Sunday, July 20, 2014

World Cup hang over - looking back at Brazil 2014

It has been a week since Germany was crowned as World Cup champions, adding a fourth star to their kit. Since that game we have had a overwhelming number of pieces about the World Cup, so it was time for the Frog to chime in as well.

The all tournament team using a 4-2-3-1 formation:
  • Goalkeeper - Neuer Germany. I can hear it now, "what about Howard!" from my USMNT fans. Yes Howard gave us a super human performance against Belgium. But he didn't win the game. Neuer on the other hand gave a superb performance versus Algeria as well as against France and Argentina. And he won the title. He should have
    A better sweeper than Luiz
    won the golden ball as well, more on that later.
  • Left Back - Vertonghen Belgium. I can just feel the Gooner cringing right now. But looking at what the Tottenham defender did for Belgium during this World Cup elevates him to this position. He was a constant threat for the Red Devils bombing down the left flank. He also chipped in the winning goal against South Korea. Without his efforts on the left side for Belgium, the shocking performance by Hazard on that side would have been even more glaring. 
  • Right Back - Lahm Germany. Shocking that Low stubbornly insisted on playing the Bayern man in the midfield. Were it not for some line up juggling in the beginning of the knock outs, we may never have seen Lahm back at his best position. Playing down the right side, Lahm gave Germany pace and width down the right side. He was constantly offering dangerous crosses from the flank. This also freed up some space for Ozil. Again, shocking that Low was forced to line him up in his natural position.
  • Center Back - Hummels Germany.  The powerful central defender was a rock for the German back line. Chipping in vital goals as well. With Low asking his defense to play a very high line also forced the Hummels to be solid with his organization of the defense.
  • Center Back - Vlaar Holland. The powerful Dutch center back was a rock playing for the Van Gaal's back 3. Playing with two wing backs, much of the defensive pressure fell on the shoulders of the back three defenders. In the middle of that was Vlaar. The Dutch defense were worthy of their 3rd place finish, giving up only one goal in the knock out stage. Their central defender has a lot to do with that result.
  • Holding Midfielder - Mascherano Argentina. The Argentine pitbull lived up to his reputation. He was the rock that protected the Argentina back 4. His work rate constitently sat at a 10. His ability to act as a midfield destroyer coupled with his efficient linkage with the attack made him the most valuable Argentine player (yup more than a player wearing the 10 jersey).
  • Holding Midfielder - Schweinsteiger Germany. Not to be repetitive...but what was Low doing the first half of the tournament? Once he lined up Lahm on the right with Schweiny and Kedira as his two holding midfielders, the Mannschaft took off. What took so long? Schweiny was the engine for the German team. His work rate, like Mascherano's, was off the chart. Seeing what he went through against Ghana or Argentina epitomizes his tournament. The man was spent in both matches, but he left everything on the pitch. Without his work effort I am not sure Germany adds that 4th star.
  • Left Winger - Robben Holland. Yes I know he is a diver, could probably medal for the Dutch in the Olympics.  The sad part is, he does not need to dive! When you watch
    The grass got me this time...darn it
    him take on defenders 1v1 you realize he can get past most defenders and when he fights through the contact he tends to find himself in great goal scoring opportunities. He just seems to focus more on getting fouls called for him rather than get through the contact and get himself goal chances. Even with his diving, he had a fabulous tournament. At times he appeared to be the only player in orange to carry the attack.
  • Right Winger - Neymar Jr Brazil - A bit of a surprise here, for a player that missed his last two games. That might be one of the reasons to build a case for Neymar. Until the semi-finals, Neymar was the one player that gave the Brazilians any hope. He carried the offense for the host nation. To be blunt, without Neymar, Brazil might not have made it past the group stages.
  • Central Midfielder - James Colombia - The new darling of world football, earned his new found fame by having a monster tournament. Winning the golden boot with 6 goals and carrying his nation to a first ever 1/4 final, trusted the Monaco player into the lime light. His creativity and bag of tricks turned Colombia into a real dark horse this tournament. Just think how scary Colombia might have been had Falcao been on the pitch. The future is bright for this 23 year old.
  • Striker - Messi Argentina - Shocking, but this is made by default. I am putting Messi here mainly on his performances early in the tournament (more on this later as well). He is also here because I do not consider Muller as a striker - I would have him as a second team left winger behind Robben. Messi saved his side in the group stages and had some decent spurts in the knock out rounds, but left much to be desired. His inclusion is indicative of the lack of world class strikers playing up to par this tournament.
  • Other players - Navas Costa Rica GK, Zabeleta Argentina D, Boateng Germany D, Muller Germany MF, Pogba France MF, De Bruyne Belgium MF, Kroos Germany MF, Sanchez Chile F.
No surprise that this team is loaded with players from the German side. Of course there are always flops as well. Here are the top three flops - these players had to be on teams that made it to the knock out stages, otherwise I would just slot 3 players from Spain on this list!
  • Fred Brazil - Wasn't he the leading scorer during the Confederations' Cup? What happened in the year between tournaments...oh right....teams actually try during the World Cup. He was a complete waste during the World Cup. Other than his atrocious flop against Croatia, he did nothing. What a waste.
  • Bradley USA - Has been called Caillou by Boston based sports radio 98.5, isn't far from a good comparison. The best US player heading into the tournament was close to a disaster for the red white and blue. Too often Bradley was a negative for the US rather than his usual positive impact on the team. I place some of the blame on
    Caillou! You can't give up the ball that easily
    Klinsmann who played him out of position, but still his performance was awful.
  • Oscar Brazil - Wasn't he suppose to be the creative lynchpin for Brazil? Creating space and opportunities for the likes of Neymar et al? So where was he? Like Fred, he was completely invisible. Yes he scored some goals, more than can be said for his countryman - Fred. But for all the hype surrounding this player heading into the tournament he was a huge flop.
  • Honorable mention - the entire Brazilian back line and keeper. The 7-1 trashing exemplified how atrocious the Brazilian defense was starting with their donkey keeper - Cesar - who can thank his goal frame for beating Chile. But even more so with their excuses for outside backs - Maicon/Alves and Marcelo. They cannot defend and all think they are really strikers. One play that epitomized how pathetic they are was on the goal by Klose in the semi final game. Marcelo keeps Muller onside by giving him a 5 foot cushion...inside his penalty area. Marcelo almost ran over Cesar trying to "cover" Muller. But the worst of the lot is Luiz. Big Bird might be the worst central defender I have seen since Pascal Cygan. He has no positional awareness...wonder why Muller was so wide open on the first goal in the semi finals? Answer - Luiz was suppose to be covering him. Go back and look at the fifth goal...Luiz makes an attempted tackle in the midfield and got skinned. There is a reason why he ended up playing mostly as a defensive midfielder for least there were players behind him to clean up his mess. Sigh...and PSG spent a boat load on him...why? Maybe we can get a refund from Chelsea.
The best team of the tournament, that didn't win the tournament, was Costa Rica. Los Ticos emerged from the "Group of Champions" besting, England, Italy and Uruguay. I was reading a pre-tournament publication that stated they had "no chances" of getting out of the group. They took Holland to the penalty kicks, so were that close to getting to the semi finals. A great run for the CONCACAF side.

