Wild American Gooner

When Sports Are More Than Just Sports


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Argentina State Their Case

Argentina proved they are more than just Lionel Messi in their 1-0 quarterfinal win over Belgium today, with a number of players impressing on the day. Belgium once again looked lost in its own system, with so many talented individuals playing like only a fraction of their normal selves.

Gonzalo Higuain may often get overlooked in the grander scheme of things, but he may be almost as crucial to Argentina’s World Cup campaign as Messi himself. Higuain played his best game of the tournament today, opening up with a brilliantly taken volley past Thibaut Courtois to give Argentina the lead. From there, his play only got better. He was a menace on the ball, dropping deeper than normal to pick up the ball when his team earned possession. His hold-up play was among the best seen in Brazil, as his ability to keep the ball under fierce pressure allowed his midfielders time to get forward. Holding off Vincent Kompany is always a big ask for a forward, but Higuain had little trouble today. His nutmeg of Kompany on a solo run that ended with a well-struck shot hitting the crossbar typified the performance.

When Angel di Maria went down with a thigh injury, Argentina’s approach understandably became more patient. But even without di Maria’s pacey runs, Messi and company still found success out wide. Ezequiel Lavezzi put in an impressive shift defensively, but he also made a number of runs out wide that nearly resulted in goals. With di Maria likely out of the semifinal, Lavezzi will be called upon to deliver another performance like his one today. And in midfield and defense, Alejandro Sabella’s changes in the lineup looked genius. Lucas Biglia had a solid performance in the middle of the park, certainly appearing up to the task. And in defense, Martin Demichelis hardly put a foot wrong. Especially late on when Belgium started sending in long-balls, Demichelis’s physicality proved vital for Argentina.

While Belgium might be satisfied with their quarterfinal appearance in their first World Cup since 2002, they never lived up to their potential. Much like they had all tournament, they lacked creativity in the final third today. Star player Eden Hazard was rightly substituted late on, because he had not looked even a shadow of himself. As one of the Premier League’s best players, Hazard could have stolen the show in Brazil, but instead, he barely made an impact. He’s got a long shelf life in international soccer, but his poor performances here won’t enhance his reputation. With Cesc Fabregas coming in at Chelsea, Hazard might be at risk of getting dropped if his play doesn’t pick up in pre-season.

Marc Wilmots’s Belgian side had more talent on the field today than Argentina did among all 11 players. But Belgium did not have a single player step up. They were wasteful all day on set pieces, and with Kompany, Romelu Lukaku and Marouane Fellaini all capable of changing a match with their heads, the consistently poor delivery did themselves no favors. In two years time, after this young side has had more time on the training ground together, they should be a favorite at the European Championships. But today, they were not cut out for the biggest stage.

Messi had a good game in possession, once again looking a magician with the ball at his feet, but he will be disappointed not to have beaten his nemesis Courtois at the end of the game. One has to feel Messi won’t miss many more chances like that in Brazil. But overall, he will be delighted with the performance of his teammates. Gonzalo Higuain, Ezequiel Lavezzi and Javier Mascherano are all more than capable of stepping up beside Messi to lead this team to the title. And they showed it today.


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Thiago Silva’s Lookalike and Today’s Picks

Good morning, everyone. I hope you all survived any 4th of July festivities. One random thought before I move to my predictions for today’s games. For a while now, I’ve looked at Thiago Silva and thought he looked familiar. But I couldn’t ever place it. That is, until yesterday, when I figured it out – he looks like the lead male actor from The Fault in Our Stars, Ansel Elgort. Obviously, the two of them have drastically different skin tones, but the shape of their faces and certain facial features look rather similar. Google just told me I am not the very first to make this connection, but I doubt too many people have put Silva and Elgort together in their minds. Somehow I think there aren’t many Brazilian soccer aficionados out there who also are fans of The Fault in Our Stars.

Now, to the picks.

