Monday, June 28, 2010
Uruguay vs. South Korea: Not a big name match-up, but a thrilling match to start the knockout rounds with. Two vastly different styles came together: the South Americans, with their heavy dose of possession and attacking flair against good combination play and fantastic work rate of South Korea. Two goals, the latter an absolute wondergoal, from Uruguay’s Luis Suarez was enough to propel them into the quarterfinals. South Korea made a tremendous push, but it just fell short. Suarez had been largely disappointing thus far, failing to emerge from the shadow of fellow striker Diego Forlan, but has showed up at the right time. A big-time scorer in the Dutch League, Suarez will most likely have earned himself a big transfer to European football from Ajax. Uruguay switched to three in the attack since their opening game and the introduction of another forward, Edinson Cavani, has opened up more space for Suarez and allowed Forlan to drop a bit deeper and take on the responsibility of playmaker for Uruguay. They look a force to be reckoned with come the quarterfinals.
USA vs. Ghana: The inability to start strong at the beginning of a period, once again, was the Yanks Achilles heel as they fell to Ghana, 2-1, via overtime. They came out flat at the beginning of the game, being completely played off the pitch before Kevin Prince-Boateng’s first half goal, before coming back with a resilient second-half performance. Yet they failed to capitalize on the momentum that came with Landon Donovan’s PK goal after Clint Dempsey was taken down in the box and were forced to pay the consequences. Asamoah Gyan exposed the United States lack of athleticism in the back and scored a fine individual goal to condemn the U.S. to an early flight back home to the states. This time it was too late to stage a final comeback and the lack of available substitutions left sealed the deal. Once again, Bob Bradley’s tactical decisions have to be called into question ... Why is Ricardo Clark on the field, let alone on the 23-man roster? Time after time he has been given opportunities and failed to justify them. A turnover waiting to happen, his giveaway in the first half was eerily similar to Claudio Reyna’s in 2006 against ... you guessed it, Ghana, and once again the United States have been sent home by the Black Stars. In the end, the United States didn’t deserve to go any further, they lack a consistent goal scorer, like Gyan, a creative force in the middle of the park, as well as lacking center backs with the ability to handle top level forwards. You can only ride luck so far, and you can’t be missing that many pieces of the puzzle and expect to advance to the quarters of the World Cup. Credit to Ghana though, the only African team to advance came out of the gates blazing. They might miss the calming influence of superstar Michael Essien, but seeing Inter Milan star Sulley Muntari ride the bench shows you how deep they really are. U-20 World Cup Champs in 2009, they’re much stronger than the team in 2006 and will be a handful for Uruguay in their quarterfinal clash to come.
England vs. Germany: Fierce European rivals with lots of World Cup history against each other, this was the first true clash of heavyweights in the knockout rounds. This was, just as it’s always hyped up as, ‘England’s World Cup’. The influence of manager Fabio Capello, the final piece to the puzzle, England was supposedly ready to justify their claims as a World Cup favorite. Germany however, is a tournament team and they always have been. Having made it to the semifinals in their home country in 2006, Germany looks ready to take the next step following their drubbing of England earlier today. Two early goals from two written-off strikers got the ball rolling for the Germans and they never really looked back. Miroslav Klose and Lukas Podolski, only having scored a handful of goals all season between the two of them, both rewarded the faith of manager Joachim Loew and provided great goals to shock England. England pulled one back through Matthew Upson and were cruelly denied an equalizer when Frank Lampard’s shot clearly crossed the line before heading in 2-1 down at halftime. Germany put the game away mid-second half via two goals from youngster Thomas Muller and the better team won. There will continue to be a lot of whining from the Brits following the game, but if any of them watched the whole match, it will be clear to them that Germany was a level above them and were scoring at will. Going into the quarterfinals, Germany looks stronger than ever. Largely synonymous with physical, defensive minded play, this younger version of Germany looks a bit like a hybrid. They still have the size and grit in back in the form of Per Mertesacker and Arne Friedrich, but on the offensive side of the ball they look as exciting and dangerous as ever. The accomplished passing and tackling provided by central midfielders Sami Khedira and Bastian Schweinsteiger allows Germany to basically attack with a front four. Mueller and Podolski provide width and support for Klose up top, while Mesut Ozil pulls the strings while roaming all around the field. They’re going to be tough to stop.
Argentina vs. Mexico: South American soccer against North America’s best imitation of South American soccer is what this game offered. Mexico was bright in the first 15 minutes or so and looked the most likely to score, but I always had confidence that Argentina was destined to win this game. They had an easy time qualifying from the group stages and just needed a bit of time to settle in and find their footing against a higher level of opponent. And for a second time in the same day, a controversial goal was provided. This time Carlos Tevez opened the scoring, heading in Lionel Messi’s chip. Replays showed Tevez had clearly started from an offside position and Mexico began to self-destruct on the spot. Surrounding the assistant referee who was at fault, imploring (to put it nicely) with him to change his mind, you just had a feeling that it was only going to go downhill from there for the Mexicans. Before you knew it, Gonzalo Higuain had pounced on a moment of indecision from Ricardo Osario and was composed enough to round Oscar Perez and pass in from about six yards to give Argentina a two-goal cushion. By the time Carlos Tevez pile-drived home a third, Mexico looked ready to concede. A late consolation from Manchester United’s new signing, Javier Hernandez, was a day late, dollar short. Argentina, a team so many had questioned leading into the World Cup has now won every game they’ve played this tournament and look ready to avenge their ’06 penalty kick loss to the German’s. Diego Maradona might not be a tactical genius (although his three-pronged forward attack has worked wonders thus far); one thing he clearly has done is brought an immense feeling of team unity to Argentina. The players are rarely not hugging, smiling, or offering a customary, congratulatory kiss on the cheek to fellow teammates. Their match-up against Germany is a match you cannot afford to miss.
