Looking back on a great week for Germany

1 Comment

The German Bundesliga has no shortage of fans, and because of its clubs’ relative financial stability and an ownership paradigm that requires supporters own clubs (the 50+1 rule), the league may be the most admired circuit in the world. Yet as far as the competitive qualities of its clubs, the Bundesliga has generally been thought of as trailing the English Premier League and Spain’s Primera Division, even if many feel its quality has passed Italy’s Serie A.

Over at ESPN FC, renown Bundesliga expert Uli Hesse notes this week’s showing from German clubs in Europe – a slate of results comprised by six wins and a scoreless draw – may be the first signs of a continental breakthrough:

Anyway, as you can see, this European week was anything but normal, so one hesitates to imbue this string of good results with deeper meaning or relevance. Perhaps it was just the kind of coincidence that statistically has to happen one day.

But – whisper it – maybe it’s really indicative of the long-awaited and predicted Bundesliga resurgence on the European stage. In the past ten seasons, only two German clubs have reached a European final (Bayern and Bremen) and that’s clearly unacceptable.

I have called the resurgence “long-awaited and predicted” because our clubs have been saying for many years that they will sooner or later reap their just rewards for not spending more than they have as it’s only a question of time until the ruinous system in Spain or Italy has to collapse like a house of cards.

Milan embody Italy’s problems. One of the circuit’s marquee clubs, the 2010-11 champions are mired in quicksand amid reports the club’s holding company wants the team to stand on its own two feet financially. That the team wasn’t able to reinvest all the money from their Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Thiago Silva sales exemplifies Italian teams “[reaping] their just rewards.”

As Hesse alludes, however, this week’s results may only be a hint of what’s needed: Progress toward actual titles. I say that as somebody that doesn’t value titles that much – if three German teams make the Champions League semis yet none win the trophy, that’d be a great show of strength for the league. But this is about others’ standards, not mine, and by those standards, German teams need to start making a bigger impact in Champions League.

As the article alludes, there’s a theory behind Germany’s lack of success in Champions League: “financial doping.” Paris Saint-Germain and Zenit St. Petersburg have bought in ways German clubs won’t, and they’re only playing catchup to the perpetual big spenders in England, Spain, and (to a diminishing extent) Italy.

As Hesse notes, money may not have been the issue. It may have been experience.

But if it isn’t a levelled playing field that has boosted the Bundesliga’s performance, what is it? Well, maybe having paid your dues. Needless to say, Dortmund’s learning curve is quite pronounced, but there are also teams like Hannover 96 and Schalke, who managed to get a considerable amount of European games under their belt last season. I’m not a big friend of the Europa League (who is?), but its bloated and drawn-out schedule at least gives you plenty of practice under floodlights.

It’s something to think about, as is the rest of Hesse’s piece. Regardless of the alchemy that’s producing it, Germany does appear to be translating it’s of-field buzz into on-field success. For now. Best to check back in March to see which of their upstarts have managed to navigate a Champions League knockout round.

Transfer Rumor Roundup: Fekir negotiations back on; Chelsea waiting on transfer targets; and more

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Could Liverpool get its star attacking midfield target after all?

That’s what seems to be the case, as the agent for Lyon and France midfielder Nabil Fekir told French TV channel LCI Monday evening that negotiations aren’t over between Liverpool and Lyon.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

“He didn’t sign because um… it is not over! This is not the end of the story,” Fekir’s agent, Jean-Pierre Bernes reportedly said.

It was just two weeks ago when Lyon president Jean-Michael Aulas stated that Fekir, Lyon’s captain, would remain with the club for the upcoming season, after negotiations with Liverpool fell through. According to the Liverpool Echo, the Reds wanted a second opinion on a previous knee injury, and had balked at the $70 million price tag.

But now it appears Liverpool and Aulas could still be in conversations to try and find a mutually accepted fee.

At the same time, stirring up transfer drama is in Bernes interest, as it could drive other teams into the race to sign Fekir and raise his transfer fee, meaning more money to him, Fekir (if he gets a cut) and Lyon. Watch this space for more to come during and after the World Cup.

Here’s some more transfer rumors from across the Premier League and Europe:

(more…)

Japan upsets ten-man Colombia in Group H opener

Getty Images
Leave a comment

On paper, the 61st-ranked team in the world beating the 16th-ranked team in the world is a massive upset. But considering the circumstances within the game, perhaps this wasn’t an upset after all.

