Monday, December 13, 2010

Bored of Indoor Soccer

Now that we're two months into the indoor soccer season, I'm officially bored of regular league play. It's not so much that indoor soccer itself is boring, as that nobody really seems to care about the games at all. We all make the playoffs, the standings don't actually matter, and the overall winner is irrelevant because we'll do it all over again in outdoor.

As of now, I'm counting down the days to the WCP Cup.

Has anyone heard of exhibition games or teams holding tryouts? I won't go watch, but at least it will give me something to think about besides how out-of-shape I'm going to get over the Christmas break. Leave updates in the comments section.

Monday, November 1, 2010

What happened? Final Exams

It doesn't look like anyone has started getting their teams together yet. Perhaps a hiatus on the discussion is in order until after New Years.

A bit of info first:

Apparently the tournament is starting early and finishing a little earlier this year. It will begin the final week in March and go until the 24th or 25th of April - about four weeks.

Beware to any team with an over-reliance on university students - Final Exams!

Monday, September 20, 2010

WCP Cup Preseason?

When does the WCP Cup preseason start? It's been about 5 months since the tournament ended and that's approximately the same amount of time that elapses between the Superbowl and NFL preseason. Is it now OK to nod approvingly at someone when they start talking about how their team is shaping up? Or should we still go with the summer etiquette of "Are you f------ serious?" when someone starts talking about their new roster? I need some input here. Let's figure out an exact (or within a couple weeks) date for when it's no longer considered pathetic to be thinking ahead to April 2011.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Top 10 Players 2010

Keep in mind I didn't see every game but I saw a lot. I'm also incredibly biased as almost everyone knows. A few criteria.... Playoffs matter, overall team strength matters, team tactics make a difference. Feel free to correct me on the spelling of names.

1. Jay Tomchuk, Ireland - Ireland was stacked, yes. But Jay was the instrument of their success in the midfield. Great scoring touch plus a nasty streak to go with it.

2. Yianni Harbis, France - The reason that France was so strong on defence and why they gave the ball away so infrequently. Always a physical presence.

3. Little guy from Saskatoon, Poland - Pretty much Poland's great shining hope to score every game. And he delivered as much as he could considering how much he got banged around.

4. Dave Brown, Ireland - Scored the goal-of-the-tournament against France in the semifinals and was a threat every time he touched the ball. Not much of a defender but that wasn't his role so it doesn't matter.

5. Scott Myrah, Laos - The sparkplug of the team. He was always able to give them a boost when it mattered and I would've picked him to score the winner in the final if he wouldn't have gotten hurt.

6. Tavis Workman, Canada - Sometimes doesn't show for big games, but this time he brought it night in and night out. A solid tourny the whole way through.

T-7. Evan Campbell, Laos and Jonah, Ireland - Both keepers had sensational final games and made the championship a great event. Equal because of those performances.

8. Josh Northey, Laos - Not the scoring machine many expected him to be, but still scored nice goals and caused plenty of problems for defenses that man-marked him all game.

9. Kajmir Bahia, France - Played solid in the midfield in every game. The catalyst for their attack and always in the right position when defending.

10. Benno Lufte, Ireland - Scared the crap out of strikers for the entire tournament and was his typical, mistake-free self on the counter-attack. Always a pillar of strength when things are going bad.

Friday, May 7, 2010

2010 Standings and Results






Group A
Ireland 5, Columbia 1
Ireland 2, Canada 2
Ireland 6, Botswana 2
Ireland 5, Chile 1
Canada 7, Columbia 2
Canada 2, Botswana 2
Canada 3, Chile 1
Columbia 1, Botswana 0
Columbia 4, Chile 3
Botswana 3, Chile 0

Group B
Norway 4, Scotland 3
Norway 3, El Salvador 2
Norway 6, Jamaica 2
Norway 4, Afghanistan 1
Germany 12, Scotland 1
Germany 7, Norway 4
Germany 3, Jamaica 1
Germany 6, Afghanistan 3
El Salvador 5, Germany 3
El Salvador 5, Scotland 1
El Salvador 2, Jamaica 2
El Salvador 7, Afghanistan 3
Jamaica 4, Afghanistan 1
Jamaica 9, Scotland 0
Afghanistan 5, Scotland 1

Group C
Poland 2, Nigeria 1
Poland 7, Northern Ireland 0
Poland 3, Portugal 1
Poland 4, Serbia 1
Poland 7, England 1
Nigeria 2, Northern Ireland 2
Nigeria 9, Portugal 5
Nigeria 6, Serbia 3
Nigeria 9, England 2
Northern Ireland 3, Portugal 2
Northern Ireland 3, England 2
Portugal 8, Serbia 2
Portugal 6, England 2
Serbia 3, Northern Ireland 2
Serbia 3, England 3

Group D
France 3, Laos
France 6, Ukraine 2
France 4, Austria 0
France 5, Italy 2
France 5, Greece 1
Laos 3, Ukraine 1
Laos 2, Austria 1
Laos 7, Italy 2
Laos 6, Greece 1
Ukraine 4, Austria 0
Ukraine 4, Italy 0
Ukraine 6, Greece 2
Austria 3, Italy 1

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Player Movement

As I understand it, in the 2011 tournament players will have a very difficult time joining a different team than the one they played for in 2010. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I think unless a player is released by a team they must pay a $500 fine or else sit out for a year.

