Comments are temporarily off, due to spamming. No biggie, there aren't usually any comments after the Cup is over, but wanted to let people know.
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”
Roger Bennett, “America’s love of soccer: real or a fad?”
Richard Farley, “Klinsmann jumps back into MLS debate with Facebook post”
FIFA, “Kuyt: We’re one team with one goal”. Not a whole lot of substance, here, but it gives me a chance to mention that Dirk Kuyt has always been a favorite of mine. There are certainly more talented players, and many of the all-time great Dutch players are as stylish as can be. Dirk Kuyt just does his job, gives the proverbial 110%, and I’ve been glad to see him on the field the last couple of games.
Argentina-Belgium: As Jennifer Doyle tweeted, “As good as this game is, it is, for the spectator, a spa retreat after
#BRA #COL.” It lacked much of the drama of yesterday’s match, and while the adrenaline rush of that one was big enough that I was still complaining about it to myself the next day, I think I needed this one. Argentina showed what a strong defense they can have; once they took the lead, they concentrated on shutting Belgium down, and they succeeded. Not my favorite kind of match, but again, a welcome relief in many ways. Belgium managed only ten shots, only ONE on target. Against the USA, they had 39 shots, 17 on target. I mention this as an antidote to those people who think the U.S. is just inches away from being one of the top nations in world soccer. They are getting there, although I’m not sure it will happen in my lifetime. But if you want to play with the big boys, you need to prove you belong there. The U.S. is not Argentina. They aren’t even Belgium. And that’s fine, but there’s a bit too much Pollyanna the last couple of days. Here’s one last comparative stat: there were 25 fouls in today’s match, 14 from BEL and 11 from ARG. No single player was fouled more than three times; Messi was fouled twice. In BRA-COL, there were 54 fouls, 31 by BRA and 23 by COL. Three Colombian players were fouled at least five times; Neymar of BRA was fouled four times, as well. Like everyone, I construct narratives based on what I think I know, and I’ve always thought of Argentina as similar to Holland, in that both are capable of the most exquisite soccer, but both are also prone to brutality. Meanwhile, the narrative for Brazil has always been that they play the beautiful game. Argentina’s win today wasn’t particularly beautiful … I’d call it efficient … but Brazil was a nightmare, a purposeful nightmare. They were efficient, too, but they were ugly. Argentina lacked that, and they are the better for it.
Netherlands-Costa Rica: Perhaps “efficiency” is the theme of knockout play. It’s natural for a team to create a strategy that maximizes the impact of your better players. Argentina tries to make chances for Messi, to cite an obvious example. The best player on Costa Rica is their goalkeeper, Keylor Navas. So they created a strategy that maximized his impact: they played for penalties. They used a 5-4-1. Now I admit, when I saw that, I assumed it was really more of a 3-2-4-1 or something like that, with three center backs and two wing backs. But I was wrong … they played a flat back five. This resulted in some awesomely lopsided statistics. For instance, Costa Rica had 6 successful dribbles in 120 minutes; Arjen Robben had 8 all by himself. Giancarlo Gonzalez, their best field player, had 17 successful clearances and won 6 offside calls … that’s why he was their best field player. Very efficient. Their lone forward, Bryan Ruiz, had a poor match, although I’m not sure what he was supposed to do. It took 115 minutes before Costa Rica won a corner, and 117 minutes to get their first (and only) shot on target. In all of this, they were very efficient. They took the favorite, indeed one of the top teams in the world, to penalty kicks, where Navas could shine. The penalties were highlighted by the substitution into the match of Dutch penalty specialist Tim Krul on goal. We quickly saw why he is highly regarded, and were also reminded that the referee was having an up-and-down day. I am not an expert on the rules in this area, but Krul’s antics should have drawn a warning and then a yellow card and then … well, even I won’t go that far. But bullying the opposing kicker before the penalty isn’t what I think of as FIFA Fair Play. Oh well, it was efficient, which is all that matters.
Jennifer Doyle, “The Last Minute”
I need to write this now, only a few minutes after Brazil-Colombia … there will be a time for reflection and analysis, but I want to get the emotional impact.
First, there was another match, France 0-1 Germany. Germany played more like the team I used to hate than the team I’ve come to enjoy, and I found the match a bit of a snoozer. Ran and took a nap as soon as it was done.
Brazil-Colombia turned out to be every bit as exciting as we’d hoped. But it was a different kind of excitement. Both teams came to score, and there was a lot of running around in the first half. Brazil felt dominant, but Colombia wasn’t playing in a shell, so there was always the possibility they’d steal a goal. Brazil’s 1-0 lead at the half was a fair one, but I couldn’t predict what was to come … Colombia might score three, or they might expose their defense in the midst of all-out attacking play and allow three.
Brazil had a canny strategy. There were a lot of fouls in the game … a LOT … but no cards were issued in the first half. So Brazil just kept fouling. They were as clever about it as Ric Flair. They never committed anything too obviously horrible. They just stopped Colombia’s attacks by interrupting them with fouls … little fouls, this ref had shown he wasn’t likely to card them, just enough to stop play. So Colombia struggled to find a rhythm.
Then, after James Rodríguez had spent much of the match being fouled, he was called for a very soft foul of his own. That led to the gorgeous free kick from David Luiz. As I said to someone at the time, “ref is having such a bad game, and BRA are being so near-thuggish, that I didn't take joy from that beautiful free kick ... that pisses me off”.
None of this should hide the fact that the match was still totally exciting, especially given the context (quarterfinals). I am not sure about Colombia’s disallowed goal, so I’ll leave that aside. But when Julio César brought down Bacca in the box, he deserved a red card. He got yellow.
I’d say there was bias involved, except 1) I’m not a believer in conspiracy theories, so outside of the possibility that the referee was intimidated by the atmosphere, I don’t think he was pro-Brazil, just bad, and 2) with the game almost over, Neymar got wiped out (as I type this, he’s been sent to the hospital, which may mean nothing or may mean everything), and no foul was given by the ref.
My emotions are mixed. This match had everything, including stuff I don’t like to see. I got my favorite 2-1 scoreline … I should be ecstatic right now. But my joy disappeared somewhere along the way.
I reacted to the post-match period with equally mixed emotions. Seeing David Luiz and a teammate console a sobbing James was heartrending, and as he pointed to James, signaling to the crowd to give respect to the Colombian, I about lost it. When they exchanged jerseys, that really got things going. It was one of the most beautiful moments I’d seen at a soccer match.
But when Nooruddean re-tweeted the already-iconic photo of Luiz pointing to James, instead of using the caption “David Luiz instructs the crowd to applaud James Rodriguez, who leaves the World Cup as the top scorer,” Nooruddean wrote, “Sickening image of David Luiz informing Fernandinho that James Rodriguez is still alive.”
And it sums up the entire match that I understood both captions.
Dave Zirin, “Deadly World Cup Legacy Continues As Overpass Collapses in Brazilian Host City”. “[T]his blood is on the hands of the international soccer governing body FIFA and Brazil's ruling Workers Party.”
Ian Herbert, “World Cup 2014: Watching Brazil on TV can be fatal here …”:
The official line from CEEE is that these dwellings are within what we might call “green belt” and are not legally recognised as homes. “It is even harder to get answers from them when no one has died,” Scalco says. “You make the calls, are asked for paperwork and hear no more.”
Becker is a German policeman who works in the anti-hooligan department. Now he's on vacation. And he’s impressed with the Brazilian police after three weeks of going to games at this World Cup.
“In Germany, our approach is defensive,” he says. “We stay in the background and only show our faces when we need to intervene. Here it’s offensive – a show of force. But it’s the right approach for Brazil. In Salvador, for example, they were excellent. The paths to the stadium are very narrow, perfect for pickpockets, but the police was everywhere.”
Becker says, from what he has witnessed, fears that Brazil wouldn’t prepared to run a smooth World Cup were unfounded.
“It’s been excellent,” he says. “Security has been good.
Some of the many great web sites, most of which I have linked to previously for individual pieces.
Time for the stupidest post of every World Cup: the list of great names. Stupid, because the list always looks like it was chosen by a 12-year-old boy. Stupid, because its assumptions are U.S.-centric. But I do it, anyway.
The criteria for making the list? Well, I like names that don’t seem to fit the country. I don’t really know this, of course … that criteria is based on my ignorance about the world. I also like names that seem funny to my ears … this is the stupidest of all, really, people don’t choose their name based on what sounds right to someone from the USA (I know that “Steven Rubio” sounds silly to someone out there). I usually find the U.S. roster interesting in the way the names suggest the diversity the country pretends it honors. And this time, I’ve even tossed in a reference to The Waltons!
