Wednesday international preview: For the degenerate soccer-watcher in all of us

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Let’s say you don’t have to go to work tomorrow. What would you do with your day? Get all those errands done? Finally clean up the house? Maybe this will be the year you get your taxes gone before April 15?

Probably not. Call it a hunch, but I’m since you’re the type of person that comes to ProSoccerTalk, you’re much more likely to sit around all day and watch soccer. Cup of Nations, World Cup Qualifying, or just run of the mill friendlies – it doesn’t matter. Since national teams don’t get together that often, hardcore soccer addicts are going to try to cram in as match possible.

So let’s entertain that. Let’s assume you’ve got a couple of displays in front of you and can access any game you want. Let’s also assume that your better half, little ones, and pets completely leave you alone. Which matches would you watch? Which matches should you watch?

Starting very early in Asia, here are PST’s recommendations.

All times Eastern. Please consult your physician before trying to watch all these games.

5:20 a.m. – Japan vs. Latvia (Kobe)

If you’re going to make Wednesday into a marathon, skip that highly anticipated 4:30 a.m. Nepal-Pakistan kickoff, sleep an extra hour, and see Asia’s best team host one of Europe’s worst. At 102nd in the world (for whatever FIFA rankings are worth), Latvia’s not going to be much of a challenge for the Samurai Blue, but for a chance to see what Asia’s best is building for the next World Cup, this might be worth an extra cup of coffee. Alberto Zaccheroni has his team eight points up on the competition in Asia. Only one point short of qualifying, this team is already starting to look toward Brazil 2014.

Players to watch: Japan: Shinji Okazaki (right, F, Stuttgart), Shinji Kagawa (M/F, Manchester United, Keisuke Honda (M/F, CSKA Moscow)

9:00 a.m. – South Korea vs. Croatia (London)

For what could be one of the best-played games of the day, the key for both coaches is to see their teams taking the match seriously. Croatia head coach Igor Stimac, new to the position, saw his team stumble at home to Switzerland in their last friendly. Korea’s Choi Kang-hee will be using the match to evaluate how to approach the final four matches of the team’s qualifying cycle.

Players to watch: Croatia – Luka Modric (M, Real Madrid), Dejan Lovren (D, Lyon), Darijo Srna (RB, Shakhtar); South Korea – Ki Sung-yeung (M, Swansea City), Son Heung-min (F, Hamburg), Park Chu-Young (F, Celta de Vigo)

source: Getty Images10:00 a.m. – Mali vs. Nigeria (Durban)

The day’s first Cup of Nations semifinal should be the round’s best match, the two teams’ skill-plus-style combination likely to produce a fluid, entertaining affair. Nigeria’s semifinal spot came at the expense of tournament favorites Cote d’Ivoire while the Malians reached the final four after a penalty kicks victory over the hosts.

Players to watch: Mali – Seydou Keita (right, M, Dalian Aerbin), Modibo Maiga (F, West Ham United), Mohamed Sissoko (M, Paris Saint-Germain); Nigeria – John Obi Mikel (M, Chelsea), Victor Moses (W, Chelsea), Emmanuel Emenike (F, Spartak Moscow)

12:00 p.m. – Chile vs. Egypt (Madrid)
The coaches are the focus for this one. For as much admiration Bob Bradley’s garnered during a turbulent time in Egyptian soccer, he is starting to see more criticism of the team’s on-field performances. In recent matches against Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire, the Pharaohs lost by a combined 7-2. For Chile, former Universidad de Chile head coach Jorge Sampaoli is set for his third match in charge, with La Roja set to resume World Cup Qualifying in March.

Players to watch: Chile – Alexis Sanchez (F, Barcelona), Humberto Suazo (F, Monterrey), Arturo Vidal (M, Juventus); Egypt – Mohamed Aboutrika (M, Bani Yas), Gedo (F, Hull City), Mohammed El-Nenny (Basel)

1:00 p.m. – Spain vs. Uruguay (Doha)

The match means nothing (except €4 million the Spanish federation banks for playing it in Qatar), but each team’s brought up almost all of their big names. Xavi, Xabi, and Iker are out, but the rest of the Spanish stars are here, giving players like David Villa, Alvaro Negredo and Pedro Rodriguez a chance to nail down Spain’s striker spot. Expect an entertaining though not particularly intense match. It’s being played in Doha, after all.

