It was horrific to watch, not only because of Gareth Bale’s dolphin like dive but also the manner of Scotland’s late capitulation.

Not that it was a new experience. There has been a steady stream of dreadful, disappointments in the last 10-15 years for the Tartan Army. You would think the familiarity would lessen the effect, but it doesn’t.

I watched the game with a Dutch friend, who like his countrymen has been spoiled rotten with football for the last 30 years. Since the 1974 World Cup, Holland have regularly competed in the latter stages of International tournaments:  being beaten in 3 World Cup finals and winning the Euro’s in 1988.

The Netherlands have 4 times the population of Scotland but 20 times the football capability. The football academies of PSV Eindhoven, Feyenoord and Ajax have provided the Dutch national team (and other national teams) with an endless procession of quality players since 1980’s.

And the Eredivisie isn’t only about the big 3 with AZ Alkamaar and FC Twente recently winning titles.

Yet, the Dutch had to endure ten years of disaster before the success of the famous 1988 team of Gullit, Van Basten and Rijkaard began to emerge. From  1982 to 1986 Holland failed to qualify for the successive World Cups and the Euro Championships.

In the end they had to turn to their old master, Rinus Michels to steady the ship.

Not that he didn’t have great players to work with. In addition to the the trinity of Rijkaard, Gullit and Van Basten there was Koeman, Wouters and Van Breukelen in a classic side.

With the exception of this years poor Euro’s in Poland/Ukraine, Holland have consistently competed at the highest level internationally for the  last 25 years. In this time they have produced the De Boer brothers, Jaap Staam, Ruud Van Nistelrooy, Patrick Kluivert, Edwin van der SarEdgar DavidsMichael ReizigerClarence Seedorf and the magical Denis Bergkamp.

If England’s underachieving generation of Terry, Lampard, Gerrard etc  is “Golden” I have no idea what precious metal this one has been.

The current national team are not lightweight either. With the majority of the squad starring for the major European clubs and combined transfer price of around 250,000 Euro’s their World Cup qualification will be a mere formality.

When they land in Rio in 2014 they will start as realistic favourites, (along with Brazil, Argentina and Spain)  for the World Cup.

Current Holland best 11:

Holland football formation

Currently, the Eredivsie is arguably the 7th best European League behind England, Spain, Germany,Italy, France and Portugal. Alike all the “smaller” Euro leagues the best players are cherry picked by the best clubs of the big 4 leagues.

While the big three: PSV Eindhoven, Feyenoord and Ajax can still attract a good level of player from Latin America or Eastern Europe their real strength lies in their youth development programs which have reared the likes of Robben,Van de Vaart and Huntellar for Holland and Vermaelen and Vertonghen for Belgium in recent years.

Current top 11 players in the Eredivisie:

Somewhat surprisingly the SFA have decided to go Dutch in their future plans for development of the national game and hired a top gun from the Netherlands. However in a typical measure of underwhelming bumbling they did not splash out on statesman alike Johan Cruyff, Guus Hiddink or Frank Arnesen.

Instead they opted for Mark Wotte, a journey man manager who’s greatest achievement so far was a one year stint for FC Utrect then Southampton.

To be fair he has made all the right noises so far and has identified the obvious weaknesses in our games development. His real success will be measured in 1o years time. Which is of no use to our ongoing current predicament.

CONMEBOL team of week 9 (12/10/2012)

Week 9 saw Argentina, Ecuador and Colombia win and move away from the pack. The qualifying group has now split into 3 parts with Chile and Uruguay losing form in the last 3 games.

Messi was at his imperial best against Uruguay. It has often been touted that little Leo does not perform for his country and cannot replicate his Barcelona form. This qualifying campaign, and the recent Brazil friendly largely dispels this myth.

His second goal was particularly impressive. It wasn’t as spectacular as his recent free-kick against Real Madrid but it was the apparent simplicity and ease in his execution to slip the ball low past the keeper.

