England Embarrassed

June 27, 2010

Germany demolished England 4-1 in what was an absolute clinic. Frank Lampard’s disallowed equalizier at the end of the first half could have changed things, but in all fairness the Germans were better at every position.

Miroslav Klose opened up the scoring in the 20th minute off of a long goal kick from Manny Neuer. England defender Matt Upson lost Klose in the box, and a late arriving David James could nothing about it. Credit where it’s due though for Klose, as he just as easily could have taken a dive in the box. Twelve minutes later, the Germans struck again. Thomas Muller was played in beautifully who crossed it over to Lukas Podolski for a relatively easy finish for the FC Colgone man. James probably should have done better, but make no mistake, 2-0 was an accurate scoreline at the time.

In the 37th, England got back in the game through the most unlikely of scorers. Matt Upson put Captain Steven Gerrard’s cross home, to bring one back for the Three Lions.  Almost seconds later, Frank Lampard found the ball at his feet at the edge of the box and his sublime chip beat Neuer, who cleverly snatched the ball of his line and gave no indication that he was beaten. Replay evidence shows Lampard’s chip was clearly a goal, and England seemed to be punished by the soccer gods for their controversial winner versus Germany in the 1966 final.

The second half saw England trying to get back in the game, to no avail.  Two textbook counters from Germany in the 67th and the 70th were both finished by Muller, and it was curtains for the English.

Lampard’s disallowed goal once again proves the need for goal-line technology.  It would literally take seconds to make a determination, hardly taking anything from the game.  This will be the headline in English papers tomorrow, but undeservedly.

Germany were clinical.  Their timing, coordination and movement were nothing short of brilliant.  The young Germans embarrassed the high-profile England stars.

Where did it go so horribly wrong for England?  There was a large contingent of England fans who were thrilled that Rio Ferdinand’s injury would keep him out of the World Cup, but I am fairly certain they would take that back now. Both John Terry and Ferdinand had horrid seasons for both Chelsea and Manchester United. With an injured and then out of favor Ricardo Carvalho at Chelsea, Terry was exposed for being what he is. Terry is one the greatest stationary defenders on Earth right now, but without a compliment like Ferdinand or Carvalho (country and club) he is not very effective. While their options were limited at the back (an injured Ledley King and the inexperienced Michael Dawson), Capello’s hands were tied. There’s not a manager in the world who would have had the balls to drop Terry, so it’s hard to fault Fabio for not giving the likes of Dawson a run out.

Up front, where was Wayne Rooney? This was supposed to be his tournament, but for the second straight World Cup he was nowhere to be found. To be fair, their options are pretty limited in that regard as well. When you have to bring Emile Heskey in search of goals, sorry, your team has some serious issues. I think Capello was clearly wrong to go into this tournament with the Heskey/Rooney partnership. Heskey only partnered well with Michael Owen for England, and we’re talking about eight years ago. Defoe is not the ideal partner for Rooney, and while Crouch may be the best suited, he is certainly not close to world class. Their best option in my opinion would have been a 4-5-1, or a 4-4-1-1 with Gerrard playing behind Rooney.  They have midfielders that are capable of scoring gobs of goals, but many of them failed to show up.

Lampard should have had his first World Cup goal today and was unlucky not to score another, but he has still yet to score a goal in the World Cup. The partnership of him and Gerrard in the midfield has never worked, and quite obviously will never work.  Gareth Barry is no more than a pretty good holding midfielder.  He has a sweet left foot and is at his best when he can play those diagonal balls to the wings. They lack cutting edge on the wings without Aaron Lennon or the excluded Theo Walcott in their starting 11, making Barry somewhat ineffective. He is a liability on the counter and Germany exposed him big time.

In the net, any logical fan could determine they do not have a keeper capable of winning any games for them. You need that in this competition. David James should have done better on two, maybe three goals today, but that’s David James. What did you expect from him? He came into the tournament as a backup to one of the worst, if not the worst starting keeper in the Premier League last season in Robert Green.  Young Joe Hart is the best shot stopper of them all, but apparently his distribution problems were significant enough to warrant his place on the bench. It does not like the right call at this point, especially given Capello knew what he had in his first two choices.

