Tuesday, June 29, 2010

World Cup Fever! Catch it! (WARNING: may cause spousal irritation)

Match Day 19- Did you really think three men at the back was a good idea?

I am going to miss Chile in this World Cup. They were a lot of fun to watch. Tim Vickery said that this was the easiest game to predict, and I have to agree. Brazil was a larger side that excels on counter attacks and set pieces. With Chile playing a three man back line, they were just begging to be broken open. For 30 minutes, Chile had done a really nice job defensively and had created some good chances. However, it ended up looking like a lot of their other games with chances that built up only to fail in the box with no one getting open or bad finishing. That said, they have some real promise. Alexis Sanchez is certainly a superstar in the making. Brazil just outworked them. They were kept at bay for a brief time, but after their first goal they opened up and Chile had no solution for Brazil's attack.

The Netherlands v. Slovakia game played out as it did in my head. Slovakia had a few chances, but their aggressive style played into the Dutch game plan. Netherlands controlled, controlled, and controlled. They looked really good, and their two goals were brilliant. Arjen Robben is so dangerous when running parallel to the goal. Dirk Kuyt showed great awareness in dishing off his pass to Wesley Sneijder for that clinical finish. Slovakia as a team has to work on staying cool under pressure. They were screaming at the referees at every opportunity late in the game. They just unraveled mentally. Their goal, while well earned, was utterly pointless as it was the very last play of the game. Slovakia is still a team with a lot of promise. I'm really excited to see the Dutch play Brazil. These are two great sides and even though Brazil is not playing with the 'samba' philosophy, they are playing amazing football.

Paraguay and Japan get us underway tonight with Spain and Portugal finishing off the 2nd round. Paraguay v. Japan is a contest of two of the most organized sides in the contest. They both play a really tight defense and a balanced methodical attack. Combined with that measured attack, both sides have some real creative zeal as well. Keisuke Honda has been one of the top players of the tournament and looks to torture the Paraguayan back line. Both teams are very dangerous from set pieces too. I think Paraguay takes this one, but Japan will makes it insanely difficult. We could have both games tonight go to penalty kicks. The first game seems more likely than the last.

Spain v. Portugal will hopefully answer some lingering questions for both sides. Portugal has been a mystery for me as I can't quite figure out whether or not they have the ability to play at the highest level and win out. The North Korea game was this bizarre anomaly against a much weaker side. Their games against Brazil and Ivory Coast showed no real inspiration. So the focus for me tonight is to really observe the defense and see how well they handle Fernando Torres and David Villa. Spain has a different attack from Brazil and I think they could be the team to break open the Portuguese puzzle box. At the same time, Spain looks like a team that has been working for every single goal. Will we see a repeat of the Switzerland game where they are constantly frustrated and put off balance? I think Spain takes this one, but again don't rule out Portugal's defense holding up and this goes to a penalty kick shoot-out where anything can happen. I would also say that Spain seemingly holds the edge in that too.

Competition takes a couple of days off until the start of the Quarter finals and I might too. I have got to be honest, keeping up with every second of this tournament has been fun, but exhausting. I still want to look at the young players of the tournament, and also give a preview of what may be in store for the U.S. Men's national team down the road.

Monday, June 28, 2010

World Cup Fever! Catch it! (WARNING: may cause spousal irritation)

Match Day 18- Goal, what goal? I saw no goal...

If it weren't for definitive endings, all anyone could talk about today would be the officiating errors in yesterday's games. FIFA has to be embarrassed by the two missed calls. At the very least we can hope they respond with better communication between the referees and the fourth official who is watching on a monitor. They can add another official or two while they are at it. If they really feel like joining the 21st century they can set up a replay official to check goals during celebrations. Calls like those would have taken all of two seconds to verify and overturn.

Argentina looked really good, but once again there defense is still a small mystery. Mexico tested them early with good chances. I am really excited to see their next game against Germany. It could be a real classic. Carlos Tevez had one of the goals of the tournament with what looked like a rocket launcher in the second half. Another game down and no goal for Messi, but the way he is playing that can't be much of a complaint for anyone. He has been brilliant on the ball and just about the only option anyone has had is to take his legs out from under him.

Tonight's action is Netherlands v. Slovakia and Brazil against Chile. I'm really curious what Slovakia can do against Holland. The Dutch ball handling has been impeccable. I'm not seeing a repeat of the Italy game, but momentum is a funny thing, and Slovakia are coming in with a lot of it. The Netherlands has been flying somewhat under the radar this tournament with workmanlike showings in their three group stage games. The re-introduction of Arjen Robben in the last game was a huge boost offensively. His creativity near the 18 yard box is undeniable. This could be the first game to go to penalty kicks, but I see the Dutch winning this one without that scenario presenting itself.

Brazil v. Chile is a great game to fantasize about because in my head it will probably be better than what unfolds on the pitch. Chile has only managed one goal per game, but you just feel like that will broken open at any time. They do such a good job of creating chances. Their aggressiveness cost them in the game versus Spain. Hopefully they won't fall into that trap again tonight. I still don't know what to make of the game Brazil had against Portugal, but at this point it doesn't matter. They are back to full strength with Kaka and Elano back in the lineup. Brazil's offense should have plenty of opportunities tonight as Chile likes to play as if defense is a nice idea rather than a necessity. Most people would pick Brazil tonight. Not me, I'm going to pick Brazil. You like that? You like how I looked like I was going to pick Chile, and then at the last second didn't?

I have to say, I don't like big games ending in penalty shoot-outs, but I can't deny I like watching them. I don't think we will see one tonight, but in the World Cup all options are on the table.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

World Cup Fever! Catch it! (WARNING: may cause spousal irritation)

Match Day 17- Rapid fire reaction...

Meine Damen und Herren, alle an Bord des Zuges Schmerzen. Translated for English: Ladies and Gentlemen, all aboard the pain train.

At the end of the first half, I thought this game was going to end only with wild controversy about the English goal that crossed the goal line by a country mile and never got called. Then Germany went and busted the thing wide open with a couple of laser precise counter attacks. They just look scary good. You want to know what is even scarier? Germany is the youngest team in the tournament. Yep, almost the whole team, except for possibly Miroslav Klose will be back in four years and will probably be better.

I think Miroslav Klose still has three more goals to go before he takes the overall World Cup scoring lead from Ronaldo (not that Ronaldo, the Brazilian Ronaldo from 1998). I need to double check. Wow, I don't envy Mexico or Argentina going up against them.

World Cup Fever! Catch it! (WARNING: may cause spousal irritation)

Match Day 17- "Sun can't shine on the same dog's ass everyday." -Hoosiers

To start, I am very sad but it is easier to keep things in perspective these days with a child on the way. Last night felt like a Greek Tragedy. The US team had a fatal flaw and you know what the problem is with a fatal flaw, right? It's fatal... They once again succumb to a porous central defense. No single person is responsible for the first goal. It was a collapse down the spine of the defense that just hurt. I really thought that this game would be different. I thought they could hold off most of Ghana's offensive attempts, they would settle and then dominate the remainder of the game.

Eventually they did settle and the start to create chance after chance, but nothing stuck. They again had issues finishing. For whatever reason, Robbie Findley and Jozey Altidore just don't work well together. I'm not going to get into dissecting Bob Bradley's lineup choices because I am just not qualified. I have my opinions, but I wasn't with that team for the last few months so I cannot speak to the mechanics of that team and who works best with who. He had reasons for not starting Edu and Buddle. I think he did a great job with the squad and he should remain the coach for the next round of qualifying. Most of the plays were great, but the execution went lacking at times.

I'm still wildly proud of this team. They gave themselves a plethora of chances to win. They never gave up even after Asamoah Gyan's lightning bolt in the extra time put Ghana ahead for good. I think that US Soccer can be very happy with the progress shown if not disappointed that the team did not live up to it's full potential. I don't know if it inspired any young kids to want to take up the mantle, but every positive step in the United States counts for something. I think when we look at player's like Michael Bradley, we know that the system is still growing and prospects are improving. Hopefully the next World Cup will see players like Charlie Davies and Freddy Adu back in the mix and at the height of their powers.

Landon Donovan can walk away knowing he left nothing on the table. Whether he returns for another Cup or not, he has cemented his legacy as the country's greatest player of all time. Whenever anyone uses the term Landy-cakes now, you know that they mean it with affection and admiration.

I don't want to go on much further because I can write for days about the ups and downs this team encountered. I will say that they inspired the nation and gave it something to be truly proud of.

On the opposite side of the field, Ghana lives to fight another day as the only remaining African country left in the competition. They played a fast, physical style of football they gave us fits. While I don't see them getting past Uruguay, I know that their run in this tournament is important to the entire Continent. Ghana's footbal federation deserves a lot of praise for structuring a system that has developed some top World class players.

Speaking of Uruguay, they did a great job of neutralizing Korea's pace. Luis Suarez nabbed a couple of great goals, one brilliant, one lucky as hell. South Korea can hold their heads up high knowing that they also show great progress and promise. The match up with Ghana will be really interesting as it should look a lot more like the France game from a control perspective.

Tonight is another great match up with Argentina v. Mexico and England v. Germany. Time to get riled up and start making WWII references. Bloody Jerry! Never give up, never surrender! Fraulein, drei Hoffbrau mein damen! I don't know if England ever need help getting up for a game with Germany. I actually favor England in this game since Germany will be out their midfield general Bastion Schweinsteiger. However, German striker Miroslav Klose is back in action. It really could go either way.

Argentina and Mexico will hopefully turn into the game that Brazil v. Portugal failed to be. Mexico has some tough lineup choices to make at forward with speed and endurance needed to keep up with a wicked good Argentine side. I think Argentina will come out on top, but Mexico won't make it easy.

I'm going to call it good for today so I can have enough time to recover mentally to enjoy tonight's action.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

World Cup Fever! Catch it! (WARNING: may cause spousal irritation)

Match Day 16- One loss and it will all be gone, like tears in the rain.

A tip of the hat to Blade Runner as I can't stop watching all the special features and different versions on the Final Cut Blu-Ray edition. I had to mentally step back and realize that all the effects in that film were done with film exposure and models. No computer effects were used at all. Still just stunning to think how much was achieved without what is now an embarrassment of riches in terms of digital art and architecture.

Last night's games were a little anticlimactic for me, as we had no real surprises. I don't know if Portugal's defense is really this good, or if they've just taken advantage of uninspired play from the other teams. They didn't allow a single goal in any of their matches. I chalk a lot of it up to their midfield possession being so strong that they inevitably fight the majority of their battles around the center circle.

