Wild American Gooner

When Sports Are More Than Just Sports


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The Calm Before the Storm

Good morning all. Today is the calm before the storm World Cup wise. We get the third place match tomorrow and the final Sunday, but today we have to wait. I don’t have much time today so that suits me just fine. But all day, I’ll be thinking about this weekend. It’s going to be fun.

Yesterday was quite a day for Arsenal supporters, and frankly I still can hardly believe that happened. We signed Alexis Sanchez… It’ll take a while for that to sink in. It seems strange that he took number 17, given that Nacho Monreal was currently wearing it. The options weren’t great for numbers, with 13 and 18 being the two best available, so you can see why Sanchez wanted something better. But what does it say to Monreal about his importance that his number was just given away? I guess there’s no way of knowing if he gave it up willingly, but it can’t be a good sign for the Spanish left back. Hopefully this doesn’t signal the end of Monreal’s time in an Arsenal shirt.

Hopefully there will be more good Arsenal transfer news to come in the immediate future, and now that Arsene Wenger has proved he can buy someone before the end of the window, everyone will be expecting big things. There is still a need at right back, center back, defensive midfield and goalkeeper, so this shouldn’t be the end of Arsenal’s spending. If Wenger plays his cards right, Arsenal could be a feared side come late August.

On a different front, the Red Sox won their second straight game in walkoff fashion yesterday, beating the White Sox in extra innings after Koji Uehara had blown a save. These last two games have been ones the Red Sox wouldn’t have won earlier in the season, but it would seem naive to consider everything fixed after two games. There are still lots of issues offensively – Jose Quintana had a perfect game into the sixth for the White Sox – and there’s a rapidly rising concern about the bullpen. Two walkoffs could help change the momentum and improve the vibe in the clubhouse, but in order to make a second half run, they’ll need to start hitting. Three hits in 10 innings won’t get you too many wins.

However, it is a good sign that the team hasn’t given up after the A.J. Pierzynski dismissal seemingly signaled that the front office was throwing in the towel on the season. That the players still have each others’ backs says a lot about the character of this team. We knew it was strong last year, but nobody seemed to be stepping up this year. It would be wise to try and ride this momentum out for as long as possible, but I don’t see it lasting much beyond the all-star break. However, if the Red Sox can make a legitimate push in the A.L. East in the next few weeks, maybe they can be buyers at the deadline after all. There’s no telling what will push the players’ buttons in times like these, but maybe the fear of getting traded or released could be the needed motivation.

It isn’t always pretty, but at least the Red Sox games have been more watchable in recent days. If there’s any more Arsenal news today, I’ll have some analysis, but otherwise, it’ll be a pretty quiet day. Thanks for reading.


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Argentina Wins the No-Midfield Battle

There was no Tim Krul to save the day this time. Argentina were uninspired going forward today, and not many would say they’ve breezed through the tournament. But Lionel Messi and his teammates are into the final, having beaten Netherlands on penalties after a scoreless draw. Javier Mascherano was the man of the match for Argentina in his role in front of the defense, holding Arjen Robben and Robin van Persie at bay. Maxi Rodriguez will steal some of the headlines for his winner in penalty kicks, but the story should be about the impressive defensive efforts on both sides. Once again though, I hate to see penalties decide a match though, as Ron Vlaar’s brilliant game should not have ended in heartbreak for missing a crucial spot-kick.

This was hardly an entertaining match, and the reason for that lies in the lack of true midfielders on the pitch for both teams. In direct contrast to how Germany has lined up, each team played with a system with only a single player in the middle of the park at times. Both teams started two holding midfielders who were more defenders than anything else, and while all were excellent in that role, none of them offered any support going forward. The lack of creative thought in midfield was never more evident than when ESPN showed the stat late in the second half that neither team had more than three touches in the opposing box. With nobody to provide service for all the attacking talent, neither team had any chances in regulation.

Playing two forwards, a back five and two holding midfielders, the Dutch were left with only Wesley Sneijder in the middle in the attacking half, and he wasn’t all that interested in dropping deep to receive the ball. As a result, they were forced to play a lot of lofted balls in to Robben and van Persie, who clearly were lacking the fitness to get onto them. As such, the Dutch hardly had any way forward. When Argentina dropped their line deeper, Netherlands didn’t have any creative options for breaking down the defense. Had Robben not played 120 minutes a few days ago, he very well might have been able to find space in behind the defense. But today, he needed more of the ball at his feet to be effective.

