Monthly Archives: June 2011

Mexico wins thriller

The Second Striker still doesn’t believe Neymar to Real Madrid is almost a done deal. Most of the discussions seemed to take place right before, if not during, the Copa Libertadores final. And immediately, he will play a key role for Brazil in the Copa America in July, leaving little time to talk.

Joaquin became the seventh signing of the summer for Malaga. Much like Van Nisterlooy, he is getting old but is cheap. Meanwhile, Toulalan and Bouananotte could stay in Malaga’s midfield for quite some time. And again, more targets have emerged- Santi Cazorla and Daniel Aranzubia.

Also, River Plate were relegated to the Argentine B division amidst riots in Buenos Aires. And Manchester City are back in the lead in the race for Alexis Sanchez, as the bidding war reaches £50m. Seems Barca would have pulled the trigger earlier if they really wanted him.

So that leave us with yesterday’s exhilarating Gold Cup final between the U.S. and Mexico:

-For the first thirty minutes, Bob Bradley was a genius. He kept Mexico guessing to the very end if Donovan or Adu would start. Then he started Donovan up top, throwing Mexico’s defensive game plan apart. Donovan and Dempsey switched back and forth, and Adu got an assist as Mexico fell apart. But after that, nothing went right.

-Even before the Cherundolo injury, the U.S. back four was beaten well and often. They couldn’t take care of the long-ball threat posed by Javier Hernandes, who remarkably failed to score, being kept onside several different times by just one player (often Lichaj). But they had even less control over Barrera, who scored twice, and Dos Santos, my man of the match, while Guardado was allowed free rein as soon as Cherundolo was injured. Bornstein is getting a lot of blame, and he should take some, but nobody expected him to play well. Who should be blamed? Let’s start with Howard, Goodson, Bornstein, Bocanegra, Lichaj, M.Bradley, and J.Jones. None of them did great defensively and since we don’t know Bob Bradley’s defensive game plan, we can’t give or take away extra blame to any. Now imagine if Vela had been playing…

– And that is why Mexico has got onto my early list of WC 2014 teams to watch, teams with a lot of young talent that could go a long way:  Argentina, Germany, Brazil, Mexico. (Early, early pick: Argentina over Germany in the final.)The attackers and attacking midfielders for Mexico: Giovanni Dos Santos and Carlos Vela, two team leaders at WC South Africa, despite their youth. Playing time is a problem right now. They both should be getting more at Spurs and Arsenal, respectively. Jonathan Dos Santos, Giovanni’s younger brother, currently on Barca’s books. Chicharito, of course, and Erick Torres, who could be even better. Del Negris, the Gold Cup’s second leading scorer. And don’t forget players like Barrera and Guardado, both inspired yesterday.

-Mexico also had defensive problems, and the winner was the team that used the other’s problems better. The U.S. did have enough chances to get 4-4, but Mexico could have won 7-2.

-Typical CONCACAF: Really easy for the favorites (these two porous defenses allowed four goals between them before this game) but at the same time so physical. The injuries played a huge role in this final.  Rafa Marquez may have a big problem.

-And what about Giovanni Dos Santos’ incredible fourth goal! Kept the ball away from Howard and the USMNT defense in a move worthy of Leo Messi. That wasn’t the best part. The sweet chip into the upper left corner of the net, the only place it would have gone in, in the same move, was barely believable.

Chaos in Buenos Aires

I was, and still am, very surprised when Inter got priced out of the race for Sanchez(totally demolishing my transfer predictions), and even more so when Gian Piero Gasperini was hired. Not that he’s a bad coach, but Inter had publicly chased Ancelotti, Bielsa, Capello, Hiddink, Mihailovic, and Villas Boas. At least three of those refusals were also huge surprise, as was, let’s face it, Leonardo decision to leave Inter, not to go to Chelsea or Man-U, but PSG in France. Going back even farther, how did Inter collapse to Schalke 04? Why do Eto’o and Sneijder want to leave? I could go on. Introducing the fall of Inter…

Pele advising Neymar to join Madrid, only emphasizes recent events tilting the scales in Real’s favor. In fact, if I were Neymar, I would be annoyed at Pele’s constant advise. He’s not famous for giving good advice, either. And after Pele told Neymar to stop diving, Neymar’s not likely to listen. Maradona’s response that night was also overrated: he now claims not to have made the quotes about Pele and Neymar. Neymar meanwhile praised both Maradona and Messi, surely embarrassing Pele.

