17 June 2010

Ten Things I Think About The Ten Things Sean Thinks About The World Cup So Far

1) I think Argentina can win their group, assuming they beat South Korea (I haven't watched it yet), but I don't think they get much further than that. I would say they probably beat the 2nd place team in Group A, but I can't see them getting past the winner of Group D (sorry Sean, but there is no way USA is beating Germany). I say Argentina loses to Germany in the quarters. While Messi is an incredible player, he has never been able to replicate his club form with the national team (in 18 qualifying matches, he scored 4 goals), and unless he can manage to find "the spark", as Adidas loves to say, Argentina won't have as much firepower.

2) While the USA certainly didn't deserve the goal, I do agree they deserved the draw, but not in the way that you mean. After the 6th minute or so, neither team looked organized at all. Both teams looked relatively sluggish and unable to piece a whole lot together, and if they can't fix that, they're in for some surprises against Slovenia and Algeria.

3) North Korea looked fantastic in defense and at times even had Brazil on the ropes. I loved watching the little North Korean players muscle the gargantuan Brazilians off the ball and occasionally motor right through their defense (at one point Jong Tae-Se weaved through 4 Brazilian defenders and got a shot on goal). I would agree with the potential of a win against Portugal. Cristiano Ronaldo, other than his screamer off the post, was kept relatively in check, and Portugal was unable to get anything going against Ivory Coast. I don't think they'll be able to do that against North Korea, either, but the question lies more in the North Korean offense.

4) Despite the rankings, the group isn't nearly as easy as it seems for the defending World Cup Champions. Slovakia, lest we forget, won their qualifying group, one that included the Czech Republic, Poland, and Slovenia. New Zealand stole a point out of that match against Slovakia, who were attacking the entirety of the second half and could easily have been up 2 or 3 to nil. Italy, on the other hand, looked exactly how people expected them to look this World Cup - sluggish. I would say Slovakia's offense is better than Paraguay's (at least Paraguay's offense without Cabanas). Italy needs to take care of business against a surprisingly plucky New Zealand team and get a win against Slovakia in order to maintain control of the group. I can see them doing the former, but the latter may prove to be a little tricky. I think there is a decent chance they don't make it out of the group stage, and if they do manage to scrape their way by, they'll need to do it in a winning fashion - if they don't, they'll probably be facing their exact opposites, a speedy and incredibly skillful team in the Netherlands. If that happens, their hope of winning a second straight Cup ends there.

5)South Africa has done a great job in the sense that they have kept the riff-raff out of the stadiums and kept the surrounding areas safe and secure. Keeping their goal safe hasn't been nearly as easy. They looked horrendous against Uruguay, and will need help and a win against France if they want a chance to get out of the group stage. I can't see either of those happening.

6) Say what you want about the Swiss getting lucky, or the Spanish slipping up yesterday. The one thing I took from the two group H matches yesterday is that Chile is a force to be reckoned with. It's not far-fetched to say that if they play their next two group stage matches like they played their first one against Honduras, they could come away with the full 9 points. They absolutely dominated possession, and looked fabulous both in attack and defense. The attack was definitely the highlight of the Chilean team, though, and let it be know that their attack was missing their top scoreer Humberto Suazo, who is not only Chile's top scorer, but was the top scorer in all of South American Qualifying. They could easily have beaten Honduras by 5 or 6 goals, and should really be kicking themselves because they didn't get control of the ever-important goal differential. They looked certainly more fluid than the Spanish team that prides itself on fluid, possessing football. Every Spanish chance was snapped up either by the Swiss defense or by their keeper Diego Benaglio. I think the Swiss lose to Chile, probably 1-0, but beat Honduras and take 6 points to the knockout rounds. As for Chile, if they play like they did yesterday, they will get all 9 points, leaving Spain unsatisfied with presumably only 3 points, those coming from the match against Honduras.

7)Agree completely about the Jabulani. Somehow Adidas has convinced themselves that they've created the best ball ever, but it's just odd. The ball seems to get dramatically less spin on it than a normal ball, and as a consequence, floats. I agree with you completely - the Jabulani sucks.

