Wild American Gooner

When Sports Are More Than Just Sports


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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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Achtzehn Minuten – 18 Minutes That Changed World Football

In the course of 18 minutes, world football might have changed forever. The World Cup that Brazil had long dreamed about, the one they had billed as the chance to redeem the 1950 loss to Uruguay on home soil, suddenly became a national embarrassment. Few expected Brazil to beat Germany today in the semifinal without Neymar and Thiago Silva, but I don’t think anybody saw the complete demolition coming. In just 18 minutes, Germany destroyed Brazil’s World Cup.

It’s hard to examine the play on the field in a game like this behind a certain point. Germany were incredible offensively, but after the second or third goal, as much of that was down to Brazil giving up as it was their own brilliance. That being said though, Germany played out of their minds in the first half and for much of the second. It seems wrong to single out any individual above any other, because really, they were all at their best in the 18 minutes that mattered. The midfield was given ample space and time on the ball in dangerous areas, and they picked Brazil apart with every single pass. The finishing was lethal, and there isn’t much more to say other than that die Mannschaft were simply a delight to watch.

Manuel Neuer was once again outstanding in between the posts, and even when Brazil threatened early in the second half, Neuer kept his composure and made all the necessary saves. Another performance like this one will put fear in Germany’s next opponents, as frankly, Neuer doesn’t look like he’s letting anything get by him in the final. As fluid as the German attack was today, Germany’s biggest strength is their keeper.

But the story won’t be about Germany hardly at all. It’s about a Brazil side that gave up without it’s star. When things went wrong, there was no fight – no desire to do anything about it. They were resigned to defeat the moment the game began. It’s one thing not to believe. But it’s another entirely to lose the will to compete in a World Cup semifinal on home soil. Watching so many players fail to close down German opposition – jogging instead of sprinting – should make every Brazilian sick. This Brazil team should be embarrassed beyond any reprieve. There is no excuse for giving up.

You wonder if this team will be given a free pass of sort because of Neymar’s injury. Yes, he was their superstar, their inspiration and the reason for their success, but Neymar is only one player in a squad of 23. He wouldn’t have been the one defending Germany today, and even if he had played, Brazil would have leaked goals. Neymar’s broken back may have caused the lack of fight, but the real cause of today’s embarrassment was the absence of Thiago Silva in defense. Without the Brazilian captain in the heart of defense, David Luiz, Dante and everybody else had no idea what they were doing. It was like they had never played together. There were spaces everywhere, and the disorganization was rather pathetic. Luiz and Dante are two of the best defenders in the world, but today they looked like high schoolers. Julio Cesar had no chance in net, and he has every right to be angry about the lack of defending in front of him.

There will be much written about Luiz Felipe Scolari and his inability to have his team prepared for life without Neymar and Silva. Much of the blame should rightly fall on him. However, the players themselves – Marcelo, Fernandinho, Luiz, Dante, Maicon, Hulk, etc. – deserve the brunt of the criticism. This embarrassment won’t soon be forgotten in Brazil, and the players have no excuses. People still talk about the Maracanazo in 1950, but this was much worse than even that. The lack of fight in this squad will be remembered forever.

For Germany, today was just about perfect. But in the grand scheme of things, this rout will mean nothing if they don’t carry over their form into the final. Should they fail to lift the trophy, the seven goals today won’t matter much more than any other game for the Germans. However, for Brazil, this result did matter. And everyone involved should be ashamed.


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Ein Deutscher Tag Für Alles

Guten Morgen! The World Cup is finally back today. And I couldn’t be more happy about it, as my brief journey back to baseball quickly made me question the decision. Last night, I went to the Red Sox-White Sox game at Fenway Park. Granted, I’ve learned to expect next to nothing from the Red Sox these days. But I was thoroughly impressed with how unimpressive the reigning champions are right now. You watch them hit and wonder how this team will ever score a single run, let alone win a game that Clay Buchholz starts. How many sub .240 hitters can you start and legitimately hope to put runs on the board? When a 29-year-old rookie pitcher with a plus-five ERA throws six and two thirds innings of one hit baseball, and nobody in the park is surprised, something is wrong. We all know these players are capable of being better. But it’s just not happening this year.