Meanwhile, Barcelona banned color photocopies because of growing debt, while Neymar might stay in Brazil for 15 years.

Three most likely River Plate conspiracies:

1. The referee favors them (this one will certainly happen at last unconsciously, in the pressure cooker that is the Monumental)

2. River go down, then AFA changes the rules (a year in the 2nd division wouldn’t be bad for them, and they are likely to go down: they need to win by two, but have scored two goals in a league game only twice all season. River also have three key players suspended. We might even see a Boca-River superclasico in the 2nd division.

3. Grondonda, head of the AFA, is angry at Passarella for his comments about Grondonda, and it is River which get hurt. This is Diego Maradona’s prediction. (Diego is a former Boca player; River have not won since those comments were made.)

In between games, there has still been plenty of action. Most notably, it looks like fans will be allowed to watch live in the stadium. The River team didn’t spend any time at home, instead going to the outside of Buenos Aires where the coach isn’t running practice. There will be a press conference next week explaining why the previous administration is to blame, and 2,000 police in the stadium. Erik Lamela’s suspension, even with the punch on Wednesday, continues to get delayed. Fans stormed the Monumental demanding the resignation of Passarella.

But first comes the Gold Cup final. Five thoughts on U.S.A.-Mexico will be coming tomorrow.

Chelsea get Villas-Boas but lose ground in Neymar battle

Loyalty in football was killed again yesterday as Andres Villas-Boas, in the mold of Harry Redknapp and Mo Johnston, left Porto for Chelsea, likely taking a few of his star players with him, after repeatedly declaring he wouldn’t leave the club. He’ll have a lot of work to do at the aging club in London, most importantly deciding who will start at striker, and who will leave this summer. Chelsea are too late for Sanchez, but will make a few transfer headlines before the summer is out, if only to satisfy owner Roman Abramovich.

The transfer headline right now, of course, is Manchester United ‘s signing of Ashley Young. Finally, they start to make some moves. The Red Devils have had heavy going is this transfer season, after declaring they would spend 100 million pounds. Although, if they can spend 20 million on Phil Jones, they might be able to reach 100.

Back to Chelsea. Outside of Porto players, the targets are Modric and Neymar.

Tottenham Hotspur isn’t planning on selling Modric, and Neymar, after a great performance in the Libertadores final, continues to be linked to Real Madrid. Chelsea will have to make a huge offer to get either.

The Libertadores final was only one of several important games being played out at the same time.

The days significant action started several hours early, as Belarus U-21, outplayed throughout, had a 1-0 lead against Spain in the dying minutes. Spain sent on wingers and an extra forward, but, to vast criticism by most English commentators, refused to go long-ball. Intricate passing movements continued to come close, and in the final minute, Spain’s style was vindicated, with a beautiful goal. Calmly probing, the rest was a breeze, as they scored twice in extra time to advance to the final and the London Olympics.

The other U-21 game also went to extra-time, Switzerland outlasting the Czech Republic, with the game’s only goal, as penalties seemed certain. One more place in the London Olympics is at stake in the third place game, and the big prize later in the day.

Meanwhile, the U.S., with Altidore out of the tournament and Donovan on the bench once more had endless trouble with Panama, who were unwilling to give either team any chances. Bob Bradley desperately threw on Donovan at halftime, and Freddy Adu shortly after.

In South America, the demons of River Plate’s former success were haunting the team now, in a battle against relegation, which they really should have won. The team can’t score goals, but all they needed to do in two fixtures was score once, and defend. Any draw across two legs would keep River Plate up.