Players to watch: Spain – Andres Iniesta (M, Barcelona), Sergio Busquets (M, Barcelona, Sergio Ramos (D, Real Madrid); Uruguay – Luis Suarez (F, Liverpool), Edinson Cavani (F, Napoli), Diego Godin (D, Atletico Madrid)

1:30 p.m. – Burkina Faso vs. Ghana (Nelspruit)

One of Africa’s legendary sides faces a team making their first semifinal appearance, with Burkina Faso’s Stallions hoping to slide on their glass slippers on Wednesday against the Black Stars. Ghana is the new tournament favorite (with the elimination of Cote d’Ivoire), but having reverted to type slightly in the quarterfinals, it remains to be seen whether the Ghanaians allow themselves to be draw into a coin flip they could lose.

Players to watch: Burkina Faso – Alain Traore (F, Lorient), Jonathan Pitroipa (W, Rennes), Bakary Kone (D, Lyon); Ghana – Asamoah Gyan (F, Al Ain), Kwadwo Asamoah (M, Juventus), Wakaso Mubarak (W, Espanyol)

source: Getty Images2:30 p.m. – England vs. Brazil (London)

It’s England. It’s Brazil. So it’s a big deal, right? Given the other games on the Wednesday’s schedule, I’m having trouble justifying too much excitement for this one, even if it’s going to be Ashley Cole’s 100th cap. Slowly, he’s catching up to Beckham’s 115. We’ll see if he can hold Leighton Baines off long enough.

Players to watch: Brazil – Neymar (right, F, Santos), Ronaldinho (M, Atletico Mineiro), David Luiz (D, Chelsea); England – Wayne Rooney (F, Manchester United), Steven Gerrard (M, Liverpool), Joe Hart (G, Manchester City)

2:30 p.m. – Netherlands vs. Italy (Amsterdam)

Louis van Gaal’s continued Oranje makeover will be reflected in his lineup on Wednesday. The omission of a player like Wesley Sneijder isn’t surprising, but players like John Heitenga and Nigel de Jong are also finding it difficult to re-establish their place in this team. The likes of Adam Maher, Stefan de Vrii and Bruno Martins Indi are likely to see time against a talent-rich Italian attack.

Players to watch: Netherlands – Robin van Persie (F, Manchester United), Kevin Strootman (M, PSV), Ron Vlaar (D, Aston Villa); Italy – Mario Balotelli (F, Milan), Andrea Pirlo (M, Juventus), Gianluigi Buffon (G, Juventus)

3:00 p.m. – France vs. Germany (Paris)

This is a great test for both sides. While Joachim Löw may take this chance to look at some players who don’t normally make his starting XI (perhaps giving Rene Adler a start in goal for Manuel Neuer), Germany has still reached a level where they should expect to go on the road and perform well even against the France’s world (and even in a friendly). France have gotten results from Spain and Italy in their last two matches. Another strong performance will further consolidate the team behind Didier Deschamps.

Players to watch: Germany – Mesut Ozil (M, Real Madrid), Philipp Lahm (D, Bayern Munich), Thömas Müller (F/M, Bayern Munich); France – Karim Benzema (F, Real Madrid), Franck Ribery (W, Bayern Munich), Hugo Lloris (G, Tottenham)

4:00 p.m. – Honduras vs. United States (San Pedro Sula)

Steve’s got you covered on this one:

source: Reuters9:00 p.m. – Panama vs. Costa Rica (Panama City)

Panama’s the newcomer to this level of the tournament (the one team in the final round that didn’t qualify for 2009’s Hex), but as they showed at the 2011 Gold Cup, they’ve got the players to qualify for Brazil. One of the keys will be getting three points at home instead of settling for draws. Against an experienced Ticos team, Julio Valdés will need to make his team rises to the occasion. By the opening whistle, Panama’s players need to realize the stakes. Slipping in round one could come back to haunt them in November.

