Is this how Portugal’s security will protect Ronaldo? (Image: Action)
It’s never easy to adjust to a new environment when you’re traveling the world. The importance of that adjustment is astronomical for teams at a World Cup. The pressure is on to perform, but how can players be expected to do so if they’re not comfortable?
Naturally, each team has some specific and downright weird demands ahead of this summer’s World Cup in Brazil.
This is just a sample of the requirements released by Brazilian newspaper Lance. And we’re sure there are many more demands that we’ll never hear about (and probably don’t want to).
(H/T SB Nation)
Months of waiting and weeks of speculation will end when Mexico finally takes the field against Honduras at Estadio Azteca tonight. It is the most significant game of the Hexagonal to date for El Tri, a chance to atone for the three scoreless draws in Mexico City and ease the tension ahead of the final three Hex matches.
The buildup to the game included plenty of discussion about its overall significance and the particular selection quandaries facing José Manuel de la Torre ahead of the encounter (please add link from secondary preview when posted). Here are five more points to watch as the tense affair unfolds this evening.
1. How will Mexico process the pressure?
El Tri crumbled under the pressure to dictate terms and sweep aside its opposition in its previous three home matches. It cannot afford a similar display against the Hondurans. This group must exude confidence from the opening whistle and stamp its intent on the game early to calm the inevitable nerves and set the tone for the affair.
The absence of Jozy Altidore from Sunderland’s 3-1 defeat at Crystal Palace on Saturday creates some cause for concern for United States coach Jurgen Klinsmann ahead of the upcoming qualifiers against Costa Rica and Mexico.
Sunderland announced Altidore missed the defeat at Selhurst Park with a hamstring injury on its official Twitter feed. The extent of the injury remains uncertain:
Striker @JozyAltidore is missing with a hamstring injury.— Sunderland AFC (@SAFCofficial) August 31, 2013
He is expected to link up with his American teammates in Miami and receive further evaluation by the U.S. medical staff, a U.S. Soccer spokesperson confirmed on Saturday.
Altidore’s importance to the side in recent months makes the diagnosis particularly influential. The former AZ striker has scored in each of his past five appearances, including a hat trick in the 4-3 victory at Bosnia-Herzegovina on Aug. 14. His recent form (he leads all scorers in the Hexagonal with three goals) and his status within the ranks leaves Klinsmann with a quandary if he is, for some reason, unable to feature.
Landon Donovan’s return to the ranks creates additional depth and flexibility in the attacking third, but Altidore plays a particularly vital role given his willingness to lead the line. Most of the players at Klinsmann’s disposal – including Donovan and captain Clint Dempsey – prefer to drift into dangerous areas from a variety of angles and operate in the space underneath a center forward. Altidore instead provides the touchstone required to allow other players to thrive. And there is no player in the current squad capable of replicating those exact contributions.
If Altidore cannot feature against Costa Rica or Klinsmann opts to hold him out to provide him with more recovery time (or sidestep a potential second booking), then the Americans must figure how to adapt without him.
There isn’t a simple answer to the quandary. Eddie Johnson probably presents the most natural swap – he isn’t a prototypical target player, but he does stave off defenders and surge behind the line – on a night when the Americans might have to soak up some pressure. Dempsey supplies the primary alternative given his dexterity and the potential opening created for Donovan, but a tethered position up front reduces his ability to influence the game in other ways. And Klinsmann – as evidenced by his willingness to deploy Johnson on the left side of midfield and use DaMarcus Beasley and Brad Evans at fullback – possesses the imagination to explore other options as well.
Klinsmann will certainly hope he does not have to pursue any of them. Altidore remains the firm first choice up front. But he will have to wait and see whether Altidore’s health will dispel any uncertainty in the coming days and permit him to take his usual place up front in San Jose on Friday night.
Images: Getty Images
This summer has not delivered the rewards Guillermo Ochoa expected.
Ochoa did everything within his power to position himself for a lucrative move. He performed admirably in a poor Ajaccio side last season and stuck to his task even as he angled for a transfer elsewhere. He racked up a few extra caps earlier this year before Mexico coach José Manuel de la Torre opted to return to preferred number one Jesus Corona.
