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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.

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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.

 

 

 

Group Stage Scenarios + Totally Inaccurate Power Rankings + Brief US-Portugal Review

That was a wonderful, terrifying, fascinating, gut-wrenching, yet kind-of-hopeful draw by the US. That’s all I’ve got. Too numb to go into detail. By the way, what’s wrong with Michael Bradley? For The General to have two bad games in a row is so un-Bradley-like. Something must be wrong. Is he nervous? Over-confident? Injured?

However painful the last goal conceded was, the US have got 4 points out of 6 in the Group of Certain Death, with our most important player being pedestrian at best, and that’s terrific. If Bradley can find his form again (I would say “when,” but I said that before this game as well) this team will be a strong test for Germany. I will agree that that last goal was painful, however.

(Note: I apparently didn’t mean “that’s all I’ve got” in a literal sense. Or a figurative sense, really. Not in any sense, come to think of it.)

Now it’s time for Total Inaccurateness! With a picture this time, too!

Totally Inaccurate Power Rankings

Previous editions can be found under the “World Cup” tab. You should go there, as I’ve written some kind-of-good stuff. It has humor, my opinion on things, and some tactical insight. It even has philosophical insight! Oh, and Mario Balotelli. Because everything has Mario Balotelli.

DISCLAIMER: these power rankings are totally inaccurate. If there is anything that you disagree with, it’s probably because it’s wrong because I’m terrible at Ranking stuff, Power-wise.

1(1) – Germany

Yeah, they drew against Ghana, but that’s a good team. Germany still has the ability to crush teams. They are an efficient machine that destroys stuff in a business-like manner.

What’s that you say? By praising Germany so much am I actively trying to jinx them, so that they don’t beat the US? If I answered that, I think it would disable the jinx.

2(2) – Brazil

They and Mexico are the only teams not to have played since my last rankings. They’ll both play tomorrow. Brazil have been shaky, but they’ll need a crazy amount of things to happen in order to not qualify, including them losing to Cameroon. Cameroon! Not going to happen. This is still the same group of players and the same coach that steamrolled everyone in the Confederations Cup, and they’re still the home team. It will take more than just “shaky” to stop them.

3(3) – Argentina

Do you know how much I want to drop this team in the rankings? A lot. But I won’t. Why do I want to drop them? Because they’re terrible outside of Messi. Why do I not want to drop them? Because 1) it’s against my kind-of-soft-yet-still-existent rules, 2) they’ve technically won their last two games and 3) who else do I put ahead of them?

Oh, and this is their tactical lineup:

Argentina WC 2014

That isn’t really far off.

4(8) – Colombia

Whoa! Just like that, into the top 4? Yep, just like that. But they don’t have Falcao? True, but they have James “Don’t Call Me James” Rodriguez. Wait, that doesn’t work in print. Oh well. Another knock on them is that they’re in a fairly easy group, but European teams tend to struggle in the Americas, and as I displayed previously in my CONCACAF-centric report, this Americas-based World Cup is no exception.

5(6) – Netherlands

This team got over-confident against a formidable Australia side, but they still won. They were also more than formidable against a perhaps over-confident Spain side, and they thoroughly crushed them. But how far can they go in this World Cup? If they don’t beat Chile tomorrow, playing Brazil could be in their very near future.

6(4) – Italy

They lost against Costa Rica, yes, but they still have Pirlo and Balotelli. They still may not make it out of the group, and even then Colombia are their likely opposition, but this is a team that could go very, very deep.

7(7) – Belgium

How deep can Belgium go? I’m not sure. I’m really not sure at all. They have a fairly easy group, although if they win that they’ll have to face second-place in the Group of Certain Death (Group G), with Argentina most likely if they win that. As I said before, success doesn’t come easy. This experience will help them going forward. Belgium will not win the 2014 World Cup. Take it to the bank.

8(9) – Chile

Arturo Vidal? Those home-like crowds? ELECTRIC SANCHEZ!!?!!?!! This team can go a long way, but they have some serious obstacles in their path. Including the Dutch tomorrow, where they need a win to find victory in the group.

9(11) – France

I won’t completely buy France as a contender until they play really good teams. They won’t until the quarterfinals. However, they’ve done very, very well against who they have played.

10(12) – Uruguay

They beat England, but, I mean, anyone can do that, right? They do have Luis Suarez, though, who can tear apart defenses AND coach Honduras at the same time!

11(15) – United States

Take your pick. Results? Ghana. Performance? Portugal. Oh, and all of it was without the team’s most important player doing well, and most of it was without the team’s target forward. One of the games was against Cristiano Ronaldo, while the other was against a team that drew Germany, the #1 team in these Power Rankings.

12(13) – Mexico

Mexico are one of the few teams that haven’t yet conceded a goal. Memo Ochoa hasn’t let in a single goal, and they’ve played both Brazil and Samuel Eto’o. Croatia will need to work hard to score against Mexico, which they will have to do given El Tri’s superior points total.

13(14) – Croatia

The team with the MAGISTERIAL!!!! checkered uniforms beat Cameroon 4-0. They will need to get another win vs. Mexico in order to make it out of the group.

14(21) – Costa Rica

This team went out and beat Uruguay AND Italy? Applause! They turned a group full of inferior players into a superior team.

15(5) – Spain

Yeah, Spain played poorly, but they were up against very good teams. I think they would’ve made it out of most other groups, especially as the seeded team (Group C, anyone?).

16(10) – Bosnia and Herzegovina

DZEKO’S GOAL WAS SO CLEARLY ONSIDE!!!!

Also: on the goal that was called a goal, Emineke’s foul/not foul against Spahic: if that was a defender doing that to forward, it would’ve been called a foul, right?

So, um, how much did the Nigerians give the refs? And in what denomination? Asking for a friend…

17(17) – Portugal

They played poorly for a lot of the game against the US, and the first goal was gifted to them (WHY, CAMERON, WHY!?!?!), but their second goal was created by CR7. Ronaldo is Ronaldo and he does Ronaldo things. They’ll need a lot of things to go their way to make it out at this point, but in another group with a healthy CR7 they could’ve easily made it out of the group.

18(22) – Ghana

Similar to Portugal, the Black Stars are a good enough team to be able to make it out of an easier group. But in Group G, they’ll need lots of result to go their way. It’s the Group of Certain Death, people.

19(23) – Nigeria

Based on the scoreline Bosnia should’ve won, but Nigeria actually did play well, and they now have a good chance to make it out of the group, which surprises me.

20(16) – England

They didn’t do that poorly, actually. Now, they didn’t do all that good either, and they’re being dumped from the Group Stage for the first time since 1958, when Roy Hodgson was 11. If half of their young players become what they can be, this could be a good team in the future.

21(18) – Switzerland

They got crushed by France, people. I’m not sure why I’m not giving them a poorer ranking. I guess it’s my reaction to people writing off them as terrible, which was a reaction to them surprisingly getting seeded, which was the result of the mathematical formulae saying that they were top 8, which was the result of them steamrolling through an easy qualifying group.

22(25) – Ecuador

This is when it starts to go off the rails. What am I doing? I don’t know!

