Thursday, June 29, 2006

Who Taught You Octogan?

Before we get into the soccer stuff a quick question...Was anyone else aware that you are supposed to leave two spaces after a period before you start a new sentence? I never knew this! Being a summer associate at a law firm suddenly has made me aware of all the minor details. Just wanted to ask that question because I've never really come across that rule in all my years of writing. Ok on to the futebol......

The past two days are what you would call "a slow news day" in the journalism business. Not that I'm actually in the business, but I'm familiar with the term. Anywho, I've been wondering what I will write about to maintain interest in this blog while there are no games. What I came up with is about as nerdy as I am -- a reading list. Interest about soccer usually crests at the beginning of the world cup and troughs once it ends. Hopefully, many will maintain their interest once the tournament is over. To that end, below I've listed some of my favorite books on soccer. Before anyone asks, yes I've read them all and yes I think they are worth the read otherwise I wouldn't suggest them. Without further ado....

1. Futebol Brasileiro, Soccer the Brazilian Way
In my humble opinion, this is one of the best books written about soccer. It's rich with cultural stories that helps you understand why the Brazilians are so good at what they do. For example, every year there's a huge soccer tournament in the Amazon. It's got more teams than march madness. It's a completely amateur tournament yet communities prepare for months getting ready for the tournament holding try outs, etc. The most interesting thing about the tournament to me is that every team gets to bring a beauty queen for the pageant. If you are eliminated from the tournament but your beauty queen wins the pageant you are suddenly reentered into the tournament. Now, there's a rule I like. Can you imagine if all the college teams had to bring the best looking girl on campus to march madness to compete? How high would be the scrutiny be for these women? Just wondering. There's also the story about the shocking defeat to Uruguay at the Maracana(to this day still regarded as the lowest moment in Brazilian soccer historyThe best discovery for me in reading this book was the Brazilian soccer star Garrincha. To many Brazilians, Garrincha was greater than Pele and he is widely regarded as the best dribbler. He is known as much as a cautionary tale as he is for his skill since Garrincha became a chronic drunk and died pennyless.

2. Brilliant Orange: The Neurotic Genius of Dutch Football
This is another personal favorite because the book takes an interesting look at Dutch soccer. Instead of looking at Dutch soccer in a vaccuum, the book finds inspiration for the Dutch emphasis on spacing on the field coming form their artists. Dutch painters were obsessed with spacing on the canvas and there's also the famous line that 'god created the earth but the dutch created the netherlands.' Given that the country is basically a series of dams, the Dutch have always had a knack fo rmaking the most out of their space. Their football, the book contends, is no different. Thankfully the book does not take itself too seriously and does a good job of conveying its main point.

3. Barca: A People's Passion
The book was wirtten on the 100 year history of FC Barcelona. The beautiful thing about this book is that it really shows that Barca has always been a team for the great artists of the game. From the days of the great Hungarian Ferenc Puskas to the magnificent Johan Cryuff to the irrepressible Diego Maradona to the toothy Ronaldinho, Barca has always been the home to the world's most artistic players. With FC Barca being the pride of Catalunya it was always at a disadvantage whenever it played Real Madrid while Franco was in power because Real Madrid was Franco's team. That is why FC Barcelona's motto is 'more than a club' because the team represents everything that Catalunya stands for and for a while under Franco Barca's home stadium the Camp Nou was the only place where the Catalunyian flag could fly.

4. Dynamo
If you needed another reason to hate the Nazis this book gives it to you. Long before Dynamo Kiev was the team that gave the world Andriy Shevchenko and Sergei Rebrov the team provided the Ukrainian city of Kiev with the soldiers who fough to the death and was the last line of defense when the Nazis came. The only way these men stayed alive was because they were good at soccer. A truly moving book.

5. The Untouchables
Yeah, yeah yeah, it's not a book. Instead it's a video chronicling Arsenal's unbeaten season. Aresenal went through the 2003/2004 season undefeated...the first time that's been done in England's top flight in over 100 years. This video chronicling the amazing season is a must have for any Arsenal fan. The video has every Arsenal goal from that season and interviews of all the players. The biggest surprise from the video was how many instrumental goals Robert Pires scored that season. His performance that season would put to shame anyone who would suggest that Frank Lampard is the best goalscoring midfielder in the Premiership over the past five years.

6. Tor!
A comprehensive history of German football. I would have never thought that Shalke 04 was one of the big dogs of German football way back when. The book explains why German teams have those crazy acronymns like "VFL" at the beginning of their name. The greatest revelation I got from the book was that German football was mostly an amateur sport until 1963 due mustly to a general distrust of professionalism in sports. Most of the German sports clubs were a make up of amateur athletes and the Germans saw no reason why football should be any different. Really good read.

A Kloser look at Klose

Miroslav Klose is at it again. The 28-year-old German forward exploded on the scene in the 2002 World Cup with a hat trick in the opening game against perennial world powerhouse Saudi Arabia. Klose went on to score two more goals against such giants as Cameroon and Ireland, bringing his tally for the 2002 World Cup to 5 which was second only to Ronaldo. In the 2006 World Cup Klose opened up in style again with two goals against a Colossus Costa Rican side. He added two more goals against mighty mighty Ecuador bringing his World Cup tally to nine goals. What should be evident from the foregoing is that Klose hasn't actually scored a goal against any team of repute. He's made his bones being the sandlot bully. As my friend Ilan reminded me, though, once you're in the record books they don't go back and see who you scored the goals against. That's very much true and maybe I'm nitpicking a bit but of Klose's nine goals none of them have come outside of the group stage. He looked lively against Sweden on Saturday and was responsible for setting up the two goals for Lukas Podolski. Kudos to him but I'm not ready to join the bandwagon just yet. A man who has made the rounds of club football in Germany between Kaiserslautern and Werder Bremen(Klose scored 25 goals in the Bundesliga this season in 23 starts and scored 4 goals in the champions league in 9 starts.) doesn't really get the blood flowing. If and when he plays for Bayern Munich or a top side in Europe he'll be validated in my eyes. But if Klose bags a hat trick against Argentina then maybe I will join the chorus of people praising him.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Roll Back The Clock.

There's a saying in soccer that 'form is temporary while class is permanent.' The jist of it is that anyone can have a good game or a couple of good games but the truly great ones never lose their ability to rise to the occasion. This could never have been truer in yesterday's two games. Both Ronaldo and Zidane rolled back the years to treat viewers to some vintage performances. Ronaldo's goal against Ghana was a treat. Ronaldo beat the offside trap and was sent in one on one with the keeper. Ronaldo did a stepover and faked right and the keeper went right then Ronaldo went left and the keeper was flat on his back. He toe poked an easy finish to put Brazil ahead. Ronaldo could have added a second had Adriano not been selfish and gone for goal when Ronaldo was free with acres of space in front of goal for an easy tap in. With his 15th goal Ronaldo is now the all time leading scorer in the history of the World Cup. His place in history is secure, not that it was ever in jeopardy.

In the later game Zidane was all over the field looking like the Zidane of old. Changing the pace of the game at will and getting the ball to his teammates in positions where they could do damage. His stoppage time goal was brilliant even if he was a shade offside when he got the ball. Zidane picked up the ball about 25 yards from goal and took on Spanish defender Carles Puyol. Zidane faked left then went right and turned Puyol inside out. Just when Iker Casillas started moving towards the far post Zidane shot near post to put the French comfortably ahead 3-1.

It's funny because I was calling for both players to be benched after the first game of the tournament. What they proved is that the great ones, as they get older, may not be able to deliver every game but once the chips are down they rarely fold. ........

Brazil did not look impressive against Ghana but they got the result. They won 3-0 so it's a bit nitpicky of me to find fault with their game. They were probably happy to let Ghana have the ball because the Ghanaians couldn't shoot. Why exert yourself when you can sit back and let your opponent eat up possession then squarder their chances by shooting high and wide over the bar? I think the way the tournament is going teams are more concerned about the result than how pretty they look. Sven Goran Eriksson has already gone on record saying that his England team are not here to entertain. I usually expect that type of attitude from small nations woh are just happy to be on the big stage and want to stay as long as they can so they defend and foul the whole game. Big nations like Brazil, England, Argentina, Germany and Italy have an obligation to the game to entertain and to set an example for the way the game should be played. That may be a little idealistic of me but at least Brazil and Germany are sticking to playing open attacking football.

Right now everyone is just grinding out results except for the host nation. This tournament reminds me of Euro 2004 when Greece won the tournament not by playing football but by preventing everyone else from playing. Greece played the majority of the tournament with about eight men behind the ball and frustrated their opponents. They would get a goal and defend it for the rest of the game. England, Italy and France could all be said to be guilty of this type of play. Of the teams that came to the tournament to play open attractive football only Brasil, Argentina and Germany are left. Teams like the Czech Republic, Ghana and Spain are all home now. The quarterfinal games don't offer much promise for an improvement in play. In the England v. Portugal match you should expect England to show up with their five midfielders to slow up the game, hope they are fouled somewhere around the box and put their hopes on a Beckham free kick. France will probably do something similar against Brazil and the Italy v. Ukraine match will be as entertaining as watching paint dry. I'm expecting penalty kicks in this one. Argentina v. Germany should be the connoisseurs choice. Both teams have been attacking all tournament and I don't expect their matchup to be much different. The quarterfinal matches should be a good indication as to where the future of the game is going. If England and France win it will give motivation to teams who just want the result and could care less about entertaining. For the sake of the game I will be pulling for Brazil and Portugal. I hate to be so dramatic but it's that serious.

Monday, June 26, 2006

The Weekend.

The refereeing is threatening to ruin the Cup. At this point we should all be talking about Maxi Rodriguez's goal against Mexico(my winner for Goal of the Tournament), David Beckham's beautiful free kick goal that rescued a hapless Ingerlund, and how the Germans so effortlessly brushed aside a Sweden team that, by most accounts, looked like the best team in Group B. Instead, all the focus is on the Russian referee who doled out 16 yellow cards and 4 red cards in the Portugal v. Holland match. The referee lost control of the game from the moment Mark Van Bommel went Eric Cantona on Cristiano Ronaldo and kung fu kicked him iin his thigh. Next up was Khalid Boulahrouz to put a hurting on Ronaldo and the cards kept piling up. Before you knew it the Portuguese lost Costinha and Deco and the Dutch lost two other players.

