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Uncle Mo’ and the English

June 28, 2010 4 comments

I have to say it was like watching the 1966 highlights all over again. (Not old enough to have seen it the first time.)

The World Cup Final, 1966. Extra time. England 2, Germany 2. An English shot comes in, hits the top bar, and bounces down. Center referee doesn’t give the goal, but the Soviet linesman has his flag raised signaling a goal. After a brief discussion between the referees, the goal is given to England and they go on to win the World Cup 4-2. There is very little video evidence of the goal, but based on what I have seen (and I’ve seen it all cuz there is so little) it is pretty clear that the ball didn’t cross the line. No matter. Goal is given. England win.

I have heard (and read, and seen on TV, player interviews, etc.) the English say, “It doesn’t matter, we would have won anyway cuz we won 4-2.” Even Franz Beckenbauer won’t get drawn in on the subject. He stays away with grace and aplomb. When asked about it, he simply shrugs and says, “It’s a pity we have to continue speaking about a goal from 1966.” Now that is class my friends. No matter that it may have robbed him of his first World Cup title. We’ll never really know what would have happened. The Soviet linesman Bakhramov later said he thought the ball had bounced back off the net, not the crossbar, so he did not bother to observe whether the ball bounced over the goal line or not. To add more controversy to the tale, Bakhramov, according to lore, was asked on his death bed how he knew the ball crossed the line. He replied, “Stalingrad”, where over 75,000 Soviets died fighting against the Nazis.

Now it’s 2010, and I thought I was in a Red Sofa Time Machine. England down 2-1, and Lampard hits a wonderful shot over the German goalie. It bounces off the top bar, into the back of the goal (clearly behind the line), back to the top bar, and the second time down it bounces outside of the goal, onto the field of play. Goal. Game tied 2-2.

Alas Frank, it was not to be.

But the goal was not given.

Yes this game needs goal line technology. Yes it would have changed the game if the goal had been given. I mean think about it: you are working your socks off to tie a game, and then you do, only to be denied. Uncle Mo (aka Momentum) is a tricky thing, and if the English could have tied the game, they would have stolen Uncle Mo away from Germany and put him in their own back pocket. They could have gone on to score 1 or 2 more before half time.

All the talking heads are saying that “In the end the better team won.” Mostly likely this is the case, but that’s not what always happens. That is denying the historical upsets of Uruguay over Brazil at the Maracana in 1950. Or the German Amateurs over highly favored Hungary in the Miracle of Bern in 1954. Or the German upset of Holland’s Total Football in 1974.

Goals are so important at the international level that if you steal one, a team might not recover. Clearly England could not, just like Germany could not in 1966. Germany, now let off the hook, still had Uncle Mo riding shotgun for the start of the 2nd half, and went on to demolish England 4-1. Clearly the Germans can say “well the better team won”, but I’m not sure we know that. Maybe England could have woken from the sleep they’d been in through their first 4 games. Maybe Rooney would have scored another goal before half time to lead 3-2 and gone on to win the Golden Boot and become a Knight and Hug the Queen and “Wayne” would have gone on to be the most popular name in England for years to come. Maybe. Link HERE. (You’ve GOT to watch that video if you haven’t seen it yet.)

Or England might have done what it always does: sat back and see what happened, and then lost to Germany on penalties.

Funny the Karmic Twists that can come about in this ol’ game.

So does this mean that Argentina will some day be knocked out of the World Cup by an opponent scoring with a hand-ball? If FIFA implements goal line technology, it might never happen. But I wouldn’t hold my breath on it.

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Eh, Coach … Got a minute?

June 26, 2010 5 comments

So let me get this straight: Robbie Findley was ineffective and subbed at half-time, and Ricardo Clark was ineffective and had a mistake that played a large part in an early goal against the US. Um… are we speaking about our first game vs. England … or our fourth game vs. Ghana…. or both?!

Such a surprise that coach Bob Bradley would not keep the same players that were inspired enough to lead the USA to a win over Algeria. When Benny Feilhaber came in against Algeria, he totally changed the game. Same thing again today. The way the US started in the second half was inspired, and could have had multiple goals if we had brought our finishing boots.

WHY WHY WHY is our coach making the same subs and changes again and again?! Someone has to ask the tough questions and get some answers. Today’s game against Ghana was the most important since our last game against Ghana in 2006, and will be our most important game until some time at World Cup 2014.