Belgium: Vincent Kompany, Eden Hazard
Brazil: Hulk, Fred, Jô
Costa Rica: Joel Campbell, Waylon Francis, Roy Miller
Croatia: Gordon Schildenfeld, Eduardo
Ecuador: Adrián Bone
England: Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain
Germany: Bastian Schweinsteiger, Sami Khedira
Ghana: John Boye
Greece: Sokratis Papastathopoulos
Honduras: Jerry Bengston, Carlo Costly
Italy: Ciro Immobile
Mexico: Gio, Memo, Chicharito, Gringo Ponce, Marco Jhonfai Fabián de la Mora
Netherlands: Daley Blind, Jeremain Lens
Switzerland: Tranquillo Barnetta, Xherdan Shaqiri, Diego Benaglio
Russia: Yuri Zhirkov
South Korea: Kim Chang-soo, Kim Young-gwon, Kim Bo-kyung, Kim Shin-wook, Kim Seung-gyu
United States: Omar Gonzalez, DaMarcus Beasley, Aron Jóhannsson, Mix Diskerud, Alejandro Bedoya, Chris Wondolowski, Graham Zusi, Fabian Johnson
Here is what I wrote about the USA before the start of the tournament (emphasis added):
They aren’t a bad team, and in another group, they might be favored to advance. In 2002, they upset Portugal and lost to Germany largely because of poor officiating. The controversy over the absence of Landon Donovan is overblown … yes, Landon would have been a nice addition to the bench, yes, you can probably name someone on the 23-man roster who isn’t as good as Donovan is right now, but Landon Donovan was unlikely to have an impact in Brazil, and the whining of his fans has become tiresome. The Americans’ progress in Brazil will be pretty much the same as it would be if Donovan was on the roster. People talk about him as if he is as vital, in 2014, to the U.S. as Ronaldo is to Portugal or Luis Suárez is to Uruguay. It is no disrespect to Donovan, or to the U.S. soccer program, to note that Landon Donovan at his peak was still a level below the Ronaldos and Suárezes.
Best case scenario for the Americans? They beat Ghana, face Portugal-minus-Ronaldo and win/draw, and face Germany after the Germans have already clinched advancement and win/draw. That would be at least five points, and would be enough to advance. But if they draw or lose to Ghana, if Ronaldo is healthy, if Germany still needs a result in the final match, then zero points is also possible. And they could leave Brazil without a point and still give a good showing. The 2014 United States team can’t be judged solely on the results in Brazil.
2-1 … it was a fair result. Wrenching, but fair. As was the World Cup as a whole for the U.S., who advanced out of a tough group and gave a highly-regarded Belgian team 120 minutes of fight. People will talk about Tim Howard’s performance for a long time, and he deserves it. But it is a sign of how important he was today, that he set the record for saves. Duh, I know, but you can’t set a record for saves unless your team is constantly on the ropes. His counterpart for Belgium, Thibaut Courtois, is going to be doing this for a long time … he’s only 22 years old … and despite Howard’s great work today and throughout his career, Courtois is in the discussion for best goalkeeper in the world (as is Howard, but he’s a bit below Courtois). Courtois didn’t set a saves record today because the USA only had 5 shots on target in 120 minutes. Belgium had 17.
My son had to work today, and after a short halftime chat, he asked if I could give him real-time updates in chat. So here’s what the last 75 minutes looked like to me at the time:
Argentina-Switzerland was a lot like the previous day’s matches. Underdog stays close, favorites don’t break out as expected. For some reason, this was boring, where those earlier matches were fun to watch. The reason is unclear to me … this might be a match where the stats will reveal a lot. Diego Benaglio had a good match in goal for the Swiss, and Xherdan Shaqiri was useful against the Argentine defense. There wasn’t much to Argentina … their biggest threat came when Messi had the ball, not because of the situation but because Messi-with-ball carries a feeling of possibilities. Finally, after 118 minutes, Messi passed to di Maria for the goal, putting everyone except the Swiss and their fans out of our misery. I picked Argentina to win it all before the tournament began, and they are still in it. But they didn’t look like champions today.
Dave Zirin, “’Exporting Gaza’: The Arming of Brazil’s World Cup Security”.
Chris Williams, “My soccer racism nightmare: How to keep the beauty in the beautiful game”.
Eden Hazard, Vincent Kompany, Daniel van Buyten, Thibaut Courtois. There may not be a single American player as good as these four. Even Tim Howard, recognized everywhere as one of the top goalkeepers in the world, probably takes a back seat to Courtois.
Belgium won all three of its group games, allowing a total of only one goal (and that one a penalty). An unsettling note: many people feel Belgium was not even at their best in the group play. They won each match by a single goal, and played with less flair than they are known for. If they can win three straight without breaking out the brilliance, the U.S. would seem to be in trouble.
Belgium has shown they are happy to take the three points in any manner that presents itself. But you get the feeling they’d like to turn up the jets a bit, which requires that the U.S. do the same. If the Americans sit back, I don’t think they can hold off the Belgians the entire match. But if they take the risks, they are vulnerable.
I don’t know how it will play out. I suspect it’s going to be a lot like the Monday matches, where the underdog gives a good account of itself, the match is close and entertaining, with the favorite picking up a late goal for the win. The USA are not the favorites.
Here’s hoping I’m wrong.
Here’s what happened the last time the U.S. won a round-of-16 game. Nice to see a reminder of what Rafa Márquez was like back in the day.
Might as well talk about them together, because France-Nigeria and Germany-Algeria had a lot in common. Both were very entertaining, thanks in large part to the efforts of the underdogs. Algeria in particular played without fear. It’s understandable, if kinda boring, when an underdog tries to shut a game down against a strong opponent, but you didn’t see that today. One could argue that the fearless strategy was ultimately unsuccessful, but I don’t think the African teams were going to win, and why not just go for it? FRA-NGA was scoreless for 78 minutes, GER-ALG for 91 minutes, but it was always interesting. All four teams had their chances. Perhaps this said something about the quality of the teams … neither France nor Germany looked like world-beaters, and both Nigeria and Algeria should have done better with their chances. But the result was two matches with four teams trying to win, and it was a pleasure to watch.
Side note: Luis Omar Tapia on Univision was obsessed with the name “Schweinsteiger”. Every time he said the name, he gave it a juicy relish. At one point, he started explaining to announcing partner Pável Pardo that it was like two words in one … “Schwein … Steiger … Schweinsteiger!” I may have totally misunderstood all of this, but it was hilarious, in any event.
Netherlands-Mexico: Arjen Robben is a notorious diver. But Rafa Márquez is hardly the cleanest player in history, and he did foul Robben, dive or no dive. Wrexham-born Robbie Savage, who played more than 500 league games and represented Wales on 39 occasions, was once named the dirtiest player in the history of the Premier League … he knows his fouls. He’s been a pundit for a few years. On Twitter, he said, “If referees start giving penalties when there's a foul but the person stays on his feet in the box then they wouldn't need to exaggerate” and “If robben stayed on his feet , no penalty would have been given even though it was a foul , what would you do ?” I tend to agree with this … if we made a list of the things scofflaws do during a soccer game, diving would be pretty low on my list. It’s easy for Mexico to blame Robben, but the real blame lies with Rafa. He has had a great career with some low points … now the last moment of his international career will be the foul against Robben. As for the rest of the game, the first half was slow, but up until Gio’s goal, Mexico mostly controlled play, and it’s hard to fault the teams for conserving energy. They never reached the heights of the first half of Brazil-Chile, but those two teams spent the final 75 minutes running on fumes. Finally, there was what may turn out in retrospect to be the most important thing about the entire 2014 World Cup. As Grant Wahl tweeted, “Van Gaal says he changed tactics during the water break. Might as well let coaches call time-outs then. Paradigm change for the sport.” Someone check Paul Gardner’s heart monitor.
Costa Rica-Greece: Penalties are very personal. You have an opinion about a team, and you watch them work as a collective … certain players stand out, to be sure, you won’t miss Neymar or Messi. I’m not saying individual brilliance doesn’t matter in soccer. But penalties are the ultimate, excruciating moment where the individual stands out. When a player misses a penalty in a shootout, I find myself feeling badly for them, even if I’m rooting for the other team. Thus, Theofanis Gekas. It’s no surprise I wanted Costa Rica to win this. And when Gekas stepped up to take his penalty, all I could think was the stupid idea that I didn’t like how he looked. But then he missed, and I felt sorry for ever thinking he was unlikeable. So I went to find something more about him … I wanted to pay tribute to him in a small way. I found this story from 2012, which included a paragraph after Gekas left Germany, having played there for several years and scoring many goals:
He left Eintracht under a cloud, having not picked up the language during almost six years in Germany. "I wonder how it is possible for somebody to be living in Germany for five years but not be willing to learn the language," said the legendary former Eintracht goalkeeper Egon Loy. When Gekas was told about the criticism he answered: "I am being paid to score goals, not to talk."
Jennifer Doyle, “Mexican Gothic (puto is a curse!)”.
Kristian Jack, “Robben vs. Rafa and the Needless Obsession with Diving”.
Netherlands-Mexico. I have a rooting interest, so this will be tense no matter the quality of the game. There are two factors at work here that influence my preference for Mexico. First, they have always been my third-favorite national team, behind the U.S. and Spain. It’s interesting, Mexico is the arch-rival of the USA, and when the two nations play each other, Mexico might as well be the Dodgers for the amount of negative emotions they draw out of me. But, unlike the Dodgers, when those matches are done, I root for Mexico. The Netherlands are a complicated team. Their reputation as the creator of Total Football, and the presence in their team of wonderful, enjoyable players, means their matches should be looked forward to. But there is also a dirty side to their play, exemplified by Nigel de Jong. As long as he is around, I can’t root for the Dutch. Mexico can give as good as it takes when it comes to rough play, so this one could be brutal, depending a lot on how the referee handles things (although, to be clear, I tend to blame the players when things go badly). I hope for a beautiful game, I expect something quite different, and I think Holland wins by a goal. Whether than means 1-0 or 2-1, I can’t predict.