There's no question here that the referee let the game get out of hand and he should not referee another match. In fact, FIFA president Sepp Blatter said the referee also deserved a yellow card for his performance. Go figure. But as much as I would like to join in with everyone else and kill the messenger, I'm afraid the true culprit is FIFA president Sepp Blatter. Before the tournament began Blatter wanted referees to issue cards for tackles from behind, time wasting and anything that the referees thought did not comport with FIFA's emphasis on fair play. Yesterday's referee did just that: he gave cards for everything that looked remotely dangerous. The same can be said for the German referee who called a penalty on U.S. defender Onyewu right before halftime in the elimination game against Ghana. Ditto for Graham Poll who gave three yellow cards to Josip Simunic in the Croatia v. Australia match. The referee in the Italy v. U.S. match also lost the plot, sending off three players. These referees are the best in the world. They didn't become bad refs overnight. What is spurring them on to such poor officiating is the FIFA directive ordering them to crackdown. Granted, any new law leaves room for interpretation and the referees should use common sense in implementing FIFA's directive. We don't know, however, what pressure they are under or what penalties they will incur for failing to follow the letter of the law. As a result, we get referees issuing yellow cards for fouls that otherwise would only yield a warning to the player to cool it and then play would resume.

What is lost in all of this is the focus on what actually happened on the field(Yes, in America it's called a field and not a "pitch." Few things annoy me more than American announcers calling the soccer field the "pitch." Let's try not to poach everything from the Brits and try to create our own lexicon for the game). Maniche's goal was a result of beautiful passing in the box, the type of play we usually associate with the Dutch. Dutch football probably took a greater hit than any other from this tournament. The reason being is that the Dutch have always pride themselves on beautiful, fluid attacking football going back to the days of the old Cryuff Ajax teams of the 70s all the way up to their heartbreaking defeat against the Brazilians in 1998. Since then, however, the Dutch have failed to develop any talent similar to that of Van Basten, Gullit, Bergkamp or even a midfielder like Davids. Consequently, the missed the Cup in '02, were eliminated at the quarterfinal stage of Euro 2004 and, despite their passage into the round of 16, failed to score a single goal from the 27th minute of their second game in the group stages against the Ivory Coast. This is a time for reflection on Dutch Football and just how they will get it together for Euro 2008.

The main thing that stuck in my mind from the Dutch attack on Sunday was how easily Portugues right back Miguel handled Arjen Robben. It got so bad in the second half that Robben had to switch to the opposite side to get away from Miguel and receive the ball. Also, the announcers kept calling for Van Nistelrooy to enter the game but he hasn't looked like a dangerous player since 2004(Marelo Balboa who announces the games for ESPN has little knowledge of the game, even though he played in three World Cups for the U.S. I'm convinced they just give him a sheet of statistics and he just parrots off whatever information is on it). The one bright spot for the Dutch as my favorite Dutch commentator Ernst Bouwes pointed out is that the Dutch are young and have a talented crop of players coming up(Their under 21 side won the European Championship).

Looking forward to the quarterfinal matchup between England and Portugal, I'm afraid that I'm going to have to go John Kerry on this one and flip flop. Before the tournament started I had Portugal winning this match. Now, however, they have to play without Deco and Ronaldo. They still have Figo and Maniche which gives them a punchers chance, at the very least. They also have Phil Scolari who ousted the English team from the '02 Cup with Brazil and also coached the Portuguese when they defeated England on penalty kicks in Euro 2004. I think it's time for England to have a coming out party. They haven't played well in a single game, yet the keep on winning. Beckham is pretty much a passenger on the field until there is a free kick. To his credit though he has taken them well and has contributed as much as anyone, except maybe Joe Cole, to Ingerlund being this far in the tournament. Who knows, maybe England will prove me wrong and win it all. It wouldn't be the first time this tournament I was wrong. I was a real fool for picking Sweden to beat Germany. Nothing I saw indicated that the Germans would go down against the Swedes while everything the Swedes showed in the group stages suggested they were a misfiring side, not ready for the big time. When Larsson missed the penalty kick in the second half, I knew it was all over for the Swedes. In truth, it was over in the 13th minute. By then Lukas Podolski had already scored two goals for the Germans to put them ahead 2-0. Next up for the Germans is Argentina. I had this quarterfinal matchup in the run up to the tournament and I have Argentina winning it still. I'll have front row seats for this one. Let's hope the referees don't ruin the night in Berlin.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Before, I get on with the footbal, can someone please tell me who the %#$% is Taylor Hicks? I've never heard of this guy before and he has the number one song in America. Have I been living under a rock? Someone please inform me. Now on to the real business....

The real World Cup begins today. Now that the minnows like Togo, Saudi Arabia and definitely the U.S. have been sent packing we can really sit back and start enjoying high quality matches at every turn. The second round is not without party crashers, however, as Ecuador and Australia unexpectedly made it through the group phase. On to the matches.

Germany v. Sweden
Sweden looked like one of the better teams in the grou pstages. If they finished better they would have won all three of their games. Germany seem to be moving away from the old stereotype of Germans as boring calculating players. They're playing like South Americans.

Prediction: Sweden wins. I'm going out on a limb. I'm contradicting myself here because before the tournament started I picked Germany to win this matchup. They have done nothing for me to go away from this but I"m trying to be a genius here. From watching Sweden's games I think they play good positive football and so does Germany. The only difference is I think Sweden does a better job of doing it. I think Sweden have better players at eveyr position, except whoever has to match up with Michael Ballack. Klose has been converting his chances while Larsson and Ibrahimovic have not. I'm hoping they will get it together to win this game. Germany has homefield advantage which may propel them over the top. I try to stay away from intangibles and go with the team with the most talent and I think Sweden is a more talented team. Sweden should keep the ball out of the middle of the field because Michael Ballack will eat them up. Play it on the wings to Wilhelmsson and Ljungberg and let the good times roll.

Argentina v. Mexico
Mexico go home. Get your shinebox and go home. It's that simple. They have no chance. There's no need to analyze this. Argentina are better. They will win. Like ESPN's Michael Davies said, if they played this game 10 times Argentina would win 11. I agree.

Italy v. Australia
The Italians rigged the tournament to get a free pass to the semifinals. Who did Silvio Berlusconi pay off to get Australia in the second round and the winner of Switzerland v. Ukraine in the quarterfinals? The Aussies s hould be heading home with their tails between their legs after the Italy match. They've overstayed their welcome. The way they've played you'd think this was a rugby tournament. They've fouled more than any other team by my unofficial count. I think Italy wins this one effortlessly.

Ukraine v. Switzerland.
Yawn....Yawn....Yawn...This is the one game of the second round that I will not watch and I will not tivo. Ukraine has Shevchenko and 10 guys who nobody has ever heard of(Rebrov who most of us know is on the bench). Switzerland has, well, they have 11 guys nobody has ever heard of. Predictoin: the team with Shevchenko.

England v. Ecuardor
This should be a stroll in the park for England but these days nothing seems easy for England. The only back up forward on the team is a 17 year old who even the manager admitted that he has never seen play. Midfield is a crisis because Beckham hasn't had a good game yet this tournament. Gerrard and Lampard can't play together and Owen Hargreaves is the answer but the manager has opted for Michael Carrick instead. The recipe for victory: Give the ball to Joe Cole and Wayne Rooney and get out the way. Gerrard can be effective too but only if Sven lets. him. I got England 2-1.

Portugal v. Holland
The Portuguese are notorious Dutch killers. In 2001 they beat the Dutch in Rotterdam and tied them in Portugal to stop the Dutch from progressing to the '02 Cup. In 2004 the Portuguese eliminated the Dutch from the semifinals of Euro 2004. In 2006 the Portuguese will eliminate the Dutch from the Cup by the score of 2-0. It should be an exciting game with Robben, Ronaldo, Figo, Deco and Van Persie all on the same field. My money is on the Portuguese to send the Dutch back home to sniffing Tullips and hanging out in coffee shops.

Brazil v. Ghana
"1,2,3, Black Star shines eternally." Only a fool would pick Ghana. Brazil wins by many many goals. Essien watches from the sidelines helplessly as Brazil walk all over the Black Stars. Let me take this opportunity to apologize to Ronaldo. I said he was washed up and he should be benched then in the next game he scored two goals. Yeah, my bad. BUT, that was Japan and this is Ghana. You can't really get a good indication of where he is against these teams but he definitely shut me up because I didn't think he had it in him to tie Gerd Muller for most World Cup goals.

France v. Spain
Poor Spain. They finally are gelling and look impressive and they are paired in the second round against a French team out to prove they aren't the chokers that the Spaniards have always been. If I was picking solely on which team is in form I'd have to go with Spain. They looked impressive agianst the Ukraine and Tunisia then looked to be in cruise control against Saudi Arabia. They played 11 reserves. Joaquin looked unstoppable, but the rest of the team looked out of sorts. Spain lost momentum with this game, I think. It reminds me of my fantasy footbal league where one guy was 12-0 and then chose to rest all his starters. He lost all his momentum and ended up losing to me in the finals of the league when my team was only 10-6, I think. The moral of the story is when you have momentum you keep it. You don't squander it. I think Spain has bad karma. I'm picking, gulp, France. Allez les Bleus! I keep picking France b/c they have my favorite player in Henry. I'm keeping the faith.

That's it and that's all. I'm off to bed. I'll probably keep a diary on both games tomorrow. Let the games begin. The real World Cup is finally here.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

"We Did it For Africa," Michael Essien

Anyone familiar with this blog knows that I've been partial to the African teams in this tournament. I think with the social problems in these countries and the lack of resources to properly develop the talent, the African nations are always at a disadvantage. I always cheer for the African teams because they show up to play attacking football. They have a devil-may-care attitude and play as if they have nothing to lose. When you play an African team you know you will get opportunities to score and you know they will be coming at you for 90 minutes looking for a goal. Ghana, more than any African team, really exemplified this spirit in their three games in the group stages. Whenever they got the ball around the box you knew they were going for goal. Given their positive attitude it was no surprise to see Ghana defeat the U.S. If they can hang tough with Brazil, their likely opponent in the next round, it would be a great boost for African football. It will take some doing since Essien will be suspended for that game thanks to a cheap yellow card from the ref in today's game.

