Always looking for an excuse to post this:
Excellent article on the beginnings of MLS here:
Always looking for an excuse to post this:
Excellent article on the beginnings of MLS here:
OK, here's something I can post over here. On February 7, 1998, we attended a Gold Cup match between the U.S. and Costa Rica. Some of the basic facts will bring back some memories.
It was played at the Oakland Coliseum before 36, 240. Both teams had won their first group matches, so the winner of this one would advance to the semi-finals while the loser would be done. (I forget what would have happened if it was a draw.) The lineups:
USA: Brad Friedel, Jeff Agoos, Marcelo Balboa (Preki 69), Alexi Lalas, Eddie Pope (Mike Burns 46), Frankie Hejduk, John Harkes, Cobi Jones, Joe-Max Moore, Eric Wynalda, Roy Wegerle (Brian McBride 63). Coach: Steve Sampson.
Costa Rica: Erick Lonnis, Luis Marín, Austin Berry, Hárold Wallace (Bernard Mullins 82), Mauricio Wright, Luis Arnáez, Wilmer López, Joaquin Guillén, Roy Meyers (Floyd Guthrie 71), Allan Oviedo (Jervis Drummond 65), Paulo Wanchope. Coach: Rolando Villalobos.
Referee: Mohammed Nazri Abdullah (Malaysia).
Eddie Pope scored in the 7th minute. The U.S. took the lead into halftime, but then Oviedo equalized in the 56th minute. Preki entered the match in the 69th minute ... he scored the winner in the 78th minute:
(You'll notice the constant din of the vuvuzelas ... this was a double-header with Mexico in the second match, and they came prepared.)
I never really understood how Preki scored all of those goals. The goal above was copied hundreds of times over the years ... he seemed pretty predictable ... but teams never caught on, I guess, and it was fun to watch him score.
Preki was, and is, an interesting guy. Born Predrag Radosavljević, he was a Serbian who in his early 20s began playing indoor soccer in the U.S., where he became a legend, scoring 389 goals in 370 matches. He played 86 games in England (Everton and Portsmouth), scoring 9 goals. He was one of the original MLS players in 1996, and was MLS MVP twice as well as the top goal scorer twice. He became a U.S. citizen in 1996, by which time he was already in his 30s. He played 28 times for the USA, scoring 4 goals, and appeared in two World Cup matches in 1998. After his playing career, he began coaching, with Chivas USA and Toronto in MLS, and then with Sacramento Republic FC. And as I type this, he is rumored to be in line to manager a team in the English Premier League.
Preki is best known in the U.S. for his goal in the semi-finals of the '98 Gold Cup, which gave the U.S. a 1-0 win over Brazil. The match is famous for the performance of Kasey Keller in goal, and I remember that quite well, but I also remember shouting and screaming when Preki scored in that match.
A few of those U.S. players are working as announcers for this year's Gold Cup. Friedel is the color commentator for the English-language broadcast, while Balboa is working the Spanish-language side. (I tweeted last night that Balboa-in-Spanish seems like a better analyst than Balboa-in-English.) Also, Eric Wynalda is working in the studio.
If I take the title of this blog literally, I'll disappear for three years.
I kinda like having a place to post soccer stuff. I worry, though, that such a move ghettoizes the topic.
The Earthquakes and MLS are in mid-season, and the Gold Cup starts tomorrow. I won't lack for soccer to watch. So for now, I'll leave the future of the blog open-ended.
Meanwhile, there's this:
It is foolish and childish, on the face of it, to affiliate ourselves with anything so insignificant and patently contrived and commercially exploitive as a professional sports team, and the amused superiority and icy scorn that the non-fan directs at the sports nut (I know this look -- I know it by heart) is understandable and almost unanswerable. Almost. What is left out of this calculation, it seems to me, is the business of caring -- caring deeply and passionately, really caring -- which is a capacity or an emotion that has almost gone out of our lives. And so it seems possible that we have come to a time when it no longer matters so much what the caring is about, how frail or foolish is the object of that concern, as long as the feeling itself can be saved. Naivete -- the infantile and ignoble joy that sends a grown man or woman to dancing and shouting with joy in the middle of the night over the haphazardous flight of a distant ball -- seems a small price to pay for such a gift.
-- Roger Angell
Allison McCann at FiveThirtyEight: "The U.S. Is Twice As Likely To Win The World Cup As Japan"
It's interesting that McCann wants us to know that, even though the title of the piece reflects what she shows us, "Things are more even than they seem". If I were a betting man, I'd take Japan, since they are underdogs, probably too much so, and thus are the better bet. The over/under looks to be 2.5, which is a tough call ... under would be 0-0, 1-0, 1-1, and 2-0. All of those seem possible, but so does 2-1.
I have a rooting interest, so I won't care about any of this. I just want the U.S. to win. I don't know enough about the players to make definitive statements. I know Carli Lloyd is important, but I'm not sure why. The switch in formation seems more important to me than any individual player ... Wambach as a late sub is a good idea, and her absence opens up space for various attacking players, which I guess is where Lloyd fits in. I want Alex Morgan to do well mainly because #GoBears. I have complicated thoughts about Hope Solo, but not about her play ... she instills confidence.
So ... USA 2-1 Japan in 120 minutes.
Meanwhile, soccer goes on. Chile won Copa América, and Argentine fans are trashing Messi, who is only the best player on the planet. Next week, the CONCACAF Gold Cup begins. Whether I continue to post regularly on this blog is up in the air. I don't feel like I've got much to say, and the viewer totals are as miniscule as could be ... since an early "high" of 30 views on June 7, there haven't been more than 11 views in any single day, and twice there was only one view.
Matt Yoder at Awful Announcing:
The #1 team for Fox has been J.P. Dellacamera on play-by-play, with Tony DiCicco and Cat Whitehill on color commentary. They make a solid team. J.P. has always been one of the best U.S. soccer play-by-play guys, and as the article notes, he's been around forever. DiCicco can get on my nerves, but his insights are often good, as are Whitehill's, and I like it when Cat says something and, instead of arguing for the sake of arguing, Tony will just say, "I agree with Cat".
The #2 team is Jenn Hildreth and Kyndra de St. Aubin. The most obvious thing about this team is that they are both women ... this is still unusual. They are both solid and seem to have good rapport.
I haven't listened to enough of the Spanish-language guys, but Andres Cantor and Sammy Sadovnik are always good, and Carlos Hermosillo gave me a few laughs when I heard him doing color.
And I don't usually watch pre-and-post-game shows.
I guess the most remarkable thing about the offerings is that there is nothing remarkable. We've reached a point in the U.S. when a major soccer tournament gets the kind of professional treatment it deserves, and we barely notice, because we're getting used to it.
I can imagine many futures where Laura Bassett's name will be reviled. Thankfully, none of those futures appears to be happening. Bassett, a 31-year-old veteran of the game who had a strong World Cup, committed one of those wrong place, wrong time own-goals. Own-goals happen all the time. You pound the grass (er, turf) and move on. But this one was #1 on the Wrong Time Scale.
The outpouring of support for Bassett on Twitter and elsewhere was moving. Bassett has nothing to be ashamed of. Neither does the England team. They went farther than expected. For one day, set aside thoughts about the USA-Japan final, and think positive thoughts about England and Laura Bassett.