This weekend has already spoiled us with great matches, but Monday and Tuesday offers plenty of great games to come as well. The attacking flair of the Dutch prepare to face off against the staunch defense of Slovakia, while FIFA’s number one ranked Brazil prepare to do battle against dynamic South American neighbors Chile to round up Monday’s action. Tuesday brings a match of two surprise knockout round teams: Paraguay and Japan and the much-anticipated match-up of European powerhouses Spain and Portugal. The Netherlands, buoyed by a newfound width in attack due to the return of talisman Arjen Robben look likely victors over Slovakia, but will have to be careful to shut down tournament joint-top scorer Robert Vittek and find a way through a defense anchored by Liverpool center back Martin Skrtel. Brazil will most certainly be favorites against Chile and will certainly be happy to welcome back Elano, Kaka and Robinho to the starting 11. They will need striker Luis Fabiano to be clinical with his finishing to avoid an upset, because Chile will offer a lot of danger in attack. A big match-up will be winger Alexis Sanchez for Chile against both outside backs for Brazil, Maicon and Michel Bastos. Paraguay will most likely move through as well to continue South America’s domination of the tournament so far. Japan will put up a good fight, but in the end I think Paraguay’s front line will be a bit too much to handle for them. Last but not least, Spain will most likely come through victorious against Portugal in the final round of 16 game on Tuesday. Portugal have a water-tight defense and haven’t lost in 19 matches, but Spain’s embarrassment of riches in attack provide them with more than one key to unlock any defense. David Villa’s red-hot form will most likely continue and if Fernando Torres finds any semblance of his form from Euro 2008, Portugal will bow out. Portugal’s only hope rests in the shape of Cristiano Ronaldo. Having finally scored in the 7-0 thrashing of North Korea, he’ll have to build on that momentum for Portugal to sneak into the quarterfinals.
The win-or-go-home stage of the tournament has begun and now all of these nations are really ready to lay it on the line. It’s can’t miss stuff; so start calling in sick, set your DVR’s, or tune in on ESPN3.com in your cubicle...
Sunday, June 27, 2010
On the USA: "I am really excited for the USA. Great way for the game to end and that they definitely deserved the victory. By far and away the better team - Algeria’s goalkeeper played fantastic and kept them in it. In the end, they came through and got a goal and that was just great. The USA can go on from there. They have a good shot at the bracket if they can beat Ghana, they just need to take it one game at a time."
On England: "As an Englishman, pleased with their result. Played very well on the day and missed some chances, really similar to the U.S. Didn’t get a goal in such dramatic fashion, but definitely deserved to win. After seeing Germany play, I am confident England can go through as well."
On the overall way the World Cup has gone: "A lot of the big, so-called powers in soccer are struggling – obviously Italy has gone out, France has gone out. Exciting to see smaller nations – the non-soccer nations – coming through. It’s good for world soccer in general. I think the coverage has been great. I am really pleased with all of the games and being live. It’s great for soccer in the states. Great to see the USA go through and hopefully they can both wrestle away some wins. Maybe beat Ghana, take it one step further and go from there. It’s been a great World Cup so far."
Friday, June 25, 2010
Run-Up Form Matters … In advance of the World Cup, experts were concerned about sides like Italy and France, and sure enough those two power countries are no longer with us. Meanwhile, sides like Germany and Spain had stumbles of their own in the group stage, yet were highly thought of entering the tournament and indeed wound up advancing with some comfort. Actually, look even at the U.S. and its run up – suspect defending but a feisty attitude and the ability to put some balls in the back of the next. That is pretty much what played out for the Americans.
Shock Semifinalist … It has been noticed in multiple places that the path to the semifinals for the U.S. can be considered workable. Regardless of whether it is the U.S. or not, though, that part of the bracket will deliver a surprising semifinalist. Remember, Uruguay only got into the tournament thanks to a playoff win over Costa Rica, while Ghana is without its best player. Then, while South Korea did advance to the semis in 2002, most chalked it up to being at home and some fortunate officiating. The other three semifinalists seem destined to be big names, but one will be a rank outsider.
Never A Breath For The English … First, there was the “embarrassing” tie with the U.S., then the calamitous draw with Algeria. Fabio Capello’s boys did advance through with a solid win over Slovenia, but then get the gift of a match with Germany. If the English should somehow win that match, Argentina likely awaits in the quarterfinals. It’s a bracket that allows English fans everywhere to relive their greatest footballing nightmares. It does add an extra dose of drama for those of us watching from the outside, not sure whether to cheer for familiar players on display every week in the Premier League or hope for a crashing defeat.
How About South America? … All five South American sides have advanced to the knockout stages, a first-time occurrence if the quick reference on the TV is to be believed. While some of the best South American players obviously play in Europe, I’m not sure the American soccer fan has quite caught on to the depth in talent that exists south of the equator. Obviously, Brazil and Argentina have stellar reputations and histories. But, how many would run out to see a Chile/Uruguay South American qualifier like you might a France/Greece matchup? With the next World Cup in Brazil, the South American sides might be setting up for an extended run of dominance.
