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Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Simply the best

We all knew about Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, Wayne Rooney and Didier Drogba entering the 2010 World Cup - the super stars of the world that were to make South Africa their own. All except Messi were disappointing for one reason or another.

Ronaldo had no team to help him, Drogba broke his elbow just a week and a half before the tournament and could not be effective enough when he played, and Rooney was played out of positional on a completely dysfunctional team and never showed up.

One player that was virtually forgotten or unheard of by the common fan because of both the domestic club (Valencia) that he played on entering the World Cup and country (Spain) that he is from was David Villa.

Upstaged on Spain by the likes of all the superstars from Barcelona (Xavi, Iniesta, Pique, Puyol, Busquets) and Real Madrid (Sergio Ramos, Xabi Alonso, Iker Casillas), and even a couple of players from the English Premier League (Cesc Fabregas, Arsenal) including his own partner up top in Fernando Torres (Liverpool) - all Villa has done throughout his career is score goals.

In La Liga, Villa has become the top poacher scoring 203 goals in 383 appearances dating back to the 1999/00 season. For Spain, Villa has 62 caps (international appearances) and incredibly has 42 goals for the Red Fury - most players are considered gods if they score a goal every three games - Villa has essentially doubled that feat scoring two goals every three appearances.

He was the leading goal scorer at Euro 2008 with four strikes as Espania took home the championship as Kings of Europe - just the second time in the country's history it had won a major international tournament.

Now Villa is once again tied atop the scoring lead with four goals in the 2010 World Cup with Argentina's Gonzalo Higuain and Slovakia's Robert Vittek. Villa realistically has a great chance to win the golden boot (top goalscorer of the World Cup) as Spain are into the quarterfinals against Paraguay a team they should likely beat to move on to the semis, while Slovakia is out of the tournament having lost to the Netherlands and Argentina have a very difficult match with Germany - a team that knocked them out of the last World Cup.

But more so than just putting goals into the back of the net, Villa has been one of the real showmen of South Africa with several moments of individual brilliance that have produced some of the most spectacular goals thus far.

His first goal of the tournament came as he beat two Honduran defenders at the top of the box, accelerated into the box, cut back on a third defender, slipped, then finished with a sliding shot upper-90. His second also occurred in that match, and got a little help as it deflected off a Honduran defender and in.


The third goal was also a magnificent effort as a ball had been played into Fernando Torres on the break, but Chilean goalkeeper Claudio Bravo came flying out off his line well out of the box to knock the ball away. However, the ball only went as far as Villa, who from 45-plus yards out hit the ball one-time left-footed (he's a righty by the way) curling it up over the keeper and another defender in an amazing show of skill. Spain would go on to win 2-1, and remarkably it was Villa's only non-game-winner of the tournament.


Finally, Villa knocked off dangerous foe and Iberian Peninsula rival Portugal in Spain's opening game of the knockout phase in the last game of the round of 16. It was one of Espania's typical brilliant fluid moments as Iniesta knocked the ball to Llorente, who flicked on for Villa (possibly off-sides). Eduardo, the best keeper of the World Cup in my opinion, made the initial stop, but Villa like a great goal-scorer followed the rebound and used every bit of the goal as his second attempt hit the crossbar and in. It was Villa's second game-winner of the tournament and the first goal the Portuguese had given up all tournament.


Look for more El Matador celebrations in the World Cup, and in case you were wondering where Villa will be lacing it up in the 2010/11 season - well the little man finally made a move to one of the World's best clubs, Barcelona, where he will play alongside Spanish teammates Xavi and Iniesta as well as Messi.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Donovan on Letterman


I don't usually recommend it since he's not funny at all but check out the Late Show with David Letterman tonight.

U.S. star Landon Donovan will be a guest and he'll talk about the 2010 World Cup.

Eduardo deserved better


I might be a bandwagon Portugal fan (they are my heritage but I never really pay attention to them except for the big tournaments) but I will admit that for as great as their defense is, their offense is pretty pathetic if they're playing real teams (sorry North Korea). Against Ivory Coast, Brazil and Spain they didn't score a single goal and that clearly won't get it done.

Basically Portugal are frauds until they can develop a few more goal-scorers. Cristiano Ronaldo might be one of the best players in the world but he can't run all over the field and beat multiple defenders every time.

My boys survived the Group of Death (G) along with Brazil but it's only because they're front-runners that ran up the score on hapless North Korea. Awesome. They played well against Spain but once Villa scored, you knew it was all but over.

Portugal

Best moment: The second half vs. North Korea when they scored six goals.

Worst moment: Ricardo Costa's red card late against Spain was undeserved but his bad karma (from a ton of earlier dirty plays) caught up with him and sealed his country's fate.

Best result: Tying Brazil and Ivory Coast 0-0. Both were as boring as watching paint dry or grass grow but it allowed them to leap over the Elephants and get to the round of 16.

Worst result: Call me crazy but running it up on North Korea gave them a false sense of confidence that they could score whenever. Didn't happen ever again so I guess I'm right.

Final tally: 1 win, 1 loss, 2 draws. 7 goals scored, 1 goal conceded.

Best player: Goalkeeper Eduardo plays for Braga, a Portuguese club that I'd never heard of until today, but you better believe he'll be getting paid soon. He made a handful of Grade A stops on Villa and Spain. He had three clean sheets in the group stage and ended up allowing a single goal (that he made the initial save on).

Worst player: The Portuguese offense outside of the North Korea slaughter. With the talent that they roll out, they have to find a way to score some more goals. If they could put a few in, there's no reason they couldn't win a World Cup final. That's fact, not opinion.

All the big boys are left


This wasn't a fluke, Spain won 1-0 because they're a better team than Portugal. My three favorite teams are all out (Portugal, England and U.S.) and they were all deserved exits. You can only defend so much, you have to be able to score when you play a top team like Spain and for the most part, Portugal didn't even make Iker Casillas work too hard even though he looked shaky in the first half.


Final stats:

Spain Portugal
18(8) Shots (on Goal) 9(3)
13 Fouls 18
6 Corner Kicks 3
0 Offsides 3
65% Time of Possession 36%
1 Yellow Cards 1
0 Red Cards 1
3 Saves 7

Spain will play Paraguay on Saturday at 2:30 p.m. in the quarterfinals. Everyone and their mother will be picking Spain and David Villa and rightfully so, they shouldn't have any problems with Paraguay.

There are no more matches until Friday when the quarterfinals begin. Don't fret though, Shimer and I will be posting some injury updates and other news before we're back in full force on Friday.

Alonso out

Alonso is subbed out for Carlos Marchena. Final whistle should be any second now.

Alonso out

Alonso is subbed out for Carlos Marchena. Final whistle should be any second now.

Llorente almost closes the book on Portugal

Before he was subbed out (don't ask why), Villa served a perfect cross to Llorente and his header went inches wide. Pedro took Villa out, I hate taking your best offensive player out when the game is still hanging in the balance.

We're in extra time now (3 minutes are expected).

Ricardo Costa has been playing dirty all game and he just paid for his bad karma by getting a red card even though he didn't really do anything.

Spain, start your flopping

With the 1-0 lead, Spain is milking the clock and just trying to waste time.

Tiago received a yellow card for tripping Villa. He'd miss Portugal's next match if there is one.

1-0 Spain in the 81st minute, Portugal has to go for it, time is running out!

Alonso receives Spain's first yellow card in 2010 World Cup

Wouldn't you know that Xabi Alonso would be the player to snap Spain's clean record. He picked up a yellow card for an ugly tackle.

Villa with another laser, saved by Eduardo. The Portuguese goalkeeper is playing out of his mind, it would be nice if his teammates could reward him with a goal.

1-0 Spain in the 78th minute.

It's David Villa's world, we're all just living in it


Like clockwork, as soon as I wrote about the great save by Eduardo, David Villa gave Spain a 1-0 lead.

Taking a pass in close to an offside position, Villa's first shot was stopped but he stayed with it and was able to muscle off a defender while slotting home the rebound. 1-0 Spain in the 63rd minute.

Ramos just had a great shot that Eduardo tipped wide.

1-0 Spain in the 72nd minute, now we'll see if Portugal can score on anybody other than North Korea.

Last two subs for Portgual: Pepe out for Pedro Mendes and Simao out for Liedson.

