Wild American Gooner

When Sports Are More Than Just Sports


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Ah, How I Love the Third Place Game

Good morning, everyone. I’d imagine I’m unique in this way, but today is one of my favorite random sporting events. It’s the third place game at the World Cup. And I can’t be more excited. I fear we may not get many more of these once FIFA begins to realize how much the players hate them, so make sure to tune in this afternoon for Brazil-Netherlands. It’s sure to be fascinating in a way only third place games can be.

This game doesn’t matter much, and I’ll be the first to admit that. With the club season coming up rapidly, I completely understand why players wouldn’t want to risk getting hurt in an extra game like this one. As Arjen Robben pointed out, the whole World Cup is played so that teams can win a trophy. So why should they care about the only game that doesn’t matter in that competition for the trophy? It makes sense to have a third place game in the Olympics with there being a bronze medal, but why have one when there’s no extra incentive? Entertainment, that’s why.

There are a few interesting subplots in today’s game and most of them revolve around Brazil. For starters, both coaches will likely be coaching their last games. While Louis van Gaal will obviously leave for Manchester United with a great deal of dignity, his Brazilian counterpart Luiz Felipe Scolari could be ridden out on a rail. Van Gaal might not care too much if he loses his final game in charge of the Dutch team, but Scolari will certainly be coaching for a semblance of pride. He should feel a huge amount of pressure to win this game, if only to avoid further embarrassment.

The team sheets won’t have many familiar names on them, but for vastly different reasons. Van Gaal’s stars won’t want to play, and why should they? We’ll likely see as many as 9 or 10 changes I’d imagine, with Klaas-Jan Huntelaar leading the line. For some, this may be their final chance to put on their country’s uniform, and players like Dirk Kuyt might relish their last opportunity to wear the Dutch shirt. Brazil’s players might also fear it could be their final opportunity, but because of Tuesday’s embarrassment rather than becaause of old age. Fred, Jo, Fernandinho and Dani Alves, to name a few, all could be playing their last game for Brazil. If they have any self-pride, you have to think they’d want to give their all.

On that note, this game should be interesting to watch to see how Brazilian players react to the 7-1 shellacking by Germany. Will they be out to redeem themselves, or will they try and hide after the humiliation? I’d imagine it will be some of both. If there are usual starters in the starting 11, it will likely be because they want to restore some pride and I expect those players in particular to be energized. Whether or not they channel that energy in a positive way rather remains to be seen, but their could be serious passion on the field. If Brazil don’t score quickly, play could get chippy, and we might see a straight red card.

Nearly everybody on this roster might never play for their country again, with a few obvious exceptions, if Brazil goes out looking disinterested. A two or three goal loss would be devastating in so many ways. However, should they come out fighting, showing more passion and commitment on the field than they did Tuesday, and should they win convincingly, the players might be able to reframe this narrative. A goal or two from Fred, a disciplined performance from Paulinho, or any such strong exhibitions and some of the pain might be lessened.

With the Netherlands likely starting a lot of inexperienced defenders, Brazil could find spaces in the attacking third. And with the Dutch probably not caring too much, the game could open up early due to a lack of defensive tactics. As such, there is certainly room for Brazil to begin their atonement for Tuesday. However, I’m not entirely convinced they will be up for the task. Any harsh treatment from fans in the early going could rattle the Brazilians, and they themselves might leak goals.

Predicting this game is nearly impossible given the uncertainty in team selection and the degree to which these players will actually try, but regardless, I expect this game to be full of goals like most third place games are. I expect Willian to be particularly active today for Brazil, and he will score the opener so early, that it will leave many wondering where the Dutch’s motivation lies. However, Klaas-Jan Huntelaar will score a first half brace on two poorly defended set pieces to give Netherlands the lead at halftime. When Brazil get booed off the field at half, Thiago Silva will give an impassioned speech to inspire his teammates. And Fred will score the equalizer near the 60th minute. However, against the run of play, Huntelaar will complete his hat trick late on and Brazil will leave losers, having been beaten by a side who don’t want to be there. It will end up Netherlands 3 Brazil 2.

But regardless of what Brazilian team shows up, this game should be fun for the neutral. If you like goals, this will be the match for you. Check back later for analysis, and enjoy watching the World Cup while you still can. Only two days left.


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Argentina Wins the No-Midfield Battle

There was no Tim Krul to save the day this time. Argentina were uninspired going forward today, and not many would say they’ve breezed through the tournament. But Lionel Messi and his teammates are into the final, having beaten Netherlands on penalties after a scoreless draw. Javier Mascherano was the man of the match for Argentina in his role in front of the defense, holding Arjen Robben and Robin van Persie at bay. Maxi Rodriguez will steal some of the headlines for his winner in penalty kicks, but the story should be about the impressive defensive efforts on both sides. Once again though, I hate to see penalties decide a match though, as Ron Vlaar’s brilliant game should not have ended in heartbreak for missing a crucial spot-kick.

This was hardly an entertaining match, and the reason for that lies in the lack of true midfielders on the pitch for both teams. In direct contrast to how Germany has lined up, each team played with a system with only a single player in the middle of the park at times. Both teams started two holding midfielders who were more defenders than anything else, and while all were excellent in that role, none of them offered any support going forward. The lack of creative thought in midfield was never more evident than when ESPN showed the stat late in the second half that neither team had more than three touches in the opposing box. With nobody to provide service for all the attacking talent, neither team had any chances in regulation.

