Sunday, September 28, 2014

NEW FEATURE: Texts and Subtexts

While most of the futbol-ing world has turned its attention to club season, some of us are stubbornly focused on international contests. Those people are: me, Panini sticker collectors, and FIFA executives.

So, on the off chance that people other than me want World Cup/International Futbol news even when there's a whole lot of time before any meaningful matches are played for Russia 2018, I'll be posting some key links about the World Cup, qualifiers, rumors, announcements, etc. every month--near the end of it.

But rather than just having a link blast, I offer an added feature: "Subtextual Reporting". Where I put other worthwhile facts and obvious thoughts/feelings of the key players into the most interesting article of the month.

This month I couldn't resist this article where Sepp Blatter announces his intent to run for another term as FIFA President, lauds the US's chances of hosting a world cup, and then passive-aggressively smacks down England.

First, Blatter is standing for another election, despite promises he wouldn't [because lying is actually a plus for FIFA politicians]. And with Michel Platini [who currently makes an obscene amount of money running UEFA] electing not to get elected [and inherit the corruption and mishagosh of Blatter's recent rule] Blatter is more or less a sure thing to be elected again.

King Sepp
He's rather pleased with the possibility of rounding out his next term with a vote on the 2026 World Cup [and all the associated pay-ola that goes with it] and hopes that it would go to the United States [because it would make FIFA a butt-load of money].

But my favorite part was the end
Blatter said: "It's not important who is the president of FIFA [so long as it's me]. If England wants to have again a competition then they bid [and tell their meanie-pants press to shut up] -- whoever is the president of FIFA [and it will be me]. And they should listen a bit about what is called fair play [the whiny cry babies].
"But, at least, don't forget that in football, you learn to win but also to lose [unless you are me...because I never have to compete so I never lose]. So, therefore, [to cover my ass] I appeal to all those to go back to the essence of football, and then you learn to lose [C'mon England, you know what that's like]. I have lost a lot of times [though it was so many years ago, I can't remember it] but, if you lose, then you stay there and you try to be better [or at least, more positive about me]. And then, stay fair, that's all.
"Fair play was invented by England, Great Britain -- the beautiful game and fair play [and stupid journalists who attack me]. So let's celebrate fair play [so long as I never have to do it myself]."
There you have it! The subtext of Sepp Blatter's recent clippings, all the truth, some of the slander, none of the responsibility. For more eloquent chiding of Blatter, check out the Dutch Welle's opinion section.
The biggest news is all about the 2018 & 2022 investigative report submitted to FIFA by American Lawyer Michael Garcia.

--One British MP wants to use the report to bring criminal charges against FIFA leaders (good luck)

--In the wake of many many fans wanting to see the report FIFA leaders also want fans to see the report 

--But a decision from FIFA's own personal judge on whether or not any action is taken against those accused of corruption won't be heard until November at the earliest...and more likely spring of 2015.

"I must protect the Russian parts of that ball"
--The fate of Russia 2018 may depend on just how badly Vladmir Putin wants to destabilize Ukraine. The FA fears a boycott or removal of the games by FIFA, though all mutterings of a boycott are pretty much just that...muttering.

--When not fretting over whether or not they'll get the tournament in the first place, Russia is also mulling a way to get more competitive by 2018. Namely, they're considering having the national team play in league matches against other Russian squads (in 2017)...because how better to suit up for Germany than playing a bunch of guys not as good as you

--A former head of the German FA has said he doesn't think the World Cup will be played in Qatar in 2022...though not because of corruption, just because it's hot...

Monday, September 22, 2014

3 On/3 Off: Copa Centramericano

Just because the World Cup is approximately 9 Million Years Away (Ed: Just 3 years and 9 months Captain Hyperbole), doesn't mean that international soccer is irrelevant. Sure, fans of the big names and star-power will tune in to league matches at a much higher rate than those die-hards in remote villages who tune in to fuzzy pictures on a rare satellite dish.

But as this is a "World Cup" Hooligan's website we'll keep you abreast of all the big competitions, and even some of the small ones. Starting with the recently concluded Copa Centramericano (Central American Cup) held in early September in the US (or rather: DC, Dallas, Houston and LA).

What are our big takeaways, well, that's what 3 On/3 Off is for.
Pretty good way to wrap up the summer
ON: Costa Rica's Domination
It's Los Ticos world in North America right now and the rest of us are just playing with it. The tournament might have been a mere formality after the quarter finalists took on a set of squads with an average rank of 117 in the world. Bryan Ruiz and Celso Borges never stopped, and Costa Rica can now gladly add $60,000 to their budgets thanks to their triumph (AND punch their ticket for the 100th anniversary of the Copa America in 2016...starring all of South America and the top 6 squads in North America).
Champions though they are, Costa Rica didn't exactly mow down the competition like Sonny Corleone at a tollway booth. It took 2 goals in the final ten minutes to scrape a draw against a very game Panama, and another comeback after ceding a penalty to Carlos Ruiz of Guatemala to gain the trophy. Los Ticos are good, no doubt about it...but maybe not that good (at least, not without Keylor Navas)

Who's your Pappa?
ON: Marco Pappa (Guatemala)
Case in point for Costa Rica's tempered optimism is Marco Pappa, who netted a pair of braces against Honduras and El Salvador (he didn't even pick on lowly Belize) en route to winning the golden ball and the golden boot for the tournament. That hardware will be fun to flaunt at Sounders teammates Clint Dempsey and DeAndre Yedlin.
OFF: Honduras 
Honduras takes home the fuzziest lollipop from the cup. Finishing fifth means they weren't the worst squad out there, but they certainly didn't look like the World Cup entrant from earlier this year (even when that World Cup Entrant was lackluster). Their only goals and points of the group stage came off of own goals by Belize (more on them in a minute) and the team didn't actually score until first half stoppage time against Nicaragua. So, yes, technically they are the fifth best team. Just like "technically" Honduras is still a country and not a Narco-Traffickers Jamberoo

