Italy Defeats Mexico 2-1, Balotelli and Pirlo Score


Andrea Pirlo scoring a free kick golazo during his 100th cap for Italy. (Photo: Reuters)
Andrea Pirlo scoring a free kick golazo during his 100th cap for Italy. (Photo: Reuters)


Before Andrea Pirlo opened the scoring for Italy and the game with a free kick golazo, Mario Balotelli was very active and aggressive at antagonizing the Mexican defense, which put Italy in the driver’s seat.


Mexico didn’t take Pirlo’s free kick lying down, as Mexico’s second striker and pseudo-enganche, Giovani dos Santos, pounced on Andrea Barzagli’s miscontrol outside of Italy’s penalty box, and Barzagli ultimately clipped Dos Santos’ heel conceding a penalty kick.


With Mexico down one to zero, Chicharito kept his cool on his penalty kick and outfoxed Italian goalkeeper, Gigi Buffon, to tie the game up at one goal.


Balotelli broke the deadlock in the 78th minute by shielding Mexico’s center back, Maza (Francisco Javier Rodriguez), off the ball, and then Balotelli used his quickness to spin around Maza and power the game-winning goal into the back of the net. Balotelli’s goal came off some creativity and quick thinking by Emanuele Giaccherini who deftly volleyed the ball with the outside of his foot over the Mexican defense.


Many Italian fans complained about the inclusion of Giaccherini in the starting line-up in place of Italy’s (presumably) still injured young prodigy, Stephan El Shaarawy, but Giaccherini was lively and dangerous in the attack.


Leonardo Bonucci was a surprising omission from the Italian starting line-up. Will Italian coach, Cesare Prandelli, use a five-man defense in the next game and start Andrea Barzagli, Leonardo Bonucci, and Giorgio Chiellini as three center backs with Ignazio Abate and Mattia De Sciglio as terzini fluidificanti (wing backs)?


Turning to Mexico’s line-up and tactics, the Mexican media and Mexican fans are in panic mode, but Mexico played Italy close. While Italy displayed superior passing against Mexico, Mexico only lost due to a single play by one of world soccer’s best talents, Mario Balotelli. Overall, Mexico is a skilled squad at every position, except for Mexico’s lack a playmaker to connect the midfield to Chicharito and Giovani Dos Santos.


Italy is a better team than Mexico, but then again, Italy is better than most national teams. Italy is capable of beating Spain, Brazil, or Germany, so Mexico’s inability to stop Balotelli from finally scoring doesn’t make Mexico’s defense weak. Mexico’s next game should answer some questions about which Mexican players deserve to start and what Mexico’s best line-up is.


There’s a strong argument to be made that some of Mexico’s best players such as Diego Reyes (center back) and Jorge Torres Nilo (left back) deserved the start, but beating an Italian side where the likes of Andrea Pirlo, Daniele De Rossi, and Claudio Marchisio were playing behind Mario Balotelli was always going to be a tall order for Mexico.


Italy had too much skill and big game pedigree at every position, and despite Barzagli’s miscontrol and clumsy clip of Dos Santos’ heels, the Italian defense at full strength is difficult for any national team to break down.


Italy’s pair of outside backs Ignazio Abate and Mattia De Sciglio both stamped their imprint on the game against Mexico, and the play of Abate and De Sciglio was part of a performance by Italy where Italy was effective and strong at every position.


Both Balotelli and Pirlo were equally influential in this game, and a passer like Pirlo playing balls to a technical and athletic prodigy like Balotelli was too much for Mexico.


Pirlo made his 100th cap for Italy a memorable one with his goal, but there’s no shame in losing to an Italian team that plays as a unit with elite players at every position. Mexico played Italy very close the entire game, and Giovani Dos Santos and Chicharito showed flashes of excellent attacking play.


No team is totally immune to an Andrea Pirlo free kick or a Mario Balotelli goal.


It will be interesting to see how much better Italy can play with Stephan El Shaarawy partnering with Balotelli, and Balotelli has started things off well by opening up his goal tally in the Confederations Cup in the first game.


