Wild American Gooner

When Sports Are More Than Just Sports


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How Neymar’s Devastating Injury Could Have Been Prevented

Brazil may have won today against Colombia, but they suffered two huge losses in the process. The first, a ridiculously stupid yellow card by Thiago Silva, knocked the captain out of the semifinal with Germany due to a suspension. The second though, announced by a team doctor after the game, is even more devastating. Neymar, the face of the World Cup, has broken a vertebra, ruling him out for the rest of the tournament.

Brazil now faces the harsh reality of a semifinal against Germany without its two most important players. Coach Luiz Felipe Scolari will have to be at his best this week getting his other players mentally ready for playing without their superstar, as the Neymar injury will come as an equal blow to the psyche of both the team and the fans. The poster child won’t be there to save them any longer. Players like Hulk, Fred and Oscar will need to be step up their games three or four notches.

Neymar has always been a fragile player on the field, one who was easy to knock around due to his slight build. Teams everywhere would try to stop him by clipping his heels and going body-to-body, hoping he would begin to shy away from contact. The one time I have seen Neymar play in person – the Gold Medal match in London in 2012, when Mexico beat Brazil 2-1 – it was clear that any time Neymar touched the ball, a Mexican was headed straight for his body. He hit the ground time after time. And since then, that’s become the prevalent strategy for defending the young Brazilian.

I believe it is the referee’s duty to protect the players. I’m not advocating for protecting the stars. I’m advocating for protecting players in general. If a team’s strategy involves consistently knocking a player to the ground, that team’s players should be reprimanded. Yellow cards must be shown to discourage the continued use of that tactic. For the most part in this World Cup, referees haven’t gone out of their way to protect Neymar. You might say he rolls around on the ground too often, but there’s a reason he’s always on the ground and it’s not flopping. He gets hit. And the referees haven’t been doing much about it.

Today, referee Carlos Velasco Carballo was determined not to show any yellow cards. As a result, the Colombians were free to play rough with Neymar. There would be no consequences it seemed. And Brazil lashed out in retaliation. The match quickly got out of hand, with fouls piling up by the minute. However, the Spanish referee did nothing. Neymar’s injury came late in the second half from a brutal challenge that had Juan Zuniga kneeing Neymar in the back. The intent was clear, but because of the way the game had been officiated, Zuniga knew there would be no consequences. “It was a typical play,” he said after the game, showing that knocking down Neymar had become the norm in that match.

When fouls pile up, yellow cards need to be handed out, regardless of the time in the game. Keeping 11 men on the field for both sides should not be a goal for the referee. He should want to control the game, keeping things clean. A yellow card for a deliberate, early tackle from Colombia could have sent a message that the referee wasn’t going to mess around today. But instead, he let everything go. That an injury resulted is no surprise, but that it happened to Neymar himself should send a message to FIFA: the referees need to focus on protecting the players on the pitch rather than protecting the cards in their pocket. No referee should be afraid of exerting control.

As big as the loss of Neymar is for Brazil, Thiago Silva’s absence could prove just as devastating. The central defender was excellent today, and showed why many consider him to be the world’s best defender. His yellow card was one you’d expect from a fifth grader, not a seasoned veteran. Stealing the ball from the goalie as he punts it has never been allowed and everyone knows that. So why do you try that in a World Cup quarterfinal with a yellow card already to your name? He deserves to miss the next match for his stupidity alone.

Brazil will now be at a severe disadvantage against Germany and frankly, I don’t think they overcome their losses. They are simply too great. It’s a sad day for soccer fans.

 


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Celebrating an American Holiday With International Sports

Happy 4th, everyone. It feels like it’s been ages since there has been soccer to watch, but thankfully, the World Cup resumes today with a bang. Germany-France and Brazil-Colombia should be two of the best matches of the tournament, and Americans like me can spend our national holiday cheering on foreigners. Keeping with the international theme, the other major sporting event to watch today is Wimbledon – specifically the men’s semifinals, where Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer will look to set up a dream final against one another on Sunday. I doubt too many Americans normally spend their 4th cheering on Serbians and Germans, but that’s what my day will look like. And I couldn’t be more excited.

