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.

Pique: For first time in career, Barca star feels “inferior to Madrid”

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Gerard Pique does not have the sort of personality that makes admitting defeat an easy proposition.

The longtime Barcelona center back is raging after his side was beaten 5-1 over two legs by rivals Real Madrid in the Spanish Super Cup.

[ MORE: Barca releases statement on terror attacks ]

And for the first time in his life, he thinks Barca is a step behind its El Clasico enemies. From The Telegraph:

“This is a long process and there is room for improvement but in the nine years that I have been here, it is the first time that I feel inferior to Madrid,” Piqué said. “We are not in the best moment, either as a team or as a club. We must stay as close as possible and keep moving forwards.”

Barcelona looked very poor in the second leg of the Super Cup, though the club did hammer the woodwork on multiple occasions. Real is the best team in the world, which makes being its rival a real hassle.

In fact, both clubs have been 1-2 in the world for some time, which has to make it extra perplexing when you’re No. 2 to only the club you despise more than any other.

Bundesliga preview: Schalke, BVB chase Bayern Munich

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The last time Schalke spent a season outside of European football, the celebrated German club finished second in the league en route to a Champions League semifinal the following campaign.

That’s one of the only silver linings from last season’s disappointing 10th place finish, 19 points behind fourth place Hoffenheim.

[ MORE: Schalke’s teen American impact ]

“Naturally, nobody is happy about not playing international this year,” center back Benedikt Howedes told ProSoccerTalk. “During the week we currently have more time to focus on the next opponent. We will battle the European positions with many teams this season. I think, the race is up in the air. The Bundesliga is very balanced.”

World Cup winner Howedes has 334 appearances for Schalke (Getty Images).

Schalke’s tumulutous 2016-17 season started poorly and never really found its footing. The club lost its first five league matches under Markus Weinzierl, who was fired in June, and saw marquee transfers Naldo, Breel Embolo, and Coke miss a lot of time through injuries.

Enter 31-year-old Domenico Tedesco. Don’t let the age fool you, he’s the boss not a player, and youth will be part of the team as well. Schalke still has Embolo, Max Meyer and Leon Goretzka, American teen Weston McKennie has been promoted to the first team, and Amine Harit has arrived from Nantes.

From the outside, that puts an emphasis on veteran leadership. Fortunately for Schalke, it has living club legend Howedes and ex-Man City defender Matija Nastasic amongst others in the fold.

“The spirit, if you could be in the locker room, it’s amazing,” McKennie told PST. “It doesn’t matter how old you are.”

[ MORE: Guide to two promoted Bundesliga teams ]

In the case of Nastasic, who won the Premier League with Manchester City in 2013-14, his 24 years carry a lot of experience. He’s thrived at Fiorentina, become a staple of the Serbian national team, and rebounding from his injury-hit time at City and is a leader at Schalke.

And those young guys can learn from Nastasic, who’s seen it all at 24.

“When I just arrived in Italy I was only 18 and it was the first year out of my country,” Nastasic told PST. “I didn’t expect at the beginning that I would play that much. Then I changed to England, and it was totally different. Italy is more tactical. Football in England is physical with a lot of tempo and running. I was young also without so much experience but when I was fit I think I played good.”

Schalke will need its young attack to find more goals. Its defense was Top Five in goals conceded last season, but its 45 goals was mid-table.

“Everyone knows that last season was not as good as we had expected,” Howedes said. “With our new coach, we want to improve our game and make our fans happy again. We are training hard and I am sure, that we will be more constant and improve our performances this season.”

[ MORE: First female ref to make Bundesliga debut ]

“From the team I expect a much better season than last year,” Nastasic adds. “We are not playing international games so maybe that’s an advantage for us. We can concentrate on the Bundesliga.”

Both Nastasic and Howedes heaped praise on McKennie, as well as American teammate Haji Wright, who will spend the season on loan to Sandhausen, and the game overseas in general.

“Haji Wright started spectacular,” Howedes said. “For young players the most important thing is to play. On loan in Sandhausen the chance is greater than here. I rejoice for him he get this opportunity. The step in the 2.Bundesliga can be a good beginning of his career.