Costa Rica-Greece. As you can tell from my long post about Greece, I have a troubled relationship with that team. And it’s nice to see a CONCACAF team doing so well. Mexico is a better team than Costa Rica, but Greece is a lesser team than the Netherlands, and Costa Rica have a better chance than Mexico of advancing to the quarterfinals. Greece can go defensive and squeeze the life out of a game, but they’ve shown occasional signs of breaking out of their stereotypical strategy. Still, a solid defense is their best option here, since I think Costa Rica has the better offense. Costa Rica might score early, forcing Greece to open their game, leading to more goals from Costa Rica. Or Greece could shut down the Costa Ricans, pick up a goal along the way, and win 1-0. It’s an odd match where I can’t decide to predict 1-0 for Greece or 3-0 for Costa Rica. I’ll be rooting for CONCACAF, but if I was a betting man, I’d go with that 1-0 Greek win.
Charlotte Silver, “Imperial Sports: An Interview with Dave Zirin”.
Michael Cox, “Brazil 1-1 Chile: Brazil progress by the finest of margins”.
Brazil-Chile: Brazil has now been part of two of the best matches of the tournament so far, in which they scored one goal in 210 minutes. This time, they were a sliver of woodwork away from elimination, and that woodwork did well by them in penalties, too. Of course Brazil was favored, and it was hard to imagine them actually going out in the first knockout round. But Chile wasn’t a bit afraid of the juggernaut, and showed they had a pretty good side on their own. It’s a sign of a good match when I being as a neutral, and then find myself rooting for first one side, and then the other, over the course of the match. That’s what happens when you say, “I’m just hoping for a good match”. For most of the match, both teams were nearly all-out attack, although near the end, Chile became a bit more cautious. Despite the attacking mentalities, or perhaps because of them, the two goals were an own goal and a defensive blunder. By the penalty kicks, I was rooting for Chile, who fell behind early, for a simple reason: I didn’t want the match to end.
Colombia-Uruguay: It should be a rule that you can’t have a second match after the first one is a classic. It’s like watching Vertigo, and when it’s over, someone says, “now let’s watch Psycho!” COL-URU was a decent match … there was off-the-field drama, with Suárez hovering over everything, and Colombia trying to advance farther than they ever had before. The match was OK, too, and what more is there to say about James? His first goal in particular was a dazzler. But an OK match ends up in the shadow of BRA-CHI. Still, this makes Brazil-Colombia look like a mouthwatering match.
By the end of the day, I’ve probably overdosed on soccer until tomorrow arrives. This is one reason I don’t like that MLS plays during the World Cup. This time they waited until group play was over, which is an improvement. I know little about marketing, and I’m sure MLS has done studies that show interest in soccer in the U.S. rises markedly during a World Cup, and it is worth it to capitalize on that. But I need a break after 2-4 matches a day.
The highlight of the Earthquakes’ regular season is their matchup with Los Angeles, played at Stanford Stadium. There is always a big crowd (50,000 or so), and in recent times the matches have been thrillers. I certainly understand why the Quakes promote the heck out of this match, which is tailor-made to reward longtime fans while pulling in newcomers.
But this year, the match takes place today. And all day long, in email, on Facebook, and on Twitter, I’ve gotten reminders about tonight’s Earthquakes match. I’m watching Brazil-Chile, a terrific match in the knockout rounds of a very good World Cup, and the Earthquakes are suggesting I watch a video of one of their past wins against the Galaxy. To return to the movie metaphor, it’s like watching Vertigo, and in the middle of the movie someone jumps in front of the screen and says, “you should be watching previews for this other movie!”
As I say, the marketing experts may know that this stuff is ultimately useful. But for me, it’s just distracting.
Having said all of this, I love the fact that Júlio César was a hero today for Brazil. It was a nice moment for him after 2010, and a good advertisement for MLS, where he currently plays. Hopefully this will, for a day or two at least, shut up the people who think MLS is a bad place to prepare for a World Cup.
Now begins the part a casual fan can understand. Many people seem to have been bewildered that the U.S. lost to Germany yet won a place in the second round. Most of them are just trolls, and they will always be around. But if you really found it confusing, the knockout phase is simpler: one team advances, the other goes home.
If the teams are tied after 90 minutes, they will play an extra 30 minutes. If the teams are still tied, they will go to a shootout where each team will take five (or more) kicks from the penalty spot to decide a winner.
Trolls, you can pull your Shootout Template now, so it will be ready when the first shootout occurs. Please feel free to complain about the shootout as if no one in history before you had ever considered the appropriate nature of such an ending. We won’t listen, because we’ve heard it a billion times, but I’m sure it will make you feel better, so go ahead, talk amongst yourselves. The rest of us understand that it is too much to ask athletes to continue to play after 120 minutes in the heat of Brazil. We know that the shootout is random, that it doesn’t reflect which team is the best on the day. But the “best on the day” hasn’t been decided, so a shootout it is. And a shootout is the most excruciating thing in soccer.
Brazil-Chile. Brazil is the favorite to win the tournament, Chile are a favored underdog. While even the casual fan knows Neymar, Chile has a few big stars as well, with Alexis Sánchez being perhaps at the top of the list. Chile was shutout by the Netherlands in their final group match, but no one expects Brazil to pull off the same feat. The most common prediction I’m seeing is Brazil 2-1 Chile, which seems about right. It should be an entertaining match.
Colombia-Uruguay. Four South American teams play Saturday, and two of them will go home afterwards. Colombia won all three of their group matches by a combined score of 9-2, although their group wasn’t the strongest. Uruguay’s aggregate score in the group was 4-4. Basically, no one knows what the loss of Luis Suárez will mean to Uruguay. They aren’t a one-man team, but close enough to count. Colombia will likely be the choice of the neutral, because they are still pissed at Suárez, and because people want to see more of James Rodríguez, one of the best players in the tournament so far. While Uruguay still have talented players like Edinson Cavani, my guess is they go for an ugly strategy with lots of fouls. A popular prediction seems to be Colombia 2-0 Uruguay, and again, that seems about right. Both of the matches have potential, but I suspect this one will be the less-entertaining. Still, there are some great players on display.
Adrian Melville, “The Altidore domino effect”.
ESPN FC, “Assessments”
Joe Prince-Wright, “After being bitten by Luis Suarez, Chiellini says four-month ban is ‘excessive’”.
Simon Gleave, “ANALYSE THIS: The ‘Copa de Zebra’ revisited”.
Ian Darke: Thanks to his goal calls of Donovan and Wambach, Darke is now the #1 announcer for U.S. games. This means he’s also #1 for England games. He’s worthy, willing to be more emotional than the average English announcer. Can let his biases show a bit too much, but given his accent and knowledge, he’s very much a Martin Tyler, only a step below. Add in his more-emotional delivery, and he tops even Tyler for the American market.
Derek Rae: I mentioned to someone that Rae would be a great announcer for someone new to the game. He is skillful at working useful information and even analysis into his play-by-play, which itself is very good. To my ears, he’s good at pronouncing names.
Jon Champion: Solid English announcer, which means he’s pretty good. I haven’t heard much of his work in Brazil, but I’ve had plenty of time in the past to listen. To some extent, I have a hard time distinguishing him from the other Brits.
Adrian Healey: See Jon Champion, above.
Fernando Palomo: What I’ve heard, I like, and he brings a Spanish-language fervor to the games. But he usually gets assigned the big Latin matches, which I almost always watch on Univision, so I miss out on Palomo.
Daniel Mann: I confess I knew very little (i.e. nothing) about Mann prior to the Cup. I don’t have anything bad to say about him, which is a good start.
Pablo Ramírez: The #1 guy for Univision. Has a sense of humor, and his goofy “AZO! AZO! AZO!” for exceptional goals has grown on me over the years. I miss Jorge Ramos and Andrés Cantor, but Ramírez is solid.
Luis Omar Tapia: Among my favorites of these announcers. Begins each match with “Comienzan los 90 minutos del deporte más hermoso del mundo!” Known for giving nicknames for players, although in fairness, all of the Spanish-language guys seem to do this … watch a Mexican league match sometime, practically every player on the field has a nickname.
Jorge Pérez-Navarro: Another favorite … I could have him confused with someone else, but I think he’s the guy who gave the Earthquakes Ramiro Corrales the nickname “OK”.
José Luis López Salido: Usually when I don’t recognize the voice, it’s José Luis. He’s the Adrian Healey of Univision.
Enrique Bermúdez: You always recognize this voice, which is low and booming. Main thing I don’t like is that he seems to take time away from Pablo Ramírez. Univision has started this odd practice of splitting the play-by-play among two announcers, one per half. I don’t know why.
