World Cup Previews: Round of 16 Ends With Paraguay/Japan and Spain/Portugal

29 June 2010

Vicente Del Bosque leads his team's training session at the Green Point Stadium. (Credit Image: © epa/ZUMApress.com)
The World Cup's round of sixteen concludes Tuesday, ending nineteen straight days of football. However, before we get our three day break, we have the final two quarterfinal spots to sort out.

On Monday, Jeff got both his picks correct, while Johnathan went 1 win and 1 no result. Jeff's record is now 27 wins, 19 losses, and 8 no results.Johnathan's record is 23 wins, 25 losses, and 6 no results.

Note: If we're using the handicap line, we will include what the spread is. If it spread is 0, a draw will mean no result. If we use the Over/Under line, just add the total number of goals scored in a match. Please note that this will all be based on the scoreline at Full Time (90 minutes). For betting purposes, only the result after 90 minutes are counted. Our odds are courtesy of Centsports.

10:00 am on ESPN: Paraguay v Japan
Johnathan Starling: Paraguay came through either the easiest group or the second easiest group, depending on who you ask. Japan didn't have much fun being in a group with Holland, but beat the rest of their Group E opposition. The thing that impresses me the most about Paraguay is the fact that their defending is stout, and they have the same ability as Uruguay have to counter attack. Holland proved to me that Japan's defense could be breached. I have to be honest when I say this is a total gamble from me, as this game just screams extra time. However, my prediction is Paraguay to win outright at +105.
Jeff Hash: The honest truth is, this game is really a toss-up in my mind.  Paraguay is probably the better eleven, but to me, they have been too stuck in neutral (best exhibited by the scoreless draw with New Zealand).  Japan, meanwhile, did get beaten up by teh Dutch, but they also scored a pair of good wins in Denmark and Japan.  The X Factor is Keisuke Honda, who's been a big part of the Japan attack, and I think he can do more in this game.  I'm taking an upset, but insurance to go with it: my pick is Japan on the 0 at +165.

2:30 pm on ESPN: Spain v Portugal
Johnathan Starling: The good news for Portugal is they sure did score alot of goals in the group stage. The bad news is that they came against North Korea. While they didn't allow a goal either, I do wonder about their attacking ability. Spain hasn't looked great, but have rebounded perfectly after the shaky start they had against Switzerland. Again, this is another game that to me looks destined for extra time. If there is a winner in ninety, I think it will be Spain. My prediction is Spain on the 0 line at -250.
Jeff Hash: Looking at the two sides, the first thought is how, even with the shock loss to Switzerland, Spain had a better time in the group stage.  At least Spain was able to dig out the goals against two different opponents, including two good first-half efforts against Chile.  Portugal just wasn't there when the opponents had the ability to play with them.  But Spain didn't crush it either, and I have to wonder how much they'll truly find against what is a well organized defense.  My pick is simple: under 2.5 goals at -155.

Read more...

World Cup Previews; Holland plays Slovakia and Brazil plays Chile

28 June 2010

The Netherlands Arjen Robben (L) Dirk Kuijt (C) and Frank de Boer (R) run during training for the upcoming Round of 16 match against Slovakia. (Credit Image: © epa/ZUMApress.com)
The second half of the FIFA round of sixteen begins on Monday as Holland and Slovakia square off in the opening match of the day, followed by Brazil and Chile.

On Sunday, Jeff got both predictions correct, while Johnathan had 1 win and 1 loss. Jeff's record is now 25 wins, 19 losses, and 8 no results.Johnathan's record is 22 wins, 25 losses, and 5 no results.

Note: If we're using the handicap line, we will include what the spread is. If it spread is 0, a draw will mean no result. If we use the Over/Under line, just add the total number of goals scored in a match. Please note that this will all be based on the scoreline at Full Time (90 minutes). For betting purposes, only the result after 90 minutes are counted. Our odds are courtesy of Centsports.

10:00 am on ESPN: Holland v Slovakia
Johnathan Starling: This screams mismatch. Holland looked good, but not overly impressive, in their sweeping of Group E. Slovakia, on the other hand, looked about as ordinary a team that is left in the round of sixteen. With Arjen Robben coming back to fitness, and to form, I don't think this will be a competitive contest. My prediction is Holland -1 at -130. Might want to bet this one quickly before they make the spread bet on this one 1.5.
Jeff Hash: The Dutch may have won all three games in the group stage, but we all know this is where everyone has to stand up and be counted.  The good news for the Netherlands is that they have more than enough to rise to the moment, and Arjen Robben could play a whole game.  Slovakia did well in a tense encounter over Italy, but this side in orange is so much better than the Italians, its kind of hard to figure how seriously to take that.  This is not the game the Dutch will go out in, though the next one will be a mammoth challenge if they start seeing the cards fly.  I expect both teams to get goals, so I'll take the over 2.5 goals at +110.

2:30 pm on ESPN: Brazil v Chile
Johnathan Starling: Chile were a very pleasant surprise during the group stages, but really screwed themselves against Spain. Two players picked up their second yellow card of the competition, and a third was sent off before halftime. Brazil gets back their play maker in Kaka, and I'm sure he'll want to make the entire world forget about his sending off against Ivory Coast. I don't think this one will be close either, as I not only expect Brazil to turn up the style, but for Chile to attack as they have in the group stage, which won't help them one bit. My prediction is Brazil -1 at -115. I think this game has either 3-1 or 4-1 to Brazil written all over it.
Jeff Hash: The main event of the South American sides (which will finally see one get sent out of South Africa) is, unfortunately, not going to be the most pleasant of games.  The deck favors Brazil a lot more thanks to the three missing Chilean players, and Brazil won both head to heads by multiple goals during qualification.  The return of Kaka and a healthier Robinho just makes the screws turn even harder on the underdogs.  The one other these two teams do is score in bunches, which should be a continuing trend in this game.  My pick is the over on 2.5 goals at +105, and I'd probably run that with John's pick of Brazil on the handicap as well.

Read more...

World Cup Redux: Group C Where Art Thou, Referees Ruled Sunday Routs

27 June 2010

Germany's goalkeeper Manuel Neuer tries to save a shot by Frank Lampard. (Credit Image: © DPA/ZUMApress.com)
Now that the knockout stages have arrived at the World Cup, we may have more talking points than we did for all of the group games combined. The problem is some of them, despite valid points, would not have mattered when the full time whistle blew.

Luis Suarez Is That Damn Good
Uruguay's 2-1 win over South Korea was about one man: Luis Suarez. The Ajax player, who has scored 77 goals in all club competitions for his side over the last two years, has been severely overlooked because some feel the Dutch league isn't up to a caliber worthy of validating those numbers. I hope this World Cup has made them realize he's the special player that many have felt he has been for the better part of three years. What's scary is that he's only twenty-three. What's even scarier is that he's only going to get better.
His two goals on Saturday showed both sides to his game. On the opener, his run to the far post was proof positive he doesn't give up on anything. Yes, the South Korean defense thought that keeper Jung Sung-Ryong was going to easily save a centering ball from Diego Forlan, but that's their own fault. Suarez's greatest quality is he is a man who doesn't give up. In his mind, that opener was nothing more than a gift he was going to take complete advantage of. With the goal mouth completely empty, it was an easy toe poke into the net.
His second goal was everything we love about football. In fairness, the corner kick it came from was not a good one. However, Uruguay's work to keep the ball in the box was. When the ball ended up at Suarez's feet, it only took him two moves to do all he needed to. The first move baffled and turned Cho Yong-Hyung and Kim Jung-Woo, and the second set him up in position for a curling spot far post. The keeper was never going to save the ball, and could only watch helplessly as the ball went into the back of the net.
While some will say that he had a quiet second half, he did well tracking back in defense, and waited for his chance to strike. That to me is the sign of a player that deserves more attention and credit than what he's got already.

The United States Followed the Same Script, but Ghana Had it Memorized
Even if it still sucks a day after the fact, the United States were always second best in their round of sixteen game with Ghana. What could be even more frustrating about it was how the US followed the same script in all four games of this World Cup.
With Ghana's pace, any simple mistake was going to be punished in the worst way possible. It didn't take them long to punish their first. With Ricardo Clark's pathetic pass, Ghana only had to recite the lines from the same opening minutes to the previous three games. One pass to Kevin Prince-Boateng and he made Tim Howard pay for being weighted on the wrong foot. The only thing that could have been better about it was the near post strike.
Sure the United States may have been hopeful in searching for an equalizer, but it was more wishful thinking than hope. Yes, the US did pull an equalizer back on a perfectly legitimate penalty, but watching the match, it was obvious they were never going to score in open play. Not one chance the US put on target was a serious threat. When your best opportunity comes when Jozy Altidore is falling on his butt, I'm sorry but you don't deserve to win inside the ninety minutes.
When you watch the opening minutes of extra time, it appeared the United States back line reset their mental clock to 0:00, not 90:00. Their defending was worse then it was when the match started, and the only man on the pitch who deserved a goal got his just reward. On a simple long ball that Carlos Bocanegra should have dealt with, Asamoah Gyan beat him to it, beat off the weak shoulder to shoulder challenge Bocanegra put on the Ghanaian body, and then beat Tim Howard with one powerful effort he wouldn't have saved. With the United States dead legged, even after the inclusion of Herculez Gomez, they could only muster a half chance off a corner kick in the first extra time.
In my opinion, now isn't the time to dwell on the future of where the US National Team goes from here. I think now is more a time of reflection. In the short time I have reflected on the performance, Bob Bradley did the most he could with the talent he had. As for Ghana, their match with Uruguay will be an entertaining one to watch, as Ghana tries to break down Uruguay's counter attacking defensive style.