The best manager of the tournament - Van Gaal. I put him above Low, since the German manager gets points deducted because of his stubborn Germaness when it came to Lahm in the midfield. But the Dutch manager pulled many of the right strings. It is ashamed that captain and striker - RVP - disappeared during the knock out stage, otherwise Holland might have expected a better result. Van Gaal's 3 back system with two deep lying wide players, including former striker Kuyt, was a perfect system for the Oranje. Swapping keepers during the penalty kicks against Costa Rica was a bold move that paid off...clearly one he wanted to make in the Argentina game but did not have any substitutes.

The player of the tournament - Yes Messi won the golden ball...but he did not deserve it, I think he knows that as well! Neuer was the player of the tournament. His performances against Algeria, France and Argentina were player of the tournament worthy. He made countless plays with his feet outside the area against Algeria that allowed his team to continue to play a dangerous high line. He made two imperial saves against France to keep a clean sheet. And was equally dominant against Argentina in the finals. On the other hand Messi completely disappeared in the knock outs, especially when it counted against Holland and Germany. There were many stories about how tired he was from a long season, but it isn't as if the other players were playing for amateur club sides....they all have been playing lots of football. It feels as if the moment overwhelmed the Barcelona magician.

2014 was a great World Cup, even if Germany won it all! See you all in 4 years in Russia. Actually see you in 2 years in France for the European Cup!

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Don't cry for me Argentina... RFA for winning the 2014 World Cup. Once the game went into extra time it was clear that the Germans were the only team that would win the match. Argentina looked totally cooked, and Messi was a complete shell of himself.

The Good:
  • For a 1-0 extra time game it was fairly entertaining, both sides had some legitimate chances in regulation. Oh yeah Palacio had a clear 1v1 in extra time but since he is of very little technical ability he made a mockery of the shot. In regulation, especially in the first half, it was clear that the organization and structure of Germany  was controlling the possession, but Argentina's pace was creating some serious problems for German's back line. Neither team was just sitting back, both were playing to their style and strengths.
  • Gotze's goal was very good. A great foray down the right side by Schurrle, the Argentine defense chased, two players, the Chelsea player down the wing, allowing space to be created behind them. Demichelis was caught in no mans land and allowed Gotze to get behind him. Great control and finish. A deserved goal for the 1-0.
  • Mascherano and Schweinsteiger were both huge for their respective sides. Both midfielders' work rates were superb and deserve a large amount of credit for keeping their sides in the match. Shows you why a team needs a strong defensive midfielder, and no Michael Bradley doesn't count.
The Bad:
  • Higuain's finishing or lack there of. Okay he did put one in the goal...but was offsides. And that off sides was unnecessary. As a world class striker he should know how to make that run, it wasn't that complicated. That could have changed the game...yes stating the obvious. But his other clear chance was absolutely butchered. On a terrible back pass from Kroos, Higuain found himself 1v1 with Neuer...and shot the ball a good 10 feet wide. Awful. All he needed to take a simple touch and he had numerous options versus the keeper. Bad. Just bad.
  • I have to question Sabella's substitutions. Much like 8 years ago in the 1/4 finals of the same match up when Argentina left a young Messi on the bench all game rather than bringing him on in a tied game. This time around I question taking off Lavezzi at the half for Aguero. Why? First Germany had already used a substitution so keep yours in the pocket and really force Germany on the back foot tactically. Second, Lavezzi was creating all kinds of problems for Germany. The Germans had no solutions for his pace. Why not allow the PSG winger to get another 15 to 20 minutes, let him go all out running at the German left? In addition you bring on Aguero who was coming off injury, not sure he was able to run for 45+ minutes. Finally, with Aguero - Higuain - Messi on the pitch, you had three players who refused to run back...this
    Sigh...lost opportunity
    substitution was poorly timed and advised.
The Ugly:
  • Paging Messi, paging Mr Lionel Messi .... Yes Messi had a good start of the tournament, but was it a bit of fools gold? He was absolutely invisible in this game. He made a few runs, but clearly was not mentally nor physically in the game. At times he looked like he was just going for a walk, no urgency, no apparent desire...was the moment too big for him? Any comparisons to Maradona are a tad foolish now. He did not take over either the tournament and especially not this last game. 
A decent ending to a great tournament. Germany, I will grudgingly admit, was the deserved winner from the start of this tournament.

Uber Alles

Germany v Argentina: World Cup final rubber match

Later today Germany will face Argentina in a World Cup final rubber match. Argentina won the first match in 1986, 3-2, the World Cup that was defined by the evil genius that was Maradona. The two sides met again 4 years later in Rome, for the worst finals ever seen at a World Cup. That version was won by the Germans 1-0. That game was marred by ugly football, Argentina getting 2 red cards, Klinsmann at his flopping

best and a terrible penalty granted by an official that seemed overwhelmed by the situation. Let us hope that this round resembles more the 1986 version than the 1990 version.

