Wild American Gooner

When Sports Are More Than Just Sports


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Rating the Arsenal Performances at the World Cup

Making the transition from World Cup content to Arsenal content, I would like to write about Arsenal’s players in Brazil. The Gunners sent nine players to Brazil for the World Cup. Three of those players got knocked out in the group, three exited in the quarterfinals and three come back to London as world champions. Here, I would like to assess each of those players individually. And for the record, I am not including new signing Alexis Sanchez in this list. And as far as Joel Campbell, I left him off this list as he has yet to train even once with the club. However, I’ve had extensive coverage about Campbell over the past month which you can search for if you want to see that. Here is a link one of those pieces.

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (England) – Having overcome injury concerns late in the season to make the final roster for Brazil, the Ox was terribly unlucky to pick up another injury in England’s final preparation friendlies. The hope was that he’d make it back in time for the final group game, but by then, England was already out, and Oxlade-Chamberlain never saw the field. It was a huge blow to the youngster, but one that might ultimately be beneficial. The added rest will hopefully mean he’s fit and firing by the opener, and he shouldn’t have to miss much of preseason. With other players in his position coming back from extended breaks and injuries, the Ox should be in line to start a few games early on, giving him a chance to show his continued development.

Jack Wilshere (England) – Wilshere was a frustrated figure for England in Brazil. He came off the bench to mild success in the opening loss to Italy, was an unused substitute against Uruguay, and started the meaningless game against Costa Rica. At times it looked as if Wilshere felt sorry for himself, but mostly it looked like he thought he should be the first name on the teamsheet. That was seen as confidence a year or two ago, but with mixed results lately, it looks a lot more like arrogance. As the young midfielder might be looking at a lot of time on the bench this year, he’ll need to channel all of those negative feelings into making himself better. Going out and smoking cigarettes on his holiday isn’t a good way to show everyone that he’s working hard.

Santi Cazorla (Spain) – While Spain was generally terrible in Brazil, Cazorla looked one of their better players when he was on the field in the final two games. He created a number of chances, and he was one of the few Spaniards to show any sort of urgency when they were down against Chile. Arsenal would seem to benefit from Spain’s exit, as Cazorla could be ready for preseason. And as he gets older, more rest can only be a good thing for the veteran midfielder. It’ll be nice to have him fit for the Crystal Palace game. And as he’s already won a European Championship, Cazorla still carries the winner’s mentality.

Thomas Vermaelen (Belgium) – This was a thoroughly disappointing World Cup for the Arsenal captain. Even though his team made the quarterfinals, he made only one start, and had to come off with an injury. A year away from the first team at Arsenal saw him lose his place with the national team, and he had to watch his team struggle all tournament. This World Cup disaster will surely cause Vermaelen to reconsider his future as a Gunner. I expect him to leave the club by the end of the window.

Laurent Koscielny (France) – The Arsenal center back surely would have wanted to start for his country, and he will be massively disappointed in his place on the bench for much of the tournament. Especially against Germany, when he could have been on the field against a few of his Arsenal teammates, he was quite unlucky to have been on the bench. I certainly feel he’s better than Mamadou Sakho, so it made little sense to me. Being a defender, he won’t need much of a preseason to be ready, so there shouldn’t be too much of a worry there. But overall, Koscielny won’t look back on this World Cup with particular fondness.

Olivier Giroud (France) – Giroud’s World Cup was a mixed bag. In the group stage, he played his way into the lineup with a series of impressive displays alongside Karim Benzema. Against Switzerland, the big frontman grabbed an assist and a goal. But when France took on Germany in the quarterfinal, Giroud was back to the bench. From an Arsenal standpoint, it would have been nice to have seen him score a big goal in the knockout round, but alas, he once again failed to make much of an impact against the very best teams. However, Giroud did force his way into a very talented team for a few games, and that should be good for his confidence going forward.

