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World Cup Reflections


The streets of Istanbul were filled with the sound of vuvuzelas.. There were cheers and groups of people dancing and celebrating all down Istiklal. We watched the game in a bar in Nevizade, filled almost exclusively with our friends, among who there were just a few lone Dutch fans.

This was my first World Cup. I watched almost every game and went from supporting the US to Argentina and finally Spain. There were extreme highs like when the US qualified for the round of 16 at the 91st minute and extreme lows as watching Maradano and his crushed teams’ grief stricken faces as they saw their World Cup dreams die.

I celebrated this great event as I read articles about how the World Cup brought joy to the poorest of people, reading one poignant headline that said, “For the Poor, Soccer is Everything” and it made my heart happy that this wonderful challenge gave such joy to some people who had nothing. And then I hated the game when I read about over 300 incidents of domestic violence on the night of England’s defeat and later the murder allegations against the Brazilian goalie. I wondered what kind of values this testosterone filled sports was promoting.

South Africa brought pride to Africa by hosting an amazing World Cup. Their economy surely benefitted and a great sense of pride is surely felt by the South African people. And then there are the oft forgotten stories of all those that were displaced and ostracized because of the World Cup.
Finally there were the hopes of a country who is facing its worse economic crisis with one in five people out of a job and the hopes of a country who apprehensively waited as their national team took their third attempt at being world champions.

There will be players and coaches who will bury their World Cup dreams in 2010 and there will be those who have already began to think about 2014.

So, who is in for Brazil?!

Quarter-Final Predictions

Uruguay v. Ghana
I think every neutral wants Ghana to do well and give Africa something
to shout about by having a team in the World Cup semi-finals for the
first time. If you’re not Uruguayan, you probably don’t care what
happens to Uruguay and couldn’t care less if they got knocked out
tomorrow. My heart wants Ghana to win, but my head says Uruguay are
just a little too good for the Africans. Uruguay are a well-organized
team and actually have the best World Cup record of any nation if you
take into account the size of their population, a paltry 3 million
people. They’ve won the World Cup twice, back in 1930 and 1950, but
haven’t done better than the second round since 1970 until this years
competition. They’re in the quarter-finals now, and you’ve got to
give them an edge over Ghana just based on pedigree alone. However,
Ghana are a dangerous team. They’re strong, and fast, and have almost
boundless energy. Put that together with the support they’ll get from
the fans in the stadium and you’ve got the makings of an upset.

Verdict
Very tough to call taking everything into account. You’ve got to
fancy Ghana’s chances though if the match goes it into extra-time
because of their phenomenal levels of stamina. I think they just
might squeeze past Uruguay in a tense match which will go down to the
wire. Host nations have a history of performing well in World Cups,
and Ghana’s basically the host nation now with the support of the
entire continent behind them. Ghana wins.

Brazil v. Holland
Two giants of the game promise an attacking match with plenty of goals
to keep everyone happy. Everyone knows Brazil are the best, they’ve
won the World Cup 5 times and look set to make South Africa 2010 World
Cup #6. However, they’ve still got a couple of matches to play before
even getting to the final and this match-up against Holland isn’t
gonna be a walk in the park. Holland have been unstoppable so far,
having won all of their matches both qualifying for, and at the actual
World Cup. Could they cause an upset and beat Brazil to make it to
the semi-finals?

Verdict
Brazil don’t play with the creativity and flair that we’re used to
anymore. They still regularly win matches, but not with the panache
and style of yesteryear. Holland are chronic underachievers. They’ve
made it to the World Cup final twice, but lost both times to the host
nation. This might even turn out to be quite a stale match with both
sides canceling each other out. I’d like to see Holland advance, but
I just can’t Brazil leaving the World Cup this early like in 2006.
Brazil wins.

Spain v. Paraguay
Verdict
Easy win for Spain. Nuff said.


