Tag Archives: USA

World Cup Brainstorming – the largely incoherent thoughts of a sleep deprived man


If you thought we’d been lazing around, doing nothing and watching football – then ahh, you’d be right! Despite the distraction of university exams for the majority of our correspondents, the World Cup has reigned supreme with daily FFTD conferences in front of the fireplace and SBS HD. And after all our late nights and maccas runs we’ve got a little to say:

Blast Off - The World Cup kicks off!

Blast Off - The World Cup kicks off!

Goalkeeping – The Tale of 2 Extremes

Shot stoppers in South Africa have been making the headlines far too often for most football fan’s fancy. First it was the ongoing whining about the Jubalani (shut up! We get it! It does funny thing and you can’t play the long balls so well! Cool!). Now it’s the remarkable keeping blunders that have towered over many a contest so far. Indeed it seemed that the “goalkeeping error” was the highest scorer throughout the first week. Amongst many other predictions, I suppose if you predict every possible outcome you’re bound to get something right, a lack of quality goal keepers was a more blatantly obvious theme than the theme of romance in Romeo & Juliet. More than half of our previews featured concerns over the goalkeeper including England, who produced the most significant blunder to date. Don’t think they can blame it all on the ball either – if you’re playing with an inflatable pool toy you still have to make the right decisions to come out and meet a cross or punch away.

Enyeama has been a veritable standout. Simply mesmerising against Los Pumas with his often beyond comprehension elasticity, I’m currently watching the poor boy shake his head after yet another keeping howler. Heartbreaking camera work, as the keeper looked like tears weren’t far away. In truth, Enyeama had kept his side in the contest, with remarkable save after remarkable save, but in the end, it seemed even he wasn’t immune from the goalkeeping curse that seems to be sweeping the Cup by storm. (As I finish the sentence – live reporting at its best – Enyeama pulls another cracker to hold the marauding Greeks at bay.) Another honourable mention goes to Tim Howard who showed his full array of shot stopping expertise against the English. His smothering save from a Heskey drive will stay in the memory for a while.

All in all, we had the good, bad and ugly.

“Our 10-0-0 just didn’t work today… maybe we’ll reconsider” Every manager so far

Defence has been the overwhelming centre piece of South Africa so far. Almost half the managers have opted for negative formations, and in many cases, formations counter to their standard practice. The Swiss were arguably the most dogged, although the Japanese, Uruguayans and Paraguayans all deserve mentions. Focusing on the Swiss, Grichting and Senderos (while he was on) were dogged and tireless. Employing a 4-4-1-1, they played a man-marking system rather than the regulation zonal system. Defenders would push up to 15 metres to latch onto their opposition’s shirts, ensuring he has no space to turn and little time on the ball. They’d obviously done their research, because the vast spaces in behind the central defenders at these moments were never exploited by a toothless Spain. No one was prepared to make the run in behind the Swiss into the space once Villa had dropped deep to have a touch on the ball. Further, the Spanish offered almost no width. At times you could throw the proverbial blanket over the midfield and striker. Ramos was the only man who looked to move forward into the space, but he lacked technical ability in the touch and in truth should have scored on at least one occasion. Although I’m not personally a fan of Jesus Navas – that kid just can’t cross the ball – he changed the game after his arrival, consistently popping up in dangerous wide positions.

Man-marking could be having a renaissance amongst tacticians. Chile have opted for such a defensive system and employ a deep lying sweeper who looks to trap any balls played through their back 3. Their 1-3-3-3 is highly unusual and unique, but hasn’t been tested as yet. But in theory, the formation is the ideal for what we’v been considering so far. Apparently, they’ll swap to a 3-1-3-3 when they face the better sides, not that that’s particularly defensive. The Asian teams so far (besides Australia) haven’t surprised with their prodigal defences. Their idea of football is to swarm the opposition akin to bees to a honey pot. Japan particularly, looked to be playing with 15 men at stages against the Cameroonians, who didn’t have enough time to shout Eto’o before the whole Japanese squad was standing on their feet.

