Archive for the ‘Football (soccer)’ Category

Negative Netherlands, Diving Spaniards

July 12, 2010 14 comments

Good for Spain. Here’s a country that has collapsed many times under the weight of expectations, never having even won a World Cup Quarterfinal in their storied history. (Of course they had 2 perfectly good goals called out in 2002 Korea/Japan when playing against the hosts, the game being refereed by Egyptian referee Gamal Ghandour and his Ugandan and Trinidadian assistants. Um, we might need to make sure we have top class refs at the World Cups, eh FIFA?)

Of course I wanted Germany to win, but I do like Spain. It’s funny. On my first trip to Spain some time in the mid-90’s, I bought a Spain jersey. I love the country, speak the language (Castellano, at least), and I felt bad for their many collapses and unfulfilled expectations over the years. I never thought at the time that they would develop into a world powerhouse and become Germany’s Biggest Nemesis From Europe, having won the Euro 2008 Final over die mannschaft, as well as knocking them out of World Cup 2010. Ack!

But as for 2010, the best team won. It’s a sad commentary on the defensive nature of high-stakes soccer that we have to say things like “I’m so glad the best team won.” I mean, isn’t that what playing the game is for? When you watch an NFL championship, you figure that the team with the highest score at the end of the game was the best. But in soccer, with the difficulty of scoring goals against a team focused on fouling and defending to the hilt, you always have that possibility that the”best” team — the most creative team, the team with the most shots on goal, the team with most possession, the team that wants to play attacking soccer — doesn’t win. I believe it’s one of the biggest detractions against the game of soccer to the casual or non-soccer fan world wide: Why is it so difficult to score goals, and why does the “best” team some times (too often?!) not come out on top?

English Referee Howard Webb had a difficult job. Here’s a guy that’s accustomed to refereeing in mostly honest, hurly-burly England. But then he gets asked to referee the World Cup Final between the Negative Fouling Netherlands and the Amazing Diving Spaniards. Webb was out of his gourd. They needed someone that could tell the difference between a real foul and a dive, and just wave “play on.” When Referee Héctor Baldassi of Argentina did this in Spain’s game against Portugal, the Spaniards quickly realized that diving doesn’t pay, and immediately stopped the heinous practice. Webb, take a lesson from your colleagues, eh?

How is this not a Red Card Mr. Webb? (photo daniel ochoa de olza)

And it’s great that Holland was finally found out. Holland could have been beaten by Slovakia, except for some poor finishing by the Slovaks. The Brazil game was a good scalp for Holland, but they were gifted the equalizing goal by a Brazilian goalkeeping error. And Holland lucked out to play against an understrength Uruguay squad, which was without their captain and best defender Lugano as well as – up to that point – their best striker Suarez.

The Dutch can't handle the truth (photo frank augstein)

So really, I think the love affair with the Netherlands being so great was an illusion, which was uncovered in the Final. I mean sure — they made Spain work for it — but anyone can do that by putting 9 guys behind the ball parking the bus, tackle ferociously and often times unfairly, and hope to score a goal on a counter attack. Even Portugal showed us that. But Holland? That was light years from Total Football.

Whew! That was close.

Spain Celebrates World Cup 2010 (photo Laurence Griffiths)

FIFA, since apparently I know better than you do, here are some changes needed to the game of World Football. I’ve kept the list short. I think you already know why.

1. Goal line technology. You need to give the goals if they are scored, and in this day with the technology we have, it’s unforgivable. England were robbed, and we’ll never know what could have happened in that game. At least the universe is slightly more aligned if you balance 2010 with 1966. Get the goal line technology now. FIFA says that they don’t want to implement it because it wouldn’t be available to all levels of the game. That’s ridiculous. Little league baseball and high school football don’t have it — and it doesn’t matter. The NFL and MLB have replay to get the calls exactly right when the stakes are so high. FIFA needs to do the same for high-stakes soccer matches.

In the mean time, put “magic chalk” or something in the mouth of the goal behind the goal line. That way, like in tennis, it can be determined if a ball bounced there. Is there chalk on the ball? Where did it bounce? Yup. It’s a goal. Hey, at least it’s a start.

2. The yellow card accumulation process needs to be altered. Protect the players from atrocious fouls, and even from the rugby tackles in the penalty box on corner kicks. But a yellow card for what Thomas Mueller did? That was poor. And having it keep him out of a semi final game? Idiotic. Not having him in Germany’s semi final game robbed the Germans of their attacking spark and undoubtedly changed the game in favor of the Spaniards.

