Friday, July 30, 2010

Feel Good Friday: Crowded House Reggae Remix

For reasons I cannot clearly or concisely explain, this reggae remix of Crowded House's 80s hit "Don't Dream It's Over" was randomly happened across today by my coworker and became a massive and long-lasting hit in the office.

"Hey mon, heeeeey mon, don't dream it's over..."

Reminds me of driving around in Hawaii, as damn near every channel plays reggae or lite rock hits from yesteryear remixed as reggae. There are certainly worse things to me reminded of by a song that cruising down the road in Hawaii with the top down, your sweetie by your side, and a coconut water in your hand.

Anyhow, there it is. I think this song actually crosses the International Bad Line: it is so bad, that it actually rules. Have a great weekend.

El Diego Goes Gentle Into That Good Night

Diego Maradona was not retained as manager of Argentina's national football team this week, so when he called a presser (at the Ezeiza Holiday Inn of all places), I was looking forward to a truly epic parting shot. After all, this is the man who, among other things, told all of his doubters in Argentina to "Suck it. And keep on sucking" when Argentina qualified for World Cup 2010, and who then ran over a cameraman's leg and then told said cameraman he was an asshole for putting his leg under El Diego's car.

So when he calmly read a prepared statement where he said that the men who run Argentine football lied to him and betrayed him, then calmly left without taking questions, you can imagine my disappointment. Admittedly the bar has been set ridiculously high, but this was going out with a whimper for the one and only El Diego.

His legacy and tenure will be debated for years to come, but for me his legacy will be that at age 49 he still seemed like one of the first people in the world to learn how to bend the infamous Jabulani ball, and perhaps even gave the cheat code to the players at the World Cup who were clearly baffled by it in the first week of the competition.

49 year old shows the young bucks how Jabulani is tamed

One thing is for sure: the international soccer scene just got a hell of a lot less interesting and fun. Long live El Diego the insane genius manager.

Colorado Ticket Update, Current Options, Analysis

One way or another, I'll be up in here on Oct 2.
(photo courtesy of


I called the Colorado ticket office today and confirmed a few things that will be of interest to any Dawgs going to Boulder in 9 weeks time:

1. Single game tickets do indeed go on sale August 2

2. CU has reversed course and now single game tickets will *not* be made available to the Georgia game (annoying considering how reasonably priced they were going to be)

3. Group ticket sales will *not* be available for the Georgia game

4. The only way to purchase a CU-UGA ticket from the CU athletic department is by ordering a full season ticket or a "3PACK"

What is a 3PACK?

While not advertised in any way on their website, the CU ticket office is offering a 'promotion' called the 3PACK, which will allow anyone to purchase a ticket to 3 games: Hawaii, Georgia, and Kansas State. Endzone 3PACK tickets start at $130 and go up (considerably) from there. To view and/or purchase these tickets, go to this page and enter 3PACK in the promotional code field, and then click on "National Championship Pack"

Here are the currently known ways to get CU-UGA tickets:

1. UGA Athletic Department. The cutoff score was 38,500, which means two things: 1) Colorado didn't give UGA that many tickets and b) only those whose lifetime UGA contributor status is "baller" will be getting tickets from UGA. If you are not one of them, or don't know one of them, I am guessing that more than a few people bought them who are not going, and that there will be a small secondary market for these on the UGA message boards.

2. Colorado Athletic Department 3PACK(Hawaii, Georgia, Kansas State). End zone tickets are $130, while "best available" are currently sideline tickets that run $291 each

3. Their page for Colorado-Georgia currently shows tickets ranging from $106 to $495

4. Bring Cash to Boulder. Below is a seating chart for Colorado home games at Folsom Field. The red sections (2, 3, 101, 102) are labeled "visitors", so this is what CU has given to UGA and where the bulk of UGA fans as well as the band will be sitting. Use this knowledge accordingly in your ticket acquisition hustle.

Additionally, CU has a sweet interactive seating chart which shows you what your view of the game will be (just click on any section of the map to see your view). This is very helpful; spend a few minutes looking at different places around the stadium, which should then inform your seat desirability/willingness to pay matrix as you work on getting your tickets.

The 3PACK is pretty overpriced, and should be used only by people with a conservative bent towards the 'secondary' ticket market or those in groups greater than 4 who place sitting together with their friends as a higher priority than cost. In my humble opinion the Hawaii and Kansas State games are very weak and don't have much if any resale value

StubHub is similarly overpriced, although this is almost always the case this far out from a game. Worth bookmarking the page and checking back between now and the game. At current prices for endzone seats ($125 plus stubhub fees), it would be smarter to just get the 3 pack for $130 and then hope to get a little of your money back on the others by selling them at a massive discount on Craigslist or team message/ticket boards.

I think in this case option 4 may well be the best bet, and waiting and playing chicken is probably the way to go at the moment. Worst case scenario is that it is indeed a hot ticket and you end up paying $100-150 per ticket in Boulder the day of the game or day before, but even if you do that is equal to the current options for crappy seats, and I think the odds of this scenario coming to pass are less than 20%.

Frankly, Colorado have been a poor team the past few years and there is no reason to believe that they won't be poor again this year. They have 3 games before we arrive in Boulder: v. Colorado State, @ Cal, v. Hawaii. On paper they beat Hawaii and lose at Cal, and 2 of the last 4 years they have lost to in-state rival Colorado State, so they may well be 2-1 or even 1-2 come October 2. Either of these scenarios should ease the ticket market, especially if they are 1-2: after the crap seasons they've had recently, there's a decent chance their fans will already start to give up on the season and the ticket prices will drop considerably. If you went to Arizona State in 2008 then you know how a hot ticket can lose literally all of its value- an unexpected ASU home loss to UNLV made our extras *literally* worthless. I understand that CU fans are far less fairweather than ASU fans, but you get my point.

Additionally, there is no reason to assume that Georgia will roll into Boulder undefeated at 4-0 and/or even ranked, especially with a freshman quarterback and the fact that we were pretty crap ourselves last year. It is well within the realm of possibility that we lose to South Carolina or Arkansas or at Mississippi State, or more than one of those, taking further shine off the game and thus ticket demand and prices.

This makes me feel that waiting it out at least until the first 2 weeks of the season have been played is the wise move here. Anyhow, agree or not, this is the current situation and these are your options.

See you in Boulder in 9 weeks.

Our last conquest: Arizona State 2008.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Antibiotics To The Rescue

I'm just about back to the land of the living, and I can only say that sinus infections ain't no joke.

Normal service *should* resume tomorrow, although lots of life events may conspire in an attempt to prevent that from happening. However, I am confident that I can overcome these and deliver some more mediocre content to the few dozen people who come here to be entertained or waste time while at the office.

Again, apologies.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Feel Good Friday: No More Trouble

Apologies for the lack of posting this week; I've been recovering from crazy travel adventures and also sick pretty much all week. Hopefully a weekend of rest and normal service can resume on Monday.

I leave you with Bob Marley & The Wailers live from Oakland Auditorium in 1979, performing War/No More Trouble, the latter of which sums up how my body is feeling today.

Take care, have a great weekend.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Thierry Henry Makes MLS Debut Tonight. Against Spurs. Think He'll Be Up For It?

So the New York Red Bulls did sign Thierry Henry after all, as I reported here three weeks ago, back when it was the worst kept secret in soccer. Tonight he makes his MLS debut in an exhibition match against a little outfit called Tottenham Hotspur (5pm PST, Fox Soccer Channel). You think TH14 will be up for it?

Henry scored 226 goals for Arsenal, but always lists this one as his favorite.

