Monday, 2 August 2021

CONCACAF Gold Cup : 2021 & History

The 2021 CONCACAF Gold Cup for North American soccer has concluded. Sixteen sides took part including Qatar who is hosting next year's World Cup so wanted the experience in a tournament. Most of the games seemed to go without too much surprise. Canada went very close to a finals berth which was a slight surprise. Qatar going the same distance maybe the same.

 The final pitted two that have regularly met in the ultimate game. This was the seventh final together, Mexico won five of the previous six but in 2021 the USA got their second finals win over Mexico. Mexico has won eight finals and the USA seven. The only other team to win a final was Canada.

This competition superseded the CONACAF Championship held ten times from 1963 until 1989. Below I have only included the newer Gold Cup version from 1991. Only one final didn't include one of the big two names, Canada taking that one.  

Invitation sides have been included, their names being a lighter shade. None of the invitees have won but they have featured in three finals. The maximum any side could achieve is 256 points, the USA reaching 200 in the latest edition or 78% of the maximum. 

Monday, 12 July 2021

UEFA European Championship : 1964-2020(1)

It actually started in 1960 but was a minor affair with major football nations not participating. It was better in 1964, so that's where we start here. Three countries have broken up during this time, so I gave the results prior to the splits have been assigned to the most prominent part of the combined nation. 

Spain won at the expense of the USSR 2-1 after extra time in the '64 edition, Italy accounted for Yugoslavia four years later, 1-1 aet and 2-0 in the replay. Penalty shoot-outs not in vogue back then. Germany outplayed the USSR 3-0 in 1972, Czechoslovakia won on penalties after it was 2-2 aet in '76. Germany was in its third consecutive final in 1980, 2-1 winners over Belgium. France then won in it's first final appearance, 2-0 over Spain. 

The USSR went to its third final in 1988 but came up short again, this time to the Netherlands 0-2. In 1192, Denmark was called up at short notice in 1992 and stunned Germany 2-0 in the final. The Czech Republic came to its final under its new name but lost 1-2 aet to Germany. In 2000, France defeated Italy 2-1 in golden goal extra time. 

In 2004 another upset when Greece defeated Portugal 1-0, four years later Spain did identically to Germany. Spain overwhelmed Italy 4-0 in 2012 and in the penultimate tournament to date, Portugal prevailed over France 1-0 aet (again). 2020 was held in 2021 and Italy won on penalties over England after it was 1-1 aet. 

Sunday, 11 July 2021

Euro 2020 (2021)

 The 2020 Euros were played in 2021 for obvious reasons. 24 teams qualified and were put into six groups. The two top sides and the four best performing third placed sides then moved into the round of sixteen. Knock out matches then ensued.

Group stage: Nothing too dramatic in terms of results. Turkey had an abysmal run, possibly the worst side of the tournament. Denmark recovered from a distressing 0-1 loss to Finland to get through to the next round. Scotland bravely took a point in the game against the eventual group winner England but otherwise was poor. Poland did its usual underachieving and Hungary battled hard in the 'group of death'. It proved to be anything but in the next round. 

Round of 16: On one side of the draw, Belgium got past Portugal in a tight game, Italy needed extra time to overcome a game Austria, Switzerland upset France in a high scoring thriller. Then got home in a penalty shootout. Croatia v Spain was another high scoring affair, Spain winning in extra time.

The other side Ukraine caused an upset defeating Sweden with an injury-time, extra-time goal. England finally overcame Germany 2-0 after years of the reverse result. The Netherlands was knocked out in a shock loss to the Czech Republic. They were outplayed. Finally, Wales' modest ability was exposed in a 0-4 drubbing by Denmark. 

Quarter-Finals: The top half of the draw pitted Belgium against Italy in a hard to pick match. Italy prevailed. Spain and Switzerland took on Spain and the favourite needed a penalty shootout to advance. As for the Swiss, those that live by the penalty shootout will die by it too (unless it's Germany).

England left home for a game against longshot Ukraine in Italy. England managed the game well and progressed without fuss. Meanwhile, the Danes continued their fairytale run by defeating the Czechs to set up a game against England in the semis.

Semi-Finals: Italy won all their group matches and the two knock out games in regular and extra time. Spain only won one group match and needed extra time and a penalty shoot-out to make the semifinal. One win in regular time in six games wasn't ideal yet all that counts for nothing in a one-off game. AS it turned out, penalties were needed and based on the tournament, the right outcome.

The other game was always going to be tight. A well organised Denmark with an outstanding goalie against the better squad and at home but historically with a poor record in such a setting. It went as suspected, very tight. Into extra time with England pressing hard and Denmark hanging on. A body check in the penalty box, a fine save with the rebound guided in. I think England may have lost a penalty shootout. England's first Euro final and first in any competition since 1966. Denmark was brave but lacked a little star quality. 

Final: Italy has looked impressive throughout the tournament. They play England away home, which is a team that has been solid defensively and deservedly featuring in the last match. As for the final, it was a game of two halves, with England on top and leading 1-0 at the break. The second, the tables were turned and it was Italy looking the more likely. 1-1 and penalties. It was poor from both sides but poorer from England and Italy had the trophy, winning the shoot out 3-2. 

Copa América (South America) : 1979-2021

This is the oldest Football competition still in action and one of the most watched in the world. It was called the South American Football Championship until 1975, then changed its name to Copa América in 1979, where we take up the story. I have allocated points which are weighted to emphasise success rather than participation. Between 1993 and 2019, other nations were invited to increase the numbers. Apart from Mexico, the invited attendees varied greatly.

