World Cup Qualifying Heroes and Villains
Qualification for the 2014 FIFA World Cup resumed in earnest over the weekend. While UEFA finally kicked off European qualifying, high-stakes matches continued around the world.
Most teams will play one more match this week before players return to their clubs. First, though, it's time to recognize some of the biggest heroes and villains from the weekend of qualifiers.
Hero: Roy Hodgson
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England defeated Moldova 5-0 on Friday in both teams' UEFA qualifying debuts. The win was notable for several reasons, but most of all for the fact that England manager Roy Hodgson found a way to play Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard in the same midfield successfully.
Many have tried before Hodgson. All have failed.
As Michael Cox notes in The Guardian, both Lampard and Gerrard previously excelled at the club level in three-man midfields. Their international partnership, meanwhile, made little sense and rarely worked.
The key factor Friday was the presence of Manchester United's Tom Cleverley in an advanced midfield role. Lampard and Gerrard altered their style to play more as deep-lying midfielders. Suddenly, with both players well into their 30s (Lampard is 34 years old, Gerrard 32), they can finally form the partnership they were always supposed to.
In other words, the two can finally play together in the same midfield, but only because they're both now suited to less-advanced roles after seeing their physical abilities decline.
The plan worked, at least against Moldova, as Lampard scored twice and England won 5-0.
Villain: Kyle Beckerman
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One might have expected Kyle Beckerman and his dreadlocks to thrive when the United States visited Jamaica to play the Reggae Boyz on Friday instead.
But then again, maybe not.
Beckerman performed poorly as the U.S. midfield—which featured three defensive-minded players in Beckerman, Jermaine Jones and Maurice Edu—struggled to string together more than a couple passes.
Rasta Kyle's bad night hit a crescendo in the first half.
First, he conceded a bad free kick in the middle of the pitch about 30 yards from the U.S. goal.
Then, he deflected Rodolph Austin's free kick into the American net. Oops.
The U.S. lost the match 2-1, despite scoring in the first minute. Double oops.
Hero: Radamel Falcao
Radamel Falcao couldn't stop scoring goals if he wanted to. When the stage is biggest, the Colombian forward is at his best.
Small surprise, then, that Falcao gave Colombia a second-minute lead in their CONMEBOL qualifier against Uruguay on Friday. The finish was typical Falcao: predatory, lethal and, above all, skillful.
Teofilo Gutierrez also scored twice for Colombia in a 4-0 victory, but Falcao deserves credit for getting his team going.
And that's exactly what Falcao does best.
Villain: Molvin James
You probably haven't heard of Molvin James, the big keeper for Antigua and Barbuda. That's what makes it so hard to label him a World Cup qualifying villain.
But James (that's him in the picture, hugging American keeper Tim Howard) played an unfortunate role in Antigua's loss to Guatemala in CONCACAF qualifying over the weekend.
Antigua had taken a 1-0 lead into halftime before Guatemala equalized in the second half. Then James earned his second yellow card and was sent off in the 76th minute.
Carlos Ruiz scored the go-ahead goal three minutes later, and Guatemala eventually won, 3-1.
Heroes: Robbie Keane and Kevin Doyle
The Republic of Ireland trailed Kazakhstan 1-0 on the road in the closing moments of a UEFA qualifier on Friday. Then Robbie Keane and Kevin Doyle intervened.
Keane, the Irish captain, leveled the score with a penalty in the 89th minute, and Doyle slammed home the winner seconds later with a volley.
Afterward, Keane said the Irish were "red faced" about the performance (via Irish Central). Imagine what color their faces would have been without the late goals.
Villains: Savo Pavicevic and Ludovic Obraniak
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Montenegro and Poland played to a thrilling but bad-tempered 2-2 draw in UEFA qualifying on Friday. The bad-tempered part had to do with villains Savo Pavicevic and Ludovic Obraniak.
Montenegro's Pavicevic earned a straight red card for elbowing Poland's Robert Lewandowski in the 69th minute. Obraniak received his marching orders three minutes later for pushing over an opponent after a rough aerial challenge.
Both dismissals were deserved, and both made a mockery of good sportsmanship.
"This looked very similar to a war," Poland coach Waldemar Fornalik told Reuters. "Because of this one point is even more valuable."
Watch both incidents here.
Hero: Daniel Da Mota
Daniel Da Mota is a 26-year-old (actually, he turns 27 on Tuesday) Luxembourgian striker who plays for a team from his homeland called F91 Dudelange.
If you didn't know him before—we won't blame you, by the way—you'll probably have heard of him by now. Against Portugal on Friday, Da Mota scored a rocket-powered goal to give tiny Luxembourg a 1-0 lead against their more famous opponents.
Cristiano Ronaldo and Portugal eventually won 2-1, but a tip of the hat must go to Da Mota, whose goal will serve as a perfect early birthday present.