The Referees Got Bailed Out of Bad Calls, But the Results Were Never a Doubt
Let's just call it as was on Sunday: the refereeing was beyond shocking. Frank Lampard had a perfectly good goal not given, and Argentina were given a Carlos Tevez opener that was a full three yards offside. However, when you look at both balances of play over the ninety minutes, there was nothing that told me that the results would be different even if those results were reversed.
In the opening match on Sunday, Germany were the deserved winners. England only had one five minute stretch in the first half where they were the better side. During that time period, they did get Matthew Upson's header and the controversial Frank Lampard goal that wasn't given, but they did not have the fight in the second half to make Germany pay. It was only a matter of time before Germany retook the upper hand, and when they got two goals in three minutes, England gave up fighting.
To be blunt, this was not a case of comeuppance from 1966, this was just a mentally weak England side that did not have a clue how to deal with adversity. It showed on the third German goal when only two England defenders could get back off a free kick before Thomas Mueller scored. It showed on the fourth goal when Gareth Barry was the only one that attempted to get back and try to defend Germany from getting in the. If you show no desire to fight back when things don't go your way, you don't deserve to make the quarterfinals of the World Cup.
As for Mexico, their already mentally weak nature showed quickly when Argentina's opener from Carlos Tevez was allowed to stand in the twenty-sixth. They spent way too much time arguing with the linesmen about the call, and not only picked up a quick yellow card after the restart, but allowed Argentina to get a second goal seven minutes later.
Mexico's attack, as it had for the entire tournament, lacked any teeth. While they did pull one back with nineteen minutes to go, I put it more to Argentina checking out on the game. However, once Mexico did score, Argentina's focus returned and the game played out rather tamely.
If there was anything to be learned from Sunday, it was that if you don't have the mental fortitude to handle crap that may come your way, you deserve no sympathy about the bad calls that come your way. England and Mexico both deserved to go out, regardless if the referees screwed up as badly as they did.

Read more...

World Cup Previews: Knockout Stage Continues with Germany/England and Argentina/Mexico

After the day I have had, I am doing just the previews tonight. I'll come back tomorrow with my thoughts on the action we have seen this weekend. My apologies if these are quicker than normal.

We both went 1 win and 1 loss on Saturday. Jeff's record is now 23 wins, 19 losses, and 8 no results.Johnathan's record is 21 wins, 24 losses, and 5 no results.

10:00 am on ESPN: Germany v England
Johnathan Starling: Despite Germany's injury problems, when it comes down to facing England in a game that matters either in a World Cup or Euro competition, they do the business. However, I just don't think they will do it inside of ninety minutes. My prediction is under 2.5 goals at -200. I just have a feeling it will end 1-1 at full time.
Jeff Hash: I think this is going to be a fun game to watch.  Overall, Germany has done better in my mind so far, especially in attack, and I have a feeling they will be able to continue that advantage.  I don't know if its enough to take it home in 90 though, just like John.  So for insurance, I'll take Germany on the 0 at -105.

2:30 pm on ABC: Argentina v Mexico
Johnathan Starling: I still have a copy of their match in the 2006 World Cup. It was, in my mind, the match of the tournament. Argentina has had to break down plenty of organized defenses so far, and they have done so successfully. Mexico is still having a problem getting goals.With this game being as open as I think it will be, I think there is only one winner. My prediction is Argentina -1 at -110. Mexico may get a goal, but Argentina will be happy to not have to break as organized a defense as they faced in the group stage. 
Jeff Hash: Argentina has, once again, made the knockout round of the World Cup with a lot of flair and a good amount of goals.  The fact that they did so against some tough defenses makes it all the more impressive.  Mexico continues to roll on as they do, and I think they can pull a goal here.  Even if they don't, Argentina getting ahead will force a lot of action.  My pick, then, is over 2.5 goals at +110.

Read more...

World Cup Previews: Round of Sixteen Starts with Uruguay/South Korea and USA/Ghana

26 June 2010

Carlos Bocanegra (L), Landon Donovan (C) and Jay DeMerit (R) laugh as they warm up prior to their training session. (Credit Image: © epa/ZUMApress.com)
It’s finally here. After two weeks of group stage matches, the knockout phase has finally arrived. You win, you stay alive for another day. You lose, enjoy the flight back home.

Johnathan was slightly better on Friday, going 2 wins and 2 losses. If you can get over the fact he completely blew his prediction on Brazil and Portugal, his record now stands at 20 wins, 23 losses, and 5 no results. Jeff on Friday had 2 wins, 1 loss, and 1 no result. His record now stands at 22 wins, 18 losses, and 8 no results.

10:00 am on ESPN: Uruguay v South Korea
Johnathan Starling
: Uruguay’s defense in the group stage was nothing short of exceptional. They did so with numbers, and were probably the best team in the group stage at getting results from their counter attack. South Korea were unfortunate to be in a group with Argentina. That said, they did not have their best performance in their last outing against Nigeria.
I’m not going to lie to you (and I think Jeff would probably concur with this), the odds for this match suck. The moneyline odds don’t invite an outright winner, and the spread odds are just too spread out to make me not think that, after this is published, we’re going to see half a goal involved. Right now, I think we will see a winner inside of ninety minutes. With that said, my prediction is Uruguay to win outright at -120. My thinking behind it is that South Korea don’t have enough pace at the back to deal with Uruguay’s counter attack.
Jeff Hash: South Korea has surprised a few people in making it this far, even if they were very uneven across their three games.  They found goals against all their opponents, which is about all you can ask for in attack.  Their defense, though, went from sublime in a clean sheet with Greece to abysmal against Argentina.  Uruguay, on the other hand, didn't allow a single goal in their matches, while their attack ranged from bland to great.  Trying to figure out where in these ranges the teams will be on Saturday is a pure guessing game.  The one thing I can think to take advantage of is that, when teams are shaky, defense tends to take hold more than attack.  My pick will be to go under 2.5 goals at -220.

2:30 pm on ABC: United States v Ghana
Johanthan Starling
: As an American I have one simple request: we acknowledge how lucky we were to even be here. The US’s finishing has been nothing but abysmal throughout this World Cup, and despite having four goals, they should have at least 5 more thanks to the chances they created. Defensively, they are equally a mess and were beaten again inside the first quarter hour against Algeria. The only difference this time was they had a friend in the crossbar.
Ghana could actually be worse on the attack. Without having scored a goal from open play, it’s something they have to be very nervous about. Their defense hasn’t been great by any means. While they may have only allowed 2 goals in 3 games, their keeper doesn’t exude confidence should there be a bouncing ball close to him in the box. Just off hand, between Australia and Germany, I can count seven chances that should have been easy goals had the person finishing them not blown open opportunities. I think when it’s all said and done, it boils down to who can actually convert on the chances they create. To me, there is one side that has proven they can at least finish them, and that’s the United States. My prediction is for the United States to win outright at +135.
Jeff Hash: So, here we are: the USA has moved on to the knockout round.  In doing so however, they now faces Ghana, a team the US lost to at World Cup 2006.  Both teams have had some seriously shaky times in the group phase.  I'm going to disagree with John on Ghana's defense though: allowing only two goals in three games doesn't qualify as having allowed teams to finish their opportunities, and they've given up fewer shots and shots on goal than the US.  But again, I find myself going to back to what I said in my last preview: defense tends to hold better than attack on shaky sides.  I just plain don't see a winner in 90 minutes, as Ghana will find a lot more pride and force than would be expected given they are the last African side standing.  I'll repeat my pick from the other game: under 2.5 goals at -220.

Read more...

Group H Final Redux: Chile Burns Themselves, Swiss Fade to Black

Switzerland's Stephan Lichtsteiner (L) and Xherdan Shaqiri are dejected after a missed chance. (Credit Image: © Action Images/ZUMApress.com)
Group H ended with both a whimper and a bang. Chile/Spain produced all the fireworks, while Honduras made sure Switzerland’s chance at making the knockout stages faded away.

Chile will feel unfortunate to not have not gained at least gained a draw against Spain. Even after going down a man, they were very confident in their abilities, and their manager had no problem withdrawing a defender in hopes of getting the two goals required. While Millar got one heck of a lucky deflection on his effort quickly into the second half, it was deserved. Not many teams have the guts to actually go after Spain in the attack; and not only did they do so, they succeeded in the process. Had it not been for Claudio Bravo’s moment of stupidity in the twenty-fourth minute that led to a David Villa lob wedge shot right into an empty net, I doubt Chile would have pressed as much as they did afterwards.

Once the hour mark came and went, the game really descended into nothing more than a training session. Chile ran out of gas, didn’t attack too often, and allowed Spain to have the ball at distance. Spain were more than happy to take this, knowing this would leave them in first place. The only thing Chile has to worry about now are the number of players they will be missing in the round of sixteen. It will only make their task against Brazil that much harder.