Here is what he said last week about his first match in the US:

"I won't even mention the name of the team that we are going to play
on the 22nd. That's how big a rivalry is it for me."

This is a treat for US viewers, because the opponent pretty much guarantees that we'll see all out effort from TH14 rather than the usual exhibition match going through the motions routine. After all, we are talking about a man who has this picture on his wall at home...

"Whenever I look at the picture I always see new faces." -TH14

...and says he looks at it often and that it is one of his favorite pictures.

He may be 32 and a bit over the hill for a full season in the EPL or La Liga at the top, top level, but make no mistake- Thierry Henry will do very well in MLS and score lots & lots of goals; as it is he is probably the best player in the league right now. And he will play tonight like it is a cup final; this is a mercurial, Gallic player who is heavily influenced by emotions and mood- he can range from giving 100% for 90 minutes to sulking his way right out of a game if things are not to his liking. So don't be surprised if he scores a goal or two against Spurs tonight (which would suit me just fine).

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Coming In From The Cold

Forget premier, medallion, and all of that- my travel status is BALLER.

At Dulles. Back on the grid for the 1st time in 8 days; for Sprint the state of New Hampshire apparently ends at Concord. Will be home tonight/tomorrow, and regular service should resume shortly thereafter. Thanks & sorry.

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Sunday, July 11, 2010

Netherlands-Spain World Cup Final. What To Watch For. Like All Spain Matches, It's All About Who Scores First

Unless this is your first time to this site, then you already know what the key to this game is. Like any game involving this Spain team, the key to the game is which team scores first. Given their superior possession game, if Spain score first I don't think they will lose to Netherlands or Brasil or anyone else. On the other hand, if Holland score first, then Spain will be in significant trouble. Remember that their only 2 losses in the last 3 years were to USA and Switzerland, and in both matches the opponent scores first and went on to win. Given that Holland are significantly more dangerous and talented than Switzerland or the USA, if they score first they have an excellent chance to lift the World Cup. If Spain score first, I think they will win the World Cup.

We've also been over this many times, but given that I picked Spain to win World Cup 2006, picked Spain to win Euro 2008, and picked Spain to win this World Cup, I was on the bandwagon before it was built. In fact, much like Mike Mulligan & His Steam Shovel, the bandwagon was built around me like the new town hall was built around them. As such, there is no backing down now, and the pick is Spain.

I ran the numbers on the world cup pool I'm currently leading- if Spain win I net $465, while if Holland win I'm guaranteed 2nd place which will net me $93. Pretty good either way for the $20 buy in, but obviously Spain is also the pick of my wallet.

Enjoy the match, for tomorrow there is no more world class soccer until the Premier League starts up on Saturday August 15 (Liverpool-Arsenal 1st day fixture!).

Vamos Espana!

Carlo's Corner: Netherlands-Holland World Cup Final Preview

Friend of the show Carlo returns to preview the World Cup final. Enjoy. -Kanu

As many others have stated, this final features the two nations with the proudest footballing histories to have never won the World Cup. These teams also share the distinction of being arguably the two most dominant teams of the past 18 months, with neither having dropped a single point during World Cup qualifying.

Holland has continued its winning ways in the World Cup and is looking to achieve a perfect record in the tournament. Spain suffered an early setback, losing its first match 1-0 to Switzerland, but has since gone on to win all of its fixtures.

Throughout the tournament, Bert van Marwijk's side has looked to maintain possession while slowly working the ball towards its attacking players. In this match, the Dutch will likely find themselves in the strange position of not having the lion's share of possession. If the Spanish begin to dominate possession, as they have against every team they have played for the past couple years, van Marwijk will be faced with an interesting tactical dilemma. With the exception of Chile, every team the Spanish have faced has elected to put 8,9, or 10 men behind the ball and defend deeply, while hoping to strike on the counter. While this strategy worked for Switzerland, it has failed for the rest of Spain's opponents, with all three of its knockout round foes failing to score a single goal. If Spain dominates possession, will van Marwijk instruct his players to sit back and defend and play on the counter, or will he have them defend higher up the field in an effort to gain control of the midfield? The Dutch haven't shown themselves to be a counter-attacking side thus far, but if they lose the central midfield battle, they may feel as though there only option is to play in this manner.

With question marks still surrounding the Dutch central defense, the pressure will be on defensive midfielders Mark van Bommel and Nigel de Jong to provide as much cover as possible for the Dutch defense. In addition, at least two of HOlland's four attack-minded players will be asked to do a lot of defending, with the tournament's co-leading scorer Wesley Sneijder dropping deeper to help van Bommel and de Jong in midfield, and winger Dirk Kuyt tracking Sergio Ramos whenever he makes forward runs from his right back position.

When the Dutch do have the ball, expect them to look to find Arjen Robben. His matchup against Spanish left back Joan Capdevila may be the only area where Holland has a distinct advantage. Capdevila doesn't have the pace to keep up with Robben, so Spain may have one of its midfielders double team Robben whenever he is in possession.

Overall, it's hard to see Spain losing this match. Although the Dutch attacking players have the quality to trouble the Spanish defense, because of Spain's ability to control the game with their passing and movement, opportunities to get at Spain's defense may be few and far between. While Holland's defense has performed much better than expected, it may be asking too much to expect them to keep Spain at bay for the entire match.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Uruguay-Germany Preview: Motivation May Trump Talent

The key to this game, like most 3rd place games, is motivation, as by nature the consolation game is anticlimactic for any team that just a few days ago knew that they were 90 minutes from the final and 180 minutes from being world champions. Germany have been to the semifinals 12 times in the last 15 world cups, so this may be a bit of old hat for them and I'm not sure how much they will be up for it. Uruguay on the other hand seem to be really motivated to finish 3rd. After the loss to Netherlands, when asked whether this World Cup has been a success for Uruguay, their coach said something to the effect of* "it depends on the 3rd place game. For us, there is a big difference between 3rd or 4th." As such, don't be surprised if Uruguay seem to want it a little more and play with a bith more intensity, while perhaps Germany will struggle a bit to mentally get themselves out of going through the motions to playing with pride and intensity. After all, 3rd place in the World Cup for Germany, 3 time winners, 4 times runners-up, and 12 time semifinalists, isn't as big a deal to them as it would be for Uruguay (winners in 1930 and 1950, and semifinalists in 1970, but since then they have not done much of anything).

Motivation aside, this is a great match to watch, as each team returns to full strength after really struggling with the absence of a key offensive weapon in their respective semifinal losses. Luis Suarez returns for Uruguay, which fully restores them to a two-headed monster up front, while Thomas Muller returns for Germany. While not as noticed as Suarez for his importance to the team, Muller had a hand in more than half of Germany's record high goals in this World Cup, scoring or assisting on 7 of their 13 goals.

Tactically this is also a great matchup, as Uruguay are a solid defensive team who are well organized and difficult to break down, and their primary objective is to keep a clean sheet by using their defense & midfield to stifle their opponents, then relying on superscorers Forlan & Suarez to get them goals- these two have scored all but two of Uruguay's goals at this World Cup. Germany on the other hand like to play offensive attacking soccer, either outright or on the counterattack, so this has the potential to be a wonderful spectacle for the neutrals, especially if an early goal or two opens up the game.

On paper, I think Germany's offense with Muller back would be too much for even Uruguay's defense, and they would be the pick to win. If you're more into intangibles, I think this game means much more to Uruguay and they will play with more intensity than Germany, who may have a hard time getting out of going through the motions mode.

For that reason, there is no pick, as it is too close to call. Rather, I'll just try to enjoy what could be a great game to watch**.

*as I am off the grid and don't have the ability to google the quote I saw last week an get it exact, I am paraphrasing here.