Argentina v. Germany

Oooh…I’m licking my lips at this one! Germany were hugely
impressive against England, demolishing us 4-1, and Argentina have
been the best team at the tournament so far, easily seeing off the
likes of Mexico to keep their 100% record intact. Although he hasn’t
scored, Messi’s been making some nice plays and everything’s set up
for him to dominate during the closing stages of the tournament. As I
wrote previously though, the best thing about Argentina is Maradona.
I just love that guy! Check out the way he wears his suit, and the
faces he makes, and just how GOD DAMN COOL HE IS. I really hope
Argentina win the World Cup so I can see him going mental in the
final!

Germany’s young guns have proved to everyone that they’re a force to
be reckoned with. They may not win the tournament this year, but they
will be hot as hell in future tournaments and will be very hard to
beat. One of their star performers has gotta be the Turk, Mesut Ozil.
You’ll hear his name a lot in the coming years as he’s bound to make
an impact in the Champions League sooner, rather than later. Germany
has the most diverse team at the World Cup with something like half
their team being dual nationals. England need to learn a thing or two
from them and start blooding some naturalized citizens in their team
too.


Verdict

Argentina wins in an entertaining match that’ll be closer than you
think. As they proved against England, Germany are a real threat on
the counter-attack and Argentina will need to be wary of that danger
or face the consequences. Messi will shine, and Tevez will score.
Easy peasy.

History Repeating… and Not Repeating

USA vs. Ghana
The US have had a good tournament, just. If they hadn’t scored that last-gasp winner against Algeria I wouldn’t be writing that but they did, and now they’re playing Ghana for a place in the World Cup quarter-finals. The real reason I think they’ve had a good tournament is because they’ve been playing well and deserved to top Group C ahead of England. No doubt many Americans will feel that they shouldn’t find it too difficult to get past Ghana. However, they’d be forgetting that in the last World Cup Ghana beat them in the group stage and kicked them out in shame. Ghana are a strong, fast side which the US will find difficult to beat.

Verdict
History repeats itself as Ghana again kicks the US out of the World Cup! By doing so, Ghana will become only the third African team to reach the World Cup quarter-finals following in the footsteps of Cameroon in 1990 and Senegal in 2002. This will go some way towards restoring some pride for the African teams which were expected to do better in this African World Cup.

England v. Germany
This is the big one, the biggest tie of the round, and it’s going to be very, very close. With the way things have gone so far you’d have to think that Germany will take it. But England have been improving (they had to), and should give a good account of themselves. A lot of English fans are dreading this one because Germany always come out on top versus the English in major competitions. It’s quite phenomenal really. But this is a one-off, and teams have to actually go out and win games if they want to go through. Winning on paper doesn’t mean jack, just look at England in the group stage.

There are a number of factors which will play a part in deciding who eventually goes through. One of those is that bloody stupid ball, the Jabulani. The Germans have been playing with it in the Bundesliga, and so have a slight edge over the English who didn’t see it until the World Cup. However, I don’t think this will make a big difference as England have had plenty of time to get used to the ball now and should be able to control it at almost the same level as the Germans. It is not so inconceivable to see the English advancing when you look at this match in terms of the Bundesliga vs. the Premiership. German teams did better in Europe this year but on the whole, English teams do much better in Europe. If the English can bring the same verve and tenacity to this game that they did in their last match against Slovenia, then they should be able to take control of the game and win it.

Verdict
England wins! This should happen in normal time but it might go to extra-time and penalties. Rooney’s been negatively affected by the altitude so far, but he should be back to his best for this one. England play better in big games, and they don’t get much bigger than this. It’s the last World Cup for many English players and this will play a part in the passion, drive, and commitment that the English players will show to knock out the Germans. I’d rather England play well, and lose; than they play like crap, and go through. COMON ENGLAND!

PS: If it does go to penalties, the English have been talking about picking a side of the goal and not changing that decision when taking a penalty. If the Germans do their homework right, they should know what that side is. The goalie can then throw the penalty taker off by covering that side of the goal more than the other. Will the English penalty taker still choose to shoot in his original direction when he’s at such a disadvantage?