After the 7-1 destruction of the hosts it would appear that this is Germany's final to lose. Or is it? Every since Low put out a line up with Lahm back at right fullback and playing two holding players - Khedira and Schweinsteiger - and even inserting a natural striker Klose, the side has been clicking on all cylinders. And any mistakes get cleaned up by Neuer in the goal. The Mannschaft were the second favorites behind Brazil, and we all saw what the second favorite thought of the favorites a few days ago.

Ended up a good day for Argentina
On the other side we have a team that seems to be an enigma wrapped in a riddle. A team that many, myself included, thought they would make this tournament theirs. On their home continent, on the ground of their fiercest rivals and playing with the best player on the planet. Instead the side has failed to flatter. They have been efficient - giving up 3 goals all tournament, but they have only scored 8 goals. Germany almost scored that many in the semi finals! Messi has shown flashes of his brilliance - saving Argentina from embarrassment against Iran. But he has not been consistent. Practically walking through the game against Holland. There are reports that he has "heavy legs" after a long season with Barcelona. I have even heard a rumor that he is saving himself for this game. Regardless he is now at a World Cup final. A game that will go a long way to define his legacy in global football and more importantly in his nation. It is well documented his living in the shadow of Maradona in his nation of Argentina. This will only  grow more intense if he does not show up for this game.

So who will prevail in the match between the German machine v the Argentine legacy? Germany has shown some ruthless efficiency - they already faced a team defined by a world class player, Portugal, and handled them with ruthlessness. They dispatched the upstart French with the bare minimum. And cleaned house against the hosts in the semi finals.  Germany have the right formation and the players hitting their stride at the right moment. With Klose up front, Low allows Muller to slot to his preferred left side and Ozil on the right. Khedira and Schweiny play the perfect holding roles and Kroos is quietly becoming a world class set piece player.

Argentina are missing their second most important offensive players - Di Maria. The midfield
No joy at the Maracana?
will fall even more on the shoulders of Mascherano. The other Barcelona player on the roster is a beast in the midfield, but he will have to deal with threats coming from multiple angles. Up front, Higuain has to step up his game which he seems to have been on the path of doing so, but he must bring his A game if Argentina hope to prevail. Of course there is Messi. The one weakness that Germany has shown is the ability to handle pace through the middle, something Messi could bring...if he stops walking around the pitch. Germany suffered when they faced Ghana and Algeria, two very quick teams up top. If Messi can get some space and time to run at the German defense they might have something. Especially if Germany continue to play a high defensive line, that might open them up for someone like Messi or Higuain or Aguero to make runs behind the defense.

But at the end of the day, I think a well run German team will prevail against the Argentina superstar. Messi does look tired and at half speed. Messi at his best could give this side some real problems, but not at this stage. Argentina will defend much better than the Brazilians did, how could you be any worse. They will also be motivated to try and win the title on Brazilian soil as well Messi having a chance to get out of Maradona's shadows. Alas, Die Mannschaft will win in a very methodical and very German way.

Germany 3 - Argentina 0

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

Semi final #2 - Holland v Argentina - has to be better than first semi final!

So the dust will eventually settle....wait what? What was that? Oh Germany scored again. Ah poor Brazil, the coronation that was suppose to be. Just imagine how depressed the nation will be if Argentina wins the whole thing! Talk about insult to injury. But of course Argentina will have to get through Oranje first.

This will be even more difficult without Di Maria. What I am about to say might be seen as
Linking player
blasphemy, but Di Maria is only slightly less important to Argentina as is Messi. Everyone knows the talents of Messi, and therefore pay him special attention. This opens up spaces for a player such as Di Maria who has evolved from being solely a wide player to a player that slots deeper and is more of a traditional #10 playmaker. His ability to play this role and do so with aplomb is vital for Argentina. Argentina needs this linkage to feed the likes of Aguero and Higauin, and allow Messi to get some room to roam. Without Di Maria I am not sure where Argentina will find someone to fill that role. Maybe Maxi Rodriguez, but that will be a huge drop off. That will allow even more "attention" to be paid to Messi. Argentina has been much more solid on defense, especially compared to 4 years ago. But I am still not convinced that their keeper - Romero - is good enough for this level.

In front of Argentina is an old foe. Argentina and Holland played a famous final in 1978 and faced off again in a great quarter final match in Marseilles in 1998. Holland is also the one nation in the final 4 that has never won the trophy but they have reached 3 finals. What
struck me watching them play Costa Rica, especially during the penalty kicks, was the offensive talent that is available for Oranje - Sneijder, Kuyt, RVP, Robben, Huntellaar etc. Also, the last few games it appears that Sneijder is starting to really assume the role of a #10 - maybe it is maturity from 4 years ago where he was portrayed as a petulant brat in the Dutch camp. Robben seems to be a man possessed. Yes he has been flip flopping left and right, but his pace and dribbling has been almost impossible to contain. I am not sure Argentina will be able to solve this enigma. The real question is whether or not RVP wakes up and does more than wear the captain's arm band.

Without Di Maria I fear that Argentina will be without their metronome, the player that provides the link in the midfield. This might force Messi to drop deeper to pick up the ball, which will expose him to more defensive attention. I also do not think the Argentines will be able to stop the Oranje attack. I know that Holland did not score against Costa Rica, and struggled to get on the score sheet against Mexico until late in the game. But they are the second highest scoring team in the World Cup, that counts for something.

Oranje 1 - Albiceleste 0

This result would set up a mouth watering West Germany v Holland final. I am sure that the Oranje would want to reverse the outcome of the 1974 finals! It would also set up a Brazil v Argentina 3rd place about a match up that would actually make the 3rd place game "must watch."

Tuesday, July 08, 2014

What time does the Germany v Brazil semi final start?

Wow, talk about humiliation. Germany hasn't been that ruthless since they bypassed the Maginot Line in absolutely clinic on German efficiency.  7-1 and it could have been worse! You just don't see those score lines in international football anymore, you don't see them in the semi finals and you certainly do not see them where Brazil is on the wrong end
It is okay - just find some defensive midfielders and fullbacks who can defend
of the score line.