Brazil still looked good, but a scoreless draw between those two teams is a tad disappointing. Ivory Coast put a good whuppin' on North Korea, but that wasn't entirely surprising. Jong Tae Se went 0 for 3 in goals per game, but he still showed off some solid skills. He was indeed the Asian Wayne Rooney...

Chile looked really good against Spain until the wheels fell off and Fernando Torres' dive sent off Marco Estrada. They were controlling the possession and creating a lot of fantastic chances. The first goal was an absurd piece of art with Chilean goalkeeper Claudio Bravo wandering into the wasteland to try and snuff out a Fernando Torres wing run only to knock the ball into the path of Spanish hit man David Villa who bombed it 60 yards into an open net all the while backpedaling to admire what might be one of the easiest and most beautiful goals of his career.

I have to be honest and admit I caught all of three seconds of the Switzerland v. Honduras game as I felt there would be very little action or drama resulting from the match. It turned out to be even less of a quality game as neither team could muster enough offense to take the game. Switzerland obviously has a pretty good system in place for defense. Four years from now they better have a much stronger offense to put on display. I think the Costa Rican Federation must be angry because they probably would have contributed far more to this tournament than Honduras did.

Here we go, the round of 16, the time to prove that all the training, luck, and effort mean something.

Two games tonight with Uruguay and South Korea facing off early and then the big one for the USA as they take on Ghana in a rematch from the 2006 World Cup.

Uruguay v. South Korea.

Probably the most important stat I can parrot for the run up to this game is the fact that Uruguay didn't allow a single goal during the group phase. They had excellent ball control and stayed mostly on the offense. They had some tight moments against Mexico, but were still fairly comfortable in winning the group. Diego Forlan has had a great World Cup so far, and looks to be the main supplier of scoring chances through his own shots and his distribution to Luis Suarez.

South Korea has the unfortunate stat of having allowed more goals in the group stage than they scored. Of course, when you are playing an Argentine side as good as it is, you can be excused a portion. Still, Korea feature an organized attack which has no trouble taking advantage of any mistakes left in their path. That I think, is the key to the game. Korea will have to be lightning quick to capitalize on the holes Uruguay may leave as the press the attack. Korea might have a difficult time handling Uruguay's possession skills.

I won't posit any possible scores because you throw in an added 30 minutes of golden goal time in the case of tie and then the penalty kick showdown if nothing is settled in overtime. Once you go to penalty kicks it becomes this massive game of psychology where suddenly your individual talents are under the microscope. So many of the World's best players have failed in this arena.

USA v. Ghana

I feel better about this game than I did the Algeria game, but of course that means nothing. I think the USA should and will win this game as both of Ghana's group stage goals came from penalty kicks and they had some real trouble forcing themselves through the midfield. The US has shown no lack of resilience and capacity to find goals chances. The finishing needs some work, because they have had more than enough opportunities that went begging due to failed execution. They should have won the Algeria game by a fair amount. Of course Ghana are not pushovers and any team that makes it this far is not expected to be. They will have the majority of the crowd support being the only African side left in the tournament. Asamoah Gyan is a great player and I expect him to make life very difficult for whoever inherits the job of defending him.

The US defense has to establish dominance early. The offense must be patient and not allow anticipation of shots to ruin certain goals. I think they are playing with so much confidence right now that they know they are going to win. The whole team trusts in the coach and they trust in the man next to them. I think the US wins this one in the full 90 minutes. That being said, I will be watching from the fetal position.

Go go USA.

Friday, June 25, 2010

World Cup Fever! Catch it! (WARNING: may cause spousal irritation)

So, I'm an emotional guy. Anyone who knows me or has spent a decent amount of time around me knows this. I get a little choked up singing the Star-Spangled Banner. It should come as no surprise then that I have formed an emotional bond to this US team. I haven't cried after the victories as some people have. I have felt the pull and the patriotism, but I haven't broken down. Maybe it was being so far from home and far from so much national reaction, but the tears just didn't come. Until I saw this...

That about did it for me. The sense of community and spirit is the thing that drives it home the most. Obviously it is only a game, but as people keep saying, this team plays with the American spirit. They play for each other and never let adversity detour them. I could write for hours about patriotism in the face of politics. I find it sufficient enough to say how proud I am to be American, and how being away from home constantly reinforces my love for my country and all the positive things that our country stands for.

Match Day 15- The Rumble in the Jungle, The Bongo in the Congo, The Shakedown in Capetown.

I give you Portugal v. Brazil. All hyperbole aside, this should be fun. Ivory Coast need a miracle to advance and if anyone can give them that kind of help it certainly is Brazil.

Group G:

1. Brazil 6 points+3 GD
2. Portugal 4 points +7 GD
3. Ivory Coast 1 point -2 GD
4. North Korea 0 points -8 GD

Brazil and Portugal can draw and advance, but both will want to win to ease their path to the quarter-finals. Ivory Coast need a 9 goal swing if they are to have any hope of advance after Portugal's absolute thrashing of North Korea. While possible, the likelihood of that happening are about as great as the entire Portuguese team coming down with the runs. That being said, Ivory Coast will attempt to make Portugal's beating of North Korea look like a pillow fight. North Korea may bunker back down after what can only be described as a major error in tactical application.

Best Guesses:

Brazil 3-2 Portugal.
This should be a fun back and forth contest with Portugal trying to rest control of the group while leaving defense as a slight afterthought. This will be the first real test for Brazil especially when you consider Kaka is out for this game on a red card suspension.

Ivory Coast 3-1 North Korea.
I don't think North Korea will let the same thing happen twice in a row, but Ivory Coast won't get the same kind of production we saw from Portugal. I also think that North Korea might pull out at least a goal so they go back home with some pride intact.

Brazil and Portugal move on with Portugal likely awaiting Spain in another heavyweight showdown.

Group H:

1. Chile 6 points +2 GD
2. Spain 3 points +1 GD
3. Switzerland 3 points 0 GD
4. Honduras 0 Points -3 GD

This is the fun group for me tonight with a tons of scenarios. Chile and Spain should be a blast with both teams trying to blow each other out of the water. Chile really only need a draw, but Spain need to win to guarantee anything. Strangely enough, Honduras is still not out of this despite having an absurdly low number of shots on goal. Even stranger, Chile could get eliminated if Switzerland turn the Honduran back line into a ski slope. Switzerland needs to break Honduras over it's knee if they want to outpace Chile or Spain. Okay, here we go...

Chile to advance:
1. Win against Spain
2. Draw against Spain.
3. Loss to Spain without Switzerland recouping goal differential in possible win.

Spain to advance:
1. Win against Chile and overcome goal differential to take group.
2. Win against Chile and maintain a goal differential over Switzerland.
3. Draw against Chile with Honduran win over Switzerland.
4. Draw against Chile with Switzerland drawing Honduras and not recouping goal differential.
5. Loss to Chile with Honduras beating Switzerland and not overcoming goal differential.

Switzerland to advance:
1. Win against Honduras, overcome goal differential of Spain or Chile with Spain win.
2. Win against Honduras with Spain loss or draw.
3. Draw with Honduras with Spain loss.
4. Loss to Honduras with Spain loss compensating goal differential, and Honduras not overcoming goal differential.

Honduras to advance:
1. Win against Switzerland, with Spain loss and overcoming goal differential.

Wow, that was exhausting just to type.

Best guesses:

Spain 2-1 Chile.
Spain looked good in their last game and Chile doesn't play a great defense, so I think Spain pulls out the win.

Switzerland 1-0 Honduras.
Switzerland wins but doesn't have the offense to break the balance between Chile or Spain.

A couple of thoughts from last night's (this morning) late games. I really need to trust what my eyes see instead of going with generally accepted philosophy. I could have and should have told you Japan was going to take Denmark out. Japan have played so well. The warm-up games were a bit of an aberration and didn't indicate what this team was capable of. In addition, Keisuke Honda is the real deal. This kid looks to be the next big thing coming out of Asia. I'm still kind of flabbergasted by his amazing free kick that he knuckled in like 40 yards. The ball moved at an insane speed and had virtually no spin, so it knuckled back to the left totally catching the Danish keeper off guard. The third goal was entirely his making as he slit the Danish back line like paper and then dished it off for the goal. Denmark have been sporadic at best. Their size meant absolutely nothing because the Japanese defense swarmed them once they got into their area.

Tomorrow, all safety nets get yanked. No more point combinations to rely on. You don't win, you go home.No goals at the end of 90 minutes means golden goal sudden death. After that, if nothing is decided, we go to the dreaded penalty shootout. The downfall of many an excellent team has come at the cost of poorly executed shooting.

Let's go USA.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

World Cup Fever! Catch it! (WARNING: may cause spousal irritation)

Rapid fire reaction!

Slovakia 3-2 Italy

Wow. I thought Slovakia had a chance, but I didn't expect them to thrash Italy for 90 minutes only to have it turn into a roller coaster for the last six. I also forgot that Italy was playing with their number two keeper in the net which would have changed how I looked at it slightly. I probably would have pulled it back to a draw or given it to Slovakia outright. So another European side goes down in flames. Italians will destroy this team in the papers. The entire Serie A season will be overshadowed by what has to be viewed as a colossal failure. Italy and France, the two teams who played for the championship in 2006 are out. Mull that one over if you will.

I watched the New Zealand v. Paraguay match which was notable for nothing in particular. New Zealand just never had enough possession time to build any kind of strong opportunity. Paraguay held onto the ball, but never did very much with it. Paraguay advances, but new Zealand still get to go home satisfied with a wonderful performance knowing that they have stoked a fire for their sport back in the home country that should burn for quite some time. This group turned out to be one of the most fun in the tournament despite pre-World Cup speculation that Italy advancing was a foregone conclusion.

Speaking of crazy things, I just watched John Ishner finish off Nicholas Mahut in the longest match in tennis history finishing the 5th set 70 games to 68. They played over three days and a total match time of over 11 hours. Imagine that... In the time it would take some people to run three or more marathons, these guys battled back and forth in a match that sapped every bit of energy. That is a feat that will never be equaled again. Get that Ishner kid a beer and a Costco size bottle of Ibuprofen. Evidently he now has to play his second round match in a few hours...

World Cup Fever! Catch it! (WARNING: may cause spousal irritation)

Match Day 14- I love my wife and won't be watching until she falls asleep day!

