XI players that were better than Messi in Brazil

- July 17th, 2014

Let’s face it: Lionel Messi didn’t deserve the Golden Ball.

While he did help his team with some magic moments to lead Argentina to the final, he was largely invisible in the entire knockout phase.

Even in the group stages, he was marked out of most games.

When Messi was announced as the Golden Ball winner as the World Cup’s MVP, even Sepp Blatter was surprised. If the corrupt head of corrupt FIFA doesn’t want to reward one of the world’s most marketable players, that’s saying something.

So, after a couple of days to let the dust settle, here’s my Starting XI of players that probably deserved the Golden Ball more than Messi.

GK – Manuel Neuer, GER

This generations top sweeper-keeper was Golden Gloves winner of the tournament, edging out Keylor Navas – who was outstanding for Costa Rica.

DEF – Jerome Boateng, GER

The best defender from the champions was a name that wasn’t called on very often. Why? Because he didn’t make any mistakes, even when starting the tournament as a right back.

DEF – Ezequiel Garay, ARG

Part of one of the best defences in Brazil, Garay was the man who put out the most fires for Argentina.

DEF – Ron Vlaar, NED

Has an Aston Villa player ever had as good of a World Cup as Vlaar? Probably not as the Dutchman was outstanding in leading the Oranje’s back three.

DEF/MF – Philipp Lahm, GER

Only above-average as a defensive midfielder to start the World Cup, it was his move to right back that helped the Germans really hit their stride.

MF – Toni Kroos, GER

In a midfield full of talent, Kroos looked like the best all-around players and was the most dangerous on the ball.

MF – Javier Mascherano, ARG

Was playing so hard in the semifinals that he literally tore his anus. Was the all-around best player on his team and probably even more important than Messi.

MF – James Rodriguez, COL

Has Colombia made it to the semifinals, there’s no way you couldn’t have given him the Golden Ball. Now it’s just an argument and, really, he should have been the winner.

FWD – Arjen Robben, NED

While his offence is usually what gets him noticed, he was battling hard every minutes and even tracking back on defence, something that he doesn’t do every game for Bayern.

FWD – Thomas Muller, GER

The top scorer on the winning team is always in contention. Muller isn’t the most creative player, but man can he score.

FWD – Neymar, BRA

Before his terrible back injury in the quarterfinals, Neymar was far and away the best Brazilian player and a shining star of the tournament.

And, just for fun, here’s a starting XI of the most disappointing players of the World Cup.

GK – Iker Casillas, ESP

Once among the world’s best keepers, he performance was laughable in Brazil.

DEF – Pepe, POR

His headbutt to Muller in their opener essentially ended both his and his country’s tournament.

DEF – David Luiz, BRA

When you have a central defender playing most of the game past midfield, it’s easy to understand how your team loses 7-1.

DEF – Marcelo, BRA

Let’s just take the “back” part of the Brazilians’ “wingback” designation because defending was the last thing on his mind.

MF – Eden Hazard, BEL

Much like Messi, had a couple of magic moments with some assists, but was largely disappointing.

MF – Michael Bradley, USA

Sure, he covered a lot of ground – the most of any player per game, in fact – but he was supposed to be a focal point on offence and failed in that respect.

MF – Steven Gerrard, ENG

England’s captain had a rough go of it, just like his team. Have to wonder if that was it for his international career.

MF – Mesut Ozil, GER

Was largely invisible for large portions of games, turned the ball over too often and was too timid to shoot most the time.

FWD – Cristiano Ronaldo, POR

You can blame the injury, but a lot more was expected from the supposed world’s best player.

FWD – Wayne Rooney, ENG

He bagged his first ever World Cup goal, but blew several chances before it in that game alone. Also had the worst corner kick in soccer’s history.

FWD – Fred, BRA

When you’re relentlessly booed by your home fans, you know you’re doing something wrong.

Follow me on Twitter @danbilicki

Get ready for a disappointing final

- July 11th, 2014

For as many amazing moments and great games we have seen at the World Cup in Brazil, it’s very hard to imagine it ending with anything but a whimper.

Why? Because of the two teams involved.

After such an amazing thrashing of Brazil by Germany, many will be thinking that it is an offensive juggernaut capable of pounding in goals at will.


This German side is gifted with a lot of good offensive players, but always look to get a bit too cute when it comes down to it.

Case-in-point: Mesut Ozil passing instead of taking the open shot against Algeria in the quarterfinals. Had he not luckily collected the rebound and finally put it home – another opportunity he nearly missed – the Germans would’ve come back to regret it after the North Africans scored a consolation goal later.