An absolute embarrassment but a deserved one. Why?

Brazil was a complete fraud team in this World Cup. For all the bluster coming from Scolari he will have to eat some serious humble pie. Yes the home side were without their most talented player - Neymar and their leader and defensive rock - Silva. But that is no excuse for giving up 7 goals...SEVEN!! Could have been 8 if Ozil put away his 1v1 late in the game. But that is not the reason why Brazil got trounced. It is because the team was over-hyped and had such a massive shortcoming it is somewhat shocking they reached this stage. They have ZERO defenders and their midfield is non existent. Take out Silva and you see how he was a one-man defensive core. David Luiz is atrocious, why why why did PSG sign him.
All the hair product in the world can't give this defense extra hold
There is a reason Chelsea ended up pushing him to a midfield role. He thinks he is Socrates and can make mazy runs through the opposing defense. Uh no. You can't Luiz, you are just a caricature and frankly just cause you have crazy hair doesn't make you the next Valderrama! He needs 4 defenders behind him to clean up the messes he makes. Look at the 5th German goal. Luiz makes an atrocious attempt at a tackle on Hummels ( who by the way started his run from his defensive 1/3 and no Brazilian striker or midfielder decided to check that run) and instead of stopping the ball, it finds its way to Ozil who has a 3v2 and bang - Germany 5-0.

Good to see Scolari has two stalwart fullbacks as well. Marcelo and Maicon are absolute jokes. You know when Maicon is started over Alves for "defensive" purposes you are in trouble. Maicon, like Alves, can really only run in one direction - forward. Marcelo is a total donkey. Watch what he does on the second German goal. He keeps the play onside because he runs parallel to Muller, almost runs into Cesar since his run was so deep he makes his run and allows Muller to just run to the penalty spot. Hey Marcelo, did you notice that your fellow defenders where holding the line up by the 18 yard know...playing the offside? A donkey.

I also looked the replay and I still couldn't find a Brazilian midfield. Fernandinho and Gustavo were absolutely criminal in their play. Turning balls over with ease, not tackling anyone, allowing acres of space to the Germans. Pogba did more alone than these two did combined! Also not sure there were any offensive players on the field for Brazil - Hulk, Oscar, Fred and Bernard certainly aren't going to make anyone forget Pele, Zico, Ronaldo, Ronaldinho...

It is nearly impossible for me to root for Germany, but I will admit I was hoping for a larger
Sorry I think we scored again...
score line...maybe even 10 goals. The Brazilian team and Scolari sold fans a bill of goods. They had one of the world's best players in Neymar who masked many of the cracks. They also had one of the world's best defenders - Silva - who somehow kept a ragtag group of defenders together. But they had no spin no back bone. Once they went down a goal they seemed lost. Did not know what to do. I place that blame on Scolari for not preparing this squad and also not making the necessary changes during the tournament. Fred? Why did he insist on starting that donkey? Granted maybe he didn't see Jo as a real option...maybe he shouldn't have taken him along! Hulk played 45 minutes of good footy - second half against Chile.

So now Brazil have lost the second World Cup they have hosted. The nation is in mourning, but if the nation had taken an honest look at themselves they should have known that those gold shirts were fools gold.

World Cup semifinals - usual suspects present. Brazil v Germany

So we are heading to the final matches of what has been a great World Cup. For all the fire works we saw in the group stages and the upsets, we have four teams that are the usual suspects - Brazil, Germany, Argentina and Holland. Between them they have won 10 World Cups and reached the finals 21 times. While Holland has never won the cup they are clearly the greatest footballing nation to have never won a cup. Is this their year? Anyways, some great match ups between footballing what will happen?

Germany v Brazil: Die Mannschaft have made a record 4th semi final in a row. The last time they failed to reach the semi finals was 1998 where they were man handled by a young Croatian side. Since then they have made the 4 semi finals, but only reached the finals once. That was back in 2002 where they ended up losing to Brazil in the finals. They then lost to Italy in 2006 at "their" World Cup in Germany and 4 years ago got swept aside in the semi finals against Spain. So will this be the World Cup for Germany? They seemed to have found, or stumbled, back into the best formation. Lahm at right back, two holding midfielders in Kedhira and Schweinsteger and even having Klose up front as a natural striker allowing Muller to go back to the left. In front of them they will be facing a Brazil side that has really failed to impress this entire tournament.

I read somewhere that if Brazil win with Fred up front, it will be the worst striker for a winning
Who was this amateur striker playing w Zizou?
side since Guivarch in 1998...I couldn't agree more! Hulk has been useless other than running around and from time to time uncorking canon left footed shots....that are no where near going into the goal. Oscar has been a shell of himself, or at least what we are believed him to be. And let's not get too excited about Cesar and his tears after the PK shoot out win...he is still terrible.

Add to this the fact that Brazil will be without their two best players. Neymar and Silva are out. The former due to a broken vertebrate. The latter out because of yellow card accumulations. The Brazilian FA appealed, but come on, Silva picked up a yellow against Colombia for maybe the dumbest play - interfering with the keeper as he was trying to punt the ball down field. Just for the sheer stupidity of what Silva did, he should get a 2 game ban. Regardless, Brazil will be without their best player - people say Argentina is "Messi dependent," the same can be said for Brazil and Neymar. Brazil will also miss their captain and best defender, really their only defender since the other three that play on "defense" all see themselves as strikers forced to start their runs from their own penalty box. When you swap out Alves for Maicon, because Maicon is a better "defensive" option....yikes. Now that David Luiz scored on the free kick look for him to channel his inner Beckenbauer during the semis.