And The Quarterfinals Will Be … U.S./Uruguay, Germany/Argentina, Netherlands/Brazil, Spain/Paraguay. Would those be fun or what?
Monday, June 21, 2010
The one game I was really looking forward to in the second set of games was Brazil vs. Ivory Coast and it was well worth the wait. Brazil looked good, not great, but good. I think they've improved since their opener against N. Korea and are on pace to peak & play their best soccer during the knock out stages. I stand by my pre-tournament prediction and can say that Brazil will win their 6th World Cup!
Two games out of a guaranteed three; Italy, France and England have failed to impress. Current Cup holders Italy have been the most disappointing team for me. They haven't been able to get a win yet and with their final game against an unpredictable Slovakian team, it will be very interesting to see the result.
Where do I even begin with France? Aside from the recent release of forward Nicolas Anelka and the team protesting to get him back, France has yet to find the back of the net! Just like in 2002, France failed to score and ended up on the first flight back home. I will be very surprised if France advances to the second round. It's possible, but a lot things have to happen and France needs a favorable result against the host nation South Africa in their final group game. Probably not going to happen.
With all the hype of Wayne Rooney and how solid this English side is, it's been all talk with nothing to show for it. They are currently sitting third in Group C and are set to play against group leaders Slovenia. England must win and have Algeria beat the U.S. for any chance of advancing. I really do think it's too late for England and the United States along with Slovenia will advance from this group.
Anything can happen in these last group stage games, and it usually does. This is where it gets really exciting and interesting. Can't wait!
Five more thoughts on the World Cup as we head into the final matches of the group stage …
Take Back Almost Everything I Offered A Week Ago … I knew I should have never complimented the officials, though to be fair I did note controversy would eventually come. And did it ever. That poor man from Mali looked outclassed within the first 90 seconds, and the Frenchman that oversaw the Brazil/Ivory Coast match certainly didn't help improve the overall thoughts of the French at the 2010 Cup. I was more comfortable with my feelings a week ago about South Africa, even though they appear on the verge of being eliminated. And Germany went from favorites to troubled in a short amount of time, yet I still see the Germans as a real threat to advance very deep.
Oh Those French … One overwhelming observation even a casual fan can take away from this World Cup is that almost everyone hates the French. Hard to say if that is a soccer thing or more like an all the time thing, but no one has turned away from the chance to pile on. You do have to admit, the video of the guy throwing his credential at the practice field is priceless. And, as someone who was heartbroken to see Ireland wrongly eliminated by France in the qualifying playoff, I’ll admit this meltdown stuff has been entertaining. Even with some dire predictions heading into the tournament – and a warmup loss to China - it is hard to believe the French have crashed and burned like this.
As For The U.S. … All of the consternation about the officiating aside, could the U.S. have asked for much more than to know that a win over Algeria sends them through to the second round, and quite possibly through as the top team in the group? Yes, the play of the Americans has been suspect at times, in particular the penchant for giving wandering attackers ample room to roam. But, for a country that has bombed out in three of the last five World Cups, U.S. fans should be quite happy with the positioning. Now if Wednesday’s result is something other than a win, U.S. fans will also be quite within their rights to be extremely unhappy. If things go well this week, though, all of a sudden the quarterfinals are not out of the question at all.
And Those Bloody English … The internet is a wonderful thing, because my first reaction to the 0-0 draw against Algeria was to read The Sun and The Daily Mirror to see what the quick reaction was. Just imagine what the reax will be if the English don’t right the ship and go through, after all to the English fans and media the group stage was a mere formality. But no one can have watched a moment of the English over the first 180 minutes and not admit they have problems, and problems well beyond who is in goal. The English look stressed, concerned, nervous and generally a mess. One early goal could change all of that Wednesday, but if it is 0-0 or worse at half, those fancy collars on the English kits might get oh so tight.
Plenty To Still Watch … Sometimes the final matches of the group stage can be a mere formality, with many teams either having advanced to been eliminated. But, with England, the U.S., Germany, Spain and Italy – among others – needing a win to move forward, the final few days of the opening round should be full of drama.
Friday, June 18, 2010
Vuvuzelas: You can’t avoid hearing them; these are the horns being constantly blown throughout the duration of every game played in South Africa. Many find them annoying and there has even been a call to ban them from the tournament altogether. I’d have to disagree…every country you go to has different cultures, and often you can tell from listening to the TV. where a particular game is being played. For example, in Spain, there’s often whistling, England has team based songs, etc. Therefore, I’m not sure what the big fuss is all about. From a player’s perspective, there’s nothing I like more than playing in a loud, energy-packed stadium.
The Jabulani: Every four years, since Adidas has sponsored the tournament, a new ball debuts at each World Cup. The idea is to update it with the newest technology to make for the best soccer. I’ve had the chance to play with all of the balls dating back to 1990. It’s become somewhat of a tradition for the ball to be criticized each tournament for a number of different reasons. In the United States in ’94, the Questra ball was blamed for being too unpredictable, France ’98, people didn’t like that the Tricolore ball was colored (the first of it’s time), the Fevernova was too light-weight from 2002 Japan/Korea, the TeamGeist from Germany ’06 was even lighter, now the ball of 2010: the Jabulani. This ball has drawn complaints for its trajectory, being too light, and for a hard plastic-like feeling. Unfortunately, I have to agree. My club team of the summer recently began playing with the ball and it’s completely unpredictable. Judging aerial balls is a nightmare and playing long balls is a turnover waiting to happen. Short passing and dribbling remain unscathed, but it’s definitely putting a damper on the World Cup. A great example of the ball’s unpredictability lays in the number of goalkeeping howler’s already taken place so far this tournament. Robert Green of England and Faouzi Chaouchi of Algeria both have been guilty of misreading shots coming towards their goal and costing their team valuable points as a result!