Take a bow Eduardo


Llorente was wide open in the box for a diving header but Eduardo did well to brush it away. A few moments later David Villa ripped one that just skipped wide.

First changes for both teams

Portugal switches Almeida out for Danny and Spain lifts Torres for Fernando Llorente.

0-0 in the 59th minute.

First changes for both teams

Portugal switches Almeida out for Danny and Spain lifts Torres for Fernando Llorente.

0-0 in the 59th minute.

Bad stat for Spanish

No team that lost its opener in the World Cup has ever come back to win the tournament. Although a few have made the final. We'll have to see if Spain can erase that record.

0-0 in the 52nd minute and Portugal nearly got a lucky strike as Almeida's pass for Ronaldo was deflected by a Spanish defender and almost dropped in.

These are big boys

Spain is currently ranked No. 2 in the world by FIFA and Portugal follows closely in third.

0-0 in the 49th minute.

Second half underway

No changes at halftime and no substitutions so far. Also no bookings in the match, Spain still doesn't have a card in the 2010 World Cup.

0-0 in the 48th minute.

Spanish fly

Spain leads the all-time series vs. Portugal 15-5-12.

0-0 at halftime

I can't stress it enough, even though it's 0-0 at halftime you need to be watching this game (if possible). It's 315 minutes and counting for Portugal who have yet to allow a goal in the 2010 World Cup.

Halftime stats:

Spain Portugal
9(3) Shots (on Goal) 7(3)
6 Fouls 8
3 Corner Kicks 2
0 Offsides 2
67% Time of Possession 33%
0 Yellow Cards 0
0 Red Cards 0
3 Saves 3

The possession looks bad but Portugal definitely has found the formula to beat Spain, they just need to connect on one of their chances. Spain on the other hand has to keep pounding Eduardo and hope that something can go in or maybe he'll give up a juicy rebound.

Some life from my Portuguese


First Casillas had to race far out of his box to kick the long ball intended for Simao. Then Tiago made a run into the box and headed a cross but it was well wide.

0-0 in the 45th minute but this has been some scintillating action.

Almeida should have buried it


Meireles played a beauty of a ball to Almeida in front of the goal. He got up for the cross but almost completely whiffed on the header. Portugal is mostly playing defense against Spain and they have to cash in on the chances they get like that.

0-0 in the 42nd minute.

Portugal has conceded only one goal in its last 12 international matches so they got that going for them.

Yikes


Haha just after I lauded Casillas for a good play (albeit after a bad first touch by him) he almost gave up a weak goal to Cristiano Ronaldo.

The Man U. star took a free kick from 37 yards away and put it on goal, right in Casillas' stomach but for some reason (swerve?) he didn't catch it and it bounced out. Luckily for him and Spain, nobody from Portugal was on the doorstep.

0-0 in the 30th minute.

Iker Casillas says hello


Tiago just had the first real chance for Portugal: his shot from outside the box was hit in the air by Spanish goalkeeper Ikea Casillas.

Rather than safely put it over the bar, his save deflected almost into the goal so he had to hit it away before a Portuguese player came crashing into him.

0-0 in the 24th minute but this is great stuff. Two heavyweights going blow for blow.

The last time these teams met......

Surprisingly, these teams last played in the group stage of Euro 2004 with Portugal beating Spain 1-0 to knock them out of the tournament.

0-0 in the 10th minute.

Spain-Portugal live blog


The last match of the round of 16 is a tasty one: Spain vs. Portugal. A date with Paraguay in the quarterfinals awaits on Saturday (2:30 p.m.) for whomever survives this.

Either way, a very solid team capable of winning the 2010 World Cup is going home tonight.

Starting 11's:

Spain Lineup
G
1Iker Casillas
CD-L
5Carles Puyol
CD-R
3Gerard Piqué
LB
11Joan Capdevila
RB
15Sergio Ramos
CM
16Sergio Busquets
LM
14Xabi Alonso
RM
8Xavi
F
7David Villa
LF
9Fernando Torres
RF
6Andrés Iniesta

Portugal Lineup
G
1Eduardo
CD-L
2Bruno Alves
CD-R
6Ricardo Carvalho
LB
23Fábio Coentrão
RB
21Ricardo Costa
CM
15Pepe
LM
16Raul Meireles
RM
19Tiago
F
11Simão
LF
18Hugo Almeida
RF
7Cristiano Ronaldo

0-0 in the 8th minute but Spain has already had three quality shots: two by David Villa and one by Fernando Torres, forcing three good saves by Eduardo.

The toast of Asia: Japan


Quietly Japan had one of the best performances of the 2010 World Cup that you didn't hear a word about, unless you were in Asia. They survived a tough Group E and were the runner-up behind Netherlands. The Blue Samurai made history by winning their first World Cup game outside of Asia. Losing in penalty kicks is always heartbreaking but this is an up and coming national team with a lot to be happy about.

They proved that an Asian team can get out of the group play stage, even when the World Cup isn't held in their backyard. The Japanese played an attacking style and it's too bad that was neutralized so much in the last match against Paraguay. They were also the best at free kicks and restarts since they scored two free kick goals vs. Denmark in the winner take all third match.

Japan

Best moment: The two sweet free kick goals vs. Denmark couldn't have come at a better time as they needed to beat the Danes to get through.

Worst moment: When Komano's penalty kick hit the crossbar and stayed out vs. Paraguay. That turned out to be fatal since Paraguay hit all five of their PKs.

Best result: Beating Denmark 3-1 was great but I'll go with knocking off Cameroon 1-0 in the first match. A sign of what was to come from both teams in the 2010 World Cup.

Worst result: Losing 5-3 in penalty kicks to Paraguay. That's one that will sting for a long, long time. No two ways about it, they could have won that game although they likely would be beaten handily by Spain or Portugal.

Final tally: 2 wins, 2 losses. 4 goals scored, 2 goals conceded.

Best player: As much as anyone so far in the 2010 World Cup, Japan's Keisuke Honda earned a big pay day. He plays for CSKA Moscow right now but don't be surprised to see him get a transfer to a bigger European club soon. He just turned 24 so his best playing days are probably ahead of him.

Worst player: Life isn't fair as Japanese defender Yuichi Komano could tell you at this moment. 20 minutes ago, he was an anonymous player who had never scored in 53 caps. Now, he'll be the goat for the next four years. It's a cruel world, sorry Yuichi.

The cruelest way to go out, Cardozo sends Japan packing


Benfica striker Oscar Cardozo hit the game-winner to the lower left hand side, giving Paraguay the 5-3 win over Japan in penalty kicks.

It's the first time that Paraguay has made the quarterfinals and they'll get the winner of Spain-Portugal on Saturday at 2:30 p.m. so they'll obviously be huge underdogs.

Of the eight teams in the quarterfinals, four of them are from South America (Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay).

It was a snoozefest of a match but that was more than covered up by the unforgettable finish. Nothing like PKs, especially in the World Cup. You have to feel bad for Japan, especially Komano.

Honda is the ice man

They had to score to live another round of penalty kicks and who else would Japan want than Honda? He calmly hit a slow shot to the left, fooling Villar who had already dove to the right.

4-2 Paraguay

Nelson Valdez blasts it high and down the middle for the commanding 4-2 lead. If Japan misses the next its over; or if Paraguay scores their next one.

And we have our Baggio moment

Japanese defender Yuichi Komano beat Villar hit to the left but it hit the crossbar and stayed out so it remains 3-2 Paraguay.

3-2 Paraguay

Sunderland's newest signing Cristian Riveros puts it in coolly to the lower right hand side.

2-2

Japan tied it up with Makoto Hasebe hitting it upper ninety to the left where Villar guessed.

2-1 Paraguay

Kawashima guesses right but Lucas Barrios scores to the low right.

Japan ties it up

Honda confidently hits it to the right and Villar guessed the wrong way.

1-1.

Paraguay shoots first, scores

Edgar Barreto goes first for Paraguay and scores hard and low to the right.

1-0 Paraguay

Goalless after 120 minutes

Yes this match has been one of the more boring ones of the 2010 World Cup tournament but your paitence has been paid off with the first penalty kick shootout.

Riveros picked up a yellow card in the 118th minute.

Nice run by Japan for naught

Japan had a rare counterattack and they almost converted but they were whistled for a foul before Honda headed it off the post. There was a pretty backheel pass in the box but then a bad cross.