But then there were the memories. There was Bernabe Ferreyra, Argentine football’s first star. The beautiful years of the 1940’s, with five incredible forwards. They only managed to win four titles that decade, constant underachieving for such a great team. 33 championships that this team had to live up to. They quickly fell behind 1-0.

Freddy Adu’s travails have been well-chronicled, and they surely must have been in his mind as he bumbled through his first ten minutes back with team, showing flashes of talent and terrible decision-making. But something clicked, he fell into rhythm with the game, stopped showing off, and was at the heart of his team’s two best chances of the game: A perfectly weighted long ball to Landon Donovan, who crossed to Dempsey, who knocked it home, and a dribble into the box and pul back for Michael Bradley, whose indecisiveness cost the team the chance to put the game away. A deadly mistake against Panama, who had hit late equalizers in their last two games…

The game was in Belgrano, but a vast contingent of River Plate fans had come to watch River rouse themselves after Belgrano’s goal. But suddenly, 2-0, and River were down again. They stumbled into halftime, playing worse and worse…

… And the U.S. showed good tactical savvy, keeping possession, and defending in numbers. Panama, like Jamaica earlier in the week, were broken after conceding, and the scarcely believable truth was that it was the introduction of Freddy Adu which had tipped the game in the U.S.’ favor.

With all due respect to the Gold Cup, two far more important games were taking place in South America: Santos patchwork of young, middle-aged, and old Brazilian stars against a defensive Penarol side, and the aforementioned relegation clash in Argentina.

It was here that the next event of note took place, as River fans finally found a hole in the security fence and burst onto the pitch, angry at the players. Neither the refs nor the police panicked, the fans went back to pounding at the fence and twenty minutes later the game was back underway.

In Santos, Neymar had scored early in the second half. It was amazing no goals had been scored before this, in both legs of the final. Santos’ defense looked very shaky and Penarol couldn’t handle both Neymar and Ganso. There would be two more before the night was up, Penarol scoring out of nothing in the 79th minute after Santos had doubled their lead. The Uruguayans, only needed a draw, setting up an exciting last ten minutes. Santos’ forwards were given more and more space, and when a glorious opportunity to go back up by two went of the post, the defensive strategy of Penarol was perhaps justified.

Nineteen minutes, plus twenty of injury time, but there was no such excitement in Argentina, where River improved but the highlight was Lamela throwing a punch at an opponent.

There would still be drama elsewhere though, with a mass brawl on the pitch after Santos’ victory. The game also managed to provoke another round of attacks between Pele and Maradona.

Pele said “I would advise him(Neymar) to move to Real Madrid” and “Messi better than Pele? To get there he needs to score more than 1283 goals.” He preferred the question of “Will Neymar be better than Pele?” and again attacked Messi when he said “Neymar has great talent. I hope Neymar doesn’t end up like Messi, who plays so well for his club but doesn’t do anything for his country.”

Unsurprisingly, Maradona was quick to respond with Neymar is “bad mannered, just like Pele, ” and “Messi is an exceptional player and I doubt any one can separate him (from being the best).”

As they day wound down, another match went into extra time, Mexico beating Honduras, to earn a date with the U.S.

Next time, will it be the refs, Argentina Football Association, opposing team or someone else who help River Plate stay up?

River Plate crisis reaches new depths

Relegation playoffs are always impossible to predict, with one team having spent the entire season playing top class teams, and the other second division teams, and you never know how the pressure will affect either team. The games Wednesday and Sunday are even harder to predict than others, as River Plate take on Belgrano(first leg @ 8 E.T.). Yes, the famous  River Plate, the team with star Erik Lamela.

River Plate’s crisis of recent years, under the terrible Jose Maria Aguilar, finally ended in the inevitable, after a 2-1 loss to Lanus this Saturday. In Argentina, relegation is found by points average over 3 years, with 2 championships a year, so a big club can have a bad season and still keep their spot in the top division.