Édgar Martínez: Incomplete, not sure I’ve heard him.
Color commentary, English:
Steve McManaman: He and Darke have a great rapport. But, even more than Darke, Macca lets his English heart show, and his analysis never seems too deep.
Efan Ekoku: Sounds authoritative. Whether that confidence is warranted, I’m not sure. He does give more detail about his opinions than the average ex-jock.
Kasey Keller: Pleasant, useful. I wouldn’t say that adds up to “bland”, but he’s on the fence, at least.
Alejandro Moreno: Usually (always?) works with Palomo. I like him, and not just because he once played for San Jose. But, as with Palomo, for most of his matches, I’m tuned in to Univision.
Stewart Robson: See Adrian Healey, above.
Taylor Twellman: It’s nice to have an American in the booth, and he brings more personality than Keller. But his insights rarely rise above the usual ex-jock stuff.
Craig Burley: Incomplete.
Color commentary, Spanish:
Everyone gets an Incomplete. My insufficient command of Spanish gets the best of me here. I’m good enough to call myself fluent for conversational purposes, and I’ve been listening to sports in Spanish for a long time. But the best color guys offer detailed analysis, and I’m never confident I’m picking up the subtleties (there’s nothing subtle about the goooooooool calls, so this doesn’t really matter for play-by-play). I end up liking or disliking a color guy based on what I get of their personality. So I’m really enjoying Hristo Stoichkov, partly because I loved watching him play when he wasn’t breaking an opponent’s leg, partly because this Bulgarian speaks better Spanish than I do, partly because while I couldn’t identify it as Bulgarian, he clearly has a different Spanish accent than everyone else. He even seems pretty likable. Beyond him, Jesús Bracamontes is known as “El Profe” because he’s supposed to know a lot about the sport … he’s an ex-coach rather than an ex-jock. He gets respect from the other announcers, who call him “Profe” without irony. The rest blend together in my mind.
I don’t watch the pre- and post-game shows, so I can’t comment on them. There have been a few folks on Twitter that have served as a kind of virtual commentating crew. The legendary Ray Hudson, whose network does not have World Cup rights, is left with Twitter to hand out his magisterial praise to Messi. On the local angle, up-and-comer Kate Scott is delightfully profane and enthusiastic. And, in a more cultish vein, Golden FM does an entertaining job of interpreting the matches as if he was managing a game in Football Manager (sample tweet: “Lahm playing in a classic inverted false wing back role today”).
A combination of match fatigue and using up my emotions on USA-Germany meant it was very hard to pay attention here. I had Algeria-Russia on, but I can barely tell you what happened. This post is just for future reference … when I look back on this in my dotage, I’ll want to be reminded of what I missed.
Last November, Portugal and Sweden played qualifiers, with the winner going to Brazil and the loser staying home. One of the unfortunate parts of this pairing was that it meant one of the best players in the world would be watching the World Cup at home. For Portugal, it was Cristiano Ronaldo; for Sweden, it was Zlatan Ibrahimović.
Portugal won the first leg at home, 1-0, on a late goal by Ronaldo. Sweden might have liked their chances at home for the second leg. After a scoreless first half, Ronaldo scored in the 50th minute, giving Portugal a 2-0 aggregate lead. Ibrahimović stepped up, scoring twice in a period of four minutes to equalize on aggregate.
Five minutes after the second of Ibra’s goals, Ronaldo scored to put Portugal back on top. Two minutes after that, he scored again, getting his hat trick and bumping his goal total for the two games to four. Portugal went to Brazil, Ibrahimović was out.
Four days ago, Portugal was on the verge of elimination at the hands of the United States, who were leading 2-1 in the 5th minute of stoppage time. Cristiano Ronaldo laid in a perfect cross, Portugal scored, and everything was once again up for grabs in Group G.
Today, needing only a draw, the U.S. fell behind to Germany in the 55th minute. Meanwhile, in the 57th minute of their match, Ghana equalized against Portugal. If the scores remained the same, the U.S. would advance. If Ghana scored another goal, though, they would advance. And Ghana has a recent history of hurting the USA at the World Cup.
In the 80th minute of that match, with Portugal effectively eliminated, Cristiano Ronaldo scored to tie the game. If Ghana did not score two goals in the last ten minutes, the U.S. would advance and Ghana would go home.
They didn’t score two goals.
So, let’s see … first Ronaldo carried Portugal on his back to the World Cup, eliminating Zlatan Ibrahimović in the process. Then he set up a goal that temporarily broke American hearts. And finally, he scored his last goal of this World Cup, in the process allowing U.S. fans to breathe again.
Ronaldo has been a huge influence on the World Cup, with those four goals against Sweden, and that last goal against Ghana. But now he is done; he can join Ibrahimović in the stands.
And, oh yes … the United States advances to the knockout rounds.
When the whistle blows to start the two matches, the live table will be GER 4 (4), USA 4 (1), GHA 1 (-1), POR 1 (-4). Portugal is in bad shape … they need to beat Ghana, hope that the U.S. loses to Germany, and also hope they can make up five goals in the differential column. Ghana also needs a win, but they are closer to the U.S. in goal differential. Keep one thing in mind that simplifies things a lot: if either match ends in a draw, Germany and the USA will advance.
Do I have a guess as to what will happen? Of course I have a guess, but it’s no more informed than anyone else’s. FiveThirtyEight offers the following “chances of advancing”:
I think Portugal is tired from their match in the jungle, and they know their chances are slim. If Ghana gets an early goal, I predict Portugal will fold. Ghana could win by more than one goal. If the U.S. can manage a draw against Germany, the other match doesn’t matter. But it still seems quite possible to me that Ghana will once again be the team that puts the Americans out of the World Cup.
The U.S. played in the jungle in their last match, too. I base my notion of their chances on my belief that Klinsmann will have them believing they can win. If the teams are tied in the second half, it won’t take a gentleman’s agreement for the two teams to gradually fall into “take a draw and advance” mode. If the U.S. and Germany are even at the half, I’m confident. But I think 75.9% is a bit of a stretch.
But it is very doable. I said before the start of the tournament that the U.S. could play well and still go home after the group stage. They’ve done better than I expected, yet my earlier opinion still holds. I’m going to call it USA 1-1 Germany, making the other match meaningless. I also predict both goals will come in the first half.
Group F: Argentina is already through to the next round, Bosnia & Herzegovina are going home. The two matches were of equal importance … Nigeria began play at 4 points, Iran at 1 point, so only a combination of Nigeria loss, Iran win, and Iran making up goal differential would allow Iran to advance. I decided to watch Nigeria-Argentina to begin with, reserving the right to switch around. Good choice, since first Messi and then Musa blasted the ball into the respective nets, with Musa getting the treasured “AZO! AZO! AZO!” from Pablo Ramírez on Univision. Twenty or so minutes later, Iran fell behind, 1-0, making the live table ARG 7 NGA 5 BIH 3 IRN 1. I was already looking ahead to Group E play. Messi’s outrageous free kick (“AZO! AZO! AZO!”) at the end of the first half did get my attention (NGA 4 IRN 1). (Ray Hudson, tweeting after the free kick: “Finding
#Messi in form like this is like finding an alligator in your toilet bowl!”) Musa’s second (NGA 5 IRN 1) elicited a rare third AZO! call from Ramírez … there’s probably a lesson here, when two teams play what is close to a meaningless match, might as well turn on the afterburners. (In the time it took me to type the previous sentence, Argentina scored a third … NGA 4 IRN 1.) Bosnia scored … 2-0, group has been decided. I got the group half-right in my bracket … I’ve got Argentina going all the way, but I picked Bosnia & Herzegovina for second. (Somewhere in there, goals were scored in BIH-IRN … I didn’t notice at the time.)
Group E: This started as a watch-them-both group … live table when the matches began, FRA 7 ECU 4 SUI 4 HON 1, with Ecuador second on goal differential. France needed a draw or win, Honduras needed a complicated miracle, and the other two were To Be Continued. Switzerland scored first, in the 6th minute … it’s impossible to analyze what you are seeing when you are watching two matches at once. The Swiss goal was noted on the ECU- FRA match on Univision before I watched it on my tablet via WatchESPN. FRA 7 SUI 6 ECU 4 HON 0. 31st minute, the Swiss score again. Goal differential will matter if Ecuador manages to beat France, so I’ll add them in parentheses: FRA 7 (6), SUI 6 (0), ECU 4 (0), HON 0 (-6). At halftime, France is still comfortably in first, Honduras is comfortably in last, and the other two were still To Be Continued, albeit with SUI moving ahead of ECU.
In the 50th minute, Ecuador had a player sent off, which effectively removed most of the suspense. Ecuador would have to score at least one goal while playing a man down against France, while Switzerland coasted with a two-goal lead. Shaqiri got his hat trick: SUI 6 (1), ECU 4 (0). The Swiss had a substantial lead in goals scored, so Ecuador’s only way in was to score two with ten men.
And Tim Lincecum had a no-hitter through 7 innings.
