‘We just have to be ready’ – Jamaica Reggae Girlz Donaldson excited for chance to play in competitive World Cup group

By Sports Desk October 23, 2022

 Jamaica Reggae Girls coach Lorne Donaldson has been left excited by the prospect of once again facing up to top team Brazil at next year’s FIFA Women’s World Cup.

The draw, which was made in Auckland, New Zealand, on Saturday, has seen the Jamaicans drawn in Group F where they will face France, Brazil and the winner of Group C of the inter-continental play-offs.

For the Reggae Girlz, who made history by qualifying for the World Cup for a second consecutive tournament earlier this year, facing Brazil will be a rematch of the 2019 edition where they were also pitted against each other in the first round.

On that occasion, the South Americans, who were World Cup runners up in 2007, won the match 3-0.  Four years later the Jamaicans will face a much-changed unit and will hope for a better result.

“It’s a much different Brazil team, it’s a younger team and a different coach.  Their old coach passed away but Pia (Sundhage) is a very good coach so we will have our work cut out for us,” Donaldson said of the prospect of once again facing the South Americans.

“It’s a young fast skillful Brazilian team, so we just have to be ready,” he added.

“The draw itself, we have been placed with some exciting teams that play good football, so, we have to come out and try to match them.”

The Jamaicans will play against Paraguay in two practice matches on the 10th and 12th of November,

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    Cristiano Ronaldo has scored many famous goals.

    Undoubtedly, though, one of his most celebrated strikes came 15 years ago, on January 30, 2008.

    On a winter evening at Old Trafford, Harry Redknapp's Portsmouth rocked up in fine form on the road, having won seven of their 12 away games in the Premier League.

    Yet Ronaldo, in the midst of a 31-goal season in the top tier, was the difference. 

    Having put Manchester United ahead in the 10th minute, Ronaldo stepped up, just under 30 yards out from goal, three minutes later.

    His free-kick, taken in what would become his trademark style, went up, over the wall and swerved remarkably into the right-hand corner. David James, the Portsmouth goalkeeper, had no chance.

    That goal is often thought of as the typical Ronaldo free-kick. Power, panache and pinpoint accuracy.

    But is Ronaldo actually as good as a free-kick taker as that goal might suggest? Using Opta data, Stats Perform has taken a look.

    Quantity, not quality?

    Since that goal against Portsmouth up until the day his second spell at United ended (November 23, 2022), Ronaldo had more shots from direct free-kicks than any other player in Europe's top five leagues.

    Of the 645 shots Ronaldo had, 41 resulted in a goal. That is from 700 club games, across stints at United, Real Madrid and Juventus.

    On the face of it, that goal tally does not stand out as particularly impressive, at least given the fact that Ronaldo netted 619 times in total.

    Yet he is behind only Lionel Messi (who else?) when it comes to goals from direct free-kicks, with the Barcelona great scoring on 51 occasions from such situations.

    That gives Messi an 8.1 per cent conversion rate from free-kicks in that timeframe, in contrast to Ronaldo's 6.3 per cent.

     

    Naturally, given their status in the game, Ronaldo and Messi will almost always pull rank when it comes to set-pieces, especially at a free-kick in a dangerous position.

    Miralem Pjanic, who ranks third for direct free-kick goals and was a club-mate of both players at Barca and Juve respectively, boasts better conversion rate than either (nine per cent).

    Neymar's 13 goals from 147 attempts gives him an 8.8 per cent success rate, while James Ward-Prowse's 12 per cent (15 from 125, though this figure of course does not account for his strike against Everton earlier in January) is close to double what Ronaldo managed.

    Indeed, when ranked against players from Europe's big five leagues that scored 10 or more direct free-kicks between January 31, 2008 and November 23, 2022, only Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Dani Parejo had lower conversion rates than Ronaldo.

    Club by club

    So, having established that Ronaldo's free-kick finishing was somewhat erratic following that stunner against Portsmouth, let's check on how he stacked up at each club.

    Across his career in Europe's top five leagues, Ronaldo netted 48 free-kicks in all competitions, from 782 shots (6.1 per cent).

     

    Thirteen of those goals came at United, with five each in his final two seasons of his first spell at the club.

    Indeed, Ronaldo's peak when it came to free-kicks was definitely between the 2007-08 season and the 2013-14 campaign, when he scored 35 times from that type of dead-ball situation.

    His best single season tally was six, in the 2009-10 season – his first at Madrid.

    From 2014-15 onwards he did not manage more than three free-kick goals during a season, while he scored only twice from 86 such attempts while at Juve, and managed no goals from four free-kicks in his second stint at United.

    One of the greats?

    As well as his effort against Portsmouth, Ronaldo has many other memorable free-kicks in the bank.

    His stunning, 40-yard strike against Arsenal in the 2009 Champions League semi-final; a mesmerising hit from even further out in a Madrid derby in 2012; and who can forget that spellbinding, hat-trick sealing effort that secured a last-gasp draw for Portugal against Spain in a 3-3 thriller at the 2018 World Cup.