Today is our four year wedding anniversary so I'll be keeping comments short as the warden is watching me. Ha! See how I made an outdated joke about marriage as a prison? HA!

Seriously, I love my cell mate, I mean wife...HA!

We just had a lovely dinner at this new restaurant called Madison which is run by some people who used to work at M on the bund, one of the nicer restaurants in Shanghai. Great interior that really takes you out of the city for awhile. It exuded a warmth and comfort. The food was excellent and it was just a great evening all together. We still can't believe we have been married for four years. I have had the best times of my life with this woman.

Tonight's matches:

Group F

Italy, Paraguay, Slovakia, and New Zealand tussle for control in what is still a wide open group.

Best guesses:

Paraguay 2-0 New Zealand
Believe me, I would love, love, love for New Zealand to pull this out and advance. I will be cheering my head off for them. So I hope I am wrong. Paraguay has been one of the most consistent teams of the tournament with very few holes to exploit. I expect them to seal first place in the group. Oddly enough, the "All-Whites" will look a lot more like their Rugby counterparts by wearing all black tonight. Please expect endless Lord of the Rings and Flight of the Conchords references if they make it.

Italy 1-0 Slovakia
Italy will get it's s#!% together? Slovakia probably won't win this but they certainly have a chance. If they keep their heads and don't let Italy mind-game them out of the match, they could still pull a win here. Ultimately, I think Marcelo Lippi will have sorted out any tactical issues with the team.

So final results may end up:

1. Paraguay 7 points
2. Italy 5 points
3. New Zealand 2 points
4. Slovakia 1 point

Group E

Cameroon who are already out play Netherlands who have already advanced. No real drama to be had. Denmark has to win versus Japan, but on the other side of that Japan can draw and get through. Japan will be playing for 1st place hoping to achieve the 3 goal swing they would need on the off chance Cameroon beat Netherlands.

Best guesses:

Netherlands 1-0 Cameroon.
Cameroon is playing for pride alone, but it won't be enough to break down the Dutch. The Dutch will probably start a lot of the substitutes until things get hot at which point they will bring on the first teamers to put out any fires. The Dutch may open up their game a bit which could make for some entertaining moments. I would think that now is the right time to play the youngest on the squad to give them the feel of what the big stage is truly like. Cameroon could give themselves a head start on the next African Nations Cup and qualifying for the next World Cup.

Japan 1-1 Denmark.

I just finished typing the line above and I already feel like it is wrong. Japan is very organized and should frustrate the Danish attack. At the same time, I don't see them keeping the promising yet inconsistent Danes out of the net. Nicklas Bendtner is a tough challenge for the Japanese back line with his skill and size. Okay, I'm starting to think Denmark wins tonight. Hmmmm, I'll hold fast on my guess, but don't be surprised if Denmark break it open.

Final results?

1. Netherlands 9 points
2. Japan 4 points + goal differential
3. Denmark 4 points
4. Cameroon 0 points

Tomorrow night is the heavyweight showdown between Brazil and Portugal for top of the group honors. Both are essentially through, but I think Portugal wants to make a statement tomorrow night. We also get what could be a thrilling and fast-paced game between Chile and Spain. Lots of scenarios are in play tomorrow night, so I'll be up and running with lots of breakdowns.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

World Cup Fever! Catch it! (WARNING: may cause spousal irritation)


I still can't believe what I just saw. After being robbed again by a bad call, I started to feel this horrible emptiness in my gut. The USA had so many chances and seemingly could not finish. They had 8 shots on target and each one was like a bullet bouncing off steel. My mind was reeling towards the end of the game thinking how it could not end like this. This team deserved better. Call them the cardiac kids because they don't make it easy and probably never will.

USA takes first place in the group with that victory and possibly an easier route to the quarterfinals. I say possibly, but once you escape the group stage everything becomes difficult, difficult, lemon difficult. The options as of this very second are Ghana, Germany, and Serbia. None are necessarily attractive, but I know I'd like another crack at Ghana after getting eliminated by them in 2006. Honestly, I'd love to see the USA stick it to Germany to because of 2002. Hopefully after all this fussing, Bob has figured out what the lineup should be going into the round of 16.

Smile everybody, the USA are A-O-K! Yeah, I said it. So what?

World Cup Fever! Catch it! (WARNING: may cause spousal irritation)

Match Day 13- ...and it won't be over till its over over there!

If I can just add some more words to the already well described shambles that is the French situation, I'd like to talk about heart. South Africa showed heart. Nigeria showed heart. France showed that a presumption of greatness gets you jack squat. I am a fan of French football. I have a retro Adidas 10 jersey hanging in my closet as a tribute to Platini and Zidane. This performance made me want to light it on fire and hurl it out the window. A couple of things I saw in the last day only deepened the satisfaction of knowing the French went home empty handed.

The first was the Argentina teams behavior throughout their match last night. Since the first game, they have looked relaxed and happy. I think you can peg some of that on the enthusiasm of Diego Maradona. Whether or not he has the skills to guide this team through hardship remains to be seen. What cannot be ignored is the vitality and spirit he has imbued his team with. They smile and laugh and look like they are having the time of their lives. They play with a true team spirit that France was sorely lacking.

The second was a brief piece on Jorge Burruchaga, the player who scored the winning goal for Argentina in the 1986 World Cup. When he was a child, his mother set aside money so that he could train to play football. He never forgot her sacrifice and used that as a driving motivation throughout Argentina's World Cup run. He truly appreciated what it meant to even play in a World Cup, let alone score a goal on the grandest stage.

In both these cases, we see that heart has won out over all the other petty concerns that ultimately doomed France. So few of the French Players exhibited the kind of joy or sense of wonder needed to be a World Cup champion. I know, platitudes like that are all well and good, but they don't win you tournaments. That is true enough. I can stand on a soapbox all I like, but what I am trying to indicate is that the same is true in any sport. Those who embrace the moment and acknowledge the true gift that playing a sport at the highest level is, create the greatest moments in that sports history.

We go back at it with both Groups C and D to be decided and the fate of yet another entitled team hangs in the balance.

Group C

1. Slovenia 4 points +1 GD
2. USA 2 points 0 GD +3 goals scored
3. England 2 points 0 GD +1 goals scored
4. Algeria 1 point -1 GD

So once again, Ryan's blinders go on and I cannot focus on reasonable analysis. Ok, ok, I can see the truth of the matter, but I really don't want to.The US and England win and they advance, it is as simple as that. For what it's worth I don't have the same sense of foreboding dread like I did before the last game. Who knows what that means. What gets lost in all the discussion is that Slovenia is still in first and can control the tempo of their game against England. They need a draw and they advance. England need to press the action but Slovenia has a great counter attack. The USA has a similar circumstance in that they need to be the ones pressing the attack, but the difference is that Algeria needs to gain momentum on the wings to make an impact. They aren't really a counter attacking side.


Slovenia to advance- Win or draw vs. England. Loss + USA and Algeria draw.
USA to advance- Win v. Algeria. Draw vs. Algeria + England loss, or England drawing and failing to make up goal differential or goals scored differential.
England to advance- Win vs. Slovenia. Draw vs. Slovenia with US loss or US draw and overcoming goal differential.
Algeria to advance- Win vs. USA with England loss or Slovenia loss. Win vs. USA and England draw while overcoming goals differential.

Best Guesses:

England 1-0 Slovenia.
England get it together?

USA 2-0 Algeria.
USA get it together? Honestly the USA have had it together, the trouble is minding the door. Waking up halfway through the game isn't going to do it this time. Algeria's defense is competent and so is it's offense. I know the US won't take them lightly, and I expect team America to move onto the 2nd round. F*&$ yeah.

Group D

The fact that Germany could go home tonight after that amazing first game blows my mind. Ghana represents Africa's best shot to stay in this competition. Serbia has to shift it's perspective a tad tonight if they want to take the group, and Australia has to play like they are Brazil.

1. Ghana 4 points +1 GD
2. Germany 3 points +3 GD
3. Serbia 3 points 0 GD
4. Australia 1 points -4 GD


Ghana to advance- Win or draw vs. Germany. loss and loss by Serbia with Australia failing to make up GD.
Germany to advance- Win vs. Ghana. Draw vs. Ghana with Serbia loss or draw and failure to make up GD.
Serbia to advance- Win vs. Australia. Draw vs. Australia with Germany loss or Ghana loss with large goal defecit.
Australia to advance- Australia must fly down the Death Star's trench avoiding tower fire and Tie-Fighters. Then firing a single torpedo down the exhaust shaft striking the Death Star's reactor core should cause a chain reaction that will destroy the Death Star. Sorry? Oh, wrong...uh, nevermind. Win v. Serbia and a minimum 7 goal swing with Germany loss and a minimum 5 goal swing with Ghana loss.

Best guesses:

Germany 2-0 Ghana.
Germany won't be caught out this time, nor will they have a referee shoving a card in their face every time they sneeze.

Serbia 1-1 Australia.
I'd love for Australia to win and win big, but I think maybe their run ends tonight. Serbia will control just enough of the pace to score one of their own but allow the Soccer Roos a glimmer of hope.

I think the USA wins out and guarantees themselves 1st place and a date with Ghana who makes through on head to head record with Serbia. England make it through and wind up in a great head to head with Germany.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

World Cup Fever! Catch it! (WARNING: may cause spousal irritation)

Match Day 12- Or as I call it...Chaos Theory.

Sleep deprivation mode goes into over drive with all games going off after 10PM local time.

Last night was a lot of fun with portugal putting on the best show of the tournament. I like to call it "Weeeeee, I want to go again!". The first half of the game looked pretty much like I thought it would. Then, buoyed by their first goal, Portugal lightened up and opened up and turned the North Korean back line into an amusement park and almost everybody got a ride.

Chile just got by Switzerland despite any number of chances to break it open. The Swiss still managed to break the record for total minutes of scoreless defense previously held by Italy. Chile is in a good position but the last game brings some strange scenarios that could find them left out of qualification.

Spain did indeed get back on the horse by beating Honduras, but they may regret David Villa's missed penalty. Their next mission is to beat Chile and win big.

The last round of group stage games gets underway today. The format of this last round changes slightly as we will have four games each night with group games happening simultaneously as to prevent any lackadaisical play. While all of this is happening we have all these mathematical formulas working out in case any of these groups end in ties. So for your viewing pleasure I will break down tonight's match lessen as well as illuminate the tie breaker scenarios.