Well, I cited Billy Haisley when he was bitching, might as well cite him when he decides things are better now.
America’s pressing was a thing of beauty. There was hardly a single pass our ladies didn’t harry, with nary one German allowed time and space to think about what she wanted to do with the ball before an American rolled up and gently persuaded her to aid the American cause. You can’t do that with old-ass Abby lumbering around. Both USWNT goals, from the (terrible, in no way should it have been a) penalty to Kelley O’Hara’s coup de grâce, originated from dispossessions of the ball in the midfield. It would be an exaggeration to say pressing solved all our problems, but it did mask our biggest one and in doing so, made us immeasurably more dangerous.
Everything I write here, I cribbed from others. I have nothing new. But this blog serves as my memory, if nothing else, so ...
There are two ways to look at this match (of course I know there are more than two, but bear with me). When Julie Johnston committed a foul in the box for a German penalty, it was heartbreaking for a player who has been as good as anyone in the tournament. But the U.S. was actually lucky, because the referee awarded a penalty and a yellow card, when it should have been a red card. If the U.S. had to play the final half-an-hour short-handed, the result might well have been different. Then, when Alex Morgan drew a penalty at the other end of the field, the penalty call was missed ... she was outside the box. The two most crucial referee decisions of the match both went against the Germans.
On the other hand, there's this: the Germans missed their penalty, the Americans made theirs.
And, in the words of the immortal Norberto Longo, dos palabras: Torsten Frings.
Meanwhile, it was a match that "lived up to the hype". The U.S. did everything except score in the first half, in the second half the Germans were much more lively, and the last 30 minutes had everything.
I watch a lot of sporting events alone. I mean, I attend a lot of games, and obviously that's a public participation deal. But I don't usually go to bars, or even friends/family homes. There is something too intimate about really caring who wins or loses, something I don't want to expose to others. So, when the Giants won three World Series on the road, I watched at home by myself.
I'll be at home for USA-Germany. I'll connect with others by following Twitter updates, but mostly I'll be suffering alone. Note I said "suffering" ... clearly, I don't anticipate a U.S. victory. I don't have any inside insights. I just think the Germans are a better team. I don't expect a blowout ... maybe 2-1 to the Germans.
Most people are saying this is the true "final" ... whoever wins will be favored in the final. But that opponent will likely be Japan, the defending champions, so it won't be a pushover.
Meanwhile, if you need further incentive to catch the match, there's this from Allison McCann at FiveThirtyEight:
Kevin Draper: "FIFA has made it clear that they don't really give a shit about the women or teams involved."
There was this, though, from Chile-Peru in a Copa América semi-final match:
Women athletes in these programs are deeply alienated from the federation’s administrative structures. Women athletes in these programs see no future for themselves—not on the pitch, not as coaches, not in any of the structures that govern the game. If they are lucky, they leave their country. Or just make peace with it, stick with a grassroots sports scene, and do something else with their lives.
Many women’s teams have every right to just flat out strike. FIFA’s structures force women’s programs into a deeper part of its sewer—where men are coerced into complicity with FIFA’s corruption through the promise of fame and financial fortune, women are coerced into silence with the threat of being removed from the game altogether.
The more people who stand with these athletes, right now, the better.
If it didn't match the rush of Germany-France, it certainly pleased fans of the USA. I'll agree with those pundits who noted the Americans' strategy worked, despite the loss of Rapinoe and Holiday, because of a third absence, that of Abby Wambach. Their pressing was a joy to behold ... for the first half and much of the second, the U.S. tirelessly hounded the Chinese whenever and wherever they had the ball, never giving China a chance to mount any significant threats. Often, when a team scores a goal, the commentators will say that you could see it coming, and in this case, the cliche was true. The U.S. was deserved winners, playing their best game of the Cup so far.
What to do about Germany? We get to rest a bit, but U.S. coach Jill Ellis is already planning the strategy for the Germans. Based on what France was able to accomplish, it seems clear Ellis will opt for more speed, which works well with Rapinoe's return, and which should mean that Wambach starts on the bench.
Meanwhile, from Associated Press, "Players Cite Blisters, Turf Burns as Artificial Surface Remains WWC Issue".
Finally, while all of the above was going on, Argentina and Colombia played a very good match in Copa América. There's an abundance of soccer right now.
A match for the ages. No talk about FIFA (although it couldn't have been easy playing 120 minutes on that turf), no thoughts to Chile and Copa América, not even much thinking about the USA-China match to follow. Just two teams playing entertaining soccer until they started dropping like flies.
I don't how a fan of either team could stand it. Well, I do understand, I've been there. But this time, I was a neutral, and I could watch on the literal edge of my seat without worrying that life would end if the result went differently than I'd wanted. Perhaps I sided ever so slightly for France ... Germany has worn down so many teams over the years ... but when it ended, the result was fair, or as fair as any match left to penalties can be.
And ... OK, I did think a bit about the USA. If they get past China in 90 minutes, they will be more rested than the Germans next week. Heck, Rapinoe and Holiday will be VERY rested.
But for another half hour, as I await China-USA, I can think back on the best match of this Cup so far.
Today it gets serious. First, Germany and France. France is one of the top three teams in the tournament. Unfortunately for them, Germany is probably the top team. Still, it has the makings of being the best match of the Cup so far. Then, the USA goes against China, without Rapinoe and Holiday. I think they will win, I don't expect it to be a blowout, and then they'll face the winner of GER-FRA, which will be the big test.
And yet, you could say the WWC has been overshadowed once again by Copa América, this time for something bizarre. In the match between Chile and Uruguay, Chilean Gonzalo Jara figured out a way to get inside Uruguay's Edinson Cavani, who was already carrying a yellow card.
Chile went on to beat the undermanned Uruguayans.
Laurent Dubois at Sports Illustrated:
The debate over turf is important, however, as a symptom of something much larger: the ongoing inequalities in support for women’s and men’s soccer programs globally. The artificial turf is a metaphor, a very visible and inescapable reminder many ways in which institutional forces continue to hold back the development of the women’s game, quite literally impacting its most brilliant and inspiring players
Billy Haisley for Deadspin:
With more attention brought to the sport after every Olympics and World Cup, there are now teams from all over who have been groomed their whole sporting lives to compete against the world’s best. Japan’s success has probably been the biggest marker of this transition, but even more subtle is the presence and performance of teams like the Netherlands, Spain, and even Colombia in this tournament.
What these nations newer to the big stage benefit from that the U.S. doesn’t is a cultural tradition of soccer at the highest men’s level. Because of America’s early dominance in the sport and our financial muscle, we've been able to make what amounts to the strongest American players possible. The U.S. is very familiar with training athletes to maximize their physical abilities, giving us edges in strength, speed, and endurance that few have been able to match.
We’re now seeing now, though, is that soccer-specific institutional knowledge can erase much of that physical advantage in just a generation or two. Nations like Brazil and Spain may not put as much time, effort, or money in women’s soccer as they could, but because the coaches and players grow up in an environment where soccer tactics are part of the everyday sporting conversation, and sun-up to sun-down street games that hone one-touch passing skills and close control are an everyday occurrence, those girls are being educated on a completely different level—one that prepares them to flick and flit their way past bigger, faster, and stronger girls with the techniques and tactics that win soccer games.