Conservative Play: There’s been a lot of fuss about all the draws and low scoring games so far of group play. There are a number of reasons for all of these:
1) It’s a feeling out process: The first game of a country’s World Cup campaign really can set the tone for it’s whole tournament. Coming away with 0 points from a first game immediately puts you in a 3 point whole in the search for qualifying to the knockout rounds. Just like many NBA teams, it’s rare for a team to peak until later on in the tournament.
2) Once again, the Jabulani: Although it has caused two goals via goalkeeping blunders, it’s the offensive play that has been most affected so far this tournament. Taking away the ability to play quality and accurate crosses, driven passes, and long through balls is like taking away the 3-point line or the ability to throw a deep pass in football. Thus, defenses can make the field very compact, disrupting fast-flowing, short passing games that teams like Spain thrive on. Furthermore, many of these teams and players are used to playing with different balls throughout their club seasons. The only major league to have used the Jabulani before this tournament was the Bundesliga. Any guesses where that takes place? Germany, which just so happens to be made up primarily of German National team players. As a result, it’s no surprise that Germany has arguably made the brightest start to this year’s tournament.
3) Match-ups: When Switzerland, ranked 24th in the world, comes up against heavy World Cup favorite and FIFA’s 2nd ranked team in the world Spain, it only makes sense that they play more conservatively. To try and beat Spain at their own game would’ve put them in the loss column, however they packed things in defensively, stayed disciplined, and took their chances (*chance) on the counterattack and won the game 1-0. Another prime example was the 1-1 draw deemed a success by the United States against England. Largely second best throughout the match, Clint Dempsey took a chance from distance, and the United States rode tough defense and luck to a point out of largely the most anticipated game in group play.
There’s a ton of games left in group play, let alone the entire tournament, so it’s too early to read too much into any of the results so far this tournament. The Germans, Dutch, Brazil, Chile, and South Korea have all impressed while countries like Portugal, The Ivory Coast, Spain, Italy, France, and England have thus far failed to live up to the hype. In saying that, I’d caution against ruling out many of those teams. Italy looked anything but a favorite in the Group Stages before winning it all in ’06 and the same can be said about eventual champions Brazil from ’02. So after viewing the first action of the group phase I’ll leave you with a couple more players to watch as you continue taking in the world’s greatest game at the world’s greatest sporting event.
Mesut Ozil-Germany: Silky-smooth and full of creativity, Ozil used his sublime dribbling skills and accurate and penetrating passing to help Germany roll over Australia in South Africa. Ozil is thriving with the absence of Michael Ballack, taking over as the creative hub for Germany’s attack.
Alexis Sanchez-Chile: Explosive and direct are two ways to describe the way Sanchez plays. This dynamic winger showed that he’s got what it takes at the international level in an inspiring performance against Honduras. In the mold of Cristiano Ronaldo, he uses his speed and ferocious shot to catch goalkeepers on their heels.
Park Ji-Sung-South Korea: Hardly a newcomer on the international scene. Park is finally showing why he became Manchester United’s first Korean player. He’s been playing in somewhat of an anonymity after his dazzling display for South Korea in 2002, but he’s finally taken leadership of the team and scored a beautiful goal over Greece in South Korea’s round 1 win.
P.S. Don’t write off Spain yet! If you read my last post, I picked them as my eventual champions, and it wasn’t without reason. I said with a healthy Torres, Fabregas, Xavi, and Iniesta, the Spanish would thrive. With Torres looking ready to start their next match and Fabregas sure to get a chance, I think Spain can still realize their unfathomable potential.
Thursday, June 17, 2010
The South American teams have done well. Uruguay, Chile,Argentina look very good. Brazil is still in a different class even if people are upset that they are not "exciting" enough. Their group is still the toughest though.
Happy for the USA. They played well and were opportunistic to get the goal. Dempsey's goal only continues to prove the point that you cannot score unless you shoot. I hope that Howard will be healthy enough and was very impressed (probably one of the first times ever) with Michael Bradley. He did some great stuff.
Germany put on a quality performance and nobody complained about the ball from their team. Well disciplined and organized. Great goals too.
Serbia and Greece disappointed so far. And for Serbia it only gets harder with Germany next. They need 3 points.
Looking forward to the France vs. Mexico game this afternoon.
Wednesday, June 16, 2010
So far the Cup is off to a very conservative start. It seems many of the teams are playing the first game simply not to lose. Some of the lower ranked teams however, have defended admirably. The only convincing win so far has been Germany over the Australians, but I wasn't impressed with Australia. We'll learn more about the German team as we go along. I'm still eager to see Spain. 1 more day! South Korea was also impressive in their debut.
South Africa's goal was a fantastic way to get things started. An unbelievable goal. Heinze's goal for Argentina was also a thing of beauty. The Ivory Coast has an impressive line-up and looks to be the strongest African team (hopefully they'll survive the most difficult bracket), but Ghana was well organized defensively and you still can't count out the hosts.