Meanwhile, all Switzerland had to do is break down Honduras, which is something they completely failed to do. In fact, they were second best most of the match. Honduras’s shape was the best it had been all World Cup, and they were able to counter attack at will. Had Honduras been able to take advantage of Switzerland’s lack of speed at the back, they could have had at least three goals. Switzerland, to their discredit, were too slow in building their attack, and had no final product. With their defensive lines breeched whenever Honduras felt like attacking, Switzerland opened themselves up more in the attack, and looked more useless in the process.

After beating Spain to open the group, Switzerland looked totally worthless. While their shape was good, their attack was as poor, if not poorer than Honduras’s. Even with the inclusion of Hakin Yakin and Alexander Frei, they looked like the same old Switzerland they were in the first half. With as many free kicks as the Swiss had in dangerous places, they didn’t even threaten Valladares.

Switzerland’s World Cup ends with a lot of regret…the regret of not attacking more when they had the chance. Had they done so, they just might be in the round of sixteen today.

Read more...

Group G Final Redux: Lack of Urgency Secures Top Two Spots

Brazil coach Dunga. (Credit Image: © Action Images/ZUMApress.com)
If you were unfortunate enough to watch the Friday 10:00 am kickoffs at the World Cup, concluding Group G, you have my deepest of sympathies. Thanks to the DVR, where I fast forwarded through every bit of dead space (I count all replays, time between goal kicks, throw-ins, setting up set pieces, time for subs, and passes just between the back line as dead space), I was able to watch both matches in 1 hour and 57 minutes. I don’t care what pair of games it is, it should not take a person less than 2 hours to watch any two games under that set up.

I honestly don’t know what was most shocking: the fact Brazil and Portugal didn’t muster anything that would qualify as a serious threat on goal until the eightieth minute, or the fact the Ivory Coast seemed to be coasting through their match with North Korea. I could slightly understand Brazil/Portugal, as Brazil was already through and Portugal just needed to play out to a draw to get through as well. However, the fact the Ivory Coast were way too selective in their attack just baffled me. You would think for a side that needed to overcome a nine goal differential just to have a shot at advancing, they could have come up with better chances at goal.

To North Korea’s credit, they did do a good job frustrating Ivory Coast in the attack. Despite being beaten for three goals, they still kept their defensive shape organized, forcing Ivory Coast into plenty of shots from distance. When their keeper went down injured in the second half, they did as good a job of protecting him as a team possibly could. My issue here is with Ivory Coast. They played as if they didn’t have a plan b, let alone a potential plan c or d. They continued to make the same runs, expecting it would be as easy as it was in the first minute to get into the box. When it became apparent it wouldn’t, it seemed as if they gave up. While they got a third goal late, they never gave themselves a real chance to advance.

Meanwhile in Durban, about the only surprising thing was how physical the game seemed to play out. With the yellow cards coming out almost at will in the first half, it was surprising that we didn’t seem a red card. Dunga, to his credit, was smart enough to get Felipe Melo off the pitch before the first half ended without costing his side three points.

Portugal should have added a second man into the attack to compliment Ronaldo up top. Had Brazil taken the lead, I think Ronaldo would have had a partner up front as they went in search of an equalizer. Even still, considering the consequences could have been a date with Spain in the round of sixteen, I think you have to go for the win in this situation. Sure, all hell could have broken loose, and they could have lost by 2 or 3 to nil, but the percentages of Ivory Coast overturning the goal difference was just too small. Instead, after a chippy first half, the second half played out rather tamely.

Had we seen a little urgency from the Ivory Coast, and gotten a third or fourth goal before halftime, I wonder what would have happened in the second half in Durban. However, instead of what if, Portugal got exactly what they went out to do. I just wonder if they are happy with the consequences of their actions.

Read more...

World Cup Previews: Ivory Coast’s Mountain to Climb, Who Will Qualify out of Group H?

25 June 2010

Brazil's national soccer team coach Dunga attends a training session at the Princess Magogo Stadium. (Credit Image: © epa/ZUMApress.com)
The final set of World Cup group games conclude on Friday, and there are certainly a lot more questions than answers compared to the previous three days. Brazil is about the only team certain of a spot in the last sixteen, something one might have expected before the World Cup started. The bigger questions are if Portugal can beat Brazil, all but eliminating Ivory Coast.

Group H isn’t much clearer. While Chile have six points, it is still possible they could not advance to the next round. Switzerland is facing Honduras, and it is quite possible they could overturn the goal difference required if Spain beat the current group leaders. While all Chile need is a draw, setting up for one against Spain could lead to disastrous results.

On Thursday, it wasn’t a good day for either of us. While Johnathan predicted all four of the games incorrectly, Jeff had 1 win and 3 losses. Jeff’s record now stands at 20 wins, 17 losses, and 7 no results. Johnathan’s record now stands at a paltry 18 wins, 21 losses, and 5 no results.

10:00 am on ESPN: Portugal v Brazil
Johnathan Starling
: Personally, I think Brazil is going to go for the kill here early, and keep it up often. Portugal needs to do the same. This could possibly be the most wide open game of football the entire World Cup. I think that will translate into goals. While I think Brazil will win, my prediction is over 2.5 goals at +125.
Jeff Hash: Things came out very well for Portugal in their running over of North Korea 7-0.  But Kaka being out for this one on a bad red card may work out even better for them, as it neuters some of their attack.  One thing I do wonder about, however, is how much either team is going to press to win, given they'd then be facing a possible match with the Netherlands in the quarterfinals instead of either Japan or Paraguay.  I expect tense and close, not open.  My pick will be under 2.5 goals at -160.

10:00 am on ESPN2: North Korea v Ivory Coast
Johnathan Starling
: I think Portugal has broken the North Korean spirit. After fighting so hard against Brazil, Portugal flew by them faster than both Usain Bolt on land and Michael Phelps bonged up at sea. Ivory Coast is going to want to make it interesting in the race for second, and that I think they will do. My prediction is Ivory Coast -1.5 at +115. Those odds just scream ‘BET ME’.
Jeff Hash: I'm not going to waste much time on this one: I expect goals, and I expect them to come from the Ivory Coast.  They are going to be gunning it out from beginning to end, and I don't think the North Koreans will be able to handle the frantic pace that the African side will be putting them through.  The fact that North Korea doesn't really have anything to play for does not help either.  My pick is over 2.5 goals at -130.

2:30 pm on ESPN: Chile v Spain
Johnathan Starling
: Chile would be more than happy to play to a draw here, and I think it will backfire. The only thing that worries me about Spain is their inability to finish the chances they have created. I think Spain wins, but it will only be by 1 goal. Since I can’t figure out if it will be 1-0 or 2-1 to Spain, my prediction is for Spain to win outright at -220.
Jeff Hash: Will another of the traditional European powers be going home after the group stage?  Unfortunately for Spain, the last match day draw really does not help their cause.  Chile has done well so far in collecting two 1-0 victories, especially in scoring against Switzerland.  But the loss of two starting midfielders due to yellow cards (Carlos Carmona and Matias Fernandez) will test their depth.  Spain, on the other end, rebounded well in beating Honduras 2-0, but know they will have to win this one given the other group match.  Is this the day to bet against the South American side?  Amazingly, I think it is, but I think its going to be close regardless.  With that in mind, and in case of the draw, I will take Chile +1 goal at +110.

2:30 on ESPN2: Switzerland v Honduras
Johnathan Starling: Switzerland has to be thinking right now ‘we may have gotten the best end of this draw’. Honduras has shown nothing, and I’ll emphasize nothing, too me to show that they can hold out a Swiss side that knows how to pick it’s spots in attack. Hell, they won’t have to do that because I think they could attack all day if they wanted to and know that Honduras is going to do nothing to them in it. With Switzerland also needed goals, I think the parings match up well. My prediction is Switzerland -1 at -115. This game just has 2-0 written all over it.
Jeff Hash: On the surface, it'd be easy to think of Switzerland falling into the same trap of not changing their game plan like the other defensive sides in search of a result (Greece and New Zealand).  But Switzerland has one advantage those teams did not have: a weaker opponent.  Honduras needs a lot of goals to move on, but they don't have the offense to break down the Swiss defense like Chile did Monday.  I think the Swiss will press early and often, and the goals will come in.  My pick is Switzerland -1 goal at -115.

Read more...

Group F Final Redux: Italy Not Even Third Best…New Zealand Is

Italian goalkeeper Federico Marchetti (L) is beaten by Slovakia's Kamil Kopunek as Slovakia goes 3-1 up. (Credit Image: © epa/ZUMApress.com)
It may sound callous of me to say I don’t care that Paraguay finished first or that Slovakia finished second. The story of Group F could actually be at the bottom.

I think everyone but those in Paraguay, Italy, or Slovakia wanted New Zealand to advance. That could just be my wishful thinking, but their journey has been a remarkable ride. With no one giving them a shot at getting out of the group, they came into today with that notion still on the cards.