Personally, I think this is a great change. No longer will we see players who at one time claimed heritage for one team, only a year later to see that they jumped ship to play for another team with more of their friends or that has a much better chance of winning. Full disclosure - Norway did it with Reis Cooper and Andrew Baulin this year from Scotland. I'm happy to have them on the team, but it still made me feel a bit like a creep. At least we weren't as bad as Canada.

What the tournament should see more of now is good players sticking with their team in the good years and the bad and actually trying to help that team to get better instead of looking for the quick fix. Also, much more emphasis on the younger players coming up. It might sound pathetic, but teams are going to actually have to scout out the youth divisions.

Mostly I'm happy that this should help eliminate another abomination of a team like Ireland, which takes its players from wherever, no matter how terrible it looks. Success - yes. Respect - absolutely not.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

More with Less

With the star player rule eliminated for this year's tournament, significant pressure was put on teams to perform at a high level with barely any "star" performers. The two teams that did the best? Norway and Nigeria - the only two playoff teams without a majority of players in Division 2 or higher.

Since I'm unfamiliar with Nigeria's roster I'll focus on Norway. Plus, this is a Norway blog.

Norway had only three star players on its roster: Stefan Husdal, Reis Cooper and Andrew Baulin, and Reis was out for the tourny after Norway's second game. The remainder of the players came from lower divisions or, in the case of FIVE players, do not play at all besides the WCP Cup.

How did Norway do so well against teams like Jamaica, El Salvador and France? Good team chemistry and a lack of ego mostly. Norway doesn't have a coach and everyone gets equal playing time. The only way that can work and a team can be successful is if there are 0 losers playing for the squad.

I'm not going to fault teams for stacking up on star players because of course that is the best recipe for success. However, all the weaker teams in the tournament should keep in mind that you can still have success without great players - just figure out how to keep the idiots off of your squad.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Changes for 2011

While the tournament is still fresh in everyone's minds, let's try and figure out what can be changed in future years. I'll get the ball rolling with a few suggestions but I encourage everyone to throw around ideas and I'll do my best to get them to Kevin. Give a good explanation of why the change is needed.

1. Eliminate +/- as a tie-breaker, or at least put a cap on goal difference per game. This current rule means that good teams have incentive to destroy weak teams and nobody really wants to see that. I can't fault Germany and Jamaica for crushing Scotland - but I want to.

2. Make sure all of the groups have equal teams. Group A was unfair for the winning teams (easier) and the losing teams (only four games instead of five). If you need to cut three teams to make the tourny total 20 then do it. Otherwise go with the full 24.

3. Cut out the anthems. Or maybe find versions that aren't the slowest thing available (I was shocked at the choice of the sleep-inducing Canadian anthem). Once for the first game is good, then only do it for playoffs. So much time listening to music - often to the detriment of the just-finished warm-up.

4. Do not expand the youth or women's divisions any further. The product is already watered down - don't make it worse. Actually, to go back to point #2, cut the men's back to 20 teams.

5. Lower the cost of the tournament pass. $75 is way too much to pay for something that is good - but not great. It's exploitation of the youth teams' relatives who don't really have a choice but to come and watch their kids run around. Also unfair for the women's teams' fans that only played THREE games.

5.1 If you're going to charge $75 then at least make it usable for the final day. Paying $10 per person for the final EVEN IF they had a tourny pass is BS.

Let's hear some more.....

Monday, May 3, 2010

Final Standings

These are my final standings for the 2010 WCP Cup. Judgement calls based on my personal observations were made to solve issues of perceived ties.

1. Laos
2. Ireland
3. France
4. Canada
5. Germany
6. Norway
7. Poland
8. Nigeria
9. El Salvador
10. Ukraine
11. Jamaica
12. Northern Ireland
13. Columbia
14. Portugal
15. Austria
16. Botswana
17. Serbia
18. Afghanistan
19. Italy
20. England
21. Chile
22. Greece
23. Scotland

Laos Champions

Congratulations to Laos for an impressive and convincing win over Ireland in the WCP Cup Championship game. The game went to penalty kicks but I don't think there was any doubt in the minds of spectators that the better team prevailed on Saturday.

