June 28, 2014

Columbia 2, Uruguay 0: Remembering of course that Columbia's best player is sitting this tournament out, we may be watching the most impressive team coming out of nowhere since 1974 Netherlands...James (pronounced "ya-mayce") Rodriguez, aka J-Rod, scored twice.  Playing without its talismanic vampire, Uruguay came close to scoring on a number of occasions, and quite surprisingly, considering the history of this team in 1986 and 1990, no red cards.


Brazil 1, Chile 1: [PK: 3-2] And the Sweet 16 begins...a tense, beguiling two hours decided by a penalty kick off the goal post, and the host country advances.  It will be tough to top that one.  Both teams scored in the first half hour, then gamely held on for the duration as a combination of goalkeeping and woodworks kept the score even.  Chile conceded a goal on what was probably a deflection by the same player who missed the final penalty kick, tied the game on a defensive blunder by Hulk, who then played brilliantly the rest of the way until he missed a PK of his own.  Not a well-played game by the winners, but they survived.

Is "a Steven Smith" the Worst Person in the World?

Not quite, but I did make Keith Olbermann's hourly show on ESPN last night...it has to do with a commentary of his the other night, decrying the advancement of the USMNT over Portugal to the elimination rounds of the World Cup based on the "outdated" system of goal differential.  After all, the US had lost to Germany in the final game, while Portugal won its final game, and the US had "choked" in the final minute in merely tying Portugal.  I responded with tweets suggesting that point differential takes into account all the games the teams played, that it's a tie-breaker used in other high-intensity sports like the NBA, NHL and NFL, and that it showed the US had played better in its three games than Portugal had in their three.

So lo and behold, I have ESPN on last night, and Olbermann's show starts, and immediately, my Twitter response to his commentary is "deconstructed."  And I'm unimpressed.  He still doesn't seem to get the notion of what "point differential" is, and why most sports use it as a tie-breaker.  In a low-energy, low-intensity sport like baseball, you can easily schedule an extra game at the end of the year if you have a tie, but in a tournament format, where you have players running 4-6 miles per game on average, you can't just pick up the next day and play an unscheduled game.  You need something else to use to break ties, and most sports, including soccer, use some combination of point differential and head-to-head play.

The second point is, so what if the US blew a late lead to Portugal.  Neither team won.  And that was a game the Portuguese needed to win much more than the US, due to their one-sided loss to the Germans in their opener.  That's why after the last second game-tying goal, the Portuguese celebration was rather muted, while the US response was not one of utter devastation.  The Americans could have gotten more out of the game, but they got what they needed.  Losing to Germany no more discredits their World Cup than Connecticut's blow-out loss in their conference tournament made them undeserving of winning the 2014 NCAA hoops tournament.

But Olbermann seems to want a less objective method of breaking ties, not one based on head-to-head performance or scoring in the totality of games, but on the more subjective "the US choked so they were the real losers" standard.  Not since Norman Mailer tried to argue that Floyd Patterson had "existentially" defeated Sonny Liston in their first title fight in 1962 has a blowhard tried to celebrate the defeat of his hero with such audacity.  Suffice it to say, it is not a standard that any other sport or competition uses.

June 26, 2014

Belgium 1, South Korea 0 // Algeria 1, Russia 1: Playing the entire second half a man down, Belgium still managed to dominate the game and scored the well-deserved winner in the final fifteen minutes to win the group.  The Koreans never threatened, but did show ball-handling skills near the goal reminiscent of the San Antonio Spurs, if the NBA champs decided to never shoot.  The other team to advance was Algeria, which overcame a sixth-minute goal to become the second team from Africa reach the elimination rounds.  Belgium and Algeria are both the answers to questions which reflect the globality of today's game: which country has the most players in their lineup from the English Premier League (Belgium)/Ligue 1 (Algeria)?

USA beats Germany, 0-1 !!!

