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UEFA Soccer Nations League

The draw for a brand new competiiton, the UEFA nation’s league has just been completed. Here is what this league is all about (adapted from http://www.uefa.com/uefanationsleague/index.html#/)

What is the basic format?

  • The format of the UEFA Nations League will feature promotion and relegation. The 55 European national teams have been divided into four leagues (A-D)in accordance with UEFA’s national association coefficient rankings on 11 October 2017.
  • League A includes the top-ranked sides and League D includes the lowest:

League A

  • Teams will be split into four groups of three, with the group winners then contesting the UEFA Nations League Finals (semi-finals, third-place match and final) in June 2019 to become the UEFA Nations League winners. One host country will be appointed in December 2018 from among the finalist teams.
  • The four teams that finish bottom of their groups will be relegated to League B for the 2020 edition.
  • The top four ranked teams that do not qualify for UEFA EURO 2020 will enter a play-off in March 2020, with one finals place on offer.
  • GROUP 1

    •  Germany
    •  France
    •  Netherlands

    GROUP 2

    •  Belgium
    •  Switzerland
    •  Iceland

    GROUP 3

    •  Portugal
    •  Italy
    •  Poland

    GROUP 4

    •  Spain
    •  England
    •  Croatia

League B

  • Teams will be split into four groups of three.
  • The four group winners are promoted to League A, with the four sides that finish bottom relegated to League C for the next competition to be played in 2020.
  • The top four ranked teams that do not qualify for UEFA EURO 2020 will enter a play-off in March 2020, with one finals place on offer

GROUP 1

  •  Slovakia
  •  Ukraine
  •  Czech Republic

GROUP 2

  •  Russia
  •  Sweden
  •  Turkey

GROUP 3

  •  Austria
  •  Bosnia and Herzegovina
  •  Northern Ireland

GROUP 4

  •  Wales
  •  Republic of Ireland
  •  Denmark

League C

  • Teams will be split into one group of three and three groups of four.
  • The four group winners are promoted to League B, with the four sides that finish bottom relegated to League D for the 2020 edition.
  • The top four ranked teams that do not qualify for UEFA EURO 2020 will enter a play-off in March 2020, with one finals place on offer.

GROUP 1

  •  Scotland
  •  Albania
  •  Israel

GROUP 2

  •  Hungary
  •  Greece
  •  Finland
  •  Estonia

GROUP 3

  •  Slovenia
  •  Norway
  •  Bulgaria
  •  Cyprus

GROUP 4

  •  Romania
  •  Serbia
  •  Montenegro
  •  Lithuania

League D

  • Due to a decision of the UEFA Executive Committee, Armenia and Azerbaijan cannot be draw in the same group.
  • The four group winners are promoted to League C for the 2020 edition.
  • The top four ranked teams that do not qualify for UEFA EURO 2020 will enter a play-off in March 2020, with one finals place on offer.

GROUP 1

  •  Georgia
  •  Latvia
  •  Kazakhstan
  •  Andorra

GROUP 2

  •  Belarus
  •  Luxembourg
  •  Moldova
  •  San Marino

GROUP 3

  •  Azerbaijan
  •  Faroe Islands
  •  Malta
  •  Kosovo

GROUP 4

  •  FYR Macedonia
  •  Armenia
  •  Liechtenstein
  •  Gibraltar

When will the UEFA Nations League take place?

The UEFA Nations League will take place as follows:

  • The UEFA Nations League group games will be held over six matchdays, during the ‘double-headers’ in September, October and November 2018. The UEFA Nations League Finals competition for the teams that win the four groups within the top division is scheduled for June 2019.
  • For the UEFA Nations League Finals, the group winners of UEFA Nations League A will play in a knockout format (semi-finals, third-place match and final) in June 2019 to become the UEFA Nations League winners. One host country will be appointed by the UEFA Executive Committee in December 2018 from among the finalist teams.
  • The play-off matches will be staged in March 2020 (see below).

