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Monday, June 30, 2014

The FIFA World Cup Kickaround, Halftime, and Postgame Thread #2 For 6/30/14: De Survival

FT (aet): Germany 2-1 Algeria - (Schurrle 92', Ozil 120'; Djabou 120+) 

Photos from FIFA.com & Getty Images

The greatest Algerian effort ever, one of the most nervy and listless performances from Germany ever. And yet, it still wasn't enough for the massive upset.

In between Manuel Neuer's amazing half-goalkeeper, half-centerback performance and Andre Schurrle's arrival, it was enough for Joachim Low and his side to breathe a sigh of relief with their countrymen and women. 

Valid Halilhodzic, slammed in 2010 for not getting the most of an Ivory Coast side, was terrific on the day with his tactics after a curious 5 changes made. His moves were just purely sensational, as the inclusion of Lacen, Taider, and Mostefa were excellent against a somewhat lethargic duo of Lahm and Kroos. Ghoulam was having his way with Mustafi on the left, and Feghouli with Howedes and Boateng on the right. And Soudani beat the speed challenged Mertesacker on many occasions. 

It was all the weak moments for a German side rearing their ugly heads, especially with Mats Hummels being the latest man snakebitten by something. Now you can add Mustafi to the list, as Low looks like he will have to play Philip Lam at right back if Hummels doesn't recover against France. 

Mario Gotze surely will be dropped for Schurrle after another undistinguishable performance. But even Gotze would take that over a shock elimination that would have seen a remarkable 15 straight quarterfinals streak snapped. 

Instead it's a valiant effort foiled by Detuschland and a 16th consecutive appearance in the last eight for them.  

HT: Germany 0, Algeria 0

Well, Halilhodzic's changes have worked thus far, as Mostefa has had a great first half preventing Kroos and Schweinsteiger from getting into the final third outside the box, while after a shaky first pass, Lacen has been effective staying in defense positions. Plus Ghoulam and Soudani are causing big problems on the left for Germany, as is Feghouli whenever he gets forward. 

Low will need instant energy from his side, with more drive from Kroos and Lahm in the second half. This is where the absence of a Gundogan hurts. And now with Hummles absent, this Algeria side will firmly fill confident unless Gotze and Ozil become true presences in the box. 

For Halilhodzic, a perfect first half for him made more by getting it right. 

Pre-game Tactical Thoughts 

Halilhodzic with a few too many changes in my mind for this side. Especially with Hummels out, Mustafi is there for the taking.

Bringing in Lacen and Soudani, and having Slimani lined up not leading the line is very bizarre. It's a shame because Brahimi and Djabou have deserve there stars. There isn't much of a problem starting Taider over Bentaleb in my mind, but it's unnecessary to make all these changes that will make the Bosnian manager's already strained relation with the Algerian FA a bit more tenuous.

It will be important for Ghoulam to deal with not only Boateng coming in, but Ozil, Muller and even Gotze's movement as well whenever they come to his side. Halliche and Belkalem will need to be firm in keep all of those players in front of them and not risk any signs of highline play.

How Lacen will deal with Kroos in the midfield with the inactivity the Getafe man has had in this tournament is a whole another matter. Taider will have to take Lahm and be wary of whenever he likes to streak in, while Mostefa will have to monitor Schweinsteiger all around the field. 

The FIFA World Cup Kickaround, Halftime, and Postgame Thread #1 For 6/30/14: After France-Nigeria

FT: France 2-0 Nigeria (Pogba 79; Yobo 90 OG) 

Even a great goalkeeper in fine form is always susceptible to a mistake. And that is what happened to Vincent Enyeama today. 

Just his moment allowed Paul Pogba the difference making goal to have France survive a Nigerian side who had better tactics than them. 

Deschamps decision to start Benzema with Giroud was a disaster, as Efe Ambrose was having his way all day due to Patrice Evra having no one helping him. 

The change to Grizemann should have occurred sooner, but came on to push Les Blues back into the quaterfinals. But Pogba did well to maintain his composure and score what turned out to be the winner, with Joseph Yobo on his 100th (and maybe final) cap a bystander for the header. 

France will need a lot better if they are to be a Germany team with Joachim Low's side get through a revenge laden Algerian side.  But he likely will return to supporting Benzema with two wingers instead of placing him in a world of confusion with Giroud on the field. 

HT: Nigeria 0, France 0 

Photo from FIFA.com

What's has been the most enjoyable aspect of that first half is seeing how Nigeria's front four of Emenike, Odemwingie, Moses, and Musa have done the necessary track back work to help their makeshift fullbacks. Their two way effort has been a major boon for Juwon Oshaniwa, while Efe Ambrose has been truly terrific in the fist half. 

With Onazi's early ailment in the half though, it has allowed Paul Pogba to control the center of the field when he gets forward. 

Benzema and Giroud are in each other's way too much, where Deschamps was too tempted by seeing them get goals against the Swiss and thinking it could work again. Benzema still is effective when he can be a target man playmaker, and he is allowed that since Giroud is not a second outside man like Valbuena is. 

Deschamps has to be tempted to drop Giroud for Griezmann if things don't change for his #10.  

For Keshi, he will have to determine if Onazi can really give him anymore or not, because the more he struggles with his ailment, the more chances there will be for Pogba to showcase his massive ability. 

Pre-Game Thoughts 

How Yobo and Oshaniwa will play today will determine the contest. They can't be shocked in by Benzema getting the ball in the midfield, as he will not do it that much with Valbuena in the hole for Deschamps. They have got to keep their balance and win that matchup against Giroud and Benzema.

Onazi will try and learn from the lessons Messi game him the last game and take a cost eye on Valbuena to allow Moses to deal with Pogba and Matuidi, with assistance from Moses.

(Will be back for the postgame and maybe the halftime, in a bit)....

Sunday, June 29, 2014

The FIFA World Cup Kickaround and Postgame Thread For 6/29/2014: Keylor The Ticos God

Photo from  FIFA.com

Whether it was the beginning of the match or the end, it was all about Keylor Navas.

The 27-year-old keeper added to his amazing year by coming up with the denial of Theofanis Gekas to allow Michale Umaña to hit the winning penalty, sending Costa Rica through to their first World Cup quarterfinal.

It was the latest great performance from the in-demand Levante man, as his stop of Gekas was the only penalty not given in the deciding kicks.