The most impressive player so far has been Messi. He didn't score but provided a lot of excitement and created a number of chances. Looking forward to seeing Xavi though. No one can dominate the midfield like he can.
One of the highlights for me has been the commentary/coverage. Bringing in people that have played the game and coached at high levels outside of the US has been a massive improvement. The only bad spot so far was the goal Mexico had disallowed. The commentators missed that entirely, not understanding a simple off-side call. The commentary outside of that has been refreshing. Awesome to see the US vs. England game scored about the same as the NBA finals in domestic coverage. Of course there are still media people with blinders on that just don't get soccer and probably never will, but it's nice to see that everyone else is "getting it." The passion on display throughout the coverage is inspiring.
Friday's game vs. Slovenia is going to be tough. We have to be efficient with our chances to earn the result. I can't wait to see it!
Tuesday, June 15, 2010
After watching most of the groups play their opening games, for me personally they have been a bit stodgy. Teams I thought that would fly out of the gates and be exciting to watch have played a lot more defensive and conservative. It is crucial, especially in the format that the World Cup is played, to get at least one point out of your first game otherwise it is very difficult to move forward to the knock out stages.
I am looking forward to watching Spain start their campaign and I have a feeling that these second and third games in the first round will be a bit more stimulating to watch.
On the United States/England match ... It was obviously a good game, although I think England was the better team. At the end of the day it was a tie and the goalkeeper didn’t play very well. Things happen. The good news is that both teams can still advance. I honestly thought that England could go on and score another goal. We had a couple of good chances and didn’t take them, but I think Robert Green also made a good save on (Jozy) Altidore towards the end that probably redeemed himself a little bit. But, I think if England would have played better, it wouldn’t have been an issue anyway.
England and the US from here ... I think England is going to win the next game and I think America will win their next game. I think they will both win their next two games and England will advance first in the group on goal differential.
Any big surprises yet ... I don’t think there have been any massive shocks yet. Italy disappointed a lot of people by playing very poorly against Paraguay. I was pleased for Ghana. I thought they played really well when they won, 1-0. It has been really exciting … the games have been great and there have been a lot of good contests and some good play.
The individual stars so far ... I thought Lionel Messi looked really good for the first half of the Argentina game. I really liked the Ghana forward who scored the PK, Asamoah Gyan. He looked really lively. And it’s nice to see (Didier) Drogba play today. He’s hurt and he’s not 100%, but it’s great to see the best players in the world playing on the biggest stage.
And on those vuvuzelas ... If people want to come out to Engelmann Field and blow their vuvuzelas all game long and be really annoying to the opposition, I would love them to do that. I have no issue with them at all. I think these guys are paid enough money and play at a good enough level that if they can’t play with a bit of noise, they need to grow up a bit.
Sunday, June 13, 2010
I am sure our more accomplished experts will be checking in with their thoughts following the first weekend shortly, but here are five takeaways from the first three days of the World Cup.
Germany Steals The Early Favorite’s Role … Of the teams that played in the first three days of the tournament, the Germans clearly stole the headlines with a 4-0 win over Australia. Argentina looked very dangerous, also, but only tallied once against Nigeria. Germany, meanwhile, could have gone for six or seven.
South Africa Can Advance … It doesn’t seem to matter who the host is or how unlikely their advancement is, playing at home in the World Cup always seems to mean magic. South Africa should have beaten Mexico in the tournament opener, but will gladly take the tie. Then, the other two teams in the group – France and Uruguay – looked very beatable in playing to a drab 0-0 draw. Should it advance, South Africa would join the 1994 U.S. squad as hosts that most surprisingly moved forward. But, one way or another, every host until now has gone on to the second round.
Referees Solid – So Far … Short of a slightly-harsh red card against Australia, the officiating has been spot-on. Controversy will undoubtedly come at some point in the tournament, but for the first weekend there was little to complain about. And I hand out referee compliments as often as it snows in Miami.
The U.S. Result Against England Was Good, But … No complaints on stealing a point from the England match, but the U.S. will still need a result in each of its final two group contests to advance to the second round. A tie and then a win might be enough, but with Slovenia already claiming three points, the U.S. would be wise to claim a victory Friday.
Now The Stars Come Out … The Netherlands, Brazil, Italy and Spain all make their tournament debuts over the next three days. We’ve yet to see a soccer superpower lose in the first three days of the tournament – will either of these four see their advancement hopes damaged in an unlikely upset?
Wednesday, June 9, 2010
Over the next month, the soccer portion of the UWM Athletic Department will be offering its insights, predictions and reviews of the World Cup, which gets underway Friday. Among those participating in this coverage are head men's soccer coach Chris Whalley and head women's soccer coach Mike Moynihan (video preview above). Women's soccer associate head coach David Nikolic, men's soccer student-athlete Peter Sanger, New Media Assistant and former UWM men's soccer standout Chris Lins, Associate AD-Communications Kevin O'Connor and Assistant SID/Women's Soccer Contact Kevin Conway will also pitch-in with some thoughts. So, check back often for updates, but for now, written previews from some of the panel.
For an even more in-depth (and I might add quite impressive) preview of the next month, see Peter Sanger's extended blog entry here.
