Thursday, November 29, 2018

Fifa World Rankings November 2018

FIFA World Fifa Rankings

Fifa's World Rankings for November 2018 were published on November 29 at FIFA HQ in Zurich, Switzerland.

Belgium who finished third at the World Cup 2018 in Russia are followed by champions France, Brazil, runners-up Croatia, beaten semi-finalists England and Portugal.

The full top ten is Belgium, France, Brazil, Croatia, England, Portugal, Uruguay, Switzerland, Spain and Denmark.

Senegal are now the top African team in 23rd place. England remain in 5th. Wales are 19th. Australia are in 42nd place; Japan are in 50th spot. Near neighbors South Korea are 53rd in the list. The USA are in 25th. Scotland are 38th. The Republic of Ireland occupy 33rd place, Northern Ireland are 35th.

1 Belgium
2 France
3 Brazil
4 Croatia
5 England
6 Portugal
7 Uruguay
8 Switzerland
9 Spain
10 Denmark
11 Argentina
12 Colombia
13 Chile
14 Sweden
14 The Netherlands
16 Germany
17 Mexico
18 Italy
19 Wales
20 Poland

Full world rankings

Previous Fifa World Rankings

Monday, November 26, 2018

England Expects Once More

ENGLAND HAVE ADVANCED BUT TALK OF A NEW ERA IS PREMATURE

Euphoria is high in the home of football after Gareth Southgate's side completed a calendar year in which they reached the World Cup semi-finals with passage to the last four of the UEFA Nations League.

Ranked fifth in the world by FIFA last month, the Three Lions' win over fourth-ranked Croatia in the UEFA Nations League can only help when November's rankings are announced shortly.

England


The atmosphere at the national stadium was a memorable one, the most exciting in fact since a do-or-die World Cup qualifier against Poland five years ago.

Following England's FIFA U-17 World Cup and UEFA U-19 wins in 2017, a strong narrative has now emerged of a fertile talent pool flowing swiftly upstream into an energized national team run by the former U-21 coach, who is just the man to give youth a chance.

The meaning of Jadon Sancho running around for the England first team in a competitive fixture a year after playing for the U-17s was impossible to ignore. Perhaps as with Owen Hargreaves a decade before, the fact he has not played professionally in England had helped him reach the national team faster.

Hopes are high then for a successful Euro 2020, whose final is at Wembley, followed by the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, when England's field of dreams should be in full flower.

But so much can change so quickly in football and encouraging though the 2-1 win over Croatia was, one swallow does not make a summer.

So much for the dawn of a new England in Russia: Half of them were missing at Wembley and the three-man defence had reverted to a traditional back four, albeit garnished by the elegant Ben Chilwell at left back with his elegant crosses.

It has also been conveniently forgotten that England registered three straight competitive defeats in 2018 as well.

Only one goal separated them in Russia from Croatia, but the final whistle was a particularly sobering one, met with a unanimous consensus that Southgate's young bucks had been out-gunned, out-muscled and out-thought by a more battle-hardened group of warriors.

That was followed by a resounding 2-0 loss to clearly superior Belgium in the Third Place Playoff and then a 2-1 defeat at Wembley in September to a rejuvenated Spain.

Southgate's stable was a work in progress that night in London compared to Luis Enrique's reborn La Roja thoroughbreds and as we waxed lyrical over our cultured visitors there was certainly no euphoria or giddy talk of us winning the next World Cup as there is now.

While there was still broad support for Southgate's youth revolution, there were also tough questions asked as to why he was still ignoring playmakers like Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Jonjo Shelvey and penetrative wingers like Andros Townsend and Theo Walcott.

Two months later the wind has changed direction again. England are through to the last four of the Nations League and Spain have been relegated after losing at home to England and away to Croatia, whom they hammered 6-0 as recently as September.

Southgate's England are still clearly on the right track, lighting the clearest career path hitherto from the national youth sides, integrating the St George's Park national training centre and maintaining a modern playing style of building from the back.

But the road to international success is a long and rocky one full of troughs and peaks, advances and setbacks. Talk of a new England is understandable but still premature.

At Wembley against Croatia, Andrej Kramaric was given an age in the box to lead Eric Dier and Ben Stones a merry dance before scoring, while Jordan Pickford almost conceded with an error in the first half and Jesse Lingard cleared off the line in the second.

England grabbed two scrappy goals after the break but had missed a hatful in the first. Harry Kane might have scored the clincher but had otherwise looked under par, as he has for Tottenham this season.

Such details are lost in the champagne of victory but the margins between winning and losing narratives remain as fine as ever.

On that basis, any optimism about the future should be cautious.

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

The World is Never Enough

THE NEVERENDING THREAT OF A EUROPEAN SUPERLEAGUE

In an effort to stop Vikings pillaging its monasteries and ravishing its coastal towns, ninth century England came up with a solution: Buy them off.

For a while it worked. The rowdy Scandies sailed back across the North Sea with their long ships chokka with gold and the Anglo-Saxons breathed a sigh of relief.

Football Leaks

The only problem was, the Vikings still loved loot so they came back for more and the English paid them off, again and again and again, with what became known as Danish money, or Danegeld.

The latest plan for a breakaway Super League, revealed by Football Leaks via Der Spiegel, confirms the concept of Danegeld is alive and kicking in European soccer in 2018.

Super league plans have been in the ether for about twenty years now and by any stretch of the imagination fans do not want to go down that road, but the executives of the continent's top clubs  keep pushing at what is for now a locked door, deaf to any criticism or appeals to morality or a sense of history.

The 2016 email from Bayern Munich legal chief Michael Gerlinger which was leaked worryingly asked another lawyer whether his club would still have to supply players to national teams in the future if they broke away.