My attention wasn’t fully on ECU-FRA, but it sure looked like in the last 15 minutes or so, Ecuador was trying more for a clean sheet than for the two goals they needed to advance. They attacked with only 4 or 5 players, defended with 5 or 6. Normally a good idea when playing a man down, but their World Cup life was at stake.
And Tim Lincecum had a no-hitter through 8 innings.
I had planned my day on getting some stuff done when the afternoon matches were over. But I waited a bit longer … Tim Lincecum, you see.
He got his no-hitter.
Gwendolyn Oxenham, “The World Cup’s Sideline Siblings”.
Julie Foudy, “World Cup Is Hot, Beautiful Mess”.
Jennifer Doyle, “The Cannibal”.
Dave Zirin, “Luis Suárez May Bite, but FIFA Sucks Blood”.
Geoff Foster, “The World Cup Flopping Rankings”.
Things got a little heated on Twitter during the Greece match. For some reason, they are a metaphor, a stand-in for every team that plays in the Greek style. Fans of that style, who appreciate the tactical savvy behind it when it is used well, love to watch it in play. Those who don’t like it … well, that’s not harsh enough, they hate Greece for what they perceive is a negative approach to the game.
My own frustration with them dates to Euro 2004, which was won, completely unexpectedly, by Greece. My memory is that they were goal-less bores, but a look at their group stage gives the lie to that notion: they tied Portugal for most goals in the group. It was the knockout phase where Greece made their reputation, winning three straight 1-0 matches. But a closer look shows that they weren’t as negative as I remember. Against France, they were out-shot, 10-5, but all five of their attempts were on target, while only 40% of France’s were going for goal. France committed more fouls, 23-14 … corners were even, 3-3. It doesn’t read like an exciting match from those stats, but if blame is to be assigned, it would seem France was far more the culprit. The semi-final against the Czech Republic was more of the same, literally … the match went into extra time, with the only goal being scored in the 105th minute. Again, Greece took fewer shots but were more accurate (9 shots, 5 on target, 1 goal vs. the Czech’s 14 shots, 5 on target, 0 goals). Once again, what must have been frustration showed in the foul count: 16 for Greece, 27 for the Czechs.
As for the final, whatever my memories, the record doesn’t quite jibe with my thoughts. The UEFA site says, “Perhaps contrary to some expectations, the game was an attractive spectacle from the start, with both sides playing fluently.” Fouls were more equally distributed this time, but one more time, Greece scored a goal and their opponents did not.
But there are a couple of stats that give a sense of what some of us remember. Greece only managed one corner the entire match … Portugal had ten. The Portuguese got off 16 shots … the Greeks took 4. This happens in soccer … one team seems to dominate, but the other team hunkers down, plays solid defense, and makes their one chance at goal count. Take this description from UEFA, about the game’s only goal: “A surging right-wing run from Seitaridis won them a corner which Angelos Basinas swung over and there was Charisteas climbing above Costinha to head in from close range.”
Greece only got one corner in 90 minutes, and they turned it into the only goal of the match.
Well, those of us who crave goals found Greece’s success unfortunate. It was just a matter of taste preferences, but the feeling stuck. If I had rooted for Greece, it wouldn’t have mattered … when Spain won the 2010 World Cup, they lost their first match, 1-0, and they ran the knockout phase with four straight 1-0 wins … very Greek-like, you might say. But I didn’t care, because I wanted Spain to win. The entertainment value came from their victories. Greece suffered primarily because when they won 1-0, all I wanted was a lot of goals.
I got tangled in a Twitter argument about Greece during GRE-CIV. One section read:
G: “Americans that rip on Greece's style of soccer sound like English people who mock MLS.”
Me: “Wrong. Brits diss MLS for being poor quality. Americans diss Greece's national team for being boring. Not the same.”
S: (offering link to stats listing shots per game in this World Cup) “[Greece has] More shots per game than Chile or Costa Rica. How would you like to define it?”
Me: (checking the link) “Which makes them 25th out of 32 teams. Not wildly impressed.”
S: “You clearly have no interest in being convinced otherwise. No point in arguing.”
I’d like to think that last tweet was unfair, but I also know I am pigheaded about my taste preferences. I still don’t think being 25th out of 32 in any category is very good. But I do want to be convinced otherwise.
So, instead of just attaching links to match analysis as part of the next day’s post, I’m going to hunt them down now, at least the ones that are already up, and see what I can learn. Because a lot of people know more about this than I do, most especially including “S” above.
Here are a couple by Jeff Fogle. This first one is a bit hard for me to follow. He introduces “Shot Engine” (“Shot attempts pro-rated to 50% possession time”) and “Shot Engine with Shooting Accuracy”. His comments about Greece? “[T]hey do shoot quick those rare times they have the ball! 33 shots through three games with possession time at only 41.1%.” Then, taking the seven top teams in “shot engine”, he noted their shooting accuracy … the best shooters (Netherlands, Colombia, Brazil) have advanced, the worst shooters (Cameroon, Ivory Coast, Japan) did not advance. Greece sits in the middle … the only thing that raises their shooting accuracy near the best teams is that last-second penalty kick.
He also offered a preliminary look at the game stats for GRE-CIV … preliminary because he has found ESPN’s instant stats to be unreliable. They show a fairly even match: Ivory Coast had a bit more possession (54-46), Greece took one more shot, the Ivory Coast had three more corners.
Checking those ESPN stats, I see that the Ivory Coast committed 23 fouls to Greece’s 13, and received all three of the yellow cards that were given.
Michael Cox at Zonal Marking gave his usual finely-detailed recap. Some quotes … the entire piece is illuminating and worth reading, these are just a few highlights.
“[T]his was a great Greek performance – more proactive than usual defensively, and featuring some great counter-attacking football”.
“Greece – needing to win the game, of course – were more ambitious than usual. There was a major difference in the approach in midfield, where Greece pressed much higher up and often won the ball in dangerous positions, before quickly getting men forward and attacking into the wide areas”.
“At 1-0 up, Fernando Santos flipped his midfield. Georgios Karagounis started as the deepest of the midfield triangle, but for the second half played at the top, with the other two mobile midfielders dropping back. This was interesting, and shows the change in approach – at the start Santos wanted two to press, with a playmaker just behind. When he knew Greece would be under pressure, he wanted his functional players sitting deeper and protecting the defence.”
“The game, and the group, essentially came down to a late penalty decision. It was somehow fitting for the game – the Ivorians had repeatedly fouled throughout”.
Group D came first. Costa Rica had already qualified, England was already going home, so the important match was Italy-Uruguay. Italy led on goal differential, so they only needed a draw, while Uruguay needed a win. In the early going, I noticed that my Twitter feed contained maybe ten times as many CRC-ENG tweets as it did ITA-URU, which says something about the people I follow. Italy had a clear plan, and had players skilled enough to pull it off. They didn’t need to win. This can be extremely tense late in a match, when one team does everything they can to score, and the other does everything they can to prevent them from scoring. But 90 minutes of this lacks something. It is always better when both teams are trying to win, than when only one team is trying to win. This is not to fault the Italian strategy … after all, they WERE trying to win the World Cup.
And then the sending off. I don’t think anything changed then … Italy continued to protect their draw, Uruguay continued to look for the goal. Italy may have gotten marginally more defensive, but that’s relative. Uruguay seemed to be enlivened. But those things would have happened even if both teams were at full strength. The closer the match got to the finish, the more frantic Uruguay would become, so of course the tension increased.
And once Uruguay finally scored … well, props to Italy for busting their asses in those final ten minutes. Any team with Pirlo is capable of miracles. Despite my own wishes, Italy had a good strategy: play for a draw, and then, after falling behind, play for a draw. I need to emphasize this. I do not blame Italy for their approach. But I don’t have to like watching it. And the end was exciting.
Meanwhile, in a group with Italy, England, and Uruguay, it is Costa Rica that finishes atop the group.
And none of this will be remembered, because people will obsess over Luis Suárez. My guess? He’ll be suspended for the rest of the World Cup, at the least.
Group C was a bit more complicated than D. Colombia was through, the other three fought for the second spot. Once the matches began, the live table was COL 7 CIV 4 JAP 2 GRE 2. The crucial match was Greece-Ivory Coast. An Ivory Coast win would see them through; a draw would open a window for Japan to sneak through; a Greek win would eliminate the Ivorians and leave Greece and Japan dependent on each other’s results. Lots of possibilities. Greece is known for emphasizing defense, which put them at a disadvantage since they needed to get a win here. They hadn’t scored in either of their first two matches.
Colombia scored first of the four teams, getting a penalty in the 17th minute against Japan. COL 9 CIV 4 GRE 2 JAP 1. Meanwhile, Greece made two subs in the first 24 minutes due to injury, one for the goalkeeper. Then Greece scored late in the first half. It was a crucial moment in the match, setting up the potential for second-half excitement, as the Ivory Coast did everything to get an equalizer, while Greece applied their substantial abilities to keep the Ivorians from scoring. COL 9 GRE 4 CIV 3 JAP 1. And Japan picked up an extra-time goal to equalize against Colombia. COL 7 GRE 4 CIV 3 JAP 2 at half time, with the key being the goal from Greece that would put them through to the next round, if everything stayed the same.