Women’s Soccer Coach Mike Moynihan
I think a number of teams could win it. My favorites going in are Brazil, Argentina, Spain and Holland. There will be a surprise team, though, that goes far. You can't rule out the hosts as they typically perform well. I'd love to see another African team emerge as well. They all play attractive soccer and have top class talent.
First Round Match(es) You Are Most Looking Forward To
England vs. U.S., of course. - getting bragging rights over coach Whalley would be brilliant. I’m also looking forward to Nigeria vs. Argentina and Mexico vs. France. The round of 16 is where the real action starts though. June 26th … I can't wait.
Player(s) You Simply Can’t Miss
I'm hoping to see Kaka back in form for Brazil. Messi has been in a class of his own this past year...top player in the world right now, but Argentina is loaded with other talent as well. Higuain led Real Madrid in goals over Ronaldo and was second only to Messi in the entire league. They'll be exciting to watch. Spain has been the best team in the world over the past few years. They are balanced and play brilliantly together. It'll take a special performance, probably from a very defensive counter attacking team to defeat them. Holland is loaded, as well. Hopefully Robben returns from injury to contribute. Van Persie seems to be back in form after his long ankle injury. Sneijder was fantastic for Inter as they won the Champions League. The key for them is can they keep it together as a team. They seem to have more egos than most and it hurts them at crunch time.
I look forward to watching the U.S. You would think they'd be a more defensive team, but they actually have some pretty dynamic attacking players in Donovan, Altidore and Dempsey. I'm hoping they go far - they seem to find ways to win. Unfortunately, I just don't see them being strong enough defensively. They've got very few defenders that can handle opponents 1v1 in isolation, so group organization will be the key...so will Howard. Hopefully he has some of the big time games we've seen him produce for Everton!
Favorite World Cup Memory
I'll never forget watching the U.S. defeat Portugal in the World Cup at some crazy hour in the middle of the night. Hopefully we are destined for more excitement like that.
New Media Assistant/former UWM men’s soccer standout Chris Lins
The Final will be Brazil vs. Spain and, of course, Brazil will win 3-1.
First Round Match(es) You Are Most Looking Forward To
There are only a handful of first round matches that I am looking forward to – Brazil/Ivory Coast, Brazil/Portugal, U.S./England and Netherlands/Cameroon.
Player(s) You Simply Can’t Miss
The players that I look forward to watching will be Lionel Messi from Argentina, Cristiano Ronaldo from Portugal and Kaka from Brazil.
I predict the U.S. will win their group ahead of England but lose in the second round against Ghana.
Favorite World Cup Memory
My favorite World Cup memory would have to be attending the opening ceremony for the 1994 World Cup in Chicago.
Women’s Soccer Associate Head Coach David Nikolic
Spain over France
First Round Match(es) You Are Most Looking Forward To
England/USA, Brazil/Portugal, Brazil/Ivory Coast, France/Mexico, Germany/Serbia
Second round – they’ll finish the group stage with one win, one loss and one tie.
Player(s) You Simply Can’t Miss
Xavi (Spain), Iniesta (Spain), Kaka (Brazil), Ribery (France), Messi (Argentina), Snejder (Netherlands)
Favorite World Cup Memory
1994 World Cup Final – Pasadena, California, July 1994 … 10 rows from the top of the stadium, sitting in the middle of a pack of Brazilians, watching the game with my father and brother.
Associate AD-Communications Kevin O’Connor
It is hard to not pick Brazil and Spain for the final, though I am intrigued by both Argentina and The Netherlands. Like many sides, the Dutch have had some bad news on the injury front. But they remain immensely talented and under-appreciated. For Argentina, the biggest question is the personality/stability/downright loony-tunes nature of coach Diego Maradona. Brazil is, well, Brazil, albeit apparently the Brazilians are angry their team is not playing “the beautiful game.” And with Spain, well their loss to the US in the Confederations Cup semis last year leaves me with some doubts. Italy, England, Portugal and Germany don’t even make the list, though maybe the Italians will win four-straight knockout games on PK’s after 0-0 ties. In the end, I’ll go with Holland and Brazil and the Dutch walking away with the Cup in a 3-2 final thriller.
First Round Match(es) You Are Most Looking Forward To
US-England, of course, though if the U.S. does not defend Wayne Rooney and Peter Crouch could make it very uninteresting in a hurry. I am also intrigued by the opening day. South Africa seems likely to be the first host to not get to the second round, but then they always say the trend is your friend. So if the hosts are to advance, they almost have to get a result against Mexico. France is also in Group A and has had plenty of its own issues, so that whole group could be upside-down by Friday afternoon. I am also eager to watch the Brazil/Portugal/Ivory Coast Group G battle for two spots in the second round. The first games in that group are Tuesday.
I think something different about the U.S. every time I consider it. Sitting at the US/Honduras qualifier last June, I was convinced Bob Bradley would be fired as his team fell behind the Hondurans. Just weeks later, the U.S. was playing for the title in the Confed Cup. Fast-forward to May, and the U.S. looked bad for three halves in friendlies against the Czech Republic and Turkey before looking better for the second half against the Turks and against Australia Saturday. I don’t think they beat England, but I’ll hold my breath and say they get results in the final two group matches to advance. From there, it’s likely a match against Germany (or perhaps an underrated Serbian side), and thus also likely the end of the U.S. stay in South Africa.