Early in the tournament I thought the African sides were not performing to their potential but they have come around and none of them should feel embarassed about their performance in this tournament, with the exception of Togo who have let the financial row with their government overshadow their performance on the field. If Togo can take a point off the misfiring French team tomorrow that would be another shot in the arm for African soccer.

The Ivory Coast, probably one of the most talented teams in the tournament will go home with a vitory and two losses but those losses came against two of the top sides in the world in Argentina and the Netherlands. Angola, who also will be going home, only allowed one goal in their three matches and will leave the tournament with two points. Tunisia is probably the only African side to have really been put to the sword after their 4-0 beating against Spain. Tunisia, however, still have an opportunity to qualify for the round of 16 if they can defeat the Ukraine.

The Black Stars are the undisputed gem of this tournament. Drawn in a group against perennial World Cup powerhouses Italy, the Euro 2004 semifinalists Czech Republic and Quarterfinalists from '02 in the U.S., Ghana made it to the round of 16 in their debut. I'm looking forward to their game against Brazil not because I think they will win it but because I know I'm going to be treated to some positive play from both teams from start to finish. I mean, you know the Black Stars are called the "brazilians of Africa" too bad they are going up against the Brazilians of the world. Either way, kudos to Ghana for making it out the group.

What Today's loss means for American Soccer:
I think today's loss set American soccer back a good eight years. All the good work from '02 is forgotten and the players looked more like the confused players we saw in France '98. Moving forward, I think the U.S. needs a new coach. Bruce Arena proved himself to be a fool by coming out in a 4-5-1 formation in a game where he needed to have an attacking lineup. It is telling that the only time the U.S. played with two forwards in this tournament was after Eddie Johnson came in during the second half of today's game. You can't sit back and play with fear at the international level and expect to win game. The 4-5-1 formation indicated a fear of Ghana's midfield and that Arena was playing for a draw, which is stupifying considering they needed a victory. Firing Arena is the first tep the U.S. should take moving forward. Second, Donovan really needs to leave the MLS. He needs experience playing at the highest level. You don't get ready for the top players in the world by playing in the MLS. The MLS is a decent league but it is not yet at the level where it has the kind of talent to match the top leagues in Europe. If Donovan is ever going to realize his potential he needs to do so playing in Europe. Other plays in the side like Clint Dempsey and Eddie Johnson should also be playing in Europe, if they are good enough. The U.S. should really consider dropping Onyewu from the team. Yes, he has that cool nickname "Gooch" and the brotha is out there playing with braids but come on, he's a gots to go situation. Everytime his name was called during the tournament it was in relation to something negative. Maybe he will improve over the years but on this evidence he has no business wearing that U.S. shirt.

Third, and most important, the U.S. needs to start playing in Copa America. The tournament has the top sides from the South American CONMEBOL region like Brazil and Argentina. Though the U.S. is a CONCACAF side this should not be a hindrance to their participation since Mexico, another CONCACAF side, also plays in the tournament. Playing in Copa America will give the U.S. a good indicator of just how good they are two years prior to every World Cup. I've said this over and over again but I just don't think that teams like Barbados and Panama can give the U.S. the kind of challenge it needs to get ready for the big tournaments.

If these three changes are made, it is likely we will see an improvement in the talent level of the American player. As the players get better so will our performances in the World Cup. Many will moan about the group that the U.S. was in, but if Ghana, World Cup debutants, can make it out the group the U.S. can't complain. Additionally, some will feel the U.S. were undone by the referees penalty at the end of the first half of the Ghana game. The penalty decision was harsh but the U.S. still didn't score the goals needed to progress. Even if the penalty wasn't given the final score would have been 1-1 and that still would not have been eough for the U.S. to move on to the next round.

Today is a sad day for American soccer and fans of American soccer. The sport will now occupy the backseat it has always occupied in America. My boasts that soccer would soon be a major sport in America now appear sillier than ever. I don't doubt that the sport will eventually flourish in America but the team's performance in the '06 World Cup has really set American soccer back to the days of 1998 where they finished last in the World Cup. Hopefully the team will have a better showing in Johannesburg in 2010.

Second Half Diary U.S. v. Ghana

Second half is underway. Still no sight of a second forward to support McBride. ESPN just flashed a statistic that the U.S. is 0-13-1 when tralining at halftime in a World Cup match. U.S. is also 0-8-1 in World Cup matches and have been outscored 26-6 in those matches. Time to close the coffin on these bums.

Minute 50: so far nothing worth noting has happened in the second half. When will we see Eddie Johnson? This guy Arena is a prized fool for playing 4-5-1 in this match.

Minute 54: Corner kick for the U.S. but before that a Ghana player goes down. More time wasting by the Africans. He gets up just before the stretcher gets there. The U.S. corner amounts to nothing and Ghana counterattacks and forces Keller to make a good save. Corner to Ghana.

Minute 58: When is Arena going to make a substitution to change the game? Still playing with one forward and not really getting anything going forward. Ghana is just sitting back and defending and counterattacking. Ghana takes off a forward and adds another midfielder so the numbers are even in midfield now.

Minute 60: On comes Johnson for Cherundolo. Now the U.S. is playing with two forwards let's see if this changes the game at all.

Minute 63: Ghana attacking once more but Dramani doesn't play the ball across the box into the path of the open forward. Wasted opportunity by Ghana.

Minute 66: U.S. aatacks down the left and McBride has a golden opportunity but he puts his header off the post. That's more like it from the U.S. They're starting to put Ghana on the backfoot in this last half hour of the game. They still need two goals to move on. Bocanegra takes a shot from outside the box which is deflected out for a coner. Donovan takes and Onyewu puts his header over the bar.

Minute 68: The 4-4-2 formation has really changed the game for the U.S. if the lose you have to wonder why Arena didn't start the game like this.

Minute 70: Three straight U.S. attacks have come to an end because of offsides. Ghana is executing the offside trap really well.

Minute 72: Goal kick by Ghana ends up in a shooting opportunity for Appiah who had Keller beat at the far post but the shot was deflected by Conrad.

Minute 74: In comes Bobby Convey off goes Eddie Lewis. More fresh legs for the U.S.

Minute 76: More time wasting by the Ghanaians. Dramani goes down. The refs says there's no foul. Dramani stays down and the clock continues to run. Dramani is really milking this now as he's being stretchered off.

Minute 79: Ghana are masters of timewasting at this point. The keeper is fouled and he stays down for a good two minutes. Time is running out on the U.S. They've scored 1 goal in 260 minutes of the World Cup now they need two in the last 10 minutes.

Minute 81: Bobby Convey is fouled outside the box by Mensah. Donovan takes the free kick and sends it well high and wide of the target. Absolutely rubbish. Get him outta there.

Italy Update: Italy now leads 2-0 on a goal from Pipo Inzaghi. Pipo beats the offside trap from midfield and rounds the keeper to put Italy up 2-0. Looks like Italy will advance as group leaders.

Minute 86: more timewasting from Ghana. Pingpong goes down and is stretchered off. He mliks another minute off the clock. This is comical at this point. The U.S. are losing 2-1. They need to throw everyone forward right now. THey can't worry about giving up another goal becuase 2-1 might as well be 3-1. Either way you're still going home.

Minute 90: The referee has added 5 minutes of stoppage time. That's a bit much but it looks like he's making up for all the timewasting by Ghana in regular time. Even in extra time Ghana is wasting time. Appiah picks up a yellow card for wasting time. Three minutes of stoppage time gone. Ghana only has to hold on for two minutes and they will likely face Brazil.

Minute 90: Game over. Ghana wins 2-1. Ghana advances with Italy from this group. A few Ghana players fall to their knees and kiss the turf and pray. The U.S. and Czech Republic will be going home. They are probably the biggest disappointments of the tournament thus far. I'm off to work.

U.S. v. Ghana First Half Diary

Let's get the game underway. It's been close to a year since Donovan has scored for the U.S. Will today be the day he breaks the scoreless streak? Let's go.

Already with the playing of the national anthems Ghana seems like a more spirited and raucus bunch. U.S. are starting with a 4-5-1 formation with Brian McBride as the lone striker. This is a strange choice. Why go with five midfielders and one forward when you need a victory? McBride will need a lot of support from the midfield players. Ghana opens with a 4-4-2. The five U.S. midfielders will probably slow things up for Ghana in the midfield.

Word from the Italy game: Baros is back for the Czechs. This is a good sign for the Czechs and should take some pressure off the midfield.

Minute 2: both teams just knocking the ball around right now. Nothing really threatening from either side. just trying to get a feel for the game.

Minute 3: An early cross into the box causing confusion in the Ghana defense and draws out the keeper. I got no idea what he's doing off his line.

Minute 5: Yellow card for Michael Essien. He will miss the next game if Ghana goes through. These referees are so card happy this tournament. This is ridiculous. Essien got the ball.

Minute 7: Ghana is looking relaly flat. We see the second yellow card of the game on an unintentional handball by Eddie Lewis.

Minute 9: Ghana wins the first free kick of the gam after the Ghanaian midfielder megs the U.S. defender and is upended right outside the box. Let's see what Ghana does with it...wasted effort as Appiah plays it to Essien who shoots well wide.

Minute 12: Ghana is showing nothing in attack so far. The first 12 minutes of this game have been played almost exclusively in Ghana's half of the field. Ghana is giving the ball away cheaply right now.

Minute 16: U.S. wins the first corner of the game. Taken by Donovan and headed on target by Dempsey. Easy save for Ghana's keeper.

Minute 18: Another foul by Onyewu slows the game down. Onyewu is probably the most overrated player on the U.S. team. The only time I hear his name is when he fouls someone. So far the U.S. has gotten absolutely nothing from Donovan and Beasley.

Minute 20: The five U.S. midfielders are really bottling up the Ghana attack. Not sure if this kind of defensive posture is what the U.S. needs in a game where a victory is the only acceptable result....Ghana wins its first corner. Too bad the referee calls a foul.