The USA is through to the quarterfinals, where they will play China on Friday. I agree with many pundits who think the U.S. hasn't shown much yet, but results are results. Defending champs Japan should beat the Netherlands in the final round-of-16 match, which means China will arguably be the worst team still remaining. The U.S. should beat them, but they'll be without Rapinoe and Holiday, which matters.
It was a day for Brazil.
Marta's World Cup is done. Australia upset Brazil 1-0. The Australian goal was the first Brazil had allowed in the Cup. What seems more important to me is that Brazil leaves having scored only four goals in four matches.
Meanwhile, in Copa América, the Brazilian men's team took care of Venezuela, 2-1. They played without their biggest star, the suspended Neymar.
Other things happened ... probably the best is that host Canada is still alive in the World Cup. But Brazil was the story.
I don't know about the rest of the world, but here, there is only one story: USA-Colombia.
And when it comes to women's soccer, U.S. fans tend to take an American victory for granted. And indeed, the USA has made the semifinals in every Women's World Cup in history. But the U.S. hasn't won a World Cup since 1999, and nothing is guaranteed.
Having said that ... USA 2-0 Colombia.
Those of you who are reading, thanks! I'm getting 1-3 views per day :-).
Yesterday was my birthday, and we had dinner at Juan's Place, as is our custom. When I saw Eddie, who often works our table, I said, "Fútbol, fútbol, y más fútbol." He replied by saying there is too much. WWC, Copa América, U-21, U-20, MLS ... we used to complain there wasn't enough to watch, now there's more than we could possibly see.
I spent a lot of time with family for my birthday, and so, despite there being so much to watch, all I saw was a bit of Germany-Sweden and a bit more of the Earthquakes win over Seattle.
And it won't slow down tomorrow. I feel like I've done this more than once, but here is a sampling of what's on my TV tomorrow:
The matches that most interest me are the two Brazil matches (vs. Australia in the WWC, and vs. Venezuela in Copa América) and Canada-Switzerland in the WWC. I think Brazil and Canada will prevail for the women, but I don't know what a Neymar-less Brazil will accomplish in Copa América.
Vivek Chaudhary, "Brazil World Cup stadiums symbol of tournament's dubious legacy".
The knockout stage begins!
Things look good for the USA because they have a relatively easy path for awhile. They haven't played particularly well, but they have time to get where they need to be.
Germany-Sweden. Germany does not have an easy path. Sweden beat them only three months ago. On the other hand, 10-0. The Germans have won two of the last three Cups, including a finals win over Sweden in 2003. Germany is favored, and they should be, but Sweden could pull the upset.
China-Cameroon. These are two of the lesser teams remaining in the tournament. Watch for Gaelle Enganamouit. I have no idea who wins this one, but I predict the winner will lose in the next round.
The USA plays Colombia on Monday. The Colombians are the worst team still remaining, and they'll be without suspended first-team keeper Sandra Sepulveda. I told you the Americans have an easy path.
Two-and-a-half weeks into the resurrection of this blog, and I'm still unsure what to do with it. In theory, it's me giving the Women's World Cup its due. I don't have the same obsessive attachment to this event that I do for the men, and the blog suffers. On the other hand, writing helps me think, so I'm spending more time on the WWC than I usually do. I even got a comment one day, from someone hoping I'd continue into the Gold Cup.
Of course, there's no need to wait that long ... Copa América is just one of many current tournaments grabbing my attention (Colombia's 1-0 over Brazil today was a feisty, entertaining affair, although James vs. Neymar didn't turn out to be quite the deal we had hoped ... Neymar got the worst of it, first with a yellow card that meant he'd miss the next match, and then an apparent red card after the match ... I'm writing this just minutes after the conclusion, and I'm not sure what happened yet.)
This blog demands a personal touch, because there are so many other places to get basic information and astute analysis. But I'm still thinking about Neymar.
The group stage ended today, and eight teams were eliminated: Ecuador, the Ivory Coast, Mexico, Nigeria, Spain, Costa Rica, New Zealand, and Thailand. The knockout stage begins on Saturday with Germany-Sweden and China-Cameroon. The USA plays Colombia on Monday.
Meanwhile, tomorrow offers the following viewing possibilities:
Obviously a lot going on, yesterday and today, and just as obviously, I'm behind. The Copa América isn't helping, nor is the U-20 World Cup or the Euro U-21s. There is a lot of soccer going on right now.
Here's the best example. If you enjoy watching Brazilian soccer, today gives you several opportunities. The women's team take on Costa Rica in the World Cup. The men's team go against Colombia in the Copa América. And the Brazil U-20s battle Uruguay in the U-20 World Cup.
That's three matches featuring versions of the Brazilian national team ... in one day.
But the main reason I'm behind over here is that that Warriors took over most of my sports energy the last week or so. I wrote about this on my main blog:
There were four World Cup matches, two in the Copa América, and some Men's World Cup qualifiers. One match stood above the others, Chile-Mexico in the Copa. This is a good place to see all six of the goals in the 3-3 draw, plus you get to hear Ray Hudson screaming and babbling as only he can (the video clips for some reason are not in chronological order):
In the WWC, both Group A matches ended in draws, so Canada and China are through, the Netherlands are well placed in the "best 3rd-place race", and New Zealand goes home. In Group B, the expected teams coasted. Thus, Germany and Norway advance. Thailand has a slim chance in the 3rd-place race, and the Ivory Coast goes home winless, having been outscored 16-3.
Now it's the Americans turn. The USA faces Nigeria, and a win sends the team through. They are currently atop the group, and could still advance even if they lose, but Nigeria is unlikely to win. Meanwhile, Australia advances with a win or draw against Sweden, while the Swedes need a win. (Again, there's always the third-place route.)
Finally, Kate Fagan wrote an excellent piece for ESPN:
Think about the subliminal message here: Being a woman -- or even like a woman -- is essentially a disadvantage. And being "like a man" is supposedly so advantageous that FIFA has created a policy to expose any female athlete deemed "too manly."
Today's viewing is made difficult because the USA-Nigeria match begins at 5:00, but Argentina-Uruguay in Copa América begins at 4:30. I'll probably take in half-an-hour of Messi, then switch to the USA.
OK, here's how today can play out. Keep in mind, it's all in real time ... each batch of two matches in a group will be played simultaneously, and you can be certain all of the coaches will know what's going on elsewhere. Also keep in mind that while the top two in a group will advance to the knockout rounds, the top four 3rd-place teams will also advance, so the final group of 16 will not be clear for awhile.
First up today will be Group B. Norway is very likely to beat Ivory Coast, who will leave the tournament with three losses. I'm simplifying here, but that's an easy place to make a prediction: Norway over Ivory Coast. That will leave Norway with 7 points, which will guarantee them a spot in the knockouts. The only question will be if they finish first or second in the group. Just as easy to predict is the other Group B match: Germany will beat Thailand. The Germans have a 6-goal lead over Norway in Goal Differential, so it is highly unlikely that Group B will be anything other than Germany first, Norway second, both advancing.
