Biggest losers from the World Cup 2014

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Earlier today, PST went through its collection of winners from this year’s World Cup. Now we look at the other side of the coin. Here’s the negatives, the losers, from Brazil 2014:

The Teams

Asia’s representatives – The ACF’s four representatives played 12 games, lost nine, and failed to win a match, posting a -16 goal difference along the way – a surprisingly weak performance from a confederation that put two teams into South Africa’s knockout stage. While the current World Cup allocation seems pretty balanced, there are always those that want to shake things up based on one tournament’s results. Particularly in this part of the world, Asia’s performance will have CONCACAF honks arguing for their half-spots at Russia 2018.

Brazil – In 2010, South Africa, became the first host nation to miss the knockout round, a disappointment that pales in comparison to what happened to Brazil. Though the Selecao reached this year’s semifinals, their ensuing collapse created the country’s second major soccer nightmare – a failure that will rival 1950’s Maracanzo. With 7-1 and 3-0 losses to close their tournament, Brazil has sparked a national soccer identity crisis, one that has the world’s most successful nation questioning whether it can keep up.

Honduras –  The Catrachos only played three matches, two of which were among the worst performances in the tournament. A overly physical approach in the team’s opener against France saw Wilson Palacios sent off during a 3-0 loss, a result that was replicated against Switzerland at the end of group stage. While experts predicted Honduras would be one of the (euphemism warning) least sophisticated teams in Brazil, an undue level of cynicism cast Luis Fernando Suárez’s team apart from the rest of CONCACAF. While Costa Rica, Mexico and the United States were pushing their way into the knockout round, Honduras looked out-of-place.

Spain – Call it a crash or flop, or maybe pick something more onomatopoeic, like whiz or whimper. There’s no shortage of ways to describe Spain’s collapse, one that saw the defending champions fail to making it out of a tough Group B. Somewhere between South Africa and Brazil, la Roja’s zeppelin turned into a lead balloon, and while the autopsy has reminded us of a number of preconditions, it was still shocking to see the crash on June 13 in Salvador.

[ MORE from our 2014 World Cup review ]

The Players

Rafa Márquez – Márquez’s vilification in the U.S. has achieved full distortion since he left the New York Red Bulls two years ago, a bias that stood in stark contrast to the 35-year-old’s strong group stage. In the knockout round, however, Márquez fulfilled his heel’s destiny, taking down Arjen Robben in the penalty area to give the Netherlands a stoppage time, game-winning penalty kick. It may be unfair that one moment overshadows the previous 360 minutes, but when you make a mistake to send your team out of the tournament, you get branded. You also get ridiculed by the fans you scorned.

source:  Pepe – With the possible exception of the next name on this list, no player’s misadventures stunted his team as much as Pepe’s. Earning a red card against Germany after head butting Thomas Müller, the Real Madrid defender was a major part of his team’s 4-0, opening match loss, with the effects of that goal difference leaving the Seleccao virtually eliminated after their draw with the United States. Suspended for that match, Pepe was helpless as his team gave up two goals to the States, turning a must-win match into one of the lasting memories of a failed World Cup campaign.

Luis Suárez – This goes without saying.

Juan Camilo Zuñiga – Zuñiga is a quality if imperfect fullback, one who’s capable of playing for teams at near top of most of the world’s best leagues. From here forward, however, he’s going to be the guy who broke Neymar’s back. After leaping knee-first into the Brazilian’s back, Zuñiga saw Neymar’s stretchered off in agony with a broken third vertebra. Only 28, Zuñiga may have another World Cup in him, but he’ll always be known as the guy who ended the young superstar’s tournament.

The Coaches

Fabio Capello – Blame Igor Akinfeev if you want (and you’d be right to do so), but none of Russia’s games were so far beyond reach that a more aggressive approach, particularly against Algeria and South Korea, couldn’t have produced a better result. But Capello, despite being the world’s most expensive coach, had only one approach, one that favored a conservative, reactive style above taking the game to his opponents. Now, between 2010 and 2014, Capello has won once in seven World Cup games. Congratulations for getting England past Slovenia, Fabio.