After receiving a yellow card for ripping off his shirt after his game-winning goal, Balotelli will have to be careful not to pick up a second yellow in the next game.


With Balotelli leading the attack, Italy can beat any opponent at any time.

GOLEADA: Brazil Defeats Japan 3-0 in Confederations Cup


Neymar opened the scoring with a half-volleyed golaço. (Photo: Vanderlei Almeida/AFP)
Neymar opened the scoring with a half-volleyed golaço. (Photo: Vanderlei Almeida/AFP)


Neymar silenced his critics with a half-volley golaço in the third minute of Brazil’s opening Confederations Cup match against Japan in Brasilia.


On a field that resembled a slip ‘n slide, Brazil’s three goal victory over Japan was exactly the sort of emphatic win that Brazil needed to get their foreign and domestic critics off their backs.


All three Brazilian goals were golaços, which gave the Seleção the satisfaction of knowing that they not only defeated Japan easily, but that the goals were electrifying enough for a not easily impressed Brazilian public.


Brazil’s first goal came courtesy of a Marcelo cross, which was chested down to Neymar by Fred, and Neymar half-volleyed Fred’s chested pass into the upper 90.


It was a goal that showed why Neymar’s technical ability is so revered worldwide. Neymar’s golaço registered high on the difficulty scale, and it will likely lift some of the pressure off his shoulders and allow him to play with more joy in Brazil’s upcoming games.


The second Brazilian goal was scored by Corinthians’ goal-scoring box-to-box midfielder, Paulinho (a player heavily linked with Inter Milan), and the goal off the half-turn showed his ability to score goals from the midfield.


While Neymar’s goal was the most riveting of the three goals, the third goal where Jô megged the Japanese goalkeeper was an example of Oscar’s excellent passing ability, as Oscar threaded an expertly-weighted pass through the Japanese defense. Both Oscar’s pass and Jô’s finish were equally artistic.


Japan is a technically-skilled team, but this game against Brazil offered little in the way of highlights or positive points for Japan. The grass was way too soft, wet, and slippery for both teams, so the field conditions weren’t really the main problem with Japan’s play. Japan is a team that played well-below its ability, and this loss should provide the Japanese coaching staff with plenty of video evidence of areas that need to be improved in the upcoming games.


This was an important statement game for both Neymar and the Seleção, and Brazil’s convincing victory was just what the Brazilian national team needed to build up some new hope and confidence, in addition to gaining the respect of its fans again.





Who Should the USMNT Start Against Honduras?

Geoff Cameron (20). © TONY QUINN / ISIPHOTOS.COM
Geoff Cameron (20).



Who Jürgen Klinsmann will include in his Starting XI for the United States Men’s National Team is anyone’s guess, but it seems likely that Edgar Castillo would slot into his natural position of left back to replace the suspended DaMarcus Beasley.


Additionally, Klinsmann has been a big fan of Graham Zusi’s play as a pseudo-right winger. Nevertheless, Klinsmann must have liked the type of passing and off the ball movement the U.S. showed against Panama without Zusi.


The likely starters based on Klinsmann’s past decisions are: Tim Howard; Brad Evans, Omar Gonzalez, Matt Besler, Edgar Castillo; Geoff Cameron; Michael Bradley; Graham Zusi or Eddie Johnson, Clint Dempsey, Fabian Johnson ; Jozy Altidore.


Is this the best starting line-up that can be formed from the players on the roster considering the suspensions? Maybe it is, or maybe it isn’t.


On the one hand, the United States played its best soccer under Klinsmann when two of Klinsmann’s first choice starters, Graham Zusi and Jermaine Jones, were unavailable. Zusi had delivered an assist two games in a row in the games before the Panama match, but without Zusi, Eddie Johnson was in the line-up making runs behind the Panamanian defense.


While Jones has performed well and provided the American midfield with lots of qualities, Cameron seemed to do a better job of playing a combination of a midfield destroyer and a box-to-box midfielder, mainly in regards to his passing and defensive recovery duties.