This takes a lot of the suspense out of the Group B matches, although obviously anything is possible. The key to watch from this group is Thailand-Germany. Thailand's chances of advancing are almost certain to be decided on goal differential. They will have 3 points, which might be enough for them to advance. But their current GD of -3 is worse than any other team with 3 points. So Thailand needs to keep their match with Germany close, or they are unlikely to go any further.
Group A later in the day is more interesting. Here's how the table looks after two matches:
Host Canada takes on the Netherlands. A win will give them the group ... that part is simple. If they lose (they are favored), their 4 points might still be enough to get them through, even as a 3rd-place team. China-New Zealand also has a simple component: New Zealand must win or they are out. I don't expect them to win, which will give China 6 points and put them through.
So Canada-Netherlands is the key match here. I'm guessing this group will send three teams to the knockouts, with New Zealand going home. But let's say New Zealand scores an early goal. The table will look like this:
So every goal scored in this group will change things, and it will be the most interesting to watch of the two groups today.
Only have time for a quickie here ... been away all weekend. I'll try to get something more substantial posted tomorrow morning.
Suffice to say that the most loony part of any tournament is upon us: the final matches of group play. The key is the "live table". Take the first matches on Monday, Group B, both matches played simultaneously. As of now, the table is:
Ivory Coast takes on Norway, Thailand goes against Germany. Every goal scored will have an impact on the final standings for the group. Additionally, the best 3rd-place teams will advance into the knockout rounds. So after tomorrow, two teams will know they have advanced, one team will know they have not, and a fourth team will have to wait and see.
It only gets "worse".
Yesterday, there were four Women's World Cup matches, the opening match in Copa América, two Men's World Cup qualifier, three round-of-16 matches in the Men's U-20 World Cup, and a friendly between the men's national teams of Spain and Costa Rica. And that's just the matches I could watch legally. Toss in Game 4 of the NBA Finals, and it's a wonder I ever left the house.
Today? Four more WWC matches, including USA-Sweden, five UEFA Euro qualifiers, a Copa América match featuring Mexico, and a Men's World Cup qualifier.
Of course, I pick and choose. Today, my must-watch match is USA-Sweden, and two other WWC matches (Australia-Nigeria and Japan-Cameroon) will get as much attention as I have time for.
I'll be on the road this weekend and will miss everything until the Warriors on Sunday evening. At least the WWC takes Sunday off.
Boo hoo, I know.
Sweden coach Pia Sundhage, former USA coach, decided to make some less-than-complimentary remarks about a few of the players she once coached. There seems to be no reason for this, and the only possible result is likely that she's fired up the Americans. My prediction is a win for the U.S.
For a real boo hoo, here's an article from ESPN:
With Brazil yet to play, it's too early to call anything the top moment(s) of the day. But Carlos Hermosillo, the legendary Mexican player, was doing color commentary alongside Andrés Cantor for Colombia-Mexico today for Telemundo, and it was quite fun listening to him root for the Mexicans. While Cantor, who is Argentine and who moved to the U.S. in his teens, knows who his audience is (I appreciate that Spanish-speaking fans from all parts of the globe are tuning in, but I'm guessing the demographics are largely Mexican and Mexican-American, and the Mexican national team is regularly featured on the Spanish-language channels), he's a professional above all else. So you know by his voice that he's rooting for the U.S. or Argentina or even Mexico, but his famous goal calls are given out equally (today's golazo by Colombian Daniela Montoya got the full Cantor), and he at least pretends to neutrality. Not so with Carlos ... my favorite was when he blurted out "¡Pégale!" when the ball reached the feet of a Mexican player inside the box. Sometimes it's annoying when the U.S. announcers focus too much on the American team, but for some reason, I found Hermosillo kinda charming.
Just when I think it is no longer necessary to point out how much access we now have in the U.S. for televised soccer compared to the not-so-long-ago past, the possibilities explode once again.
Just we start settling into the 2015 Women's World Cup, here comes the 2015 Copa América, the primary competition for national teams in South America. A total of 26 matches involving the ten South American teams, along with invitees Mexico and Jamaica, will compete in Chile between June 11 and July 4. Perennial powerhouses Brazil and Argentina ... defending champions Uruguay ... players like Alexis Sánchez, Lionel Messi, Neymar, James Rodríguez ... outside of the World Cup, this is the most important tournament the South American national teams will play in.
And, need I say it? Every match will be broadcast live in the U.S. on the beIN network.
What does this mean, specifically? Take this Friday. There will be four Women's World Cup matches, including USA-Sweden. There will be a Copa América match between Mexico and Bolivia. There will be a Men's World Cup qualifying match between Guatemala and Bermuda. There will be five qualifying matches for the UEFA European Championship. And there will be at least five other matches at these levels where I don't think they will be on U.S. TV, but these days, who knows?
What will I watch tomorrow? There are four Cup matches, with two taking place simultaneously (and two Round-of-16 U-20 World Cup matches as well). Mexico and Spain will be playing at the same time, and I'll probably opt for Mexico, since that's the match which is easiest for me to watch in Spanish. If you only watched one match tomorrow, Brazil plays in the last match of the day, and they have Marta.
Just as the Cup itself threatened to be overwhelmed by recent events regarding FIFA, so today's debut for the USA team threatens to be overwhelmed by the continuing story of Hope Solo's arrest a year ago. The latest turmoil sprouted upon the appearance of an article on the ESPN website:
The timing of this article is ... well, timely, if you are ESPN and you don't have the TV rights to the World Cup.
But Fox, which does have the rights, hasn't exactly covered themselves in glory yet. Awful Announcing had this:
Their piece drew on this, from 32 Flags:
[Heather] Mitts said,
“I’m the type of person where, I don't care what you do off the field, as long as you come and you bring it when you're on the field and you're a good teammate on the field. Unless it affects the team. And there have been some times where…I would get angry because I just feel like [Solo] was being somewhat selfish. But, you know what, the team has looked past it. I do think she has made changes that are necessary and that helped the team to become even closer. This is the closest that I’ve ever seen any team with Hope including all the players. And I think that says a lot about the success this team is going to have at this World Cup.”
The “I don't care what you do off the field” explanation would not have been allowed if a former NFL player said that about Ray Rice last year and it really shouldn't be allowed here. Is there a double standard? It certainly seems like it.
So far, the FIFA scandals haven't impacted the Cup very much (the temperatures on the turf are another story, though). I'm guessing the USA beats Australia, maybe Solo gets a clean sheet even, Fox will quit talking about it, and the whole story will go on the back burner until the Cup has finished.
The day's action is still going on as I type this, but why wait? Germany leads the Ivory Coast 5-0 at half time.
Once again, I question the format, wherein 16 of the 24 teams advance to the knockout phase. In both matches today (the earlier one was Norway 4-0 Thailand), the favored team won by a large margin. The announcers frequently commented that the losing teams might be wasting time, which would seem counter-productive. But since goal differential is a tie-breaker, and since 4 of the 6 third-place teams will advance, the weaker teams need to maintain as reasonable a goal differential as possible. A team like the Ivory Coast would much rather lose 5-0 than 8-2, so their strategy will be to drain all life out of the match and wait for their game against Thailand.
I'll note the following without comment: several reports claimed that the on-field temperature on the artificial turf yesterday reached 120 degrees Fahrenheit.
USA tomorrow. Warriors tonight.
