Jun 17, 2014

Things we learned from the first round of World Cup games

Hard to believe the first round of games of the 2014 World Cup are already over. But each team has played once, and that gives us an excellent opportunity to draw a number of way too premature conclusions, way too early. Take these with a grain of salt, remembering that the road to World Cup irrelevance is paved with the carcasses of teams that shone brightly in their opening match and were never heard from again (remember the Soviet Union side from 1986? No? After trouncing Hungary 6-0 in their opening game they were the early favorites to hoist the cup in Mexico. Didn't quite happen that way). But hey, how much fun is drawing conclusions if you can't draw wrong ones? So here goes (in no particular order):

1. CONCACAF teams not named Honduras can play with just about anybody. For Exhibit A, consider today's scoreless draw between Mexico and Brazil. Yeah, this isn't your uncle's Brazil, much less your father's Selecao, but it's still Brazil and they're still playing at home. And Mexico still outplayed them for long stretches of today's match.

2. Spain are done. We know, we know: In 2010 Spain lost the opening game of the World Cup and a month later they were hoisting the trophy. This time is different. For one thing, this wasn't a 1-0 fluke loss, it was a 5-1 beatdown that exposed massive flaws in Spain's game. The era of the tiki taki is drawing to a close. Enjoy its dying moments.

3. Portugal are done. We told you they weren't that good. You didn't listen. The team showed little cohesion against Germany and went to pieces once it found itself down a goal. At one point late in the match, Nani even tackled one of his teammates. Portugal has good players, including arguably the second-best in the world, but good players do not a good team make. Beset by infighting, this squad will play out the string of group matches and take the next flight back to Lisbon.

4. Uruguay are done. They looked terrible against Costa Rica, an interesting little team that actually plays like one and should create all kinds of problems for England if not Italy. The Celeste are old and slow and out of ideas. Diego Forlan is a solid decade past his prime. Their best player is coming off surgery and is not going to be 100 percent fit for at least another week or two, by which time it will be too late. And their problems cannot be solved even by a fit Luis Suarez. Uruguay shocked the world in 2010, advancing to the semifinals. This time around we were actually expecting something. In vain. They may steal a point off England just because England are inefficient like that, but have no chance against Italy and will be on the first flight back to Montevideo.

5. England's attack is interesting, even exciting. The Three Lions had Italy, an excellent defensive side, reeling for stretches of Saturday's game. Unfortunately Wayne Rooney blew a chance from point blank range and his teammates fared no better at converting the chances they created for themselves. But with Danny Welbeck, Daniel Sturridge and Raheem Sterling, Roy Hodgson has a trio of excellent young attackers at his disposal for years to come. Too bad England's defense is so shoddy, and a shame that Gary Cahill, usually the team's best defender, let Mario Balotelli get free to head in the winning goal. Still, there are many positives in England's game. When was the last time you heard anybody say that? The mid-90s?

6. For all the talk about Juergen Klinsmann ushering in a new paradigm of attacking football, the U.S. still beat Ghana with Bob Bradley's tried and true method of bunkering. Or "parking the bus," as it's now known. And lest we forget, the winning goal came on a set piece, which is how they all seemed to come in the Bradley era. Here's the difference though: Unlike Bradley, Klinsmann had the magic touch with his substitutions, as second half subs Graham Zusi and John Brooks combined for the winning goal. And it's impossible to say if the Yanks had parked their proverbial bus as early as they did if they hadn't lost Jozy Altidore to injury. Don't forget that minutes before being stretchered off, Altidore missed a sitter right in front of the Ghana goal that really should have doubled the U.S. lead. Plus this was arguably the worst performance of Michael Bradley's career. If he had been a little more effective in holding and distributing the ball (for the U.S., not Ghana), things might have been very different.

7. Don't count Brazil out. Luiz Scolari's men have been far from impressive so far. They were gifted the three points against Croatia and looked only marginally better against Mexico. Still, with four points from two games and a very weak Cameroon up next, Brazil are in the driver's seat to win the group. Once that happens they will likely face Chile in the round of 16. Chile looked great for about 15 minutes against Australia. Soccer games last 90 minutes. By then Brazil could be hitting their stride. With a little help from the home crowd and the referees, the hosts will still be the team to beat.

8. Germany are quality. Joachim Loew's side played beautifully against Portugal. Well before die Mannschaft scored their first goal, we tweeted about them finding gaps in the Portuguese defense and cautioned that it could be a long day for Cristiano Ronaldo and his mates. And just think if they hadn't lost Marco Reus to injury in the last warmup game! Die Nationalelf are once again at the top of their game and the top of the sport, only now it's by playing a fast, attacking, entertaining style. If there's any justice in the soccer universe, this should take Germany far, perhaps even all the way to the Maracana on July 13. Alas, as past generations of German footballers remind us (hello Toni Schumacher), there is little justice in this sport. In the end it's often the bad guys hoisting Jules Rimet or his anonymous successor. This year, the bad guys appear to be Brazilian.

1 comment:

  1. MilanistaForeverJune 18, 2014 at 6:06 AM

    i love how you didn't even mention Italy in your list