Argentina was much the same way, as their tactics didn’t help provide much service for Messi and Gonzalo Higuain up top. Lucas Biglia and Mascherano were once again outstanding defensively, keeping Robben and Sneijder at bay, but neither ventured forward too often with much vigor. People often say Messi is good enough to make his own chances, but when he has to drop into his defensive half to receive the ball because of a simple lack of bodies in midfield, he isn’t able to have the same impact in the final third. Ezequiel Lavezzi was disappointing on the wing, and it was clear that Angel di Maria’s pace was deeply missed. Not until Sergio Agüero and Rodrigo Palacio came on were Argentina able to create any real chances in open play. But even then, Messi was still playing more of the midfielder role than he would have wanted.

Pablo Zabaleta has not had a great tournament in my eyes. The right back came into Brazil being seen as one of Argentina’s biggest threats going forward, having run rampant in recent years down the flank in England. However yet again, he hardly touched the ball in the attacking third. Defensively, he was exceptional next to Ezequiel Garay and Martin Demichelis, always in the right position when the Dutch looked to counter. And in that way, his lack of offensive motor certainly helped Argentina maintain the clean sheet. But were his team to score today, he needed to be a presence up the field. He’ll need to be much more of a threat against Germany.

Jogi Löw’s German side should be able to grab the match by the neck on Sunday given their abundance of talent in midfield. If nobody is there to press Bastian Schweinsteiger and Toni Kroos high up the pitch, they will always pick the right passes. We saw yesterday that given time and space on the ball, Germany is lethal. If Argentina is going to have a chance on Sunday, there will need to be a change in tactics to put more men in the middle of the field.

On a completely different note, I have come to really enjoy Jon Champion and Stewart Robson as a commentating duo on ESPN. Their approach of being insightful but reserved comes off quite nicely after having to listen to so many games with the abrasive Ian Darke/Steve McManaman duo. I love that team of announcers, but they have become rather annoying recently, injecting their own biases into the matches far too often. While Darke thrusts himself into the match, Champion lets the play on the field do the talking most of the time. It’s refreshing to hear an announcer do such a nice job as a neutral.

What were your thoughts on the match? Comment below.


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Will There Be More Dutch Delight Today?

Good morning, everyone. Yesterday was quite a day at the World Cup – one few will forget. But let’s hope today’s semifinal is more of a game. I have high hopes. Now to my prediction.

Argentina 2 (4) Netherlands 2 (3)

Argentina will need to get another big game out of Gonzalo Higuain if they hope to win today. His ability to hold up the ball will be vital as his team will concede a lot of possession to the Dutch. Argentina’s midfield was impressive against Belgium, but they will need to be extra disciplined defensively, as Arjen Robben running at the left side of the Argentina defense remains frightening to think about. Javier Mascherano might be the key in this game in front of his back four, especially if he can keep Wesley Sneijder off the score sheet. His ability to break up play could disrupt any flow the Dutch want to find. Offensively, Pablo Zabaleta could find a lot of success getting in behind the Dutch wing backs. If he can get to the byline, Higuain will convert the chances. Lionel Messi also must be at or near his best, but the Dutch center backs aren’t as physical as Belgium’s were, which could help Messi out.

Netherlands will hope Robin van Persie recovers from his stomach bug in time to make the starting 11. Personally, I can’t see the former Arsenal man missing a semifinal with that type of illness, but you never know how sick he actually is. If he can’t play, Klaas-Jan Huntelaar would be the obvious replacement. The two forwards are different players, but they both could find success against a shaky Argentinian back four. The other key for the Dutch is whether Nigel de Jong can make a miraculous return to fitness in time to take a few whacks at Messi. If the referee isn’t calling many fouls, physicality in the midfield could determine the match. Offensively, the Dutch will look to attack down the right all night. Robben is due for another superb performance, and he will be licking his lips knowing who he is up against.

Assuming van Persie plays, I think the Dutch will score first. Ron Vlaar will get on the end of a Wesley Sneijder free kick, nodding home the opener. From there, Messi will begin to impact the match, releasing Pablo Zabaleta down the right time after time. After a couple near misses, a cross will find the head of Higuain, and the game will be tied at half. The second half will start brightly for the Dutch, who will seize the lead through a curling effort from Robben. Sergio Romero won’t stand a chance in net. Having started the game on the bench, Sergio Agüero will come on as Argentina looks for the tying goal late on. An error in defense will gift Agüero a chance in the box, and his shot will deflect towards Messi, who will deservedly get the all-important goal.

