World Cup 2014 – Days 10 – 13

Italy was down, and then out.

Italy only needed a draw with Uruguay to advance to the knockout rounds. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThey couldn’t produce it. First, they lost Marchisio to a red card and then they lost the match. Today’s 1-0 defeat was enough to send them packing.

Costa Rica’s stunning run through the so-called “Group of Champions” left only one former champion standing. And it was the squad that looked least likely to advance after the opening round of games, Uruguay. But, as I said a couple of weeks ago, you never know, in the first matches of a World Cup tournament, if what seems like an upset really is one. Sometimes what appears to be a powerhouse stubbing its toe turns out be a young team coming of age against an aging , overrated team. We should all see now, Costa Rica is for real.

Columbia advanced with its first ever three victory group stage performance. But it was a different story for the Ivory Coast. German coach Joachim Loew once said playing Greece was “like biting a rock.” When the Greeks scored in added time, even the magic of Didier Drogba (already subbed out) couldn’t keep the Elephants from biting down hard on that rock. If it is any consolation to the Ivory fans, many good teams are finding it hard to survive the group stage. Spain, England and Italy are already gone. They will soon be joined by either Portugal or Ghana or both.

Of note: Of the eight teams that have advanced so far, only two are from Europe. The others are from either South, Central or North America. Africa and Asia have yet to advance a team in this year’s tournament. Costa Rica won Group D, matching them with Greece in the next round. That means one of those two will make it to the quarterfinals. Either Greece or Costa Rica will be one of the eight remaining teams still playing while 24 of the world’s best squads are at home licking their wounds.

Advertisements

World Cup 2014 – Days 6-10

The tournament begins to take shape. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Portugal is hanging by a thread. Spain and England have already bowed out. Costa Rica and Chile have secured their advance into the round of sixteen. And the U.S. has a fighting chance to win the Group of Death.

If these are not the winds of change, then they are, at the least, the dusty breeze that precedes such a storm.

We might well end up with two European powerhouses vs. two South American behemoths in the semis. In fact, it wouldn’t be much of a surprise at all. But every slot taken by an Ecuador or Nigeria is one less place for a Russia or Italy to land. Surely, there will be more upsets to come and more giants will fall. Even the Netherlands and Germany appeared nearly ordinary in their second matches.

Scoring has dropped off dramatically since the flurry of goals in the opening days of the tournament. And the third set of matches will only become tighter, as each squad learns exactly how many points they need to secure to advance into the knockout stages.

Tomorrow will be a defining moment for both the U.S. and Portugal. Is that a breeze I feel coming from Manaus?

Of note: Iran came within two minutes of securing a second point without scoring a goal in the tournament. Australia has scored three goals but has zero points to show for it. Which team has the best goal differential so far? Germany? The Netherlands? Actually, it’s France, with a +6 margin.

World Cup 2014 – Day 5

Day five from Brazil brought us two lumps of coal and the best match yet. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Germany vs. Portugal disappointed, Nigeria vs. Iran anesthetized, but Ghana vs. the U.S offered the best entertainment of the tournament so far. In the day’s first match, Portugal was vulnerable and unorganized in central defense, having already lost the game well before the thirty-seventh minute, when Pepe succumbed to a flash of frustration and was shown a red card for his efforts. The drubbing only continued from there. In the second match, Iran seemed to be playing for a scoreless draw from the outset and Nigeria was mysteriously willing to oblige. It was enough to make the most fervent soccer fan numb.

And then came the third match, Ghana vs. the U.S.A.

Just 34 seconds into the match, Clint Dempsey made an unstoppable run, and when he scored, it was clear this would be the game of the day. The Americans adopted a counter-attacking strategy for the match, but Jozy Altidore pulling a hamstring in the 23rd minute blunted the threat of that approach. Adding to the pressure was, first, Clint Dempsey being kicked in the face and having to leave the pitch for a time and then, second, Besler developing his own hamstring issues.

By the start of the second half, when Brooks was substituted for Besler, it was clear the U.S. was in total defensive mode. They rarely broke out, and when they did, the ball was often simply dumped in Ghana’s half for easy retrieval by their opponent. Pressure continued to mount as Ghana dominated possession and shots on goal. Howard made several crucial stops but eventually succumbed to Andre Ayew in the 82nd minute.

But what happened next might define this squad for quite some time. In the 86th minute, off a perfectly struck corner, Brooks converted a header and the U.S. was back on top. Nine long, white-knuckled minutes later, the U.S. had secured three points from a grueling duel. They now sit second place in the Group of Death, not the worst position to be in by any means. Next up for the U.S is a very pissed off and desperate Portugal. Should be fun.

Of note: When Brooks scored, it marked the first time in American World Cup history that a substitute had scored off the bench. When Dempsey scored in 34 seconds, it was the fastest ever score by an American in World Cup history and the sixth quickest overall in World Cup history. With that score, Dempsey also became the first American to score in three different World Cups.