Colombia scored quickly in the second half. COL 9 GRE 4 CIV 3 JAP 1. Meanwhile, as expected, the tension in GRE-CIV grew, the longer the Greeks maintained their lead. Finally, the Ivory Coast got their goal, with around 20 minutes to go. COL 9 CIV 4 GRE 2 JAP 1. The tension was not lessened. Now it was Greece needing to go all out; rather like Italy earlier in the day, a team built around defense had to switch tactics. No one doubted they had the desire. Unlucky, they hit the woodwork three times during the match. (Colombia scored a third and a fourth, leaving it down to GRE-CIV.)
And then, in extra time … a penalty! Greece pushed strongly once they fell behind, and were rewarded. COL 9 GRE 4 CIV 3 JAP 1.
Much more than yesterday, this was an example of what can be great about these third days in group play. Italy-Uruguay and Greece-Ivory Coast turned into de facto knockout matches. When the USA allowed a last second goal to Portugal, it was crushing. But there’s always Germany on Thursday. These teams today were looking at elimination. Greece did to the Ivory Coast what Portugal did to the U.S., and for the Ivory Coast, there is no Germany on Thursday. They are going home.
I could offer up a billion links to articles about Luis Suárez, but you’ve got Google. Find them yourself.
Michael Cox, “World Cup 2014: group stage, day 12”
Nick Hornby, “England failing time and again”
Group B: They played the early games … the alphabet was not in charge. Here is where my intention to watch all the games fell apart. I had an eye on Australia-Spain, but I made no real attempt to pay attention … no watching two games at once … because I wasn’t interested in the “battle for third”. So I watched the Battle for First, Netherlands-Chile. In the end, I probably chose the wrong match. Spain finally won a (meaningless) match, while Netherlands-Chile, which started out with Chile needing a win to take first place, never moved past that point. Holland finally scored in the 77th minute to solidify the positions in the table, while I waited for the Group A matches to follow. I was glad for one thing: I had Chile finishing second in my bracket, so I got that right. Of course, I had Spain atop the group and Holland eliminated, but no one’s perfect.
Group A: Brazil took care of business, leaving Croatia-Mexico as the big match of the day. A draw suited Mexico, so it was on Croatia to be proactive. Such a situation has a built-in tension … Mexico in command, but a single goal could crush their hopes. This wasn’t like USA-Portugal, where the late equalizer made things more difficult for the U.S. If Croatia took the lead, Mexico would be eliminated. This will be duplicated in every match once the knockout rounds begin. The difference here was Mexico’s one-point advantage. It’s not just that a draw was good enough … it’s that when Mexico scored, Croatia needed at least two, and that wasn’t likely to happen. I got the feeling Croatia knew this … Mexico’s second and third goals were scored against a team that mentally was on their way home. It was nice to see them add a consolation at the end. Today’s results set up Netherlands-Mexico and Brazil-Chile. I actually got 3 of 4 correct on my bracket.
Jennifer Doyle, “The Art of Conversation: Portugal-USA”.
Michael Cox, “World Cup 2014: group stage, day 11”
This is where it gets crazy.
This World Cup has been filled with amazing matches, so it’s silly to suggest the best is yet to come. But for the obsessive-compulsives in the crowd, nothing matches the next four days, when the eight groups are decided. Each group’s matches take place simultaneously … tomorrow at 9:00, Australia-Spain and Netherlands-Chile will begin, after which Group A will be settled, and at 1:00, Cameroon-Brazil and Croatia-Mexico will close out Group B.
The reason why the groups’ final matches are held at the same time can be found here.
The reason these four days are made for us obsessives is that the “live standings” for the group will change with every goal scored in either game. Take Group H for an example.
At the beginning of play on Thursday, the standings will be:
Belgium, who will advance no matter what, plays South Korea, who can only advance with a win. Algeria, who can advance with a win or maybe advance with a draw, plays Russia, who can only advance with a win.
So, let’s see how it might work out. Say Algeria scores an early goal against Russia. The live standings will be:
Suppose that then the Koreans and Russians score, making the scores BEL 0-1 KOR and ALG 1-1 RUS. The live standings become:
Algeria will still be ahead of South Korea on goal differential.
Maybe the next thing you know, the Russians and Belgians will score … BEL 1-1 KOR, ALG 1-2 RUS. That would vault Russia into second place. But what if the Koreans score again (BEL 1-2 KOR)? Now KOR and RUS both have 4 points, Algeria is outside looking in with 3 points, and Russia is still in second due to goal differential. What if the Belgians have a player sent off, and the Koreans score twice to make it 4-1? Suddenly, the Koreans pass the Russians on goal differential. And if, at the last second, Algeria scores an equalizer against Russia, it will be BEL 6 ALG 4 KOR 4 RUS 2, and I admit at that point, I’d have to check the rules, since the first tiebreaker, goal differential, would be tied, as would the second tiebreaker, goals scored. I think Algeria would advance because they beat South Korea, but I’m not sure about that.
Imagine going through this twice a day for four days, and you have an idea of what these third games of the group stage can be.
Having said all of that, we’ll be able to ease our way into things, because Group B is the first one up (9:00 tomorrow), and it has already been decided that the Netherlands and Chile will advance, while Spain and Australia will go home. The only thing that will matter is the final result of Netherlands-Chile … if Chile wins, they finish first in the group, otherwise Holland is first, and this matters because the team that finishes second will play the Group A winner in the next round, and that is expected to be Brazil.
But Group A at 1:00 will be the first full-blown craziness. Cameroon is out, everyone else has a chance. At the start of play, Brazil and Mexico have 4 points, Croatia has 3. Brazil gets Cameroon, who they should beat, meaning Mexico and Croatia will play for second place. Since Mexico has an extra point, they can advance with a draw, while Croatia has to win.
Group E could be a good one. If Ecuador beats France, and Switzerland beats Honduras, three teams will have six points. It would come down to goal differential, and France has a big lead there. Ecuador has a two-goal lead over the Swiss, so if, say, Ecuador is beating France 1-0, Switzerland will need at least a three-goal win to pass them.
As for the United States, everyone is already talking about the potential for a gentleman’s agreement between Klinsmann and Löw. You see, if USA-GER ends in a draw, both teams advance.
Back when the World Cup teams were drawn into eight groups, the U.S. and its fans were depressed on realizing their group opponents would be the always-dangerous Germans, the Cristiano Ronaldo-led Portuguese, and Ghana, who had eliminated the USA in the previous two World Cups.
So when the U.S. beat Ghana 2-1 in their first group game, fans were happy. And when the U.S. drew 2-2 with Portugal, fans were happy. Four points from two matches, already a better showing than many expected.
That’s one narrative about the Americans’ World Cup so far, and it’s a positive one.
But more detail can warp that narrative. So I’ll note that Ghana outplayed the U.S. in their match, and the Americans only won because of a late goal. This version makes the U.S. seem a bit less mighty. Then I’ll add that the U.S. outplayed Portugal, yet only managed a draw because the Portuguese got a late goal. This version makes the U.S. seem unlucky, at best.
They are outplayed and get three points; they outplay their opponents as underdogs and get one point. Looked at in those basic terms, we can return to the positive narrative: four points when three or even one was probably more likely.
What if the goals were scored in a different order? Say the U.S. took a 2-0 lead over Ghana late into the game. Ghana got one goal back, but the U.S. had led the entire match, and coasted to victory. Say the Portuguese jumped ahead of the U.S. 2-0 in the first half of their match, but the U.S. came storming back with two second-half goals, the last coming on the final play of the game. In this scenario, U.S. fans would be ecstatic.
The point is, in all of these scenarios, the U.S. comes out of their first two matches with four points. The standings remain GER 4 USA 4 GHA 1 POR 1.
So why did that last-second Portuguese goal hurt so much?
The big match, as told via the tweets I re-tweeted in real time during the game:
Before the game:
Patrick Stewart: “USA...USA...USA.”
Jennifer Doyle: “I Believe I will get off this plane and to my house in 45 minutes!”
Awful Announcing: “Kinda wish we could have started Jack Bauer up front for Altidore today.”
During the game:
Will Carroll: “Knee affected that free kick for Ronaldo. Did not set himself normally and lofted it.”
Kate Scott: “Holy ... fuck.”
Planet Fútbol: “Landon Donovan to ESPN: ‘This game is screaming out for a guy like Chris Wondolowski’”
Kate Scott: “Well, they're the #4 team in the world for a reason. 1-0 at half? I'll take it. Now, I need some whiskey & two
#USA goals after the break.”
Michael Cox: “That's far more of a bad miss than a great block”
Kate Scott: “Jermaine Jones, mother fuckers!!!!!!!!!”
Kate Scott: “Captain fuckin' America!!!!!!!!!!!!”
Kate Scott: “Eight minutes. Eight fuckin' minutes. (Plus stoppage time ;)”
Kate Scott: “Two minutes. Two fuckin' minutes.”
After the game:
Belgium-Russia: Not normally a good sign when you look to Russia to provide excitement. Not that they delivered. At one point, they showed a fan sleeping in the crowd. Picture = thousand words.
