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Germany Above All

July 13, 2014 8 comments

This is the first World Cup since 1998 that I have not won the “office and friend pool” World Cup Predictor Bracket.

 

I just want to throw that out there.

I won the last 3 – and although not a large group – it’s still a streak I was proud of. Back in early June I picked Germany to meet Argentina in the final — but I thought the Germans would struggle and lose. Remember, this is a national team that – until today – had lost more finals than they had won. And I figured that they would struggle to win a world cup final in Brazil. Boy am I glad I was wrong!

The streak I didn’t think would end has finally become a thing of the past: A European soccer team has traveled to the Western Hemisphere and won the World Cup trophy.

First European team to travel to Western Hemisphere and win the World Cup

Congratulations to the first European team to travel to the Western Hemisphere and win the World Cup – Germany 2014

 

It was a nerve-racking final game. Argentina was missing one of their best attackers (Di Maria) and Germany was missing the midfield excellence of Sami Khedira. Honestly, I thought that both teams struggled for long periods of the game due to these missing players who have played such an important part in the other games.

So let’s rank the final 4 teams of the tournament and see where they stack up:

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I thought Brazil was a bit lucky to get this far. In my opinion they made a terrible team selection from the outset. Their coach chose poor strikers. Fred and Jo were abysmal. I’m betting that almost anyone could have been as dangerous as Jo was on the pitch, and I’m sure we all could have fallen over as many times as Fred did in the penalty box. The team was missing a wise head in midfield. While they had Neymar they were dangerous – yes – but he was mostly dangerous due to his dribbling skills and speed. He was more of a dribbling-to-be-dangerous player, only combining with others when forced to. In the early rounds he often chose to “go it alone” rather than combining with teammates to create a simpler path to goal. They needed someone like Kaká to keep possession in attack better, and they should have played Willian a whole lot more.

And their defenders — what is there to say? David Luis heading a ball back onto his 12 yard line for the Dutch to hammer home instead of just hitting it out of bounds? Seriously!? Even young American defenders know not to do that! Maicón was guilty of some of the worst defending a World Cup has ever seen. Cafú – the legendary Brazilian right back – was probably dying watching Maicón struggle out there. The Brazilians seemed content to let their defenders smash 60-yard balls down the field “Chelsea-style” to pick out their forwards. No Brazilian team of the past has played this way. It was both parts hilarious and sad to behold.

 

 

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Holland gave us one of the treats of the World Cup, dispatching a woeful Spanish side in the early rounds. But as the competition became more difficult, they struggled to score goals. They got a bit lucky to score 2 against Mexico. But then they went two full games plus two extra times and couldn’t score a goal against Costa Rica or Argentina. This is not the usual behavior of a World Cup winning team.

Of course once Holland faced Brazil’s porous defense, they re-discovered their goal-scoring form, winning 3-0. Which just goes to show how bad Brazil’s defense was.

Overall – Holland’s defense was great. They did a great job shutting down Messi in the semi final. The great Lionel Messi was hardly noticeable on the pitch. Ron Vlaar especially had some great tackles taking the ball away from Messi in multiple one-vs-one situations. After the opening round, Holland only gave up one goal over 3 games.

Offensively they relied too much on Arjen Robben’s dribbling. Sneidjer wanted to combine with people — and when they did combine thru the middle — they did create chances. But more often than not, in the knock-out rounds, they would pass the ball to Robben and rely on his dribbling to break down the opponents. Honestly – how much combination play does Robben do? Hello…. total football anyone?

The “dribbling plan” almost worked. (And it did save them against Mexico.) There were two times against Argentina when Robben beat the defense and could have passed the ball to another player to score. But no! The curse of Robben and his desire to take his extra touches doomed the Dutch again! Against Argentina, Huntelaar was twice left waiting for a pass in front of an open goal to win the semi-final. But Robben took an extra touch, Mascherano made the game-saving tackle, and the chance was lost.

And finally, it’s difficult to fault a ‘keeper about losing a penalty shootout – but didn’t it look like some of those Argentinian penalties were saveable? Tim Krul made some big saves against Costa Rica — where was he when they needed him?

 

 

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Argentina never looked like hitting the highs of their 1986 triumph. To me they were mostly a one-man team in terms of creating anything on offense. In the knock-out round, Argentina needed extra time against the Swiss — the same Swiss team that the French put 5 goals past. Messi juked through some defenders and laid off a slide-rule pass to Di Maria to win the game. In the quarterfinal an accidental deflection put the ball onto Higuaín’s foot for a nice first-time finish, but it’s not like Argentina broke down Belgium’s defense. In the semifinal Messi was shut down by Holland’s excellently strong and fast defenders, and — tellingly — Argentina again struggled to create scoring chances. Argentina’s best chances to re-discover their goal scoring came against a slow (Howedes) and injured (Hummels) German defense in the Final — and even though they were gifted with multiple one-vs-one chances, they could hardly put a shot on goal.

Overall, they were a very organized team defensively. They were difficult to break down and the goal keeper made some great saves. Offensively, Lionel Messi wasn’t nearly as dangerous as I had feared he would be. He scored some great goals in the early rounds, but unlike Diego Maradona, he didn’t deliver much as the competition wore on. In 1986, Maradona scored or assisted 5 of their last 7 goals in the quarters, semis and final game. On the other hand, Lionel Messi didn’t score after the opening group games, and notched one solitary assist.