Minute 22: GOLAZO!!! Claudio Reyne gives the ball away cheaply to Dramani who goes in and slots the ball pass Kasey Keller 1-0 Ghana. It will take a Herculean effort now by the U.S. to win this game. The need two goals and they have yet to score in the tournament. The giveawy by Reyna was criminal and now he is being stretchered off. It doesn't look like he was touched by the Ghana player his studs just got caught in the grass.

Minute 26: Now Ghana's keeper Kinson is down. I suspect he's just milking the clock but I could be wrong.

Minute 28: You really have to question Arena's choice of five midfielders and one forward. This formation is not known for producing goals especially when you are using a foward who depends on good service and another forward to drop and colect the ball.

Minute 29: Good Ghana counterattack: Essien plays the ball through to Pingpong who slots the ball just a yard or two wide of the far post.
Update from Italy game: Italy leads 1-0 on a Massimo Materazzi header from a Totti corner.

Minute 32: Ghana appears to be in complete control of the game at this point. The goal has changed everything and the U.S. appear to be sleepwalking right now.

Minute 35: Mcbride heads a ball down to Donovan who puts it well high and wide of the target. Donovan's disappointing tournament continues. It's been 17 games in the national team since he's scored a goal.

Minute 38: Donovan is starting to push a little farther forward now to join McBride in the attack. They still don't seem to be threatening the Ghana keeper. It's all too easy for Ghana right now. They knock it around a little and then move forard.....A nice U.S. counterattack comes to nothing. Eddie Lewis crosses into the box but there's no one there on the end of it to convert.

Minute 40: Reyna is being subbed off. On comes Olsen. The way things are looking this is the last time we'll see Reyna in a U.S. shirt.

Minute 41: Olsen's first mark in the game is to foul Essien and give Ghana a free kick about 30 yards away from goal. Wasted effort. Goal kick for the U.S.

Minute 43: GOLAZO!!! Beasley's first contribution to the game comes on a nice run where Ghana gives the ball away around their box and Beasley squares for Dempsey who blasts it into the net past the Ghana keeper. It's 1-1. Game on!! Ghana basically gifted that chance to the U.S. by failing to clear the ball properly with three players around.

Minute 45: PENALTY!!! Onyewu fouls Pingpong in the box and the referee awards a penalty which will be taken by Appiah. Appiah steps up and calmly deposits it into the roof of the net. 2-1 Ghana. Like I said before, this guy Onyewu is overrated. You only hear his name when he fouls. Ghana are back on top and the U.S. are up against it.

Halftime: Ghana leads 2-1. The U.S. still needs two goals to progress. Italy is leading the Czechs who are now playing with ten men. Arena needs to switch the formation to 3-5-2 and go for broke or 4-4-2 at the very least.

U.S. v. Ghana Preview.

The U.S. v. Ghana game starts in little under an hour. Ghana will be without goalscorers Gyan and Muntari. The U.S. will be without defender Eddie Pope and midfielder Pablo Mastroeni. A few bullet points about this game:

- the U.S. has never won a match on European soil.
- Kasey Keller has never won a World Cup match in Europe
- The U.S. has only one shot on target so far, the lowest number of any team.
- To advance the U.S. needs to beat Ghana and hope Italy wins. Otherwise they need to win by more than four goals if the Czechs beat Italy (a tall order for a team with only one shot on goal thus far).
- A Ghana victory would see them through to the second round where, if Italy does not tie Czech Republic, they would play Brazil. Here's what Ghana's coach Ratomire Dujkovic had to say about the potential of playing Brazil in the second round: "Facing Brazil, well, you know the Ghana Black Stars have a nickname, the Brazil of Africa," he said. "So that will be a great match, two Brazilians." After defeating the Czech Republic, Ghana's president had this to say: "We've beaten the second-best team in the world, who else is left?" Needless to say the Ghanaians are a confident bunch going into today's match.

The key to the game may be how well the U.S. is able to slow down Ghana's midfield. The trio of Essien, Kuffour and Appiah has been impressive thus far. They attack constantly for 90 minutes and never seem to tire. Ghana needs to continue playing their wide open football but a failure to pay attention to defensive duties may leave them exposed at the back. The game will also be a test for Donovan and Reyna because they are up against a truly world class midfielder in Essien who will harass them both for 90 minutes. If the U.S. are going to win this game they are going to need to attack down the wings because I don't think Essien or Appiah will be giving an inch in the middle of the park. The U.S. should have ample opportunities to get on the scoreboard and get shots on target because judging by Ghana's first two games thir main focus is to attack and worry about defensive duties later. Ghana is probably the one team the U.S. will face in the tournament that is similar to their CONCACAF opponents they faced in qualifying.

If U.S. coach Bruce Arena cannot get his tactics right to win this game it may be time for the U.S. to look elsewhere for someone to lead this team. Someone like Hiddink or Van Gaal, men with the tactical nous to succeed on the world stage, may be the ideal replacement for Arena. My prediction for the game is a Ghana victory. I like their strength iin midfield and I like their shoot on sight approach. The only cause for caution is that they are without their key forward Asamoah Gyan and that makes me wonder where the goals will come from. With Essien and Appiah attacking and patroling the midfield I put my money on Ghana coming out of this one as victors.

In the other game, I suspect Italy will defeat the Czechs. They Czechs again are without their forawrds and the burden is on Nedved and Rosicky to score. If they get too far upfield like they did against Ghana the defense will be exposed and Italy will make them pay. So from the supposed group of death I have Italy and Ghana advancing. More to come after the games.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Yellow Card Update.

Yellow card trouble has taken some of the steam out of the Netherlands v. Argentina matchup. Robben will be sitting out along with the entire Dutch backline because of yellow card danger. For Argentine, Crespo, Saviola and Heinze are supposed to sit out for the same reason. As a result, nothing will be made clearer from this game because neither team will field its first choice lineup. Bring on Messi and let the games begin.

Portugal 2 Mexico 1

Game over. Portugal moves on as group winners and Mexico are runner ups as I predicted. The ref handed out 8 yellow cards and 1 red card in this one. Seems like a bit much to me. Angola and Iran tied 1-1 which means they are both going home.

Update: Still 2-1 Portugal.

Mexico misses a penalty as Bravo sends it over the bar. Still 2-1. Luis Perez gets his second yellow card for diving. Mexico is down to ten men and trailing by a goal. Angola and Iran are still tied 0-0.

Update Portugal 2 Mexico 1

A Fonseca header from a Mexico corner brings Mexico back in the game. It's now 2-1 to Portugal. Game on! Angola still hasn't scored yet so I think no matter th eoutcome Mexico will be moving on.

Update Portugal 2 Mexico 1

A Fonseca header from a Mexico corner brings Mexico back in the game. It's now 2-1 to Portugal. Game on! Angola still hasn't scored yet so I think no matter th eoutcome Mexico will be moving on.

Update Portugal 2 Mexico 0

A Rafa Marquez handball in the box leads to a Portugal penalty which Simao converts to make it 2-0 in the 25th minute.

Update: Portugal 1 Mexico 0

Simao makes a run down the right and draws three defenders then lays it off in the middle of the box to Maniche who calmly deposits it in the top of the box. 1-0 to Portugal. Can Mexico really be on their way out at the expense of Angola? Stay tuned.

Group B Wrapup and Preview of Today's Games

England will move on as Group B winners after their 2-2 draw with Sweden. The result also means that Sweden will progress as runners up in the group. The big news from this game is that England forward Michael Owen will be out for five months after damaging ligament in his knee. Surely now Eriksson looks like a fool for bringing a 17-year-old to the World Cup who has no experience instead of bringing Darren Bent or Jermain Defoe as cover for his strikers in case of an injury. England will field the gangly Peter Crouch and Wayne Rooney up front for the rest of the tournament most likely. I think they would be better suited with a 4-5-1 formation with Rooney as the only forward. In midfield they should start Hargreaves as he can do most of the dirty work and allow Gerrard and Lampard to get farther up the field. Yesterday was the first time Lampard looked good in an England shirt and it's no coincidence it happened in a game where he was freed of any defensive duties and was able to hang around the 18 yard box the same way he does for Chelsea. When he and Gerrard are the only central midfielders England loses something from each of them because their natural instinct is to attack but they have to share the defensive duties. Switching to 4-5-1 would likely allow Eriksson to get the most out of both players whlie not sacrificing too much defensively by putting Hargreaves in the game.

The outstanding England player so far has been Joe Cole. His goal yesterday is a contender for goal of the tournament. Most of the attention has been on getting Rooney back but in Joe Cole they have a player who can change a game and dominate from the wngs. He was involved in everything that England did well yesterday. . . . looking forward to the next round England must improve on their defense on set pieces. Both of the Sweden goals came on set pieces and they hit the crossbar on two other set piece efforts. Ecuador, their second round opponent, may not be the type of team to make them pay for their defensive shortcomings but moving on in the tournament this is something to keep an eye on. As for Sweden, their only problem thus far has been their finishing. They've looked good in attack and strong defensively but the end product just hasn't been there. If they are to beat Germany they will need better finishing from Larsson and out of form striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic(Here is Zlatan's take on shaking Finnish defender Sami Hyypia out of his boots: "I went left. He went left. I went right. He went right. I went left again. He went to get a hot dog.") . . . Paraguay and Trinidad(Paraguay won 2-0) are eliminated for the tournament and can begin plotting on the 2010 tournament in Johannesburg.

Today's Matches

The day begins with the Portugal v. Mexico matchup. Portugal have looked strong in both their games but they haven't truly been tested. Today's match against Mexico will be as good an indicator as any as to how good Portugal is. I picked Portugal to win this group before the tournament started and I'm not about to waver now. I look for Cristiano Ronaldo to seize the day and put on a star performance. With Deco, Ronaldo and Figo in the lineup I want the Portuguese to turn on the style and run over the Mexicans. Mexico did not look too strong in their tie against Angola. They will be looking to improve on that performance going forward. THey will need to because a loss by Mexico and an Angola win over Iran may result in the Angolans moving forward. My prediction is that Portugal will win this game and win the group and Mexico will move foward with the Angolans and Iranians making their return trips home beofre Saturday's second round games.

