US Out of the World Cup- South Africa 2010

Here endeth the story.  The United States National Team is out of the World Cup after losing in extra time by a score of 2-1.  This defeat was reflective of the whole US World Cup experience, except this time there was no magical comeback.  Well, there was one, but today, we needed two.

The team that captured the imagination of America like never before is now out.  And that is a shame for the Team, the supporters and for soccer in general in America.  The USMNT leaves with heads held high.  But its obvious we’re not there yet, not with the best teams.  What the US lacked in talent and skill, they made up in heart and tenacity and that never say die spirit.  However, today it was clear from the start that the last great 91st minute comeback took more out of the team than they would care to admit.

They came out flat, without energy and once again gave up an early goal.  And there was no response in the first half.  Ghana outplayed the US.  What was worse Ghana controlled the play, that meant not only finding the extra energy to comeback, but also working harder than usual.  The team without the ball, constantly defending, expends more energy.  Once again I thought Bob Bradley, the US coach, made a mistake with his formation and starting line up.  US came out in a 4-4-2 formation and started the ineffective Findley up front and the very poor Clark in the midfield.  Ghana went with a formation that clogged up the middle.  The US midfielders had no time on the ball.  And in the 5th minute Clark lost the ball in the middle of the pitch.  Poor defending followed the Ghana counter attack.  Howard’s positioning was bad and the US found themselves behind early once again.

Such traditions are to be discouraged.  For, once again it was up to the Americans to find the extra energy and inspiration to comeback.  Clark quickly got a yellow card and was soon substituted by Edu, who should have started in the first place as part of a three men midfield.  That energy was not coming.  Not until the second half.  Failhaber once again came on for the ineffective Findley.  The formation changed and the US started to impose themselves on Ghana.  Within 20 minutes of the second half the game was tied.  US won a penalty in the box.  A good call.  Donovan stepped up and scored off the post.

But even the celebrations were somewhat muted.  It was the US’s game to lose now.  Ghana looked shaken, they looked like they lost belief.  But US pressure whimpered out.  Ghana came back in the game and started to threaten themselves.  For the rest of regular time no one could find that extra inspiration that would put their team through.    The now lone striker, Altidore, who looked as if he was playing with bricks tied to his feet, was replaced by Gomez.  A pair of fresh legs was needed.  More than a pair.  But this was the last US sub, due to bad line up and mistakes the US were forced to make changes early.  They were good substitutions once again, but using two early on is never ideal.  And it happened once again.  Very early in extra time the US failed to deal with a long ball, lost possession, and gave up a goal to Ghana.  Shocking mistake.

The US mounted a yet another comeback attempt.  But this one was toothless.  Players looked exhausted, both physically and mentally.  Passes were not sharp nor accurate.  Runs were not made.  Decisions were laboured.  Several times we saw hesitancy, no one touch pass and move, no give and go.  The US pretty much contented themselves to the long ball approach.  Meanwhile Ghana were content to sit back, absorb the pressure and come out in control of the ball, wasting time at every opportunity.  Soon time was up.  And the inevitable came.

And looking back, it was inevitable.  A team can not go behind so many times and hope to comeback each and every time.  Whether it was preparation, silly mental mistakes from players who slowly get into games, whatever, its just impossible to keep doing this.

And so the valiant effort is over.  The whole nation and and should be proud of its team.  They are a good team.  Not there yet, among the best, but not very far behind.  Just how the US team will do in the future we do not know.  But we should be proud of them and support them as much as we can.  Whether one is a long time football fanatic, or new to this soccer World Cup thingy, this team deserves to be remembered and supported by all of us.  They gave their all.  In the end only one country can win this.  This is the final, because the whole tournament started 2 or even 3 years ago.  Over 200 teams tried to qualify.  Just to make it is an honour.  To be one of the 32 out of over 200 contenders is already special.  To make it to the last 16 even more so.

Perhaps this team lost a great opportunity for the development of soccer in the US.  A run to the semi final would have had the whole country in grips.  So this is a lost opportunity on more than one level.  But I am sure that soccer has gained many more followers.  Each US success, each major tournament, turns more and more Americans onto the beautiful game.  In the space of few days we lived through the great high that only the World Cup can provide.  And though low of ultimate disappointment, knowing that another chance wont come for another 4 years.

The World Cup is the most special of sporting events.  Yes, more special than the Olympics.  Its focused on nothing but one sport.  Its contested by everyone.  And unlike the Olympics, we don’t get to choose which sport to follow.  Its all or nothing.  One team, one destiny.  No second chances with some other stars the next day.  There is nothing like it on earth.  And I hope the those who saw it for the first time are as hooked as those of us who have followed this game since we were kids.

So, while I am disappointed, heart broken really.  I take heart that the team I support did everything possible to stay alive.  And I am proud of the boys, and I want to say:  Thanks for the memories.  USA!  USA!!

