Wild American Gooner

When Sports Are More Than Just Sports


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Langweilig und Wirksam – Deutschland Geht Zum Halbfinale (Boring and Effective – Germany Goes To the Semifinals)

From the moment Jogi Löw’s teamsheet was released, it was clear Germany had a plan for overcoming their recent struggles – a return to the German side of years past was on the cards. Philipp Lahm was back in defense, and Miroslav Klose returned as the traditional center forward. Germany were done playing around, and France was going to have to beat them the hard way. By solidifying their defense and beefing up the attack, Germany looked a much more difficult side to beat.

France was unlucky to give up the opening goal on a set-piece, but particularly poor defending by the young Raphaël Varane allowed Mats Hummels a free header. It was a wonderfully taken free kick by Toni Kroos and an even better header from Hummels. With the goal, Germany could sit further back, looking to hit on the counter. They looked to play the same sort of tactics that they did in 2010 when they had so much success against England and Argentina in the knockout round.

On this day, Germany dominated in the midfield with experience winning out over youth, with France having a hard time dictating the game as a result. Kroos, Bastian Schweinsteiger and Sami Khedira were noticeably effective at breaking up play in the middle of the park, forcing the French to move wider. The German defense was excellent for much of the match, with Jerome Boateng and Mats Hummels looking an impressive pairing in the middle. Per Mertesacker will feel unlucky to have been left out, but Löw’s choice to add a little pace in the back helped keep Karim Benzema quiet. The few times France did manage to send in a useful ball, Hummels was always there to clean things up.

Manuel Neuer had yet another standout game between the posts, cementing his stance as the best all-around keeper in the world. Once again, his shot-stopping and distribution were top class. He looks a composed figure in net, and Germany have a huge advantage with him in the side. Neuer’s confidence seems to have a way of making the rest of his team feel at ease. One has to feel that if Germany wind up in a crucial penalty shootout, Neuer immediately gives them the edge.

France seemed to lack urgency in the second half, but that’s probably more of a testament to the German defending than it is a reflection of the French players. They were never able to find much of a rhythm, and even when Loïc Rémy was introduced to infuse pace in the side, nothing much went his way. France should be disappointed with their indifferent performance today, but they should feel confident about their current state going into the  hosting duties of the 2016 European Championships. They look a team on the rise again, having gotten over the horrors of 2010.

From the Arsenal standpoint, it was frustrating to see so many players left out of these sides today. Mertesacker and Lukas Podolski deserve a run-out in the final two games for Germany. If they are going to be attacking on the counter, Podolski should be on the pitch late in games, as his finishing ability surely would have led to another goal or two today. And for France, Didier Deschamps will be left reconsidering his choice of central defenders. Laurent Koscielny was one of the very best defenders in the whole Premier League last season, and you have to wonder how he couldn’t make the starting 11 for his country. I did, however, agree with Deschamps selecting Antoine Griezmann ahead of Olivier Giroud today. As far as the one Gunner to get a start today, Mesut Özil had a slightly better game in my opinion. While he was not involved in much action, he looked dangerous on the counter attack and was unlucky not to have gotten an assist late on. He still remains a long way off from his best, but at least he made a number of decisive passes today.

I still have Germany as my favorites for the tournament, and today’s more disciplined performance will hopefully quiet some of their critics. With Manuel Neuer in net, die Mannschaft might just win this thing.

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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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Neuer Ist Immer Besser

I have watched a lot of soccer over the last few years. But I’ve never seen a goalkeeping performance quite like Manuel Neuer’s today. It wasn’t that he was making saves every other minute, but rather, it was that he was doing everything a goalie could possibly do. More times than I could count, Neuer came outside the box to clear a ball from over the top, acting as a sweeper. Behind the slower pairing of Per Mertesacker and Jerome Boateng, Neuer saved Germany time after time with daring headers and sliding tackles not often seen from goalkeepers. He also was top-class in his claiming of crosses for the most part. And when he was called upon to make a stop, he did that as well. The Bayern keeper’s distribution was also quite impressive, as he sent an inch perfect, three-quarter field punt right onto Andre Schürrle’s chest in the second half – a chance the Chelsea man was unlucky not to convert. Neuer was certainly not at fault for Algeria’s late goal. If there were any doubts about who the best goalkeeper in the world is going into today, those are all gone.

