Category Archives: World Cup Report

As It Happened: World Cup Final: Germany vs. Argentina

First of all, I want to say that I’m sorry for not doing anything at all for the last 36 years (rough estimate). I really try to do more, but it’s not as easy as it looks, especially for me.

Second of all, I want to apologize for apologizing at the beginning of almost every one of these. It’s annoying, so I’ll give the stock explanation right now, and hope that you remember this for later: I’m not a professional journalist. I’m an amateur writer (not even really a “sports writer,” just a “writer”) and soccer fan, who likes to analyze soccer and put the best of his analysis on his blog. Sometimes I pretend I’m a journalist, intentionally or more likely unintentionally, but I am not a journalist. I’m supplemental. I’m here to give an extra opinion after you’ve already read/watched/heard the opinions of people who get paid to do this.

Also, this is all free of charge to everyone. You aren’t paying any money to see this (you never will have to), and I’m not receiving any money to make this (as of yet). If you’ve came in with expectations of a long article a day, that’s (switch to Jürgen Klinsmann voice) unrealistic. I’m not at that next level. It’s a working progress.

(Switch back to American voice.)

IT’S THE WORLD CUP FINAL!!! So I kind of have to do something. Despite the combination of my laziness and the fact that I have a violent case of writer’s block, the World Cup Final is a special occasion. Not only will I do an “As It Happened” for this, but I’ll do one for the Seattle-Portland game later today (10 eastern, on ESPN2 nationally here in the US). Oh, and shortly I’m going to do a good bit of “World Cup Review” stuff, plus I will begin my weekly MLS article, and my European previews won’t be long as well, plus I will have some special features as well that will be good to see. That’s a lot of stuff.

 

Enough talk. Let’s do this!

The Argentine national anthem may or may not have words. Earlier they made a list of the 4 countries that have national anthems without lyrics, and Argentina wasn’t on the list. The point is, they never sing the words. The Argentine fans just say “oooo” as if about to engage in Mexican profanity, except they’re doing it to the music, and they’re about to engage in a World Cup final. This might just be me, but it just seems like a scenario to slip away into a daydream. I wonder what Messi is daydreaming about.

1’ – The game has begun.

4’ – Free kick for Germany. Half the German population gathers around the free kick. They do their prepared routine, and it doesn’t really work out. Argentina send a shot narrowly wide on the counter-attack.

7’ – Germany seem to clearly be the better team, but that means little in this sport. Especially when the weaker team has Messi.

9’ – Argentina seem to be fine letting Germany pass around, and then pressuring in the final third, and then going on the counter-attack, as they did just then. Messi made Hummels look as slow as me, but Germany defend as a team; Schweinsteiger with the clearance.

16’ – The Argentines have identified that Germany’s left side is their weakness. Their left-midfielder is Mesut Özil, who isn’t quite fond of defending, while their left-back is Benedikt Höwedes, who is out of position; he’s really a center-back.

18’ – Cristoph Kramer, who came on as an injury replacement himself for Sami Khedira, just went down with a head injury. They will obviously disregard things like “player safety” and bring him back on, because FIFA.

21’ – That is a horrific defensive header by Toni Kroos, Higuaín ALL ALONE!!! WHAT A MISS!!!!! He was one-on-one with the goalkeeper! This proves that even the best miss sometimes, people-who-have-overly-criticized-Chris-Wondolowski.

29’ – Yellow card for Bastian Schweinsteiger. He took down Lavezzi. This means that he’ll have to be careful, which is worrying considering that as a defensive midfielder he patrols a well-trafficked area.

30’ – Messi, to Lavezzi out wide in space, TO HIGUAÍN, GOOOAAALLL!!! NO! Gonzalo Higuaín makes the perfect finish, but he’s unnecessarily offside! Still scoreless in Rio.

31’ – Kramer is coming off with that head injury. They should’ve never let him back on.

33’ – Höwedes yellow. That might should’ve been a red!

36’ – Messi with the ball, and he tries to thread it through for Higuaín in space, but Schweinsteiger with the clearance!

37’ – Schürrle with the shot, incredible save from Sergio Romero!

40’ – Messi goes forward and Argentina almost score, but Jerome Boateng clears the ball away. Germany just stuffs the attack.

43’ – Nifty move by Özil to keep the ball and set up Toni Kroos, but Kroos sends the shot right to Romero.

45+2’ – Corner by Kroos, Höwedes GETS IT, G–NO?!? How does he miss that? It goes off the crossbar. He’ll be thinking about that at half-time.

45+2’ – End of the first half. That was a quality half. Both teams looked fairly close to scoring on multiple occasions. I have less idea of who will win, and I had no idea beforehand. I’m not sure how that’s possible; which is fitting, because this World Cup has been about impossible-type things.

46’ – The second half has begun! Argentina have added Sergio Aguero for Lavezzi. Aguero is great when healthy, although is he healthy? Either way, it’s an attacking sub and if it works it will open up space for Messi, and it will add another player near the goal for rebounds and crosses and such.

47’ – Messi with the ball! Shoots! Just wide!

50’ – Aguero heads it down for Higuaín, but the Napoli man couldn’t make good enough contact on the volley.

51’ – Jerome Boateng has done well. Huh, he’s in the World Cup final, doing great, while his brother Kevin-Prince, who chose to play for Ghana instead of Germany, got exiled by a team that finished last in their group.

56’ – Neuer comes in to punch the ball, and Higuaín, who comes to get the ball as well, gets knocked down in the process. I don’t think it’s a foul by either, but it’s certainly not a foul by Higuaín. They call it a foul by Higuaín. Now, Higuaín looks hurt. Oh, it’s another head injury. And of course they let him play on, because FIFA.

61’ – Someone is about to win the World Cup.

62’ – Ian Darke: “If you’ve been enjoying the World Cup, you’ll like MLS” unless you’re a shameless Eurosnob. MLS on DSE. If you’re American, read it, or I will eliminate your US citizenship.

62’ – Back to the game, a promising attack for Germany becomes nothing due to a somewhat poor choice of pass by Andre Schürrle.

65’ – I think that’s what you call a “forward’s tackle.” Yellow to Aguero.

