Get to your DVRs as soon as possible, because that Italy-Japan match was a classic

2 Comments

Take an aging team, fly them half-way across the world, and ask them to play on short rest. On the other side, put a set of highly skilled, tactically adept players who’re more than willing to run all day. On the surface, it sounds like a mismatch, but when you one team’s Italy and the other’s Japan, it turns into a formula for fireworks.

And that’s exactly what happened today in Recife, where Italy scored last to claim three points in a 4-3 shootout that could have just as easily seen the Samurai Blue salvage their Confederations Cup hopes. But after a match with seven different goal scorers and 37 shots, Japan was cast aside with Mexico, both teams at the bottom of Group A after losing their first two matches. Italy move top of the group with Brazil, each team’s 2-0-0 record assuring them a place in the semifinals.

It was easily the most-entertaining match of the young tournament, one that challenged memories to find a more engaging, top-quality competitive international in recent time. Amid early Japanese dominance, Italy’s second half resurgence, Japan’s late push, and the Azzurri’s countering winner, controversial officiating and the woodwork’s intervention may have ended any debate as to why we have the Confederations Cup.

The Japanese thoroughly controlled the first 35 minutes, finally going ahead through Keisuke Honda, who converted from the spot after a fortuitous call gave Japan a 21st minute reward for their early dominance. A beautiful Shinji Kagawa pivot on a bouncing ball 12 minutes later saw the Manchester United star volley a second past Gianluigi Buffon, leaving Italy overwhelmed while the underdogs assumed control:

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DwfaWHQF3BU]

A late first half header from Daniele de Rossi made it a game before half time, with Italy building on their momentum with early second half goals from Atsuto Uchida (own goal) and Mario Balotelli. The latter, a penalty kick conversation, came after a disputed hand ball call, Japan’s luck seemingly evening out after an innocuous Buffon tackle was deemed penalty-worthy in the first half.

Over the match’s last half hour, Japan resumed the dominance they showed at the onset, a tired Italian side strained to preserve a result after Shinji Okazaki’s header made it 3-3. But as Japan pressed for a winner, Okazaki and Kagawa finding the post and crossbar as Buffon flailed at Japan’s salvos, Italy found a single, trademark, decisive moment, a rare moment of attacking verve allowing Sebastian Giovinco to slot home the winner in the 86th minute.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3zXk9or_hoI]

Japan had a final equalizer rightly waved off for offside, but the final scorer proved beside the point once full time was blown. Particularly in tournament like the Confederations Cup, there have to be more important things than the final score. On Wednesday, the spectacle on display at the Pernambuco Arena was enough to justify any match, tournament, or outcome. And wherever that magic came from, find it, save it, and be ready to give us more.

Report: Earnie Stewart in negotiations for U.S. Soccer GM job

Photo by Ben Radford/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Philadelphia Union sporting director and USMNT centurion Earnie Stewart is reportedly in negotiations to become the United States men’s national team general manager.

[ MORE: Napoli hires Ancelotti ]

The report, from Metro NY reporter Kristian Dyer, says the Netherlands-born executive has the proverbial ball in his court.

Stewart, 49, racked up 103 caps and 18 goals for the Yanks and had a glittering playing career spent between Willem II, NAC Breda, and DC United.

He later had high-ranking positions with NAC Breda and AZ Alkmaar.

Here’s Dyer, quoting a source:

The source, speaking to Metro on the condition of anonymity, said that Stewart is believed to be the frontrunner and is in negotiations for the position following an impressive showing during the interview process.

The club, when asked for a comment, told Metro that “Since Earnie’s first interview with U.S. Soccer, we have respected their process, and as such, we will decline further comment until a final decision has been made.”

Stewart scored against Colombia in the 1994 World Cup and added markers in qualifying for the 1998 and 2002 tournaments.

His familiarity with both MLS and European leagues would be a boon for the U.S., and Stewart’s Union has brought along a number of promising young players including Auston Trusty and Keegan Rosenberry (the latter drafted out of Georgetown).

Carrick: Haven’t entertained possibility of Pogba leaving Man Utd

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Michael Carrick is hammering the idea of a Paul Pogba exit from Manchester United.

Pogba’s had his problems with manager Jose Mourinho, but recently praised the boss for the season’s education.

[ MORE: Napoli hires Ancelotti ]

But is an exit is just not going to happen, says Carrick as he heads toward a coaching role at Old Trafford.