Today was a reminder that one can't always compare two brands of soccer as if they were identical. The day began with the UEFA Champions League final between Barcelona and Juventus, then continued with the opening match of the 2015 Women's World Cup, between host Canada and China. The first match was better than the second, and no, I'm not saying that the women's game is "worse". But I once again noted that, all else being equal, club soccer is "better" than national-team soccer. Some of this is because clubs work together all year long, while national teams spend much less time as a group. But ... and I can't find where I read this first, but it certainly didn't begin with any insights of my own ... club teams are better because if your club has an area that needs improvement, you can fill that need from anywhere in the world, depending of course on how much money you have. (Money is not a problem for Barcelona ... they can go after any player they want.) But if your national team has an area that needs improvement, your pool of players to fill that need is restricted to people from your country. (OK, everyone manages to fudge this a little, but the basic concept is there.) So Barcelona increased their firepower this season by signing Uruguayan star Luis Suárez to play alongside Argentine Leo Messi and Brazilian Neymar. Meanwhile, Canada's women's national team increased their firepower by ... well, to be honest, I don't know enough about their national team to know what they needed or how they filled it. But one thing they didn't do is go to South America to get better players.
OK, Barcelona and Juventus have better players than Canada and China. The latter were playing in a World Cup, which certainly ups the ante, but the former were playing in the biggest club tournament in the world. So when I say I preferred the Champions League match to the World Cup match, that's mostly what I mean: Barcelona, as a team, are more fun to watch than just about anyone this side of the Golden State Warriors.
I predicted Barca would win, 3-1, and they did, although it would have been 4-1 if the referees hadn't screwed up. Juventus played hard, and the contrast in styles between the two teams was interesting, but I'd be lying if I said I didn't prefer how Barcelona plays.
As for Canada and China, I think a flaw in the "16 teams out of 24 advance" system was on display, although I could be wrong. At one point when it was still 0-0 (as it was for 90 minutes), one of the announcers pointed out that China didn't need to win. This meant the match was like Barcelona-Juventus if the Italians had bunkered down, which they did not. Canada couldn't break down China's park-the-bus mentality, and the "contrast in styles" mostly lacked for aesthetic interest. The U.S. announcers were fine, but they had what I thought was an odd focus on the Canadians. It wasn't like when the U.S. plays and the announcers become homers, and it's not like the Chinese invited much in the way of complex analysis. But the entire match was presented as "what will Canada do to win this game?"
A friend wondered why I wasn't listening to the Spanish announcers, which was a good question, so I switched over to Telemundo, which meant I got to hear Andres Cantor give his first GOOOOL call of the tournament.
Meanwhile, at halftime of Canada-China, I switched channels to watch American Pharoah win the Triple Crown. After all of the day's action, I still had Telemundo on the screen, and at one point, I looked up to see a news bulletin that (I think) said "Mexican Jockey Rides Triple Crown Winner". Everyone has their priorities.
Finally, New Zealand and the Netherlands finish off today's World Cup action, but I don't get the channel on which it is being shown, and I'm a bit too fried to hunt down a stream. So I'll watch Orphan Black.
Tomorrow marks the beginning of the 2015 Women's World Cup. I admit in advance that my knowledge of the women's game is limited, and I won't be writing nearly as much about this Cup as I did for Brazil '14. I'll try to hunt down good links, and I'll offer whatever "expertise" I can.
I'll start with this, from FiveThirtyEight:
First off, there are 24 teams, which is not a good number, IMO, because there is still a need to get the number of teams down to 16 for the knockout stages. This means 2/3 of the teams will advance to that stage, which is too many. No one will care if the matches are good, of course, and this pretty much holds no matter what aspect of the Cup is on your mind. Ridiculous artificial turf? Won't matter if the matches are good. FIFA is corrupt? Won't matter if the matches are good. A third-place team in a four-team group can advance to the next round? Won't matter if the matches are good.
The FiveThirtyEight article is based on the running of 20,000 simulations. It's not the place to go for an analysis of the teams and the players ... I'll get to that in a bit. This is just about who is going to advance.
According to their chart, the USA has a 65% chance of winning their group, and a 96% chance of advancing to the knockout round. Defending champions Japan have even better predicted odds (79% and 99.6%), but this reflects the weaker teams in their group more than it does dominance compared to the USA. For instance, Ecuador, also in Japan's group, is given less than 10% of a chance of advancing.
ESPN does a very good job with their soccer coverage, and they look to keep up that good work on the ESPN FC website. Here is the dedicated WWC page:
If you want a quick idea of which players to watch, note the three who are pictured on the front page (at least as I look ... perhaps it's different elsewhere): Alex Morgan (USA), Marta (Brazil), and Christine Sinclair (Canada). Marta is the amazing one. First off, she's probably the greatest women's soccer player of all time. Second, she has won a bazillion awards over the years. Finally, as Graham Parker noted when the website named Marta the top player in the tournament, she's only 29. Maybe entering the downhill slide, but honestly, with all she's done, I thought she was much older. (For comparison, U.S. icon Abby Wambach is 35.)
Some Americans may think the U.S. rises far above the rest of the world in women's soccer. This was once true. But they haven't won the World Cup since 1999. And while there are 3 Americans on the ESPN list of the top 10 players in the Cup, it's important to note it's "only" 3 players. Marta's the best, of course, but here are the other non-USA players on that top ten list: Veronica Boquete (Spain), Sinclair, Lotta Schelin (Sweden), Louisa Necib (France), Dzsenifer Marozsan (Germany), and Eugenie Le Sommer (France).
I think it's odd that there are no players from the defending champion Japanese team.
If you are looking for matches on TV, I highly recommend the great Live Soccer TV. I'll also note that when I give a time for an event, I'm talking Pacific time.
The Cup begins at 3:00 Saturday, with host Canada taking on China. Canada will be heavily favored. Then, at 6:00, New Zealand takes on the Netherlands, who have something to prove after their men's team fell so pathetically to the USA today.
"JP Dellacamera, Cat Whitehill and Tony DiCicco will announce all of the USWNT's group games." It's a good group, and DiCicco brings a lot of knowledge to the table. As the head coach of the last U.S. team to win the Cup (1999), he commands authority. But is it just me, or does DiCicco sometimes sound like he is taking credit for good stuff on the field in 2015, when he hasn't been the national team's coach since that '99 win?
I got a request to say something about the mess that is FIFA, and realized, with the Women's World Cup coming very soon, I should re-open this blog.
I hate to start on a negative note, but there are many things my posts in the upcoming month or so will not be. I'm about to say a few words about FIFA, but mostly, I'll just offer some links, because I don't have much to add. Also, I will be following the Women's World Cup and posting about it, but I can't claim to have much specialized knowledge about the women's game. Like most American soccer fans (heck, most Americans, period), I pay close attention to the U.S. team, especially during major competitions. I don't often watch women's league play ... as I've noted elsewhere, there is such a glut of soccer available nowadays that I can't watch it all, the closest NWSL team to me is more than 600 miles away in Portland, and usually, an NWSL match will be fairly low on the ladder of which matches to watch on any given day. For instance, here is what I can watch today:
Two MLS matches, a Serie A match, an U-20 Men's World Cup match, the final match in the current Mexican season, a Brazilian league match, and a match in the Toulon tournament.
