Monday, June 19, 2006

World Cup Weekend Recap and Preview

An unfortunate internet breakdown caused me to lose my entire blog on the US game this past weekend. Which is a real shame for both you and me, as the commentary in the posting was, on the whole, very insightful and of a high overall quality. You would've been impressed.

But, alas, nothing can be done now. Instead, I'll just resort to a quick breakdown and some standard bullet-point type stuff about the weekend's games and what we have to look forward to in the coming week.

USA 1 - Italy 1
A truly engrossing match that started well for the Americans. We took the game to Italy with pace and confidence, and maybe should've had a lead before Eddie Pope decided he was sick of being so close to Gilardino, allowing the Italian forward to easily guide his header past Keller for a 1-0 lead. The USA rebounded quickly, thanks to an Italian own goal. The events which transpired after that are difficult to explain. If you care about soccer at all you know the officiating was a joke -- three red cards issued -- and the USA put in a gutsy performance to preserve a 1-1 tie. I'll just give some quick thoughts to add to what's already been said:

- The main difference between the two teams -- the reason it was a tie and not an American win -- was simply that Italy is much more savvy than the US. They know when and how to win a foul, they know how to fall down in order to draw a card, and they know what to do when they win a foul.
- Onyewu and Keller played excellent games, as did Cherundolo. If little Stevie could serve a decent ball into the box, the upper echelon of European teams might be knocking on the door. His energy and steady play were essential.
- McBride was a true warrior and led by example...but he should've scored when Donovan teed him up in the second half. Getting caught offsides for Beasley's would-be winner didn't help either.
- Jimmy Conrad deputized very admirably at center back. I was nervous when he came in, but he seemed to organize very well and made a couple crucial plays.
- Anyone have any idea why Arena didn't use his third sub? Eddie Johnson on for the dead-tired McBride for the last ten minutes to run at the Italians, maybe sneak a goal, give some energy in tracking back? An extra defensive midfielder? Would it have hurt to throw on Ben Olson or someone scrappy to help win some balls in the last five minutes?

WORLD CUP WEEKEND THOUGHTS
Group A
- Germany and Ecuador clinch spots in the next round with Ecuador's resounding 3-0 defeat of Costa Rica. Ecuador has really come on, scoring five goals in two games and allowing zero.
- Goal differential means a draw between the two in the final group game will send Ecuador into first place, leaving Germany to possibly face England. I like Germany's chances in the game tomorrow, 1-0.

Group B
- Trinidad put up quite a fight against England before ultimately falling 2-0 with goals from Liverpool men Crouch and Gerrard. England will have to be frustrated once more and neutral observers will continue to wonder why Eriksson remains in a state of denial about the way his team has played so far.
- Sweden beats Paraguay on a late Freddie Ljungberg headed goal, 24 hours after I remove him from my fantasy team.
- The Group B scenario breaks down like this: England is in the next round. They can win the group with a win or a draw against Sweden. Sweden can advance with a win, a draw, or a Trinidad loss or draw against Paraguay. Trinidad can advance only with a win and an England win. Trinidad will also need to overcome Sweden's goal differential (currently +1 to their -2). Paraguay is eliminated.
- England will likely field a first choice team in an effort to avoid meeting host Germany in the next round. However, by the time Group B kicks off tomorrow, Group A will be set. If Ecuador wins Group A, do not be surprised to see a below full strength England team. I'm not the coach, but if I was, I might try playing with a defensive midfielder for once.

Group C
- Straightforward. Argentina and the Netherlands are in. They play Wednesday. The winner gets first place and likely Mexico in the Round of 16. The loser gets Portugal. A draw would favor Argentina with their significant goal difference.
- Argentina's trouncing of Serbia -- not a weak team at all -- has sent a warning signal to other Cup contenders. No team has looked so efficient offensively in their first two games and, in Crespo, they appear to have a goal poacher who is truly in form. Watch out.
- Poor Ivory Coast. Two excellent performances and only two consolation goals to show for it. Let's hope they get the win they deserve in their last match.
But most importantly...credit to them for their attacking approach and positive play. Excellent goal on Friday too.


Group D
- Same as Group B. Portugal has clinched a place in the next round. Iran is eliminated. Mexico can advance with a win or a draw in their final game against Portugal or a loss or draw by Angola. Angola can advance with a win and a Mexico loss, and also need to cover the goal difference (now +2 for Mexico v. -1 for Angola).
- With Argentina's dominant performance, Portugal will want to avoid them in the next round and will probably send out a full strength team against Mexico.
- Look for Iran to recover some pride and get a result against Angola, sending Mexico into the second round regardless of the result in their game v. Portugal.
- Thought to be one of the weaker groups, Angola and Iran have really pushed both Mexico and Portugal to the limit and made this much more competitive than many thought. I'd pay good money to see Angola sneak into the second round over Mexico, but I don't see it happening.

Group E
- Scenario: Complicated.
ITALY - Can advance with a win or draw v. Czechs and/or a draw in the Ghana-USA game.
Can clinch the Group with a win or a draw and a draw in the Ghana-USA game.
CZECH REPUBLIC - Can advance with a win, or a draw and a draw in the Ghana-USA game. Can clinch the group with a win and a Ghana loss or draw. Can also advance with a tie and a USA win by less than 4 goals.
GHANA - Can advance with a win. Can advance with a draw and a Czech loss. Can clinch the group with a win and a Czech-Italy tie.
USA - Can advance with a win and an Italy win. Can advance with a an Italy-Czech draw and a win by 4 clear goals.
- It's an uphill battle for the Yanks, but not impossible. This is by far the most fascinating group, with the USA the only team who can't win the group and doesn't control it's own destiny.
- Every team will have to send out a full strength team with Brazil waiting the second place team. After Italy was stung by that improbable 2-2 tie at Euro 2004 between Denmark and Sweden that eliminated them, expect them to try and get a result to control their own destiny. Likewise, Ghana will be confident and may come out boldly to get the win that would put them through.

Group F
- Brazil is in and, if I'm not mistaken, has clinched the group already. Australia is in with a win or a draw v. Croatia. Croatia needs a win over the Aussies to advance. Japan needs a win against Brazil and an Australia loss.
- Brazil will probably field a below strength team, but since this team will feature goalscorer Fred, sub Robinho, free kick expert Juninho and others, they could easily sweep aside the Japanese. Australia looked impressive against Brazil. Their game against Croatia should be very tight and physical, and I like the Aussies to advance with a 0-0 draw.

Group G
- Another wide open group. France really blew their golden chance at qualification with a draw against Korea. They're not really out of it by any means, but they don't control whether or not they get first place in the group. If either Korea or Switzerland win their game, that team will top the group. Should France also win, they would get second place. If they tie and France beats Togo, it will come down to goal differential. Right now Switzerland is at +2 and Korea at +1. France would need to win by 2 clear goals against Togo to be sure.
- Look for France to get the win they need and sneak in the next round to meet Spain. You almost sense that they could use the wakeup call against an established power to really get themselves playing again. Of course, they'll have to do this sans Zidane, out for picking up his second yellow card.

Group H
- Ukraine's 4-0 over Saudi Arabia helped their chances quite a bit. They will -- barring a Tunisian upset of Spain today -- only need a draw against Tunisia to ensure qualification. There are other scenarios, but until the Spain-Tunisia game is over, I'll hold off spelling them out for you.

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