Group C will offer us the match of the tournament so far with the Netherlands facing off against the Argentines. These two have had memorable matches in the '78 finals which Argentina wn and in '98 where Dennis Bergkamp scored one of the greatest goals I've ever seen in a World Cup(Look it up on You Tube. Bergkamp takes down a 50 yard pass effortlessly turns his defender inside out and puts it in the roof of the net. Beautiful stuff!) Today's game should be the first test for the Argentines because their six goal romp came agaist little leaguers from Serbia. The key to this game will be how well Van Persie and Robben can attack down the wings and whether Cocu and Van Bommel can put a leash on Riquelme in midfield. Before the tournament I had Argentina winning this game I don't see any reason why I should change now. I want Pekerman to start Messi so my proclamations of him being the best player under 24 being proven correct. IN the other Match the Ivory Coast should finally get a victory over Serbia & Montenegro. I feel bad for Ivory Coast because in any other group they probably would be moving on to the second round but htey can lick their wounds on their return flight to Abidjan.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Injury Update

Michael Owen went down in the first minute of the game and was stretchered off the field. Looks like his World Cup is over. Might be a knee injury according to reports.

Group A Comes to A Close.

Germany's 3-0 win over Ecuador made them winners of Group A. Ecuador will move on to the second round as runners up from the group. I got the prediction right that Germany would win the group but I didn't expect Ecuador to make it past the group stages. If their performance in this game is any indication of what we should expect from them in the next round they won't be around too long. Germany came out attacking from the first whistle while Ecuador looked like they were just happy to be moving on to the next round. Two Miroslav Klose goals and another by Lukas Podolski was enough to give the Germans a deserved victory. Germany should feel confident moving on to the next round because of how they've played in the three group matches. With the exception of the two Paolo Wonchope goals the Germans could hardly be faulted for making any errors. They've looked dangerous going forward and have been strong defensively. Their win means that England and Sweden will be battling out to avoid the Germans because the winners get Ecuador who did not look like the team we saw in the first two games. As for the other members of Group A,Poland and Costa Rica (Poland won the match 2-1), thanks for coming. See you in Johannesburg in 2010.

Short England v. Sweden Preview.

Wayne Rooney makes his return to the England starting lineup today for their game against Sweden. With all the hype surrounding Rooney it is important to note that he hasn't scored a competitive goal for England since Euro 2004. Both teams will be trying to avoid Germany who right now are leading Ecuador 1-0 in the 22nd minute on a Miroslav Klose goal(Klose is now three goals behind Klinsmann for second all time on Germany's World Cup scoring list with 8). It should be interesting to see how long Rooney can go coming back from his injury. I think England will win this game because the Swedes have been misfiring all tournament. Nothing would make me happier than to see England lose but I don't think Sweden will be the team to do it.

Fatman And Robben

The World Cup is not a place for an old man to have his last hurrah. You bring an aging team to the World Cup and younger, faster teams will make you pay. The way Ghana ran rampant over the Czech Republic highlights the problem that teams without youth tend to have. Experience is always good in big tournaments but if you field a team that is too ancient you probably are going home early. Tournaments like the World Cup are usually a place where a star is born and older men are laid to rest. Michael Owen announced his arrival on the world stage in '98 with his goal against Argentina and now at just 26 he seems to be over the hill and second choice to Wayne Rooney.

Carel Bruckner doesn't have a choice to play younger players in the Czech team. His best players are his oldest. The only good midfielder under 30 is Tomas Rosicky. The others like Poborsky and Nedved have already seen their best days. Raymond Domenech and Carlos Pareira have young talent on the bench who can improve their teams but choose to keep them there. Domenech has a keeper in Gregory Coupet who has won the french league title four years in a row and has been playing in the Champions League. Coupet is probably one of the best keepers in Europe yet he is kept on the bench in favor of Fabien Barthez. Barthez's best days are behind him. Now is not the time to get sentimental and reward him for being on the World Cup winning team in '98. Similarly, Zidane should be laid to rest once and for all. He's probably the greatest player since Diego Maradona, but those days are long gone. Right now he's an old man who looks out of place and can't go the distance in an international match. Bench him and bring on Franck Ribery. Ribery has more pace and distributes the ball quicker. His quickness would probably help Henry in attack. Another change would be to take off another aging player, either Vieira or Makelele because they both have the same strengths. Bench Vieira and bring on Vikash Dhorasoo.

Brazil look to be in cruise control and Pareira doesn't mind because they have won both of their games. You come to the World Cup to win it, not to play with flair and lose. To that end, Pareira will probably keep Ronaldo in the side because although they haven't been that impressive they haven't been in danger of losing any of their two games. They are on top of their group and they are going to be waltzing into the second round. If it aint broke don't fix it. For the most part I feel the same wa about the Brazilian team but Ronaldo's inclusion in the team doesn't make much sense after watching the first two games. He is a hero from days gone by who should be laid to rest if for no other reason to preserve his legacy. When people think of Ronaldo they think of the player from '97 and '98 but he's not that player anymore. He's got all the individual and team accolades. His place in history is secured. He's just going through the motions and this point. Bench him and bring on Robinho. Robinho brings everything to the table that Ronaldo used to bring: speed and great technical ability when he's on the ball. The drawback to Robinho is that he doesn't finish as well and he's not a true center forward so if he's on the field the tactics would have to be changed to accomodate his talents.

The Spanish and Dutch team seem to have to understand this phenomenon. Van Basten left big name players like Edgar Davids, Clarence Seedorf, Patrick Kluivert and Roy Makaay back home in favor of younger players like Van Persie, Van der Vart and Robben. Robben has been a revelation in the Dutch team. He was single handedly responsible for seeing off the Serbians in their first game and in the second game against the Ivory Coast he played team ball and allowed Van Persie to get in on the action. The young Dutch team is playing with a sense of flair and adventure that they probably would not have if they were playing with the older players who were big names in the late 90s but today are washed up has beens.
Luis Aragones of Spain has also benched big name players in favor of talented youngsters. Instead of starting Raul, the golden boy of Spanish football, Aragones has gone with David Villa and Fernando Torres up front. Aragones also played 19 year old youngster Cesc Fabregas yesterday who was responsible for setting up the first two goals for Spain. The biggest surprise in the Cup for me has been how well Fernando Torres has played. I’ve always referred to El Nino as “El no no” because for all the hype surrounding him he hasn’t performed well on a big stage. However, what he has shown so far in the World Cup is if you surround him with good players he can be effective. He was given good service from Fabregas for his first goal against Tunisia which put them to rest. Granted, Ukraine and Tunisia aren't world beaters in international football but he is doing what he is supposed to: laying bums to rest. He scored a nice goal against the Ukraine with the one time volley off the Carles Puyol headed pass and scored two more against Tunisia and could have had a hat trick.
In truth, the Dutch and the Spaniards probably won’t be playing for the title on July 9th but with the young talent they have on the field they have given themselves a better chance than the French who are still holding on to the glory days of ’98. Brazil probably has enough talent to carry Ronaldo for a few more rounds of the tournament but I suspect if they come up against a strong side like Argentina they will need to have 11 players whose best days are still ahead of them.

Monday, June 19, 2006

U.S. ties Italy; Man Bites Dog.

In journalism school you are taught that 'dog bites man' is not news. It happens everyday. If man bites dog, however, you have news. Saturday's three World Cup matches were classic 'man bites dog' situations. First, the U.S. tied with Italy. This was an unexpected result for many reasons, especially since the U.S. looked so out of it against the Czech Republic. After getting back from Chicago and watching the game on Tivo the bizarre result made more sense given the way the game was played and officiated. When the referee doles out three red cards in a game it's as good a sign as any that he has lost control. First, notorious enfant terrible Daniele De Rossi elbows Brian McBride in the face. De Rossi is rewarded with an early trip to the showers for his troubles. At this point with the game tied 1-1 and the U.S. had to feel good with a man advantage. Cue Eddie Pope and Pablo Mastroeni to hit the self destruct button. Both players got sent off and with a full 42 minutes remaining the game is reduced to a circus. With so much open space on the field both teams had ample opportunities to go ahead in the game but some poor finishing and excellent goalkeeping kept both sides level at full time.

The second 'man bites dog' result was Ghana's 2-0 win over the Czech Republic. In truth, this could easily have been 4-0 or 5-0 as the Ghanaian midfield ran rampant for the entire game. Ghana's win was their first ever win in the World Cup and it sets them up to advance from the group if they can defeat the U.S. in their final group match. If they defeat the U.S. Ghana will have to do so without their two goalscores Muntari and Gyan who will both be suspended for the final game. Give Ghana credit for their win and the way they capitalized on the open space in midfield left by Nedved and Rosicky who were busy attacking and paid little attention to defensive duties. Whenever the Czech attack brokedown Essien, Appiah and Muntari had close to 20 yards of open space on the counterattack because the Czech midfield was playing too high up the field and the de fense was no pushing up. Had it not been for Petr Cech, Ghana could easily have scored four or five goals.

Finally, Portugal's 2-0 win over Iran booked their passage into the second round of the tournament. The result was never in doubt as goals by Deco and Ronaldo secured the victory. The reason this is significant is because the win gives Portugal their first appearance beyond the group stages since the days of Eusebio in '66. Much was expected out of Portugal's 'golden generation' of Luis Figo, Rui Costa, Jao Pinto, et al but they failed to live up to the hype at the senior level. Figo is the only one to realize his potential and it was nice seeing him out there as the Portuguese moved forward.

Sunday's Games were more of the 'dog bites man' variety. There was no surprise in the fact that Brazil defeated the Aussies 2-0. Two things stick out from this game: Ronaldo's poor play and Dida's shabby goalkeeping. Dida was out of position on at least three occasions and had Harry Kewell been a little more calm in front of goal the scoreline would have looked very different. A better team will make Brazil pay for Dida's mistakes if they continue. As for Ronaldo, the Brazilian attack has looked toothless when Ronaldo is in the game. At this point I see no reason for his inclusion in the starting XI for Brazil. The attack looks more dynamic when Robinho enters the game and there is more movement and interplay between the forwards and midfield. I've always supported Ronaldo because of his marksmanship in front of goal but I think that skill is no longer with him. Even if it is he isn't getting himself into positions to receive the ball and do something with it. . . . So far the best player for Brazil has been Kaka. With all the pre World Cup hype surrounding Ronaldinho it is Kaka who has impressed the most. Ronaldinho has drifted in and out of the first two games and has not made any significant contributions so far. I don't understand why the commentators have been jocking Brazil and talking about the "samba" and the "movement" and the "magic" when no such thing has been on display. They have looked a little above average, at best. They have done nothing in the first two games to suggest they are better than Argentina, Spain or even the Netherlands. Everyone knows they have the talent to win the Cup and they are still my favorites to do so but at this point they are looking like a very beatable unit.

