Fernando Llorente: Carlos Tévez and I deserve to go to the World Cup

Leave a comment

Combining for 32 goals this season, imputed strikers Fernando Llorente and Carlos Tévez have helped Juventus run away with another Italian title, with the Spaniard adding his latest in the Old Lady’s 2-0 Monday win at Udinese. Yet despite their roles on a prominent club, neither man is set to feature in Brazil, with the depth of talent in the Spanish and Argentine national teams meaning two of Serie A’s leading goal scorers could miss out on this summer’s World Cup.

It’s a situation Llorente doesn’t understand:

“How is it possible that Tevez and I won’t play at the World Cup?” Llorente told Sky Italia, as reported by Football Italia. “The Italian League is difficult and competitive and we are hoping we can go to the World Cup.”

I think I see the problem. Is Llorente is looking at his relevance at club-level and assuming it somehow makes Spain’s talent pool more shallow than when he was at Athletic? Surely that can’t be the case, but that appears to be his logic.

And it’s not entirely faulty. The thinking goes ‘perhaps I wasn’t doing enough with Athletic, but now I’m at a bigger club showing I can play with the best. What move can I prove?’

But that success doesn’t diminish the quality of Diego Costa. Or Álvaro Negredo. Or Pedro Rodríguez, or Cesc Fábregas, who Spain use as a false nine. Those were the forwards Vicente del Bosque recalled for the Italy friendly in early March. Is Llorente suggesting he has passed any of them?

Or course his is, but his potential inclusion need not be at any of their expense. In del Bosque’s mind, the choice will more likely be ‘should I sacrifice some midfield depth to include this late match option?’ At this point, he doesn’t appear inclined to do so.

I doubt anybody in Spain is surprised Llorente is doing well in Italy. He has always been respected, but he’s also been a strange fit – one that became less viable when players like Álvaro Negredo and Roberto Soldado started stepping up. Soldado’s struggles with Tottenham change the picture a little, but Llorente’s strong year at Juventus is unlikely to sway hearts or minds. He is what they thought he was.

As for Tévez, a player who at times has enjoyed huge popularity in his home country, the situation is similar. Argentina look set to start Lionel Messi, Sergio Agüero, and Gonzalo Higuaín. Alejandro Sabella has Ezequiel Lavezzi as a change-of-pace option. He can move Ángel Di María up from midfield. He also has José Sosa at his disposal. For a team that needs options in midfield and defense, extra strikers may not be possible.

source: Getty Images
In his first season in Italy, Carlos Tévez has 18 goals for Juventus. He is also unlikely to be selected for Argentina this summer. (Photo: Getty Images.)

Besides (and unlike Llorente), there’s a feeling of “been there, done that” with Tévez, who hasn’t appeared for Argentina in three years. Even when he was in the team, his production fell short of his performances at club level (13 goals, 64 appearances). An ill-fit with Argentina’s other attacking options, Tévez’s inclusion would only be an acknowledgement of his club performance or popularity. On the field for Argentina, he hasn’t worked since Messi emerged, part of the reason he’s never been called up under Sabella.

That one part of the equation Llorente is overlooking. The other: Just because you’re having a good year doesn’t mean others aren’t also performing well. Your performance doesn’t exist in a vacuum.

It’s a mistake we all make. We see performances and compare it to an implicit standard in our heads, saying things like “surely he should go to the World Cup.” But the standard isn’t some abstract World Cup Guy. It’s the rest of the field.

Llorente may be performing well, but does that make him one of Spain’s four-or-five best strikers? And also a good fit for how del Bosque wants to play?

And Tévez may end up leading Italy in scoring. Does that mean he would suddenly start replicating those performances for the Albiceleste?

The best answer to Llorente’s question, how it’s possible he and Tévez won’t be going to Brazil, might be a question in return: Why, after years of irrelevance to your national team, do you suddenly see yourself as a necessary part? Why has your performance for Juventus suddenly redefined the Spanish soccer world?

CONMEBOL WCQ: Venezuela, Bolivia teetering on elimination

Pedro Vilela/Getty Images
Leave a comment

CONMEBOL World Cup qualifying is always a challenge, and this World Cup cycle is no different.

With six teams currently separated by a mere five points under leaders Brazil, everything is left to play for as Round 14 hits South America.

[ MORE: Messi could face suspension from CONMEBOL ]

Here’s a look at what’s on the docket for Tuesday:

Bolivia vs. Argentina — 4 p.m. EDT

It wasn’t pretty at all, but La Albiceleste picked up a crucial three points against Chile, which could produce a morale lift for Argentina given their past struggles against the reigning Copa America holders.

Lionel Messi’s actions from the match could harm the Albiceleste though, with the Barcelona man reportedly facing sanctions from CONMEBOL for verbally abusing a linesman.

Meanwhile, Bolivia is in desperate need of a win in La Paz, and anything but three points could potentially end La Verde’s hopes of reaching Russia 2018.

Ecuador vs. Colombia — 5 p.m. EDT

It took a long time for Colombia to crack the Bolivia backline on Thursday but a late run from Juan Cuadrado helped set up the eventual winner from James Rodriguez, and kept Los Cafeteros in the top four.

Ecuador didn’t have the same fortunes though four days ago after falling to a very game Paraguay side. La Tricolor have gone winless in three of its last four World Cup qualifiers, leaving Gustavo Quinteros side with little margin of error against the Colombians.