So Germany should roll...not so fast. From the reports, Scolari will pack his midfield, maybe slot Hulk atop of a 4-2-3-1 formation. Or go with a 4-3-3 and pack the midfield with Gustavo, Fernandinho and Paulinho. Also look for Brazil and their fans, to continue with intimidating the officials. Something that cannot be overlooked. I think Brazil will be embellishing, flopping more than usual and look for them to try and get in more little cheap fouls, like they did against Colombia, hoping to throw the Germans off their game. The reality is that the Germans also did not look that great in open play against the French. Where they did look deadly was on their set pieces. Each time Kroos took a free kick or corner it felt the Germans could score - something that Brazil will have to be aware of if they start fouling the Germans. But they are Neymar dependent. Without their #10 I cannot see how they can weasel their way past the Germans and if it goes to PKs I don't think Cesar will be given to gifts which even he cannot miss on.

Germany is too clinical, have the right formation (finally) and their keeper is in top form.

Germany 2 - Brazil 0

Friday, July 04, 2014

Merci Les Bleus - 1/4 final exit no surprise

Sigh, once again France fall to West Germany on the football pitch. Unlike the last two occasions this one wasn't full of the pain and suffering! It was a rather bland game, especially for a 1/4 final match up.

The Good:
  • There is not much good from this game, but once the dust settles we will recognize that Les Bleus actually go to where this team deserved to go - the 1/4 finals. Yes France had an easy group and yes they had a relatively easy draw against Nigeria, but if the past showed us anything was that the team could easily succumb to the situation and melt. They didn't and they achieved what they were expected to. Anything more than a 1/4 final would have been pure gravy.
  • This pains me to say, but Low finally got the right formation for the Mannschaft. Finally moving Lahm out to the right fullback role gave the formation more width and attacking pace down that side - granted Lahm seemed to disappear at times defensively and somehow let Benzema waltz into the penalty area for a last minute chance. Partnering Schweinsteiger and Khedira as the two holding midfielders completely shut down Pogba - Matuidi - Cabaye from taking more control of the midfield. The partnership also provided cover for the likes of Lahm to push up as well as allowing Ozil and Muller to worry more about the offensive side of their game rather than having to drop back and defend. Which they don't do very well regardless.
  • Les Bleus are moving in the right direction. They got to the 1/4 finals. More importantly look at players that will make up their core for the foreseeable future -
    Not a bad pair to build around.
    Varane 21 years old, Sakho 24, Digne 20, Greizmann 23, Pogba 21, Schneiderlin 24, Sissoko 24, Cabella 24 - all under 25. Other players such as Benzema 26, Cabaye 28, Valbuena 29, Remy 27 and Giroud 27 are still on the right side of 30. This bodes well for the Euros in 2 years and as a core for the World Cup in Russia four years from now. The only starters that we will most likely not see again for France is Evra. All the others should showcase in France in 2 years for the Euros!
The Bad:
  • I have been harping on this for a while, but the French finishing was bad. Valbuena, Benzema even Varane had some decent chances. But whether it was a bad first touch, like Griezmann in the first half on a wonderful deep ball. Or just a lack of creativity when it came to the attacking third. There was also a lack of communications. Ball through to what looked like an on rushing Valbuena that Benzema takes, while he still created a good opportunity, it seemed Le Petit Velo would have put on a cracker had he been allowed to make his run. Just not enough practicality and clinical finishing for Les Bleus.
  • France seemed to sit back a little too much to start the game. They gave Germany lots of time on the ball and didn't put pressure on the back line. Les Bleus started to put some pressure on that back line late in the first half but there was not the type of urgency necessary in a 1/4 final match. This continued into late second half. Was it the heat? Maybe. Could be why these European nations seem to fade when playing in South America. Regardless, should have been more from Les Bleus in terms of urgency. 
 The Ugly:
  • First let me start off by saying that I think Deschamps is a large reason why France have turned things around. Compare this World Cup to what transpired 4 years ago. Even look at what happened during the Euros 2 years ago. This team is much more unified and moving in the right direction. DD deserves the credit for this and thankfully will be managing France for another 2 years until the Euros in France. However...Deschamps' management of this game was a bit ugly.  First - why did Sakho start? Whether or not you think he deserves to start - I know the Gooner questions his ability and I was nervous about having him start this game. This is compounded by the need to take out the Liverpool man for Koscielny in the second half. My stance is you should never have to make a like for like substitution on defense during a game - baring injury. Especially your center pairing. They are expected to last the game. If they have to be taken out for another central made a poor decision on your starting sheet. Second, I am not sure what was DD's substitution strategy. He brings on Remy in the 73rd minute for Cabaye. He had already brought
    Deserves a hug and a kiss for work with Les Bleus
    on the aforementioned Kos in the 71st minute. Why making an offensive change so late? Yes, Les Bleus had put together some sustained challenges to the German back line. So why not throw on a pacey wing players like Remy to build on this pressure? Throw him on in the 60th or 65th minute, let him get a good 30 minutes of run. Finally Deschamps brings on Giroud in the 85th minute! What? 5 minutes? He showed in the last play why he can be valuable, he can hold up the ball and hit smart passes to players filling the void - how Benzema got a free shot at the German goal. Maybe it would have been better to see this for more than 5 minutes...but this all stems, for me, from the Sakho inclusion in the starting line up. He hasn't been able to finish a full game all tournament. So why would it start today? Koscielny looked very good in Nigeria and looked comfortable next to Varane. Why not keep that pairing and not risk having to use a substitution for your center back? The fact DD also took out Valbuena for Giroud was a surprise for me. Had he taken out a Pogba or Matuidi I could see the reasoning, but taking out arguably your best creative player was a head scratcher. I do not think that DD was the reason why France lost this game, but Deschamps did not put them in the best position to mount a greater challenge to the Germans. Especially at the end of the game.
So France head home after a successful Brazilian adventure. Once the dust settles we will realize that this team achieved what they should have. A semi-final would have been nice, but that would have been pure bonus. France show they still need some maturity when it comes to finishing and being able to take their chances. As I stated there are may good things for Les Bleus moving forward, Deschamps staying on board will be a good thing and the team has some real talent in their ranks. They need to learn from this adventure and from this set back.

It will be interesting to see how the likes of Griezmann, Pogba, et al develop over the next two years before the Euros. Also, how will players like Lacazette, Grenier, Zouma, Rabiot and Thauvin might integrate into this side. Keep an eye on Rabiot and Thauvin, they might offer France that creative central player that they are lacking.