So, basically, our most important game for 7 years was today, and the coach got it all wrong. I wouldn’t say that I agree with John Harkes or Lexi Lalas much, but even THEY were asking why so many changes to a team that had just played the most inspired half of their lives during the second half against Algeria.

We need to know.

Today’s stud was Clint Dempsey. It actually appeared that the Ghanaian players respected him more than the others and backed off when he had the ball. This gave Clint the time and space he needed to have a very effective game, drawing a wonderful penalty and being very dangerous all over the field.

Clint Dempsey fouled going for goal

Landon Donovan. Ugh there were long stretches of time where Landycakes was in full force out there, but to his credit he did convert a pressurized penalty to become the all-time leading scorer for the USA at the World Cup Finals with 5 goals. But in my opinion there was still not enough from our best player in terms of attacking. There were times we had 4 v 4 situations, and he would pull it back and pass backwards rather than press our advantage.

Jozy Altidore is the “Adidas Hit Man” or so they say on facebook and yet he left this world cup with nary a goal, and hardly a shot on target. I know he is young, and hopefully there will be many more and better performances from him in the future. As for now, he’s still not the one. Too many of his own bad touches took him out of positions to score.

Benny Feilhaber was a game changer. Is there a problem with playing him the entire 90 minutes? He’s tough, he passes quickly, he’s inventive, and he keeps the ball moving. What is not to love? Every game he entered, he changed for the positive. It would have been a different game today if he had started.

I hate to say it but Jay Demerit did not close down an advancing Kevin Prince Boateng fast enough. Sure Boateng is big and fast, but Demerit needed to get out there quicker and force him in a different direction away from the goal, possibly fouling him in the process. I mean seriously — how many top teams at the World Cup would let an attacker sprint towards your goal unimpeded for so long without getting a challenge in? (Hint: the answer is NONE.)

Carlos Bocanegra I have a question: Is that the best challenge you can put in to clear that ball? Ghana’s attacker Asamoah Gyan wasn’t even bothered by that challenge. I think he thought a fly had landed on his arm or something. And there went their game winner. My brother and I were speaking before the game that our biggest concern was with long balls from Ghana over the top — could our central defenders deal with their muscular, physical and fast forwards? Erm, I guess the answer would be “no.” End of story. (We should give Carlos a break, though. He’s not actually a central defender by trade. He had to fit-in to central defense when the actual central defender the coach picked for the team (Onyewu) turned in multiple dismal performances due to the fact that he hadn’t played a competitive game for over 6 months. Uh, coach?)

Tim Howard. Some say he’s at fault for getting beaten at the near post and for the record I agree he needs to cover the near post better. But that goal was not his fault at ALL. Some say yes, but I am not one of them. Give a world class player a clear run at goal and a free shot from inside the 18′ and they will almost always score.

I feel for Ricardo Clark. Son Bradley’s pass wasn’t exactly to his feet, and so it sort of drew him into the Ghanaian defenders, but to try to take a guy on from that position was a diabolical decision. Two disappointing games.

Robbie Findley had the best chance, and almost appeared to shrink before the opportunity.

And that my friends is the difference in the game! They had two clear chances and they finished them both. We had two great chances too. Robbie scuffed his shot, appearing to hope the ground would swallow him up before he had to pull the trigger, and Dempsey was fouled on the other one, which turned into our penalty. Ghana converted their two goals and we could only convert one.

And voila, they advance.

I was relieved after the England game. We got lucky.
I was pissed after the Slovenia game. We got screwed.
I was euphoric after the Algeria game. We won our group!

I am disappointed after today’s Ghana game — but I can honestly say that the best team won. If we had played for longer stretches like we did during the first 30 minutes of the second half, I would say we were the better team. But we didn’t. And we’re going home. Hopefully the coach will see which players were on the pitch for the best parts of the tournament and figure out a way to have them on the field from the beginning.


The Miracle on Grass

June 23, 2010 6 comments

Wow. I can hardly believe we did it, and then again I am so glad for this team that doesn’t know how to quit.

No quit in these boys (photo Phil Cole)

Quick observations: So glad that Coach Bradley left Onyewu on the bench today. He has been at fault for goals against England and Slovenia, and it was nice to see the coach make a tough decision and sit him today. He’ll continue to get his fitness back and I hope Gooch does well for AC Milan in the coming months / years, but this tournament is a little too early for him fitness-wise.

Son Bradley was really, really good today. I have not been impressed with some of his displays in the previous games, but today he was a true MAN in the MIDDLE of the park. He did a great job relieving pressure on our defense, and attacked with purpose. His late runs into the box were especially troublesome for the Algerians.

