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Guest Post: Argentina's Lacklustre Copa America: Part Two

by Finbarr 22. July 2011 06:55

 

In the second in a series of guest blogs for Icons, Daniel Colasimone, editor of the excellent Argentina Football World, gets to the root of Argentina's Copa America failure. 

There was little improvement to be noted in Argentina’s second game against Colombia. I had bussed it up to the city of Santa Fe the previous day with my ‘Hand of Pod’ colleague Dan Edwards, not knowing whether we would be allowed into the game or not.

Even accredited journalists are required by tournament organisers to apply for tickets to each game, and we often do not find out whether we’re in or not until the day before – which has caused quite a lot of inconvenience for those of us travelling around for games. Being (relatively) young and (allegedly) reckless, we decided to risk it, and in on every occasion we have ended up with match tickets.    

The Selección once again lacked cohesion against a promising young Colombian team in the atmospheric stadium known as ‘The Elephant’s Graveyard’. Again, Messi probed, the strikers missed chances and Batista switched between his two stock formations. In the end, Argentina were lucky to escape with a 0-0 draw, with Colombia looking more likely to score in the second half.

Notably, the Santa Fe crowd, who had been so supportive to begin with, began to turn on their own team. Messi’s head dropped noticeably as he was well marshalled by the excellent Colombians, especially defensive midfielder Carlos Sanchez.

The roadshow of mediocrity moved on to Cordoba, the blondest city in Argentina due to a high proportion of families with German blood. ‘Che’ Guevara spent most of his childhood there, and perhaps Batista was overwhelmed by a similar revolutionary zeal when he decided to drop Tevez, Lavezzi, Cambiasso and Banega for Agüero, Di Maria, Gago and Higuain and fully embrace the least worst of his two plans, the 4-2-1-3 attacking formation, for the must-win match against Costa Rica.

The renamed and revamped Mario Alberto Kempes stadium proved to be a booming stronghold, with the boisterous locals expressing their support for Argentina, and Messi especially. ‘Messi, we believe in you’ and ‘Messi: They talk a lot, but they know little’ were two of the banners displayed by fans, after the Barcelona man had once again unfairly been allotted much of the blame for Argentina’s shoddy performances so far by certain clueless factions of the local media.

And the little genius repaid the people of Cordoba in kind. He turned in an astounding performance, setting up a dozen gilt-edged goalscoring opportunities for his strikers. If they had not been so wasteful, the game could have finished 8-0. As it was, Argentina won by three clear goals, and qualified for the quarter finals.

Their inability to finish first in Group A meant that instead of staying in Cordoba for the quarter finals, Edwards and I had to roadtrip it back to Santa Fe where Argentina would take on fellow Copa America heavy hitters Uruguay. 

Tomorrow, the final part of Daniel's analysis will offer 5 simple reasons why Argentina failed. You can read Part One here.

Guest Post: Argentina's Lacklustre Copa America: Part One

by Finbarr 22. July 2011 06:30

 

In the first of a series of guest blogs for Icons, Daniel Colasimone, editor of the excellent Argentina Football World, gets to the root of Argentina's Copa America failure. 

Having travelled around to watch Argentina’s four games in this Copa America the recurring theme surrounding their insipid campaign seems to have been not so much the lack of a game plan but the lack of tactical flexibility required to discover an effective game plan.

Coach Sergio Batista, after a honeymoon period lasting several months, was on the receiving end of heavy criticism from the local press leading into the tournament. Some of it was justified.

Batista failed badly on the man-management side of things, especially regarding the Carlos Tevez affair. After insisting for months that Tevez was surplus to requirements, on the eve of the tournament, Batista did a complete about face and named the Manchester City forward in his squad. He even went so far as to select him in his starting line-up for the opening two games.

Hollow press conferences where he spoke without conveying any actual information and a penchant for posting kitschy pictures on Twitter further estranged Batista from the Argentine media. Going into the tournament, Batista's ideas for the national team did not seem too outrageous at all, at least in my mind. He spoke of exploiting Argentina's greatest asset, Lionel Messi, to his full potential.

