Wild American Gooner

When Sports Are More Than Just Sports


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Can Mexico Advance?

I didn’t get a chance to write anything about the Colombia-Uruguay game yesterday, but there’s not much to say at this point other than that James Rodriguez looks a serious star. If teams aren’t lining up to bid 6o million euros for him after the World Cup, I’ll be quite surprised. I thought his goal last game was nice, but his first one today was truly remarkable. The first touch was sublime, and then the finish was even better. Brazil will be in for a real struggle against him in the quarterfinal. Today’s games aren’t as glamorous as yesterday’s, but we should still be in for a fun day of soccer.

My picks yesterday were nearly spot-on, so I’ll hope these ones continue a good run for me.

Netherlands 3 Mexico 1

Mexico has been particularly impressive defensively so far, but they have not faced any players like Robin van Persie and Arjen Robben. That duo has been sensational playing together up top, and I suspect today will be no different. Robben will have a field day against Rafael Marquez, as the old man will struggle to keep up with the pacey winger. Miguel Herrera might give us a few more spectacular GIFs on the Mexican sideline, but his magic touch won’t be there against the Dutch. Robin van Persie will get the reigning finalists on the board first with a left-footed volley. Before halftime, he will add another on a counter-attack led by Arjen Robben. A Herrera halftime talk will see the Mexicans come out with more spirit in the second half, and Hector Herrera will finally get a goal in Brazil. The impressive midfielder will deserve it too, having come close numerous times this tournament. However, as the Mexicans push forward to tie the game, another Dutch counter will see Robben put away the game, dancing around Guillermo Ochoa for another beautiful goal. The Mexicans will bow out, but they can hold their heads high.

Costa Rica 1 Greece 0

After a wildly successful group stage, the Ticos face a dream round of 16 matchup with the offensively challenged Greeks. Despite scoring two goals against Ivory Coast, Greece shouldn’t scare Costa Rica, and the Greeks might end up playing for penalty kicks if the match stays tied into the second half. On the break, Joel Campbell should find some space in front of Greece’s back four to release his wingers behind the vacated fullback spots – Greece attacks mainly through their left and right backs. Costa Rica’s lone goal will come early in the second half from the head of Bryan Ruiz, who will be excellent again today. Greece has been poor on set pieces under Fernando Santos and that could come back to haunt them. Going forward, Greece will create a couple chances in the early going, but their strikers won’t be up to the task. Keylor Santos will make a key save late on, and the Costa Rica defense will hold strong in the air in the final minutes. The Ticos will advance.

I’m currently working on a non-sports related post that I should have for you in the next day or two. Other than that, check back for post-match coverage later this afternoon. It should be a fun day. Thanks for reading.

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World Cup Knockout Stage Predictions

With no games to predict today, I think now is a good time to pick the games the rest of the way in the style of my most popular post – my original group stage predictions. While those picks don’t look so great now, it’s nice to have something to look back on as we progress. Don’t hold me to any of what I say, as I reserve the right to change my picks for games even in the round of 16 – unless I’m right of course. So here we go.

Round of 16

Brazil over Chile – I really want to pick against the hosts, and I very well might tomorrow, but I think Neymar has enough magic in him to edge Brazil past the exciting Chileans.

Colombia over Uruguay – There’s no way James Rodriguez will be stopped by a Luis Suarez-less Uruguay.

Netherlands over Mexico – Mexico might surprise the Dutch, but a Arjen Robben solo effort will prove enough in extra time.

Costa Rica over Greece – Why would I pick against Costa Rica? There’s no way Georgios Samaras scores again, so unless the match goes to penalties, the Ticos will advance.

France over Nigeria – France’s new-look attack will have their way with Nigeria’s defense. The French are on a roll.

Germany over Algeria – The upstart Desert Foxes will run into a brick wall in Germany, who will quickly show Algeria they aren’t playing in Group H anymore.

Argentina over Switzerland – Johan Djourou will be having nightmares about Lionel Messi all week. Argentina will romp, putting at least three past the Swiss.