Laos came out much more intense than Ireland and it seemed they would score early in the match. Instead, fans were treated to a multitude of quality chances from both teams as the goalkeepers stood on their respective heads. The keepers made this game great because without both playing phenomenally this game would have been blown wide open early in the contest.

Ireland eventually opened the scoring but the game was quickly tied up by Laos. Then Ireland took another lead early in the second half only to have Laos re-tie it within a couple of minutes. Going into overtime and during the extra frames it seemed that Laos' speed would end it all as Ireland was visibly tiring. But both teams kept it together and provided fans with an overall entertaining finish.

Laos 3-2 in PK.

Friday, April 30, 2010

Finals Preview

I'm skipping the bronze medal preview because I can't think of any reason why someone would go and watch that game. The teams are good, but everyone knows that third place is really a glorified way of saying second runner-up. If the winning team gloats about that it will be pathetic.

I'm expecting Ireland to abuse Laos like a Catholic school boy - pretty much a sequel to the 2008 final. I'll give props to Laos for stepping up and manhandling a pathetic Canada squad on Thursday, but there's no way this team will find a way to make it close. Ireland has been very impressive the entire tournament and the Laos defense is going to look like Swiss Cheese once the game has reached its merciful end. Hopefully Ireland will make this game a Toyota car and keep the gas pushed down indefinitely. Sadly for all of the fans involved we once again will have to see Ireland as champions. Let's keep our fingers crossed that in 2011 Norway can get its act together and save us all from that miserable fate. Ireland 4-1.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Semifinals preview

I went 1-3 in the quarterfinals but I was still close. Germany gave their game away. Poland and Canada in overtime and I picked the wrong one. Ireland dominated and obviously I'm always picking Norway over whomever they play. Here goes round 2.

Ireland vs. France - Before last night I would have taken France in this game because I was so impressed with their first round. But now I'm switching to Ireland because I don't think some of the France players have the ability to bring their game up to what it needs to be to beat the super-talented Irish team. Ireland wasn't even tested against Nigeria and will have plenty of firepower and energy left for tonight. France will make it a battle but Ireland will score some pretty goals. 5-2 Ireland.

Canada vs. Laos - Still not overly impressed by either team. Both are very, very talented. Both make tons of dumb mistakes that should never be made by top-calibre teams. That's likely what this game will come down to: Which team makes the biggest mistake at the crucial time to let the opponent capitalize. I'm almost certain it will happen to Canada if only because half the team never looks like it feels comfortable playing with the other half. I guess that's something you take into account when you bring lots of good players together who are used to playing against each other, rather than with each other. 3-2 Laos.

France 5, Norway 3 - Recap

France deserved this win just as much as Norway deserved to lose. Without the scoreboard an impartial observer likely would have thought the two teams were equals, but the separation was that France finished its chances competently and Norway did not. After opening the scoring, Norway went into complacent mode and dialed down the aggressive play that led to the early goal. France capitalized and suddenly, just like that it was 4-1. A fortunate long chip by Grant Wirth made it closer 4-2 at half.

To Norway's credit the team came out very strong to start the second half and put plenty of pressure on a French team content to play a defensive shell. Colin Wirth's low rocket from just over half suddenly saw Norway down only 4-3. More pressure and good defensive play by France in its own penalty area kept the score that way until approximately five minutes remaining.

Then the wheels fell off. Norway couldn't clear the ball out of the defending half, France smelled blood, and in a quick offensive managed to score the dagger from 20 yards out. Norway attempted to do the extremely unlikely and score two in the final four minutes but it was to no avail. 5-3 France.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

France Preview - Wednesday 10 p.m.

Norway will pull off this win and the upset. And yes, I do think its an upset because watching France play I'm convinced they're the most skilled team in the tournament, even more so than Ireland. But Norway prevails because now the team has tasted defeat and it really, really sucks. Norway will come out hard and will play similar to what worked against El Salvador - lots of pressure in the midfield and hard challenges on every opposing player.

What Norway needs to be aware of, and I think is aware of - are the exceptionally talented France strikers who have been lighting it up all tournament. Fortunately, this is an area of strength because Norway's defense is good in one-on-one situations and shutting down pure shooters. Don't expect France to score many goals in this one.

What Norway really needs to ensure victory is to get the first goal. Every game Norway has managed this feat it has ended with a win. Norway is capable of coming from behind, but is much more comfortable when it has a cushion, no matter how small. Norway's strikers will need to play physical against the French back line because this is the area where they can gain a real advantage.

Beware of a slow-paced, tactically sound performance from both sides that almost certainly will not be as exciting as Laos/Germany or Poland/Canada. I'm giving Norway the win in a close one. 3-2.