Players to watch: Panama – Blas Perez (right, F, FC Dallas), Gabriel Gomez (M, Junior), Felipe Baloy (D, Santos Laguna); Costa Rica – Bryan Ruiz (F, Fulham), Alvaro Saborio (F, Real Salt Lake), Michael Umaña (D, Saprissa)

9:30 p.m. – Mexico vs. Jamaica (Mexico City)

This could get ugly. Jamaica would have a hard time matching up with El Tri under normal circumstances, but this is the Hex opener, on the road, against a Mexico team that has gone beyond winning. This team is starting to push itself for results. They not only want three points from these games, they want to perform in a way that puts them in a conversation with the world’s best. Unless something fluke-y happens early, this should be a multi-goal victory for the tournament favorites.

Players to watch: – Giovani dos Santos (F, Mallorca), Javier Hernandez (F, Manchester United), Hector Moreno (D, Espanyol); Jamaica – Rodolph Austin (M, Leeds United), Nyron Noseworthy (D, Watford), Jason Morrison (M, Aelesunds)

Iran warned new law is putting Asian Cup place at risk

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KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) Iran has been told it could face suspension from the Asian Cup in January over a law interfering in the national soccer federation’s independence.

The Asian Football Confederation says it is “closely monitoring the current issues” with its top-ranked team, and will not tolerate “third-party interference in their member associations.”

The Malaysia-based AFC says Iran’s parliament announced a law “designating the (soccer federation) as a non-government public body and prohibiting the engagement of retired personnel.”

The AFC says it hopes Iran’s soccer body “can maintain its independence and avoid any sanctions” less than two months before the Asian Cup starts in the United Arab Emirates.

Iran, the best Asian team at No. 30 in FIFA’s rankings, plays its opening game Jan. 7 against Yemen in Abu Dhabi. The group includes Iraq and Vietnam.

More AP sports: https://apnews.com/apf-sports and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

UEFA Nations League reaches exciting climax

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It has plunged Germany into renewed crisis, provoked scenes of jubilation in Kosovo and Gibraltar, and set up what could be an exciting week of international soccer in a summer usually bereft of competition for European countries.

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The UEFA Nations League might not have been welcomed by some clubs across the continent – Liverpool manager Juergen Klopp called it “the most senseless competition in the world of football” – but it has generated plenty of intriguing story lines to pique interest in its inaugural year.

The competition has reached its final set of qualifying matches, and results over the next week will determine which teams will feature in a Final Four mini-tournament in June – when the first Nations League champion will be crowned. Currently, France, Belgium, Portugal and Spain are favorites to be the finalists.

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The upcoming matches will also establish which of the lower-ranked teams qualify for the Nations League playoffs, from which one place at the 2020 European Championship will be awarded.

Here’s a look at what’s at stake:

GROUP A1

France, the world champion, has won two of its first three group games and will advance to the Final Four with a win over the Netherlands in Rotterdam on Friday. A victory for the Dutch means they can then qualify by beating – or potentially even drawing with – Germany in the group closer in Gelsenkirchen on Monday.

France has seen four players, including Paul Pogba, withdraw from the squad through injury on Monday.

Germany is last in the group, having collected one point from three games, and is on the brink of relegation to League B featuring Europe’s second-tier nations. Coming after a World Cup where the team failed to get out of the group stage, coach Germany coach Joachim Loew’s decision to stay on in the role is under as much scrutiny as the team’s mettle.

GROUP A2

Iceland has already been relegated after losing its first three games, leaving Belgium and Switzerland – tied on points – to battle for first place. The Belgians have played a game less, so a home win over Iceland on Thursday will leave them three points clear heading into the group decider in Switzerland on Monday.

Belgium is the world’s top-ranked team and will look for revenge for its semifinal loss to France at the World Cup if it does reach the Final Four.

GROUP A3

There is an added emphasis on which of Portugal or Italy advances, considering the team that qualifies from this group will host the Final Four in June. Portugal is the favorite after winning its first two games, without needing Cristiano Ronaldo, and needs only a point away to Italy on Saturday to guarantee first place.

If Italy wins, Portugal can still finish top with a home win on Tuesday over Poland, which has already been relegated after picking up just one point from its first three games.

