Tuesday, July 15, 2014

2014 World Cup

Wondo's Whiff
I watched quite a bit of the recent FIFA World Cup soccer tournament in Brazil.  There were some pleasant surprises -- (1) the U.S.'s advancing out of its "Group of Death" with Germany (the eventual winners), Portugal, and Ghana; (2) Costa Rica's winning its group (beating Uruguay and Italy and tying with England) and then advancing to the quarterfinal playoff round by beating Greece; (3) Mexico's doing well in its group (beating Cameroon and Croatia and tying with Brazil with some great goalkeeping from Memo Ochoa); (4) Tim Howard's stellar goalkeeping for the U.S. against Belgium, which singlehandedly kept the U.S. in the match (which, in turn, the U.S. would have won if Chris Wondolowski had netted a practically wide-open, point-blank shot near the end of regulation time -- see photo); and (5) the 7-1 shellacking that Germany administered to Brazil in the semifinal round (not exactly "pleasant," but notable for the jaw-dropping porosity of Brazil's defense).  As usual, however, the tournament had its share of disappointments, too, particularly: (1) the highly questionable penalty kick given to Holland in the final minutes of its playoff match with Mexico; (2) the fact that the U.S. based so much of its offensive strategy on having a muscular "target" striker, Jozy Altidore, then didn't have a similarly physical player in reserve when Altidore went down early in the first game with a hamstring tear; (3) that so many "knockout" games ended in unsatisfying (if dramatic) penalty-kick shootouts; and (4) poor refereeing that resulted not only in bad calls but also in violent play and injuries (cf. Neymar's fractured vertebra in the Brazil-Colombia quarterfinal).  Nonetheless, the tournament came off without any major issues (i.e., protests, acts of terrorism, half-finished stadiums, bad public transport, inadequate lodging, etc.), and it's fair to say the best team, Germany, won the Cup.

This World Cup raises the perennial question where the U.S. men's team goes from here.  Once more, the U.S. qualified comfortably out of the CONCACAF region, and on this go-round three of the four CONCACAF teams in the tournament advanced out of group qualifying into the final 16 teams.  However, it's getting to be anticlimactic for the U.S. to get that far and not be able to win a game (or two).  I can't help questioning Jurgen Klinsmann's leaving Landon Donovan and Eddie Johnson -- experienced players and proven goal scorers -- off his 23-man roster.  (Donovan is still, even at age 32, the greatest soccer player the U.S. has ever produced, and Johnson would have been the physical, athletic presence the U.S. needed in the middle after Altidore's injury.)  Some of the younger players had proud moments in the tournament, especially John Brooks, Julian Green, and DeAndre Yedlin, but the Belgium game was very winnable and the firepower just wasn't there.  I guess we'll see where Klinsmann takes the team in the next four years; I can't wait for the next round of qualifying to start!