Maybe the only man more coveted for Los Ticos than Navas is manager Jorge Luis Pinto, who saw his team muster up another magical display by his courageous underdog side when Michael Umana picked up a poor second yellow with a rash challenge on Jose Holebas in the 66th minute.

That came 14 minutes after Bryan Ruiz added his second goal of the tournament with a clever finish past Orestis Karnezis to give Costa Rica the 1-0 lead. It seemed the CONCACAF side would produce another resolute defensive play with the Greeks unable to get clear chances in front of goal with the man advantage.

But star center back Sokratis Papastathopoulos was the unlikely source for the equalizer, producing his first goal for his nation with a rebound effort pass Navas in stoppage time. Buoyed by that effort, the Greeks almost produced a winner a moment later as Vasilis Torosidis whipped in a great ball to find the struggling Kostas Mitroglou, only for Navas to tip it over the ball.

It seemed though that the great run for Costa Rica in Brazil would be over, as Mitroglou had a better chance to produce a glorious winner. But the Fulham man’s forgettable 2014 thus far received further misery when his scoffed shot was saved by the brilliant Navas once more.

It was only fitting that the netminder from San Isidro finished it off as the main protagonist.

As both teams showcased superb penalty taking of the highest order, the fatigued Joel Campbell made it seven straight makes to give Costa Rica the 4-3 lead.

On stepped Gekas, the 34-year-old forward a shell of the quality striker he was throughout his career, looking to tie it at a 4-all. And with many other goalkeepers around the world, his decent penalty would have went in. But the presence of Navas shone once more with the stretched right hand save to set up the moment for Umaña and his nation. And when the Saprissa defender competed a perfect penalty sequence for Los Ticos, their team and supporters throughout the small nation went into a wonderful place they’ve never been before.

Halftime: Costa Rica 0, Greece 0 

 Gamboa tried to get down the right flank, but after a promising first attack early on was snuffed out by Jose Holebas the rest of the first half with help from Christodoulopoulos, who has been underrated quality.

Still , no score, and both teams don't need to make changes now 

FT: Netherlands 2-1 Mexico (Sneijder 88, Huntelaar 90 +3; Dos Santos 48') 

It's the third time the Dutch have fallen behind this tournament, and it is the third time they have shown resilency of a national that seems like it has won multiple World Cups instead of the zero they have.

Van Gaal could have easily been swayed to keep Van Persie on the field, but he knew that Huntelaar could be the one in the air who could produce the moment to find that equalizer for them. And in that pure moment, he did just that with the header back down to Sneijder and the great equalizer.

"The Hunter" made the difference as Holland goes through and gives Mexican hearts major devastation. They were so close to finally ending their Round of 16 hurdle, but give up two goals in the last stage of the game. It was the feeling of dejection they could have felt had the United States not saved them in qualification last year, but it will not make them feel that much better to be out in the first knockout stage once again.

Herrera had the tactics that he wanted to a tee, and even his decision of taking off Dos Santos earliy didn't seem to be too bad as Aquino did help a bit in the attack. But the loss of Moreno was felt a bit with Reyes showing his naviete at times, and Layun just couldn't get forward enough as they set back maybe a bit too much after Dos Santos' goal.

And referee Pedro Proenca just failed to get the two bug calls of the game today. He missed Moreno's foul on Robben in the first half, and then got duped by Robben's flop in the key moment.

A shame that a referee cost both sides today, with the Mexicans receiving the one that hurt the most.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

The FIFA World Cup Halftime And Postgame Thread #2 For 6/28/14: King James

Full time: Colombia 2-0 Uruguay 

The image that fits this game completely, king James once more.

No one else on Colombia did anything today to break down Oscar Tabarez's fine tactics for the day. There were no clear chances for both Teo Gutierrez or Jackson Martinez, as Jose Pekerman may want to rethink the two forwards for the rest of the tournament. And there wasn't a major sniff for Juan Cuadrado either.

But both Cuadrado and Gutierrez were instrumental in the buildup play for the second goal that lead to "King James" doing what he was just destined to do this tournament.

Score of create goals.

A star turned into a superstar this evening, and it was a joyous thing indeed for a 22-year-old growing before our eyes.

Halftime: Colombia 1, Uruguay 0 

Nothing more need to be said about that.

Oscar Tabarez's side otherwise had great tactics and did win the battle with Jose Pekerman that half. But players decide games, not coaches, and James Rodriguez and Colombia's ability to explode at any moment can get them out of the toughest of quagmires.

Tabarez won't panic early as they did look a threat towards the half progressed going forward, with the comfort of knowing that Zapata and Yepes are still the centerbacks for Colombia. Rios has been otherwise great in the midfield, while Gonzalez has been okay but has to give them more going forward in the rare moments they will get.

And how long Forlan is left on, as he is at least looking to be a threat, will be interesting. For sure, Gaston Ramirez will look to be an option at some point in this half regardless of the score.

(Back with the final talk after this second half ). 

The FIFA World Cup Kickaround Thread #1 For 6/28/14: Brazil/Chile (Halftime Version)

Final: Brazil 1-1 Chile (3:2 Brazil go through on penalties)

The cruelty of penalties once more for us all to see takes more victims, with Gonzalo Jara being tops of them. 

Jorge Sampaoli just played his tactics as right as he could, as almost saw Mauricio Pinilla be in the history books forever with a strike that beat Julio Cesar and would have silenced a nation for a long time. 

Even if it seemed like they played for penalty and Brazil had the more positive play in extra time, Sampaoli was there for a famous win. And that is what is going to make today so rough for them, and so fortunate for the host nation. 

Halftime: Brazil 1, Chile 1

With Neymar being allowed to go all over the field, it has made Oscar's job a little difficult, as he is playing on the right instead of in the middle. It's made his touches ineffective or in non-threatening positions. 

Scolari may have to alter that a bit to allow him in the middle more and have Fernandinho located on the outside. Outside of his terrible mistake that lead to the first goal, Hulk had a fine first half with great defensive work and being a threat with his running. It's a shame that he had to go Bruce Banner in the first half in just one moment. 

For Chilean, outside of his goal, it was an ineffective first half for Sanchez. He let Vargas be too isolated up front by coming to the center of the box, but needed to come back for the ball more and help his central midfield. 

Medel, Jara, and Silva has been in the right spots in the end, but their passing and clearences at the back have been extremely shaky.  