GROUP A4

Spain looked on course to qualify comfortably from a group also containing England and World Cup runner-up Croatia after beating both teams in its first two games. Losing to England 3-2 in Sevilla last month, in arguably the standout match of the entire group stage so far, has kept things alive.

If Spain loses to Croatia in Zagreb on Thursday, England can finish first with a win over the Croats at Wembley Stadium on Sunday.

Spain coach Luis Enrique has called up Barcelona left back Jordi Alba for the first time since taking charge of the team after the World Cup.

LEAGUE B

Ukraine became the first country to secure promotion to Group A for the second Nations League, in 2020. Bosnia and Russia are well clear in their groups and need one point from their final matches, against Austria and Sweden respectively, to also ensure promotion.

In the other group in League B, Wales and Denmark are fighting for first place. They meet in Cardiff on Friday, when a Welsh win would guarantee them top spot.

The Nations League also offers a second chance to qualify for the European Championship in 2020. The 16 group winners in Leagues A, B, C and D – or the next best-placed teams who have not already qualified via the European qualifiers starting in March – will progress to the playoffs to compete for the last four qualifying places.

It means the so-called minnows of Europe have something tangible to play for.

LEAGUE C

No teams have won their group so far, though Finland is close after winning its first four games in Group C2 and needs one point from its last two.

In Group C1, Israel and Scotland are batting for first place; in Group C3, Norway and Bulgaria are tied on points with two games left; and in Group C4, there is a three-way fight between Serbia, Montenegro and Romania.

LEAGUE D

In the league containing Europe’s weakest countries, Gibraltar and Kosovo – two of the newest members of UEFA – have claimed their first ever competitive international wins.

Kosovo is top of Group D3, two points clear of Azerbaijan with two games left. Gibraltar is second behind Macedonia in Group D4. Georgia has won Group D1, and Luxembourg and Belarus appear to be fighting for first place in Group D2.

More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/tag/apf-Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Steve Douglas is at http://www.twitter.com/sdouglas80

Most popular Premier League jerseys in each US state revealed

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So, this is interesting.

The folks over at soccer.com have revealed the top selling jerseys they ship out in each U.S. state and a few of these may surprise you.

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In a nutshell: the USA is red. The red of either Liverpool or Manchester United.

And while the two bitter rivals clearly have plenty of fans Stateside, so too do Tottenham, Chelsea and Arsenal.

Remarkably, at least according to shirt sales, reigning champs Manchester City are the most popular team in only one state: New Jersey.

Below is a look at the map in full.


Premier League hire new Chief Executive

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The Premier League has appointed a new Chief Executive.

Susanna Dinnage will take over from Richard Scudamore who has led the PL for the last 19 years and is stepping down in December.

Dinnage was previously employed by media outlet Discovery, where she was most recently the global president of the Animal Planet channel. She previously worked for Channel Five and MTV before being with Discovery over the past 10 years.

The PL confirmed that Dinnage will begin her new role in early 2019 after being chosen by the Premier League nominations committee, which is led by Chelsea chairman Bruce Buck.

Speaking about her new position, Dinnage is excited to led England’s top-flight into a new era.

“I am excited at the prospect of taking on this fantastic role. The Premier League means so much to so many people. It represents the pinnacle of professional sport and the opportunity to lead such a dynamic and inspirational organisation is a great privilege,” Dinnage said. “With the support of clubs and the team, I look forward to extending the success of the League for many years to come.”

Dinnage becomes just the third person to lead the PL since its first season in 1992-93, after Scudamore took over from Rick Parry in 1999.

In its announcement upon hiring Dinnage, the PL also revealed it is now looking for a non-executive Chair as it prepares for Scudamore’s departure by filling two roles.

“The Premier League clubs have already agreed to split his (Scudamore’s) role, with Dinnage becoming Chief Executive, and the search for a non-executive Chair will now commence. The Premier League Nominations Committee comprises: Bruce Buck (Chair), Susan Whelan (Leicester City), Mike Garlick (Burnley), Claudia Arney and Kevin Beeston (both Non-Executive Directors of the Premier League). The Committee is grateful for the assistance provided by Jonathan Smith and colleagues at executive search and leadership advisory firm Spencer Stuart.”