New Zealand did a remarkable job frustrating Paraguay today. Paraguay played with no urgency, and New Zealand’s defensive set up eliminated their usual attacking flow. With the All Whites not budging, Paraguay spent way too much time passing the ball around the backline while trying to find an opening that never came, and never coming up with a plan b to attack it.

The thing that frustrated me about New Zealand today was they waited until it was too late before attacking. For all their defensive structure, they were too scared to attack. When you realistically only give yourself ten minutes to win a match, you won’t do so too often. Even their best attacking move in the game resulted in Chris Wood being offside.

Meanwhile, Italy didn’t start showing any passion or pride until they were 2-0 down and realistically staring elimination in the face. Even during the previous seventeen minutes when Andrea Pirlo was subbed on, Italy lacked any urgency or flow that one still needs to possess in desperate situations.

Di Natale was smart in continuing his forward run when Italy pulled one back, making it 2-1. However, it was their lack of focus at the back that eventually led to their undoing. Kamil Kopunek was really only brought in to be a fresh set of legs late in the match, but he may end up a bigger national hero than he will ever realize. On a simple Slovak throw in, Kopunek made the perfect forward run, and timed his chip perfectly over the out stretching Marchetti.

While some can say that Italy should have been awarded a goal just moments earlier, I feel the referee made the correct offside decision. Sure Quagliarella made it somewhat interesting in stoppage time, but this result was sealed in the seventy-third minute.

When it’s all said and done, this group finished exactly how it probably should have based on the balance of play. Paraguay had just enough of an attack against Slovakia. Slovakia rebounded as well as one could after giving up a late equalizer against New Zealand. New Zealand just didn’t have enough of an attack to get out of the group, while Italy didn’t bother to show up until there were twenty minutes left in their World Cup experience.

Read more...

Group E Final Redux: Japan Masters Art of the Free Kick, Holland Enjoy Life at the Top

Klaas Jan Huntelaar celebrates with Arjen Robben (R) and Eljero Elia (L) after scoring the second goal for Holland. (Credit Image: © Action Images/ZUMApress.com)
We’ve all been talking about it: the lack of goals coming from free kicks. Everyone was blaming the ball, some were adding the altitude into that equation, but no one seemed to talk about the fact no one really wanted to take the time and practice with it so they could learn about it’s intricate nature. Japan must have spent some time working on that this week, and were handsomely rewarded for it.

We could argue which free kick produced the better goal; whether it was Honda’s seventeenth minute effort, or Endo’s free kick on the half hour. Personally, I say why not call that contest a tie? Honda’s was pure brilliance because of how he was able to get Sorensen to wrong foot himself on the line. A free kick from that distance should easily be handled, unless it’s whipped into the box and flicked on goal. Honda bypassed everyone. Sure, there was some swerve on the ball, but anytime you can get the keeper to guess wrong, you should be commended.

Endo’s free kick was all about placement, in more ways than one. With the location of this set piece being perfect, Japan put both Honda and Endo over the ball. It was funny seeing the wall set up, and how they were all expecting Honda to shoot. Instead, Endo showed that this ball could be perfectly curled. If there was any complaint about how Denmark set up, it was that Sorensen was too close to the far post. It was really an open invitation for Endo to give the near post a try, and he was handsomely rewarded. Let that be proof enough that you can use this ball to score off free kicks.

I have to give Cameroon credit: they could have easily folded like a cheap tent today against Holland, but they didn’t. Yes, they weren’t exactly threatening in front of goal, but they did attack, making it a nice open game of football.

Holland can take a few positives from their performance. They finally started passing the ball around like we all expect them to in major competitions. While they would probably argue they could use some work on their end product, they were finally making the right runs through the channels. However, their biggest positive has to be the twenty minute run out Arjen Robben had. He looked fit, controlled the ball well, and could have easily scored. Yes, his shot hit the post, but with Hamidou out of position, Huntelaar was in perfect position to finish the opportunity.

Both Holland and Japan are entering the knockout stages on a high. Where that takes them the rest of the way is just anybody’s guess. Holland look like they might have an easy path to the quarter finals. While Japan might think they do, their defending could easily give Paraguay plenty of problems.

Read more...

USA/Algeria: ESPN Ratings by the Numbers

24 June 2010

US players celebrate Landon Donovan's game winning goal. (Credit Image: © epa/ZUMApress.com)
If you're wondering what the ratings were for the USA/Algeria match on ESPN, look no further.

According to their recently published press release, the US/Algeria match set a record for ESPN's highest rated and most watched soccer telecast. The 10 am kickoff generated a rating of 4.6 (a 4.0 household US rating), had 4,582,000 house holds watching, and a grand total of 6,161,000 viewers for the game.

The top ten highest rated markets were, in order: San Diego, Baltimore, San Francissco, Washington DC, Sacremento, Houston, Las Vegas, Miami-Ft. Lauderdale, New York, and West Palm Beach.

I'd be very curious to see what the combined ESPN/Univision numbers are, as well as the combined numbers when you include the sport bar numbers in there as well.

The other numbers that should not be ignored are the online numbers. According to the same release, 1.1 million unique viewers spent an average time of 43 minutes on the game on ESPN3. During the live coverage, there were an average of 328,000 viewers per minute. If you were like me, listening on ESPNRadio.com, we obviously weren't alone. The audience peaked at 180,000 during the contest, almost doubling the US/Slovenia game.

Personally, the online numbers are very impressive to me. Don't get me wrong, the TV viewing numbers are spectacular in their own right, but the numbers of those watching or listening online are just simply spectacular. It's a telling sign to me that in short order, online rights may be just as important as television rights. I wonder if certain leagues around the world are listening to that?

Read more...

World Cup Previews: Groups E and F Conclude

New Zealand national soccer coach Ricki Herbert during a training session. (Credit Image: © EPA/ZUMAPRESS.com)
Due to the lateness of these getting up, our previews will be shorter than usual. However, since I have enjoyed doing these, I figured it would be flat out wrong to skip a night.

On Wednesday, both Jeff and I had 2 wins, 1 loss, and 1 no result. Jeff's record now stands at 19 wins, 14 losses, and 7 no results. Johnathan's record now sits at 18 wins, 17 losses, and 5 no results.

Note: If we're using the handicap line, we will include what the spread is. If it spread is 0, a draw will mean no result. If we use the Over/Under line, just add the total number of goals scored in a match. Please note that this will all be based on the scoreline at Full Time (90 minutes). For betting purposes, only the result after 90 minutes are counted. Our odds are courtesy of Centsports.

10:00 am on ESPN: Slovakia v Italy
Johnathan Starling: Am I the only one who thinks it is insane to have Group F play before E? Oh well. I don't think it matters anyway; expect the Diesel engine known as Italy to finally start playing like we're use to at the World Cup. Prediction: Italy to win outright at -225.
Jeff Hash: Is this the day the Italian team sees their World Cup end?  Honestly, I don't think so, since Slovakia has yet to show it has the ability to hold out for a solid 90 minutes against better sides.  But I will go with low-scoring instead due to a lack of overall punch on both teams: my pick is under 2.5 goals at -140.

10:00 am on ESPN2: Paraguay v New Zealand
Johnathan Starling: As much as I would love to say that New Zealand advances to the round of sixteen, I think their dream comes to an end. Paraguay just looks like they have gotten better as the competition has progressed. Prediction: Paraguay -1 at -150.
Jeff Hash: This will also be the last bow for the All Whites in this tournament I'm afraid.  Its a shame, as they have been a joy to watch, and at least at the end they get taken out by one of the better teams so far.  I'll take Paraguay -1 goal at -150.

2:30 pm on ESPN: Denmark v Japan
Johnathan Starling: Simply put, it's winner take all. Both sides didn't look so hot against Holland, while Denmark looked slightly better against Cameroon. Japan can play for the draw, but I do think there is going to be a winner in this. I would recommend covering the draw though. Prediction: Denmark on the 0 at -200.
Jeff Hash: A game where both teams fates will be decided on one field?  I'm definitely game.  I think Japan will be too, only needing a draw to hold on.  Denmark will up the aggressiveness, but I don't think they can break down Japan hard enough.  I'll opt to go with low-scoring again: under 2.5 goals at -150.

2:30 pm on ESPN2: Cameroon v Holland
Johnathan Starling: Cameroon only have pride to play for. Holland just need a point to secure first place. This just has Argentina/Greece written all over it. I think Holland wins, but it will be of the 1-0 or 2-0 variety. Predicton: Under 2.5 goals at -140.
Jeff Hash: The road ends here for Cameroon, while the Dutch move on to bigger things in the knockout stage.  I don't see a victory for the African side here, plain and simple.  The pick is Netherlands to win outright at -145.

Read more...

Group C Final Redux: From 90 Minutes of Agony to 12 Seconds Of Unbridled Joy

US players celebrate Landon Donovan's game winning goal. (Credit Image: © epa/ZUMApress.com)
Forgive me if I don't write on Group D tonight. Group C had enough drama for me to last a lifetime.

Today was a tough day for me. If at all possible, I try to avoid sounding like a fan boy on this site, but I would only by lying, but doing myself a big injustice, if I didn't go through the emotions I have felt today.