“The American soccer is really developing the last years. It is no coincidence that a lot of great players like Kaka and Gerrard joined Major League Soccer. And who knows, I also can imagine to play there some day in the future.”

Different champs (but probably not different champs): Bayern Munich will neither have Xabi Alonso nor Philipp Lahm this season, but that doesn’t mean they are runaway favorites to claim its 27th title and sixth-straight since Borussia Dortmund’s two-year reign ended with the 2011-12 crown. Carlo Ancelotti has reloaded with James Rodriguez and Corentin Tolisso, and will be favored to hold off BVB for the crown.

Here’s to the new Bosz: USMNT phenom Christian Pulisic is already making an impact in the mind of his new coach, Peter Bosz, and the manager will be pleased to note that reports say Pulisic has no interest in looking into his future until after the 2018 World Cup.

Sleepers? Eintracht Frankfurt dropped into 11th last season, and may benefit from not finishing in a European place. The club has added Mexican national teamer Carlos Saucedo, Dutch star Jetro Willems, and well-traveled Jonathan De Guzman for its new season.

Americans Abroad:
John Brooks (Wolfsburg)
Julian Green (Stuttgart)
Christian Pulisic (Borussia Dortmund)
Fabian Johnson (Borussia Monchengladbach)
McKennie (Schalke)
Timothy Chandler (Eintracht Frankfurt)
Bobby Wood (Hamburg)
Aron Johannsson (Werder Bremen *expected to be sold)
Caleb Stanko (Freiburg)

Old faces, new places:
Serge Gnabry (Hoffenheim, on loan from Bayern Munich)
Mahmoud Dahoud (Borussia Dortmund, from ‘Gladbach)
Mathew Leckie (Hertha BSC, from Ingolstadt)
Sven Bender (Bayer Leverkusen, from BVB)
Marcel Heller (Augsburg, from Darmstadt)
Kyriakos Papadopoulos (Hamburg, from Bayer)
John Brooks (Wolfsburg, from Hertha)
Paul Verhaegh (Wolfsburg, from Augsburg)
Holger Badstuber (Stuttgart, from Bayern)

New faces, new places:
James Rodriguez (Bayern Munich)
Jonathan Klinsmann (Hertha BSC)
Reece Oxford (Gladbach, on loan from West Ham)
Harit (Schalke)
Jonathan de Guzman (Eintracht Frankfurt)
Jetro Willems (Eintracht Frankfurt)
Carlos Salcedo (Eintracht Frankfurt)
Viktor Fischer (Mainz)

Opening weekend
Bayern Munich vs. Bayer Leverkusen — Friday
Hamburg vs. Augsburg — Saturday
Hertha Berlin vs. Stuttgart — Saturday
Hoffenheim vs. Werder Bremen — Saturday
Wolfsburg vs. Borussia Dortmund — Saturday
Mainz vs. Hannover 96 — Saturday
Schalke vs. RB Leipzig — Saturday
Freiburg vs. Eintracht Frankfurt — Sunday
Borussia Monchengladbach vs. Koln — Sunday

FC Barcelona releases statement after terror attack

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FC Barcelona found tragedy at home on Thursday when a terrorist plot unfolded in Las Ramblas, killing 13 and injuring more than 100.

Las Ramblas is just a 20-minute ride from the Camp Nou, and the Catalan club hosts Real Betis on Sunday.

[ MORE: Another American teen making Bundesliga name ]

A terrorist-driven rental van was driven at 50 mph through a crowded plaza. As of post time, two men had been arrested but the driver remained on the loose.

Saying it was sickened by the attack, FCB announced it will fly flags at half-mast, wear black arm bands during the match and hold a minute’s silence.

Here’s the full statement:

FC Barcelona wants to express its profound sorrow and utter disgust at the terrorist attack that has hit the heart of our city, la Rambla de Barcelona. The Club wishes to send our support and thoughts to the victims, their families and friends as well as the people of Barcelona and its visitors.

As a mark of respect, the flags will fly at half-mast at the Club’s facilities and the players from both teams will wear black armbands in all the Club’s matches this weekend.

