Tag Archives: Jozy Altidore

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 U.S.A.-Honduras Match

I attended the U.S.A.-Honduras World Cup qualifier in Sandy, Utah last night. Although I’ve been a dedicated soccer fan for over twenty years, this was my first opportunity to attend a professional match, and it was a fantastic experience! I will attend another one as soon as possible. Here are some thoughts and observations about the night.

Even though Rio Tinto Stadium only holds 20,000 people (last night was a sellout, with 20,250 attending), it was extremely loud throughout the match. I loved this atmosphere, which doesn’t always come across when watching on television. There were four people two rows behind me yelling insults at Honduras in Spanish the entire match, which was fantastic. There were several rousing “U! S! A!” chants throughout the evening as well.

While Rio Tinto offers beautiful views of the surrounding mountains, the second deck where I was sitting (the only one, which is a bit unusual) faces west, thus the sun was in my eyes the entire match. It would make much more sense to have this section facing east.

When Jozy Altidore’s goal was called offside midway during the second half, the scoreboard did not show the replay, protecting the referee and linesman, but when Altidore scored the match-winning goal later on the scoreboard did show the replay. The stadium exploded when the ball went in the net, constant noise for about a minute. I was jumping up and down and screaming–the adrenaline just took over.

It was refreshing to be able to see the entire field and what all twenty-two players were doing at once rather than having my view limited by what the television producers chose to show. It becomes much clearer just how much of a team game soccer is. Similarly, the field feels much smaller live than it does on television.

Overall, it was a good result for the U.S., and a fair one based on the flow of the game. They lead the Hexagonal with thirteen points after six matches. Their next two matches are difficult ones, away to Costa Rica and home to Mexico, and while they have a good chance of taking all six points from those fixtures if they keep playing at their current level, realistically they could lose those two matches and still qualify for the World Cup because their final two matches are Jamaica at home and Panama away.

Here are a few photographs that I took at the match with my iPhone:

The two teams coming out onto the pitch at the beginning of the match.

The two teams coming out onto the pitch at the beginning of the match.

The second half kickoff.

The second half kickoff.

Second half action with the Oquirrh mountains in the background.

Second half action with the Oquirrh mountains in the background.

One side of the commemorative scarf that was handed out at the match.

One side of the commemorative scarf that was handed out at the match.

The other side of the commemorative scarf.

The other side of the commemorative scarf.

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