Should any of these groups end in ties for second or first, we go to a system of tie-breakers. I'll give out the top three tie-breakers. Obviously, top points means everything.

1. Goal differential. This is goals-for subtracted by goals-against. This rewards those who win big or don't give up any goals at all. This will be a factor tonight in Group A.
2. Goals scored. If the goal differential is the same, then they move to which team has the highest total of goals scored.
3. Head to head results against teams in group.

Group A- Walk in the park, or rumble to the death?

Current results: GD= Goal Differential

1. Uruguay 4 points +3 GD
2. Mexico 4 points +2 GD
3. France 1 point -2 GD
4. South Africa 1 point -4 GD

So Mexico and Uruguay merely have to shake hands and sit down to advance to the next round. The problem is that the whoever finishes second in the group probably has to face Argentina in the round of 16. There is plenty to play for, but a gentleman's agreement could seal it for France and South Africa. France has only pride to play for, but they don't even really have that. Nicolas Anelka insults the coach, gets kicked off the team. The team then revolts against the dismissal and refuses to practice. The director of the French Football Federation resigns after the team commits mutiny. The only real justice here is if South Africa gets the win tonight to exit with it's head held high.

Here are the scenarios.

Uruguay to advance- Draw or win v. Mexico
Mexico to advance- Draw or win v. Uruguay
France to advance- Win by at least 3 goals v. South Africa, Mexico must lose by at least 2 goals. Uruguay must lose by at 3.
South Africa to advance- Win by at least 4 goals v. France, Mexico must lose by at least 2 goals. Uruguay must lose by at least 3.

Best guesses:
Scenario 1: Uruguay 0-0 Mexico. I hope I'm wrong about this, but it just feels like Mexico and Uruguay are going to have a nice kick around for 90 minutes.
Scenario 2: Mexico 1- Uruguay 0. If both teams play all out, I think Mexico edges out the win to take 1st in the group.

France 1-0 South Africa.
This shouldn't happen. If it does, it means the Universe rewards the heartless. France may pull it together just enough to beat South Africa, but it won't do it with the game plan written up by Raymond Domenech. South Africa deserves a win or at least a draw here, but I don't know what they can do against a much tougher defensive team.

Group B- Who likes second, hunh?

Current results:
1. Argentina 6 points +4 GD
2. South Korea 3 points -1 GD
3. Greece 3 points -1 GD
4. Nigeria 0 points-2 GD

Wait Ryan, why is South Korea ahead of Greece? Well, the first reason is the that goals scored category. South Korea is at +3 vs. Greece's +2. In addition the next category is head to head in which South Korea already beat Greece. Argentina walks through on goal differential unless South Korea just goes crazy on Nigeria and Greece beats Argentina. All is not lost for Nigeria, but it requires a herculean effort to overcome.


Argentina to advance- They could fall asleep, miss the game and probably still advance. Win, draw or lose to Greece by less than 5 goals.
South Korea to advance- Win v. Nigeria. Draw v. Nigeria with Greece loss. Lose to Nigeria by 1 goal with Greece loss.
Greece to advance- Win v. Argentina. Draw v. Argentina with South Korea loss.
Nigeria to advance- Win v. South Korea by 3 goals with Greece loss.

Korea has a much easier time of it with a Nigerian team on the ropes. The Greeks have to play the game of their lives against an Argentina team that is playing for style points. Argentina may rest a lot of their starters or pull them early to make sure the subs get some quality time in the Cup.

Best guesses:

Argentina 2-0 Greece.
Even Argentina's subs are enough to make Greece look silly.

North Korea 2-0 Nigeria. North Korea's speed should break down an already mentally exhausted Nigerian squad.

Now I just need to figure out where to go to watch two games at once...

Monday, June 21, 2010

World Cup Fever! Catch it! (WARNING: may cause spousal irritation)

Match Day 11- When a win ain't a win...

I devoted a lot of electrons to the New Zealand game last night, but I wanted to add just another couple of points to the discussion. I left out Coach Ricki Herbert and Ryan Nelsen who deserve every bit of the credit I doled out to Paston and Smeltz last night. Herbert did an amazing job of organizing his side. Captain Ryan Nelsen was like lightning on the back line speeding to the ball to make some critical clearances.

It is just a fact, REACT!

Slovakia, Slovakia, Slovakia, what am I going to do with you. I give you love and then you look completely toothless against Paraguay. Paraguay look all set to advance with their dismantling of Slovakia thanks to two really stellar goals from Enrique Vera and Cristian Riveros. People are talking about how if the karmic wheel were spinning justly, New Zealand would take at least a point from Paraguay and Italy would lose to Slovakia or draw 0-0. The problem is Paraguay looks pretty tough and hoping for a 0-0 draw between Italy and Slovakia seems like it might be in vain. Cross your fingers though, because crazier things have happened.

Brazil looked rough, but rough for Brazil is still better than 30 other teams in this competition. A lot of people are planning for an Argentina/Brazil final the way those two teams are playing. May the good Lord help any team that gets in Brazil's way should they start playing up to their full potential. Luis Fabiano scored two of the most electrifying goals of the tournament. One that was a horrible crime against all things fair and equitable with not one, but two hand balls guiding it through the defense. Regardless, still astonishing to watch. Elano slotted in the other that may end up being the last contribution of his World Cup given the way he was carted off the pitch last night. I was ashamed of Ivory Coast's performance last night as they tried to outdo Italy for Camp Tankawakanaka's amateur thespian award. Didier Drogba had the lone highlight of the evening dropping in a great header that was ultimately pointless other than to illustrate he should have no problems playing against North Korea.

When a win isn't a win- PREVIEW!

Game 1: Portugal v. North Korea.
If Cristiano Ronaldo wants to continue being in really expensive Nike ads, he better start producing against North Korea. Portugal already looked sloppy against Ivory Coast, and losing Deco for this game doesn't make things any easier. Ronaldo is on an international goal drought with something like 16 months of play with no goals for country. I don't think that will last through the tournament or even the night, but it is something to keep in mind. Chiseled abs and pecs look great but don't put the ball in the net. North korea again comes in as the underdog after a defensively stalwart performance against Brazil. Striker Jong Tae-Se is still promising second round play, so don't expect much of a change in tactics from the last game. They will probably line up with five players on the back line hoping to squash any offense. A draw is not out of the realm of possibility tonight.

Best guess: Portugal 1-0 North Korea.
I think North Korea gets eliminated tonight with Portugal doing just enough to eke out a win. Against Brazil, North Korea really had no shot, but against the one man army that is Portugal, they could still manage something special. Unfortunately Kim Jong Il's soccer prowess proves fruitless without him on the pitch. For surely if the great leader were playing tonight he would score 100 goals, each more beautiful than the last.

Game 2: Chile v. Switzerland.
The "win is not win" tagline comes into play for this game. Chile could beat Switzerland tonight and not advance depending on what Spain does in the next two games. Chile is the favored team tonight, a personal favorite to make the 2nd round. Chile has shown themselves to be one of the most entertaining teams in the tournament with a fire-all-of-your-guns-at-once mentality. Switzerland's afterglow ends tonight as they get back to work slightly worse for wear after picking up some key injuries that leave them depending on the bench for today's contest. However, like I said, they hold a unique advantage with the win over Spain and and a game in hand against a lackluster Honduran side. They could conceivably lose tonight and still crush Honduras. Then if Spain beats Chile, well my head is starting to hurt so we'll explore that later this week.

Best guess: Chile 2-1 Switzerland.
Let's remember that the Swiss got a little lucky with Spain firing shots all over the place but rarely at the goal. Chile is also in a bit of a sticky spot as their defense may not be strong enough to resist the accurate counter attack of the Swiss. I think Chile outworks Switzerland tonight but not without giving up a goal that may end up sinking their mathematical chances.

Game 3: Spain v. Honduras.
If anyone is thinking we'll get a repeat of New Zealand v. Italy, let me dispel that notion quickly. Spain, unlike Italy is built for offense and a lot of it. Honduras' defense was already a little suspect and Spain's short passing game should break them down. I think the early tournament favorites remind everyone just why they were favorites to begin with. Spaniards and Catalans can smile begrudgingly at each other knowing their team isn't done just yet.

Best guess: Spain 3-0 Honduras
You ugly, hey hey, you ugly, hey hey, U-G-L-Y, you ain't got no alibi, you ugly, hey hey, you UGLY!

Tomorrow begins the last round of Group stage games, so I'm contemplating a format change. Until then, I'm gonna have some cake, some glorious, glorious caaaaake.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

World Cup Fever! Catch it! (WARNING: may cause spousal irritation)

Rapid fire reaction- New Zealand v. Italy.

All the hyperbole you want to throw at this match is fully warranted. The best example of when a draw is a win. New Zealand was denigrated in the Italian press. They were dismissed by everyone. When you have nothing to lose, reckless abandon becomes second nature. Except in this case, there was no recklessness to be seen save for the unfortunate foul that allowed Italy to get a foot in the door. New Zealand were under siege for almost the entire game. They kept their composure and deepened what is becoming a legendary World Cup story. They now sit poised to make a run for the second round and stun the World. The Hobbits have wandered far from the shire and through the Orc-infested fields of Mordor.

The shot and the goal- New Zealand's goal was a thing of beauty. Shane Smeltz slipped past a distracted Fabio Cannavaro while fully on-side and pile-drove the ricochet off Cannavaro's thigh into the back of the net. After setting up the injury time goal in the Slovakia game, Smeltz is becoming a folk hero who should expect to hear from some bigger clubs come tournament's end.

The theater- Oh, Italy... It was like a night at the opera with all of the drama performed by the Italians. Daniele DeRossi made the most of Tommy Smith's shirt pull by hitting the ground like he was avoiding machine gun fire. The rest of the Italian team hammed it up clawing at their faces and sides from the immense pain inflicted by the Kiwi's Jedi mind powers.

The siege- The wall of Jericho, Mark Paston was not. The vuvuzuelas blew, but they could not bring down the New Zealand keeper. He was caught flat-footed only once in the night, and after his escape from that incident made sure the mistake was not to be repeated. He stretched and batted away shot after shot. Paston guarded his goal like Gandalf at Khazad-Dum. The Italian Balrog to be denied time and again. "None shall pass!". Seriously, I'm going to milk the Lord of the Rings and New Zealand references to death. His defense deserves extra credit for weathering repeated corner kicks.

