Saturday, June 27, 2009


( Saturday 27 June 2009

A FIFA Confederations Cup packed full of drama, passion and excitement will reach its climax tomorrow when South Africa 2009's surprise packages face up to the most successful team in tournament's history. As USA and Brazil limber up for a final that, if history is anything to go by, should be a thriller, looks at the statistical stories adding intrigue to this South African showpiece.

305 minutes without conceding have taken Julio Cesar to within another clean sheet of the second-longest unbeaten sequence in FIFA Confederations Cup history. The Brazil keeper's record since that dramatic 4-3 opening win over Egypt already leaves him in joint-fourth position, and if USA fail to break through tomorrow, he will move beyond both Idriss Kameni of Cameroon (367 minutes) and Mexico's Oswaldo Sanchez (368) in the competition's goalkeeping hall of fame. It is Julio Cesar's predecessor and fellow countryman, Dida, who holds the Festival of Champions' all-time record, having survived 503 minutes without being beaten between the 1997 and 1999 editions.

200 wins in FIFA men's competitions was the milestone secured for Brazil by Daniel Alves' free-kick against South Africa, and afterwards it was noted in's statistical review that A Seleção have traditionally scored 27.2 per cent of their goals at FIFA World Cups from outside the box. Yet while this is almost double the average of 15.7 per cent, the Barcelona wingback's goal actually proved to be the exception at South Africa 2009 - a tournament that has witnessed the South Americans subvert all manner of traditions. With set pieces and headed goals already identified as unusual sources of strength, it has also now been discovered by Castrol Performance Analysts that Brazil have a created a higher percentage of chance inside the box than any of their fellow participants. Whatever their reasons for this approach, it is paying off, with Dunga's side boasting the tournament's best shooting accuracy and chance conversion rates - 20.4 and 48.1 per cent respectively - and, most importantly, its biggest goal tally (11).

80 headed clearances, more than any team at South Africa 2009, would seem to qualify USA as the best-equipped team to handle Brazil's well-established aerial threat. The South Americans have scored three headed goals already at this tournament and gone close with eight further headed attempts, but they may have met their match in the tall, aggressive Americans. Bob Bradley's side proved against Spain that defending their area against crosses is a major strength, and Castrol Performance Analysts found that their overall record of 56 headed duels won cannot be bettered at this tournament. Tim Howard also aids this particular cause. In his three appearances so far, the Everton keeper has come from his goal to successfully deal with five crosses, more than any keeper at South Africa 2009. Howard also continues to lead the way on saves made, with his tally of 25 dwarfing those of Julio Cesar (12) and Iker Casillas (6).

5.33 goals per game is the astonishing average served up by Brazil's three FIFA Confederations Cup finals to date. The Festival of Champions' showpiece match has a highly respectable overall average of 3.7 goals per game, but thrills have been in even greater supply when A Seleção have been involved. Over three finals in 1997, 1999 and 2005, the South Americans racked up an aggregate score of 11-5, taking home the trophy twice and losing out on one occasion. Encouragingly for USA - and indeed for the spectators at Ellis Park - that solitary disappointment came against a team from CONCACAF, with Mexico triumphing 4-3 in what is widely considered to be the greatest-ever FIFA Confederations Cup final. Yet the Americans should also be aware that Africa is a continent in which Brazil feel particularly comfortable, with A Seleção's record in the mother continent comprising 14 wins, no defeats and not even a single draw.

Monday, June 22, 2009

FIFA Confederations Cup 2009 South Africa 2009

( Monday 22 June 2009

David Villa has been the outstanding player of South Africa 2009's group phase. That is the headline conclusion of the latest FIFA Confederations Cup Castrol Index, which shows the emergence of a heavyweight trio of contenders at the top.

Villa, the only player still with an overall rating of nine-plus, remains perched on the summit, but Fernando Torres and Kaka are within touching distance and have built up a small but discernible lead over the rest of the chasing pack. So little separates the top three at this stage that either Torres or Kaka could snatch top spot with an impressive semi-final showing, which means Villa is under pressure to maintain the consistency that preserved his hold on pole position this time around.