No changes are required at the moment, but to help Oscar on the other side, Scolari will have to move Luis Gustavo preferable to the right of the field when Brazil have to defend. For Sampaoli, he'll need more from Diaz or Aranguiz, or have to sub them out for Valdivia, Carmona, or Gutierrez. 

(Will be back for Postgame after it all). 

The battle between Fernandinho and Vidal will be so immense. Aranguiz and Diaz will have to be vital and make it a three versus two in the midfield for Chile, causing Oscar or one of the outside attacking midfielders to help Luis Gustavo and Fenandinho.

That will allow Sampaoli's team to have control of the game and allow Isla and Mena to go forward.

It's why Oscar's track backing in this match is so vital.

(More to come at halftime for sure on this match)......

The FIFA World Cup Thread #1 For 6/28/14: The Group Stage Best XI

For explanation for the team can be found with the good folks at World Soccer Talk from me.

The bench of the team included guys who obviously just missed out on the nod. However, it speaks to how you have to play really well in all three matches to get the nod. Also, being steadfast to not just pointing all "offensive players" in center midfield spots is vital here for the team selection.

Bench: Guillermo Ochoa; Ricardo Rodriguez, Rafael Marquez, Sokratis Papastathopoulos, Jerome Boateng; Thomas Muller, Juan Cuadrado, Miralem Pjanic, Alexis Sanchez, Karim Benzema, Asamoah Gyan, Clint Dempsey, Tim Cahill 

Friday, June 27, 2014

The Flashback Fridays #2 (World Cup Edition) For 6/27/14: K'Naan - Wavin Flag (2010)

Still the best World Cup song ever and the one that should have always been the official song of 2010 competition instead of that "Waka Waka" forever crap (another "genius" move by FIFA), it's the timeless classic "Wavin Flag" from the always underrated K'naan.  

Stay tune for TWD's Round of 16 coverage of The FIFA World Cup Finals tournament, beginning with Brazil and Chile at noon ET on Saturday.  

The Flashback Fridays (World Cup Edition) For 6/27/14: Deuce feat Big Hawk and XO - Don't Tread (2006)

While most people are still surprised to hear that Clint Dempsey is a rapper, yours truly has been on his alternate profession since it all started.

From 2006, with his rap alias Deuce, it's Dempsey with the late Big Hawk and XO repping Texas music pretty good in the era when the Houston Chopped and Screwed scene was at its most prominent.

The World Cup Flashback Friday edition, it's the 2006 American World Cup theme anthem "Don't Tread."

More to come today, stay tuned. 

Thursday, June 26, 2014

The FIFA World Cup Day 15 Recap Thread For 6/26/14: Group H Recap

FT: Russia 1-1 Algeria ; Korea Republic 0-1 Belgium 

Photo from FIFA.com

Valid Halilhodzic and Fabio Capello made gambles on their selections during their three group games, including the last one today. While Halilhodzic dropped captain Madjid Bougherra, Capello finally brought in Alek Kerzhakov like he needed to at the start of the tournament. 

But the move to keep Igor Akinfeev in the net from the last match instead of Yuri Lodygin proved to be the biggest gamble for Capello, as the CSKA Moscow man's failing attempt on Ibrahim Brahimi's set piece lead to Islam Slimani's goal that eventually lead to Iran's first knockout stages at a World Cup. 

Capello never placed Igor Shatov in positions to be a true playmaker this tournament and probably should have given Alan Dzagoev a chance to break out of his funk. Considering how poor Shatov was the first two games, Dzagoev at least deserved a start but was again a second half sub that could never get into the game. 

Samedov blew a chance given to him on a platter as Kokorin set up him for a 2-0 lead. He didn't take it and it prove to be so telling. 

Capello after the match was furious at Akinfeev getting a fan's laser in his eye, but his team missed their chance by him not going with Lodygin in net and starting at least Kerzhakov against South Korea in the first match. 

So much for being the highest paid international manager. 


Photo from Getty Images

It was a listless display from Hong Myung-bo's men, as they will be going home in pure disappointment. 

Son Heung-Min couldn't play up to his great potential outside of his goal against Algeria, while Ki Sung-Yueng could never be close enough consistently to showcase his accurate passing in the key final third.  Park Chu-Young and Ji Dong-Won showed how a lack of club play put too much on Son's shoulders to carry, while Lee Chung-Yong has declined a bit after being such a promising talent with Bolton two years ago. 

But it all came apart for South Korea with their centerback pairing, and how Kim Young-Gwon was certainly not ready for primetime. Kim brought down Hong Jeong-Ho's decent level and lead to South Korea regressing from an Olympic bronze medal and Round of 16 2010 showing that narrowly saw them lose to Uruguay. 

Outside of Australia, a lot of soul searching will be done with the Asian nations after a forgettable tournament as a whole. 

The FIFA World Cup Kickaround and Postgame Thread For 6/26/14: Group G Finales

Postgame Version 
Photo from Getty Images 

Goalkeeper Fatau Dauda and defender John Boye were the determining factors in the US going through over Ghana, with Portugal realistically out of it because of goal difference. 

Germany really could have found the opener early on, but good backline defending by the US kept them scoreless. The US even countered with a few moments on the other end, but it was all about Omar Gonzalez remerging as a vital cog for Jurgen Klinsmann's side. 

But both Gyan and Portugal had their opportunities today, with Ronaldo guilty of spurring four golden chances to sum up how dreary his World Cup was. Paulo Bento had to deal with injuries (Coentrao, Almeida, Meireles, Postiga) and stupidity (Pepe) in these three matches, but his tenure looks set to be over. 

For Kweshi Appaih's side, against a Portugal team that could have been exhausted after Manaus, they could not produce outside of Gyan's leadership. They fell behind for the third straight game, and Christian Atsu and Jordan Ayew failed to produce quality when they should have with their abilities. Considering the money issues, the expulsion of Boateng and Muntari and the underrated factor of Majeed Waris pre-tournament injury, it was a World Cup were Ghana regressed after two steps forward in 2006 and 2010. 

Meanwhile for Germany, no more injuries for Joachim Low after a solid performance, although there will be a little bit of a dilemma for them. Thomas Muller, outside of his fine goal, had his least effective match due to not being in the box enough. Only Klose's appearance helped matters for him but surely looks set to be on the bench as Gotze will likely return with Ozil and Muller up front. 