The same thing happened in the 2002 World Cup Final in Korea/Japan. Michael Ballack was kept out of the Final against Brazil due to a yellow card from the semi-final, and it ruined the game. We want to see the best against the best, and FIFA needs to perform some sort of review of the yellow card accumulation procedure. Did Mueller’s yellow endanger another player? Absolutely not. Then suspending him from a semi final game should be waived.

3. Post-game video analysis of simulating a foul can earn you a suspension. I am glad that Spain won over Negative Nancies Netherlands, but something needs to be done about people like Sergio Busquets, Andres Iniesta, and Arjen Robben. Sergio Busquests got tackled in the opening 5 minutes of the game, and went to the ground like he had been shot. He needs to be suspended for crap like this. He did the same thing in the Champion’s League Semi Final between his team Barcelona and Internazionale. An Inter player hit Busquets on the back and he fell over grabbing his face, which resulted in a red card for the Inter player. Acts like that need to be punished with a 1-2 game suspension.

Andres Iniesta was fouled by yet-another-hard-tackle-by-Van-Bommel-hacking-the-player-and-missing-the-ball. Iniesta fell onto the ground, apparently writhing in pain. When the referee waved play on, Iniesta immediately jumped up, fit as a fiddle, and hacked Van Bommel to the ground. Iniesta needs to be suspended for 1-2 games based on video analysis of this type of behavior.

And Robben? Too many times to count!

One master diver admiring the work of another (photo frank augstein)

Best of the Bunch and Lalas the Octopus?

July 7, 2010 2 comments

Spain have outdone Germany at their own game: Patience. Persistence. Defense. Great goalkeeping. Opportunistic. And a well-timed header by Carles Puyol means they are going to the World Cup Finals.

No one from Die Mannschaft jumping with Puyol of Spain

That’s twice in a row now that my adopted German mannschaft has failed in the semi finals. I said Ballack was one of the main reasons they faltered in 2006, but he wasn’t to blame this time. The Germans looked tired, out of sorts, struggled to keep the ball, and devoid of ideas.

FIFA has to do something about the rule keeping out the best soccer players at the end of these tournaments. Ballack missed the 2002 Final in Korea/Japan, and the game was ruined. Totally lopsided win by Brazil. And this time, arguably the best German player of the tournament, 20-yr old Thomas Mueller (4 goals, 3 assists) on the top scoring, free-flowing German team was kept out of the game. No, the statement, “the top-scoring, free-flowing German team” is not an oxymoron. I think Bastian Schweinsteiger is the best of the bunch, but Mueller brings the attacking focus that many previous German teams have been without.

Without their best attacking option, Schweinsteiger and teammates struggled.

Like today for example. They were hardly themselves without him. FIFA can’t keep teasing us like this. We want to see the best players play against the best players, and to have Mueller sit out this very important semi final based on that yellow card against Argentina was terrible.

And Spain are keeping at it. Some could say boring. Patient is the word they prefer. The same things were said about Germany in 1982, 1986, and 1990, when they went to 3 World Cup Finals in a row. Sure they stuttered, at times drawing 0-0 with inferior opposition, and famously lost to East Germany in 1974 when they went on to win the World Cup.

Today Spain beat Germany at their own game. They are painstakingly patient at building the game from the back. They push forward slowly. They probe. If they don’t like what they see, they give it back to their defenders and try, try again. Spain lost to Switzerland after being lost for most of the game. At times they struggled against mighty Chile, and had just enough to beat plucky Paraguay. They grind out 1-0 wins as though they were from Mainz and Berlin, not Madrid and Barcelona.

So what’s the prognostication? Ask the Octopus. Evidently this creature has picked 6 for 6 correctly in all of Germany’s games so far, including their loss to Spain today.

Or ask Alexi Lalas. Evidently he picked 4 out of the 4 Semi Finalists correctly: Uruguay, Netherlands, Germany and Spain. He picked Netherlands and Spain to advance, and then the Netherlands to win it all.

I’m going to have to go against Lalas on that one. I’m sticking with my original pick: Spain. But I’m no octopus.

How could the little bugger have known that Germany would lose to much shorter Spain by not marking up on a corner kick?

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.

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)


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?