France's 1-1 tie with South Korea also should not be surprising. Given their performance in their last five World Cup games the result should be expected. I thought France would win this game and after 45 minutes they looked very much the better team. An 81st minute Park Ji Sun goal however kept the scores level at the end of full time. Thierry Henry missed some chances that he would normally put away. His performance in the Champions League final and yesterday is only strengthening the argument that whenever the chips are down Henry normally folds. King of England he very well may be, but on the global stage he has done little to merit his title as the world's best forward. He's always been my favorite player so I've given him the benefit of the doubt at every turn but with every anonymous moment in a big game I find it harder and harder to defend him. The problem with the French team doesn't start and end with Henry. Zidane is a shell of his former self and he should be benched. He is not the player he was in '98 or even '02 when he helped Real Madrid win the Champions League. Right now he's a man living off reputation. He still has the so called 'feathery touch' but his movement and speed of thought both appear to have slowed to a crawl. France needs to make wholesale changes because after the Swiss 2-0 defeat of Togo this morning they need a big result against the Togolese to move on to the next round. Both Zidane and left back Eric Abidal will miss the game due to suspension. Look for Trezeguet to finally start alongside Henry and the French to use a 4-4-2 formation. . . . the Japan 0-0 draw with Croatia on Sunday is a typical 'dog bites man' situation and therefore doesn't merit any attention.

That's it and that's all. Admittedly, this post is a little dense but I had to fit in all the weekend's activities in one post since I was gone for four days. The blog will resume its daily updating schedule from here on out.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Second Half Diary: Czech Republic v. Ghana. Ghana 2 Czech 0

Just got back from my girlfriend's graduation and see that Ghana is leading the Czech Republic 1-0. Looks like Ghana scored in the second minute: fastest goal by an African team in the World Cup. This is as good a chance that an African team may have to advance to the second round. Let's get the second half underway.

Minute 46: The Czechs looked to have tied the game up with a Nedved header but he was offsides. Ghana's blushes are spared if only temporarily.

Minute 47: Already 4 mentions by the announcers that a Ghana victory will keep the U.S. hopes alive. No mention of that little thing about beating the Italians.

Minute 49: Lokvenc picks up a yellow card for fouling the Ghana midfielder. I didn't see the first half but I imagine not having Koller and Baros due to injury must have something to do with the Czechs failing to score in this game.

Minute 52: QUick kick by the keeper. Ghana back on the counterattack with a 2 against three the Ghana player skips by two Czechs to force Petr Cech into a great save. Corner kick for Ghana.

Minute 53: Is Ghana that good or were the U.S. that bad? Right now Ghana is four goals better than the U.S. in terms of their performance against the Czechs. The Ghana midfield just keeps on running. Besides their good ball skills the most impressive thing is that they never tire.

Minute 56: This looks more like Czech football. Great combination play from the midfielders. Ball played into the box and Rosicky dummies. Czech player drives the ball high at the keeper. Save. Corner for the Czechs.

Minute 58: Announcer claims that Ghana is running out of steam. I just don't see it. They seem to be running much harder than the Czechs and are defending and getting the ball into the attack quickly. Then again, I didn't see the first half but on the evidence of the first 14 minutes of the second half, Ghana looks the fresher team.

Minute 64: The Czechs are enjoying a good spell of possession but that final pass is missing. Not having a target man to finish off the impressive buildup play is probably what's frustrating the Czechs.

Minute 64: here come the Ghanaians on a swift counterattack. Ujfalusi brings down the Ghanaian attacker. PENALTY!!! THis is where Petr Cech will prove his worth possibly.

Minute 66: Red card given to Ujfalusi for dissent. The same guy who commit the foul. The penalty still hasn't been taken.

Minute 66:Asamoah Gyan misses. HE HIT THE POST!!!! Typically poor finishing by the Africans. Ghana cannot afford to hang their heads here. They're about 20 minutes away from the second round because surely they will defeat the U.S. in their final game. They need to hold on to this advantage.

Minute 70: Neither Rosicky nor Nedved seem to be given the time to dwell on the ball like they had against the U.S. The Ghana midfielders are shutting them down quickly and forcing them to think about the second pass as soon as they receive the ball. The only answer the Czechs have right now is the hopeful long ball. I think it all boils down to not having their two first choice forwards. It's similar to how poorly Brazil played when their forwards weren't on their game.

Minute 72: Another excellent save by Petr Cech. He's really keeping the Czechs in this game right now.

Minute 75: First real error from Cech. He comes out and leaves his goal wide open but Ghana tries to be a little too cute and fail to put away the Czechs. Right back come the Czechs and Rosicky wins a free kick.

Minute 78: More neat play by the Ghanaians around the box. Essien shoots and the shot is saved by Petr Cech.

Minute 79: Once more the Ghanaians come and once more Petr Cech saves. At this point it's clear that Petr Cech is good but the Ghanaians are poor finishers. GHana's forwards are shooting straight at Cech everytime. The goal is really big, you know.

Minute 82: FINALLY!!! Ghana beats Cech. It's 2-0. Muntari finishes off a good series of passes by Ghana. He goes high. Cech goes low. Worse yet, Cech is beaten at his near post, something I wouldn't expect. This is over 2-0. All Ghana has to do is beat the U.S. and they are in the second round. These Ghanaians are really hamming it up right now.

Minute 87: The announcers are talking about how the Ghanaians have taken it to the Cechs and indeed they have bue the point they are neglecting is that the Czechs have played without their top two forwards. The result has been that Rosicky and Nedved have had to be higher up the field without any cover and when they fail to score the Ghanaians have the middle of the field wide open to attack.

Minute 89: Ghana goal called back because of offsides. Ghana is just romping through the Czech defense right now but some typically poor decision making by Ghana is keeping the score respectable.

Minute 90: Ghana 2 Czech Republic 0. That's it and that's all. Ghana now needs to beat the U.S. and they are on to the next round. This turns the last day of the group play into something major because the Czech Republic v. Italy game which previously was expected to just stroll through and rest their top players now becomes crucial for the Czechs. Of course if Italy beats the U.S. they are through to the next round. Next up U.S. v. Italy. Time for me to eat lunch with the g/f and her family so I will be missing that game.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Halftime: Holland 2 Ivory Coast 1

A Robin Van Persie wonder goal from a free kick gave the Dutch a 1-0 lead then beautiful Dutch football ( series of four passes around the box) set up Van Nistelrooij to score the second for the Dutch. The only setback for the Dutch is an Arjen Robben yellow card for diving in the box in an attempt to win a penalty. It looked like there was contact to me though. A Didier Zokora shot from about 25 yards that cannoned off the bar is all the Ivory Coast has to show for their efforts for about 38 minutes until Barkari Kone went on a one man run to send a shot into the far post beyond the outstretched arms of Edwin Van Der Saar. After the goal, the Ivory Coast grew in confidence and should have tied the score had it not been for a poor pass by Drogba on a 2 on 1 counterattack which was broken up by Giovanni Von Bronkhorst. Prior to the five minute spell it was all the Dutch. Every attempted longball to Didier Drogba was being sent back by the Dutch as Johnny Heitinga is doing an excellent job controlling the big forward. Worse for the Ivory Coast, Drogba picked up his second yellow card of the first round for running into the Dutch keeper. This means that the Ivory Coast will have to play without their captain against Serbia & Montenegro.

The only cause for concern for the Dutch at this point is that as the first half comes to a close the Ivory Coast is dominating in midfield and putting the Dutch defense under pressure. Also, they have only had two shots on goal after about 40 minutes. However, their two shots have produced two goals. Despite the 2-1 scoreline, the Dutch are looking almost as good as Argentina at this point. That the Ivory Coast are being competitive in this game is a testament to their own attacking talent, but they lack the defensive organization necessary to keep out goals to give them a chance to win against top opponents. Their attack though has been as exciting as anyone else's in the Cup save for Argentina.

The Argentina v. matchup should be the game of the first round. It should be noted that the last time the tournament was held in Germany in 1974 the Dutch were in the finals. Just something to think about. The Dutch are up 2-1 at halftime. Looks like the Ivory Coast dream of moving to the next round is over. African teams have played six games now and they've only got one point to show for it. This can't be good.

Argentina 6 Serbia & Montenegro 0

I didn't think I'd get much of an opportunity to watch any soccer this weekend but I got up early enough to catch the Serbia v. Argentina game. Argentina won 6-0. Uhm, let's all just give the Argentines the cup right now. If Argentina can turn in this type of performance again in July I just don't see anyone beating them. At no point in the game did the Serbians look like they were going to threaten Argenina. It's a good thing that Serbia & Montenegro no longer exists(Montenegro is now its own sovereign state) because if they are going to show up to the World Cup playing like this they have no business here. They didn't command the ball. THey didn't tackle and they didn't attack. Much of that was due to Argentinian mastery because they had the game on ball and chain for 90 minutes. Everyone got in on the action including young Lionel Messi. For months, I've been the driver of the Messi bandwagon and it's nice to see him doing his thing in the World Cup. Within two minutes of coming on to the field Messi set Crespo up for his second goal of the World Cup and scored the sixth shortly thereafter.

Next up is Ivory Coast against the Netherlands. Unfortunately, I have to go buy some slacks to wear to this graduation so I will only catch the first half of the game. I've been on the Ivory Coast bandwagon and I'm really looking forward to them making a genius out of me.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Out of Commission.

Since I will be away at my girlfriend's graduation all weekend starting today, I will not be updating the blog until Sunday. Until then, though, I have added three new posts to keep those who visit this page occupied while I'm gone. Many thanks to everyone who visits the blog and thank you for your comments and criticism. I'll be missing all the weekend's games as I will be in various ceremonies. Well, only true love can get me to miss the world cup. I did think about bringing a Sirius Satellite Radio to the ceremonies so I wouldn't miss a beat. I came to my senses though...


