Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Quarterfinals here we come!

July 2: Holland vs. Brazil; Uruguay vs. Ghana
July 3: Argentina vs. Germany; Spain vs. Paraguay

Two Galactic quarterfinals! Holland, always one of the favorites, has had a rather quiet World Cup. For a change! No internal quarrels but also no great expectations. This seems to be a magic formula to bring Holland back to its WC glory days of 1970s when they lost the championship games in 1974 and 1978 to Germany and Argentina, respectively (interestingly, both times to host nations). Great news! South Africa is out of the way already! Holland has a fantastic group with Sneijder, Van Persie and Robben as its leaders. Brazil is strong as usual but will not be able to stop them. I take Holland with a strong performance against them.

Uruguay, my dark horse, has not disappointed me. Great defense, dangerous offense. However, if Ghana plays to its full potential (it reminds me of Senegal in 2002 WC, which was a fantastic team playing Brazilian-like soccer!) it can reach semis as the first African nation in WC history. This will be a great game no matter who wins!

Spain looked superbly strong and dominant against Portugal that focused mainly on defense. It was disappointing to see players very capable of instant attack so stagnant. And after finally breaking through a very good Portugese defense Spain did not turn to defense-only strategy! That was a relief to see a team that came out to win without a minimalist mindset! Well deserved victory. Paraguay has no chance.

Argentina, Holland and Spain are the best teams of this WC. Unfortunately only two teams can make the final and I pick the first two. I cast my vote for Spain before the start of WC mainly because I did not know how Diego can screw his time up. He hasn't! Good for us! As for the opponent, once again, England was THAT bad so even 10-1 victory for Germany would not change anything. They are a bump on the road for Argentina. There was no stopping Diego in 1986 as Germans experienced a painful way. There is no stopping them now, either. And Messi hasn't even scored yet!

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Halfway through the 2nd round

Disgrace! D I S G R A C E! Well, I innocently brought up 1966 WC final but now it seems as if I were onto something! My goodness! Ghost of 1966 comes to haunt England this time. Its third goal in 1966 never, very likely, fully crossed the line and after 44 years a clearly good one, seen by the entire world, was ignored by the refs. Germany would have won anyway but that's not the point of course. Starting 2nd half with 1-2 is completely different than being tied at 2. Disgrace.

There's more (huge mistakes)! Refs did discuss, not immediately but did have their mini conference, about first goal by Argentina playing very impressive Mexico team till this point (and throughout the entire game in fact). The offside was even clearer than England's 2nd goal!! NO GOAL for Argentina. Ultimately, Argentina would have beaten Mexico but that is obviously beyond the point. Mexican players were cheated and nothing will change it. (The future looks very bright for them, though. They might shock the world in 2014 as their team based on 2005 Under-17 FIFA World Champions will be in the best age for soccer players (25-28)).

THE CHANGE must come from FIFA! Mr. Sepp Blatter, it is YOUR FAULT! Time and again, you say technology and football cannot mix. What do you call that thing the refs have in their ears?! That is technology! They can communicate! Zidane received red card in 2006 WC final because linesman saw his headbut and he informed the main ref. The final outcome was changed dramatically! Italy won; likely with Zidane staying in France would have been the World Champion for the 2nd time. Two main referees, two refs covering both goal lines, the technical ref checking the video and quickly informing the main ref in controversial situations - just pick one Mr. Blatter! Shame on you!

Having said that, I can't wait to see Argentina kick German's butt! You can't be fooled by 4-1 pounding of England because it is a very weak team. Horrible defense, no offense. Germany played well enough to easily win. However, after first goal by England, Germans stopped playing. That's why the second goal for England was so important. I believe Germany would have prevailed 3-2 or on penalty kicks but the game was changed in its favor. Argentina, however, is on a different level, which Germany cannot reach by next Saturday. Auf wiedersehen und Gute Reise!

Friday, June 25, 2010

2nd round of WC - analysis

6/26 Uruguay-SKorea, USA-Ghana
6/27 Germany-England, Argentina-Mexico
6/28 Holland-Slovakia, Brazil-Chile
6/29 Paraguay-Japan, Spain-Portugal

Two classics: Germany vs. England and Spain vs. Portugal. Two forgetable games (involving Slovakia and Japan; sorry but those teams do not bring me to my knees screaming "yes! i want to see more of you guys!") and the rest that could make us wonder hmmm not bad, not bad at all!

Before the WC I picked Uruguay as my dark horse and it's looking pretty good right now. I saw them making semis, which is reasonable with Ghana, not England (though we all know now how weak Capello's team is), on its path. Oscar Tabarez, Uruguay's coach (nicknamed Maestro) has a collective destined to make the final four. When they needed to play tough defense, France could not score even when playing with an extra man (only for 10 minutes but still, good job La Celeste!). Then South Africa experienced more offensive Uruguay and lost badly 0-3. Needing only a draw against Mexico in its final group game, Uruguay did not calculate winning 1-0. Nice job!

They are focused, play well together and believe that they can surprise non-believers again and again. And they are, along with Portugal, the only team that have yet to concede a goal! (Great) defense wins championship. Well, perhaps it's not the case here but it will take them far into the tournament.

