Monday, June 12, 2006

Vintage '98?

In 1998 the United States had an "off" World Cup, to say the least, finishing (statistically) dead last out of 32 teams. In 2002 they had a decent World Cup, playing two mostly excellent games (against Portugal and Germany), recording only two victories in five games (against a surprised Portugal and a superior Mexico side), and managing to coast on good fortune the rest of the time. The (American) media like to rattle on about USA's #5 FIFA rating for the United States (which every soccer fan knows is merely indicative of the ranking system's faults, and in no way accurately reflects our footballing status). The fact that they made it to the quarterfinals last time just inflates fairweather fans' sense of what the American team can and should do.

I wasn't expecting a semi-final finish this time around, nor even a quarterfinal repeat. I understand that soccer talent doesn't spring up overnight. I didn't expect to see the United States advance to the Round of 16 after seeing their tough draw, and I still don't expect them to work miracles after today's match against the Czech Republic.

But some things are just too much. Here is my advice for the United States, who play Italy on Saturday:

Pass the ball even slower. You all were passing it pretty slowly in the Czech game, but I bet you'll perform better if you crank up the lethargy. The same goes for your feet. I saw a lot of standing around, but if we're going to win soccer games and the respect of the footballing world, we'll have to do more sauntering. Heels on the ground! As for moving into space and opening up for teammates. You barely did that against the Czechs, and I don't see how you could minimalize on this front any more. So good job at being the best on 'static football,' which I hear is all the rage at Ajax right now. And whatever you do, don't even try to pretend that you want the ball, you want to win, you want to play. It's clear from this game that you didn't, and I'm OK and you're OK with that.

(Eddie Johnson, you're somewhat exempt from the above sarcasm. You made something of an effort. As for the rest of you guys, it pains me to say it because I think some of you are fantastic, but this match was well below what anyone should just chalk up to a tough break, for any of you.)

All in all, it was one of the more embarrassing games I've seen a squad play at the World Cup level, and it's sad because I have been pulling for my fellow Americans so genuinely these years, and will continue to do so, as painful as it gets. But they were outclassed in every conceivable way by the Czechs, by huge margins. I expected Nedved & Co. to beat them. I also expected them to put up a fight. It's possible for USA to beat Ghana, and they do actually have the skill to perhaps top Italy if the Americans play a phenomenal game and the Italians stumble just a bit. We're not dead yet. But it's a prerequisite for this fan's respect for the team to play with some heart, which they resoundingly did not do today. And I see no reason why I should be optimistic about Saturday's game. It could very easily be another 3:0 trouncing from a dangerous Italian side.

The Czech Republic deserve praise for playing an excellent match--they're an extraordinary team.

World Cup highlights so far: watching Mexico beat Iran (and reach my personal score prediction of 3:1) while eating tacos and drinking cervezas in a local taqueria with friends; seeing Germany play their exciting opener; gradually starting to root for Trinidad & Tobago. Disappointments included Ghana's loss and Ivory Coast's loss, and also seeing that Portugal fizzled after some really fast and exciting play against Angola. (I didn't see the Netherlands/Serbia game.)


Filipe said...

I felt real bad for the americans when the groups come out because had you guys ended in almost every other group outside from the Argentina/Netherlands/Ivory Coast/Serbia, you really had a strong shot at being #2, but on this one would be really hard. Here in Brazil, it seems to be unanymous that Czechs played te best match so far.

Netherlands/Serbia was pretty much Robben's one man show, stil solid game.

The Trindad & Tobago team celebrating like they had just winning the cup, after the 0-0 with Sweden is really the image of the World Cup so far. (But the amazing reaction Australia put against Japan is pretty close).

And I agree about the FIFA ranking being a huge joke, I remember that during what I call the long winter of 99-01 when things got so bad around here that we fired two coachs (I mean we actually lose to Honduras!), and the ranking kept us at #1 during pretty much all the time (and the Brazilian media evey month keep saying "Fifa still has Brazil as the best team in the world", so the America media isn't alone).

gabe k said...

The Ghanaians know how to move the ball around, even if they don't always defend well.

The Italy vs. Ghana game was way more entertaining than today's Brazil vs. Croatia game, I must say.

A comment from my grandfather: Brazil is going to suck if Parreira isn't willing to bet on the younger players. I don't know what everyone is saying, but I would like to see more of Robinho, and less of Ronaldo and Roberto Carlos. Carlos made some horrible calls today (too many needless long-distance shots).