Klinsmann does have the option of starting Cameron right in front of the back four with Jones and Bradley in front of him to the right and left playing as box-to-box midfielders, but two things are unclear: is Jones ready to play again after his concussion, and would Klinsmann use all three at once given the problems with using three defensive midfielders in the past?


Despite the likely starting line-up predicted above, Klinsmann has the option of using Stuart Holden or Joe Corona or both, and Klinsmann has the option of using Terrence Boyd or Eddie Johnson as an additional center forward alongside Jozy Altidore.


Who will Klinsmann start? Who should Klinsmann start? These are two different questions.


The game against Panama at the very least demonstrated that changes to the starting line-up can greatly improve the USMNT’s performance, as opposed to the conventional wisdom that constant line-up changes prevent the team from playing as a cohesive unit.


A new line-up against Panama produced the first real glimpse of the type of proactive soccer that Klinsmann said he was trying to instill when he became head coach of the U.S. two years ago.


The right kind of change is good, and the next step for the U.S. is adding a playmaker in addition to the improved passing displayed with Geoff Cameron as somewhat of a combination of a midfield destroyer and a box-to-box midfielder.

The USMNT’s Christmas Tree Option Against Honduras



With Clint Dempsey and Jozy Altidore up top, the USMNT can use the Christmas Tree Formation against Honduras. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
With Clint Dempsey and Jozy Altidore in attack, the USMNT can use the Christmas Tree Formation against Honduras. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)


The Christmas Tree formation, a.k.a. L’albero di Natale, is a tactical option against Honduras next Tuesday.


With Geoff Cameron, Jermaine Jones, and Michael Bradley all possessing strong technical and defensive abilities, these three players in a line of three in front of the defensive back four could neutralize Honduras’ technical ability and speed while also stuffing the midfield with technically-skilled midfielders who like to circulate the ball around quickly.


Using Cameron, Jones, and Bradley is much different than the three defensive midfielder formation that Jürgen Klinsmann used to use with the United States Men’s National Team because all three players have a superior combination of athleticism and skill than Danny Williams, Kyle Beckerman, and to a lesser extent, Maurice Edu.


On paper, this Christmas Tree formation looks overly defensive, but given the playing style and skill-level of Cameron, Bradley, and Jones, these three defensive midfielders don’t just sit back and play defense; all three are able to facilitate possession soccer and play incisive through balls and final balls.


These three midfielders started at the same time employs a military strategy called “rapid dominance” which is often referred to as “shock and awe.” The presence of three midfielders of the size, athleticism, and ball control of Bradley, Jones, and Cameron should be able to easily dictate the tempo of the game against Honduras by simultaneously using defensive prowess and technical ability as a weapon against Honduras.


Many observers commented on how Cameron knew how to stay back deeper against Panama in order to let Bradley go forward more with the attack, but Cameron provided excellent passing throughout the game, in addition to surging forward when the opportunity presented itself. Cameron showed that he knew how to go forward and track back without being caught out of position.


With Jones, Bradley, and Cameron covering for each other and picking their opportunities to go forward, the USMNT has the opportunity to disrupt the passing rhythm of Honduras while still playing one-to-two touch soccer.


As the line of two players in front of Bradley, Cameron, and Jones, the U.S. has the option of using Clint Dempsey plus one other player. Some people will call for Graham Zusi. Others will call for Fabian Johnson, and still others will see this as a time to insert Stuart Holden. The boldest choice of all and the one with the most potential for exciting and effective attacking play is Joe Corona.


With the formation proposed above, Joe Corona playing with Clint Dempsey behind Jozy Altidore presents the United States with the chance to give Corona a bigger role with the national team, and this role can further improve the display of quality team passing that occurred against Panama.

Geoff Cameron’s Commanding Performance


Geoff Cameron was everywhere against Panama. (Photo:
Geoff Cameron was everywhere against Panama. (Photo:


In Brazil, at least on the Seleção, the midfield destroyer or the cabeça de área, wears number five, whereas this role is often associated with the number 6 in Europe.