0-0 in the 118th minute.

Endo booked

Endo received a yellow card for a late challenge (even though there was minimal contact). This has been a rough day for this referee. Endo would miss the next match too.

0-0 in the 114th minute.

1 Extra time over, still no goals

Paraguay had some great opportunities but they couldn't score in the first 15 minutes.

Japan made their last substitution to start the second extra time session: Keiji Tamada in for Yoshito Okubo.

0-0 in the 107th minute.

Paraguay throwing everything forward

Morel fed a nice ball to Valdez in tight quarters but Kawashima was able to come out and stop the muffled shot.

0-0 in the 99th minute as Paraguay is turning up the heat on Japan.

A free kick by Honda was deflected out for a corner kick by Villar.

Barrios header right at Kawashima

Barrios should have done better, it was a nice cross but he headed it right to Kawashima who to his credit was in perfect position.

0-0 in the 97th minute.

Extra time

Who will be the hero or will we go to penalty kicks (which haven't happened yet in the 2010 World Cup)?

0-0 in the 94th minute.

Last substitution for Paraguay, Santa Cruz out for Oscar Cardozo.

Another terrible yellow

Hopefully this isn't a precursor of things to come but Honda just got a yellow card for another non-intentional handball.

0-0 after regulation, we're headed to extra time (two 15 minute periods, followed by penalty kicks if it's still tied up).

Stats in regulation:

Paraguay Japan
7(3) Shots (on Goal) 9(2)
16 Fouls 20
5 Corner Kicks 3
1 Offsides 1
62% Time of Possession 38%
0 Yellow Cards 3
0 Red Cards 0
2 Saves 3

Three additional minutes

Still 0-0.

Abe out

Abe is subbed out for Japanese midfielder Kengo Nakamura.

Morel got away with an elbow to the face of Endo; if the referee had seen that, he very easily could have been given a red card.

0-0 in the 82nd minute.

Ortigoza out

Paraguay midfielder Edgar Barreto is on for Nestor Ortigoza.

0-0 in the 76th minute, this feels like a game destined for extra time and maybe even penalty kicks. Nobody wants to make a mistake at this point.

Nagatomo booked

Nagatomo received a yellow card for an obvious grab of Valdez and his jersey. Nagatomo would miss the next match too if that happens for the Samurai Warriors.

0-0 in the 73rd minute and this is getting late, any goal now as Ian Drake just said could prove decisive.

Tanaka shaken up

Tanaka is leaving the field (for a second) after a knee to the face and his body from Kawashima. That was ugly but he's coming back on.

0-0 in the 69th minute.

1st Japanese sub

Matsui out, forward Shinji Okazaki is in. Apparently in 2009, no international striker had more goals (15) than him so he knows how to get it done. Every time he or Honda has scored, they've won.

0-0 in the 66th minute.

South America would like to know how its ass tastes?

South America teams are 13-2-4 in the 2010 World Cup and Chile (which lost to Brazil, another South American squad yesterday) is the only one to go home. They've outscored opponents 32-4.

Tanaka just had a header go wide after a deflection but it was incorrectly ruled a goal kick.

0-0 in the 63rd minute.

Excellent header stopped by Kawashima

Morel just found Riveros with a nice cross and he got a nice header on it but Kawashima was in the right position.

First substitution: Benitez out and forward Nelson Haedo Valdez is in.

0-0 in the 60th minute, time for a goal.

Populations of Japan and Paraguay

Paraguay only has seven million people while Japan has 127 million.

57th minute, still 0-0.

Matsui picked up a yellow card for a handball, no need for the call. He might have gotten it for kicking the ball away.

More about Honda


Honda plays for CSK Moscow which made the quarterfinals of the Champions League this past season. He also scored a great goal in the Champions League against Sevilla.

0-0 in the 52nd minute.

Second half underway

No changes at the half so nobody has made a substitution yet and no bookings either.

These teams have never met before in the World Cup.

0-0 in the 48th minute.

Halftime and we're scoreless

It's 0-0 at the half but it's been a little more interesting than your typical 0-0 game. Whichever of these teams make the quarterfinals will be a cinderella so you have to like both squads.

Halftime stats:

Paraguay Japan
4(1) Shots (on Goal) 5(1)
9 Fouls 7
2 Corner Kicks 1
0 Offsides 0
63% Time of Possession 37%
0 Yellow Cards 0
0 Red Cards 0
1 Saves 1

You have to remember how dangerous Japan is on free kicks, that could be a factor in the second half or extra time.

Excellent buildup from Japan


Japan just had its best chance as Matsui drove down the right side, drew a defender then laid it off for Honda at the top of the box.

He wasn't balanced so his shot curved wide but it was an impressive buildup from Japan and proof that they can counterattack if Paraguay isn't careful.

0-0 in the 42nd minute.

Qualifying studs

Paraguay beat Argentina and Brazil (2-0) in the long South American qualifying campaign. Just sayin'.

0-0 in the 35th minute.

Santa Cruz chokes


After a corner kick by Paraguay, the ball came out of a scrum with a bunch of players and went to the foot of Roque Santa Cruz. He had plenty of space but he botched it by shooting wide.

0-0 in the 31st minute. Paraguay is carrying play right now.

Japan-Paraguay live blog

Neither of these teams has ever made it past the round of 16. Paraguay is 0-3-0 all-time in the round of 16 and Japan is 0-1-0.

Paraguay tries to keep South America's outstanding showing in the 2010 World Cup going and Japan is the last Asian country alive.

Starting 11's:

Paraguay Lineup
G
1Justo Villar
CD-L
21Antolín Alcaraz
CD-R
14Paulo Da Silva
LB
3Claudio Morel Rodríguez
RB
6Carlos Bonet
CM
20Néstor Ortigoza
LM
16Cristian Riveros
RM
13Enrique Vera
F
10Edgar Benítez
LF
19Lucas Barrios
RF
9Roque Santa Cruz

Japan Lineup
G
21Eiji Kawashima
CD-L
4Marcus Tulio Tanaka
CD-R
22Yuji Nakazawa
LB
5Yuto Nagatomo
RB
3Yuichi Komano
CM
2Yuki Abe
LM
7Yasuhito Endo
RM
17Makoto Hasebe
F
16Yoshito Okubo
LF
18Keisuke Honda
RF
8Daisuke Matsui

They've each had good chances so far: Barrios forced a nice save by Kawashima and Matusi clipped the top of the bar with a long range shot.

South American teams are 12-0-2 all-time vs. Asian teams at the World Cup.

0-0 in the 27th minute.

Monday, June 28, 2010

We'll miss your flair Chile


We've dogged him plenty but for once, former U.S. player and current ESPN bobo Alexi Lalas brought up a good point following Chile's 3-0 round of 16 loss to Brazil.

He said Chile was proof that you can play attacking, exciting soccer and still get results. I hope the coaches and players of Greece, Switzerland, Italy, etc. were listening and watching Chile in the 2010 World Cup because indeed they stuck out like a sore thumb with their style.

They went down playing their game against the best team in the world (year after year) and that's much more admirable than the cowardly styles favored by the aforementioned boring squads.

Chile came in second in Group H, losing out on first place in their third match and a 2-1 loss to Spain. The loss to Brazil was the only time that Chile was shutout in the four matches. With some more luck, namely a better draw, they would have gone further.

Chile

Best moment: Winning their first two matches and clinching a spot in the round of 16 as early as anybody.

Worst moment: The two quick goals by Brazil in the first half today was enough to send them through to the quarterfinals.

Best result: 1-0 win over Switzerland sent them to the round of 16 and thankfully was enough to trip up the Swiss as they missed out on the round of 16 despite beating Spain in their first match.

Worst result: Getting beaten by Brazil is a feeling that everyone around the world knows, however Chile had to expect a better showing. If they had popped a goal in the first half, maybe it would have been a different story.

Final tally: 2 wins, 2 losses. 3 goals scored, 5 goals conceded.

Best player: Goalkeeper Claudio Bravo, who had back-to-back clean sheets to start the 2010 World Cup.

Worst player: This was a teamwide award but Chile received 13 yellow cards and a red card in its four matches. They led the field in cards and that lack of discipline cost them since three key players had to sit out vs. Brazil. I'm not saying it would have made much of a difference vs. Brazil (cause it wouldn't have) but you can't be that dirty and hope to get away with it.