If I want to watch the NWSL match between Sky Blue and Houston, I can do so on YouTube. But it's not going to be my top priority.
Still, I do watch the Women's World Cup, if not with the fanaticism of the men's version. I think the women's game deserves more attention, and I've been remiss in not posting about past WWC. (The first, and so far only, time I wrote about soccer for publication was a series of pieces for the Bay Guardian about the beginning of the WUSA, the short-lived women's league that sprouted after the 1999 WWC.)
As for FIFA ... it is a corrupt organization. It has been corrupt for a long time (I'm tempted to say "forever" but I don't feel like looking it up ... I'm reminded of the Bernie Mac routine where he asks a convict how long he's been in jail. "Ever" is the reply. Bernie notes that you know it's a long time if you take the "for" off).
Here's a story that reflects how FIFA and its leader, Sepp Blatter, works. After winning re-election in 2011 as FIFA president, in the face of accusations of corruption regarding the awarding of the 2018 and 2022 World Cups to Russia and Qatar, Blatter promised to move forward with necessary reforms. His choice for the man to lead such reform? "The Ivy League's favorite war criminal", Henry Kissinger.
As Dave Zirin has said, "The idea of being shocked about bribery and racketeering at FIFA is like being shocked about jumping into a pool and finding yourself wet."
Here are some links to some interesting recent pieces on FIFA.
Down Goes FIFA! Down Goes FIFA! (Dave Zirin)
The Other FIFA Scandal: Slave Labor (Meredith Clark)
I Hate FIFA More Than You Do, a poem (Jennifer Doyle)
ABC calls Rio "city of dreams." I met many in Rio whose "dream" was not to be forcibly removed from their home for the World Cup. … I met a lot of people there who dreamed of being able to gather peaceably in protest without being gassed.
-- Dave Zirin, Twitter
One thing I know for sure about being a fan is this: it is not a vicarious pleasure, despite all appearances to the contrary, and those who say that they would rather do than watch are missing the point.... When there is some kind of triumph, the pleasure does not radiate from the players outwards until it reaches the likes of us at the back of the terraces in a pale and diminished form; our fun is not a watery version of the team's fun ... The joy we feel on occasions like this is not a celebration of others' good fortune, but a celebration of our own; and when there is a disastrous defeat the sorrow that engulfs us is, in effect, self-pity, and anyone who wishes to understand how football is consumed must realise this above all things.
--Nick Hornby, Fever Pitch
It was a fitting final for a very good World Cup. Despite the long goal drought, the match was always interesting. Germany dominated possession … you could say they dominated the match, but it wasn’t like that, because the best chances fell to Argentina. Hard to explain, for the Germans got off their share of shots, a good portion of them on target, and Romero didn’t have a great game in goal for the Argentines … not bad, not good, just average. But I can’t think of a single German shot that made me jump out of my seat until the winner. Meanwhile, Argentina took turns missing fairly easy chances: Higuaín, Messi, Palacio. For me, the key stat was this: while Argentina only had 36% of possession, their 10 shots were equal to Germany’s total. But 9 of Argentina’s shots were off target, and one was blocked. Not a single shot on target.
The goal was a beauty, Schürrle with a great assist and Götze putting it away. I was rooting for Argentina, but the end was fitting. Germany was the best team in the tournament.
I admit I was a bit pissed off at what I saw as Neuer’s too-dangerous destruction of Higuaín on that one ball, but in the end, it didn’t matter.
One thing to note: Messi had a decent game, and he had a good World Cup. People wanted him to have an earth-shattering tournament, wanted him to overwhelm the Germans in the final, and that didn’t happen. He wasn’t as good as we’ve seen him in the past. So people will try to tell you he was poor in the final, poor in the Cup. They are full of shit. He was not the best player in this World Cup, but he was good. If you are looking for a goat, look somewhere else. I’m not sure I would have given him the Golden Ball, and I know he would give it back in a second for a World Cup win. But the award is a nice recognition, and James Rodríguez has a long career ahead of him.
For those of you who popped in, as you always do every four years, I hope you enjoyed the tournament, and I hope you take in a match or two between now and 2018. For those of you who only surfaced to be haters, go fuck yourself.
For the rest of us, who will be watching soccer again very soon: James Rodríguez is 23 years old.
As is custom here, I’ll have one last post to close off the World Cup blog for another four years.
If I’m this tired after a month of watching the World Cup, I can only imagine how Lionel Messi feels.
Even for a seasoned sports fan, the World Cup can be a bit much if you let it overwhelm you. By “overwhelm”, I mean “trying to watch every match, even when two are going on at the same time, even when it’s the 3rd-place game that no one cares about”. A part of me is ready to return to reality.
But there is something comforting about just taking a month off. For one thing, you realize it is a privilege to be able to do it at all. Without the sweet tolerance of family and friends, it’s not easy, not even possible, to indulge in the World Cup, unless you are willing to cut yourself entirely from everything that isn’t the tournament.
Part of the comfort comes from being able to use the World Cup as an excuse. Once every four years, I put everything else aside, begging off of everything from family commitments to Saturday morning breakfasts at the Homemade Café. That ends with the final match. As well it should.
I’m not going to link to anyone … if you haven’t figured out by now where to go for tactical analysis and social commentary, one last batch of links won’t help. I very much liked the group phase, and while the matches in the knockout phase have not always edified, things were usually interesting, and the good feelings from the early weeks spilled over, so that I rarely fell into the grouchiness that has cursed past World Cups for me.
Germany has come together at the right time, they have great teamwork (which isn’t easy to pull off on national teams, which don’t spend a lot of time together), they have many wonderful players … they are favorites in every way, except perhaps for the historical view that says European teams don’t win in South America. But if host Brazil can lose successive matches to European teams by an aggregate score of 10-1, it might be time to put that historical view aside. I’ll be rooting for Argentina … it’s funny, you can often ascertain my rooting interest by simply looking to see which network I am watching. I’ll be with Univision, because I’m rooting for the Spanish-speaking team. I want Messi to have one last great match … he has had a very good tournament, despite what the naysayers believe, but he can shut them all up with a big performance in the final. But Messi is tired. I know it sounds like a lame excuse … the German players have to suffer through the ridiculous schedule of modern soccer, and they still seem fresh. Still, if Messi seems a bit sluggish, remember that he played 46 games for Barcelona last season, that he has made nine appearances for Argentina in 2014 alone, that he played for 120 minutes just four days ago. Not an excuse, just a statement of fact.
I hope for Argentina to win 2-1 in regular time, I think they’ll be lucky to be even with the Germans after regulation, think the Germans will win if it goes extra time, although if it goes to penalties, all bets are off. I think Germany will win in 90 minutes, maybe 3-1. And while I’m rooting for Argentina, I’ll be almost as happy if Germany wins in style. As usual, I’m just hoping for a good match.
I thought perhaps Brazil would begin their rehabilitation by coming on strong in this one, but they seemed dispirited throughout. Match meant nothing, and still Brazil couldn’t score. Nice to see Van Gaal giving Worm an appearance, and it was good to see Kuyt’s last international match. The referee sucked. Beyond that, there is no reason for this post except for historical purposes.
Sean T. Mitchell, “The Politics of Violence and Brazil’s World Cup”.
