July 05, 2014

Duke beats Florida Gulf Coast

Holland 0, Costa Rica 0 [PK:4-3]: Scrappy, underdog team, barely kept in the game thanks to the heroics of a goalie playing out of his mind, taking a world power to the limit before succumbing at the end...it never gets old.  Holland won its first-ever penalty kick tie-breaker in a major competition, fueled in large part by a surprise substitution of goalkeepers in extra time, to advance to a date with Argentina in the semis, while the Ticos bow out just short of becoming the first CONCACAF team in 84 years to do the same.
Argentina 1, Belgium 0: To the apparent surprise of the Red Devils, Argentina plays the game better than the U.S.  Qualifying for their first semifinals since 1990, the Albiceleste went up in the ninth minute, thanks to their other real good player, Gonzalo Higuain, and then seemed content to let Belgium control possession and set up ineffectual pieces from the side.  At one point, Argentina did not try a shot for forty minutes in the second half, Lionel Messi blew a breakaway late in the game, and it hardly mattered.
Brazil 2, Columbia 1: Thrilling game, in which two of the towering leaders from this tournament played their final game.  Brazil jumped out to a quick lead, padded their advantage on a beautiful free kick, then held on as Golden Boot frontrunner James Rodriguez scored with ten minutes left off a penalty.  Shortly afterwards, Neymar, the only player on the host country's squad who could plausibly be placed at the same level with Pele, Garrincha, Zico and Ronaldo, fractured his spine, and will have to sit out the rest of the Cup (damn, the Germans always have a master plan). And just like that, the two most impressive teams from the group stage are sent home.....

Germany 1, France 0: Continuing the pattern of the initial knockout games, a dull, defensive, low-scoring affair.  The Germans scored early, shut down the high powered French attack, and justly earned their record fourth consecutive semi-final spot.  Each team had point-blank opportunities to change the scoreline, but fired directly at the goalkeeper.  Disappointing end to what had been a redemptive World Cup for Les Bleus, but at least this time they didn't have a player nearly decapitated.

July 02, 2014

Belgium 2, U.S.A 1 [A.E.T.]: Some miscellany about last night's game:

  1. Until the overtime started, Belgium pretty much dominated the match for 90 minutes, nearly scoring in the second minute and putting constant pressure on Tim Howard;
  2. The defense for the USMNT was shambolic, forcing Howard to make a record number of saves;
  3. Chris Wondolowski is going to have nightmares about his miss in the 90th minute for the rest of his life;
  4. Starting with the start of extra time, the tone of the match shifted, with the US dominating play.  In spite (or because) of that, Belgium was able to strike twice off the counterattack, set up by the speed of late sub Romelu Lukaku;
  5. There were at least four times when Clint Dempsey was inches from taking the ball in with a clear chance at the goal, only to have the ball bounce the wrong way;
  6. Whether Julian Green becomes the next Pele or the next Michael Owen, or somewhere in between, his shock selection will still be Jurgen Klinsmann's best move in the pre-Cup stage, since it now establishes one of the world's best prospects as a U.S. player into the distant future.  Actually playing in a key game, and scoring a spectacular goal that inexplicably brought the US back into the game in the second extra period, is gravy on the birthday cake;
  7. On the other hand, in all likelihood we've seen the last World Cup games for Dempsey, Jermaine Jones, and DeMarcus Beasley (all of whom were brilliant), since they will be in their mid-30's in Russia 2018 
  8. Belgium has improved markedly from game to game, and their quarterfinal match-up with Argentina on Saturday may be the de facto Cup Final;
  9. The elimination of the USMNT will only slightly reduce the ratings for the remainder of the World Cup.  The tournament has received decent ratings going back to 1994 (with the exception of 2002, when the games from the Far East were shown in the middle of the night), and the ratings for the Final have typically exceeded the best marks received by US games.  It is the event itself, and not necessarily the US performance, that drives public interest among sports fans;
  10. It will have little impact on the domestic popularity of the sport   Fans know the difference between an international competition featuring the greatest players in the world, and a domestic league that is, at best, behind 10 other national leagues in terms of quality.  Hard core fans already know enough to set an early alarm Saturday morning to watch the Premiership; everyone else will wait for the next big international tourney.  Which, come to think of it, is one year from now in Canada...    