As always, it's Brazil


The match that just concluded with a 3-0 Brazil win over Chile needs as little analysis as any game in the tournament, other than maybe Portugal's pasting of North Korea.

Chile is good but Brazil is great, simple as that. Brazil made the most of their chances and Chile had some as well but they couldn't put one past Julio Cesar. And if you fall behind a superpower by two or more, goodnight it's over.

Brazil will meet Netherlands on Friday at 10 a.m. in the quarterfinals, another extremely delectable matchup.

Final stats:

Brazil Chile
17(6) Shots (on Goal) 14(1)
14 Fouls 18
8 Corner Kicks 6
1 Offsides 1
47% Time of Possession 53%
2 Yellow Cards 3
0 Red Cards 0
1 Saves 3

In the last 8 meetings, Chile has been Brazil's bitch

In their last eight games, the South American "rivals" have had a very one-sided series with the Brazilians outscoring Chile 29-3 in their last eight matches.

3-0 Brazil in the 89th minute.

Robinho out

Gilberto Melo is in for Robinho.

3-0 Brazil in the 86th minute.

Kaka out

Kaka is out in the 81st minute for Kleberson.

3-0 Brazil in the 81st minute.

Robinho wants another


Robinho stayed onside barely and had his shot saved by Bravo. Nilmar just came on for Luis Fabiano.

Humberto Suazo, who came into the 2010 World Cup with the most goals in qualifying, showed why as he made a nice move on Lucio but his shot was saved by Julio Cesar (even though it looked like it was going wide).

3-0 Brazil in the 78th minute.

Suazo just hit a weird mishit strike the top of the crossbar and go over. It's been that kind of night for Chile.

Ramires booked

Ramires was booked with a yellow card for a recklass tackle and even more costly, he'll have to miss their next match.

3-0 Brazil in the 72nd minute.

Valvida comes extremely close for Chile


Chilean midfielder Jorge Valvida almost cut it to 3-1 with a lovely volley. Chile isn't giving up as they send everyone forward and they deserve a goal with that attitude and all the skill they possess.

Chilean defender Ismael Fuentes picked up a yellow card.

3-0 Brazil in the 69th minute and they're playing with the ball like only they can.

Robinho's 7th goal in last 4 matches vs. Chile


Don't worry America, your favorite bandwagon team is just starting to find its stride in the 2010 World Cup.

After a delightful run down the middle by Ramires, he laid it off to Robinho, who scored with a side-footed shot in the 59th minute.

Chile is the only team to play so far in the round of 16 that hasn't scored yet. Danny Alves just took a long distance shot and that almost went on, the Brazilian machine is up and running now.

Chile made their last change, midfielder Rodrigo Millar in for Mauricio Isla.

3-0 Brazil in the 63rd minute. Looks like all the true favorites will be in the quarterfinals.

Second half begins

Chile made two substitutions to start the second half: midfielder Rodrigo Tello in for defender Pablo Contreras and midfielder Jorge Valvida in for forward Mark Gonzalez.

Chilean midfielder Arutro Vidal picked up a yellow card in the 47th minute for basically running over Kaka.

2-0 Brazil in the 50th minute.

Halftime and this is all but over

We've reached halftime and Brazil is up 2-0. Their explosive display (scoring 2 goals in 3 minutes) should be enough to get them through to the quarterfinals on Friday and the anticipated matchup with Netherlands.

Chile can score some goals themselves but they'll need to get one early in the second half or it's over. Brazil will probably get another goal too at some points.

Halftime stats:

Brazil Chile
9(4) Shots (on Goal) 7(1)
6 Fouls 8
6 Corner Kicks 2
0 Offsides 0
49% Time of Possession 51%
0 Yellow Cards 0
0 Red Cards 0
1 Saves 2

Fabiano makes it 2-0 Brazil


I had thought of writing earlier how this Brazilian team wasn't of the same unbeatable quality of past ones but that looks silly now that they're up 2-0 on Chile.

After some classic Brazilian passing: Robinho centered it to Kaka who touched it to Luis Fabiano. He dribbled around Bravo and bingo, it was 2-0 Brazil in the 38th minute.

Brazil beat Chile twice in World Cup qualifying and that streak doesn't look to change here.

Juan shuts me up, 1-0 Brazil


Just as I wrote that I want Brazil to lose, they scored off a corner kick in the 34the minute.

Maicon took the corner and Brazilian defender Juan rose up to meet it and put it past a leaping but helpless Chilean goalkeeper Claudio Bravo.

1-0 Brazil in the 37th minute.

Kaka booked again, this one a little more legitimate than last one


Sorry for the delay, I had to get out of the house since it's 90 degrees and get to my air conditioned Planet Fitness.

Brazil and Chile are scoreless in the 32nd minute. Kaka just picked up a yellow for a lazy tackle. It wasn't that bad but at least it had much more substance than his red card vs. Ivory Coast which was a travesty.

Here's your starting 11's:

Brazil Lineup
G
1Júlio César
CD-L
4Juan
CD-R
3Lúcio
LB
6Michel Bastos
RB
2Maicon
LM
8Gilberto Silva
RM
18Ramires
F
9Luis Fabiano
RCF
10Kaká
AM-L
11Robinho
AM-R
13Dani Alves

Chile Lineup
G
1Claudio Bravo
CD
2Ismael Fuentes
CD-L
5Pablo Contreras
CD-R
18Gonzalo Jara
CM-L
8Arturo Vidal
CM-R
6Carlos Carmona
LM
15Jean Beausejour
RM
4Mauricio Isla
F
9Humberto Suazo
CF-L
11Mark González
CF-R
7Alexis Sánchez

I'm rooting for Chile to win this one. I'm sick of Brazil always dominating, it's time for some new blood although Brazil-Netherlands in the quarterfinals would be quite tasty.

Nice run for Slovakia in their first World Cup as an independent nation


Just by taking out Italy alone in the 2010 World Cup, Slovakia will always have the respect of Shimer and I and all the other people around the world that can't stand Italy.

More importantly, for a small country that was playing its first World Cup as an independent nation, this was a very positive showing. They lost to one of the true powers-Netherlands-and played to the final whistle as every youth soccer coach will tell you, losing 2-1 after scoring a PK in the last seconds.

Being the runner-up in Group F, ahead of Italy and New Zealand, was a huge accomplishment for Slovakia and something they can definitely build on in the future.

Slovakia

Best moment: Going up 3-1 on Italy in their crazy back and forth match, one of the most exciting matches so far in the 2010 World Cup.

Worst moment: The second goal by the Dutch was a terrible breakdown by Slovakia as they weren't ready for the quick restart while Dirk Kuyt and Wesley Sneijder ended the Slovakian dream ride.

Best result: No question, it's the 3-2 win over Italy. Probably the greatest result in Slovakian history, no big deal.

Worst result: Losing 2-0 to Paraguay in their second group match. It didn't end up costing them too much but it forced them to have to beat Italy.

Final tally: 1 win, 1 tie, 2 losses. 5 goals scored, 7 goals conceded.

Best player: Another no-brainer since forward Robert Vittek is tied for the Golden Boot with four goals. His pair against Italy was vital and he had the lone goal in loss to Netherlands.

Worst player: Martin Skrtel is a top notch defender (see: his work at Liverpool) but his performance especially today left a bad taste in my mouth. His team gave up seven goals in four games and since Mucha wasn't the problem, I'll lay the blame on the heavily tattooed defensive leader.

Not a Dutch masterpiece


Once Sneijder scored and it was clear that the Dutch were on to the quarterfinals to play Brazil or Chile, it's obvious that they'll have to pick their game up to another level.

Simply put, if they play on Friday like they did today, they won't win again especially against Brazil.

Robben is the X-factor since he made his first start today and he was the difference-maker. When Netherlands are on, their offense is flowing and they're always pushing the pace. Today, they seemed resigned to a more conservative gameplan which almost allowed Slovakia to come clawing back.

Props to Jan Mucha too, the Slovakian goalkeeper, less goalies would have given up a few more goals.

