Fat Tuesday and the Paradox of the Post-Season

John Ray reviews yesterday’s matches

It’s a funny paradox: when the season ends there’s just more and more football. I was looking forward to a brief moment of stasis after the weekend’s full slate of friendlies, World Cup qualifiers, and U21 action, but the Americas would just not listen. There were fewer matches, but the ones that occurred had moments of brilliance and absurdity. Let me help you separate the meat from the bone. 

Ibrahimovic’s “No-Look Pass” (0:50 into the video)

Zlatan and a strong defensive effort, albeit against the anemic Faroe Islands, led Sweden to another 3 points last night and strengthened their claim for World Cup Qualification. But after Ibra picked up the second goal in his brace from the penalty spot and screamed at the keeper, this happened: 

Apparently, the interview before the footage is loosely translated (thanks to groterfy on youtube) as

Reporter: When you threw the ball at the keeper..

Zlatan: ..he was talking to much, he must be quiet

Reporter: yeah but weren’t you afraid to get a yellow card and be suspended?

Zlatan: Absolutely not..

Reporter: but you should’ve got an yellow card there

Zlatan: Absolutely not..maybe if you were the referee, and you know better than me, right?

Reporter: No No, but..

Zlatan: that’s what you’re saying…

Having braved through a brief period without taekwondo tricks, bicycle kicks, or egoistic statements THE ZLATAN, author of I Am Zlatan, has returned in the stead of Zlatan Ibrahimović. Football purists obviously will have a bit of disdain for this moment as well as the totality of his career, but I can’t help but love the mentalist; especially after reading Lars Silverstein’s eyeopening piece “The Bicycle Thief” (released in Volume 8 of The Blizzard). The article delved into how Zlatan’s rough childhood in Malmö as a stigmatized “immigrant” affected his psychology and playing career. Highly recommended reading.   

Armenia 4 - Denmark 0 

I’m in Mexico, but Denmark consumed a lot, arguably too much, of my Tuesday. Here are some Danish points.

1. The scoreline may be self-evident, the Danish defense was terrible against Armenia and, as is typical when you lose 4-0, there wasn’t one specific culpable factor, but rather a veritable maelstrom of shit. Here are grainy images of two of the four goals. 


Armenia 2-0 - 19’

Just look at that flat back four. Look at it. Stare into the abyss. Imagine you are Morten Olsen and you see this, what do you even say? Kjaer and Poulsen are obviously the most ridiculously out of place, but the entire defense has gone a bit mental. Left Center-Half Andreas Bjelland, who was taken off for Jores Okore(!) at halftime, moves up the defense for no reason and Poulsen, without actually looking down the line moves up with him. Kjaer, who could just as well be contemplating nihilism and its implications for the categorical imperative, does absolutely nothing.

But, if we want to go deeper, and I think we do. We can see that the problem initially stems from a lack of initial organization and intermediary communication. 

Their defensive sequence starts with Kjaer actually the defender pressing the furthest up the pitch, man-marking the CF (most likely Mkhitaryan, the danger man) and the organization in shambles. You don’t want your defense make a rhombus. 


As the play evolves, Bjelland recovers with Poulsen and Jacobsen, to move in line with Kjaer and leave the eventual goal-scorer Aras Özbiliz offsides.


For some reason, as seen in the first image, Bjelland just keeps moving forward after this brief period of correctness. The communication here is terrible. Kjaer should either be telling Bjelland to stay put, or Bjelland should be telling Kjaer to move forward, but its apparent that neither did anything proactive. 

Here is where Denmark really missed Daniel Agger in their defense. Leadership along with being technically proficient, left-footed, tattoed, and, generally metal-as-hell is one of Agger’s key traits and without him they lacked the concentration, organization, and pace to deal with Armenia on the counter-attack. Here is another perfect example. 

Armenia 3-0 - 59’


This goal is being blamed by many who only see the last defender on Jores Okore(!), but lets review what actually happened here. Despite being slightly unorganized the Danes look prepared to deal with the Armenian threat here. The move has broken down and there are two defenders near the ball. Notice that number 6, Lars Jacobsen, is marking Armenia’s number 14, Yura Movsisyan. Next slide.  