Will qualifying for the UEFA EURO change?

 How the play-offs for UEFA EURO 2020 work

The changes to UEFA EURO qualifying will make it more streamlined. The equation is now simple: ten groups with the top two teams in each group qualifying automatically, and the other four places being awarded to European Qualifiers play-off winners, in which the 16 group winners of the UEFA Nations League will be in contention.

The UEFA EURO 2020 qualifying draw will be made after the completion of the UEFA Nations League and allow for the four UEFA Nations League Finals participants to be drawn into groups of five teams.

But the key principle of the qualifiers remains: that every team can play every team.

  • The European Qualifiers for UEFA EURO 2020 commence in March 2019. There will be two matchdays in each of March, June, September, October and November 2019. In total, there will be five groups of five teams and five groups of six teams (ten groups in all) playing over ten matchdays (the same number as now). The winner and runner-up in each of the ten groups will qualify automatically for the UEFA EURO 2020 final tournament (June 2020).
  • The last four EURO places will be won through the European Qualifiers play-offs, which will take place in March 2020 and which will be contested by the 16 UEFA Nations League group winners.
  • If a group winner has already qualified via the European Qualifiers, then their spot will go to the next best-ranked team in their league. If a league does not have four teams to compete, the remaining slots are allocated to teams from another league, according to the overall UEFA Nations League ranking.
  • Each league will have a path of its own and each path will feature two single-leg semi-finals and one single-leg final. The winner of each path will win a ticket to UEFA EURO 2020.
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Pep Guardiola – The Best Soccer Club Coach Ever?

There have been long club winning streaks in the top European soccer leagues, and Pep Guardiola (currently Manchester City) has been involved in a few of them. Here is a quick overview:

ENGLAND

It is 16 straight victories and counting for Manchester City.

Under Pep Guardiola, City has won every league game since snatching a 2-1 victory over Bournemouth on Aug. 26 thanks to Raheem Sterling’s goal in the seventh minute of injury time.

A 2-1 win at fierce rival Manchester United on Dec. 10 made it 14 in a row, a record for a single English top-flight season, and beating Swansea three days later gave City the mark for consecutive victories in any English league.

Having beaten Tottenham 4-1 on Saturday, City now faces Bournemouth, Newcastle and Crystal Palace — teams currently lying in the bottom seven of the league — to round off 2017.

SPAIN

Fittingly, Guardiola set a record of 16 straight wins in the Spanish league while coaching Barcelona in the 2010-11 season. Real Madrid equaled that mark under Zinedine Zidane in 2016.

Barcelona went on to win its second Champions League title under Guardiola that season, in addition to its third consecutive Spanish league.

 

GERMANY

In the 2013-14 season, when Bayern Munich dominated the Bundesliga like never before to clinch the title in March, the team did so on the back of 19 consecutive wins culminating in the 3-1 victory at Hertha Berlin that sealed Guardiola’s first German championship.

Bayern was unbeaten at the time and had racked up 25 wins from its 27 games. The streak started on Oct. 19 and ran through March 25.

 

ITALY

Inter Milan holds the Serie A record at 17 straight wins, established during the 2006-07 season under Roberto Mancini.

 

FRANCE

Defending champion Monaco holds the record for consecutive league wins with 16, starting in late February and crossing over into early this season.

 

In every league Guardiola has coached he has set the record. I haven’t always been a fan of his questioning some player selection and tactical decisions in key games. These decisions came in Champions League games and potentially cost titles. But there is no doubt that he has taken top teams and delivered better season results than his predecessors. In watching Manchester City games this season it is also commendable that Guardiola has moved away from his “carved in stone” possession and ball control/circulation style. I am seeing a good balance of fast transition soccer, vertical play and ball circulation. Even at his relatively young age, Guardiola is certainly amongst the best club coaches in history. It would be interesting to see him coach a national team.

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European Soccer Transfer Fees Skyrocket

With the close of this summer’s transfer period in Europe a new record was set.