23(19) – Russia

Not good enough. 1 point in their first two? It’s a must-win against Algeria. Wait, must win against Algeria? Who’s the closest thing Russia has to Landon Donovan?

24(20) – Ivory Coast

Why am I ranking them this low? I’m not sure. Gervinho, Gervinho, Gervinho. Yes, I was meaning for that to be musical.

25(32) – Algeria

Last place? Algeria laughed at my rankings, and set them ablaze.

26(31) – Iran

Yeah, they totally lost against Argentina, and they haven’t scored a goal, but they defend well. I could see them sneaking through. And then getting pummeled by France.

27(30) – Australia

This team got a terrible draw, and they’ve done very well, despite not getting any points so far. They won’t make the Knockout Stage, but they’ve set up a foundation for the future.

28(24) – South Korea

They conceded 4 against the team that I randomly ranked last. For shame.

29(26) – Greece

Man, 29 is too low.

30(27) – Japan

#FreeShinji

31(29) – Honduras

They’ll do better next time.

32(28) – Camerooooooon

Their loss against Croatia was pure self-destruction at its finest. How does CAF get 1.5 more spots than CONCACAF?

Qualification Scenarios

This is where it gets serious. Who will advance? Who will…not advance?

This section is meant as a reference. Don’t try to read it all like you would read my normal writing. You might not make it.

Group A

Cameroon vs. Brazil, Croatia vs. Mexico, Monday.

Already in: none.

Eliminated: Cameroon.

-Brazil, 4 points, +2 goal difference:

Win/draw OR

Mexico win OR

Croatia win AND goal difference

-Mexico, 4 points, +1 goal difference:

Win/draw

-Croatia, 3 points, +2 goal difference:

Win OR

Draw AND Cameroon win AND goal difference

Group B

Australia vs. Spain, Netherlands vs. Chile, Monday.

Already in: Netherlands, Chile.

Eliminated: Australia, Spain.

Group C

Japan vs. Colombia, Greece vs. Ivory Coast, Tuesday.

Already in: Colombia.

Eliminated: none.

-Ivory Coast, 3 points, 0 goal difference:

Win OR

Draw AND goal difference

-Japan, 1 point, -1 goal difference:

Win AND Greece win/draw AND goal difference

-Greece, 1 point, -3 goal difference:

Win AND Colombia win/draw OR

Win AND goal difference

Group D

Italy vs. Uruguay, Costa Rica vs. England, Tuesday.

Already in: Costa Rica.

Eliminated: England.

-Italy, 3 points, 0 goal difference:

Win/draw

-Uruguay, 3 points, -1 goal difference:

Win

Group E

Honduras vs. Switzerland, Ecuador vs. France, Wednesday.

Already in: none.

Eliminated: none.

-France, 6 points, +6 goal difference:

Win/draw OR

Honduras win/draw OR

Goal difference

-Ecuador, 3 points, 0 goal difference:

Win/draw AND Honduras win/draw OR

Win AND goal difference OR

Honduras win AND goal difference

-Switzerland, 3 points, -2 goal difference:

Win AND France win/draw OR

Win AND goal difference OR

Draw AND France win OR

France win AND goal difference

-Honduras, 0 points, -4 goal difference:

Win AND France win AND goal difference

Group F

Nigeria vs. Argentina, Bosnia vs. Iran, Wednesday.

Already in: Argentina.

Eliminated: Bosnia.

-Nigeria, 4 points, +1 goal difference:

Win/draw OR

Bosnia win/draw OR

Goal difference

-Iran, 1 point, -1 goal difference:

Win AND Argentina win AND goal difference

Group G

United States vs. Germany, Portugal vs. Ghana, Thursday.

Already in: none.

Eliminated: none.

-Germany, 4 points, +4 goal difference:

Win/draw OR

Ghana draw OR

Goal difference

-United States, 4 points, +1 goal difference:

Win/draw OR

Ghana draw OR

Goal difference

-Ghana, 1 point, -1 goal difference:

Win AND United States win AND goal difference OR

Win AND Germany win AND goal difference

-Portugal, 1 point, -1 goal difference:

Win AND United States win AND goal difference OR

Win AND Germany win AND goal difference

Group H

South Korea vs. Belgium, Algeria vs. Russia, Thursday.

Already in: Belgium

Eliminated: none.

-Algeria, 3 points, +1 goal difference:

Win OR

Draw AND Belgium win/draw OR

Draw AND goal difference

-Russia, 1 point, -1 goal difference:

Win AND Belgium win/draw OR

Win AND goal difference

-South Korea, 1 point, -2 goal difference:

Win AND Russia win/draw AND goal difference

 

For the rest of the group stage, I’ll only do daily thoughts, and a US-Germany preview, because I’ll be working on an epic group stage review article (my take on Spain’s elimination will be included), along with Round of 16 previews. That’s it for now, from Daniel’s Soccer Emporium, your home for adults kicking stuff.

United States vs. Ghana Epic Preview

As promised, I have a preview for you, Readers. Enjoy (note: it’s like several little previews put together, and it has polls at the end):

Background

Let me give you a history lesson: American soccer fans don’t particularly like Ghana. They’ve eliminated us from the last two World Cups.

2006: group stage: the US had 1 point in the first two games after a draw with eventual champions Italy and a loss to the Czech Republic, while Ghana had 3 points, after beating the Czech Republic and losing to the Italians. The US had this to advance: beat Ghana, and hope that Italy beat the Czech Republic. Ghana won.

2010: round of 16: Bob Bradley’s American team won a group that included England, and then played Ghana, runner-ups in a group containing Germany, in the first knockout stage. Ghana won.

All this, plus in World Cup Qualifying last year Ghana crushed Bob Bradley’s Egypt.

They are excellent vs. American coached teams. Good thing we have a German this time around.

Why it’s a “Must-Win”

Both teams see this as a very big game. Let’s look at it from the US perspective:

-Scenario 1: the US wins. Let’s say that Germany beats Portugal. Let’s also say that Germany beats Ghana. So the standings with the US and Portugal about to play would have Germany in the lead with 6 points, the US with 3, and Portugal and Ghana with none. In this scenario the US can qualify just by beating Portugal. However, the US can still draw Portugal, which would mean that both results plus goal difference would need to go in Portugal’s favor for the USMNT to miss advancing.

-Scenario 2: the US loses. Again, Germany win their games. (That’s the control.) Standings would have the US and Portugal at the bottom with 0, Ghana at 3, and Germany at 6. So the team would have to beat Portugal to have any hope (technically they could draw Portugal, beat Germany, and they’d have a chance to go through on goal difference if Portugal beat Ghana, but that’s admittedly very unlikely).

With a US win vs. Portugal in that scenario, the team would then be tied at 3 with Ghana, half of Germany’s points. To advance without goal difference, the US would need to beat Germany, while Ghana doesn’t beat Portugal, OR draw Germany while Portugal beats Ghana. To advance on goal difference, the US would need to match Ghana’s result vs. Portugal: if Ghana wins, the US needs to win; if Ghana draws, the US needs to draw. The most interesting thing would be if Portugal and Germany both win in this scenario, in which case all three non-Germany teams are tied at 3 in an epic-three-way-goal-difference-battle.

Got it?