ON: Panama Keeper Jaime Penedo
It won't come as a galloping shock to any Panamanians, but Jaime Penedo is pretty darn good. After a century of caps for Los Canaleros, he has now three sets of Golden Gloves to show off, and the set from the Copa Centramericano is decidedly the shabbiest of the lot (the other two come from Gold Cups). Aside from an ugly final 10 minutes against Costa Rica, Penedo was an absolute fortress for Panama en route to third place and a special spot in the Centennial Copa America.
Deon can't do it all himself boys
OFF: Belize Defense
I'm fond of Belize, I really am. The beautiful beaches, the wonderful weather, the English speaking, it's all great...even if I've never been. I'd love to see Belize do well in their competitions, if only so I could somehow, someway claim to a Belizean soccer expert and get myself a trip to Belize. But sadly, it's not going to happen if the Copa Centramericano sets the tone. Belize's defenders scored two own goals against Honduras that more or less sealed their fate before half-time. Deon McCauley did score for Belize (rather than against them)...but that's not a great statistic. 3 Times Belize hit the net...and twice it was their own...oof.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Starting XI (A Month Late): Granting Montanan Passports

I know that most football fans are fixated on the current league season, and while we too are interested in the fates of the world's best footballers, we'll also take some time this year to shout out smaller regional tournaments [such as those for Central America (going on in the US right now!), the Caribbean (November in Jamaica), Southeast Asia (December in Vietnam), Asia (January in Australia), and Africa (January/February in Morocco)]

But before we do that, let's take a minute to reflect on the players at the recent World Cup who impressed us most. Players we would want for a Montanan National team--if such a thing were to exist. Players who fit the Montana model: gritty, tough, dedicated, passionate, and just a little quirky (Ronaldo's and Muller's need not apply). And since FIFA's relatively easy going about the whole "actually being a citizen" thing, we might as well shoot for the stars with our starting eleven.

Here's our guys:

I. Tim Howard--As if there could be any one else. Timmy is welcome in Montana any time, the beard, the tats, the blunt and forceful shouting...he basically is Montana any time, so sign on up Tim-bo, we'll be happy to have you.

II. Stefan De Vrij--For the sector of the state that farms and ranches (which is to say...most of it), you need to be tireless, dedicated, omnipresent. There's no off day, no vacation time. And watching the Dutch run to third place it was clear that there was no break for Stefan De Vrij. So welcome aboard Stefan, there's a nice couple acres out north of Choteau if you're interested.

III. Matt Hummels--Montana has an ample German history, strong willed immigrants who stake out the land and hold on to it, come hell or high water. Hummels would fit that mold nicely, grinding through every match, but showing enough of an offensive streak to be a little bit dangerous too. We're printing out "Private Property" signs for him to put around the 6 yard box.

AND he has the quintessential Montanan basement
IV. David Luiz--Lest you think we're all grizzled ranch hands, remember we also have Missoula...a city weird enough to make Austin jealous with none of the vainglorious self importance. David Luiz would be a perfect Missoulian representative: the hair of a hippy, the soul of a leader.

V. Mario Ypes--As long as we're tending to often ignored demographics, why not get some of Montana's quickly aging population on board? I think if we offer them a representative on the team, say, Ypes, the certified crotchety old man of Colombia, we could have a little sympathy for the squad amongst the VAs and retirement homes.

VI. Javier Mascherano--Along with Montana's age and agriculture, we have a fierce artistic streak. That's where Mascherano comes in. The soul of an artist with the body and style of a defender, he's a perfect piece of dualism within a dualized state.

VII. Bastian Schweinsteiger--This is simple: the man is talented and has a name that would be great fun to hear all my dear hoarse and disbelieving neighbors say.
Don't shush my Alps mockery!

VIII. Xerdan Shaqiri--While Montanans tend to confine their Swiss appreciation to the Miss and the Cheese (I call the "Alps" mountains...please). Shaqiri feels like a great fit for my own home town of Great Falls, a flier of sorts with a bad-boy mohawk, but enough attacking energy to keep the kids and the seniors alike well pleased.

IX. Celso Borges--Costa Rica's overlooked midfielder offers a quiet, dependable presence, with little emphasis on style and a whole lot of focus on work ethic. He actually could spend his down time baling hay or on a thresher.

Your secret's safe with us
X. Enner Valencia--Ecuador's top striker just feels right for the Montanan national team. He's not the first name you think of, he's not the most dominating or domineering figure, but he's dangerous...always dangerous.

XI. Reza Goochenhejad--In the spirit of "to each his own" Montanan individualism, and with a consideration for some fierce patriotism, we'd be happy to adopt the Gooch as our own Double agent. He already serves that purpose on the field, employing a mostly defensive mindset with splashes of daring attacks.

There you go Treasure Staters, that's my pick for the Montana National Starting 11. Would we win? No. Would we make the finals? No. Would we be bad ass? Yes...and that's all that matters.

Monday, September 01, 2014

Starting XI: Cashing In--World Cup Transfers and the Price of Beef Jerky

In honor of Labour Day, let's appreciate what it's all about: honoring the workers of the world...especially those who have made an obscene amount of money via the transfer window after the world cup. (I assume that was Marx's vision: "From each club according to their means, to each player according to a completely random sum of ever increasing money."

Let's go ahead and total the tonnage of cash expended in the last two months on players who grabbed eyeballs and earned screams from the various supporters and rivals in terms of how much they are making, and how much beef jerky (particularly--Hi-Country Top Quality Beef Jerky--11 ounce packages at $12.95 each) they seem to be worth

I. Claudio Bravo (Chile/Barcelona Goalkeeper)--10 Million Pounds Transfer Fee/1.28 Million packs of Jerky. 
The highest transfer fee for a keeper this window, Bravo is a more reliable and known property than the world's most darling keeper: Keylor Navas (who still drew in a handsome 8 Million from Real Madrid). His hard luck loss in the playoff round against Brazil didn't bother Barca, nor should it.
Hi Country Beef Jerky Beef Jerky

II. Luke Shaw (England/Manchester Utd Defender)--33 Million Pound Transfer/4.23 Million packs of Jerky
England's underwhelming performance wasn't laid at the feet of Luke Shaw. After all, his one match (v.s. Costa Rica) was the only one where the Lions kept the ball out of the back of the net. Shaw joined the exodus out of surprising South Hampton this summer heading for the read devils for a wad of cash, and an equal amount of Teriyaki Beef Jerky.