Argentina 2 Belgium 1

Despite all the offensive firepower on the field, this game could be a dull one at times. These two teams have underwhelmed on their ways to the quarterfinals, lacking much of the flare they possessed in qualifying. For Argentina, it will be vital for Angel di Maria to be at his best on the left wing. Belgium’s fullbacks, especially Toby Alderweireld, will be the weak links that Argentina can attack. Pacey runs from di Maria could see Argentina run away with the game. For Belgium, I expect Romelu Lukaku to reclaim his starting spot. His ability to link up with Eden Hazard and Kevin De Bruyne could cause nightmares for the Argentine defense. Thibaut Courtois will be counted on in the Belgian net more than in any game prior.

I expect the game to start slowly, with any chances in the opening half an hour coming from defensive mistakes rather than any particularly impressive attacks. One such chance will fall to Hazard, who will open his World Cup scoring account and give Belgium the early lead. At halftime, Argentina will change things up tactically to get Lionel Messi more involved. However, Argentina’s equalizer will come from Pablo Zabaleta, played in by di Maria. Minutes later, Messi will give his country the lead from a brilliantly played one-two with Ezequiel Lavezzi. It will be a vintage effort from the world’s best player that sends Argentina to the semifinals.

Netherlands 2 Costa Rica 0

As much as I would like to see Costa Rica pull off the unthinkable and reach the semifinals, they’ll have to play an almost perfect game to beat the in-form Dutch. Thus far, Costa Rica hasn’t had to deal with many lightning quick forwards, which has allowed them to gamble on the counter. But if they do that today, their backline will be left on an island trying to defend Robin van Persie and Arjen Robben. The Dutch will punish any mistake, and unfortunately, I don’t think Costa Rica will be play mistake-free.

I predict Costa Rica will be the team attacking with the most vigor in the early going, trying to send a message that they’re here to play with the big boys. But roughly a quarter of an hour in, Arjen Robben will get the game’s first real chance. Afraid of giving away the penalty, Costa Rica will allow Robben the extra inch of space he needs, and the Bayern Munich man will fire the ball into the back of the net, beating Keylor Navas near-post. The goal against the run of play will knock some of the wind out of the Ticos sails. Before halftime, the Dutch will double their lead, with Ron Vlaar rising highest to head in a corner. In the second half, Joel Campbell and Bryan Ruiz will combine well to create a couple of chances, but Jasper Cillessen will prove up to the task in goal. The latter stages of the game will be fairly comfortably for the Dutch, who will advance to the semifinals with relative ease.

What are your thoughts on today’s games? And do you see the Thiago Silva-Ansel Elgort connection or am I crazy? Please comment below.


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How the USA beats Belgium

Last spring, the USA lost a friendly to an upstart Belgium 4-2, a match in which the American defense looked hopelessly inexperienced. Belgium ran rampant in Cleveland, even without star playmaker Eden Hazard. That night, the United States did not look anywhere close to the level of the Red Devils, putting themselves under loads of pressure going into the Gold Cup. However, a year later, tables have turned. Belgium is now the side that is struggling with pressure, and the U.S. is the upstart. In today’s round of 16 game, anything can happen.

The biggest difference from the United States side that was torn apart a year ago is the defense. That day, the back four was Cameron, Gonzalez, Goodson and Beasley, who was still learning the left back position. Since then, Matt Besler and Fabian Johnson have stepped into the first team, and both have been tremendous in Brazil. Today, the two of them will need to continue that form against the Belgians. Besler will be tasked with stopping the physical Romelu Lukaku and the pacey Divock Origi. One will start and one will come off the bench, but both are equally dangerous. Johnson will have his hands full with Eden Hazard on the right, as the Chelsea man will be the best player of the field. Keeping Hazard from getting to the byline is absolutely crucial for the American defense.

In midfield, Jermaine Jones will need to continue his scorching form. With Kyle Beckerman next to him, Jones can continue to venture forward as needed. He was the best American a year ago against Belgium, and he will need to be that again today. If he does go forward, Beckerman will have to remain disciplined, because Belgium possess the same talent in midfield that Germany did. There’s not a weak link of the field. As a result, Michael Bradley will be needed more than ever today and he can’t have another poor performance. It’s that simple.

Even if Jozy Altidore is fit enough to play, I wouldn’t give him a start. Stick with the lineup that played against Germany, and if needed, Altidore can be an option off the bench if the U.S. wants a late goal. Gambling on his health would be too big a risk right now, especially in a game that could go 120 minutes. All three substitutions will be needed late on, and wasting one on an Altidore injury setback early could be costly. Jürgen Klinsmann has had the magic touch with substitutions, and he will need to counter an even higher level of success that Belgium’s subs have had in recent games.