Low will be happy though seeing Bastian Schweinsteiger show fine mobility throughout the entire pitch and resemble the world class box to box midfielder he still is if injuries subside. 

The "Group of Death" concludes with Germany and "Germany lite" getting through. Both Portugal and Ghana will have major revamping to do. 

Photo from GettyImages.com

Pregame Version  

Photo from Fifa.com


It's the first starts for Bastian Schweinsteiger, Lukas Podolski, Omar Gonzalez, and Brad Davis, and their inclusions into the lineup may on paper determine this match. 

Gonzalez must restablish the continuity he had with Matt Besler last year and be cognizant of all times of Thomas Muller and Mesut Ozil sophisticated movement, while Besler will keep an eye on both as well as Podolski's runs if Fabian Johnson is caught not on him tightly. 

Schweinsteiger is motivated to have his place in the lineup from now for Low and will be looking to show that he can still be a top class two way force. 

The key to this game however will be on if Kyle Beckerman can prevent Toni Kroos from getting into the key spots outside the US box as well as if Philip Lahm can finally play a steady game and contain Michael Bradley. 

Ghana-Portugal Tactical Thoughts 

The dispatching of Muntari and Boateng could be a blessing in disguise for Appiah, who get youngsters Waris and Badu into the side. Waris has been waiting this whole tournament to explode after his unfortunate injury in the last friendly warmup for Ghana against Korea, while Badu is already a fine productive regular at Udinese. 

With a still dejected and ravished Portugal side, how the returning Pepe and the ailing Bruno Alves deal with Gyan will be telling, as well if Asamoah contains Ronaldo. It will be interesting to see how motivated Ronaldo is in this match after his comments, as well as seeing if William Carvalho can cause problems in the middle on Andre Ayew. 

(Will be back for more later......) 

The FIFA World Cup Team of Day 14 Thread For 6/25/14: Lead By The X-Man

It takes quite the achievement to top Lionel Messi on a day where he scores two goals at a World Cup, but that is what one young exciting Swiss has done.

Xherdan Shaqiri's hat trick makes him the standout player of Day 14.

Messi's two latest goals were matched in the same game by 21-year old Nigeria rising force Ahmed Musa, who was at his best against Argentina and showed why he is one of African football's luminous talents.

Edin Dzeko and Miralem Pjanic had fine departures to a World Cup that surely will not hurt their reputations. They earned the goals their performances in the previous two matches warranted and will be a major part in a Bosnia side that will be tough in Euro 2016.  

While Shaqiri got all the praise, Gokhan Inler's captaincy to a Swiss revenge victory over Honduras four years in the making shouldn't be overlooked. The Napoli man showed his underrated value with another solid display in midfield, including delivering the key pass for Josip Drmic simple set up for Shaqiri's second.

It was a battle at left back for the nod, but PSG nascent defender Lucas Digne barely beat out Ricardo Rodriguez. The Wolfsburg star made a terrific goaline clearing effort on Jery Bengtson's "should have been a goal" effort that proved to be huge as Switzerland maintained a mental edge over not letting a change in goal differential energized an Ecuador side at the same time.

That thankfully didn't come to pass for Ottmar Hitzfeld's side, who saw Fabian Schar exhibited why he should have started from the get-go this tournament as most expected. The 22-year-old exhibited a calm, steady performance as his partner Johan Djourou was the one susceptible to giving Honduras Bengtson's near goal effort and their penalty claim with his silly bump on Jerry Palacios.

Laurent Koscielny maybe is still surprised to see himself not start for France in this tournament, but his solid display against a desperate Ecuador team with the on-fire Enner Valencia showed how Didier Deschamps has the best backup centerback in the tournament by a mile. And he may likely be called upon to start against Nigeria after Mamadou Sakho's elbow is reviewed by FIFA.

Joining his well known star teammates Dzeko and Pjanic is Bosnian rightback Avdija Vrsajevic, who scored his first international goal today against Iran and made great runs from the back throughout the days. The Hajduk Split man should have had a brace, as he missed a great chance in the first half set up by Dzeko that he duly corrected in the second half with a fine finish.  

The final man apart of Day 14's Best XI was Ecuador's Alexander Dominguez, who did his best to keep his country in the Wold Cup with save after save against a potent French side. It was Dominguez's best performance for Ecuador and could see him leave Quito for a bigger club elsewhere in July or August.

(Coverage of the final day of group play will be start late today before the Group G finales).

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

The FIFA World Cup Kickaround, Halftime, and Postgame Thread #1 For 6/25/14: Group F Finales (First Version)

FT: Nigeria 2-3 Argentina; Bosnia & Herzegovina 3-1 Iran 

A day after his 27th birthday, Lionel Messi gave himself two joyous belated gifts to continue erasing all arguments from his international career naysayers. 

Although Angel Di Maria is almost deserving of the same great plaudits, Messi tactically exposed young Onazi throughout and produced the best direct free kick of the tournament. When you leave Vincente Enyeama of all goalkeeper's motionless, you have hit a special free kick. And that he did superbly. 

The attack at least today for Argentina wasn't just all about Messi, as Di Maria played by far his best game of the group stage. But Alejandro Sabella will have to be concerned with two things. 

An ailing Sergio Aguero and Gonzalo Higuain haven't even gotten a proper sniff in front of goal, while the backline again opened up too easily especially on Ahmed Musa's second goal. 

It was a breakout performance for Musa after a disappointing first two games for him, as he was given the chance to play on the right today as Victor Moses was mysteriously unavailable. It could turn out to be the move that makes Musa a real threat for the rest of his time in Brazil, as the CSKA Moscow man gave the world a glimpse of why he is an underrated rising talent. 


It would have been utterly cruel for Bosnia to not receive a point in their trip to Brazil with their quality, and they prevented that today with a clinical victory. 

Star men Pjanic and Dzeko brought their global renowned reputations to the Samba land and got the goals their play deserved. Muhamed Besic, despite his temperament, is a real defensive midfielder to watch in the next few weeks. His great energy, desire, and ability to help an attack is what will make him an intriguing buy for someone in a UEFA Big 5 league. 

Meanwhile, Carlos Queiroz's side has nothing to be ashamed of after a great first two matches that still resulted in them having to leave their defensive shape a bit today. They just couldn't produce the impenetrable object that they featured against Nigeria and almost did against Argentina. It will be a challenge for them to make the next World Cup with Jevad Nekounam among others likely seeing his last World Cup play today.    

