Tag Archives: 2002 World Cup

Reflections on the Exciting 2014 World Cup Group Stage

Today is the first off day of the 2014 World Cup as the survivors of the group stage prepare to begin the round of 16 tomorrow. To be honest, I do not mind having a day off from watching matches because this tournament has been intense! There have been unexpected results and goals galore. Nearly every match was enjoyable to watch, and the final 16 includes a number of surprises that will continue to add intrigue to the tournament, most notably the qualification of Costa Rica and Algeria and the absence of Spain, Italy, and England.

Some of the teams who qualified for the second round were especially impressive, notably Holland and France, and others will need to step up their game to have a chance of advancing, including two of the pre-tournament favorites, Brazil and Argentina. I said before the tournament that Brazil would not be the champions, and I am even more sure of this prediction after seeing how flat they have been. They got a lucky victory against Croatia after a horrible penalty call, and then beat a Cameroon side who had already been eliminated and ended up finishing last. They will have a difficult time beating Chile, let alone getting to the latter stages of the tournament. I am picking Germany to win the tournament. They have not been as impressive as the Dutch, but I just do not trust the Dutch to win the big one.

Of course picking a European team to win the World Cup in South America is dangerous, as a European side has never won the trophy when the tournament took place in the Americas (indeed, the only European team to win the tournament outside of Europe was Spain in South Africa in 2010; similarly, the only non-European team to win in Europe was Brazil in Sweden in 1958) and more than half of the European teams failed to reach the second round. Argentina has a shot to win if Lionel Messi continues to be unstoppable, but the rest of the squad have not shown the necessary quality. Colombia has been the most impressive South American side, and they could make a deep run into the tournament.

Teams from the Americas have had an excellent tournament in general. Five of the six South American sides went through to the round of 16, and South America is guaranteed at least one semifinalist because the winners of the two all-South American second round match-ups will meet each other in the quarterfinals. Three of the four CONCACAF sides went through, which is especially impressive because the U.S. were in the Group of Death, Costa Rica were in the Group of Death Part II and won it handily, and Mexico were in a group with Brazil (which ended up being less of a difficulty than everyone predicted, but still). These results should put to rest any talk about taking away any of CONCACAF’s 3.5 qualifying slots for the 2018 World Cup. However, Asia had a terrible tournament, with none of its four teams even winning a game. The AFC might be in danger of losing its half qualifying slot to Africa, who did surprisingly well after a difficult start to the tournament, with two of its five teams advancing–one better than in 2010.

The U.S. did an excellent job advancing from the Group of Death (an especially impressive feat considering the injury to one of their key players, Jozy Altidore, in the first match), and will be a difficult out in the knockout rounds. Just like 2002, they won their first match, drew their second, and lost their third, but unlike in 2002 they played solidly in their final match and should feel good about themselves going into their second round encounter with a Belgian side that has looked about as unimpressive as it is possible to be while still winning all three group matches. Most people expected the U.S. to be eliminated in the first round, but Jurgen Klinsmann has done an excellent job instilling confidence into the squad and making tactical and personnel adjustments during the tournament (really his only misstep was starting Brad Davis against Germany).

I was critical of Klinsmann for leaving Landon Donovan out of the American squad and for including DeAndre Yedlin, but the team’s results have shown that these were both correct decisions. What I have realized after thinking about this turn of events is that the U.S. has finally progressed to the point where they no longer have to take their best 23 players to the World Cup and hope that they mesh together well enough to get results. They have enough quality players that the manager can choose the 23 that will work together the best as a team, and this is what Klinsmann did. I feel very confident about having him in charge over the next four years as the U.S. prepare for the 2018 tournament in Russia. The U.S. have never advanced to the second round when the World Cup has been held in Europe (conversely, they have always advanced to the knockout stages when it has been held outside of Europe with the exception of 1950 in Brazil, when they had their famous 1-0 victory over England, which was almost as good), but I am confident that they can break this streak just like they broke their streak of never qualifying for the second round two tournaments in a row this year.

I look forward to seeing how all of the tournament’s intrigue continues to develop over the coming weeks!

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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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Thoughts on Landon Donovan’s Exclusion from the U.S. World Cup Roster

I am still stunned by the news that Landon Donovan has been left off of the U.S.’s final 23-man World Cup roster. Donovan is the best American soccer player ever, and while he is no longer in his prime, he certainly has some good years left in him. It is a bold move by national team manager Jurgen Klinsmann, one that many will point to critically if the U.S. does poorly in Brazil.

From a purely talent-based viewpoint, I can understand Donovan’s exclusion, kind of (I’m sorry, but there is just no way that someone such as DeAndre Yedlin will somehow be more valuable to the team than Donovan would have been [and yes, I realize they play different positions], but I suppose that Klinsmann’s choice shows that Donovan would have been on the periphery of the squad anyway, so it probably doesn’t matter in terms of who has an opportunity to be on the pitch). He has not been in good form this season, in part because of a nagging injury. Had he been selected to the squad, he would not have been starting. But I wonder about the psychological impact his absence will have on his (now former) teammates. Klinsmann may feel that the roster he has chosen is the strongest one, but do the players? Donovan is still the U.S.’s most visible player, both among casual American soccer fans and among European fans and players. He is a player that other national teams worry about facing, and that psychological advantage is now lost.

I also certainly question Klinsmann’s decision as a fan because I think Donovan has done enough for the U.S. Men’s National Team, and for soccer in America in general, that he deserves to play in one more World Cup. Donovan’s breakout performance came during the 2002 World Cup alongside the U.S.’s other hotshot young gun DaMarcus Beasley, and I never would have guessed that Beasley would be playing in this year’s World Cup (and he’ll probably be in the starting lineup!) and Donovan wouldn’t.

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Thoughts on the 2014 World Cup Draw

Well, the United States will have their work cut out for them in the 2014 World Cup, as they have been drawn in the Group of Death with Germany, Portugal, and Ghana. A win in the first match against Ghana is a necessity, and then the U.S. will have to hope for a result against one of the European sides. The U.S. was so close to having an easier draw, as they could have been drawn in Group E (Switzerland, Ecuador, France) in place of Honduras, or if Russia had been drawn in Group G instead of Portugal. Group F is also rather tame, with Argentina, Bosnia, Iran, and Nigeria.

The U.S. has played all of its opponents in previous World Cups. The team will try to replicate the famous 3-2 victory over Portugal in 2002, and try to reverse the 2-0 defeat to Germany in 1998 and the tournament-ending losses to Ghana in the previous two tournaments. The U.S.-Germany match will have the Jurgen Klinsmann storyline, and the U.S. beat Germany in a friendly earlier this year, so there is some hope.

The U.S.’s arch rivals Mexico have a decent draw, with Brazil, Croatia, and Cameroon. Group B has Spain, Holland, Chile, and Australia, with the first match being a rematch of the 2010 final. The first round match-up between England and Italy in Group D (the Group of Death part two) should be interesting. Uruguay is the other contender in that group. All of the groups have at least three legitimate contenders to advance, so the tournament should be an exciting one.

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