Good run from Les Bleus, difficult to lose to the Germans and the way they lost was bland which made it frustrating!

Allez les Bleus. 

Les Bleus to start with Griezmann over Giroud

After watching the Nigeria v France match it was clear that Deschamps needed to roll out a formation with a natural left winger on the pitch. This is even more important against Die Mannschaft. With that in mind DD rolls out his 4-3-3 with Griezmann on the left and Benzema in the center.

Lloris - Evra, Sakho, Varane, Debuchy - Cabaye, Matuidi, Pogba - Griezmann, Benzema, Valbuena

 Sakho finds his way back into the starting line up along side Varane. With a true left winger in place it should allow the left back - Evra to be more active on the offensive end of the game. Unlike against Nigeria, I expect to see the former Manchester United left back to push higher on the pitch. Why? With Griezmann, assume that the left winger will be more responsible with his defensive duties unlike Benzema who is too much of a center forward - doesn't run back!

Some interesting line up changes for Low as well. Lahm is back at right back, which is really where he should be. Klose is in at the top of the formation, a real center forward with Muller and Ozil as the wide players. This seems like the best formation for the collection of players on Low's roster. Wonder why it has taken this long to roll it out.
Why did it take this long to slot at right back?

To be blunt, I did not like France's chances before, now that I see what Low has rolled out I like them even less. With Klose up front, the Mannschaft has a natural and dangerous high striker that will keep Sakho and Varane occupied. What scares me with Sakho is that as talented as he is, he is also susceptible to serious mental lapses where he lunges in for a rash challenge. With someone like Klose roaming the penalty box...I fear we might see one from Sakho when Klose ghosts behind the French defense. I also think that Lahn as right back makes the most sense, especially when Low can put Khedira and Schweiny in the mid-field, making that stronger for Germany. France will have to give a herculean effort today and make no mistakes if they hope to have a chance at pulling off the upset.

Alas I have to go with my head again - Germany will win this game.

RFA 2 - France 0

Allez les bleus!!

Thursday, July 03, 2014

1982 - the year my football life was born

In less than 24 hours, we will most likely know one of the semi-finalists for the World Cup. France and Germany will meet in the first 1/4 final game. There is not need for an artificial story line for this game. The history between these two nations is well documented both on and off the soccer pitch! On the football pitch, Germany will always hold a place in all fans of Les Bleus of a certain age. I am one of those fans.

As sports fans we all have events that have marked us, and will continue to mark our memories, dare I say, until the day we die? I realize that might be a tad dramatic. 1982 was that for me. Let me start with the background.

France's footy team had been in the waste lands of international football during the 1960s and 1970s, they had been able to find the talent nor system that could match the "golden generation" that went to a third place finish in the 1958 World Cup. However signs of turning the corner could be seen in 1978 in Argentina - a player by the name of Platini found his way into the side. Coming into 1982, Platini was no longer a young prospect, he was now seen as one of world's best players. A player that had starred on the powerful Saint-Eteinne squad and was heading to Juventus. Riding on his talents as well as players such as Bossis, Tresor, Giresse, Amoros, Tigana, Rocheteau the French national team felt as if it was on a cusp of a new golden generation. They had qualified for the World Cup and did so by beating the runner up from the 1978 World Cup - Holland. They had a club side, Saint-Eteinne that had allowed for some to dream that France would become a premier footballing nation on the world stage.

France did not start off the 1982 World Cup on the right foot, losing to another hated rival - England. They also gave up the fastest goal, at the time, in the World Cup during that game to Bryan Robson. France would go on to finish second in the group. During the 1982 World Cup teams would be placed back into groups to determine the 4 semi-finalists. I remember being at the beach at Saint Jean-de-Monts after France defeated Northern Ireland (yes they used to make it to major tournaments) and seeing cars honking horns and people celebrating the fact Les Bleus were heading to the semi-finals. At that moment I knew what football was, but I didn't appreciate the passion associated with the beautiful game. That would change.

The day of the semi-finals I remember my great-uncle's house buzzing. There must have been a dozen of us from the family there, not because of the game, but because we always came together during the summer and would spend time at the beach. But we had a bonus this summer - a World Cup semi final for Les Bleus. That afternoon leading up to the game, things were being put in place. The usual large family dinner we would have every night around the dining table, would be moved in front of the television. I also remember the larger than usual quantities of wine that was being rolled out, it felt like a celebration.

Once the game started I can remember feeling a slow boil of tension building. Germany scored early only to see Platini convert a penalty to level the score. Both sides then settled into a cautious match. And then the assault of Battiston occurred. On a caviar of a through ball from Platini, Battiston runs onto it and gets crushed by German keeper Schumacher.  I remember as an ignorant 10 year old that I knew something bad had happened but not to that extent!

The fact there was no foul given, let alone a card was criminal. The Dutch referee waved on play and was even slow in calling in medical services to tend to the fallen player. Rumors would run wild the next day that since France had eliminated Holland in the qualifiers that the official was biased against France. This vile act of aggression would only heighten the tension of the match. France should have had a penalty kick and possibly seen Germany go down a man...alas it was not to be! The game would then take on a new dimension.

The score line would stay 1-1 into extra time. France would find a way to score twice in the first half of extra time. Marius Tresor would hit a canon of a volley from the penalty spot. Watching it I remember wondering how did he possibly do that? How could he take a ball in
For a few minutes they were heading to the finals
full flight and hit it with some power and precision?? Especially since he was a stopper! A few minutes later Giresse hit a cracker from the 18 to allow France to go up 3-1. The resulting celebratory run was one of pure joy...France were going to a World Cup final....I certainly felt that way. As an innocent 10 year old, I remember running outside in wild celebration, I probably resembled Giresse and his celebration.

Alas there were still 15 minutes in the game. And a certain Rummeingge sitting on the bench. The rest lives on in infamy. Rummeingge scores in the 102nd minute and Fischer would score a few minutes later....what? Really?

How did that happen?? All of a sudden we were heading to the penalty kicks. The first time this torture device would be used to determine a winner and a loser. How could this be?