Playoffs Preview

So many post topics to get in before tomorrow. Hopefully I don't oversaturate or repeat myself. Here goes:

Ireland vs. Nigeria - Sorry Nigeria, you had a good run but there's no way you're getting past Ireland. This Irish squad is just like every year with tons of out-of-Regina talent and a bunch of players who are used to winning, no matter the obstacles. Nigeria tries hard but they're extremely inconsistent and I highly doubt that every player will have his A Game. Even if they all do, I still wouldn't bet against Ireland because they're too good to lose this one. 6-1 Ireland.

Poland vs. Canada - I love this matchup and I think its going to be a great game. Poland came out of a weak pool and they weren't really tested, but that's a credit to them and I think they have all the pieces they need. Their defense and goalkeeping are solid and they've shown a definite ability to score when the game matters. Canada is an enigma. They played excellent against Ireland and OK against Chile but stunk up the joint against Botswana. Who knows how this one will go because all that talent seems wasted when they don't play with any passion. I'm giving it to Poland in overtime 4-3.

Germany vs. Laos - I've been pretty disappointed in Laos this year and I think they're headed home early again. Tons of talent, lots of speed, but for whatever reason I haven't been impressed by how they executed against two seriously weak teams and against a very strong France squad. Germany is coming off a big win against Norway and their physical play will be a huge advantage against a smaller Laos squad. I don't think Germany is the scoring machine they think they are, but they'll do enough to get to the semis. 4-2 Germany.

Norway vs. France - This game is going to be a gooder. Stay tuned for my full preview.

Thanks for showing up

Dear El Salvador, Jamaica, Afghanistan and Scotland,

Thanks for showing up and better luck next year! Don't hang your heads, Norway and Germany were the better teams and deserved to advance. My advice:

El Salvador - Get a TEAM together that doesn't put superstars above everyone else on your bench. Kind of tough to get a big victory against Jamaica when half your players are seeing the field for the first time all tournament. Also, don't think you've advanced just because you managed three wins in five games.

Jamaica - Be better prepared to face the spotlight. Understandably some of your young players were "deer in the headlights" for your first two games. Ultimately your teams' downfall because the final three were impressive. Keep the squad together and the outlook is positive for 2011.

Afghanistan - I liked the speed and I liked the intensity. I really didn't like the attitude though. Get that fixed and you might have a chance next year. To be fair, Group B was an extremely tough group to land in for your first year. Any other group and you likely get at least one more win, possibly two.

Scotland - I feel bad for you guys because of how the +/- factor affected some of your later games. The scores against weren't really a reflection of your team just the circumstances. I also feel bad because you lost a ton of players from 2009. Such is the nature of the tournament though - I hope you get some good recruits for next year.

Germany 7, Norway 4 - Recap

To say the game was an embarassment for Norway would be to understate substantially. The team came out flat, couldn't put any passes together and essentially was manhandled by Germany from the opening whistle. Germany came out like gangbusters and was able to score easy goals off of free kicks from the sideline, essentially counting on a shaky keeper and some lucky bounces to grab a 5-2 halftime lead.

I can assure everyone that letting Germany get up by so much was not the Norway plan. It was a wake-up call that Norway can't have its way with opponents just because they've had success against them in the past.

The beginning of the second half showed a Norway team that everyone had grown accustomed to watching in the tournament. Two quick goals to open the half made it 5-4 and a comeback of epic proportions seemed to be brewing. But then another shaky goal was allowed and that was the game. Germany scored another late as Norway pushed. 7-4 final.

The good news going forward is that Norway will likely never play that poorly again as everyone on the team was disgusted with the effort. The team wasn't far from rock bottom in the first half - comparable more to a last-place team than a first (or second) place one. Sorry to El Salvador that we weren't at least a bit more competitive.

That said, playoffs are still to come so there really is no point in hanging our heads. France will pose an immense challenge and putting this game in the rearview mirror is the first step towards that victory. We earned a 4-0 record precisely so that a game like this could happen and we wouldn't have to worry. It's time to focus on the next match.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Germany Preview - Monday 8 p.m.

Get ready for the excuses. "They got lucky", "We couldn't finish our chances", "The referee gave them all the calls", "They're a dirty team with a bunch of hacks." That's going to be Germany tonight after Norway takes it to them. It's a must-win scenario for Germany. If they get anything less than a victory they're out - if they win, they're first place.

Here's what I think will happen: Germany will come out 100 miles an hour, have a ton of early pressure with lots of chances - and fail to score a goal. Norway will get one though and it will be a crazy counter-attack where the Germany defense was too far pushed up the field to get back in time. Then Norway will score another as Germany is shell-shocked. 2-0 at half.

Germany gets an early second-half goal to lift their hopes, but those hopes are ultimately crushed when Norway scores the clincher - again off the counter-attack because Germany's defense pushes up too much. 3-1 final like I predicted last week. Take a look at my "Playoff Speculation" column to find out in more depth why this will be the result. Its fascinating.

See everyone in the playoffs, regardless of how this ultimately breaks down.

Norway in the Playoffs!