Team dissention. It seems to always plague this group of players in particular, as there are two many egos in that locker room. Gerrard and Lampard have never been friendly, and when Gerrard was awarded the captaincy it set off a feud. As childish as it sounds, the last two weeks were filled with stories that the Londoners banded together in disapproval of Gerrard being named captain, and they felt Terry should get it back.

Point being, if Fabio Capello can’t make it work for England, who can? The answer invariably should be no one. Short of the “Special One”, you can’t argue there is a better suited manager to mold these talents and most importantly, personalities together. An English manager is almost surely to be the next step for England, if and when Capellos surely leaves his post.

England are headed home, and at no point during this tournament did they appear to be the contenders the media painted them out to be.


The Dream Is Over

June 26, 2010

*Branching from our usual recap-style write-ups on World Cup games, the following are my thoughts on the States’ defeat to Ghana. We all saw the game.*

It’s hard to even know where to begin.

Since the end of the game – actually, since Gyan’s goal – I’ve just had an empty feeling. Sure, there’s some disappointment and sadness, but it’s all very subdued. I’m not dejected or mad, either. Putting that feeling down in text, I realize why. This is how it feels when you weren’t bested, but when you beat yourself.

That’s what the U.S. did today. I’ll give the Black Stars of Ghana the credit for playing a great game, and they deserve to advance, but some disappointing performances in the U.S. camp made it much easier on them than it should have been.

If I were going to narrow it down to a single reason why the United States aren’t licking their chops in anticipation of a quarter-final clash with first-ever World Champions Uruguay on Friday, it’d be Bob Bradley. And I promise, I would have said the same thing if he didn’t basically say “I messed up” with his early substitution of Ricardo Clark.

But that’s not to say that’s not a good place to start. There are few people who were excited to see Ricardo Clark in the line-up. When he gave away the ball that resulted in Ghana’s lead, I don’t think I’ve ever yelled louder or more profanities in my life – and for people who know me and my video gaming outbursts, that says a lot. But I wasn’t yelling at his mistake. I was yelling at Bradley’s decision to have him on the field.

Clark didn’t track back with Gerrard when England scored on us and never did anything productive on the other side of the ball. HJe lacks the technique, finesse and creativity to be a good central midfielder, to be blunt. But he was just Bradley’s first mistake. Second was Robbie Findley.

Why is he playing? I haven’t the faintest clue. He started against England, did nothing and was subbed at halftime. He started against Slovenia, did nothing and was subbed middle of the second half. He couldn’t play against Algeria because of two yellow cards, and that ends up being the only game we win. So what does Bob Bradley decide? He starts against Ghana, does nothing and is subbed at halftime.

Of course the game plays out so that a player of that quality gets our best chance in the second half. Played through just inside the top of the box, Findley had a free shot on goal from the right. Instead of working the keeper, he hits it directly at him – an opportunity wasted. But he wasn’t the only awful one up top.

Jozy Altidore was non-existent other than drawing a few fouls. I know he’s only 20 years old, but the fact remains he has been given the nod to be the starting striker for a team in the World Cup knock-out stage. A player in that position has got to be able to score or at least work the keeper when given a free shot at the top of the box. Altidore rolled the ball about five yards wide of the goal. He’s just not good enough. He may rip up Trinidad and Tobago in qualifying, but he rarely scores otherwise. He had to be better if the States wanted to seriously consider a run in this tournament.

Clark and Findley were crushing choices. Obviously Bradley sees the guys on the training field each day and may have seen some things that swayed his decision, but based on their resumes in this World Cup, I can’t imagine what could have transpired off-camera that made him decide to start that pair.

My biggest problem with Bradley, however, isn’t his squad selection. It’s the mentality he preaches to the team… or lack thereof. When your team concedes early in three of its four games, it falls on the coach. It’s clear Bradley wasn’t handling that situation correctly. You’ve got to be able to manage a team and have them prepared mentally as much as physically and tactically. If he had to resort to telling the guys, “Play defensive and clear the ball for the first 10 minutes,” then so be it. You cannot afford to go behind at this level, much less three times in four games. Everyone, Bradley included, knew the magic dust was going to run out sooner or later.

