Tag Archives: 1990 World Cup

Women’s World Cup Knockout Rounds Predictions

The first round of the Women’s World Cup finished yesterday, and overall it was an exciting, intriguing start to the tournament. While all six seeded teams won their groups, many of the newcomers showed impressive flashes of play, there were a few upsets and semi-upsets, and there were very few uninteresting (i.e., blowout) matches. None of the six first-place teams looked dominant, and the two who won all three of their matches, Japan and Brazil, had difficulty scoring. This means that the knockout rounds should be wide open.

As far as the predictions in my post from 4 June, I got all six group winners correct and thirteen of the sixteen qualifiers for the second round correct (I missed Cameroon, Colombia, and the Netherlands), though not necessarily the order in which they would finish. Here are my predictions for the knockout rounds.

Round of Sixteen

Cameroon over China. China have not been impressive and needed several key calls to go their way in order to advance. Cameroon have played confidently and have become crowd darlings. If they play the way they did in the second half versus Switzerland they should have no trouble winning this match, and if they do, they will become the first African team to ever win a game in the knockout rounds of the Women’s World Cup.

U.S. over Colombia. Colombia pulled the upset of the tournament with their defeat of France, so they are a dangerous team. But they were lucky to draw against Mexico and got thoroughly outplayed against England. The U.S. got better in each match in the Group of Death, and should be able to exploit the weaknesses in Colombia’s defense like England did. In my previous predictions I said that the U.S. would win the tournament, and I still feel confident in that prediction, in part because the U.S. have been getting sharper in each match and in part because none of the other favorites were especially impressive.

Germany over Sweden. This is the second round prediction that I feel least confident about. Germany are playing better right now, but they had a much easier group, whereas Sweden nearly got killed in the Group of Death, winning the last third-place qualification spot via goal difference over Thailand. The fact that Sweden are already used to playing difficult matches may work in their favor. If they score first, how will Germany respond? I would not be surprised if this match went to penalties.

France over South Korea. France did a good job of bouncing back in their last match against Mexico after losing to Colombia. South Korea’s defense did enough to get them though a very tricky, evenly-matched group, but won’t be enough against France’s firepower.

Australia over Brazil. The Brazilians have been struggling to score, while Australia were very impressive in the Group of Death (one could argue they deserved a draw against the U.S.) and are playing with confidence. As with Germany-Sweden, the first goal in this match will be especially crucial.

Japan over the Netherlands. Japan have been quietly getting their business taken care of, though they also had some difficulty scoring. The Netherlands squeaked through to the second round with a late goal versus Canada, and have too many defensive weaknesses to pose a real threat to the defending champions.

Norway over England. While the English were impressive in their last group match and it was difficult to get a sense of Norway’s strength because they played in the easiest group, the teams’ previous histories in the tournament weigh heavily in this prediction. England have never won a game in the knockout rounds and have a reputation of not being able to win big matches whereas Norway are former champions. The teams are evenly enough matched that this kind of intangible could make the difference.

Canada over Switzerland. The hosts have been inconsistent, but so have the Swiss. The two teams are pretty evenly matched, but Canada’s experience and home-field advantage will give them the victory.

Quarterfinals

U.S. over Cameroon. This should be relatively easy for the U.S., but do keep in mind the 1990 quarterfinal in the men’s tournament between England and Cameroon (a match that England manager Bobby Robson infamously told his players would be “a bye;” highlights of the match are here) where the Indomitable Lions nearly pulled off the upset.

France over Germany. This is another matchup that could easily go to penalties. I have the Germans losing because they will be exhausted from their victory over the Swedes.

Japan over Australia. These last two predictions in the “easy” side of the bracket are both toss-ups. In this match, I have Japan’s experience being the deciding factor over Australia’s friskier form, but again, penalties loom large.

Norway over Canada. Norway’s pedigree tops Canada’s home-field advantage. At some point, this home-field advantage will morph into an unhealthy feeling of pressure for the Canadians.

Semifinals

U.S. over France. The U.S. will have the large majority of the fan support (including myself!), but it’s worth noting that this match will be played in Montreal, so France might have decent support as well. The winner of this match will win the tournament. France isn’t quite ready to win the big one just yet, but it is fair to go ahead and pencil them in as favorites when they host the tournament in 2019.

Norway over Japan. I don’t think Japan are good enough to get to the final again, and Norway will be playing with nothing to lose.

As I’ve said, the U.S. will win the final. Japan will beat the French for third place.

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Books Acquired Recently: World Cup Edition

As a long-time soccer fan, I am currently experiencing a major bout of World Cup fever, and the only prescription… is more soccer books!

Davies, Pete. All Played Out: The Full Story of Italia ’90. 1990. London: Mandarin, 1991.

As I mentioned in a recent post, I have a lot of nostalgia for the 1990 World Cup because it included the first soccer match I ever saw on television, the semifinal between England and West Germany. England’s fourth-place finish remains their second-best ever World Cup result, and it set off an era of hope for the national team that was crushed when they failed to qualify for U.S. ’94. Davies’s book chronicles England’s experience leading up to and including the tournament.

It came in the mail earlier this week and I have already finished reading it because it is so grippingly written; the tournament itself was exciting, but Davies manages to make its narrative even more thrilling despite readers already knowing how it will end. Even the fact that it is dated in some ways, as the soccer universe is incredibly different now than it was then (e.g., wins were still only worth two points, the referees still dressed all in black, only two substitutions were allowed, and the World Cup only included 24 teams, not to mention that lucrative ventures such as the English Premier League and the Champions League were still several years in the future), helps make the book more appealing to present-day readers because the story Davies tells is even more tragic now that we know that Italia ’90 was the pinnacle of English football as well as the best World Cup until this year’s fantastic version. It was also the last time Paul Gascoigne (who comes off as a lovely person in the book [which is by no means a hagiography], making his ever-present battles with addiction even more heart-wrenching) ever played in a World Cup. The front cover has a blurb from Time Out that says the book “could well be the best book ever written about football,” and I would say that it is at least in the top three that I have read.