III. David Luiz (Brazil/Paris St. Germain Defender)--43 Million Pounds Transfer/5.49 Million packs of jerky
The most famous head of hair from the back line of Brazil, Luiz left the premiership for the more fashionable and stylish Paris St. Germain. With all the money and praise, one has to hope that Luiz recognizes that he can and should run...even if there are Germans against him.

IV. Elaquim Mangala (France/Manchester City Defender) 35 Million Pounds Transfer/5.46 Million Packs of Jerky
While Mangala, did not feature for France, there was still considerable enthusiasm for him, particularly amongst the Premierships most reliable money geyser: Manchester City. As he matures and grows, you have to hope that he's reliable in defense...or at least, you do if you're French.

V. Angel Di Maria (Argentina/Manchester United Winger)--65 Million Pound Transfer/8.3 Million Packs of Jerky
The most recent transfer (required once United started stinking like yesterday's fish) Di Maria had been having a fine World Cup until an injury 33 minutes into the semifinal left him sitting and staring as Germany triumphed. I imagine that he can dry his eyes on his huge piles of money...or his huge piles of Honey Kist jerky, which would be more absorbent.

VI. James Rodriguez (Colombia/Real Madrid Midfielder)--70 Million Pound Transfer/8.93 Million Packs of Jerky
The hottest name at the World Cup (hotter even than "Hansel"), James (pronounced Ha-mez) was the undeniable star of the undeniable tournament darling. He may well be the man in the middle for one of the most eagerly anticipated squads at Russsia 2018. But before then he'll be the heir apparent to Cristiano Ronaldo amongst Los Galacticos

VII. Antoine Griezman (France/Atletico Madrid Midfielder)--26 Million Pound Transfer/3.31 Million Packs of Jerky
Sure, there are other players who were deemed to be worth a little more money, but we've got a soft spot for Griezmann, our previously noted "Hip-Star" for the French squad, who did quite well in coverage for Franck Ribery. So well, in fact that Les Blus might have been the last real threat to Germany's title aspirations. Now he's on with La Liga champions and looking thoroughly eager for more glory.

Hi-Country Beef JerkyVIII. Alexis Sanchez (Chile/Arsenal Winger)--33 Million Pound Transfer/4.23 Million packs of Jerky
When Chile was at their best in Brazil, it usually had something to do with Alexis Sanchez, darting, dodging, digging deep and doing other things that start with D. Now with the Gunners, Sanchez has perhaps even weightier expectations on his shoulders with Arsenal expecting a trophy at last. With that much heavy lifting ahead, he may want to invest some of his money in power packed protein of peppered Hi-Country Jerky!

IX. Romelu Lukaku (Belgium/Everton Forward)--31 Million Pound Transfer/3.95 Million Packs of Jerky
Lukaku is best known by American fans as "that-guy-who-crushed-our-dreams". But, as a herd of world cup fans make the segue to the Premiership, a large proportion of us seem likely to adopt Lukaku's new squad--the under awarded, highly enthusiastic Toffees of Liverpool. Just remember fellow hipster US/Everton fans--he did celebrate crushing our dreams by saying "Hi Mom"

X. Diego Costa (Spain/Chelsea Forward)--33 Million Pounds Transfer/4.23 Million packs of Jerky
The most valuable player in La Liga last year, the man who almost single handedly delivered Atletico Madrid the title (above Barcelona, above cross town rivals Real Madrid), he now has a chance to prove himself in the Premiership amongst the similarly high profile, highly paid Chelsea signings.

XI. Luis Suarez (Uruguay/Barcelona Forward)--71 Million Pounds Transfer/9.05 Million Packs of Jerky
The most expensive transfer of the summer is also, perhaps the most controversial. Infamous around the world due to his repeated and almost incomprehensible biting habits, Suarez completes a trio of world class South American strikers alongside Lionel Messi and Neymar. Unfortunately, in making those transfers, Barcelona has put themselves into a position where they will not be allowed to make any further transfers for a year. There are all kinds of comments to make here about Suarez, biting, money and jerky...but come on...Hi-Country doesn't deserve to be tarnished by association with Suarez.

Saturday, August 02, 2014

A Final Happy Trails Review

I posted this blurry, unsatisfying video that walked through all the teams that had been ousted, please spare me the singing critique that's not what this is about.
Instead let's look at the teams who did the best job of over/underperforming to their FIFA Ranking

To be  sure there are some flaws to my methods. I eliminated people chronologically, giving more credit to teams who powered through many rounds of difficult competition rather than those who ran up the score on the San Marino's of the world.

With that in mind, here are the top 5 over achievers club

Andorra + 112
Ethiopia +98
San Marino +84
Lebanon +82
Iceland +81

Everybody loves Gylfi
Okay, take out the "mathematical elimination in 2012 club" of Andorra and San Marino and you have three of the best stories of the tournament. Ethiopia (coached by a part-time high school gym teacher), Iceland (buoyed by one phenomenal Gylfi), and Lebanon (the only team in Asia to make it through three rounds of competition).

Here's our two best over acheivers of the finals themselves
Ecuador +51
Costa Rica +50

Yes Enner, I'm praising you again...
Not surprising that the Ticos were here given their astonishing run to the last 8, but bear in mind that Ecuador was an even longer shot to make the cup Finals languishing outside of the top 64 teams in the world. Yes, if FIFA had done away with qualification and just taken the top 32 teams...even if they had held a separate consolation tournament for the next 32, Ecuador would STILL be sitting at home, pretty good especially given that they were one stoppage goal miracle for the Swiss away from the final 16 themselves.