Chile vs. Venezuela — 6 p.m. EDT

Chile’s qualifying struggles continued on Thursday after falling to La Albiceleste in a closely-contested match. Arturo Vidal’s six goals leave the Bayern Munich midfielder third in all of CONMEBOL this campaign, but the Chileans still sit on the outside looking in at the moment and in sixth place.

Venezuela is teetering on the edge of elimination, and a loss against Chile would all but seal their fate of missing out the World Cup. After reaching the quarterfinals at last summer’s Copa America Centenario, La Vinotinto have failed to replicate that form this qualifying campaign with just one win to show.

Top scorer Josef Martinez is no longer with Venezuela after suffering an injury in Thursday’s 2-2 draw against Peru, creating a major void in the side’s attack.

Brazil vs. Paraguay — 8:45 p.m. EDT

The Selecao continue to score at a lightning pace this qualifying campaign with 32 goals in the first 13 rounds of play. Despite conceding early to Uruguay on Thursday, Brazil responded emphatically with four goals, and most notably Paulinho‘s hat-trick.

Elsewhere, Paraguay kept itself within striking distance of the top five after its 2-1 win over Ecuador. The side is just two points behind fifth place Ecuador.

Peru vs. Uruguay — 10:15 p.m. EDT

Los Incas have not reached a World Cup since 1982, and although the team is just five points behind fifth, they need to pick up victories. Ricardo Gareca will be pleased with his side’s resiliency against Venezuela on Thursday, but more draws simply won’t do with only four rounds remaining after Tuesday.

Uruguay still sits in a solid second position after Thursday’s slip up against Brazil but another defeat could be potentially disastrous for La Celeste, who are just three points above sixth place Chile. However, Edinson Cavani’s nine goals leads all of CONMEBOL and Peru has allowed the third-most goals this campaign (22).

Ugly scene forces Ivory Coast-Senegal match to be abandoned

Dan Mullan/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Monday’s international friendly between Ivory Coast and Senegal turned out to be anything but that when the match was interrupted towards the tail end.

Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images)

The fixture was abandoned with two minutes remaining in regulation after pitch invaders disrupted the the match by getting past security guards and began chasing after players from both sides.

The score was level at 1-1 in the 88th minute when the disruptions occurred, causing the referee to halt play at the Stade Sebastien Charlety in Paris.

One of the intruders even managed to tackle Senegalese defender Lamine Gassama (as shown in the picture to the right).

Liverpool’s Sadio Mane gave Senegal the lead minutes into the second stanza after he converted from the penalty spot, while Cyriac Gohi Bi leveled the score at one apiece just minutes later.

Messi could face CONMEBOL suspension for verbal abusing official

AP Photo/Eugenio Savio
1 Comment

Already facing some uncertainty with a depleted roster, Argentina could face a significantly greater challenge.

[ MORE: Aguero left out of Argentina starting XI vs. Bolivia ]

Barcelona star Lionel Messi could face suspension after reportedly verbally abusing linesman Marcelo Van Gasse during the second half of Thursday’s 1-0 win over Chile.

UPDATED: Fox Sports Argentina is reporting that Messi will receive a two to four match suspension and will be effective for tomorrow’s match against Bolivia.

Messi was reported to CONMEBOL for yelling, “F*** off, your mother’s c***” at Van Gasse and refused to shake the official’s hand at the end of the match.

The officiating crew from the match didn’t initially include Messi’s rant in the post-match report, however, it was added on Monday and submitted to CONMEBOL.

The South American federation must now decide if and when it will punish Messi for his reported actions, and there is the potential that the world-class attacker could be suspended for Tuesday’s clash against Bolivia if the federation acts quickly.

There are several other scenarios though for CONMEBOL to action, including disregarding Messi’s verbal assault.

La Albiceleste currently sit third in World Cup qualifying on 22 points.

Arena speaks about USMNT turnaround, says “no secret formulas”

AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez
Leave a comment

It’s only been one competitive match since Bruce Arena regained control of the U.S. Men’s National Team and there’s already been a noticeable difference in form.

[ MORE: Three keys for the USMNT ahead of Panama clash ]

The former LA Galaxy manager wouldn’t have you believe that though following Friday night’s convincing 6-0 victory over Honduras in CONCACAF World Cup qualifying.

“It’s nothing I can write a book on,” Arena said about his team’s turnaround in form against Honduras. “You have a sense of your group, and you go about doing your business. There’s no secret formulas to this stuff. Work together, take ownership in what you’re doing, treat them like responsible professional athletes, and you get on with your business.

He added, “They want to be successful. They want to play in a World Cup. Is that a recipe for success? I don’t know. I’m sure Honduras wants to play in a World Cup too.”

Arena, who took over for Jurgen Klinsmann following the U.S.’ collapse during the first two matches of the Hexagonal, is unbeaten in his first three games in charge since getting his job back with the Stars and Stripes.

Although there has been a considerable turnaround in the way the USMNT has performed in the first three matches of 2017, Arena wouldn’t stoop to comparing his style to that of Klinsmann.

“I’m not doing anything differently,” he said. “I’m not taking a survey [of the players]. I know it’s different. We lose tomorrow, there will be articles written that, ‘This a—— is letting these guys run loose.'”

“I have spent no time on the past. There’s nothing I can do about it. I kind of have a sense about things, but there’s no point in me spending time investigating what went on in the past. The idea was to get it going the right way from the start.”

Arena’s next test with the U.S. will be on Tuesday when the Yanks travel to Panama City to take on Panama.