The penalty kick sequence drama could not have been any more tense. From the Schumacher mugging of Battiston, to the back and forth goals in the extra time and now penalty kicks. I remember watching Stielike missing his kick and crumbling in tears. He could barely walk back without help from his teammate. And there was Toni Schumacher, stone faced gaze, basically scolding Stielike to get out his kitchen because he would take care of it. Which he did. He stopped Six and brought Germany level again. The next kicks were we had sudden death in penalty kicks. How could you add more tension to this match?? Maxime Bossis strides up and misses his kick...Germany's turn...and they don't miss in penalty kicks.

France crash out. Germany will face Italy in the finals. 120+ minutes of football between fierce rivals. France had arrived, in defeat, onto the global stage of football. Germany the defending European Champion and at the time, two time World Champion, had weathered the storm of being embarrassed by losing to their "little brother" neighbor.

The innocent 10 year old, who minutes ago had run around in wild celebration, wasn't sure what had happened. That was the first football game I remember watching from start to finish. It was my first introduction to the highs and lows associated with sports - I would have others! Notably with the Red Sox in 1986!!

Looking back I realize that much of the game itself I remember more from having watched it again in documentaries and YouTube videos (I will admit that re-watching Giresse score the third French goal I still believe somehow they will find a way to hold on). Germany would go on to lose to Italy in the finals while France would lose the 3rd place match against Poland. No surprise. Both teams had empty their tank both from a physical stand point as well as mental.

Since 1982, France has more than earned its place at the table for tier one footballing nations. Winning the European cup 2 years later with an unstoppable Platini. They would get to another World Cup semi final in 1986...losing to West Germany again. But France has since then won a World Cup as well as another European Cup and reached another World Cup final in 2006. By all accounts that has propelled France closer to their footballing big brother - Germany. But that July evening in 1982 will always remain in the heart of a 10 year old who for a few minutes was overcome with uncontrollable joy.

And then there were 8...1/4 finals of World Cup approach

Phew, 48 hours without any World Cup are we expected to survive this? It has actually been a good respite considering how tense some of the knock out games were. Starting tomorrow we are back in for 4 very different and fascinating matches. Since the Frog was 7-1 in the picks for the last round, we are feeling pretty confident in our prognostications! The one missed pick...The Frog had the US beating Belgium 2-1. Right score line...wrong teams. So here we go:

  • France v West Germany: I have been surprisingly calm about this match, maybe it is the heat that has descended on the New England area that is warping my mind. I will most likely have a dedicated post to this match but here is my snap shot. France and Germany have a long story of match ups - 1986, 1982, 1940, 1914, 1870...1806 okay okay I completely digress from the football field. When it comes to their national football teams, France has always been in the shadow of Germany. Les Bleus have always seemed to be the little brother to Die Mannschaft. France and Germany have not met on the footy field at a major tournament since 1986. But those match ups - 1982 and 1986 - carry a lot of weight on this rivalry. More on 1982 in another post. But we are now in 2014, most players on both sides were not born in 1986! So what to
    We meet again!
    make of this match up? Both sides struggled in their knock out openers. France did not look good against Nigeria until the last 15 minutes while Germany, at times, looked old and slow versus the Algerians. But this is Germany, this is the World Cup - they know how to win when they have to. It might not be pretty, and often it is not, but they do what it takes. While Les Bleus, for all the good will they are starting to harvest, is still an experienced side when it comes to these types of games. For this reason I have a hard time to pick against the RFA. Here is why - Muller is not going to miss sitters like he did against Algeria, Ozil and Gotze are going to cause some real issues for Evra and Debuchy. The midfielders will cancel each other out. Muller is more clinical than the French options up front. I have to make this pick with head...not my heart. West Germany 2 - France 0
  • Brazil v Colombia - Has there been a player with more hype than James Rodriguez? He deserves much of the praise, having scored in each of his nation's games at the World Cup, including a master stroke of a volley against Uruguay. Brazil also did not look very convincing against Chile. The Brazilians have the goal frame to thank for their victory. If I see Cesar weeping openly again, I might throw something at my television screen and Brazil played terribly and still made it to the 1/4 finals. They are still the home side if anyone forgot. They are facing another South American side who they are very accustomed to playing in Brazil. Colombia has never reached this stage, even the sides with Valderrama and Asprilla. Colombia have been clicking since the group stages, where they have scored 11 goals and only giving up 2 goals since this World Cup has started. Strong numbers to say the least. But they are now facing off against Brazil. I think this game will be closer than the home fans will want to see, but at the end I cannot see Brazil falling to their neighbors from the north. Brazil 2 - Colombia 1
  • Argentina v Belgium - France and West Germany are not the only nations that have footballing history from 1982 and 1986. Belgium defeated Argentina 1-0 in the 1982 group stage opener, at Camp Nou. The two sides met again 4 years later this time in the 1/2 finals where Maradona scored a brace to send Scifo and Pfaff to the third place match (where they lost 4-2 to France). So these two nations face off again on the world's biggest footballing stage. Argentina struggled against the Swiss last round.
    Messi to expect the same treatment?
    Once again it needed a run by Messi to get through on a 1-0 score line. Argentina's offense was better than it had been - especially Di Maria who seemed to step up his game. Becoming more active in carrying the game for the Argentines. The one troubling area, continues to be their back line. This is something of a concern for Les Albicelestes. Belgium showed against the United States that they have some lethal attacking options - Hazard, De Bruyen, Lukaku, Origi and even fullbacks like Vertonghen. Can the Argentine defense hold up against these attacking options? Or will Belgium be more cautious facing Messi and co as opposed to when they faced the powerful midfield of Bradley and Zusi...Argentina, similar to Brazil, have won unconvincing, even ugly. I think this continues, but it will be close. Argentina 1 - Belgium 1, Argentina wins 5-4 on kicks.
  • Holland v Costa Rica - Of all the CONCACAF teams, who would have wagered it would be the Ticos that got to the 1/4 finals? Oranje could be considered fortunate having beaten another CONCACAF side - Mexico. But this is a new day. I cannot see how Costa Rica can continue their magical run. They also had to play an extra 30 minutes and a man down. That is a lot of extra wear on those players' legs. I also do not think that Costa Rica has handled a player like Robben nor Van Persie in the past. Look for Robben to carve up the Ticos with either his pace or his diving. Either way he is world class. Look for Los Ticos' run to end. Holland 2 - Costa Rica 0 
Some exciting 1/4 finals game coming up. I think we are still on course for a Brazil v Argentina And Holland v Germany 3rd place game which might be one of the better 3rd place games ever!

