While I was watching the entertaining Argentina and Bosnia & Herzegovina game, I couldn’t help but root for Vedad Ibišević as he came onto the pitch. His story of escaping the war and finding refuge in St. Louis is nothing short of incredible. But what I also find appealing about his story is his time in high school and collegiate soccer in the US. If the rule is that college soccer in the United States hurts our prospects of developing soccer stars, Ibišević is the exception. Although he isn’t playing for the red, white and blue, his story should inspire young Americans everywhere, both on a personal level and on the soccer field. Even though Bosnia ended up losing, his goal, Bosnia’s first ever at a World Cup, surely sent both sides of fans home relatively happy.
Speaking of USA, there is a big game today against old nemesis Ghana. I haven’t written much on this blog yet about this U.S. team, but I am one of their biggest fans. One day, I plan on joining the American Outlaws. But for now, I’ll have to settle for nervously watching the opening match with some of my high school friends. I can’t wait any longer. This particular mixture of hope, dread, and excitement I am feeling is one I haven’t felt often. Now let’s get to my assessment of how we can win and my predictions for today’s games.
Robbie Findley. Ricardo Clark. Jonathan Bornstein. Jay DeMerit. Those are the names of four players who started the match against Ghana four years ago. Since then, our national team has dramatically improved, and now has dangerous players everywhere on the pitch. The depth of the squad now versus then might be the biggest indicator about how much the program has developed. Regardless of whether or or not Klinsmann can lead this team out of the group stage, there has been tremendous improvements over these four years.
Against Ghana, Jermaine Jones and Kyle Beckerman should start in front of the defense. Their play will be vital, as an early Ghana goal would suck all the life out of everyone involved with the United States. If they don’t venture forward as often as they normally do, more of the attacking burden will fall on the fullbacks, Fabian Johnson and DeMarcus Beasley. I believe Johnson could be the key to this match, as he has looked particularly impressive recently. If he is able to link up with Bradley and Dempsey going forward on the right, that might open up space for late runs into the box. If Jozy Altidore can occupy a defender or two then, the U.S.’s best chances will fall to runners from the midfield. Whoever earns the last starting spot, be it Alejandro Bedoya or Graham Zusi, needs to take their chances if the U.S. hopes to win.
Defensively, the U.S. needs to careful not to get out of position, always communicating each others’ whereabouts to one another. There will be mistakes made, and it will be up to Tim Howard to save them at times. This first game will be an eye opener for Matt Besler, and one can only hope he doesn’t let the pressure get to him.
I see Michael Bradley scoring an opener late in the first half from a Fabian Johnson-led attack down the right. The defense will be solid, if not spectacular, in the first half, with Ghana not converting their only major chance of the half. The second half will see the United States put more men behind the ball with the lead, but a momentary lapse in concentration by Besler will see Ghana earn a penalty. Howard will go the wrong way, and the game will be tied. Withdrawing Beckerman knowing a win is a near-must, Klinsmann will put on Aron Johannsson for the last quarter of an hour, and he will see an effort saved off the line. Chances will come in bunches for both teams as the game opens up in the final minutes, but Howard heroics will deny Ghana a winner.
My prediction for the final score is United States 1 Ghana 1
Germany 2 Portugal 1
This game will be one of the opening round’s best. The Germans have an abundance of world-class talent, but the Portuguese have Cristiano Ronaldo. Take your pick. I see 2010 World Cup hero Thomas Müller opening the scoring for Germany, converting a rebound from a Lukas Podolski left-footed bullet. Mesut Özil will grow in confidence as the match goes on, and he will send a perfectly weighted pass in to Mario Götze for Germany to double their lead. Struggling to find his usual match-winning form, Ronaldo will be quiet until a late free kick. His swerving effort will beat Neuer and Portugal will only be one goal behind despite being thoroughly outplayed. But Germany will hold firm in the final minutes of the game, not giving Ronaldo another chance.
Nigeria 0 – Iran 0
The World Cup has been so exciting thus far that we are bound to have a boring 0-0 game sooner or later. This game will be just that, as Iran’s defense will hold strong against the Nigerian attack. The man of the match will be Vincent Enyeama in goal for Nigeria, who will have one or two noteworthy saves to deny Iran on the counter. The singular point for both sides will severely damage their chances of advancing out of the group, having their toughest matches against the impressive Argentina and Bosnia & Herzegovina ahead.
Have a great day, everyone. Go USA!