Germany 1, USA 0 // Portugal 2, Ghana 1: Playing as if they were in a competitive World Cup game, and not as if it were 90 minutes of kickball, the Germans used a spectacular second half goal by Thomas Mueller to best the USMNT, and assure themselves the top spot in the group.  Twenty-four hours ago, this result might have sounded the death knell for the Americans, with Ghana needing only to outscore the US by two in winning their final game, but the peculiar disease that always seems to strike African football, that combination of ridiculous team dissension and the non-payment of "bonuses", led to the removal of two star players from the line-up on the eve of the game, and in spite of the typical heroic efforts of Asamoah Gyan, they conceded a pair of goals on boneheaded defensive miscues and lost to Portugal.  Cristiano Ronaldo, to his credit, played with exceptional spirit, and after blowing several easy chances, scored the winner in the final ten minutes after a botched clearance by the goalie.  Portugal, at least, was able to end the curse of Manaus.

June 25, 2014

France 0, Ecuador 0 // Switzerland 3, Honduras 0: The Swiss recovered from the humbling rout on Friday with a convincing win against lowly Honduras, while Ecuador came up with a way to slow down an unstoppable French attack: get their best player sent off with a red card.  By virtue of the win, Switzerland nabs the second spot in group behind the French, thanks to a hat trick by Xherdan Shakiri, as well as avenging the result that knocked them out of the last World Cup.  Honduras clinched the last place position in this World Cup, although they managed to play surprisingly entertaining soccer in both of their final matches, while Ecuador became the first South American team to be eliminated.

Next up, France gets Nigeria, while the Swiss play Argentina...if the US can overcome the Curse of Manous, and wins its second round games, it will play the winner of one of these games.  Also, if you want a handy guide as to when you should tune in to either game, here's a breakdown, by time, as to every goal ever scored in the World Cup (hint, around the 18th and 75th minutes).
Argentina 3, Nigeria 2 // Bosnia-Herzegovina 3, Iran 1: In spite of losing its fourth straight one-goal game since 1994 to Argentina, Nigeria backed into the elimination round as Iran fell to already-eliminated Bosnia.  Paced by two first-half goals from Lionel Messi, the Albiceleste clinched the group lead, while Nigeria, led by two scores from Ahmed Susa, played its first attractive World Cup game in ages to fully merit their advancement, even in defeat. In the other game, Team Melli failed to take advantage of Nigeria's defeat, conceding a first-half goal to Eden Dzeko, but did avoid the tournament shutout by scoring late.
Greece 2, Ivory Coast 1 // Columbia 4, Japan 1: I see Mark Few has taken his big-game coaching to Africa.  Only minutes away from making their first-ever elimination round, Ivory Coast conceded a late penalty, and lost the spot to Greece.  Something seemed off about this game; Greece was on the attack for most of the match, even after they took the lead, while Ivory Coast seemed sluggish.  In the other game, Columbia seemed content to let the Blue Samurai dictate the pace and possession of the game, but still had enough in reserve to easily dispatch what may have been the most disappointing team outside of Europe.  In the final minutes, Columbia subbed out their regular goalie, and brought in the oldest player to ever play in the World Cup, Farid Mondragon; the starter on the last Columbian World Cup squad, Mondragon is also the only player in Brazil to have been on the roster of a 1994 World Cup team.

The other games scheduled for the weekend are now set.  Columbia will play what will probably be a cannibal-deprived Uruguayan squad, while Costa Rica will play Greece Sunday evening.

June 24, 2014

Uruguay 1, Italy 0 // England 0, Costa Rica 0: Luis Suarez, difference maker, goal-scoring talisman, foodie...Uruguay scored in the final ten minutes to send a short-handed Italy home early for the second straight World Cup, in a game marred by a savage foul by Giorgio Chiellini, who violently shoved his back into the teeth of Luis Suarez just before the winner.  