Nevertheless, Geoff Cameron played this role for the United States Men’s National Team against Panama, but Cameron went above and beyond the midfield destroyer role with his elegant passing and attacking forays.


Cameron was one of the most noticeable players on the field against Panama due to height, physique, tireless running, and his excellent technical play.


Against Panama, according to Major League Soccer’s official site’s Chalkboard feature, Cameron completed 47 of 56 passes, recovered the ball 11 times, made 7 interceptions, made 6 clearances, won five tackles, and delivered one assist.


While Panama isn’t one of the elite soccer nations, it is nevertheless an athletic and skilled national team that is an appropriate barometer of the skill of a player. Against Panama, Cameron showed how he is a complete midfielder and a commanding presence on the field.


Cameron received praised for the chip he floated to Eddie Johnson, who controlled the pass and finished with excellent left-footed technique and coolness in front of the net, but Cameron produced 90 minutes of one-to-two touch soccer characterized by graceful inside and outside of the foot passes that kept the ball circulating in the midfield and encouraged a higher-caliber of passing than even the Jermaine Jones and Michael Bradley combination could deliver.


Cameron’s smooth athleticism and refined fundamentals have been on display for years, but the game against Panama raised his public profile among many Americans and others as he showed how a defensive midfielder role didn’t restrict the defensive midfielder to merely playing defense and sitting back.


Somewhat like Clint Dempsey, Cameron lives for the big games, and Cameron isn’t willing to try things whether they be 40 yard outside of the foot passes or headed shots from 25 yards out to catch the goalkeeper off guard.


Jermaine Jones is a Champions League and Bundesliga veteran and a different type of player than Cameron, so both players are excellent overall footballers with a lot to offer.


Cameron’s performance presents the USMNT with the opportunity to unleash Michael Bradley, Jermaine Jones, and Geoff Cameron against an opponent at the same time, if tactics called for it. While using all three in a starting line-up would be the so-called Christmas Tree formation (4-3-2-1), the formation wouldn’t be without skilled passers and talented defenders.


Cameron could be started in place of Jones, but there could be a time where an opponent will need to be confronted with three powerful and technically-skilled central midfielders who each offer a complete set of midfield skills and qualities.

USMNT: Skilled Front Six Beats Panama


Eddie Johnson (right) and Clint Dempsey (left). (Photo: JOSHUA TRUJILLO, SEATTLEPI.COM)
Eddie Johnson (right) and Clint Dempsey (left). (Photo: JOSHUA TRUJILLO, SEATTLEPI.COM)


Jürgen Klinsmann didn’t have the option of using two of his first choice players (Graham Zusi and Jermaine Jones), and the United States Men’s National Team played its best soccer under Klinsmann’s tenure.


More so than in any other game under Klinsmann, the front six players in front of the goalkeeper and the defensive back four were all technically-skilled, athletic, and dynamic.


Without Zusi starting as something between a right wing and a right midfielder, the American attack along the right side of the field was less focused on crossing and more focused on quick passing soccer.


While Zusi certainly has the ability to play one-to-two touch soccer, without Zusi, Eddie Johnson was started as a right winger in name alone where he was able to stretch the Panamanian defense with his speed and runs, which were rewarded by passes by Geoff Cameron and others.


Klinsmann’s Front Six worked really well together due to the skill and playing style of the players, but the formation itself was somewhat unbalanced and hard to categorized. The front six was essentially two defensive midfielders, two attacking midfielders, and two strikers, but one of the strikers, Eddie Johnson, was supposedly playing as a right winger.


In reality, Eddie Johnson out right was playing more as a combination of an outside forward and a center forward, as he constantly switched back and forth between the two roles.


Neverthless, it was quite telling that a combination of players who Klinsmann didn’t envision as his ideal Starting XI actually produced the type of proactive soccer that he discussed when he was first appointed coach in August of 2011.


For USMNT fans, the game against Panama offered a glimpse of what higher-caliber soccer looks like as Jozy Altidore and Clint Dempsey played off each other with first-time passes, balls rolled back with the bottom of their cleats, back heels, wall passes, and the like, while Michael Bradley and Geoff Cameron roamed all over the field facilitating passing, breaking up passes, and tackling. Out left, Fabian Johnson combined with everyone, in addition to cutting inside toward the penalty box to look to shoot or break down the Panamanian defense.


