Scots play ozzies before real tests begin

Craig Levein has announced a depleted squad for the friendly against Australia on Wednesday. Of the original squad listed last week Graham Dorrans, Jamie Mackie, Phil Bardsley and James Forrest have withdrawn due to injury. These are in addition to Darren Fletcher (long term health problems), Scott Brown, Kenny Miller (match fitness due to move to USA) and Steven Whittaker. All of which are first team squad regulars.

Levein has drafted in late replacements in David Goodwillie, Ross McCormack and somewhat controversially Ian Black

Black was recently bought by 3rd Division dwelling Rangers and only last week Levein intimated that as Rangers players are playing at such a low level he will not be including them in his squads (the example of Lee Wallace was cited). It seems however that he has already changed his opinion.

Ian Black for 3rd division Rangers

Of the squad of 23 only Charlie Mulgrew (Celtic,SPL) Andy Webster (Hearts, SPL) and Ian Black (Rangers, 3rd Div) currently ply their trade in Scotland with the majority  either playing for EPL or Championship sides.

Robert Snodgrass sealed a move to Norwich City from Leeds United last month to join Steven Whittaker (who opted to Norwich as a free agent after Rangers administration) and Russell Martin.

These players together with: Gary Caldwell and Shaun Maloney (Wigan), Barry Bannan and Alan Hutton (Aston Villa), Danny Fox (Southampton), James Morrison (West Brom), Charlie Adam (Liverpool), Jamie Mackie (QPR) and Steven Naismith (Everton) means that the bulk of squad will be EPL based , which it has not been seen since the halcyon days of the 80’s and early 90’s.

Much is expected of free scoring Jordan Rhodes (Huddersfield) who has been attracting interest from many EPL teams. With Kenny Miller (Vancouver Whitecaps) still settling into his new life in the MLS Rhodes along with David Goodwillie (Blackburn Rovers) will be given the opportunity to shine.

Scotland “starlet” Jordan Rhodes

Also with Alan McGregor now playing for Besiktas of Turkey it could be argued that the Scottish squad is now playing collectively at a higher level than the previously SPL based squads.

One thing that is for sure is that they must perform far better than their last friendly outing against the USA where they were thumped 5 -1. That end of season game did little to improve the already fragile confidence of the Scots who wilted in the Florida sun. At times it was embarrassing as a Scottish supporter to watch as the Landon Donovon led Americans waltzed around our defence on the way to any easy victory and a personal hat-trick.

Scotland Squad for Australia match:

  • Goalkeepers: McGregor, Gilks, Marshall
  • Defenders: Berra, Caldwell, Fox, Hanley, Hutton, Martin, Mulgrew, Webster
  • Midfielders: Adam, Bannan, Black, Cowie, Morrison, Phillips, Snodgrass
  • Forwards: Goodwillie, Maloney, Naismith, McCormack, Rhodes

The game should prove to be good preparation for Scotland’s upcoming home World Cup qualifiers against  Serbia and Macedonia next month, before trips to Wales and Belgium in October. If Scotland are to stand any chance of qualification for Brazil 2014 they must hit the ground running and pick up at least 8 points from their opening 4 matches.

While Group A does not contain any European powerhouses, in reality the likes of Croatia and Belgium have far better players than Scotland’s.

Croatia impressed at times in Euro 2012 and were unlucky not to progress from a group including Spain and Italy. They have a healthy mix of stars like Nika Jelavic (Everton), Luka Modric (Tottenham Hotspur) and Nika Kranjcar (Dynamo Kiev) and must start as group favourites.

Belgium have not qualified for a World Cup since 2002 but currently have a slew of international stars in their side including Vincent Company (Manchester City and EPL player of the year), Eden Hazard (Chelsea and Ligue 1 player of the year) and Thomas Vermaelen (Arsenal). However it remains to be seen if the Belgians can play as an international team as they do for their respective clubs.

EPL layer of the year, Vincent Company

Similarly Serbia have a host of players based in the strongest leagues in Europe. Although Dejan Stankovic has decided to retire Serbia can still count on Nemanja Vidic (Manchester United) and rising star Miralem Sulejmani (Ajax).

Group A: Croatia, Serbia, Belgium, SCOTLAND, Macedonia, Wales

It could be argued that Serbia, Scotland , Macedonia and Wales are of much the same level and Croatia and Belgium will fight it out for 1st and 2nd places. But a good start to the campaign could see the Scots push the other teams all the way.