Lest you failed to notice, I was a perfect 8-8 in my round of 16 World Cup picks. Granted, it wasn’t like I picked any upsets, but still, that’s a pretty good percentage. Let’s see if my quarterfinal predictions go as well.

Germany 1 (4) France 1 (3)

This is a matchup befitting of a final, and the game won’t fail to deliver. Despite all the drama surrounding the German team in recent days both about their play on the field and their health off it, I believe die Mannschaft will show up ready to play. With Mats Hummels returning in defense, the German backline will prove much harder to beat today. I think this is the match that Philipp Lahm shows the world he should be playing midfield – the captain is due for a strong performance, and I expect him to shut Paul Pogba down. Wanting to prove their critics wrong, I expect Germany to play with more venom in the early going. However, the teams will go into the locker room scoreless.

France will score shortly after halftime on a cheaply given away set piece. Karim Benzema will nod home a well-struck ball from Mathieu Valbuena, and the French will be on their way. Germany won’t respond well to the adversity immediately, and Manuel Neuer will be called upon in net to keep his country in the game. However, around the 75th minute, Thomas Müller will catch France sleeping, beating Patrice Evra down the right. His cross will find substitute Miroslav Klose for the equalizer. The extra-time will see a few chances early on, but ultimately, both teams will be afraid of sending too many men forward knowing how dangerous their opponent is on the counter. Penalties will be a huge test of French goalie Hugo Lloris, who lacks the high-pressure experiences of Neuer. The big German will prove better, making two keys saves. Germany won’t even need to take their fifth kick. It won’t be a pretty win, but Deutschland will move on to another semifinal.

Colombia 2 Brazil 1

The Colombians’ magical run will continue against the hosts, who will heavily miss Luiz Gustavo in front of their defense. Without the hard-tackling, disciplined Gustavo to provide a safety net, Brazil will get caught forward a couple times, and Colombia will have little trouble finding spaces on the counter. If the hosts want to win, they’ll need Fernandinho and Paulinho to play the games of their lives in midfield, shutting down Colombian superstar James Rodriguez. Colombia might benefit from all the nicks Neymar has picked up this tournament, as another two or three hard fouls could leave the Brazilian star ineffective. Neymar will need much more from his supporting cast than he got against Chile today, especially if the Colombians smartly knock him around in the first half.

I like Colombia to score first midway through the opening half, with Juan Cuadrado earning a penalty off of a poorly timed David Luiz tackle. James Rodriguez will cooly slot it past Julio Cesar, and Brazil will begin to press. Frustration will build as they find little success creating legitimate chances. If they resort to playing long-balls out of the back like they did against Chile, it could be a long day for Brazil. A few minutes before halftime, Fred will push a free header wide of the mark in their best chance of the half. They’ll play a more cautious style of soccer at the start of the second half, afraid of giving up an all-important second goal. However, they’ll be forced to abandon those tactics after long in search of the equalizer. With more men forward, Jackson Martinez will set up James on another counter attack and the Golden Ball frontrunner will score his second. Brazil will get one back through Thiago Silva late on, but it won’t be enough. Brazilians everywhere will be left devastated.

Enjoy the day and stay safe.

 


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Why I Hate Penalty Shootouts

Back when I didn’t know much about soccer, a penalty shootout was about the most exciting thing there was. But I’ve grown to hate spot-kicks since, and today’s Brazilian victory over Chile on penalties only served to confirm my disdain. It’s not that I don’t think penalties are objectively exciting, or that I believe there’s a better way for games to end, I just hate how penalty kicks affect how games are played and how they affect the individuals that take them.

After Chile’s equalizer in the first half, the Chileans looked the much more dangerous side. Brazil’s fluidity was gone, and they were feeling the growing anxiety in the stands. Chile weren’t creating many first-rate chances at that point, but Brazil was beating themselves, and could have combusted at any moment. Had Chile kept their pressure up, a mistake was likely to come. But around the 75th minute. Chile stopped attacking with regularity, instead deciding they would take their chances in penalties. For the last 45 minutes, including extra-time, Chile played with a high level of caution, not capitalizing on Brazil’s fragile mental state. Had they not been waiting for penalties, I think a goal would have come.