He spoke of a Barcelona-style formation, designed to allow Messi to feel most comfortable and to take advantage of Argentina’s abundance of adept passing midfielders and skilful forwards. Batista’s ‘Plan B’, should the Barcelona-cloned 4-3-3 fail to function, would be to switch to a 4-2-1-3, with Messi as enganche (playmaker) behind three forwards. Well and good.

The Selección’s first match was against supposed whipping boys Bolivia in the shiny, roofed La Plata stadium. It’s a newly improved stadium, unique in Argentina that it is not rundown and exposed to the elements, but also in that it lacks much of the atmosphere of most grounds here.

Batista made his first tactical mistake before the match started by, as I’ve already mentioned, shoehorning the people’s choice, Carlos Tevez into the starting XI in place of Angel Di Maria, who had started on the left side of attack in recent friendlies. His midfield three was Javier Mascherano, Ever Banega and Esteban Cambiasso; all ‘number fives’ ostensibly – defensive midfielders with passing ability – with Messi in the ‘false 9’ role in the centre of the front three.

Cambiasso was curiously the midfielder usually found furthest forward, however, rather than the player expected to combine most with Messi, Banega. It didn’t work, and Argentina looked just as lacking in team fluidity as during last year’s World Cup.

Messi left defenders for dead but found nobody to link up with. Tevez went on solo runs that were easily halted by well-positioned defenders. There was no overriding thought pattern linking everything together.

At half time Batista switched to Plan B, bringing on Di Maria for Cambiasso, but Bolivia had scored within minutes of the restart. Argentina at least looked more dangerous, and eventually levelled through substitute Kun Agüero who volleyed in superbly. Bolivia, however, held on for the draw.

Perhaps Bolivia had come to this Copa America with a newfound resolve? Perhaps they would be the surprise packets of the tournament? We would find out in later group games that it was in fact a very limited Bolivian outfit, further damning Argentina’s performance in retrospect.

A post-match interview with one of the Argentine players may have taken the edge of the freezing polar winds that could be felt in all corners of the Estadio Único, but the mixed zone turned out to be an unregulated zoo. Short of crowd surfing my way to the front, there was no way of getting a word with Mascherano, Agüero and co. 

Stay tuned next week for Parts Two and Three of Daniel's assessment of Argentina's Copa America shambles...

Forward Friday: El Pistolero, Luis Suarez

by Finbarr 21. July 2011 07:27

 

As their paths crossed in the Anfield players' car park, Fernando Torres would have been forgiven if he'd gone a little green in the face. For here was his heir apparent bouncing in the door, brimming with confidence; whilst he was to trundle down the M6, a shadow of his former self.

Luis Suarez had big boots to fill. Torres had built a reputation as one of the finest strikers to have worn the Liverpool red: the complete forward. But in recent years, injuries niggled. El Nino looked sullen and detached and for the first time, his attitude was questioned by the Kop.

Fast forward six months and most of the Liverpool fans agree that Henry, Dalglish et al operated shrewdly. Suarez has delighted Kopites with a series of dazzling performance, a tenacity and commitment their forward line had been sorely lacking and a huge injection of South American flair. Whilst he's got a long way to go before he shakes the Kop, the early signs are good.

Before joining Liverpool in the January transfer window of 2011, Suarez's signature was much sought after across the continent. He made his name in the Eredivise in Holland, first with Groningen and then Ajax.

At the Amsterdam Arena, he blossomed into one of the most prolific strikers in Europe. In his third season with the club, he notched an incredible 45 goals in 44 games. He joined the illustrious company of Bergkamp, Cruyff and Van Basten in being scoring over 100 goals for the club and continued in exhilarating fashion for his national side. 

But ironically for someone with such a keen eye for goal, Suarez is not an out an out striker. During the 2010 World Cup, Suarez starred for an impressive Uruguay side that surprised many by making it to the semi final, but he did so as a cog in a triumvirate with Edinson Cavani and Diego Forlan. Cavani led the line, with Suarez and Forlan dropping back to support the midfield, creating as many as they scored.