Meanwhile here are our underachievers in chief

Serbia -50
El Salvador -54
Trinidad And Tobago/Haiti -55
Scotland/China -56
Syria -77

Serbia gets special mention as the World Cup team from 2010 that dropped the farthest (even though North Korea got eliminated first, they began their descent much sooner than the Serbs). The underwhelming North Americans were compensated for by one big overachiever (see the Costa Rica note). And Syria, well, technically they were eliminated for fielding an ineligible player, but I'd guess that civil war had a little something to do with their poor showing as well.

We believe it too Steven
Meanwhile Scotland and China have absolutely no excuses. They had money, they had time, they had organizations behind them and they crashed and burned. The tartan army was irrelevant after about half their matches, and dreams of China asserting their dominance have been pushed back another four years. (For the record though, I'm plumping for Steven Naismith to guide Scotland back)

So what does all this mean: simply this--as we get set to embark on another four year cycle of the World Cup and all the qualification falderal that goes along with it: do not forget the teams you don't see every day. Don't exclude teams that don't dominate the Champions league rosters or give extra favor to those who do (if that were the case, Serbia would be in and Costa Rica out...I think we're all grateful to watch Los Ticos rather than the Serbs). It's a long road to Moscow and you'll be consistently surprised along the way as some times rise and others fall.

Copper Bullets may be dreaming of a
different trophy...
Also it allows for some totally random and not at all viable predictions:
Whose in the same sweet spot that saw Ecuador and Costa Rica rise up? How about these names: Ireland, Zambia and Oman.
And as for the long shot set to emulate near misses Ethiopia, Lebanon and Iceland? Is it too early to think that Antigua and Barbuda or Malaysia could take that vital next step?
But the potential disasters in waiting? could be literally anyone...but I don't know...Turkey may be the next cautionary tale.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Riding into the Sunset: GERMANY

For the past four years we've tracked every team to play in and eventually lose in the world cup, at the end of all that stands the final survivor, ready to ride into the sunset with the Jules Rimet trophy in one hand and an obscene wad of cash in the other.

That team is Germany.

They bested all these other fools

So how did they do it?

Well they kicked off qualifying with a 3-0 walkover versus Faroe Islands, with Mario Götze's 28th minute strike starting the march towards Rio.

The rest of qualifying was similarly easy with only Sweden really testing them: first by stealing a point in Berlin and then by striking twice in the first half to take a lead...before Andre Schurrle's second half hat trick put Die Nationalelf ahead for good.

All told they brought down 28 points from 10 matches, and ceded 10 goals...3 of them to teams not named Sweden.

Fortunately, the Swedes couldn't get past Portugal which mean that when they had finally qualified they were pretty high on my list of contenders (in fact I had them losing the final to close)

But in December fate seemed to frown upon the Germans foisting them with this year's "Group of Death" (cue dramatic music). The Portuguese who had shot down the rival Swedes? In it. The Ghanaians who had bedeviled them four years before? In it. The Americans who had beaten Germany (albeit their B team) in a friendly the year before? In it. At the time it prompted a lot of conversations among my fellow hooligans. The best part of which might be this exchange with my old student teacher:
"Parcursed: US in a group with the best European team, their bogey team, and the best player in the world... See you all in 4+ years.
Me: I 100% agree with my student-teacher (whose doing a great job of doing my real job while I'm home sick today). But the good news is, traditionally teams who emerge from the group of Death are the teams who compete for the title.  (Including Italy when they topped the US and Ghana in 2006--so at least we'll lose to the best?)"
Again I called for Argentina over Germany in the final, and again the Germans looked to be hard core, their build up to the trophy was impressive, and even though I gave in to the massive group think that we were building to Brazil V. Spain (Round 2), I knew they would be tough enough to make it to at least the quarterfinals--and that Benedikt Howdes would be brutal in defense (Sadly I was one round too early in my "injured Neymar" prediction.

The group stage started with Thomas Muller featuring prominently both as goal scorer, and Portugal's least favorite man, as they crushed the Portugese 4-0 (causing Zlatan Ibrahimovic to shake his head and go back to kicking gum into his mouth). They had perhaps their worst match of the whole tournament in a narrow 2-2 draw with Ghana where the Black Stars looked the better side for long stretches. The final day dawned with a result needed against the US and dreams of match fixing in the press. It wasn't nearly that serious as Germany controlled and the Yanks looked bedraggled before a 1-0 win.

The knockout stages started with a surprisingly game Algeria, repeating much of the same athletic end-to-end pressure that Ghana used so effectively. Though a pair of late goals gave Die Mannschaft a better result, it was dangerous for a while. 
Things were less dire versus the French in the quarters, as control and possession spelled the end for Les Blus. The blunted attack of Karim Benzema was just fine by the blunted attack of Miroslav Klose as they headed for the semis and the vaunted Brazilian side.

Well...maybe they shouldn't have been that vaunted. Instead 7-1 has all the makings of a national joke for decades to come. The superlative style of focused, ingenious attacking made fans around the world sit up and take notice--as well as several other football players look on in shock.
By the time the final came around, Germany looked the safer pick--even against the Argentine squad I'd been plumping over Germany for six months, and while Argentina looked strong in the first half, the gas ran out of Lionel Messi's legs in the second. Yet the Germans couldn't capitalize and while it looked for all the world like we'd be doomed to the pig-kissing penalty-kick shoot out, that was when Mario Götze came up big, delivering the final goal of Germany's campaign, just as he had delivered the first in Hannover 22 months before.

No question about it the Germans are champions and deserve to be them. They have the best league in the world and a relatively young squad that continue to improve. But will they be the dominant force in football for the next six years (as Spain was before them)? Not that likely: Sweden, Ghana and Algeria all had answers for them and may provide the model for how to dethrone the current kings. But until that happens, live it up Germany, now is the time for you to shine (and make huge chunks of money on the transfer market). Savor the sunset now, because who knows how quickly we'll say happy trails to you next time around.
It's good to be it is...

(Okay, we probably will see you in the semi-finals AGAIN in Russia...but let us dream, okay?)

