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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Spain’s Legacy Is One To Be Celebrated

In every story, there is an end. Some are happy. Some are sad. Some ends are sudden. And some are a long time coming. If last week’s loss to the Netherlands was the beginning of the end for Spanish football, today’s defeat to Chile was the final period. Spain will go on playing soccer. In fact, they even get to play another game in Brazil. But things will never quite be the same for Vicente del Bosque’s historic Spanish side of the last six years.

Maybe it was arrogance, or maybe it was simply having played too many games over the last few years, but Spain was not ready to take punches from the Netherlands and from Chile. Everything went wrong. Stars so long admired for their ability to win at all costs seemed to give up. Gone was the ability to create chances. Gone was the determination to overcome the adversity. And gone were the Spaniards. As ESPN analyst Steve McManaman said in the immediate aftermath of Spain’s exit, “They deserve to be going home.”

It’s hard to believe that tiki-taka is done. But it seems the world has figured out how to defend it. Barcelona struggled all year with it, and now this. Will this signal a return to more barbarian styles of play? Or will a young manager come up with a new world-beating tactic? On this day, Chile’s decision to press high up the field looked ingenious. They allowed Spain time on the ball, but held firm when they needed to. When they got on the ball, they immediately countered, and sent runners into the box. Alexis Sanchez looked twice the player he often is at Barcelona among the inspired Chileans today.

Many people, including me, called for changes to be made in the Spanish side before today’s game. Somebody had to provide a spark. But del Bosque only made two changes. The tactics largely stayed the same, and the result was much the same. It was as if he wanted to go down with his boat. The ship was sinking, and instead of jumping on a lifeboat and fighting for survival, he stuck with his men and watched it go down. A 0-0 draw could have kept the Spanish alive, but they never would have played for that. They are too proud to abandon what has marked them over the years, and in many ways, that is admirable.

It will be healthy for these players to get some rest now. Finally, they will be able to have a summer off. Barcelona could be back to their best next year with a rested Spanish contingent. But you can bet that Spain will look to the younger generation to fill many of the old guard’s spaces after this summer. The Spanish side that begins Euro 2016 qualifying might be entirely unrecognizable.

But like all stories, the overall message is about so much more than just the ending. Is How I Met Your Mother a bad show just because the ending was terribly disappointing? Absolutely not. Ultimately, it’s the highs that should be remembered. And this Spanish team had some unbelievable highs. They should go down as one of the best national team sides of all team. They changed the way soccer was played, ushering in an exciting era of tiki-taka unlike anything seen before.

As they depart Brazil, they leave behind that legacy of tiki-taka. It may have diminishing returns now, but for many years, the revolutionary style was almost unbeatable. Xavi, Iniesta, Villa and company should hold their heads high. Their story with Spain has come to an end. But the incredible story of how this side changed the way the game is played is one to be celebrated.


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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.