By the start of his club campaign, Ochoa probably expected to turn out for a significant European side on a fairly regular basis. Maybe he even harbored genuine hopes of applying pressure with his increased profile to reclaim his number one shirt with El Tri.
So much for those mooted developments.
Ochoa joined Carlos Vela in the cast of prominent de la Torre exiles when he rejected overtures to feature as Corona’s backup for the upcoming World Cup qualifiers against Honduras and the United States. He then listened on Saturday as Ajaccio president Alain Orsoni noted a lack of concrete interest from AC Milan or any other purported suitor and suggested it would take a miracle for Ochoa to sign for a new club before the window slams shut on Monday.
At some point, Ochoa must start to wonder whether things will shift in his direction. He can point to his work over the past year or so and reasonably contend that he warrants the number one shirt for his country and a larger club somewhere in Europe.
Instead of fulfilling those ambitions, Ochoa — barring a late swoop inspired by Orsoni’s fairly transparent entreaties — will bide his time on Corsica and wait for patiently for his luck to turn. It isn’t exactly what he envisioned, but the prospect of spending some extra time on a Mediterranean island in the interim at least provides modest compensation for his toil:
— Guillermo Ochoa (@yosoy8a)
Images: (Pascal Pochard-Casbianca/AFP/Getty Images)
Gold Cup semifinals
By Leander Schaerlaeckens, FOXSoccer.com
It never ceases to be a problem: rolls of grass sod laid over artificial turf for a few days so that a soccer game might feel like an actual soccer game.
The United States men’s national team played on one such field in Seattle during a World Cup qualifier last month and the interim surface held up fairly well. It did too in Baltimore for the CONCACAF Gold Cup quarterfinals on Sunday, in spite of the lashing rain.
But this time around, the prospect of playing yet another game on this strange arrangement is a bleak one. The grass laid over the Cowboys Stadium turf for the USA to face Honduras in the Gold Cup semis on Wednesday – and for Mexico to face Panama a few hours later – looks in dreadful shape long before it’s even been played on:
Photo: Leander Schaerlaeckens/FOXSoccer.com
Ahead of their only practice on the field on Tuesday afternoon, the American outfit was predictably diplomatic about the prospects of playing on another such field. (“We’ll deal with it then,” and “Both teams have to play on it,” and other such stock answers were delivered.) But this field must have inspired a real terror in them when they first trod on it.
Frankly, it looks like it was poorly laid, using a poor stock of grass. It is patchy, with long gashes between strips of it that don’t touch or line up. Green sand was being used to fill those holes, but that could do little to make the surface any softer. Walking over it even as a reporter in sneakers, the ground beneath you was noticeably hard and unforgiving.
How then, will players who have overcome serious knee injuries like Stu Holden or the newly recalled Omar Gonzalez handle playing on it? Will head coach Jurgen Klinsmann risk their health on it at all?
When I asked him how much of a consideration the management of minutes for those recovering from injuries, fresh to the team or indeed in danger of re-aggravating old ailments because of the surface was at this pivotal stage of the tournament, Klinsmann said it wasn’t any different than usual.
But this time it is different. You don’t want to dilute your lineup any for fear of surface-induced injuries. Not in a semifinal. Yet the sorry state of the grass at Cowboys Stadium has made that impossible for him,whether he’ll admit to it or not.
We all love those moments when a cute animal invades a soccer pitch. We’ve had dogs, cats and pine martins getting involved in the action, but the cameraman at last night’s Gold Cup clash between Haiti and Honduras caught some great footage of a squirrel bouncing around looking for the nearest escape route. Altogether now “awwwww!”.
With the 1-0 victory over Honduras, the United States now sits atop the qualifying group with 13 points. After scoring his 4th goal in the last 4 games, Jozy Altidore is the hero once again:
With 4 games remaining, the team is in prime position to book a trip to Brazil and qualify for the 2014 World Cup.
Costa Rica have put themselves in a good position as well; with their 2-0 defeat of Panama they trail the United States by just 1 point.
These top two teams square off Sept. 6 and will aim to give themselves a chance to take control of their qualifying destiny.
USA v Honduras - World Cup Qualifier