Also worthy of note: for the US to advance on goal difference, they’d need, you know, to actually have superior goal difference. Just throwing that out there.

Anyways, there are lots of different combinations. Plus, I should tell you that Ghana’s scenario map is very similar to America’s. And if they draw, both teams are in trouble.

This is the group of death, people. But it’s not just that! It’s the Group of Certain Death. When I first noticed that there were three groups of death (B, D, G) I tried to see the differences. From before the tournament began, it looked like there were three really good teams in groups B and D, but group G seemed to be the only one with 4 quality teams. Costa Rica has proven that that’s the case in Group D as well, but I already gave the name (Group of Certain Death) to Group G. Two good teams will certainly die. Well, they’ll be knocked out, but “Group of Certain Knocking Out” has less of a ring to it.

You still don’t think that it’s a “Must-Win?” Let me explain:

The two weak links in Group G are the US and Ghana. There is no sugarcoating it. Yeah, the US and Ghana have some international superstars, but Germany is made entirely of international superstars, while Portugal has THE international superstar.

Because these two teams are the weakest two in the group, they are each the weakest of the other teams in the perspective of each other. The best chance for victory. Either of these teams can get a win and then draw Portugal and Germany and be happy; that’s 5 points, probably good enough to make it out of the group.

The fact that it’s the easiest game to win for both teams coupled with the fact that it’s the first game and the fact that the opponent is taking it so seriously as well means that it’s of utmost importance to win, for both teams.

The Underdog Mentality

The United States of America is underdogs in this group. That’s a fact. Is anyone going to try and say that it’s a bad thing?

Let me teach you about the history of this country:

1775-1783: American Revolutionary War. We weren’t technically a country yet and we beat the British Empire.

1941-1945: World War II. We beat the Imperial Japanese AND the Nazi Germans.

1950: USA 1-0 England. This was back when England were really good and the US were really bad. It would be like if Canada beat Germany today.

1980: Miracle On Ice. Soviet Union hockey team that had won the last four Olympic gold medals? Let’s send some college players to beat them.

2002: World Cup group stage, vs. Portugal and their star #7. Up 3-0 after 36 minutes.

America thrives on being the underdogs. It isn’t an insult. It’s bulletin-board material. Stuff to put on the bulletin-board, look at it, take it off, and shove it down the opponents throats when you beat them. It’s the American way.

Note: yeah, okay, foreigners helped us out in a lot of those. French in the Revolutionary war, Russians, British, and many more countries helped in WWII, while the goalscorer vs. England was Haitian.

In 2014? We’ve got Germericans. And a couple Scandinaviamericans.

Tactical Analysis

Remember the Squishy Diamond?

Squishy Diamond

That? Yeah, well, I think it’s going to stay. At least for this next game. It can morph into a diamond or 4-2-3-1 in attack, it’s a nice 4-3-2-1 in defense, and the inclusion of Kyle Beckerman means that both Jermaine Jones and Michael Bradley can do what they do best. I’ve done this before, but I’ll go through the roles of each player:

-Jozy Altidore: the target forward. His job is to help the attack, by hold-up play and/or scoring goals.

-Clint Dempsey: second striker. His job is to get into the box and score goals.

-Alejandro Bedoya: box-to-box winger. His job is to help out defensively, and act as another one of Bradley’s passing options in attack.

-Michael Bradley: The General. His job is to solidify the team in defense, and to control the team like a quarterback in the attack. I think a reason that Klinsmann is playing him further forward is so that he can shut down Michael Essien.

-Jermaine Jones: destroyer. His job is to smash stuff.

-Kyle Beckerman: calm defensive presence. His job is to sit in front of the defense. This is something that Jones has trouble doing, and if Bradley does it you’re only getting half of The General’s benefits; by having Beckerman do it it’s freeing up both those players to impact the team in the way that they best can.

I’ll expand on Michael Essien: if Klinsmann is going to use the diamond (Squishy Diamond, or whatever you want to call it–everyone has their own name and they call it that with authority) for only one game, it’s the Ghana one. With playing Bradley forward, you lose a little bit defensively. He is both the best attacking midfielder and the best defensive midfielder that the US has. Ghana is probably the team that has the least to give in the attack (they’re dangerous in the attack, just not as dangerous as CR7 or Germany) so Klinsmann will sacrifice defensive solidity to hit the African foes harder.

But, it’s not sacrificing defensive solidity as much, when you consider that Michael Essien plays a huge role in Ghana’s team. He’s kind of like Ghana’s Michael Bradley, except with more hair. Bradley will be closer to Essien in the attacking-midfield role than he would be in the defensive-midfield role, so he could shut down the former Chelsea player when Ghana get the ball, thus disrupting their attack.

How will Ghana play? I’m not quite sure. They’re sure to have the lethal Asamoah Gyan at striker, and we’ll also see the talented young Kwadwo Asamoah somewhere, whether it’s at left-back or in a midfield role. Might we also see utility man Kevin-Prince Boateng? Probably. And don’t forget about Essien, or the Ayew brothers, speedy wingers Andre and Jordan. Do you want a deeper analysis into The Black Stars? Well, that’s more for professionals.

This Is It

On June the 25th, 2011, the USMNT was defeated by Mexico, 4-2, in the Gold Cup final. Shortly thereafter, coach Bob Bradley was fired. He was replaced by former Germany striker Jürgen Klinsmann, who previously coached the German national team and Bayern Munich, to mixed results, and has lived in the US since his retirement.

Klinsmann’s Americans started off with mixed success, having a sputtering start, 1-1-1, in CONCACAF World Cup Qualifying Round 3 (of the three teams in that group, neither of them got anywhere near a World Cup berth). But 2012 also had positives: friendly wins away to both Mexico and Italy.

In the Hex, the last round of qualification, the US lost the first game away to Honduras. That was the low point of the Klinsmann reign. He was widely criticized, and panic mode ensued, either because of the infamous Brian Straus article or as a catalyst for it. That article was filled with anonymous player quotes criticizing Klinsmann, and detailing the divide between the German-based players and the others, and it made him look like someone who has no business coaching a soccer team.

What did the US do after that? They won 15 games in their next 16, including a comfortable Gold Cup victory and an easy-looking World Cup berth (11 points clear of the playoff place).

But since that incredible year? Uncertainty.

Uncertainty over a vastly inexperienced defense, uncertainty over a forward who struggled in the EPL, uncertainty over another forward who struggled to make an immediate impact in MLS, uncertainty over the group of death, and basically a pessimistic criticism of every decision that Klinsmann has made, including the obviously incorrect decision to select Julian Green over Landon Donovan for the World Cup roster.

But you know what? None of that matters at all. The early struggles and doubts, the Gold Cup win, the qualifying romp, the recent struggles and doubts, the roster decision, the send-off series, etc.. None of it matters at all.

This is the World Cup. Coaching a sports team is a results-driven business. No matter how smart you seem, or what your resume is, it’s based on results. International soccer is all about the World Cup, so naturally an international soccer manager, at least one managing a country at the level of the US, lives and dies based on World Cup performance. Is that fair, considering that the US is in the group of death? Not entirely. But it’s not about being fair. It’s about cold, hard results.