Strikers with an eye for the wrong goal

The other feature so far has been defensive minded strikers. What? Hold on, let me explain. While the notion of defending from the front has become somewhat of a bedrock within the modern footballing rhetoric, 2010 South Africa has possibly thrown up its first major tactical addition to the collective brain trust. A pattern has emerged in which teams pass the ball along the ground, eventually finding a lone front man, who drops back towards midfield, opening space in behind the defender who has hopefully pressed up the pitch with his man. Attacking wingers or midfields such as Oezil, Gerrard, Muller, Robinho, Sneijder and Honda are prepared to run into the space left in behind the defence, posing their own direct goal threat. It seems that these creative midfielders are more about scoring themselves than assisting others. The Gerrard and Oezil goals were the clearest demonstrations of the feature. Maybe the Jubalani has had something to do with the pattern, as the long ball into a target man has so far been ruled out by players who can’t seem to get a grip on a ball nicknamed “the snitch” by at least one colleague.

So all in all, we’ve seen a disappointing opening to Africa’s 1st World Cup. But already, the standard has lifted. Last night was probably the best football I’ve seen in 2010, with a pulsating Greece/Nigeria clash displaying the type of urgency we’ve come to expect. The Mexicans continued on their impressive way over a dismal and dispassionate France and Argentina leapt to favouritism and qualification on the back of a Lionel Messi extravaganza. But more on all that to follow…

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Group Matches (P)review


Round-up Groups A-D

So the 2010 World Cup is well under way, and with a paltry average of 1.56 goals a game after the first round of group games compared to 2.43 at this stage in 2006, I think it’s fair to say that this has not been quite what global audiences hoped or expected. A closer look, however, would suggest that perhaps this lack of goals is not so surprising; the defensively minded 4-2-3-1 formation du jour has certainly made itself known at the competition. Let’s hope for some more goals second time round!

So, a quick round up and summary of what can we expect from the rest of the group matches:

Group A

Ok, well South Africa have already lost 3-0 to a far more attack minded Uruguay outfit than we experienced against France back in the second match of the tournament, quite understandably. Whilst the scoreline is slightly flattering in favour of the South Americans, they certainly deserved the win, and South Africa’s discipline was poor. South Africa didn’t show the energy and creativity they did against Mexico, and talismanic midfielder Siphiwe Tshabalala was wasteful. Diego Forlan proved his worth to Uruguay, scoring the first two goals and playing a part in the third and they now look well-placed to go through the group.

Coming up tonight is France v Mexico, a must-win game for both teams. France will surely drop the awful Govou for Florent Malouda, in the form of his career, and perhaps Franck Ribery will pass the ball to a player? It’s anyone’s guess! It would be nice to see ‘Handball-Henry’ for more than 20 minutes but seems unlikely given Raymond Domenech’s tendency to be a stubborn imbecile. Mexico will look to speedy youngster Giovanni dos Santos again to provide the flair for the team, as well as the basis for everything good they create – another example of a player who hasn’t had much club game time in recent years experiencing a resurgence in his fortunes at the World Cup. And perhaps ManU new boy Javi Hernandez will get a decent run?

Prediction: France 2-2 Mexico

Group B

Argentina escaped the brick wall of Nigeria with a less than convincing 1-0 win, but we were still lucky enough to witness some of the gold that makes Lionel Messi the best player in the world. Some strange decisions by mad-man Maradona, but that’s not really a surprise at all, is it? He came out and said that the only three players guaranteed starting positions were Messi, Mascherano, and Gutierrez – a fairly startling claim considering the wealth of talent in the squad. Then we witnessed the latter playing at right back, quite different from his left-wing berth at Newcastle – another instance of players too good to be left out, perhaps.  A tough game tonight against South Korea will likely prove a greater challenge than Nigeria. The Super Eagles looked strong at the back but were undone by Heinze’s rocket-header into the top-corner early on. They didn’t look so good up front, but with attacking players like Obafemi Martins, John Utaka, and Kanu supporting the Yak, they will always pose a threat, especially in the air.  Vincent Enyeama put in a great display between the sticks to keep them in the match, and they’ll fancy their chances of picking up 3 points tonight against Greece.