**I will be enjoying this match in a week when I return home and catch a replay, so there will not be any instant analysis match report today.

Friday, July 9, 2010

If Spain Win Sunday, Where Would They Rank?

By no means am I putting the cart before the horse, but 4 years ago before the final we had an interesting discussion here along the same lines. Namely, we pondered that *if* Zidane led France to victory in the 2006 World Cup, where would he rank among the all time greatest players? Obviously that did not come to pass, but it was quite an interesting discussion.

So *if* Spain win Sunday, they would be reigning European & World Champions, and would have only lost 2 of their last 60 or so competitive matches, while becoming the first team ever to lose their opening World Cup match and go on to win the tournament. Where would you put them among the all time great teams?

Off the top of my head, the all time great teams include(not necessarily in order but as a group):

Hungary 1950-1954 (sorry Netherlands, this is the best team to never win World Cup)
Uruguay 1924-1930
Brasil 1958-1962
West Germany 1972-1974
Brasil 1970
Netherlands 1970-1978
France 1998-2001

Brasil 70 has taken on a life force of it's own with regard to best team ever discussions, but these other teams all had sustained success over multiple tournaments/extended time periods, not just one (of course Brasil 70 can be viewed as the culmination of Brasil 1958-70, so no problem there). I am probably forgetting a couple, as I'm sitting in Cleveland airport at 7am after a no sleep redeye, but these are the main ones that come to mind.

Where would you put Spain? In this group? For me they would join this group. Beyond that, how would you rank these teams, or how would you group them into different echelons?

NASA Tests Jabulani, And Confirm What We Already Know

The Jabulani has received so much attention that now scientists at NASA have performed 'scientific' tests on the infamous World Cup 2010 match ball. They found it to be "unpredictable at speeds above 44 mph".

So they basically have just confirmed what we already knew.

(hat tip to Jo Jo The Wine Sherpa)

Thursday, July 8, 2010


Flying out of town tonight, had to get about 30 hours of work done in 8 hours, and a bunch of personal stuff as well.

Anyhow, apologies for the radio silence today. I've got some interesting stuff coming tomorrow so have a great night & check back then.


Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Spain 1-0 Germany. Instant Analysis: Santo Iker- Dos, Espana- Uno, Y Alemania- Cero.

For me this was the World Cup final. What I mean by that is that as the match started, I thought that Germany and Spain were the two best teams of the three still alive in the tournament, and that whoever won this match would go on to defeat Netherlands in the final.

Spain played their best match of the tournament thusfar and dominated from the beginning, always seeming to be in control and more likely to score. They played solid defense and after 70 minutes their control, calm, possession, and patience were rewarded when Puyol headed in a great cross from the left to make it 1-0 to Spain. And once Spain were up 1-0, you knew that they were in the catbird seat and would most likely win. Which they did.

The key once again was Saint Iker, whose 2 outstanding saves kept the match 0-0. With all the attention being paid to the amazing talent in the outfield, Iker Casillas has quietly been this team's most valuable player by far, and without the best goalkeeper in the world they may very well not have escaped the first round, let alone marched all the way to the final. Here's hoping he gets more credit than the world media has given him thusfar, for he is the #1 reason that Spain will be playing for the championship of the world on Sunday.

For Germany, there is no shame in losing to Spain again, as they did in the Euro 2008 final. In both instances they lost by 1 goal to the best team on the planet, and if Spain go on to win the World Cup on Sunday, to one of the top teams ever(more on where Spain would rank if they do win this world cup either tomorrow or Friday, so save your comments on that for later). Germany are very young, insanely talented, and suddenly play swashbuckling beautiful attacking soccer- their future is very bright and any smart football punter would get down to the betting shop in the next week or month and put a fiver or a hundy on them to win Euro 2012(of course they may likely have to unseat Spain to do so, but those two will most likely be the favorites, while Germany will offer a better value, especially right now). Also, don't forget that they made this great run without their veteran captain Michael Ballack, who I suspect has no intention of quitting international soccer anytime soon. Germany are on the rise.

So Spain v Holland on Sunday at 11.30am PST on ABC*. We are now guaranteed to have a new World Cup champion, as well as the first European team to win the World Cup on foreign soil. After a dreadful first round of group stage matches, it has been a wonderful tournament full of drama, excitement, great soccer, and many many firsts.

Oh, and Paul The Octopus is now 6 for 6 predicting the German matches in this World Cup, and 10-1 overall since he started picking in Euro 2008. Somebody get that squid to Vegas.

As happy as I am that I predicted the final, and that I stand to win over $500 if Spain win on Sunday, make no mistake- the best part is that my wife is happy :)

Ahora, mi bonita es muy feliz.

*3rd place game will be Uruguay v Germany on Saturday at 11.30am PST on ESPN.

Germany-Spain. What To Watch For

Muller is suspended, Cesc picked up an injury and may not be able to play, but for me this match all comes down to one thing: The team that scores first will win. As I explained in great detail before the quarterfinals, Spain are the hardest team in the world to come from behind against, and if they score first I think they win. On the other hand, if they concede then they are in big trouble, and the odds of them conceding first against Germany are higher than anyone else in the tournament, including Holland. Germany are the tournament highest scoring team with 13 goals, and they have beaten Australia 4-0, England 4-1, and Argentina 4-0, becoming the 1st team ever to score 4 goals in both the round of 16 and the quarterfinals as well as the first team to win both round of 16 and quarterfinal by at least 3 goals.

I can't pick against Spain now. After all:

I picked them to win World Cup 2006
I picked them to win Euro 2008 and beat Germany in the final
I picked them to win this World Cup over Netherlands in the final
I am in 1st place in my World Cup pool and stand to win over $500 if the win the tournament

So I can't pick against them now, as 1) I was on the bandwagon before the bandwagon had wheels and 2) I stand to profit handsomely if they go on to win.

However, if all of the above were not true and I was handicapping this match in a vacuum, I would pick Germany for their performances to date and the fact that they have as good a chance as anyone ever will to score 1st against Spain and take away their greatest strength.

So I'll middle it and simply say: If Spain score first, they will win. If Germany score first, they will win.

Oh, and if it goes to penalties, of course Germany will win.

Paul The Octopus. Most Famous Animal In Germany

***Update*** Spain 1-0 Germany. Paul is now 6 for 6 in WC2010 and 10-1 overall. Somebody get this squid to Vegas.

If you're American and have had a child in the last 10 years, then you know who Henry The Octopus is. But do you know about Paul The Octopus? Paul is a captive octopus in Germany who has been picking winners of Germany matches since Euro 2008. His overall record since starting in Euro 2008 is 9-1, and he is a perfect 5 for 5 in this World Cup, even correctly predicting their loss to Serbia.

His only "loss"? He predicted Germany to beat Spain in the final of Euro 2008, which as we all know Spain won.

In the last 24 hours the world has noticed that Germany is buzzing with word that Paul has picked Spain to beat Germany today, and due to his track record some are despondent.

However, those rooting for Germany should not despair- Paul could simply be employing what my friend Drew calls the "reverse jinx", and maybe his pick against Germany is strategic considering his only "loss" involved the Euro 2008 final between these two teams, and means that there is some voodoo going on which we cannot understand which in the end will see Germany through to the final.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Netherlands 3-2 Uruguay. Instant Analysis: Healthy Doses of Luck & Precision Send Dutch To World Cup Final

Netherlands 3-2 Uruguay.

For the first 70 minutes the game was the tight, cagey affair that many expected, myself included. To that point it was essentially a 0-0 draw with 2 outlier thunderbolt goals from distance, one each from respective team captains Giovanni Van Bronkhorst (18th min) and Diego Forlan (41st min).