USA over Belgium – Here’s my upset. The red, white and blue will win this one on penalties. Tim Howard will upstage Thibaut Courtois.

Quarterfinals

Colombia over Brazil – The pressure will get to Brazil, and they’ll wilt under the spotlights. Defensive mistakes from Brazil will see Colombia score early and often.

Netherlands over Costa Rica – The dream will die here. Robin van Persie will show Joel Campbell what a true Premier League striker looks like. And Louis van Gaal’s bunch will be back in the semifinals.

Germany over France – The game of the tournament will come two rounds too early. A high-scoring thriller will come down to penalties, where Manuel Neuer will best Hugo Lloris.

Argentina over USA – Lionel Messi will continue his stellar tournament, running circles around DeMarcus Beasley. This game won’t be close.

Semifinals

(Update: I made a mistake and set the wrong quarterfinalists together here. Please see the update for my correction)

Netherlands over Colombia – Two of the tournament’s surprises will meet in a contentious semi. Goals will come early, but the brakes will be thrown on and the second half will be a defensive struggle. Netherlands advances to their second straight final on penalties.

Germany over Argentina – My German bias might be a factor in this pick, but I see a repeat of the 2010 demolishing. Messi will be at his best, but his teammates won’t be of any help in the end.

3rd Place Game 

Argentina over Colombia – Lionel Messi will seal his golden boot and golden ball awards with a brace against Colombia. Argentina gets third.

Final

Germany over Netherlands – Die Mannschaft wird gewinnen! The Dutch defense will finally be exposed, and Arjen Robben won’t be at his best against many of his club teammates. Philipp Lahm will lift the trophy for the Germans, who will be deserving winners in Brazil.

Do you disagree? Tell me why I’m wrong. And enjoy the day off from soccer if you can. I know I won’t.

 

 


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Imagine Kangaroos Playing Soccer

Good morning, everyone. Yesterday was a busy one for me, but fortunately I was able to see all of the Brazil-Mexico game. Having attended the Mexico-Portugal friendly, Mexico’s last before the World Cup, I have to say I am absolutely stunned at how well they are playing in Brazil. Guillermo Ochoa was the hero in goal, but for long periods of time yesterday, Mexico was the more impressive side. Should they advance, they will prove a tough out in the round of 16. I never would have guessed that after their uninspiring performance against Portugal. Brazil was unlucky not to win this game though, as Thiago Silva should have placed his free header anywhere but right at Ochoa. They will be fine, even with the draw, but they certainly do not look unbeatable on home soil, despite what the media keeps telling us.

I was at the Red Sox last night and saw another wonderful game by Brock Holt. Playing in center field for the first time, Holt made one of the more unbelievable plays I’ve seen at Fenway, coming out of nowhere to dive behind a lost Jonny Gomes in left field. Check out the video on the bottom of this article for the best look at this catch. Holt also scored both runs, and showed once again that he needs to be on the field every day. Were it not for Holt, the Red Sox would be borderline unwatchable right now, but the kid is playing out of his mind, keeping this team afloat. I should have a Red Sox themed post later today for you so stay tuned.

Now, after getting rather unlucky with my picks yesterday, I’ll try to rebound today.

Netherlands 3 Australia 0

The name Socceroos is perfect. Every time I watch Australia play, I can’t help but try and picture kangaroos playing soccer (I’ve looked on Youtube and can’t find a video of it). Wouldn’t that just be amazing? I don’t care if this Australian team isn’t as good as prior ones. They are exciting merely because of their name. But unfortunately, the Socceroos don’t have the talent to beat the Dutch today. As the tournament’s new it-team, the Netherlands are rolling. And they will face little adversity seeing off the Aussies. Robin van Persie will score two and Wesley Sneijder will add the third for the Dutch. The Netherlands will all but seal their place in the round of 16 with this win.