I could be wrong, but doesn't Brazil have a history of close calls in the first stage?

Filipe said...

We do have a tradition of winning the games playing very badly during the early games. Actually our 2002 debut against Turkey was even less convincing than todays game. It was really pretty bad and the team is to dependent of Kaka and Ronaldinho. Roberto Carlos was really awful (I'm from the opinion that he shouldn't even being in Germany), Adriano was pretty bad till Robinho entered and Ronaldo was real embarassoing one of the worst games from a player of his quality that I ever see (he looked like he was avoiding the ball to all costs and there were that real depressing moment when he lose the ball, Croatia attacked, and when Brazil got to attack again - acouple of minutes later! - he was still offside). Robinho should really be starting. I already don't think is a good idea to have Adriano and Ronaldo playing together (they are to similar), even when they are both in good moments, something they clearly aren't right now. Brazil's game improved a lot after Robinho entered.

Zach Campbell said...

Filipe, we would have a good shot at #2 in most groups if we played consistently closer to our top form--but performances like the one against the Czechs wouldn't get us out of any group. I think the best group we could have gotten drawn with is A, in lieu of Costa Rica. That way we would have been able to challenge a decent South American squad and also have motivator 'revenge' games against Poland and Germany. It would have been an ideal start, I think--just easy enough for tender Team USA to believe firmly in their chances, but not easy enough to be overconfident in any of the games.

Brazil's play was ... tentative. Not bad, but a little slow and uncertain. Only they could have played like that against that sharp Croatian side--so many split-second plays, turnovers, and defensive maneuvers decided on the speed of a single player's reflexes or first touch alone! Although I'm still rooting for the Aussies, I think I underestimated Croatia this time around, and they'll almost definitely be the #2 for the group--which, I hope, puts them up against the Czech Republic in elimination. That would be a superb game. (The Czechs versus Brazil, if the former finished #2, would also be great, but I'd hate to see either of those teams exit in the Round of 16. Come to think of it, does anyone think Italy could take out Brazil in the 16??)

As for Robinho, I liked watching him play (I've seen little of him), but he seems so slight, physically. What would he do against Australia?

Theo said...

World Cups change but Parreira doesn't. I figure he's out to repeat USA 1994, with an anti-Brazil that'll grind out 1-0 victories en route to winning the Cup. (According to last night's commentators, he spent most of the game yelling at his defence from the sidelines, urging them not to slacken.) Of course football's come a long way since '94, and it remains to be seen if the strategy can work twice. If Croatia still had Davor Suker, they could've drawn that game imo.

jmac said...

Z, do you want to do a mini blog-a-thon on the Leonard Cohen documentary, which opens next week? Wouldn't it be cool if Leonard Cohen was at one of these screenings?

Zach Campbell said...

Jennifer--a Leonard Cohen documentary blog-a-thon would be cool, when should the date be? I could maybe see the film when it opens on the 21st, or the day after ... and then try to write something up by that weekend.

More World Cup comments: so there seems to be agreement about which teams have really shown up to be contenders--Argentina, Spain, Czech Republic, Netherlands, Brazil (despite the lackluster start), and, happily, Germany. I still think England have a chance at 'waking up,' finding a rhythm, though I'm not sure if Portugal or France will. I didn't see much of the Spain game, but otherwise the two most frightening teams have to be the Czechs and the Argentines. Brutal.

As for the games today--I've no real emotions in the first two, but I'm preparing to see the United States nail their coffin shut. I just hope they do it with a little dignity.

Zach Campbell said...

Oh, and speaking of the USA game, I suppose that Italy are contenders, too. Anyone have any (revised) dark horse predictions at this point--unforeseen semifinalists? Croatia, even Ecuador?

jmac said...

Great! I think that next Sunday, 6/25, would be a good day. This way we will have time to write. Sound okay? I will post to see if anyone else is interested in writing on L.C. too. It will give me an excuse to get started on this now. :)

gabe klinger said...

Zach - A little commentary on today (Saturday)'s games, pa-LEAZE!

What a day.

Mubarak Ali said...

Well done Ghana and, um, USA. Finally some DRAMA!

The next set of matches: The Socceroos will no doubt have been inspired by today's turn of events, and I really don't know what to expect from the Brazil-Australia game anymore. Well, a Brazil win, but not by a huge margin as I initially thought? Should be an entertaining match.

Also, will France score?!

Can't wait for Ecuador/Germany and Argentina/Netherlands.