Most of the world media right now are talking about the 2nd Dutch goal where Robin Van Persie appeared to be slightly offsides and was involved in the goal as he swiped at it and tried to redirect it in. I haven't seen enough replays to convince me that he wasn't even with the defender and therefore onside, and I also think he got the slightest of touches and should be credited with the goal. Van Persie was even, not clearly offside, and the goal was lucky(deflection) but legitimate, and no it looks like RVP did not get a touch on it. Either way the goal stood, and a few minutes later Arjen Robben headed in a 3rd to apparently seal the game at 3-1, although that notion was dismissed when Uruguay scored a sweet curling goal in the 92nd minute to make it 3-2 and then had a furious onslaught in the final 100 seconds to try to force extra time, but in the end time ran out on their fairy tale run and Netherlands march on to the final.

But what most of the world missed, including the referee and his linesman, was the actual key to the game that should be controversial talking point #1, for it proved much larger than the non-offsides call on the 2nd Dutch goal. In the buildup to the opening goal by GVB, Mark Van Bommel, as he is wont to do, slyly got away with an incredibly dangerous and dirty 'tackle' that went unnoticed- he raked his cleats over a Uruguay player's knee, studs up, after the ball was long gone.

At an absolute bare minimum this should have been a yellow card, which would have negated the goal and left the game a cagey 0-0 affair. But if noticed, I'd say 6 of 10 referees in the world, including Graham Poll, would have given Van Bommel a straight red card, which would have turned the entire game in a major, major way, as:

1. GVB's wondergoal would never have happened, and it would still be 0-0.
2. Van Bommel would have been sent off, Holland reduced to 10 men for remaining 72 minutes
3. Holland would have prob had to tactically sub to replace their defensive midfielder, likely removing one of their 4 attacking players in the process, further reducing their chances and taking away 1 of 3 subs for 2nd half
4. Even if Holland went on to win, their key defensive midfielder and shield for their Achilles heel defense Van Bommel would have been suspended for the final.

Instead of that, it was 1-0 to Netherlands in the 18th minute and 11v11, and MVB went completely unpunished. The game then played out as it did and Holland went on to win.

You cannot say on the balance of play that they did not deserve to win. And their precision in all 3 goals was remarkable- all three went in off the post. However, that said, luck must also be acknowledged for the significant part it played for them today- the Van Bommel knee raking going unnoticed, the no call on the crucial 2nd goal, as well as the 2nd goal being a double (Sneijder's shot hit not 1 but 2 Uruguay defenders) and possibly even triple deflection (I think RVP also got the slightest of touches on it too) deflection off the defender that went in off the post. So for me equal parts precision and luck have vaulted Holland to the final. I'm not saying they shouldn't have won, and I'm not hating on them- hell they're making me look smarter than I am. I'm just being real, and also pointing out that perhaps the most significant moment of the match went unnoticed by the referee and his crew, and is now going largely unnoticed by the world media.

Other random thoughts:

1. GVB's opening thunderbolt goal from 35 yards out is the goal that Adidas executives were all fantasizing about when they gave birth to this franken-ball. Unfortunately for them it has turned out that 90% of strikes from distance, if not more, have been wildly off target and only a rare few knuckle in the right way to produce jaw-dropping goals.

2. Caceres' goal-saving tackle in the 31st minute in his own box to take an easy goal away from Arjen Robben, 2 minutes after he was given a yellow card for kicking De Zeeuw in the face, was ballsy, perfect, and amazing given the circumstances.

3. Diego Forlan is The Jabulani Tamer. He was the first one to noticeably figure it out, and even though today's dipping power shot from distance looks like it got the slightest of touches from the Dutch defender's head (see replay of goal from angle behind goalkeeper) and the free kick against Ghana was intended to bend into the upper left corner and then instead changed direction and bent the other way into the top right, he is still, given all other evidence from this collection of most talented footballers on the planet, THE JABULANI TAMER.

4. RVP does not lack for confidence, and that 2nd goal today was the least celebrated of his entire career- this can only be because he himself thought that he may very well have been offsides. It was just funny to see him so muted, usually he is jubilant and even boastful after his goals. Of course, maybe he knows he swung & missed, and was trying to convince the referee that he was not "actively involved" in the goal, but I think he may have gotten a tiny little touch that redirected it in off the post. Either way, he has never before and never again will celebrate a goal in such a muted way.

5. Arjen Robben must be given credit for dialing down the playacting, diving, simulation antics that were so over the top against Brasil. Yes he had a few, but I got the feeling that even he must have been embarrassed of his antics when he went back and watched video of the win over Brasil. Whatever the reason, credit to him for dialing it down by about 80%; we can only hope this continues in the final.

6. Europe is now guaranteed to win their 1st ever World Cup on foreign soil. Going into this 2010 World Cup, they were famously 9 for 10 in World Cups held on home soil (with Sweden as runners up to Brasil in 1958), while also going 0 for 8 in World Cups held outside of Europe. No matter what happens from here on out, Europe is now 1 for 9 away from home. And any and all talk as recently as a week & a half ago about how poorly Europe were doing is now laughable. Additionally, for the first time a team from the northern hemisphere will win a world cup held in the southern hemisphere; previously they had been 0 for 4, 0 for 6 if you include the two world cups held in Mexico.

7. At halftime ESPN had sweet crowd reaction shots to the goals from Amsterdam & Montevideo. It would have been even better if they could have shown similar reaction shots in the 2nd half. The reason they didn't is because like every other broadcaster on earth, they are paying for & getting the FIFA feed. They don't control the official game feed, so they couldn't just have their production team in the truck cut to those videos as desired. The only way you'll see such shots tomorrow or in the final is if the official feed sent out to the world by FIFA incorporate it themselves. Not likely.

World Cup Semifinal. Uruguay-Netherlands:
What To Watch For

No matter who wins it will be a good story: Holland getting back to a final, where they were the darlings of both tournaments but in the end lost to the hosts in both 1974(West Germany) & 1978(Argentina), or Uruguay raising the Ghosts of Futbol Past in a return to glory not seen in 60 years (won 1924, 1928 Olympic Gold Medals, won 1930, 1950 World Cups).

First things first, expect a tight game rather than a open, high scoring affair. Uruguay's strength is its collective defending, while Holland's team is really two teams in one: the "back 7"'s main job is to defend, nullify the opponent, and try to keep a clean sheet, while the "front 4" of Van Persie, Robben, Sniejder, and Kuyt constitute the attacking threat and are relied upon to break down the defense with their immense skill. The result should be a tight game where each team creates a handful of chances, and the winner will be determined by who takes their chances better. Don't expect to see a wide open back and forth with overlapping fullbacks bombing up and down the flanks.

If Suarez was available, I would think that the two headed monster of Forlan & Suarez would have a great shot to defeat Holland. With Suarez suspended for the red card given for the 2nd most famous handball of all time (1. Maradona 1986, 3. Henry 2010), the first reaction is that Forlan alone up top, or with an inferior strike partner, means Uruguay are up against it.

On the other hand, Holland's big weakness is their defense, and now they will be without 2 first choice defenders. This instantly gives Uruguay back the chance that Suarez's absence took away. I mean after all, with their first choice defense they conceded this goal to Robinho, which was such poor defending that it resembled something from my Monday night co-ed recreational 8v8 league than the greatest stage in professional soccer.

So if we call these two suspension losses even, then for me the game still tilts in favor of Holland. Why? Three reasons. First, because in Robben, Van Persie, and Sneijder, they have 3 players who can create a goal out of nothing on their own, and who are even more dangerous when they choose to link up and work together (which sometimes they do and sometimes they don't, preferring the stubborn hard-headed Dutch way or trying to do it all themselves).