And that 7-1 win? Chalk it up to Brazil’s poor tactics and inability to cobble together a decent defence. Of the four players on its back line, only injury-replacement Dante is considered a true defender.

At least Die Mannschaft has looked a lot better since finally moving captain Philipp Lahm to right back and playing Bastian Schweinsteiger and Sami Khedira as holding midfielders. Being able to use Lahm in attack out wide while having those two cover is a big asset for the final.

As for their opponent, this Argentina team is the last side you want to see if you enjoy exciting attacking football.

It really says something when you can have a team led by Lionel Messi and still look incredibly plodding with the ball and aimless in attack.

But that’s the style La Albiceleste have been intent on playing in Brazil, almost a slap to the face of the gracefully attacking hosts.

Even against the vastly inferior opponents it faced in the group stages, Argentina was happy to pass around the ball, defend when it had to and then wait for a moment of magic from Messi, which he was happy to supply.

That moment didn’t come against the Netherlands, but a couple of managing mistakes by Dutch manager Louis van Gaal helped Argentina advance via penalties.

What would have been the perfect end to this tournament would’ve been the Germans and Dutch battling to become the first European team to win it in South America while the Brazil-Argentina rivalry would have heated up the usually meaningless third-place game.

Instead, we’ll get a plodding affair for the final between a one-man team and an efficient-but-overrated side while two teams that couldn’t care less about finishing third.

The NHL draft is not worth watching

- June 27th, 2014

The second-worst event in major North American sports goes tonight and it’s one that gets a surprising amount of hype for how bad it actually is.

We’re talking about the NHL draft, which is only slightly better than the MLB, but at least baseball has more common sense to actual broadcast its selection process.

There are many reasons why the NHL’s draft is bad, but it starts with the fact that very few of the guys taken in even the first round get a chance to make an impact in the coming season.

Once you get past the first 10 picks, it becomes highly unlikely that these guys will even play regular NHL minutes in the following season, let alone right away.

Looking at the nominees for the Calder Trophy this season, only Nathan MacKinnon – who won – was drafted in 2013. Of the top nine vote-getters, only two – MacKinnon and Sean Monahan – were taken last July.

So why make such a big deal over something that has so little impact on the immediate future?

In both the NBA and NFL, you should be getting big-time, immediate impact from your first rounder; not waiting for them to develop like in the NHL.

There’s also the fact that the NHL draft lacks any sort of atmosphere. The NBA and NFL get it right by hosting their events in theatres, which plays well for the fans. The NHL stages their event in an arena, which seems to suck the life out of the event.

The NHL also lacks a decent moderator. Instead of seeing the pick come onstage for a quick handshake and photo with the commissioner, instead we have to wait for the selecting team to thanks the host city, the league, etc., then make the selection. What follows is roughly a half-dozen handshakes with semi-scared, zit-faced kid from Kelowna that takes a good five minutes and is deathly boring to watch on TV.

And if there are a team’s fans in attendance for some reason, expect a smattering of applause at best. Also, it’s not like you can boo a selection because chances are you won’t know how good the kid is for three years.

Why the NHL seems to think this is an event worthy of prime time, I’m not sure. I’m sure, though, that people will watch it, parrot the analysis of TSN types to their friends and either applaud or pan their team’s pick accordingly.

After all, that’s what sports are all about.

World Cup power rankings V2

- June 23rd, 2014

With one more game under everyone’s belt, we already have some teams moving on and some heading home. Here’s how the power rankings shake out after the second round of games.