South Korea-Algeria: This was supposed to be the match to take my mind off of the upcoming USA-Portugal. But Algeria scored so many first-half goals that I quit paying attention and started fretting about the U.S. again. South Korea then interrupted my tortured reveries by scoring second-half goals. All of the goals in the match were well-taken, but they were helped by leaky defenses. (With this game, Algeria became the first African team to score four goals in a World Cup match.)
Michael Cox, “World Cup 2014: group stage, day 10”
Brad Friedel, “Facing a Ronaldo free kick”
Gabriele Marcotti, “FIFA must do better with concussions”
I think the U.S. players believe that they will win. They will play to their abilities. They won’t be overawed. It is rare that a soccer match can be controlled by one player … team play is crucial. And Portugal will not be at 100%, due to injuries and suspensions.
And yet … Iran earned a well-deserved upset draw with Argentina, except Leo Messi pull a bit of magic out of his boots. If there is one other player who can “do a Messi” in that way, it’s Cristiano Ronaldo. If Ronaldo is fit, the U.S. is in trouble. They can have a good tactical plan to deal with him … he can have what passes for a bad game by his standards … but if he’s fit, I think Portugal will win.
But that’s a big if.
It’s fun to be an American fan at times like this, thanks in part to those casual fans who only turn up every four years. Those fans diss soccer on a regular basis. They also understand that the USA is not among the elite. But come the World Cup, and everyone becomes a fan. Because they don’t pay attention for the most part, they don’t really know what “not among the elite” means. Like the players, they are fearless, and actually believe the U.S. will win, at least as each match approaches … I don’t know if even the most loony fair-weather fan thinks the U.S. can win it all. They know Ronaldo is tops, but they think Clint Dempsey is only slightly inferior. When the U.S. wins at the World Cup, people go bonkers. And in the buildup, they think of beating Portugal in 2002, about Landon Donovan against Algeria, about Rapinoe-to-Wambach against Brazil. They don’t think of those World Cups where the U.S. craps out.
Thus, it makes sense that American fans have adopted “I believe that we will win” as their battle cry.
Of course, when the U.S. is eliminated (and that could be sooner rather than later … it’s not out of the realm of possibility that they lose to both Portugal and Germany), those casual fans will forget about soccer again until 2018.
My prediction: if Ronaldo is hampered, the U.S. wins, 1-0. If Ronaldo is fine, the U.S. loses, 2-1.
Argentina-Iran: Looked for all the world like a scoreless draw, not without interest. Maybe I’m just getting mellow, but I appreciate bunkering tactics more than I used to. Still don’t like to watch them, but what the hell else was Iran going to do, and they were excellent at the job in the first half. They even offered a little attacking soccer early in the second half, before settling back into park-the-bus mode. Meanwhile, Argentina played “sin imaginación”, as the late Norberto Longo used to say. And then Messi found a sliver of space, took one shot, and Argentina had the win. A perfect ending to a fine second half, even if a bit unfair to Iran’s efforts.
Germany-Ghana: Bob Ley on ESPN called it the best second-half of the tournament so far. I’d say it was the best, period, just one day after I noted that the Brazil-Mexico 0-0 match had been the best. This one was 0-0 at the half, but after that, whoa! I was reminded of Netherlands-Brazil in the 1994 quarterfinals. That match, too, had a scoreless first half, but in the second half: Romário in the 53rd minute to put Brazil up 1-0, Bebeto ten minutes later to bump the lead to 2-0, Dennis Bergkamp just one minute after that for 2-1, Aron Winter in the 76th minute with the equalizer, and finally Branco giving Brazil the 3-2 win in the 81st minute. What I liked about today’s match was that both teams went for it. This Ghana team is fearless … falling behind in the first minute to the U.S., they bombarded the Americans for the rest of the match. Falling behind to fearsome Germany, they fought back to take the lead before the Germans managed one last goal. Ghana has one point from two matches, but they have looked as good as anyone so far. Meanwhile, with this result, the U.S. can advance to the knockout round if they beat Portugal tomorrow.
Nigeria-Bosnia & Hersegovina: Another third-game-of-the-day that I met with sleepy eyes. The Bosnians were unlucky to lose, with a couple of referee decisions playing a part. Now they are eliminated. If Nigeria advances, they won’t go much farther.
Michael Cox, “World Cup 2014: group stage, day 9”
Timothy McGrath, “Sorry, New York Times, but America flops too”
So, how are we doing so far?
A week-and-a-half ago, I posted my lame-but-clear “template for a good soccer match”. Once again, the rules:
I’m searching for matches that were competitive (rule #1), and attack-minded (rule #2).
The 7th match was the first to meet the criteria: England 1-2 Italy. There were 30 total shots (13 on goal), some inspired individual play (Pirlo, Balotelli), and if England never quite seemed like they had an equalizer in them, it wasn’t for lack of trying. On the same day, the Ivory Coast defeated Japan 2-1, in a match that was more lopsided than the score suggests.
Sunday the 15th had two more: Switzerland 2-1 Ecuador, and Argentina 2-1 Bosnia-Herzegovina. The first was headed to a 1-1 draw until the thrilling extra-time winner by substitute Hans Seferovic, a case where the ending made the match seem a bit better than it was. Argentina-Bosnia was also saved by a goal, Lionel Messi’s sublime effort to put Argentina up 2-0 midway through the second half. Bosnia got a late goal to “fulfill” the template, and Messi’s wondergoal made the match memorable, but again, this one was not as competitive as the final score indicates.
Monday the 16th had one, which delighted U.S. fans: Ghana 1-2 United States. I can’t judge the entertainment value, since I had a rooting interest, but Ghana’s put so much pressure on the U.S. after Dempsey’s instant goal that there was a level of tension throughout the match, with everyone wondering if/when Ghana would break through. Which they did, with less than ten minutes to go. Which set up a classic finish four minutes later, when John Anthony Brooks headed home the game-winner.
Tuesday the 17th, Belgium 2-1 Algeria. Not a great match most of the way … Algeria only got off three shots, and their goal came from a penalty kick. Belgium dominated without actually being interesting, until Marc Wilmots made three subsitutions in the early parts of the second half. Two of those substitutes scored goals, and Belgium got the win they deserved. But it was odd … Belgium clearly outplayed the Algerians, yet until the last 20 minutes, didn’t seem very potent.
Wednesday the 18th, and the real winner of the Template of the Cup thus far: Australia 2-3 Netherlands. The heavy underdogs Australia stayed with the Dutch for most of the match, even taking a brief 2-1 lead early in the second half. There were 43 total fouls (remarkably, only two by Nigel de Jong), it was a tough match, lots of give and take, and the best team won. But it was a five-goal extravaganza.
Thursday the 19th had two: Colombia 2-1 Ivory Coast, and Uruguay 2-1 England. All three goals in the first match came in a nine-minute period midway through the second half. Uruguay-England was one of the best matches so far, with a lot of the excitement being contextual … it wasn’t just entertaining, it featured Luis Suárez in his first match of the Cup, scoring twice in an emotional performance against the English.
Finally, on the 20th, there was Honduras 1-2 Ecuador. The stat sheet shows some interesting individual performances. Carlos Costly scored the Honduras goal, and also led all Hondurans in committing five fouls. Enner Valencia scored both Ecuador goals, was fouled five times, and returned the favor three times. (Fouls are usually part of the discussion in a match that includes Honduras.)
That’s ten matches already that fit the template. But other matches, while not fitting the straightjacket I’ve chosen, were “good”, usually by featuring one team in a delightful blow out of their opponent. The Netherlands scored five against defending champions Spain, Germany plowed past Portugal 4-0, France got five against the Swiss.
And, as if to demonstrate the silliness of my template, arguably the best match so far was the scoreless draw between Brazil and Mexico.
Against all of the above, Iran-Nigeria and Japan-Greece were more typical 0-0 matches, i.e. boring, and other matches were merely OK. It’s worth noting, though, that “merely OK” would have been quite good in the 2010 World Cup.
So far, this has been an excellent World Cup. Partly because teams are scoring goals, and I like goals. But there are also fine individual exploits, and again, Brazil 0-0 Mexico was a terrific match to watch.
And I didn’t even mention this:
Italy-Costa Rica: We’re getting to the point where context can provide an extra level of excitement. The first half was tactical, and mostly of interest to fans of that aspect of the game. Then the ref blew a PK call, Costa Rica scored, and any England fans who actually held out some hope for their team started sweating. As did Italian fans, since a loss would make Italy-Uruguay crucial. And that is good for neutrals, but not what Italy anticipated prior to the start of the tournament. Another odd thing was that Italy didn’t give the impression in the second half that they would score (which was due largely to the Costa Rican defense, of course), so again, the excitement came through context. Meanwhile, CONCACAF is still looking good.
Switzerland-France: A fan trying to watch every World Cup match needs one like this: a few early goals, at least one quite memorable, and then a gradual fade until the final whistle. A chance to give the brain a break, to just keep half an eye on the action. I might even stay awake for the third match! Of course, I took a quickie nap between the first two today. And I have a bit of a rooting interest in the third match, since a member of the Earthquakes plays for Honduras.