Just looking at the top five leagues (England, Italy, France, Germany, Spain) an astonishing $ 5.2 billion USD was spent, and that is for only one of the two annual transfer periods. The five-year growth in these five leagues is exactly 100%, starting with $ 2.6 billion in 2013.

The breakdown by league in 2017 is as follows:

  1. England: $ 1.8 billion
  2. Italy: $ 1.2 billion
  3. France: $ 0.8 billion
  4. Germany: $ 0.7 billion
  5. Spain: $ 0.7 billion

A single player record was set by Paris St. Germain acquiring Neymar from Barcelona for $ 262 million. That more than doubled the previous record $ 120 million Man United paid for Pogba in 2016. Ronaldo at $ 110 million in 2009 looks like a bargain, even adjusted for inflation.

These transfer fees are fuelled by foreign ownership money flowing into clubs, mostly from China, the Middle East, and the USA. There is a financial fair play system that is supposed to keep this escalation in check. The system is intricate but in essence it requires clubs to spend no more than $ 45 million more on transfers than they take in over the past three years. I am not sure how that is supposed to help as it only enforces a difference, not any maximums.

The result is that the clubs who attract the most money are buying the “best” players. The players take a significant share of the fees and huge salaries. Most important, player agents are making exorbitant commissions. Will buying expensive players win championships? Not in my opinion. It still takes good coaching, team chemistry, and 11 players on the field supporting each other. How much does the potential money from transfers play in the players’ heads? Will a player really support a Neymar so that Neymar’s value and income increases further?

The other side effect is a whole new economy in soccer. Clubs can make more money through transfer fees than through ticket and merchandising sales. Some examples:

In 2016 Borussia Dortmund paid $ 18 million for Ousmane Dembele and sold him for $ 120 million to Barcelona in 2017. That’s more profit on one deal than the club made in the past five years combined through soccer operations.

This year Dortmund paid $ 8 million for 17-year-old talent Jadon Sancho to Man City. The strategy is to develop Jadon and then generate a transfer fee of $ 100 million or more in three or four years.

And lastly, clubs are recruiting and developing local talent in the hope of hitting a future transfer jackpot.

So while the fans are cheering their team and enjoy high quality soccer on the pitch, club management are focusing on growing transfer fees, or growing soccer players’ value. At some point we need to wonder about the purpose of soccer. Is it sport or corporate business? Can it really be both?

 

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FIFA Soccer World Cup 2018 QUALIFIERS

Soccer World Cup 2018 is going into the final qualification games. Here is an update as of 5 September 2017:

UEFA (Europe – 14 Teams)

Qualified: Russia (host), Belgium

Virtually qualified: Switzerland, Portugal, Germany, Northern Ireland, England, Spain, Italy

Notable nations at risk: Netherlands

Notable nations not qualified: Hungary, Czech Republic, Austria

CONMEBOL (South America – 4 Teams + 1 Play-Off Chance)

Qualified: Brasil

Virtually qualified: none – tight race between Uruguay, Colombia, Peru, Argentina, Chile, Paraguay, Ecuador

Notable nations at risk: Argentina, Chile

Notable nations not qualified: none

CONCACAF (Central/North America – 3 Teams + 1 Play-Off Chance)

Qualified: Mexico

Virtually qualified: Costa Rica

Notable nations at risk: USA

Notable nations not qualified: none

CAF (Africa – 5 Teams)

Qualified: none (only five group winners qualify)

Virtually qualified: Tunisia, Nigeria

Notable nations at risk: Morocco, Senegal, South Africa, Ghana

Notable nations not qualified: Cameroon, Algeria

AFC (Asia – 4 Teams + 1 Play-Off Chance)

Qualified: Iran, South Korea, Japan, Saudi Arabia

Virtually qualified: Australia & Syria will be in play-off to determine who will play 4th place CONCACAF team

Notable nations at risk: Australia

Notable nations not qualified: China

OCEANIA (1 Play-Off Chance)

New Zealand will play the 5th place team from South America in a play-off. That could be Argentina !!!