To be fair to River, all the traditional “big clubs” are moving steadily downhill. Boca Juniors, River’s eternal rivals, are none too happy with recent performances. Juan Roman Riquelme has more right to complain than anyone. He has not been used to his full potential by the club. Also at Boca, great Martin Palermo played his last game.

In one year’s time we may be asking this about Boca Juniors, but right now the biggest question in football: Will River Plate go down?

Meanwhile, Argentina continues to prepare for a Copa America that is also moving away from Buenos Aires, with only one game, although it is the final, to be staged there. The national team played against Albania yesterday, and were a joy to watch, eventually winning 4-0. The rest of my Copa America preview:

GROUP B

Analysis of this group must begin with the second favorites, a Brazil team that has disappointed under Mano Menezes. Recently, the team lost to Argentina and France, and then barely held on in Ronaldo’s last game, a 1-0 win over Romania, boos ringing around the stadium after the game. Later that evening, Menezes controversially selected Fred ahead of Leandro Damiao and Nilmar in the Brazil squad, having already excluded Marcelo and Hulk. Despite constantly saying his focus is on getting ready for the World Cup, Menezes and his squad will face tons of pressure. Although everybody on the team is a star, pay special attention to Thiago Silva, the new cornerstone of the defense, and young prodigies Neymar and Ganso.

In the toughest of the three groups, the other three teams are remarkably evenly-matched, with Paraguay the best of the lot. Overshadowed by Uruguay at the last World Cup, they won their group and almost beat Spain in the quarterfinals. Expect more of the same with a mostly unchanged squad. Most of the defenders and midfielders play in South America. Is that a good thing or a bad thing? The jury is  still out.

Ecuador and Venezuela are both optimistic about their chances going forward, but everyone in South America is. Ecuador are slowly transitioning between the team that made the World Cups of 2002 and 2006 and the team that will play at this year’s U-20 tournament. They have only one player even close to becoming a star: Antonio Valencia. Venezuela typically finish tenth out of ten in any South American competition, but recently got to the Copa quarters and within two points off a play-off for WC Qualification. This tournament is key, as the team is desperate to show it wasn’t a fluke.

GROUP C

All eyes on Alexis Sanchez, set to become the newest Barcelona squad member, as he leads hungry Chile into the Copa America. On the back of a 4-0 demolishing of Estonia, and with stars all over the pitch, it will most likely be Chile who takes the trophy if Argentina and Brazil don’t. The 3-4-3 formation makes sense considering the team’s three top strikers and good attacking midfield, while the few, average defenders get help from two defensive midfielders and a very good ‘keeper.

Mexico will not contend for the title, as they usually do. They face the same problems as Costa Rica (new rule which says players who play in the Gold Cup cannot play and the Gold Cup is more important, so only five players can be over 22, plus club teams not having to release players) plus the U-20 generation swept up to the World Cup in Colombia. Indeed, Carlos Vela, the star surprisingly kept out of the Gold Cup to play here, won’t be released by Arsenal. This basically leaves a team of 21 and 22 year-olds who play in Mexico. This is a strong generation, though, and they’ll be competitive in Argentina.

Competitive enough to take 2nd place in the group? Doubtful, with Chile and Uruguay likely battling for top spot in Group C. What to make of this Uruguay squad? They have vast potential, and were the best South American team at World Cup 2010. The forwards are great- Forlan, Cavani, and Suarez, with Hernanes and Abreu on the bench. The defense and midfield are solid, but hardly spectacular in South America.  Having only three in the midfield could lead to problems, and they only have one type of player here. If you can close down the offense, you can beat Uruguay. Perez, Gargano, and Eguren are the hard-working, hard-tackling core of the team, while the defense remains underrated. A Porto, Athletico Madrid, and Sevilla player all play for Uruguay at defense. Good teams will find holes here.In goal, Muslera can be very good or very bad. The coach is good, too. On paper making the WC semis shouldn’t have been a surprise, considering their opponents. In reality, they’ll likely fall back into the under-performing abyss that has always been theirs.