Knowing that, he has to have his guys prepared to play in the first 10 minutes, and that happens with what he says in the locker room before they walk out of the tunnel.

Part of me feels bad criticizing Bradley. He has won the CONCACAF, he took the team to the Confederations Cup finals, beat then No.1 Spain and many other accomplishments, but he’s just not cutting it. It’s fantastic he elevated the level of the USMNT program, but we’re going to need a more knowledgeable, seasoned coach if we want to progress the program to the point the country doesn’t have to goes nuts each time we advance out of an easy group.

I will say that there are few teams of the 16 I’d rather lose to than Ghana. Going into the game, I was seething with a desire for revenge, but at the end of the game I can support Ghana on their quest to the Cup. After the match, you could see what it meant to them to be representing both their country and continent, and you see that it meant just as much to all the different factions of African nations who came together to support Ghana.

The result is unfortunate, because most of the Americans left their hearts out on the pitch today, and for that, I thank them. They could have rolled over last week, feeling sorry about the “phantom call,” but they responded with heart, and in turn, a nation responded with its support.

Thanks again, boys. Keep your heads up, and we’ll see you in 2014.

Uruguay 2 South Korea 1

June 26, 2010

For the first time since 1970, Uruguay has moved on to the quarterfinals of the World Cup.  The two-time Cup winners were not threatened much in the first half, but did well to grab a late winner in a close contest.

South Korea’s Park Chu-Young looked like opening the scoring in the fifth minute.  His curling free kick on the left side of the box drilled the woodwork, and spared Uruguay’s perfect defensive record thus far in the tournament.  It didn’t take the Uruguayans long to respond with a chance of their own, and Diego Forlan’s cross in the eighth minute found a wide open Luis Suarez.  In a tight angle, Suarez stuck it in the side netting through a quality finish.

The rest of the first half was pretty listless, with South Korea starting to get a little more possession in the final ten minutes but not capitalizing.

The second half afforded some great opportunities for South Korea to get back in the game, and it was evident that the aging Uruguayan backline was getting tired and was having trouble dealing with a soaked pitch in Port St. Elizabeth.  Park Chu-Young wasted the first good chance in the 51st after a poor clearance from Uruguay Captain Diego Lugano.  Uruguay seemed more and more content to park the bus, until another botched clearance led to the Korean equalizier.  From a free kick in the 68th, Bolton forward Lee Chung-Yong headed it in the poor clearance to give the Asian nation a lifeline.

Just a couple minutes later, Chung-Yong had a great chance to double his tally through Park Ji Sung, but hit a tame shot right at keeper Fernando Muslera.  Past that, the Koreans attack had been buoyed and it proved costly.  Uruguay took the lead, and further punched their ticket into the quarters through a moment of brilliance from Ajax man Luis Suarez.  A failed corner in the 80th saw the ball collected by Suarez at the left edge of the box, and he curled in a beatiful strike off the post that sunk Korean hearts.  Suarez’ double was complete, and Uruguay escaped a late scare to progress.

One of the most highly-righted young strikers in the field has proven his high scoring rate at Ajax is legitimate.  The Eredivisie always produces impressive scoring rates, but Suarez is beginning to look more of Robin Van Persie’s ilk than say Afonso Alves.

There is reason for concern though, as fatigue looked like sending Uruguay home in the latter portion of the second half.  They were the better team for ninety minutes, but either USA or Ghana will be encouraged about their chances to knock them off.

What Will It Take?

June 25, 2010

This is the question that has plagued American soccer for its’ existence. What will it take to truly transform this country into a soccer-crazed nation? It is a legitimate question when you consider just how improved this country’s national team is since 1990.

In that time, we have gone to six straight World Cups and have advanced to the knockout stages half of those occasions. In that time, we have a winning record against CONCACAF giants and rival Mexico. What more can you ask for right now? Plain and simple, if you didn’t get it yesterday than I’m not sure there’s any hope.