The shame- I fully expected italy to "get their groove back" this game. They had chance after chance, and even all the Jewel Box Theater level performances couldn't bring them a victory. They will be eviscerated in the Italian papers. If they don't advance to the second round, it will be the greatest failure by a returning championship team since France in 2002.

The aftermath- I am on the New Zealand band wagon. Get me a shirt, and cases of Tui and Steinlager. Everything they do from this point on is gravy. They gained so much respect after they gutted it out against Slovakia, and have elevated themselves to Cinderella status in World Cup history books. Next up, New Zealand get stuck with a really talented Paraguay side that look almost certain of advancing. Italy face off with Slovakia in a desperate fight for advancement.

Required New Zealand cultural viewing:
The Lord of the Rings trilogy and the other films of Peter Jackson.
Flight of the Conchords seasons one and two.
New Zealand legendary All Blacks rugby team. Famous for the Maori Haka dance performed before each match.

Indoctrinate yourselves now before the band wagon fills to capacity!

World Cup Fever! Catch it! (WARNING: may cause spousal irritation)

Match Day 10- Phase one, in which Doris gets her oats.

Another short post as social commitments deprive me of time and focus.

Once again we see a refereeing decision change the entire complexion of a game with Harry Kewell getting a red for an unintentional handball in the box. Australia had some fire going last night and looked ready to go back up despite being down a man. Ghana looked nothing like the team that ran down Serbia until the last few minutes of the game when it was just too late. Ghana gets the unfortunate task of taking on a very angry German team, but really only needs a draw to advance. Australia is left to deal with the stingy defense of Serbia.

The Netherlands looked good but not great in their win over Japan. Japan played as tough as I thought they would but never seemed overmatched. I have to say I am really impressed with how far Japan have come as a football team since hosting in 2002. They begin to show the promise of a solid federation infrastructure. While they aren't on par with South Korea just yet, it may not take them long to get there. Netherlands already has 1st place in the group locked up thanks to it's wins over Japan and Denmark. Speaking of...

Denmark looked really sloppy in their win over Cameroon. Their defense flailed all over the field. Thankfully their offense stepped up to save them from any embarrassment. Unfortunately Cameroon becomes the first team effectively eliminated. It is a sad state for the African countries in total with Ghana currently holding the best spot.

What say we fire this thing up and see what it looks like, PREVIEWS!

Game 1- Paraguay v. Slovakia.
Two dark horse teams lock it up to see who can establish some kind of control in what is a wide open group. This is a straight pick'em for me as I don't see one side necessarily having a stronger advantage.

Best guess: Slovakia 1-1 Paraguay.
Both teams look pretty solid and a draw here puts the winner of the Itay v. New Zealand game in the driver's seat. Slovakia could easily open it up behind the offensive beauty of Vladimir Weiss.

Game 2- Italy v. New Zealand.
The Kiwis surprised everyone with their last minute goal in the match against Italy. They proved that as long as they have men on the field, they won't quit and that can get you far. Italy find themselves in a slightly uncomfortable position as their standout goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon is out for the tournament with what I believe is a herniated disc. Going to a second keeper is never settling, but Italy is a strong team untroubled by the craziness haunting the French or the English. I expect Italy to get back on track despite having the New Zealand offense climbing their backs for the majority of the game.

Best guess: Italy 1-0 New Zealand.

Game 3- Brazil v. Ivory Coast.
After Ivory Coast's disappointing draw against Portugal, expectations are high for what is a much tougher game. Didier Drogba will be starting this one, so the Brazilian defense will be under much greater strain. However, Brazil has now had a game to get any tension out of their system and should return to playing like, well, Brazil.

Best guess: Brazil 3-1 Ivory Coast.

Other notes of tepid interest: We saw Toy Story 3 today. I love that series. it was a real tear-jerker at times and just continued the ever beautiful work they do at Pixar. I woke up this morning to be pleasantly surprised to find Tiger Woods found his stride again playing himself back into contention at the U.S. Open. I'm only referencing the player here as my opinions about his personal life have no bearing on how I view him as a golfer. He just always manages to find a way to make everyone else on the course look silly. Every time someone writes a career obituary for him, he steps up and torches a course to remind you he is only 34 years old and not going anywhere anytime soon. The last round should be fantastic and beautiful as always. A great Father's Day gift for my Dad as usual.

Happy Father's day to all of you with kids!

Saturday, June 19, 2010

World Cup Fever! Catch it! (WARNING: may cause spousal irritation)

Match Day 9- That's it Mali, you are dead to me!

Last night's action just proves you cannot expect the world to spin on it's axis. Or at least not in the way you want it to spin.

Let's start at the beginning with Germany and Serbia which was obviously played by street gangs disguised as Germany and Serbia, because that is the only logical conclusion one can reach after seeing the number of cards given out for fouls. I have never seen a more hyper-sensitive referee. Being in another player's general aura was getting you a card last night. Then he would go and allow just an egregious play as any other in the game go without as much as a sniff. If we want to talk about the worst officiating job of the night, the comprehensive award for craptacular oversight goes to him. So Germany now loses one of their top weapons for the next game and Serbia manages to break through during the Germany's brief period of mental anguish to nab three life saving points. The big news out of all this is Australia can get back on level terms with everyone else and Ghana could take the outright lead.

I wrote about the USA v. Slovenia game last night so I'll just add a couple more things. Obviously, if the USA doesn't dig themselves a hole in the first half, we aren't even talking about the Malian referee's horrible phantom foul call. Slovenia gets all the credit for walking through the door we opened. Now we should finally get to see what Edson Buddle is capable of in the next game against Algeria. Coach Bradley doesn't really have another option with Robbie Findley out on cards unless he decides Herculez Gomez is needed as a speed threat. The midfield worked much better after Maurice Edu came into partner Michael Bradley and act as the offensive link. Landon Donovan played out of his mind on the right side of the field and should have Algeria concerned.

Speaking of Algeria... Everything in Group C got turned on it's head with the 0-0 draw between them and England. Many would agree that Algeria played well and shut England down, but on the flip side we all then agree that England did nothing with anything. In the USA game they had chance after chance. Last night's game was a different matter all together. They seemed lost and unsure. Rooney again felt like a man out on an island waving back to shore for help. For the second game in a row, I cannot fathom why Fabio Capello started Emile Heskey alongside Rooney at the Forward. Heskey has proven that he is too timid to take shots when called on. At least Jermain Defoe showed life and spark and an ability to fire on an open target. Joe Cole didn't even make it into the game.

Algeria on the other hand made a strong statement that they are not to be trifled with and are absolutely no walk in the park. They looked like the team their roster suggests exists even if it didn't show up against Slovenia. The USA will have to maintain attacking possession longer than England did if it wants to make the 2nd round. The math for the USA is pretty easy, win and your in. A draw doesn't even enter the conversation until that is the only option. Nothing is impossible in this group now. Slovenia CAN beat England and Algeria CAN beat the USA. Get ready for fireworks in game 3.

Won't you let me take you on a...pre-view!

Game 1: Netherlands v. Japan.
Netherlands looks to wrap up a stranglehold on the group with a victory tonight. I fully expect (look what that has gotten me...) the Dutch to take 1st place tonight with a win. I think their attack will be too much for the Japanese to handle. Netherlands has far more options than Cameroon did and should stretch the Japanese defense. Japan will play a solid game but ultimately it won't be enough to match the quality of the Dutch.

Best guess: Netherlands 3-1 Japan.

Game 2: Cameroon v. Denmark.
Cameroon didn't have much going for them against Japan and will probably wilt against the Danish Defense. I would love to see Cameroon make an adjustment to right the ship, but I think Denmark is too talented.

Best guess: Denmark 1-0 Cameroon.

Game 3: Australia v. Ghana.
Welcome to Thunderdome! Ghana looked great against Serbia and I don't expect much of a change tonight. Australia doesn't have the same level of defense that Serbia does, so one would think Ghana could count on at least one goal from the run of play tonight. Australia has to drop any kind of laissez-faire attitude they may be holding onto now that the group is busted wide open on the heels of Germany's defeat. If the Soccer-Roos are going to make the second round, anything less than a win is unacceptable. A game against Serbia in the offing means goals will be at a premium. Look for them to press the attack tonight. Last week I predicted Australia would make round two. That prediction gets it's ultimate test tonight.

Best guess: Australia 1-0 Ghana.
This actually flies in the face of what my eyes have seen, but I should stick by my one bold prediction until it is time to eat crow. Honestly, Ghana could drop two in the net tonight to eliminate any hope Australia has of proceeding.

I need a night of objective soccer watching as last night felt like the bumpiest roller coaster I had ever been on.

Friday, June 18, 2010

World Cup Fever! Catch it! (WARNING: may cause spousal irritation)

Rapid fire reaction:

USA v. Slovenia:

Before I begin the meat of this, I want to say I am very proud of the way the US team kept it together to fight back and salvage the draw after getting thrashed by two really great goals from Slovenia in the first half. The US showed great poise to keep moving up the line instead of bombing ball after ball from the back line.

Having said that...What the @#$%! Come on! Are your serious? How in the world do you not allow the the goal from Maurice Edu? What foul? Where? Who? That was absolutely ridiculous. The ref had been pretty even handed throughout the match, but that last call was beyond the pale.

The US still have a shot. A win against Algeria probably puts them through, but so much depends on England's performance against Algeria. Most expect England to take Algeria fairly easily. Thus leaving England with at least a point to gain from Slovenia. I would England pursuing a win against Slovenia, but you never know. The job for the US is clear. Beat Algeria and beat them by a lot. Control whatever you can and let the rest fall as it will.

World Cup Fever! Catch it! (WARNING: may cause spousal irritation)

Match Day 8- Tequila all around!

I'm keeping today's post brief again as the baby furniture has taken me out to the woodshed.

Can't get traction? Get Reaction Traction! REACT!

In this crazy game, some things you can predict and some you can't. For instance, the red card in the Nigeria v. Greece game changed the entire complexion of the match. Nigeria were handling their business, and then boom, one poor decision and one atrociously over-acted fall to the turf later and Nigeria is in a state of urgency. This isn't to say that Greece may not have one without the man advantage, but the reality is that Greece took the edge that was given them and finished the other team. Now Nigeria is in a terrible hole. Not impossible, but an terrible climb out.

Argentina looked scary, scary good and made a really good team look bad. Lionel Messi was a juggernaut and created virtually all of the goal scoring chances for his team. Despite the lack of a goal he is player of the tournament so far. South Korea has their work cut out for them, but they should match up well against Nigeria. A draw may get them in, but I think leaving it up to the odds like that would be irresponsible. Thankfully I don't think Korea will let it go to that.