The draw for the 2018 tournament groups will be December 1, the tournament will run in 2018 from June 14 to July 15.

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World Soccer Update July 2017

As noted earlier this year the summer of 2017 is full of international soccer competitions. Here is a summary of results and progress to date.

U 21 Mens EURO

Spain defeated Italy 3-1 in semi-final #1 and Germany defeated England 4-3 on penalty kicks after a riveting 2-2 extra time tie. In the final Germany played a disciplined defensive game to hold on to a 1-0 lead and win the championship.

Confederations Cup

After battling to a goalless draw after 120 minutes Chile defeated Portugal 3-0 in penalty kicks in one semi-final. In the other Germany’s team of FIFA 2018 prospects ran over Mexico’s A-Team 4-1. The final was a group stage rematch between Germany and Chile with Germany emerging victorious 1-0.

U 19 Mens EURO

Portugal defeated Netherlands 1-0 and England defeated Czech Republic 1-0 in the semis. England went on to win the tournament 2-1 against Portugal.

Concacaf Gold Cup

With the group stage completed the tournament is set for the quarter finals. The match-ups are:

Costa Rica v. Panama

United States v. El Salvador

Mexico v. Honduras

Jamaica v. Canada

Although ranked lowest in FIFA (100), watch out for Canada to provide some upsets.

Women EURO 2017

Group stage play started this weekend. Look for Germany to run the table all the way to the finals.

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Women’s Soccer – A Success Story

I thought it is time to pay tribute to the continued growth and success of women’s soccer. It is not too long ago that young girls had to play on mixed teams and once they became teenagers there were very few options. There were no women’s teams at the professional, college, or amateur levels. No Women’s World Cup, Euro, or Olympic soccer.

So here are some statistics about women’s soccer today.

The women’s FIFA world cup started in China in 1991. Average attendance was 19,615 and the final game drew a spectacular crowd of 65,000 fans. The ensuing world cups were also successful, average attendance in brackets:

  • Sweden 1995 (4,316)
  • USA 1999 (37,319) – Final 90,185
  • USA 2003 (21,239)
  • China 2007 (31,169)
  • Germany 2011 (26,428)
  • Canada 2015 (25,664) – opening game 53,058

Around the globe there are now professional women’s leagues in over 70 countries. This provides a development path for young aspiring soccer players that never existed before. Attendance at professional league games still has room to grow. It will take some time until the excitement from major tournaments or national cup finals takes a foothold. Here are some leagues with approximate average attendances:

  • USA (3,000)
  • Germany (1,500)
  • England (1,000)
  • Sweden (1,000)
  • France (500)
  • Italy (500)

From my own experience as youth and university women’s team coach I encourage everyone to attend games. The pace is slower than the men’s version and that is often misinterpreted as a lower level of soccer. That couldn’t be more wrong. The competition is just as intense, emotions run just as high, the desire to win is second to none. The slower pace in many ways allows the demonstration of skills and tactics more so than in a high paced game. You can see plays develop and techniques being used without the harsh pressure of the men’s game. So for students of the game it is definitely worth watching high level women’s soccer.

Let’s hope the success story continues and that there will be attendances in the 20,000s in a few years.

Coach Tom

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Global Soccer Update 21 May 2017

European soccer leagues are winding down and international tournaments are starting up. Here is a recap of what’s happening in the world of soccer.

Europe:

England: Chelsea champions and joined by Tottenham and Man. City in 2017/18 Champions League. Liverpool needs to qualify for CL. Arsenal. Man. U, and Everton qualify for Europa league. Hull, Middlesborough and Sunderland are relegated.

Germany: Bayern is champion and joined by Leipzig and Dortmund in the CL. Hoffenheim needs to qualify. Cologne and Berlin are in the Europa league. Darmstadt and Ingolstadt are relegated, Wolfsburg will go into relegation play-off.