D-Day for Group C


Predictions:

England v. Slovenia: England are crap, very crap. So bad in fact, that I’d say they were involved in the worst match of the competition last time around when they drew 0-0 with Algeria. Slovenia on the other hand have been playing very well and should’ve beaten the US last time around when they went two goals up. So, everything points towards the Slovenians at least getting a draw and advancing to the next round. However, I just can’t see England leaving South Africa this early in the competition. At some point they have to play better and get a result.

Verdict: England should come through with a win. I’m not sure if they’ll play well, but they should just about do enough to make it through. The English heartache will have to wait for another day.

USA v. Algeria: Algeria still has a chance of advancing if they can beat the US so I don’t think they’re going to roll over without a fight here. Depending on how things go in the other match, the US really needs to win to be sure of qualification. This is gonna be a tense one. If the US can play like how they did in the second half of their last match the win is theirs. If it’s anything less though, and if Algeria can somehow manage to up their game they might get eliminated.

Verdict: This is going to be really close and ultimately, the US will not be able to squeeze out the win that they need to advance. England will win the group by beating Slovenia, and Slovenia will qualify in second place. The US and Algeria are eliminated.

Proud to be an American


Yesterday was a day full of upsets. It started off with Germany losing 1-0 to Serbia. After thrashing Australia in their opening fixture, Germany had become many people’s tournament favourites. They even missed a penalty which hardly ever happens.

Then came game #2 for the teams in Group C. The first match was the best of the tournament so far, the second the worst. Initially, the US started in the worst possible manner against Slovenia and were 2-0 down at the break. However, their manager had the balls to make a couple of changes at half time which paid dividends. The second half started with Landon Donovan in inspired form, scoring almost immediately. When that happened, you knew Slovenia were in trouble and the second half would be brilliant. Right after that goal, the US had a free kick which almost went in, that would’ve been some comeback with two goals in the first 5 minutes since the restart. Chance after chance came the US’s way and Slovenia had to revert to a number of illegal challenges to stop the US scoring. They were handed 3 yellow cards in 6 minutes which meant that there could even be a sending off before the end of the match. That didn’t happen, but the US did score, twice. 8 minutes from time the manager’s son, Michael Bradley, finally got the goal that the US needed to stay in the World Cup. Can you imagine how his dad must have felt seeing that from the bench? Another 4 minutes later came another goal for the US. However the referee incorrectly ruled it offside and it was disallowed. If anything, the goal should’ve stood or the US should’ve been given a penalty as Slovenian players were holding back 3 Americans from scoring. The match finished 2-2.

There will be many Americans who’ll feel the ref was paid or the game was fixed but wrong decisions are a part of the game in football unfortunately. There’s no video replay so whatever the ref sees at the moment of play is the only thing he has to use to make a decision. Disallowing the last goal doesn’t make any sense at all the more you see the replays. However, the US shouldn’t have needed to score a third goal to beat Slovenia so you can also look at the poor US defending in the first half as the reason that this match slipped away from them. Whatever, the US still has a great chance of progressing provided there isn’t another upset when they play Algeria in their last group match. England are in exactly the same position after their hugely disappointing 0-0 draw with Algeria later on in the same day. Both sides need to win their last group matches to be assured of qualification for the next round. Anything less than that will be a massive embarrassment, but at least the US will always have their match against Slovenia to look back upon and draw confidence from the way they fought back. They fought like bloody lions in the second half. Altidore in particular was a real handful, and gets the MOTM award for me. If he plays anything like this when he gets back to domestic football it’ll be a real treat to watch.

I’m not gonna write much about England b/c I’m so disappointed with their performance yesterday. They’re on the same number of points as the US but in terms of passion, they were worlds apart yesterday. Yesterday, the US team was hot as hell. If you’re American, you can wave your flag with pride. The English on the other hand, must feel like burying their heads in the sand.

PS
-MOTM in the England game should go to David James in goal. He was a commanding presence and didn’t put a foot wrong. At least one person had a good match.

-The US match was the first one that I’ve noticed where you could actually hear fans chanting and the crowd reacting to goals. That place must have been full of American fans.