Had the Red Sox not won the championship a year ago, this team would be getting slammed in Boston right now. Imagine the talk radio hosts going off on John Farrell and his group of players that more closely resemble the September of 2006 Red Sox than they do the 2013 team. But instead, we are in this wonderful grace period, a time when anything could go horribly wrong and nobody could get angry. Because we love these guys. The same players that helped rebuild this city last fall won’t ever be capable of breaking our spirits.

So I believe Ben Cherington must use this grace period to his advantage and shop his players while Boston fans will allow it. In my view, hardly anyone on the roster should be untouchable right now, with the possible exceptions of Dustin Pedroia and David Ortiz. Despite their poor seasons, many players will have relatively high market values, and Cherington would do well to restock his offensive talent in return. He needs to be making a lot of phone calls this month.

But enough of that. It’s time to get back to soccer. Here’s my first semifinal pick.

Germany 2 Brazil 0

This dream semifinal will lack flare at times, but the Germans will be ruthlessly efficient once again, hardly troubled by the weakened Brazilian defense. For Brazil to have a shot, I would like to see Oscar occupy the number 10 role in Neymar’s absence. He has the ability to press higher up the pitch than Neymar ever wanted to, and pressing Bastian Schweinsteiger any time he receives the ball in his own half would lead to a drop in the German’s play, as he does much better with more time and space on the ball. Oscar will also have to pick up his offensive game, as he will need to bring his wingers into the match. Hulk will need to provide the creativity and Luiz Gustavo and Fernandinho or Paulinho will have to be willing to make the late run into the box should Brazil hope to score without their star man. However, the bigger loss might be in defense, where Thiago Silva will be sorely missed. I hope Dante gets the start, as his knowledge of the Bavarians could prove a huge help.

On the German side, it will be quite interesting to see how the front four line up, especially if Miroslav Klose doesn’t get another start. I would like to see Mesut Özil pushed wider than normal, occupying the space behind the attacking fullbacks and away from Luiz Gustavo. If Toni Kroos can keep Gustavo busy, spaces will open up for Özil and Thomas Müller to receive the ball in front of the back four. From there, they should have more success with their final ball, finding openings in between the inexperienced tandem of David Luiz and Dante. In defense, I would like to see Per Mertesacker come back in, either for Jerome Boateng or Benedikt Höwedes, with Boateng shifting to the left. Defending set pieces will be crucial against a depleted Brazilian attack that will be dying for a cheap goal. Fred’s lack of pace shouldn’t worry Mertesacker, so it would be wise to bring his experience back into the side.

I predict Manuel Neuer will not let in a goal, playing more of his sweeper role than of his goalie role. He’ll be able to beat Fred to any ball played in over the top, and when called upon to deny Hulk or Ramires from distance, he’ll be up to the task. Germany will be patient in the first half, allowing Brazil some unthreatening possession, but they will manage to keep the crowd silent and out of the match. Late in the first half, Özil will unlock the defense, threading a through ball in to Müller after a lengthy build-up. Müller’s cool finish will give Germany the lead at half. As Brazil throw on more attacking threats in the second half, Lukas Podolski will come on for Deutschland and will score the clinching goal on the break, beating Julio Cesar near-post. Neymar and Thiago Silva will be sorely missed and it will be a German day in Brazil. The streak will finally come to an end, as Brazil will lose at home. That is, unless the referee decides to help the hosts out. Let’s hope Marco Rodriguez is up to the task.

I hope you all have a great day, and I’ll be back later today with some analysis of the semifinal after the match. Hoffentlich kann ich in Deutsch das schreiben mit einem Sieg. (And hopefully that bit of German was correct.)