Anyone can lead the US to a Gold Cup win, at least when Mexico is in an epic slump. Anyone can lead the US to the World Cup. They hired Jürgen Klinsmann to bring the US success at the World Cup. What happens if he doesn’t do well at the World Cup? There’s a good chance he gets fired, regardless of the fact that he signed a contract through 2018 (Bob Bradley signed one through 2014).

The past doesn’t matter. The future doesn’t matter. It’s about the World Cup. Right now, it’s about getting out of the group. To do that, the United States will need to beat Ghana. The time is now.

World Cup Report: Day 1: Much to Talk About

The first day of the World Cup is in the books. And it was a doozy. Table of contents:

-Super-brief recap of Brazil-Croatia.

-A Few Takeaways.

-Mexico-Cameroon preview.

-Group B preview.

-Spain-Netherlands preview.

-Chile-Australia preview.

-Totally Inaccurate Power Rankings.

Yeah, whatever. Let’s go:

In Case You Missed It

-Croatia was better in the first 10 minutes.

-Croatia scored, Marcelo own goal.

-Neymar scored, to tie it up.

-Halftime.

-Penalty on Fred. Yeah, I’ll talk about it a lot. Bad call.

-Neymar puts it home. 2-1.

-Oscar gets the insurance late on. 3-1.

Brazil 3-1 Croatia: A Few Takeaways

This is the meat of the World Cup Report sandwich. (I save the PK talk for last.)

Croatia played well

This is Brazil that they just played against! Brazil! The team that has entered the tournament as favorites. This Croatia team were better in the first 10 minutes, they scored, and then they defended well for most of the game. This team will play Cameroon and then Mexico, and they’ll have Mario Mandzukic, their best striker, who was suspended from this game.

Brazil didn’t play well

They looked sloppy against a team they should’ve beaten. They only scored one goal in regulation time from the run of play (which is an insanely loaded stat, but okay).

The first 10 minutes was bad. The next 80 minutes was a mix of mediocre and good.

Was Croatia’s goalkeeper terrible?

Kind of. Everyone is used to seeing Manuel Neuer and Thibaut Courtois and Iker Casillas make all these crazy saves, but Pletikosa, Croatia’s 35-year-old goalkeeper, isn’t anything near World Class. He plays for an average Russian team. In no way is he World Class.

Did he mess up? Yeah, sure. Goalkeepers mess up all the time, especially against Brazil in Brazil in the first game of the World Cup. He did good stuff, too.

And you can’t blame him on the penalty. He did everything right except actually gripping the ball. Most goalkeepers would not have gotten to that.

The penalty kick

It was a terrible call. I’m 75% sure that Fred dived. The other 25% says that he clumsily fell down. I know that it wasn’t a PK.

I’ll serve up a full-length piece on that call, and the entire World Cup, for tomorrow.

Mexico-Cameroon preview

-Mexico will have Chicharito on the bench, with Giovani Dos Santos and Oribe Peralta starting up top.

-Cameroon will have Old Man Eto’o, who is by far their best player. Any chance they have to make it out of the group is based on how Eto’o can play.

-I’m very interested in seeing how Mexico can do. They were terrible last year, but under Miguel Herrera they’ve done well. Generally Mexico shows up for the big tournaments. Will they show up this year? They have a chance to set the tone against the weakest team in the group.

-Prediction: 2-1. Eto’o is good, Marquez is slow, Mexico will get a lot of chances, waste them, Chicharito will come on off the bench and help the team score twice.

Group B: The Group of Death: Revenge Edition

There are three groups of death in this tournament. Group D is notable due to three former champions (oh, and it could get Englandy!), Group G is notable due to no real weak teams, while Group B is notable because two of the teams in the group, who play each other tomorrow, faced off in last year’s final.

Without further ado, the teams:

Spain

Confederation: UEFA (Europe)

Best Result: WINNER! 2010.

Chances in this year’s tournament: 3 out of 3: Serious Title-Contenders!

Coach: Vicente Del Bosque (completely expressionless).

Key Players:

-Andres Iniesta (#6, pos: MF, age: 30, club: Barcelona)

He scored the winning goal in the last World Cup. A lot of people think he’s regressed, and maybe that’s partially true, but he’s still really, really good.

-Diego Costa (#19, pos: FW, age: 25, club: Atletico Madrid)

The soon-to-be Chelsea player was born in Brazil, but he plays for Spain. The Brazilian crowd will not be too happy with him, and I have my doubts that the Spanish team will be all too happy that he’s there. In addition to being Brazilian, and in addition to being an injury doubt, his style of play seems very anti-Spain. Not tiki-taka, but more “I will shove you and then kick you and if you try to hit me back I will go down really easily.”

This could be Spain’s ticket to the final, or Spain’s ticket to an early exit.

-Cesc Fábregas (#10, pos: MF, age: 27, club: Barcelona)

Fábregas will join Costa at Chelsea. He’ll look good in blue, eh? Fábregas, Hazard, and Oscar? On one team? This would be really exciting if I didn’t think that Costa would be a flop.

And yeah, I put Cesc into here just so that I could talk about Chelsea. Apologies.

Outlook:

This Spain team won last year, but can they win again this year? It’s arguably the last tournament within their “championship window,” considering that many of their key players are getting older. They have good talent coming up in the ranks, but they may never again have a team that can win 3 straight major championships. Can they extend that streak in Brazil?

Netherlands

Confederation: UEFA (Europe)

Best Result: Runner-up. Three times (ouch).

Chances in this year’s tournament: 2 out of 3: Yeah, they could win it.

Coach: Louis van Gaal.

Key Players:

-Robin van Persie (#9, pos: FW, age: 30, club: Manchester United)

The former Arsenal star has had some minor injury problems (because he’s RvP and that’s how he rolls) but he looks likely to lead this Dutch team. Which RvP will we see? The one who won the 2012-13 Golden Boot in the EPL? Or the one who was another dull part of the dull 2013-14 Manchester United season?

-Louis van Gaal (manager, age: 62, club: Manchester United)

Yeah, I totally could’ve talked about Arjen Robben, Bayern Munich star winger, or Wesley Sneijder, who had a great World Cup in South Africa, and I certainly could’ve done 3 “key players.” But instead, I talk about Aloysius Paulus Maria van Gaal (Wikipedia says it’s his real name), who will take charge of Manchester United after the World Cup. The Dutch will be interesting to watch if only for that.

Outlook:

It’s a hard group, everyone.

It could get Netherlandsy.

Chile

Confederation: CONMEBOL (South America)

Best Result: Third, 1962.

Chances in this year’s tournament: 2 out of 3: Yeah, they could win it.

Coach: Jorge Sampaoli

Key Players:

-Alexis Sanchez (#7, pos: FW, age: 25, club: Barcelona)

The young Barcelona winger/striker, as Ray Hudson says “ELECTRIC SANCHEZ!!!!” will certainly be the key for Chile’s attack. He’s shown the ability to score goals, but for Chile to have a shot at a great World Cup, he’ll need to be elite.

-Arturo Vidal (#8, pos: MF, age: 27, club: Juventus)

One of the premier box-to-box midfielders in the game today, Vidal is a major injury concern. Will he play? Probably, but he’s very likely to sit out the first game.