Thank you Jamaica! That's what every Norway player said last night after Jamaica tied El Salvador 2-2. The final 5 minutes of that game were incredible and could have swung Group B any which way, but the final result was really only good news for one team - Norway (and kind of for Germany too). Norway clinched at least second position and will advance to Wednesday's playoff round.

Who saw this happening at the beginning of the tournament? I did. And so did the rest of the Norwegian team, many of who have been playing together for several years. We knew it wouldn't be easy, but there was no doubt that we were the superior team of our group. El Salvador had the swagger, we had a championship trophy - doesn't matter if it happened three years ago.

The intrigue for who else will make the playoffs comes down to tonight's game against Germany. If Germany wins it will claim first place in the group with Norway getting second. If the game is a tie or if Norway wins, then Norway gets first place and El Salvador will claim second.

All of the pressure is on Germany - step up for glory or hang their heads and exit the tournament knowing they couldn't bring it when it mattered.

For my part, I want to crush Germany. I like their players, but this is a great opportunity for Norway to show that even when the game is meaningless we still can't be stopped by lesser teams. Stay tuned for a preview later today.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Norway 3, El Salvador 2 - Recap

Upset? No way. Norway played exactly how it needed to stop the El Salvador scoring machine from functioning properly. It was an intense game with hard challenges, plenty of good scoring opportunities and some real standout performances by midfielders. The difference was that El Salvador never even sniffed a goal in the second half because Norway's defense completely shut them down.

Chad Campbell opened the scoring for Norway only a minute into the game after getting a sweet back-post feed from Stefan Husdal. Husdal had all the time in the world to set up the pass because of great hustle and vision from Justin Sawka in the midfield, who managed to find Stefan wide open near the El Salvador net.

Things were quickly tied up when El Salvador's striker Bubba (that's his name right?) picked up a Norway giveaway in the middle and slotted home an easy finish from just inside the box. Bubba scored again about 5 minutes later - outplaying Norway's D and striking home a shot that went through keeper Brett Moore's legs. After that, Norway buckled down, started playing man-to-man on El Salvador's strikers and never gave them any quality chances for the remainder of the game.

Sawka tied it up right before half, smashing home a finish after forcing El Salvaor's centre back to cough up the ball. 2-2 halftime. The second half saw almost no risk-taking from the Norwegian side, just solid defensive play and timid couter-attack attempts. With just under five minutes remaining Josh Gyurek received an outlet pass at half from Brett Moore. Josh played a quick give-and-go with Stefan in the middle, took a touch down the line, crossed the ball in and hit a streaking David Chisolm coming in from the far side of the field. Chisolm one-touched the ball into the back of El Salvador's net and that was the ball game. 3-2 final.

El Salvador's strategy of not subbing key players probably played a role in their loss. Norway was not as fit as El Salvador overall, but fresh players made a huge difference when the El Salvadorians couldn't get any speed going in the late stages of the game. If you've got a bench you might as well use it right.

Well done Norway. Never doubted that the team would shock the tournament with this game. Almost a mirror image of Norway's win over a super-hyped Chilean team in 2008. Plenty of the exact same players on this El Salvador squad.

Blog Updates

Sorry to anyone visiting the site expecting to see updated standings. Unfortunately, weekends present a problem for this blog because I don't have access to a good computer. I'll have everything up-to-date by lunch on Monday, no worries.

As for the language, again, please keep the profanity out of it. Personally, I could care less, but I guess some people are reading and they get offended - even if the comment has nothing to do with them. I'm leaving all comments up regardless, just try and express an opinion without using profanity. Stay classy right.

Also, if anyone wants any other topics covered then let me know - I might even take a crack at other groups, although I'm trying to keep this focused on Norway.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Norway 4, Afghanistan 1 - Recap

Norway dominated early but seemed to think that a nice goal was better than a blast from far out. It took the Norwegians much longer than it should have to score considering how much pressure was applied to Afghanistan in the middle. To the Afghanis credit, they dropped numerous defenders back and took away shooting lanes well. Finally, Justin Sawka teed up from 25 yards out and blasted one in.

Afghanistan came right back with a nice free kick goal over Brett Moore's head. Momentarily Norway was shocked. But only momentarily. Two minutes later Adam Payette turned his man and rifled one in. 2-1 Halftime.

It was all Norway in the second with Afghanistan getting only one quality chance. Chad Campbell and Andrew Baulin both scored nice goals from in the box and it was 4-1 with 10 minutes to play. That's when Afghanistan decided to show why it is the team with the least amount of class in the entire tournament - handily beating out Italy for the award.