Not that pressure seems to affect this particular striker. After all, his outstanding displays during the group stage have been produced against a backdrop of massive uncertainty as some of Europe's top clubs engage in a very public tug-of-war for his signature. "The past week hasn't been easy," he admitted after scoring in Saturday's 2-0 win over the hosts. "Nobody can imagine what I've been through. It has been a really bad time."

Villa might be finding the rumours and behind-the-scenes manoeuvring difficult to handle, but you would never know it from his focused, determined performances. Neither the constant speculation nor a missed penalty prevented him grabbing another brilliantly-executed goal in his most recent outing, and providing another demonstration of why Valencia's president this week described him as "the best striker in Europe".

Torres, who topped the Castrol Index after the first round of matches, continues to offer the greatest threat, but Kaka's consistency, creative skills and unheralded defensive efforts have taken him from fifth to third. Both these principal challengers benefited from the negative impact South Africa's defensive display against Spain had on Sibonsio Gaxa and Tsepo Masilela's ratings, with these erstwhile high-fliers dropping back to fifth and sixth respectively.

Mohammed Kassid's position just outside the top three is sure to raise eyebrows, yet Castrol calculated that the Iraq No1 - already ranked top in his position - underlined his worth by keeping a clean sheet against New Zealand when an average keeper would have conceded at least twice. He might have excelled, but Kassid's was not the outstanding performance of the third round of matches. That honour, according to Castrol Performance Analysts, fell to USA's Clint Dempsey, Budweiser Man of the Match against Egypt and scorer of the all-important goal that sealed an unlikely semi-final berth for Bob Bradley's side.

Luis Fabiano also fired his way back into contention, ascending 24 places to 15th on the back of a clinically-dispatched double against Italy that took him level with Villa and Torres at the top of the tournament's scoring charts. The Brazil No9 would, in fact, be challenging the Spain duo just as closely the Castrol Index but for the legacy of his profligate performance against USA, when the squandering of some excellent chances to both score and create goals seriously damaged his standing.

The result is that Luis Fabiano, like many, has work to do if he is to catch the leaders. Yet with the Seleção star among 15 players in the top 20 with a semi-final to look forward to, Villa's position may well come under threat sooner rather than later.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

World Cup qual - Maradona blasts 'disastrous' pitch

Eurosport - Fri, 05 Jun 10:18:00 2009

Argentina coach Diego Maradona criticised the pitch for his team's World Cup qualifier at home to Colombia, describing it as disastrous and comparing it to a piece of waste ground.

Maradona was livid after the pitch at the Monumental stadium, the home ground of River Plate, was used for a rock concert last Saturday.

Around 40,000 people watched the show by veteran Argentine rock group Los Piojos (The Lice).

"It's disastrous," Maradona said. "I hoped we could look for another stadium but I was told that River is the only one approved by FIFA."

"I'm not bothered about River wanting to earn money but I think they should be able to organise the dates properly," he said.

"We've brought over (Lionel) Messi, (Sergio) Aguero, (Javier) Mascherano, (Fernando) Gago and we're asking players who cost millions of euros to play on a piece of waste ground.

"I'm not interested in the finances of River but it's horrible. Regrettably we have to play there."

Argentina, beaten 6-1 at high altitude in Bolivia in their last game, need a win on Saturday to improve their position in the 10-team South American qualifying group and restore morale.

Maradona's side are fourth with 19 points from 12 games, the lowest position in which they could finish and qualify directly.

Fifth place would mean a two-leg play off against the fourth team from CONCACAF.

Lionel Messi agreed that the pitch would be a hindrance to his team, who will have to break down a stingy Colombian defence which has conceded 10 goals in 12 qualifiers.

"It's a problem for us," he said. "We try to play on the ground and quickly. If the pitch isn't good, then it won't be a help."