Let's go Mexico! France looked directionless and got taken apart by a Mexico team that played a consistent match and didn't let their emotions get the best of them. Future Manchester United prospect Javier Hernandez finished some family business by scoring the winning goal against France just like his grand father did years back, but in his grandfather's case a losing effort. Now Mexico and Uruguay only need a draw to advance so expect a picnic on the field in their next match.

Break yourself fool, it's time for previews!

Game 1: Germany v. Serbia.
Look for the German pain train to keep rolling as Serbia won't have much of an answer to the Deutsch attack. Lucas Podolski, and Miroslav Klose will be on point again as Klose inches closer to German legend Gerd Mueller's World Cup scoring record. Serbia's chances of reaching the second round are still within grasp, but require at least a draw tonight and a big game against Australia.

Best Guess: Germany 3-0 Serbia.
Unfortunately, I think Serbia's World Cup run essentially ends here as Germany just break them down.

Game 2: USA v. Slovenia.
I reserve the right to be wildly wrong as the I have my blinders on and all rationale and reason disappear. As Admiral Ackbar once said "It's a TRAP!". Actually Jeff Carlisle over at ESPN said that and I absolutely agree. It smells like a trap, it looks like a trap. Slovenia have already laid bait by saying they will win. The thing is, I don't know if Slovenia will really be pushing for a win. A draw tonight and a draw in the next game may be all they need to advance. What I can tell you is they are going to make the midfield a battleground with some physical play that will used to frustrate the US. The US recognizes that this game is a must win in to ensure both the second round and the continuing race to win first place in the group. Expect the US to have compensated for the first game's flustered start by locking things down right away. This game will come down to the counter attack as the US pushes to win and then responds to Slovenia's retaliation.

Best guess: USA 2-0 Slovenia.
I already told you I have my blinders on. I think Slovenia can talk the talk, but the US will pop two in the net to make the Algeria game cleanup duty. The US played a much better game against a good team in England than Slovenia did against a mediocre team in Algeria.

Game 3: England v. Algeria.
If I'm still emotionally sound by the end of the USA game, I will try and stay up to watch this one. I think England rights the ship and takes Algeria apart. Now, that being said, Algeria has some crazy speed on the left wing where England may have trouble defending. I think Fabio Capello will make all the right adjustments to England's squad.

Best guess: England 3-0 Algeria
Rooney gets some real opportunities and makes the Algerian back line pray for UN intervention.

Now I'm going to go huddle in the corner until game time.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

World Cup Fever! Catch it! (WARNING: may cause spousal irritation)

Match Day 7- Crepes or Breakfast Burrito, the choice you make could save your life...

I'm keeping this post brief as my day consisted of rearranging our guest room to receive new furniture and begin it's transformation into nursery HQ. My reaction to last night's early games is already up as I posted it immediately after the crazy end of Spain v. Switzerland.

Oh no! It's overheating, get everyone out of the reactor core now! REACTION!

Uruguay v. South Africa got pretty ugly. Uruguay didn't play as well as the 3 goal scoreline would indicate. Don't get me wrong, they took care of their work. They controlled the play, so certainly it still feels like a pretty good result when you consider that goal differential makes a huge difference should things end up in a tie at the end of the group stage. South Africa is in a hole right now, but that doesn't mean they can't turn it around. They'll need to cross their fingers while watching Mexico v. France, but they shouldn't despair just yet.

Predictions? We don't need no stinking predictions...

Game 1: Argentina v. South Korea.
This looks like a great game. Argentina will try and take full control of this group while simultaneously trying to put out the rolling inferno that is the South Korean team. Korea is already in the driver's seat on goal differential. I'm looking for Messi to have another great game with a bit more success in finishing.

Best guess: Argentina 2-1 South Korea.
Pick it up guys! We need some goals, and they better be pretty. I wanna see some bicycle kicks people! Think Rockettes!

Game 2: Greece v. Ni..zzzzzzzzz, hunh? what? oh, yeah..geria
That isn't on Nigeria, it's on the idea of this game dragging my level of interest into a deep dark pit and beating it to pulpy mess. On the whole Nigeria looked pretty good against Argentina. Their goalkeeper made some out-of-his-mind saves that have to give their entire team a mental boost. Greece opted to play physical ball against South Korea and they got burned for it. They won't be able to play that kind of game with a much more physically intimidating Nigerian side.

Best guess: Nigeria 1-0 Greece.
I see Nigeria rescuing a chance at the second round by shutting down a desperate Greek team.

Game 3: Mexico v. France. Viva La Revolucion! Wait... which one? Oh, I am so confused...
Both teams got some 'splainin to do Lucy. Mexico looked like they were going to rip South Africa apart for the first 20 minutes of the first game and then got turned upside down on the counter attack until the took a breath and got back to business. France just looks directionless with no one to guide them through. I know filling Zinedine Zidan'e shoes is an almost impossible task, but complaining about the noise of the vuvuzuelas ain't gonna rally the team. I'm looking at you Patrice Evra. You play for Manchester United and I know you have played in tougher conditions so suck it up and play some football.

Best guess: Mexico 2-1 France.
I'm picking Mexico in a mild upset as I'm not sure if France will pull it together to get out of the group stage.

I'm going to have a beer and cry over the impossible intricacies of baby furniture.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

World Cup Fever! Catch it! (WARNING: may cause spousal irritation)

Rapid Fire reaction time:

So that just happened! Shake and Bake!

Wow, I am stunned. Switzerland, completely against the run of play, takes out Spain. When the first half ended, one of my friends was considering calling it an early night. It was starting to look too much like the Ivory Coast and Portugal game from the night before. The second half was a completely different game especially after the substitutions for Spain. They certainly weren't lacking in chances, but just no finishing at all. It was a surreal experience to watch shot after shot go wide, miss by a hair, or go straight into the Swiss keeper's arms. Then Switzerland manages to get the ball back and shoot on target with almost every single opportunity.

I was so shocked to see that Fernando Torres and Cesc Fabregas were on the bench to start the game. Torres had an immediate impact once he entered. And Gelson Fernandes poached that goal for the Swiss like he was Pippo Inzaghi.

I'm just amazed. This completely flips that group on it's head. Chile looked great against Honduras. Every time they had the ball you thought they were going to score. Alexis Sanchez was remarkable and earned himself a raise on his next contract. CHile are now sitting pretty and looking like they could give Spain a very hard time. They wouldn't even need to beat Spain. A draw against Spain and a draw against Switzerland would give them 5 points, and send them through. Spain is in serious trouble. I think they will handle Honduras, but Chile is now a much tougher opponent.

This tournament just went a little crazy...

World Cup Fever! Catch it! (WARNING: may cause spousal irritation)

Welcome to Match Day 6, Tapas for everyone!

Well, we have come to the end of the first circuit of group stage games and the beginning of the second. Spain take on Switzerland and Honduras take on Chile. Then we get right back on the horse with South Africa against Uruguay. It has been an interesting first week so far despite the lack of goal scoring overall. Most people expect that to change as the math starts to solidify and teams begin to take the leash off in order to nab those necessary points.

React, don't do it, when you want to go to it! React!

Who would have thunk that New Zealand and Slovakia would have provided the best drama of the night? New Zealand and Slovakia sure didn't have the prettiest game, but they both teams were solid. Vladimir Weiss impressed me with his absurd work rate and coring runs through the Kiwi defense. New Zealand never gave up and their tenacity paid off in their last minute goal to secure a point. Ivory Coast and Portugal absolutely disappointed with neither team looking terribly sharp. Cristiano Ronaldo had the shot of the night in between what was apparently his audition for Cirque De Soleil. The man has a history of going to the ground easy, but the man needed frequent flyer miles last night.

Brazil was also a touch underwhelming despite full control over both halves and two goals. A lot of that had to do with North Korea putting up their own iron curtain with five players on their back line making it very hard for even Brazil to break through to get a touch on goal. North Korea gets points for a great work ethic and never giving up and nabbing one goal at least to show their campaign is not hopeless. It will be interesting to see how they fair against the other two teams, especially if they maintain this five man back line.

Glaring oddness of the night. The perfectly uniform look of about 40 "North Korea" fans all dressed in the exact same hat and jacket combo. Stories are coming out about them being Chinese who were paid to cheer for Korea, the "fans" themselves say they are North Korean, but were selected to represent the country. Whatever the truth, it just adds to the bizarre legacy of North Korea peeking their head out into the larger world.

Onto the shenanigans and monkey shines!

Game 1: Honduras v. Chile

This game could look like the New Zealand v. Slovakia game. Honduras comes in as a potentially dangerous offensive team but lacks the defense to survive opportunistic counter attacks. Chile looks to be a far more complete team with a higher level of player per position on the field.

Players to watch:

Honduras- WIlson Palacios (Midfielder). Palacios is the axel on which the Honduran game turns. He probably won't be scoring any goals himself, but his distribution and ball winning at the center of the field will be the key to securing points in an incredibly difficult group.

Chile- Alexis Sanchez (Forward). While Humberto Suazo gathers most of the headlines for Chile, it's future lies in the skills of Alexis Sanchez. The 21 year old forward has already proven himself a scoring threat in Italy, and with experience will grow into an intimidating presence . If he gets some open space in counter attacks tonight, he could wreak havoc. I think he could be one of the bright young stars to come out of this tournament, and at least something to look forward to in 2014.

Best guess: Chile 2-1 Honduras.

Game 2: Spain v. Switzerland (Hide your chocolate and bearer bonds!)

I look at Spain and I weep. They are one of the most dangerous teams in the tournament and the odds on favorite to win the whole kit and kaboodle. This, even more so than the 2006 side, is a once-in-a-generation team. They are loaded at just about every single position with superstar players. They are 48-1 since 2006. Their lone defeat coming to the US in last year's FIFA Confederations Cup. Spain have acknowledged that defeat as the spark that keeps them focused. Famous for failing under the brightest light, Spain will be set and determined to silence their critics and take home the prize that has alluded them for the last two World Cups.

Switzerland suffered the ignominy of being the only team eliminated from the 2006 Cup that never surrendered a goal. The Swiss feature a masterful defense that will have their work cut out for them. While not generally an attacking side, Switzerland is still quite good in the air from corner-kicks and set pieces.