Outlook:

This Chile team is considered dark horses by everyone. They have a very hard group, but they can certainly do it in their home continent. How far can they go? I’m not sure.

Yeah, that’s all I’ve got. Sorry.

Australia

Confederation: AFC (Asia)

Best Result: Round of 16, in 2006.

Chances in this year’s tournament: 0 out of 3: Snowball’s Chance in Qatar.

Coach: Ange Postecoglou (Greek origin).

Key Players:

-Tim Cahill (#4, pos: MF/FW, age: 34, club: New York Red Bulls)

The MLS star is in most likely his last World Cup (his third, and only the third World Cup that the Socceroos have qualified for in his lifetime) can play up front or in midfield, and he can score goals; he’s Australia’s all-time leader in scoring. Can the former Millwall and Everton man make any noise in Brazil, in a very hard group?

Outlook:

If they do well, they can get a point. Maybe multiple points, but that would be very hard considering that the second team of their opponents would be highly favored against them. Spain’s third team would be favored against Australia.

Prediction

Chance to make it out of the group (rounded to 5s):

Spain 80%

Chile 60%

Netherlands 55%

Australia 5%

Both Chile and the Netherlands are certainly quality teams. I think Spain not making the round of 16 is more probable than Australia advancing.

Schedule:

13th: Spain-Netherlands

13th: Chile-Australia

18th: Australia-Netherlands

18th: Spain-Chile

23rd: Australia-Spain

23rd: Netherlands-Chile

This will probably come down to the final game.

Spain-Netherlands Preview

-Rematch of the 2010 World Cup Final!

-Will Diego Costa play?

-Will the Dutch kick the Spanish again?

-Prediction: 2-1 for Spain. Diego Costa dives, and his Chelsea teammate Fábregas puts it away. Instant villains to the Brazilians.

Chile-Australia Preview

-How will Chile adjust to not having Arturo Vidal?

-How well can Australia defend, and can they get anything on the counter?

-Prediction: 2-0 for Chile. ELECTRIC SANCHEZ!!! with a brace.

Totally Inaccurate Power Rankings

Go back to Day 0 if you want to get all of my blurbs. I’m just blurbing the teams that I’m changing, right here, with a couple exceptions. And one of my key rules (no moving up teams that lose) is explicitly broken. Remember, I have no idea what I’m talking about:

1. Brazil (0)

Sure, they only barely won, but they won nonetheless. They’ll need to improve if they want to win the tournament, but 3 points isn’t enough to do anything more than make them a softer #1.

2. Spain

If they convincingly beat the Dutch, I’m moving them to #1. Just a little extra motivation.

3. Germany

4. Argentina

5. Italy

6. Uruguay

7. Belgium

8. Portugal

9. Chile

10. Netherlands

11. Colombia

12. Bosnia-H

13. Croatia (+3)

They looked good against arguably the best team in the world. They have Cameroon next, followed by a Mexico team that would’ve just played Brazil at that point. And they get Mandzukic back. This team seems likely to make the Round of 16.

14. England

I know, it worked so well to have England at #13. Oh, well. They’re still #13 in spirit.

15. France

16. Ghana

17. USA

18. Russia

19. Switzerland

20. Mexico

21. Ivory Coast

22. Nigeria

23. Ecuador

24. Greece

25. Korea

26. Japan

27. Cameroon

28. Costa Rica

29. Honduras

30. Australia

31. Iran

32. Algeria

 

That’s it! Stay tuned for my detailed report on that penalty and the 2014 World Cup itself, and soccer itself, and, well, life itself, and then stay tuned for the Day 2 report Friday night. All right here on Daniel’s Soccer Emporium, your home for adults kicking stuff.

World Cup Report: Day 0: And So It Begins

Hey, does anyone know what will start tomorrow?

World_Tea_Cup

Wait…is that what Miguel Herrera meant when he said that Mexico could win the World Cup?

Anyways, in case you missed it:

THEWORLDCUPISCOMING

AREN’T YOU EXCITED? I’M EXCITED!!! TO THE PREVIEWS!!!

(Note: I will basically be your World Cup tour guide. I will be telling you facts and opinions of the world’s biggest single-sport event for the whole tournament. Your welcome.)

Group A: the Group of Passive Interest + Brazil

How excited can anyone who isn’t a fan of one of these teams be for this group? I mean, yeah, Brazil is the host and they’re really good, but outside of that what is there? But it isn’t a bad group, either. Mexico is fascinating, Croatia is a dark horse with great uniforms, while Cameroon has already had their share of drama. But is it as intriguing as Group B (Spain, Chile, Netherlands, Australia), Group D (Uruguay, Italy, England, Costa Rica) or Group G (USA, Germany, Portugal, Ghana)? No way. While this group can’t be ignored, outside of the Brazilian team I doubt it will dominate the headlines much at all.

Let’s go team-by-team now, shall we? We shall:

Brazil

Confederation: CONMEBOL (South America)

Best result: WINNER! 5 TIMES!

Chances in this year’s tournament: 3 out of 3: Serious Title Contenders!

Coach: Luiz Felipe Scolari (Big Phil to me, and yeah, he’s won one of these before.)

Key Players:

-Neymar (#10, pos: MF/FW, age: 22, club: Barcelona)

This guy is legit, as he proved in last year’s Confederations Cup. He came in with the weight of the host nation on his shoulders, and he stole the show. He’s had a shaky first season with Barcelona, but everyone on this Brazil team seems, to me at least, to do better for Brazil than they do for their club teams.

-Thiago Silva (#3, pos: DF, age: 29, club: Paris Saint-Germain)

The PSG center-back, and Brazil captain, is often times rated as the best defender in the world, because he is. Considering that Brazil have full-backs who like to get forward, and Silva’s partner in central defense, David Luiz, is inconsistent defensively, Silva will need to come up big in his home nation to shut down the many great attacks they will have to get past.

-Julio Cesar (#12, pos: GK, age: 34, club: Toronto FC/Queens Park Rangers)

Yeah, okay, maybe central attacking midfielder Oscar or striker Fred deserved to be in this space instead of Cesar, but this guy has been playing in MLS! The starting goalkeeper for the Brazil National Team has been playing in Major League Soccer! In Canada, no less! CANADA! Has anyone ever won the World Cup while playing in Canada? I DON’T THINK SO!!!

(Note: he’s on loan to TFC, and since his parent club, QPR, have achieved promotion back to the EPL, he will probably return to London after the World Cup. But where did he go to get playing time? MLS!!!)

Outlook:

This Brazilian side are very good, and they seem confident (especially their young star, Neymar) but the pressure that they are under is huge, and winning the World Cup is never an easy task.

And no, I’m not going to talk about the 1950 World Cup final. If you haven’t heard it, then you must be living under a rock. Or at least not following soccer very closely. Medium-story-short: Brazil, at home, had a chance to win, they lost, everyone was sad, except Uruguay because they won, the end.

About a year ago this Brazilian team was under scrutiny. I remember reading an article in which they were compared to England. England! Things have changed, they won the Confederations Cup convincingly, and now they’re undeniable favorites to win it all.