Luiz Felipe Scolari – Felipao is the last coach to win a World Cup for Brazil, taking the Ronaldo, Rivaldo, Ronaldinho team to glory in 2002. After this year’s performance, critics will be less forgiving about that easy run to that title. As bad as Brazil was, the team doesn’t lack for talent, as evidenced by its players’ performance at club level. Lacking in cohesion, preparation, proper selection and execution, the hosts’ performance reflects terribly on their coach.

source: Getty Images

The Supporting Cast

African FAs – Cameroon’s players almost didn’t go. Ghana’s had to hold out to make sure they got their money. Nigeria’s been banned by FIFA in the wake of the World Cup. The reasons behind all of these aren’t simple (for example, FIFA’s dabbling in Nigeria’s FA), but it’s easy to imagine these soap operas influencing the results on the field.

Concussion protocol – All of Uruguay’s Álvaro Pereira, Argentina’s Javier Mascherano, and Germany’s Christoph Kramer had high-profile, on-field concussion incidents, and while we’ve gotten bit reactionary about assuming every clash of heads produces a concussion, there’s a reason why people err on that side of the equation. Teams have proven unable to manage the conflict of assessing their own players, and until FIFA recognizes some objective assessment is needed, players will continue to assume too much risk in the face of potential concussions.

Yuichi Nishimura, Carlos Carballo – While the tournament’s officiating got off to a terrible start, the quality of refereeing was mostly fine (particularly considering the role Howard Webb’s leniency had in the final four years ago). There were, however, two noticeable exceptions. If Nishimura doesn’t reward Fred’s dive with a penalty kick in game one, perhaps Brazil gets found out in group stage? And if Carballo doesn’t allow such  a rough game in the quarterfinals, maybe James Rodríguez is able to pick apart the Selecao? In the spotlight of the host nation’s games, both poor performances stood out.

World Cup alarmists – The lead up to the last two World Cups has featured a slew of English-language media moaning and hyper-ventilating about the  tournaments’ impending failures, yet just as South Africa 2010 was fine, Brazil 2014 came off with only minor hitches. The weather was managed, the stadiums stayed up, and the matches were played as planned. While there were social and logistical issues, too, this year’s World Cup betrayed the alarmists.

Remember this in the lead up to Russia 2018. With the tournament going to a first-time host, there’ll be stories about whether the nation can pull off the event. There’ll be concern about infrastructure. Maybe Vladimir Putin’s politics will come into play. Regardless, no opportunity to worry will elude those who’ve cultivated this beat.

As you’re clicking on those stories, just remember 2010. Remember 2014. Remember that there are always people worrying about whether a World Cup will come off.

Also remember: Brazil just gave us one of the best World Cups in history, and while there were plenty of social issues around the games to worry about, whether the games would actually happen was never a real concern.

Championship Focus: Bluebirds flying, Villa second-last

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The wild 46-game slate that is the Football League Championship is already howling, with all 24 teams three matches deep into their campaigns toward Premier League promotion (or avoiding relegation to League One).

The three clubs relegated from the Premier League last season all sit within the Top 8 after three match days. Sunderland is unbeaten with a win and two draws, while Hull City is 1-1-1.

[ MORE: Barcelona falls to Real… again ]

Middlesbrough has two wins from three matches, three points behind three sides who’ve started a perfect 3-0.

Wolves and Ipswich Town are two of the three, and Cardiff City leads the way. Owner Vincent Tan has seen his club score six goals without conceding once in defeats of Burton Albion, Aston Villa, and Sheffield United.

Burton is 0-3, while Steve Bruce‘s Villa is just one point better and sits 23rd.

As for individual superlatives, Bristol City’s Bobby Reid has four goals to lead the league while familiar names Lewis Grabban (Sunderland) and Abel Hernandez (Hull City) are among a quartet of players to score thrice.

Meanwhile, PL transfer target Jota of Brentford continues to impress with three assists through three matches. Will he remain in the second tier by the close of the transfer window?

MLS Snapshot: Montreal Impact 3-0 Chicago Fire

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The game in 100 words (or less)Ignacio Piatti is very good at soccer, and Chicago backstop Matt Lampson is going to see him deep into his dreams. Piatti beat Lampson up close on a turnover and then, with Montreal ahead 2-0 off a PK, the Argentine curled a surprise shot from distance around the keeper. Game, set, match, and it wasn’t even halftime. The loss keeps Chicago from using its match-in-hand to catch second place New York City FC, while the three points move Montreal to within two points of the East’s final playoff position.

Three moments that mattered

6′ — Piatti starts the party — Gifted a chance with the keeper by a sloppy missed clearing attempt, the Argentine deftly pops the ball over Fire keeper Matt Lampson.