Indeed, Suarez embodied the combination of hard work, quick thinking and élan that Oscar Tabarez instilled in the side. With Uruguay stuttering in this year's Copa America, it was Suarez who stepped up to the plate, firing them through first the Group Stage and then the semi final. Having been cast as the pantomime villian following his goal-line handball in last year's World Cup Semi Final, Suarez is now being heralded for the guts and winning attitude that drove him to bend the rules.

Liverpool fans will have been watching his performances at the Copa America with great interest. In his short spell with the club, Luis Suarez has been hugely impressive, but his partnership with Andy Carroll has yet to ignite.

Carroll has spent the majority of his Liverpool career on the sidelines, injured. The pair are seen as the figureheads of the Dalglish revolution: young, dynamic, exciting. With the squad undergoing a substantial makeover in the summer, fans will be looking to the pair to quickly repay their large transfer fees.

It's an exciting time to be a Liverpool fan and nobody personifies the buzz about Anfield better than Luis Suarez.

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Which Player Would You Like to See Playing in the Premier League Next Season?

by Finbarr 20. July 2011 10:46

 

We, like you, can't wait for the new season. The transfer window brings with it some modicum of excitement, but there are only so many "Xavi Loves Fabregas" headlines we can digest before we start pining for some footy.

But since it is the speculation season, we've decided to embrace the rumour mill. After all, it pays to know who you want to see Icons secure the signatures of, so we did a bit of our own scouting and found out which players have been linked with the top English clubs. Last week, we posted a poll on our Facebook page to find out who our followers would like to see gracing our shores come August. 

The results were interesting, but hardly surprising. The most in demand player amongst fans this summer is Inter Milan's Wesley Sneijder. He's been linked with a big money move to Manchester United as a replacement for this week's Icons Legend of the Week, Paul Scholes.

Sir Alex Ferguson has since tried to distance himself from the reports, but we all know that means nothing. Don't be surprised if the Dutch midfielder is plying his trade at Old Trafford next season.

Here is the top ten:

1. Wesley Sneijder (Inter Milan and Holland)

2. Sergio Aguero (Atletico Madrid and Argentina)

3. Neymar Santos (Santos and Brazil)

4. Juan Mata (Valencia and Spain)

5. Eden Hazard (Lille and Belgium)

6. Radamel Falcao (Porto and Colombia)

7. Diego Forlan (Atletico Madrid and Uruguay)

8. Sergio Canales (Real Madrid and Spain)

9. Kaká (Real Madrid and Brazil)

10. Javier Pastore (Palermo and Argentina)

Keep looking out for more polls and fun giveaways on our Facebook and Twitter feeds!

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Icons Legend of the Week #2: Paul Scholes

by Finbarr 20. July 2011 06:51

In the second in our series of Legends, we've continued the Best of British theme from our sale. Who else could we have chosen, but Paul Scholes... 

The Premier League has earned its reputation as the world's most entertaining for a number of reasons. There is the speed of play, the energy of the game, the passion of the fans and the commitment of the players. But on technical terms, it's often been regarded as inferior to La Liga and Serie A.

The same things that the league has been praised for, though, have been used to criticise the kind of players the country produces. Occasionally, the mould is broken. Jack Wilshere and Wayne Rooney, in recent years, are England players that wouldn't look out of place in the red of Spain. But before them, there was Paul Scholes.

That's not to say the Oldham schemer didn't embody some of the cherished aspects of our game. In a Manchester United shirt, there were few who have given more to the cause than Scholes. But he combined it with a once in a generation elegance, vision and class that drew praise from other legends of the game.

Sir Bobby Charlton, who many consider to be the greatest United player of all, described Scholes as "in many ways my favourite United player." Xavi Hernandez, arguably the most talented midfielder in the world, said: "In the last 15 to 20 years the best midfielder that I have seen - the most complete - is Scholes. Scholes is a spectacular player who has everything."

High praise indeed, but not unwarranted. Scholes started and finished his career at Old Trafford and over the course of 17 years, won every club honour in the game. 