Published in: on June 26, 2010 at 5:29 pm  Comments (2)  
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Itialian and French World Cup Fiasco a Good Thing?

Just 4 Years Ago

Yes, its a strange question to pose.  And I doubt anyone in Italy or France would agree right now.  But I think long term this could be a positive.  Yes, even the French dramatics.  Both countries went into this World Cup with as many questions as hopes for glory.  And to be honest it could have gone either way.  Ribery could have turned into the next Zidane and could have led his team to glory.  They sure had the talent to go far, but shot themselves in the foot.  Italy was a bit more of an enigma.  There were questions about the selection.  After an uninspired European Championship in 2008 the old professor Marcello Lippi came back to regain glory for Italy.  And this was Italy after all, count them out at your peril.

But as with France the result was a total disaster.  Last place in their group, and a ticket back home in tears.  I am sure there are many rotten tomatoes awaiting the Azzurri.  We all saw what happened.  I documented the problems in the French camp here, even though there was a bit more handbags and one more terrible game to play before they went home.  But lets look at what they can learn from this and how quickly they can move on.

France

It Was In the Stars

The main problem was the French Football Federation’s (FFF) insistence in not firing Raymond Domenech two years ago.  Yes, it was that simple.  Yes they got to the WC final in 2006 but it was not through great tactics and system.  Zinedine Zidane took the team and the whole nation on his back and carried them to the final.  He inspired the whole team.  Only to leave the game in infamy after headbutting an Italian player late in the game.  It would have been difficult to fire Domenech then.  So they stuck with him.  But after the Euros in 2008 he should have been gone.  It was very obvious to everyone but the FFF.  Perhaps the stars said they will do well in 2010, but stars lie sometimes.  And its not as if France lacked great young managers.  Anyone managing Lyon was a candidate, so were the very bright Deshamps and Blanc (who was named as the successor to Domenech before this WC).  But leaving him and then announcing before the WC that he will be replaced was a stupid move.

And French football stars did not help.  The locker room became split.  No one able to step up, no leaders among great players and veterans.  France lost this WC campaign before they even landed in South Africa.  Plus I don’t think the way they got there helped.  Despite having one of the most talented teams in the competition they gave themselves no chance.

So Laurent Blanc has an easy job now.  Yes.  Despite the crushing way they went out, and despite the problems Blanc’s job was made so much easier because of those things.  Now even if he wants to keep some great players who are still young enough, like Ribery, out of the squad he has the perfect excuse.  He can make his own team.  One that will be indebted to him and one that will listen to him.  Pundits too will give him time, as will the fans.  The team must be rebuilt.  France has a lot of young, very talented players.  And once they become a proper team they can be a force in football for a long time.

It wont take long for France to become a strong team once again.  I think they could even be a force in the next European Championships.  And those ageing and whining stars just made it easier for Blanc to rebuild the team and do his job properly without much resistance from fans and media.

Forza Geriatrics?

Despite not being the oldest squad in the WC there were may questions about their age.  Especially about some of their important players.  Fabio Canavarro, the over hyped leader and captain of Italy in 2006 and 2010 is 36.  Well El Capitano has not played nay decent football since that World Cup glory in Germany.  Unfortunately Marcello Lippi paid no attention to that and stuck with El Capitano.

There were other question about the current World Champions and four time winners.  No leader in the midfield other than Andrea Pirlo who was injured.  Lippi’s insistence on not taking the enigmatic, but brilliant, Cassano.  Taking and not playing Gattuso.  Why was he there if he was not going to play?  Why not take a younger player who might learn from this?

Marcello Lippi left the job in glory in 2006.  Roberto Donadoni was chosen as his successor.  It was an impossible job.  So he was done after 2008.  But Lippi made the mistake of coming back and now leaves in infamy.  People will quickly forget his brilliant leadership if 2oo6.  And this time there was no Roberto Baggio who could lead the team like in 1994.  No one stepped up.  No veteran, no youngster.  Italy were uninspired.  Playing without urgency.  It was almost a mirror image of France, but without the visible drama off the pitch.  Last World Cup the scandal in Serie A helped the Italian Squad.  It brought them closer, it was them against the world.  Now there was no scandal.

Well the scandal was their play on the pitch.  Italy were traditionally slow starters.  So a draw against a strong Paraguay was not a bad result really.  But not winning against New Zealand was shocking.  And their performance against what till today was a very poor Slovakia side was disgraceful.  They tried for 20 of the 90+ minutes played.  A pathetic showing.  Poor and still unfit Andrea Pirlo, always a class act, came on in desperation to try to lead them to victory, but even he was not enough.  Silly give aways, terrible play in the midfield and defence, and inept attack did Italy in.