8) People who hate soccer can just keep to themselves. The truth of the matter is, soccer is the sport of choice for pretty much the entire world, and if you can't at least respect that, then there's no hope.

9) Refereeing for the most part has been fantastic, yes. And I agree that the Cahill red card was incredibly harsh. One note on Ronaldo, though. He deserved a yellow card at some point in that match. For one, you could clearly see him yelling obscenities at the referee in replays. The more important thing, though, is his uncanny ability to fall over every 3 minutes. I think the commentators put it very well when they said "I think just a gust of wind would be enough to make Ronaldo go to ground". I was incredibly disappointed in his constant diving, and I think that if he hadn't gotten a yellow earlier in the match, he would definitely have deserved one for all the obvious dives.

10) Incredible quote. Best of the tourney so far.

Ten Things I Think About the World Cup So Far

So, full disclosure, I am currently watching the Argentina v. South Korea match on my DVR, so I have watched 18.5 matches of the World Cup (I have seen every match so far, but will miss a few due to travel later this month.

So, here are ten things I think so far about the World Cup:

1) I am still holding onto my prediction that Argentina will win this World Cup. Messi is the real deal, and the team seems to be playing very well together—a stark opposition to how they played throughout the brutally long CONMEBOL qualification campaign. I think they should get through their group with nine points, and should definitely beat whichever team in Group A finishes second. However, the possibility of a Germany-Argentina quarterfinal cannot be overlooked, and Argentina’s real challenge should begin at the quarterfinal stage.

2) The United States deserved a draw against England, but no more. A lot of the press, especially the English press, says the United States only drew because they got lucky with Green’s Goalkeeping Gaffe. Yeah, that is true, but I still think the Americans did enough to deserve a goal, however the goal was created. It could very easily have been 2-1 to the Americans after Altidore’s near-goal experience, as well, so many Englishmen should thank their luck that they have a point. I still expect the United States and England to go through this group with seven points apiece.

3) North Korea is going to earn a point this World Cup. I just don’t think that the Ivory Coast and Portugal can both beat this team. Brazil, who played very well, had a very difficult time breaking down their defense. On top of this, the number one ranked team in the World Cup got scored on by the North Koreans. Thus, I think their handpicked Chinese fans will have something to celebrate, when North Korea beats…Portugal?

4) Is it possible for Italy to screw up and not go through their absurdly easy group? No, it is not really possible, the Italians will beat New Zealand and get at least a draw against Slovakia, which should be enough to get them through. But I can dream…

5) South Africa has done a fantastic job hosting the tournament. Heard of any security issues since the tourney began? Nope. Well done South Africa, hope the rest of the tourney goes as well.

6) Spain is going to go thorough, but they will lose to Brazil in the Round of 16 matchup at Ellis Park. What a fantastic match this could be, and I for one am hoping that Spain finishes second in their group for this treat of a match to occur.

7) The jubulani ball sucks. No free kick goals, no set piece goals, crosses constantly flying up. Maybe it is the altitude, maybe just poor luck, but I will jump on the Adidas-hate bandwagon and say, the ball sucks.

8) People who hate soccer, you don’t have to watch, so shut the hell up and let us watch and talk about it. You can go explain why baseball is a manlier sport than soccer, and we can laugh at all of you.

9) The Refereeing has been fantastic. Everything has been good so far, and there is really nothing to complain about, except that Cahill’s sending off was very, very harsh and I have no idea why Christiano Ronaldo got booked.

10) Best commentary of the match (Credit: Jon): Martin Tyler: “and that’s the change I’ve been dreading. It looks like there will be two Pak Nam Choi’s on the pitch” –During Brazil v. North Kore
Enjoy the second round of matches, and GO USA!

