Tuesday, June 15, 2010

World Cup So Far

Here are my initial reaction for each of the first round of games:

Group A:

South Africa vs. Mexico (1-1) -- Good lead up game. The host country vs. a potential semi-finalist. The home country came out excited and loose. Mexico came out flat and tight. Even though Mexico had the run of play, they were lucky to get the result. They still control their fate in a very winnable group. I really like Mexico's black strip.

Uruguay vs. France (0-0) -- Acceptable result for both teams, but the game was a little flat. Both teams need to WIN their next match to advance.

Group B:

South Korea vs. Greece (2-0) -- Solid win for the athletic South Koreans. They are a tough out for whoever faces them. Fast, pesky, and annoying.

Argentina vs. Nigeria (1-0) -- Argentina got an early goal and did well to hold onto it. The Argentina back line did a good job of controlling the game, even though Maradona was criticizing for fielding a starting eleven without using "pure" defenders on the wing. I think against South Korea, they have to put their most athletic group on the pitch, so it is a good decision.

Group C:
England vs. United States (1-0) -- The game was defined by limited chances and that both goals were "broken play" goals. It was a good hard fought games played between the 18s. The US did not really need a result, and I though the choice of starters and tactics were smart, if not exciting. The United States still controls their destiny, and now has a good shot at winning the group and playing a lesser team (Ghana, Australia, or Serbia) is the Round of 16 instead of Germany.

Now, probably the biggest discussion of the day. Robert Green should remain the starter. I played goalie in soccer for a very long time, over 20 years. Very rarely do good goalies make mental mistakes twice. Also, good goalies are self-absorbed in the game and don't have elephant memories about mistakes. Robert Green should play. What is interesting is that if you ask a player or former player, they say Green should start. Normal media, they are calling for his head. Here is where I stand - If you are a reporter who has never put on a jock strap, shut the hell up or step away from the keyboard. An other point, the Europe-based game announcers are terrible. Get Marcello and Rob Stone back in the mix.

Slovenia vs. Algeria (1-0) -- Algeria was looking good until a dumb-ass handball led to a dumber-ass red card (and yes, it absolutely should have been a red card). Algeria can now play spoiler and the US-Slovenia game got a lot more interesting.

Group D:

Germany vs. Australia (4-0) -- Germany looked superb and was tactically very prepared. They did a good job of working down the middle and getting the ball out to the flanks. Could have easily been 8-0. Best team so far. Solid in all 3 levels.

Serbia vs. Ghana (1-0) -- Even though Ghana won late with the help of possible one of the dumbest hand ball penalties is the history of cup competition (I have a feeling this goes beyond just the World Cup). Ghana did play with cohesion and poise. Right now in lead for the second spot, and they have a look of a team that can hang with Germany. The loss of Michael Essien hurts, but they are still a contender.

Group E:
Netherlands vs. Denmark (2-0): Classic "Total Soccer" Dutch Squad. This team is fun to watch. I grew up in New York (fka New Amsterdam) and played a lot of soccer in the town of Guilderland. There is the idea of "Total Soccer/Clockwork Orange" there to. Netherlands got a break with the own goal. Sometimes you need that. The Dutch are a deep team (which you need since it is very easy to get two yellow in group play or knockout play) that will be fun to watch.

Cameroon vs. Japan (0-1): Disappointing loss for Cameroon. Even though Cameroon had the lead in shots (9-3), Japan created more dangerous chances and was more in control. Eto'o did not do much. Japan has a great domestic league and I think they are playing with a chip on their shoulder. Overall, the group is looking really strong. An aside, Cameroon looks physically impressive in their kits, where as their Japanese counterparts look like a U18 team.

Group G:
Italy vs. Paraguay (1-1): Paraguay is a solid team, so this is no "upset" or "moral victory." These two teams are the class of the group. Italy did well to scrape out a time. Remember, in 2006, they tied the US in one ugly-ass game (own goal and three red cards) and still won the Cup.

New Zealand vs. Slovakia (1-1): In the words of Bill Engvall, "who would have thunk" that this would be one of the most exciting games. Game tying goal for NZ in the 3rd minute of injury time.

Group G:
Brazil vs. North Korea (2-1): Good start for North Korea. The are athletic and organized on defense and they are dangerous on the counterattack. I called this the proverbial "Group of Death", and North Korea can definitely be a spoiler. The game was close, and Brazil played well. Great possession soccer.

Ivory Coast vs. Portugal (0-0): I thought this game would be more wide open. Christiano Ronaldo (named after Ronald Reagan, by the way) could not get going, and neither could the Ivory Coast. Didier Drogba still not in match shape, but a week and a half could change a lot. Disappointing for the fans, but it makes the group exciting.

Group G:
Honduras vs. Chile (0-1): I really wanted Honduras to win because they are CONCACAF members and two very good soccer players from my hometown (Jose Bu and Walter Chavez) are from Honduras. Chile just got the best of them and Honduras did good to keep it close.

Spain vs. Switzerland (0-1): The Swiss really stole one here. That is the nature of soccer - it is hard to score, and when you don't score you tend to lose. Spain is not very good at breaking the other team down with possession when they pack it in. Just like they did when they lost to the US, they were content to hit long crosses into the penalty area. One this game may do is set up a Brazil vs. Spain round of 16 game. That is the nature of this type of tournament is that the knockout stage is a crapshoot. I think the Swiss were offsides on their goal, it just did not look right. Remember, the goalie was ahead of the attacker after the save, and the ball hit the original shooters leg. I will break it down later.

Some other comments:
* The vuvuzelas are ruining the game - can't hear any of the vocal chants. And, oh yeah, they are just fucking annoying.

* The referees have done an OK job so far. Calls are missed, deal with it. Players have done some GED-level stuff to get red cards. I am sure the referees are thinking "Thanks numbnuts, I really don't want to give you a red card, but I have to."

* The European announcers are terrible. Just awful. The announcers on Univision are fantastic, and I speak Spanish at a 4th-grade level at best. If you don't believe me, try watching the Spanish channel. Remember this boys are girls: Just because you have a British accent doesn't mean you know shit about soccer.

* Maybe with the exception of Greece and Australia, no one looked outclassed. That is pretty good. It is awesome that you have world class competition from all continents (and I don't need some douchehat telling me there isn't a team from the Antartica or the North Pole).

* The big stars, Rooney, Ronaldo, Kaka, Messi, Spain, Drogba, Eto'o, and Henri have not shown much.

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