Brazil should not have won that game, but because Chile played for penalties, a lifeline was offered to the hosts. In penalties, any team can win. In theory, that favors the underdog Chile, but today, it favored Brazil. All of a sudden, there was a clean slate for the hosts, and a chance to forget how underwhelming their performance was. The pressure was as high as it could be, but it had been high all game. For Neymar, the added pressure of penalties hardly mattered. But for Chile, a team that had little pressure on them from the start, penalties proved too much, as they missed three of the five.

Beyond what penalties did to Chile’s tactics, and the fact that a lifeline was offered to an undeserving Brazil, I also dislike watching spot-kicks on a personal level, even when I don’t have a team I’m rooting for. Seeing the crushed face of a player who has just missed a penalty is horrible – for they all feel like they’ve singularly let their country down. That one person carries the weight of an entire country doesn’t seem right to me, even if it makes sense soccer-wise. I hate watching people wilt under pressure. It’s not fun. And that’s not even taking into effect the feelings of a fan, and how agonizing penalties are. They are a brutal experience for all.

But through all that, Brazil has advanced to the quarterfinals. There are certainly a lot of questions to answer though, and they will face a tougher task in their quarterfinal. The Luiz Gustavo suspension for the upcoming game is no small matter, as he has been a rock in front of the back four. But aside from that, many other individuals need to step up. Oscar in particular for me was noticeably invisible going forward today. And for a team that is having such trouble creating chances without Neymar involved, Brazil needs Oscar to show off his creative potential. If he can be first choice for Jose Mourinho at Chelsea in the number 10 role, he shouldn’t be having as much trouble as he is now making an impact for his country.

I feel for Chile going out the way they did, but as I said above, I think they brought the suffering upon themselves with their tactics in the latter parts of the game. It would have been wonderful to see Mauricio Pinilla score that late screamer, but you can hardly say Chile deserved a goal at that stage. The true shame for the Chileans is that Arturo Vidal was never fit enough to make much of an impact on the field in Brazil. As one of the world’s best players, he could have been the difference today. But instead, he was quietly substituted and had to watch his country lose from the sidelines. I hope he gets another chance in Russia.

Lastly, I thought Howard Webb and his refereeing crew were excellent today. From the start he commanded the fiery game with authority, never falling prey to Neymar’s acting or Chile’s late attempts at time wasting. His decision on the Hulk handball needed to be perfect, and I felt it was. Big games need referees who aren’t afraid to make the tough call, and Webb did that today. I would like to see more of him in the coming weeks.

Despite my disdain for penalties, we were treated to an exciting first half and a level of intensity we hadn’t yet seen at the World Cup this year. Brazil will move on, and the neutrals will all be better for it in the end. Getting more chances to watch Neymar play for his country can never be a bad thing. Let’s hope there are many more games like this to come.


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Welcome To the Knockout Round

Good morning, everyone. The group stage was fun, but it only gets better from here. I don’t have much else to say at this point, so I’ll head straight to my picks for today’s games. There’ll be more content as the day goes on.

Brazil 2 Chile 1

As I said yesterday, I really want to pick Chile in this game. They are a force going forward, pressing high up the field at all times. We saw Brazil struggle with similar tactics from Croatia early on in their opener, and they might have more trouble today. Considering Chile is in much better attacking form than Croatia was, Luiz Gustavo, Thiago Silva and David Luiz will have to be on their game if Brazil wants to win. Brazil might have similar success in attack though given that Gary Medel and Arturo Vidal are battling significant injuries. Neymar won’t be fazed by the extra pressure, but his teammates very well might be. Were Chile not affected by injuries, I’d pick them to upset the hosts, but Brazil will edge past them as a result. Neymar will score first on a free kick against the run of play. Chile will tie the game after halftime through Alexis Sanchez, whose combination play with Eduardo Vargas will produce a vital goal. Julio Cesar will look suspect in net. However, Brazil will score a late winner on a goal from Oscar. We will all be better for Howard Webb refereeing this match, as he will keep things under control. It should be a lot of fun.