Spain: Real Madrid clinched the championship, Barcelona and Atletico joining in the CL, Sevilla needs to qualify. Villareal and San Sebastion are in the Europa league. Gijon, Osasuna, Granada are relegated.

Italy: One match day left, but Juventus has clinched the championship, AS Rome (2nd) or Napoli (3rd) will directly go to CL or to qualifier. Lazio, Bergamo, AC Milan will play in the Europa League.

The Champions League final between Juventus and Real Madrid in Cardiff takes place June 3rd. The Europa League final between Ajax and Manchester United in Solna takes place on May 24th.

International:

The  UEFA U17 Mens Euro finished on 19 May Spain defeating England 4-1 on penalties after a regulation 2-2 tie with Spain equalizing in the 6th minute of added time. England defeated Turkey in the semi-final and Spain defeated Germany on PKs.

The FIFA U20 Mens World Cup has just started in South Korea. It is played in 6 groups. Four groups have played their first game and a few upsets have already happened: Venezuela defeated Germany 2-0, Sambia defeated Portugal 2-1. Follow the tournament on http://fifa.com.

The Confederation Cup in Russia starts 17 June, featuring all continental champions plus the world cup winner and the 2018 world cup host. Group A features Portugal, Russia, New Zealand and Mexico. Group B contestants are Germany, Cameroon, Chile, Australia.

So stay tuned this summer – plenty of soccer to watch.

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Actual Playing Time In 90 Minute Soccer Match

If you’re a regular TV or live viewer of soccer you may at times be annoyed with the interruptions of the game. Frequent stops due to fouls, injuries, throw-ins, free kicks, goals, substitutions, etc. are one thing, the length of them are another. Time wasting by the winning team can add to the frustration, especially if you support the other team.

So are we justified in feeling cheated out of 90 minutes (plus added time) of soccer?

I just came across an analysis of the four major leagues in Europe. The conclusion is that the net playing time averages between 54 and 57 minutes:

Italy: 57

Germany: 56

England: 56

Spain: 54

That means that there is no active play for ~ 34 minutes or 38% of the alloted time.

The added time after the 90 minutes have expired is between 4 (Germany) and 6.5 (England) minutes. But of course there are stoppages within these as well.

Finally, the average number of game stoppages in these four leagues is 105. Shocking, if you think about it. It means that there is more than one game stoppage every minute. And the average length of each interruption is 20 seconds. Doesn’t sound like much, but try this. Go for a walk and after every 40 seconds stop for 20 seconds.

I have some thoughts on these statistics:

  • What is the point of a few minutes of added time when the game is halted for 34 minutes?
  • What would happen if soccer adopted net playing time from ice hockey or basketball? They play 60 minutes and the clock stops at every interruption. Soccer could say we’ll play net 80 minutes, two halves of 40 minutes. It may reduce time-wasting significantly.
  • Players run 11 km on average per game. It is a mix of sprints, runs, and jogs. So roughly a soccer player runs    11 km/hr. That is significant and is about twice the speed of a brisk walk.

I would advocate for some rule changes:

Play two 40 minute net playing time halves with a 15 minute break. No added time required. I suspect the total elapsed time would not increase by much, there would be fewer interruptions, shorter interruptions, and a better flowing game. Along with that I would allow one 60 second time out per game for each team. As for injuries, I would require any player who lies on the ground for more than 15 seconds to get a mandatory 10 minute medical examination off the pitch. They could be substituted of course.

Time to make the game more attractive and shake up some old habits.

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Global Soccer Update March 2017

This world soccer update focuses on three key competitions:

  • World Cup 2018 Qualifiers
  • UEFA Champions League
  • UEFA Europa League

World Cup 2018 Qualifiers

After an extended winter break the qualifier rounds are restarting this week.

North/Central America has only played two rounds with three of six teams qualifying directly. Costa Rica leads (6) followed by Mexico (4), Panama (4) and Honduras (3). The U.S. is last after two losses which cost Klinsmann his coaching job late last year. They face Honduras in a critical match and a win puts them back in the race, a loss and the prospects of going to Russia will be bleak for the U.S. boys.