1. France – Great performance against the Swiss, but took its foot off the gas late in the game.

2. Netherlands – Had a bit of trouble with Australia and maybe Spain wasn’t as good as we thought.

3. Germany – Defence is an issue, but have to admire resolve to fight back for draw.

4. Colombia – More strong defending and excellent on the counter-attack.

5. Chile – Needs to beat Netherlands to avoid a tough matchup with Brazil.

6. Costa Rica – The shock team of the tournament escapes a formidable group.

7. Italy – Faltered in the heat against the upstart Costa Rican side.

8. Belgium – For a team this talented, you have to wonder about ineffectiveness so far.

9. Argentina – Of the teams with six points, have looked the worst.

10. Brazil – Hosts seem to be feeling the pressure, failing to break down Mexicans.

11. Ivory Coast – Only seem to score with Drogba on the pitch, yet won’t start him.

12. Mexico – Settled for long shots – and a draw – against a vulnerable Brazilian side.

13. Uruguay – All it needed was Suarez, apparently. Still must beat Italy to go through.

14. USA – Gutted by an injury-time goal, but looked solid throughout.

15. Ghana – Played the Germans tough and dominated much of the USA game.

16. Croatia – It’s pretty easy to look good against a 10-man team that clearly isn’t trying.

17. Algeria – One of the surprise teams of the tournament, except if you listened to Kurt Larson.

18. Switzerland – France made its defence look like Swiss cheese.

19. Ecuador – Enner Valencia’s name could be on some transfer wishlists after his brace.

20. Portugal – Cristiano Ronaldo comes through with key cross in clutch to keep hopes alive.

21. Australia – At least it put up a good fight before its inevitable elimination.

22. Russia – Are going to have to find some goals – and fast – if Capello’s side wants to advance.

23. England – We suspect that Suarez won’t be getting a warm reception back in Liverpool.

24. Spain – Tiki-taka? More like tiki-taxi to the airport.

25. Nigeria – The Super Eagles picked up a big win, looking to enter the final 16.

26. Bosnia & Herzegovina – Botched offside call essentially ended debutants’ tournament.

27. Japan – Had its chances against 10-man Greece, but couldn’t finish.

28. Iran – Deserved a point for its solid, but boring, performance against Argentina.

29. South Korea – Defence was torn apart by the Fennec Foxes.

30. Honduras – Better performance than in the first game, but still not enough.

31. Greece – Defended well with 10 men, but offence is non-existent.

32. Cameroon – Only fight that it showed against Croatia was amongst its own players.

World Cup 2014 Power Rankings: V1

- June 19th, 2014

I had been writing this up for the blog, but our editor decided he liked them so much, we’d put them in the paper. Either way, here they are in case you missed them.

After a round of games (plus Brazil-Mexico), let’s take a look at where every nation at the World Cup stands — with a lot sure to change in the coming days and weeks.

1. Netherlands – Couldn’t have looked better in destroying defending champion and world No. 1 Spain.

2. Germany – Didn’t even look that great yet crushed a supposed contender.

3. Italy – Looks like one of the best all-around teams in Brazil and should go far.

4. France – Was never threatened against 10-man Honduras. Might’ve choked in the past.

5. Colombia – The Colombians’ defending was among the best we’ve seen. Aggressive yet controlled.

6. Belgium – Lack of true fullbacks could be exploited by a better opponent.

7. Brazil – Benefitted from calls in first game, then was held by good goalkeeping in second.

8. Argentina – Supposed title contender looked sloppy and were lucky to get three points.

9. Chile – Had a few scares, but was ultimately the better team; much bigger tests looming.

10. Switzerland – Looked above average all over pitch and was rewarded with late winner.

11. Bosnia & Herzegovina – Unlucky on the first goal, but controlled much of the match.

12. Mexico – Could have had a couple more goals against Cameroon. Played well against hosts.

13. Ivory Coast – Got a much-needed boost from Drogba in second half. Expect him to start.

14. England – Strong performance by young guns hid the ineffectiveness of veterans.

15. Costa Rica – Perhaps the biggest surprise so far, but had a decent history against Uruguay.

16. Russia – Akinfeev’s big mistake cost this boring side a chance at three points.

17. Croatia – Rightfully had complaints about officiating, but also couldn’t finish chances.

18. USA – Are going to have to improve all over the pitch to have a chance to advance.

19. Ecuador – Were one tackle or one whistle or one blocked cross away from a point.

20. Ghana – Sent way too many chances over the bar and paid for it in the end.

21. Spain – Hardest team to place. Could be last thanks to awful defence, but have to respect pedigree.

22. Algeria – Content to defend and hit off the counter. Did well to frustrate Belgium.

23. Portugal – Blew the few chances it had before ultimately falling to pieces.

24. Uruguay – A very disappointing showing. Couldn’t defend and lacked creativity in attack.

25. Japan – Without Honda, this team might be totally lost. Overwhelmed by bigger opponent.

26. South Korea – Lucked into a point, but did show that it can defend against an uncreative team.

27. Australia – Entire offence seems to be based around Cahill headers. Can it do anything else?

28. Greece – The Greeks can’t score and couldn’t defend in first game. Bad stuff.

29. Cameroon – Was always second best against a very average Mexican side.

30. Nigeria – Lacked the talent and creativity to unlock a weaker team.

31. Iran – Well, it can defend crosses, but I’m not sure what else it can do.

32. Honduras – Couldn’t muster a chance even when it had all 11 men.