Colombia 3 Uruguay 0

Were Luis Suarez on the field, Uruguay might stand a chance. Edinson Cavani has been largely disappointing thus far, and he will need to be at his absolute best if they want to win. The midfield will face a much tougher task against Colombia than they did against Italy and their negative tactics. Colombia will once again impress, with James Rodriguez taking over the show. He will score today, with a wonderfully taken effort from distance. Juan Cuadrado will continue his impressive form as well, getting on the goalscoring sheet early on. Colombia’s last goal will come from Jackson Martinez, whose recent goalscoring form may earn him a start in the quarterfinal. Uruguay’s midfield will be left badly exposed, and Diego Godin won’t be able to win it  himself. While Godin might deserve some sympathy, not a soul will feel sorry for Suarez. Colombia will be deserving winners.

These two South American contests should make for a fun afternoon. Check back later for more content. Thanks for reading.


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And Now the Real Fun Begins

Good morning, everyone. I still haven’t really recovered from last night. My emotions are everywhere. If only it were as simple as colluding with Germany for a 0-0 draw. I’d take my chances with Belgium if Thursday didn’t have to be so nervy. But I digress. Now we’re into the final round of group stage games and we have some fascinating contests remaining. This should be fun. Too bad I’ll be at work for most of them now, but I’ll find a way to watch the games somehow. I should be able to still write two or three posts a day, so don’t worry. Big news for the site as it hit 1,000 views early yesterday. It’s been less than two weeks, but I’m having a blast writing. Know I appreciate every reader I get. Please help spread the word.

Now to today’s predictions.

Spain 4 Australia 1

Devoid of pressure, Spain’s second team will cruise from the get go, out to prove that they should have started in the first place. Without Tim Cahill up top, Australia won’t be as dangerous as they have been previously. Spain will score early through Fernando Torres, who I think will have a field day without any pressure on him to produce. I like Torres to score three overall. Spain’s fourth will come from Arsenal man Santi Cazorla, who nearly got on the scoresheet against Chile. The Socceroos goal will be scored by Oliver Bozanic once the game has been decided. This game will also be a final farewell for many former World Cup heroes for Spain, and while their ship has already sunk, this classy team should go out with a win. The worst part about this game is knowing that this will be the last time I can use the word “Socceroo” for four years. Oh well.

Chile 3 Netherlands 2

This game will be a thriller. It should be a very open contest full of goals. Chile will once again start fast, scoring through Alexis Sanchez. Without Robin van Persie, the Dutch won’t be as strong on the counter, but Arjen Robben will shine, scoring a beauty to tie the game. Chile will score next on a Eduardo Vargas effort. Alexis Sanchez will add to their lead shortly after half and Chile will be cruising. However if given a rare chance to see the field, I like Klaas Jan Huntelaar to score, and I think he’ll convert one late one as a consolation. Chile will leave winners though, and the Dutch will regret having to play Brazil.

Brazil 3 Cameroon 0

With Cameroon in shambles, Brazil should have little trouble in their final group game. Neymar will be looking to add to his tally and I think he’ll score Brazil’s opener within half an hour. More will be expected from Fred, who will finally produce a goal late in the first half. Brazil’s third will come from a substitute. Wanting to confirm the top spot in Group A, Jo will be the beneficiary of Brazil looking to improve their goal differential. This will be a walk in the park for the hosts.

Croatia 1 Mexico 0

A late goal from Mario Mandzukic will leave the Mexicans stunned at missing out on the knockout stage. Mexico will be impressive in the first half, but won’t find a goal. However, Croatia will solidify their back line after a shaky start, taking control of the match as it goes on. Needing a goal to advance, Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic will probe the Mexican defense looking for the perfect ball. For the last half an hour, Mexico will be defending for their lives, throwing everyone behind the ball. The goal will end up coming from a late set-piece. The Bayern Munich frontman will be there to break millions of Mexican hearts. Mexicans will be left crushed.

Check back later for more content. Thanks for reading as always. Have a great day.