Player(s) You Simply Can’t Miss
Lionel Messi and Xavi top my list, but I say don’t miss Wayne Rooney, either. He will either be a star at this World Cup or (again) drive the double-decker England bus into the Thames. Cristiano Ronaldo is also a wild card – a superstar with the weight of his country on his shoulders. Finally, if Holland is to come through the way I predicted above, Robin Van Persie and Arjen Robben must come through.
Favorite World Cup Memory
I’ll give you two. First, Germany/Spain at Soldier Field in 1994, as it was the only one I was fortunate enough to see in person when the World Cup was in the U.S. Second, U.S./Mexico in 2002 – not only did it see the U.S. advance to the quarterfinals but it came at the expense of a hated rival. It really is “the” World Cup memory for a U.S. fan, unless you were alive in 1950, I suppose.
Assistant SID Kevin Conway
I have The Netherlands knocking off Argentina in the World Cup final. The key to that pick, I think will be an upset of Brazil in the quarterfinals. I see both teams coming out of their groups as No. 1's and went with my gut and The Netherlands in the matchup. I don’t think I know enough about soccer to know how bad of a pick that actually is.
First Round Match(es) You Are Most Looking Forward To
I'm excited for the US/England first round game the most. It'll be interesting how both teams deal with their injuries and the winner will have the inside track to win the group. Brazil/Portugal should probably be the best game of group play, though.
I don't think the US can have a worse performance than 2006. Fortunately, the team has a better group situation this time around. I'm a bit subjective, but I think they can hang with and possibly beat England. Based on that timing, with it coming in the first game, they could ride some momentum through a second round upset of (sorry David) Serbia. That said: quarterfinals vs. France.
Player(s) You Simply Can’t Miss
I was REALLY late to the Lionel Messi show. I knew he was good, but did not get on the bandwagon until recently. I'll be excited to see him play. Also, with Thierry Henry possibly coming to MLS, I'm interested to see how good he still is. I've been a fan of his, but I'd like to see a good Henry come stateside, maybe one that can score without his hands (but, hey, worked for Maradona, right?).
Favorite World Cup Memory
Unlike most people around here, I was not a soccer fan until 2000-01. My favorite memory is watching the US/Germany game in the 2002 World Cup. I got up really early to go over to our men's soccer coach's house to watch the game with the SID contact at the time and the rest of the coaching staff. Unfortunately, it was raining cats and dogs and the satellite went out. We ended up going over to another person's house and watching a great game.
Every four years, 32 nations come together, politics are thrown out the window, and soccer reigns supreme. The World Cup is undoubtedly the greatest sporting even in the world. Contrary to many American beliefs, soccer is the most popular sport in the entire world, with the World Cup as its pinnacle. It’s hosted usually in one, but at times in two neighboring countries.
This year South Africa is the host nation, the first African country to host the World Cup. In the three years building up to the tournament, all FIFA-recognized nations go through a qualifying stage based on geographic region. The 32 triumphant teams make up the field for the tournament, always staged in June and July. Those 32 countries are then split into eight groups compiled of four teams each. Group play consists of each team in the group playing the other three members of the group, with three points for a win, one point for a draw and zero points for a loss. The top two teams from each group advance to the round of 16. From here on, the tournament becomes single elimination.
If a team wins its group, it will then play the 2nd place team from another group as its reward for coming in first. Next are the quarterfinals, semifinals, third-place game and, ultimately, the final. The winner earns the title of World Cup Champion - the top country in the world.
Going into each tournament, there’s always a lot of debate as to who is the favorite to win the whole thing. This year, the favorites are Brazil (currently ranked #1 in the FIFA World Rankings) and Spain (2008 European Champions). The next tier of favorites includes Italy (Reigning World Cup Champions), Germany (staunch defense and mental toughness mixed with tons of World Cup experience), France (currently stuttering, but 2006 World Cup Finalists), England (where soccer originated), Argentina (team of FIFA World Player of the Year Lionel Messi) and Holland (creators of the style “total football” - oozing creativity and free-flowing soccer).
My personal pick for this year’s World Cup title has to be Spain. La Furia Roja are reigning European Champions and stacked with talented players. Although they have a penchant for underperforming at the World Cup (zero World Cup titles), I think based on their performance at Euro 2008 mixed with all of their player’s current form with their clubs since then, they have a recipe for success.
I’m also making this prediction based on the assumption that their talismanic striker, Fernando Torres, will be fit for the beginning of the tournament. Torres, along with other key squad members such as Cesc Fabregas and Xavi Hernandez, have experienced a lot of injury problems toward the end of the most recent club season and will be vital to Spain’s success. My guess is the final will be where Spain and Brazil collide, resulting in a final matchup to die for. Both countries play attractive attacking styles that are more than easy on the eye.
The U.S., however, will find itself feeling successful just to get out of its group. It’s been paired with England, Algeria and Slovenia. England will definitely be the favorite going into the tournament, with the U.S. presumably left to battle it out with the other two nations. It would seem a simple task for the U.S. to triumph over lesser-known Algeria and Slovenia on paper, however, none of the games at the World Cup are ever played on paper. Players come to the World Cup full of the pride that comes with wearing your country’s colors and wanting to impress on the grandest stage in all of soccer.
The United States goes into South Africa with a lot of questions, and the answers will be provided starting June 12th with their opening match against England. Will Oguchi Onyewu recover successfully enough to anchor the back line? Does Michael Bradley have enough ability to compete with the best in the middle or the park? Will Jozy Altidore turn potential into goals? And lastly, can Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey combine to provide the U.S. with that little something special that only the great players can do at the highest level?