Okore was in position to muscle his man off the ball after an attempted dribble, but the loose touch goes through to a certain Yura Movsisyan, who expertly slots the ball home for the third goal. Note that Lars Jacobsen has moved a mere meter or two in this time span. Absolutely mental. 

The Danes actually played decent attacking football all match. They created a lot of chances, controlled the ball, but were not clinical enough with only 5 of their 21 of their shots needing saving. This is just another lesson that, without organization and teamwork in defense, a victory in possession is often phyrric in the context of the match. 

2. Now for some Aston Villa things: I watched Me, Myself, and Martin Laursen, which bills itself on IMDB as “A humorous look into professional football and why director / football player Anthony Tullberg never made it to a top club, when international football star Martin Laursen went all the way.” The film is a short (42 min) documentary, but I found it rather insightful and the interviews with Ibrahimovic, Morten Olsen, Gattuso, Pirlo, et al are brilliant. Following the (cliche) ethos of “show don’t tell”, the segments with Laursen elucidate upon the character of the man. Tullberg constantly insults his technique, but Laursen just laughs it off and tries to make him understand why he’s a top class footballer without coming off as arrogant or self-centered. Perhaps the most interesting scene in the film, though, concerns the time period when Laursen was bullied in the Milan dressing room. Shevchenko, Pirlo, and Gattuso all basically said that they picked on him because he wouldn’t fight back and “wasn’t stylish”. The pressure got to Laursen, caused him to lose his self-confidence, and, ultimately, dread appearing in the Champions League final and look for a move away from the club. Fascinating stuff and recommended viewing, especially for Villa fans. 

3. Jores Okore looks to be on his way to a medical at Bodymoor Heath and moving to Villa (hence the exclamation points) for £4m. The tall, strong, and surprisingly quick, 20 year old was valued at £5m and had been targeted by manager Paul Lambert this summer. After an initial £3m pound bid was rejected Nordsjaellund, apparently saw the Denmark result and said “right, you can have him, let’s split the difference”. He turned down Chelsea in January and I’m really excited about his prospects at the club. Here’s the aforementioned Martin Laursen waxing lyrical about him

Brief side note: Enjoy what Villa has done with using former players as part of their scouting network. Laursen and Stilyan Petrov have both personally vouched for the clubs two first summer signings Aleksander Tonev and (hopefully) Okore.  

Cavani Pushes Uruguay into Purgatory with a Heaven-Sent Strike

The scene is set. Uruguay desperately needs a win and they are away to Venezuela at the raucous Estadio Polideportivo Cachamay. The stadium, which looks kind of like a space invader according to wikipedia, is draped in white awnings and has two orange rotundas that stretch towards the stars. They just might find Cavani there, approximately 4.367 light years away from the confluence of Caroni and Orinoco Rivers. But, for a moment, he is here, on Earth. And out on the right wing. The red shirts running at him are plumes of fire in a burning building, hoping to incinerate his quest to bring Uruguay to safety. His first touch, off the chest is just deceptively long enough, to make you think the red shirts have a chance. But…oh no…the left back…where are you going, lad. Cavani cuts inside on his left foot so quickly that the red shirt slips and slides out of the picture and I mix my metaphors. He sees a glimmer of hope, respite for the weary ranchers in the Uruguayan countryside and the businessmen in Montevideo, and seizes it with a left foot that neither smashes nor caresses, but rather guides the ball like a shepherd into the bottom left-hand corner of the net. The lights in Uruguay flicker for a second. The stars twinkle. 

Apologies for waxing poetical there, but the 53-million pound man continues to live up to and exceed my expectations of him. I’m running out of blasé things to say and it is difficult to understate just how important this goal was to Uruguay’s World Cup qualification hopes. A draw here would have left them 3 points adrift of the playoff round and 7 from qualification and a loss would have been all but damning for their hopes. Cavani saves.