 Prematch Version: 

Photo from Getty Images.com 


For Nigeria, Onazi will be assigned on Messi mostly today, while Mikel will sit deeper and hope to frustrate Aguero enough when he tries to move in between the backline. How Ambrose deals with Di Maria coming in with his great energetic runs will be vital as well.

Emenike simply must bring the quality he showed in the last game and stretch the Argentine backline.

Iran-Bosnia Tatical Thoughts 

For Iran to go through today, Masoud Shojaei and Ehsan Hajsafi have to give the best two-way performances of their international career. Hajsafi has the pace to try and make it happen, while Shojaei has the class in his shoes to produce it.

Still, they are well cognizant of how they will have to track back to help negate Pjanic's creativity for the front two while being aware of the drive from midfield that Muhamed Besic will offer up at any time.

(Halftime thoughts to come)......

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

The FIFA 2014 World Cup Halftime and Postgame Thread For 6/24/14: Day 13 Recap

Best XI for Day 13

Georgios Samaras moving up front made the difference for a Greece attack that finally calm to life, and credit to Fernando Santos for that vital move. 

Santos also deserves approbation for bringing in Lazaros Christodoulopoulos, whose good performances were helped by great displays also from Jose Holebas (Chloveas) and the ageless captain Giorgos Karagounis

Arevalo Rios' getting Claudio Marchisio sent off was one of the important things overshadowed by "JAWS-uarez 3", but the dogged defensive midfielder had another commendable performance for his country and help take way any space for Andrea Pirlo to try and move his deep lying playmaking forward. 

Also as vital as Rios was for Oscar Tabarez was the young-old centerback pairing of heading hero Diego Godin and Jose Gimenez. Mario Balotelli, Ciro Immobile, and Antonio Cassano could do nothing all day. 

Colombian explosive duo James Rodriguez and Jackson Martinez fully warrant their places in the Best XI, as their terrific second halves sent Japan through. 

And in a likely cruel end to his World Cup career, Gianluigi Buffon showed how he will be missed at the global tournament with another showcase of his great ability. 

(World Cup Day 14 coverage will start today before the Group F finales, stay tuned) 

FT: Italy 0-1 Uruguay; England 0-0 Costa Rica 

Diego Godin probably has scored the most dramatic, irrelevant match winner in World Cup history. 

Let's just analyze the match first and foremost. 

Claudio Marchisio's redcard from Mexican referee Rodriguez  seems to have most split, but it was a decision on second glance that had to be made. The players are cognizant now that any high leg challenge towards the opponent's knee risk them getting sent off. And that was the determining factor for me on that call being correct. 

Uruguay still couldn't get a major foothold into total domination, but Oscar Tabarez bringing on Gaston Ramirez as he needed to proved to be the difference in what should have been the game's most important moment. 

Unfortunately that will not be the case with "JAWS-uarez 3" occurring for all the world to meme joke and have endless classic fun with. 

For Italy, it was a team who despite not being too old across the board had its key playmaker (Pirlo) feel his age (34) the last two matches after playing in the toughest conditions and enduring a long club season. Its defenders are no longer world class for another cycle, as the Juventus back 3 that's so formidable in Serie A the last three seasons just aren't a dominating global force. 

But all of those analytical discussions on where the Italian national goes from here after exiting out of the group stage for a second straight time will long go away behind the growing legend of a real life cannibal.  

Halftime: Italy 0, Uruguay 0

Photo from Getty Images

For Tabarez, he may have to being on Gaston Ramirez and Christian Stuani to get any injection and belief to go forward and take the lead.

So far for Prandelli, a job well done where it has only been one meaningful Uruguay threat. However, the Juventus backline just doesn't have that same aura it has been able to have domestically in Serie A and are susceptible at any point. Both Candreva and Insigne loom on the bench for sure.


Monday, June 23, 2014

The FIFA World Cup Halftime and Postgame Thread #2 for 6/23/14: Day 12 Recap

Day 12 Team of The Day 

Four games to pick from for the second time this tournament, but this is the best eleven for day 12. 

Neymar and Arjen Robben have taken the star men role this tournament, while David Villa has given his nation a proper goodbye to his international career and his team's involvement in Brazil 2014.

Guillermo Ochoa didn't have to produce nearly as much as he did against Brazil, but another solid performance of organizing sees him garner a place over Dutch goalkeeper Jasper Cillessen. Ochoa's surprisingly easier day than expected against Croatia was helped by his captain Rafael Marquez, who continues to resemble the top class defender he was a decade ago.

Although his teammate Hector Moreno is unlucky to not make this list, Ron Vlaar of The Netherlands deserved his place with his best national team performance in helping shutout Chile. Assisting Vlaar in that rare solid defensive display for Van Gaal's was Dirk Kuyt, the offensive player transformed into a fine makeshift leftback. Alexis Sanchez chose to come to the center more than attack him directly, as Kuyt maintained his disclipine to not go naturally forward as he is use to doing and gave his manager evidence that he could start against Mexico.

The all Dutch-Mexican backline is completed with Paul Aguilar, whose energy was sensational today and gave young Croatian replacement leftback Sime Vrsaljko some lessons on how to be an outside presence.

Winning their battles also with their Croatian counterparts were Jose Juan Vasquez and Miguel Herrera, who resembled more the high profile midfielders taking part in the game than Ivan Rakitic and Luka Modric. While Rakitic and Modric's UEFA title winning seasons were great, they simply didn't have the energy to deal with the two way forces that Vasquez and Herrera were. The latter's rattling shot off the bar changed the momentum of the game in the first half, while Vasquez again provided timely tackling. Shame for Miguel though that the Leon man picked up a second yellow card and will be out for their Round of 16 contest.

Completing the best eleven of the day was Fernandinho, who couldn't have made a stronger case to now be a permanent starter in Luis Scolari's team after his instant impact off the bench. Coming on for a struggling Paulinho in the first half, the Manchester City holding midfielder set up Luiz's pass to Fred for the third tally and finished off the scoring to complete the best team goal for Brazil this tournament.

(Come back tomorrow for Group C and D finale day, with Group D up first at 11:30 AM ET. Goodbye for now)

Group A Recap 

FT: Croatia 1-3 Mexico  

12 months ago, Mexican was in the midst of a listless Confederations Cup that would continue a forgettable 2013.