70’ – Not sure what Höwedes was trying to do with that cross. Benedikt Höwedes: the German Space Program.

72’ – I’m sitting on my sofa, with my laptop literally on my lap. It almost fell down. That means someone is going to score in the next 5 minutes.

75’ – Nifty build-up play by Argentina and Messi. Messi couldn’t get the shot on target.

78’ – Rodrigo Palacio comes on for Higuaín. Apparently I was wrong about the “scoring in the next 5 minutes” thing.

80’ – Benedikt Höwedes can’t get the shot off in the box. He’s read the script; he knows that him scoring the winner wouldn’t be as good of a story. (This will look really stupid if Höwedes ends up scoring the winner…yeah, I think I’m willing to take that risk.)

86’ – Fernando Gago comes on for Perez. This is Argentina’s final sub.

88’ – Here comes Mario Götze for Miroslav Klose. The 36-year-old Klose has scored more goals in the World Cup than anyone else. This most likely marks the end of one of the best World Cup careers ever. Germany has one substitution left. Götze should be able to mix it up a bit as Die Mannschaft goes for the winner.

90’ – The board announces 3 minutes of added time. Either we go to extra time, or someone becomes a legend.

90+3’ – End of full time! 0-0! We go to extra time! 30 more minutes of the World Cup final! Will someone get the winner? Will we go to…penalties?

91’ – Well, that’s amazing how extra time started. Andre Schürrle almost scored! Nice save by Romero. They go on the counter, but Jerome Boateng stops the attack.

97’ – Palacio receives the ball with his chest, and attempts to chip it over Neuer, but it’s off target.

104’ – Javier Mascherano is indeed doing well in this World Cup.

105’ – Intermission. 15 minutes to make history. Or more, if it goes to…penalties.

106’ – Second period of extra time has started.

112’ – Aguero collides with Schweinsteiger, and Schweinsteiger begins to bleed. He’s back on now.

113’ – Schürrle, the cross, chest control by Mario Götze, SHOT, GOOOOOOOOOOOAAAALLLLL!!!!!!!!! MARIO GÖTZE, THE 22-YEAR-OLD SUBSTITUTE FROM BAYERN MUNICH, WITH THE BIGGEST GOAL OF HIS LIFE!!!!

116’ – That was a horrific pass by Biglia to Messi. It didn’t even stay in play. You can’t blame Argentina’s failure to win on Messi. He’s by far Argentina’s best midfielder and best forward, and he certainly can’t do both against Germany’s defense. Especially when his teammates are mostly terrible. Messi hasn’t been at Maradona-level this tournament, but his attacking teammates have been mediocre at best the entire tournament.

120+2’ – Messi taken down by Schweinsteiger. Free kick for Argentina. Messi to take it, it seems. He takes it, and misses. Not even Maradona can be expected to make a free kick from that range. Remember my picture earlier that depicted Messi’s teammates as 6-year-olds? That is so accurate.

120+4’ – The Germans want them to blow the whistle…THEY’VE BLOWN THE WHISTLE! GERMANY HAVE WON THE 2014 WORLD CUP!!!

 

More to come in the following days, here on Daniel’s Soccer Emporium.

Who Will Win the World Cup?

Note: click here for my informal USA-Belgium review.

Someone will win the World Cup. It’s a fact. Someone will have to win it. You probably knew that. But in case you didn’t, it’s a fact. Though the soccer-haters criticize the sport for being communist where there is almost never a winner and winning is punished by having to spend time cleaning bird waste off the statue of Karl Marx that sits outside Wembley Stadium, none of that is actually true. Soccer is a sport like any other (only better) and someone will lift the trophy in less than two weeks’ time.

Let’s analyze the eight countries still alive in the competition, and why they will or won’t win the World Cup:

Brazil

Why they will win: they’re at home…they have Neymar…they have some other fairly good players.

Why they won’t win: they’re not as good, talent-wise, as other teams…there’s too much pressure…they’re one-dimensional (it’s Neymar or Fred nothing).

Colombia

Why they will win: James…confidence…local fan support without nearly the pressure of Brazil and the like.

Why they won’t win: they play Brazil next…they lack quality outside of James and a few others…this is as far as the nation as ever gotten in a World Cup; they’re probably getting a nosebleed.

France

Why they will win: they’ve looked great in their games so far…they’ve made the final in every other World Cup for my entire life.

Why they won’t win: it’s in the Americas…they play Germany next…remember 2010?

Germany

Why they will win: they’re probably the best team in the world…they’re due winning something…Lahm was forced to play at full-back last game; move him to left-back and it’s a team with no weaknesses.

Why they won’t win: it’s in the Americas…after France they have Brazil or Colombia…someone will figure out that 4-3-3-0 at some point.

Netherlands

Why they will win: they have good players…Van Gaal is leaving, he wants to do good for them, they want to do good for him (Ray Lewis Effect).

Why they won’t win: they never do.

Costa Rica

Why they will win: they have momentum…they have no pressure whatsoever…CONCACAF goalkeepers have done great in this World Cup; Keylor Navas is the last one standing.

Why they won’t win: not enough talent to compete with the big boys; all of their wins have either came against a team lacking their best player, a team that just played in Manaus, or Greece.

Argentina

Why they will win: Messi…Messi…Messi.

Why they won’t win: very, very one-dimensional…no defense.

Belgium

Why they will win: loads of super-talented players who have never yet lost a World Cup game.

Why they won’t win: it’s in the Americas…very little World Cup experience.

 

I will genuinely be surprised to see anyone win this World Cup. I mean, I know that someone has to, but it seems so unlikely for any of these teams to win.

I mean, if Brazil wins it they’ll totally revise history and say “from start to finish we all knew they would win; they dominated; oh, how boring!” and if Germany wins they’ll say “yeah, we knew that they were the best. Brazil? Ha!” and if Argentina wins they’ll say “of course; the team with the best player wins, especially with that talent around him.” But we’ll know the truth. Don’t you all just love parity? MLS has more parity than any other sports league that I know of. And I’ll talk a lot about MLS here after the World Cup (actually, I might start on it next week).