BOLIVIA  1 (Chumacero 51′) PERU 1 (Marion0 21′)

COLOMBIA 2 (Falcoa 52′, 90′) PARAGUAY 0

ECUADOR 3 (Caicedo 33′,56′, Castillo 93′) CHILE (Paredes OG 25′)

ARGENTINA 3 (Messi 66′,80′ Aguero 75′) URUGUAY 0

 

In Quito, Ecuador finally broke down a stubborn Chile after initially going behind. A couple of rash challenges had Chile eventually go down to 9 men and Ecuador took full advantage. Their tormentor in chief was Felipe Caicedo who continued his impressive international form and scored his 3rd and 4th goals in 3 games.

 

Man of the moment Radamel Falcao scored a brace against bottom dwelling Paraguay while in La Paz, Bolivia and Peru recorded 1-1 draw helping neither of their qualification chances.

My best 11 of last Friday’s games:

 

 

Doom,gloom and no room for Brazil

Another year and another qualification campaign down the drain. Only Scotland can fail after 3 games.

Even if we manage to beat Belgium away our campaign is doomed. There’s more chance of the Solomon Islands being at Brazil 2014 than us.

Yesterday’s 2-1 to Wales in Cardiff was typically heartbreaking but not exactly surprising. The only genuine European class player on the field was the difference between the teams.

Much like Maradonna versus England in 1986 we saw Bale cheat the referee to claim his first then score a wonder goal to win the game.

Wales also have no chance of qualification. Belgium,Croatia and Serbia will scrap for 1st place and the play-off place.

The World Cup will return to it’s spiritual home in 2014. It’s fair to this will be the ultimate fiesta of football.

 

I’ll be going but my team will not.

Line-up for Scotland vs Wales

Levein will probably use Caldwell instead of Mulgrew. Alan Hutton is a worry with a lack of match fitness.

James Morrison has to play because of his club form and although Shaun Maloney is playing well I think we need the inventiveness and running of James Forrest.

Kenny Miller doesn’t get a nod because he is playing in Canada and Fletcher is on fire.

 

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No call offs for Scotland

Surprisingly Craig Levein suffered no injuries to his squad after last weekend’s games.

Scott Brown was rested at the weekend and although Charlie Mulgrew was substituted after a head knock he should recover for the Wales game on Friday.

 

Of the squad members playing down south Shaun Maloney and James Morrison has the most impressive displays.

 

If Levein picks on form then both of these players should start.

Steven Fletcher came through Sunderland’s 3 – 0 defeat unscathed but unfortunately Gary Caldwell had another poor game and looked at his maladroit best.

 

Darren Fletcher was rested yesterday for Man United’s game with Newcastle but Charlie Adam played 80 minutes for Stoke.

The cult of Antonio Valencia

 

 

Rarely in my travels have I seen such an obsession for one football player in Ecuador’s infatuation for Antonio Valencia.

 

The Manchester United right back/winger is lauded as “the best player in the world” up here in the Andes and receives the type of attention usually only reserved for Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo.

They are rightly proud of their man from Lago Agrio who rose from poverty to play for one of the biggest football teams in the world. It helps that by all accounts Valencia seems to be a very grounded and pleasant person.

In the national newspapers Valencia’s every match and any public utterance is covered in detail. The slightest hint of injury verges can create national panic, especially in the lead up to a World Cup qualifier.

Valencia’s career rise has not been meteoric but more measured progress. After climbing through the youth ranks and into the first team with Quito based El Nacional (The Ecuadorian army team of which Valencia was a soldier) , Antonio won a move to then Spanish giants Villarreal. With limited opportunity available at the Madrigal he was farmed out to Recreativo de Huelva then loaned and signed by Wigan in the EPL. After 3 years impressing for Wigan he was attracting attention from around Europe and particularly Real Madrid. However when Alex Ferguson came knocking he opted for Old Trafford and he has since cemented his place in Man U’s starting 11.

 

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In his 3 years in Manchester he has won the Premier League and League Cup and last year he was voted as Manchester United Players’ Player of the Year then rewarded with £80,000 four-year contract.