To be fair, the South and Alabama (as much as I love both), are a poor representation of “soccer nation” here in the States.  My problem with this is the fact that soccer embodies everything we Americans love about sports – athleticism, and most importantly, the passion and hatred it evokes on and off the field are truly unparalleled to any American sport (the passion and hatred aspects anyway).

Most people just don’t give it a chance. There is this nationalist attitude toward soccer that is pretty embarrassing on a global level. We are a nation with 300 million people, but the nation has yet to be truly captivated by the sport. Here is a Facebook status update from an unnamed friend after our victory yesterday: “I would rather watch bowling from 1976 than watch the World Cup.” Give me a f**king break. This same person is a good example of why it’s hard to envision the game really catching on with all sports fans. He follows other sports, and NASCAR might be his favorite, but yet soccer is too boring?

Let’s get this straight – how can watching cars turn left for four straight hours possibly be construed as entertaining? I hate the boring argument that comes with soccer.  As much as I love American football, the amount of game time you actually see is mind boggling. When you exclude down time and commercials, the Super Bowl had a total of 12 minutes of true action.

It is great to see more interest in our team as a result of yesterday’s victory, but how can it continue? It would seem as if we almost have to get to the semis for that to happen, given it didn’t take off with a quarters exit in 2002. Would that even do it though?

One of the best attributes of our squad is that we play well in unfriendly environments. When we play teams like Honduras, Costa Rica and Mexico in home World Cup Qualifiers the fans are nearly split. The venues are sold out, but for example Soldier Field in Chicago hosted about 35,000 Hondurans and about 35,000 Americans. With a nation of 300 million, we can surely enjoy the home field advantage that nearly every other FIFA-affiliated country creates in qualifying. The U.S. Soccer Federation is apprehensive to have qualifiers in the South (where there are less of the Latin contingent in big cities) where lackluster crowds in Nashville and Birmingham in 2004 and 2009 give them no incentive to come back to the South. And then there is the very poor support for southern MLS teams like FC Dallas, which do nothing to help this region’s cause. Our supporters’ section with both the American Outlaws and Sam’s Army is very strong though, regardless of where the game is played. It’s really all about swaying the apathetic.

The major point is that our product on the field deserves to have that home field advantage wherever they play. The fact that almost all of our national team-quality players now play in quality European leagues is the best indication of our progress on the pitch. Even many young stars like Mikkel Disserud that aren’t getting a whiff at the national team are playing overseas. There are good ones here in the States as well, like Luis Gil and Jack McInerney, and we’ve seen the MLS at-large have great attendance numbers this year. Maybe that’s a strong indication of the game’s growth in many cities, but certainly not areas like this one. It doesn’t help when you have guys like Jim Rome who only point out some melee in Ecuador as the only relevant soccer news.

I think any rational sports fan who sat down to watch the game thoroughly would  appreciate it, but instead,  it’s just not given a chance.  So once again, until that attitude that soccer is a “communist game”, or “everyone else in the world’s game”, I don’t think soccer will have that nation-wide staying power we’re capable of delivering.  It’s already there in major cities, but that’s it.

Unfortunately, the players have the pressure of having to pull a minor miracle to create that staying power in smaller markets. Nothing short of one will create the atmospheres fans and the players crave and deserve.

It’s time people. Get with the rest of the world more than one month out of every 48.

Aw, man! We have a World Cup game today? *groans*

June 24, 2010

Those should be the most ashamed 23 men in the world right now… Well, perhaps I’m being a little harsh. After all, not all 23 Italians played! ZING!

Honestly, what an utterly atrocious, embarrassing, pathetic, disrespectful, lamentable, lethargic, apathetic performance from the defending World Champions! I could go on and on with the adjectives, but that should suffice for now. If you want more, simply visit Thesaurus.com and type in “Italy.”

I think the word “disgrace” would encompass Italy’s showing the best. Few expected this Italian squad to be the third team in history to repeat their triumph of four years ago (the two teams, if you’re interested, where actually Italy in ’34 and ’38 and Brazil, of course, in ’58 and ’62), but a weakened squad is no excuse for the showing the Italians put on.