Predictions for today:

France 0-2 Germany

Brazil 1-2 Colombia

 

Any thoughts? Questions? Requests? Threats? Predictions of your own? Respectfully add them in the comments below. Hopefully I’ll get back with a report tonight.

USA-Belgium Thoughts

Here is what I think about the loss of the United States to Belgium (I wrote this up shortly after the game, but a combination of me procrastinating and me preferring to listen to other people’s opinions and then form my own, it hasn’t gotten up until now):

-It was a good World Cup for the US. The team just doesn’t yet have the talented players that many other countries have, and those countries more talented than the US include Germany, Portugal, Ghana, and Belgium. Beating one, coming tantalizingly close to beating two others, and narrowly losing to the fourth, especially when all four are better, is a nice achievement. This is the only time in all of history that the US has gotten out of the group in two straight World Cups. Not only was it a group, it was the Group of Death. Klinsmann earned his contract extension, even though they already signed it last year.

-But it wasn’t a great World Cup for the US. They were one of the better teams, team-work wise, while Portugal and Ghana basically imploded. Portugal had a nightmare against Germany (as I’ve said before, they’re captain is Cristiano Ronaldo and one of their best players is Pepe; that explains their team mentality), while Ghana had a nightmare of their own; two players were kicked out of the team for disputes with the Ghanaian FA and with the coach, while they also had a conflict over money. The US caught both Ghana and Portugal on off years, and they only made it through on goal difference. Am I sounding too harsh? My nice paragraph was the last one. This is my harsh paragraph. They have a better squad than 2010 and they got the same final result: out 2-1 in extra time in the Round of 16.

-Obviously there is a middle ground. Klinsmann did well overall (I still take issue with a lot of his decisions) but he could’ve done better. I’ll detail this more in the coming weeks.

-What about Julian Green, the player who I’ve criticized so much yet who scored? Do I apologize for my opinion on him? No. See, logically, it made no sense to bring in a German 4th Division player. He’s a great prospect, but he did terrible in the friendlies. And Klinsmann seemed to agree; he played less minutes in the warm-up games than everyone but Nick Rimando, the third-string goalkeeper. All indications said that Green wouldn’t play a single minute, much less score. And the minutes he did play were at the end of a game that at the time the US looked very unlikely to win. Although he did score, and there was no way to predict that.

-Anyway, good for him, and I hope he has a great career, but is it so wrong for me to still think that Landon Donovan would’ve been better? It isn’t.

-Here is something that I know that Klinsmann got wrong: WHERE WAS KYLE BECKERMAN?!? Howard, Besler, Gonzalez, and Howard (I meant to mention him twice; one of the best goalkeeping performances ever) were great in the back, but they wouldn’t have been tested so much if Kyle Beckerman would’ve been there.

-Now to players who didn’t do quite as well. Did I curse Wondo? I hope not. However you look at it, coming from Division II college soccer to MLS reserve league to league MVP to the World Cup, he’s had a career worthy of a made-for-TV movie (if he would’ve scored on that goal it would’ve been for theatres. But hey, considering that most people have never even played for their national teams, much less played in a World Cup, he’s done very well in his career.)

-We were so close to Wondokota being real. And if you don’t know what that means I suggest you read my USA-Belgium preview.

-So, should we blame Wondolowski? No. We shouldn’t blame any individual player. This is how sports work: you win as a team, and lose as a team. Of course some players play better than others, and we should recognize that, but putting all the blame on a player for the team not making it to the quarterfinals is ridiculous, especially when that player was only on the field for less than a third of the time the team played.

-Overall, I just feel sad for Wondo. He makes that chance 9 out of 10 times (Landon Donovan said that, and I agree) but for some reason this was the 1 time he missed it. It’s not nearly as easy as it looks, especially when Thibaut Courtois, the most terrifying goalkeeper in the world, is right there trying to stop you.

-Also, we shouldn’t be getting so upset about the US getting knocked out in the Round of 16. Talent-wise, do you think that the US is even top 10 in the World? No, I don’t. When you consider the fact that the team plays well together (as opposed to Portugal, England, and most African teams) it gives the US a boost, but I still think that top-10 is unrealistic. Not to say that Quarterfinals shouldn’t be an expectation. Or am I? I’m not sure. My point is that it isn’t a crime for the team to be knocked out in the Round of 16, and thus the team shouldn’t be punished as if it was a crime.

-And I’ll reiterate it: don’t pile all the blame on just a few players. That’s just silly. Be happy about the things the team did right, and learn from the things the team did wrong.

 

I will have a lot more about the World Cup and the USMNT in the coming weeks. Yes, even after the World Cup is over. Stay tuned.

Belgium vs. USA Preview

(Note: click on “World Cup 2014” above to find more great fairly good articles by yours truly.)

The US has advanced out of the Group of Certain Death, but that doesn’t mean that the job is done. Actually, by definition, it means that the job isn’t done. This is my preview.

Contents:

Background – basic facts to know.

How will Belgium play? – tactics and lineup questions.

How will the US play? – tactics and lineup questions.

Prediction – totally unbiased prediction by me. GO USA!!!

Background

These teams have played on 5 occasions, with Belgium winning 4. They won the last 2 games; a 1-0 win in Brussels (Nicolas Lombaerts was the goalscorer) and a 4-2 win in Cleveland (Kevin Mirallas, Marouane Fellaini, and a Christian Benteke brace powered the team past goals by Clint Dempsey and Geoff Cameron). The US’s lone win against Belgium came in 1930 (3-0, goals scored by Bart McGhee, Bert Patenuade, and Tom Florie).

How will Belgium play?

A little like this:

Belgium vs. USA Probable

There are a few lineup questions. Namely: is Vincent Kompany healthy? Kompany is the team’s captain, and the captain of the Manchester City team that just won the English Premier League, and he’s their best defender. Lombaerts, his probable replacement, is okay, I guess, but I’m not sure that he can match Kompany.

Another position battle is striker. With Christian Benteke injured, Romelu Lukaku is the obvious replacement, and he’s been the one playing. But see, Lukaku is inconsistent. I may be the only one to notice this, but he is. He’s a great player, and he’s really young (I will start rioting if Mourinho sells him) but as of now he’s inconsistent as a starter. Divock Origi, who is even younger than Lukaku (man, this Belgium team will be really good in future tournaments) has performed better than Lukaku in less time playing, although you could definitely make the argument that Origi has been doing good off the bench because Lukaku has tired out the defenders.

