Thursday, June 26, 2014

USA Makes The Knockout Round Again

The USA Men's National Team have qualified for their second straight knockout round for the first time in history. So many "experts" picked against them, some even saying they wouldn't score a goal, though they made short work of the Group of Death by being better than both Ghana and Portugal. They fought hard but lost to Germany 1-0, though thanks to Portugal beating Ghana the US is in and will (most likely) be facing Belgium on Tuesday. Ronaldo scored Portugal's winning goal which sealed the deal. CONCACAF has three teams in the Round of 16. Asia has 0, Africa has 1 (Though Algeria can make it 2). Yet both have more spots in the World Cup...time for a change.

Belgium will be tough, as shown in the last meeting between the two sides where Belgium dominated. We've seen this US team work so hard in this World Cup though, and the game should be a close one. USA will need to do better on the attack than they did against Germany. They did have moments though, particularly in the first half and late in the game with Clint Dempsey almost knocking a header into the net. There is a chance that Jozy Altidore could be back which would help in that department.

A wild fact: USA have finished above England & Italy at two straight World Cups. USA also finished above Italy in 2002 when they made the Quarterfinals. This is some great progress, and nobody can say both the Men's and Women's team doesn't give us a ton of excitement. And in this world cup: Spain, England, Italy, Portugal are all out at the group stage while USA is moving on.

As a side note, the torrential rains in Recife have opened our eyes to the poor drainage and infrastructure in Brazil. Kind of sad they spend so much money on stadiums with so many problems. They should have used fewer stadiums, I'm not quite sure why they needed to use more stadiums than previous hosts have.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

2014 World Cup: Luis Suarez Takes (Another) Bite

The 2014 World Cup had quite an interesting day in more ways than one. First, Costa Rica finished on top of one of two Groups of Death after their draw with England. USA has a slight chance to do the same, but 2nd place seems more likely for them after the late tie with Portugal. Then, Greece beat Ivory Coast with a 91st minute Penalty Kick, as Japan failed to find the net more than once again...thus sending Greece to the Knockout Stage for the first time ever. Costa Rica and Greece will play each other, meaning one will make it to the Quarterfinals for the first time ever.

The biggest news of the day came in the Uruguay-Italy match. Luis Suarez has struck again, this time intentionally biting Giorgio Chiellini. I wonder if Italian flesh tastes as good as Italian food? Yet, the ref didn't give Suarez a red card even as Chiellini pulled down the shoulder of his jersey to show the bite marks. This is the THIRD time Suarez has intentionally bitten a player during a game. We all know FIFA will barely punish him though, because they have no guts and only care about money as evidenced by Qatar getting the 2022 World Cup. 

Twitter exploded with Memes galore...and I instantly thought of that original Pokemon names Raticate when I thought about Suarez and his giant teeth and made my own. 
Suarez said in a statement after that "these things happen." Uh, no they don't, unless its on an episode of The Walking Dead. I love how each time he bites someone he ends up falling to the field in pain, pretending to be hurt to make it seem like he didn't bite a person. Uruguay captain Diego Lugano actually blamed Chiellini. I wish FIFA had the guts to ban Suarez for life and take away all the goals he scored, thus sending England in their place to the round of 16 (on Goal Differential over Italy). They won't, so hopefully Colombia will dominate Uruguay as they should when they meet in the knockout round. Another note: biting someone usually puts you in jail. How come on a sports field its a slap on the wrist? US Women's goalie Hope Solo got into a fist fight with her sister & nephew and promptly got arrested. But why is it okay to assault someone during a game? FIFA (and other leagues) are making it so.

This is my favorite spoof video of the incident, as Suarez gets the role he so desperately desires, the lead in Jaws:

Sunday, June 22, 2014

2014 World Cup: USA-Portugal Draw

USA had it in the palm of their hands. A second straight win for the first time since the 1930 World Cup. Becoming the first team to qualify out of the Group of Death with a 2-1 victory. It was not to be, as in the final 30 seconds of the game, Michael Bradley lost the ball at midfield and soon an open Ronaldo sent it in to Varela for the goal on a sleeping US Defense and a 2-2 draw. Bradley should have booted the ball ahead, but mistakes happen...and they shouldn't have left Ronaldo open anyway.

When the World Cup groups were announced, US fans were hoping for a win over Ghana and a draw against Portugal to put them in good position. It has happened, as the USA are in good shape. But nobody is happy with a draw against Portugal after the way in which it happened after outplaying Portugal all game. A victory mere seconds away ended by some mistakes.