I predict the game goes into extra time. Belgium will retain their cautious approach at the start of the game, allowing the United States time to settle in. There will be no early goal this time. As the game builds, chances will start falling for the U.S., who will not be dominated in possession as many fear. The best chance will fall to Bradley, but once again, he will fail to convert. Thibaut Courtois will be hard to beat. On the other end, Tim Howard will be forced into a tough save from Kevin de Bruyne late in the first half, but Belgium won’t be overly dangerous.

The second half will see the Belgians take control of the match, finding success with midfield runners opening up the flanks. Once they open the match up, they will be scary to watch. However, their goal will come from a set piece – off the head of Vincent Kompany, who will have overcome his injury concern to deputize the side. But the U.S. will press on after the goal, sending Jozy Altidore into the mix late on. He will get onto a long ball from Jones and earn a penalty with a clever turn. Clint Dempsey will step up to tie the game. In extra time, the legs will begin to go for the Americans, and the chances will all fall to Belgium. One will land at the feet of Eden Hazard, who will break American hearts. There won’t be enough left in the tank for another comeback and the final score will be Belgium 2 United States 1. I sure hope I’m wrong.

Argentina 2 Switzerland 1

The other game today will also be a good one, with the Swiss putting a scare in Argentina. Lionel Messi will continue his stunning form, scoring an early goal, but the result will be a question of whether his supporting cast shows up. Switzerland’s suspect defense will be exposed once again in the opening minutes, torn apart by a solo run from Messi. Johan Djourou will have trouble making his teammates believe he once started for Arsenal when they beat Messi in 2011. However, Xherdan Shaqiri will find an equalizer against the run of play, scoring a sparkler for the Swiss. When it looks like the tide is turning, Angel di Maria will finally show what he is capable of, beating the Swiss defense on a counter to give Argentina the lead. Messi’s supporting cast will ultimately get the job done.

Well, today is going to be an interesting day. I hope all of you will be watching. I am not nearly as worried about this game as I have been about the others. That’s not to say I am confident, it’s just that I understand at this point, anything can happen. The best team won’t always win. Get it to penalties and who knows who’ll wilt under pressure. Check back for post-match coverage tonight. I believe, despite my prediction. We can do this.

Watch this video and you’ll believe too.

 


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World Cup Knockout Stage Predictions

With no games to predict today, I think now is a good time to pick the games the rest of the way in the style of my most popular post – my original group stage predictions. While those picks don’t look so great now, it’s nice to have something to look back on as we progress. Don’t hold me to any of what I say, as I reserve the right to change my picks for games even in the round of 16 – unless I’m right of course. So here we go.

Round of 16

Brazil over Chile – I really want to pick against the hosts, and I very well might tomorrow, but I think Neymar has enough magic in him to edge Brazil past the exciting Chileans.

Colombia over Uruguay – There’s no way James Rodriguez will be stopped by a Luis Suarez-less Uruguay.

Netherlands over Mexico – Mexico might surprise the Dutch, but a Arjen Robben solo effort will prove enough in extra time.

Costa Rica over Greece – Why would I pick against Costa Rica? There’s no way Georgios Samaras scores again, so unless the match goes to penalties, the Ticos will advance.

France over Nigeria – France’s new-look attack will have their way with Nigeria’s defense. The French are on a roll.

Germany over Algeria – The upstart Desert Foxes will run into a brick wall in Germany, who will quickly show Algeria they aren’t playing in Group H anymore.

Argentina over Switzerland – Johan Djourou will be having nightmares about Lionel Messi all week. Argentina will romp, putting at least three past the Swiss.

USA over Belgium – Here’s my upset. The red, white and blue will win this one on penalties. Tim Howard will upstage Thibaut Courtois.

Quarterfinals

Colombia over Brazil – The pressure will get to Brazil, and they’ll wilt under the spotlights. Defensive mistakes from Brazil will see Colombia score early and often.