One of the biggest talking points about Belgium is their fullbacks: they have none. Similar to Germany, they play center-backs as full-backs. Toby Alderweireld is the incumbent at right-back, while at left-back it’s more of a question between Jan Vertonghen (center-back for Tottenham) and Thomas Vermaelen (center-back for Arsenal). I guessed that it would be Vermaelen, because I’ve heard that Vertonghen has injury issues. I think Vermaelen might have some injury concerns as well, but I’m not sure. If both are healthy and Kompany is injured I’d advise playing one at left-back and the other at center-back. But coaches rarely follow my advice.

I would say that both Vertonghen and Vermaelen are solid defenders, but neither are close to perfect. Error-prone more than the average defender.

In midfield they have Marouane Fellaini, formally of Everton, currently of Manchester United, and notable for the fact that his hair is large enough to make a sizable home for the entire Spain attacking midfield. He can play a destroyer role or play the role of withdrawn forward. Belgium would like him to maintain control in midfield while being an aerial threat on attacks.

They also have Axel Witsel, a defensive midfielder with similar hair to Fellaini’s, Kevin De Bruyne, a creative attacking midfielder who always looks like he’s about to cry (in a way that makes me genuinely feel sad for the poor boy), and Dries Mertens, the skilled Napoli winger.

Oh, and at goalkeeper they have Thibaut Courtois. He’s really good. And young. And, like Lukaku, spent the last season on loan from Chelsea. And he can yell in slow motion really well.

This team has a lot of really good players. It’s crazy.

And I haven’t mentioned their best player, the man featured in the title picture. Chelsea’s Eden Hazard.

He’s really good. Not always consistently good, but if one player has the ability to change games for Belgium, it’s Hazard. He plays on the left wing, and normally cuts inside to his preferred right foot. He’s great at dribbling, he likes to engage in tricky build-up play, and he can score goals himself as well. He’s been called one of the best players in the world by many. This is basically how he plays on attack:

Hazardous Space

He cuts in from the left and wreaks havoc. Whether it’s a pass to a teammate or a direct shot, when he gets the ball it’s very…dangerous. You thought I was going to say “hazardous” again, right?

Anyway, that zone (shaded in light gray) is where he does his damage. He slips in and creates chances.

As I said, he’s not consistent. He’s only 23, so he hasn’t developed into the player he probably will develop into. But even if he’s ineffective for 89 minutes he has the quality to win a game almost single-handedly in the other minute. The US need to watch Hazard for the entire game and not let him wreak havoc in that space that I highlighted.

It’s not just him, it’s the entire Belgium team. They’re very, very talented, and while they haven’t been all that convincing (while winning Group H they had 3 narrow wins in one of the easiest groups) they’re the favorites to advance to the quarterfinals.

How will the US play?

Probably kind of like this:

USA vs. Belgium Probable

That was the same formation they played against Germany, with Bradley and Jones together in the 4-1-4-1. They could revert back to the 4-2-3-1 (doubtful) or some type of 4-4-2, be it diamond or flat (slightly less doubtful, but still doubtful nonetheless).

Let’s analyze this team once more, shall we? We shall.

Jozy’s back! Well, he won’t start, but he’s “available” according to US Soccer. Jozy Altidore is one of the most useful players on the team: he can score goals, but what he’s most useful for is hold-up play. Give him the ball, and he can hold off the defenders and lay the ball off to a teammate, probably Dempsey. He’s the only player on the roster who can do that, as Terrence Boyd and Eddie Johnson were both left off the team. Again, he won’t start. He may not even play, and if he does, it will be limited. But he’s “available.”

Clint Dempsey will probably get the start at striker, and if they play a 4-4-2 of some kind he will be paired with either Chris Wondolowski (simply a lethal goal-scorer) or Aron Jóhannsson (shifty, and natural goal-scorer, but a bit raw). Dempsey, the captain, works better playing just behind the main striker, where he can move around and make runs into the box, although with Altidore out he’s the lone player up top.

On the wings we probably won’t see Davis start again, and as I’ve said multiple times before we won’t see Julian Green. We’re likely to see Alejandro Bedoya and Graham Zusi, although perhaps, if Klinsmann really wants to surprise, we could see the fast, young DeAndre Yedlin get the nod from the beginning. I doubt it, although Klinsmann has surprised me many times before.

In the middle we have Michael Bradley and Jermaine Jones as the engine of this team. Bradley, as I detailed in the USA-Germany preview, isn’t playing at his best. He’s not doing as bad as some people make him out to be (people like to make the facts fit simple narratives) but he’s done much better. I’m not sure if he’s hurt (in the group stage he ran more than any World Cup player, so probably not that) or if he’s low on confidence, or if he’s too high on confidence, but something is wrong with him. However, he played much better against Germany. He’s improving, and hopefully he can continue doing so.

Jermaine Jones has been the best player of the US team, hence me placing him in the title picture. He’s ran around crushing opposing attacks, and that goal against Portugal was immense.

And it’s all made possible because of Kyle Beckerman. He stays in that #6 position, allowing Jones and Bradley to roam free in front of him. He does the dirty work that people don’t notice so that Jones and Bradley don’t have to. It’s funny how someone with hair so unstable is the stabilizing force in the midfield.

DeMarcus Beasley is likely to again play at left-back. Beasley is playing in his 4th World Cup (only American to play in that many) and while his work at his new position isn’t too flashy, he’s been quite solid.

And at right-back we have Fabian Johnson. He’s a little bit shaky in defense, yet he’s quite good in attack and in both categories he’s the best the US has at that position. Belgium will need to be wary of his attacks. He’s very good with both feet, and he uses them to great effect going forward.

Center-back is a trickier one. Matt Besler, the steady SKC captain, is a lock to start at left-center-back, but who he’s paired with is a mystery. Will it be Geoff Cameron, who has gotten most of the playing time in the last 6 games? Or will it be Omar Gonzalez, who was playing poorly for a while but then shined when inserted into the lineup last game? Only Jürgen Klinsmann knows the answer to that question.