Portugal took the lead on another big mistake 5 minutes into the game when Geoff Cameron's clearance went sideways right to Nani. Something like that doesn't happen very often, but it did tonight. USA stormed back and dominated the game. Ronaldo was a non-factor, doing nothing (though he did dive well, as did Nani). Jermaine Jones tied the game with an outstanding rocker of a goal from distance, easily being one of the goals of the whole World Cup along with Tim Cahill's strike for Australia and the Van Persie header for the Netherlands. USA kept it up and eventually took the lead on a goal from Clint Dempsey, who scored with his belly button. Yes, his belly button.

The draw is a big buzzkill. They miss an opportunity to finish on top of the Group and avoid Belgium in the Knockout Round, as the group winner will likely face Russia or Algeria (South Korea is an outside shot). They also now have to recover from dropping a win. But, the US is still in good shape even though they face their toughest test in Germany. A draw sends them through in 2nd place. If the US loses to Germany, they still may qualify if Ghana and Portugal draw. If Portugal wins, they would most likely qualify based on Goal Differential, unless Portugal blows out Ghana or USA loses a blowout...both seem unlikely to happen. Now if Ghana wins it gets tricky, as Ghana doesn't have as much to make up. Let's not worry about that though. Go out there and get a big win or draw, then it won't matter.

Monday, June 16, 2014

World Cup 2014: John Brooks and USA Stun Ghana

US Soccer
John Brooks Makes US Soccer History
Michelle Akers (1991 Women's World Cup). Shannon MacMillan (Atlanta 1996 Olympics). Landon Donovan (2010 World Cup). Benny Feilhaber (2007 Gold Cup). Carli Lloyd (Beijing 2008 Olympics). Abby Wambach (2011 Women's World Cup). Alex Morgan (London 2012 Olympics). Who would've thought that John Brooks, in just his 5th appearance for the United States National Team, would join that list of US Soccer players to score a late game winning/tying goal in a major tournament? Not many...but it happened, breathing life into what was about to be a poor draw for the USA with games against Portugal and Germany ahead.

It was a game mostly dominated by Ghana. Clint Dempsey scored the sixth fastest goal in World Cup history after 34 seconds. After that, Jozy Altidore went down with a hamstring injury. Ghana took total control, and by the second half it was rare for the US to have any offense. Tim Howard came up with a few big saves, and Ghana sent some shots flying high and wide to keep the 1-0 USA lead. Starting defender Matt Besler left the game with a hamstring bothering him...which led to John Brooks coming in. Ghana finally scored in the 82nd minute, and it looked dire for the US. Then on a corner kick in the 86th minute and a rare chance to score, Brooks headed the ball into the back of the net much like Abby Wambach at the 2011 Women's World Cup. It sent the US up 2-1 and they held on for the win and 3 points, as well as redemption after being eliminated by Ghana in 2006 and 2010.

Many thought Brooks might not even make the squad. But the German-American made it and made a difference. The United States' German coach Jurgen Klinsmann won't be second guessed about that move. Germany has done well to help the USA during this World Cup.

Phew. Losing Altidore hurts, and the United States will miss him. However, Portugal will also be missing some key players. USA will need more possession than they had against Ghana, as you can't imagine Ronaldo missing as many shots as Ghana did.

Watch Abby Wambach lead the "I Believe That We Will Win" chant as the Women's National Team watch party:

World Cup 2014: Can USA Capitalize?

Group G started off with a German Blitzkrieg, as Germany dominated Portugal 4-0. That puts Portugal in an early hole, having a minus 4 Goal Differential which would hurt them if it comes down to a tie for second place. 

Pepe was also sent off the field with a red card, and will be suspended for Portugal's match against the United States on Sunday, which is a bit of a blow to them. There were also some injuries to a few starters, while Ronaldo was pretty much shut down by the Germans. 

That provides a huge opportunity tonight to both the USA and Ghana. Should USA win, they would go into the match against Portugal needing only a draw to set themselves up nicely to get to the Round of 16. One major downside about Portugal getting dominated by Germany would be Portugal will be throwing everything at the US. Even with the team reeling following a big defeat to Germany and some key starters missing, Ronaldo against the inexperienced US defense might provide an opportunity for Portugal. 

First thing's first though, the USA must do something they failed to do in 2006 and 2010...BEAT GHANA. The match airs tonight on ESPN at 6PM ET. 

