Tag Archives: USMNT

Brazil 2014: A Football Musing

There were some nerves heading into the 2014 World Cup. Concerns about safety, political unrest, climate, and pitch conditions all were raised in the lead up to the tournament, but once Brazil and Croatia kicked things off on June 13th, all eyes were fixed firmly on the pitch.

That first game, with all the pageantry and pride of Brazil on full display, provided some inkling, or perhaps warning, of things to come. Brazil won 3-1, but Croatia was the better team in all but the scoreline. Brazil survived thanks to some highly questionable refereeing, and some missed chances by the Croatians. Brazil’s tournament might have started successfully, but a month later the country was singing a much more bitter sporting song.

The second day the first real shock of the tournament came in the form of the Oranje army masquerading in their blue jerseys for the day. In a rematch of the 2010 final in Johannesburg, Spain and the Netherlands put on a much more exciting performance (except maybe from a Spanish perspective), that saw the Dutch thrash their way to a 5-1 revenge scoreline. It didn’t get much better from there for the defending champs, as they lost to Chile 2-0 in their next match and were the sent home in the first round.Other europeans powers didn’t fare much better than La Furia Roja. England, Italy, and Portugal all left South America with disappointingly short campaigns as well.

CONCACAF (the North American federation) made a big display despite having only four teams in the tournament, and were often antagonists of the European cause. Mexico knocked out Croatia, while tournament darlings Costa Rica were most responsible for the English and Italian exits. The USMNT for their part helped send the World’s best player home early, though he (Christiano Ronaldo) did manage to inflict some serious psychological damage on the Americans with his last second assist to tie their game.

Asia and Africa had two different experiences. While the Africans saw two teams advance to the knockout stage for the first time, the Asians were easily the most disappointing federation with no teams making it through.

South American performed well on home soil, with all but Ecuador progressing. However, with four teams set to face one another in one of the semifinal brackets, it meant that only two could actually make it through to the final. Their was the usual array of upstart teams headlined by the Costa Ricans. The Ticos made a stirring run to the quarters before just being edged out by a better Dutch unit. Colombia, and dark horses Belgium also made quarter finals runs, the latter coming at the expense of the Americans and a truly heroic Tim Howard.

After all the dust settled, the last four was composed of some usual suspects, thought the matches that followed were anything but. Most thought that the Dutch-Spanish contest on day two would be the shock of the tournament, but twenty-nine minutes of the German National Machine saw to that. Brazil, a team that had hope, prayed, and paid for success in this tournament, were left in tatters. The 7-1 obliteration set numerous records of futility for the Brazilian side, and their subsequent loss to the Dutch in the third place match all but ruined the reputation of Brazil’s storied footballing culture. Argentina squeaked by the Dutch on penalties, and in the final they looked to do the same to the Germans until a young man named Mario saw to it that Germany would win its first world title as a unified country.

Germany was the embodiment of a team, as they so often are, but plenty of individual talents were on display during the last month as well. Young stars like James Rodriguez and Xherdan Shaqiri arrived with a flurry of goals. While veteran goalkeepers like Howard and Guillermo Ochoa gained admiration by preventing chance after chance. The Dutch duo of Robin Van Persia and Arjen Robben created headaches for every defense they face. Neymar scored often for the Brazilians before a fractured vertebrae spelled the end of his tournament and Brazil’s hopes. Messi’s brilliance couldn’t save Argentina, though it nearly did. He won the Golden Ball as the tournament’s best player, but falling so painfully short of the ultimate prize made the honor little more than a hollow consolation.

With 171 goals scored, tied with France 98 for most ever, the tournament was an offensive joy. It’s always bittersweet when a World Cup tournament comes to an end, and today is no exception. Only 1426 days until Putin’s tourney kicks off. It will be a long four years, but there will be plenty of soccer, both domestically and internationally, to keep the interest until then. In the meantime, bravo Brazil! It’s been a fun ride.