So Brazil wins a game only 1-0 and suddenly it’s a cause for a world crisis. Forgive me, but I didn’t know the other 31 teams were supposed to show up simply to provide Brazil with a scrimmage on its way to its coronation. Brazil gets everyone’s best game because everyone wants to say they beat Brazil. The fact that they won, sustaining a strong challenge from the Croats is enough for me. “Three points is three points” seems to be the mantra of this World Cup. That being said, the Brazilians did not look as out of sorts as many people have reported. Sure, Ronaldo and Adriano looked like they were sleepwalking through the game, but the other nine players played an excellent game. Kaka showed up provided Brazil with a classy goal and Ronaldinho, though below his level of excellence did manage to have a decent impact on the game. Once the forwards start getting more involved in the game it may be trouble for the rest of the teams in the tournament. I picked Brazil before the tournament started and I still believe they have the best team in the tournament. Despite other teams looking much better than them in their first game, Czech Republic and Spain to name a few, we all know that this year’s World Cup will not be won in June. It is the team that looks the best in July that will lift the Jules Rimet trophy. Brazil showed up to win 7 games and take the trophy home. They have one of those victories out the way and there are six more to go. They’ve been in the finals of the last three World Cups and there is little to suggest to me that they will not be there this time around. The only potential pitfall is if Ronaldo truly is washed up and Adriano is as overweight and lazy as he seemed on Monday. These two players are key for Brazil because they are in charge of scoring the goals. They are the ones who are charged with the duty of finishing the hard work done by the midfield. Without an end product, the pretty football that Brazil plays is useless. Time will tell if Monday’s game was a harbinger of things to come, but I believe the Brazilians will get it right as they go forward…..

Ivory Coast v. Netherlands.
The Ivory Coast desperately need a victory here. They need a win if for no other reason than to validate my claim that they would be this tournament’s surprise team. Unfortunately they are playing one of the tournament favorites. The Dutch looked excellent in their opening match but there have been some problems in the Dutch camp with some players feeling like Arjen Robben was hogging the ball. Arjen Robben is not Diego Maradona. He can’t win the Cup by himself. If the Dutch are to progress they will need him healthy and fresh in July when it really matters. Now is not the time to be expending extra energy if you don’t need to. Allow the rest of your teammates to do some of the running and stay fresh so you can call on some reserves when you face teams like England and Portugal as the Cup progresses. As for the Ivory Coast, it’s pretty straightforward stuff: don’t give away the ball too easily and pass it to Drogba as much as you can and see what he can do with it. It’s that simple. If they don’t do this if they will lose. If they get Drogba the ball consistently then they have a shot at winning. . . . The crowd may play a factor in this game. The Dutch fans will be out in full force since they are so close to Germany. What should be a nice thing though is that since both teams’ primary color is Orange we should be able to see the stadium covered in Orange all around. Maybe the Ivory Coast will mistake some of the Dutch fans for their own. Something tells me though that the race difference will make it clear who is supporting who, despite the similar color of the jerseys. I’m going out on a limb and sticking with my pre-tournament pick that the Ivory Coast will beat the Dutch. Come on Elephants, make me look like a genius. Sidenote: this is the beauty of picking an underdog. If you are right you are a genius if you are wrong then what the heck the Dutch were clearly better what did you expect?

France v. South Korea:
France needs to score and then work from there. It's now 360 minutes since they've scored a world cup goal. They need to shake up the lineup a bit. That's it and that's all. Allez les Bleus!

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Africa Please Stand Up

The first round of the world cup is behind us and no team from Africa has won a game. Togo lost 2-1 to South Korea. Ivory Coast lost by the same margin to Argentina. Ghana were shut out 2-0 by Italy. Angola lost 1-0 to Portugal. Tunisia, who had the best chance and should have won, tied 2-2 with Saudi Arabia. Simply, this aint a good look for Africa. Are they just here to make up the numbers? The African continent has been badgering FIFA for an extra spot in the World Cup for years but when you go an entire round of the World Cup with just a single point from your five representatives, you don’t deserve an extra spot. In fact, one could argue that they should lose a spot based on their performances in the first round of games. Every other region has a win in the World Cup. It is a puzzling state of affairs because Africa has some of the top players in the world (Essien, Eto’o, Okocha, Drogba) yet they rarely show up with any consistency in the World Cup. All the African nations this time around, with the exception of Tunisia, are World Cup debutantes.
Traditional African powerhouses like Nigeria and Cameroon are back home watching the Cup in Lagos and Yaounde, respectively. There are myriad reasons why this is the case. First, there is a lack of resources to cultivate talent. Many of Africa’s most talented players are poached from their home countries at a young age and are developed into top players somewhere in Europe. If players were developed in their home country there would be a proliferation of talent on the continent but the European teams that take these players have no incentive to develop African football because by doing so they harm their own interests in maintaining their position of dominance. If this sounds a little too political, it’s totally unintended. The point is that because Africa does not have the resources to develop players many of the nations do not have the consistent flow of talent of players who can play the game at the top level unless they can make it to Europe to hone their skills. If they fail to do so they are stuck somewhere in Africa playing on dirt fields without adequate equipment. This is simply no way to prepare for a big match against Italy because countries like Italy has the resources to provide top training facilities, trainers and proper coaching.
It is not a question of talent because Africa produces great talent consistently. One need only look at the World Youth Championships where African nations are consistently either in the finals or winning the tournament. The problem is that as players get older and you have to rely on more than just raw talent, Africa gets left behind.
Another problem, which is related to the first, is that once the players make it to Europe they no longer feel an obligation to come back and play for their country when it’s time to do so. The ones who do often come back with a superstar attitude and don’t want to train with the team or ask for higher compensation than their teammates.

Still waiting for an African team to win a game at this World Cup.

Worse yet, the players end up developing a loyalty to their clubs because they pay them a salary that they could never make in Africa unless, of course, they were the head of a kleptocracy and appropriated the nation’s natural resources like oil and diamonds but that’s another discussion altogether. During qualifying many of Africa’s top players failed to show up for games because their clubs would not release them to play for their countries. For example, the gem of Nigeria, Jay Jay Okocha(so nice they had to name him twice) failed to show up for many of the country’s qualifiers because he was busy with his club games. Because the players don’t show up to help their nations qualify and take qualifying seriously there is no consistency in who makes it to the world cup. Moreover, many players who could qualify to play for African nations opt not to do so. Opting instead to gain naturalized citizenship in Europe and play for those countries instead of their country of birth. One need only look down the birthplace of some of the players on the French side and you will see what I’m talking about. Simply, there’s no reason a teams of such limited talents as Togo and Angola should be in the Cup over Nigeria and Cameroon. Togo and Angola, though, don’t have players playing in the top leagues in Europe so they may still feel a loyalty to their national team that helps them qualify for the World Cup over more talented opponents. The World Cup will be in South Africa in 2010. Under the sizzling African heat hopefully the Europeans will wilt and the Africans will probably finally have a performance befitting the massive amount of talent that exists on the continent.

U.S. v. Italy Preview

The U.S. game against Italy should be a no contest. It's not that the U.S. doesn't have a good team but they don't have the players who are as good as Totti, Toni, Cannavaro, Pirlo, et al. Make no mistake, if the U.S. were drawn in a group where they could play World Cup minnows such as Tunisia, Togo, or Trinidad they would likely be marching on and America would have something to feel good about, but the U.S. are among the big boys this time around and we are seeing just how far they have to go before they can be among soccer's elite nations. Landon Donovan can dominate MLS but he isn't ready to be among world beaters like Totti Nedved and Rosicky. He doesn't have the ability to play with consistency against top teams. Sure, he can produce a moment of magic to get you a goal. Against top opponents you need to be on top of your game for 90 minutes and Donovan isn't ready to sweep aside players the class of which he will be facing over the next week or so. This is unfortunate because everyone was looking forward to the U.S. building on their performance from '02. I certainly wanted to see the U.S. do better because I have a vested interest in seeing the game flourish in America. I don't want to have to wait until I go to Oktoberfest to see a Bayern Munich match in order to see a good game. It would be nice if I could see a top game on U.S. soil but I don't think America is there yet.

The World Cup performance in '02 was a little overblown. Sure, they got to the quarterfinals which is a difficult feat but they didn't really beat anyone of repute. They ran rampant against Portugal but Portugal are far from world beaters. Since the days of the "Black Pearl" Eusebio in the 60s the Portuguese haven't really done much on the world stage. The U.S. should be credited for hanging in there with eventual finalists Germany but we shouldn't get carried away. The U.d. like many upstart nations are capable of a flash in the pan performance but they are not yet expected to do well consistently. A few examples will illustrate this point. Turkey made it to the semifinals in '02 and are not in the tournament this time around. Cameroon were quarterfinalists in 1990. They are watching the '06 cup somewhere in Yaoundé. Denmark were in the quarterfinals in 1998 and went out in the first round in 2002 and aren't even in the tournament in '06. I give these examples simply to show that flukes happen in the world cup and the U.S. performance was just that, a fluke. That doesn't mean they don't have a solid squad but they are not yet at the level of consistency that we have come to expect from the likes of Brazil, Argentina, Germany and Italy.

I think the reason many Americans are disappointed in the U.S. team's performance agains the Czech Republic is twofold. First, there was a lot of hype around this team leading up to the cup and they were touted as "the best American team ever." That they may be but Americans read that as 'we have one of the best teams ever' in the Cup.

U.S. Coach Bruce Arena has the look of a man devoid of ideas.

This led everyone to believe that they were going to show up and run rampant in their group and they were seriously humbled by the Czech Republic. The Czechs gave them a real beating and only the Ukraine's performance against Spain was worst. The second reason is that America is obsessed with Rankings. We are the home of the BCS and the AP Top 25. We look to rankings to give us an indication of who is good. Since the U.S. were ranked fifth by FIFA we all believed that they were the fifth best team in the world but the FIFA rankings don't weigh "strength of schedule" so to speak. So while England is playing warming up by playing the Netherlands, Germany and Spain(all teams of top pedigree) the U.S. is playing nations like Jamaica, Panama and Barbados...places known more for their nice beaches than their soccer pedigree. Playing these teams do not give us an indication of how good the U.S. is in relation to other top countries but because FIFA's rankings only look at the result and not the opponent the U.S. ended up with an inflated ranking.

