2014 World Cup Update

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Updated: June 20, 2014
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(Joao Pessoa, Paraíba , Brazil) The 2014 World Cup is now a week old and while the protests surrounding the Cup have continued, the soccer has been the main story.  Let’s check out some of the story lines:

 

Those Resilient Americans

We have to start with Team USA. With goals produced that were equal parts skill and equal parts resilience, the Squad gutted out a 2-1 win over 2010 Quarterfinalists, Ghana who had eliminated them four years ago in the Round of 16 and eight years ago in the Group stage. The echoes from the national anthem had barely diminished when the US got on the board. Clint Dempsey received a pass from Jermaine Jones on the left, annihilated defender John Boye  on the left side of the box and rendered GK Adam Kwarasey irrelevant with a cool left footed finish off the right post and in.  27 seconds. That’s all it took for the US erase any doubts about whether they had come to play and send those of us in attendance into pure bedlam. Dempsey’s goal was the fifth-fastest in World Cup history.

Dempsey got the party started for the US (Michael Steele/Getty Images)

Ghana was understandably stunned but was unable to muster much of an attack, seeing only a 7th minute cross from Asamoah (We’re more talented than the Americans) Gyan snagged easily by Tim Howard. However the momentum of the match would turn. On 20 minutes, Jozy Altidore found himself on the end of a centering pass intended for Michael Bradley from Fabian Johnson but after steadying himself, saw his shot blocked by lunging defender. No more than 3 minutes  later, he chased ball played over the top by Michael Bradley, only to pull up and grab his hamstring. An immediate groan went through the substantial American support within the Arenas Das Dunas as Altidore was stretchered off with what was diagnosed as a strained hamstring.  He did not return (replaced by Aron Johannssan) and is not expected to play against Portugal.

Ghanaians, began to press  and with the US suddenly unable to string more than five passes together (l Bradley especially guilty of some uncharacteristic inaccuracies) the Black Stars began dominating possession.  After the bright start, the US seemed up against it now. Clint Dempsey suffered a broken nose after being kicked by Boye but played on. Matt Besler, who with Geoff Cameron played solidly in the middle US’ back began feeling his hamstring towards the end of the half.  Fabian Johnson was pinned back in defense and was  unable to make any connetions with his passes out of the back.

Yet the US did not falter.  Demarcus Beasley, weighing only slightly more than he did when he first played for the US in 2002, was the focus of the Ghanaian attacks yet battled on. Jermaine Jones and Kyle Beckerman were both equal to their tasks with the latter absorbing some bruising mid-air collisions. Alejandro Bedoya ran hard from the right side and helped relieve the defensive pressure applied by the Ghanaians. The first half ended with a spirited and organized effort from the US who maintained their lead.

 

The second half was more of the same, Ghana maintained the bulk of possession but their attacks usually ended in shots from outside the box that were high and wide or crosses that were dealt with by Cameron and John Brooks, the Hertha Berlin defender who replaced Besler at halftime.  The US’ organization remained intact and Jermaine Jones was excellent throughout, winning balls in the air, making timely tackles and giving the US the toughness they needed against a Ghanaian side that was growing in confidence, especially through Gyan, Sulley Muntari and substitutes Kevin Prince-Boateng and Michael Essien.

 

It was always going to take something special for Ghana to unlock the US defense and in the 85th minute, the inevitable happened. Nine minutes after Graham Zusi replaced the tiring Bedoya and five after Johnson and Dempsey combined to force a save from Kwarasey, the Ghanaians attacked down their left hand side. Andre Ayew (son of the great Abedi ‘Pele’ Ayew) broke into the box, received a brilliant backheel from Gyan and blasted a left footed finish past Tim Howard.  Stunning but not completely unforeseen and Ghana was back in it 1-1.

 

The US could have settled for a tie. But a tie was not what was required given what’s down the road. Fabian Johnson hustled to win a corner down the right side.  Zusi swung his delivery into the box which  eluded Cameron but was met cleanly and forcefully by Brooks who buried it in the back of the net.

 

Where there was bedlam after Dempsey’s goal, there was hysterical chaos amongst the US supporters for the match winner.  After struggling mightily to maintain the lead only to be undone by some excellent creativity, to press forward and win it 2 minutes from full time was simply stunning.

Brooks was as stunned as everyone else to have scored the match winner against Ghana

(Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

 

The US saw out the inexplicable five minutes of injury time against a dejected Ghanaian side and claimed a suspenseful and oh so necessary 2-1 win.  The US will address their injury concerns and their inability to maintain possession, especially  after Altidore was injured, will need to be corrected ahead of their match on Sunday against a Portugal side that was annihilated by Germany.