On Sunday, before the 2017/18 La Liga opener against Betis, the Camp Nou will hold a minutes silence in recognition and memory of the victims.

AC Milan and Napoli likeliest challengers to Juve’s crown

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MILAN (AP) Juventus’ six-year Serie A domination could end this year.

AC Milan has reinforced its squad, Inter Milan has had some much-needed stability after four managerial changes last season, while Napoli looks set to mount an even stronger challenge this time around.

Lazio could also be surprise contenders after Simone Inzaghi’s side withstood a late comeback to beat Juventus 3-2 and win the Italian Super Cup on Wednesday.

[ MORE: Another American teen making Bundesliga name ]

However, Juventus coach Massimiliano Allegri has warned the rest of Serie A that it will be a very different performance from his team in Saturday’s season opener at home to Cagliari.

“We cannot and must not play like that in the league,” he said. “This defeat brings us back to earth. Some of the players aren’t fully fit yet, so I knew it wasn’t going to be easy … but starting on Saturday you’ll see a different Juve.”

Allegri also took encouragement from the last time Juventus played Lazio in the Super Cup, in 2015.

“We beat Lazio in Beijing for the Super Cup two years ago and then had a bad start to the Serie A season, so hopefully we’ll do it the other way round this time,” he said.

Juventus has dominated Italian soccer for nearly a decade, winning three successive league and cup doubles and it will be tricky for anyone to prevent the Bianconeri from extending their league record to seven straight Serie A titles.

Milan was the last team other than Juventus to win the title and, despite having last finished in the top three in 2013, it looks the likeliest to depose the Turin-based club.

The Chinese-led consortium that purchased Milan from Silvio Berlusconi for $800 million in April has infused the club with cash and splashed out more than 200 million euros ($234 million) in the offseason.

[ VIDEO: Giovanni Reyna’s MOTM job for USYNT ]

As well as signing Italy’s top defender Leonardo Bonucci from Juventus, Milan also brought in forward Andre Silva from FC Porto; midfielders Ricardo Rodriguez (Wolfsburg), Franck Kessie and Andrea Conti (Atalanta), Hakan Calhanoglu (Bayer Leverkusen) and Lucas Biglia (Lazio); and defender Mateo Musacchio (Villarreal).

Fourth place in Serie A now guarantees qualification to the Champions League and that will be the minimum requirement for Vincenzo Montella’s team. But, if the new team gels quickly, there is the feeling that Milan could make a strong challenge for the title.

Bonucci was playing down his new side’s chances.

“Juve remains favorite and Napoli has a great chance of fighting for the title,” Bonucci said in interview with Gazzetta dello Sport. “As we are now we’re still a step below both, but we shouldn’t put limits on ourselves. After those two, I see Milan, Inter and Roma as equal.”

Napoli has finished in the top three in four of the past five seasons but even a record number of points last campaign still left it third, five points behind Juventus.

However, talk of the `scudetto’ is no longer a taboo for Napoli, which hasn’t won the title since 1990.

But, while it didn’t make any big signings in the transfer window, its biggest success of the offseason has been in keeping its band of talented players together.

It sold Ezequiel Lavezzi in 2012 and Edinson Cavani the following year – both to Paris Saint-Germain – while Gonzalo Higuain moved to Juventus in 2016.

This year Dries Mertens and Lorenzo Insigne have signed new contracts, while Marek Hamsik is just three goals away from breaking Diego Maradona’s scoring record for the club.

Mertens was reportedly pursued by a number of clubs – both in Italy and abroad – but the Belgium international, who scored more than 30 goals for Napoli last campaign, opted to extend his stay with the southern side.

“I stayed here because the team plays very beautiful football and doing that we can get a lot of joy,” said Mertens, who scored again as Napoli beat Nice 2-0 in the first leg of its Champions League playoff on Wednesday.

Napoli played arguably the best soccer in Italy last season and its attacking flair saw it score 94 goals, but it faltered against teams in the lower half of the table and coach Maurizio Sarri is hoping to have corrected that by the time it kicks of its Serie campaign at Hellas Verona on Saturday.

More AP Italian soccer coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/SerieA