    Ronaldo might have gone off the boil from dead balls since the halcyon days either side of his move from Manchester to Madrid, yet there's no doubting that when he hits them true, there's not much any goalkeeper can do.

    While he may not go down as one of the greatest free-kick takers in history statistically, he has definitely been a scorer of some great free-kicks down the years.

    And who knows, maybe there'll be more to come in Saudi Arabia.

  • Arnold to coach Australia through to 2026 World Cup Arnold to coach Australia through to 2026 World Cup

    Graham Arnold will stay on as Australia head coach heading into the 2026 World Cup.

    The Socceroos reached the round of 16 in Qatar last year, matching the achievement of 2006.

    After losing to eventual finalists France in their opening group game, Australia beat Tunisia and Denmark to record their best performance at a World Cup finals. They lost 2-1 to a Lionel Messi-inspired Argentina in a tight last-16 tie.

    Arnold, who was caretaker manager of the national team between 2006 and 2007 and also took charge of Australia's Olympic side at the delayed Tokyo 2020 tournament, has now signed a new contract to keep him in place through to the 2026 World Cup, which will be held in the United States, Mexico and Canada.

    Football Australia chair Chris Nikou said: "What Graham and the entire squad achieved under the most challenging of circumstances during the last FIFA World Cup campaign was exceptional, and we are delighted that we have secured his services for a further four years.

    "Football Australia is ambitious, where we expect continued progress and results from our senior and youth national teams, and through our discussions with Graham over recent weeks, we know our thinking is aligned on the future direction of Australian football and the Socceroos."

    James Johnson, Football Australia's chief executive, noted Arnold had "contributed to some of Australian football's most iconic moments", but that "his exploits as the Socceroos head coach have propelled him into a league of his own."

    Arnold said: "I love Australia and I love Australian football, and nothing in football can ever match the elation, pride and sense of achievement I and the entire set-up felt in Qatar. 

    "The hunger to continue in the role has never been stronger and I know I have more to give to the Socceroos' programme and Australian football, where I want to deliver more smiles for our fans as we did in Qatar.

    "I approach the next four years with a clean sheet, which is underpinned by a burning ambition to provide more opportunities to our leading emerging and established talent, whilst challenging for major titles starting with the AFC Asian Cup in Qatar next year."

    Arnold explained he hopes Australia's performance at the World Cup convinces the country's government to allocate more funding to the sport and establish a permanent base for the Socceroos. 

    "It's crazy to think the Socceroos don’t get any high-performance funding from the government," he told reporters.

    "They don't have a home. How can you have a football culture if you don't have a home?

    "Funding will help the programmes but the home of football is crucial. It's something as a sport we’ve missed out on. We've got nothing, nowhere to go."

    Arnold has won 30 of his 51 games in charge of Australia, with his 59 per cent win rate the highest of any of the 12 coaches to have overseen the Socceroos on more than 20 occasions.

  • Rumour Has It: Barcelona optimistic about Neves chances as Wolves sign replacement Rumour Has It: Barcelona optimistic about Neves chances as Wolves sign replacement

    Barcelona feel Wolves midfielder Ruben Neves has one foot out of the door and are optimistic about their chance of signing him at the end of the season.

    Neves, 25, has spent the past six seasons with Wolves after arriving during their last season in the Championship (2017-18), racking up over 200 appearances for the club along with 28 goals.

    The central midfielder, a regular for Portugal, has caught the eye of Europe's elite clubs.

    Wolves had been hopeful of extending Neves' stay at the club, but with their future in the Premier League in doubt, they might have already started to plan for life without him.

     

    TOP STORY – WOLVES SIGNING INDICATES LOOMING NEVES DEPARTURE

    According to Sport, Barcelona believe Wolves are signing 21-year-old Flamengo midfielder Joao Gomes as a direct replacement for Neves, who they expect to leave at the end of the season.

    The report states Barcelona know what it will cost to pry him away from the Premier League and are comfortable with the price, which is said to be "much more feasible" than the €60million price tag for Real Sociedad's Martin Zubimendi.

    Real Madrid are also expected to pursue Neves, who they reportedly feel has "the potential to become the new Casemiro".

     

    ROUND-UP

    – The Telegraph and Fabrizio Romano state Chelsea will make another run at signing 22-year-old Benfica and Argentina standout Enzo Fernandez, and are willing to meet the £105m (€120m) release clause if they can pay it in installments.

    – According to Bild, Tottenham have submitted a £22m (€25m) verbal offer to Bayer Leverkusen for 21-year-old Ecuador centre-back Piero Hincapie.

    Newcastle United have had their latest £20m offer for 18-year-old Flamengo midfielder Matheus Franca turned down, per Fabrizio Romano.

    – Newcastle are also said to be looking to replace Jonjo Shelvey, who is set to join Nottingham Forest, with Sheffield United's Sander Berge.

    – The Daily Mail is reporting Brighton and Hove Albion have rejected a £70m approach from Arsenal for 21-year-old midfielder Moises Caicedo, and are holding out for £80m.

    – According to Sport, there is mutual interest between Barca and Atletico Madrid forward Joao Felix, who will spend the rest of the season on loan at Chelsea.

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