Whether Craig Levein is the man to lead the Scots to Brazil is open to question. His handling of the Steven Fletcher affair and the infamous 5-5-0 formation against the Czech Republic have not inspired confidence in the rank and file supporters. Although he seems to be the darling of the Scottish press and seems eager to “talk the talk” there has been little to impress on the field during his tenure.

Barcelona lead at home and progress in Sudamericana

 

 

I was quite surprised to learn that Ecuador have only won 2 medals in their Olympic history and both of these by the same person; Jefferson Perez in the 20 km walk (Gold and Silver). Considering the Ecuadorians have the benefit of altitude training i would have thought they should have had more success.

But then again considering how much money the richer nations plough into their Olympic teams it could be argued that Ecuador and the other Andean nations are competing at a severe disadvantage.

This time round it looks as if they will finish medal-less with their faint hopes in the BMX, weight-lifting and boxing looking more and more remote but they may still succeed in the 200 metres and Alex Quinonez, a bricklayer from Esmeraldas who has surprised everyone to reach the final.

For many in Ecuador the Olympics have passed by un-noticed, Football is their national obsession often at the expense of other sports.

Last Sunday was the battle of the giants with Liga de Quito playing Barcelona of Guayaquil in the Casa Blanca. The entertaining 2 -2 draw helped preserve Barcelona’s lead at the top of the table while leaving Liga in 4rth.

The first 5 games of the Segunda Etage (second stage), apart from Barcelona, have gone contrary to the first stage and last years Championship. It is strange but gratifying to see a league that is so open and changeable, Liga de Loja just enjoyed one of there most successful terms in history but so far this time round have disappointed, similarly Independiente have struggled to find their previous form.

 

 

Macará 2 – 1 El Nacional
Liga de Quito 2 – 2 Barcelona
Olmedo 2 – 1 Liga de Loja
Deportivo Quito 0 – 0 Técnico Universitario
Manta F.C. 2 – 0 Deportivo Cuenca
Emelec 2 – 1 Independiente del Valle

 

The real losers so far however have been Deportivo Quito who have yet to record a victory this term. Considering their investment in new players and a new coach their current form leaves them rooted to the bottom of the table with no chance of retaining their Championship.On Sunday they continued their rotten run with a poor 0 – 0  draw at home to Technico Universitario.

Manta FC have so far been the surprise team of the season and their 2 – 0 (Rosa and Chingas scoring just after half-time) home win against Deportivo Cuenca boosted them to 2nd place. Macara also secured a fine 2-1 win at home to El Nacional and rise to 5th place.

 

 

Team GP W D L Pts GD
1. Barcelona
5 3 2 0 11 +6
2. Manta FC
1
5 3 1 1 10 +4
3. Emelec
1
5 3 1 1 10 +1
4. Liga de Quito
2
5 2 3 0 9 +2
5. Macara
1
5 3 0 2 9 -1
6. Olmedo
1
5 2 2 1 8 +3
7. El Nacional
2
5 1 3 1 6 +2
8. Independiente
5 1 1 3 4 -1
9. Liga de Loja
1
5 1 1 3 4 -4
10. Deportivo Cuenca
1
5 1 1 3 4 -4
11. Tec. Universidad
5 0 3 2 3 -5
12. Deportivo Quito
5 0 2 3 2 -3

 

In the Copa Sudamerican Barcelona thumped Deportivo Tachira of Venezuela 5 – 1 to ease their passage into the next round. Perlaz, Quinonez, Oyola, Matamoros and De La Torre each got a goal before Gonzalez got a late consolation.

Next week Deportivo Quito, Liga de Loja and Emelec will try to follow Barcelona’s lead when they complete their 2nd legs.

 

 

 

 

 

The big match of week 6 will be Emelec vs Barcelona or the Clásico del Astillero (The Shipyard Derby) in Guayaquil. This derby is recognised as the most important and historical games in Ecuador and with Emelec only one point behind their city rivals it should be a barnstormer (unfortunately i will be in the Amazon jungle all matter of beasts and insects). All of the week 6 matches will take place on Sunday but it is no exaggeration to say that all Ecuadorian eyes will be upon the George Capwell Stadium in Guayaquil.