15 June 2010

World Cup Thoughts...So Far

We are now five days into the world's biggest sporting event, the World Cup, and I thought there was no better way to turn around our lack of posts over the last few months then to post some of my reflections at this stage of the tournament, and I hope this will be followed by posts from Jon and Sean. Here are some of my opinions about the first World Cup to be held on African soil...
First, I am constantly reading and hearing complaints about two things, the vuvuzelas and the Jabulani match ball. Fans watching on tv and players on the pitch have both complained about the noise they create, and I'm sure it is clear to all who watch that the sound is, simply, bloody annoying. I even heard of one unfortunate old lady who became very afraid she had a swarm of bees in her house! I am often one who is all for not infringing on local tradition, and that is in fact why World Cup organisers, after mulling over whether to ban vuvuzela from stadia, decided not to stop their use. I have discovered, however, that vuvuzela have only been around for about nine years, so I find it very hard to call it a South African tradition. I also miss the very traditional noise of fans singing for their team and cheering when they score, rather than just a slight increase in the vuvuzela volume. With broadcasters receiving so many complaints and players complaining that it affects their concentration and ability to communicate with one another (although they may just have spared Robin Van Persie a red card), I think it would have been fair to ban them for all matches after everyone had played one match. Unfortunately, the noise is set to continue, although broadcasters are taking measures to reduce their noise.
The jabulani match ball is very controversial, as outfield players and goalkeepers alike are complaining about the ball's unpredictability, with balls in the air seeming to swerve in ways that players did not intend, ruining a pass, or curling wickedly and deceiving helpless 'keepers. Manufacturers Adidas are adamant that this is the best soccer ball ever produced, and say the players have had ample time to get used to it. They say the altitude may be to blame for some of the unpredictability, and claims that it is lighter than other balls are simply not true. I do not know where I stand on this issue. On one hand, I have not seen a single good free kick and I have seen a couple of goalkeeper errors (Robert Green's not included) that have seen them fumble the ball or opt to punch instead, though so far not really to a great cost. I have also heard many player complaints throughout the tournament that the ball is dreadful, such as one from Dickson Etuhu. I feel that FIFA could have just stuck with a tried and trusted ball. On the other hand, the ball has been "extensively trialled"by some of Europe's top clubs and was used in leagues such as the German Bundesliga, so players have had plenty of opportunity to practice with the ball, and I would have thought that if it had major design flaws these would have come up long before the World Cup, so perhaps players are just seeking excuses.
These two issues are very much debated, and I am interested to hear more opinions, but I think it is time to move on to the football. Most noticeably, there has been a lack of goals. So far, there have been 23 goals in 14 games, or 1.64 goals per game. This is a very low ratio. Typically, I look for a league to have a 2.5 goals per game average, something which the Premier League has started to do again after a dip mid-decade. Until now, the 1990 World Cup has the lowest average number of goals per game at 2.21. I think this World Cup needs to step it up after a cagey opening few games. The last tournament opened with Germany beating Costa Rica 4-2 in a Munich thriller, and it is only the Germans who have given us a good load of goals to enjoy this time round with a fantastic 4-0 win over Australia. While the occasion and euphoria that I am actually watching the World Cup has been enough to override the lack of goals to give me some entertainment value, I will look for more impressive football on the whole as we really get down to business. Let's see if World Cup favorites Spain can impress tomorrow with some attacking flair.
I have enjoyed numerous games at this stage, however. The opener between South Africa and Mexico was a great spectacle, with Tshabalala's goal one of the moments of the tournament. The England-US match was a tense and nervy affair, and certainly worth a watch for the neutral. Germany finally showed us some good attacking football and it really paid off, while Ghana's win was so great for the continent. The Brazil-North Korea match was also entertaining, with North Korea's resilience really impressing me and their goal well-worked.
I am fascinated by a number of the groups at this stage, and it will be virtually impossible to predict some of them until after the second round of games has passed by. These include both Groups A and B, with the second round of group matches beginning tomorrow (Wednesday) in the afternoon. South Africa vs. Uruguay could be a defining match in that group, and I am so frustrated I will have to miss that one. USA vs. Slovenia could be the most important fixture in group C, and the U.S. must make sure they show up with the right attitude for this one. A repeat of 2006 would spell disaster for them, with England likely to beat Algeria later that day (yes I am biased, but England should have little problem). Slovenia and Algeria played out a very poor game on Sunday, and if they play like that will pose little threat.
There will be plenty more controversy and entertainment as we move forward, and I hope you're as excited as I am for round 2 of the group stage.