After receiving one caution for a dangerous challenge, Afghanistan then went on to accumulate another for having too many men on the field. 9-1=8, not 9 like they kept playing with. Then, down supposedly 9 men to 7, they still couldn't figure it out and wasted approximately two minutes just trying to get a guy off the field. Still, not a big deal. But then one guy decided he better take a THIRD caution for his team by jumping in front of a ball, right as Norway was about to take a free kick. When the referee showed him the yellow, he turned, told the ref "F U" and was shown the red. Real classy buddy. Way to earn everyone's respect in your first year of the tournament. You couldn't do it with your play so you and your team did it with words and actions. Good job!

It gets better of course. After the game was finished the Afghanis proceeded to hound the referee - probably complaining about how the ref could possibly penalize a team that always takes bad penalties and isn't organized enough to figure out they need to play short on a yellow card. Rumour has it that one of them threatened the ref leaving the facility.

I'm mad because the Afghanis took up so much time taking cards that Norway never really got a chance to play with the man advantage. No goals and no chance to pad the +/- that could determine which team advances through the pool. Thanks Afghanistan, really classy guys.

El Salvador Preview - Saturday 4:30 p.m.

I'm writing this now because I'm not sure I'll have the time after tonight's Afghanistan game. Obviously a lot can change - injury, psyche, fatigue, overconfidence, hangovers - but I'm taking that all into account with my experience of how Norway recovers from most games.

I think the Norway vs. El Salvador tilt will be the most skilled and most entertaining game of any other in Group B. El Salvador has numerous top-flight players with creativity, passion and scoring touch and it was no fluke that they made it to the final in 2009. They're a tough opponent for Norway because they pass extremely well and they're fit, two traits the Norwegians usually like to exploit in other teams.

However, El Salvador also is cursed with some major egos. It might sound rich to read it on this blog (hypocrite, cynic, whatever) but I really think that El Salvador's expectation that they will win every match will be their undoing. It isn't every player on their squad, but there are some moody "superstars" who react very poorly when their team isn't able to have its way. This is the key to the match.

For Norway to win it will have to win ugly. Hard tackles and hard fouls that quite possibly will result in disciplinary action from the referee. It is essential for Norway to get under the skin of the El Salvador players and hope that the mental edge will throw off El Salvador's slick attack. If/when that happens, Norway will have to capitalize on counter-attacking the giveaways that will result. Missed chances mean that Norway will lose because those chances are likely to be few.

I expect the midfield battle in this game to be a draw. Whichever team wins will have shown they were dominant team on the wings and were able to generate chances from the outside. Expect El Salvador to get frustrated and expect there to be some intense one-on-one battles. That said, this is one outcome I'm far from certain of.

I predict a draw, 4-4, with the tying goal scored in the final 5 minutes.

Injury Update

Norway will also be missing striker Dan Dufour for tonight's match against Afghanistan. Dan was injured towards the end of Norway's game against Jamaica and has been unable to make a full recovery.

The injury should be handled OK by Norway as they normally employ three players in the lone striker position. Harder to manage will be midfield, where its still unclear how the team will operate being short a needed substitute because of the Reis Cooper injury.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Afghanistan Preview - Friday 7 p.m.

This is the kind of game that Norway should definitely win. They have more experience in the tournament, play better as a team, and have more skill overall. It's exactly why this game scares me the most out of any of Norway's final three.

In past tournaments Norway has made a habit out of stepping up and playing great against good teams and faltering and playing terribly against sub-par teams. Afghanistan falls into this exact category. From what I've seen they've got some decent players and they try really hard - they just don't have the reps quite yet to play with the big boys.

For Norway to win this game its going to have to come out guns blazing in the first ten minutes and set a tone of hard, physical soccer - exactly like it did against Jamaica. The last thing Norway wants is a slow-paced game with hardly any shots because then the chances of it being close are much, much greater. Norway needs to shoot at every opportunity early on and hopefully get up 2 or 3 to nothing. If they don't then watch out because Afghanistan will almost certainly gain momentum the longer the game stays within reach.

If Norway can control the tempo and keep it fast then this game should be over by halftime. Afghanistan doesn't have the striking capacity to make a sustained comeback in only 25 minutes and they're likely to give up if they don't think they've got a hope. Norway has to make them feel the game is over by not being lazy getting back in the midfield and by following through on every single tackle - right from the start. If Norway can do that it will be a blowout.

I'm predicting 6-1 for Norway.

Remembering 2007.....

It's been three years but the thrill of the 2007 victory is still easy to remember for most members of the 2010 Norway squad. In 2007 the team managed to pull off a magical run of unparalleled dominance throughout the tournament and became one of only three teams to ever win the WCP Cup.

The 4-3 overtime victory over ROI in the final was a perfect ending for the tournament. Everyone wanted ROI to lose that year and Norway had the perfect squad to stop them - plenty of good, strong midfield players; a defensive corps playing way above expectations; stellar goalkeeping; and a tournament MVP in Adam Payette who was nearly unmarkable for three straight playoff games.