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

2014 FIFA World Cup Preview

The 2014 FIFA World Cup is here...even if Brazil isn't quite ready with the stadiums. For the 2011 Women's World Cup, I correctly predicted Japan would defeat the USA in the final, which I'm sure makes me one of the few. That probably means I am going to get this completely wrong, but I'll try my hand at the 2014 World Cup.

Group A: 1. Brazil, 2. Croatia, 3. Mexico, 4. Cameroon. This is one of those groups where the 2nd place team could really be anyone after Brazil, who are the odds on favorite to win the group at home, and clearly the most talented of the bunch. Mexico have been struggling, Cameroon is hit-or-miss as is Croatia, though Croatia has a slight talent advantage over Cameroon. On top of their lackluster year, Mexico just lost a starter.

Group B: 1. Spain, 2. Chile, 3. Netherlands, 4. Australia. This group should feature some great match-ups between four capable teams, and Chile could definitely take out the Netherlands, who will need to be on their A game against Chile. Spain should take it, but we've recently seen previous winners falter in the group stage 4 years later (Italy in 2010, France in 2002 both finished last after winning the previous Cup). Australia is good but probably the odd team out. They can still give teams a tough test.

Group C: 1. Colombia, 2. Japan, 3. Ivory Coast, 4. Greece. This just might be the hardest group to pick. All of these games should be exciting, and you won't have any idea which way they'll go. Japan has the technical ability, and with Honda & Kagawa they can get a needed goal at any moment even if they may be weaker in other areas compared to the other three teams. Will seeing their Women's team win the 2011 Women's World Cup be a boost to Japan? Group C will probably be the closest group, with no team being eliminated before the third round of games. Colombia's star Falcao is still recovering from tearing his ACL, so will he be 100%? Many questions in the most exciting group.

Group D: 1. Italy, 2. England, 3. Uruguay, 4. Costa Rica. What a group, featuring three previous World Cup winners (Just Eight countries have won). I like England coming in with lower expectations to take it. They might finally have an underdog mentality, after their arrogance of 4 years ago led to them finishing 2nd behind the USA. Costa Rica shouldn't pose any threat. Italy, England and Uruguay all have their question marks, so it will be fun to watch it play out.

Group E: 1. France, 2. Switzerland, 3. Ecuador, 4. Honduras. After a disaster in South Africa 2010, France should be able to make their comeback in this group, which may be tougher than it looks thanks to an increasingly improved Switzerland and Ecuador playing close to home.

Group F: 1. Argentina, 2. Nigeria, 3. Bosnia & Herzegovina, 4. Iran. Argentina got quite the gift, and should have little trouble finishing on top of the group. Nigeria vs Bosnia should decide the fate of 2nd place, though Iran won't be an easy opponent for anyone and could play spoiler.

Group G: 1. Germany, 2. USA, 3. Portugal, 4. Ghana. It was agonizing to choose between Portugal & USA for 2nd...USA famously beat favorite Portugal at the 2002 World Cup and Portugal never recovered. Will the Americans be able to do it again? First, they'll have to take on Ghana, who eliminated the US in the 2006 & 2010 World Cups. Never before have they had such an important first game. Cristiano Ronaldo is battling an injury, and though he'll be playing, will he be at his full capacity? Jozy Altidore seems to have fallen out of his slump, and him paired with Clint Dempsey may help with the absence of Landon Donovan and his goal scoring ability.

Group H: 1. Belgium, 2. South Korea, 3. Russia, 4. Algeria. Belgium is my dark horse pick for the whole tournament as a potential semi-finalist. South Korea and Russia should clearly battle for 2nd place, and Russia is likely the better team, and South Korea struggled in qualifying before firing their head coach. But we need upsets at the World Cup, so I'm going with South Korea to get that done.

Round of 16: Brazil over Chile. England over Colombia. France over Nigeria. Germany over South Korea. Spain over Croatia. Japan over Italy. Argentina over Switzerland. Belgium over USA.

Quarterfinals: Brazil over England. Germany over France. Spain over Japan. Belgium over Argentina.

Semifinals: Germany over Brazil. Belgium over Spain.

3rd Place: Brazil over Spain. Final: Germany over Belgium. Belgium has given us awesome waffles and fries, which may or may not be swaying my decision to send them so far, especially past Argentina, who very well could win the Cup. I like Germany though to become the first European country to win the World Cup in South America.

Favorites: Germany, Argentina, Brazil, Spain.
Dark Horses: Belgium, Colombia, Italy, England, Netherlands, Japan.