In Europe teams are entering match day 5 of 10. There are nine groups with the winners qualifying and the 8 best second place teams going into elimination games. In group B second place Portugal (9) faces third Hungary (7). A Portugal win would likely seal Hungary’s fate. Group E is seeing key showdowns between first place Poland (10) and second Montenegro (7) and third Denmark (6) against fourth Romania (5). Group G features first place Spain (10) against third Israel (9) for what might be Israel’s last chance. Second Italy (10) plays fourth Albania (6). Group H features first place Belgium (12) against second Greece (10) with the winner in great shape to qualify. A similar scenario exists in group I with first place Croatia (10) taking on second Ukraine (8).

South America is entering game day 13 of 18 with the top four qualifying. Brasil safely holds top spot with 27 points, followed by Uruguay (23), Ecuador (20), and Chile (20). Argentina is in fifth (19) which would get them into a play-off with an Asian group team. They are challenged by Columbia (18). Argentina v. Chile is the key game, a loss by Argentina and they will be in trouble.

Africa is playing in five groups with only the group winners qualifying. Teams are entering round three of six. The key game is in group B with leaders Nigeria (6) playing Africa Cup champions Cameroon (2). A Cameroon loss and they are all but eliminated.

In Asia the two groups are half way through. Group A is lead by Iran (11pts) followed by South Korea (10) and Uzbekistan (9). The top two teams qualify directly. Syria (5) is playing Uzbekistan in a last chance game. Group B is much tighter with Saudi Arabia (10), Japan (10), Australia (9) and United Arab Emirates (9) in a tight battle. The key game is Japan vs. UAE.

Oceania teams are playing in two groups of three with the group winners playing a each other for a qualifying opportunity against a North American team. New Zealand is comfortably leading group A while Tahiti and Solomon Islands are tied for top spot in group B.

UEFA Champions League

The quarter finals are set to start April 11 with Dortmund – Monaco, Juventus – Barcelona, Bayern – Real Madrid, and Atletico Madrid – Leicester. Who would have thought Leicester to be the only EPL team left. And I believe they have a realistic chance to make the semi with my other picks of Dortmund, Bayern, and Juventus. Yes, I see all three Spanish teams going out.

UEFA Europa League

Quarter finals start April 13 with Ajax-Schalke, Celta Vigo-Genk, Lyon-Besiktas, Anderlecht-Man United. I see Man U. as the clear favourite to win it all.

Enjoy watching any games you can.

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FIFA Expands World Cup To 48 Teams

From FIFA:

“The FIFA Council has unanimously decided in favour of expanding the FIFA World Cup™ to a 48-team competition as of the 2026 edition. World football’s supervisory and strategic body held its third meeting at the Home of FIFA in Zurich on 9 and 10 January, and decided on a new tournament format with the 48 national teams split into 16 groups of three. The top two teams from each group will then advance to a 32-team knockout stage……”

Read the full article on FIFA’s web site: FIFA expands World Cup

There have been many articles about the pros and cons of this already, and everyone will need to decide for themselves. Here are some of the views:

PROS

  • more nations qualify and hence more global engagement in the sport
  • more games on TV for the TV soccer addicts
  • more revenue for FIFA (+20%) leading to more money available for development
  • more exposure for good players from countries that typically don’t qualify
  • more Cinderella story potential

CONS

  • watering down the competition and devaluing the qualification process
  • less meaningful games in the first round, less chance of two top ranked teams meeting in the group stage. With 16 groups the top 16 teams will not meet in group stage, therefore no group of death.
  • Only two games per team in the group stage takes away the “tournament” flavour.
  • Two out of three teams in a group qualifying is 67%, two out of four was 50%. This makes the drama of elimination, especially for top teams, less meaningful.

Like all change, it will take time to adapt to it but eventually, it will become the “new normal”. We have 10 years to get ready!!!!!