Prediction

Warning: I’m a US fan.

Belgium 1-2 USA

Dempsey scores early (off a nifty Bradley through-ball) and then the US guards the lead until the 77th minute, not all too long after Belgium wakes up. Eden Hazard slides into space, and then plays a nice pass for Lukaku, who beats his teammate Tim Howard (10+ saves in total) to tie it up. In the fifth minute of added time, with Belgium getting tired, substitute Chris Wondolowski scores the winner. All of the Wondo-Doubters shut up. The day is celebrated as Wondo Day. They even re-name a Dakota after him.

Wondokota

Good night everyone, and Merry Christmas. May your team win, unless you’re Belgian.

 

 

 

Round of 16 Thoughts

First of all, I want to apologize for slacking off the last few days. See, I mentioned before that I have something that makes writer’s block look like eating a cookie. That hasn’t changed. It’s like a combination of writer’s block and depression. There’s also guilt, and anger; anger mainly because none of it makes sense whatsoever.

But this is a soccer blog. I think that I’m ready to talk about soccer now. So I’ll do that.

They’ve done three-quarters of the Round of 16 of the World Cup. So I’ll talk about that. Let’s go:

-The first game was a nice one. In case you don’t remember, Brazil and Chile drew 1-1, and then the host nation won on penalties. We were very, very close to seeing Brazil be knocked out of this World Cup before the quarterfinals–the same World Cup that they have enormous pressure to win. Normally anything less than a tournament win is considered a failure for the five-time champs, but due to being at home the pressure is magnified.

-Chile did very well. In other parts of the draw Chile would’ve made the Semifinals.

-My thoughts on Brazil? I have one. They aren’t that great of a team. I kind of noticed this before, but it would’ve been weird to say “this isn’t really a good team” after they thrash Spain 3-0 in the Confederations Cup final. But you know what? Thrashing Spain is apparently easy, now. And Brazil haven’t yet beaten a team that has made the knockout stage in regulation. They beat Cameroon, they dubiously beat Croatia, they drew Mexico, and they narrowly drew Chile in regulation, and beat them in penalties. They’re fair game to criticize right now.

-Let’s compare this team, player-by-player, to Germany:

ST: Müller vs. Fred – are you kidding? Germany 1-0.

AM: Götze vs. Neymar – at club level it’s probably even if not in favor of Götze, but Neymar is very good for Brazil and this is the World Cup. 1-1.

AM: Özil vs. Hulk – huh, both of these players have been booed by their own fans. Which teams’ fans only booed the guy because they’re pessimistic Europeans? Germany 2-1.

AM: Schweinsteiger vs. Oscar – it’s kind of hard to compare teams like this with different formations, but it’s what I’m doing. Oscar is probably Brazil’s 2nd best midfield/attacking player. But still, Schweini. Germany 3-1.

CM: Kroos vs. Paulinho – one of them plays for Bayern, the other plays for Spurs. Do I need to elaborate? Germany 4-1.

DM: Lahm vs. Luiz Gustavo – yeah, even out of position I’m taking Lahm over Gustavo. You can say that Lahm took Gustavo’s place at Bayern Munich, and it’s obvious why. Germany 5-1.

LB: Höwedes vs. Marcelo – this is Germany’s weakness, which could be fixed if they move Lahm to LB. But Marcelo isn’t the crème de la crème either. I’m in a generous mood, however. Germany 5-2.

RB: Boateng vs. Dani Alves – Boateng is better defensively, while Alves is better in the attack. This is a tricky one. Germany 5.5-2.5. Yeah, I did that.

CB: Hummels vs. Thiago Silva – Hummels is great, but I still say that Thiago Silva is probably the best defender in the world. Germany 5.5-3.5.

CB: Mertesacker vs. David Luiz – Mertesacker isn’t likely to pick up any “defender of the year” awards, but David Luiz is always a costly error waiting to happen. Germany 6.5-3.5.

GK: Neuer vs. Julio Cesar – yeah, Cesar plays in MLS (well, he did last half season–he’ll probably re-join QPR for next season) and he was the hero last game, but Neuer is probably the best goalkeeper in the world. Germany 7.5-3.5.

So…best team in the world? Not Brazil. Then how come they are still the logical favorites? Because at home, for the national team, they seem to perform. Neymar, David Luiz, and many of the other players do much better for the national team than their club. This is very rare (think Messi, Ronaldo, Rooney; all better for club than country).

Also, homefield advantage plays a role. If the Brazil-Chile game would’ve been played anywhere other than Brazil, I’m pretty sure that Chile would’ve won.

-Another note: in the national anthems, they made a mistake to cut the sound on the Chile one. Yeah, against any other nation we heard the sound of the Chile fans belting their national anthem, but against Brazil, with a majority Brazilian crowd, it was drowned out by boos. You can question the merits of booing another country’s national anthem, but still, FIFA messed up (what? No way!) by cutting the sound on Chile’s.

-Let’s talk about Colombia. JAMES!!!! Or, phonetically, HA-MEZ!!!! This guy is crazy good. I’ll talk about him more later, but this guy would win the Golden Ball for best player in the tournament if it was to end today. He’s done better than Neymar, better than Messi, and better than everyone else as well.

-You could certainly say that Uruguay would’ve had a much better chance if Luis Suarez was still there. And you’d be right. But I’m not sure if even with Suarez Colombia would have been beatable. I mean, Colombia are arguably the best team of the tournament so far.

-Before I continue talking about actual soccer stuff, I want to say this: I’ve had at least one page view from every continent except Antarctica (should I have more penguin-themed articles? Hmmm…). I haven’t had one from every Confederation though; I’m still missing an OFC view. New Zealanders? Tahitians? Fijians? I won’t bite.

-My thoughts on Netherlands vs. Mexico? Well, Mexico played very well. The Dutch are Colombia’s competition for best in the tournament, and Mexico looked like the better team for 87 minutes. The Netherlands attempted to play a possession style, because someone had to. Both teams have played a counter-attacking style for most of the tournament. Mexico stayed back and responsibly defended, and then hit hard on the counter attack.