Second, because while Suarez is getting all the attention, starting left back Fucile is also suspended for Uruguay for yellow card accumulation. He would have been their best chance for trying to stop Robben from terrorizing Uruguay's left flank. Now that responsibility will fall to a bench player. Whether or not he can stop Robben is not certain; what is certain is that there is no way he will be able to stop Robben pathetic antics, acting, and exaggeration, which against Brasil was every bit as bad as a Cristiano Ronaldo greatest hits album.

Third, Holland have a greater ability to bring players off the bench in the last 20 minutes to change the game and make a difference as the starters tire. Primary among among them are talented young winger Elia whose pace on the wing could be crucial in the late stages, as well as Affelay, another young talent who could come on late and provide additional creative passing options from midfield.

Having said that, Uruguay's defense if stout, well-organized, and very difficult to break down. The key will be trying to contain Robben on one wing, while having to deal with Kuyt on the other wing, whose relentless hustle, effort and work rate both creates difficulty for the defense whether Holland or Uruguay are in possession and also helps negate any right fullback getting forward to help out in attack. And even if they shut down the wings, then there is Sniejder & Van Persie to deal with. For me the Dutch should win because of their 3 game-breakers, whereas with Suarez suspended Uruguay only have 1.

Of course, anything can happen, as we have seen throughout the tournament and especially the round of 16.

The pick: Netherlands, although not as confident or certain of the pick as say USA over Algeria, France to lose their last game, Spain against Chile, Portugal, and Paraguay, or even Holland over Brasil. Meaning that if Uruguay scores first and goes on to win, I wouldn't be all that surprised.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Semifinal Schedule Is Set. Going Off The Grid.
Happy 4th Of July.

Here is the remaining World Cup Schedule

Tuesday July 6
11.30am Netherlands v Uruguay. ESPN, Univision.

Wednesday July 7
11.30am Germany v Spain. ESPN, Univision.

Sunday July 11
ABC, Univision.

I'm off- Bonita & I are going down to camp near Pinnacles National Monument with family this weekend. As such, I will be off the grid until Monday night. I wish you all a happy and safe holiday weekend.

Happy 4th Of July, y'all. Be safe.

This really should be our next national anthem

USMNT Fuck Yeah!

World Cup 2010: A First Hand Report From The Ground In South Africa

Enjoying the World Cup but wish you could be there to experience it firsthand? Well I am pleased to present a first hand account of friend of the show Chilltown who just returned from South Africa, lived the dream, and was kind enough to type up some thoughts for us envious soccer fans. Enjoy, and follow Chilltown on twitter @chilltown1491 -Kanu

World Cup 2010: Feel it, It is Here

By Chilltown

The first sights I saw as I descended into Johannesburg are the slag hills. The massive monuments to a not too distant time when this city found its reason for existence in the rich seams beneath its surface. This fitting introduction represents the first act of South Africa, the resources that were its blessing and its curse. But my trip here is evidence that the curtain has fallen on that act: despite unbelievable setbacks, the country is well into its second act on the world stage. The World Cup is both a graduation present and a final exam for the standard-bearer of a continent. How would the country fare?

The first sight I saw as I walked bleary-eyed through passport control in the Johannesburg airport is a massive soccer ball, suspended from the ceiling of the terminal. It was my first hint that the country has caught World Cup fever. The enthusiasm is palpable, from the airport staff wearing Bafana Bafana jerseys to the murals painted on every wall. This theme repeated itself throughout my trip from Johannesburg to Durban to Cape Town: country flags on cars and trees and lampposts, flight attendants with World Cup pins, talk of soccer on everyone’s lips. The single-minded focus of the country was inspiring and reassuring. No one understands the importance of a successful World Cup more than South Africans.

* * * * *

The World Cup experience is not simply formed by 22 players on a field. What we see, hear, and feel around sporting events is often just as important as the game itself in shaping how we think of the game. The best example of this principle in action at World Cup 2010 was, of course, the vuvuzela. The vuvuzela, that much-maligned plastic representation of capitalism at work, may become the lasting symbol of the 2010 World Cup. Those horns acted as an emotional amplifier, whether blown in anticipation of the match, hooted in anger at a bad decision, or joyously sounded after a goal. Those subtleties are lost on television, where viewers simply hear a background buzzing, annoying as it is constant. But in person, the vuvuzela, whatever its origins, is the stamp of South African feeling upon the world game of soccer.

The atmosphere around the games was unlike anything I had ever seen. In Durban, we ate lunch on a terrace overlooking a boardwalk next to the Indian Ocean as all around us, Brazilian and Portuguese fans caroused and sang and blew their vuvuzelas. A group of Zulu drummers appeared and were quickly joined by joyous Brazilians, improvising on their vuvuzelas. The whole scene was infused with an indescribable air of feeling, somehow different from the anticipation before a playoff game or even the rowdiness of a college football tailgate.

The stadiums, too, were modern and fantastic. The one in Durban could stand up to any in the United States. Transportation was efficient and the aspect of everyone involved in the games was cheerful and helpful. The matches themselves were a smashing success for South Africa, well-run and suffused with joy.

That is not to say that the country is without its serious problems. As we drove back from the USA-Algeria game through the Mid Rand between Pretoria and Johannesburg, we could not help but see the masses of men wandering the roads in the cold dark. We saw them huddled around their trashcan-fires for warmth; the joy of the stadium seemed a lifetime away. As our car sped along the upraised motorway, I looked out and saw across the plain hundreds of these fires, the watchfires of some destitute army owed decades of back pay, the losers of a battle they never fought, let alone had a chance to win. The problems of crushing unemployment and poverty and lack of opportunities for so many of its citizens can never be touched by a month-long sporting event, no matter how grand and global.

Despite these problems, everyone I spoke to in South Africa had an amazingly positive outlook. They spoke of how the tournament had united the country in ways previously deemed impossible. Of course, they wondered how long this harmony would last after July 11th, but that question looks much more promising than it did even five years ago.

* * * * *

SABC, the national broadcaster of South Africa, punctuated their coverage of the 2010 World Cup with the slogan “feel it. It is here.” For most of the trip, I puzzled over this choice. Feel it? How could you not? It is here? Of course it is!

By the end, however, I had come to realize that these five words, as well as five words possibly can, encapsulated South Africa’s World Cup. The amazing emotion, the feeling injected into this World Cup by the people of South Africa defined the experience and helped to make it unforgettable. For a country only a generation removed from the horrors of apartheid, the 2010 World Cup finally coming off is an incredible achievement.

Feel it. It is here.

Against all odds, with the eyes of the world and the hopes of a continent upon it, South Africa has in almost all respects been an incredible host. The deeper problems that must be tackled in the longer term still persist, but right now the future of South Africa looks as bright as the gold and stones that first brought the country onto the world stage.

Spain 1-0 Paraguay. Instant Reactions.

Quickly, as I'm off for the weekend...

1. Yesterday afternoon I didn't think there was any way that the remaining 6 matches could match Uruguay-Ghana for excitement. I was wrong. My goodness.

2. Win, lose, or draw from here on out, the nation of Spain seriously need to declare Iker Casillas a national treasure like Brasil did with Pele, and economic crisis and oceans of debt be damned, they need to set him up with a ridiculously massive pension for the rest of his life. And whatever they pay him for this, it will not be enough. Make no mistake- Saint Iker is most definitely Spain's player of the tournament thusfar, they would not have made it out of the group stage without him. He also should be in the player of the tournament discussion along with Sneijder, Klose, and Villa. I am dead serious about all of this.