Extra time will be a boring at times, as both defenses fear the opposing counter attacks against heavy legs. It will turn into a stop-and-start affair in the midfield, with De Jong getting sent off late on. When the Dutch go down a man, they will be forced to use their final substitute to shore up the defense. Having withstood the final few minutes of Argentina’s attacks, Netherlands will safely get to penalty kicks with only ten men, albeit without spot-kick hero Tim Krul. Romero will guess correctly early on, and Argentina will take the early lead in pk’s. A late miss from Agüero won’t prove costly, as a second mistake from the Dutch will grant Argentina the chance to win it. Messi will bury it, and we’ll have an Argentina-Germany final.

I’ll have analysis after the game, and hopefully there’ll be some Arsenal news to write about in the coming days. Have a great day.

 

 


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Achtzehn Minuten – 18 Minutes That Changed World Football

In the course of 18 minutes, world football might have changed forever. The World Cup that Brazil had long dreamed about, the one they had billed as the chance to redeem the 1950 loss to Uruguay on home soil, suddenly became a national embarrassment. Few expected Brazil to beat Germany today in the semifinal without Neymar and Thiago Silva, but I don’t think anybody saw the complete demolition coming. In just 18 minutes, Germany destroyed Brazil’s World Cup.

It’s hard to examine the play on the field in a game like this behind a certain point. Germany were incredible offensively, but after the second or third goal, as much of that was down to Brazil giving up as it was their own brilliance. That being said though, Germany played out of their minds in the first half and for much of the second. It seems wrong to single out any individual above any other, because really, they were all at their best in the 18 minutes that mattered. The midfield was given ample space and time on the ball in dangerous areas, and they picked Brazil apart with every single pass. The finishing was lethal, and there isn’t much more to say other than that die Mannschaft were simply a delight to watch.

Manuel Neuer was once again outstanding in between the posts, and even when Brazil threatened early in the second half, Neuer kept his composure and made all the necessary saves. Another performance like this one will put fear in Germany’s next opponents, as frankly, Neuer doesn’t look like he’s letting anything get by him in the final. As fluid as the German attack was today, Germany’s biggest strength is their keeper.

But the story won’t be about Germany hardly at all. It’s about a Brazil side that gave up without it’s star. When things went wrong, there was no fight – no desire to do anything about it. They were resigned to defeat the moment the game began. It’s one thing not to believe. But it’s another entirely to lose the will to compete in a World Cup semifinal on home soil. Watching so many players fail to close down German opposition – jogging instead of sprinting – should make every Brazilian sick. This Brazil team should be embarrassed beyond any reprieve. There is no excuse for giving up.

You wonder if this team will be given a free pass of sort because of Neymar’s injury. Yes, he was their superstar, their inspiration and the reason for their success, but Neymar is only one player in a squad of 23. He wouldn’t have been the one defending Germany today, and even if he had played, Brazil would have leaked goals. Neymar’s broken back may have caused the lack of fight, but the real cause of today’s embarrassment was the absence of Thiago Silva in defense. Without the Brazilian captain in the heart of defense, David Luiz, Dante and everybody else had no idea what they were doing. It was like they had never played together. There were spaces everywhere, and the disorganization was rather pathetic. Luiz and Dante are two of the best defenders in the world, but today they looked like high schoolers. Julio Cesar had no chance in net, and he has every right to be angry about the lack of defending in front of him.

There will be much written about Luiz Felipe Scolari and his inability to have his team prepared for life without Neymar and Silva. Much of the blame should rightly fall on him. However, the players themselves – Marcelo, Fernandinho, Luiz, Dante, Maicon, Hulk, etc. – deserve the brunt of the criticism. This embarrassment won’t soon be forgotten in Brazil, and the players have no excuses. People still talk about the Maracanazo in 1950, but this was much worse than even that. The lack of fight in this squad will be remembered forever.

For Germany, today was just about perfect. But in the grand scheme of things, this rout will mean nothing if they don’t carry over their form into the final. Should they fail to lift the trophy, the seven goals today won’t matter much more than any other game for the Germans. However, for Brazil, this result did matter. And everyone involved should be ashamed.