-My thoughts on the penalty? It was probably the right call. Yeah, Robben looked quite floppy, but Marquez stepped on his foot. You can’t do that. And you know what? Earlier in the game there was a clear PK on Robben that wasn’t called. So complaining that the referees were biased is just whining for no reason.

-Watching Mexico is like a win-win situation for me as a US fan. If they lose I play the arch-rival card, and if they win I play the CONCACAF card.

-Costa Rica vs. Greece? The interesting thing in this one is that either way it’s a feel-good story. Yeah, Greece play defensively, but smart tactics is no reason for me to hate a team. Costa Rica play defensively, too (the Dutch will be forced into possessing the ball again in the Quarters). Costa Rica won on penalty-kicks, by the way. See, both teams already had a good World Cup by just making it out of the group stage. They’re playing with house money. And now Costa Rica will face the Netherlands in the Quarterfinals; while Spain, Italy, England, and Portugal were all eliminated in the group stage. The World Cup of unpredictability.

-Now, how about today’s first game: France vs. Nigeria. The Nigerians did well, although France forced two mistakes out of them which became goals. Watching Paul Pogba is like listening to a great song and then realizing that they haven’t recorded all of the parts. He’s only 21! He’s said that his weakness is heading. He just scored on a header in the World Cup. This guy is legit.

-Germany struggled against Algeria, needing to take it to penalties, but they came through in the end with Andre Schürrle and Mesut Özil goals. Algeria got one back, but it wasn’t enough to keep us from seeing Germany-France, an intriguing quarterfinals battle of Western European nations.

 

That’s all I’ve got. I’ll have a US-Belgium preview up fairly soon. And I’ll do other stuff as well.

USA-Germany Epic Preview

The group stage is nearing conclusion. We have already learned 6 of the 8 Round of 16 matchups. The others will be learned today.

Before I dig into my preview of the matchup between the two nations with the highest page views on this site, let’s look at the Table of Contents (or, in German, Inhaltsverzeichnis):

Background – what you need to know. It includes Germerican facts.

Scenarios – what needs to happen for each country to go through.

How will Germany play? – Taktik der Deutsch-Nationalmannschaft.

How will the US play? – tactics of the US national team. (Note: I do not talk about the goalkeepers in this. Both Manuel Neuer and Tim Howard are very solid players and guaranteed starters.)

Prediction – my totally un-biased predictions.

Background

-These teams have played each other 9 times. Germany has won 6, the US has won 3, and none have ended in draws.

-The last time they played in the World Cup was in 2002, in the quarterfinals. Germany won 1-0, but they shouldn’t have. THAT WAS A HANDBALL!!!!

-The last time they played was last year, a friendly in Washington, DC. The US won 4-3, but many of Germany’s top players were not there. This was the game where the currently-injured Jozy Altidore broke a very long scoreless streak for the US.

-One of the biggest stories leading into this game is the German influence in the US team. Of the 23 US players, 5 grew up mostly in Germany (they all have a parent who was stationed there in the military). I’ll give a run-down of the Germericans:

Jermaine Jones – the 32-year-old has been the best US player for the World Cup. He’s been doing great. Even not counting the incredible goal (which was the 2300th World Cup goal ever–not sure why Wikipedia tracks that, but it’s interesting) his play has been incredible so far. A big portion of the central midfielders’ success is the insertion of Kyle Beckerman alongside him, which gives Jones, currently a Besiktas player, more freedom to roam. And he’s done a lot of high-quality roaming. If you don’t think that Jones has done good, then you don’t understand this sport.

Fabian Johnson – the 26-year old wide-player can play in midfield or defense; right-back has been his position this World Cup. He and Jones are the only two Germericans who start, and his quality play for club and country combined with the fact that Germany don’t have that many full-backs means that some Germans now think that he’d be good enough for Die Mannschaft. Too bad, he’s cap-tied to the US. The soon-to-be Borussia Monchengladbach man is good in both attack and defense, although he is far from perfect in the latter.

John Brooks – the 21-year-old’s performance so far might be the most memorable; it was his winning goal that sent the US past Ghana. The tall, left-footed centerback has already been getting serious minutes in the Bundesliga for Hertha Berlin, although he isn’t yet a starter for the US. Matt Besler is the favorite at left-center-back.

Timothy Chandler – the full-back has been good in the Bundesliga, yet he hasn’t really impressed in the US national team set-up. In fact, you could say that he’s done the opposite of impressing; commitment issues compounded by injury meant that he was basically exiled from the team for 15-months before Klinsmann called him back in for this World Cup. He hasn’t played yet, but considering that he’s 24 he should still be in the picture for 2018.

Julian Green – he’s 19. As I’ve said, there is no way that he should be in the team ahead of Landon Donovan. But he is. He hasn’t played yet, and he won’t play unless Germany is already up 4-0 and it doesn’t matter. Playing with him is like voluntarily going a man down. You think I’m being harsh? That he’s just a kid? No he isn’t, he’s a World Cup player. He needs to be held to that standard.

Jürgen Klinsmann – the most famous Germerican is the coach. He used to be the Deutsch Nationaltrainer (German national team manager), and after that he had a stint with Bayern Munich. Ever heard of the term “varying success?” That kind of explains Klinsmann’s managerial reign in Germany. He played as well, scoring 47 goals in 108 appearances for West Germany or Germany. He’s lived in California since his retirement.

I’ve been critical of a lot of his decisions, and I remain critical of one of them (Green), but as I’ve said before none of that stuff matters. It’s based on cold, hard results. And so far, the US has beat Ghana and played well enough to beat Portugal. Klinsmann’s team was either a sloppy mistake early on or a late equalizer away from qualifying out of the Group of Certain Death with a game to spare. You can’t argue with how the team has played.

When Klinsmann was the Germany coach, his assistant was Joachim Löw, who currently coaches Die Mannschaft.

For all of you cynics, this is what Klinsmann says about facing Germany: “there is no game I would like to win more.”