 


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The Red Sox Only Deserved the One All-Star, Arsenal Begin Pre-Season and a Thank You to Josh Radnor

Good morning, everyone. With another day before we get back to World Cup matches, I thought I’d take this opportunity to write about a couple different things.

I’ll be disappointed once the World Cup ends, but it’ll be nice to have time to focus on baseball again. The Red Sox seem hell bent on keeping fans away this summer though, as they continue to find ways to lose. Yesterday’s game was yet another in which the Red Sox showed glimpses of last year, this time coming back from a 6-1 deficit with a five run seventh. But yet again, all clutch hitting disappeared and the Red Sox fell once more in extra innings. The late-inning magic epitomized by Jonny Gomes that the Red Sox had an abundance of last year has not existed this year when it is needed. They’re a frustrating team to watch at the moment.

It seems fitting that our defending World Champions have only one all-star on the roster selected by their own manager. Jon Lester will be the only one donning the special all-star game hat next week in Minnesota. Reports say David Ortiz told John Farrell that he preferred time off this year, but really, was Ortiz even worthy of a selection?  While I do think Lester was deserving of a spot, he hasn’t exactly been the stopper his team have needed at times. He’s had a lot of games where he pitched well, but not well enough. For an ace to beat other aces, he needs to be almost perfect. And Lester has been far from that.

I made the case for John Lackey to be an all-star a few weeks back, but he’s cooled down a bit since then. The only other player I think should have made it from the Sox is Koji Uehara. It’s hard to believe there have been many relievers better than him this year, and I would have thought Farrell would have wanted to turn the ball over to his closer at the end of the game. Uehara’s success over the last 12 months certainly merited a spot, but ultimately, his team’s failure cost him his place on the team, as Farrell couldn’t give his Red Sox an extra spot they didn’t deserve. Hopefully Uehara gets in as a replacement, but I understand why there is only one Red Sox on the roster this year.

Maybe this announcement will serve as a wake-up call for Dustin Pedroia. The former MVP has seen a dramatic drop in production this year, and it seems like there’s no injury to blame this time. I’m sure Pedroia likes to think of himself as the best second baseman in the game, but he was not even close to making the American League roster this year. Even if the Red Sox don’t turn things around as a team, for Pedroia, a return to his best could help get next season’s team back on the right track.

On a different front, Arsenal’s pre-season is about to get under way. I love the World Cup, but I am dying to see Arsenal get going again. Personally, I really enjoy watching preseason games, as I like seeing young players like Chuba Akpom, Thomas Eisfeld and Kristoff Olsson get run outs. It’ll be fun to watch those guys get another few games under their belts to prove they belong at this level. The friendly against Boreham Wood on July 19th can’t get here soon enough.

But as pre-season heats up, the transfer sagas begin to get more important. It’s at this point that I, along with just about every other Gooner in the world, would like to see Arsene Wenger get something done. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a big slash yet, but I would just like to see some movement. There are a lot of signings needed this summer – backup goalie, right back, center back, holding midfielder, forward – and I would hate to see Wenger need to fill all of those on the last day of the window. Getting a signing out of the way now would help ease some pressure off of his overall load.

I don’t like to comment on transfer rumors because they rarely turn out to be anything more than letdowns for Arsenal supporters. But I will say that a certain Chilean attacker currently heavily linked with a move to North London would be an incredible signing – one that would legitimately put Arsenal squarely in next season’s title race. The other major link – the one with a certain French right back – would also be a useful signing. I’d like to see that deal get done in the next couple days to get things moving towards the new season. I won’t name any names until the signings get done, but these rumors excite me. It’s going to be a fun year.

And on a similar note to yesterday, I’d like to thank How I Met Your Mother star Josh Radnor for reading my post about HIMYM and favoriting my tweet. Little votes of confidence like that inspire me to keep writing, and I’m incredibly thankful for what Josh Radnor and Craig Thomas have done for me over the last few days. If I go on to become a writer full-time in the future, I’ll have them to thank.