Playing two forwards, a back five and two holding midfielders, the Dutch were left with only Wesley Sneijder in the middle in the attacking half, and he wasn’t all that interested in dropping deep to receive the ball. As a result, they were forced to play a lot of lofted balls in to Robben and van Persie, who clearly were lacking the fitness to get onto them. As such, the Dutch hardly had any way forward. When Argentina dropped their line deeper, Netherlands didn’t have any creative options for breaking down the defense. Had Robben not played 120 minutes a few days ago, he very well might have been able to find space in behind the defense. But today, he needed more of the ball at his feet to be effective.

Argentina was much the same way, as their tactics didn’t help provide much service for Messi and Gonzalo Higuain up top. Lucas Biglia and Mascherano were once again outstanding defensively, keeping Robben and Sneijder at bay, but neither ventured forward too often with much vigor. People often say Messi is good enough to make his own chances, but when he has to drop into his defensive half to receive the ball because of a simple lack of bodies in midfield, he isn’t able to have the same impact in the final third. Ezequiel Lavezzi was disappointing on the wing, and it was clear that Angel di Maria’s pace was deeply missed. Not until Sergio Agüero and Rodrigo Palacio came on were Argentina able to create any real chances in open play. But even then, Messi was still playing more of the midfielder role than he would have wanted.

Pablo Zabaleta has not had a great tournament in my eyes. The right back came into Brazil being seen as one of Argentina’s biggest threats going forward, having run rampant in recent years down the flank in England. However yet again, he hardly touched the ball in the attacking third. Defensively, he was exceptional next to Ezequiel Garay and Martin Demichelis, always in the right position when the Dutch looked to counter. And in that way, his lack of offensive motor certainly helped Argentina maintain the clean sheet. But were his team to score today, he needed to be a presence up the field. He’ll need to be much more of a threat against Germany.

Jogi Löw’s German side should be able to grab the match by the neck on Sunday given their abundance of talent in midfield. If nobody is there to press Bastian Schweinsteiger and Toni Kroos high up the pitch, they will always pick the right passes. We saw yesterday that given time and space on the ball, Germany is lethal. If Argentina is going to have a chance on Sunday, there will need to be a change in tactics to put more men in the middle of the field.

On a completely different note, I have come to really enjoy Jon Champion and Stewart Robson as a commentating duo on ESPN. Their approach of being insightful but reserved comes off quite nicely after having to listen to so many games with the abrasive Ian Darke/Steve McManaman duo. I love that team of announcers, but they have become rather annoying recently, injecting their own biases into the matches far too often. While Darke thrusts himself into the match, Champion lets the play on the field do the talking most of the time. It’s refreshing to hear an announcer do such a nice job as a neutral.

What were your thoughts on the match? Comment below.


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Will There Be More Dutch Delight Today?

Good morning, everyone. Yesterday was quite a day at the World Cup – one few will forget. But let’s hope today’s semifinal is more of a game. I have high hopes. Now to my prediction.

Argentina 2 (4) Netherlands 2 (3)

Argentina will need to get another big game out of Gonzalo Higuain if they hope to win today. His ability to hold up the ball will be vital as his team will concede a lot of possession to the Dutch. Argentina’s midfield was impressive against Belgium, but they will need to be extra disciplined defensively, as Arjen Robben running at the left side of the Argentina defense remains frightening to think about. Javier Mascherano might be the key in this game in front of his back four, especially if he can keep Wesley Sneijder off the score sheet. His ability to break up play could disrupt any flow the Dutch want to find. Offensively, Pablo Zabaleta could find a lot of success getting in behind the Dutch wing backs. If he can get to the byline, Higuain will convert the chances. Lionel Messi also must be at or near his best, but the Dutch center backs aren’t as physical as Belgium’s were, which could help Messi out.

Netherlands will hope Robin van Persie recovers from his stomach bug in time to make the starting 11. Personally, I can’t see the former Arsenal man missing a semifinal with that type of illness, but you never know how sick he actually is. If he can’t play, Klaas-Jan Huntelaar would be the obvious replacement. The two forwards are different players, but they both could find success against a shaky Argentinian back four. The other key for the Dutch is whether Nigel de Jong can make a miraculous return to fitness in time to take a few whacks at Messi. If the referee isn’t calling many fouls, physicality in the midfield could determine the match. Offensively, the Dutch will look to attack down the right all night. Robben is due for another superb performance, and he will be licking his lips knowing who he is up against.

Assuming van Persie plays, I think the Dutch will score first. Ron Vlaar will get on the end of a Wesley Sneijder free kick, nodding home the opener. From there, Messi will begin to impact the match, releasing Pablo Zabaleta down the right time after time. After a couple near misses, a cross will find the head of Higuain, and the game will be tied at half. The second half will start brightly for the Dutch, who will seize the lead through a curling effort from Robben. Sergio Romero won’t stand a chance in net. Having started the game on the bench, Sergio Agüero will come on as Argentina looks for the tying goal late on. An error in defense will gift Agüero a chance in the box, and his shot will deflect towards Messi, who will deservedly get the all-important goal.

Extra time will be a boring at times, as both defenses fear the opposing counter attacks against heavy legs. It will turn into a stop-and-start affair in the midfield, with De Jong getting sent off late on. When the Dutch go down a man, they will be forced to use their final substitute to shore up the defense. Having withstood the final few minutes of Argentina’s attacks, Netherlands will safely get to penalty kicks with only ten men, albeit without spot-kick hero Tim Krul. Romero will guess correctly early on, and Argentina will take the early lead in pk’s. A late miss from Agüero won’t prove costly, as a second mistake from the Dutch will grant Argentina the chance to win it. Messi will bury it, and we’ll have an Argentina-Germany final.

I’ll have analysis after the game, and hopefully there’ll be some Arsenal news to write about in the coming days. Have a great day.

 

 


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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.