Dempsey was a bit off today. Sure he had a genuinely good goal called out unfairly, which is too bad for him. But on the other hand, there were many times when we needed a good pass, or a controlled trap, and Dempsey just couldn’t provide it. I am more and more convinced that he is in the team as a “disrupter” and a wild card on offense than for his true skill as an attacker. But hey — that’s his niche and he did his job again today. Hopefully his next game is even better. I mean — you can’t say too much about a good goal called back, and having the final shot that turned into the winning goal for the USA, right? Well done.

Donovan — gosh I was so frustrated at him in the final 20 minutes. He would get the ball at his feet, and rather than running at the defenders, he would turn and play it behind him. I really thought it would bite us in the end. But he came up with the goods when it counted most, so there’s not much else that can be said. He was the match winner today.

Demerit was a TOTAL STUD on defense. Sure he had a brain fart in the 7th minute missing that clearance completely, which almost cost us a goal. But after that he was unstoppable. Won everything in the air. Distributed the ball well. Well done son.

Altidore ran at guys like a true attacker (finally!) Sure he missed the goal from 3 yards out when it would have been easier to score, but that’s all forgotten now. So far he’s the “almost man” for the USA, causing danger and problems for the other team, but not coming up with the goods yet. But his attacks and pace today were very positive, and he had a great game.

And the rest of the gang — Feilhaber? He came on and gave us a great 2nd half spark, just like he did against Slovenia. And Cherundolo and Bornstein were hardly beaten in the defense. Well done boys. And Bocanegra did a great job in the middle, making one especially crucial saving tackle late on.

Lots of people are speaking badly about the referees. Sure it sucks when a valid goal is called out, we all know what that feels like (right?!) But to be fair, the ref today had quite a BANG! BANG! situation where he had to use his best judgment — and my first inclination was that Dempsey was offside too. If that referee was off even a yard in his positioning, it might have appeared to be the correct call to him. Remember that we didn’t know it was a valid goal until the super-slow mo and computer graphic line showed us. I think overall this refereeing crew did a commendable job, except he may have lost his cool and given the red card to the wrong Algerian at the death.

Hey — at least we didn’t have the refs that refereed the Chile / Switzerland game, nor the refs that did the Germany / Serbia game, right? And at least we didn’t see our FAVE African son Komen Coulibaly again, eh?!!!!

OVERALL — WELL DONE USA. I can’t believe we went from being out of the World Cup to winning the group in 2 crucial minutes!! What a Goal! What a Goal!

Donovan the match winner (photo Martin Rose)

Go USA!

Oh, and what happened in the England game today? I didn’t get to watch it I was a bit preoccupied watching the group leaders (wink!)

Vulez Vu Zela Avec Moi ?

June 20, 2010 11 comments

What can you say about the French national soccer team? Personally, I find it a hilarious development based on how France got into the World Cup in the first place.

But what can you say? Sometimes karma works for you, and sometimes it works against you.

I hope France get dumped completely out of the World Cup when they play against South Africa. Then all the Irish can have a laugh and get back to whatever they do best.

And a subnote — what was up with the French referee Lannoy having a laugh with Luis Fabiano after Fabiano had scored his second goal of the day against Ivory Coast? It was an obvious hand-ball, and the ref is having a laugh with him afterwards? Watch it HERE.
Erm, FIFA? Anyone? Bueller?

No Question about Fabiano's first goal (Reuters)

African Surprise

June 19, 2010 4 comments

I’m WAY surprised at the lack of success of the African teams in this World Cup. I thought they would be riding The Wave of African Love to some World Cup wins.

Pretoria Stadium looks perfect

Cameroon, Ghana, and Nigeria have struggled after taking early leads in their games. I thought Cameroon was very dangerous in attack against the Danes, but they just didn’t have their goal scoring boots on tonight. Sure they scored 1 goal, but they could have scored 5 or more.

Eto'o nets one of Cameroon's 20 chances

Ghana had a huge chance against 10-man Australia, but the Aussies actually finished the game stronger, almost winning at the end. And well, the silly foul by Nigeria caused them to be a man down and gift-wrap the game for Greece.

Check out this goal scoring form!

South Africa blew their lead against Mexico, and got blown away by Uruguay. They were terribly unlucky not to win the opening game against Mexico, and I had REALLY REALLY wanted South Africa to win that game for their fans.

The two remaining African teams, Ivory Coast and Algeria, have yet to score a goal.

