Thursday, July 1, 2010

Five Thoughts Heading Toward The Quarterfinals

Associate AD-Communications Kevin O'Connor checks in with another blog entry as the World Cup heads toward the quarterfinal round.

We’re on to the quarterfinals, with two superstar matchups and two under-the-radar contests. As many have noted, the showdowns between Brazil/Holland (Friday) and Germany/Argentina (Saturday) could qualify as semifinals or even finals matchups. Yet, the Ghana/Uruguay contest has the intrigue of Africa against yet another South American team advancing deep in the tournament. And, the Spain/Paraguay match could be where the eventual champion sits, with Spain still a strong favorite to win the whole deal. Predictions and insights below, with another edition of five thoughts …

Done With Portugal … The list of disappointments at a World Cup is always long, but Portugal has sapped the life out of anyone expecting a talented side to play attractive soccer. In the group stages, they did exactly what an aggravating side does, which is to throttle the minnow of the group while playing for the scoreless draw in its other two contests. Then, while looking dangerous on occasion against the Spanish, did it ever really feel like they were going to equalize? This is the third-ranked team in the world – alright the FIFA rankings are shaky - but they play much more like a side hoping to hang on. If Paraguay plays the defend-and-counter style against Spain in the quarters, you can understand it – in fact it would be suggested and the best chance of winning. But Portugal is better than that, yet spent much of the World Cup looking like they didn’t know it. So maybe they are not better than that.

TV Time … ESPN made some waves by hiring almost all foreign announcers for their coverage of the World Cup. These were good waves, mind you, and it seems the coverage has now become critically acclaimed. In fact, you have to chuckle that the two remaining American soccer experts on the broadcasts – John Harkes and Alexi Lalas – seem to draw the most ire. I can’t disagree with that stance, or with the idea that the rest of the coverage has been spot on. For U.S. fans who watch the Premiere League and Champions League during the regular season, it comes as no surprise that using those matches as a coverage blueprint has developed a successful operation.

You Like Free Agency? … There is much buzz and excitement over the start of NBA free agency, and rightly so if you are a fan of one of the five or six teams with a chance to greatly improve themselves in the next two weeks. But, this window may have nothing on the upcoming transfer parade on the European soccer scene. The offseason always sees plenty of movement within and among leagues, but the month following the World Cup usually takes it to another level. New faces and players have emerged, often claiming big (and sometimes undeserved) contracts with new teams after being seen on the big stage. U.S. fans will be watching closely to see where Landon Donovan lands (I vote no on Manchester City), while also keeping an eye for a move by Michael Bradley to the Premiere League or to another bigger-money European club. There is also come early speculation that Clint Dempsey could follow his now-former coach Roy Hodgson from Fulham to Liverpool.

Speaking Of Bradley (Specifically Bob) … I really don’t think I have a formulated opinion on the comings and goings of Bob Bradley as the U.S. coach. My take is very simple – I just don’t know how much it matters for the next two years. I don’t necessarily assume if he is retained for now that it rules out the possibility of him being let go before the next World Cup. Likewise, if a new coach is named in January and the U.S. struggles in the Gold Cup and early 2014 qualifying, there could be yet another new coach in the pipeline. It does matter who coaches the team by 2013. Until then, I will be much more interested in the development of individual players – something the national team coach has little, if nothing, to do with - than who is drawing up the tactics for a Gold Cup group stage match with Trinidad and Tobago.

Finally, The Picks … For what it is worth, Brazil and Uruguay win Friday, Argentina and Spain win Saturday.