P(review)ing 2013 and 2014

As the curtain closes on another year, there is plenty of reason to look back on the highs and lows of 2013. In the world of sports there were plenty as always. Bayern Munich dominated European soccer in a historic manner. The U.S. Men’s National Team had their best year in history, which was doubly nice considering U.S. Soccer is celebrating 100 years of existence. The Baltimore Ravens weathered a Superdome blackout to win the Super Bowl in a rocking New Orleans. Nick Saban’s Alabama Crimson Tide won its second straight national title. They looked to be well on their way to a third, until an Iron Bowl for the ages that saw Auburn escape with a flabbergasting upset (oddly that word is appropriate there). Baseball saw the Pirates return to the postseason for the first time in two decades, a Cuban sensation light up the sport with immature antics and absurd skill, and the Red Sox go from yuck to yay on the backs of an undersized Japanese man and oversized Dominican one. Lebron James somehow became a better basketball player, and led his Miami Heat to their second consecutive championship, much to the chagrin of much of the country. Tiger Woods won five tournaments, but didn’t win a Major so was considered by many to be a disappointment. Roger Federer had his worst season in what seems like a lifetime, while his greatest rival Rafael Nadal had a comeback for the ages, taking home two major titles. The Blackhawks beat the Bruins in a matchup of Original Six members. A year after Kentucky won the NCAA tournament, Louisville took the 2013 title, proving that North Carolina has serious competition for best college basketball state. Phew. That was just the big stuff.

Enough of the nostalgia. As a sports fan, 2014 poses some big excitement and apprehension. All the usual suspects will be in play, including the NFL circus, the Heat’s quest for the elusive three-peat, a new season of baseball, and the madness of the NHL Playoffs. Tiger will look to get back in the major win column, and Fed will try to pull a thirties comeback. Despite all that sports appeal, 2014 provides some sizable add-ons from the typical calendar. The first big one comes February 6th with the Sochi Olympics. So far most of the press has been on the Russian government’s crackdown on gay rights. Much speculation has arisen about what will happen, and the ante was upped even further when the U.S. announced that Billie Jean King, tennis great, and openly gay woman, would lead their delegation to the games. Recent bombings in Volgograd have shifted focus from the gay discussion to the much more cheery possibility of terrorist attacks at the games. Nothing like hate and violence to get you in the mood for speed skating and ski jumping.

The other major event of the year appears to be more festive, but isn’t without concerns of its own. Brazil is a soccer country. However, it is also a country of political turmoil, and great wealth inequality. Those two identities came to a head last summer at the Confederation’s Cup. The Cup, which is essentially a mini dry run for the World Cup, featured mass protests and riots over the billions being poured into World Cup arrangements and construction, while many of the nation’s issues like education and overall infrastructure were being ignored. All signs indicate that more protests are likely to occur when the tournament kicks off in June. Concerns have also arisen over working conditions at the sites of the many new stadiums being built, most recently after two workers were killed in a crane accident this past November. The beautiful game sounds less beautiful in that light.

Despite the unease surrounding both Sochi and Brazil, both events are sure to have their thrill of sporting exciting and disappointment to go along with the political spectacles. The Russians will be looking for a good showing on home soil…or should I say snow. The Brazilians, coming off a convincing win in the Confederation’s Cup, will be desperate to replicate that success in front of their adoring, if often unruly fans. The most popular sporting event in the world will see the defending champions Spain vying for their fourth straight major international title, an unprecedented feat.

Maybe the other largest change coming in 2014, is the end of the BCS. Next season college football will be implementing a four team playoff to decide the national champion, after years of grumbling from fans, players, media, and often times coaches. By no means will the controversy be gone from the sport, but the new format should at least provide some appeasement.

2013 was a great year in the world of sport (even if my teams largely stunk). Here’s hoping that 2014 will provide more excitement, and less controversy. In the meantime have a happy and safe New Year’s Eve and Day!

(Pardon the worse than usual grammar. I blame the piña coladas, my noisy family, and the poolside setting. Vacation life!)