8 months ago they needed Graham Zusi from all nations, the United States, to preventing their elimination from World Cup participations.

Even a few weeks back, after defeats to Bosnia and Portugal with Luis Montes having his leg broken against Ecuador, it seemed Mexico would finish an inevitable third with a lost against both Brazil and Croatia.

But the marvel that is Miguel Hererra, luminary young midfielders, and a rejuvenated center back duo have erased the misery of 2013 and has recaptured that massive joy of their historic 2012.

The conditioning that this Mexico team is now in is as elite as their CONCACAF brethren Costa Rica and the USA. Luka Modric, Ivan Rakitic, and Mario Mandzukic's long club campaigns showed tonight as they didn't offer anything of significance when their country required it most. Meanwhile Ivica Olic resembled a man who was 34-year-old and was listless as well. Only Ivan Perisic, a man who hasn't had to worry about European games or being an old age, had a real genuine threat for Niko Kovac's side. Kovac may have to rethink his decision having both Danijel Pranjic and Sime Vrsaljko on the same side as a mistake, while Mateo Kovacic just couldn't produce anything of significance.  

But that was also due to the physical tireless pairing of Miguel Herrera and Gio Vasquez, with a reborn Andres Guardado completing a fantastic midfield. They were all sensational and were spurred on by a backline that got the usual class display from Hector Moreno and the continued sensational fountain of youth pairing of Maza Rodriguez and Rafa Marquez.

Marquez and Rodriguez looked like they would never be on the national team again after the age of Mexican captain saw him out of the side, while Rodriguez lost the captaincy of the team under Victor Vucetich after constant mistakes throughout last year.

After getting an easy warm up against a listless Cameroon side that had Samuel Eto'o easily blow his only chance, Marquez and Rodriguez have produced arguably the best performances of their national team careers. Marquez, buoyed by scoring the huge first goal, was so confident after the great win that he uttered these comments.

"Right now, Mexico is strong to beat anybody."

The Dutch have to be well aware of that indeed.

FT: Cameroon 1-4 Brazil 

Photo from Getty Images

Fernandinho's arrival in the second half could be the last time Paulinho starts in this tournament. For weeks now, fans have been calling for the Manchester City man to feature more than the Tottenham physical presence. And when the Brazilian supporters needed their midfield to be more solid in the second half after Enoh and Mbia were moving them back, Scolari did just that.

That move lead to the substitute contributing to Fred's goal and then rounding out the scoring with a fine finish to give Scolari major reasons to have him in the first XI against Chile. Energetic displays by Dani Alves and Marcelo will make things a little better, but there are still firm questions at the back with David Luiz.

To be fair to him, Thiago Silva deserves the blame as well for allowing that Enoh cross to get Matip for Cameroon's goal. But it was a fine first half performance still with a lot of leaks in the back, as their CONMBEOL rivals Chile will give it their all to constantly expose on Saturday. Especially when midfield runners like Aranguiz, Gutierrez, Valdivia and a rested Arturo Vidal will love to parade in at any moment.

On the other side of the ball, to have Fred get on the score board was such a relief for Scolari. But with Hulk still in search for his first goal after Neymar's fine set up chance for him didn't produce a breakthrough, that's still a concern for Scolari.  And after a Man of the Match opening performance against Croatia, Oscar hasn't found the brilliance these past two matches.

That was all taken away of course by the man of the moment, Senhor Neymar and his continued one man show. The 22-year-old is loving the pressure to perform once again, and it is a beautiful thing to witness.

Halftime Version 

Brasil-Cameroon Tactics

Can't speak enough about how maybe that cross that lead to Matip's goal is presented if Dante, Miranda, and even Luisao could have prevented that cross from Enoh.

But once again, the brilliance of Neymar almost even helped Fred and Hulk get off the snide.

Croatia-Mexico Tactics

Kovac may have to bring in Kovacic and move Olic up front with Mandzukic . Despite Croatia having a bit more of the midfield, Hector Herrera has been the best player in the match. And with Modric and Rakitic not destroyers, he may counter to make things happen.

So far, good enough from him, Vasquez, and Guardado.

(Back for the postgame....)

The FIFA World Cup Kickaround Thread #2 For 6/23/14: Group A Finale Day

Photo from Getty Images 

Mexico-Croatia Tactical Thoughts

While an unchanged first eleven for Miguel Hererra, some interesting adjustments made by Niko Kovac.

Talented young Sime Vrsaljko will come in at left back and be protected by Danijel Pranjic to combat the quality that Hector Herrera has displayed this tournament and the energy that Paul Aguilar has offered at right football.

Can Vasquez continue his great tournament along with a rejuvenated Guadrado versus the infamous combination of Modric and Rakitic.

Even more than the Brazil game, this will be the toughest test for the Mexican backline, especially Rafa Marquez and Maza Rodriguez against how formidable Mario Mandzukic and Ivica Olic can be. Maybe the matchup going must under the radar is who will win any duel when Ivan Perisic has to face up against Hector Moreno. Both players are in fine form and could be the difference to whether their side goes through.


Brazil-Cameroon Thoughts 

Arguably Cameroon's best XI today, with Matip playing in his rightful spot and Assou-Ekotto dropped for Bedimo after his infamous headbutt at Moukandjo. Both Matip and Bedimo should have been in the lineup in their rightful spots from match one and speaks to how Finke has been the worst manager of the tournament.

Hulk is back for Brazil, but again, maybe he should be the forward leading the line instead of Fred, who is under the huge microscope today.

(Back for postgame and maybe a halftime too) 

The FIFA World Cup Postgame Thread #1 For 6/23/14: Group B Finale Recap

FT: Netherlands 2-0 Chile 

No Van Persie, no problem for a great mental performance today from the Dutch side. Although Chile did not have Arturo Vidal and Arjen Robben will get the headlines again, most encouraging for Van Gaal will be seeing the best defensive display of the three matches for his team.

The inclusion of Dirk Kuyt at left back and moving Daley Blind on the inside in the three centerback role prove to be quite effective. Although Alexis Sanchez did have his moments,  most of them happened on the outside of the box. Eduardo Vargas didn't have anything significant in this match and that is a testament to the organized displays from Ron Vlaar and Stefan De Vrij.