Honduras-Ecuador: Entertaining match … neither team convinced me they were great, but they paired up well. Victor Bernárdez of the Quakes played OK. I need to do a longer piece about how few really crappy matches there have been.
Jennifer Doyle, “FIFA’s Gendered Laws of the Game”
Michael Cox, “World Cup 2014 group stage: day 8”
Michael Winsnip, “Dave Zirin: ‘FIFA’s World Cup is for the wealthy, not for the people’”
Barry Petchesky, “FIFPro Calls For Concussion Probe After Alvaro Pereira Gets Knocked Cold”
Chris Ballard, “Coming of Age”
Colombia-Ivory Coast: Entertaining match that seemed sloppy to me, which doesn’t preclude the positive entertainment value. James Rodriguez cemented his spot as one of the top talents of the first eight days, and though it was in a losing cause, Gervinho’s goal was a beauty. I think both teams will advance out of the group stage, which would be nice, since I had them doing so in my bracket.
Uruguay-England: The English announcers have a phrase, “talking points”, that they use to describe a match that will lend itself well to post-game analysis. There are lots of talking points to be taken from URU-ENG. There’s one that I hope doesn’t get ignored. Alvaro Pereira of Uruguay was knocked unconscious, and when he came to, he insisted on staying in the game. And he did. For another half an hour. That is wrong. People will also talk about Uruguay’s Diego Godín, who committed a cardable offense while carrying a yellow card. He should have been sent off, but the ref did not give him a second yellow, and he remained in the game until the end. Meanwhile, I was glad to see Rooney score … I’ve never understood why English fans get on him so much. But I knew where my loyalties were for the match on the first Suárez goal, which had me shouting with joy. The second was even better. I don’t dislike England, or particular like Uruguay, for that matter. I just like Luis Suárez.
Japan-Greece: The curse of the third match of the day, with the added problem that Greece, unlikely to excite in any event, played a man down for much of the match. They can be proud of their performance, which accomplished the necessary. Colombia advances, and the Ivory Coast has the inside track on the second place.
Wright Thompson, “While the World Watched”
Michael Cox, “World Cup 2014: group stage, day 7”
You know, I was going to post a video from Greece’s victory at Euro 2004. But I got tired of trying to find one that was just soccer action. They all seemed to have pumped-up music to make Greece seem exciting. So instead, here’s a different kind of Grease:
Australia-Netherlands: The final result was as expected, but Australia gave folks a thrill on the way to that result. Biggest worry for the Dutch going forward is that they allowed two goals to (one of?) the worst team in the competition. If they don’t deal with that problem, they will disappoint at some point.
Spain-Chile: Spain and Me, Otra Vez”
Cameroon-Croatia: The late-afternoon curse strikes again, as personified in something my wife posted on Facebook: “The current match must not be that exciting. I think I heard snoring coming from the attic.” This is unfair to Croatia, who played well, but as a reflection of my personal experience watching the tournament, it’s right on target.
The end of the first week of action saw three teams already eliminated: Australia, Spain, and Cameroon. The defending champs have been outscored 7-1, Australia are a nice side that was never going anywhere, and Cameroon … well, if I didn’t say it before, I’ll say it now: 1990 gets farther away with every World Cup. (And it’s probably appropriate to note that the 1990 Indomitable Lions, so fondly remembered, crashed out in the quarter-finals when they led England 2-1 with less than ten minutes to go, only to defeat themselves by giving up two penalties.)
My brackets are fading. In Group A, I had Brazil on top and Mexico second, which can still happen. But I had Spain winning Group B, which won't happen. I do have Chile finishing second, which is a possibility.
Michael Cox, “World Cup 2014: group stage, day 6”
I wrote this four years ago on this blog (edited slightly):
There was nothing special about us when we were growing up. There were a lot of ethnic families … I’m pretty sure Mexicans and Italians were the most common, at least the ones where it seemed like they had an “extra” identity. There was a tiny Spanish community, but not enough for most of us to notice. And, since it was the time of assimilation, we were raised as middle-class white kids.
Still, my maternal grandmother spoke with a thick accent, and she had a big painting of a bullfighter on the wall, and she made interesting foods we didn’t find anywhere else. I never thought of myself as Spanish, I was always an American, but there was a touch of something different.
This was pretty much my identity until I went to Spain for the first time, in 1984. Didn’t actually get down to the part of Spain my family is from … we stayed north amongst the Catalans … but I felt some weird romantic specialness when I heard the water outside our hostel that first night. Perhaps coincidentally, the European soccer championships were going on then, and Spain made the finals, where they lost to that great Platini-led French team. I paid some attention to the goings on, although to be honest my memories are less about the Spanish team and more about Platini.
Beginning in 2000, we started going to Spain fairly often: 2000, 2003, 2007, 2009, 2013. Each time we went to Andalucía, land of my father’s family. Robin noted from the start that I was able to relax there in ways I never relax anywhere else. Between those trips, and my improved command of the Spanish language, I guess I felt more Spanish than I ever did before.
Not that I was ever anything other than American. In 2009, I was in Spain when the Confederations Cup was being played. By that point, Spain hadn’t lost a match in three years. The United States met Spain in the semi-finals. Spain’s team that day was largely composed of the same people you’ve been watching the last month in the World Cup. The U.S. won the match, 2-0. I assure you, I was rooting for the USA.
That was the last time I rooted against Spain, a team that is now one match away from putting aside the final remnants of their reputation as underachievers. Somewhere over the years, I came to understand that perhaps the most Spanish thing about this American white boy was my own excellence at underachieving.
Belgium-Algeria: Reminiscent in some ways of Ghana-USA. Algeria scored, then bunkered. But that’s their normal style, so they looked different than the U.S. in the same situation … the Americans always looked like they wished they could attack, even though it wasn’t happening. And when Belgium got their goals, you knew Algeria would never get an equalizer. Decent match, and you can’t blame Algeria for their style, but no classic.
Brazil-Mexico: An excellent example of what people mean when they say a scoreless dual can be interesting, entertaining, and full of action. Iran-Nigeria was awful because one team didn’t want to score and the other couldn’t score. Here, both teams were trying to score, leaving the result up in the air. Props to referee Cuneyt Cakir for managing the match so that it eventually found a decent flow. The teams fought to the end, Ochoa had the match of his life, and without Graham Zusi it wouldn’t have happened.
Russia-South Korea: These third games of the day are hard for me … not impossible, I’ve enjoyed some, but especially on a day like today, when I seem to be fighting a cold, I need something to keep me from crashing. When the highlight of a match is a goalkeeper’s blunder, well, that’s not enough. I can’t really judge the match, except to say that it struggled to keep my attention.
Achal Prabhala, “Neymar and the Disappearing Donkey”
Paul Campbell, “USA 2-1 Ghana: a nation reacts to the World Cup 2014 game”
Twitter Reverb, “Mentions of ‘Ochoa’ or @yosoy8a during #BRA #MEX”
Namez (Learn how to pronounce your favorite player name)
Michael Cox, “World Cup 2014: group stage, day 5”
Today’s video came to mind after watching Memo Ochoa’s great match. Ochoa made six gigantic saves to help preserve the clean sheet, and he did it on the biggest stage possible: the World Cup, against Brazil, in Brazil. So the context for the following isn’t quite as magnificent. It’s the CONCACAF Gold Cup, 1998, semi-final match between the USA and Brazil. Kasey Keller in goal for the U.S. made ten saves as the States beat Brazil for the first time ever. The great Romario said, “That is the best performance by a goalkeeper I have ever seen.” The band Barcelona even wrote a song about it, “Kasey Keller”. Here are the highlights, with the great Jorge Ramos at the mic:
One goal in the 34th second, another in the 86th minute.
Two moments of exquisite joy.
In the 23rd minute, Jozy Altidore goes down. The U.S. bunkered desperately for the next 59 minutes. At halftime, they replaced injured defender Matt Besler with John Brooks, who until the minute the whistle blew to start the second half could still have played for the German national team.
After those frantic 59 minutes, Ghana finally got the goal everyone had been expecting. At that point, with Ghana still knocking on the door, U.S. fans would have been satisfied with 1-1.
The U.S. team had other ideas, and four minutes later, John Brooks scored.
All I’ve done is relate the events of the match. It won’t be remembered by U.S. fans in the above fashion. If you want to know how fans will remember it, know that Brooks’ goal as called by Ian Darke will be replayed as often as Landon vs. Algeria. And if you want to know how fans experienced it in the moment, check out social media. Like the status update I posted to Facebook when Dempsey scored that goal in the first minute: “AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!” Or the tweet of someone who will remain nameless, although I’m not sure why … she tweeted, “Dempsey, mother fuckers!!!!!!!!!” (86 minutes of playing time later, she added, “John Brooks, mother fuckers!!!!!!!!”)
Or the person who updated John Brooks’ Wikipedia page to read, “He is the greatest american since Abraham Lincoln.”
I’ve already forgotten who, but someone noted that the goal scorers in this match did not play very well outside of their goal. In Dempsey’s case, he had a reason … his nose was broken in the first half, and he had trouble breathing the rest of the game. Jermaine Jones was the Man of the Match, to me and I’m guessing to most people.