Wild American Gooner

When Sports Are More Than Just Sports

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The Best Morning of the Year

Today is my favorite sports morning of the year. It’s the Wimbledon Men’s Final. Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer. It doesn’t get much better than this. I’ll admit, I’ve hardly watched any tennis at all in the last two weeks due to work and the World Cup, but I wouldn’t miss this match for anything. I’ve been a big fan of Djokovic for a very long time, and in 2011, at the U.S. Open Semifinal between these two that I was lucky enough to attend, I was part of an extreme minority at Arthur Ashe Stadium that day who were cheering for the Serbian against Federer.

But it will be hard to root against Roger today. The greatest tennis player ever deserves another title, and getting it at Wimbledon would be the crowning achievement for his incredible career. He is the epitome of class. And it’s impossible to root against the classiest individual in all of sports.

It’s amazing that these two have only met once at a Grand Slam Final – back in 2007 no less. Their rivalry has been a great one in recent years though, with the match that I saw at the U.S. Open in 2011 being a particularly testy affair. If you recall, Djokovic was down two sets in that match and clawed his way back, before going down two match points in the fifth. He swung as hard as he could on a return on one of Federer’s two match points – essentially giving up. However, the shot miraculously went in, and Djokovic pulled out the victory. That swing in the match turnaround is one of my favorite sports moments I have witnessed.

So I’m really not sure whom I’ll be rooting for this morning. I’ll just sit back and enjoy watching two of the best tennis players I’ll ever see in what could be their final Grand Slam Final against one another. The Federer era is rapidly coming to an end, so we all better appreciate every last second of it while we can. Whatever the outcome, I’ll be happy.

Going back to soccer – I wasn’t able to share any of my thoughts on the Costa Rica-Netherlands game yesterday, but overall, I thought the Dutch got a deserved victory. They dominated from the start and had a stellar display in penalty kicks, The Ticos were clearly worn out from their 120 minute match against Greece, and they weren’t able to create much going forward. Joel Campbell in particular looked exhausted, and that is a bit worrying. In an era where Arsenal play twice a week for much of the year, Campbell’s fitness will need to improve if he hopes to earn a spot in the starting lineup. At this point, I don’t see him being much more than a Capital One Cup participant this year, but he should be given the chance to prove he belongs nonetheless.

On another note, Tim Krul sure made Louis van Gaal look smart. That has to be the first tactical goalkeeping substitution I’ve seen. And Krul made two fantastic saves in penalties to justify it. However, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I don’t enjoy penalty kicks. It was heartbreaking to see Costa Rica lose in that fashion after battling so hard for three weeks. The Ticos represented CONCACAF admirably, and they have proven themselves a top-class international side. The 2014 World Cup won’t soon be forgotten in Costa Rica.

I’ll have more on the semifinals in the coming days, but they should be fascinating. It goes to show that ultimately, talent wins out in the end at the World Cup. Germany, Brazil, Argentina and Netherlands are four of the best footballing nations, and it is fitting that they should be in the semis. We’re in for a treat in the final week, even without Neymar.

Lastly, I want to thank How I Met Your Mother creator Craig Thomas for telling me on Twitter yesterday that he enjoyed my HIMYM post and thought my interpretation was good. He didn’t need to say anything in response to my tweet, but he did anyway. I’ll never forget that act of kindness. It means the world to me that he said that, and I guess that now signals that I have found closure with the show. It’ll forever be my favorite.


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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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Es Wird Sein Ein Guter Tag Für Die Mannschaft (It’ll Be a Good Day for Germany)

Good morning, everyone. I’m sorry for not having any further content yesterday, but I got caught up doing family activities. I managed to see a little action – the second half of the Netherlands game and the last couple penalties of the Costa Rica win, but not enough for my liking. The Dutch comeback was rather entertaining. I wasn’t necessarily rooting for anyone, but it was a thoroughly enjoyable game from what I saw, as Mexico have played some of the best soccer of anyone in Brazil. They will feel aggrieved by the loss, and especially by the antics of Arjen Robben, but they shouldn’t be disappointed with themselves. From where they were in September to where they are now is a stunning turnaround, and the best days of Mexican soccer look to be ahead. Netherlands wasn’t as impressive yesterday as they had been before, and it had to be a little disconcerting for the Dutch fans that Robin van Persie was substituted when they were down a goal. However, their quality won out in the end, and they will be favored against Costa Rica. A trip to the semifinals does not seem far away.