If there was one team in this tournament who do not fear facing Brazil in a Round of 16 encounter, it is certainly Chile. With Vidal fully rested now, they will need everything from the Juventus man to cause the big upset.

Meanwhile, the Dutch will await Mexico or Croatia in the Round of 16. And although both sides are no slouches, it will be quite the disappointment if the Dutch with Robben and Van Persie in top form bow out at the first knockout stage.
FT: Australia 0-3 Spain 

The tears say it all from David Villa.

When Vincente Del Bosque subbed him off , it was the lachrymose symbol of an era closing with the Spanish national team. Xabi Alonso had said that he doesn't want to hang up the international jersey, and neither has Iker Casillas or Xavi Hernandez.

But Villa's exit out of the game after his top class opener might as well have represented all of the four stalwarts seeing the final chapter of their legendary international careers.

The pride of this Spanish national team could not see them suffer no less than a victory to see their departure for Brazil. Ange Postecoglou's side were great in their 10 day stay of the World Cup and played their aggressive 4-3-3 style instead of setting back like some thought they would. But the backline organization, after so many changes and injuries, was always at risk of getting exposed at any point and was on good Iniesta and Fabregas passes.

Torres scoring the second could very well be his last World Cup moment of significance either, while Juan Mata finishing the final goal may also see Vincente Del Bosque witnessing his last goal as Spain's manager.

A manager whose legacy will not be tarnished despite the horrors of the first two matches in Brazil, and a legacy that that has enriched team football unlike any other.  

The World Cup Kickaround Thread #1 For 6/23/14: Group B Finales (Only Version)

Pre-game Thoughts


For the Dutch vs Chile, Dirk Kuyt's inclusion into this World Cup will be so key, as Van Gaal has placed him at outside wingback to make Alexis Sanchez have to defend a bit. You could also see Nigel de Jong play deeper to monitor Sanchez, especially with Arturo Vidal on the bench

Jeremaine Lens is preferred over Klaas-Jan Huntelaar for the little more mobility up top to pressure the diminutive pairing of Medel and Jara. Isla may have to comeback and contend with that.


Meanwhile, as the final international game for Xabi Alonso (and maybe the last for David Villa as well) gets all the attention, it will be interesting to see what young Adam Taggart does as life after Tim Cahill begins.

(Will be a Halftime and Postgame Thread) 

Sunday, June 22, 2014

The FIFA World Cup Halftime and Postgame Thread #2 For 6/22/14: Day 11 Recap (Final Version)

Day 11 Best XI 

Algeria is so deserving of having the most members in today's Best XI, a historic performance for their nation. 

The front four of Slimani, Brahimi, Djabou, and Feghouli set the tone with the desire to make things happen and were justly rewarded, especially after Feghouli was robbed of a penalty by referee Wilmar Rhodan. Feghouli and Brahimi are owners of the finest one-two combination goal in the tournament. 

They are joined in the front five by Dempsey, who played maybe his best game in a US uniform, especially considering it was at the toughest spot for him (lone forward).  

DaMarcus Beasley got caught out one time against the dangers of Portugal's speed, his #1 job of the evening, and really only got beat once by Nani (compare that to the evenings of Andre Almeida and Miguel Veloso, more on that in a bit). Thankfully for him, Ronaldo had one of his worst games in a long, long time. And when Beasley did venture forward, the former Chicago Fire prospect provided more positive play for the USA. 

Beasley's fellow fullback Fabian Johnson was simply terrific. It's hard to overlook his primary responsibility of defending, but his constant runs up the field seemed to produce a threat each and everytime. Veloso and Andre Almeida will be quite relieved to not see him again, while Paulo Bento will pray that Fabio Coentrao has a miraculous comeback for their final match against Ghana. 

The other standout German-American in this team is of course Jermaine Jones. His best game as an American, as his sensational goal was the highlight of a terrific, composed two-way display. 

The final member of the Algerian five to get into this team is Rafik Halliche, whose thundering header gave his nation their second goal and whose long ball abetting the third tally in a remarkable first half for the Fennec Foxes. The left centerback also made less mistakes in the second half than captain Madjid Bougherra and fully warrants his spot for the greatest day in his career. 

Overlooked in Belgium's tough 1-0 winner over Russia was the play of Daniel van Buyten. Considering that playing time has been hard to come by for the now former Bayern Munich centerhalf in the last few years, Van Buyten was a solid presence again today with proper positioning and no mistakes. While Vincent Kompany may have had the more glamorous plays throughout, the Belgian captain did leave Kokorin unmarked on a header that should have given Russia the lead.  So far so good for Marc Wilmots biggest question mark this tournament.  

And finally, despite seeing Varela score the latest regulation time goal in World Cup Finals history, Tim Howard still produced vital moments on the evening that kept his US side from going down 2-0 and 2-1 on the night. 

(Tomorrow begins the final games of the group stage as we are halfway through the tournament. Come back again tomorrow at 11 AM ET time for the Group B finales, followed later in the day by the Group A climaxes). 

FT: USA 2-2 Portugal 

Photo from Getty Images

Take a deep breath everyone. 

Silvestre Varela's dramatic equalizer is not only the goal that keeps Portugal alive, but also could be the moment that leads to the US exiting out of the group stage. 

The US did well to prevent going down 2-0 after Geoff Cameron's terrible miskick that fell into Nani for an easy goal. Fabian Johnson was a constant headache all night for Bento's side, as Andre Almeida and makeshift Miguel Veloso just couldn't handle him. 

Portugal was badly outplayed in the midfield, as Moutinho and Meireles didn't show the desire and consistency that Jones and Bradley had on the evening. Worst for Portugal is that this was one game that exposed Ronaldo's lack of track backing so dearly. 

And just when Ricardo Costa and Bruno Alves were having heroic performances, the play on the left side lead to their down fall, especially on Dempsey's onside goal.  

Portugal simply need a miracle on Thursday: They need a heavy win over Ghana and hope that Germany hammers the US. The worse case scenario for Klinsmann's side could be a tired, unmotivated and injury ridden Portugal team set up for a heavy pasting against a Ghana side who have the class to score many goals.  They had to win tonight after the disaster against Germany, but they just didn't have the quality to take that vital 2-0 lead. 

Silvestre Varela's latest heroics for his country after Ronaldo's only relevant moment in the match maybe a reprieve for them, but Paulo Bento's team and their fate look sealed. 