Final stats:

Netherlands Slovakia
16(9) Shots (on Goal) 14(3)
17 Fouls 19
5 Corner Kicks 2
2 Offsides 2
52% Time of Possession 48%
2 Yellow Cards 3
0 Red Cards 0
2 Saves 7

It's easy to poke holes in their performance today but Netherlands took care of business and they're 4-0-0 in the 2010 World Cup. Nothing wrong with that and with the talent that they can roll out, I think they'll pick it up in the quarterfinals.

Vittek scores on PK but it's all over


Vittek calmly finished the penalty kick with a low, hard shot to the left to cut it to 2-1 Netherlands in the 94th minute.

That gave him four for the tournament, tying him for the Golden Boot with Gonzalo Higuain of Argentina. However, right when Slovakia ran into the net to fetch the ball out the whistle was blown and it was all over.

Yellow card for Stekelenburg

The goalkeeper took down Jakubko in the box and he earned a penalty kick.

Sneijder is out

Ibrahim Afellay is in and he just missed a goal with his first touch, a low and hard shot wide.

Three minutes of added time.

Thanks for playing Slovakia, drive home safely


As Slovakian defender Martin Skrtel argued with the refs at midfield after an obvious high kick by him, the Dutch restarted quickly with Kuyt receiving it in the box and then laying off for Sneijder, who blasted it into the empty net.

Skrtel was still arguing after the goal and he received a yellow card for his troubles. Dumb decision by him all around and it cost his team dearly.

That was in the 84th minute and it was a great example of how an underdog can't let their guard down for a second since a heavyweight like Netherlands can knock you out with one punch.

2-0 Dutch in the 89th minute.

Last two Slovakian subs: Martin Jakubko and Marek Sapara in with Radoslav Zabavnik and Erik Jendrisek are out.

Vittek stays onside but shoots over


Slovakia couldn't have asked for anything more as their best goal-scorer had the ball on his feet in the box but Robert Vittek shot it over. He stayed onside with the last Dutch defender but couldn't get it on goal.

Van Persie was just subbed out for Klaas-Jan Huntelaar. Slovakia must not have any depth or something since they've only made one substitution thus far.

1-0 Netherlands in the 83rd minute.

Dirk Diggler says hello


Netherlands forward Dirk Kuyt had been invisible up until now but he just unleashed a bullet from outside the box that Mucha dove and hit out for a corner kick.

1-0 Netherlands in the 76th minute.

Slovakia decides to go for a goal


Slovakia must have finally realized that time is running out in their 2010 World Cup experience and they'll need to score if they want to progress.

Midfielder Miroslav Stoch had a good shot that was pushed over the crossbar by Dutch goalkeeper Maarten Stekelenburg. Following the Slovak corner, another breakdown by the Dutch defense led to Robert Vittek being wide open in the middle of the box. His hard shot was stopped by Stekelenburg.

Slovakia had no shots on goal in the first 65 minutes then two in three minutes.

Robben is out for Elia and Slovakia subs Erik Jendrisek out for forward Kamil Kopunek.

1-0 Netherlands in the 72nd minute. Elia earns a yellow card for his first touch after an ugly two-footed slide tackle by Kopunek.

Mucha keeping his team in it


Slovakian goalkeeper Jan Mucha is playing very well, he made a nice punch on Van Persie's free kick from the right side of the box.

1-0 Netherlands in the 62nd minute.

Robben will punish you


Two wonderful chances by Robben to start the second half. First a bad giveaway by the Slovakian defense gave him the ball in exactly the same spot as his goal. He took a good shot and Mucha deflected it wide by inches of the post.

Later Robben fed Van Persie in the box and his one-timer hit Mucha in the face, it was a great but painful stop.

1-0 Netherlands in the 55th minute, they seemed destined to put it away soon. Slovakia is is falling apart.

And we are underway in the second half

1-0 Dutch in the 48th minute. Come on Slovakia, do something!

Sneijder had a hand in Robben's goal


I hadn't noticed it during the run of play but center midfielder Wesley Sneijder, who Shimer and I think is the best in the world at his position, dropped a perfect 35-yard pass to Robben before he did his move and unleashed his left foot.

The winner of this match gets the winner of today's Brazil-Chile match on Friday at 10 a.m.

There's the total football we've been hearing so much about


The Dutch finally put some nice passing together as Robben laid off for Van Bommel, who crossed it to Van Persie. The Arsenal star redirected it but he didn't get his body around so it was well wide.

It's halftime with Netherlands up 1-0. They're not playing particularly great, they've basically been kicking it around since they got their goal.

Halftime stats:

Netherlands Slovakia
7(3) Shots (on Goal) 5(0)
7 Fouls 7
3 Corner Kicks 1
1 Offsides 0
54% Time of Possession 46%
1 Yellow Cards 1
0 Red Cards 0
0 Saves 2

Hopefully something exciting happens in the second half since this has been rather dull other than Robben's strike. I know my man Elia will bring a spark if he is subbed in for the Dutch.

The diving and flopping has to stop

Slovakian midfieldedr Juraj Kucka just picked up a yellow card for a tackle that didn't even really touch the Dutch player.

Van Persie had an opening but he shot right at Mucha.

1-0 Netherlands in the 42nd minute. Slovakia seems scared of sending more players forward because the Dutch will make them pay with a counterattack.

This game has lost its flow

Since the goal by Robben, not much has happened. The most notable thing is that Robben picked up a yellow for a clearly unintentional handball. It should have been a free kick but not a booking. Weird decision.

1-0 Netherlands in the 36th minute. How will Slovakia respond?

Robben: the man with one foot and one move


Arjen Robben is a world class player so this is meant as no disrespect but has any opposing coach or player ever noticed that he only uses his left foot? Plus, he favors one move: cutting back across the top of the box, from right to left.

If it ain't broke, don't fix it I guess since Robben just used that famous foot and his patented move to give Netherlands a 1-0 lead in the 18th minute.

Three Slovakian defenders, including Durica sporting a mohawk, were no match as he pulled it across then shot it across his body and past Mucha who was caught a bit flat-footed.

1-0 Netherlands in the 22nd minute and they flashed a stat after the goal that the Dutch are 17-2-3 all-time in the World Cup when they score first. Their last loss when they scored first was in 1978 to Scotland.

Slovakia will need to hang on and push for a tying goal or else like Mexico and England yesterday, they're in danger of being stomped.

Slovakia-Netherlands live blog

This is the biggest mismatch in the round of 16, so we'll have to see if Slovakia can keep their amazing run going.

Here are the starting 11's:

Netherlands Lineup
G
1Maarten Stekelenburg
CD-L
4Joris Mathijsen
CD-R
3John Heitinga
LB
5Giovanni Van Bronckhorst
RB
2Gregory Van Der Wiel
LM
8Nigel De Jong
RM
6Mark Van Bommel
F
9Robin Van Persie
RCF
10Wesley Sneijder
AM-L
7Dirk Kuyt
AM-R
11Arjen Robben

Slovakia Lineup
G
1Jan Mucha
CD-L
16Jan Durica
CD-R
3Martin Skrtel
LB
5Radoslav Zabavnik
RB
2Peter Pekarik
LM
17Marek Hamsik
RM
19Juraj Kucka
F
11Robert Vittek
RCF
18Erik Jendrisek

Van Persie has already had a header that almost went in and Sneijder forced a nice save by Mucha. Slovakia's best chance so far was a long distance shot by Hamsik.

0-0 in the 16th minute.
AM-L
15Miroslav Stoch
AM-R
7Vladimir Weiss

Helen of Troy to blame? No just Vanessa Perroncel

The best engineers in the world are Germans and like a well-oiled machine, der Deutschland was very clinical in its 4-1 throttling of England Sunday.

Not good enough was the general consensus of the English performance from start to finish in South Africa by most of the experts. My favorite biting comment came from famed Liverpool and former English national team player Steve McManaman, who said his home country's players looked as if they were pulling a horse and buggy with every run they made in the German match.

Die-hard English fans will blame the referee and his linesman for missing Frank Lampard's obvious game-tying goal when his chip clearly came down off the bar and over the yard by about a yard, which brings up the endless cries for FIFA to institute technology. I am one of those people by the way, but that's an argument for another time.

Neutral followers like myself and my partner Rich Slate on www.redwhiteandbluearmy.com as well as most of the ESPN experts and the analysts (Andy Gray, Warren Barton, Christopher Sullivan) on the great Fox Sports World show Ticket to South Africa all agree the better team won and deserved to win.