Blow after blow has hit the country of Peru in their preparations. It all started so well for the little South Americans. With the two best 3rd-placed teams advancing, a quarterfinal berth was likely. That would be a remarkable feat considering how  they did in World Cup Qualification. They hired an excellent, experienced coach in Sergio Markarian. They were the better side in scoreless draws with the Czech Republic and Japan. Because of the high-quality offense, it was possible to forget being humiliated by all of South America’s teams, conceding 26 goals in nine away games. Not anymore. Likely starter Guerrero was the first ruled out of the Copa America. Starter Juan Vargas soon followed. The worst was saved for last: Cluadio Pizarro ruled out. One of the four offensive starters remained. Will Farfan go too?

-The Gold Cup returns tomorrow. The U.S.A.-Panama rematch could be one for the ages, but more than likely we’ll see more U.S. and Mexico dominance.

-Also reaching the semifinal stage tomorrow, the European U-21s. And it’ll likely have two much better soccer games than the Gold Cup. Dominant Spain play Belarus, while my Czech Republic take on Switzerland.

-Iceland may have a bright future. Just participating at the U-21 Euro tournament is a big step up. They have a genuine star in Gylfi Sigurdsson.

– I watched the U.S. demolish the Czechs at the U-17 World Cup, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they beat Bob Bradley’s senior side.

-The big news today is Villas-Boas leaving Porto, likely to join Chelsea. More of a focus on club football next time.

-In keeping with our South American theme, I’ll end today with the Copa Libertadores. Santos held Penarol to a 0-0 draw, in Uruguay in the first leg of the final. The key game is tomorrow at 8:50 E.T.

U.S. offense struggles

I’ve been really busy this week and haven’t been able to write as much as I have wanted to. So, here are my five thoughts from the Panama-Canada and Guadeloupe-USA games.

– First of all, with that performance.the U.S. will not beat Jamaica, who has not allowed a goal all tournament (they did get the easiest group)

– Guadeloupe was fast and physical,but thoroughly dominated.

-NO CREATIVITY IN ATTACKING THIRD. Dempsey’s miss and several shots hitting the woodwork shouldn’t happen again, but the fact is scoring one goal against Guadeloupe isn’t enough.

-How would the game have been different if this early shot had gone in?(30 seconds into the video)

-As for the other game, Panama was impressive and Canada wasn’t, simply considering the stakes for each team. A draw was about right, considering everything.

The flops: Landon Donovan, U.S.A (looked slow and tired) and Livio Nabab, Guadeloupe (he’s fast but always offsides)

In other Gold Cup news, the first quarterfinal is set. Costa Rica, which “never practices penalties” according to their coach, had a penalty saved halfway through the second half, and the lost a penalty shootout, fell to Honduras, and Guatemala got a very  early goal, but couldn’t hold off Mexico.

Malaga continue to buy and buy: Toulalan, a French international, and Mathijsen, a Dutch international, joined Monreal, Buonanotte, and Van Nisterlooy, on Friday. Now, focus turns to Lucio, Ricardo Alvarez and Drogba. Wow! And there are still seventy-three days for them to get players.

COPA AMERICA GROUP A

Argentina will be big favorites in group A. Their world class forwards Aguero, Lavezzi, and Tevez would be the best in South America, except they can’t get off the bench! The aging defense will do fine for the purposes of this tournament, but Batista needs to start adding young talent. In the midfield, Cambiasso and Demichelis are the imposing pair of holding mids, and Javier Pastore the creative one. Four players play for Real Madrid and three for Barcelona. An extra advantage: they host the tournament, which is far more important in South America, than anywhere else in the world.

Underestimate Colombia at your own peril. They always seem to be sixth best team in South America, unlucky to miss the World Cup, but there is reason to suspect they are improving. The team is young with many players around the age of 25. Players to watch are Falcao, one of Porto’s incredible forwards, Fredy Guarin, a midfielder at Porto, Hugo Rodallega, a striker at Wigan, Mario Yepes, key in Milan’s scudetto victory, Cristian Zapata, another talented Serie A defender, and David Ospina, the vastly underrated goalie. Their weakness is the midfield (only six players in the squad are actually mids). Could do a lot of damage at WC 2014, and reach the semis here.