Meanwhile a forgettable evening for Geoff Cameron, who gave Nani a great assist on the first goal and then did not mark off Varela on the dramatic equalizer. Always those deep runners centerbacks have to be cognizant about at all times, and that was painfully the case there for Cameron. 

The former Houston Dynamo will have to regroup quickly as the three days rest to the final group contest after humid Manaus is the toughest turnaround in the tournament. He had such a great season at Stoke City, and was solid the first game with Besler against Ghana. But that is where him playing centerback instead of right back, where he has been one of the best in his position, may have comeback to haunt him tonight.

But even with how sick he may feel at the moment, Cameron would rather be in the current position than Ronaldo and company.  

And both sides would rather be in their current states than be apart of their nervous, pedantic fans. 

(The full Day 11 lookback with team of the day, to come) .....

Halftime: Portugal 1, USA 0

Photo from Getty Images 

Bradley and Jones have been very effective, while Fabian Johnson is a constant threat to Andre Almeida and will test the makeshift leftback's fitness in the second half. 

Ronaldo just hasn't looked a firm threat in this one, but can always produce one moment if Beasley and Johnson get too caught up going forward. 

Geoff Cameron has done okay after his uncharacteristic mistake, but was lucky to not get a second yellow. 

Paulo Bento has got to try and get some burst from Moutinho and Veloso in the midfield, as Bradley and Jones are having too much of a field day in the middle. 

Johannsson or Wondolowski may come in, but there is no urgency for them to come in with the ball controlling and chances created and almost created by the midfield. Bedoya could come off though, as he is not getting used on the left because of Costa and Almeida's weaknesses. 

Pregame Version 

1) A make or break day for Helder Postiga, his international career is on the line today, as he and Nani must be key and make runs in between Besler and Beasley instead of Besler and Cameroon.

2) The communication between Ricardo Costa and Bruno Alves will have to be sound. The Valencia man did not have a good season in La Liga and Europa League play, while the concern over Alves' fitness will only go away with a solid opening. They must watch for clever runs from Zusi and Bedoya out of the midfield.

3) And of course, the main target, where both Johnson and Beasley can't be too aggressive against Nani and Ronaldo.

4) That can only be stopped by Michael Bradley actually harassing Joao Moutinho just as much as him being aggressive offensively, while Kyle Beckerman will have to be that man also back with the fullbacks to prevent Ronaldo's constant threat. The same two for Miguel Veloso and Raul Meireles battling Jermaine Jones and

5) And how will Beto play in goal tonight for Rui Patricio. 

The FIFA World Cup Halftime And Postgame Thread For 6/22/14: After Algeria-South Korea (Multiple Versions)

Photo from Getty Images 

FT: Korea Republic 2-4 Algeria 

As mentioned at halftime, Kim Young-Gwon and Hong Jeong-Ho reputations diminished massively today. Islam Slimani gave them constant problems, and when they needed Han Kook-Young to protect them, he could not on that sweet 4th goal from Yacine Brahimi.  

A dream day for Valid Halilhodzic, as the tensions between him and the Algerian federation will subside for tonight. Concerns though will be how his captain Madjid Bougherra lost focus on Son's goal while his backline couldn't prevent Koo finishing the second.  

Hong Myung-Bo will have to ponder major chances heading into a must win side against a Belgium team who will at least look to have one good performance before the knockout stage. 

It's one thing to have Messi and company score a boatload of goals on them four years ago, but it is another to have a talented but decent at best Algerian side do the same. 

(More to come with halftime of USA-Portugal) 

Halftime Version of Korea Republic and Algeria 

Photo from FIFA via Getty Images 

Halftime: Algeria 3, Korea Republic 0

Before the tournament Marcello Lippi stated previously, over a year ago, that Kim Young-Gwon could play in a big UEFA Top 4-5 league club, including Manchester United. He may want to retract that statement after being apart of the worst centerback group display with Hong Jeong-Ho in the tournament.

Along with Jung Sung-Ryong latest mistake in net on Halliche's second header, the centerbacks were responsible for the goals in the first half and could easily lead to Korean being eliminated this tournament.

But Algeria set the tone by being aggressive from the start, and were rewarded with Slimani continuing off his fine year at Sporting Lisbon for the opener. Then the two centerbacks have been sensational with Halliche scoring the second goal and delivering the key long ball pass that lead to set up Djabou's third.

A dream on one end, a nightmare for the other.

FT: Belgium 1-0 Russia 

Photo from Getty Images 

It was another struggle of a display for a much fancied side, as Eden Hazard woke up at the end of the match after a second straight disappointing effort. His effort set up Lille rising youngster Divock Origi for his first international goal and the game winner.

The key to that match deciding move was the start, as Kompany's strong tackle on Dzagoev set up the space required for Marc Wilmots' side to exploit. Hazard, after 80 awful minutes and lucky to not be subbed off for Kevin Mirallas (Dries Mertens was), showed the world class potential he can offer any minute by getting by Andrey Eschenko easily to set up Origi. Glushakov looked like he would monitor him for the remainder of the sequence, but got spooked by Hazard getting by Eschenko and allowed the 19-year the space he needed to secure the biggest goal in his fledgling life.

Another late match tally for a Belgium side not playing at their full capacity. At the center of that is Hazard and Romelu Lukaku. Despite Mertens' great individual moments in the first half, he didn't provide any service for the big forward. Axel Witsel's decent work in the midfield was mostly going to Mertens and it made Hazard constantly invisible.

It is up to Hazard (and Wilmots it needs to be added), to notice the wave of play not going to his side primarily and start moving over. His static play for the most part hurt Lukaku's chances to get service even more than Witsel outletting to Mertens or the Napoli man's inability to produce a telling pass.

On the other end, Fabio Capello's side had their chances with Kokorin blowing a header that should have made it 1-0. But that header comes back to Capello and his decision to still prefer Kokorin over Kerzhakov, the team's tailsman throughout qualifying. If Kerzhakov had that header in the first half then Russia would have lead. Instead, the Zenit forward only came on after Origi's goal when it was too late.

For a man getting paid an 8-figure salary (and being the highest paid manager in the tournament by far), Capello sure is producing single dollar stubbornness. Benching Kerzhakov, Dzagoev, and Igor Denisov so far has not produced standout results, and will be tested in the final match against Algeria in a likely must win for Russia.

(Halftime of Korea and Algeria to come).  

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