Doin' it the English Way

Not since the 2003-2004 season has a club, other than Everton in 2005, finished a top the "big 4" in the standings in the Barclay's English Premier League. Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal, and Liverpool have enjoyed Champions League football for far to long without any competition from the teams below them. Thirteen games into 2009-2010 season, it looks as though the talent gap has been breached between the "big 4" and the other clubs playing catch up. Tottenham Hotspur, a club from North London built with predominantly English players, have crashed the party and look to be going only one way: up.

Tottenham, a small London club basking in the shadows of its much bigger, wealthier city neighbors Arsenal and Chelsea, have nurtured a young team full of youth and talent together with veterans to build a team finally able to knock off one of the fat cats a top the league. The Spurs, as their affectionately called by their supporters, sent a clear message to the rest of the league with a 9 -1 drubbing of Wigan over the weekend. In their rout of the Latics, Englishman Jermaine Defoe grabbed a English League record tying five goals to stake his case as a striker for England in the forthcoming World Cup.

To avid watchers of European football, club or international, there is no wonder that Tottenham have stormed into 4th. With youth and talent at an abundance, injuries look to be the only thing likely of slowing this team down. Englishmen Jonathan Woodgate and Michael Dawson lead a very intimidating line of defense, with Ledley King and Kyle Naughton looking to maintain fitness. Midfield and attack is where one can find the core of the Englishmen. With the likes of David Bentley, Tom Huddlestone, Jermaine Jenas, and Aaron Lennon available almost on a weekly basis, Manager Harry Redknapp (also English) has a plethora of midfielders to choose from. Up front, Jermaine Defore and lanky-man Peter Crouch form a great 1-2 punch in front of the goal.

As a huge England supporter growing up my whole life I've always respected clubs who have a strong depth of Englishmen on their team, especially in the modern era of English football. Given the fact that most of the Englishmen on Tottenham were not developed in the Spurs youth system, I still credit them for having a core of English in their squad (14 to be precise), something their London rivals Arsenal fail miserably at. For the record, Arsenal only have 3 while Chelsea don't do much better having only 7 Englishmen on the team.

What intrigues me most about watching Tottenham at White Hart Lane is the fact that I'm watching a London club playing with a core of English players, something that is currently hard to come by in the top flight of English football. Tottenham have one of the biggest, if not the biggest, group of English players on their roster in the Premiership. In Saturday's 9-1 thumping of Wigan Athletic, manager Harry Redknapp started six Englishmen, with two more coming off the bench in the second half. Seven of the nine scorers for Tottenham Sunday were English (8 if you count Chris Kirkland's own goal). With the talent on Harry Redknapp's club it's no wonder that the Spurs are due for a long stay at the top of English football (maybe even stealing a title here or there).

While the season is still young, Tottenham find themselves in great position. Sitting pretty in 4th place on 25 pts, and with the leading clubs within reach, White Hart Lane will surely be rocking the next couple of months. Tottenham are within 8 points of leaders Chelsea, 3 points back of United, and tied on points with Arsenal (although -7 on goal difference), and as long as Tottenham remain close till the end, the 3 games against these three clubs in a three week spell in April will surely have massive ramifications. If players remain healthy and in form, White Hart Lane looks to serve as one of the most attractive venues in English football this year.

In a football economy where expensive foreigners are everything, Tottenham is doin' it the English way.


Costa Rica 2 - 2 United States

For those of you that were unfortunate enough to watch the Costa Rica vs United States match this past Wednesday night, you were able to witness a disgrace to what I consider the beautiful game of football. Costa Rica, a obscure population of 4.5 million, a nation that has only qualified for the World Cup a mere 3 times, was up against, and beating 2-1, the United States.

With a population of 307 million people within her borders, and a World Cup resume that reads 8 World Cup finals, the U.S. had already qualified for next summers tournament. On the other hand, Costa Rica faced a must win situation heading in knowing that anything less than a win would see them demoted to 4th place in the CONCACAF standings and consequently face the 5th place finisher from the CONMEBOL region (South America).