From Sky Sports:

“Of course he’s got a future, he’s a big player for us, he’s a great age, he’s got his peak years ahead of him. It’s not even something I’d give a second thought to, to be honest.”

The retired midfielder also said he’s looking forward to working under Jose Mourinho, whom he calls “the best man to learn from.”

He also said United’s trophy-less season wasn’t ideal, but it’s more about them their competition.

“We’re not looking at City, Chelsea, Arsenal, Tottenham, anyone. We’re looking at ourselves to improve, we believe we’re capable of improving a lot and we’ll see where that takes us.”

Three key battles for Champions League Final

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Saturday brings Real Madrid’s journey toward a third-straight UEFA Champions League title to a close, with just Liverpool standing in the way.

[ MORE: Napoli hires Ancelotti ]

The Reds attack promises danger and entertainment, while Zinedine Zidane’s personnel choice may be just as important as his tactical decisions in Kiev.

Van Dijk, Lovren against… Ronaldo and whoever Zidane decides

It’s difficult to highlight the match-up problems for Liverpool’s center backs because Zinedine Zidane has used three different set-ups atop his line-up.

At times, it’s been Cristiano Ronaldo and Karim Benzema. Sometimes, Gareth Bale takes Benzema’s spot, and occasionally Ronaldo has been played up top as a center forward.

Believe it or not, that may be the best case scenario for Liverpool, though Ronaldo will undoubtedly roam across the top of the formation. While many think of Ronaldo and visualize his laser shots from distance, he’s quite dangerous in 1v1 aerial battles as well as tight spaces inside the box.

Quite frankly, matches like this highlight why the Reds signed Virgil Van Dijk. And, opinion alert, human bowling ball Benzema and his Juggernaut-esque approach to attacking may be a unique challenge Liverpool has not seen outside of Romelu Lukaku.

Marcelo vs. Mohamed Salah

Marcelo is an unbelievably silky, savvy left back who uses an elite attacking skill set to keep the opposition’s entire right side off kilter.

In some ways he can be partially neutralized by the danger presented by Reds right wing Mo Salah, but Zidane isn’t going to tell Marcelo to camp out in his own end when left center back Sergio Ramos is the next man up to defend, one of the finest players of his generation.

So it’s on Salah to assert himself on the game, something that shouldn’t be a problem after a couple weeks away from match action.

Can Real defend Liverpool on the counter?

We’ve seen Liverpool expose a number of teams on the counter attack, and Real certainly has a handle on how to do the same.

But building on our second key, there’s danger for both sides when Marcelo or Dani Carvajal get up the pitch. When Liverpool regains the ball and attacks at pace, there are big choices to be made.

Say Marcelo is up the pitch. Now Ramos may have to take Salah and leave Roberto Firmino to Raphael Varane. Now Carvajal may be alone with Sadio Mane. It’s not that Carvajal or Marcelo cannot defend, but these are not situations anyone wants in a one-off.

And that’s the key for Liverpool, really. This is a one-off. Over two legs, it’s hard to imagine the Reds as constructed pulling off another heavily-outchanced two-leg win like it did against Manchester City. The answer to this counter question may be what tells the story in Kiev.

Ancelotti hired to end Napoli’s scudetto drought

Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Is Carlo Ancelotti the right man to end Juventus’ seemingly ages-old hold on the scudetto?

Napoli hopes so, and has inked the former Real Madrid, Chelsea, and Bayern Munich boss to a three-year deal.

Ancelotti’s resume speaks for itself, and the hiring promises more Serie A drama after the Neapolitan club nearly got the job done this season under Maurizio Sarri.

[ MORE: Top takeaways from Emery’s Arsenal unveiling ] 

Ancelotti won scudetti as a player with Roma (1) and AC Milan (2), once more as a manager for the latter. He also led Milan to two Champions League crowns, winning the tournament with Real Madrid as well, while bringing league titles to Chelsea, Paris Saint-Germain, and Bayern Munich.

Napoli has finished Top 3 in six of eight seasons, finishing four points behind Juve this season. Juventus has won the last seven scudetti, and Napoli’s only title came in 1987.

The club announced the move after owner Aurelio De Laurentiis let go of Sarri, thanking the previous manager for three seasons of work which included a Serie A Coach of the Year Award and wins in 97 of 147 matches.

“I’d like to thank Maurizio Sarri for his valuable contribution to the Napoli cause. He brought joy and prestige to Naples and Napoli fans all over the world with an entertaining brand of football that drew praise from all quarters. Well done, Maurizio.”