Lukas Podolski (Germany) – While Podolski didn’t see much of the field, totaling zero minutes in the knockout round, he leaves Brazil a world champion. And watching him on the field in the postgame celebrations, you could see how much it meant to him. Although he didn’t play a whole lot, this summer should still do wonders for his confidence. Nobody can take away the fact that he is a world champion footballer. And hopefully he was playing up Arsenal to Sami Khedira for the last month. While he’ll miss much of preseason, Arsenal should be able to deal with his absence until he’s fit.

Per Mertesacker (Germany) – The big German center back started for much of the tournament, but lost his place in the final three games when Germany moved Philipp Lahm to right back. However, that decision was not a reflection on Mertesacker’s play. He was solid in the back, and represented Arsenal well with every header won. And of course, he comes back to the club a World Cup champion. He is already held in a high status in the dressing room and this should only further that reputation. I expect a fully fit Mertesacker to be ready for the opener, and he’ll be in a great mental state going in to the new campaign.

Mesut Özil (Germany) – Arsenal’s record signing received a ton of flak throughout the tournament for a perceived lack of effort. Compared to Thomas Müller, Toni Kroos and many of his other world-beating teammates, his work rate wasn’t the best. However, despite being pushed out wide, Özil did play a lot of telling balls in the final third, and was unlucky only to garner a single goal and an assist. And he played his best game in the final, which should do wonders for his confidence. Being a World Cup winner could do more for Özil than anyone else, as he should now be of the mindset that he can be among the very best. Hopefully this means we will see Özil live up to his potential. While the Arsenal playmaker will miss much of preseason, this World Cup should do wonders for him for next season.


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Ein Großes Deutschfest – Deutschland Sind Weltmeister! – Germany Are Deserving Champions

Germany are the 2014 World Cup Champions. Das war wirklich wunderbar. A splendid finish by substitute Mario Götze from an Andre Schürrle cross late in extra-time gave Deutschland the much deserved title. A thoroughly defensive tie found its match winner against all odds after both defenses had held strong all match. At the end of a thoroughly entertaining World Cup, we got a deserving final goal to wrap it all up. It was a phenomenal end to a wonderful tournament.

Germany found it nearly impossible to break down the Argentine defense today, but any time they lost the ball, everybody was tracking back, making sure to mark Lionel Messi. The few times that Argentina found some space, Jerome Boateng was usually there to clear the ball. Bastian Schweinsteiger played an excellent game in the middle of the park, with impressive physicality marking his complete transformation to a hard tackling midfielder over the years. He was the complete midfielder today. The image of Schweinsteiger with blood dripping down his face should be the lasting image of this World Cup. And when Manuel Neuer was needed in the back, either as a shot-stopper or as a sweeper, he was always in the right spot, completing a most impressive World Cup in style. I don’t think anybody will dispute his award as this competition’s best goalkeeper.

It has to be said that Argentina played a great game defensively. Javier Mascherano was again immense in his deep-lying midfield position, making interception after interception. And the back four held Germany to only a handful of chances all match. But they did all that at the expense of their offense. Rodrigo Palacio and Gonzalo Higuain miserably failed to convert the big chances that fell their way. And they, along with Sergio Agüero, provided little help for Messi up front.

Messi will be left frustrated at the lack of service he got in this match, as he simply didn’t get on the ball enough to make the impact he needed to. Some will criticize him for not stepping up to the occasion, but the truth is that he didn’t have enough help. Many would have expected him to convert the big chance that he had early in the second half, but Neuer did well to close off the angle. When Messi was on the ball in the first half, he generally did quite well. This match won’t see him overtake Diego Maradona in popularity in Argentina, but it was too big an ask for Messi to win this match on his own today. While his defense played the match of their lives, his fellow attackers were not good enough today, with Angel di Maria sorely missed. I disagree with Messi winning the Golden Ball however, as I think any of the German midfielders were more deserving.