As the How I Met Your Mother post has now nearly quadrupled the number of hits that any other post has gotten, I want to ask if anyone has any desire for further HIMYM content. If you have an idea of another piece I could do, put it in the comments or tell me on Twitter (@MrMcGinnis94). Writing a non-sports piece every once in a while would be a nice change of pace, and people seemed to enjoy the one I did. Hope your day is wonderful. And thanks for reading.

 


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The Best Morning of the Year

Today is my favorite sports morning of the year. It’s the Wimbledon Men’s Final. Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer. It doesn’t get much better than this. I’ll admit, I’ve hardly watched any tennis at all in the last two weeks due to work and the World Cup, but I wouldn’t miss this match for anything. I’ve been a big fan of Djokovic for a very long time, and in 2011, at the U.S. Open Semifinal between these two that I was lucky enough to attend, I was part of an extreme minority at Arthur Ashe Stadium that day who were cheering for the Serbian against Federer.

But it will be hard to root against Roger today. The greatest tennis player ever deserves another title, and getting it at Wimbledon would be the crowning achievement for his incredible career. He is the epitome of class. And it’s impossible to root against the classiest individual in all of sports.

It’s amazing that these two have only met once at a Grand Slam Final – back in 2007 no less. Their rivalry has been a great one in recent years though, with the match that I saw at the U.S. Open in 2011 being a particularly testy affair. If you recall, Djokovic was down two sets in that match and clawed his way back, before going down two match points in the fifth. He swung as hard as he could on a return on one of Federer’s two match points – essentially giving up. However, the shot miraculously went in, and Djokovic pulled out the victory. That swing in the match turnaround is one of my favorite sports moments I have witnessed.

So I’m really not sure whom I’ll be rooting for this morning. I’ll just sit back and enjoy watching two of the best tennis players I’ll ever see in what could be their final Grand Slam Final against one another. The Federer era is rapidly coming to an end, so we all better appreciate every last second of it while we can. Whatever the outcome, I’ll be happy.

Going back to soccer – I wasn’t able to share any of my thoughts on the Costa Rica-Netherlands game yesterday, but overall, I thought the Dutch got a deserved victory. They dominated from the start and had a stellar display in penalty kicks, The Ticos were clearly worn out from their 120 minute match against Greece, and they weren’t able to create much going forward. Joel Campbell in particular looked exhausted, and that is a bit worrying. In an era where Arsenal play twice a week for much of the year, Campbell’s fitness will need to improve if he hopes to earn a spot in the starting lineup. At this point, I don’t see him being much more than a Capital One Cup participant this year, but he should be given the chance to prove he belongs nonetheless.

On another note, Tim Krul sure made Louis van Gaal look smart. That has to be the first tactical goalkeeping substitution I’ve seen. And Krul made two fantastic saves in penalties to justify it. However, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I don’t enjoy penalty kicks. It was heartbreaking to see Costa Rica lose in that fashion after battling so hard for three weeks. The Ticos represented CONCACAF admirably, and they have proven themselves a top-class international side. The 2014 World Cup won’t soon be forgotten in Costa Rica.

I’ll have more on the semifinals in the coming days, but they should be fascinating. It goes to show that ultimately, talent wins out in the end at the World Cup. Germany, Brazil, Argentina and Netherlands are four of the best footballing nations, and it is fitting that they should be in the semis. We’re in for a treat in the final week, even without Neymar.

Lastly, I want to thank How I Met Your Mother creator Craig Thomas for telling me on Twitter yesterday that he enjoyed my HIMYM post and thought my interpretation was good. He didn’t need to say anything in response to my tweet, but he did anyway. I’ll never forget that act of kindness. It means the world to me that he said that, and I guess that now signals that I have found closure with the show. It’ll forever be my favorite.