There will be no great drama like with the French.  But a lot of questions will be asked.  Cesare Prandelli will take over for the retired Lippi.  Like with Blanc, his job will be made easier.  No more silly expectations, no more old stars who can no longer play at this level.  A new Italy will emerge.  With younger players, with new leaders, new set up.  Italy also has many young talented players.  I am not sure if it will take about 2 or 4 years for them to be back near the top of footballing world, but it will be no longer than that.  Italians are winners.  New players will step up.  New Baggios, Rossis, and Pirlos will be found.  Prandelli will rebuild the team in his image.  He will utilize the players talents and mould the formation that will fit them best.  No more relying on past their prime old horses who can not play any more.

Yes its no consolation today for either Italy of France.  But the misery and shame will not last long.  Both will be back and soon.  So those despairing should take note, sometimes a revolution is needed.  And this pathetic showing helped make that transition easier.

USA Win Their Group in a Dramatic Finish- World Cup 2010 South Africa

Celebration after Donovan makes it US 1-0 Algeria

Well this has not happened before.  The United States National Team won their Group to advance to the Round of 16 at the World Cup.  Unreal.  It was a dramatic ending to a very dramatic match.  Once again US came close to giving up an early goal.  Jay Demerit failed to clear a long ball and it went to an Algerian forward who hit the crossbar.

But from then on the Yanks were the dominant team.  Algeria, despite needing a result themselves, was content to sit back and try to hit US on the break.  Joy turned into despair for America, yet another scored goal was whistled back.  This time for offside, though Dempsey looked level with the play.  More chances came, more close calls, but it ended with 0-0 at the half.  And all this while we heard that England scored.  That meant the US needed to win to progress.

Gomez was taken of at halftime.  Failhaber came in.  The US kept creating more chances,  yet nothing went in.  Dempsey came close once again but the shot went of the post.  More misery and heart attacks for the US supporters.  As time kept ticking away mercilessly I started to despair.  We just couldn’t score, no breaks came our way, the ball did not bounce for us.  It was a repeat of the first half.  Headers, open net shots, nothing.  We had a perfect shout for a penalty (and a red for Algeria) when Dempsey was elbowed in the box.  But the refs did not see it.

As 90 minutes came to a close hearts were racing.  The US, to their credit, kept composure, always believing their would get one more chance.  And that chance came after 91 minutes were played.  Howard threw far to his right, Donovan got the ball, run with it a few yards, passed it forward to Altidore, he crossed and from up close Dempsey shot right at the keeper.  The shot was saved, not again!!!  But the keeper spilled it, Donovan thankfully was following the play and put it in.  it was amazing, even Ian Darke, an English commentator went mad for us.  Great stuff.

Donovan. American Hero

Oh the madness!!!  Football (soccer) can be such a cruel game.  But the joy it brings us is incomparable.  Just Amazing!!!  My heart is still racing.  We kept a clean sheet, and won the game in the most dramatic fashion.  We are still in it.  Saturday at 2:30 PM EST the US will attempt to progress to the quarter-finals of the World Cup.  Lets cheers on our boys, they deserve our support.

Poland’s Presidential Election Shocker- Komorowski and Kaczynski in a Dead Heat

Well polling once again has proven inaccurate, including exit polls.  This time in Poland.  This week the Platforma Obywatelska (Civic Platform, PO) candidate, acting president Bronislaw Komorowski, was comfortably in front in all the polls ahead of the twin brother of the tragically killed president Lech Kaczynski of Prawo I Sprawiedliwosc (Law and Justice, PiS).  And Komorowski looked to be a comfortable winner in the expected run-off election between the two seeing as no one was likely to get the needed 50% of the votes.

Bronislaw Komorowski

Well one thing turned out to be correct, there will very likely be a run-off.  But with just under 50% of the votes counted Komorowski is almost in a dead heat race with Jaroslaw Kaczynski.  39 to 38 %.  And now the run-off victory for Komorowski is uncertain.

Jaroslaw Kaczynski

This election of course was not supposed to happen till the fall.  But the tragic air crash in Smolensk forced a quick election.  The campaign lasted only six weeks.  Several candidates run.  Most did not stand a chance.  Komorowski handily won his party’s nomination before the crash.  Poland’s national tragedy however, forced him into a seat of power quicker than he expected.  He, as called on by the Polish Constitution, assumed the powers of a temporary president when Lech Kaczynski lost his life.  One would think that it would help Komorowski.  Unfortunately his party is also in charge of the Polsh Sejm (parliament), and their reaction to the tragic floods in Poland was not looked upon in favourable light.

Jaroslaw Kaczynski, riding on a wave sympathy of the voters for his lost brother and thanks to  the unpopular actions of the government now has a real chance to become president.  Though I still believe he will lose in a run-off election.  But it will be close.  And there are no guarantees.  So PO and Komorowski need to step up and run the country properly in those couple of weeks and they need to run a proper election campaign.