South Korea showed that they’ve got what it takes with a solid 2-0 win over a poor and frankly negative Greece. South Korea meet Argentina tonight in what will hopefully prove to be the most exciting game the group, and could well decide first place. Park Ji-Sung looked good, and their stylish play is in stark contrast to most teams in the tournament thus far. They will have to hold back a bit against Messi’s men, but should put up a good fight. Dark horse for the quarters?

Greece have a reputation for being a strong and organised defensive side, but here they were undone by some slick passing, much more of which is to come when they face Argentina. Up front they looked lacking in ideas. Points for them in the rest of the group will be hard to come by. They have a chance to sneak a draw tonight against Nigeria, but my guess says they will finish as group B whipping boys.

Predictions: Argentina 2-1 South Korea

Greece 0-1 Nigeria

Maradona quotes this week:

“I am not afraid of anyone or anything – unless they are wearing a mask…”

On Pele: “He should go back to the museum and stay there.”

On Michel Platini: “He’s French and we all know how French people are. If they say ‘hi’ and ‘goodbye’ that’s something.”

More insightful than I could ever hope to be. Wonderful stuff, let’s hope they keep coming!

Group C

England opened their campaign with a hard-fought 1-1 draw with the USA – a decent result for them, despite what most people seem to think. St. Stevie’s early goal – a real skipper’s goal – was cancelled out by Rob Green’s decision to let Clint Dempsey’s pass trickle over the line. What? Surely that wasn’t an accident? Whatever. England should still win the group, and they’d better hope they do, otherwise they can expect to face a rampant Germany in the second round, who on first showing will tear them a collective new asshole.  Despite what most critics seem to think I still reckon Heskey was rubbish and should make way for Crouch, or alternatively, Gerrard move forward and Barry take over in the centre. Cole should replace the lacklustre Milner on the left.

The US, on the other hand, looked lively and much hungrier than England, but still failed to trouble the England defenders too much. Altidore was probably the pick of the bunch, strolling past the creaking bones of Jamie Carragher. Some increased invention from his team-mates in their next match against Slovenia could see a fair few goals scored, and if they’re lucky they might edge England out at the top of the group.

The Slovenia v Algeria match was one of the poorest matches yet. No one on the field could come to grips with the diabolical Jabulani ball, with passes being floated almost out of the stadium. The highlight (lowlight?) of the match came when Algerian keeper Faouzi Chouachi threw West Brom alumni Robert Koren’s tame strike into the side of the net. Both teams looked defensive, with chances on goal coming at a premium. Nadir Belhadj looked lively for Algeria, getting forward regularly from his left-back role, but failed to inspire a goal. Interesting statistic: Abdelkader Ghezzal picked up two yellows in just 14 minutes and 19 seconds, making him the fastest substitute to pick up two yellow cards in World Cup history. There’s really not much else to be said about this game. Both teams will struggle again on Friday night and one would expect England and USA to push on from Group C.

Predictions: England 2-0 Algeria

USA 1-0 Slovenia

Group D

Aussie Aussie Aussie! Nein!

No cheering from the Aussies after their 4-0 demolition at the hands of a clinical German outfit that could have scored even more goals. Lucas Podolski played a big part just as the webmaster predicted, and his fine finish in the 8th minute started the rout. Mesut Ozil also had a strong showing, playing in the roaming role behind Klose. Ballack’s absence was hardly noticed with Bastian Schweinsteiger effortlessly slotting into a deeper role. That said, Pim Verbeek’s tactics were extremely negative, choosing not to field a recognized striker in a compact but ill-disciplined and ill-prepared 4-2-1-2-1 formation. Lucas Neill and Craig Moore looked out of their depth and far too slow at the back. Tim Cahill clearly forgot to eat the Weetbix he so heartily endorses. The only positive comments can come from the performance of Brett Emerton, Wilkshire to a lesser extent, and Brett Holman who injected some much needed energy at half-time. Verbeek’s questionable tactics have come under much criticism, and the Aussies will need to bounce back with gusto against Ghana on Saturday night if they are to have any chance of going through.