Brad Evans didn’t perform as well as he had against Germany primarily because he was beaten with speed, which was outside of his control. Evans didn’t defend poorly or put in a poor performance, but he was simply unable to keep up with Panama’s attackers. This lack of speed wasn’t a real problem for the USMNT because Evans was covered by the U.S.’ two defensive midfielders, Bradley and Cameron, as well as the right center back, Omar Gonzalez.


One observation that might have gone unnoticed with the United States’ improved ball movement, Cameron and Bradley’s commanding central midfield and defensive midfield performances, and Altidore’s and Eddie Johnson’s goals was Matt Besler’s noticeably increased use of his weaker right foot. With Besler’s speed and strong defensive instincts, the use of both feet takes his game to a new level.


Against an athletic and skilled Panamanian national team, the United States made its first big step to playing a higher caliber of soccer based on technical skill and excellent team passing.

With Mario Balotelli, Italy Can Win The Confederations Cup


Italy has a superior weapon who can defeat any opponent in the Confederations Cup with just a single play: Mario Balotelli.


In addition to a very balanced and talented collective including the lethal striker tandem of Mario Balotelli and Stephan El Shaarawy, just Balotelli himself is a freak of nature whose superior athleticism is matched by his technical ability, aggressiveness, bravado, and coolness in front of goal.


While Italy’s overall skill level and teamwork make them a Confederations Cup favorite, even against Spain and Brazil, the wild card Italy has is Mario Balotelli.


Quite simply, Balotelli is impossible to defend when he is focused and fired up for a game. The problem with defending a focused Balotelli is that he’s stronger, faster, better, taller, and craftier than anyone who will face him, even Thiago Silva.


If an opponent tries to muscle Balotelli off the ball, Balotelli is stronger. If an opponent tries to mark Balotelli too closely, he will simply beat them with tricks or speed or both. If an opponent gives Balotelli too much space, he’s literally capable of scoring from 45 yards out or deeper, depending on where the goalkeeper is, or he will simply sprint at the defender and easily round him.


Balotelli needs to focus on keeping his focus, so that incorrect calls, fouls by the opposition, a mistake, or a poorly played pass to him have no real lasting significance because the games present 90 minutes where Balotelli can continue to attack, break down defenses, set up his teammates, and draw several defenders away from his teammates over and over again throughout the game.


Super Mario needs to forget about a single moment of frustration because his gifts and skills allow him to continue to create chances for himself and impact the game for the entire 90 minutes, as opposed to letting one let down distract his focus from continuing to play with purpose, magic, and fire.


If StraordiMario Balotelli can quickly forget about instances of frustration, then Italy’s combination of skilled players at every position who play as a team can have a first-striker up top who allows them to beat any opponent at any time with just a single moment of brilliance, power, athleticism, or all three.


Italy comes into the Confederations Cup with Gigi Buffon in goal, Ignazio Abate at right back, Andrea Barzagli and Leonardo Bonucci at center back, Giorgio Chiellini at left back, Andrea Pirlo, Daniele De Rossi, Claudio Marchisio, and Riccardo Montolivo in the midfield, Stephan El Shaarawy at second striker, and Mario Balotelli at first-striker.


The Starting XI for gli Azzurri come from Juventus, AC Milan, and Roma, and the substitutes are very dangerous players as well. In particular, Sebastian Giovinco and Mattia De Sciglio are dangerous substitutes.


While there were some omissions like Angelo Ogbonna and perhaps Antonio Nocerino, la Nazionale is nevertheless a stacked team that plays well together. Additonally, it’s worth noting that Marco Verratti is participating in the Under-21 European Championship, but Italy still has a very talented and proven group of players.


Italy’s Starting XI are talented, experienced, and used to playing together, and this fact alone makes them one of The Confederations Cup favorites.