3. As I detailed before the game, it became pretty clear that whoever scored 1st would win this match. Iker's save of Cardozo's penalty was more massive than it will ever be given credit for. Cardozo is 6 days removed from scoring the deciding penalty to knock out Japan, and after the game today he was crying and inconsolable. I feel for him in the same way I feel for Gyan, but not as bad, because his penalty was saved by Iker whereas Gyan's hit the bar and was literally the last kick of the match and carried the hopes and dreams of 1 billion people.

4. Some Spain players, led by Pique and Cesc Fabregas, went over to console and hug Cardozo. CLASS.

5. The ever increasing soccer interest in the USA was not hurt today by this epic match being broadcast on ABC. More casual American sports fans were relieved of the inane notions that a) soccer is boring b) soccer is a sissy sport played by fairy boys, whereas American football is a tough game played by manly men (see- Sergio Ramos getting kicked in the face).

6. Your final four is Uruguay, Holland, Germany, Spain. All of the people talking about what a crappy World Cup Europe was having last week were very much mistaken, as I told you at the time.

7. Still a 50% chance we get an 8th member of the World Cup winners club, and if Spain beat Germany and Holland beat Uruguay, this will be guaranteed.

8. If you've been around here for more than 5 minutes, then you know that my focus is on the future and trying to make educated guesses as to what will happen and why. Well of all the predictions I have ever made, I am more confident in this than anything else, ever: There will be video replay at the 2014 World Cup in Brasil. Forget "the love of the game". It has been so bad, so controversial, and so visible, that FIFA will be forced to act not for the good of the game, but for the only thing they care about: cash. Not correcting this problem after this World Cup will put them in a position of weakness when negotiating the next TV and advertising contracts, and that is simply not acceptable. If they introduce video review, whatever form it may take, they will be in a position of strength when they negotiate the future multi-billion contracts, and that is why it will come to pass.

1-0, 2-1 Wins Do Not Show Spain Is Underachieving.
Rather, They Show Spain's Strength

Do not be fooled by a common misconception floating around about Spain: that 1-0, 2-1 wins prove that they have been underwhelming and they are not at their best. As the best team in the world and the European 2008 Champions, who have only lost 2 of their last 50+ games over the last 2.5 years, the expectation now seems to be that they dominate opponents who are perceived as weaker than them. As a result, when they beat Chile 2-1 and then beat Portugal 1-0, the lazy analysis is they Spain are underwhelming.

But this view completely misses the point. 1-0, 2-1 games show Spain's biggest strength: if they score first, they do not need to score again. It helps of course, but follow me for a minute. Spain are the best team in the world at keeping possession and controlling the ball. Even their defenders are incredibly skilled and comfortable on the ball, more so than any other team in the world. Whereas many defenders are eager to get rid of the ball, and panic under pressure and just lump it upfield or away from danger, Spain's defenders are incredibly comfortable on the ball and never panic. Together with their amazing midfield led by ball maestros Xavi & Iniesta (and Cesc on the bench), this makes Spain the best team in the world at keeping possession.

The result of this is that they are perfectly comfortable passing the ball around, keeping possession, and making the other team run their socks off chasing the ball just to try to win it back. If you watch closely, they alternate during games between 1) doing this to slow the game down, compose themselves, save their energy, and make the other team expend their energy and 2) attacking the defense and trying outright to score a goal

And their strategy becomes incredibly effective if and when they score first. Once they have a 1 goal lead, they are so calm, cool, collected, and controlled on the ball, they are happy to spend 50% of the time wearing down their opponents by making them chase, and the other 50% attacking their tiring opponents to try to extend their lead. This was evident against Portugal, and also in the last 5 minutes against Chile, where they weren't even trying to score but rather passing it around, and Chile couldn't even get a touch on the ball- they were chasing shadows, and Spain ran out the clock with ease even though they were only 1 goal ahead.

Of course, this strategy is not fool proof, and does not guarantee that an opponent will not come back to tie a game or even come from behind to win. But it does mean that coming back on Spain is harder to do than coming back against any other team in the world. This dynamic, combined with their absolutely ridiculous depth (Fabregas, Pedro, Navas, Valdez, etc, etc on bench!) and the fact that they have the best goalkeeper in the world to boot, is why I picked them to win this tournament.

They haven't won it yet, and still have a tough, tough road to go, and may in the end crash out, but I am very confident that if they score first, they will not be beat by Paraguay, Germany, Holland, or anyone else. On the other hand, this massive advantage is nullified if the opposition scores first. Just look at their opening match loss to Switzerland, where the masters of possession- not of outright attack- tried but could not find their way back against talented but far from world beating Switzerland. In their only other competitive loss in the last 3 years, they also fell behind at last year's Confederations Cup and failed to come back against talented but by no means world beaters USA. Spain outshot the USA 29-9 that day but crucially the USA scored first and went on to win 2-0.

So when you watch Spain the key to their games is simply who scores first. And if they score first, watch how cool, calm, and controlled they are on the ball and watch them alternate between wearing out their competition by making them chase the ball and attacking to try to extend their lead.

Also, this may well explain the absence of Cesc so far. With them playing as I have described in the last few games nursing a 1 goal lead, they need the possession, control, and wizardry of Xavi & Iniesta more than they need the attacking prowess and additional offensive creative spark of Fabregas. And this may be why Cesc stays on the bench in these situations. But if a match is tied or Spain are behind with 30 minutes to go, I bet you'll see Cesc come on.

Germany 4-0 Argentina. Instant Reactions.

Germany 4-0 Argentina.


Well I sure got that one wrong. Germany dominated 1st 15 minutes, got a goal in the 3rd minute, and looked like they might run away with it. Then Argentina settled down and from about the 15th minute to the 60th minute they looked more likely to score. The game was very open and it was obvious another goal was coming, it was just a matter of which team would get it. Germany got it, and then Argentina had to go forward in desperation which just left them more exposed at the back, and by the end, a game that was a very close affair for 60 minutes ended up being the 4-0 route that it looked like it might be after the first 10 minutes.

What We Learned
1. Maradona's tactical inexperience and seemingly whimsical selections and substitutions finally caught up with him. The whole world was aching for Diego Milito to come on for Higuain as the 2nd half progressed, or Kun Aguero for Tevez, or Veron or Pastore. Only Pastore came on before it was too late, and bizarrely neither Milito or Veron ever came on. Milito could have changed the game as a guy who can a) create a goal from nothing and b) likely get more attention from Germany's defense because he can create a goal from nothing, thereby perhaps freeing up Lionel Messi, who was relentlessly double teamed & triple teamed by Germany and marked out of the game perhaps better than I have ever seen before (Mourinho's Inter v Barca included). And not to bring on Veron, his *own* controversial selection, who played so amazingly well earlier in the world cup when used and seemed to validate his selection by El Diego, was just flat out bizarre. When push came to shove, 1 of the 2 greatest players to ever kick a ball came up wanting as a tactical manager.

2. At this hour, Maradona is no longer on Diego Milito's christmas card list.

3. Sheer talent once again does not win out against outstanding teamwork and tactics. This is why Zonal Marking should be the first soccer site you read every day, for it contains the best soccer writing in the world as far as understanding how games are won or lost.

4. Europe is by no means dead. If Spain win today, 3 of the 4 semifinalists will be... from Europe. When everyone was talking about how poorly Europe was doing last week, a voice of reason reminded you that Europe was by no means dead and not to believe the knee-jerk, overreacting press. And now only Paraguay & Uruguay can prevent Europe from winning it's first World Cup on foreign soil.

