Wild American Gooner

When Sports Are More Than Just Sports


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A Showcase of Everything That Is Wrong With Soccer

If you can’t tell, I love the game of soccer. But had today’s Italy-Uruguay match been the first game I’d ever watched, I’d never watch the sport again. For the match showcased everything wrong with soccer. There were lunatic assistant coaches fighting on the sidelines. There  were first half tactics from Uruguay that included little other than riling up Mario Balotelli in hope that he’d do something stupid, and on the other side the tactics were hardly more sophisticated than simple time-wasting. There were a billion fouls. There were an equal number of flops. And best of all, the game’s superstar had a relapse into his cannibalistic past.

I somehow managed to avoid hearing the score of this game until I got home late this afternoon. I’d been eagerly awaiting watching this particular match for almost a week now. But frankly, I wish I hadn’t watched it. Two weeks ago, I would have told you I was a fan of Italy and Uruguay – that I loved Cesare Prandelli as a coach and that I respected Luis Suarez as a player if not as a person. Now, none of that is true.

That Italy came out with such negative tactics should not have been a surprise given the country’s footballing tradition, but I expected Cesare Prandelli to dare to be different, showing everyone that his Italy side was separate from past ones. I was wrong unfortunately, and we all had to watch Italian players commit foul after foul, only to writhe in pain on the ground when the slightest touch went against them. Their game-plan was clear. If the ball was in the referee’s hand and not on the ground, Uruguay couldn’t score. They were Italy circa 2006 – the team I grew up hating.

Uruguay seemed fine with that type of fight in the first half, knowing they could get under Balotelli’s skin and potentially cause him to lash out. A red card from Italy would allow them a way into the game. While Balotelli managed to leave the first half with only a yellow card, Uruguay’s tactics worked when Super Mario was taken off the field at half. Gone was Italy’s lone goalscoring threat today, as Ciro Immobile looked out of his element. And just when you thought Uruguay was done baiting the Italians into aggressive fouls, Claudio Marchisio went straight over the ball – a clear straight red. Uruguay in the end got what they wanted.

But Italy held strong even with ten men and kept doing their thing. Foul after foul, embellishment after embellishment. It was rather unpleasant to watch, especially every time Giorgio Chiellini writhed on the ground. And then Luis Suarez did his thing in retribution for Chiellini’s acting. No, he didn’t score. He bit him. Yes, Suarez bit someone. Again. How can this ever happen three times? I will never respect that man again. This is Suarez’s third strike.  He can forever be a villain now. For he is certainly no hero any longer.

While Diego Godin’s winning header was an exciting moment for the defender and for his country, I hardly cared who won the game at that point. Both sides had made me hate them with the way they went about this crucial game. I feel for Gigi Buffon, who deserved a better exit than this, but his Italy did themselves no favors with the way they played today. If you play the style they did, you deserve to lose in my opinion.

Lastly, a quick point about Balotelli. He obviously is immensely talented and his goalscoring ability would be a welcome addition at Arsenal. But games like this one  – where he must be taken off for fear of him doing something stupid – show how much he still needs to mature. I’d want him at Arsenal for sure, but much like Roberto Mancini in Balotelli’s Manchester City days, I don’t know if I’d trust Mario in certain matches. He is inherently flammable on the pitch, and his self-destruct button could spell an ugly time for any team that invests too much faith in his supposed new-found tranquility.

Unfortunately, as I choose to watch this game when I got home, I missed the Ivory Coast-Greece match, which shocked me when I saw the score. I can’t believe the Ivorians had such a big let down. For all of our sakes, let’s forget about Suarez and Italy for a while and get back to enjoying this wonderful tournament that surprises us at every turn.


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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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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.


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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.