Mascherano Loses his Mind

Argentina’s tilt with Ecuador was curious. After going down early to a Sergio Aguero penalty, the Ecuadorians dominated the rest of the match and created more and better chances and Messi was aloof and uncharacteristically wasteful after coming on for Aguero. Then, in the 87th minute:

The most bizarre thing about the whole incident is Mascherano acting indignantly as if to say “What did I do?” and then going off to fight the entire world because he was being a twat on a medical table that he evidently didn’t need. Football’s seen Joey Barton put a cigar out in an youth teamer’s eye, Cantona kung-fu kick a Crystal Palace supporter, and numerous referees be battered and bludgeoned. Now we can  add Mascherano having a go at a medic to the list. I don’t think I’ll see anything so ridiculous or just stupid this year….oh wait, I also saw this yesterday:

Watching that is like watching the scene in Boogie Nights where Philip Seymour Hoffman’s Scotty character comes up to Mark Wahlberg’s Dirk Diggler in the driveway and shows him that he bought the same car as him and is wearing the same clothes and the tries to make out with him. At first you think he’s pathetic, then you’re shocked, then you’re just embarrassed for the man. What was he thinking? It turns out, nothing. But he’s since been released by his club for misconduct.

Wesley Sneijder did this against China


The “Hex” that Just Keeps Giving

The murky picture of CONCACAF World Cup qualification has not cleared up at all and just gotten more intriguing. Here’s what we know:

  • The United States, Costa Rica, and Honduras are well positioned
  • Panama and Mexico might want to start worrying
  • After taking 2 points from 6 matches, Jamaica are not going to make the World Cup barring a ridiculous run of form. 

And here’s how we got there:

Mexico 0 - Costa Rica 0 

The Mexican’s here in San Miguel de Allende were replete with ambivalence and excuses for their performance away at Panama: a draw away is a decent result (true), the Mexican’s probably should have had a penalty (true), and they hadn’t had enough matches at the Azteca to be “worried” (true). After another inept and toothless performance in attack, despite the tactical switch to a 4-4-2 and the Azteca crowd, the Mexicans should be worried. Here are some notes I took during the game:

Hey, here’s a big middle finger to you too Mexican television! Half-time wasn’t enough was it? Is Integrity just the name of a ship? Don’t you care about the people? First it was a Chevrolet ad that overlaid the crowd during a goalkick and displayed their new models of trucks standing on a rock-based podium. I was kind of quizzical, but didn’t think that much of it. Then it was a Movistar ad that covered up where the ball was to show off their great new plans, but then I had it when a graphic of a Barritas (akin to Nutri-grain) factory covered up the crowd, play, and a crucial counter attack to show their fruit bars being processed. What on Earth is going on? No. Stop. I don’t want to see your Chili’s ad. I’m trying to watch the game. Is this the end of civilization? It is isn’t it? Thanks a lot Cinco Plus.

Joel Campbell is the best player on the pitch right now and, by best, I mean the only one that looks like actually scoring or doing anything inventive. From the chapeau that he just attempted to his strike that stung the palms of Joe Corona he’s looked like he can create something out of nothing and I hope he can finally figure out that work permit issue and play for Arsenal. The Premier League will be better for it. 

Hector Moreno is really good. 

Aldo Di Nigris just got hit in the genitals, didn’t flinch, and still fluffed a chance. 

I’m in two minds about this incident involving Bryan Ruiz. Part of me thinks he should just get on with it and get it over with and stop time wasting, but the other says good on him for not just putting up with that garbage. He’s literally being pelted from the upper deck with bottles, trash, and who knows what else. For years people have just taken it, but Ruiz put his foot in the dirt and said “I’m not taking this kick unless they stop throwing dead batteries and piss at me” so good on him for that. 

USA 2 - Panama 0

I might not be the best person to recap this considering that there are a million other USMNT bloggers that a better equipped than me, but here are a couple quick thoughts. 

  • Jozy was awesome
  • Geoff Cameron was awesome
  • Brad Evans was not as good as he was against Germany
  • Seattle was awesome and the USMNT should play all their games there until a worthy challenger of a city appears. 
  • Dempsey decided to argue with the referee instead of win the ball back approximately 8 times
  • The referee was a bit shit
  • Omar Gonzalez did not hit the self-destruct button
  • Stuart Holden!
  • Matt Besler is pretty good. 
  • A victory at home against Honduras would almost certainly guarantee US qualification

Honduras 2 - Jamaica 0


This post was written by John Ray, a Senior Writer for the AFR Team. You can follow him on Twitter at @mynameisjohn.

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