World Cup Qualifying, Europe: Duopoly collapses in Berlin, Madrid

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Three days after providing evidence of a bipolar European soccer world, Germany and Spain were part of Tuesday’s most shocking results. Granted, home draws against good teams aren’t shocking in and of themselves. It’s the context of the results that make you appreciate what happened in Madrid and Berlin.

Let’s start in Iberia, where the world champions were in the process of another ho-hum, dominant in realtime if not the scoresheet-victory. An early goal from Sergio Ramos had given the Spaniards a 1-0 lead on France, and while Cesc Fábregas failed to double that lead when his spot kick was blocked by Hugo Lloris, this match had the same sense of redundant inevitability that accompanies all of Spain’s redundant and inevitable results.

The last time Spain was drawn at home in an official game was September 2005. They had gone 24 straight qualifiers (World Cup and European Championships) without a draw, let alone a loss. If waiting out a Spain win over France seemed like a waste of time, it’s because we had little reason to think otherwise.

But then, as Spain was trying to kill the clock, there was a  turnover. For some reason or another, France to fight what we all saw coming: Another Spain win. Collecting the ball, Les Bleus quickly moved into the counter, finding a huge, open, unmanned field in front of them. Moussa Sissoko brought the ball forward onto an inexplicably outnumbered Spanish defense.

How could this be happening? How did Spain, up 1-0 in the 94th minute, put themselves in a situation to be outmanned on a counterattack?

The ball went left to Franck Ríbery, his first touch a bullet cross to Olivier Giroud near the spot. Defying his teammates’ attempt to behead him, the Arsenal striker got his head around the ball, redirecting the equalizer just inside Iker Casillas’s right post, somehow giving France a point at the Vicente Calderón.

It’s exactly the outcome you always suspect Spain’s in danger of allowing, yet in 24 previous qualifiers, it hadn’t happened. No team had taken a point in Spain since Serbia seven years ago. Why France, and why now?

While Spain could have played better, it’s difficult to take anything away from a France squad that looked good for an equalizer long before Giroud leveled the score. Fighting through the surroundings, history, and inevitability, Les Bleus exhibited a tenacity for which their new coach is known. Though it’s debatable how often Didier Deschamps’ teams live up to that convenient reputation, tonight France were relentless. Their point in Madrid is an early tent pole for Deschamps’ reign.

MORE: Looking at the rest of Europe’s Tuesday results

At the other end of Tuesday’s spectrum is Germany, who played to some of the negative perceptions of the Joachim Löw era. Up 4-0 after 56 minutes against Sweden (in theory, the second best team of their group), the Germans seemed en route to a second consecutive statement game. At full time, they certainly sent a message, though one entirely different from the 6-1 pasting they gave Ireland on Friday. Instead, Germany gave up four goals in the last half hour and were drawn, 4-4.

The result was far more indicting than Spain’s, and while most of that is due to allowing four goals (instead of one), narrative plays a big part. In the wake of Germany’s disappointment at Euro 2012, it’s become more common to question the team’s mental stength. Call it character, resolve, toughness – whatever adjective you’d like. The complaints seek to explain why a team with so much talent can give performances like Tuesday’s.

With those critiques already in the public domain, there’ll be a temptation to make too much out of this admittedly shocking result. However, this match needs to be looked at for what it was: a shock. Löw and his staff need to determine why it happened and eliminate it, but given the sustained success die Nationalmannschaft have had under Löw, it would be a mistake to assume there are systemic problems in the team. At least, in lieu of further disappointments, “one off” is the far more reasonable conclusion.

With the possible exception to the loss in Ukraine to Italy, there hasn’t been a major setback in German soccer since 2004, tonight included.

 

Wynalda named head coach, technical director of Las Vegas Lights

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Las Vegas Lights FC is staying very on-brand as it announces its new head coach and technical director.

After a season headlined by the lights, glitz and glamour off the field while fortunes on the field struggled, the Lights administration announced on Wednesday that it had hired Eric Wynalda to be its new manager. The former U.S. Men’s National Team striker takes over effective immediately, after Lights FC parted ways with Isidro Sanchez at the end of the 2018 USL regular season last Saturday.

[READ: Wenger could return to coaching in January]

Las Vegas made waves ahead of their expansion season by hiring controversial ex-Chivas USA manager Jose Luis Sanchez Sola, known affectionately as “Chelis.” However, just before the start of the season, Chelis was demoted in a way to technical director while his son, Isidro Sanchez, took over the reigns on the sideline. Chelis was eventually dismissed after a poor run of form and an altercation with a fan led him to receive an eight-game suspension.