I didn’t see enough of the Costa Rica game to have much to say about it other than that it confirmed my hatred of penalties. These ones were all well taken, even the saved effort from Theofanis Gekas. What kills me was the reaction of Gekas, who will forever feel like he was the goat in this game, when in fact, his was not a poorly taken penalty at all. Keylor Navas made a sensational save, but penalties always leave someone feeling like they blew it. I feel for Gekas, because he doesn’t deserve to be made the goat. Well-taken penalties like these ones are a flip of the coin, and there’s nothing the loser can do in cases like this one. On an Arsenal note, Joel Campbell looked incredibly cool under pressure when he took his penalty. If he can handle that, he shouldn’t have a problem with any English crowds like many do. This was yet another sign he could make it for Arsenal.

Today’s games might not be as close as yesterday’s were, as I feel the European nations will have little trouble with the Africans. Here are my picks.

France 2 Nigeria 0

France will continue their impressive run at the World Cup with a thorough performance against Nigeria. I expect the French to dominate in the midfield today, with Paul Pogba putting his stamp on the match in the middle of the park as one of the world’s best. It will be a coming-out party for him, as he will score a goal-of-the-tournament candidate to give France a lead in addition to contributing a series of key tackles. If paired together again, Karim Benzema and Olivier Giroud should find more success, as they have demonstrated a fondness for the newly configured attack. France’s second will be started by Mathieu Valbuena, who will find Karim Benzema from the byline. Benzema’s cool finish will typify France’s day. Vincent Enyeama will be Nigeria’s man of the match in goal, but ultimately, his efforts will be futile. Nigeria will have trouble creating chances all day. The lone sore spot for France will be a second-half yellow card for Pogba, who will be forced to miss the quarterfinal against Germany. Other than that, it should be a near perfect day for France.

Germany 3 Algeria 1

Algeria will make this more of a game than many would expect, but ultimately, the Germans will have their way in the attacking third. After a quieter game against the United States, the German midfield will find their footing quickly against Algeria, with Mesut Ôzil having his best game of tournament. Ôzil’s calmly taken left-footed finish, played in by Toni Kroos, will quiet the Arsenal man’s critics, putting Gemany ahead. Algeria won’t wilt though, and will create chances down the right. But Manuel Neuer will step up to maintain the lead before half. Shortly after the break, Thomas Müller will score another on a rebounded effort off a corner. And the third will also come from a corner, with Per Mertesacker heading one on for Mats Hummels to direct into the net. With the game safely in hand, Jerome Boateng will concede a penalty, which Sofiane Feghouli will convert. Die Gewinnen wird einfach sein für die Mannschaft heute.

I will most certainly have something about the Germany game later today, so check back for that. My other post I’m working on – the non-sports one – is nearing completion and should be up by Tuesday afternoon at the latest. Let’s hope my German was right. Thanks for reading.

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Can Mexico Advance?

I didn’t get a chance to write anything about the Colombia-Uruguay game yesterday, but there’s not much to say at this point other than that James Rodriguez looks a serious star. If teams aren’t lining up to bid 6o million euros for him after the World Cup, I’ll be quite surprised. I thought his goal last game was nice, but his first one today was truly remarkable. The first touch was sublime, and then the finish was even better. Brazil will be in for a real struggle against him in the quarterfinal. Today’s games aren’t as glamorous as yesterday’s, but we should still be in for a fun day of soccer.

My picks yesterday were nearly spot-on, so I’ll hope these ones continue a good run for me.

