Let’s start with the International Break we just finished:
Recapping the World Cup watch list
I have to say that for the most part, the individual teams I said to watch had some great results over the international break.
- United States: Well, they didn’t lose at home and didn’t disappoint the 26,000 person sold out crowd who came to watch the Yanks beat Mexico 2-0 in Cincinnati. However, you couldn’t call this an entirely successful campaign. While that win did set the U.S. up well to finish off 2021 in style, they fumbled their chance to grab all six points thanks to a 1-1 draw with Jamaica. You can blame whatever you want: injuries, the heat of Kingston contrasting with the Ohio cold, maybe even just general exhaustion. Nevertheless, Gregg Berhalter and his team once again failed to pull off full points in an international window. They had the benefit of playing only two games this time and the results still failed to materialize. They’ll hope to improve their position in 2022 — starting with a game against leaders Canada.
- Cameroon: These lions proved themselves indomitable. After throttling Malawi 4-0, they faced a do-or-die matchup against Ivory Coast. Karl Toko Ekambi’s strike in the 21’ was all that was needed as Cameroon were able to pull themselves up to the top spot and into the CAF’s final round of World Cup qualifying.
- Spain: Inigo Martinez was tripped in the box in Greece. A rebound against Sweden fell at the feet of Alvaro Morata. That’s the lead up to the two goals in two games that gave Spain an automatic ticket to the World Cup. Pablo Sarabia was able to clean up a penalty stemming from Martinez’s trip in the 26’ to put Spain up 1-0. Then in the next game, one Spain needed to win to be automatically in, Dani Olmo cut in from the left and took a shot that clanked off the upper left 90º. The rebound fell in front of Alvaro Morata who calmly passed the ball into the net to complete the comeback. Sweden face a tough knockout stage while Spain are sitting pretty in Qatar.
- Peru: CONMEBOL qualifying can be hell, and as the saying goes, “If you’re going through hell, keep going”. Peru seem to have taken this to heart. After going into the break third bottom in the group stage, Los Incas were able to stay out of their own way — getting wins over Bolivia and Venezuela. Now, they sit 5th in the standings just behind Colombia on goal difference. With just four games to go, they’ve got Colombia and Ecuador up next.
Group G: Finally, just to briefly tie a bow on this chaos:
- The Netherlands only were able to draw Montenegro
- Norway settled for a 0-0 draw against Latvia
- Turkey thrashed Gibraltar 6-0, which saw them tied with Norway on points
- The Netherlands were able to score late twice over Norway to clinch their spot in Qatar
- Turkey, with the easier game against Montenegro, were able to win and clinch the knockouts
- Norway’s bid to qualify for their first World Cup since 1998 drags on.
Stuttgart is beginning to heal
I’ve been wanting to talk about the Swabians for weeks — but there was just never the right time for all the stars to align in this narrative. But, we seem to be approaching that point.
Coach Pellegrino Matarazzo has had a really tough time when it comes to personnel selection — and it’s not really his fault for that. Stuttgart have suffered an ungodly amount of injuries to their roster. At the time of writing this, 12 players are listed as injured on Transfermarkt — and they aren’t insignificant role players. Defenders Marc Oliver Kempf and Konstantinos Mavropanos have been dealing with significant muscular injuries. Young midfielders Naouirou Ahamada and Enzo Millot have hamstring issues. One of their star attackers from last season — Sasa Kalajdzic — went down earlier in the season with a shoulder injury and isn’t expected back until the Rückrunde. On top of that, three players who have all been deputized to replace the young Austrian have also gone down with injuries.
But, over this international break, Stuttgart’s fortunes began to turn themselves back around. Kempf, Mavropanos, Ahamada, and two backup strikers — Omar Marmoush and Hamadi Al Ghaddioui — have all returned from their injuries and have started to train at the Mercedesstrasse. All of them could be set for selection for Saturday’s clash with Borussia Dortmund.
But there’s another reason to be happy in Stuttgart. Since going down with a ligament injury last season, the reigning Young Player of the Year Silas Katompa Mvumpa (alias Wamangituka) has been recovering. He hasn’t played a single minute of this season yet. That could change in the coming days. Silas is back in training and is getting his way to full health. Matarazzo says he won’t be ready for this weekend, but his debut could be coming soon.
While Stuttgart are currently 15th, there’s the feeling that they’ll be able to pick it all back up in the second half of the season. With their luck, they could start that turnaround much sooner than then.
Match of the Week: 1. FC Union Berlin v. Hertha BSC
Get ready for three successive weeks of derby matches. In addition to the Bavarian Derby between Bayern Munich and FC Augsburg, we have the fifth edition of Union-Hertha on the cards. Having talked about both of them recently, I’ll just catch you all up to speed over each side’s last five league matches.
Hertha have had a relative wash over their last five: 2W-1D-2L. They fell to 14th after a 2-1 loss to Freiburg, but won two games on the bounce over Eintracht Frankfurt and Borussia Mönchengladbach to climb as high as 10th. They then got shutout by Hoffenheim before a well earned 1-1 draw with Bayer Leverkusen brought them up to their current position of 13th.
Meanwhile, over in Köpenick, the red side of Berlin has been more fruitful. The only blemish on their record in the last five matches was a 5-2 loss to Bayern Munich. Otherwise, wins over Mainz and Wolfsburg coupled with draws against Stuttgart and Köln have Union sitting in 8th. The timing, however, is everything. Before that Bayern game, the team sat in 5th — their highest position of the season so far. However that loss, coupled with the Köln draw sunk them three spots.
It’s hard to tell if any side has momentum going into this match — they both lost and drew their last two games — but the injuries/suspensions front favors Die Eisernen. Hertha are going to be without captain Dedryck Boyata for the next three games thanks to a suspension. Add to that mercurial midfielder Vladimir Dardai is out recovering from a thigh injury.
This seems like a must-win match (like all derbies) at a crucial moment for each side’s season. Union have aspirations to stay in Europe while Hertha just can’t seem to get the gears to click in place. All eyes will turn to the Försterei this Saturday to see who’s vision wins out.
Here are all the times for this weekends matches (all Eastern U.S.)
Friday, November 19th
- FC Augsburg 2-1 Bayern München (WWK Arena - Augsburg, Bavaria)
Saturday, November 20th
- DSC Arminia Bielefeld v. VfL Wolfsburg (Schüco-Arena - Bielefeld, North Rhine-Westphalia)
- Bayer 04 Leverkusen v. VfL Bochum (BayArena - Leverkusen, North Rhine-Westphalia)
- Borussia Dortmund v. VfB Stuttgart (Signal Iduna Park - Dortmund, North Rhine-Westphalia)
- Borussia Mönchengladbach v. SpVgg Greuther Fürth (BORUSSIA-PARK - Mönchengladbach, North Rhine-Westphalia)
- TSG Hoffenheim v. RB Leipzig (PreZero Arena - Sinsheim, Baden-Württemberg)
- 1. FC Union Berlin v. Hertha BSC (Stadion An der Alten Försterei - Köpenick, Berlin)
Sunday, November 21st
- SC Freiburg v. Eintracht Frankfurt (Europa-Park Stadion - Freiburg im Briesgau, Baden-Württemberg)
- 1. FSV Mainz 05 v. 1. FC Köln (Mewa Arena - Mainz, Rhineland-Palatinate)