His breathtaking range of passing, clever movement, eye for goal and the general intelligence of his play were instrumental in the helping restore the glory days to Manchester United. Alongside the bite of Roy Keane, the darting runs of Ryan Giggs and the devastating impact of Cristiano Ronaldo, Scholes has been ever present, quietly and graciously earning plaudits.

The toils of the England national side at major tournaments have been frustrating for many, but the retirement of Scholes from the international game at an early age should be a source of chagrin for everyone. 

In an attempt to accommodate both Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard in the midfield, Scholes was shunted out on the left wing by Sven-Goran Eriksson. This 'square pegs in round holes' formula failed (under successive managers) and when Scholes announced his international retirement at only 29 in 2004, many attributed it to this perceived oversight.

When Fabio Capello asked Scholes to reconsider his decision in time for the 2010 World Cup, it was just desserts for the most talented midfielder of his generation. Scholes, though, stuck to his guns; dogged as ever.

He retired after the 2011 Champions League Final defeat to Barcelona after scoring 150 goals in 676 games for United and 14 in 66 for England. Sir Alex Ferguson's search to replace him starts now, but it remains to be seen whether he will ever find anyone to fill the gap left behind by the little ginger kid from Oldham.

Forward Friday: Malian Hotshot, Frédéric Kanouté

by Finbarr 15. July 2011 06:11

For a country that only played its first World Cup qualifier in 2000 and is perhaps best known in these parts as the home of Timbuktu, the list of footballers from Mali (or of Malian descent) is long and surprisingly impressive.

The current squad is bolstered by the presence of Momo Sissoko (Juventus), Seydou Keita (Barcelona) and Mahamadou Diarra (Real Madrid). French football legend and former Fulham manager Jean Tigana was born in the capital city, Bamako and Salif Keita, formerly of Valencia, Marseille and Saint Etienne, is considered to be one of the greatest African players of all time.

But their most celebrated son of the modern era was born to Malian parents in Lyon, in the south of France. Despite representing France at youth levels, though, there can be no doubting which nation Frédéric Kanouté considers home. He opted to turn out for Mali rather than France in 2004, going on to top score in that year's African Cup of Nations.

His goalscoring record for the national side was better than one in two (meeting the Football Ramble's golden ratio for a top striker), but it's Kanouté's club career in England and Spain for which he'll be best remembered.

His spell with hometown club Lyon was relatively forgettable, but earned him an initial loan spell in London with West Ham which then manager Harry Redknapp quickly made permanent.

As they watched Carlton Cole and Franck Nouble lumbering about up top last season, Hammers fans must've been yearning for the days when Kanouté partnered Paolo Di Canio at the Boleyn Ground. But nostalgia can be misleading. Despite Kanouté consistently finding the back of the net, he was unable to stop his side slipping out of the top flight.

Frédi jumped ship for Tottenham, where he joined fellow recruits Helder Postiga, Robbie Keane and Bobby Zamora as part of a new look strikeforce at White Hart Lane. Only he and Keane could be considered successes, though. His return for Spurs was solid, but his lackadaisical stylings were often construed as laziness.

His decision to attend the African Nations Cup in 2004, earned the ire of the Spurs faithful, too, who berated him with the chant "you're French, and you know you are." It was the beginning of the end for Kanouté in England. His form dipped and just as his career looked to be on the slide, his finest performances were yet to come.

A move to Spain rejuvenated Kanouté. With Sevilla, he has hit double figures in all but his début season at the club (2005-06) and established himself as one of the most consistent strikers in La Liga. 

He was a member of Juande Ramos' double UEFA Cup winning squad and has hit well over a century of goals for the Andalusians. As he reaches the twilight of his career, a move to the Middle East has been mooted (which would certainly make sense on a personal level), but Sevilla have publicly stated their desire to keep hold of their man.

Kanouté is a devout Muslim. He hit the headlines when he refused to don the Sevilla shirt because of their sponsorship deal with a betting firm. He regularly takes time out of training to pray and donated £700,000 of his own money to buy a mosque in Sevilla.

