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.

Advertisements

World Cup 2014 – Days 3-4

The Elephants find their Talisman.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

For much of Didier Drogba’s Chelsea career, he was referred to as their talisman. After his dramatic injection into the Ivory Coast’s World Cup opener against Japan, he surely holds that moniker in regard to his national squad as well.

When the pony-tailed striker ran onto the pitch in Brazil yesterday, his Elephants were trailing 1-0 to Japan. A mere 100 seconds later, the guys in orange were up 2-1 and in complete control of the game. Although Drogba did not score either goal, the emotional lift from his entrance was palpable, and his passing skills helped set up the first score.

Drogba signed with Italian giant Juventus this spring, but at 36, his best playing days are likely behind him. Then again, if yesterday was any indication, just his presence on the pitch might be enough to inspire the Elephants through a magical run. It will be one of many stories to follow in Brazil during the 2014 World Cup finals.

Of note: As mentioned above, Japan scored the first goal of the match, but eventually suffered defeat. Four other teams (Ecuador, Croatia, Uruguay and Spain) have already experienced the same fate in the first four days of the tournament.

There have been no draws so far in the tournament.

World Cup 2014 – Days 1-2

Brazil – Getting the job done. Spain, not so much.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

After a rocky start, Brazil did what they had to do, gaining 3 points and +2 in goal differential. With Croatia dispatched and Cameroon apparently mailing it in (Samuel Eto’o appeared to be playing with ten guys he met in the parking lot) Brazil should be able to see their way through the group stage, even if Mexico forces a draw.

Spain, on the other hand, might be in deep trouble. They lost their first match in 2010 as well, but this team appears a bit more weary, a bit less hungry. In this magical run that has seen them win two Euro Cups with a world title sandwiched in between, they have been able to impose their will on other teams. It never appeared to be that way yesterday, not even when they were up 1-0.

And I tip my hat to the Netherlands. If anything, I expected them to look tired at the end of the game. Sneijder and Robben have logged a large number of kilometers on those legs, but they both were both energetic throughout the second half, Robben dangerously so. As much as this game bodes poorly for Spain, it has to be a giant boost for the Netherlands.

I try not to read too much into first games. Sometimes what appears to be a bad loss just turns out to be a blip or perhaps the case of an up and coming underrated team against an overrated team, on the downturn but still dangerous. Spain’s next match, against Chile, could be more telling than this one. There is a very good chance they will make it through the group stage, but now it would almost certainly be in second position, making the likelihood that they will face Brazil in the round of sixteen a distinct possibility.

Today I look forward to Italia vs. the Three Lions and whatever other surprises the next four matches bring us.

Congratulations La Furia Roja!

Spain has garnered its first World Cup Championship, defeating the Netherlands 1-0. La Furia Roja became the first team to lose its opening game and still go on to claim the cup. They victimized each of their last four opponents with late goals leading to 1-0 results.

The Dutch were waylaid by an extra time strike from Andres Iniesta. The orange failed to convert a couple of ripe post regular time chances themselves, making the late goal even more devastating.

South Africa 2010 will be remembered for many reasons. Here are a few of them:

Spain’s first World Cup Championship.

Germany’s surprising surge and the early exit for both Italy and France.

Donovan’s late goal to produce the U.S.A.’s first top place finish in World Cup group play.

The Dutch losing in the final … again.

The what ifs of Essien for Ghana and Ballack for Germany, two premier midfielders (both out with injuries) that could have pushed their teams even deeper into the tournament.

Spain has the cup and an automatic invite for 2014.

I enjoyed the tournament immensely and can’t wait for 2014.

And Then There Were Eight – World Cup Update

The field of thirty-two has now been trimmed to eight and three of my magnificent five are still alive. Brazil, Argentina and Spain have all pushed forward with attacks that well … push forward.

Spain and Brazil have work to do if they are to meet in the final.

Brazil will face my lone remaining danger team, the Netherlands. My other two dark horses, Portugal and France, are gone. France exited without threatening anyone, or anything, except their own national pride. Portugal had a good run, making it through the group of death, but bowed out to Spain. Their 1-0 loss reveals the hazard of deferring to your superstar. One bad game and you’re done.

Another team that deserves mention is Japan. With Africa hosting, Europe and South America dominant on the field and the U.S. winning their group, Asia was an afterthought in the field of sixteen. Japan nearly changed that. They came one errant penalty kick away from breaking into the quarterfinals. Honda was a revelation, reaffirming one of my greatest attractions to this eclectic event which commences every forty-eight months, the chance to see brilliance from a relatively unheralded player. His assist in the final group match was at least as impressive as any goal.