Oh, yeah, the next opponent. It's South Korea. Nice try but the truth is that Nigeria failed to beat them in the final group game. Not taking anything from its surprising qualification but they are fortunate to be here. No, they do not have a chance against Uruguay so please pack your bags. Overall, not a bad performance.

Ghana-USA. Americans have a lot in common with SKoreans. They don't belong here, either and as much as American media is trying to overblow its "amazing" run it ends at Accra station. Thanks, see ya in 4 years (since they still play against "world powers" such as Canada, Costarica, and Honduras somebody has to make it. I bet it's USA. Again). Ghana, the last hope of Africa, playing without its star Michael Essien has done well and its quarterfinal matchup with Uruguay should be very interesting.

1966. England. WC final at the famous Wembley Stadium. 98,000 people watching live. 400 milion in front of TV. England-Germany 4-2 after overtime. That's one for the ages. To this day it is unknown whether England's third goal, giving them 3-2 lead in overtime, should have been allowed. Did the ball cross the line? The Swiss referee was uncertain. He asked the Soviet linesman (key word "Soviet"), Tofik Bakhramov, who said "good goal!" How did he know? He could not but he did have an extra "motive to cheer" for England: Germany just defeated his Soviet Union in semis. (Remember, it was 1966). Having said that there is an amusing anectode: when Bakhramov was asked on his deathbed how could he be sure the third goal had crossed the line, he was alleged to have replied: Stalingrad! ... Ouch! Revenge is best served cold! It's sad that some people never forget and never forgive.

On Sunday, Germany will prevail being a slightly better of the two mediocre teams and England must begin making major changes since its football clubs have more foreigners than America leaving native English players mere spectators.

Argentina is such a huge favorite that it's unthinkable to see them lose against Mexico. And everyone wants to see a monstrous quarterfinal between Argentina and Germany. 1986 & 1990 WC finalists will battle on a South African soil till the very end. Argentina! (Naturally, it would also be quite a story if England were to play Diego's team again after the most (in)famous match of 1986 WC, which included both the best goal ever in the world cup history and the "hand of God" by Diego Armando Maradona. What a sweet revenge for the Englishmen, if only they had a good team to face Diego). Moreover, Mexico is used to losing in WC 2nd rounds. Harsh but true!

Holland will demolish Slovakia. It's not even close!

Chile will challenge not-so-magical Brazil but it's not good enough to upset the 5-time champs.

Paraguay-Japan. How can I say this politely? Ok, they do have to go out and actually play on the soccer field so that there is a winner (Paraguay) that will face Spain. (Flipping a coin for "the-most-interesting-match" of 2nd round might be a better idea, though).

Euro champs Spain will face plenty of problems against Portugal. They were my favorites, perhaps still are, to win it all however, there is something wrong. Something is not clicking with Spaniards. Nonetheless, they do have time to find their magic. If they make it on time, they will be crowned WC Champs! Otherwise it's Argentina for the 3rd time and the entire world will see Diego's butt running around the center of Buenos Aires! That is his promise should they win! I bet some people cheer for Argentina just to experience that!

Last but not least

Teams from group G & H are finishing the first phase of the rather disappointing World Cup thus far. No great games, spectacular plays, unforgettable goals. Indeed, history was made with both Italy and France going home early (and BOTH finishing last in their groups) but it was not a huge surprise. They were weak, not resembling 2006 teams that met in the WC final. The new (beach)ball jabulani, winter conditions, the curious case of vuvuzuela have all contributed to this poor WC. Hopefully it will get better, more interesting unlike the WC in Italy in 1990, believed to be the worst championship ever.

So, Brazil and Portugal should both advance with Spain topping its group and sending very unlucky Chile team (with 6 points!) home since Switzerland will beat Honduras. Cruel but somebody has to lose.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Some scores! Group E & F

I hoped not to see another traditional, horribly boring 1-0 wins for both england and germany but both teams could not resist it! now the punishment: they face each other! I'm glad Argentina will teach one of them (likely germans) a lesson in quartefinal. Now, Japan joins south korea in 2nd round by beating Denmark 3-1! No way! what happened?! Holland, my favorite to reach the final and, unfortunately, lose it again to Argentina (or Spain) beat Cameroon 2-1. No surprise there. But what do you call Slovakia beating defending world champs Italy 3-2?!?! i knew they were weak but to lose to Slovakia?! no disrespect but that is too much! Having said that, good job Slovaks taking full advantage of the weak opponent. thats how it should be.

Tomorrow, the last unknown 2nd rounders will join quite a unique group. Who will progress to quarters? Let's hope that it would be a stronger team thats advances.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

WC: Group C and D final group games

Group C is done with US and England barely going through. some luck! But you need it, too! Heartbreak for Algeria losing a goal to US in 91 minute! England, well, had its traditional boring 1-0 win.
Teams from Group D in 20 minutes will play for their lives! Serbia faces Australia and should win placing her 2nd in the group behind...Ghana! Germany is about to do something they are not familiar with: not qualify! they must beat Ghana to face England in the 2nd round. This would be a classic (even though the level of play for both teams is, to say it nicely, low). Sorry, not this time. This do-or-die game has an extra spicyness: two brothers will face each other! Jerome Boateng represents Germany; his half-brother, Kevin-Prince Boateng, plays for his father's native Ghana. And he is the one who eliminated Michael Ballack by breaking his ankle in the English Cup final last May . Let's play!