As a representative of the Islamic community, an ambassador for African football and a striker who has scored goals at the top level in three countries for almost 15 years, Frédéric Kanouté is Icons' first forward for Friday.

We're delighted to add Kanouté products to our collection for the first time this week, you can view them here.

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Icons' Copa America Quarter Final Predictions

by Finbarr 14. July 2011 11:56

 

 

Well, it had to happen, didn't it? It was only a matter of time before the heavens opened and the Copa America started raining goals but let's be honest: it did have us worried for a while.

The format of the competition means that none of the big guns were ever likely to fall at the first hurdle. With three groups of four, only four teams were to be eliminated before the Quarter Finals. 

As we prophesised before the tournament, the experimental youth sides of Mexico and Costa Rica fell by the wayside. They were joined by a poor Bolivian outfit and an Ecuador in transition.

Hosts Argentina whimpered rather than roared into action, but pint sized cavaliers Leo Messi and Sergio Aguero hit form at just the right time to steer them through to the next round, behind an impressive Colombia. 

Brazil also started poorly. Two consecutive draws had fans calling for the head of coach Mano Menezes. They, too, relied on a much improved final game performance over Venezuela to top the group ahead of their less illustrious opponents (who impressed many). As one of the best performing third placed sides, Paraguay also join the Quarter Finals from Group B.

Group C inarguably provided the best entertainment, namely in the form of an exciting Chile side. They topped the group ahead of Uruguay, who looked good in patches, with Peru qualifying as one of the best third placed sides.

As we reach the business end of the tournament, things will surely start heating up. Along with a host of football journalists and bloggers, we offered our overall tournament predictions two weeks ago. With crunch time looming, we decided we'd venture slightly further into clairvoyant territory and predict the results for the four Quarter Final encounters, scores and all.

Here's how we think the last eight will pan out:

Dan Jamieson
Icons Managing Director
Colombia 2-1 Peru
Argentina 2-2 (Uruguay to win on penalties)
Brazil 0-1 Paraguay
Chile 3-2 Venezuela

Ben Soley
Icons Marketing and Promotions Executive
Colombia 3-0 Peru
Argentina 1-2 
Brazil 2-1 Paraguay
Chile 1-0 Venezuela (AET)

Finbarr Bermingham
Icons Editorial
Colombia 4-1 Peru
Argentina 2-3 Uruguay 
Brazil 3-0 Paraguay
Chile 3-1 Venezuela (AET)

So there you have it, folks. We'll hang up our crystal ball for another day, but be sure to give us your own predictions via Twitter or Facebook

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Total Football Show Competition Winner

by Finbarr 14. July 2011 11:00

Last week, we loaded up the Icons van with classic shirts and photos (as well as the famous Icons backdrop) and took ourselves on a roadtrip to the Total Football Show at Lilleshall National Sports Centre in Shropshire. Lilleshall Hall was formerly home to the FA Centre of Excellence, a conveyer belt of talent that churned out the likes of Jermain Defoe, Scott Parker, Michael Owen and Wes Brown and we loved watching the stars of tomorrow battle it out in the two day tournament.

We also took the opportunity to launch a competition. To compliment the Leo Messi boot we're giving away to coincide with the Copa America, we gave everyone in attendance the chance to win a beautiful football boot, signed by Kaka.

Upon our return to Icons HQ, we picked one name at random and are delighted to announce that Rob Ellis, of St Germaine FC in Harlow, is the lucky winner. Congratulations to Rob and for everyone else, keep your eyes peeled for further great giveaways from Icons. 

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The times, they are a changin'...

by Finbarr 14. July 2011 09:45

Trifon Ivanov: Potential Twivial Hirsute?

We're delighted to announce a series of new initiatives that we'll be incorporating into our various online media as of this week.

You may have noticed our increased presence on Twitter and Facebook recently. Along with our blog, we'll be using these channels to publish and promote some great new regular features.

Every Thursday, we'll be posing a question to our Twitter followers in homage to the bewhiskered legends of the beautiful game. Twivial Hirsute starts today and you'll find the question in our Twitter feed. 

