Yesterday was a difficult day for me as a football fan.  The two international sides I support, Northern Ireland and the United States, both suffered defeat at the hands of opponents they were capable of beating.  While Northern Ireland’s defeat means hope of qualifying for Euro 2012 is almost lost, it is coming at what is likely the end of Nigel Worthington’s term as manager.  The United States’ 1-0 defeat against Belgium comes at a critical time early in Jurgen Klinsmann’s campaign, after a debut draw against Mexico; two consecutive defeats have left many asking questions.

For long stretches in the first half the United States lacked possession and scoring opportunities.  While Brek Shea may have been a bright spot for the Americans on the left flank, Clint Dempsey spent most of his time being closed down tightly by the Belgian defense.  Jozy Altidore was subbed at the half after receiving little support, despite holding the ball up well.  Robbie Rogers showed that he is probably not capable of featuring in the USMNT squad, after a poor first half performance where he lacked the quality to play against the superior Belgian midfield.

The furious attacking nature of the first half against Costa Rica yielded no goals for the Americans, while their conservative, gradual attempts at buildup against Belgium yielded the same result.  The quality gap between Costa Rica and Belgium is obvious, but the result of both matches was still 1-0 victories for the opposition.  Belgium’s dominant first half performance saw no goals, with Tim Howard making several nice saves before eventually conceding in the 55th minute on a shot from Nicolas Lombaerts that he should have stopped.  In the 86th minute Maurice Edu headed home a goal from a set piece, but the linesman had raised the flag for offside, marking another occasion when an Edu goal was ruled out. 

The changes made under Klinsmann are just beginning to take effect, but the fact remains that America is lacking quality players to compete against European sides struggling to qualify for Euro 2012.  Despite not featuring Landon Donovan, it is hard to imagine he alone would have made the difference against a Belgian midfield that dominated the United States for long periods of the game.  The squad has looked at times creative and attack minded and at other times disorganized and scrambling to defend. 

Klinsmann has recently come under fire from German player Phillip Lahm whose autobiography highlights the 2006 World Cup where Lahm claims that German players were left to sort out tactics on their own.  Klinsmann’s assistant manager Martin Vasquez is the same as when he managed Bayern Munich.  Klinsmann’s campaign with Bayern came to an abrupt end in April 2009 after they had been eliminated in the Champions League quarterfinals by Barcelona and their qualification through the Bundesliga came into question when the club fell to Schalke. 

American fans that were looking to Klinsmann to give their side a tactical advantage will be disappointed, but Klinsmann’s strengths lie in his ability to affect change across all of American soccer. Klinsmann has spoken at length about the necessity of bringing more quality player’s through the USA’s massive youth soccer programs as well as capping players eligible for America before other countries do.  With this two pronged approach Klinsmann hopes to improve America’s quality over the long term.

The short term is a different story, with the American squad lacking quality in defense, consistency in the midfield, and a dominant striker to lead the attack.  These shortcomings have been highlighted over the past three matches, by opponents of varying quality.  The draw against Mexico provided hope to American fans for the future, while the inability to score against Costa Rica yet thoroughly dominating provided us with frustration.  The result against Belgium is frustrating again, as it saw the USMNT dominated by a squad struggling to catch up to Turkey for the second spot in Group A.  While Klinsmann may be the correct long term solution to America’s problems, he must address the short term with a win against Honduras in a few weeks in order to be taken seriously.

Euro 2012 Qualifiers

Spain sealed their qualification with a 6-0 drubbing of Lichtenstein.  Alvaro Negredo began the scoring with a left footed screamer and Spain never looked back.  Full highlights here:

Holland is now on the brink of qualification after their 2-0 defeat over ten-man Finland. Highlights here:

Northern Ireland saw their qualifying hopes all but dashed as they were handily beaten during their away day to Estonia 4-1.

Scotland kept their narrow qualification hopes alive with a 1-0 win over Lithuania.

Italy played to their typical 1-0 bore win over Slovenia. 

England was able to take a 1-0 win away from their match against lowly Wales thanks to an awful miss by Robbie Earnshaw.

Ireland and Russia played to a tight 0-0 draw, which has inspired today’s background of Richard Dunne’s face being attended to by a physio. Dunne's "lionhearted" performance keep Ireland's qualifying hopes alive.

Goal of the Day
Goes to Evgeniy Zinovyev who scored this incredible overhead kick after a nifty juggling display:

*Correction: Robin van Persie scored 4 goals against San Marino, not 3, but do goals scored against San Marino still count?