Netherlands 3 Mexico 1

Mexico has been particularly impressive defensively so far, but they have not faced any players like Robin van Persie and Arjen Robben. That duo has been sensational playing together up top, and I suspect today will be no different. Robben will have a field day against Rafael Marquez, as the old man will struggle to keep up with the pacey winger. Miguel Herrera might give us a few more spectacular GIFs on the Mexican sideline, but his magic touch won’t be there against the Dutch. Robin van Persie will get the reigning finalists on the board first with a left-footed volley. Before halftime, he will add another on a counter-attack led by Arjen Robben. A Herrera halftime talk will see the Mexicans come out with more spirit in the second half, and Hector Herrera will finally get a goal in Brazil. The impressive midfielder will deserve it too, having come close numerous times this tournament. However, as the Mexicans push forward to tie the game, another Dutch counter will see Robben put away the game, dancing around Guillermo Ochoa for another beautiful goal. The Mexicans will bow out, but they can hold their heads high.

Costa Rica 1 Greece 0

After a wildly successful group stage, the Ticos face a dream round of 16 matchup with the offensively challenged Greeks. Despite scoring two goals against Ivory Coast, Greece shouldn’t scare Costa Rica, and the Greeks might end up playing for penalty kicks if the match stays tied into the second half. On the break, Joel Campbell should find some space in front of Greece’s back four to release his wingers behind the vacated fullback spots – Greece attacks mainly through their left and right backs. Costa Rica’s lone goal will come early in the second half from the head of Bryan Ruiz, who will be excellent again today. Greece has been poor on set pieces under Fernando Santos and that could come back to haunt them. Going forward, Greece will create a couple chances in the early going, but their strikers won’t be up to the task. Keylor Santos will make a key save late on, and the Costa Rica defense will hold strong in the air in the final minutes. The Ticos will advance.

I’m currently working on a non-sports related post that I should have for you in the next day or two. Other than that, check back for post-match coverage later this afternoon. It should be a fun day. Thanks for reading.

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Some Serious CONCACAF Pride

Wow. Ten days ago, who would have expected Costa Rica to top Group D, the only group ever with three former World Champions. England is now officially out, but the story has to revolve around Costa Rica, and their incredible play so far, culminating in today’s 2-1 victory over Italy. Most expected the Ticos to be put back on earth by the Italians. But once again, the Costa Ricans showed they are a side to be reckoned with in Brazil, and now the pressure will be on Italy as they battle Uruguay next week for the Group D’s last spot.

The most impressive aspect of this game had to be the confidence that Costa Rica displayed in taking the game to Italy. They didn’t sit back and hope magic struck on a set-piece, but rather they simply played their game, confident that they were the better team. While most people would have seen that confidence as naïve, the Italians weren’t ready for it, and lacked the sharpness necessary to overcome Costa Rica’s proactive play. Even with Gigi Buffon back in net, the Italians were without inspiration on this day, as I can hardly remember any fight from anyone. Mario Balotelli looked disinterested most of the game, and Italy hardly had a serious chance.

Even Andrea Pirlo wasn’t particularly impressive today, as the Costa Ricans actually had a plan to stop him, unlike many teams in the past. Pirlo wasn’t allowed time on the ball, and as a result, the Italians struggled for a rhythm to their game. Why England didn’t try to shut down Pirlo in a similar way is beyond me.

Costa Rica’s goal was no fluke either, as Bryan Ruiz’s late-first half header was a long time coming. Joel Campbell should have earned a penalty a minute earlier, but instead of complaining, Costa Rica pressed on, and found their match-winner. Ever since his early days at Fulham, Ruiz’s drive and motor have always impressed me. And playing with the national side, he looks more comfortable in his starring role. He deserved the goal for all the work he puts in match in and match out for his side.

It’ll be interesting to see whether Costa Rica can keep up their strong play when they aren’t playing in the hot, steamy climates they are used to. Clearly, they were more prepared for the heat than the Italians were, but I think it would be unwise to say the heat was the only reason the Italians struggled. Costa Rica was simply better today.

The final match between Italy and Uruguay will have storylines abound. It’s amazing to think that out of Italy, Uruguay and Engalnd, only one of them will advance, with it now done to the first two. It’s hard to bet against Luis Suarez, so Uruguay might be the favorites solely because of him. But by my calculations, a draw will be enough for Italy to advance, which could make the tactics more complicated. That game should be full of intrigue.

It’s not often that I feel a sense of North American pride. But Costa Rica has really got me excited. Let’s hope CONCACAF keeps rolling.