Friday, July 18, 2014

Happy Trails: 4-2

As the competition ended we had to end what we began three years ago when the first batch of teams was eliminated. It's tough to say who had the worst World Cup ending: Macau who got dispatched by Vietnam by 13 goals at the tournament's first hurdle? Or Argentina who got dispatched by Germany by 1 goal at the tournament's final one?

4. Ate Mas Tarde, Brazil
Why they Lost: The six minute long Blitzkrieg of Belo Horizonte was an unmitigated disaster. God awful defending that had made Ghana, the US, Algeria and France stand up to say..."uh...can we please play instead?"
What we Missed in the Finals: A true demonstration of just how great Neymar really can be on the world's biggest stage.
Thanks Robin Van Persie.

3. Tot Straks, The Netherlands
Why they Lost: Another round of yet another mind-numbing penalty kicks didn't go their way, despite the success of the quarterfinal against Costa Rica. You can only play Russian Roulette for so long before you get a bullet.
What we Missed in the Finals: More Van Perseing.

2. Adios, Argentina
Why They Lost: The failure of other people in the blue and white to be named/play like Lionel Messi. Maybe with about three more Messi's they would have been unstoppable.
What we Missed in the Finals: An involved and energized Messi who could play to his full potential. Maybe that mid-winter cup idea Qatar's got would work well.

Monday, July 14, 2014

3 On/3 Off: The Final

It's been an amazing World Cup, every bit the action packed thrill-ride that makes me want to follow it for four whole years. 

ON: Sergio Romero--The german attacks were far more accurate and dangerous than the guilt edge shanks that bounced off, but Romero saw them all off time and time again. He wasn't the biggest star or the most efficient keeper this tournament but he was the man Argentina needed most--and he delivered.
OFF: Gonzalo Higuain/Ezequiel Lavezzi--We named Lavezzi as our hipster star of the team before the tournament and Higuain has often been featured as a star attraction. They were utterly MIA in attack for Argentina this tournament, leaving Lionel Messi to create all on his lonesome--which he certainly did...but that's more demanding than it ought to be.

ON: Manuel Neuer--The German stopper has certainly solidified his position as the world's preeminent keeper. It's thrilling to watch those who are close to seizing the crown and becoming the next king of the mountain, but neither Romero, nor Navas, nor Ochoa, nor Howard, nor Enyema have been able to show the same skill on the biggest stage of all. Maybe they can. Maybe they will. But until then Neuer is the man.
OFF: Thomas Muller's Acting Skills--Runner-up to James Rodrigez in the Golden Boot, shut out from all the major trophy hand outs. Muller had a good tournament. But he is undoubtedly the new poster child for the ugly art of diving. From the first match to the last, anyone who touched him evoked Wagnerian levels of tragedy, somewhere a stern German or a million is sternly scolding him.

ON: Mario Goetze/Andre Schurrle--Die Mannschaft's substitutes weren't unstoppable by any means. They certainly looked underwhelming for most of the first over time. But when they had the chance they did not spoil it, with Schurrle sparkling on a cross and Goetze's goal a thing of beauty that left even Romero stumped. In the end their combination was the reason Germany won.
OFF: Rodrigo Palacio--While L'Albiceleste's final sub was every bit as underwhelming as Goetze and Schurrle for most of the match, he was worse in three clear ways: botching an easy ball over the top (a chance that neither Goetze nor Schurrle had the opportunity to miss), committing a foolish foul that created the final run, and finally having the ugliest hair of the whole tournament.

It was a superb tournament, tied for the most goals ever, featuring phenomenal individual and team performances. It was every bit the thrill ride we've come to hope for from the World Cup and we can't wait to do it all over again, starting with qualification next winter.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

3 On/3 Off: The Semis

A pair of semi-finals as different as night and day, tea-party and hippy, or Lebron and anonymity. What did we learn?

ON: Ball movement--The Germans again showed their utter mastery of how to handle and move the ball. You might have noticed, it worked well.
OFF: Ball Watching--Singapore's Business Insider doesn't seem like a great futbol website, but their chronicle of just how Brazil collapsed is wonderfully detailed and telestrated. The primary culprit: ball watching, the dumbfounded, gobsmacked, ever uncertain Brazilian defense.

ON: Sergio Romero--It's a wonderful thing to see goalkeepers rise to the occasion when thrown against the ever exasperating penalty shoot out, and for all the clamor around Lionel Messi and his fellow shooters--Sergio Romero was perhaps the foremost savior of the club
OFF: Jasper Cillessen-- It's a terrible thing to see a goalkeeper take the blame when thrown against the ever exasperating penalty shootout. Worse still, for Jasper Cillessen, Holland had just won a Penalty Shoot out...but they did it without him between the posts. He did his job for 120 minutes, but got worked by the ruination of those gosh darn penalty kicks.

ON: Attacking-- Clearly Germany took the route to delight the fans, pounding and hammering a goal box until the flood of goals crushed their rivals and floated hopes of continued beautiful football.
OFF: Defensive Control--While Messi might be the star attraction on Sunday for nearly every dreamy-eyed kid in the world (outside of the Rhineland). The passive, delaying, defensive, wait-and-see, Lord-Messi-save-us Argentina style of play was infuriating. If he can invent, inspire and move it forward we would love to watch the final; if he and the team wait and see if they can make it through another penalty shootout it will be a sad end to a tremendous tournament.

What will we know after the finals? We'll see you on Sunday to find out.

Monday, July 07, 2014

Happy Trails: 8-5

The field has been cut again so let's bid adieu to four more teams the only way we know how: dumb jokes and self-important blather!

8. Tot Zien, Belgium
Why They Lost: The Belgiums quite simply ran out of extra skin on their teeth. Squeaking past Algeria, Russia and South Korea, led to squeaking past the US, until running out of room against Argentina.
What We'll Miss: The brief glimpses of just how good Belgium can be courtesy of Eden Hazard, Romelu Lukaku and Vincent Kompany.