Chile 2 Spain 2

In what might be the tournament’s most important group stage game, Chile and Spain will battle it out in a hotly contested affair. Whether or not Vicente del Bosque rings in the changes, Spain will be fired up to prove to themselves that last week’s embarrassment was not an accurate representation of the state of Spanish soccer. However, things will not start brightly for the reigning champions. The defense will be left suspect once again, as Alexis Sanchez, who will be playing many of his Barcelona teammates, will find the net within twenty minutes. A second goal from Chile before the half, this one a brilliant effort from Arturo Vidal, will send the world into a frenzy. But the Spain we all know will be back in a big way in the second half, as a series of substitutions will turn the game around. Jordi Alba will set up Spain’s first goal for Cesc Fabregas. And with time running out on Spain’s World Cup hopes, Sergio Ramos will tie the game, scoring yet another huge goal. The lone point will barely keep Spain in the running for Group B’s second spot in the round of 16, but it will feel like a win after being down and out at halftime.

Croatia 2 Cameroon 0

With Croatia still steaming from last week’s controversial loss to Brazil, Mexico’s draw yesterday will only serve to add more fuel to the fire. Knowing a win is a must against Cameroon, Croatia will be ruthless, relentlessly attacking the Cameroonian defense. Likely without star striker Samuel Eto’o due to injury, the Indomitable Lions won’t be able to relieve any pressure up top, and Croatia will have their way. Luka Modric will deservedly get the opener midway through the first half. Without his long hair that marked his Tottenham days, he is a much more likeable player in my eyes. He will be excellent today. Their second goal will be set up nicely by Ivan Rakitic, who will feed Ivica Olic on the break for a beautiful goal. More pressure will be piled on in the second half, but no further goals will come for the impressive Croatians. This game should be very one-sided.

Enjoy the soccer today and continue spreading the word about this blog. Check back later for the Red Sox piece and for more World Cup coverage. Thanks for reading.

 


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Loyalty Gone Too Far

With the flip of a switch, the greatest international side ever has become old. Rarely does such an ugly undressing happen in public. I, along with everyone else, believed Spain had a little bit more in them. If they were going to fall off the international stage, it would be slowly. But that was all proven wrong today. Spain was truly terrible today. It is not often that you can say that about Iker Casilllas, Xavi and Gerard Pique, but today, they were not among the world’s best, losing 5-1 to Netherlands.

Arjen Robben and Robin Van Persie were magnificent for Netherlands. They looked young again. And alongside them, the real youngsters looked like seasoned veterans, especially Daley Blind. The defense held well, even in the midfield, and Louis Van Gaal’s formation looked ingenious. It is always dangerous to discount a side who were unbeaten in qualifying, but somehow the Dutch have been overlooked. Using that as motivation, they silenced all their critics today and enacted sweet revenge on the Spaniards.

But the story won’t be so much about the Dutch as it will be about the Spaniards. The age old dilemma about how much loyalty should be shown to older players who have proven themselves is now again at the forefront. Vicente Del Bosque will be forced to answer many questions about why he continues to utilize Iker Casillas and Xavi, even as their clubs have begun to faze them out. Yes, they may be the two best Spanish players ever, but they aren’t among this current squad’s best 11. Loyalty is admirable. But eventually in sports, too much loyalty will lead to a result like this. And where does Spain go from here?

There have to be changes in the side for their next match against Chile. I would like to see David De Gea come in for Casillas – that choice would seem the most obvious change to make. But I think players like Javi Martinez and Koke could provide much needed life to this side. Whether Martinez plays in central defense or in the midfield doesn’t matter as much as simply getting his young talent into the side. I would also imagine Cesc Fabregas will start as a false 9, coming in for the likely to be suspended Diego Costa. And lastly, Santi Cazorla and Juan Mata should get a run out at some point. It might seem harsh to leave out the long-serving players after just one loss, but if this isn’t a sign that changes are necessary, I don’t know what is.

There is still a way back for Spain, but they will only improve if they are wiling to let go of their past success and make the tough decisions to leave veterans out. The usual 11 have played more games over the last few years than any other players in the world for club and country. Between that fact and the aging roster, it is clear that they must involve fresh legs and fresh minds. A departure from the Spain we have come to know might be the only way to save this campaign.

What were your thoughts on the match? How can Spain come back from this? Please comment.