I hated having to go to work today. The last time the United States were in a must win situation at the World Cup, I still remember where I was and the roller coaster ride I was dealing with when Ghana not only took the lead, but beat the United States. Sitting in a cubicle was where I was four years ago, and it is where I was sitting today. Having to keep the emotion bottled up that day was one of the toughest things I ever had to do, but upon hearing before I left for the office that Jonathan Bornstein was in the lineup, I was starting to have those same emotions all over again.

I do have one little request for ESPN Radio: if you ever again feel the urge to use Mike Greenburg and Mike Golic for another US pre-match show, stop yourselves dead in your tracks and just use the guys calling the match. This is the second time I've had to put up with those two stammering their way through something they may have been passionate about, but showed it in same flash and glamor as a UPS truck. While I appreciate everyone at ESPN getting in on the act, there are just some battles that are always going to be a lost cause.

The first half was nothing but sheer frustration. Without having the benefit of pictures, I was constantly having to stop myself from screaming off the top of my lungs with how lax our defending sounded. Tommy Smyth doesn't get mad too often during commentary, but he was frustrated at how disorganized the United States looked at the back. Frankly, when I heard JP scream 'off the post' in the sixth minute, my heart sunk somewhere deep at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean. When I heard Clint Dempsey had a goal disallowed, I just figured 'oh here we go again'. When halftime arrived, I probably breathed for the first time in about 20 minutes.

The second half may have been more frustrating for me. Knowing the tactical changes Bob Bradley made throughout the second half, I figured by the eighty-fifth minute the Untied States were playing something to the equivalent of a 2-3-5 formation. With chance after chance being ended with the words 'saved' or 'just wide', and set pieces not coming close to goal, I sent a message to Jeff Hash at 11:31 this morning: 'we are toast, this sucks'. When Algeria started to waste time, I thought there was no way back.

When I was informed there was four minutes of stoppage time announced, I just thought it would be without incident. It was far from it. Algeria got space and put one on goal, and when Tim Howard collected, the jail break was on. In what seemed like minutes, but was only twelve seconds, I heard the words that made me start openly weeping at my desk. I wish I could have gotten a copy of JP Dellacamera's goal call, because it was one of the sweetest sounds I have ever heard in my life. When I uttered the words that I thought were under my breath 'oh my God...we scored', I quickly realized how audible they were. I heard at least four people, the furthest about forty feet from where I was sitting, giving out their own small tributes to the news. At full time, it took me a good ten minutes to compose myself as I went through napkin after napkin wiping tears from my face. The afternoon just seemed to fly by, as I couldn't wait to get home to see this miracle for myself.

On my normal 15 minute ride home, I keep it on the local sports channel. To my shock, not only did they come back for their top of the hour commercial break talking about the result, when they went to their next commercial break, they aired Ian Darke's goal call. I was sitting at a red light when that happened and I started crying again. I swear I hadn't cried this much when my ex and I broke up. I got home in time to set up my normal evening routine that has been a big part of my World Cup experience, and as I started to watch the game on my laptop, the final 10 minutes were airing on ESPN Classic. I stopped what I was doing to watch those minutes as if it were live. When I actually saw the goal with my own eyes, the same routine I had gone through seven hours ago had to be repeated. It was as awesome a sight as I have ever seen.

Having watched the match now, I am still concerned about the US back line. They got very lucky today in not conceding a goal. It was frustrating to see chance after chance miss, as despite knowing the result I thought we were going to pay for it. Above all, it was nice to know that the same radio call I had heard live pieced perfectly with how the match played out before me. It isn't often radio commentary can do that, and it's something that should be commended.

As I finish this piece, ESPN2 is reairing the USA/Algeria match. I have a feeling when I see Landon Donovan's goal again, it's going to be yet another repeat performance of the water works I had not only at work, but also in the car and from my first viewing of it. While Saturday's match against Ghana maybe on the back burner for now, there are just some things even this hard ass can not only appreciate, but celebrate.

Read more...

Group B Final Redux: Diego Gets Argentine Subs Right, Yakubu Cost Nigeria Round of 16

23 June 2010

Diego Maradona coach of Argentina celebrates with goalscorer Martin Palermo of Argentina. (Credit Image: © Simon Bellis/Sportimage/Cal Sport Media)
They say that insanity is defined by doing the same thing over and over again, getting the same result, but expecting something different. For the better part of seventy minutes, Argentina were well on their way to being the latest example of it. However, when Diego Maradona brought on Angel Di Maria, they may have actually shown that their manager may not be as crazy as we all thought.

For all of the entire first half, and most of the second, Argentina were screaming for width. They seemed too scared to get truly wide, something Greece more than obliged them. With Greece’s 5-4-1 formation, they only cared about defending. Whenever Argentina looked like they were going to break through the first line of defense, Greece were more than happy to pick up a foul, giving their lines time to reset. Also, with Samaras losing pace, sticking him up top wasn’t the brightest of ideas. Over the course of the ninety minutes, Samaras was only able to get behind the defense on the counter attack once, and he blasted his effort well wide.

With Messi getting more and more frustrated, Diego Maradona actually made some well reasoned tactical changes. Starting in the sixty-third minute, Angel Di Maria came on, giving Argentina the added width they needed. With that, came the extra space. Javier Pastore then came on right before Argentina got their opener, a midfielder that is good at making forward runs.

While the Argentina opener came off a rather tame corner kick, Greece were a mess. Yes, one can get fatigued only by defending, and this was just a comedy of errors by everyone wearing the Greece white. After Tzorvas missed the corner kick, Greece left the entire six yard box open. That was Demichelis’s cue to take full advantage. His initial header should have went in, except he ended up hitting Milito instead. With a second chance, and the center of the net wide open, he didn’t miss. Greece, for all the defending they did during opening play, couldn’t handle a simple corner kick.

The second goal was probably even more brilliant. Greece did their best impression of opening up, and Messi had all the fun in the world with it. While Martin Palermo hadn’t scored a World Cup goal until tonight, he still has a goal poaching instinct that any manager would love to have. With Messi making the entire center of defense look foolish, his effort on goal in the eighty-ninth minute should have went in on it’s own. However, with Palermo making the forward run, Tzorvas made the mistake of parrying it where the cagey veteran could surpass Maradona as the oldest Argentine goal scorer at the World Cup.

Meanwhile in Durban, we should have seen Nigeria advance. While the draw may have been the fair result over the course of the ninety minutes, Nigeria had one clean chance they will regret for a long time. Even after a shaky start, Nigeria saw themselves 1-0 up. Granted, had their defending been any better in the ten minutes on either side of halftime, they wouldn’t have been put into the position to rely on misses scoring.

Yakubu’s effort sixty-six minutes into the match could go down as the miss of this World Cup. It could even go down as the biggest miss of any World Cup. Ayila’s run to the byline was superb, and when his cross beat Jung Sung-Ryong, Yakubu had the entire goal at his mercy. Instead of settling the ball, and running it into the net, his attempted one timer ended up a good yard wide of the near post. It’s inexcusable that a striker at the World Cup misses something of that nature.

So when it’s all said and done, the two teams that were expected to get out after the first two round of games did. The only thing exciting about it was the chances Nigeria are going to regret for a long time to come.

Read more...

World Cup Previews Day 13: Group C and D Conclude. Can the US Advance?

22 June 2010

USA Head Coach Bob Bradley talks with Midfielder Landon Donovan during a training session. (Credit Image: © epa/ZUMApress.com)
Wednesday sees Groups C and D conclude group play, each with their own interesting scenarios. Group C not only presents a simple 'win and your in' scenario in both matches, draws could easily see goals scored determine second place. In Group D, Germany needs to defeat Ghana to guarantee a trip into the second round. Anything less could see Serbia or Australia advance if either of them get results.

On Tuesday, Jeff went 3 wins and 1 no result. His record now stands at 17 wins, 12 losses, and 6 no results. Johnathan had 2 wins and 2 losses on Tuesday, moving his record to 16 wins, 15 losses, and 4 no results.

Note: If we're using the handicap line, we will include what the spread is. If it spread is 0, a draw will mean no result. If we use the Over/Under line, just add the total number of goals scored in a match. Please note that this will all be based on the scoreline at Full Time (90 minutes). For betting purposes, only the result after 90 minutes are counted. Our odds are courtesy of Centsports.

10:00 am on ESPN: United States v Algeria
Johnathan Starling: As a US supporter, I am very nervous about this one. The United States do not have the best record in the world in the final group game at the World Cup. If there is one thing the United States should be worried about, it is Algeria's organization. They not only dare you to attack, but they beg you to. Once you take up their invitation, they are very quick on the counter attack.
Another thing that concerns me about the United States is how they have played in the opening twenty minutes so far in the first two group games already. It has been frustrating to watch as a supporter. However, I think the Egypt win last year at the Confederations Cup has given them belief they can do it here. It won't be pretty by any means, but I think the United States can win and qualify for the final sixteen. That said, my official prediction is the United States to win outright at -140.
Jeff Hash: Yes, that last goal against Slovenia should have counted.  Its time to get over it, and time to address a real problem: the US and their slow starts.  USA conceded an early goal to England (which could have been two if the Three Lions weren't hibernating) and then conceded two to Slovenia in a first half as bad as the opposition's second.  Algeria meanwhile, even in a largely empty performance, will be coming off the high of drawing England.  But the truth is that Algeria just doesn't have the goal threats to truly shake up this group in a major way.  The USA should get through the early part of this one without conceding because of this, which adds to what will be a low goal scoring situation.  My pick for this match is under 2.5 goals at -135.