5. *IF* Spain can hold on against Paraguay, pay close attention to who picks up yellow cards today for Spain, and if they will miss the semifinal. As the deepest team in the tournament, they should be affected least by such suspensions, but while right now everyone is talking about how Spain are at an advantage against Germany because Muller will miss the semifinal for yellow card accumulation, they need to wait until Spain-Paraguay is over to see 1) if Spain actually win the game and 2) if any crucial players for Spain end up suspended for the semifinal themselves.

6. In 2006 Miroslav Klose became the 1st player to score 5 goals in 2 different World Cups- he scored 5 in 2002 and 5 in 2006, and now he has 4 more raising his total to 14, which is 1 short of the all time record of 15 held by Ronaldo of Brasil. to put this acomplishment in perspective, consider that Pele has 12. Also, a)Klose has a great chance to tie and break the record in this world cup b) in addition to his 4 goals in 5 matches in this world cup, he has managed to miss 2 or 3 absolute sitters, which if converted would mean he would already hold the all time record c) He is the ultimate example of a player who thirives for country but not for club (whereas Messi is the opposite) 4 goals in 5 games for Germany at this World Cup, 3 goals all season in last year's Bundesliga for BayernMunich. With 23 goals in 78 games for Bayern since 2007, it's harsh to label him a disappointment as many do, but you understand where they are coming from when you consider his 52 goals in 100 appearances for Germany, and his 14 goals and counting in his 17 world cup games from 2002-2010. That's damn near Gerd Muller-ish.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Argentina-Germany. Rematch of 1986, 1990 Finals,
2006 Quarterfinal. It Doesn't Get Any Bigger Than This.

Germany v Argentina. 5 World Cups between them (Germany 1954 ,1974, 1990 & Argentina 1978, 1986), and they have met 11 times before in World Cup history, with each team winning 4 each and 3 draws. The 3 most famous encounters of course are Argentina beating Germany in the 1986 final, Germany turning the tables and beating Argentina 4 years later in the brutal 1990 final, and their 2006 quarterfinal where Germany came from behind and then won in a penalty shootout.

Oh, there is also considerable bad blood. The 1990 final was brutal and cynical, and after Germany won the penalty shootout in the 2006 quarterfinal, chaos ensued on the field and a figt broke out between members of the Argentine & German staff. So this will be another match that if nothing else is incredibly intense.

What is there to say, really? If you've read Carlo's preview and/or Zonal Marking's tactical preview, there's not anything I can really add as far as insight.

I will just give you a thorough recap of their quarterfinal clash in the 2006 World Cup, and I'll tell you that I think the difference in this game may simply be the ridiculous depth of Argentina, and the talent they can bring off the bench to change the game in the final 20-30 minutes.

Germany are great and young and exciting, but I think Argentina's talent is too much and they advance to the semifinal to take on the winner of Paraguay-Spain(which will be Spain). The winner of that match will then play Netherlands in the final for the whole ball of wax. I also have a feeling that best player on Earth Lionel Messi, who has been amazing per usual all world cup but who hasn't scored goals yet, will have a breakout game and score a goal or two in a virtuoso performance.

Carlo's Corner: Argentina V Germany Preview

Guest columnist Carlo gets you primed and ready for tomorrow's titanic quarterfinal clash between Argentina and Germany. Enjoy. -Kanu

Argentina vs. Germany
Saturday, June 3 – 10:00 a.m ET/7:00 a.m. PT
ESPN and Univision

Just as they did in the 2006 World Cup, Argentina and Germany will square off on Saturday with a birth in the semi-finals at stake. Germany won that encounter on penalties, after the teams were tied 1-1 after extra time.

Throughout this World Cup, these historic rivals have had more in common that one might think. Both teams won their round of 16 matches fairly easily, albeit with the help of two atrocious referring decisions. Both Argentina and Germany have lots of firepower on offense, topping the World Cup scoring charts with 10 and 9 goals, respectively. Finally, despite fairly impressive defensive records thus far, both squads have shown some weaknesses in defense that both sets of attacking players will look to expose.

There had been some speculation in the Argentine media that Maradona might make a couple of changes to the side that defeated Mexico 3-1. The thought was that he might replace either Angel di Maria or Maxi Rodriguez, both outside midfielders, with a more central player to help strengthen the team's central midfield. Nevertheless, it now looks as though Maradona will field the same starting XI that he did against Mexico. With this lineup, the Albiceleste have pace and skill on the wings, but may find themselves outnumbered in the center of the park. They will certainly be heavily reliant on Javier Mascherano, who could find it difficult to deal with the German midfield trio of Bastian Schweinsteiger, Sami Khedira, and Mesut Ozil. If Argentina are losing the central midfield battle, we may see either Carlos Tevez or Lionel Messi drop deeper into midfield to help maintain possession.

It will be interesting to see if Maradona instructs his side to press Germany’s defenders when they are in possession, as they did against Mexico, or if he prefers them to sit back and defend from a deeper position. The strategy worked well against Mexico, producing the giveaway that led to Gonzalo Higuan’s goal. The risk with defending high up the pitch against Germany is that it may allow their speedy attacking midfielders and forwards to get behind the Argentine back line. Having said that, Argentina looked uneasy when they tried to sit back and kill the game off against Mexico. Maradona may therefore feel that his team’s best chance for victory lies in pressing Germany all over the field so that Argentina can recover possession as soon as it is lost.

As you might expect, the key for Germany’s defense will be to contain Lionel Messi. Messi will again be given freedom to roam the pitch and take up positions that best allow him to attack Germany’s defense. Midfielders Bastian Schweinsteiger and Sami Khedira will probably be most responsible for marking the diminutive Argentine, but this task could be shared by other players, depending on where Messi positions himself. Both Schweinsteiger and Khedira have made incisive forward runs throughout the tournament, so it will be interesting to see if they are still encouraged to make such runs or if one or both of them is directed to hang back and keep an eye on Messi.

How well Messi performs may very well determine the outcome of this match. I have the feeling that Argentina could have advanced this far in the tournament without his services, such is the attacking talent they have at their disposal. From this point on, however, they will need him to be at or close to his peak in order to advance. He should have ample opportunity to do so against a German defense that looked shaky at times against both England and Ghana. In addition, this has the potential to be the type of open, end-to-end affair that should suit Messi's style perfectly.

As mentioned earlier, Argentina faces similar questions about its defence, especially with regard to its ability to defend speed, a quality that Germany's attackers possess in abundance. One player in particular that Argentina must be able to account for is Ozil. While all of Germany’s attackers are allowed a significant amount of freedom in their movement, Ozil is the player who is given the most freedom to roam in between the opposition’s midfield and defense. Maradona may entrust Mascherano with the task of accounting for Ozil. While the Liverpool midfielder is no doubt a fine candidate to do so, the concern is that in tracking Ozil, he will leave Argentina vulnerable to attacking runs made by either Schweinsteiger or Khedira.

Finally, I don't usually like to talk much about intangibles, but I feel they deserve at least some mention in this match. Argentina and Germany appear to be two of the most spirited sides in the tournament. They each faced skepticism before the tournament, and are now playing with a bit of a chip on their shoulders. I don't expect either side to go as quietly into the night as Brasil did. Rather, they will both fight until the final whistle (and maybe beyond).

Up Ghana! Up Black Stars! Africa Will Not Be Denied

If you're not completely convinced how much the entire continent of Africa is behind Ghana today, and how the Black Stars know that they are playing for the entire continent as they try to become the 1st African team to ever make it to a world cup semifinal, check this out.

PUMA presents: Of The Same Earth

I've already told you the tactical reasons why I think Ghana will sneak it today and kick off massive celebrations from South Africa to Accra all the way up to Morocco & Tunisia, and everywhere in between.

