Two things caught my eye this week – one was the completion of Roger Espinoza’s transfer from Sporting Kansas City in the US to Wigan Athletic; the other was the fact that the Confederations Cup draw for June 2013 has taken place (and indeed took place on 1 December 2012…).
Oh look, Wigan have signed another Honduran. How comical. Except this time, in my view, they have signed a damn good one in midfielder Roger Espinoza.
Having seen Mr Espinoza in action at the London 2012 Olympic tournament on three separate occasions, I can confirm to all Wigan supporters out there that they may have captured themselves a bit of a bargain. Particularly against Brazil in the quarter-finals, Espinoza showed he was skilful, tenacious and with a real eye for goal. In that match he was (harshly) sent off in the last minute; in so doing he received a standing ovation from the St James’ Park crowd for his performance, something I’ve never seen before in more than 20 years of going to football matches. He was also exemplary against Spain, chasing down lost causes and trying to keep the Spanish off the ball for as long as possible as he helped his country to an historic victory against the world and European champions.
Although only scoring twice in more than 100 appearances in the MLS for Sporting Kansas City, I fancy in the Premier League he may grab a couple of vital goals for Wigan before the season is out. His physicality and drive should make his adaptation to the English game a little easier. From an entirely biased perspective, I hope he thrives in the remaining months of the season.
Tahiti and the Confederations Cup
Completely changing the subject, and continuing my fascination with the underdog in world football, I learned today that the C0nfederations Cup draw took place… at the start of December 2012. As regular blog readers will know, the unlikely participants in this year’s tournament will be Tahiti, who managed a surprise win in the OFC Nations Cup last year and thus travel to Brazil in June as the representatives of Oceania, rather than perennial attendees New Zealand.
The draw, as it would have been no matter which teams were pulled out, is an absolute stinker for the Tahitians. They begin against the winners of the upcoming Africa Cup of Nations in Belo Horizonte (admittedly not a ground that’s a stranger to shocks given the US’s victory over England in 1950), followed by a game against Spain in the Maracana in Rio de Janeiro. The last match of their odyssey sees the French Polynesians face Uruguay, admittedly not the side of their 2011 Copa America triumph but still ironed-on favourites to win, in Recife in the north-east of Brazil. By that point, if they’re not playing solely for pride I will be amazed. However, it will certainly be an adventure for the Tahitians and, going by the current qualification criteria for the tournament (i.e., win your continental championship or the World Cup), they have every right to be there.
One concern I do have is that Tahiti’s probably awful showing may damage the reputation of a tournament which is already seen as largely pointless. Certainly, their form in recent World Cup qualifiers doesn’t provide much comfort. Although the Confederations Cup now serves as a useful warm-up (for the host nation rather than the countries involved) for the World Cup to follow the year after, particularly in terms of testing infrastructure, the performance of the Tahitians may call into question the usefulness of the tournament from a footballing perspective. Unless we see a miracle in June, I also think questions will be asked about whether or not Oceania should continue to be represented at the Confederations Cup, and indeed if there is a continuing justification for the Oceania confederation’s separate existence. It may be unfair to lump all of that responsibility on a side doomed to fail – however, I do think those questions will be asked. If Tahiti beat Spain on 20 June in Rio, I’ll gladly munch on my words.