But just because they’re favorites doesn’t mean they’ll definitely win. Spain, Argentina, Germany, and several other countries have teams almost as good, or, indeed, just as good, as Brazil’s. You can also look at the fact that Brazil’s attacking 4 are all either coming off bad seasons (Neymar, Oscar) or play in relatively weak leagues (Fred, Hulk).

But if Brazil can channel the dominance of the Confederations Cup win last year, they’ll be just fine.

Mexico

Confederation: CONCACAF (North America)

Best Result: Quarterfinals twice (both at home).

Chances in this year’s tournament: 1 out of 3: Uh…Anything Can Happen!

Coach: Miguel Herrera (Master Selfie Taker–no, seriously, he took a selfie of the entire Mexican national team and the President of Mexico! With minimal casualties!)

Key Players:

-Oribe Peralta (#19, pos: FW, age: 30, club: America)

The former Santos Laguna striker lit it up for El Tri last year, as he’s scored 12 goals since last August. “El Cepillo” (The Brush) was clearly the most important player on the Mexican team last year, scoring 5 of the 9 goals in the two-legged win over New Zealand, to get to the World Cup.

-Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez (#14, pos: FW, age: 26, club: Manchester United)

Chicharito (“The Little Pea”–see, his father was given the nickname “The Pea”) had a bad season for Manchester United, and he hasn’t been too productive for Mexico in the last year-or-so. But at his best he’s arguably Mexico’s best player, and he has a world-class knack for scoring goals. Which Chicharito will show up in Brazil?

-Rafa Marquez (#4, pos: DF, age: 35, club: Leon)

He’s old, slow, and…maybe he’ll kick people?

Outlook:

This time two years ago, Mexico were considered “dark horses” alongside Belgium and Colombia. The U-23 + 3 team won the 2012 Olympic Gold Medal. But 2013 Mexico was bad. Really bad. They finished 4th in World Cup qualifying, needing Graham Zusi’s help to push them over the line past Panama (de nada!) and then they needed to go to playoffs to face New Zealand. They won. And that’s why they’re here.

In 2013, Mexico went through 4 coaches. Their coach to begin the year, Jose Manuel “Chepo” de le Torre, was close to being fired for most of the year. And then he was fired. There were two other guys who aren’t important, and the current guy, Miguel Herrera, made an interesting coaching decision for the New Zealand game: he dropped the foreign-based players.

The domestic squad did well, but as many of the best Mexican players play abroad, it will be an interesting challenge for El Tri to combine the domestic-based players with the foreign-based ones to create the best team possible.

Serious question: how in the world can they fit Chicharito, Gio Dos Santos, and The Brush all into the same team? Or do they bench one of them? Fascinating questions indeed, and soon we will learn the fascinating answers.

Croatia

Confederation: UEFA (Europe)

Best result: 3rd Place in 1998.

Chances in this year’s tournament: 1 out of 3: Uh…Anything Can Happen!

Coach: Niko Kovac

Key Players:

-Luka Modrić (#10, pos: MF, age: 28, club: Real Madrid)

This guy is a starting central midfielder on the team that just won the Champions League! He’s a somewhat deep-lying playmaker, and the former Spurs man is the best non-Brazil player in the group.

-Mario Mandzukic (#17, pos: FW, age: 28, club: Bayern Munich)

Oh, and this guy scored in the 2013 Champions League final! He’s a target striker, and while he might not be as captivating to watch as Messi or Ronaldo, the man scores goals. He’ll probably leave Bayern Munich, but many top clubs could use a player like Mandzukic.

-THEIR UNIFORM!!!!

Croatia NASA

Yeah, okay, that guy was the one who was banned from this World Cup for, you know, being a Nazi. And yes, it’s obviously his NASA picture from the 1990s, where he got mixed up and wore his soccer gear instead of his astronaut gear. But still, great uniform.

Croatia not NASA

Okay, this doesn’t get the full thing, but it’s better in some ways. Wikipedia didn’t give me that many options. For some reason they decided to show all the pictures of people in their Croatian National Team garb be in the away jersey, but I don’t know why. I mean, this one has checkers! It’s clearly the best jersey in the World Cup. CHECKERS!!!

Outlook:

Like Mexico, Croatia needed to go through the playoffs to qualify for the World Cup. The likeable minnow that they faced was Iceland, not New Zealand, and they were able to get a win over two legs.

Their coach, former club legend Niko Kovac, was appointed in the middle of the qualifying campaign (the last guy didn’t do so well) and he led them into the country’s 4th World Cup (he was a member of the 2nd and 3rd ones, and would’ve played in the 1st if it wasn’t for injury).

Croatia have some good players; Modrić and Ivan Rakitic alongside youngster Mateo Kovacic in the midfield, Mandzukic in the attack, and captain Darijo Srna in defense; but they aren’t really that deep from 1 to 23; understandable considering the size of the country (the Seattle metropolitan area has more people than Croatia).

Cameroon

Confederation: CAF (Africa)

Best Result: Quarterfinals in 1990 (38-year-old Roger Milla, anyone?)

Chances in this year’s tournament: 0 out of 3: Snowball’s Chance in Qatar.

Coach: Volker Finke (one of the four German coaches).

Key Player:

-Samuel Eto’o (#9, pos: FW, age: 72, club: Chelsea)

The legendary forward, and captain of the Indomitable Lions (is that the best team nick-name ever?), will leave his club team Chelsea, but he will stay with Cameroon to attempt to add to his record 56 goals for his nation (he’s scored 3 in the World Cup).

Outlook:

African teams quite often seem to have disputes over pay. Nigeria had one in last year’s Confederations Cup, while Cameroon had it in this World Cup. They refused to board the plane until the matter was straightened out, and even though it was, it doesn’t bode well at all for their chances, especially considering that they’re the weakest team in the group.

Predictions

Chance to make it out of the group (rounded to 5s):

Brazil 95%

Croatia 55%

Mexico 40%

Cameroon 10%

Both Croatia and Mexico are unpredictable, but I expect that Croatia will most likely be the better team in this World Cup.

Schedule:

12th: Brazil vs. Croatia

13th: Mexico vs. Cameroon

17th: Brazil vs. Mexico

18th: Cameroon vs. Croatia

23rd: Cameroon vs. Brazil

23rd: Croatia vs. Mexico

That last game could decide it all.

Brazil vs. Croatia Preview

-The Brazilian team is really good.

-Croatia is also good, but Mario Mandzukic is suspended for the first game. Nikica Jelavic will probably start in his place. Thiago Silva vs. Nikica Jelavic is a total mis-match.

-Brazil is at home. All the fans will be cheering for Brazil.

-Croatia has Modrić and Rakitic and Kovacic, but Brazil more than enough players to out-class the Croats.

-Prediction: 2-0 for Brazil.

Totally Inaccurate Power Rankings

1. Brazil

They’re arguably the best in the world. They’re at home. They won the Confederations Cup convincingly.

2. Spain

They won the last World Cup, and the last two European Championships, and they’re very good.

3. Germany

One of the best teams, talent-wise, in the World Cup. But they haven’t won anything since the 90s, and I doubt they’ll become the first European team to win in the Americas here. But they have a very good team from front to back.

4. Argentina

Messi, Aguero, Di Maria, Higuaín. This team is dynamite in the attack, and they’re playing at their home continent. But they’re weak defensively.