The question then becomes again, why did England fall short again for the 11th straight World Cup since the country's only triumph in 1966?

Player for player, England have plenty of stars from the English Premier League, guys that do very well not only domestically but also in the big European competitions like the Champions League. Wayne Rooney (Manchester United), Steven Gerrard (Liverpool), Frank Lampard (Chelsea), and John Terry (Chelsea) - all these players are the key kogs on their teams, and each one of these players has either won the Champions League or advanced as far as a semifinal on multiple occasions. And I think the argument that the EPL season is too long has no merit because every other big country in the competition has long domestic seasons that were just as long as England's.

On the sidelines, England also had the highest paid coach in the Italian Fabio Capello ($9 mill) for good reason. He was the best available after the epic Euro 2008 disaster (the team didn't qualify for that tournament), and Capello is also on virtually everyone's shortlist as one of the best managers in the game along with the likes of Jose Mourinho (just won Champions League at Inter Milan, however, moved to Real Madrid afterward), Guus Hiddink (currently in charge of Turkey), Alex Ferguson (Manchester United), and Arsene Wenger (Arsenal).

In my opinion, the answer starts with the revelation about the affair Terry had with former Chelsea and English national teammate Wayne Bridge's former fiancée Vanessa Perroncel back in late January of this year. At the time Terry was England's captain, but rightly so after the details emerged in the British tabloids, Capello stripped Terry of the captaincy.

For years the English Football Association had battled to piece together a group of players that acted as a team, had chemistry, avoided spats in the media and with the media, and put together spirited performances on the field. In qualification Capello seemed to have finally achieved what Doc Rivers and the 2008 Celtics called "Ubuntu" and the results were quite prosperous as the team flourished easily winning its group with nine wins and only one loss.

But when the crap hit the fan and all the juicy details came out, all the good will Capello had mustered up was fractured permanently, and all the kings horses and all the kings men couldn't put England back together again.

I think also there has to be some very big questions asked of the tactics Capello used once the Three Lions began their World Cup run. From formations to players used, Capello seemed to be blinded by his own ego.

Forcing a 4-4-2 formation upon a team whose personnel was calling out for a 4-5-1, the English players never looked comfortable on the attack.

You look at a player like Rooney, who was invisible in this tournament scoring zero goals, and you wonder how that could be when he scored 34 goals for Man U in the EPL 2009-10 campaign? Well at Man U, Rooney played almost exclusively as the team's lone striker where for England he always had a partner restricting some of the space he was usually accustomed of running into.

Then there was the problem of Gerrard and Lampard, both attacking central midfielders, who have never played well together because they are essentially the same player. Supposedly they don't get along well personally either, which should be taken into account. Capello chose to push Gerrard out to the left midfield spot, a spot he loathes, when holding midfielder Gareth Barry was ready to return from an ankle injury. What could have worked a lot better was to allow Gerrard to play the free-roaming spot behind Rooney as the fifth player in the 4-5-1 midfield, and then slot a more natural wing player on the left.

Unfortunately, Capello stuck to his guns and England deservedly went out to a much better organized and prepared German team that should be viewed as a big threat to win this tournament.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

I'm still in denial: U.S. Ghana talking points

I like many of our fellow American soccer fans needed to take a day to digest that quite frustrating lost opportunity and collect my thoughts.

There are plenty of talking points from the game; Bob Bradley's selections, the poor central defending, the lack of finishing, how quickly the team was able to recover from the Algerian win, how they performed as favorites, and how two very key injuries last fall changed the fabric of the team.

Ultimately I think Bob Bradley deserves a lot of praise for his decisions, his tactics, and his ability to adapt from qualification to the Confederations Cup through the friendlies earlier in the year on up to the World Cup. He gathered information, looked primarily at players abroad but also gave some players at home in the MLS a cup of coffee to inspire them for the future, and then he put together the best squad that he could field players that might not have had much experience at the national team level but had been in form i.e. Gomez and Buddle.

Judging the manager: I think Bradley had to give Oguchi Onyewu a shot in this World Cup because the big central defender had been such a key man for the past couple of years before he tore his patella knee tendon last October. But when Guch clearly wasn't at his best as he was one of the most visible players at fault on all three of the first goals, Bradley moved on from him in the 80th minute of the second match vs. Slovenia and the big AC Milan defender never saw the pitch again.

However, for the life of me I won't understand why Bradley kept turning to Robbie Findley, whose speed was the only real positive he added to the team. Time and again Findley was easily muscled off the ball, he really had only two good scoring opportunities throughout the tournament including the one vs. Ghana in the 35th minute and he looked scared on both, and he had to be subbed early in the second half of each game. Benny Feilhaber was terrific with his movement off the ball and his passing when he was given the opportunity to freelance, but he never got a start and I don't understand why. Edson Buddle had been in rich form in the MLS and even looked terrific scoring a pair of goals in the last friendly before the World Cup vs. Australia. How about throwing Stuart Holden out wide and Dempsey up top in the free-lancing role? Most of those decisions were only made when the U.S. became desperate for goals either going down because they gave up the first goal or when they had to have the goal vs. Algeria.

Ricardo Clark was also a huge disappointment not looking recovered match-fit wise from the ankle injury that bugged him in the Bundesliga. He was a shell of the terrific defensive midfielder he was in the Confed Cup, and he was the main guilty party on two big goals - the goal vs. England where he did not pay attention to his mark Gerrard and secondly vs. Ghana where he too easily gave up the ball in his defensive third and did not track back defensively fast enough. It was a musical chairs act at that role throughout the tourney and that is an area where you need to have stability not rotation. Maurice Edu was pretty good when he entered vs. Slovenia, solid vs. Algeria in 64 minutes of work, and very good against Ghana when he came on for Clark in the 34th minute. Again why the fluctuation, it seemed to play a part in the disorganization in the back?

The Fatal Flaw: I'm not going to spend a whole lot of time on the central defending of the U.S. because this is something we've been focusing for months now. The fact of the matter is that it has been a major problem for some time without any one real solution. They tried several different looks, Clarence Goodson and Jay DeMerit, DeMerit and Onyewu, DeMerit and Bocanegra, and I think even at one time Edu and Goodson, but none of those looks really worked. The U.S. was burned in three of four matches inside the first 15 minutes, and realistically it should have been four for four because Algeria crushed the crossbar in the 5th minute of that game. When it came down to it was a fatal flaw that could not be overcome.

The Missing Piece: One issue that I mentioned briefly before with my critique of Findley, but really has not been mentioned much as one of the big issues was the the poor finishing the MNT displayed throughout the tournament. Like Wayne Rooney of England, the forwards for the U.S. did not deliver a single goal, inexcusable really.

As much as I praised Jozy Altidore the other day after the Algerian match for his work rate, he was very disappointing against Ghana. He looked tired for a lot of the game and had two brilliant chances to provide the go-ahead and potential game-winning goal, but did not come through on either. In the 67th minute he was unleashed with a great ball into the box, but a poor touch allowed the Ghana keeper to come nick it away. In the 80th minute he had an even better chance as he looked like he was getting ready to muscle off a Ghana defender to score much in the similar fashion he did vs. Spain last summer, but when the defender went down Altidore tried to dive to earn the PK while also shooting off-balance. He missed the net and did not earn the PK.

Altidore is only 20, and I think this World Cup will have done him a world of good to get this type of experience at such a young age, but he needs to be more composed around the box and get himself into better space more often if he is to become the great forward everyone thought he would be when he was sold for a cool $10 mill to Villareal. Too often Altidore looked to take players one-v-one or one-v-two or even one-v-three instead of playing the easy ball to a teammate - it's a case of he needs to let the game come to him more instead of forcing the issue. You look at the great footballing nations, the dominant powers right now - Germany, Brazil, Argentina, the Netherlands, Spain - and they all have world class forwards that finish the easy opportunities because they put themselves in the right spots, the moments of brilliance are really few and far between. Look at a guy like Klose of Germany, he has 12 World Cup goals, which puts in the top 7 all-time just three off the all-time lead, but he gets most of his goals off head balls where he has made the right run. I think this will come in time for Jozy, who realistically should have definitely 2 if not 3 more World Cups in his powerful young legs.

