80 Years’ War, 90 Minutes: Our WC Final Predictions

July 10, 2010

After 80 years of competition, both on the battlefield and pitch, Spain and the Netherlands will have 90 minutes to claim their first World Cup title and cement their country’s spot in the world football history books. We weigh in on will hoist the trophy as the eighth ever World Champion.

Rob – Netherlands 2 – 1 Spain

Who’d have known it? Spain and Holland. While I’ve been pulling for the Oranje and relentlessly bantering on and on for the past few months about the outcome of their performance and how well they’d do – I’ll be honest: I knew the odds were against the Dutch genius.

This tournament has been one of upsets, enjoyment and some disappointment – like any. However, the one thing that can be taken for sure is the relative devolution of the Dutch, among others’, game. I’m not discounting the team I support for reaching the final,  but, as I said in my post-game analysis of their semi-final game, things haven’t been the prettiest. Things haven’t been total.

Spain, on the other hand, have had the most up-and-down sequence of performances over the past month. And, needless to say, tomorrow could go either way. Their start against Switzerland could be taken as one of the most off-hand ‘gimme’ games in the history of the World Cup. All, clearly thrown away. However, each performance saw them improve and come closer and closer to perfection in possession and attack – defense and counter. To be honest, a game of Total Football.

So, with this game tomorrow being so historic and providing the World with a NEW winner – one that has never before had the honor of lifting the trophy – things are up in the air.

Julian –  Spain 2 – 1 Netherlands

At the beginning of the tournament, I not-so boldly picked Spain to win it.  After they lost to Switzerland, I still said La Furia Roja would win it. After we knew who made it to the Round of 16, I said Spain would beat Netherlands in the finals. Why change my mind now?

I don’t know either.

Neither team has produced a caliber of football even close to what they’re capable of (except maybe Spain’s possession-based dominance over Germany), but the Spanish will finally get it right with their best performance of the Cup.

Even producing lackluster performances, they’ve still managed to make it to the semifinals, and while I think the Dutch wholly deserve to be playing in the final, there have been some lucky moments to get them there.

Spain’s offensive flourish always steals the attention, but their backline has been immense. How many goals have they conceded this tournament again? That’s right. Two.

Sneijder’s run of lucky goals will finally run out against the Spanish.  I want to emphasive my confidence with a 2-0 scoreline, but after four straight wins by a lone-goal margin, I’ll stick with a 2-1 scoreline. And who finds the net for the Spanish  in that crucial, final time? Fernando Torres.

Jon – Spain 3 – 1 Netherlands

It’s fitting that tomorrow when the Dutch are singing their national anthem, “Het Wilhelmus,” much of their anthem will speak of their opponent. The fact that many World Cup games have their own slice of history between them, makes these already important contests more special. The 10th stanza speaks explicitly of Spanish atrocities, most notably the line, “Oh that the Spaniards rape thee.”  Ouch, love lost?Though my heart will be Oranje tomorrow, by heads tells me otherwise. Through much deliberation, I picked Spain over Brazil from the get go. Even after some less than convincing performances, I’ll stand by them. The Dutch have not been that convincing themselves, and to be fair, probably would not be here if not for a colossal Brazilian meltdown once the Netherlands equalized in that quarterfinals contest (see Felipe Melo).

I’ve been waiting for the Heitenga-Mathjson partnership for the Netherlands to go up in flames, and I think it happens tomorrow. In front of them, Mark Van Bommel had better keep his cool. He’s gotten away with more than a few questionable challenges to this point, and English referee Howard Webb will not stand for it.

On the other side, Spanish left back Joan Capdevilla is probably Spain’s weakest link. He’ll have his hands full with Arjen Robben, and this matchup could be the most important to watch on the pitch. In attack, it will be interesting to see if Liverpool’s No. 9 gets the start. Fernando Torres should start, if for no other season, Pedro didn’t exactly cement his place when he got the chance against Germany.

History will be made tomorrow. One of these two countries will win their first World Cup. A European country will win the World Cup for the first time outside of European soil.

Brilliant Oranje…Sort of

July 6, 2010

Hup Holland. Let’s get it clear, right off the bat: Of course I’m happy that Holland’s advancing. I’m even happier that Diego Forlan’s night/week/tournament/year’s been ruined. Which, I know Julian Kersh is happy about that, as well. What I’m not so happy about? The manner in which it’s been done. This was Oranje: From Concentrate.

After 30 minutes and periodic poking, Giovanni van Bronckhorst put the Dutch up with an absolutely brilliant strike. As the Dutch moved the ball up the field, the Uruguayan midfield rushed to pressure in a flat line of three across the middle, leaving space for a very out of position van Bronckhorst to take a touch and have a strike – one of the best of the tournament.

That, for the Dutch, was the only spot of brilliance in the first half – and arguably, for the game. For a team to make it to the Final of this year’s cup and do it in such an unattractive fashion, is simply ridiculous. For those who question the existence of luck – simply look at this half of the table en route to the Final in Cape Town. Both the Dutch and Uruguay made it through – not based on skill, but based on the ball being in the right place at the right time, and the opposition, not.

I know that this sounds like I’m superbly critical of the Dutch and am throwing out some serious hate. The latter, simply not true. The formative part – you better believe it. For a parallel – it’s the exact same way with a player that is constantly under-performing: there’s a reason to question his ability, desire and overall performance. So, the National Team that I throw all my support behind when I’m not barking like a stark-crave American lunatic, what the hell is the matter?

You’ve had opportunity after opportunity to play at a level that is consistent with your best, and you haven’t done it. The question arises: how do you beat the Dutch? Simple: frustrate them.

Clearly the Uruguayans were able to do it tonight. In the bit sandwiched in between van Bronckhorst’s and Forlan’s goals – the Dutch were continually frustrated to the point of resembling the Azzuri with regard to ability, or lack there of, to conceded foul after foul and then flail around on the ground in effort to receive the call their way. STOP IT!

Only in the latter stages of the second half did there seem to be any calmness or composure about the Dutch side. Was it because of the cushion from Sneijder’s goal? Most likely. If that’s the answer, then, as silly as it sounds, score some more goals. Rather, I don’t expect you to finish every chance on goals Robin, Wesley, Arjen and Dirk: but let’s get some good service on our final balls and actually show the world what Total Football is.

In conclusion, in an effort of shameless self-promotion, to explain my absence from the site for the past 3 weeks – I’ve been away in Belfast working on my UEFA B License. If you care to read about it – or are simply looking for proof that I wasn’t held up hiding from my bookie – then check it out here.

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.