Ghana are again playing for an entire continent. And they know it

4 years ago I predicted an African team would make the continent's 1st semifinal on home soil. Granted I got the team wrong(I predicted in 2006 it would be Cameroon led by Eto'o), but I think today Ghana will do it and 1 billion people across an entire continent will celebrate all through the night.

Here's hoping they do it; something tells me they will.

Up Black Stars!

Netherlands 2-1 Brasil = Massive Opportunity For 3 Teams. Instant Reaction.

Carlo told you that the Dutch could win, and I told you they would. Twice. And today they made us both look smarter than we are in a crazy, crazy game that had a little bit of everything.

A tale of two halves for sure. Brasil dominated the first half, and tonight will be kicking themsleves for not getting that 2nd goal that would likely have put the game out of reach. On the other hand, Netherlands goalkeeper Stekelenburg should be hailed as the 1st half hero who singlehandedly kept Holland in the game, especially his amazing save from Kaka's corner bound shot that may well have ended the game. Brasil's goal was well taken by Robinho, but also showed Holland's weakness at centreback. Absolutely terrible defending & not 1 but 2 out of position centrebacks left right winger Robben trying, and failing, to track Robinho's diagonal run into the Dutch box.

How Do You Say "Meltdown" In Portuguese?
When Holland snuck a weird goal (bad judgment & missed punch by Cesar, unlucky own goal by Melo, and a flukey shot/cross reminiscent of Ronaldinho's goal against England in 2002) to make it 1-1, Brasil flat out melted down. It is understandable that they were frustrated, as they repeatedly were getting run ragged by Arjen Robben while also having to deal with his despicable diving & faking- today Robben was Ronaldo, Rivaldo, and the entire nation of Italy all rolled into one. On the other hand, he ran Bastos ragged and as always created a mismatch for the opposition defense. Either way, Brasil were clearly rocked by the tying goal, and started to get more & more frustrated. And when Robben was fouled but fell to ground dramatically and faked injury for the 473rd time, Melo short circuited and stamped on him while he lay prone on the ground, earning a deserved red card. As risible as Robben was today, this was just inexcusable for Melo, as he and everyone else has not forgotten Rooney getting sent off for the same thing against Portugal in 2006 and Zidane getting the most famous red card of all time for losing his temper in the waning moments of the 2006 World Cup final. As pissed as he was, you just cannot lose your cool there and reduce your team to 10 men. He will not be welcomed back with smiles and cheers in Brasil- today he became the 1st player in World Cup history to score an own goal *and* get a red card. Ouch. (or maybe he's the 3rd such player- see comments section).

Oh, the game winning Dutch goal- almost forgot. It was the least expected headed goal- corner kick headed on by not especially tall Kuyt and headed in by flat out short Sneijder- since 5'7" Lionel Messi's leaped into the stratosphere and headed Barcelona 2-0 up on Manchester United to seal victory in the 2009 Champions league final. Ping-pong-ping, and in the flash of an eye it was 2-1 to Netherlands, and a few moments later Melo's meltdown reduced Brasil to 10 men and all of the Brasilian momentum from the first half was a distant memory.

With Brasil out, Massive Opportunities for Holland, Ghana, Uruguay
Netherlands are the big winners today, and will be favored to beat the Uruguay-Ghana winner and get to the final, but the other big big winners today are Ghana and Uruguay themselves. Whoever wins the match today will *mentally* have a less difficult route to the world cup final, and given that Holland's defense is their weak point and due to card accumulation De Jong and Van Der Weil will both miss the semifinal, either team will fancy their chances against Holland more than the mighty, mythical Brasil, who before today had not lost a World Cup match held outside of Europe since 1950 (42 in a row). Simply stated, Brasil are so legendary that against some lesser teams they have already won, or are already 1-0 up, before the game starts because of intimidation & awe of the myth of Brasil, and now that is gone, and as good as Holland are, their weakness will be even weaker in the semifinal, and the Ghana-Uruguay winner will go into the semifinal with confidence & belief that they can win their way through to the final rather than caution and inner timidity at the prospect of having to beat mighty Brasil.

Man Of The Match
Finally, from here on out someone is going to have to seriously step it up to challenge Wesley Sneijder for player of the tournament. He now has 4 goals in 5 games, and is clearly the front runner for the ballon d'or.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Carlo's Corner: Netherlands-Brasil Preview

Guest columnist Carlo provides you with a great preview of tomorrow's titanic clash between the Oranje and the Selecao. Enjoy -Kanu

Netherlands v Brasil
Friday July 2nd 7am PST

This is a mouth-watering matchup between two familiar World Cup foes. Brasil has won the last two World Cup encounters – winning 3-2 on a long-range free kick from Branco in the 1994 quarterfinals and on penalties in the 1998 semi-finals. The stakes are incredibly high in the match, with the winner likely to be favored to defeat either Uruguay or Ghana and secure a place in the final.

Although both of these squads have a great deal of offensive talent, don’t be surprised if this is a low-scoring affair. As Chile can attest, Dunga’s side are very well organized in defense and are difficult to break down. They are happy to defend patiently and wait for opportunities to score through set pieces and counter-attacks. Despite pre-tournament questions about its back line, Holland’s defense has held up so far, allowing only two goals in four matches. While it has yet to dazzle offensively the way it did in some of its pre-tournament friendlies, Holland look solid in all phases of the game and should be a worthy opponent for Brasil.

Bert van Marwijk’s team will have studied Brasil carefully and will be well aware of just how devastating Brasil can be on the counter attack. The Dutch will also be especially fearful of conceding the first goal. Doing so will force them to push additional players into attack, a strategy that plays right into Brasil’s hands. Consequently, rather than throwing several players forward at once, as did Chile, Holland will try to stay much more compact. Defensive midfielders Nigel de Jong and Mark van Bommel will serve as a shield for the back four as they attempt to thwart any attacks. With most of its players being carrying such defensive responsibilities, the Dutch will have to hope that the attacking quartet of Wesley Sneijder, Arjen Robben, Dirk Kuyt, and Robin van Persie is able to create scoring chances.

Based on his performance in Holland’s previous match, as well as on his form all season, it would seem that the most likely candidate to do so would be Robben. As he has done all year for both club and country, Robben will play as an inverted right winger and will look to cut inside and shoot with his favored left foot, like he did here against Slovakia.

Robben never suffers from a shortage of confidence and should be especially eager to take on Michel Bastos, who is being used as a left back, but who generally plays as a left winger for his club team, Lyon.

Although they will have noted Holland’s strong defensive record in this World Cup, Brasil will feel that they can trouble the Dutch defense. While the central-defensive pairing of John Heitinga and Joris Mathijsen have performed well so far, they have yet to face attacking players of the caliber of Kaka, Robinho, and Luis Fabiano. As evidenced by Brasil’s second goal against Chile, the trio has an excellent understanding that comes from having played together on the national team for the last couple of years.

Brasil may also look to attack the left side of the Dutch defense, where the ageing Giovanni van Bronckhorst may find it difficult to cope with Maicon’s speed and power. Holland may try to mitigate this threat by having the hard-working Kuyt track Maicon whenever he makes one of his forward runs.

While most people would love to see a wide-open goal-fest, I expect to see a cagey, low-scoring match. The Oranje will do all it can to avoid conceding the first goal, as they know that Brazil are excellent frontrunners. Brazil have to be considered favorites to win both this match and the entire tournament, but don’t sleep on the Dutch. If they can keep Brazil from scoring, they have several attacking players (including super-sub Eljero Elia) that can be match winners.