Had they crashed out of the tournament after working their asses off, I wouldn’t be so bothered.  They literally looked like they didn’t want to be there in all three games, but especially today against Slovakia when their tournament life was on the line.

The first goal the Italians conceded was the immediate product of a simply non-thinking ball just outside their box. The second, the defense was completely asleep as a Slovak jogged his way toward the near post to finish, and the last, the most embarrassing of all, saw Slovakia throw the ball in to Kamil Kopunek from about 20 yards out as three Italians watch the ball bounce into the path of the opposing striker who rightfully sent the ex-champions packing.

Today against the Slovaks, they needed a win or a tie, depending on other results, to advance, but not until the 75th minute did the Italian side look interested. Perhaps they were still shell-shocked from their first two fixtures that didn’t go to plan, but knowing the global ridicule that would await them if they didn’t qualify for the knock-out stage, they still produced a dull, uninterested brand of football. You could have put a Tupperware of leftover lasagna out on the pitch instead of the Italian side and would have seen more intent and excitement to be playing on the world’s greatest stage.

Put me in, coach! I'm ready to play!

Italy, if you just don’t want to play in the tournament at all, let FIFA know next time. There are countries who would literally hire assassins to kill to get into the tournament. Imagine what Ireland would have done with a spot in this year’s World Cup.

As bad as the French were, Italy were worse. France will still probably come out as more of an embarrassment to their country because of all the locker room drama, but Italy no doubt performed worse than les Bleus.

To start, France had, what I would call, one of the toughest groups in the tournament. Not that you need reminding, but it included a host country with one of the most impassioned fanbases the game will see, a very strong Mexican side and a Uruguay team that looks like one of the best in the tournament.

The is no doubt Italy’s group was the weakest. New Zealand was widely regarded as the weakest team in the tournament, and the Italians had to simulate a foul to get a penalty to draw against them! Paraguay Slovakia were two “meh”s going into the tournament, but massive applaud and congratulations to these two teams for acknowledging the privilege of participating in the World Cup and playing their hearts out for their countries. Who would have thought Italy would need to take cues on footballing mentality from Paraguay and Slovakia?

Though, there’s certainly a parallel to be drawn between Italy’s dreadful showing and that of France’s in 2002 when they managed zero goals and a lone point from another nil-nil tie to Uruguay while trying to defend their trophy.

The long and short of it? Italy were truly pathetic and should be ashamed to have wasted such an opportunity. Again, getting knocked out of the group stage is one thing, but to do so because you appear apathetic… that’s tragic for a nation.

Thanks, Italy, for giving the majority of the football world another reason to dislike you. Now dive, flop and writhe your way back home.

Boring, Boring, Arsenal

June 18, 2010

If the Vuvuzelas could have been silenced, you could have heard me shouting this from any corner of the globe. Yes, I do realize that it was not my beloved Gooners parading down the pitch, but good lord – could there have been two sides seemingly more complacent with a draw? I think not.

In ninety minutes of play, England was only able to place five shots on frame – none of these coming before the half-hour mark. Simply put – this was not World Cup quality football, and certainly not the quality expected of a team who’s in the talk of winning the whole thing. Setting aside the draw against the U.S. last week, this was England’s opportunity to right themselves and push forward with a clean slate. Today, Fabio Capello opted for the veteran services of David James over Robert Green. Unfortunately, the decision to put the tested man in between the sticks only saw one shot on goal – and that’s not to say it was in part to well played defense by the English back four.

For the Algerians, they themselves may have been the toughest opponent on the field. While not alone, constant miscommunication and ill executed, simplistic passes eliminated any hope of taking three points from the Three Lions. Continuing on, seemingly happily, with the a theme of this World Cup: terrible final balls. While England was able to force ten corners out of the Algerians, the Desert Foxes only successfully took three. Needless to say, attacking zealous left when Rommel did.

More frustrating than being an American who’s counting on his fingers to arrive at the possible outcomes to exit the group stage and advance, is this overall theme of completely obscure and prosaic matches being played. Endlessly we listen to the jokes and ridicule of America as they question why we devote so much to this game, why we have such a passion for it. Suffice to say, the matches we’ve seen this year have not helped our cause, and have only strengthened their rhetoric.