So, they don’t have many results going their way so far, but I sure love to watch them play. They are fearless, they attack incessantly, and they make the games interesting and fun to watch.

Which African team are you enjoying most?

Komen Coulibaly and his new house

June 18, 2010 21 comments

Komen Coulibaly just cost the US a well deserved win. I feel sick for the US soccer players right now.

SURE they started VERY poorly. Oguchi Onyewu was horrible (again) and I didn’t know that Michael Bradley was on the pitch until the 80th minute when he scored the equalizer. Bradley would stroll around the park half the time and even my kids were yelling “why doesn’t he run after that guy!” He SHOULD have been pulled, but luckily he wasn’t. Maybe Bob Bradley is trying to find the 3rd or 4th midfielder that can play with his son. Or maybe the problem is…?

But despite all our weaknesses as a soccer team, we truly and fairly fought our way back into the game. Donovan’s goal was good. Bradley’s goal was brilliant. And the game winner by Edu was wonderful.

Coulibaly gave Findley a yellow card for having the ball strike him in the face. Findley’s hands were below his waist! How can he call that a foul on the US? There was a second phantom call when we had the ball in the box in the first half as well. The neutral British announcer said that the yellow card to Findley was the single worst call he has seen in his life, and the second caused him to say that he doesn’t have any idea why Coulibaly keeps calling these fouls that no one can identify.

Then the worst of the lot — taking back a truly and fairly scored goal. Even super slow motion cannot identify a single foul by an American on that goal. People from all ’round the world know it was a joke. We wuz robbed.

I feel sick for the Americans — they threw the first half away and then played the game of their lives to dig themselves out of the hole to win the game.

And FIFA does have a record for having their referees from small, poor nations being susceptible to bribes and “financial irregularities.” Just bing it, you’ll find plenty.

I just hope that Komen Coulibaly’s new house was worth it for him.

I fell in love last night

June 16, 2010 13 comments

I fell in love last night … with North Korea’s soccer team.

I know what you are thinking. North Korea? The land of Kim Jong Il? The guy that measures his own mini torpedo by how much international havoc he can wreak? Um, yeah, that’s the one.

I think what Jong Il is doing to his country is horrible, don’t get me wrong. But I’m putting that aside for a few minutes and focusing on the North Korean players that played on the world cup pitch yesterday in South Africa.

Sure you can get on a soap box about communism and human rights — and they are truly valid points — but I want to focus for a hot minute on the players. After all they are human beings with hopes and dreams and aspirations just like you and me. And I was truly reminded of that as I watched them take on mighty Brazil.

North Korea were a revelation. They are ranked 105th in the world by FIFA (mostly because they don’t play enough games to be ranked higher), going against the #1 team in the world and world cup favorites Brazil. The Brazilian team is full of international soccer stars. At every position they are so deep — they could field 3 teams to enter the World Cup and it’s possible that only the top 2 or 3 European teams could beat them. Brazil is that good.

But that’s what is wonderful about sport, isn’t it? When all the comparisons are finished, it’s still up to 11 men against 11 men and the proof is on the pitch. And for over half the game, North Korea gave the Brazilians all they could handle.

North Korea was not in awe. They took the game to the Brazilians. They attacked down the flanks, they attacked down the middle, and they kept possession against possibly the best team in the world. One wonders if European favorite England would do so well against this Brazilian side.

Battle in the middle of the park (Getty Images)

Just looking at the expressions on the Korean’s faces, the tackles they put in, and their sheer determination in the game, I found myself rooting for this most likely of underdogs. Brazil’s first goal had a bit of luck, but there’s no doubting Brazil’s class on their 2nd goal. It was brilliant. During those 15-20 minutes of the 2nd half it appeared like the North Koreans were tiring and Brazil finally got on top of the game.

Encouraging a teammate (Reuters)

But Korea came back and finished the game the strongest. They scored a goal with under 10 minutes left, and appeared the most threatening for a second score. I am so smittenly in love that I now will be rooting for North Korea against Ivory Coast and Portugal. I will take North Korea’s work horses against the Diva Teams Of The Tournament (Didier Drogba’s Ivory Coast and Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal) every day of the week.

I hope they keep up this same team effort and attacking passion in their other opening round games. Cuz if they do, they won’t have to keep paying Chinese fans to dress up in North Korea gear and come root for them.

Scoring the goal to make it 2-1 and set up a nervy finish for Mighty Brazil

People will start rooting for them on their own.