Ferguson obviously values his player citing, “Antonio is always very professional and a great human being. I’m very happy with him”

Similarly Ashley Young is glowing in his praise despite his competition for a place recently claiming

“’He attacks, he defends, he can shoot, he can cross, he can pass… he has it all and that’s why he scooped up everything at the end-of-season awards. It’s why the players voted for him and it’s why the fans voted for him”.

 

 

 

When it was announced that Valencia was to play as the No.7 for Man U, Ecuadorians immediately thought this was a further identification of the his greatness and an assimilation along with previous number sevens alike George Best and Eric Cantona. A typically humble Valencia accepted the honour with his usual grace.

Valencia has represented Ecuador a total of 54 times, scoring six goals. He played in all 4 of Ecuador’s games at the 2006 World Cup and garnered universal praise for his performances. Appearances in the Copa America and unsuccessful qualification campaigns followed but his performances have be rewarded with the captain’s armband.

When Valencia receives the ball in the Atahaulpa stadium there is a collective hushed mumble of “Antonio” in anticipation of some oncoming breath-taking skill. Unfortunately, rarely is there any Messi-esque magic but he often has a telling contribution for “El Tri”. Sometimes Ecuador’s over-reliance on Valencia has a detrimental effect on their pace based play and it becomes too obvious to the opposition.

In recent World Cup qualifiers the opposition have been wary of the Valencia effect and doubled up on him somewhat stymying his contribution. Luckily Ecuador has quality all over the park and Valencia can be used as a foil and play quickly switched to the left hand side through the likes of Saritama and Montero.

 

 

Valencia is fast and incisive but he is no playmaker. His lung-bursting runs and rapid counter attacks can severely test the best of wing backs.  He can chip in with the odd goal but is hardly prolific with an average of around one goal every 8 matches for club and country.

Valencia’s real strength is his overall ability. While some players are more gifted in specific skills i.e. tackling, free-kicks, close control, not many are proficient in all.

He is arguably the best right sided player in the EPL and while he is not as skilled as Barcelona’s Daniel Alves at right back his versatility makes him invaluable for club and country. There are few modern players who can flourish in a number of positions and for this reason Valencia is very special.

Off the field Valencia is also growing and becoming a lot more vocal in the media. Early in his career he was a very reserved and shy however recent months he has become more confident and controversial.

After last month’s qualifier against Uruguay when he was harshly red-carded in the dying minutes was scathing and incandescent with rage:

“This referee is a clown,” he said. “How come he didn’t give us that penalty? We are in Uruguay, we are not on another planet.

“He did the same in the last World Cup qualification campaign. He’s a disgrace, a total clown”.

A day later he was even more enraged when he had his camera stolen by the customs officials in Quito airport. This time his countrymen felt both barrels in a tirade in the media.

At 27 Antonio Valencia is entering his prime years as a footballer. By all accounts he lives a proper lifestyle and with Manchester United and Ecuador he should be competing at the very highest level for many more years.

If he can continue his career progression the maybe he will become, as many Ecuadorians already believe, one of the greatest footballers in the world.

 

Ecuadorian teams hopeful in the Sudamericana

The Ecuadorian teams had a mixed bag in the first leg ties of last weeks Copa Sudamericana but with a little luck they could all progress.

Liga de Loja had the toughest task against Brazilian giants Gremio and although they secured a credible home draw they will have their work cut out in Porto Alegre. Especially after losing the away goal. Yimmy Bermudez took the lead for Loja in the first half before a Larrea own goal restored parity 7 minutes later.

Emelec secured a fine 2-2 away draw in Chile against current Sudamericana  holders Universidad de Chile and should be confident of progress for the return and although Barcelona lost to Sao Paulo  they should also overcome the Brazilians in Guayaquil.

The most impressive result was Deportivo Quito’s against Tigre of Argentina. The negro azules have been truly awful domestically and until recently relegation was a realistic threat.  Both teams eventually finished the game with 10 men but importantly Quito got tow goals through Lorca in 53 minutes and Vila in the 86th.

     Deportivo Quito       2 – 0                Tigre

                  Liga de Loja         1 – 1           Sao Paulo

                      Barcelona         0 – 1            Gremio

Universidad de Chile        2 – 2         Emelec

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