After England’s disastrous World Cup, manager Fabio Capello had an explanation for the squad’s performance:
“Germany are always in good condition at World Cups because the Bundesliga is suspended for a month. In Italy, Spain and other countries they have two weeks, but in England it is impossible because we have four competitions. Other countries have three, but in England all the competitions are really hard and the same teams arrive at the final. They are the teams with the best players, and they are the players I need.”
This explanation seems to have more merit after a fresher England squad easily disposed of Bulgaria and Switzerland in its first two European qualifying matches. Tor-Kristian Karlsen, a respected soccer consultant\pundit\twitter addict, tweeted after England’s 3-1 victory over Switzerland Tuesday, “personal opinion: the international calendar is out of sync with the form cycle of british players. wc failure due to jaded squad.” London Times soccer writer Oliver Kay responded to Karlsen’s tweet by simply stating, “Agreed.”
Can England’s failure at the World Cup really be pinned on its domestic league?
It’s over. No more early morning games, no more enticing over/under bets, no more national anthems, no more complaining about vuvuzela’s or the Jabulani, no more questionable calls, no more goal celebrations, no more Martin Tyler, no more Paul the Octopus, no more Diego Forlan free kicks, no more Germany counter-attacks, no more Dutch karate kicks, no more Spanish 1-0 victories and no more World Cup.
As soon as Mexico and South Africa kicked off the tournament, I braced myself knowing the World Cup will eventually end, but it still sucks when it did. I feel like an eight-year-old who just had a fantastic summer vacation but now has to go back to school. The difference is the eight year old has to wait nine months before summer starts up again, while soccer fans have four years.
But before we start looking forward (And there is a lot to look forward too: The Premiership starts in less than 40 days. Is Landon Donovan going to leave MLS for good? Will Bob Bradley stay the U.S. coach? Who is Fernando Torres going to play for next season? Can José Mourinho become the first coach to win three Champions Leagues with three different teams?) its time to review what we all digested the last five weeks.
With it’s 1-0 victory over the Netherlands in the 2010 World Cup final, this Barcelona team, errrr, I mean this Spain team, should be considered one of the best national teams ever and has a chance to be considered the greatest.
Not only is Spain currently the reigning European and World Cup champs, but La Roja has lost only two matches in the last two years and during that run they had the longest undefeated streak (35 matches) and longest winning streak (15 matches) ever.
So why has Spain been so good?
There’s a few reasons: Spain has two world-class strikers (Fernando Torres and David Villa), a couple solid center defenders (Carles Puyol and Gerrard Pique) and probably the best goalie in the world (Iker Casillas). But what has put Spain on a different level the last few years is the play of its undersized central midfielders — Andrés Iniesta and Xavi.
All Dutch and Spanish fans owe one big thank you (or, dank je wel; or, gracias) to a specific club team in their respected countries.
Ten of the Netherlands 23 World Cup players — five of whom will probably start against Spain — were part of Ajax’s famed youth system. Barcelona’s academy (La Masia) has contributed nine players to their country’s national team and as many as seven could start in the final.
There are obvious reasons why Ajax’s and Barcelona’s youth academy’s have been so successful: a winning history, great coaches, money. But it’s not as though they have a monopoly on history, coaches and cash. Other clubs do the same and haven’t produced a world-class, or even first-team, player in years (Chelsea). So how has Ajax and Barcelona done it?
It a pretty safe bet at least one of the last three matches of the World Cup (the stupid third-place match doesn’t exist to me) will end with two teams picking five players and taking undefended shots 12 yards from goal.
It’s like finishing a basketball game with a free throw shooting contest. It’s so idiotic, it’s somewhat amazing the penalty shootout has lasted as long as it has (It’s been around in international competitions since 1970. Before that, they had replays and even drew lots. No, you didn’t misread that, THEY DREW LOTS!). Trying to a determine a world champion by a shooting contest is completely unacceptable. This needs to be fixed. And, as the headline suggests, I know how to.
A shocking collapse, Felipe Melo doing his best 1998 David Beckham impression, the smartest hand ball in Cup history followed by one the biggest chokes in Cup history, a penalty kick shootout, a surprising blowout, rosary beads, Iker Casillas reminding the World he’s scary good at blocking penalty kicks, Vicente del Bosque showing emotion, another penalty kick (good this time), a penalty kick called back (strangely), another penalty kick (blocked this time), David Villa allowing an entire nation to stop holding their breath and lots and lots and lots of crying.
In four matches the 2010 World Cup went from slightly intriguing to having more “Oh my God!” moments than season three of “The Wire.” So let’s try and digest what we just witnessed.
I’ve been AWOL in the last couple days, and to my eight dedicated readers, sorry.
So I’ve had a couple days to look back at the United States 2010 World Cup and it’s hard to ignore how close it was to complete disaster. If Michael Bradley volley went flying over the bar against Slovenia or if Algeria could have defended for one more minute, U.S. soccer would have had its disappointing World Cup ever. But the U.S. did put together two climatic last-minute finishes, which for the first time ever put the American public in a soccer frenzy.
About four months ago, with the final seconds ticking away, the United States needed a goal or its tournament would be over.
All across the country, people hoped for a late goal but it was hard to ignore the reality of the situation: The U.S. was about to lose and were going to have to wait four years for redemption. Then, suddenly, an American got himself free in front of the net and buried a rebound for one of the most dramatic goals in recent memory. He went crazy, I went crazy, the United States of America went crazy.
Zach Parise’s goal in the Olympic gold medal men’s hockey game was the defining American sporting moment of 2010. It might still be, but Landon Donovan’s late-winner against Algeria had the same affect as Parise’s game-tier against Canada — we all went crazy.
No matter what happens from here on out, the 2010 World Cup is a success for the U.S. Getting out of the group stage is a significant accomplishment. But, by winning the group and having a favorable draw, you don’t have to be a homer to talk yourself into the U.S. having a realistic chance at advancing to the semifinals (I got a couple goosebumps just writing that).
But I don’t want to get ahead of myself. Before looking ahead, let’s reflect on what happened today.
If the United States loses to Algeria Wednesday it will be its most disappointing loss ever.
More disappointing than the debacle at the 1998 World Cup, more heart-breaking than the quarter final loss to Germany in 2002, more devastating than the loss to Ghana to end the 2006 Cup campaign. With U.S. soccer games shattering T.V. records and an American public ready to completely embrace the sport, a loss to Algeria would allow every sport radio blowhard to say, “I told you! Soccer would never become big in this country. We don’t like rooting for losers.” Unfortunately, they might be right.
The U.S. really should win. It has significantly better players, Algeria is one of only two teams at the World Cup that hasn’t scored a goal and tactically the U.S. matches up favorably.
But like I wrote last week, the U.S. has never won won a World Cup match as the favorite. Plus, there are so many question marks it doesn’t take a nihilist to think this game has disaster written all over it. But before we get to that, let’s first look at the tactical matchup.
Minutes after the United States 2-2 tie against Slovenia Friday, my buddy Andy called.
Before hello’s were exchanged, I ranted, “Unbelievable. I can’t believe that goal didn’t count. But that comeback, unbelievable. And that header from Altidore to Bradley was just fantastic. And Donovan, unbelievable. That was just an incredible goal. Man, man, just everything…unbelievable.”
I’ve now had most of the day to digest the match, trying to put it in some historical context and objectively judging the performance. After taking a step back, all I can say is — UNBELIEVABLE!