 

Deportivo Cuenca vs Deportivo Quito
Liga de Loja vs Manta F.C.
Técnico Universitario vs Liga de Quito
El Nacional vs Olmedo
Independiente del Valle vs Macará
Emelec vs Barcelona

 

Next Wednesday Ecuador will take on Chile in a money spinning friendly in Citi Field, New York home of the New York Mets (Baseball). With a large Ecuadorian and Chilean ex-pat population the match should be capacity and give Reinalda Rueda the chance to prepare his team before next month’s World Cup qualifiers against Bolivia and Uruguay.

Latin American footballers are more successful than ever.

If one looks over the national football teams of South America, in general the majority of their players ply their trade in Europe.

Latin Americans like to boast that there families are closer than any other cultures (pretty much nonsense in my view), so a move to another continent must be a wrench for footballers, especially at such a young age. However the wages on offer in Europe’s bigger leagues far outstrip those offered in Latin America, except Brazil and maybe Mexico.This coupled with the opportunity to play at a far higher level attracts young footballers to Europe and possible wealth and glory.

Less than 20 years ago the EPL and SPL had a splattering of Latin Americans of which very few were overall successes. Usually, after a season or two they escaped back to their respective paradises complaining about the dreadful food and incessant rain in the UK. Players like Juan Sebastian Veron (Man United, Chelsea, Diego Forlan (Man United) and  Jared Borghetti (Bolton), despite being heroes at home failed to set the heather alight in the bright lights of the EPL/Premiership and were unfairly labelled as South American duds.

Diego Forlan

In Scotland we had the likes of  Emerson and Gabriel Amato (Rangers) or Rafeal Schiedt (Celtic) but admittedly their were some successes alike Claudio Cannagia (Argentina) and Ulysses De La Cruz (Hibernian).

But as the years progressed for every Robinho (Man City) there was at least another Juninho (Middlesborough and Celtic) and for every Crespo (Chelsea) a Gilberto Silva (Arsenal).

Now all of the best players from Latin America play in Europe’s top leagues and the Champions league. Whereas before Latin American’s were a lesser spotted novelty now they are the bedrock of many of the successful European club teams.

If we take the current “biggest” teams in Europe(free to disagree).

Manchester City have Carlos Tevez,Pablo Zableta and Sergio Aguero (Argentina).

Real Madrid have Angel Di Maria and Gonzalo Higuain (Argentina), Marcelo and Kaka (Brazil).

Barcelona have Lionel Messi and Javier Mascherano (Argentina), Dani Alves and Adriano (Brazil) and Alexis Sanchez (Chile).

Bayern Munich have Dante, Rafinha and Luis Gustavo (Brazil).

Chelsea (as Champions league winners) have David Luis, Ramires and Oscar (Brazil).

Manchester United have Javier Hernandez (Mexico), Antonio Valencia (Ecuador) and Rafeal (Brazil).

and free spending Paris Saint-Germain have Thiago Silva, Nene, Alex and Maxwell (Brazil), Javier Pastore and Ezequiel Lavezzi (Argentina) and Diego Lugano (Uruguay).

This is not to mention the imminent transfers of Neymar, Ganso, Lucas Ocampos and Alexander Mejja. It seems as if every team needs to have a South American player now (even 3rd Division dwelling Rangers recently acquired Brazilian Emilson Cribari).

Post- Olympics every big Euro club will be battling for Neymar’s signature.

With their shared languages Portugal and Spain have always found it easier to attract Latin Americans ranging from Hugo Sanchez to  Rivaldo, Ronaldo and Ronaldinho however now La Liga has to contend with clubs in Russia and their immense oil wealth. Similarly many young players wisely seem to choose clubs in Ligue 1 or the Eredivise as stepping stone to greater things.

Whether these players are more determined than those before or maybe life is now more tolerable in the northern European countries is open to question but what is not in doubt is that Latin Americans are succeeding and entertaining in European football like never before. Scouts from every major and minor team now scour the American continent looking for the next Messi or Maradona and whereas before they were content to pay the high transfer fees, now the European clubs want the Latin stars as early and as cheaply as possible.

Barcelona’s fostering of Lionel Messi is the template that many clubs aim to follow.

A recent statistic from Brazil claimed that over 1,000 young footballers leave Brazil alone every year. With only a small percentage destined for super stardom and eye watering contracts the rest will a journey man existence or return home to their barrios and favelas. It’s a harsh lesson to learn at such a young age and one hopes they can recover from being spat by a football industry that treats them more as commodities rather than entertainers or even artists.