10:00 am on ESPN2: England v Slovenia
Johnathan Starling: This could be the toughest match to predict of all the final group games. England have looked beyond pathetic in their first two group games, while Slovenia will hope their second half performance against the United States isn't an indicator of things to come. I think the biggest difference in this one is going to be team harmony. England don't have it, Slovenia do. This is going to be a case of England huffing, puffing, and only just coming close to blowing the house down. I think this game has 1-1 draw written all over it, meaning my prediction is Slovenia +1.5 goals at -155.
Jeff Hash: Group C so far has been a largely unremarkable experience as far as World Cup groups go.  I'm really hoping that this last match day will change that, but I don't expect it to.  Slovenia did alright against Algeria, but their weak second half effort against the USA has me worried about this team getting gassed.  England, on the other end, should be plenty rested as they have done absolutely nothing so far except point fingers at each other and, in Rooney's case, the fans.  This runs a bit counter-intuitive to what I did with France yesterday, but I think England's problems are fixable with relation to what they do on the field itself.  But it maybe too late to do so, and in any case, I don't expect either team to truly dominate.  So, I'll take the under 2.5 goals at -130.  A winner may happen, but a low goal total is almost a certain.

2:30 on ESPN: Ghana v Germany
Johnathan Starling: I feel so bad for Ghana in this situation. Germany is mad, and when they play mad in the group stages, it often leads to German victories. Ghana have been exceptional in this World Cup, but in reality should have six points, not four. I don't think that bodes well for them here. With Cacau looking set to replace Klose, the only question in my mind is how many goals Germany can get. I think they split the difference from their first two matches. My prediction is Germany -1 at -135.
Jeff Hash: Like John, I'm very worried about Ghana in this situation.  Its not that they don't have the ability to take on Germany, its just they are taking on a Germany who knows they have their backs against the wall.  No Klose should be no problem for a team like Germany.  Ghana, though, has hidden one noteworthy fact so far: both of their goals have been on penalties.  This really has me scared, as Germany is not a side to concede such things lightly.  I'm going to go along with John on this one: my pick is Germany -1 goal at -135.

2:30 on ESPN2: Serbia v Australia
Johnathan Starling: We could talk about the political implications in this match, but I'd rather spare the time. Serbia, despite beating Germany, did not look all that good against Ghana. Australia haven't looked particularly good in either of the first two matches. I think Australia's problem here is them thinking they still have a shout, trying to attack way too much, and being bitten because of it. My prediction is Serbia to win outright at -125.
Jeff Hash: This has been a forgettable tournament for the Aussies.  They lost one player to suspension in game two, and now they'll be without two players (Harry Kewell and Craig Moore) for the final game.  Meanwhile, they've only managed one goal to Ghana, which will be tough to get again at the rate they are going.  Serbia winning over Germany is a great springboard to this game, and alongside the depleted opposition, gives me all the reason to take Serbia big.  Serbia -1 at +155 sounds great to me.

What do you think? Let us know in the comments below.

Read more...

Group A Final Redux: Uruguay Avoids Argentina, French Wave Red Card of Surrender

South Africa fan is dejected after failing to qualify for the second round of the FIFA World Cup. (Credit Image: © Action Images/ZUMApress.com)
With the final matches played out in Group A, I’m left with a feeling of sadness. For the first time in the history of the World Cup, we won’t see the host nation make the knockout stages. However, it wasn’t for a lack of trying, along with France giving up until a rumored MLS bound Thierry Henry decided he was going to salvage a little bit of pride in what is most likely his last World Cup.

I have to be honest and say that I was very surprised when I saw the opening few minutes from the French. Even in possession, they looked like they were in a secondary gear. When Khumalo scored, it only looked like Hugo Lloris cared.

That was proven five minutes later. It may have been Cisse who was trying the dramatic, but it was Yoann Gourcuff that decided taking out a week’s worth of frustration was a better course of action. Not only did he land an elbow right in the kisser of Sibaya, he decided that a forearm would make for a great exclamation point. With that red card, the French may as well have put up the white flag. It also gave South Africa hope.

Yes, it was a lucky deflection, but Mphela’s goal to put South Africa 2-0 up was deserved based on the balance of play. When halftime came, and Francisco Gonzalez gifted Luis Suarez an easy header beating Oscar Perez, it was easy to start believing that South Africa could get two more goals and overtake Mexico for second place. However, an Mphela effort off the post, and another that forced Lloris into a good save before the hour mark later, saw the wind taken out of the South African sails.

In fairness, France’s entire attitude changed the second Thierry Henry entered the fray. He looked like the only player France had that tried to leave South Africa with a little bit of pride. With his entrance, the entire attitude of the team changed. France started to play with more cohesion, something that lacked the previous fifty-five minutes. While Henry wasn’t a part of
France’s goal, I don’t think they would have scored it had he not come on.

I also have to wonder what would have happened had Mphela’s shot, not long into the second half, had gone in instead of off the post. Had he scored, I think South Africa could have easily qualified for the knockout stages of the competition.

In the other match in Group A, I have to give both Uruguay and Mexico credit. They both played an open attacking game, and there were plenty of scoring chances. However, over the balance of the ninety minutes, Mexico never truly threatened Fernando Muslera. Luis Suarez did twice in the first half, and capitalized on the second. As I mentioned above, it was just horrible marking by Francisco Gonzalez, but Suarez did well to find the space and sneak the header on the near post.

One complaint I did have about this match was the final twenty-five minutes. It seemed as if once they found out France pulled one back against South Africa, both were just happy to see full time. That could be to Mexico’s downfall. Their reward for not winning: only another round of sixteen match-up with Argentina.

South Africa, thank you for showing us that football can still be fun. Their singing and dancing before each of their three matches will be something I won’t forget.

Read more...

World Cup Redux Group H: Behrami's Foolishness, Chile's Luck, Spain Back To Normal

Switzerland's Valon Behrami (L) is sent off by referee Khalil Al Ghamdi (R) (Credit Image: © Action Images/ZUMApress.com)
While Behrami Was Correctly Sent Off, Chile Are Lucky To Get 3 Points Against Switzerland
Let’s make no bones about it; Valon Behrami was a fool. After getting away with a flailing arm on Jean Beausejour not a second earlier, his need to take Arturo Vidal away from the ball was a red card offense.
What’s sad about it was how Arturo Vidal got the referee’s and lineman’s attention. Vidal was well on his way to earning Switzerland a free kick with his antics from behind already, but Behrami felt he shouldn’t have tried in the first place. Behrami swung the arm out twice; the second time he made sure to take Vidal off the ball. His arm ended up around the shoulder, throwing him off the ball.
At that point, Vidal decided to pull an acting job only slightly better than Keita’s on Sunday. The referee thought about it for a few seconds, then flashed the red card. Vidal looked completely satisfied with himself, while the rest of the Swiss squad complained about the nature of the red.
What’s sad about it was had Behrami not had a moment of madness, he was sure to win a free kick. With the referee happy to hear the sound of his own whistle, it wouldn’t have been too long after Vidal’s challenge before the Swiss would have had a chance off a free kick to whip the ball into the box.
After that, Chile were very fortunate. After Sanchez saw his free kick goal correctly disallowed for offside, Switzerland did what they do best: frustrate the opposition with their stout defense. Benaligo even got in on the act when he denied Sanchez 1 v 1 in the fifty-fifth. However, when a man down, even the best defending can be undone, and in the seventy-fifth before Chile finally got their goal. Parades looked marginally offside, but live he looked level when he was sprung from midfield. If there was anyone who made a mistake here, it was the Swiss keeper. Had he stayed on his line, I don’t think this happens. However, when Benaligo came out, Parades easily rounded him and found Gonzalez. Though leave it to Chile to make it more difficult on themselves, as the only shot Gonzalez had was to head it in off the ground.
I feel for Switzerland here. After doing everything right down a man, they had their chance. Chile screwed themselves by not paying attention off a short free kick, and left Derdiyok all alone from twelve yards out. After a couple of passes, the substitute for N’Kufo had a clean shot on goal, and also had Claudio Bravo leaning the wrong way. He took his chance at the far post and missed it completely. If there was justice in this world, it would have gone in. It was nothing more than they deserved in this match.

When One Can’t Get a Shot On Goal, David Villa Gets Spain Three Points
Spain needed to prove to the world that the Switzerland loss was no fluke. In this instance, they got the perfect opponent in Honduras. When it was all said and done, Honduras couldn’t threaten Casillas once over the course of the 90 minutes. Meanwhile, David Villa got to show off in the World Cup…on both sides of the spectrum.
The only thing Spain can be upset about is that they didn’t win by more. With Honduras effectively pinned in their defensive eighteen for the large majority of the match, Spain had free reign at Noel Valladares. It didn’t take long for them to start the assault. Eighteen minutes in, David Villa’s curling effort into the far post made Osman Chavez wish he had tried to close down sooner. Then, six minutes into the second half, David Villa was given all day to shoot. When you give someone an open invitation during hunting season, they won’t miss. However, if there was one thing Villa would want back, it was his wide right penalty kick just after the hour mark.
Spain are truly a work in progress that looks close to its intended goal. Fernando Torres looks to be near the form we all remembered him fondly for at Liverpool. The midfield looked like they could cope without Iniesta in the lineup, though I don’t know if I would trust this result to be the full proof of that.
Honduras have looked way too star struck at this World Cup. Even with guys like Wilson Palacios on their squad, they just look happy to be here, and ready for their hell to be over. They have looked severely outmatched in every sense of the word in the first two games, and that’s before having to take on a Switzerland side that will give them a false sense of hope before countering them to victory.