Vecsey, George. Eight World Cups: My Journey Through the Beauty and Dark Side of Soccer. New York: Times, 2014.

It has been wonderful to see so many Americans following this year’s World Cup because I became a soccer fan just as the American soccer dark ages were beginning to come to a close, thus I can appreciate how much the game has grown in the U.S. over the past 25 years. Vecsey is a writer who has been covering soccer since those dark ages, and I am excited to read this account of his career doing so.

Both books were acquired from amazon.com’s network of independent sellers.

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It’s World Cup Time!

I am incredibly excited for the men’s World Cup that begins today. It is my favorite sporting event because it is long enough that one can get completely ensconced in it and because of its global aspect: I love knowing that I am sharing the experience with hundreds of millions of people around the world. This happens to a certain extent each summer, as there is the men’s World Cup-women’s World Cup-men’s European Championships-Confederations Cup (along with men’s World Cup qualifiers) tournament cycle, but the men’s World Cup is the most satisfying because it is the longest and because it gets the most people talking. I also have a nostalgic attachment to the men’s World Cup because the first soccer match I ever watched on television was the semifinal between West Germany and England (Alas, Paul Gascoigne! Alas, West Germany’s classic green change shirts! Alas, England’s newly begun tradition of losing on penalties!) at Italia ‘90. This is when I found out that the next World Cup would be in the United States, and I became a soccer fan following the buildup to the tournament both on television (mostly via matches on Univision and Telemundo, though sometimes ABC would show a U.S. match) and in print via a subscription to the now-defunct Soccer Digest.

Although the marquee matchups usually come in the knockout stages, the group stage is my favorite because of its unpredictability and inclusiveness. There is something exciting about watching a team like Honduras or Greece play because it is their one chance on the big stage that is missing when you are watching a perennial powerhouse like Germany or Brazil who are all but guaranteed to move on in the tournament. Games from previous group stages are some of my most vivid World Cup watching memories. The U.S. versus Switzerland in 1994 when Eric Wynalda scored an excellent goal off of a free kick just before halftime, Belgium against Holland in 1998 when Patrick Kluivert was red carded, the U.S.’s stunning upset of Portugal in 2002 when the Yanks went up 3-0 before halftime, the U.S.’s bizarre draw against Italy in 2006 in which three players were sent off, and, of course, the U.S.’s thrilling last-minute victory in 2010 against Algeria.

I love the drama of the matches themselves, but my favorite thing about watching the group games is the pageantry: the fans dressed in their jerseys, scarves, and crazy hats, the teams parading out onto the pitch, the national anthems. International soccer tournaments are always a reminder that the U.S. has one of the worst national anthems. It sounds so ugly and uninspiring compared to the others. Generally, it seems like the less amount of geopolitical clout a country has, the better their anthem sounds. It is always interesting to see which players sing their anthem, and which are so ensconced in mentally preparing themselves for the match that they stay silent. One of the reasons that I love watching the anthems (which is also true about the matches in general) is that there is a single television feed that is broadcasted everywhere around the world. Each country simply has its own announcers (and sometimes its own graphics) for the pictures. The knowledge that I am seeing the same exact video as someone in Europe or Africa makes me feel connected to the rest of humanity in a way that I do not normally experience.

Along with being excited about the tournament itself, I also feel good about the U.S.’s chances. I expect them to get out of their group even though it is the “group of death,” and if they do so their potential opponents from Group H (Algeria, Belgium, Russia, and South Korea) in the second round are all beatable, thus it is conceivable that the U.S. could match their best-ever modern World Cup showing from 2002 (they reached the semifinals in 1930, technically finishing joint third-fourth [the third place playoff was not instituted until 1934], but at the time the semifinals were the first knockout stage, so one could argue that the fact that the U.S. won a knockout round game in 2002 makes it their best showing ever).

The answer to one major question will go a long way toward determining the U.S.’s fate: just how group-of-deathy will the group of death be? The most group-of-deathy group of death ever was 1994’s Group E, in which all four teams, Mexico, Ireland, Italy, and Norway, finished with a win, a draw, and a loss, and a goal difference of zero. In 2014’s Group G, will there be lots of draws, or will there be lots of decisive results? The former will benefit the U.S., and the latter will not unless it is them getting the wins. One middle of the road scenario that would be favorable to the U.S. is if Germany wins its first two matches and the other three teams spend time drawing each other. The Germans would have little to play for in their final match against the U.S., which might make it easier to get a result. It is really up to the U.S. and Ghana to make the group a true group of death. If they can get some results, the group will be very interesting. Germany and Portugal will probably be content to draw one another in their first match, thinking they can get the necessary points in their final two matches, but this could be a risky strategy. If Germany and Portugal draw and the U.S. beat Ghana, then Portugal will feel some pressure for a result against the U.S. in the second game. Of course the key for the U.S. is to get a win against Ghana. If the U.S. does this then they only need a result against either Portugal or Germany, but if they lose to Ghana, getting results against both Portugal and Germany is a tough ask. Because it is the group of death, it is quite plausible that a win and a draw will be enough to advance to the second round.

I will not predict a champion yet (I think Germany, Argentina, and Spain are top contenders), but I will predict a loser: Brazil will not win the World Cup. I do not think they have enough talent in their squad from top to bottom to do it, and the pressure from their home fans will be a negative influence on them. But for me the best thing about the World Cup is the experience of going through it during one glorious month rather than the end result of who becomes champion (unless the U.S. makes a miracle run to win it!).

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