Wild American Gooner

When Sports Are More Than Just Sports


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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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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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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.

 


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A Place for the Emotional

There’s an old adage in the US – There’s no crying in baseball. Every kid hears it somewhere. I don’t necessarily agree with it, but it’s widely accepted around American sports culture. Now I’ve never heard it applied to soccer. Just last month, in an intramural futsal game I was playing in, the other team’s best player took himself out of his team’s 7-3 semifinal loss and started crying. His team had beaten mine 27-6 in the season opener (How about that improvement huh?) so naturally he was disappointed, but crying over a intramural futsal match seems rather stupid.

However some tears are beautiful. During Ivory Coast’s national anthem today before their match with Colombia, the camera showed Ivorian midfielder Serey Die overcome with emotion. Tears were streaming down his face while the anthem was playing. And you could here the crowd erupt. These tears were all that is right about the international game. It was a display of national pride that showed why the World Cup is so special. For it’s not about the money right now for the players. It’s about national pride. I’ve heard he was thinking about his late father, and how proud he’d be to see his son represent their country.

I don’t know much about Die as a player, but I immediately admired him. He was clearly playing for all the right reasons. Lining up for Ivory Coast had to be a life-long dream of his, representing his country halfway across the world. I doubt he wanted to cry on the field, but he couldn’t help it. He just cared too much.

But all went wrong for Serey Die in this game. He struggled to contain the pace of Colombia’s midfielders, and it was his poor giveaway that led to Colombia’s second goal, one that seemed to have all but killed off the game before Gervinho’s brilliance got Ivory Coast back into the game a few minutes later. He lay on the ground after Colombia’s goal, having sprinted back in vain to try to atone for his mistake. It was heartbreaking to watch him lie there, as he clearly felt like he let his country down. He was substituted shortly after, and his day was over. For a player whose passion represented everything right with the game, it was a cruel twist.

Cynics will say he let his emotions get to him today, negatively affecting his play. They’ll say his crying was a sign of weakness for his opponent to see. They might be right. But nobody should fault Serey Die for caring too much. In a world of sport where players are increasingly driven by money and fame, this display of national pride was simply beautiful. There might be not be crying in baseball, but international soccer has a place for the emotional.

On another note, I remain extremely happy to see Gervinho do well in Brazil. His goal was classic Gervinho, except with a stunning finish. If only he had been able to do that regularly at Arsenal. And Serge Aurier continues to look like a strong option as a potential Arsenal right-back. Here’s hoping Arsene Wenger is thinking the same thing.