Tag Archives: Mexico

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.

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.