Even after claiming first place in its group after round-robin play, Norway was for some reason considered an underdog to Greece in the quarterfinals. The Greeks had a very strong team that year, but their lack of any real scoring threat meant that they needed to play mistake-free defense to stop Norway from winning. That didn't happen and Payette scored the game-winner. 2-1 Norway.

In the semis Norway was once again written off against Jamaica. No chance, nada. Yeah right. Norway took that game to an overconfident Jamaican squad. It was fast and chippy, but otherwise brilliant soccer. This was the game that Norway really hit its stride and scored some beautiful goals off of free kicks and give-and-gos in the box. Payette scored once again. 4-2 Norway.

And then the final. Tons of people watched and cheered for Norway. Still didn't give them a chance though. ROI was a good team (when aren't they?) and was expected to have it wrapped up by halftime. Think again. Norway got out to an early 2-0 lead despite tons of ROI pressure. It was a dirty game - tons of cheap shots from both teams. Eventual full-time score: 3-3. Then game the goal-kick in overtime. Scott Waller hoofed the ball down the field, Payette out-dueled Matt Leung in the box and put the header past ROI's keeper into the corner. Norway victory!

Players still remaining from that Norway team: Dave Chisolm, Dan Dufar, Adam Gottselig, Josh Gyurek, Stefan Husdal, Braden Husdal, Adam Payette, Justin Slinn, and Colin Wirth.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Injury Update

Unfortunately for Norway it's looking like Reis Cooper will be out for the remainder of the tournament with a hand injury.

Reis got crunched on a foul by Jamaica's centre back in Norway's last game and had to undergo surgery to repair the damage. Norway's midfield will definitely feel the effects of his absence.

Group of Death?

I don't think there's any doubt after watching the first week of games that Group B is officially the 2010 Group of Death. With only Scotland as a legitimately weak team, this group offers entertaining and high-intensity games no matter what the match-up. Sure, games have been close in Pool C as well, but the level of play in those games has been less-than-stellar with the exception of a strong Polish squad.

El Salvador, Norway and Germany have all proven that they can play a quality game when they need too. It will likely come down to these three teams to see who advances out of the group. With that in mind, Afghanistan has also shown a lot of flair, but I'm not convinced they're ready this year. In 2011 don't count Afghanistan out. Jamaica has obviously been a disappointment - they're OK, but not even close to teams they've assembled in the past. And Scotland, as much of a shadow of they're past as they currently are, is still OK. They at least try and keep it competitive.

Five remaining games in this group (Afgh vs. Jam, Afgh vs. Nor, Sal vs. Nor, Sal vs. Jam, and Nor vs. Germ) look to be absolute bangers. Its tough to look at any other games from the other groups and think that those will be something close to "Can't miss." Laos vs. France and Ireland vs. Canada are really the only other intriguing mathups left.

Group B will be decided on the final day of round-robin play and you really can't ask anything more from a group of death. Group A and Group D are foregone conclusions and Group C is essentially a crap-shoot of who is weakest for second place.

I'm looking forward to a great weekend of Group B games.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Playoff Speculation

At this point I'm going to say that Norway and El Salvador will be advancing out of Group B. El Salvador has only played three games but scored convincing victories in each. While Norway has only played twice it was impressive in collecting two wins against Jamaica and Scotland. It's true that neither of those teams seems to be anything special this year, but I can't see a scenario in which Norway doesn't get at least second in the pool.

Here's why: Germany doesn't have what it takes to win the big one.

I believe that when Norway and Germany play on Monday that game will decide who gets the group's final playoff spot besides El Salvador. Similar to 2009, I think Norway will prevail in a closely contested match. In 2009 Norway won 2-0 and shut down an aggressive German striking force. This year, Germany isn't nearly as good because they're without Karl Dahle and from the games I've watched them they're prone to costly defensive miscues.

But that isn't the main issue. The main issue is that most players on Germany don't have the stones to step up in big games. When the going gets tough - they're nowhere to be found in the spotlight. To contrast - Norway is the only team in the past four tournaments to win the championship besides ROI. As the saying goes - "Act like you've been there before," and Norway has definitely been in the winning circle before.

I'm still undecided as to what will be the outcome in the El Salvador Norway game on Saturday - I'll write that later this week - but I'm ready right now to predict that Norway takes down Germany 3-1 when the teams meet on Monday.

Norway to the playoffs. Germany finishes third.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Norway 6, Jamaica 2 - Recap

Normally I wouldn't toot my own horn - but c'mon. I predicted 5-2 and it ended up 6-2. Props are in order.

Both teams came out flying on Saturday night and it looked to be fairly even for the first five minutes or so. An unexpected recruit for Jamaica, the impressive Mark Korthius, was a main focus for Norway because he has definite game-breaker potential. Early-on it looked like Jamaica might win the midfield battle that was the unquestioned key to victory.