5. Italy

They were second in the last Euros, and they have Pirlo and Balotelli, one of the best in the world along with a volatile striker who performs well for Italy. Do they deserve to be 5th, though? I’m not sure. Did you read the part where I said “Totally Inaccurate?”

6. Uruguay

Suarez, Cavani, Forlan. They’re elite in attack, but weak defensively. Like a slightly poor man’s Argentina.

7. Belgium

This team has many star players, but they have only one who has played in a World Cup. That’s because they haven’t qualified since 2002. I think that the lack of experience will be why they won’t win, but they can still make some noise, and they’re contenders to win future tournaments they compete in.

8. Portugal

They have Cristiano Ronaldo, who’s arguably the best player in the world, and has certainly lived up to that billing for the last year-and-a-half-or-so. Not counting CR7 they have other good players, but nothing amazing, but with him they have an outside chance.

9. Chile

Alexis Sanchez leads this Chilean team’s powerful attack. They’re certainly a dark horse, but they have a hard group and if they don’t surpass both Spain and the Netherlands they could face Brazil in the round of 16.

10. Netherlands

Of all the teams in the World Cup, the Netherlands was one of the most punished by the draw. In most other groups they would advance, but in this one it seems very hard, and almost an impossible task to make the quarterfinals. Oh, and they’re the Netherlands. It could get Netherlands-y.

11. Colombia

No Falcao, but they’re still a solid team. I’m going to try to keep the blurbs short from now on.

12. Bosnia-H

Edin Dzeko is in charge of this dangerous attack, and they’re fairly safe at the other end with Asmir Begović.

13. England

This team has quality players, and promising youngsters, but they’re so…England-y. And no, I didn’t intentionally put them 13th. But it works out nicely.

14. France

They are without Ribery, but they’re still a good team. And they have an easy group. I’d be shocked if they make it past the quarters.

15. Ghana

The Black Stars were a Luis Suarez handball away from being semifinalists last year, and for good reason. They’re a good team.

16. Croatia

This team has good players, as I said, but they aren’t really close to favorites to win. Well, to win anything other than a Best Uniform contest.

17. USA

Wait, by putting the US below the other 3 group G teams, am I saying that America won’t qualify?!? Not really, but 17th seems about right. And that’s a very hard group. In sports, anything can always happen.

18. Russia

Fabio Capello has gotten Russia playing well as a team, especially in the defense. They won a qualifying group against Portugal. But they don’t have enough talented players to go very far, I don’t think.

19. Switzerland

The Alpine nation was certainly the worst of all the seeded nations, so everyone wanted to be in their group, but that doesn’t mean that they’re a bad team. They’re overlooked, but they’re a good team in an easy group. Don’t sleep on the Swiss.

20. Mexico

I’m just not sure what to expect from this Mexico team. #20 is either very mean or quite nice.

21. Ivory Coast

Yaya Toure is really good. If he is healthy, and there are doubts, the team will be at least somewhat good, especially if Didier Drogba is playing well.

22. Nigeria

Other countries are better, but the African Champions certainly shouldn’t be slept on.

23. Ecuador

This is certainly the worst South American team, and you can say that the only reason why they won any World Cup Qualifying games was because their home stadium is way above sea level. But they aren’t a bad team, they did qualify for the World Cup, and they’re in their home continent. Oh, and they have an easy group.

24. Greece

The Greeks haven’t done much since their Euro 2004 win, and it doesn’t seem like they’ll do anything here.

25. Korea

This team has talent, but I don’t think they’re good enough.

26. Japan

(See: Korea) (Also see: I have no idea what the heck I’m talking about). Shinji Kagawa’s good. David Moyes disagrees.

27. Cameroon

This team has talent, and Old Man Eto’o, but the whole money dispute thing scares me, and I also don’t think they’re good enough overall.

28. Costa Rica

This team is good, but without Alvaro Saborío (or even with him) I sadly don’t think they can make it out of the group.

29. Honduras

They aren’t quite as good as Honduras, but they have a much easier group.

30. Australia

Tim Cahill’s team has a terrible draw: Spain, the Netherlands, and Chile. They just aren’t good enough to make it out. A point would be great for the Socceroos.

31. Iran

There isn’t really a bad team in this World Cup, but the Iranians aren’t all that good.

32. Algeria

As I said, it’s the World Cup, and there are no bad teams. But Algeria is pretty close.

Power Rankings Guidelines:

1. When a team wins, I’m not allowed to drop them in rankings.

2. When a team loses, I’m not allowed to raise them in rankings.

3. I will move teams around every day, if they play, and I will only write blurbs for the ones who have just played and were thus just moved.

 

That’s it! Stay tuned for daily World Cup updates from here on out. Are you ready?

World Cup 2014: Part 7: Mexico-Portugal As It Happened

Patriots Stadium in Wherever, Massachusetts. Mexico. CR7-less Portugal. It’s on like Donkey Kong.

L-Tree Lineup: Jesus Corona; Miguel Layun, Hector Moreno, Rafa Marquez, Maza Rodriguez, Paul Aguilar; Andres Guardado, Jose Juan Vazquez, Hector Herrera; Gio Dos Santos, Oribe “El Cepillo” (The Brush) Peralta

Corona’s healthy. So is 65-year-old Rafa Marquez. Gio-Brush up top.

They misspelled Hector Moreno’s name as “Morena,” confusing considering how their color commentator’s name is Alejandro Moreno.

WENEEDRONALDOHEALTHY!!!!! FC Lineup: Eduardo; Fabio Coentrao, Bruno Alves, Luis Neto, Joao Pereira; Joao Moutinho, Miguel Veloso, Vieirinha, Nani; Andre Almeida, Eder

Andre Almeida is apparently listed as a defender, but he’s playing as a forward, according to their map. What? Do they really mean Hugo Almeida? Probably not. Let’s see.

As I’ve mentioned before, Cristiano Ronaldo is injured; so is his club teammate Pepe and former Chelsea player Raul Meireles.

1’ – The game has begun.

5’ – I just realized that it’s the fifth minute and I haven’t given any updates. It’s still scoreless. I’m trying to find out how Portugal are playing. Fabio Coentrao is playing as a central midfielder, and it’s freaking me out.

7’ – Nifty long pass into space for Layun, although his cross doesn’t do much good. Having the ability to find those smart long passes into space is very useful to unlock defenses. Not just booting it up-field, but finding an unmarked runner.

10’ – Andre Almeida is playing as the left-back, and Coentrao as a central midfielder in a 4-3-3. They recently went on an attack where Nani, at left-mid, neatly flicked it on to Almeida.

Tactical Map
Tacky Formations Map. It’s legible if you 1) squint and 2) use your imagination. I’ve said it before and I’ll continue to say it until it isn’t true: I’m not making money from this, so you can’t expect too much.

11’ – They just mentioned that the Portuguese are surprised that Giovani Dos Santos isn’t considered one of Mexico’s best by the Mexican media. So, wait, does that mean that Gio is the Mexican Chris Wondolowski? With Wondo, his play outdoes his reputation, while Gio is the other way around.

14’ – Vieirinha just cut in past Miguel Layun and got a shot on target. Portugal is playing quite interesting, tactically.

