarado on Club America’s transfer list? ]

The 27-year-old Belgian has been the man between the sticks for Klopp since the manager took over at Anfield, and Klopp is already tiring of the rumors that he’s looking for better in the goalkeeping department.

From the BBC:

“I’m absolutely satisfied with our goalkeeper situation.

“I’m sorry to kill your stories about German goalkeepers and different goalkeepers from Stoke – we are not looking for another goalkeeper.”

Pretty clear cut there. Jack Butland would be nice and all, but Klopp’s fine with Mignolet and ex-Bolton man Adam Bogdan.

Do you think they need better?