In what I hope will better be explained in the forthcoming weeks, the 4th official granted FIVE minutes of stoppage time. I've heard of home field advantage, but FIVE minutes was blatantly an attempt by the officials to help the U.S. grab an equalizer. With 1 minute of stoppage time having been played, Costa Rica head coach, Rene Simoes, attempted to make in what appeared to be his last substitution. The 4th official, having probably been given word by his superiors at half time to help the U.S. secure at least a tie, refused to grant Mr. Simoes. What happened next is very ambiguous; Mr. Simoes and 2 of his assistants, apparently receiving red cards, were ordered off the pitch by police officers.

I find myself repeating myself but I have never seen in my experienced, granted young, footballing life a head coach and two of his assistants branded red cards. And yet the game continues.. and inevitably the United States equalized. Ok, ok, ok! We know what was at stake for Costa Rica, but why did this match matter so much for the United States? Oh, that's right, they were playing for "top spot" in the CONCACAF group. Because as you know, it would be a travesty if Mexico were to claim 1st place from the United States in anything. And, in order for the United States to feel as though they've accomplished something grand, they needed to take away a guaranteed World Cup birth from Costa Rica by scoring that equalizer (even though the U.S. had qualified easily a couple games before).

And I'm confused as to why the U.S. thinks it has accomplished something by finishing 1st in a group that includes Costa Rica, Trinidad & Tobago, El Salvador, Honduras, and Mexico. All with a combined population LESS than that of the might United States. My condolences to Costa Rica and its nation. You were hard done by a greedy nation that has still yet to understand how to play the beautiful game. Not to mention the rest of the world would hands down rather see Costa Rica or Trinidad & Tobago playing in next summers World Cup.


World Cup Qualifying - Europe

Qualifying for the World Cup in Europe comes to an end this Wednesday, with battles still taking place for the final spots for South Africa 2010. Follow me as I provide an in-depth look into the possible outcomes, seeing as five of the nine groups are still undecided. Don't forget that second place teams do not qualify right away. The top eight 2nd place teams out of the nine groups play each other in a play-offs that will decide who goes through.

In Group 1, Denmark has already clinched a birth for South Africa 2010. That leaves Portugal (16 points), Sweden (15 points), and Hungary (13 points) still fighting for that coveted second spot. Portugal are clear favorites having to play bottom feeders Malta in their final match needing only a win or a draw coupled with a Sweden draw or loss. Sweden need to win against Albania and a have Portugal lose or draw in order to advance to the second place play-offs. Hungary play group leaders Denmark, and even though a win would be nice, a Portugal loss and Sweden loss coupled with a win over Denmark will still surely see them miss out.

Prediction: 1st place - Denmark 2nd place - Portugal

Group 2 is going to be very interesting. Switzerland (20 points) and Greece (17 points) can finish 1st or 2nd in the group respectively. Switzerland face Israel needing only a draw or win and a Greece draw or loss to finish top of the group. Greece can leap frog Switzerland for first place provided they get a win against Israel and Switzerland loses. Israel is sitting on 15 points needing to beat Switzerland to have any shot at qualifying. If Israel wins, and Greece draws or loses to Luxembourg, Israel advance to the 2nd place playoffs for a chance to qualify, having only appeared once at the World Cup (1970).

Prediction: 1st place - Switzerland 2nd place - Greece

Group 3 is interesting to say the least. Group leaders Slovakia (19 points) play 5th place Poland (11 points) with a win giving Slovakia an automatic birth in the World Cup. A draw or a loss for Slovakia opens the door for 2nd place Slovenia (17 points) to claim top spot in the group. Playing against winless San Marino (0 points), a victory is almost certain for the Slovak team. Czech Republic, group favorites at the start, have slipped down to the 3rd place with 15 points. They need a win against Northern Ireland and a Slovenia loss or draw to progress to the 2nd place playoffs.

Prediction: 1st place - Slovenia 2nd place - Slovakia

Group 4 is already set with Germany clinching a birth in the finals in South Africa with 25 points and Russia grabbing 2nd place with 21 points.