On top of Italy’s strong collection of players at every position, Balotelli gives them a player with a physique and athleticism never seen before in world soccer whose talent and ability to deliver in big games match his athleticism.

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© Colin Reese




Who Should the USMNT Start Against Panama?

Geoff Cameron. (Photo:
Geoff Cameron. (Photo:


Jürgen Klinsmann is likely to start the same line-up that he used against Jamaica except for Graham Zusi (suspended) and Jermaine Jones (concussion), but Klinsmann will likely play Eddie Johnson out of position as a left or right winger, instead of using him as a out-and-out striker with Jozy Altidore.

Klinsmann would be wise to use Joe Corona and Clint Dempsey as attacking midfielders behind Jozy Altidore and Eddie Johnson, if Klinsmann wants to use Eddie Johnson.

Read more

The USMNT needs Joe Corona’s creativity against Panama

Joe Corona is one of several attacking midfielders who can help the United States. © Frederick Breedon / Getty Images
Joe Corona is one of several attacking midfielders who can help the United States. © Frederick Breedon / Getty Images


With Panama’s place in the CONCACAF World Cup qualifying table, Panama’s technical ability needs to be met with Joe Corona’s similar brand of technical ability, as opposed to trying to absorb Panama’s skill.

Read more

Neymar, The Unfazed Magician, Comes to Barcelona

Neymar. (Photo: Reuters)
Neymar. (Photo: Reuters)


With all of the criticism and media attention, Neymar has always remained calm and unfazed by the criticism and praise. He doesn’t make conceded statements about his abilities nor does he insult his opponents or fellow professionals.


When Neymar makes a mistake or loses an important game, he gets right back up with the same positive attitude from before the mistake or game, and he shows up to the next game with no fear of failure, but rather with the desire to play with joy.


The magic and flair that Neymar brings to the game isn’t just for show, but rather the trickery is very effective at losing defenders, scoring goals, and getting free to play passes to his teammates when they are in good positions.


Neymar’s tricks are not only exceptional because of the speed and ease at which he executes tricks that most professionals cannot successful perform against elite opponents, but Neymar combines two to three of these tricks in a single sequence.

For the purpose of perspective, it’s worth noting that Clint Dempsey, an excellent soccer player even by international standards and the best American soccer player ever, has 35 goals in 96 games for the United States. Neymar has 20 international goals in 33 games for Brazil before tomorrow’s friendly against France. Neymar also has 138 goals in 220 games for Santos.

People like throwing the proverbial rocks at Neymar, but luckily for Neymar, critics like to throw more rocks at Mario Balotelli, who despite his reputation for being a hot head must have an enormous tolerance for criticism and media slander.

Neymar attracts a lot of criticism for jumping out of the way of hackers to avoid injury, but what do these critics want, for Neymar just to allow himself to be injured?

Another piece of criticism that Neymar receives is that he’s unproven in Europe even though the best players in Brazil have almost always succeeded in Brazil.

Pato, Diego, and Robinho received a lot of criticism for their play in Europe, but no one who has followed those players closely or watched them play would call any of those three players flops or failures. Nevertheless, many soccer fans still label them as flops.

Neymar is better than both Lucas and Oscar who made their debuts in European football this season with enormous success, so why then is there this insistence by so many people particularly in the United Kingdom that Neymar isn’t proven?

Since when is being the best player in Brazil not an indicator of future success in Europe?

Neymar’s critics seem to mostly be English Premier League fans or people who feel that Spain’s success in recent years signals a return to European superiority in world soccer.

Even Champions League fans like claiming that Neymar plays against inferior competition in Brazil, never mind the fact that most of the best Champion League teams are stacked with South American players.

Whatever the motivation is for Neymar’s critics, these same critics will be in for a rude awakening when they see Neymar playing for Barcelona, as Neymar brings both a willingness to pass and the gift of making game-changing passes, not to mention tireless running off the ball and a technical skill-set and 1v1 abilities that are second to none.

Neymar’s critics should get ready to see Neymar shine because only Ronaldinho displayed the same audacity and ease to execute outrageously difficult tricks, shots, and passes.