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Ein Deutscher Tag Für Alles

Guten Morgen! The World Cup is finally back today. And I couldn’t be more happy about it, as my brief journey back to baseball quickly made me question the decision. Last night, I went to the Red Sox-White Sox game at Fenway Park. Granted, I’ve learned to expect next to nothing from the Red Sox these days. But I was thoroughly impressed with how unimpressive the reigning champions are right now. You watch them hit and wonder how this team will ever score a single run, let alone win a game that Clay Buchholz starts. How many sub .240 hitters can you start and legitimately hope to put runs on the board? When a 29-year-old rookie pitcher with a plus-five ERA throws six and two thirds innings of one hit baseball, and nobody in the park is surprised, something is wrong. We all know these players are capable of being better. But it’s just not happening this year.

Had the Red Sox not won the championship a year ago, this team would be getting slammed in Boston right now. Imagine the talk radio hosts going off on John Farrell and his group of players that more closely resemble the September of 2006 Red Sox than they do the 2013 team. But instead, we are in this wonderful grace period, a time when anything could go horribly wrong and nobody could get angry. Because we love these guys. The same players that helped rebuild this city last fall won’t ever be capable of breaking our spirits.

So I believe Ben Cherington must use this grace period to his advantage and shop his players while Boston fans will allow it. In my view, hardly anyone on the roster should be untouchable right now, with the possible exceptions of Dustin Pedroia and David Ortiz. Despite their poor seasons, many players will have relatively high market values, and Cherington would do well to restock his offensive talent in return. He needs to be making a lot of phone calls this month.

But enough of that. It’s time to get back to soccer. Here’s my first semifinal pick.

Germany 2 Brazil 0

This dream semifinal will lack flare at times, but the Germans will be ruthlessly efficient once again, hardly troubled by the weakened Brazilian defense. For Brazil to have a shot, I would like to see Oscar occupy the number 10 role in Neymar’s absence. He has the ability to press higher up the pitch than Neymar ever wanted to, and pressing Bastian Schweinsteiger any time he receives the ball in his own half would lead to a drop in the German’s play, as he does much better with more time and space on the ball. Oscar will also have to pick up his offensive game, as he will need to bring his wingers into the match. Hulk will need to provide the creativity and Luiz Gustavo and Fernandinho or Paulinho will have to be willing to make the late run into the box should Brazil hope to score without their star man. However, the bigger loss might be in defense, where Thiago Silva will be sorely missed. I hope Dante gets the start, as his knowledge of the Bavarians could prove a huge help.

On the German side, it will be quite interesting to see how the front four line up, especially if Miroslav Klose doesn’t get another start. I would like to see Mesut Özil pushed wider than normal, occupying the space behind the attacking fullbacks and away from Luiz Gustavo. If Toni Kroos can keep Gustavo busy, spaces will open up for Özil and Thomas Müller to receive the ball in front of the back four. From there, they should have more success with their final ball, finding openings in between the inexperienced tandem of David Luiz and Dante. In defense, I would like to see Per Mertesacker come back in, either for Jerome Boateng or Benedikt Höwedes, with Boateng shifting to the left. Defending set pieces will be crucial against a depleted Brazilian attack that will be dying for a cheap goal. Fred’s lack of pace shouldn’t worry Mertesacker, so it would be wise to bring his experience back into the side.

I predict Manuel Neuer will not let in a goal, playing more of his sweeper role than of his goalie role. He’ll be able to beat Fred to any ball played in over the top, and when called upon to deny Hulk or Ramires from distance, he’ll be up to the task. Germany will be patient in the first half, allowing Brazil some unthreatening possession, but they will manage to keep the crowd silent and out of the match. Late in the first half, Özil will unlock the defense, threading a through ball in to Müller after a lengthy build-up. Müller’s cool finish will give Germany the lead at half. As Brazil throw on more attacking threats in the second half, Lukas Podolski will come on for Deutschland and will score the clinching goal on the break, beating Julio Cesar near-post. Neymar and Thiago Silva will be sorely missed and it will be a German day in Brazil. The streak will finally come to an end, as Brazil will lose at home. That is, unless the referee decides to help the hosts out. Let’s hope Marco Rodriguez is up to the task.

I hope you all have a great day, and I’ll be back later today with some analysis of the semifinal after the match. Hoffentlich kann ich in Deutsch das schreiben mit einem Sieg. (And hopefully that bit of German was correct.)