We at Icons have a longstanding history of signing goal machines. To mark this, we're delighted to introduce the Forward Friday feature to our blog. At the end of every week, we're going to run a profile, history and all round celebration of one of the great hitmen from our archive. Be sure to let us know who you'd like to be featured - who are your favourite strikers?

Earlier this week, we kicked off our Legend of the Week feature. Every Tuesday, we'll be running a profile of one of our most iconic signees so again, get in touch and tell us who you think we should be featuring! This week, we kicked off with Real Madrid and Spain goalkeeper Iker Casillas.

So have a read and we hope you enjoy the new look, interactive Icons format!

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Icons Legend of the Week #1: Iker Casillas

by Finbarr 12. July 2011 10:37

 

If there's one thing in the world guaranteed to make you feel like a deadbeat, it's a quick glance at Iker Casillas' CV. It's hard to believe that the man charged with manning the fort for two of the most attacking sides in the world has only just turned 30.

But when most of us were busy stealing traffic cones and dodging seminars, Casillas was busy playing in the 2000 Champions League Final.

Early in his career, he was considered "too short" to be a top 'keeper and "too error prone" to survive as Real's number one. Eleven years after his début, though, the voices of dissent have been well and truly shushed. 

Throughout his twenties, Casillas has grown in stature, adding a commanding air of authority to his recognised shot-stopping ability and agility. In a golden era for Spanish goalkeeping, he's kept the challenges of Pepe Reina and Victor Valdes at bay to hold on to the number one spot since claiming it from Santiago Canizares (who lost it after dropped a bottle of aftershave on his foot) in 2000.

When erstwhile teammate Raul was in and out of the side, Casillas was awarded the national team captaincy and has led his country through the most successful period of their history. 

He captained Spain to victories at Euro 2008 and World Cup 2010 to add to the multitude of honours he won at underage level. 

What's perhaps most impressive, though, is that through the fluctuation of his club side's performance, Casillas has remained a rock: the only constant in the neverending soap opera played out in the Bernebeu.

With Madrid, he has made well over 500 appearances. He has won four La Liga titles and two Champions Leagues. Whilst Barcelona have stolen the plaudits at team level, Casillas has continued to rake in the individual honours. He is widely regarded as the best goalkeeper on the planet and whilst he faces stiff competition from the aforementioned Valdes and Gianluigi Buffon, there are few who would argue against the judgement.

For his consistency and brilliance, Iker Casillas is the first Icons Legend of the Week and we're delighted to offer some cut price Casillas memorabilia in our Summer Sale to mark the occasion. Here's a quick summary of his career:

Real Madrid 

Appearances
572 (614 goals conceded)

Honours
La Liga: 2001, 2003, 2007, 2008
Copa Del Rey: 2011
Supercopa de Espana: 2001, 2003, 2008
UEFA Champions League: 2000, 2002
UEFA Super Cup: 2002
Intercontinental Cup: 2002

Spain

Appearances
121 (71 goals conceded)

Honours
UEFA European Championships: 2008
FIFA World Cup: 2010

Individual Awards

Bravo Award: 2000
Don Balón Breakthrough Award: 2000
UEFA Team of the Year: 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010
UEFA Euro Team of the Tournament: 2008
FIFA World XI: 2008, 2009, 2010
FIFA / FIFPro World's Best Goalkeeper: 2008, 2009, 2010
FIFA World Cup Golden Glove: 2010
FIFA World Cup All-Star Team: 2010

Trivia Corner

As a youngster, Iker Casillas threw his father into a rage after forgetting to post his pools' coupon. Usually, this wouldn't have been a problem, but on the weekend in question, Casillas Snr had predicted the correct scores in all 14 games. The mistake cost the family about £1 million. It's just as well he's gone on to make a few bob himself, isn't it?

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About Icons Memorabilia

Welcome to the icons blog, we'll be regularly posting here about what's going on with our star signings and what new products have arrived

We love what we do so we'll also be talking about what's going on in the world of football and sport in general.

We'd really appreciate your feedback and comments too.

Cheers - The icons.com team.

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