Ghana and Serbia produced the first victory for an African nation at the tournament, and it was quite an entertaining game to boot. Serbia looked surprisingly frail at the back, and human giant Nikola Zigic was wasteful up front. They failed to produce sustained pressure on the Ghanaian goal and suffered for it. Ghana were slightly better, pressuring the Serbian defence whenever they were in possession. Asamoah Gyan netted a penalty to take the lead after Serbia had gone down to 10 men, and this win gives them a good chance of going through to the next round. Serbia will struggle with the speed and efficiency of the German attack, and a loss will probably knock them out of the running for second round qualification. Ghana face Australia who will be desperate for a victory, and perhaps in this case, desperation will prevail over superiority.

Predictions: Australia 1-0 Ghana

Germany 3-1 Serbia

Acknowledgements: Thanks to editor and minor contributor, Fishface Shakur.

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Australia not particularly amUSing…


If you missed the action, then have a squiz – our write up of the final Socceroo hit out before their campaign begins in earnest against Germany.

After 120 minutes of watching the bare, dead grass hill at the training facility in Johannesburg, we’re just about exploding with anticipation and exuberance for next Sunday night. Against the Yanks, Australia faced a stern test. As previously noted on FFTD, American are decidedly similar to the Aussies in their style and set up. So, it was pleasing to see the Socceroos dominate possession for long periods. Lucas Neill and his mates were solid, if unspectacular, and seem to be improving slightly with each outing. After a dull opening 20 minutes, the game came to life, with fluent attacking moves by both sides. It wasn’t the usual style for Australia – boring definitely not a valid tag this time round. Expansive would be more apt.

But after just about every optimist in the football world, including yours truly, waxed lyrical that Verbeek’s results only business is perfectly acceptable, the Aussie’s first loss in 9 months, isn’t an ideal preparation for the World Cup finals.

Ratings

Pim Verbeek – 8

It looks as if Verbeek has settle on his preferred starting eleven. His back 4 may as well be carved into Table Mountain, but they’re still a few question marks over fitness of key players and their likely replacements. In the past, Pim has been wary of throwing players straight into the side following lengthy lay offs, and ordinarily automatic selections, Kewell and Emerton, must be pushing hard to make the gaffer buck this trend. Garcia is apparently the most likely replacement for Emerton, with the other possibility apparently being to move Culina right and forward, and give the impressive Valeri a spot next to Grella in front of the back 4.

Enough with the speculation…

It’s difficult to judge tactics based on friendlies, but trailing at half time afforded the world a chance to see the Socceroos reaction. In the 2nd period, the green and gold looked lively going forward and there was a noticeable shift in emphasis towards attack. No more dull piggy in the middle featuring Moore, Neill and the opposition’s front man. Rather, Rukavytsa added a cap to his tally and Chipperfield, most particularly, was given free reign to play further forward. For the last 30 minutes, the Aussies played with two strikers up front (which looked promising) and a back 3. Chipperfield popped up in the attacking box regularly and demanded a fine save from Hanneman to deny him a meat pie. Pim showed that Australia have a plan B. Plan A is clearly a possession game, with plenty of crosses from overlapping wing backs, and a high defensive line that compacts the players into almost half the pitch. This almost eliminates the midfield from the game, which is certainly Australia’s weak point.

The best quality that Verbeek possesses is, undoubtedly, his ability with the media. Always a willing participant, he seems to have years for the press. He’s never one to cut an interview short, or shy away from the tough questions. He gives honest and fair answers. He’s not one to shy away from a little controversy, having already opened fire on everyone from Gordon Strachan to the training pitch. It’s so refreshing to see a polite Dutch man being interviewed on channel 513, especially when compared to the AFL and NRL roughians who are almost illiterate. Verbeek seems to understand that the media need a story, and often it’s better to give them something to work with, then have them chasing players for scraps.

Mark Schwarzer – 7

Not Schwarzer’s best outing, but kept his side in the match on more than one occasion. HIs reflex save early in the 2nd half was vintage Schwarzer, and his fingertip save to deny teammate Dempsey ensured he retains the bragging rights until next time. The shot stopper is denied a better number, as in PTS’ opinion he should have done better in handling the opening goal, which on replays didn’t hit the top corner, but was closer to the centre.