The other two teams shouldn’t cause Argentina any trouble. Costa Rica as an invitee, is using a mostly U-23 squad and even without that handicap would be behind most CONMEBOL nations. Are in good form at the moment. Bolivia are always whipping boys in South America, unless they play at altitude.

The Internationals

Breaking news out of Manchester has forced me to rescind on my recent promise: Manchester City are willing to help him go back to Argentina if he spends the best years of his career with them. Actually, I don’t consider that breaking news. Look at this and you’ll know why.

Spain are the favorites for the upcoming tournament. You’ve probably heard that a lot recently (almost as much as the words “Carlos Tevez”). Well, guess what. You’ll be hearing it a lot more in the next ten years. Because Spain are the favorites for the U-21 UEFA European Cup.

But where is Germany? They didn’t qualify for the eight team tournament, despite their loads  of young talent. Is it similar to England’s case of simply not caring? Here is a list of 23 and under recent  internationals for Germany. Several are under 21:

D: Marcel Schmelzer, Mats Hummels, Holger Badstuber, Benedikt Howedes, Christian Trasch, Jerome Boateng

M: Mesut Ozil, Andre Schurrle, Thomas Muller, Sebastian Rudy, Toni Kroos, Mario Gotze, Lewis Holtby, Sven Bender, Marco Reus, Kevin Grosskreutz, Marko Marin

There was an amazing game yesterday in the Gold Cup with Panama stunning the U.S. 2-1. The United States was poor for 60 minutes and great for the last 30, but it wasn’t enough. Great refereeing, too. Throws the entire group into confusion. I’ll be in Kansas City’s new Livestrong Park to watch how everything turns out.

I don’t think Mexico’s suspensions hurt them that much. They should still beat every except for the U.S. How the backup goalie fares should be interesting to watch.

But the big event of the summer is undeniably the Copa America. Brazil announced their 22 man squad, while hosts Argentina and Sergio Batista have narrowed it down to 26. Full team previews as the tournament gets closer.

Transfer Games

THE CAROUSEL

Of course. As soon as I wrote Barca need to add depth this summer, they announce that they’re summer spending will only total 40 million euros. Poor guys. Still, even including a potential selling or two, that will likely bring in one of Fabregas, Sanchez, and Rossi and nobody else. Their playing a clever game now by offering Bojan, Alcantara and cash to both Arsenal and Udinese. Unfortunately for them, Bojan himself would rather go to Roma. Honestly, though, that doesn’t look likely right now. Anyways, the point is Barca will have three teams forced to go lower and lower to sell because of each other. They will probably get Cesc Fabregas as Udinese have other suitors.

I say it’s a good deal for Arsenal. Whenever, I think Barcelona transfer, I think mistakes. Remember that Ibra-Eto’o disaster? This could easily be the same thing. Barce don’t need Fabregas as much as Arsenal need a striker, and Bojan and Alcantara are 15 million euro players to me. They’ll both improve, even if not as much as they would at Barcelona.

Udinese is also smart here. The asking price for Sanchez has actually deterred Manchester United! With the Catalans out of the running, it’s England or Italy. Sanchez doesn’t like Manchester City, and Liverpool is unlikely. They’re not even in the Champions League. Chelsea has more on their mind, and the player is thought to prefer Serie A. His style certainly fits well there. So Inter Milan, possibly even a stay at Udinese.

Barcelona’s decision will change the outcome of the entire transfer window. Sanchez will go to Inter, meaning Tevez won’t go there. He’ll likely stay in Manchester. Also, Arsenal will have to keep Samir Nasri, which in turn all but assures Manchester United getting Ashley Young.  Arsenal would be flush with cash to finally buy players like Eden Hazard, Mathieu Delpierre, Neven Subotic, and a forward. Arsenal and Spurs are going head to head for Falcao and Leandro Damiao, but I find it hard to imagine one club getting both.