Read more...

World Cup Previews Day 12: Group A and Group B Conclude

French Coach RAYMOND DOMENECH after the bad performance of the french National Team. (Credit Image: © Panoramic/ZUMA Press)
Day 12 at the World Cup sees the conclusion of both Groups A and B. In Group A; while France and South Africa could still make the Round of 16, it will take Mexico or Uruguay losing, and overturning a massive goal difference. In Group B, Nigeria and South Korea are playing in a winner take all match where the winner advances to the round of 16. That is as long as Greece doesn't at least get a draw against Argentina.

On Monday, Jeff went 1 win, 1 loss, and 1 no result. His record now stands at 14 wins, 12 losses, and 5 no results. Johnathan on Monday though, went 1 win and 2 losses. His record now stands at 14 wins, 13 losses, and 4 no results.

Note: If we're using the handicap line, we will include what the spread is. If it spread is 0, a draw will mean no result. If we use the Over/Under line, just add the total number of goals scored in a match. Please note that this will all be based on the scoreline at Full Time (90 minutes). For betting purposes, only the result after 90 minutes are counted. Our odds are courtesy of Centsports.

10:00 am on ESPN: Mexico v Uruguay
Johnathan Starling: Mexico can't play for the gentleman's draw here, considering their reward is Argentina in the round of 16. Both sides showed their attacking strength on match day 2, but I slightly favor Mexico's in this one. My prediction is Mexico on the 0 line at -140. I'd cover yourself in this one in the event of a draw.
Jeff Hash: Yes, there is some incentive to both teams to go for a win here, and both teams have actually played pretty well so far.  Mexico did well in breaking apart an already disintegrating France during the 2nd matchday, while Uruguay took the hosts South Africa down as many expected they would.  But Mexico is most likely going to be without Carlos Vela and certainly will be without Efrain Juarez, while Uruguay will know a draw is all they need to finish top of the group and avoid Argentina in the round of 16.  Everything about this game screams draw to me, with a slight advantage to Uruguay.  My pick, then, is to take Uruguay on the 0 at +110.

10:00 am on ESPN2: France v South Africa
Johnathan Starling: Is everyone still laughing at the farcical scenes in the French camp on Sunday? I know I still am. Domenech is rightly concerned that some of his players won't show up. The ones that do show up, I think will be in body only. This match was off some sports books on Sunday, and I'll be honest in saying I'm surprised it's back on them now. My prediction is South Africa to win outright at +210. I just think the French are already thinking about how to spend the rest of their summer. Their manager is probably already thinking about the tell all book he is probably going to sell in short order.
Jeff Hash: Oh to be at the World Cup with your team falling apart.  It hasn't been a good few days for the French national team (and that's about as understated as Anekla's statement about Domenech was blunt).  Given this is likely to be the last match of Domenech's reign, and with the team all but eliminated, I expect France to do absolutely nothing in this match.  The problem with that is the hosts South Africa could well do nothing also.  They need a win and some help to avoid being the first hosts eliminated in the group stage, and while I think their chances of winning is much higher now, I don't know if its a lock yet.  Since I'm in the mood for insurance, I'll take South Africa on the 0 at +125, which is clearly a line that doesn't take anything about team unity into account.

2:30 pm on ESPN: Greece v Argentina
Johnathan Starling: I could write something on how Greece have even the slightest hope of a draw here, but why waste your time? Just save yourself the time, bet Argentina -1 at +110. At worst, you'll be getting your money back.
Jeff Hash: The good news: Greece is still alive, and has a chance.  The bad news: they are facing the team with the best combined points and goal difference in this tournament.  Argentina, with or without the help of coach Maradona, made themselves a force to be reckoned with in beating South Korea 4-1.  Greece beat Nigeria 2-1, but both goals came after Nigeria was knocked down to 10 men.  However, the margin Argentina has ahead of Greece could be the Greeks best hope.  Maradona has too good an opportunity to rest players for the knockout stage for him to not take it.  But even with that, I still don't think Greece is going to win.  But with it being close instead of a big margin win, my bet will be to just take Argentina outright at -185.

2:30 pm on ESPN2: Nigeria v South Korea
Johnathan Starling: I honestly don't know how to feel about this game. South Korea probably deserve it more, but this is probably Africa's best chance to get a side into the round of sixteen. Yes, I know that sounds crazy, but I'll get into that more in Group D. This World Cup has boiled down to organization, and I think South Korea have the better organized group. My prediction is South Korea to win outright at +140.
Jeff Hash: Nigeria's has a lot of hard luck in this competition so far.  Having to open with Argentina is never a fun task, and following that with a loss to Greece due in part to a red card is a swift kick to the stomach.  Sadly, I don't think their misery ends with that result.  South Korea did well in breaking down Greece, but fell flat against Argentina.  But I think that was more of a result of things going right for Argentina than going wrong for South Korea.  I believe this will be the team who makes their way out of Group B in the end alongside the South Americans.  It could be with a win, but it could also be done on a draw.  So, my pick is South Korea on the 0 at -140.

Read more...

World Cup Redux Group G: Brazil Impress, Keita Does Not, North Korea Tried

21 June 2010

Cristiano Ronaldo of Portugal Scores their 6th Goal. (Credit Image: © Imago/ZUMApress.com)
Brazilian Delight Ruined by One Moment Of Keita Stupidity
In the one group game I was looking forward to the most, Brazil ended up taking the Ivory Coast apart. However, instead of talking about how entertaining Brazil were in the attack, two well worked goals, and a double handball that was never called, the major talking point is how the referee made a meal out of the one acting job that could have won actor of the year honors.
Luis Fabiano finally broke his scoring duck in the first half with a little luck, and a lot of grit and determination. Robinho’s diagonal ball to Fabiano was not the most accurate, but the eventual goal scorer was exceptional in flicking the ball on to Kaka to keep the play going. But the best bit of brilliance about the play was how Kaka’s 1-2 back to Fabiano fit the ball through the center backs and got the shot on goal. It would have been convenient to give up on the play, but Fabiano’s grit finally got him on the score sheet, and Brazil flying.
While Fabiano’s first goal was spectacular to watch, his second goal right after halftime was disgraceful. Sure, the keepy-uppy he did through the Ivory Coast defense was a sight to behold, but it promptly ended the second he used his arm to control the ball. If the first one wasn’t shocking enough, he then did it a second time before finishing. It was absolutely disgraceful to see the replays of Fabiano and the referee discussing it, and the referee just laughing about it.
After Brazil went 3-0 up on a great run from Kaka, and cross to Elano, the game turned into a bit of farce. The tackle on Elano should have warranted at least a yellow card, but nothing was shown. Brazil decided they were going to give up eleven minutes from time, and let Didier Drogba just run right through them. However, it wasn’t too long after that goal that the referee completely lost control.
Yes, Kaka was dumb in picking up his first yellow card, but it was deserved for the shove he gave. It was the manner in which the second yellow card occurred that should have this referee and his crew not officiate another game again. After what should have been a harmless throw in, Kader Keita, already on a yellow card, decided it was in his best interest to run into Kaka’s shoulder, and drop like he had been in a fist fight. The referee’s back was turned to him, so it was up to the fourth official to give an accurate account of the events. Based on the second yellow card Kaka received, he did not. It should have been Keita, not Kaka, that should have been shown the tunnel. Kaka should only be suspended one match for this action, as I’m sure FIFA at least has some sense to them. Keita, on the other hand, needs at least three matches for his stupidity.

Despite Portugal’s Trouncing, North Korea Should Be Given Credit For Trying to Play Football
We were all impressed by North Korea, but not with Portugal after the first set of group games in Group G. Today, we were also impressed by Portugal; as well as the way North Korea conducted themselves despite being taken to the cleaners.
To be honest, North Korea had the brighter of the opening twenty five minutes. Tae-Se’s half chance in the fourteenth only needed a touch on goal, as the keeper was caught out of position. Yong-Cho’s cross tested Eduardo four minutes later. Had Mun In-Guk been able to keep his header down, North Korea would have been in the lead.
However, once Portugal went in front midway through the first half, it wasn’t a matter of if, but by how much. When Portugal scored two goals in three minutes early in the second half, the damage limitation exercise should have happened. That just wasn’t in North Korea’s plan. Instead, they still found their chances to push forward. The only problem was there wasn’t any bite to the attack. The consequence to that was seeing Portugal put four more in before full time, one of which came from Cristiano Ronaldo.
The other fascinating thing about North Korea today was their fair play. They only committed three fouls over the course of the match, something they could have easily started to do once the game got out of hand. Sure, North Korea picked up two yellow cards in the process, but both of those came before the rout truly began. It’s something I wish we would see more of in football; it’d be a much better game for it.

