CostaRicafan

The rise of CONCACAF: Organization the key to the federation’s World Cup success

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Costa Rica’s incredible domination of arguably the true “Group of Death” is just the tip of the iceberg in a larger revolution brought to Brazil from their northern neighbors.

With three CONCACAF teams in the knockout stage of the 2014 World Cup – the most ever – Costa Rica, Mexico, and the United States are proving the key to winning games on the biggest stage isn’t always having the best players.

It’s having the best team.

Starting at the top, the trio of CONCACAF sides has proven the better team against sides such as Italy, Uruguay, England, Ghana, Portugal, and Croatia, and hung with title contenders Brazil and Germany.

The key to their success lies largely in the team cohesion, and that translates directly into not just tactical domination, but formational organization.

It showed in the United States 1-0 loss to Germany, one that many say felt like a win. With one of the world’s best attacks poking and prodding, the US remained composed at the back.  They were unable to conjure up much possession going forward, but under assault from Mesut Ozil, Bastian Schweinsteiger, and Philipp Lahm, they conceded just a single goal and looked strong in repelling build-up play.

Mexico’s impressive 0-0 draw against Brazil was also a classic display in organization, both at the front and the back.  While goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa stole the show, Mexico’s trio of central defenders were a brick wall against the hosts.  Fred was useless in the attack, Oscar was stuck in the middle third, and their hack-a-Neymar strategy kept him down for the most part.

And throughout Costa Rica’s ownership of Group D, they played brilliantly as a team to both pin down the opposition and make their attacks count.  They held down Italy’s Andrea Pirlo, disconnected Uruguay’s midfield from their front line, and stuffed England’s wingers into the middle and kept the touchlines clear.

If these teams continue to play solid, technical soccer and stay together in shape and form, there could be more top-level teams that fall into the CONCACAF trap, this time in the knockout round.

[ MORE: World Cup news, analysis from Soccerly.com]

Men in Blazers podcast: Celebrating Leicester’s title with Arlo White

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In the latest Men in Blazers podcast, Rog and Davo celebrate Leicester City’s improbable Premier League title with Leicester’s own Arlo White.

All of the MiB content — pods, videos and stories can be seen here, but to really stay in touch, follow, subscribe, click here:

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European police say Russian mafia infiltrating soccer clubs

LISBON, PORTUGAL - NOVEMBER 04:  Sporting Lisbon fans celebrate after their team score a goal during the Portuguese Liga match between Sporting Lisbon and Uniao Leiria at the Alvalade XXI Stadium on November 4, 2005 in Lisbon, Portugal.  (Photo by Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images)
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LISBON, Portugal (AP) Portuguese and European police say they have broken up a cell of an important Russian mafia group that allegedly laundered money through European football clubs.

Europol, the European Union’s law enforcement agency, said in a statement Wednesday the group identified EU football clubs in financial distress and infiltrated them with benefactors who brought much-needed cash.

[ MORE: Man City bounced from UCL ]

Once they were in control, the mobsters allegedly laundered millions of euros (dollars) through player transfers, TV rights deals and betting.

Portuguese and European police on Tuesday raided third-division Portuguese club Uniao de Leiria and arrested three key members of the Russian gang. Three other Portuguese clubs’ premises were searched.

Europol said the operation helped identify serious crimes in Austria, Germany, and the United Kingdom, though it gave no details.

Emre Can back in the Liverpool side ahead of Europa clash vs. Villarreal

BIRMINGHAM, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 14:  Emre Can of Liverpool battles for the ball with Idrissa Gana of Aston Villa during the Barclays Premier League match between Aston Villa and Liverpool at Villa Park on February 14, 2016 in Birmingham, England.  (Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images)
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Emre Can has recovered from an ankle injury and will be in Liverpool’s squad for their Europa League semifinal against Villarreal on Thursday night.

The German international has not played since April 14 when he was forced off in the Reds’ wild 4-3 win over Borussia Dortmund.

[ MORE: Liverpool prepping for Villarreal ]

Giving his team update on Wednesday, manager Jurgen Klopp said Can is back in the team, although captain Jordan Henderson is still out. The Reds enter the second leg trailing 1-0 on aggregate.

Another positive note out of Melwood was the return of Danny Ings to first-team training. The 23-year-old striker signed with Liverpool last summer, but managed just eight appearances before having his season end to a torn ACL in October. Ings is still far away from his full return, but it was a good sight to see him back on the pitch and making progress in his recovery.

Disappointed Pellegrini rues lack of offense in Man City’s loss to Real

MADRID, SPAIN - MAY 04:  Sergio Aguero of Manchester City reacts during the UEFA Champions League semi final, second leg match between Real Madrid and Manchester City FC at Estadio Santiago Bernabeu on May 4, 2016 in Madrid, Spain.  (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images )
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Manchester City put in an uninspired performance against Real Madrid on Wednesday, losing the match 1-0 and falling out of the UEFA Champions League.

[ RECAP: Real Madrid 1-0 Man City ]

The match was decided by just one goal, but the scoreline was flattering to City as they failed to create any kind of real chances at the Bernabeu. Over the two legs, City managed just two shots on target.

While City were wildly disappointing in the second leg, manager Manuel Pellegrini did not think the match was that one-sided, saying both teams struggled on the attack.

I am disappointed because I think that was a very close game with two teams who did not create many chances. The two teams were working with no-one making a difference.

It is not the best thing changing a defender very early but I don’t think we had any problems in defence, we had problems creating, same as Real Madrid. They did not create many chances.

Real Madrid was not in top form, but they still could have scored three or four goals on Wednesday. Joe Hart had to come up with some big saves to keep things close, as the England goalkeeper was by far City’s most valuable player throughout the tie.

[ MORE: Liverpool preparing for Europa League match vs. Villarreal ]

The absence of David Silva through injury certainly hurt City’s attack, but there was very little service moving forward from the likes of Kevin De Bruyne and Yaya Toure. The poor play in the midfield left Sergio Aguero stranded alone up top, nearly invisible in the second leg.

Without service, Aguero was forced to track back to try and find the ball himself, leaving City no options to hit on the counter. For a tie between two of the most expensive teams in the world, neither side was truly impressive, but City surely disappointing.