Scenarios

This game will happen simultaneously to the Ghana-Portugal game. This is what the table looks like now:

Team…….Points…Goal difference

Germany……4………+4

USA……………4………+1

Ghana……….1………-1

Portugal…….1………-4

The group winner will probably face Algeria or Russia. The second-place team will probably face Belgium, while the third- and fourth-place teams will be eliminated. If you are new to the sport than you need to know that the winner will get 3 points, the loser gets 0, and if it’s a draw both teams will get 1 point.

There are several different things that can happen. Let’s go through them:

Germany-USA Draw

Team…….Points…Goal difference

Germany……5………+4

USA……………5………+1

Ghana……….1……….-1

Portugal…….1………-4

I’m not even going to fill in the results for Ghana or Portugal, because it won’t matter. Neither of them can get to 5 points. In the case of a draw, Germany beats the US on goal difference, which is the first tiebreaker. The US would still join Germany in advancing from the group, which would make it a successful World Cup for Klinsmann’s team.

Ghana-Portugal Draw

Team…….Points…Goal difference

Germany……7………+5

USA……………4……….0

Ghana……….2………-1

Portugal…….2………-4

No matter which team loses the US-Germany game, they will be safe if the Ghana and Portugal can’t find a winner. Considering that those two teams are 3 points behind the top two, they will need a win to get out of the group.

Germany win, Ghana win

Team…….Points…Goal difference

Germany……7………+5

USA……………4……….0

Ghana……….4……….0

Portugal…….1………-5

Best-case scenario for the US if Germany and Ghana both win is to be tied with Ghana on goal difference, and that would happen if both games end in one-goal margins. Goals scored is the next tiebreaker. Currently, the US has scored 4 goals in the tournament, while Ghana has scored 3, so something like a 1-0 or margin in each game, or a 2-1 margin in each game, would see the US advance in the next tiebreaker: head-to-head. The US would win that one. However, the likelihood that it goes to that is slim. If both Germany and Ghana win, they’ll probably be the teams going through.

Germany win, Portugal win

Germany……7………+5

USA……………4……….0

Portugal…….4………-3

Ghana……….0………-2

If the US lose while Ghana do as well, that’s a good thing for the team unless Portugal can overtake the US in goal difference, not something that’s likely thanks to Germany’s 4-0 win over CR7’s team. The sum of the margin of victory would have to be 5 to take it to goals scored.

So, if Portugal wins by 4 and the US loses by 1, or if Portugal wins by 1 and the US loses by 4, or, say, Portugal wins by 3 and the US lose by 2, it goes to goals scored; right now the US leads Portugal in that, 4 to 2.  A big win by Portugal would probably bring it to even.

If Portugal beat Ghana 2-0, and Germany beat the US 3-0, or some other combination where the total margin is 5, the European teams win, and Portugal scores 2 more than the US, then it would go to head-to-head (the two teams drew, so that tiebreaker goes nowhere) and it will then go to a drawing of lots. A drawing of lots!

USA win, Ghana win

USA……………7………+2

Germany……4………+3

Ghana……….4………..0

Portugal…….1………-5

There is a slim chance that Germany will get eliminated. Very, very slim. But still a chance. Germany would need to lose for it to happen, and the winner of the other game would need to overtake them on Tordifferenz (goal difference). That would most likely be Ghana, because Portugal trail Germany in goal difference by 8.

How will Germany play?

Die Mannschaft have lined up the same way in both of their games so far. While I would switch around a few things, I’m obviously not the German coach and Löw probably won’t change it. By the way, wouldn’t it be funny if I was the German coach? A German coaching the US against an American coaching Germany?

This German team is an efficient machine of playing good soccer. I call them the German soccer machine, or, in German, the Deutsch Fußball-Maschine.

Anyway, this is how they’ve played:

Possible Germany vs. US formation

That’s a very good team. Now for the details:

Attackers

They play in a 4-3-3, and unlike other 4-3-3s in which there is a well-defined striker and the wingers drop back to make it a virtual 4-5-1, the German front 3 is interchangeable. Müller is the center-forward if anyone is, but he often changes positions with Götze and Özil.

Only one player is listed as a “forward,” and that’s Miroslav Klose. He hasn’t started yet, although considering that he scored last game, tying the record for most World Cup goals ever, I expect to see him play, and I wouldn’t be too surprised to see him start. I doubt he will, but I wouldn’t be too surprised. Klose is an expert in scoring goals.

Another forward, one who can play more centrally or on the left, is Lukas Podolski. Plus I wouldn’t be surprised to see Andre Schürrle or even the young Julian Draxler come off the bench to play.

Of the three whom I expect to start, Müller, Özil, and Götze, all three of them are talented players who can easily inflict damage on the US. Thomas Müller has played in 8 World Cup games. He has scored 8 World Cup goals, already in the top 30 of all-time. He’s scored as many World Cup goals as Diego Maradona and he’s only 24. Read that sentence again. This guy can score goals.

Mesut Özil is a master of chance creation. In his club season, his first with Arsenal, he was a bit shaky at times, but he still had 2.9 key passes per game. That number is at 2.5 for his World Cup play so far. Mario Götze was one of only 7 Bundesliga players with at least 8 goals and at least 8 assists, and he was also in the top 7 in dribbles per game in the Bundesliga.

These players will shift around and basically do everything humanly possible to score goals for Germany. The US backline should be very afraid.

Midfield

The central three for Germany has been made stronger by Pep Guardiola’s decision to play Philipp Lahm, Germany’s captain and arguably best player, as a defensive midfielder. Yes, I am sure that Löw wouldn’t have played him there if Lahm wouldn’t have just played a full season in the midfield.

Alongside Lahm has been Sami Khedira, who just won the Champions League, and Toni Kroos, another member of Bayern Munich in this German side (the Bundesliga champs have 7 players on the squad: Lahm, Müller, Götze, Kroos, Schweinsteiger, Boateng, and goalkeeper Neuer).

Bastian Schweinsteiger was just recently cleared from injury, and he played 20 minutes against Ghana. While he hasn’t gotten a start yet, I would assume that he would be a sure-fire starter if/when healthy.

Defense

The weakness of the German team is their defense. Yes, most other teams in the world would love to have Germany’s defense, especially if you throw in Philipp Lahm, but compared to their front 6 their back 4 is lacking.

