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.

Albanian federation denounces “extremist acts” of their fans in Italy

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TIRANA, Albania (AP) Albania’s soccer federation has strongly denounced the incident that halted the World Cup Group G qualifier with Italy for nearly nine minutes on Friday.

During the match, which was won by Italy, 2-0, a group calling itself Illyrian Elite threw flares onto the pitch.

“Such totally extremist actions from the grouping Illyrian Elite have nothing to do with the excellent Albanian fans” who were distinguished in the EURO 2016 finals in France for their friendship and camaraderie in their festivities, the statement added.

The federation said an coach Gianni De Biasi also was “upset by the flares,” adding that during five years he has been in charge “I’ve seen something that’s never happened before.”

USMNT: 4 players, including Brooks, Lletget, released; Arriola added

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Hours after his side’s 6-0 thrashing of Honduras to resuscitate dreams of qualifying for the 2018 World Cup, Bruce Arena announced on Saturday five changes to the U.S. national team roster ahead of Tuesday’s qualifier against Panama.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s USMNT coverage | MLS ]

John Brooks (sinus infection), Sebastian Lletget (foot), Jordan Morris (knee) and Michael Orozco (knee) were all released back to their club teams, while Club Tijuana midfielder Paul Arriola was added to the squad.

[ MORE: USA 6-0 Honduras | Three things we learned | Player ratings ]

Brooks dealt with the sinus infection throughout USMNT camp this past week, as Morris did his knee injury which he picked up last weekend. Lletget left Friday’s win over Honduras in the 18th minute and will undergo further tests to determine the severity of his injury; he was seen leaving the stadium on crutches and wearing a walking boot.

The USMNT’s roster for Tuesday’s qualifier in Panama City, Panama, now stands at 23 players, and reads as follows:

Goalkeepers: David Bingham (San Jose Earthquakes), Tim Howard (Colorado Rapids), Nick Rimando (Real Salt Lake)

Defenders: DaMarcus Beasley (Houston Dynamo), Matt Besler (Sporting Kansas City), Geoff Cameron (Stoke City), Omar Gonzalez (Pachuca), Tim Ream (Fulham), Jorge Villafaña (Santos Laguna), Walker Zimmerman (FC Dallas), Graham Zusi (Sporting Kansas City)

Midfielders: Kellyn Acosta (FC Dallas), Paul Arriola (Club Tijuana), Alejandro Bedoya (Philadelphia Union), Michael Bradley (Toronto FC), Jermaine Jones (LA Galaxy), Sacha Kljestan (New York Red Bulls), Dax McCarty (Chicago Fire), Darlington Nagbe (Portland Timbers), Christian Pulisic (Borussia Dortmund)

Forwards: Jozy Altidore (Toronto FC), Clint Dempsey (Seattle Sounders FC), Chris Wondolowski (San Jose Earthquakes)

Rapinoe won’t back down on social issues despite U.S. Soccer policy

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Megan Rapinoe recently earned her spot back in the U.S. Women’s National Team squad ahead of next month’s friendlies against Russia, but the veteran won’t remain silent when it comes to her stance on the social climate of America.

[ MORE: Looking back on USMNT’s big win over Honduras ]

The 31-year-old was scrutinized for joining NFL player Colin Kaepernick in 2016 when they knelt during their respective sporting events, along with dozens of other athletes across the United States.

While Rapinoe admits that the form of protest is up for discussion, she also states that social inequality issues in the U.S. go far beyond that.

“What has surprised me the most, especially post-election, is that people are still sort of arguing against it. It’s really obvious that we have very serious inequality in this country across many different spectrums,” Rapinoe told the Guardian. “Yes, we can talk about the form of protest, or the way it’s done, or this or that. But it’s still not really the conversation that I think we desperately need to have more of in this country.”

A few weeks back, U.S. Soccer announced that it now requires all players that represent the Stars and Stripes to stand when the national anthem is played, and Rapinoe has agreed to do such.

While her days of kneeling on the pitch are in the past, Rapinoe believes she wouldn’t do anything different because she was simply trying to spark discussion amongst the American people.

“I don’t think there’s any perfect way to protest. I think if there was something else being done, something else would have been said about it. I can’t look back and say that I would have done this different, this different or this different.

“I can sleep at night knowing that I genuinely tried to have a really important conversation, or at least tried to open it up. I think I came to it with an open mind, an open heart and tried to get as many people to talk about it as I could.”

Report: Chelsea planning Hazard, Courtois pay raises

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Eden Hazard has returned to his old self under Antonio Conte this season, and now Chelsea is hoping to lock down their star attacker.

[ MORE: Lukaku says decision has been made on Everton future ]

According to the Mirror, the Premier League leaders are planning on offering up a pay raise to Hazard, who has 11 league goals this season for the Blues.

Hazard signed a nearly $250,000 per week deal two seasons ago, but the Belgium international will likely rake in significantly more under the reported deal as Chelsea hopes to keep the 26-year-old away from Spanish giants Real Madrid and others.

The Mirror is also reporting that goalkeeper and Hazard’s Belgian teammate Thibaut Courtois is likely to be handed a raise is salary as well.

The shot-stopper is set be handed a deal roughly in the range of what Hazard is currently making after allowing just 21 goals in 28 PL matches this season.