Speaking of goals, I would have to say the Tevez blast from outside the box was my favorite so far.

The Final Eight as I see it.

Uruguay vs. Ghana: Although Uruguay won their group they could be considered the underdog when facing Ghana. Ghana’s strength is their strength, especially in midfield, and they will own the crowd. A victory by either team will place them in the semifinals as the clear Cinderella of 2010.

Brazil vs. Netherlands: The best matchup of the quarterfinals, the winner has an inside track to the championship. The Dutch are playing magnificent team ball and a victory would erase many past disappointments for the orange. Brazil has been dominant and would love to be defending the cup when they host in four years. If they play Ghana in the semifinals it will be a rematch from the knockout stage of 2006. It will also be a showcase for the two best holding midfields in the tournament (even with Essien out for Ghana).

Argentina vs. Germany: Another great matchup between traditional powers. Germany has done well so far, despite their youth. The underwhelming performance put on against them by England was a gift they should not expect to be repeated by Argentina. Tevez and Messi present a level of talent they have not yet seen in the tournament.

Paraguay vs. Spain: Once again, Spain finds itself at the doorstep, but if they wish to break through, they best not look past this fixture to the winner of Argentina/Germany. Paraguay’s defense will be less stout than Portugal, but their counter attacks will be more potent.

The plate for a football feast.

There are several scenarios remaining for the final, including an all South American or all European match. Africa could crown its first ever champion. The Netherlands or Spain could erase their perpetual also-ran status. No matter what happens, one thing is certain. Four tasty games are on the menu.

Soccer Nerd South Africa Update

Round one is over and we’ve learned a few things. The five on my short list were not impressive. 

The boot goes on.

 

 Of the teams I highlighted, Argentina was the only one that was never threatened. Brazil won too, but only after falling behind. England and Italy managed draws, and in a  flop that would put Ronaldo to shame, Spain lost to the Swiss. The much touted Spaniards drop to the bottom of group H and have to be a bit nervous. In a Samson-esque move, Torres cut his hair. After today’s woeful performance, he might be looking into extensions. Speaking of losses, Italy will be without their number one keeper indefinitely. 

On a brighter note, the U.S. played well and the Danes looked good, even in a loss to one of my “dangerous” teams, the Netherlands. Now it’s on to the second games, where the elite squads should begin to assert themselves while the surprise sides just hope to hang on. 

Heads up.

Confessions of a Soccer Nerd

Yes, I admit it, I love soccer. And there is no better time for a fan of the beautiful game than the World Cup Championship. Every four years, the soccer world  descends on a pre-ordained host nation. The world’s best players competing in the world’s best tournament for over a month. It’s soccer nerd nirvana.       

Heads up.

Who will be crowned this year? Brazil, Italy,England? Contenders are numerous, but as talented as the field is, I think the eventual champion will emerge from the following group of just five elite squads: Brazil, Italy, Spain, England and Argentina.       

Brazil: More World Cup titles than any other nation. Need I say more?       

Italy: Defending champs, a very talented and cohesive squad. Their roster is 100% filled with Serie A players.       

England: Most aficionados reading this post just busted out laughing. England’s national team has broken more hearts than any British group since the Beatles. Their ability to disappoint is legendary. Nonetheless, Rooney is healthy at last and their back four are solid with Ferdinand, Terry and Cole.       

Spain: The Spaniards are also notorious for falling short on the world stage, but Torres is a special talent and Fabregas is a crafty dealer. This team feels similar to the French squad of four years ago.       

Argentina: The only team besides Brazil to win a World Cup away from their home continent, Argentina has talent and bravado to spare in Tevez and Messi.       

Dangerous teams to watch …       

Chelsea F.C. has players on five different World Cup teams.

 Portugal: The best team no one is talking about. Ronaldo has the ability to take over any game.      

The Netherlands: Another team getting little press, but I guarantee, no one wants to play them.       

France: Still loaded with talent, but do they have the will, now that Z.Z. is gone?       

Sentimental favorite: Denmark. While most casual fans I know will be pulling for the U.S. (and I will too), I will also be rooting for the Danes. They represent part of my heritage and I’m proud of them for getting to South Africa while their big, bad neighbors from across the Baltic are at home washing their shin guards.      

Let's get the ball rolling.

But enough touting and predictions, lets roll the ball out to center and get this thing started. Ah yes … the beautiful time.