7. Au Revoir, France
Why They Lost: Les Blus ran out of offense after their 6 goal slugfest against Switzerland, squeaking a goal against Ecuador and then needing a last second savior of Paul Pogba and a Nigerian own goal to get themselves into the quarters.
What We'll Miss: Those kits are absolutely gorgeous.

6. Tu Veo Luego, Colombia
Why They Lost: Los Cafeteros are good, and they were an unstoppable force when their fans overwhelmed all the also rans they battled against. But in Brazil, against Brazil and a screaming horde of Brazilian fans? It was just a little too much for them all.
What We'll Miss: Midfield miracles courtesy of James Rodriguez and Juan Cuadrado...maybe if Falcao was there...

5. Ciudate, Costa Rica
Why They Lost: Utter exhaustion. Navigating the hellscape of Uruguay, Italy, England, horrific calls against Greece and then Holland, they were simply out of gas--and the clairvoyant Louis van Gaal's keeper adjustment should not be missed either.
What We'll Miss: Cheering someone, anyone, not from Europe or South America; and day dreaming of a future when Costa Rica rules the futbol world.

Sunday, July 06, 2014

3 On/3 Off: Quarter Finals

It's a sad but true statement: The World Cup is nearing the end of it's month long reign over the world. In one week the last four matches will have been played, and the champion will be crowned in the middle of the Maracana. Just who it will be and why they will win it has yet to be determined, but we can definitely appreciate the glory of the last four matches in the quarter finals, with another set of 3 On / 3Off

ON: Lionel Messi--The midfield maestro has slowed his goal scoring role, much to the delight of his fellow Argentine strikers. But let's not miss the message...every play runs through Messi, he controls the ball, he controls the distribution, he controls the build up, he IS the most important player who will walk out for the final four. And he is easily the best player left.
OFF: Neymar--Fractured vertabrae...I just...I mean, what the heck do you do with that? (I mean other than hit those who call soccer players "soft" upside the head?). It wasn't a rough play or a violent one, and it's no one's fault but clearly this is a blow to Neymar now, and may be a blow to him for months (and perhaps years to come)

ON: Louis Van Gaal--I'm very much of the mindset that "Coaching Geniuses" are anything but (witness my tireless mockery of Fabio Capello), but I've got to admit, van Gaal might just make me a believer. The last second swap of keepers JUST for penalty kicks takes a certain amount of brash self-belief, and willingness to be totally pilloried if it goes wrong...when it goes right that's cool, but just making the call is nice to see.
OFF: Marc Wilmots--Wilmots is undoubtedly a good manager, he's seen a little lowland nation rise up into a top 8 team, and a serious threat for continental supremacy. But he's awfully slow to make adjustments. 90 minutes of lackluster American play was redeemed by an unimaginative Red Devils squad. Argentina's regularly squandering of chances was excused by a Belgian inability to navigate an occasionally porous back line. A team that scraped through their group and into the quarter finals was good...but not nearly as good as we wanted them to be.

ON: Fine German Engineering--How do you solve the group of death? Precision passing and tireless work (even against a faster, more motivated, near miss Ghana) How do you beat the unflappable Algerians who wore down Korean and Russian squads that try to emulate you? Be even less flappable and wear them down. How do you unnerve the edgy attack of France? JUST BE GERMAN. It works.
OFF: Miroslav Klose--Lets take nothing away from Klose, the sniper of so many German attacks is still a threat anywhere within 30 yards of the goal, but his uninspiring performance against France confirmed that this is certainly the twilight of his career and that the Germans will be more likely to excel through teamwork and collaboration than 30 passes and one thunderous Klose smash.

Friday, July 04, 2014

Happy Trails: 16-9

16: Adios, Uruguay
Why They Lost: Generally speaking when your only real goal scorer is banned from competition for biting guys you're doomed.
What We'll Miss: Hating Uruguay (lousy cheating so and so's...)

15: O dabo, Nigeria
Why They Lost: Their low expectations were critical to helping Nigeria squeak through Group F, but they didn't have much offense if any to help them create, only Ahmed Musa looked willing to make things happen for the Super Eagles
What We'll Miss: Both Vincent Enyema's spectacular keeping and the fact that this team looked ready to distract people from the creeping cruelty of Boko Haram.

14: A Revair, Switzerland
Why They Lost: It was gouda of them to come and play, but I never really bris-lieved they would be a serious camembert...Seriously though, Switzerland was sloppy throughout the group stage, and only seemed to qualify due to Ecuador's rotten luck
What We'll Miss: Cheese god the Cheese jokes.

13: Hasta La Vista, Mexico
Why They Lost: Pick your scape goat--Arjen Robben's floppery? The Ref's believing him? Or maybe Rafa Marquez for being chippy enough to be a dubious victim in anyway.
What We'll Miss: Miguel Herrera, please come be an AYSO coach, so you can bring your unique brand of freak-outs to us all.

12: Gim di Lehna, Algeria
Did someone say Islam Slimani?
Why They Lost: As infuriating as their defense was, Les Fennecs had a devil of a time breaking down defenses (other than Islam Slimani) someone, any kind of distributor would be valuable there.
What We'll Miss: The Fennec itself is pretty darn adorable when you get down to it, and add to that the fact that Algeria will be donating its FIFA prize money to the displaced people of Palestine and you have a pretty lovable crew

11: Totes Later, USA
Why They Lost: There's lots of things to pick out--lack of athleticism, Michael Bradley's maddeningly inconsistent play, overly defensive strategy, Jozy Altidore's injury...but I'm going to pin the blame on our inability to retain possession. You can win if you sit back and wait out  an early lead, but you can also win if you never give up the ball.
It's more fun to think about Tim Howard
than any of these other teams...
What We'll Miss: The chance to yell "TIMMY!" at inappropriate intervals.

10: Xaire, Greece
Why They Lost: Kaylor Navas shut them down in the penalty shoot out...after a tonnage of cards from the Australian referee gave them a better chance to win than they really deserved.
What We'll Miss: The butchery of Greek names and comments about how old their defense is.