Mats Hummels and Per Mertesacker are the two centerbacks. Jerome Boateng and Benedikt Höwedes are also center-backs, but Löw decides to play them at full-back. Boateng, on the right, is certainly capable of being a right-back. Höwedes, on the left, is good enough to start at left-back for almost every other team, but on this team he’s probably the weakest link.

Why don’t they just move Lahm, arguably the best full-back on planet earth, to left-back, and then have Schweinsteiger, Kroos, and Khedira in midfield? Perhaps Schweinsteiger still has fitness issues, but going forward I think that Lahm should move to left-back.

Other options in defense include Erik Durm, a speedy left-back, Borussia Dortmund right-back Kevin Großkreutz, Matthias Ginter, a young center-back, and Sampdoria center-back/right-back Shkodran Mustafi, who has gotten a substitute appearance in each of Germany’s games.

Isn’t it amazing how many good players Germany have? They’ve used the same 11 starters in each game. This is what their team would look like not counting those 11:

Germany B

This is their B team. How good would this team be if they were in the World Cup separately? They’d make it out of most groups.

How will the US play?

What is Jürgen Klinsmann going to do to get a result against the Deutsch Fußball-Maschine? Well, his formation will be one of these:

Possible US vs. Germany Formations

Most likely he will do the 4-2-3-1 again. Lots of people think that that worked well, and that the US played a much more attacking style against Portugal. This isn’t true. The US scored really early against Ghana, and then they sat back, while Ghana tried to attack the game. Portugal scored really early in match #2, so the US tried to chase the game while Portugal sat back. They had the exact same game plan. I personally thought that a lot of the time the US needed more numbers in the box, and I especially thought that Michael Bradley was pushed too far forward.

Am I just criticizing the 4-2-3-1 because I want to see Wondo?

Never mind that. I made valid points. Look at my valid points instead of speculating on ulterior motives.

Attackers

The US has 3 legitimate forwards. Neither Chris Wondolowski nor Aron Jóhannsson have ever gotten a World Cup start, and one of them could find their first alongside Clint Dempsey. Or we could just see Dempsey alone up top.

Clint Dempsey has played well in this World Cup. Only 7 players have scored a goal in every game they’ve played in: Robin van Persie, Memphis Depay, Tim Cahill, James Rodriguez, Andre Ayew, Lionel Messi, and Clint Dempsey.

Wingers

In the squishy diamond we’ll see one winger, and in the 4-2-3-1 we’ll see two wingers. The possible wingers are Graham Zusi, Alejandro Bedoya, and Brad Davis. I already mentioned multiple times that Julian Green won’t see any playing time, much less starting.

Davis hasn’t played a minute in this tournament, so I doubt that he will start in this. Alejandro Bedoya has started both games, so that means that he’ll either start this one as well, or he’ll be rested.

Central Midfield

As I said before, Jermaine Jones has been the US’s best player. He can certainly prove to be a thorn in the side of the team that rejected him. I expect another man of the match level performance from Jones.

Kyle Beckerman, as I’ve said many times before, stays in the same position, ahead of the center-backs. He allows Jermaine Jones to run around destroying stuff, and he also allows Michael Bradley to theoretically push forward and create.

Michael Bradley is normally the US’s best player. I have no idea what’s gotten into him. Is he hurt? Is he over-confident (either because Klinsmann has been pumping him up, or because everyone’s been saying that he’s the best, or because he’s the star in Toronto)? Is he under-confident, for whatever reason?

Something is wrong with Michael Bradley. He’s not playing as terrible as some think, but he is playing poorly for his standards. What is normally the team’s biggest strength has somehow become almost a weakness. Yeah, part of it is because opposing teams target him, and part of it is because he’s playing out of position (he’s playing as an attacking midfielder, he’s normally a box-to-box midfielder) but not all of it can be explained by that. Something is wrong with Michael Bradley, and Jürgen Klinsmann needs to find out what it is and fix it now!

Oh, and Bradley cannot be benched. Neither Zusi or Bedoya or Davis would work centrally for this team, and Diskerud isn’t nearly as good as Bradley is defensively.

Defense

If all of these players remain healthy, I can’t see any other starting combination instead of Beasley-Besler-Cameron-Johnson.

Yeah, Beasley hasn’t been perfect. But he’s been a bit overwhelmed because Jermaine Jones, who plays on the left side of the squishy diamond, while he does everything else, he doesn’t have time to support Beasley as much as a true left-midfielder. Also, does anyone think that Chandler would do better? And no, DeAndre Yedlin isn’t a left-sided player, so don’t give me that.

Last game, Besler was solid. He normally is, and he’s a must-start. Geoff Cameron has been a little shaky, but do you really want to see Omar Gonzalez in the form that he’s been in? I didn’t think so. Also, we probably won’t see Besler-Brooks. Both of them are left-footed, and Klinsmann hasn’t played anything other than a lefty-righty center-back combination since this roster was announced. He has, however, surprised me in the past.

Fabian Johnson is a must-start as well because of what he gives the team going forward. Sure, he makes some mistakes defensively, but the other players you could start there (Chandler and Yedlin) are not perfect going back either. Plus, I’m sure that Johnson would have a chip on his shoulder against Germany, he wants to make them regret not selecting him.

Prediction

Ignoring the fact that I was way off on the goal-scorers, I didn’t do that poorly in my US-Portugal prediction. I said 3-2 for the US, and I was thus a Ricardo Costa block/Michael Bradley miss away from getting it exactly.

USA 1-1 Germany

Both teams will be cautious. The US can’t seem to keep a clean sheet, which is why it won’t be 0-0.

The Deutsch Fußball-Maschine will score first, fairly early, and then considering that there is no difference between a win and a draw, they will sit back a bit, the US will thus attack a lot (Klinsmann will be heavily praised for his “attacking style”) and Clint Dempsey will score a goal in the 76th minute. Both teams will be tired, and they will both cautiously sit back.

14’ Müller (Özil)

76’ Deuce (Diskerud)

 

Any thoughts? Questions? Requests? Threats? I’ll make some nice posts for the knockout stage. Stay tuned to Daniel’s Soccer Emporium, your home for adults kicking stuff.