The tragic plane crash had a big influence on the election and voters.  The election itself was toned down, without much of the usual petty bickering and personal attacks.  There was no debate before the this election.  Though one or two should happen before the run-off.  Komorowski, a candidate of a business friendly centre-right party, is pro European, and portrays himself as someone who can unite the nation.

Kaczynski, the until April, unlikely candidate, was Poland’s prime minister in 2006-07, but was known as terse and uncompromising.  PiS is more to the right than PO.  It counts on the support of the Church, and as the opposition, is enjoying the support of those dissatisfied with the state of economy in Poland.  Kaczynski this time around, was toned down, more conciliatory than in the past.  He for his part, portrayed himself as willing to compromise and also was trying to be THE one who will unite the nation.

The debates will be crucial in light of today’s result.  The election will take place on July 4th.

Published in: on June 20, 2010 at 7:30 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Chaos In the French National Camp- World Cup 2010, South Africa

Wow, it gets more bizarre daily.

Today according to news reports the French squad refused to train, two days before their (last?) crucial group match against the hosts, South Africa, in this World Cup.

Apparently Patrice Evra, the great Manchester United leftback and, French Captain, had a row with a member of the staff.  The director of the team said he is ashamed of the team and resigned is protest and embarrassment.  Yesterday the very talented and enigmatic French striker, Nicholas Anelka, was dismissed from the team and sent home for insulting the French coach Raymond Domenech, and refusing to apologize.  That argument took place at half time of their game against Mexico, which they duly lost 0-2.  Anelka was substituted right away, mainly because he was piss poor and quite possibly due to that argument.

And that’s not all.  From the beginning there were questions about the team.  They qualified, after a very poor campaign, in the playoffs against Ireland in a controversial manner.  The infamous Henry handball is known all over the world.  Even before the World Cup started the French Football Federation (FFF) named Laurent Blanc as Domenech’s replacement after the World Cup.  A change was needed to be sure, but the timing of the announcement could not be worst.  They should have waited till after the World Cup.  Actually they should have fired Domenech two years ago, or at the very least right after qualification.

Then came the issue of captaincy.  Patrice Evra was named.  A great player, and a good leader IMO.  But some on the team, especially William Gallas (who had his captaincy at Arsenal stripped away for being a major pussy), were not happy with the choice.  So discontent started on the team.  Then there was the question of the role of Thierry Henry.  Domenech announced that Henry will be used mainly as a sub and Govou will start.  Many on the team were not happy with that.  More discontent.

French Team In Slightly Happier Times

Their first game against Uruguay resulted in a 0-0 draw.  Aside from the first 10 minutes (the last 10 they played against ten men) , they were very lacklustre and uninspired.  Most were poor, not one was trying, and after plan A failed miserably, they had no plan B.  There seemed to be no adjustments.  The substitutions hardly changed a thing as mostly they were like for like.  It was a dire performance.  Uruguay were content to sit back and absorb the pressure and France failed to create enough quality chances.  Then came the even worse performance against Mexico, thanks to which they duly lost 0-2.  They are now at risk of not qualifying out of what seemed like a very manageable group.

Patrice Evra complained about the noise of the vuvuzelas after the game.  Apparently the French had trouble communicating.  It may be so, but that did not stop Uruguay nor many other teams from playing well.  Then there is the controversy of the spy.  After yesterday’s events which shook the team and the whole footballing world, the now tiresome Evra complained again, this time about a spy who was leaking stories to the media.  He called the “spy” a traitor.  He has a point as most such issues should be kept within the team.  But to keep moaning and to claim its so disruptive to the team is bollocks.

This of course is not the first time that there is trouble in the French camp of with the team.  The enigmatic genius Eric Cantona had a famous row with the team.  Anelka himself was in, and out, and back in, then out again for several different reasons.  So considering the history, the events of the past year, this is not a shock.  There was also their shocking group play in 2002 when they were defending their title.  There is history there.  What is surprising is their play on the pitch.

No matter the problems they have with the manager or spies, or each other, this is still one of the most talented sides in the world.  Its full of veterans who won many things for their clubs.  Its full of supposed leaders.  But no one steps up, no one inspires the team.  They are pretty much all crap.  The captain, one of the best fullback in the world, Franc Ribery, the great attacking midfielder, Anelka, Henry, on paper they should be competing for the World Cup.  But no, no Zidane and there is no one to save their sorry French asses.  Its a disaster.  How they can’t put everything on the back burner for just a few weeks to try to win the WC is beyond me.  But they deserve nothing.  The problems are of their own making.  They started with the FFF and continued right on down to the players.  I hope they crush out in disgrace.

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