footy musings from a (relative) newbie

Posts tagged ‘2014 world cup’

Farewell Group Stage

And what a thrilling Group Stage it was. Colombia, Chile and Costa Rica surprised. Luis Suarez showed both the positive and negative sides of himself. Team USA survived the Group of Death (thanks again, CR7!) And Algeria made history.

Among the things that stood out for me

John Brooks’ game winning header vs. Ghana: I’ll never forget the look of shock/disbelief on the 21-year-old American defender’s face. Priceless.

Concacaf REPRESENTIN’: The red-headed stepchild of confederations has three teams in the knockout round. We Concacafians have to stick together!

Mark Geiger: The New Jersey native has refereed two games at this World Cup. Go Jersey!

Knockout stages here we come!

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Love. Hate. Football.

For the past four days, I have hated Cristiano Ronaldo. I generally like CR7, both for his talent and skill and for the hypocritical pearl-clutching he induces in fans and pundits alike.

But last Sunday evening, he and Silvestre Varela combined to break my heart. With the U.S. a mere 30 seconds away from victory and advancement out of the Group of Death, Ronaldo – who’d done nothing all game – chose that moment to loft an excruciatingly beautiful cross onto Varela’s head. “Damn that Ronaldo” was the contents of a text I sent to my sister who was traveling but eagerly awaiting game updates. For the past few days, I’ve cursed the reigning World Player of the Year for putting that particular hurt on my team.

Today, I could kiss CR7 – even with the 12 layers of bronzer he’s no doubt wearing. His 81st minute goal against Ghana helped My USMNT move on to the round of 16. We survived the Group of Death, even though we lost 1-0 to Germany.

This Tweet from me summed up my feelings at the end of this wild group stage.

Welcome World Cup

You strange, frightening, nauseating, crazy-making, thrilling thing.

And thank you for not waiting more than a match to give us our first controversy.

Back home, I’m all ready for Ghana vs. USA.

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On Landon Donovan

The omission of Landon Donovan from this year’s USMNT World Cup Squad is both surprising and not.

Donovan’s performances in recent months – for club and country – have been below his usual standard. He’s not the player he once was, but fair or not, he’s set such a high standard that we still hold him to it.

Moreover, he himself has said he is not as fit as in previous years and even has trouble getting motivated to continue playing. From where I’m sitting, I can see how a player like him, who’s given a lot of himself to his country and his sport, might just be burned out.

That said, it was always going to be surprising to see a player of his stature excluded from the WC squad. I think that’s testament both to his talent and accomplishments and to how much we as US fans had invested in him.

But as much as I appreciate the memories LD has given his country’s supporters, I’m fine with him being left out of the squad.

I am not one of those who believe that Donovan should be included on the World Cup squad solely on the basis of past performance. It’s completely reasonable for Jurgen Klinsmann to have looked at Donovan’s performances for his club and in recent training camps and said “Not good enough.” (Yes, even great players have times when they play badly. This is not news)

And yet I don’t think that this exclusion should be used as an opportunity to heap scorn on the player for its own sake or in pursuit of some faux objectivity. (I was one of those who had zero problem with Donovan taking his much-talked about sabbatical)* Donovan’s been a superb player for the USMNT, given 14 years to the team and been clutch in countless situations. If anyone earned a mental health break, it was him.

Nor do I think everyone should be second guessing Jurgen Klinsmann** As some of have noted, Klinsmann has a history of shaking up team selection – i.e., dropping big stars in favor of younger players. This situation isn’t particularly unique (though you’d certainly think so based on all the weeping and gnashing of teeth that’s greeted this announcement).

As noted – in this space and elsewhere – the US has been drawn into group that will be almost impossible to get out of. I’m not convinced that Landon Donovan’s presence would have significantly improved our ability to advance to the round of 16, especially given the inconsistent form he’s shown recently.

That said, if the US has an especially poor showing at the tournament, the second guessing of this decision will be ratcheted up. Significantly.