Jeff Carlisle, “History beckons Argentina’s golden generation”.
Brian Phillips, “Man vs. Machine”.
This is the question Nick Hornby is asking, and since Hornby is something of a patron saint around here (I quote him in the final post of each World Cup), I thought to talk about his question for a bit.
Honestly, I’ve been asking myself the same question. No question the group stage was very good, as good as it gets in many ways. But the knockout phase hasn’t been up to its predecessor. And, as Hornby writes, “World Cups have to stand and fall on their knockout games, and the business end of this one -- with the exception of one extraordinary, earth-shaking match -- has been average and occasionally deeply depressing.” (The identity of that one earth-shaker may surprise you.)
What are his complaints about the knockout matches? Well, for one thing, he’s not very fond of the Dutch team that he found “dismal, cynical, life-sapping”. Then there was the lack of upsets in the Round of 16: “[I]n every single match in the round of 16, the favourites beat the underdogs narrowly without ever playing very well.” Nor was he impressed by the quarter-finals. I called France-Germany “a bit of a snoozer,” liked Argentina-Belgium largely because it lacked the ugly violence of Brazil-Colombia, and the less said about the Dutch, the better.
There was that Brazil-Colombia match. As I said at the time, “This match had everything, including stuff I don’t like to see.” Sadly, the latter was evident throughout.
Hornby also found the refereeing to be “robotic”:
Officials had clearly been given three instructions and they made a great show of obeying all of them. The first was to make sure that all players knew where to place their hands when standing in the wall -- big deal -- and the second was to separate wrestling opponents before a corner was taken, without ever doing anything to stop the grappling when the ball was in play. The third was to keep their cards in their pocket during the first half.
It was the last of the three, of course, that has caused so much controversy, culminating in Brazil-Colombia, where the fouls piled up but the cards stayed in the pocket.
And what was the one Round of 16 match Hornby liked? Belgium-USA, which he called “probably the best World Cup match of the 21st century”. That might be going a bit far. But the second half and extra time made for a wildly entertaining blog post, if nothing else (and if I do say so myself), wherein I just posted the text-message updates I was sending to my son.
Yet, Belgium-USA won’t be remembered in the future, except by Tim Howard fans. The most memorable match of the knockout phase was Brazil-Germany. Hornby again:
[T]he tournament has thrown up one of the most extraordinary 30 minutes that football fans -- sports fans -- have ever seen. Unlike anything comparable, however -- maybe Bob Beamon's jump in '68, or Cassius Clay beating Sonny Liston -- it wasn't uncomplicated fun. I know a couple of people who couldn't bear to watch, and left the room because they were squirming too much. The Brazil vs. Germany game was much more like a fox hunt -- the part where the fox gets ripped to pieces, not the reportedly jolly chasing part.
(He also said “Thank heavens, then, for Germany, as nobody has said very often. They have kept the cheating to a minimum, they have tried to score goals in every game and they have played with panache, even though they are apparently doomed to be described, at least in England, as ‘ruthless’ and ‘efficient’ until the end of time.” Which certainly relates to my earlier post about national stereotypes, and how hard it is to change them.)
So, on to my goofy template for deciding if a match was good. (Reminder: The margin of victory is one goal, or the match is a draw, and at least one of the teams must score multiple goals.) Here are the matches that have made it so far:
So that’s it … 62 matches, 19 template matches. 15 out of 48 group stage matches, 4 out of 14 knockout matches so far.
I’ve been thinking of writing a post like this pretty much since the tournament began, and now there’s something to inspire me to get it out there. People at Cambridge UP have sorted through an enormous database of online writing in English about the World Cup, and narrowed it all down to a chart that shows the three most often used words to describe each country’s team. Here they are:
Algeria: determined, pride, together
Argentina: confident, flair, unconvincing
Australia: positive, effort, spirited
Belgium: flair, dark horse, talent
Bosnia and Herzegovina: injustice, defensive, forceful
Brazil: emotional, popular, desperate
Cameroon: hapless, battle, chaotic
Chile: attacking, tactical, thrilling
Colombia: unpredictable, exciting, attacking
Costa Rica: dynamic, pace, battle
Croatia: dangerous, tactical, competitive
Ecuador: inconsistent, strong, potential
England: exciting, inexperienced, disappointing
France: organized, defensive, exciting
Germany: powerful, focused, committed
Ghana: money, strike, powerful
Greece: defensive, cautious, stubborn
Honduras: physical, spirit, robust
Iran: defend, hope, drought
Italy: slow, vulnerable, pessimism
Ivory Coast: pace, physical, struggle
Japan: possession, disappointing, frustrated
Mexico: determined, tactical, talented
Netherlands: rampaging, strategy, stunning
Nigeria: inexperienced, speed, tough
Portugal: frustration, ego, disappointing
Russia: drab, error, mediocre
South Korea: woeful, failure, embarrassing
Spain: defensive, poor, humiliation
Switzerland: pace, difficult, talented
United States: determined, heroic, courageous
Uruguay: bite, disgrace, do-or-die
I wrote one of my longer posts for this year’s Cup on my relationship to Greece. As you can see, much of the English-speaking world has a rather pointed view of the Greeks: “defensive, cautious, stubborn”. This image grew out of Euro 2004, which Greece won using what some saw as negative tactics. I think they have grown out of this a bit … a bit … but the perception of them hasn’t really changed in ten years. Meanwhile, there’s the Netherlands (“rampaging, strategy, stunning”), connected to a stereotype that began at least 40 years ago in the Total Football days. They scored 10 goals in the group stage and demolished defending champs Spain (which turned out to be less of an accomplishment than it seemed at the time). But their play in the knockout phase has been closer to the stereotypical Greek performance than to the Dutch. They didn’t manage to score against Mexico until the 88th minute, and then played two consecutive scoreless draws, a total of 240 minutes without a goal. Yet people still see the Orange and think of Johan Cruyff. Go back to Euro 2012: they scored two goals in three matches and were eliminated in the group stage. Or the 2010 World Cup, where they were shutout in one of the most dreadful finals ever.
That’s the thing about stereotypes. There is usually some good reason for their invention, but they become solidified even as their targets change. We end up thinking of people or groups or nations based on ideas that were formed long ago, and become blind to what is actually happening in front of our eyes.
So I always thought of the Germans as a boring, steadfast team that knew how to grind out one-goal victories. But in the 2006 World Cup, which they hosted, they scored four in their first match, and rolled along until the semi-finals, establishing a new look and feel for their play. People have noticed, but even there, the stereotype only changes in small stages … a team that has been enjoyable for many years has become “powerful, focused, committed” … adjectives you apply not to a team that inspires flights of fancy, but to a solid team that gets the job done, which is barely a change in stereotype at all.
The chart tells us who was seen as “tactical” (Chile, Croatia, Mexico), “exciting” (Colombia, England?, France), or “disappointing” (England, Japan, Portugal). The USA was “heroic” and “courageous”, attributes assigned to no other team. The final pits the powerful, focused, and committed Germans against confident Argentina, full of flair yet somehow unconvincing.