July 01, 2014

Argentina 1, Switzerland 0 [A.E.T.]: 118 of minutes of sheer boredom punctuated by two minutes of utter madness.  Messi assists on a perfect pass at the end of the second extra period, leading to a desperation near-goal in final seconds by the Swiss.

June 30, 2014

Schurrle you can't be serious....

Germany 2, Algeria 1 [A.E.T.]: The sort of game that was exciting not because the teams were evenly-matched, but because one team was so much worse than the other that its ability to stay in the game for so long elevated the suspense for two hours...and as always, in the end, Germany wins.

The history behind the two teams centers on a controversy from back in 1982, when West Germany eliminated Algeria at the group stage.  That year, the Algerians had upset the Germans in the opener, then split their next two games with Austria and Chile, while the Germans had recovered in their second game by routing Chile.  The final games of group stage were played on separate days, so by the time the West Germans and Austrians suited to up to play their third game, Algeria had already finished their slate with a 2-1 record and an even goal differential.  The Austrians led the group with a 2-0 record and a +3 goal differential, and the Germans were at 1-1 but with a +2 differential.  Going into the game, so long as the Germans won by less than three goals, both teams would advance; if Austria won or drew, West Germany would be eliminated and the Algerians would advance.

West Germany scored in the opening ten minutes, and won 1-0.  Neither team mounted much of an effort after the opening goal, and the game, forever after known as the Second Anschluss, has become one of the most controversial in the sport's history.  Although the game was painfully boring to watch, I've always thought the Germans received a bad rap for what happened; were I to apportion blame, it would go 40% to FIFA, 30% to the Austrians, 25% to the Algerians, and the rest to the Germans.  Algeria blew most of a three-goal halftime lead against a pathetic Chilean team, and lost to a mediocre Austrian squad in the previous game 2-0; had they taken care of business, the result of the Anschluss game would have been moot.  Austria chose not to attack or play any sort of offense in their final game, not attempting a single shot, and hoping only to keep the score close, which led to the game being famously boring.  FIFA deserved the lion's share of the blame for setting up an unbalanced schedule that made such a result inevitable.

But what exactly did the Germans do in 1982 that was wrong or unethical?  They had to tread a fine line in that game, where a win by any margin got them to the next round, but a tie eliminated them.  Since when has any team been obligated to pour it on and rout their opponents in this situation?  They scored the goal they needed.
France 2, Nigeria 0: Another day, another African team bows out after a strike over "bonuses"...after a prolonged period of frustration around the Nigerian goal, Les Bleus struck twice in the final ten minutes to assure a spot in the quarters.  Regardless of who they play, there's a great film to put either match-up into context....
Costa Rica 1, Greece 1 [PK: 5-3]: Well, it's the first time Greece has ever scored in consecutive World Cup Games...Saw this game at a casino near Vegas, where the crowd was overwhelmingly supporting the Ticos.  The officiating left something to be desired: an obvious hand ball in the box was not called against the Greeks which would have put the game out of reach in regulation, then the ref swallowed his whistle when the Costa Rican goalie clearly moved early in saving the critical spot kick.  First team from the region not named Mexico or the US to reach the quarters since Cuba did it in 1938.

June 29, 2014

Dos a uno

Holland 2, Mexico 1: Just minutes away from their first trip to the quarterfinals in 28 years, Mexico instead lost for the sixth straight time in the second round, and the fourth time by a 2-1 scoreline.   To repeat the cliche used in a different sport of football, the only thing playing a prevent defense does is prevent you from winning.  For sixty minutes, El Tri was in complete control, taking the game to the most dominant team out of the group stage round, only to fold in the last ten minutes, conceding a goal to Wesley Sneijder after a prolonged period inside the Mexican half, then drew a cheap penalty three minutes into injury time to set up the winner.  In spite of the loss, methinks Enrique Ochoa is going to be a well-compensated free agent; he made several more spectacular saves...absolutely brutal heat, with the first two scheduled water breaks in World Cup history.