15’ – Paul Aguilar received the ball down the right, and he sends in a dangerous cross, TACKLE! Luis Neto! Peralta is apparently offside, but that was a nice cross, and an even better tackle.

20’ – Eder with the header, after the cross by left-back Almeida. Again, not sure why they listed Andre Almeida as a forward. Eder is playing as the lone striker.

21’ – Still scoreless, but not for a lack of trying. Mexico with another cross cleared by Portugal.

22’ – Coentrao passes to Almeida, runs into space, gets the return ball, sends in a through ball to Eder, WHO SHOOTS! SAVE! Very good build-up play, and a very good save by Corona.

23’ – Moutinho with a long through-ball to Eder, but the goalkeeper comes out and clears it.

24’ – Hector Moreno should sign with an NFL team. Great tackle to bring down Moutinho. Foul.

24’ – Nani free kick, it’s Corona’s ball.

27’ – I think that against Cameroon, Mexico should try to possess, with Gio in behind the striker play-making (similar role to Clint Dempsey for the US or perhaps Wayne Rooney for England) and then against Brazil play a “Please don’t hurt us!” 5-3-0-2, with 3 D-mids in front of the defenders. Against Croatia? Figure that out based on prior games and what result is needed.

31’ – DID THAT ALMOST SCORE!?!?!?! MIGUAL LAYUN!!!! WHAT IS WRONG WITH HIM?!? WHO IN THEIR RIGHT MIND WOULD SHOOT FROM THAT FAR OUT?!?

32’ – Or was it a cross? I don’t know. But Miguel Layun certainly does have that club in his bag. The WHATDIDHEJUSTDO?!? club, that is.

38’ – Nice turn by Eder, but the shot goes wide. Portugal have had several good attacks, but they’ve failed to score.

39’ – Joao Pereira with the cross, Eder wins the header (I love rhyming “Eder” with “header”), but it goes wide. He’s been active, but he hasn’t scored. That will be looked at as either “promising” or “frustrating,” depending on the result and/or how he does.

43’ – Guardado! Just misses! Poor clearance by Bruno Alves but the Mexican misses the shot.

44’ – Portugal seem to be better than Mexico when they want to be. It’s been pretty back-and-forth, but Mexico have gotten caught out. They’ve shown a replay where wing-back Miguel Layun tucks in to cover the winger, but then the full-back overlaps so that a center-back needs to emergency defend the problem away. This is a disadvantage of the 5-3-2: you’re oftentimes outnumbered 2-to-1 on the wings, so an overlapping full-back is lethal. Brazil, in Mexico’s group, have a couple overlapping full-backs in Dani Alves (Layun’s side) and Marcelo (Aguilar’s side).

45+1’ – End of the first half.

46’ – Second half to commence. Keeper swap for Mexico. On comes Guillermo Ochoa for Jesús Corona.

46’ – Cameroon, you see, is a must-win for El Tri. If they only pick up one or zero points against what I think is the weakest team in their group, they’ll need to either get a result against Brazil, and/or beat Croatia. They kind of need to beat Croatia anyways, but it becomes super-necessary if they can’t beat Cameroon–if Cameroon gets a result against Mexico and Mandzukic-less Croatia gets a result against Brazil, it’s already desperation mode for Mexico.

48’ – Insane attack by Mexico. Several half-chances, all eventually wasted. You know, very few times have they gotten the ball to their striker, Oribe Peralta, in the box. That’s how they’ll score, and in their group they have a team slightly worse than Portugal (Croatia) and a team considerably better than Portugal (Brazil), and even if they get out of their group they’ll need to face another team considerably better than Portugal (Spain, or whoever beats Spain).

51’ – Nifty turn by Herrera followed shortly by a Gio nutmeg.

55’ – Whoa, I just spaced out there. Andres Guardado almost scored, Hector Herrera is good, the score is still 0-0, Cristiano is still injured, disco is still dead, and I still like pizza.

56’ – That was hard-hitting analysis by me. Are you reading this, ESPN?

58’ – Chicharito is coming on for Giovani Dos Santos. Let’s see if he can get confidence, and we’ll also see how Mexico can do with two pure strikers. Silvestre Varela just came on for Vieirinha as well. How will this change Portugal’s attack? Looks like Nani is now on the right, with Varela on the left.

61’ – Wonderful job by Chicharito. I’m telling you, at his best he’s one of the best players in CONCACAF. Nice run, skillful hold-up-type-play, nice cross to Herrera, but the shot is saved. Both of these players will probably have to play well if Mexico is going to advance, along with Peralta and Dos Santos and, well, several others.

64’ – Helder Postiga comes on for Eder. Different dimension to the Portuguese attack brought by the veteran.

65’ – Honest question: are all the Portuguese fans really Portuguese? Or are some of them just Cristiano Ronaldo fans? I know that there are a lot of Portuguese people in the Boston area, but you can’t fill a suburban NFL stadium without at least some bandwagoners, right?

74’ – Foul on Miguel Layun, just on the line of the penalty box. I’m not sure if that’s a PK or not, but it’s called as a free kick just outside the line.

75’ – Rafa Marquez to take, deflected, Herrera, TO SPACE!!

76’ – Coentrao comes off for 21-year-old Rafa Silva.

78’ – Alan Pulido, who scored a hat-trick in his first ever international game, comes on for Oribe Peralta, while Marco Fabian comes on for Andres Guardado.

80’ – Joao Pereira comes off for Ruben Amorim.

83’ – As I’ve said, the young Hector Herrera has been good, but he stupidly gave away the ball, and was forced to commit a foul at the expense of a yellow card and a dangerous free kick.

86’ – Here comes Javier Aquino for Hector Herrera.

87’ – Nifty work by Nani, but the cross only finds Ochoa.

89’ – Wonderful pass by Aquino to Chicharito, and the Manchester United striker does a good job to set up Aquino, who is muffled by Eduardo. Chicharito has done quite well, I think. He should definitely be starting, even if it means that Dos Santos or even Peralta have to fall to the bench.

90+2’ – I read “H. Postiga” on the back of Helder Postiga’s shirt, and I thought it said “Hipster.” It’s getting late.

90+3’ – Free kick by Joao Moutinho, Maza Rodriguez loses Bruno Alves, WHO WINS THE HEADER, GOOOOOOOOAAAALLL!!!!! BRUNO ALVES!!!! CR7-LESS PORTUGAAAAAAAAALLLL!!!!!!!

90+4’ – There’s the final whistle. Only one goal, but there were tons of chances for both teams.

Final score: 1-0 to Portugal.

A few takeaways:

-Oribe Peralta didn’t get a shot off.

This is not good for Mexico. They need their strikers getting the ball in dangerous areas. It feels very 2013-ish from Mexico.

-Portugal are not as good without Cristiano Ronaldo.

-I know a lot more about El Tri than I thought.

If you multiply people’s knowledge of the Mexican National team with how white they are, I’d be #2 in the world behind Miguel Layun.

USA-Nigeria preview and then review to come. And then I’ll do more World Cup coverage for the next month, right here on DSE.

Any thoughts about the Mexico-Portugal game? That’s what the comments section is for, everyone.