Wednesday, June 23, 2010

World Cup 2010 - Day 13

I had my silly superstitious fears that 'Day 13' of this World Cup will turn out to be disastrous for the U.S. team, and although it sure looked like they were heading towards elimination (after a hard-fought battle with the Desert Foxes), the always-resilient Yanks proved one more time that "never say never" is in the Americans' DNA. What a spectacular way to end a game that they should have had 'in the bag' several times over during regular time!

Yes, no one in their right mind would have put money on USA topping the group, but although it wasn't easy (or pretty) they did it. Now, they have to get better at finishing off clear chances, and in all truthfulness, step up the tempo of their game in order to have a prayer in the elimination stages. They had several clear chances during the game, but whether it was Buddle, Altidore, Gomez or Dempsey they missed chance after chance to wrap up their qualification earlier [and with less emotion].

"All's well that ends well" 'ol Will [Shakespeare] said a while back, and that's how we should look at it. But there's definitely plenty to learn from the game against Algeria: need more speed, more courage, and more decisiveness in front of goal. It will not be easy against a young Ghana side (who won the Under-20 World Cup against Brazil last year).

Now, I don't want to take anything from the boys. They fought hard, never gave up, and simply deserve qualification in the next round, considering their performance to date. I truly hope they get far and revive "soccer" in the US!

England played better than in the previous two games, but still had plenty to worry against Slovenia. They should have won by a bigger margin, but I think victory itself (and implicitly the 3 points) were of more importance to them; it definitely lifted the team's (and fans') spirits. However, now that they know they're facing Germany in the next round, they probably rue their missed chances.

And although I didn't think they'd make it so far [and was not a fan of their 'game'], I feel bad for the Slovenians. As the England game was wrapping up, they thought they were qualified (second in the group, after England) but Donovan's goal took them from ecstasy to agony in a matter of seconds! Reverse emotional roller-coaster for the Americans, of course!

In group D, all teams had a chance to go through and the final table was not settled until late in the day (84th minute, when Pantelic pulled one back for Serbia).

On paper, Serbia (on the back of their victory over Germany) were favorite to get 3 points and progress to the next stage. On the field, however, Australia proved to be the more incisive side and showed plenty of character and determination. At some point [up 2-0] they needed two more goals (scored between them and Germany) to secure the second spot. Boy, how they regretted that initial 4-0 loss to the Germans!

Serbia has disappointed (their only claim being that they beat Germany) and seeing how France has also left early, brings something painful into perspective: how much worse would Romania have been since they placed 5th in the same qualifying group... Yeah, I know... Sad, huh?!?

Germany secured a slim victory over Ghana (in stark contrast to their tremendous start out of the gates) and are now posed to face England in a classic and perennial derby. The Black Stars of Ghana started the day on top of the group (on 4 points) and needed at least a tie to maintain that position, but Gyan & Co. could not find the goal. In the end, both teams progressed, thanks to the result in the other game.

Interesting to note that the Boateng brothers appeared against each other in a day where "nationality" lines in "national" squads are getting more and more blurred [take Germany with Podolski (born in Poland), Khedira (Tunisian father), Ozil (Turkish descent), Cacau (naturalized Brazilian), Boateng (Ghanian father), Miroslav Klose (born in Poland), Mario Gomez (Spanish father), Marco Marin (born in Serbia)... should I keep going? You get my point...]

So once again, great accomplishment for the Yanks, but they are yet to find the optimal solution that would enable them to progress further in the tournament. I hope they prove me wrong!

Tomorrow, another set of tough deciders: if Holland will probably rest some players against already-eliminated Cameroon, Denmark - Japan will be the match to watch. Both teams are quick on the counter, but the Danes will have to push forward more, as a tie favors Japan. Given their performances so far, this could go either way (with a slight plus for Denmark, in my opinion).

Italy, another disappointing showing so far, should get their act together and defeat Slovakia (who have not shown much so far) but they simply can't find their rhythm (or someone to score goals). They should be happy with second place, but not as happy to face the red-hot Dutch in the next round. Paraguay [a pleasant surprise so far] should top the group with a win over the All Whites and prepare for a face-off against the Denmark - Japan winner.

Once more, thank you Brandon! Thank you Tim, and Carlos, and Michael, and Clint, and Jozy, and... Lady Luck!
Go U.S.A. !!!!

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