Finally, there are teams about which nothing good can be said. Cameroon battles, Iran has hope, even Uruguay has a do-or-die attitude. But what about Italy (“slow, vulnerable, pessimism”), Russia (“drab, error, mediocre”), South Korea (“woeful, failure, embarrassing”), and Spain (“defensive, poor, humiliation”)? Next to those nations, the determined, heroic, courageous United States looks pretty good. Stereotypically speaking, of course.
(It would be interesting to see the same study done with other languages, like Portuguese or Spanish.)
Be careful what you wish for.
More than one fan probably hoped, after Germany’s demolition of Brazil, that today’s match would be more competitive. And it was. They also played 120 minutes without scoring.
It was rough that Ron Vlaar missed that first penalty, as he was the best player out there for the 120. No one made more tackles. He intercepted six passes. He made eleven clearances. He blocked a shot. He forced an offside. He completed 92% of his 71 passes.
The closest thing to Vlaar was his teammate on defense, Stefan de Vrij.
Messi had a fine game … I’m sure some will complain, but he was by far the best dribbler out there, he took his penalty, it wasn’t his fault the best players on the field were the Dutch defenders. He never found a way to show off a magic moment, so he was below expectations, but there isn’t a team in the world that wouldn’t take what Messi did today.
Props also to Mascherano. The injury experts on Twitter were pissed he didn’t leave the game after what clearly looked like a concussion, and they are right if that was the case. If he played that well without knowing where he was, he’s a great player. Well, he’s a great player, anyway.
And another shoutout to Dirk Kuyt, who was the best Dutchman who wasn’t a defender. He had a great game, and I was so glad when he made his penalty … I didn’t want the match to end on a Kuyt miss.
I was listening to the BBC podcast “Five Live Football Daily”, and the closest thing I can compare it to would be a science-fiction movie, something like War of the Worlds, where an alien spaceship has landed on Earth, and no one knows what to make of it. So the news networks will call in experts, and Dr. So-and-So will offer an opinion, and General This-and-That will counter with a military opinion, and they’ll take a call from a viewer who just wants to know what that shiny thing is on top of the space ship. Everyone will have an opinion, and the discussion will go around and around, but it won’t really go anywhere, because no one, not the newscaster, not the scientist, not the general, not the person on the street, no one knows what the hell they are looking at. Because they’ve never before seen an alien spaceship on Earth.
That’s what the podcast was like. The host said whoa, what happened? And the pundit said whoa, I don’t know, and another pundit said I don’t know, either, but I’ve never seen anything like it. And then the host invited a couple of reporters from the stadium to give an up-close analysis, and those reporters said whoa, I don’t know, but I’ve never seen anything like it.
That’s what Brazil 1-7 Germany was like: an alien spaceship had landed on Earth, and no one knew how to react.
What the fuck was that?
What, you came here for analysis? I’ve only skimmed the surface, but common threads include “they missed Thiago Silva more than they missed Neymar”, “their defense sucked”, and “Germany is really good”.
Oddly, this was the first match of the entire tournament that I watched outside of my house. A friend from Germany is visiting, so we ended up at a paella place in Oakland, along with a couple of dozen other people. It was odd following the crowd’s responses … at one point, I realized we were laughing at Brazil … Brazil! … and later that we were feeling sorry for Brazil … Brazil!
Modern world note: what really struck me while watching a match with other people was that for the first time I wasn’t experiencing a match through the prism of Twitter.
At least I got paella.
Jonathan Wilson said something very important:
At the anthems, in a moment of telenovela mawkishness, David Luiz and Julio Cesar, apparently struggling to quench the tears, held up a number 10 Neymar shirt. There was no minute’s silence to mark the passing of either Alfredo Di Stefano or the two people killed in Belo Horizonte last week by the collapse of an overpass built as part of a World Cup infrastructure project. Nothing, it seems, could be allowed to distract this Brazil from its sentimental solipsism. Nothing, that is, apart from the ruthlessness of a Germany team that couldn’t believe its luck.
And finally, J.R. got into the act:
Understand, I am really bad at brackets. Thus, the fact that I have three of the four semifinalists correct on my bracket is pretty amazing (only Spain let me down). If I go by my bracket picks, which were made before this all started, then I’d say Brazil will beat Germany and Argentina will beat the Netherlands, who I didn’t see getting past the group stage.
Things have happened since then, of course. Holland is obviously better than I expected. Neymar is gone. Maybe I’m going to crap out.
I don’t think so, although my reasoning isn’t particularly strong. I think Brazil’s unbeaten record at home over the past gazillion years will help them win against Germany (although if it comes to it, I don’t think they’ll beat Argentina in the final). I do not believe in conspiracies, and I don’t think referees consciously favor the home team. Unconsciously, yes, I do believe that happens, and I think it will continue to matter today. Perhaps it won’t matter … maybe one of the two teams will be so dominant a bad decision by the ref won’t affect the final result.
And what about those refs? The accepted narrative seems to be that FIFA instructed referees to be skimpy with their yellow and red cards, in order to keep the top players on the field. According to the narrative, this led to rough and cynical play once managers realized what was happening, that their players wouldn’t really be punished for playing dirty. The awful and ironic result came when Brazil hacked and chopped their way past James and Colombia, only to lose Neymar. That’s the narrative. It looks that way to my eyes, but I have no proof. I’ve asked a couple of people who know more than I about this, and they have explained that a combination of inside information and “what it looks like” lead people to believe FIFA has indeed given directives to the refs.
Then there is this, from Sky Sports: “World Cup: FIFA deny claims referees have been told to be lenient”.
The problem is, no one believes anything that comes from FIFA, one of the most corrupt organizations you’ll find. You don’t have to be a conspiracy theorist to believe that FIFA is full of shit.
I hope the refereeing returns to the previous norm, and barring that, I hope the four semi-finalists play a clean game. Past history doesn’t give me much hope … Brazil has offered up some brutal play in this Cup, the Netherlands and Argentina are known to forget about the beautiful game at times. Germany might be the best hope for great play that isn’t also brutal, as long as they don’t bring Toni Schumacher out of retirement. (After Schumacher committed what is generally considered the worst foul in World Cup history against Frenchman Patrick Battiston in 1982, a French newspaper found that French people named Schumacher the least popular man in France, just ahead of Hitler.)
The group play in this tournament was delightful. The knockout rounds have been less so. Partly this is because once games become losers-go-home, teams are more wary of making that one mistake that would turn them into losers. But it’s also true that the refereeing has entered the picture. I don’t have a rooting interest in what is to follow … I’m probably favoring Argentina, because they’re the only Spanish-speaking team left, because I picked them to win, because of Messi, but that’s a thin preference. I’ll likely find myself switching allegiance several times in each match. I’m at that point when all I want is a good match.
Megan K. Armstrong, “Local Brazilians love the game, can do without World Cup’s social unrest”
I was going to write an entire post about the refereeing in this World Cup, but the first piece on this list said much of what I would have written, along with more astute commentary. So I turned this into a links page:
Gabriele Marcotti, “FIFA wants refs to show fewer cards”
ESPN Staff, “Alfredo Di Stefano dies aged 88”
Joshua Robinson, “The Sorry State of Goalkeeping in Brazil”
Kate Fagan, “Why FIFA Needs Female Leadership”
Liel Leibovitz, “Soccer Thugs Burned a Palestinian Boy Alive in Jerusalem”