36′ — Lampson hurts his cause — Chicago’s backstop wasn’t at fault on the opening goal, but he was for the second. After chopping down Matteo Mancosu in the box, Lampson guessed wrong on the striker’s penalty kick and the Fire went down 2-0.

38′ — It’s not your night, Lamps — Pretty sure you can anyone named Lampson, Lamps. Anyway, this time it was one of MLS’ top newcomers who set up Piatti for a goal. “Nacho” has his 12th of the season thanks to Blerim Dzemaili, and my goodness did Piatti do well here.

Man of the Match: Piatti.

Forbes ranks the top supporters in Major League Soccer

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Forbes claims the shared honor will give two Cascadia Cup rivals one less thing to argue about, but we completely disagree.

The celebrated magazine says their metrics show the Portland Timbers and Seattle Sounders tied for the honor of who has the best fans in Major League Soccer.

The post says the determination was made through four factors: attendance, local TV ratings, merchandise sales, and social media followers on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Attendance was weighted heaviest, which certainly gives Atlanta United hope to go charging up the rankings in the future. For now, the “Five Stripes” are not included in the list.

The Galaxy finish third in the rankings, while the sixth-place New York Red Bulls edge New York City FC by one spot.

For the report and full explanation, head here.

Europa League preview: Everton, Milan, Marseille take next steps

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The UEFA Europa League playoff round takes full flight Thursday, a day after Utrecht struck a blow for the Eredivisie with a 1-0 win over Zenit Saint-Petersburg in a Wednesday first leg.

Premier League participants Everton will be seeking a result at home against Hajduk Split, the third-place team from Croatia’s top flight.

Gylfi Sigurdsson passed his medical at Goodison Park but will not be available for Everton on Thursday.

[ MORE: Barcelona falls to Real… again ]

As for the match, manager Ronald Koeman knows the Thursday matchdays for the UEL will try his club’s endurance and depth. From EvertonFC.com:

“We know English teams have some problems. I think it is more mental than physical because if you play in the Champions League – so Wednesday and Saturday – you have the same amount of days to recover. I try to put out the strongest team to start the game. That will take into account the tactical aspects of each game. That will mean different players start and different options in terms of substitutions.”

Captained by Zoran Nizic and managed by Joan Carrillo, Hajduk has a young star in the making in the form of 19-year-old attacking midfielder Nikola Vlasic, but Everton is heavily favored at home with Hajduk given 12:1 odds by bookmakers.

[ MORE: Barca GM says Coutinho, Dembele “close” ]

Those numbers are a relative sure thing compared to AC Milan’s visitors. Macedonia club Shkendija are a 33:1 underdog for its trip to Italy.

Elsewhere, Slovenian side Domzale is a longshot at home to visiting Marseille.

Speaking of bookmakers, Arsenal won’t enter the competition until the group stage but is considered the favorite to win the UEL by a hair over Milan. Everton, Villarreal, and Athletic Bilbao are level with third-best odds.

UEFA Europa League playoff first legs
Utrecht 1-0 Zenit — Weds.
BATE Borisov vs. Oleksandriya — 1 p.m. ET Thursday
Apollon Limassol vs. Midtjylland — 1 p.m.
Krasnodar vs. Red Star Belgrade — 1 p.m.
Dinamo Zagreb vs. Skenderbeu — 1 p.m.
FH vs. Braga — 1:45 p.m. ET Thursday
PAOK vs. Ostersund — 2 p.m. ET Thursday
Vardar vs. Fenerbahce — 2 p.m.
Plzen vs. AEK Lamaca — 2:15 p.m. ET Thursday
Altach vs. Maccabi Tel-Aviv — 2:30 p.m. ET Thursday
Ludogorets Razgrad vs. Suduva — 2:30 p.m.
Panathinaikos vs. Athletic Bilbao — 2:30 p.m.
Domzale vs. Marseille — 2:45 p.m. ET Thursday
Osijek vs. Austria Wien — 2:45 p.m.
Viitorul vs. Red Bull Salzburg — 2:45 p.m.
Ajax vs. Rosenborg — 2:45 p.m.
Legia Warsaw vs. Sheriff — 2:45 p.m.
AC Milan vs. Shkendija — 2:45 p.m.
Club Brugge vs. AEK — 2:45 p.m.
Partizan vs. Videoton — 3 p.m. ET Thursday
Everton vs. Hajduk Split — 3:05 p.m. ET Thursday
Maritimo vs. Dynamo Kyiv — 3:30 p.m. ET Thursday