However, the hiring of Wynalda perfectly fits within the ethos of the bright and loud club, trying to mimic the stereotype projected by Las Vegas. Wynalda’s comments and opinions on the sport in the U.S. have likely kept him from receiving MLS coaching offers, which is ridiculous because he’s proven to be a successful coach on the field. Not only a great scout of talent, Wynalda is the definition of a player’s manager, a coach that players want to run through walls for. He found success with Cal FC and in a short spell with the Atlanta Silverbacks, where he commuted back and forth from his home in Los Angeles.

Most recently, Wynalda has been out of a job since running for U.S. Soccer president, in which he was defeated early on during the election last February.

There’s likely to be a big overhaul of players this offseason at Las Vegas, but considering Wynalda’s eye for talent, there’s a good chance that the Llamas/Lights should be a more competitive side in 2019.

Mane undergoes hand surgery

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The “FIFA virus” is hitting Liverpool hard this month.

Sadio Mane, who reportedly broke his left thumb on international duty for Senegal, underwent surgery on Wednesday, Liverpool confirmed. The club did not include a timetable for Mane’s return in its press release, only saying, “Mane’s recovery will be monitored over the next couple of days ahead of the Reds’ return to action at Huddersfield Town on Saturday.”

With the injury, Mane joins Mo Salah, Naby Keita and Virgil Van Dijk as Reds to be injured during the international break.

As an attacker, it’s unlikely Mane really needs the use of his left hand other than to protect himself on aerial challenges on bumps from defenders, but depending on the recovery, it may just be a decision of how much pain Mane could tolerate. With matches against Huddersfield, Red Star Belgrade and Cardiff City to come, maybe this is a good time for Jurgen Klopp to rest some of his starters, including the walking wounded like Mane.

Fulham owner withdraws offer to purchase Wembley Stadium

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Wembley Stadium is set to stay in the FA’s hands.

[READ: USMNT 1-1 Peru: Player Ratings]

The FA announced in a press release Wednesday that Fulham owner Shahid Kahn had withdrawn his offer of $790 million to purchase Wembley Stadium. Kahn first became interested in buying the stadium in February 2017, when he and FA CEO Martin Glenn met at the Superbowl. What followed was an informal offer to the FA Board of Directors before a formal offer was made.

The offer has been valued at anywhere from nearly $800 million to nearly $1.2 billion. In a statement, Kahn said that his goal to purchase the stadium was to provide the FA with a large amount of capital which it could use to improve grassroots soccer around the country.

“The intent of my efforts was, and is, to do right by everyone in a manner that strengthens the English game and brings people together, not divides them,” Khan said. “Unfortunately, given where we are today, I’ve concluded that the outcome of a vote next week would be far from sufficient in expressing the broad support favored by the FA chairman to sell Wembley Stadium.”

The FA council was set to vote on the sale next week.

Although it cost the FA and British government more than $1.4 billion (adjusted for inflation) to renovate and rebuild Wembley Stadium, the arena hosted 33 events between July 2016 and June 2017 and in its latest published financial records, the FA recorded an after-tax profit of $21 million. So it seems that along with the sponsorships and broadcast deals, Wembley Stadium is a money maker, which makes it important for the FA to hold on to.

That being said, it’s hard to turn down a deal worth close to $1 billion, even if that’s a lump sum and they won’t receive further investments from stadium revenues in the future. In the future, maybe Kahn or another owner may make another offer, one that the FA council could accept.

Report: La Liga chief going to court to compel U.S. based games to happen

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The head of La Liga is considering taking extraordinary action to ensure that a planned match this year in the U.S. goes off as expected.

[READ: What did we learn about the USMNT?]

According to Spanish radio station Cadena Cope, La Liga president Javier Tebas is set to bring a lawsuit against the Spanish Football Federation (RFEF) and its chief, Luis Rubiales to compel the federation to approve Barcelona’s match against Girona on January 26, which has been scheduled to be moved to Miami, Fla.’s Hard Rock Stadium.

In a way, it makes sense that Tebas and the Spanish league is considering every possible avenue to ensure that their 15-year marketing rights agreement with Relevant Sports, including league matches played abroad, can move forward as expected. However, it was clear after the announcement in August that all parties involved – especially La Liga, had not thought this through. FIFA, the RFEF, local fans and the Spanish league’s player’s union have all opposed the news, and on Wednesday Real Madrid formally sent a letter of it’s disapproval in moving La Liga matches abroad.

Tebas and La Liga would prefer for this to be resolved legally sooner rather than later, so they can market the Barcelona match in Miami and begin negotiating with the other federations that need to approve. But there’s a decent chance that the other parties – FIFA, and U.S. Soccer – could fail to rubber stamp what would be a first-of-its-kind event. In any case, watch this space.