Tuesday, July 01, 2014

United States exits World Cup - head high, but Jurgen has some questions to answer

In the last game to determine the last spot in the 1/4 finals, the United States, dominated for almost the full 120 minutes of the game, almost pulled off the upset. The USMNT depart Brazil with heads held high, but there are some questions Jurgen needs to answer.

First the United States fought a valiant game against dark horse team for the World Cup - Belgium. Hazard, De Bruyne, Origi, Fellaini and the rest of Les Diables Rouge could not break the stone wall that was Howard has been throughout this entire tournament. Other than time of possession, which I am surprised that the United States owned - 54% to 46% - the other statistics were ridiculously one sided:

  • Shots
    • 39 for Belgium...WHAT??? 
    • 17 for the United States
  • Shots on frame
    • 17 for Belgium. Ridiculous number, ESPN puts the number at 27...not sure about how they arrive at that figure.
    • 5 for the United States
  • Corners
    • 19 for Belgium...again...WHAT???
    • 4 for the United States
Completely one sided numbers which highlighted the domination by Belgium and the absolute huge game that Tim Howard played in goal. By far the man of the match, no d'uh. The Everton keeper was always well positioned, made the key saves he had to and I am sure crawled into the heads of the opposing players. Howard, like Ochoa for Mexico, demonstrated how far a nation can go if they have a world class keeper. However, like Ochoa, this game demonstrated you cannot win with only a world class keeper.

Other than Howard, I was impressed by Yedlin. The pacey right back did not look out of place at all. He used his speed well to slow down Hazard and was not afraid to push up the pitch and leverage that same pace to create real problems for the Belgian defense. Not that you would build around your right fullback, but he has real potential for the United States
Standing on his head...
and will bring an element you must have in today's game - offense from your fullbacks.

However, when it comes to Jurgen I think there remain some questions:
  • Why did he insist on playing Bradley out of position? To me Bradley had a disaster of a tournament. Yes he had a sumptuous pass to Green that cut the deficit to 1 goal late in extra time. But other than that...what did he do? This game and all tournament? I felt as if he was constantly out muscled against Belgium. He had trouble making the right pass. And was not strong defensively. I think the consensus, rightfully so, was that he was one if not the best outfield player the US had heading into the tournament. ESPN kept saying that Klinsmann was playing him higher because they had no options for that spot. Hmmm. Maybe Jurgen should have selected a player(s) to play that role and allow Bradley to slot back in his preferred spot. Maybe Bradley would still have failed to impress, but at least he would have been playing where he is accustom to slotting and put in a position to succeed.
  • Speaking of selecting players...I realize this story has long been forgotten, sort of, but I need to bring it up - wouldn't Donovan have been a viable option? Once Altidore went down with his hamstring...that ESPN kept telling us was "getting better" ... it became clear that the roster did not have someone to fill that void. So Klinsmann was forced to shake up his line up and force Dempsey to the center of the formation. Much like with Bradley, putting a player in a suboptimal role. To me this was due in large part because Klinsmann did not make the right choices for his roster. By no means do I think Landycakes would have been the panacea. But having a player of Donovan's experience and skill could very well have a difference maker. I can think of 2 occasions where Landycakes makes a difference. Late on against Portugal, insert him up front and he might have the savvy-ness to hold up the ball in the Portuguese end late on and maybe Ronaldo never sees the ball again. The second situation - today against Belgium. He puts away the ball late in the game that Wondolowski somehow...somehow missed. And he missed BADLY.  One thing I will give Donovan credit - he doesn't wiff when he has the opportunity to score big goals. Donovan could also have given Klinsmann an option to slot up front with Altidore out...allowing Dempsey to play a deeper and wider role. Food for thought.
I realize that Klinsmann is safe for another 4 years. Unlike European coaches he does not have to deal with the European Championship, so Jurgen has 4 years to work. However he should receive some criticism. He will surely receive heaps of praise, which he has earned, but there also needs some reflection on what could have been.

Congratulations to the USMNT, they went further than most pundits thought they could (except for this one!), but might have fallen a little short because of their coaches' arrogance. 

Deschamps' dilemna - bold moves that might be made

So we have had 24 hours to digest the French 2-0 victory over Nigeria, and two big questions linger for Deschamps.
  • Benzema - Giroud: as I stated in the last blog post, this partnership needs some work. And this is not the time to test and work out the kinks. It is tough on the Arsenal man that once he came out of the game yesterday the French all of sudden found their rhythm and took control of the game on the offensive side. Of course there would not be this problem had Ribery been healthy. But he is not. Does Deschamps look to Griezmann to shore up that left side? I think he does. The next few training sessions will give us a glimpse into what line up DD will roll out.
  • Speaking of the left side...does Deschamps have a problem with Evra? Were it not for Giroud's debacle of a game, Evra would have received the worse grade for the French yesterday. I read one match report that gave Evra a 3 and Giroud a 2! (scale is 1-10, 10 being perfect). Evra looked a shell of himself for most of the game. Only make a few late runs offensively which amounted to very little. Was this due to Evra being on a yellow and not wanting to pick up a second and missing the 1/4 finals? Or was it because as the Gooner stated - "he has lost it." I believe that it might be a combination of the two. I do not see Deschamps sitting his veteran, but I am hoping that the yellow card threat was what had Evra pump the brakes a bit on his game.
There is also another story coming out of Brazil - that Varane had to be hospitalized for dehydration.  This story is concerning. Something else to watch for. The next few days should be very interesting to say the least.

Allez les Bleus.