Insights of a former coach: My boy Jurgen Klinsmann made an excellent point today after the Germany match about the U.S. and their performance in the Ghana match. Klinsmann (my all-time favorite player), who was a world class player for Germany winning the 1990 World Cup as well as the 1996 Euro Cup and also coached the Germans to the semis in 2006, was renowned for his beliefs as a coach for taking care of all the little factors that could become problems or issues for his team off the pitch. He very much believed in creating an environment where his players could thrive the best because they were solely focussed on the task at hand.

What he said that he noticed from the Ghana match was that U.S. looked to be playing perhaps in the past off their recent exhilarating win over Algeria instead of playing in the present. In his opinion, Klinsmann thought the U.S. looked as if they had not been properly prepared for Ghana thinking the match would come easy for them, which is perhaps a huge reason they had another sluggish start.

I think it is a great observation by Klinsi. Yes the Americans had World Cup veterans in Steve Cherundolo, Carlos Bocanegra, Clint Dempsey, and Landon Donovan, but that's only four of your starting 11 and only Donovan of that group played on the team that advanced to the quarterfinals in 2002. Again there's a reason the big countries always advance, they know what it takes to get through these grueling tests of fortitude later in the tournament. We are new to this level of expectations, and I think in the World Cups to come will respond.

A new role: How many times in big tournaments have the U.S. been favorites in big matches? The answer is really none.

Realistically the red, white and blue were favorites every time they didn't play England in this tournament and had a tough time playing in that capacity. They were nearly shell-shocked by the smallest team in South Africa when Slovenia struck for two first half goals. The Americans fought back for a deserved tie that would have been a win if not for the phantom foul on the Edu goal, but again they should have won that game comfortably. Truth be told they dominated Algeria, but they lacked classy finishing in front of the net before Donovan's incredible winner. And we saw what happened when they had the responsibility of facing the lone remaining African team - realistically they fell to a team that was not as good as the MNT, just a hungrier team.

It's very frustrating because although they did not always play up to top form in the group stages they got the job done winning their group for the first time in 80 years to set up a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to get to the semifinals. I have stated this over and over again, but it bears repeating - the U.S. will never face an easier draw to the semifinals. Ghana were obviously a dangerous and worthy opponent as they showed, but they are not a giant in the world of football. The same can be said for the team they would have faced in the quarterfinals in Uruguay, whose two World Cup trophies came back in 1930 (the first tournament) and 1950. Any team in this tournament would have fancied its chances had they been given that path to the semifinals I promise you.

The outside factors: Rich Slate and myself wrote extensively before the tournament about the injury concerns that had plagued the team in the lead up to the World Cup, most notably Onyewu and Charlie Davies - a player that suffered a near fatal car accident (broken femur, lacerated bladder, bleeding of the brain, broken elbow, more facial fractures) just days after Onyewu had torn up his knee.

Onyewu was able to come back just in time for the World Cup training camp, and showed enough to Bradley that he earned a spot on the team and even played 170 minutes in the tournament, realistically though he was not himself. Onyewu was never the fastest of players, so that was never going to be a problem, but he seemed to lack match preparation and by that I mean the subtleties of the game - reading the play, and communicating and organizing the defense. The absence of the old Onyewu left a gaping hole in the center of defense that was the U.S.'s biggest flaw.

Davies was almost the come-back story of the World Cup, getting healthy enough from the injuries in the accident that had threatened his career after several major surgeries to be able to train lightly with his team Sochaux in France in late March. For those that don't know, Davies - an All-American at Boston College - burst onto the national team scene with an incredible performance at the Confederations Cup, and would undoubtedly have been Altidore's striking partner in South Africa.

But his issue was he was not able to regain an ability to maintain endurance, something that actually concerns me for his future. Sochaux wrote a letter to Bob Bradley explaining this and did not clear him to go to the U.S. camp, and Bradley adhered to the French club's wishes not inviting Davies to camp. It must also be said though that Bradley had an assistant coach in France monitoring Davies progress, taking notes, and advising Bradley as well and so his decision was not solely based on Sochaux's wishes.

The U.S. never found a suitable replacement for Davies, Bradley elected to go first with Findley, a player with similar qualities physically but not in ability. However, Buddle, Gomez, and even Dempsey when he was slotted into the position never showed enough to earn the spot on a regular basis, and as I mentioned before not a single U.S. forward scored a single goal in the World Cup.

Mexico just doing what they do


Seeing Mexico go down so hard today took a little bit of the sting away from the U.S.' loss to Ghana. Mexico is our biggest rival so you never want to see them do any better than we do.

Mexico was in a decent group (A) and they were the runner-up which is admirable. They also recovered from a poor performance in the first match vs. South Africa (a 1-1 draw) and hung with Argentina for almost a full half. To quote former Cardinals and Vikings coach Dennis Green, Mexico is "who we thought they were." They have a couple young studs up front (Hernandez and Dos Santos) but other than that the cupboard is rather bare.

Mexico

Best moment: The flourish they started with against Argentina was impressive but it turned out to be nothing but a fluke. They didn't finish any of the great opportunities and predictably Argentina steamrolled them.

Worst moment: Completely losing their cool after Tevez's goal led to another goal by Argentina later in the first half. Going down 2-0 to this Argentina squad is fatal as the Mexicans found out.

Best result: Beating France 2-0 doesn't look quite so awesome now that we know what frauds France were but with that said, it was exactly what Mexico needed to get out of their group.

Worst result: Getting beaten so handily by Argentina. Mexico had to expect a better performance in their biggest game.

Final tally: 1 win, 1 tie, 2 losses. 4 goals scored, 5 goals allowed.

Best player: Javier Hernandez is going to Manchester United for a reason. He is one of the best young strikers in soccer. He had two goals in the 2010 World Cup, including Mexico's only tally today vs. Argentina.

Worst player: This has nothing to do with ability since he's electric with the ball on his foot but Givoani Dos Santos disappered after the first two matches. Too often today and vs. Uruguay, he'd try to take guys on but he'd lose the ball immediately. As he matures (he's only 21), he has the chance to form with Hernandez one of the best striker combinations in the world.

Argentina wins 3-1, setting up the juiciest matchup so far


Mark it down on your calendar: next Saturday 10 a.m.-Germany vs. Argentina. The two best teams of the 2010 World Cup play in the quarterfinals.

The Argentines took care of business as only they can with a comprehensive spanking of Mexico. Just as I said, the Mexicans will probably whine about the first Tevez goal (that was clearly offsides) but it won't matter one bit. Like Germany vs. England, one team was leaps and bounds ahead of another. Those calls were dog shit but luckily they didn't affect anything.

It's the first time since 1930 that Argentina has won their first four matches. And like clockwork, for the fifth time in a row Mexico goes out in the round-of-16.

Final stats:

Argentina Mexico
12(6) Shots (on Goal) 17(5)
11 Fouls 26
2 Corner Kicks 5
1 Offsides 2
50% Time of Possession 50%
0 Yellow Cards 1
0 Red Cards 0
4 Saves 3

Messi reminds you that he's still got it


He still hasn't scored a goal in the 2010 World Cup but Lionel Messi deserves much better. He just dangled around three Mexican defenders and forced a save from Perez.

Three minutes of added time

Three minutes left in the 2010 World Cup for Mexico.

Last Argentine sub

Midfielder Javier Pastore is in for Maxi Rodriguez who just went down with a cramp.

Martin Tyler points out that like the U.S., Mexico will go down at the hands of the same team from the 2006 World Cup.

3-1 Argentina in the 88th minute.

South American domination

In the 2010 World Cup, South American teams are 11-1-4 and have outscored opponents 24-4.

Also, eight European teams are gone already.

3-1 Argentina in the 85th minute.

Heinze with one of the top defensive plays of the tournament


He might be a bozo but Argentine defender Gabriel Heinze still has something left in his cleats.

He had the clearance off the line earlier and he had another highlight reel defensive play (which I realize is an oxymoron). He laid out and headed a ball away from his goal. It was a couple feet from the Argentina goal so all Mexico had to do was tap it in.

3-1 Argentina in the 83rd minute.

Di Maria out, Gutierrez in

Jonas Gutierrez is in and Angel Di Maria is out.

3-1 Argentina in the 80th minute.

