Tag Archives: 2010 World Cup

Brazil 2014: Germany Worthy Champions

The 2014 World Cup came to a close today with Germany beating Argentina 1-0 after extra time. The final was fairly exciting despite the scoreline with each team having a number of good chances go untaken. It was the same score as the 2010 final, but a much better match. Although the match today was very even (I am glad a goal was scored, but this was the rare match that actually deserved to go to penalties–neither team deserved to lose), Germany deserved to win the tournament overall. They were the most consistent, best team throughout the tournament.

Germany’s win today also legitimizes their 7-1 thrashing of Brazil in the semifinal. Had the Germans lost, that game would have been viewed as a bizarre curio, but with their taking of the trophy the Brazil result is legitimized as a truly significant one (as an illustration of what I mean, compare Holland’s 5-1 victory over Spain: impressive, but not nearly as significant as it first seemed a month ago). It is probably the most incredible sports result ever, bar none. The Germans became the first European side to ever win the World Cup in the Americas, and they beat South America’s two traditional heavyweights to do so.

Overall, this was an excellent World Cup. It had lots of drama and surprise results, lots of goals, and some top-notch individual performances. I disagree with Lionel Messi winning the Golden Ball as most valuable player (I would have given it to Colombia’s James Rodriguez), but there is no way Argentina would have made it nearly as far without him. He will have one more legitimate shot to win the tournament in 2018 and thus place himself in the argument for “best player ever.” I can’t wait!

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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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A Good Start to the World Cup

The World Cup has gotten off to an excellent start, with an abundance of exciting matches and storylines. It is always interesting to see where each team is at after one match once all of the hype is over and they actually have to perform on the pitch. While the tendency is to overreact to initial impressions (e.g., Holland and Germany will be in the final! Spain is finished!), there are some nuggets of truth to be found in this first set of games. Four major ones stand out to me:

1. Brazil is not as good as everyone was expecting. I predicted in my previous World Cup post that Brazil will not win the tournament, and in their match against Croatia they showed why. Neymar is their only player who can carry a team, and their defense is suspect. The match would have ended in a draw if it had not been for the referee’s horrible penalty call. Brazil will probably win their group because of this win, but they will likely play Spain in the second round, and it will get more difficult from there. I do not see Brazil having the quality necessary to get through four of these tough matches to win the trophy.

2. Portugal are always crap at the World Cup. It is true that Portugal are better than they showed yesterday in their 4-0 loss to Germany. However, they have a history of disappointing World Cups that was clearly weighing on them. They did not seem ready to play, and now they have zero momentum going into what is basically a must-win match for them against the U.S. on Sunday.

3. CONCACAF’s strong start is not a fluke. Mexico, Costa Rica, and the U.S. all had solid victories (the U.S.’s was probably the least convincing because they played rope-a-dope, though still well-deserved; more on that below), and have put themselves in good position to make the second round. While Honduras looked terrible against France, it was their toughest match, and I expect the Catrachos to get better. CONCACAF has slowly and steadily been getting stronger, with more players playing in Europe and many playing in the ever-improving MLS, and this improvement is beginning to show on the global stage. The CONCACAF teams also seem to be less affected by the difficult weather conditions in Brazil than other countries because they are used to the difficult conditions in their own region. This is one reason why I think Portugal will be in trouble against the U.S. in Manaus.

4. Conversely, the African teams have been disappointing (note that Algeria hasn’t played yet, but I expect them to be the fourth place team in Group H). Aside from Ivory Coast’s comeback win against Japan (which was made possible by poor finishing by Japanese in the first half, as it should have been at least 2-0 going into halftime), the CAF teams have looked flat and it does not look like any of them have a chance of advancing. Cameroon was on the back foot the entire match against Mexico and now have to face Croatia and Brazil, Nigeria looked listless in their draw against Iran (even though Iran’s strategy was to park the bus, they actually had the best scoring chances of the match and were a bit unlucky not to win) and now face a must-win match against Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Ghana now need at least a point in their next match against red-hot Germany to have any hope of advancing after their crushing loss against the U.S. These disappointing results come after a subpar 2010 World Cup in South Africa, when only one of the six African teams made it out of the first round. Although the African squads have lots of big-name stars, they have not looked cohesive as teams, which is in major contrast to their CONCACAF counterparts.

Speaking of good team performances, the U.S.’s 2-1 victory over Ghana last night, practically a must-win game for both sides, epitomized the spirit of collective effort necessary to be successful in a tournament like this. The U.S.’s best player, Michael Bradley, had a poor game, the team’s most dangerous player, Jozy Altidore, went off injured midway through the first half and Matt Besler went off injured at halftime, and the captain Clint Dempsey played most of the match with a broken nose, but the team rose above these difficulties to get the necessary three points. The exciting thing is that the U.S. did not play nearly as well as they are capable of playing and they still won the game. Now they have a golden opportunity to get a result against a hurting Portugal side.