[ LIVE: World Cup scores ]

Two set pieces were the difference as Japan defeated ten-man Colombia, 2-1 on Tuesday morning in Saransk. Colombia played with ten men for nearly the entire match, after Carlos Sanchez was sent off for a handball in the box and a denial of a goal scoring opportunity.

The game took a massive turn in the third minute, as Colombia centerback Davinson Sanchez failed to control a pass and Yuya Osako found himself free on goal. His shot was parried away by Colombia goalkeeper David Ospina but Kagawa’s rebound shot was clearly blocked by Sanchez’s right arm. The referee, Damir Skomina immediately pointed to the penalty spot and went to the back pocket, sending Sanchez to the showers.

Kagawa stepped up and cooly sent Ospina the wrong way to put Japan on top.

Late in the first half, after both teams had chances on target, Colombia came back and evened the scoreline.

Click here for live and on demand coverage of the World Cup online and via the NBC Sports App.

Juan Fernando Quintero, starting in place of the recovering James Rodriguez, smartly took a free kick and fired it low, under the wall as it jumped. Japan goalkeeper Eiji Kawashima reacted late and although he arrived as the ball was crossing the line, he couldn’t keep it from going over, tying the game in the 39th minute.

Ultimately, despite its efforts, Colombia began to tire and on a corner kick, the Blue Samurai took back the lead and control of their destiny in Group H. A corner kick from Keisuke Honda was re-directed past Ospina by Osako, who jumped well over Santiago Arias, to give Japan a 2-1 lead in the 75th minute.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

Rodriguez was introduced in the 57th minute but try as he did, Colombia was unable to find the final pass in the box, and Japan held on for the unexpected victory.

With the win, Japan top Group H ahead of a meeting with Senegal, while Colombia will have to regroup to face Poland.

In a World Cup full of unexpected results, Tuesday brought yet another memorable win for an underdog.

New Zealand women footballers rebel against national coach

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Wellington, New Zealand (AP) Only weeks after New Zealand Football made headlines by signing a revolutionary equal pay deal with its female players, the organization is facing a mutiny by members of its women’s team against the national coach.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

New Zealand Football confirmed on Tuesday it had received a letter signed by a number of New Zealand players complaining about the methods and tactics employed by Austria-born coach Andreas Heraf.

The complaints follow the New Zealand team’s recent 3-1 loss at home to Japan. Heraf angered his players, and fans of the Football Ferns national team, by taking an entirely defensive game plan into the rare home international.

Heraf then further angered his players with comments defending his approach.

He said there was “a big difference in quality” between the New Zealand and Japanese players and that New Zealand “will never have that quality” to compete with top teams like Japan. He said the scoreline might have been 8-0 if New Zealand had not adopted a defensive approach.

One of New Zealand’s leading players, United States-based Abby Erceg, retired after playing 132 matches for New Zealand, citing Heraf’s approach in previous international matches.

She later told New Zealand media: “I couldn’t stand to wear that (national symbol) on my chest any more when his vision was to cower in a corner and not get beat by too much.”

New Zealand Football defended Heraf against the media and public criticism but admitted his comments were “strange” and “wrong” and did not accurately reflect his views. Heraf later apologized and said he had not expressed himself clearly.

But efforts to dampen the controversy have failed. New Zealand Football said in a statement it had “received a letter from the NZ Professional Footballers Association (NZPFA) last night with a number of complaints from the players of the Football Ferns.”

The mutiny comes only weeks after New Zealand gained international headlines for a deal which gives female pay parity with their male counterparts.

New Zealand Football signed the deal which provided female players with equal match payments, travel arrangements and prize money.

At the time, New Zealand women’s captain Ali Riley said the deal meant New Zealand would “be able to compete against the top teams, to be able to do well at a World Cup and the Olympics – this is what we needed.”

VIDEO: Colombia sees red, Japan takes early lead

Getty Images
1 Comment

The first red card of the World Cup came just moments after fans took their seats in Saransk.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news

After David Ospina blocked a breakaway opportunity from Yuya Osako in the third minute of the match, Japan star and former Manchester United midfielder Shinji Kagawa fired the rebound on goal. But his shot was blocked by the arm of Colombia midfielder Carlos Sanchez, which earned him a straight red card from referee Damir Skomina and an early trip to the locker room.

Kagawa then stepped up to the spot and calmly sent Ospina the wrong way to give Japan the shock early lead.

Colombia will play the rest of the match with ten men and no James Rodriguez, who was named to the bench for this match as he recovers from a reported calf injury.