Hernandez will do big things with Man. U


Shimer had just texted me saying "Dos Santos has disappeared." Honestly, I was going to respond with "Hernandez is way better," and my man scored a sweet goal in the 71st minute.

He took a quick touch in the box, spun and then roofed it with his left foot.

3-1 Argentina in the 75th minute, if Mexico can get one more this could get interesting.

Tevez out, Veron in

Tevez won't get a hat trick today as he was pulled for Juan Sebastian Veron. Gabriel Heinze cleared a Mexican shot off his goal line with a header.

The second half has started but Tevez closed the book on this one


Well thanks for playing Mexico. Tevez just hit a missle from the half circle at the top of the box in the 52nd minute.

It was out of nowhere, he had tried to dribble through a couple Mexican defenders but they poked it away. He regathered and in a quick motion turned and blasted it. Surely one of the best goals of the 2010 World Cup.

Argentina is up 3-0 in the 60th minute.

For Mexico, Adolfo Bautista came off for Pablo Barrera. Summing up Mexico's day, Barrera had a shot from a tight angle and took it rather than pass to a bunch of teammates that made the run into the box.

Guillermo Franco is on for Mexico with Andres Guardado taking a seat.

2-0 Argentina at halftime

Haha Hernandez just shoved Heinze when he was on the touch line. Start licking your lips for the Germany-Argentina dream quarterfinal. It'll happen next Saturday at 10 a.m.

Haha and the teams are pushing and shoving each other as they try to do down the tunnel. Love it.

Halftime stats:

Argentina Mexico
10(4) Shots (on Goal) 8(3)
5 Fouls 13
1 Corner Kicks 0
0 Offsides 1
57% Time of Possession 44%
0 Yellow Cards 1
0 Red Cards 0
3 Saves 2

Two minutes of added time

Mexico can't get into their dressing room fast enough to regroup.

Higuain whiffs on header


Higuain should have had another goal as Otamendi served him a perfect cross on a platter right in front of the Mexican goal.

2-0 Argentina in the 44th minute.

Di Maria almost increases Argentina's lead to 3-0

Argentina are just all over Mexico at the moment. Di Maria forced a tough save by Perez and Tevez tried a scissor kick when it fell to him but it was blocked.

2-0 Argentina in the 39th minute. I guarantee Argentina will score again with this shaky Mexican defense allowing them tons of chances.

Argentina has not been beyond the quarterfinals in last four World Cups but they're 23-0-0 in World Cup history when they go up by two goals.

Terrible miscue by Mexico, 2-0 Argentina


A terrible giveaway by Ricardo Osorio leads to a breakaway by Gonzalo Higuain. He dribbled around Perez with a pretty little move and like that it's 2-0 Argentina in the 33rd minute.

Salcido's long shot was pushed away theatrically by Romero. Mexico is on the ropes, they let that first goal completely ruin their day and you can't do that against a powerful machine like Argentina. Luckily for FIFA, like in the Germany win, the goal that wasn't counted probably won't mean too much since the Argentines will win by a couple.

2-0 Argentina in the 37th minute.

Tevez scores even though he's offside


Oh brother, can we get instant replay going before tomorrow's matches?

Carlos Tevez just scored for Argentina in the 26th minute and he was offside by a couple feet. Messi fed him and after his first touch was saved by Perez, Messi fed him again and Tevez headed it in.

1-0 Argentina in the 29th minute. Mexico just picked up a frustration yellow card by Marquez, who had a rough tackle on his Barcelona teammate Messi.

Understandably after the goal, Mexico circled the refs and freaked out. What a mess.

Hernandez shoots wide


Hernandez got the start with Carlos Vela injured and he nearly put Mexico up 1-0. His shot from the top of the box went wide.

0-0 in the 16th minute.

Argentina-Mexico live blog


The second match of the day finds us watching a nice rivalry, Argentina vs. Mexico. Argentina is 11-4-10 all-time against Mexico and 2-0-0 in World Cup action.

Argentina also knocked out Mexico in the 2006 World Cup, 2-1 in extra time.

Here's your starting 11's:

Argentina Lineup
G
22Sergio Romero
CD-L
4Nicolás Burdisso
CD-R
2Martín Demichelis
DM
14Javier Mascherano
LB
6Gabriel Heinze
RB
15Nicolás Otamendi
AM
10Lionel Messi
LM
7Ángel Di María
RM
20Maxi Rodríguez
CF-L
9Gonzalo Higuaín
CF-R
11Carlos Tévez

Mexico Lineup
G
1Óscar Pérez
CD-L
2Francisco Rodríguez
CD-R
5Ricardo Osorio
LB
3Carlos Salcido
RB
16Efraín Juárez
CM
6Gerardo Torrado
LM
18Andrés Guardado
RM
4Rafael Márquez
F
21Adolfo Bautista
LF
14Javier Hernández
RF
17Giovani Dos Santos

It's 0-0 in the 13th minute but Mexico has had two golden opportunities. Salcido's bomb from way out hit the crossbar and then Guardado's curling shot just skipped wide.

I'm ready to talk about U.S.-Ghana


Obviously if you're reading this, you know that Ghana beat the U.S. 2-1 in extra time yesterday to advance to the quarterfinals against Uruguay on Friday at 2:30 p.m. Shimer will post some stuff later and I won't bore you with the X's and O's, I'm sure you've seen the highlights a million times by now.

Shimer and I are big boys but it took some time to really talk about this brutal defeat. Honestly, this hurts much more than the Bruins' recent Game 7 loss to the Flyers and the Celtics' Game 7 loss to the Lakers in the NBA Finals because the World Cup only comes every once four years. And who knows if there will ever be another time that the U.S. wins their group and gets such a cake path to the final?

Since starting this blog and after covering their exhibition against Czech Republic, I've definitely never followed a U.S. team more closely. Being the same age as many of the players also helps. This wasn't a team full of stars but a very likable group of players that collectively are doing big things to help American soccer globally by playing in leagues all around the world.

Thankfully, the U.S. didn't lose on a bad call or a lucky goal, Ghana was the better team and the defensive breakdowns that plagued the Americans all tournament long came back to haunt them one last time.

Ghana striker Asamoah Gyan broke through the U.S. defense in the 93rd minute and hit a bullet past Tim Howard, who had no chance to stop it.

After coming back against England and Slovenia and scoring a last-second goal to beat Algeria, the U.S. couldn't pull two rabbits out of its hats against Ghana. They gave up the fifth minute goal to Kevin-Prince Boateng but they tied it up in the second half with Landon Donovan's penalty kick.

The U.S. ran out of gas, Jozy Altidore had been subbed and there was no magic left in a team that had more than its share of luck in getting to the round-of-16.

Final stats:

United States Ghana
20(6) Shots (on Goal) 16(6)
11 Fouls 19
5 Corner Kicks 4
1 Offsides 4
51% Time of Possession 49%
3 Yellow Cards 2
0 Red Cards 0
4 Saves 5

United States

Best moment: Landon Donovan's goal against Algeria has been one of the defining moments of this tournament and one of the greatest moments in American soccer history so this is no contest.

Worst moment: Take your pick, either goal against Ghana. The U.S. absolutely couldn't go down again and expect to win.

Best result: Beating Algeria which allowed them to win Group B and set up about as easy a road to the final as you could ever dream about.

Worst result: They did rally from 2-0 down at the half but tying Slovenia was unforgivable. The defensive breakdowns that plagued them all tournament were at their worst against this tiny nation.

Final tally: 1 win, 2 ties, 1 loss. 5 goals scored, 5 goals against.

Best player: Donovan. He disappeared for long stretches of games like usual but the difference was that Landycakes earned a big payday with clutchtastic goals against Slovenia, Algeria and Ghana.

Worst player: This is a tricky choice, there isn't an obvious front-runner. Oguchi Onyewu was awful but he didn't play in the last two matches. Jozy Altidore was mostly invisible but he didn't have any decent striking partners. And Ricardo Clark had about as bad a 30 minutes as you could possibly have against Ghana but the loss wasn't all his fault. Therefore I can't pick one but this award is shared by many (the U.S. defense, Clark and the forwards).

See you in four years. Haha just kidding, Shimer and I are still obsessed with soccer so we'll be watching all the remaining matches. The best soccer is yet to come in the 2010 World Cup, don't make the mistake of tuning out now that the U.S. is gone.