Players to watch:

Spain- Xavi (midfielder). People talk about a player as the heart of his team. In this case, Xavi is the nervous system, relaying and pinging messages in the form of passes and commands throughout this Spanish side. He plays for Barcelona, often regarded as the greatest soccer team on the planet. He has an amazing sense of timing and his skill on the ball is almost unrivaled. Spain moves on his impulse. Spain's lineup truly is an embarrassment of riches. I only mention one as reviewing the whole team would take me right up until game time to finish.

Switzerland- Tranquillo Barnetta (Midfielder). Quillo. as he is affectionately known to his teammates will serve as the offensive engine to whatever attack the Swiss will muster. Barnetta will look to penetrate the right wing of Spain's defense to open up holes for forwards Alexander Frei and Blaise N'Kufo. An extremely talented player who has not quite lived up to his own ability.

Best guess: Spain 2-0 Switzerland

I have been extremely optimistic in my goal predictions for most games. The run of play hasn't quite lived up to previous Cups. Most are looking at Spain to put their stamp on the tournament and score an obscene amount of goals, but it doesn't really fit as the type of game in which they will obliterate their opponent. I would imagine that their statement game would be against the weaker defense of the Honduran team.

Game 3: South Africa v. Uruguay

South Africa surprised and impressed everyone with their solid play and crisp counter attacking. Uruguay fought through a clumsy performance against a lackluster France. Top of the group is up for grabs for either of these teams. The loser, if there is one, stares possible elimination in the face.

Player to watch: Siphiwe Tshabalala (South African forward). His amazing goal against Mexico is thus far the shining moment of the tournament. Uruguay gets no player to watch until they do something worth watching...

Best Guess: Uruguay 1-0 South Africa. Why......?

CAN South Africa repeat their gripping performance against Mexico? CAN Uruguay summon the strength to shake off the poor form against France? CAN I possibly make it to 2:30 in the morning to answer these questions? Tune in tomorrow true believers, for the answer to these and other pressing questions...

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

World Cup Fever! Catch it! (WARNING: may cause spousal irritation)

Match Day 5- Band meeting! Brett... present, Jermaine... present, Kaka...present.

Match Day 4 reaction.

Japan 1-0 Cameroon
Did I mention I love being wrong? Cameroon looked listless everywhere except their left wing. It seemed like Samuel Eto'o lined up as more of midfielder distributing the ball rather than as the playmaker at the top. Japan got the job done. It wasn't flashy, but it was a solid performance and now they have 3 points and only their second victory in World Cup play. I drove a Honda, Honda scored the goal. I should have seen it coming.

Netherlands 2-0 Denmark
Pretty much played out like I thought it would, but I thought Denmark would at least get one goal for their efforts. The Dutch weren't exactly shining like gleaming silver, but they controlled the possession game as they always do came out with the win and a bonus goal.

Paraguay 1-1 Italy
Italy were back on their heels until they scored in the second half. They looked really desperate until De Rossi knocked in the draw. I thought Paraguay would keep it interesting and they sure as shootin' did.

Match Day 5 previews!

New Zealand v. Slovakia
Woo Hoo! Here come the All-Whites! Uhm, that may not be the best nickname for a team in South Africa...just sayin'. To be fair, it is simply just the reverse of New Zealand's rugby team name, the All-Blacks, but still rather unfortunate in this tournament. I really know so little about either o these teams that handicapping the games seems like a bot of a stretch.

Players to watch:

New Zealand- Shane Smeltz. Top scorer in the Australian league looks o continue that form on the International stage. But can he climb and Oliphant and drive back the Uruk Hai hordes of Sauron?

Slovakia- Vladimir Weiss and Martin Skrtel. Don't be alarmed, both coach and starting left-winger are named Vladimir Weiss. I am referring to the player only. Weiss should drive the majority of the offense. Skrtel, who plays for Liverpool will menace the New Zealand attack on Defense, and menace the New Zealand keeper on corner-kicks. Generally he will provide the daily recommended amount of menace.

Did you know? Many of the New Zealand players came into the pros after playing at American universities! Yay trivia!

Best guess: Slovakia 2-1 New Zealand

Ivory Coast v. Portugal
This should be a hotly contested game. Didier Drogba is still a question mark as he recovers from the broken arm he received in a warm-up. The question for Portugal is whether they are really a one-man team, or a solid World Cup challenger.

Players to watch:

Ivory Coast- Didier Drogba. This is more of a "can the one-legged man win the ass kicking contest" type of player to watch. Ivory Coast is loaded with players who show for European top flight clubs. Drogba isn't their only weapon, but he is certainly their best and most important. If the name sounds familiar, it is because he made the cover of Time magazine's 100 most influential people issue along with former president Clinton and Lady Gaga

Portugal- Cristiano Ronaldo. He is the whole show. The Real Madrid forward steps in as the most compelling argument for Portugal to do anything in this tournament. He is consistently ranked along with Argentina's Lionel Messi, as the best player in the world. If I am being honest, he probably tops my list. My Manchester United bias aside, Ronaldo is easily one of the most dangerous players with speed, skill, and accuracy to make the most accomplished defenders look like green amateurs. A villain in the 2006 World Cup for his part in having then teammate Wayne Rooney sent off, Ronaldo will look to carry only the title of hero into the second round.

Best guess: Ivory Coast 2- 1 Portugal.
Ivory Coast ride a wave of emotion over a one note (but a good note) Portugal.

Brazil v. North Korea

If North Korean propaganda is anything to be believed, North Korea really didn't need to show up. The win every time they play so what is the point of humiliating all the Western imperialists? They felt it important to show the World their true dominance so that we might be enlightened. Just kidding, although their top striker has promised a goal a game. That is if Brazil decides to let them have the ball in between miraculous displays of ball handling and impossible goal scoring. Seriously, this is Brazil we are talking about. North Korea are lucky to even be playing on the same field. I'm normally far more respectful of any team that makes the World Cup, but I'm not giving them an ice cubes chance of surviving a volcanic eruption.

North Korea caused a huge stir in 1966 by defeating Italy. Some people are touting them as the unknown quantity of this tournament, but against Brazil, they might as well be carrying guns, because that is the only way I see them stopping the 5 time World Champions. I will say this, if their South Korean counterparts are any indication, we should see a very speedy and technically sound team. However, I expect half the team to defect by the end of the Cup.

Players to watch:

Brazil- Have you got an hour or two? Seriously though, Brazil always boasts the finest collection of players of any team almost every single World Cup. If we have to pick one, then I choose Kaka. The Real Madrid attacking midfielder is one of the best players in the World and will be pinging pinpoint accurate passes and shots all over the field.

North Korea- Jong Tae So. The "Asian Wayne Rooney" as touted by the press has promised a goal per game. Jong actually has a a fairly complicated life story that starts with him born in Japan to South Korean parents only to changing his nationality after being indoctrinated in North korean school.

Best guess: Brazil 3-0 North Korea. Now, what is the over/under on camera shots of scantily clad Brazilian women?

Monday, June 14, 2010

World Cup Fever! Catch it! (WARNING: may cause spousal irritation)

Match Day 4- Sleep deprivation 2 Ryan 0.

Actually I got plenty of sleep last night, because I couldn't force myself awake to watch the Germany v. Australia game. I missed a hell of a drubbing with Germany looking like they normally do around World Cup time. I know yesterday I wrote that I thought that Australia would make round 2. I'm not going to go back on that until I see the results of the second game, but Ghana looked really sharp against Serbia regardless of a lack of Michael Essien. Germany was just a machine. It just reinforced the importance of the US team winning group C to avoid that kind of a match up until later in the tournament.

Onto the previews!

Game 1: Netherlands v. Denmark:

I'm really looking forward to this one. It is an offensive powerhouse against a rock solid defense. Netherlands may or may not have their midfield superstar Arjen Robben, but it doesn't stop the Dutch from packing plenty of firepower. I love the concept of total football originated by the Dutch teams of the 70's despite the lack of results in the World Cup. Currently ranked 4th in the world, the Netherland's worst enemy may very well be themselves. I don't know think this is the World Cup for them to take it all, but it should be pretty entertaining.

Denmark comes in as a great spoiler. They finished second in their qualifying group behind Portugal and feature a defensive line that has plied their trade in the trenches of the Italian Serie A (Italy's highest level of pro ball) where defense is viewed as the most beautiful part of the beautiful game.

Players to watch-

Netherlands: Robin Van Persie, Wesley Sneijder.

The Dutch are loaded with great players but these two are worth a little bit of hype and spotlight. Van Persie plays his professional ball at English Premier League side Arsenal. He is a terror to defensive lines with his impeccable ball skill and pinpoint accurate shots. Sneijder is not as flashy, but is one of the best midfielders in the tournament. He has a pretty good familiarity with the Danish back line as he plays for the 2010 Italian and European champions Inter Milan.

Denmark: The entire Danish back line. Containing the Dutch attack is a yeoman's task and they will be under siege. Also, Nicklas Bendtner will be on the offensive side of the ball will prove tricky for the Dutch defenders to contain.

Best guess: Netherlands 2- 1 Denmark.

Game 2: Japan v. Cameroon

In a nutshell: Japan is under fire from the Japanese press, and is starting to get a chip on their shoulders. That should actually be a good thing. I think the Japanese players feel the pressure of watching South Korea take the mantle of Asia's best team. They want that crown and they want to make an impact in a World Cup. Cameroon is filled with a lot of good, solid players but it lives and dies with Captain Samuel Eto'o. Eto'o is one of the best strikers in the world and should torch the Japanese defense.

Player to watch:

Cameroon- Samuel Eto'o. The somewhat mercurial forward is one of the best players in the world and should be a joy to watch.

Japan- Shunsuke Nakamura. Japan's best player and captain will be the one to rally them mentally and drive them to the Cameroonian net. Like I said, a chip on the shoulder is a good thing here.

Best guess: Cameroon 2-0 Japan (I'd love to see this be a slugfest though.)

Game 3: Italy v. Paraguay.

In a nutshell, the two teams expected to advance get it on tonight for what should be 1st place in the group. The question mark on Italy is age. Are they too old to repeat the success of 2006's World Cup championship team. The answer is a firm maybe. First off, they really aren't that old and let's be clear, this is Italy. They are going to be incredibly difficult to break and feature some of the toughest players in the world. Defense is always the key with Italy. Paraguay has their work cut out for them in picking that lock.

Players to watch:

Italy- Daniele De Rossi. Italy's heir apparent to current captain Fabio Cannavaro will begin to take more of the midfield generalship this tournament. He should be the guiding force for Italy come 2014.