But then Stefan Husdal of Norway scored on a nice little redirect of a corner kick and the wheels pretty much came off the Jamaica bus. Norway is capable of playing an incredibly solid defensive game when they get a lead and they suffocated Jamaica's comeback efforts. Andrew Baulin put Norway up 2-0 on a sweet shot from 20 yards out and Norway went into halftime up 3-1.

It looked like Jamaica might come back when they scored early in the second stangent, but then Norway picked up the intensity and dominated for the final 20 minutes including a nice tic-tac-toe goal that gave Adam Payette, the 2007 MVP, his first tally of the tournament. Norway had more chances, scored 3 goals and shut down pretty much every Jamaica attempt to get a quality shot. Norway's outside midfielders counter-attacked ruthlessly in the final portion of the game and made certain that Jamaica couldn't sustain pressure for any significant period of time.

Perhaps the defining moment of the match was the game-winner, scored by Justin Slinn late in the first half. A long ball into the box and Slinn put the header home. The play highlighted how easily Norway was able to abuse the Jamaican defense and score critical goals when they were needed.

Norway goal scorers: Husdal, Baulin, Slinn, Chad Campbell, Payette and Justin Sawka.

Well done Norway.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Jamaica preview - Sat 8:30 p.m.

Norway definitely didn't play up to expectations against Scotland and will have to be significantly better to beat Jamaica. That said - Norway always manages to get up for games that have big crowds, a high-profile opponent and are on TV. That's a 3 for 3 formula on Saturday night.

What Jamaica can do is score goals and run fast. To beat them Norway is going to have to play some suffocating defense and counter-attack effectively. Jamaica's defensive game is always a little suspect and their keeper is nothing special so good shots from far out should do the trick. Missing easy chances (like what happened against Scotland) will mean a Norway loss.

I'm optimistic about this game because of past success (4-2 semifinal victory in 2007) and the way that Norway is capable of shutting down fast, but not overly skilled teams. Norway plays a ball possession game and its likely Jamaica will get frustrated and leave itself vulnerable at the back.

I'm predicting a 5-2 win for Norway.

Norway 4, Scotland 3 - Recap

Unfortunately, this recap is a little short because I only saw about 15 minutes of the game due to having an injury. Norway prevailed 4-3.

From what I saw, Norway carried the play after an early meltdown gave Scotland a 1-0 lead. Brett Moore slipped when a Scotland header from the top of the box came rolling towards him. Bad luck happens: 1-0 Scotland.

Norway responded with three goals in the next five minutes to take a comfortable lead by seven minutes in. Sean Haynes, Reis Cooper and Chad Campbell provided the firepower. Scotland couldn't do much to stop the Norway passing game or to generate any chances for the remainder of the first half. Norway missed so many chances that the score easily could have been 5-1 at half.

After that, I have no idea what happened because I wasn't even in the building. The 4-3 final score suggests it was close so maybe that was the case.

The winning goal for Norway was scored by Justin Sawka. Sorry to anyone looking for Scotland's scorers - I'll try and figure them out in the next few days and get them posted.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Scotland Preview

Norway should be able to win tonight against a Scotland team that's a mere shadow of last season's squad. In fact, two of Scotland's best players from 2009 - Reis Cooper and Andrew Baulin - are now on the Norway roster playing centre midfield and centre back respectively.

Expect plenty of goals to come from far-out in tonight's contest. Norway has some cannons for legs playing throughout its midfield and they'll be shooting every opportunity they get. In a recent exhibition against ROI (admittedly missing many key players) Norway triumphed with a 3-2 win (also missing some key players).

The goals came from team buildup and a quick counter-attacking style. If Scotland pushes too far forward they'll pay with plenty of goals in the back of their net.
Check back later for a game summary.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Norway Expectations

Despite competing in what looks on paper to be a very good pool, Norway hopes to be able to advance to the playoff round.
An extensive overhaul of the 2009 roster and the addition of some key players should contribute to more goals - especially from the midfield. An upgrade in goal should also account for more wins as weak shots will no longer be able to find the back of the net. The strikers and defenders are on essentially the same level as 2009 so expecting to reach the playoffs is a realistic goal.
Last years' team should have qualified for the playoffs if not for an absolute abomination of a performance in its final match.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Norway Schedule

The five round-robin games that Norway will play are:

Vs. Scotland - Thurs 15 @ 9 p.m.

Vs. Jamaica - Sat 17 @ 8:30 p.m.

Vs. Afghanistan - Fri 23 @ 7 p.m.

Vs. El Salvador - Sat 24 @ 4:30 p.m.

Vs. Germany - Mon 26 @ 8 p.m.

New Norway Blog

This is the new Norway blog for the 2010 WCP CUP. It's modelled after the 2007 version which chronicled the championship team from that year. Feel free to comment and send suggestions for future ways this blog can be improved.