If the U.S. beat Portugal they will clinch a berth in the second round unless Ghana manages to beat Germany. If the U.S. draw Portugal they will probably go through to the second round because of Portugal’s bad goal difference assuming that Germany beats Ghana. If these two results occur, the U.S. would be at +1 and Portugal would be at -4, so Portugal would need to beat Ghana by four and hope that the U.S. lost to Germany (i.e., as long as the U.S. did not lose by more than a goal to Germany, they would probably advance). However, if Ghana gets some kind of result against Germany, then everything will remain up in the air. Ghana and Germany play on Saturday, so the U.S. will have a clear picture of the ramifications of their match on Sunday.

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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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Euro 2012: Spain Champions Again

Spain made history today with their 4-0 victory over Italy in the Euro 2012 final, becoming the first team to ever win three major championships in a row. Spain also became the first team to win two Euros in a row, and these two victories, along with their 2010 World Cup championship, make them the best side ever. They have had an incredible half-decade.

I have criticized Spain throughout the tournament for playing uninspired soccer, but today they pulled out all of the stops, scoring with ease against an Italian side that were playing quite well. Spain only allowed one goal the entire tournament (in their opening match against Italy), which is another record. They played like a true team in that their offensive players scored enough to get results and the defense was airtight, not assuming that they could be lazy because they could just run up the score on the other end. It gets boring when the same team wins all of the time, but one must give full credit to Spain—their results speak for themselves.

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Euro 2012 Quarterfinals Preview

The first round of Euro 2012 ended today with England beating Ukraine 1-0 and France losing to Sweden 2-0. England thus advance to the quarterfinals as the winners of Group D with France in second. The English victory was a stereotypically English display–defend, defend, defend, and score on a set piece. Wayne Rooney had a good game in his first match of the tournament after a two-match ban for a red card received during qualifying, and scored the only goal on a header in the aftermath of a corner kick. Soon afterwards, Ukraine looked to have equalized as a shot went over the line momentarily before being cleared by John Terry. But despite the fact that the extra goal-line official was standing right there, no goal was given and the English held their lead. However, earlier in the play Ukraine clearly had a player offside, so it wasn’t terribly unjust that the goal was ignored.

Steve McManaman, the color commentator for ESPN, said the incident was reminiscent of the 2010 World Cup match between England and Germany when Frank Lampard clearly scored, but the referee didn’t see the ball go over the line. However, McManaman called that play “Frank Lampard against West Germany,” and his partner Ian Darke didn’t correct him! This verbal slip both shows which era they grew up in and is an example of an odd trend in soccer commentary to assume that the current German team are only the successors of the West Germans, not the East Germans. Whenever anyone speaks about Germany’s previous successes, they always say that “Germany has won three World Cups” (or, more negatively if you are talking to an Englishman, “Germany lost the 1966 World Cup final to England”) but that’s not true–West Germany won three World Cups. There is a difference. If you are going to give the Germans all of West Germany’s successes, you have to give them all of East Germany’s (relative) failures, too.

Anyway, Ukraine needed to win in order to advance, and their failure to do so makes this tournament the second successive European Championship where both co-hosts have failed to advance (Switzerland and Austria were eliminated in the group stage in 2008). It is always sad when the hosts are eliminated immediately, but there are some exciting quarterfinal matchups to look forward to nonetheless. Here are comments on each match in the order they will be played:

Czech Republic vs. Portugal–Both teams are somewhat shaky on defense, and both rebounded with two wins after losing their first match. Portugal looked especially dangerous in their final match against Holland due to the emergence of Cristiano Ronaldo from his mini-slump, and I think this momentum will carry Portugal through to the semifinals.

Germany vs. Greece–The Germans were the only team to win all of their three first round matches, and looked fairly at ease doing so even though they only won each match by one goal. Greece is a tough team to beat because they are strong defenders and they take their few chances well, and Germany is not a flashy offensive team, so Greece might give them some trouble. But the Germans have too much quality, and will go through.

Spain vs. France–The juiciest of the four matchups. France looked like the second-best team of the tournament behind Germany until their uninspiring loss to Sweden. Conversely, Spain won their group in rather pedestrian fashion. Spain should win this match, but it really depends on which versions of the two sides show up. If France play the way they did against England and Spain play like they did against Croatia, I like the French. But those are two huge ifs. If each team plays to the average of their performances thus far in the tournament, Spain will win, because France must play their absolute best to have a chance.

England vs. Italy–Both teams have had middling performances that were enough to get them through to the quarterfinals, with England looking slightly more impressive. This match will come down to which teams’ stars have the best game. I really liked the way Wayne Rooney played today despite being rusty, so I’m picking England to move on.

