Wild American Gooner

When Sports Are More Than Just Sports


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Vicente del Bosque’s Final Mistake

Lost in the midst of all the talk about the end of Spain’s golden era atop world soccer was that their all-time leading scorer David Villa was playing his last game for his country. Apparently, his coach Vicente del Bosque did not even realize it, as he unceremoniously subbed Villa out early in the second half in the 3-0 victory over Australia. Villa had scored a terrific goal to give Spain the lead, and seemed to be in position to end his career in style. But things suddenly turned sour when he saw the fourth official put up his number in the 56th minute. His Spanish career was ending half an hour too soon. Villa sat down on the bench completely distraught, no longer able to hold back the tears.

Final goodbyes can be beautiful. But this one was not. Del Bosque needed to know this was Villa’s last game, as the striker had been a vital contributor to most of del Bosque’s successes. This irresponsible lack of awareness about his player shows why del Bosque needs to go. His relationship with senior players like Villa had to be strong if this transition from the old guard was going to go smoothly. But apparently, he has no relationship with his players at all right now, completely unaware of what playing for Spain means to them.

It was a shame that Villa wasn’t substituted in the final minutes like Xabi Alonso was. Had he gone out in the 85th minute, a win assured, the fans and Villa could have had a minute to stop and reflect as he left the field. It could have been the perfect way to go. But instead he left with the game still in doubt, when he couldn’t walk off the field to thunderous applause. The substitution was tactical, not ceremonial like it should have been. In a game that didn’t matter, del Bosque had no excuse for not celebrating his star. And frankly, even as a tactical substitution, it didn’t make much sense. While Villa left with a goal, del Bosque figuratively slapped him on the face on the way out, not showing him the respect he had earned. (If you are wondering why this is different from what I said about loyalty in regards to Spain before, it’s because this game didn’t matter at all. Feel free to debate that in the comments)

Now to my predictions.

Costa Rica 2 England 0

I’ve picked against Costa Rica twice and I won’t be stupid enough to do it again. If England decides not to show up, this game could get ugly. I hope Roy Hodgson plays a different side – one that will be happy to see the field as opposed to jaded about their elimination, but you never know what he’ll do. Maybe he’ll be gracious enough to give Frank Lampard a nice goodbye. But overall, I think England will lack the drive to go forward in this game. Costa Rica will seize their chances and capitalize on England’s carelessness. Bryan Ruiz will score one in the first half, and Joel Campbell will score the second. That duo will continue to be superb on all fronts. If Costa Rica finishes with all nine points, that would be something special.

Italy 1 Uruguay 1

I’ve been going back and forth about this one. On the one hand, I think Italy will be much sharper having gotten over the Manaus hangover. But on the other hand, Uruguay has Luis Suarez. If Italy comes out and attacks in the first half, not sitting back and hoping for a draw, I think they’ll get a goal, which I believe will come from Andrea Pirlo. He’s due. At that point, I think they’ll sit deeper, allowing Uruguay to attack. The defense will remain strong for a while, but towards the middle of the second half, Luis Suarez will pick up a goal from nothing. The momentum will be shifting, but Italy won’t fall victim to a second Suarez goal, and will be able to hold on for a draw. The finish to the match will be frantic, as Uruguay will have to send everyone forward for the all-important goal.

Ivory Coast 1 Greece 0

This game won’t be the prettiest one we’ll see at the World Cup, but Didier Drogba will have yet another impact substitution to send Ivory Coast into the knockout round. If Greece had a little more creativity in the midfield, they might be able to score a goal, but alas, they don’t. And Yaya Toure will make it even tougher on the Greek midfielders today. The Manchester City man should continue to improve as he becomes more fit the longer the tournament goes on. He’ll score the goal on a knockdown from Drogba. Wilfried Bony will also have a few chances in this game, but won’t find the net. But that won’t matter, as the Ivory Coast fans will be sent into a frenzy when the final whistle blows, their team finally into the round of 16.

Colombia 3 Japan 1

Colombia will continue their dominance of Group C with a thorough demolishing of Japan. The Japanese have been the most disappointing team in Brazil for me thus far, and will fail to inspire once again. They really miss having an in-form Shinji Kagawa on the field. Juan Cuadrado will score first for the Colombians. James Rodriguez will add another goal to his most impressive World Cup and Mario Yepes will score a dream goal from a corner for Colombia’s third. It will be a fairy tale for Colombia. Japan’s consolation will come from a Keisuke Honda free-kick, but it won’t mean anything to the Colombians, who will be just beginning a long night of celebrations.

Today’s challenge will most certainly be getting home without finding out the Italy-Uruguay score. It might be impossible, but I’m going to do my best. Have a great day, everyone. And thanks for reading.

 

 


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It Had To Be Him

There was always going to be one hero in Uruguay-England game and it wasn’t going to be Wayne Rooney. That Rooney had gotten his goose egg out of the way with the equalizer won’t be remembered unless there’s an English miracle in the next game. The hero was always going to be Luis Suarez.