The match started about as brightly as we could have hoped, with a fairly open first half. While Argentina had their midfielders line up only a few yards ahead of the defenders, they sent men forward without restriction on the break. Their tactics weren’t completely negative, and we were all better for it. The chances that fell on both ends were ones that we would normally expect players to take, but the nerves were clearly felt today. Mesut Özil started brightly, redeeming himself with a wonderful game, and he and Thomas Müller were Germany’s biggest threats in the early going, creating a number of decent chances for their teammates. Messi was dangerous when he got on the ball, but he had very few touches overall. Mistakes from Higuain, and excellent last-ditch defending from Jerome Boateng kept Argentina off the board.

The second half was played with much more caution however, as both teams quickly realized a single mistake would cost them the game. For Germany, with one exception early in the half that saw Messi alone on goal, Boateng and Schweinsteiger cleaned everything up with aggressive tackling. Offensively, they dearly missed Sami Khedira’s energy and drive in the midfield, as they were lacking a bigger body to go through the middle. Argentina’s defense hardly put a foot wrong, but Messi and his fellow strikers didn’t get many chances after the midpoint of the half.

There wasn’t much to extra-time after Schürrle’s shot went straight at Sergio Romero in the opening moments. The play became rather fragmented as injuries began to pile up. Players on both sides were looking rather weary. But Germany proved to have the lighter legs, with Özil, Müller and Schürrle putting in a ton of work in the midfield. That it was the hard-working Schürrle who sent in the cross that set up the winner was fitting. Götze didn’t have much of an impact until his goal, but his group stage woes will be certainly be forgotten after that one moment of brilliance. It was a goal worthy of a World Cup winner, one that will be remembered forever.

As far as the referee, he had a good game overall even if he missed a couple minor calls here and there. I liked that Nicola Rizzoli wasn’t afraid to get out his yellow cards in the first half. Too often this World Cup, things got out of control because the referee didn’t want to impact the match. However today, I felt Rizzoli had control from the start. While he could have shown a red to Benedikt Höwedes late in the first half, I felt he was wise to only give him a yellow. It was a reckless challenge, but there didn’t seem to be intent. And while he showed a few yellows in the second half, he maintained his control on the match and let the play be the story. He might have showed Agüero a second yellow for smacking Schweinsteiger in the head with his fist, but I agreed with the decision to leave it as merely a foul. Nobody will talk about Rizzoli after today, and that means he did his job.

Philipp Lahm has lifted the trophy, and Germany are champions. A terrific month of soccer is now over, but we won’t soon forget the events in Brazil. I want to say thank you to any of you who have followed my blog over the last month. It’s been tremendously fun writing about all the action. However, I want to say that the blog is just getting started, and I will have much more content to come. There will be some thoughts wrapping up the World Cup in the next few days, but after that it’ll nearly be time for the club season to begin.

Huge congratulations to Germany for a much deserved World Cup. The best team doesn’t always win, but they did today. Vielen Dank für einen wunderschönen Monat.


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Wird Die Mannschaft Gewinnen? Ja, voll! – My World Cup Final Preview and Prediction

The day has finally come. It’s the World Cup Final. Everything has led up to this – all of the story lines, all of the struggles, all of the success. But in a few hours, none of that will matter. It will all be about the 90 (or 120) minutes played in the Maracana. The world will be stopped in admiration of the beautiful game’s finest hour. It’s Messi and the Argentines against the Germans. And we’re in for a treat.

The final has the makings of a fascinating encounter. All the Argentine story lines revolve around Lionel Messi in the lead up to the match, but the rest of his teammates bear the bulk of the task. Shutting down Germany’s rampant attack will be a challenge for an Argentine defense seen as the weak link coming into the tournament. Four years ago, in a World Cup quarterfinal, Germany beat Argentina 4-0 in a very one-sided encounter. Germany scored an early goal from a set piece, and then struck three more times in the second half. They picked Argentina’s defense apart, and were particularly dangerous on the counter. Today’s German team isn’t drastically different from the one they fielded four years ago, so it will be up to Argentina’s defense to make sure things are different today.