One can only hope – almost insanely so, as was done for the opening of second round matches – that the final matches of the group stage will produce some fantastic football that the world can enjoy.

Enough with the blame (and punch) the ref game

June 18, 2010

At halftime I texted my Total Football cohort Rob with the message, “Surely Bob Bradley alludes to the Confederation’s Cup final against Brazil to fire the boys up.” (For those of you who don’t recall or are unfamiliar with the reference, the United States marched into halftime of the Confed Cup finals with a two-goal lead, only for the final scoreboard to read Brazil 3, U.S.A. 2).

I should have been able to pat myself on the back for my somewhat clever reference coming to fruition… should have. But instead of patting myself on the back, I was repeatedly punching a cardboard cut-out of referee Koman Couilibaly when the final whistle blew. At least that’s what I wanted to do, but I had to settle for putting my hands on my head and staring blankly in disbelief.

I know I don’t need to set the scene – we all saw what happened. And if you don’t know, crawl out from under your rock, develop and semblance of patriotism and start watching the States play in the World Cup. In fact, if you don’t know the scenario, I’d like to kindly ask you to exit our blog. We can deal with the blow of reducing today’s hit count from 7 to 6.

How Maurice Edu’s spectacular, first-time finish was disallowed still boggles my mind, and I know there are World Cup viewers across the world (not just Yanks) who share my sentiments. For once, I think, we had the majority of the world rooting for us rather than against us when they saw the comeback was on. These same viewers and likely you yourself also shared my instant feeling of disbelief, rage, shock, whatever.

Off-sides isn’t an option. Michael Bradley was clearly closest to the net, and when someone is bear hugging you, like the Slovenian defender was doing to Bradley, it’s impossible you’re closer to the goal than they are and thus cannot be off-side. Maybe the referee was calling a foul on the States. But replays show three American players being tossed around in the box like they were in a mosh pit at Slovenian rock band Hic et Nunc’s anniversary show.

It’s absurd viewers and players never got a definite answer from the referee and his team of assistants.

Maybe the worst part of the game is that we all know we can’t blame the referee. I’m crazy, right? Nope. Let me quote the ever-relevant Darth Vader and say, “Search your feelings. You know it to be true.” It’s particularly hard to admit because it’s acknowledging that our boys’ brilliant comeback shouldn’t have been needed.

Yes, at the end of the match the glaring reason for the 2-2 final is the referee’s ambiguous decision, but the Yanks shouldn’t have been in the position that they needed a winner in the 86th minute. Their concession of the first goal was heartbreaking and disappointing. I’m not sure whether they fell asleep or were already thinking about the knock-out phase, but leaving any player at the top of the box and allowing them to tee the ball up and hit it on frame is unacceptable.

And I’m still not convinced Tim Howard couldn’t have gotten a hand to that one.

That goal forced the Americans to surge forward in what was labeled a must-win game, and not much can be said about Slovenia’s strong and well-devised counterattack that netted their second. However, there’s plenty to be said about the U.S.’s chance a minute before.

When Clint Dempsey slotted the ball to the back post to his other half of D&D (Donovan), Donovan should have thrown himself at that ball to get it in the net. I suppose he would have done that if he ever thought the Slovenia defender was going to get to it before he did, but I’d just like to see a self-sacrificing effort there to get the ball in the net and level for your side minutes before half. It was only inches off the line!

Don’t misunderstand me. I’m beyond proud of our second half performance, and the Yanks did deserve the win after a truly disastrous first half. However, it’s a game of two halves, and ultimately, it was our lethargic attitude in the first that kept us from our deserved three points, not the referee’s miscall.

Mr. Donovan, thanks for a brilliant performance. You were our man of the match even without it, but that goal was simply glorious. We’re all looking forward to more of that gusto against Algeria.

Until then, we’ll have our eyes peeled on England’s performance against Algeria, and we’ll bring you the different scenarios to advance the U.S. the next stage.

For once guys, let’s take the easier route and score first! COME ON, YOU YANKS.