Make no mistake, international football faces an existential threat from a small cabal of greedy men, no matter how globally popular the World Cup is.

American soccer bigwig Charlie Stillitano was another conspirator named by the expose.

His company Relevant Media are behind the recent crazy project to bring La Liga games to the USA. But he has been personally hawking the idea of a European breakaway around UEFA's top sides as well.

The plan Der Spiegel highlighted was for 16 teams to go it alone - the entry requirement being merely those with the largest TV audiences and therefore marketability.

The list of the clubs already collaborating to bring this about comes as little surprise: Barcelona and Real Madrid, Arsenal and Manchester United, Juventus and Milan and Bayern were mentioned.

Other clubs mentioned were Chelsea, Manchester City, PSG and Liverpool and all would have guaranteed participation for at least 20 years, completing the transformation of the football pyramid into the eternal hegemony of the NFL.

UEFA headed off the 2016 mutiny with restructured payments from the Champions League to the big clubs and this effectively allows them to play in a super league every season anyway, where the top stars earn astronomical, many might say obscene, salaries.

The fact the top four from each of Europe's Big Four leagues enjoy guaranteed qualification and almost a third of all takings go to clubs who have been high achievers for the previous decade in itself almost constitutes a closed shop.

The idea that a Nottingham Forest, Porto, PSV or Steaua Bucharest could win the continent's premier trophy now is laughable. The big clubs have the future sown up and should be content.

But their dream of leaving UEFA for yet more fathomless riches never goes away.

The Champions League was born not a plan to improve football but of the desire of European football's governing body to stop breakaway plans in their tracks.

As a result, domestic cups and even the once great UEFA Cup have been denuded of their previous appeal while the Cup Winners Cup was drowned in its wake.

The top players in Europe earn tens of millions of pounds every year and even some benchwarmers rake in six-figure weekly pay packets.

These salaries mean players are now astronomically separated from the supporters, yet only a generation ago footballers took the bus to the stadium and nobody seemed to mind.

Despite the ever-increasing torrent of revenues from broadcast rights acquisitions, the world is not enough for the greed-obsessed big clubs.

The executives of Bayern, Juve, Real et al are constantly employing commercial lawyers with non-disclosure clauses, sending encrypted emails and meeting secretly in plush hotels across Europe to plan their grand getaway.

When it learns of their latest plot, UEFA buys them off but cannot keep sating their insatiable hunger forever.

As soon as 2021 we could see the start of football's Brave New World, where the gates to advancement for clubs are firmly and forever locked.

God Bless the people at Football Leaks for telling the world what the rich and powerful in football are up to while we sleep.

Perhaps if we are all aware what is going on there might just be a chance to save the game before it is too late.

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

Sunday, November 4, 2018

Please Keep Off the Grass!

WEMBLEY'S PITCH IS A DISGRACE TO THE HOME OF FOOTBALL

In England we used to speak of Wembley's "hallowed turf" in the build up to the F.A. Cup Final.

Everyone knew the phrase, though it is not said much anymore. 

Wembley

Tottenham Hotspur's game against Manchester City on the 29th of October saw the playing surface of our national stadium appear more like a chewed up third division ground from the 1970's.

Hallowed ground? A desecrated temple, more like.

Wembley's green lawn that night was a badly scuffed and muddy disgrace in its middle section, with the ersatz lines of gridiron and the faded red and blue inks of a big NFL logo staining the centre-circle. 

The narrower dimensions of the gridiron field were clear from the long scarring on either flank where the army of NFL players and assistants stand for most of their games (picture from Evening Standard).

Only a day earlier the mastodons of the Philadelphia Eagles and Jacksonville Jaguars had fought out a competitive American Football match over three gruelling hours on the same pitch. There was no way in heaven it could have been ready for Premier League football 24 hours later.

Of course, Spurs were only playing at Wembley because their new arena in Haringey had not been finished in time, but three NFL games and an Anthony Joshua boxing match have damaged the playing surface quite seriously.

Barely two weeks earlier the Football Association had declined Jaguars team owner Shahid Khan's bid to buy the stadium for £600 million, following a lack of unanimity on the FA's council and the support of only a third of the consulted public.

Khan wanted to move the Jaguars from sunny Florida to drizzly Brent and make them a permanent London 'franchise'. 

With sell-out crowds at Wembley the expectation of a London NFL side has now reached fever pitch, but it is surely time to cool this fervour. 

After witnessing the appalling state of the grass at the Spurs v Man City match, it felt like the rejection of Khan's plan was an almighty deliverance from the prospect of having around ten NFL games at Wembley instead of the current three.

Spurs ironically have signed up to host two NFL games at their new ground next year but will not be the new base for a team. Unlike at Wembley, there is precious little space for tailgating at White Hart Lane and the neighbourhood is not London's most attractive.

The NFL is welcome here but it must aim at building its own arenas, just like MLS teams have done in the USA having moved on from unhappy ground-sharing with NFL clubs. 

But Khan's plan was different as it involved buying and taking over Wembley, our national stadium, for the primary purpose of hosting American Football. 

If the game's homeland still has anything approaching a soul, that must be a non-starter.

But is that rose-tinted romanticism? The twin towers have been demolished, the field where Bobby Moore raised the Jules Rimet aloft has been turned 90 degrees, Wembley Way is not a majestic avenue but a mundanely tiled walkway flanked by concrete warehouses and malodorous fast food stands.

But if football means more than just an entertainment option, it must have icons and sacred spaces. 

Football need not be the only game to be played at Wembley but it must come first and foremost. American football and other sports must gracefully know their place there.

In short, it is time to bring back the hallowed turf.

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile