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2014 World Cup Draw Set

6 Dec

Yeah, I know, it’s been forever and a day since I actually posted anything, but the World Cup makes a person want to blog again, if only to complain about how rough the US has it.  Anyway, the ridiculously drawn out official draw was today and while yeah, the US has it rough, spare a thought for the Aussies, who have an even tougher go.  And while almost everyone can complain about the groups right now, in the end it’s all about what happens on the field.  Anything can happen on any given day and that’s one of the things that makes the World Cup (and sports in general) so awesome.

Group A: Brazil, Croatia, Mexico, Cameroon

Group B: Spain, Netherlands, Chile, Australia

Group C: Colombia, Greece, Ivory Coast, Japan

Group D: Uruguay, Costa Rica, England, Italy

Group E: Switzerland, Ecuador, France, Honduras

Group F: Argentina, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Iran, Nigeria

Group G: Germany, Portugal, Ghana, USA

Group H: Belgium, Algeria, Russia, South Korea

I’ll admit that my initial thoughts were that the USA was on the receiving end of a brutal draw (In fact I think my exact words were ‘holy shit’).  But after thinking about it a little bit, I don’t think it’s nearly as bad as it could’ve been.  I think it’s great that the US will open against Ghana.  It’s going to be huge for the Yanks to start the tournament well and if they can do so against a team that’s knocked them out of the last two World Cups, so much the better.  There’s no doubt they’ll have the motivation to take down Ghana.  Portugal is tough, even if they only qualified through the strength of one Mr. Ronaldo, but I do think they are beatable if the US can play an entire 90 minutes.  I believe that Germany is the top team in the group and probably one of the favorites for the tournament.  That will be interesting if only for the storyline of Klinsmann taking on his home country.  I’ll chalk that one up for a German victory.

As I’ve said in the past, the key to US success on the big stage is putting together a solid 90 minutes. They can’t afford to have lapses and give up early goals like they did against England, Slovenia, Ghana x2 last time around.  Coming from behind to win/draw is not a sustainable model for success. The US has been playing well in the past year and I think Klinsmann’s system is finally starting to click.  It’s just a matter of whether they can show up when it really counts and play consistent football.

Now for the extremely premature predictions.  Of course a team’s chances could go to hell in a handbasket pretty quick with a couple key injuries and we all know that there is a lot of football to be played before we get to Brazil.  But based on how things stand currently, this is what my gut says:

Advance to second round (1st, 2nd)

Group A: Brazil, Croatia

Group B: Spain, Chile

Group C: Colombia, Japan

Group D: Italy, England

Group E: France, Honduras

Group F: Argentina, Nigeria

Group G: Germany, USA

Group H: Belgium, South Korea

Knockout

A1 vs. B2: Brazil vs. Chile – Brazil

A2 vs. B1: Spain vs. Croatia – Spain

C1 vs. D2: Colombia vs. England – Colombia

C2 vs. D1: Japan vs. Italy – Italy

E1 vs. F2: France vs. Nigeria – France

E2 vs. F1: Honduras vs. Argentina – Argentina

G1 vs. H2: Germany vs. South Korea – Germany

G2 vs. H1: USA vs. Belgium – Belgium

Round of 8

Brazil vs. Colombia – Brazil

France vs. Germany – Germany

Spain vs. Italy – Spain

Argentina vs. Belgium – Argentina

Semifinals

Brazil vs. Germany – Brazil

Spain vs. Argentina – Spain

Final

Brazil vs. Spain – Brazil

Going with the home country in this one.  France was the last team to lift the World Cup in their home country, but I think Brazil has the talent to get it done.  Spain’s got the experience though and Brazil will be under mountains of pressure, so I anticipate this final going down to the last minutes.

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USA gains valuable point in draw with Mexico

27 Mar

It wasn’t pretty, but the US managed a 0-0 draw with Mexico in a CONCACAF World Cup qualifier on Tuesday.  The Azteca is an notoriously difficult place to play and the Yanks have seen little success there.  In fact, this draw was only the second point the U.S. has ever earned at the Azteca in World Cup qualification.

With a win and a draw in its last two matches, the U.S. now sits in third place in CONCACAF with four points with seven matches to go.  Mexico, meanwhile, is in fifth with three.  There’s still a lot of football to be played and this whole qualification process is guaranteed to get interesting before things wind down.  The top three teams advance to the World Cup in Brazil while the fourth place team has a play-off against Oceania champ New Zealand.

Thoughts and observations on the game in no particular order:

  • Brad Guzan has shown that he is more than capable of replacing Tim Howard in net.  Two shutouts in two starts this campaign, including one away to Mexico?  Not too shabby.  With some question marks still surrounding the defensive unit, it’s nice to have someone reliable between the sticks.
  • Definitely think that was a penalty on Maurice Edu when he took out Javier Aquino late in the game.  Despite massive protests by the Mexican players, it wasn’t called.  It’s surprising to see the U.S. get the benefit of the doubt on a call like that on the road.
  • The U.S. has to do a better job maintaining possession and creating chances.  The Yanks were lucky that poor touches and off-target passing in the midfield didn’t result in a Mexico goal.  They can’t afford to give the ball away so much.  That said, it’s near impossible to create any decent opportunities when you can’t hang onto the ball.  The U.S. only managed one shot and didn’t force Ochoa to make a single save or big play.  The off-ball movement going forward was lacking and often midfielders didn’t have much of an passing option.
  • I was surprised to see Javier Hernandez miss a couple golden opportunities in front of the net.  Those are the kind of goals he regularly scores for Manchester United and it was odd to see him go so off target from three yards out.
  • The U.S. defense bent, but didn’t break.  Despite coming under significant pressure towards the end of the match, the U.S. defense managed to keep Mexico at bay.  For an inexperienced back line (with the except of Beasley), this was a huge performance.  To come into a place like the Azteca and earn a shutout will definitely give them confidence going forward.  Omar Gonzalez is looking much more confident and Matt Besler did a decent job in place of the injured Clarence Goodson.  Beasley looked a step too slow against Aquino down the flank, but Mexico was never able to take advantage.

What did you think?

Robotic clouds won’t save the day

28 Mar

Since it gets so hot in Qatar over the summer (100+ easily) and those conditions aren’t exactly amenable for playing soccer, it has become necessary to create robotic clouds to hover over the stadiums to cool the players and fans.  Yes, you read that right, robotic clouds.  Of course, said clouds are expensive to make ($500,000 a pop), but this is Qatar, land of never-ending stash of cash, so money is really no object.  Much like the futuristic, erector set stadiums promised, the clouds are still just a work in progress.  There’s no guarantee it will actually happen.

I’ll admit that it’s a pretty cool concept, but how effective can it really be?  Even in the shade, it’s still going to be incredibly hot.  Also, what about all the fans that aren’t at the games?  It’s not like people are in the stadiums 24/7.  Generally, there are a lot of people wandering around and watching games in public squares and such, what about all those people?  Or will there so few people attending that it won’t even matter?  I can’t find too many details on the project other than the general concept, but I have some questions.  What about the noise factor?  Will players be able to hear each other or will it all be drowned out by whooshing noises from these giant cloud fan things?  What happens if something goes wrong with it?  Will it just crash into the stadium?  Would these clouds truly make a major difference in comfort and temperature?

Which brings me back to my main question – why exactly is Qatar hosting the World Cup to begin with?

How is there not more outcry over this?!

14 Dec

I saw these somewhat enigmatic tweets from Jonathan Alter (http://www.twitter.com/jonathanalter), an Newsweek columnist and MSNBC analyst, earlier today about the World Cup going to Qatar.  This is the kind of information that needs to be out in the public vein, not just on Twitter, if indeed true.  It wouldn’t surprise me one bit if this was true. FIFA has proved over and over that it only cares about money, despite insisting that is far from the truth.

Sepp Blatter’s recent uip about homosexuals refraining from sexual activities during the World Cup in Qatar (since homosexuality is illegal there) struck nerves too and begged the question yet again, why the hell would you send the World Cup to Qatar?

5 reasons Qatar was the wrong choice

3 Dec

Now that it has had time to sink in, I’m still bitter that the 2022 World Cup will be held in Qatar, dashing any dreams I had of attending. In case you are still unsure as to the location of this host, I’ve included a map for your convenience. Yeah, that little square is going to host the World Cup.

1. Location

Who really wants to spend a month in 120 degree heat? No one I know. But it’s ok, they will build air conditioned stadiums!  Great. At least when you are actually attending a game. What happens when you don’t have tickets but still want to be part of the atmosphere?  From a fan’s perspective, it’s not exactly the most welcoming party atmosphere like people expect at the World Cup, although the restrictions on drinking could be loosened for the World Cup.  In addition, flights to Qatar are extremely expensive. Of course, international flights in general are pricey, but a quick search revealed that a flight to Doha is $1,200 –  $500 more than a flight to Rio De Janiero in Brazil and $300 more expensive than a flight to St. Petersburg in Russia.  Attendance at the 2010 World Cup was 3.18 million, almost double the population of Qatar, the third highest attendance of any World Cup.  Can we expect those numbers from a World Cup in Qatar? Probably not.  Why stunt the growth of the tournament like that?

2. Location

Clearly the Middle East is exactly where you want to host the world’s showcase event.  Relationships between the West and the Middle East are somewhat fragile right now and what happens if there is a war over oil or something of the sort?  It’s not out of the realm of possibility and could cause major problems for an event like the World Cup.  Not only would it keep people away, but it could threaten the tournament itself. Now of course this is all ‘what if’, but still, the bottom line is that it’s a politically unstable region and one in which Westerners are not always held in the highest regard.  Much more so than say, oh, everyone else that bid for the 2022 World Cup. FIFA even labeled the Qatar bid as the highest risk.  Glad to see that clearly mattered.

3. Freedom of press

I read an interesting article this morning about how both Qatar and Russia do not have a free press. This is an issue for FIFA because of the reports that came out of the English media regarding corruption and scandal within the organization and bid process.  Of course these reports made FIFA angry and England ended up going out in the first round of 2018 voting.  Coincidence? Doubtful.  Basically FIFA wanted total control over the World Cup and the media surrounding it and that’s what they got with Qatar.

4. Size and scope

Ok, so we all know that Qatar has a lot of money to spend.  Zinedine Zidane will reportedly receive $15 million for backing the winning Qatari bid.  Ridiculous.  But even though they’ve got the money, there’s no evidence that they can pull off an event like this.  Australia has hosted an extremely successful Olympic games, while the U.S. has successfully hosted both Olympic games and the World Cup.  Japan and Korea also partnered for a successful 2002 World Cup.  The World Cup stage is unlike any other and will the small nation be able to handle all the pressure and demands that come with it?  You can’t throw money at everything, but the FIFA executive committee will catch it if you do.

5. Corruption

Now of course no one can prove that Qatar bought the vote, but the whole thing comes off rather fishy.  There were allegations of corruption before the vote and two executive committee members lost their votes, but who’s to say there weren’t other members involved that just didn’t get caught?  Like I mentioned earlier, Qatar was named the highest risk bid, but then to turn around and vote for it doesn’t make sense.  It seems like there were some ulterior motives at hand. FIFA has shown over and over that it really doesn’t give a crap about anything except its own interests, but hopefully the backlash from these selections will cause a shake-up in the organization.

One other question: What’s the footballing culture like in Qatar?  I know the national team has never qualified for a World Cup.  Is there going to be a lot of local support or will they be relying solely on the tourist factor?

Now I don’t want to be entirely pessimistic; there were doubts going into South Africa about how that tournament would go, but it went off rather well.  Here’s hoping Qatar can pull it off.

Russia gets 2018, Qatar nabs 2022

2 Dec

Russia will host the World Cup in 2018, four years after hosting the Winter Olympics. In somewhat of a surprise move, Qatar earned the right to host the 2022 cup. As a fan, I’ve got to say that neither of those locations is particularly appealing. 115 degrees in July? No thanks. Anyways, I’m swamped right now, but I will elaborate on the phenomenal choices of the FIFA Executive Committee later tonight.

Get excited for World Cup host announcements

30 Nov

Forget Brazil 2014. Well, for now. Right now, it’s all about who will host the World Cup in 2018 and 2022. The U.S. is gunning for the 2022 bid along with Australia, Korea, Qatar and Japan. The 2018 Cup will be decided between Russia, England, Spain/Portugal and Belgium/Netherlands. It’s looking like the U.S. is the favorite for 2022, but take that with a grain of salt.  The U.S. was also thought to be the favorite to land the Olympics in 2016 but ended up being eliminated in the first round of voting (granted a different voting body).

The 1994 World Cup was the most successful ever, in terms of attendance. If anything, the game has grown in this country since then so I would imagine even more interest in the beautiful game.  There’s not a lot of work to do as far as transportation or stadiums since they are already in place in all the possible host cities.  Of course, I would love for the World Cup to come back to the U.S.; I didn’t get to go in 1994, a fact I am still bitter about.

However, I would gladly attend a World Cup in Australia too.  The Aussies ran an extremely successful Olympic games in 2000, so there’s no reason to think they couldn’t pull off a World Cup despite having never hosted.  Korea and Japan combined to host the event in 2002, so it would be only 20 years between Asian World Cups, which doesn’t exactly seem fair to me.  Qatar is somewhat of an enigma. The country has spent a ton of money on celebrity endorsements as well as state of the art technology for stadiums, but is the size and politics of the country ready for the world’s biggest party?

England hasn’t hosted since 1966, but allegations of corruption and other shady dealings have dealt somewhat of a blow to the country’s bid.  Russia  has come on strong, while FIFA is said to be wanting to get away from joint bids. (That might be the worst sentence ever written.)

The annoucement of the hosts for 2018 and 2022 will be on Thursday, Dec. 2. It will be shown live at 10:00 a.m. (EST) on Fox Soccer Channel, ESPN, Univision, ESPN Deportes, CNN International and fifa.com.