 

THE KING HAS ABDICATED and Others On Their Way Home
The dual reigns of Spain’s King Juan Carlos and that of its soccer team came to simultaneous ends on Wednesday.  For the latter, after being destroyed 5-1 last week by the Netherlands behind two excellent braces by Arjen Robben and Robin Van Persie, they were stymied and dismantled by a relentless Chilean team who dominated proceedings from the start of National Anthems  to  the final whistle of a 2-0 victory.  The first goal was beautifully constructed by Barcelona’s Alexis Sanchez and Arturo Vidal. Charles Aranguiz laid off a beautiful pass to Eduardo Vargas who faked a sliding Iker Casillias and buried the finish. The second came off an inexplicable punch by Casillas from a Sanchez free kick that Aranguiz stopped and toe poked past a diving Casillias. Spain’s masterful possession that had a been a staple of their two Euro championships and 2010 World Cup victory was nowhere to be found in either match and Vincente Del Bosque conceded that they deserved to be going home. It was the first time that the defending champions were eliminated after the first two matches of an ensuing World Cup.

 

Australia and Cameroon are also headed home after back to back defeats. But while the Aussies battled well, had Tim Cahill offer one of the goals of the tournaments with his left footed volley against the Netherlands and hold a lead against the Oranje, the Indomitable Lions who have not won a World Cup match since 1998, sputtered and fought amongst themselves. What happened to this team?

England, game but ultimately losers of both their matches after being done in by two goals from the Luis (Don’t Make Me Bite You) Suarez,  will need to beat Costa Rica in their final group match and hope for an NFL style formula of scenarios to occur if they are to avoid  group stage elimination for the first time since 1958.

 

THE FAVORITES

 

The two prohibitive favorites coming into the 2014 World Cup, Brazil and Argentina have been successful but not dominant.  In the opening match against Croatia, the hosts seemingly used up most of their energy for the first half in forcefully singing its national anthem and were very slow out of the gate. They were the beneficiary of some questionable calls (a oatmeal type penalty and seemingly legit goal for Croatia waived off) before putting their match away late 3-1. They were the better team, slightly against El Enemigo but couldn’t solve a brilliant Memo Ochoa in goal and were forced to settle for a 0-0 tie.  They lead their group over El Enemigo by goal differential but have not yet displayed the form that made them favorites or helped them capture the 2013 Confederations Cup..

The same could be said for Argentina who looked decent but not overwhelming in their opening victory over Bosnia-Herzegovina who after falling behind after 3 minutes to an own goal had their chances to put the Albiceleste under real pressure.

 

The two teams playing the best right now are the Netherlands and Germany. The Dutch have eight goals in two matches (including 5 in their destruction of Spain) and their offense is simply clicking right now. The Germans were every bit as good as Portugal poor in their 4-0 opening match win behind a hat trick from Thomas Muller.  The US will want to take care of business against Portugal to have to avoid seeking points against a team that has beaten them in two successive World Cup matches going back to 1998.

 

­GOALS

The 2014 edition of the World Cup has already produced an average of 2.9 goals per match, up from 2.2 in the 2010 World Cup.  Some of them have been jaw dropping. Robin Van Persie’s header and Arjen Robben’s opening goal against Spain were brilliant. RBNY’s Tim Cahill’s goal against the Netherlands was OUT-standing (he was a man with a PLAN). Lionel Messi finally scored a goal in the World Cup with an impressive solo effort against Bosnia-Herzegovina which was equaled by Gervinho’s effort for the Ivory Coast against Colombia.

Van Persie flies through the air to score for the Netherlands against Spain (AP)

 

 

THE CROWDS

Chilean supporters crashing the offices of the Maracana aside, the crowds have been incredible. My wife and I touched down in Belo Horizonte on the same day that Colombia opened their World Cup campaign and the cheers, chants and excitement AT THE AIRPORT was amazing.  The US has been in full force here in Brazil as an estimated 20,000 Americans turned out along the beaches of Ponta Negra and the streets of Natal to support the Red White and blue in its opening match.  While many back in the States want to equate soccer fans with violence, there has been none of it here. The supporters have been enthusiastic, friendly (posing for pictures with fans of their opponents) and enjoying their time in Brazil, most especially the South Americans have turned out in huge numbers for the first World Cup held on this continent since 1962. Just one week in and this year’s edition of the World Cup has already produced major  talking points, shocking exits and late match dramatics.

 

Check back next week while I continue traveling Brazil, watching matches and drinking caprinihas.

Learn This Game!                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           Love This Game!

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Based in Tallahassee, Andrew Dixon, III has contributed soccer-related stories and features for BASN since 2004. He can be reached at andrew.dixon@blackathlete.com

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