9: Chao, Chile
Why They Lost: Since I've grown totally irrationally fond of him, I'll say it's because they pulled Gary Medel and didn't let him have a shot against Julio Caesar in the penalty shoot out
What We'll Miss: Being on El Rojo's bandwagon before it was cool to be on their bandwagon.

Thursday, July 03, 2014

3 On/3 Off: Round of 16

We've trimmed the field again, and gutting as it is to see the US go out again, there's some absolutely thrilling futbol to appreciate.

ON: Extra Time--5 Matches went to extra time and three ended there, all in thrilling fashion with glittering goals and tremendous excitement. When announcers say that these matches are "dripping with drama" they aren't just making things up.
OFF: Penalty Kicks--2 Matches did go to PKs (with Brazil and Costa Rica finally surviving), but neither one was terribly satisfying. It's a little like letting a home run derby decide a game that's gone 16 innings, or having a free throw shooting contest in lieu of a third overtime. We don't know how to end it but, we know there has to be something better than this.

ON: James Martinez--For whatever reason, I haven't been able to see every little bit of Colombia's play, but it's plainly obvious that he's in another class when it comes to the game of football. Brazil may well knock out the youthful Colombia from the world cup, but it's hard to imagine any player of any nation getting the better of Martinez.
OFF: Any Goalie With Minimal Job Security--Say you play goalkeeper for a strong team in the big leagues of the world. You probably feel pretty good about yourself, nice paycheck, minimal hours, must be nice. Sure you may let in the odd howler, but come's not like there are a bunch of better options out there right? Maybe not...but maybe the tonnage of superlative performances in the last 16 should have you edgy: Kaylor Navas, Guillermo Ochoa, Vincent Enyema, (Montanan Hooligan BFF) Tim Howard...there's a plethora of strong keepers who showed up big time when their defenses are MIA, and maybe your management will keep you on and trust their money in defense...or maybe you should hit the practice fields.

ON: US Soccer Culture--20 years ago, I had to bug my dad endlessly until he turned to the US matches. Now I have to calm him down, and we're equally in agony as the games go on. 20 years ago, you'd be hard pressed to find another fan within 10 blocks. Now, we swarm all around the big screens in parks and bars and city squares. 20 years ago a draw was greeted with confusion, now it's greeted with fury at our specific failures. We've come so far, and are so excited, and while we may well move on from it for another four years--we'll all be back, riding a bandwagon maybe, but excited? Indubitably
OFF: Soccer Haters--I don't even know what to say to people like this anymore. There are still, somehow, stupefyingly, people (assuming blog trolls and radio announcers count as people) who poopoo and snidely snark on every aspect of the game. Someone wrote on a blog I whipped up for another website that he was upset yet another place had succumbed to the game. What do you say? "Sorry, we all like something you don't"?; "Sorry, you can't appreciate something that brings such joy to so many"?; "Have fun hanging out with your most prominent celebrity ally...Anne Coulter"?  "Shut the f*** up"? Hey...I like that one.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Happy Trails: 32-17

32: Au revoir, Cameroon
Why They Lost: Between Samuel Eto'o holding back, and Alex Song popping off, Cameroon's got no one to blame but themselves. When your biggest pre-tournament warm up is a spat over payment, your priorities are clearly elsewhere.
What We'll Miss: Eto'o's last stand and the chance to see the Indomitable Lions finally live up to the old accomplishments of Roger Milla.

31: Asiabi, Honduras
Why they Lost: Sure, Honduras wasn't very good to start with, but when you combine not being great with playing rough and rumbly at a tournament where breathing on a star the wrong way can get you carded and you've got a recipe for disaster.
What We'll Miss: The chance to point out Honduras as an example of how "tough" futbol can be to the haters in the world.

30: G'day, Australia
Why They Lost: Australia seriously suffered from a lack of ten other Tim Cahills. Ten more Cahills and they might actually have a solid chance at getting a point.
What We'll Miss: Tim Cahill...oh wait, he'll be touring the country with the MLS...then probably just the adorable "Socceroo" love that guy.

29: Sayonara, Japan
Why They Lost: Japan came out of the gates with one heckuva-a-half, taking the lead against a dangerous Ivory Coast team. After that everything came apart, losing to the Elephants, drawing with the Greeks and getting rocked by Colombia.
What We'll Miss: We may not like thunderstix, but man, Japanese fans do a great job of dressing up like crazy people for the world cup.

28: Be Omide Didar, Iran
Why They Lost: The shut down defense that carred Team Melli through the whole of qualification did not desert them when they got to Brazil, frustrating some of the best offenses from around the world until Bosnia finally broke through.
What We'll Miss: Reza Goochanenjad and Alireza Hagighi, both talented on the pitch and posessors of kickass hairdo's

27: Annyong-hi Kashipsho, Korea
Why They Lost: A full season in Europe, a flight across the whole of Asia to train, a flight across the whole Pacific to warm up, a flight to Brazil to compete. Worn down, exhausted, the Taeguk Warriors barely stood a chance.
What We'll Miss: I really do like the nickname Taeguk (Peace) Warriors...if you'd like a new nickname Dan Snyder, I'd suggest that.

26: Cheerio, England
Why they Lost: As cohesive and organized as England can seem, they lack the star power of a truly superlative scorer. Wayne Rooney's strong, but would be less imposing if he didn't have Nike behind him. Daniel Sturridge might be getting there but there's a ways to go. Unless you can find a way to make a Louis Suarezington, or Marvin Balotellingham III, they'll always looked outgunned.
What We'll Miss: The Sun's Apopleptic Headlines. Eternally entertaining.

25: Nante Yie, Ghana
Why They Lost: Players went on strike against playing due to lack of pay on Tuesday, then Kevin Prince Boateng and Sulley Muntari got in an altercation with a national team official leading to their expulsion and weakening their squad en route to a loss in the critical final match.
What We'll Miss: The Black Stars have always been a favorite of mine. I was torn when they lost to the US and worried when they came close to upending Portugal and stealing second place. I'll still root for Boateng and Muntari, and still root for the Black Stars, especially as more veteran players set up for another run in 4 years.

