My apologies for the lack of updates over the past few days. As much as I love the World Cup, I was on the verge of becoming a full-on soccer zombie. Fortunately, shortly after The Moment In Which My Faith In Humanity Was Restored (i.e. Italy being knocked out in the group round), I was blindfolded, forklifted off the couch, and whisked out of town to an area with a beautiful and quiet beach, quaint shops, limited Internet access, and no freakin’ soccer games. I asked one small request of my captor, “Please show mercy and get me back in time for the U.S. v. Ghana game. I’ve waited eight years for us to be in the knockout stage again.” Despite much eye-rolling, the request was granted and I am able, once again, to bring you my take on the action.
Uruguay 2-1 South Korea
This was the exact game I needed to get back into the flow of things after 46 hours without soccer: no rooting interest, an early goal for Uruguay, and not much else until the second half when South Korea threw everything forward for their survival and capitalized on Uruguay’s first defensive miscue of the tournament, even if Luis Suarez’s second goal ended their dreams. As always, you can’t fault South Korea’s effort, but hard work and a couple of good players only gets you so far.
A friend said that he didn’t expect Uruguay to be as good as they are, but I’m not surprised that they’ve done well. Teams that play excellent defense and have just enough creativity can often go far. Hell, there’s a reason why Italy and Germany have seven World Cup championships between them. That they were in a relatively weak group and faced a team that averaged two goals against in the group made their passage to the quarterfinals that much easier.
United States 1-2 Ghana
Well, the Rest Of The World is saying, you want to be a soccer nation, you have to learn about extra time losses in the World Cup (“We won’t yet tell them about penalties,” they’re thinking). We knew going into the tournament that our defense was suspect, especially in the opening minutes. We knew Jozy Altidore hadn’t been scoring, and the other forwards were inexperienced at this level, and there was no link-up play between them throughout the tournament. We knew Ricardo Clark always screws up in spectacular fashion, and now he can burn in Hell.
I had us out in the second round, but losing to Germany instead of Ghana, figuring that we would finish in second place. And I don’t think we would have been able to beat Uruguay. So by finishing first in the group and losing admirably to Ghana in extra time, my expectations were slightly exceeded. There’s plenty to build on, even if there are questions about who will step into certain roles, not least of all the coach.
Take nothing away from Ghana, who were excellent and, even with their time-wasting at the end (which every one does in some capacity or another), deserving winners. As extra time began, I was expecting both teams to play for penalties, but they took advantage of the confusion. As I’ve said enough times in these recaps, sometimes a team just doesn’t have enough talent. There’s plenty to have admired about this run from the United States, and I’m proud of every single one of them (except Ricardo Clark, who, as I’ve noted, can burn in Hell). They just ran out of gas at the end.
But seeing how the country has gotten behind the team – even more so than in 2002 – has been fantastic. And the reaction from the Rest Of The World has been astonishing. Back then, we were given lip service, saying that we had a few good players but we still needed a lucky bounce here and there for our successes. Here, we had to fight for everything we got, came out ahead in a few situations, and that gave us a respect we’ve never had. We’re not there yet, but it’s getting closer.
And although he doesn’t have the opportunity to add to his total, right now Landon Donovan is tied for the lead in the race for the Golden Boot with three goals, an unprecedented achievement for an American.
Round of 16 Day 2 Previews
Germany v. England 10:00 AM ET, ESPN
In previous year, this would have seemed like a dream match-up, two powerhouses slugging it out. Now, it comes across as a Foreigner/FTS Speedwagon summer tour, coming to a shed near you. Don’t ask me which team is which band, but they’ve both seen better days. Still, if you catch them on the right date, you might see a vague hint of why they were so beloved in the first place.
Prediction: Germany 1, England 0
Argentina v. Mexico 2:30 PM ET, ABC
I really don’t see anything stopping Argentina right now. Mexico will play them tough, but it won’t even be a fair fight.
Prediction: Argentina 2, Mexico 0