Read more...

World Cup Group F Redux: Paraguay Pressure, New Zealand's Offside Goal, Italian Penalty

New Zealand's players gesture to spectators after the 2010 World Cup Group F football match against Italy. (Credit Image: © Xinhua/ZUMApress.com)
Slovakia Undone by Paraguay High Pressure
For a formation not often used in international football anymore, Paraguay sure know how to frustrate their opposition. What’s even more amazing about it is how they undid Slovakia today by applying pressure regardless of where they were was on the pitch.
It paid off twice, and nearly a third time. On the opening goal, Paraguay applied even more pressure than they had over the opening twenty-five minutes. It forced Slovakia into a bad touch, and Barrios made them pay for it. With time to turn, he was able to spot out Enrique Vera making the run from deep midfield. His pass was inch perfect and it left Vera in all alone on goal. It was a matter of finishing the chance, something that has been a bit of a problem so far during the World Cup. Vera made sure there was no doubt. On the balance of play, it was nothing more than they deserved.
Paraguay’s second goal showed two things: their will to fight for every ball, and how you don’t have to bring everyone into the attack on a free kick if your tactics are right. It was a dumb decision by Martin Skrtel to put his arm around the face of Oscar Cardozo. Paraguay only had five in the penalty area, while Slovakia had 8. The free kick went far post, where it was headed right into the danger area. Slovakia rushed their clearance and it went right to Paulo Da Silva. He spotted Cristian Riveros, who had a clear shot on goal. With the Slovakian defense screening Jan Mucha, all Riveros had to do was pick a post and shoot. He picked the near post and scored. Jozy Altidore, please take note.
Slovakia though, in kindness, were worse than lethargic. They didn’t bother Justo Villar until late, and they never looked interested in attacking. Even a woeful Italy should have no problem with them.

New Zealand’s Goal Was Quite A Shock, Even More So Since It Was Offside
Off a free kick from Pepe on Rory Fallon, Simon Elliott did the impossible: got off a free kick that broke through the Italian defense. The initial touch came off Winston Reid before coming off Cannavaro; Smeltz was just the bystander in touching it home. However, the flag should have gone up the second Reid touched the ball.
The offside rule was adjusted not too long ago to deal with issues such as this. Before the latest change to what should be the easiest law of the game, even after Reid touched it, Cannavaro’s touch would have canceled out Smeltz being offside. After the change was made, the last attacking touch is where offside is judged. With Smeltz well past Cannavaro, the flag should have went up.
While I had the benefit of the rewind button on my DVR, the assistant linesman did not. Winston Reid’s touch was so slight, as it only went off his hair, that it would have been hard for the linesman to see it. Since the ball didn’t change it’s flight, the referee simply incorrectly assumed that there was no touch.

Just Because It’s Inconsistently Called, Pulling the Shirt in the Box is a Penalty
It could be the second most contentious call so far of this World Cup; the infamous shirt pull on De Rossi by Tommy Smith in the twenty-eighth minute. It might be everything we hate about the sport, but that doesn’t mean the referee wasn’t within his right to point to the spot.
Yes, De Rossi gave up on the play immediately after he felt the tug and went to the ground like he had been shot: the unfortunate thing is that was the only way he was going to get that call. It might be the most inconsistent call made in the game today, which in my eyes makes it something that should be drilled into officials to have the guts to call more often. Maybe then, the behavior will stop.
In a perfect world, Smith would have received a yellow for unsporting behavior, but Daniele De Rossi would have also been booked for simulation. Unfortunately, we won’t be seeing that happen anytime soon. What sad about this entire sequence is I don’t think Smith had to worry about holding the shirt. De Rossi had given up on the play at about the same time he realized he wasn’t getting to Giorgio Chiellini’s cross. Had he kept his hands off, New Zealand maybe celebrating a famous victory instead of a famous draw.

Make no bones about it; regardless of the decisions, this is a famous result that will live in New Zealand sports history until the end of time. I listened to the end of the Radio Sport New Zealand commentary of the match, and it was great to hear the genuine emotion coming from the two presenting the match. It choked me up then, and it’s choking me up now just thinking about it. The color commentator (I wish I knew his name) was openly weeping at full time, knowing that he had just witness his countrymen do something that was not thought possible. When they qualified in October, the All Whites talked about their One Shot for Glory. As the Radio Sport commentary ended, they played what I thought was an appropriate song. Since arriving at the World Cup, all New Zealand have done is cause a hell of a lot of White Noise.
What’s even more remarkable about that fact is, if they can find a win against Paraguay, it might be an even more famous victory as it will propel them to the knockout stages for the first time in the nation’s history. Just get away from the hype for one second and think how emotional that might be.

Read more...

World Cup Previews: Portugal/North Korea, Chile/Switzerland, Spain/Honduras

20 June 2010

Chile national soccer team players during training at the Ingwenyama Resort at White River, South Africa, 17 June 2010. (Credit Image: © epa/ZUMApress.com)
Monday at the World Cup sees the final match day 2 games as Portugal squares off against North Korea in the other group G game. In group H, Chile and Switzerland play before Spain looks to rebound against Honduras.

Sunday saw Jeff get all three picks correctly, while Johnathan went 2 wins and 1 loss. We both now stand at 13 wins, 11 losses, and 4 no results.

Note: If we're using the handicap line, we will include what the spread is. If it spread is 0, a draw will mean no result. If we use the Over/Under line, just add the total number of goals scored in a match. Please note that this will all be based on the scoreline at Full Time (90 minutes). For betting purposes, only the result after 90 minutes are counted. Our odds are courtesy of Centsports.

7:30 am on ESPN: Portugal v North Korea
Jeff Hash: You can say this for North Korea: they know how to play defensive football.  Their 2-1 loss to Brazil showed a remarkable amount of organization and control by the heavy underdogs.  Portugal, meanwhile, didn't show much of either in their scoreless draw with the Ivory Coast.  Admittedly, North Korea even with their first game performance is no Ivory Coast, and I expect Portugal to act as such.  But if Brazil can't find a way to win against North Korea by 2 goals, I don't really see how the Portugese will either.  This game is a one-goal marginal waiting to happen, so I will take North Korea +1.5 goals at -155.
Johnathan Starling: I don't know how much more I can add to what Jeff said. Portugal were something worse than lethargic against Ivory Coast, while North Korea showed that an rigid, organized defense can also move forward and attack. To put it bluntly, it would not surprise me in the least if this game ended in a draw. That said, I agree with Jeff's pick to take North Korea +1.5 goals at -155. May also want to hedge your bet on the under 2.5 goals as well.

10:00 am on ESPN: Chile v Switzerland
Jeff Hash: This game has me befuddled.  By all rights, this should be a win for Chile.  They had a dominating game against Honduras, and only failed to take ever goal they could from it.  But then again, the fact that this game looks close shows how amazing Switzerland were in shocking European champions Spain.  The possible return of Humberto Suazo would give Chile even more pop up front to take advantage of, and Philippe Senderos being a doubt adds more fuel to that fire.  Chile's more likely to win in my mind, so I'll take them on the 0 (just in case of the draw) at -165.
Johnathan Starling: I am pretty certain that Humberto Suazo is going to start against Switzerland, something that should really worry the Swiss. Then again, why should they be worried about little old Chile after they beat up on the Spanish monster. There's a simple reason why they should be worried: COMMEBOL has yet to lose a match at this World Cup. After the energy spent in beating Spain, combined with the little energy Chile needed in beating Honduras, I don't expect this to be close. My official prediction is Chile to win outright at +120.

2:30 pm on ESPN: Spain v Honduras
Jeff Hash: One thing you can be sure of straight away: Spain wants revenge, as well as try to get back on the right track in this world cup.  This battle feature the two losers of the first match day in Group H.  Spain has got too much talent for Honduras, no doubt, and the possibility of Fernando Torres getting a start just compounds that fact.  Honduras did ok against Chile, but were rather fortunate not to concede more than the one goal.  I expect Spain to run away with this one, and even with the talk of minor discontent within the Spanish camp, I think they will easily win by two goals, with a good chance for more.  So I will be taking Spain -2 goals at -125.
Johnathan Starling: Revenge is a dish best served cold...or so they say. That's what Spain wants, and something they will be determined to get. With Honduras probably being one of the three worst teams in the opening round of matches, expect the South African police to be called to a beating. Yes, I think this will be that bad. Since I won't agree with Jeff just for the sake of doing so, bet the over 2.5 goals at -150. This game just screams 4-0 to me. If it doesn't, you can blame me for being so brash about it the night before.

Read more...

About This Blog

Johnathan Starling, the self proclaimed 'most brutally honest man on the net, dishes out his own unique brand of opinions, and analysis on the Premier League, Bundesliga, and all things US Soccer.

Get In Touch

If you have any questions regarding content on the blog, wanting to write on the blog, or to potentially advertise on the blog, email thethirdhalf@thethirdhalf.net

Donate to The Third Half

  © Blogger template Leaving by Ourblogtemplates.com 2008

Back to TOP