*I know we think it’s an athlete’s job to run himself into the ground until he can no longer play, at which time he can fade into obscurity and we can stop giving fucks about him, but I disagree. We as fans are, in fact, not entitled to an athlete’s whole life and person.

**This is coming from someone who’s not entirely sold on Klinsmann as USMNT manager.

Meaningless Friendlies?

This round of international friendlies had some meaning – not least the one played between the US and Ukraine in Cyprus. Of course the match was slated to be played in Kharkiv, Ukraine, but was moved to Cyprus due to the current crisis in Ukraine. (I don’t feel comfortable speculating on what the Ukrainian players felt before or during the match, though.)

Ukraine just missed going to the World Cup, losing to France in a playoff. But they were good enough today to beat the U.S. (though NOT, as ESPN’s commentators kept saying, the best side to miss out on the World Cup. That’s Sweden).

All of the World Cup-bound sides were in action today. For me, the two highlights were Ivory Coast and Belgium drawing 2-2 (with Romelu Lukaku fanboying hard over Didier Drogba) and Switzerland and Croatia also drawing 2-2.

Happy that internationals are done (for now), and club football can return.

I Named This Blog for Days Like Today

Sigh.

So, we now know who will play whom when things kick off on June 12 in Sao Paulo. Here are my initial thoughts, keeping in mind that a lot can change between now and June 12.

Group A:

Brazil

Croatia

Mexico

Cameroon

Mexico edged into the tournament via a playoff win against New Zealand. Their reward? A meeting with Brazil, the team they bested in the 2012 Olympic final. It will be interesting to see the makeup of the Mexico team that takes to the field for the first Group game.

Group B:

Spain

Netherlands

Chile

Australia

I guess I’m still in that place where I assume everything will come easily for Spain, and looking at their competition in this group, it looks like I’ll be staying there for a while.

Group C:

Columbia

Greece

Cote d’Ivoire

Japan

The first of the wide open groups, IMO. Columbia, Japan or Ivory Coast could win this group, and we all know about Greece’s ability to spring an upset, so this one is difficult to call.

Group D:

Uruguay

Costa Rica

England

Italy

Looking at this draw, I can only ask what Luis Suarez will do to incite shocked pearl clutching from the English fans and media.

Group E:

Switzerland

Ecuador

France

Honduras

Another wide open group, though I wish people would stop sleeping on Switzerland. Am I the only one who recalls the Swiss beating Spain at WC 2010? Elsewhere, France’s chances are entirely dependent on which France team shows up.

Group F:

Argentina

Bosnia-Herzegovina

Iran

Nigeria

Argentina is my pick to win the whole tournament (so Spain & Brazil should be happy right now, because my prediction skills are abysmal). I don’t see how Argentina can lose this group – even with African Nations Cup champs Nigeria (who should finish second) in the mix.

Group G:

Germany

Portugal

Ghana

United States

Ah, the Group of Death. Every tournament has one, and Portugal, in particular, has made a habit of landing in them the last couple of international tournaments. As a USMNT supporter, I’m of two minds about this draw. On one hand, it will be hella awesome to watch my team on the same field with the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo and Mesut Ozil. On the other hand, my team will be on the field with Cristiano Ronaldo and Mesut Ozil. Weeping and gnashing of teeth may now commence.

Group H:

Belgium

Algeria

Russia

Korea Republic

The last of the wide open groups, featuring the so-called hipsters’ favorite, Belgium. I’ve enjoyed watching this Belgian team mostly because it features Romelu Lukaku – one of my favorite players in the Barclays Premier League. But the team has caught many an eye due to its exciting young talent. In addition to Lukaku, it features Tottenham Hotspur’s Jan Vertonghen, Chelsea’s Eden Hazard, Manchester City’s Vincent Kompany, to name just a few. On paper, Russia and Belgium should go through, but I would not entirely count out Korea. Algeria is the only real minnow here, but on an off day for one of the favored teams, who’s to say they can’t spring an upset?

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