Unfortunately, I’m not sure if that will end up happening. I’ve been underwhelmed in their performances leading up to the tournament and still find too many holes in the starting 11. However, I’ll let my nationality bias my prediction and say the United States will progress to the round of 16 via finishing second in their group, before bowing out to either Serbia or Germany (Winner of Group D).
Player(s) You Simply Can’t Miss
Every World Cup, stars emerge from many different countries and this is my list, providing one star player from each of the eight groups.
Group A: Giovani Dos Santos (Mexico): Dos Santos is an explosive, left-footed attacker for Mexico. He provides pace, trickery on the ball and an eye for goal. He broke into the first team at the famed club Barcelona at just 17 before an unsuccessful transfer to the English club Tottenham. With the way Mexico plays, he will see a lot of the ball, giving him all the opportunities he needs to shine in South Africa.
Group B: Lionel Messi (Argentina): Messi is currently the best player in the world and is looking to use South Africa to put his name in the talk as one of the greatest ever. Hailed by countryman and coach Maradona (considered one of the top two greatest players of all time) as the greatest Argentine yet, Messi needs to prove that he can replicate his scintillating club form at the international level to justify such claims. Untouchable on the ball, Messi is another left-footed magician with the ball at his feet.
Group C: Steven Gerrard (England): Recently named captain of the Three Lions, Gerrard will be one of the most complete players in this World Cup. As captain of his club, Liverpool, Gerard has shown he possesses a great work-rate, passing range, leadership and the ability to score from distance. He will be a key to England’s run for the title.
Group D: Nemanja Vidic (Serbia): The first defender on my list, Vidic has proven to be one of the best center backs in all of world football with his club Manchester United. He combines size, strength, tackling ability, positional awareness and both defensive and offensive aerial ability for Serbia. He will be their rock at the back at this summer’s World Cup.
Group E: Arjen Robben (Holland/Netherlands): On a team of great short passing, Robben is the Netherlands X-Factor. He provides them with a player who can attack defenders 1v1, with the ability to score and create goals on his own. Left-footed, but often lined up on the right side of midfield, Robben keeps defenders on the backs of their heels with the potential to get to the end-line and serve deadly crosses with his right foot, as well as the ability to cut inside and unleash venomous shots with his left.
Group F: Gianluigi Buffon (Italy): Long considered one of the top two goalkeepers in the game, Buffon is the heart of a rock-solid Italian defense. He was the top goalkeeper at the 2006 World Cup as Italy was crowned champions. He combines great hands, size and athletic ability with unparalleled organization and distribution.
Group G: Luis Fabiano (Brazil): One thing that all the great Brazilian sides of the past have in common is a great center forward spearheading their attack at the World Cup Finals. Fabiano has taken over as the new striker for Brazil this World Cup. He has big shoes to fill, taking over from the likes of Ronaldo, Romario, and most notably, Pele. Fabiano might not be as flashy or widely acclaimed as those aforementioned greats, but he brings great finishing, size, speed and a knack for scoring important goals to a team loaded with talent, but needing goals to get out of this World Cup’s “Group of Death.”
Group H: David Villa (Spain): Villa isn’t the biggest name on this deeply-talented Spain squad, but he most certainly has earned his place in the starting 11. Largely overlooked by showing loyalty and continuing to ply his trade at debt-stricken club Valencia, Villa is perhaps ready to claim the title as world’s greatest striker in this year’s World Cup. Recently transferred to Spanish giants Barcelona for a reported 40 million Euros, Villa will be looking to justify that astronomical price tag while leading Spain to World Cup Glory. Silky smooth on the ball, equal striking ability with both feet, composed finishing and great movement off the ball are what make this forward so great.
Favorite World Cup Memory
Lastly, my favorite World Cup memory was waking up at around 2 a.m. during the summer of 2002 to watch Brazil’s triumph in Japan/South Korea in that year’s World Cup. The combination of Ronaldo, Rivaldo, and Ronaldinho was unbelievable to watch and really pushed me to play that much more to improve to get to where I am today.
Friday, June 4, 2010
Chris Zills is with the team in Arizona. You can find all of his postseason information here.
I will also note that our unofficial Arizona State correspondent/spy - Daron Sutton - did stop by Panther practice yesterday and told me by phone everyone looked rested, ready and confident. While he does work for both us and ASU, I'm pretty sure we have him on our side. He will be at his day job this weekend - the Diamondbacks are at home - but I know he'll be keeping a close eye on things and seeing if he can't squeeze in a few innings.
Meanwhile, back here is Milwaukee, we've enjoyed reading the wide range of coverage on the Panthers. While I won't claim this is a complete list, I've put together some links to some of the articles and online video available.
Jim Lundstrom (who, by the way, works in the SID office!) is featured in the Northwest Indiana Times here.
Colin Fly from the Milwaukee AP branch also checks in with a feature here. You'll probably find this popping up in a number of spots around the country.
There has been other coverage throughout the week in the Journal Sentinel, but here is today's weekend preview from Tom Enlund.
Here is a video preview from the Arizona State perspective. You can find plenty of other Sun Devil info on the site, too.
You can find some additional perspective from the Sheboygan Press here.
Here is something focusing on Dan Bucholz from the Racine Journal Times.
Finally a couple of regional previews, one from Yahoo! Sports and one from Baseball America.