For Argentina, the best way to go about this game might be to sit back like they did against the Dutch, hoping that Lionel Messi will create one instance of magic at some point on the counter. Alejandro Sabella should be worried about his midfield getting outnumbered, so he will likely have to counter that by making sure he always has men behind the ball. Lucas Biglia and Javier Mascherano will have a gargantuan task in stopping the German midfield, but given their recent performances defensively, those two might be up for the task. Marcos Rojo will need to be the disciplined left back he was against Netherlands rather than the marauding one he was earlier in the tournament to minimize Thomas Müller’s effect. Germany attacked mostly from the right against Brazil, so Rojo will have to at his best today.

While the game plan might revolve around stopping Germany from scoring, Argentina will likely have to score themselves if they hope to win. Another scoreless 90 or 120 minutes might be possible, but Sabella shouldn’t count on his team’s ability to keep another clean sheet. At some point, he’ll need the best player in the world to leave his mark on the match. While there aren’t many obvious holes in Germany’s lineup, one is at left back. Should Messi be allowed one-on-one situations with Benedikt Höwedes, he should be able to blow by him. Creating as many of those opportunities for Messi as possible should be Argentina’s strategy going forward, especially with Angel di Maria looking unlikely to play. Gonzalo Higuain might be called upon to convert a half-chance or two, but his main work will likely come in the hold-up department, relieving some of the relentless German pressure. A late appearance from Sergio Agüero should provide a boost with a burst of pace up front, especially if Mats Hummels’s injury has slowed the German defender at all.

Germany’s tactics should be similar to those they used against Brazil. With a huge advantage in quality and numbers in the middle of the park, they should be looking to create little triangles to open up space in the final third. Biglia and Mascherano can only be in one place at a time, so lots of quick passing will leave Argentina vulnerable as they get spread out. Testing Sergio Romero early should be a priority, as the keeper is way out of his element in a World Cup Final. Sending in crosses might not be the ideal way to win, but the Germans should allow Romero to make a mistake. Every set piece they get will be dangerous, as the quality of Toni Kroos’s free kicks and the aerial prowess of the entire lineup will cause a lot of problems for Romero.

Defensively, Germany should be careful not to leave Höwedes isolated against Messi. If too many men are forward in attack, a single counter attack from the little man could prove fatal. Bastian Schweinsteiger was excellent against Brazil like many others were, but today his role should be a more defensive one. If he can keep an eye on Messi, Germany shouldn’t be too worried. Whether or not Hummels is able to play due to his injury is unknown, but regardless, the Germans should be alright in defense. With Philipp Lahm restored to the back line, they’ve looked much more solid. And last but not least, there is the safety net that is Manuel Neuer. It’s no small task to beat the big German keeper, and Argentina might need more than a few chances if one is to get by him.

I predict the match will start brightly for Germany, with Mesut Özil forcing an early save from Romero. While Argentina settles into the game, the German front line will be hard at work, creating a number of dangerous looking opportunities. Messi won’t see much of the ball in the early going, and Higuain will look rather isolated up top. The opening goal will come thirty minutes into the half, with Jerome Boateng nodding home a Kroos corner. It will be 1-0 Germany at half. Argentina will send on Agüero early on in the second half, knowing they need to be more offensive minded. And his impact will be felt quickly, with Argentina’s best chance falling to Higuain, who will hit his effort straight at Neuer. Once Argentina begin to look dangerous, Germany will settle quickly, with Schweinsteiger and Khedira moving deeper. With fifteen minutes to play, the Germans will all but seal the match with a brilliantly worked counter. Andre Schürrle will start the move, finding Özil on the left, played into the space behind Pablo Zabaleta. Özil will draw Romero out before squaring the ball for Müller, who will convert. The final minutes will tick off the clock without too much drama, und Deutschland wird gewinnen. Messi won’t get the chances he needs, and Philipp Lahm will lift the cup for Germany. The game will finish Germany 2 Argentina 0.

Today, I’ll celebrate my Faustian roots, my small amount of German heritage, and my German nickname, by rooting for Germany as hard as I can. Whoever wins though, I hope we’re in for an entertaining end to a wonderful World Cup. May the best team win.

Check back for post-match analysis later tonight, and I’ll have my post-World Cup thoughts spread among the next few days. Enjoy the final.


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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.)