You would think that with the fearsome attacking talent of Gonzalo Higuaín, Sergio Aguero, Di Maria and Messi they would have scored more goals, but I believe they didn’t because they focused their play too much through one player rather than interchangeable combination play.

 

 

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What is there more to say than the best team won? Germany survived Algeria and realized that their defenders were too slow. So they subbed out Mertesacker (finally!) and took care of France in the quarterfinals in a snooze-fest. I’m not sure how many dangerous attacks France created after going down 1-0, but it wasn’t many. The semi-final against Brazil was over even before Neymar’s injury and Thiago Silva’s suspension. I predicted Germany’s disciplined attack would be too much for the free-wheeling Brazilians over a month ago. I just didn’t realize how bad it would be! And it could have been worse!! Some say Mezut Ozil purposefully shanked his shot wide towards the end of the game because as he approached — he saw the Brazilian goalkeeper crying and he felt bad. Some say….

The same problem affected the Germans that often does — they are missing a true goal scoring threat. The fact that the Germans won the World Cup with a 36 year old striker leading the line, missing their (possibly?) most influential central midfielder (Sami Kehdira), and had an injured center-back (Hummels) that played despite a knee injury shows how much of a team they truly had. 

I believe the Germans were victorious because of the way they focused on playing combination football, with lots of diagonal runs, triangles and intelligent attacking movement off the ball to break down their opponents. They didn’t have their best attacking player in Brazil, so they had to rely on true team attacking football. Germany’s best striker, Marco Reus, tore ankle ligaments in a warm up right before the world cup and was unable to attend. If Reus had come to the World Cup, I can only imagine what would have happened to Brazil that night!

The final wasn’t the best game for Germany – they struggled to break down an organized and motivated Argentinian defense. And they were lucky that Argentina couldn’t score goals. Argentina were lucky that Germany hit a post and missed multiple open shots on goal from inside the penalty box. Argentina had multiple one-vs.-one with the German goalkeeper, but quailed each time at the crucial moment.

In the end, the difference was that German striker Mario Goetze took his chance where the Argentinian strikers did not.

And what a goal it was!!

Super Mario's Super Moment

Super Mario’s Super Moment

 

What are your thoughts? Was FIFA right in giving Messi the “best player in the tournament” award although he scored no goals after the opening round and registered one single assist?

If not, who was better?

 

 

 

 

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Bravery goes unrewarded

July 13, 2014 3 comments

Round of 16 games — some very brave teams went unrewarded. Soccer can be such a cruel game sometimes.

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Chile had a huge chance to make history. A crossbar and some bad luck did them in. Yes Brazil was a better side and had more dangerous chances, but Chile’s bravery went unrewarded.

He was this close to knocking out Brazil with 15 seconds left

Pinilla of Chile was this close to knocking out Brazil with 15 seconds left

Switzerland almost pulled a great upset against Argentina. No one gave them a chance (me included) but they took Argentina to the wire. Only a very inspired run from Lionel Messi separated them from a possible spot in the Quarterfinals.

Switzerland came this close against heavily favored Argentina

Switzerland came this close against heavily favored Argentina

Algeria were very brave against Germany, almost catching the sleeping giant for the second time in their world cup history. Manuel Neuer had to make many saving tackles to keep Germany in the game. In the end Algeria put up a good fight, but not good enough.

Mexico were one of the biggest surprises in the tournament. They barely qualified, and then almost beat Brazil — and almost beat the Netherlands in the round of 16. Mexico was very brave, but defended too deeply for too long in the second half. I hope that’s the last we see Rafael Marquez and his brand of “tackling” in the world cup. Good riddance.

The USA gave Belgium a scare too. I wouldn’t say that the USA put up such a brave display as Chile or Switzerland  — they hardly troubled Belgium for almost the entire game — but they did end with a flourish. And they could have stolen the game away from Belgium except for some poor finishing in the 90+ minute of regular time. See here.

The USA had this chance to win the game with 1 minute left, but we missed the goal completely

The USA had this chance to win the game with 1 minute left, but we missed the goal completely

 

Except for Costa Rica, all of the brave underdog teams with a chance to advance to the World Cup Quarterfinals failed at the last. For some teams it would have been their first quarterfinal appearance, and for others it was a chance to upset the status quo of quarterfinals full of European and South American giants. In the end, normal service was resumed.

 

Thoughts? What was your favorite “non-favored” team in World Cup 2014?

 

Landon Donovan missed versus Belgium

July 1, 2014 3 comments

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Sehr geehrter Herr Jurgen Klinsmann,

We sure missed Landon Donovan today against Belgium.

Here’s what we want to know:

Who would be a better late-game substitute – Landon or Wondolowski?

Remember Landon scoring this wonderful injury time winner to help us win our group stage in 2010?

You know, our nation’s record world cup goal scorer?

Still in his prime and scoring plenty of goals?

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And in 2014, we had the ball at our foot,

6 yards out,

unmarked,

61 seconds left in regulation…

(only the goal keeper to beat)

…and we couldn’t get the shot on frame.

WondoMiss2014

We missed the goal completely.

Landon, where were you when we needed you most?

Just thought you might like to know what our entire nation is thinking right now.

landonD

Good job getting out of the group stage with a win.

But you blew it on your decision to leave Landon Donovan behind.

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Kind regards,

American soccer fans