24: Do Svidanja, Russia
Why The Lost: I might be the world's leading Fabio Capello basher, but seriously, I have yet to see any of the skill that people drool over.
What We'll Miss: Making fun of both Fabio Capello and Vladmir Putin.

23: Adios, Spain
Why They Lost: Vicente Del Bosque knows what works, unfortunately he does not know what ELSE can work. The buddies, the pals, the squad that worked so well for the last three championships is still in place, whether or not it should be is another matter. Certainly, the piss poor showing against Holland and Chile suggests not.
What We'll Miss: Hour after hour of ESPN drooling over a Spanish dynasty and the "genius" of tiki-taka futbol

22: Arrivederci, Italy
Why They Lost: Hubris, thy name is Azzuri. After a sparkling win against England, it looked to be clear sailing against Costa Rica into the second round, instead they were inert and disinterested, doing nothing much of import. The final defeat to Uruguay was another unimpressive result waiting for divine intervention from the referee, only to be left wanting.
What We'll Miss: A couple of drops of blood from Giorgio Chiellini's shoulder.

21: Katora, Cote D'Ivoire
Why They Lost: One last foul. One last foul in the box that lost the draw, lost the point needed to move on and led to Greece (who had played worse than most of the other teams in this list) moving into the next round. They were a minute's a shame, a real shame.
What We'll Miss: The classics: Kalou, the Toures and Drogba, and the newbies: Gervinhio and Wilfried Bony, pretty much all the talent out there

20: Vidimo Se, Bosnia/Herzegovina
Why they Lost: Like Andriy Schevchenko before him, Edin Dzeko is a tremendous scorer who can't do everything. He missed some golden opportunities, but his rivals came no where close to even creating them.
What We'll Miss: Edin Dzeko clearly should be a marked man around the world, it will be a pity to miss out on him doing the same in later rounds.

19: Zbogom, Croatia
Why They Lost: Dejan Lovren's late "penalty" against Brazil seemed to be a stunner, from which Croatia could never quite recover. They were playing from behind the whole time and never got their feat under them.
What We'll Miss: We've never loved Croatia, but we were okay with their takes real men to wear picnic table cloths.

18: Ate Logo, Portugal
Why They Lost: Say what you will about Lionel Messi needing to show up at this tournament, Cristiano Ronaldo was almost nowhere and is rarely anywhere in the World Cups. A great cross to tie the US came after a lackluster 94 minutes, and a final goal to beat Ghana looked more lucky than good. Rely on him too much and you struggle through.
Coming soon to a league near you
What We'll Miss: Women coming to matches--without Ronaldo there's a little less to look at.

17: Ricunacungacama, Ecuador
Why They Lost: Ecuador played tremendously, looking great against Honduras, playing pretty well against France and looking for all the world like they had Switzerland beat. If they hadn't ceded that final second desperation goal, they'd likely have made CONMEBOL, 6 for 6.
What We'll Miss: Enner Valencia is pretty badass, but we're betting we won't have to wait four years to see him on tv again...your move Europe.

Friday, June 27, 2014

3 On/3 Off: The End of the First Round

While I was out of station for most of the last set of matches, I'm as gung ho as anybody for the start of the knockout rounds. But first, let's take a look at the major themes that came out of the last round.

ON: Colonies--For the first time in the World Cup's history three North American teams made the second round. Add to that South America's absurd success in sending 5 of their 6 teams through as well and you have a massive triumph for the Western Hemisphere...because those are extremely rare for us.
OFF: Colonizers--Who were the three most prominent colonizing forces in the America's? Spain, England, and Portugal: a trio with a wealth of soccer clout, experience and power. Who has been eliminated from the competition? Spain, England and Portugal. Who marches on Portugal's Brazil; England's old colonies, and ex-Spanish outposts stretching from Baja to Tierra Del Fuego.

ON: Africa's Old Guard--In 1982 Africa's single biggest stunner in World Cup History hit the coasts of Spain when Algeria knocked off West Germany, only to be denied a deserved spot in the next round by teutonic collusion when Austria and the Germans cock-blocked them. In 1994 and 1998 Nigeria emerged as Africa's first true power by making the knockout stages twice in a row, and while their star faded since then, they've always been lurking.
I really thought two African teams would make it to the next round--but I just assumed it would be the more potent sides: Ivory Coast, Ghana or Cameroon. Instead those teams were undone by a combination of horrific timing and federation/player feuds--if Africa wants to step up to the next level they need to get their houses in order, in the mean time, it's nice to know that someone will step up.
OFF: Asia's Everybody--After tremendous strides over the last decade, Asian Football took a step back in Brazil. The top squads were supposed to be Japan and Korea: bounced without a win and with some pretty ugly play. The worst squads were supposed to be Australia and Iran: proven to be more capable than initially expected, but neither could muster a decisive blow (and poor Iran only managed a consolation goal in their last match).

ON: My beloved Hipsters--Obviously, the big boys Antoine Griezmann and Ahmed Musa were a pair of genuine difference makers who led their teams to the next levels. Mats Hummels, Stefan deVrij, Gary Medel and Juan Guillermo Cuadrado created, delivered and stopped goal opportunities. All while Josip Drmic, Miguel Veloso, Ehsan Haji Safi, Juan Carlos Paredes, Marco Fabian and Atsato Uchida made strong contributions to their teams best showings. If only Boubacar Barry had made that last penalty save we'd have a full squad AND reserves.
OFF: Luis Suarez--Congratulations Luis Suarez, you have become a punchline. You can score all the goals you want, you can dump all over powerful rivals like Italy and England, you can be a national hero defended to the death by your loyal fans, but to the rest of the world, you're a joke. You're a cannibal, a Mike Tyson wannabe who won't ever get to make goofy cameos with Zach Galifinakis, Barcelona won't take you now and Liverpool's ready to cut bait, you can appeal--but who on earth will say "you're right...biting opponents on repeated occasions isn't that serious"? Give it up and go home.