It will surprise few to know Brazil is the most successful, with 174 points out of a maximum of 272, averaging 10.2 points per competition. Argentina passed Uruguay in 2021 to take the second spot. Mexico has done well in the ten times it was part of the Copa América, making two finals but never winning the trophy. 

In the 17 tournaments over this period, Brazil has won five finals, Uruguay four, Argentina and Chile two each, finally Colombia and Paraguay one apiece. Two others were decided without a final match but rather winning a group consisting of the top four qualifiers. Brazil and Argentina won each won one of those. In the years 1979 and 1983, the tournament was held in multiple countries.

As for the 2021 tournament, the results are shown below. Group B took three of the semi-final spots but it was the Group A winner that took out the final.

Thursday, 17 June 2021

Portugal Top Clubs 1961-2021

This is a nation that boxes above its weight at a national level and has enjoyed success in Europe at club level too. While the international success continues, the clubs have slipped. Years ago the best players were representing the best teams at home but now money has enticed them overseas. 

Allocating points to the best performing sides gives us a picture in numbers. The top league teams for a season are given 6,3,2, and 1 point for a top four finish, the Scottish Cup 4 and 2 for the finalists with the Premier Sports Cup 3 and 1. European success is also recognised in a similar way. It starts at the 1960-61 season.

The first thing one notices is how dominant three clubs are. Rarely have any of them been out of the top four in the Primeira Liga. They took turns swapping places within that with occasional cameo appearances by other clubs. To emphasise the point, of the last 61 years of the Primeira Liga, the top three have won 60 titles between them! Benfica narrowly outperformed Porto in the league since 1960-61. 

The two cup trophies (Taça de Portugal and Taça de Liga - the latter since 2008) have been more evenly shared. Porto is just ahead of Benfica in the Taça de Portugal, Benfica is well ahead in the other one. The variety of winners is thirteen and five (already) in the respective cup competitions. 

Benfica was a top Champions League club at the beginning of the 1960's but not anymore. Other Portuguese clubs have had little success getting to the business end of said tournaments. 

Regionally, the Lisbon region - small as it is - has the most success courtesy of accommodating two of the top three clubs. The North has the other and a few other solid clubs. Otherwise, neither the central region nor the south has any clubs succeeding enough to do much here. The two Madeira sides CS Marítimo and CD National I included in the south.

Wednesday, 16 June 2021

Belgium Top Clubs 1961-2021

When digging for information in compiling this, I was surprised that it's not uncommon for clubs here to run into financial difficulty. This usually results in liquidation or a merger. Perhaps they try to keep up or catch the top teams and overstretch their resources in doing so. Attracting fans in a small but densely populated country would also mean being as competitive as possible. It would be too easy to be attracted to a more successful outfit nearby.

Whatever the reasons, few are able to have much of an impact. Three clubs have controlled the situation nicely. RSC Anderlecht, Club Brugge KV and Standard Liège are the three that stand above the rest. Standard Liège was strongest in the 1960's and early 1970's but while having occasional upturns, haven't quite maintained the standard. Club Brugge took over from them after a quieter start. RSC Anderlecht has been a model of positive consistency, which is why they are at the top. The last four years have been the least successful period for them. 

Allocating points to the best performing sides gives us a picture in numbers. The top league teams for a season are given 6,3,2, and 1 point for a top four finish, the Scottish Cup 4 and 2 for the finalists with the Premier Sports Cup 3 and 1. European success is also recognised in a similar way. It starts at the 1960-61 season.

Regionally, I divided Belgium into four. Top of the list is what I have called Flanders, which is actually the north west of the country in the Flemish (Dutch) speaking area (33% of the points) Then comes Brussels, the capital and the immediate surrounds of that city (29%). Anderlecht is the team there. Then the Flemish division is in the north east of the country (19%). Finally, Wallonia (19%) which is predominantly French speaking. It has just over half the land surface of Belgium but a third of the population. Apart from Standard Liège, football success is almost non-existent in the region. 

Anderlecht is the most successful Belgian club in Europe. It is in fact the only club having any sort of impact with 61% of all points in Europe for Belgian clubs. Since the 1980's Belgian clubs have been conspicuous by their absence in that arena. 

Tuesday, 15 June 2021

Netherlands Top Clubs 1961-2021

My knowledge of football in the Netherlands was nothing beyond a few top performing sides. So the exercise has been a learning curve. I'd never heard of the Go Ahead Eagles for example. What I did know was like many countries, winners are not spread too wide. In this case, it's largely been a three horse race. 

Allocating points to the best performing sides gives us a picture in numbers. The top league teams for a season are given 6,3,2, and 1 point for a top four finish, the Scottish Cup 4 and 2 for the finalists with the Premier Sports Cup 3 and 1. European success is also recognised in a similar way. It starts at the 1960-61 season.

Feyenoord has had good spells of success but was especially strong in the 60's up to the late 70's. In this period it was the best club. PSV Eindhoven was its poorest when Feyenoord was in full bloom but has since the late 70's been consistently an achiever. Ajax Amsterdam was not at its best in the early 60's but otherwise has been a model of consistency, in a positive way. 

Moving on to regions, I took a simple approach. West (63%) is by far the most prominent region, thanks to having two top sides in the area. The South (25%) relies almost exclusively on PSV. The East (11%) cannot rely on a big gun club to bolster its numbers and the North scarcely registers. The population of a region would dictate success to a large degree.