The big story of the transfer window is indeed become Arsenal’s failings. If Arsenal don’t get at least these four players, the frustration continues, and next year could be a disaster. Yoosof Farah sums it up best. Arsenal is already behind the other premier league giants and all of their targets could easily go to other clubs. No one will miss Denilson and Bendtner, but Abou Diaby to Spurs and Gael Clichy to Liverpool are both going to happen.

More Barcelona decision aftermath: Guiseppe Rossi goes to Juventus instead while Manchester City can’t buy too many more players. They get Hulk, so Pastore goes to Chelsea. It won’t stop their either: every major signing will get affected.

Real Madrid will probably sign Aguero, but may not get Coentrao after all. Madrid is looking into Maicon, an obvious sign of unease. Bayern Munich is very likely, but he did say he wouldn’t leave Benfica unless it was to Real. I don’t pretend to know anything about where he will end up.

THE FAILED DEALS

4. Samir Nasri, Arsenal

3. Gianluigi Buffon, Juventus      The most underrated story of the transfer window is that Roma likely won’t get Buffon. Julio Cesar also said no, so Sergio Romero is likely their next goalie.

2. Carlos Tevez, Manchester City

1. Neymar, Santos     He’s expensive and there is no need to rush any deal.

THE YOUNG STARS

6. Ganso, Santos to Inter     AC Milan have bids for Drogba, Neymar, Lamela, and possibly Aquilani. They won’t be able to get him, too, so Inter likely will.

5. Falcao, Porto and Leandro Damiao, Internacional     One to Spurs, the other to Arsenal.

4. Hulk, Porto to Manchester City     Here’s my bold prediction. Manchester City will make at least one big signing and I’m guessing it will be Hulk.

3.  Erik Lamela, River Plate to A.C. Milan

2. Eden Hazard, Lille to Arsenal

1. Javier Pastore, Palermo to Chelsea     They’ve already had one bid rejected, but they’re still favorites and he seems likely to leave the club.

ARGENTINA’S STRIKER DILEMMA

-Lionel Messi: There is no doubt the best player in the world will make the starting lineup, despite not playing as well for Argentina as with Barca.

-Carlos Tevez: Started in the World Cup, and had a great season with City. Seems to be losing his desire and after his recent injuries and exclusions from the team ,will likely find himself on the bench for most of the Copa America.

-Gonzalo Higuain: Being a back-up for Real Madrid, typically means a top-class starter at the International level. His lack of minutes is a worry, but his explosive dribbling on the wing makes him hard to leave out of any team. I would star him, but the coach is leaning toward Aguero right now.

-Sergio Aguero: One of La Liga’s top strikers in his prime but remains overshadowed by his Argentine teammates. Should get plenty more chances with the Abiceleste.

-Ezequiel Lavezzi: One of Serie A’s top strikers, he is said by opposing coaches to be the scariest of Napoli’s “Golden Triangle”, despite Cavani’s 26 goals. In typical Argentine fashion, and like other strikers on this list, his main strengths are dribbling and strength on the ball.

For anyone else to get a chance, even Diego Milito, another of Serie A’s best and a starter at Inter, would require a major squad overhaul. If it does happen, they have a wealth of strikers playing abroad. By the time the 2014 World Cup rolls around, rising stars like “the new Messi,” Erik Lamela, will be the age Messi is now, and there will be the inevitable clamor to add them to the squad as well.

Argentina will likely play a 4-3-3 so Angel Di Maria will start on the wing in the last “forward” position.

Messi may not be considered a typical central forward, and if he starts there, the priority for Argentina is a central midfielder who can keep all the offensive stars involved. Is Javier Pastore that man? If they find him, their main problem in upcoming tournaments will be totally forgetting about an aging defense.

By the way, Messi, Higuain, and Di Maria are all twenty-three. I’m not picking against them in 2014…

Next time, I’ll focus on the international scene, with European U-21’s, Gold Cup, and Copa America to discuss. Best of all, no Carlos Tevez!