I understand I'm getting well ahead of myself here because the U.S. could very well defeat Italy and end up beating Ghana and progressing to the next round. As much as I would love to see this happen, I doubt the likelihood of this outcome. Here's how I see the Italy match playing out: The U.S. comes out attacking wildly putting the Italians under pressure early. The Italians keep them at bay for the first ten minutes. The U.S. continues to come at the Italians and finally a carelss pass by the U.S. leads to the Italians counterattacking. After a few swift passes it's 1-0 Italy and we are back to another Czech Republic situation. I don't think the Italians will blow out the U.S. because they tend to be defensive minded and as we saw in the Ghana game, they do give their opponents an opportunity to get back in the game. I don't think the U.S. has midfielders the class of Michael Essien and Stephen Appiah to capitalize on this. If the U.S. beat Italy I will be the first to say I was wrong and own up to my idiocy but come on. The Italians haven't lost in 19 games. They looked impressive against a strong Ghana side and unlike previous Italian teams they showed a desire to attack first and defend later. If Luca Toni and Gillardino show up and play in a similar way that they played against Ghana it's lights out for the U.S. on Saturday. Additionally, the U.S. have never won a game in Europe. Who in their right mind would pick them unless they were influenced by blind nationalism?

Spain 4 Ukraine 0

Ukrainians brushed aside from the word go. This was a no contest. IT wasn't so much shambolic defending from the Ukrainians as it was simply scintillating stuff from the Spaniards. They had the Ukraine chasing shadows in midfield for the entire game. Whenever the Spaniards had the ball it looked like they could score at will. This should be a great confidence boost for Spain but the World Cup isn't won in the opening game and there's still plenty of time left for them to choke like they do in every tournament. At least for now Spain is looking better than anyone else has so far in Germany. With the 4-0 win Spain now has the highest margin of victory and the Ukrainians have taken over last place in the World Cup from the U.S.

Spain up 2-0 at halftime.

It's halftime and the Spaniards have a two goal lead. So far they've looked as impressive as anyone else in the tournament. They are controlling the ball and passing it well in tight spaces. The Ukrainians seem to have your typical 'happy to be here' demeanor of first times in the World Cup. The Spaniards had 60% of the possession and whenever they had it they always looked likely to score. Their first goal came on a corner from Xavi that was put in by Xabi Alonso. Spain's second came on a deflected David Villa free kick and just like that they were up 2-0 and bossing the game.

Right now the Ukrainians only job is to keep the score down and not end up getting embarassed like the Americans who currently are in last place in the World Cup. So much for that top five ranking by FIFA.(You don't prepare for the Czechs and Italians by playing Panama and Barbados).

(Spaniards awarded a very dubious penalty to start the second half and suddenly they are up 3-0)

Random Thoughts....

Am I the only one tired of ESPN's announcers' lack of knowledge about the game? Instead of analyzing all they do is cheerlead. In yesterday's Brazil game you could hear the announcer's saying "the ball is like a yo yo to the Brazilians." That it may be but it sure didn't look like it yesterday when the Croats packed the midfield with five players and slowed the game down considerably.

When will an African team finally get a poin in this world cup? Pele said by 2000 an African team would win the World Cup. Needless to say he was woefully wrong and there are a slew of reasons this hasn't happened yet but would it be too much to ask for one of them to show up and play well? My guess is Tunisia will take three points off Saudi Arabia today.

Will everyone stop bashing the U.S. for getting crushed by a superior team? It's not like they lost to Togo. They lost to the Czechs who by an large had a better player at every position than the U.S. did. To lose 3-0 is embarassing but no objective observer that I spoke with gave the U.S. any chance to win this game. Ditto for their game against Italy.

Is it just me or does Ronaldo look woefully out of place on a soccer field recently? It's not just yesterday's game but all through this past season for Real Madrid. I thought he would turn it on for the Cup but he's continued his dismal display in Germany. What's worse is that there's no adequate replacement for a player of his talents so he may end up playing in all three games in the group phase.

With France failing to score a World Cup goal in 360 minutes, isn't it time to shake the squad up a little bit. The old gang, Zidane, Thuram and Makelele should all be benched. Domenech is probably kicking himself for not bringing Ludovic Giuly to the World Cup. Aragones had the balls to bench Raul and the Spaniards are currently doing the Flamenco all over the Ukrainians. Maybe Domenech should look to bench some of his stars who are beyond their prime.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

France 0 Switzerland 0

France looked pretty rubbish in this game. It's now been 360 minutes since the French last scored a goal in World Cup play(Emmanuel Petit in the 90th minute of the '98 final against Brazil). Thierry Henry did little to silence his critics that he is notoriously missing in big games as he failed to impose his will on the Swiss in this game. All the worst fears of French fans were confirmed as they looked disjointed for the parts of the game I was able to catch. The return of Zidane, Makelele and Thuram was enough to get the French through the qualifiers but much needs to change if they intend to get a win off the South Koreans in what is now suddenly a must win game. In truth, the French were lucky to escape this game with a point as Switzerland had a clear opportunity to win the game in stoppage time but Alexander Frei placed his header wide. South Korea is now on top of the group with three points after their 2-1 win over Togo.

Next up: Brazil v. Croatia. I'll be sneaking down to the conference room on the 7th floor to keep tabs on this one.

Today's Action.

The World Cup kicked off on Friday but everyone knows the tournament doesn't really start until Brazil plays. The Brazilians square off against Croatia today and everyone is expecting a victory for Brazil. It would nice to see the Croats keeping it close. If the Brazilians win big suddenly it starts looking like the other 31 teams are just here to make up the numbers and give Brazil a workout.

What to Watch For:
The Brazilian attack features Ronaldo, Adriano, Ronaldinho and Kaka. It should be a beauty to watch these four players link up with each other. Though Ronaldinho has received much of the press leading up to the tournament, it is likely that the difference for Brazil in this tournament will be the finishing of Ronaldo and Adriano. Since Ronaldinho's been jettisoned to the left wing it will be up to the players who are left to play center forward -- Ronaldo and Adriano -- to score the goals. They are more than capable. Another thing to keep an eye on will be to see how Kaka and Ronaldinho play together. I've always felt like whenever Kaka plays you need two balls on the field: one for Kaka and one for the rest of the team. . . . The Croatian player to watch in this one is forward Dado Prso

Today's Other Games:

France v. Switzerland:
These two teams were paired in the same qualifying group for the world cup so they are familiar with each other. All eyes in this one will be on Thierry Henry. Henry needs a big game here no doubt about it. The surprise package in this one could be World Cup debutante Franck Ribery. The young frechman is an exciting winger and it should be interesting to see how he fits into the French team.

Togo v. S. Korea:

Currently in the 55th Minute and tied 1-1. Togo are down to ten men. Togo are playing much better than expected. I expected them to look like a bunch of donkeys in this one but they're looking good against the quarterfinalists from '02.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Who Da Man?

France and Brazil kickoff their world cup campaigns today. This means all eyes will be on arguably the two best players in the world: Thierry Henry and Ronaldinho. The burning question is which one is the best player. Both players have already won the world cup with Henry winning with the France squad of '98 and Ronaldinho winning it with Brazil in '02. Henry has also won the European Cup with France at Euro 2000. Additionally, both players are excellent at club level as well. Prior to the infusion of Russian capital at Chelsea Henry led Arsenal to two league titles, the most memorable of which came in 2003 when Arsenal went through the league without losing a single game, a feat that hadn't happened in England's top flight in over a century. Ronaldinho has been equally impressive leading Barcelona to two consecutive league titles in La Liga and also leading the Catalan giants to the champions league title this year over Thierry Henry's Arsenal.

Though both players have already won the World Cup they both still have something to prove as this time around they are expected to contribute more than they did when the won the cup. In '98 Henry was a young forward with little experience or responsibilities. Indeed, he did not play in the final game of the '98 tournament and that was Zidane's team anyway. Similarly, in 2002 Brazil was Ronaldo's team. Though Ronaldinho made key contributions it was Ronaldo who won the golden boot and scored the two goals against Germany in the final game. This time around the pressure will be squarely on each player to deliver. A strong case can be made for either player being the best in the world and I will try to do just that.

The case for Henry:
Henry's greatest strength is that he has no weakness. He scores goals and creates goals. In 2002, Henry lead the premier league in goals and assists. He has scored at least 25 goals in the past four seasons for Arsenal. His combination of speed and precision is deadly because as we have seen at this world cup there are many forwards who can get open for a shot but very few are clinical in their finishing in front of goal. Henry is one of those forwards. Another beauty of Henry's game is that he can play anywhere on the field in an attacking position. He's not a traditional forward in the sense that he is not always central. He pops up all over the field, on the left wing, in the center of midfield or around the box. If there is one criticism that can be levelled against Henry it's that he hardly scores a goal with his head and he sometimes over elaborates and doesn't make the straightforward play.

The Case for Ronaldinho:

At only 26 years old Ronaldinho is already in the conversation of greatest player ever. If he leads Brazil to the world cup this summer his only peers will be Pele and Maradona. He's won the world player of the year the past two years and has won the award as Europe's top footballer twice. It's hard to argue with his accolades: world cup winner, two time spanish league winner, champions league winner and winner of the confederations cup(utterly meaningless but an accolade nonetheless). He is an irrepressible character on the field. It seems that no matter where you place him he exerts his influence on the game. To see him with the ball at his feet is always a privilege and a sight of horror for opposing defenders. Unlike Henry, his talents aren't as easily quantifiable in goals and assists. His teammates are often the benefactors of his hard work. For example, Rivaldo will be credited with the goal that equalized the game with England in the quarterfinals of '02 but if you remember it was Ronaldinho who picked the ball up at midfield and turned Ashley Cole inside out and laid the ball on a platter for Rivaldo to finish. That play was typical Ronaldinho. In his three years at Barcelona the team went from not winning the league in six years to winning the league twice and winning the champions league for only the second time in their storied history.

So...who's better? It's hard to say but it is difficult to argue against Ronaldinho given his individual accolades as two time world player of the year. Despite what opinions exist right now it will likely be settled over the next month. In the end, I think it will be the man in the yellow jersey and the funny looking teeth hoisting the Jules Rimet Trophy.