Paraguay- Roque Santa Cruz and Lucas Barrios. These two will most likely be Paraguay's engine of destruction. Santa Cruz earns his paycheck from English Premier League side Manchester City while Barrios gets his Euro on in the German Bundesliga for Borussia Dortmund. Both have proven to be dangerous strikers throughout warm-ups and qualifiers. They should test Gianluigi Buffon's cat-like goalkeeping prowess.

Best guess: Italy 1-0 Paraguay. Italy shuts down the Paraguayans but not without some dramatic saves to keep them off the score sheet.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

World Cup Fever! Catch it! (WARNING: may cause spousal irritation)

Match Day 3 and 4- Cheeky, cheeky Yanks...

To say I am a happy boy today is an understatement. Early this morning, myself and a group of friends traveled over to a local expat pub to watch the England v. USA game. The crowd was largely American, but the Brits had plenty of representation. The first thing I feel pressed to mention is that USA soccer fans are woefully lacking in songs for the team. Now, this may not be the case if you are a member of Sam's Army (official team USA fan group), but regular Americans abroad come equipped with a standard USA chant and not much else. We managed a 1950 chant, but that and a stirring rendition of the Star-Spangled Banner, was our best level of response. Honestly it doesn't take much to make a good football song. Really just take a tune and shoehorn repetition of the name of the club or country that you are supporting around it.

The banter between both sides was fairly good natured on the whole. One rather unfortunate Brit sitting directly behind me decided that every single English touch of the ball was "brilliant" or "correct", and the USA was strictly "school boy". Our obnoxious spectator even felt the need to mock Tim Howard after he found himself impaled on Emile Heskey's spikes. In the fervor of the US goal, I stood up like a shock of lightning sending my chair backwards and directly into the unsuspecting heckler's shoulder. I turned around to express a polite amount of apology and regret towards my exuberant accident, but karmically he had it coming. I must stress this person was the exception rather than the rule as both sides were well behaved.

Tensions grew a bit as the game wore on and Tim Howard and the US back line were pressed into service time and again. By the time the game ended and the bar let out, the sun was rising on the next day and we all strolled bleary-eyed into the Shanghai morning.

The game itself was an exercise in stress management. England scoring in the first 4 minutes left the mostly American crowd stunned and silent. The English fans have a sense of entitlement towards their team and rightly so. Their country invented the modern game and so they had a swagger that Americans have little response for given the US's still growing international portfolio. Rythmic taunts of "you're not singing anymore" echoed the patio, as we held our hands on our chins waiting for the other shoe to drop. Steven Gerrard's goal for the English had everyone thinking that, this would indeed by the year for the Three Lions to rise again.

The the US team settled down and began to right the ship on defense thanks to the stewardship of Steve Cherundolo, Jay Demerit, and Tim (none shall pass) Howard. You probably didn't hear Demerit's name very much, but that is because you didn't hear Wayne Rooney's name much and that was the point. Rooney wasn't much of a factor in the game until the second half. That was due largely to Demerit cutting off Rooney as an option. As the game drew to a close and the US drew in amongst themselves, I dreaded the worst. Teams focused on defending for a result often have the tables turned. The US did a great job of counter attacking though, and nearly broke the game open with Jozey Altidore's blistering run past John Terry in the waning minutes of the game. It seemed like England would never stop storming the US box though, and the final whistle was huge relief.

Say what you will about the US goal, it went in, and secured what may very well be a necessary point needed to escape this group. I don't envy Robert Green, the English Goalkeeper, for the torrent of unbridled anger sure to be lobbed his way as the result of his poor handling of Clint Dempsey's shot. People have already speculated that the new ball being used had some part to play, but frankly I just don't see it. Green is still human, played well for the most part and does not deserve to be raked over the coals over the result of a football game. I'm a Cubs fan, I know a thing or two about not letting a sport get in the way of living your life.

I've gone on a bit more than planned, so I'll leave my thoughts on this game with a brief conclusion. England is still incredibly dangerous. They will get out of the group stage, but they need to address some lineup issues that reared their ugly head in the first half. The US played well and are right to be happy with the point, but to a man they know they could have won. The next step is to win and win big in their last two games to try and secure the top spot in the group and hopefully avoid a second round match-up with Germany. First things first, a match against current Group C leaders Slovenia.

Previews/postviews- At the time I'm writing this post, Algeria and Slovenia have already finished their match and Slovenia came out with the full three points after getting a late score on a 10 man Algerian squad. I caught only bits and pieces of this game so I have nothing to offer until after seeing a possible replay tomorrow. I can tell you that in the World Cup, you take any match lightly at your peril. England and the US are on notice and are looking up at Slovenia.

Serbia v. Ghana- On the TV as I type. I wish I had more to say about this one, but sleep deprivation prevented any kind of deeper research or thought today.

Germany v. Australia- I'm really curious to see what Germany looks like in this one. They always step up strongly on the biggest stage and I don't expect any less from them this time. Missing captain Michael Ballack is a huge blow but not one that keeps them from taking this group fairly easily. Australia still finds themselves in the "happy to be there" phase of their World Cup infancy. Please don't take this to mean I am dismissive of the Roos. I am taking them quite seriously as they swept through their qualifying with great ease and look like a much improved side. I place them on the level the US was at between the 98 and 2002 World Cups. Good enough to dominate their region, but maybe not good enough to make a serious impact in the tournament. That being said I still think Australia will join Germany in the second round.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

World Cup Fever! Catch it! (WARNING: may cause spousal irritation)

Day Three- Match Day 2

So sleep is now my greatest challenge. As it stands, we in Shanghai are 12 hours ahead of New York and 6 hours ahead of Capetown meaning that World Cup games begin as early as 7:30pm in the evening and run all the way until 4:30 in the morning. Last night was a somewhat failed experiment in nap-management. I gathered with some friends to watch South Africa v. Mexico and had a fantastic time. We split off after the first game and they went off to bed and I gambled on a brief nap that resulted in about 3 hours of sleep before waking up half way through Uruguay v. France.

Back in 2002, I managed to set my alarm for all of the most interesting games that popped up in the wee early hours of the morning. The rest were recorded on an ancient form of media known as video cassette. Now I find myself in a situation where only sheer will power shall push me through as we have no DVR available.

Onto the fluff!

Uruguay v. France- Reaction.

This actually finished as I thought it would. Two suffocating defenses making life miserable for attacking players. I missed the first half of this game as I swam in a lake of Marshmallow creme and partied with wood elves. The second half of the game was pretty interesting. Despite the 0-0 draw, the game wasn't lacking for action. Both France and Uruguay kept up a relentless pace. France has some real issues. The team sounds splintered. Their defense may hold, but they have shown a real lack of offensive creativity. Now, let's be clear, this is always the story with France. They go on lockdown on defense and just kind of get by on offense. This time that formula won't work.

USA v. England - Preview.

ACK! Please don't make me guess the result of this game. I am so blind for this one that I don't know if I can provide any kind of rational analysis. The US has a legitimate chance to win this game, and even if they draw they could still steal a point. and be in great position. Most experts are picking the US to advance regardless of the result tonight because they don't see Algeria and Slovenia as any real opposition. I call that poppycock, as Algeria will be much tougher than predicted, and the Eastern European teams are always a tough game.

England have everything to lose. They come in with even higher expectations than normal. In England, we find a group of players at the absolute height of their professional prowess. The problem for England is that the sum of the parts is rarely greater than the parts. They always have a good team, but for whatever reason they have issues galvanizing all of those wheels and cogs into the unstoppable machine they should be.

The United States: This is one of the younger teams in the cup with only 6 players returning from the 2006 squad. This team probably loves or dies with the defense. They have the midfield capability and the speed up front to score at least a couple of goals. The defense is where the holes lie. Throughout qualifying, they had issues keeping teams from scoring. Top back Oguchi Onyewu will be playing his first full competitive match since a knee injury in October. Bob Bradley has all the confidence in Guch, so we will trust the coach at this point. In addition, as per usual, the US have a fantastic goalkeeper. Tim Howard has constatntly proven himself to be one of the smartest, and most difficult goalkeepers to beat. Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey are two of the best attacking midfielder's the US has ever had and promise to raise hell on England's back half. On the attack, we will probably have bruising forward Jozey Altidore, and Edson Buddle. Jozey is coming off a rough season of play with only a handful of goals to speak of, but he still represents a dangerous threat to defenses with his size and speed. Edson Buddle will be a question mark as he comes off really impressive performances in friendly games leading up to the cup and a positive form during the club season. It remains to be seen what he can do under the pressure of a big time international game.

Player to watch: Landon Donovan. Landon is the captain of the team and as he plays, so plays the team. The last four years saw Landon float from disinterested superstar to committed team captain. Donovan says personal problems lead to a lask of inspiration after 2006 , but now he is re-energized and ready to lead the US attack. Since the proof is in the pudding, we can look at his run at English Premier side Everton where he won player of the month for his brief loan spell there this past winter.

England: I guess you start and finish with Wayne Rooney. The Manchester United striker is one of the top five players in the world right now and is coming off a blistering regular season that saw him in unprecedented form. If the US is to have any chance of winning, it must mitigate Rooney's dangerous runs. The rest of the team is made up of some of the best players in the English Premier League. They are dangerous at every position on the field. The two big question marks are how they will do on defense. Their captain Rio Ferdinand is out for the entire Cup do to a knee injury in training. In addition, goalkeeper is a bit of a question mark as hot and cold keeper David James is also coming off his own injury concerns. England are quite rightly favored to go deep in the tournament

Player to watch: Take your pick, John Terry, Frank Lampard, Joe Cole, and on and on. Ultimately it is Wayne Rooney. If he plays like he did during the regular season, we are in for one of the best individual player World Cups in recent memory.

Best guess: My heart says US 2-1 England. My head says England 2-1 US. However, do not be shocked if England doesn't gel and the US calls on the amazing form that took them to second place in last year's confederations cup in South Africa when they beat Spain and were beating Brazil until a lackluster second half in the final.

Other match day 3 games:

South Korea v. Greece: I'm betting Korea's pace wears down Greece for a Korea 1-0 Greece finish.

Argentina v. Nigeria: Argentina might be the most enticing mystery of the tournament with the World's best player Lionel Messi leading the attack. No one quite knows how they will play as a unit though because coach (and Argentinian World Cup legend) Diego Maradona used more players than Baskin Robbins has ice creams. I'm guessing Argentina 3-1 Nigeria.