Fortunately for Mr. Suarez, there appears to have no damage done to his teeth, and the Azurri could not recover. Next time, the Italians should add some offense to their diet. In the other game, England cleared its bench, and so ended its disappointing run with a scoreless draw, enabling the country with the highest pre-tournament odds of winning its group, Costa Rica, to come out on top of Group D.

June 23, 2014

Brazil 4, Cameroon 1 // Mexico 3, Croatia 1:  A late offensive explosion sparks the Tricolores past a chippy side from Croatia, while Brazil, after a slow start, became the third team in group to dominate the Indomitable Lions.  Mexico was helped by the return to form of supersub Chicharito, who assisted on the second goal before getting on the scoreboard himself with a header in the 82nd minute.  Brazil's margin allowed it to win Group A, and with a second round game with Chile, the third time in the last five World Cups the nations have met in that round.  Mexico faces Holland on Sunday in what could well be the most entertaining match-up of the rounds.  Cameroon goes home after their seventh consecutive loss; I hope they haven't spent their bonuses at one place....
Holland 2, Chile 0 // Spain 3, Australia 0: The Oranje methodically took apart Chile in the final 15 minutes to win the group, and possibly avoid Brazil in the next round, while Spain ended its campaign with a victory over the Socceroos.  Not really a whole to be said about these games: Spain won the first truly meaningless game of the tourney, since both teams already knew they were going home, while the only thing at stake in the other game was the likelihood that the losing team would have to play Brazil, although even that contingency is not certain.  A palate cleanser for the rest of the third stage of games....

June 22, 2014

Portugal 2, U.S.A. 2: After rallying in the second half to seemingly assure themselves of a berth in the next round, the USMNT conceded a goal well into injury time to allow Portugal to secure a draw.  An absolute thriller/heartbreaker; in spite of the late heroics, the Portuguese are effectively eliminated from the tournament, victims of their awful result in the opener against Germany.  For the second straight game, the US can thank the gods that the Marshall Plan enabled the stationing of troops in central Europe....

Group G has a rather simple storyline on Thursday: a draw in either game will allow Germany and the US to advance, and will eliminate Ghana and Portugal.  Ghana needs to beat Portugal and hope Germany beats the US to have any chance; Portugal needs a one-sided result somewhere to have any hope.  Alas, Germany just needs to make sure they've received their shots to go through.
Algeria 4, South Korea 2: The Fennec Foxes win their first World Cup match in 32 years, scoring three goals in rapid succession to move into second place in Group G, and unlike the outrage back then, will control their own destiny when they play Russia next Thursday.

Belgium has assured itself of advancement, and will clinch the lead with a win or draw against South Korea.  Russia needs to beat Algeria, and hope that Belgium gets a positive result.  Algeria need only draw....
Belgium 1, Russia 0:  Unlike their battle in 1986, which featured a wild scoring onslaught in extra time, this game was more an exhibit soccer bashers use to denigrate the sport.  Late heroics by a Belgium sub are becoming the norm: Divock Origi became the third different sub to scored for the Red Devils, and clinched their spot in the next round.  Russia, after a first half which saw several close chances, seemed content to keep the score down
Nigeria 1, Bosnia-Herzegovina 0: Helped in part by bad officiating, the Super Eagles broke a winless streak dating back to group play in 1998.  The perennial African contestants caught an early break when a bad offsides call took away a goal from Eden Dzeko, then had their good luck compounded when the officials ignored an obvious push-off preceding their lone goal.  This was a 180-degree turnaround from the openers, when Bosnia played a thrilling, wide-open style in their close loss to the Argentines, while Nigeria seemed listless playing Iran.

The loss eliminates Bosnia from contention, and clinches advancement for Argentina.  Nigeria, who plays the group leaders next (it will be the fourth time in six World Cups that Argentina and Nigeria have played at group stage), needs only a draw to join Argentina, while Iran needs a win against Bosnia and a Nigeria loss.