As soon as Suarez and Uruguay were drawn alongside England, you knew Suarez would be chomping at the bit to stick one to the British media by breaking English hearts. The only question was whether he’d be fit enough to take part. But as I predicted, Suarez showed up in a big way for this one.

His first goal was too easy. England should not have allowed Edinson Cavani the space to curl in the ball for Suarez, and like last time out, a mistake from a center-back gave Suarez the tiny bit of space he needed. From there, he was never going to miss the free header. His second goal though was both a beauty and terribly defended. Goals that come straight from the goalie should never happen, as Muslera’s punt was simply headed on by Cavani to release Suarez. Someone should have been marking Suarez, for he was the only player who was going to beat England. But once the ball reached Suarez, his class won out, as his first touch and subsequent screamer were near perfect.

This was another instance of England not properly paying attention to the opposing star in critical moments. In their European Championship exit two years ago, it was a lack of attention to Andrea Pirlo that cost them. This time around, it was Luis Suarez. They had to know he was the threat, and needed to properly mark him at the crucial moment. Suarez was limited most of the match by the English defense, but those two lapses gave him just enough space to leave his mark on the game.

To England’s credit, they looked the better side for much of the game. And this World Cup, they’ve looked a talented squad. But ultimately, it’s individuals stepping up to carry a team that count and England lacked that today. While Rooney got his goal eventually, England’s best player, and yes, I mean that, missed two gilt-edged chances that could have swung the game. I truly believe England could make a serious run for major trophies in the next few years, but they will need individuals to rise above their talent level for that to happen.

Love him or hate him, The World Cup will be better for having Luis Suarez fit and firing. His performance against Italy will be vital if the Uruguayans hope to earn a place in the knockout stage. If only 40,000,001 were enough to have brought him to Arsenal last summer.

On another note, I found the usually loveable Ian Darke and Steve McManaman pairing verging on unbearable at times today. I love these commentators. But today, they seemed to let their bias towards England affect the commentary in a negative way. ESPN has done a good job of assembling on-air talent from all the major soccer nations, but having two Englishmen in the booth for such an important match was too much. They kept beating the audience over the head with their criticism of Uruguay’s stalling tactics. Lots of teams do that, but Darke kept harping on it. It even got to the point when he called out Alvaro Pereira for faking an injury when he was nearly unconscious. While Darke apologized for that, he needed to look at a replay before saying what he did. This duo is great. But if I wanted an English bias this strong, I would have found a BBC feed. I’d take this duo any day of the week, but they were too much today.


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My Thoughts on Group D, England and Jack Wilshere

The action in Group D certainly lived up to expectations today, with both Costa Rica-Uruguay and Italy-England being lively, entertaining games. Italy has now put themselves in the best position to qualify top with their win over England. Uruguay will have their work cut out, and will need some help, but the England loss certainly helps the Uruguayans. Costa Rica may have surprised Uruguay on this day, but Italy and England will be entirely different beasts. CONCACAF, however, has made a dream start.

England-Italy was a particularly interesting game, one worthy of all the billing it received. Despite the loss of Riccardo Montolivo before the tournament, the Italian midfield dominated. Andrea Pirlo was his usual self, Danielle De Rossi and Marco Verratti were solid defensively, Claudio Marchisio provided a stunning strike, and Antonio Candreva was the man of the match on the right. One would have expected England to press higher against Pirlo and company, but the Italians were allowed a lot of time on the ball at times. England seemed content to sit back and wait to release their pace on the counter attack.

England to me look four years away from a serious run in the World Cup. At times, they were electric going forward today, with incredible pace from the young guns. However, their relative experience saw them fail to track back at times, or in Wayne Rooney’s case, he seemed to lack the desire, leaving Leighton Baines exposed on the left, where Italy’s second goal came from. They have a ton of young talent, as evidenced by the three young midfielders who came on and added a directness to England’s play. But despite the flare, this probably won’t be their year. However, they have a serious future in international soccer in the next World Cup cycle.

The one area England seems to lack the necessary talent in Brazil is central defense. While Cahill and Jagielka are solid most of the time and very capable defenders, both are susceptible to critical lapses. Tonight, it was Cahill who let them down. Mario Balotelli’s goal was relatively simple, simply drifting off the back of Cahill to head in a simple cross. The Chelsea defender also missed a chance to redeem himself going forward, when he failed to connect on a header at the near post on a corner. For England to get out of the group, they’ll need Cahill to be better in the air.

On a side note, I found myself caught off guard seeing Jack Wilshere come on the pitch in the second half. I know he made a brief cameo against Hull, and had been deemed fit long ago, but it still felt odd watching the Arsenal #10 fit again. Looking at him run freely for once made me realize how limited he was this year, even when he was playing. At times this season, we saw glimpses of the Jack Wilshere everyone fell in love with before his injury. But it was only glimpses. Seeing him back out in the England #7 shirt made me hopeful that one day Jack might be back to his best. I feel for him, because he has had such hard luck, but time is running out unfortunately for him to prove his reliability.

I’ll have my thoughts on Japan-Ivory Coast and my next set of predictions at 7:00 am tomorrow. Thanks for reading and please share your thoughts.