Netherlands over Costa Rica – The dream will die here. Robin van Persie will show Joel Campbell what a true Premier League striker looks like. And Louis van Gaal’s bunch will be back in the semifinals.

Germany over France – The game of the tournament will come two rounds too early. A high-scoring thriller will come down to penalties, where Manuel Neuer will best Hugo Lloris.

Argentina over USA – Lionel Messi will continue his stellar tournament, running circles around DeMarcus Beasley. This game won’t be close.

Semifinals

(Update: I made a mistake and set the wrong quarterfinalists together here. Please see the update for my correction)

Netherlands over Colombia – Two of the tournament’s surprises will meet in a contentious semi. Goals will come early, but the brakes will be thrown on and the second half will be a defensive struggle. Netherlands advances to their second straight final on penalties.

Germany over Argentina – My German bias might be a factor in this pick, but I see a repeat of the 2010 demolishing. Messi will be at his best, but his teammates won’t be of any help in the end.

3rd Place Game 

Argentina over Colombia – Lionel Messi will seal his golden boot and golden ball awards with a brace against Colombia. Argentina gets third.

Final

Germany over Netherlands – Die Mannschaft wird gewinnen! The Dutch defense will finally be exposed, and Arjen Robben won’t be at his best against many of his club teammates. Philipp Lahm will lift the trophy for the Germans, who will be deserving winners in Brazil.

Do you disagree? Tell me why I’m wrong. And enjoy the day off from soccer if you can. I know I won’t.

 

 


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Can the Swiss Hold On? Today’s Picks

Well good morning, everyone. Let’s hope we can have the World Cup storylines be about the soccer itself today. After I ranted about Luis Suarez last night, I found myself some extended highlights of the Colombia game. They are a delight to watch right now. I hope they have their way with Uruguay, and I don’t see why they won’t. James Rodriguez is on fire. His goal yesterday is my pick thus far for goal of the tournament – an absolute beauty. I don’t know if I’m going to be able to watch any games at all today though, as I’ve got a particularly busy day. But I’ll do my best to have some more content, so check back later.

Now for my predictions.

Bosnia & Herzegovina 2 Iran 0

Bosnia has played too well to leave Brazil without a win. It’ll come against Iran, who will fall short of reaching the knockout stage. Edin Džeko will score a brace, giving the disappointed Bosnians some consolation after some unlucky results. Iran will be threatening in the first half, but chances will be scarce as the game goes on. They’ll be disappointed to leave without a goal. Asmir Begović will prevent them from scoring, showing why he should be considered among the world’s very best. I think Bosnia will cruise.

Argentina 2 Nigeria 1

Nigeria will somehow manage to get out of the group with only four points, losing this one to Argentina, who will not be particularly convincing once again. Lionel Messi will provide the opener, setting up a Sergio Agüero goal midway through the first half. From there, Nigeria will control much of the game, tying it on a Emmanuel Emenike goal. He will be impressive today, finally getting his World Cup goal. Argentina will arrive at their winner on a Lionel Messi penalty late on. Argentina will be lucky to leave with all three points.

France 3 Ecuador 1

France’s new lineup will romp once again, crushing Ecuador’s hopes of advancing. Karim Benzema will add to his impressive tally with a thunderous strike within ten minutes. Raphael Varane will score France’s second off of a corner a few minutes later, and within twenty minutes, the game will be all be locked up. Loic Remy will add one of the bench to ensure France’s finish atop Group E late on. Enner Valencia will get his goal in stoppage time to give Ecuador one last chance to celebrate their accomplishment of getting to Brazil. Christian Benitez can be proud looking down on these guys.

Switzerland 2 Honduras 2

A nervy finish to this game will see Switzerland flirt with dropping out of the knockout stages, but they will ultimately hold on to the group’s final spot. A Granit Xhaka goal will give the Swiss the ideal start, offering a morale boost following the embarrassment against France. Xherdan Shaqiri will double the lead shortly after, and it will appear that Switzerland will be well on their way. But Honduras will claw back into the game in the second half, getting one back through Roger Espinoza. A goal from Jerry Bengtson will have the Swiss fearing the worst, but a late Diego Benaglio save will give Switzerland the necessary point.

Please share your thoughts below and have a great day.