As a whole, the Germans certainly underwhelmed. They got their tempo all wrong, and had a hard time creating any real chances. Even when Schürrle came on at halftime, Germany lacked width, and the Algerians could squeeze the Germans off the ball in the middle of the park. With Neuer in goal, Die Mannschaft didn’t look too concerned at any point today, but the lack of urgency in the second half was troubling to watch, as one would expect a team full of winners like Philipp Lahm and Bastian Schweinsteiger to know when more is needed. At times they were careless in possession, and a couple of times Algeria nearly exposed the absence of pace in the back, but Germany never lost control of this match. That confidence is one of their strengths, but against a better side, it could be a fatal flaw.

The Algerian keeper Raïs M’Bohli was also impressive today, making save after save in regulation. The Germans weren’t as ruthless as they could have been, but the Algerian keeper was always in the right place. There wasn’t much he could do on Germany’s goals in extra time. Aside from him, Algeria were solid if unspectacular. One can’t say they were underserving of making it this far, and their progression from four years ago was notable.

From an Arsenal standpoint, neither Mesut Özil nor Per Mertesacker shone particularly brightly today. Özil created a couple nice chances in the first half, but once again he didn’t seem too eager to track back, letting his man in on goal early on. In contrast to Thomas Müller, who was constantly sprinting back to add cover for the defense, Özil looked disinterested in the greater cause. That being said, he did play a lot of great balls, and was better in possession. He had an opportunity to hit a left-footed shot at the start of extra time, but tried to cut it onto his weaker right instead, losing the ball in the process. It was as big a sign as any that he still lacks confidence right now. However, his late goal could be vital for his mental game going forward. I was beyond giddy to see him convert the rebound. Mertesacker was solid early on, making a few key tackles, but he looked particularly slow today, exposed by Algeria’s counters. He will feel lucky to have survived that game defensively.

Lastly, the news that Toni Kroos is likely transferring to Real Madrid comes as wonderful news for Arsenal supporters. Kroos’s arrival in the Real Madrid defense would open a door for Sami Khedira to leave. With Luka Modric, Xabi Alonso, Asier Illaramendi and potentially Kross all capable of playing deeper in midfield, Khedira would seem surplus to requirements. Linked with the Gunners as recently as this morning, the German midfielder would be the perfect signing for Arsenal. He is great in possession, a wonderful tackler and a proven winner. However, potentially most importantly, he is a close friend of Mesut Özil. Khedira could bring out the best in the Arsenal number 11, making him feel more at home. Khedira was terrific off the bench today for Germany, hopefully showing Arsene Wenger he would be crazy not to bring him to The Emirates.

Germany won’t be able to get away with a disinterested performance against France on Friday. And as there are only three full days of rest between now and then, Jogi Löw’s side could regret having to play an extra thirty minutes today in the heat. Towards the end of the match, a few Germans looked to be tiring, so they’ll need to make a quick turnaround to be at their best on Friday. If the quarterfinal goes into extra time, Germany could be at a big disadvantage now. But they got the win today, and for now, that’s all that matters.

 


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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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Fixing My Mistake

It’s been a quiet day in the sports world today, which has allowed me time to catch up on all I missed this week. Maybe I’ll have some time for Wimbledon soon. For now, I’m settling in to watch some Red Sox-Yankees. I just realized though that I made an embarrassing mistake in my knockout stage predictions. I lined up the wrong quarterfinal winners. Instead of Colombia-Netherlands and Germany-Argentina, it should have been Germany-Colombia and Netherlands-Argentina. So here’s my corrected picks.

Semifinals

Germany over Colombia – Colombia’s pace could trouble Germany on the wings, but Thomas Müller and company will destroy Colombia on the counter. This match will have a lot of goals in it.

Argentina over Netherlands – Many will expect an open game, but both teams will fear the opposing side enough that this will turn into a defensive struggle. A late Messi goal will send Argentina to the finals.

3rd Place Game

Netherlands over Colombia – Arjen Robben will seize his final chance on the world stage, upstaging James Rodriguez in a wide open third-place game.

Final

Germany over Argentina – As I said in my other piece, this match will be a repeat of the 2010 quarterfinal, with Argentina’s suspect defense torn apart by the Germans. Lionel Messi can take his team only so far alone. Philipp Lahm will lift the trophy and the Germans will be world champions.

Sorry for the mistake. I’ll have a more thorough piece about tomorrow’s games at 7 a.m. tomorrow. Have a great evening.