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Euro 2012: The Somewhat Surprising “Group of Death”

Euro 2012’s Group B, the “Group of Death,” concluded today with Portugal and Germany notching 2-1 victories against Holland and Denmark, respectively. Germany very impressively took the full nine points to win the group and Portugal finished second with six, with their only loss 1-0 to the Germans. Portugal have looked better every match they have played, and today their superstar, Cristiano Ronaldo, finally got on the scoresheet with both goals and at least three other near-misses. He is coming into form at the best possible time for the Portuguese, who will be the favorites in their quarterfinal against the Czech Republic. Portugal’s other superstar, Nani, also had a very strong match, setting up the second goal minutes after he had squandered a beautiful scoring chance himself. Portugal look very dangerous at the moment, and should be able to take advantage of the Czechs’ spotty defending. Likewise, Germany should have no problem beating Greece, though the Greece are, of course, experts at squeaking out shocking victories in matches like this.

It is not surprising that the Germans and Portuguese went through, though I predicted that Portugal would not. What is surprising is that the 2012 World Cup finalists Holland would fail to advance, and that they would do so with three losses and only two goals scored! It is their worst showing ever at a major tournament, and they were clearly the worst team in the group. They looked tired throughout the tournament as well as  uninspired, as though they assumed that they could be on cruise-control until the knockout stages. Kudos to the other three teams in the group for taking advantage of this lethargy.

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Euro 2012: Group A Craziness

Euro 2012’s Group A ended today in surprising, fairly exciting fashion. The Czech Republic beat Poland 1-0 and Greece did the same to Russia, so the Czechs won the group with six points and Greece finished second with four points because their victory today gave them the tiebreaker over Russia, who also ended with four points. Co-hosts Poland finished last with two points.

Russia had looked like the strongest of the four teams in the previous two matches, and Greece the weakest, so the result of their match was especially surprising, but the Greeks’ desperate defending was too difficult for the Russians. The Russians would have advanced with a draw or a draw between the Czechs and Poles, but even though Poland, who needed to win, controlled the first half of their match they couldn’t score, and once the Czechs went ahead midway through the second half the only question was whether the Poles could spite them by scratching out a draw. They had a fantastic chance in the final minute of stoppage time, but the Czechs cleared the ball off the line. Thus the Russians’ streak of failures at major tournaments since the breakup of the Soviet Union continues, and Poland join Switzerland and Austria from Euro 2008 and South Africa from the 2012 World Cup as a host country that has failed to advance out of the group stage.

The Czechs will play the second-place team from Group B in the quarterfinals and the Greeks will play the first-place team. No matter who their opponents are, I expect the Group B (a.k.a. the “Group of Death”) teams to advance, though the Czechs might be finding their form at the perfect time. Their first-place finish looked nearly impossible after they lost their first match to Russia 4-1, but give them credit for taking care of business against the Greeks and Poles with two solid one-goal victories.

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Euro 2012 Predictions

Here are my predictions for the first round of Euro 2012, with teams listed in the order I think they will finish.

Group A



Czech Republic


I am generally not much of a believer in “home field advantage” in big tournaments when the host isn’t already a decent team to begin with. Poland is not a good team, and this group will be too difficult for them. I think Russia is finally ready to break through and surprise some people, and I like Greece’s steady, solid play more than the Czech Republic’s streakiness. But honestly, I could see any of the four teams qualifying from this group. It’s not nearly as flashy as the Group B “Group of Death,” but it will be a tightly-contested group with at least a few draws. I wouldn’t be surprised if second place was decided by goal difference.


Group B






The official “Group of Death” according to the media, though I am more confident about my picks for it than I am for any other group. Holland and Germany are just too good: they are experienced, tactically sophisticated, in form, and cool-headed enough to get the results they need. It could be that Germany top the group, but I see Holland winning it on goal difference. Portugal’s history of (relative) failure in big tournaments has become a self-fulfilling prophecy at this point, much like England’s constant failure when a match goes to penalties. Cristiano Ronaldo of ten has trouble translating his brilliance at the club level to big tournaments, and, while I love watching Nani play with Manchester United, he is able to thrive there because he doesn’t have to carry the side, whereas that pressure will be on him for Portugal. The Danes will put up a good fight, but simply don’t have the talent needed to advance out of this group—too bad they aren’t in Group A.


Group C






The Italians are old and rocked by scandal. I think Spain still has enough quality to win the group, though I don’t think they will win the entire tournament. The real fight will be for second place. I like Ireland here for intangible reasons. After they were robbed of a 2010 World Cup berth by France, they are due some good soccer karma, and I think this will help them get to the second round, and maybe further depending on their opponents.


Group D






Like Italy, I can’t take this version of France seriously as more than a once-glorious name. Ukraine are good enough to take advantage of playing at home to win the group, though I would be surprised if they won a knock-out match. England and Sweden could easily flip-flop, especially with England’s rash of recent injuries and Wayne Rooney’s two-match suspension. But if England are still in contention once Rooney returns, expect them to go through. It’s another “Group of Death”-lite, though (Group C is really the only group where this is not the case).

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