Group 5 sees Spain (27 points) having already qualified for the World Cup with nine wins from nine matches and Bosnia-Herzegovina grabbing 2nd place with19 points.

In Group 6, England (24 points) earned the top spot with Ukraine (18 points) and Croatia (17 points) fighting it out for the pivotal 2nd place. With an inspiring 1-0 victory against England over the weekend, Ukraine are now in complete control over their destiny. Needing only a win against Andorra, who have lost all nine matches, Ukraine look to be in the drivers seat. Croatia face Kazakhstan, and nothing less then a win and a Ukraine draw or loss will see them crash out.

Prediction: 1st place - England 2nd place - Ukraine

Group 7 saw Serbia shock Europe and grab 1st place with a convincing 22 points and a game to spare. France stumbled into 2nd place on 18 points but will have to wait until the 2nd place play-offs to prove their worthy enough for this summers World Cup.

Group 8 was close but in the end saw defending world champions Italy claim top spot with 22 points and Ireland earning 2nd place with 17 points.

Group 9 is the only group comprised of five teams, not six. The Netherlands dominated the group having not lost a single match and claiming all 24 points. Norway finished 2nd with 10 points, but since the top eight 2nd place teams make the play-offs, Norway will be sorely disappointed having missed out.


Fabulous Fabio!

With an emphatic 5 - 1 drubbing of Croatia, England have qualified for next summer's World Cup with two games to spare. Not since EURO '96 has an English side created so much buzz. England have always had talent, but team chemistry is hard to come by, and with manager Fabio Capello seeming to own the keys to the engine that is making England run, the Three Lions look to be one of the favorites heading to South Africa 2010.

Capello has crafted an England side full of ego's into a tight nit squad that play for country and pride. A rejuvenated John Terry leads a defense that no longer is willing to accept the role given to them. With right-back Glenn Johnson and left-back Ashley Cole eager to push forward given any opportunity, more space is given to the midfielders to perform more consistently, allowing Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard more space in the midfield. Capello is slowly turning the English side into an attacking minded team, also known as Italian style of football.


Predictions and Analysis

Whats up blog-nation!

With less than two weeks away from what begs to be an epic season in European football, I am still trying to recover from a historical summer transfer market.

The usual suspects continued to stock pile world class talent, throwing obscene amounts of money at anyone willing to do business, as the gap between the big name clubs and the clubs struggling to keep up grows.

Real Madrid splashed out a record 228 million pounds on the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Kaka, Karim Benzema, Raul Albiol, Alvaro Negredo, Alvaro Arbeloa, Esteban Granero, and newly acquired Xabi Alonso. Hailed as the new Galacticos, the Bernabeu garuantees to showcase great football this year. how i envy rosen for bein in madrid next year.

As mouth watering as Ronaldo and Kaka playing along side eachother sounds, the real excitement remains in the Barclays Premeir League. Manchester City has put its money where its mouth is and went on their own version of a Madrid spendig spree by signing the likes of Gareth Barry, Roque Santa Cruz, Emmanuel Adebayor and Kolo Toure from Arsenal, and in an incredible deal were able to land Carlos Tevez from their city rivals, Manchester United.

Which four teams then will win the coveted champions league spots? Chelsea look stronger than usual, with Yuri Zhirkov and Jose Quaresma joining an already proven team. Liverpool lost Alonso but gained Glenn Johnson to sure up liverpools right back problems. Arsenal are still young but are over due for a trophy, and a maturing midfield look to have given new hope to the gunners. The red half of manchester comes in as title favorites having won lasts year league title, but will lack goals having lost ronaldo and for some shocking reason signed Michael Owen for the year. With Van Der Sar out for 8 weeks, look for United to start the season very slow. Personally, Ben Foster should be given the chance, considering England need a goalie for South Africa 2010. Man city can easily sneak into the top four if things go their way, but a top 6 finish is still impressive for the blue half of Manchester.