Luke Wilkshere – 7

Wilkshere wasn’t as dominant as he was against the Danes, but his crosses are still world class. It’s difficult to point the finger at one defender for conceding the most goals in a match in forever.

Lucas Neill – 6

Neill was undone by the relatively unknown forward pairing for the Yanks. He was beaten for pace on more than one occasion and seems to shout at the referees or his assistants more than himself. Neill’s characteristic marauding runs into the attacking half weren’t evident either. It seems that Neill will be a fulcrum for the Socceroos – he was often the one to snap and play the long ball from his own half. Got plenty of practice passing to Craig Moore too.

Craig Moore – 5

Moore is still unconvincing, and it’s difficult to judge his credentials against the likely candidates as no one else gets the slightest whiff. I personally don’t mind this – it fills the lad with confidence and gives him plenty of time to build a partnership with Lucas. Moore looks slow and poor on the ball. The injury to Kisnorbo all that time ago could prove costly in the long run.

Scott Chipperfield – 8

In the first half, Chipperfield looked more Monash division 7, than outstanding World Cup prospect as he was labelled by PTS. But as the match developed, Scotty provided plenty of quality service and a genuine attacking threat on the left flank. Simon Hill and Andy Harper confirmed the sugar man’s assertions that Chipperfield is a handy striking option, and it could be a handy option if the Socceroos fall a goal or two behind. Chipperfield gives the Aussies a classy left back, who will be a key man over the coming weeks.

Vince Grella – 4

Oh Vincenzo. Grella just about couldn’t have done anything more to risk his starting position in the side. His crucial error led to the opening goal. He gave away cheap possession consistently and another game saw yet another cynical challenge from the Blackburn contracted midfielder. Grella is always looking for the easy option; playing the ball sideways and backwards seem to be the 1st choice every time. No matter if the counter is on… just stand on the ball and look for Neill or Moore behind him. This lack of confidence is becoming a worrying feature of the Socceroo’s play, and Grella is the number 1 culprit. He looks to have a heavy touch, and lacks a yard of pace – if he fails against Germany, Valeri will could be a starter.

Jason Culina – 5

Was dragged on the hour mark after a largely anonymous display. Doesn’t offer the same robust defending as Grella and doesn’t have the pinpoint range of Valeri, so could find his position under fire if Kewell and Emerton are fit. Once again he was pushed wide and further afield by his manager, but was soon replaced by Vidosic. Despite PTS’ doubts, Culina showed he still has the “long range strike” arrow to his bow. Uninspiring.

Mark Bresciano – 7

Bresciano lifted markedly with his all round effort, if at times his execution was lacking. The baldy came under fire by yourcorrespondent2010 after their showdown with Denmark, but hit back with a big effort. He was constantly harrying the opposition, and the only player consistently “closing the space”. He offered enough pushing forward with some decent service and runs off the ball. He popped up in the box in the second half and blasted straight at the keeper.

Richard Garcia – 5

Another disappointing display from the Hull boy, who presents so much to the judging table, but seems to lack any real taste or finesse. Unfortunately, he is another player described as anonymous at best. David Beckham was present in the stands to witness Garcia amass a grand total of 7 touches. He did little to enhance his starting chances and will hopefully make way for a fit and rearing Brett Emerton.

Tim Cahill – 7

Cahill was quiet during his limited game time and didn’t return after the break; apparently nursing a worrying neck complaint. In typical Cahill fashion, he produced a smashing finish to keep Australia within striking distance. Unfortunately, he doesn’t seem to find enough of the ball in the Australian set up and hasn’t passed to Kennedy once yet. Worrying indeed.

Josh Kennedy – 6

Kennedy is still a legitimate concern. He causes his fair share of problems for the opposition, but hasn’t scored for a steadily growing period. He missed at least one guilt edged chance last night with his noggin and another big chance at his feet. Clinical is unfortunately not the word. To be honest, Kennedy looks lazy, disinterested and out of depth. Constantly with back to goal, and giving away possession on countless occasions, when the bean pole isn’t ruthless with his head, it is difficult to justify his spot in the team. A returning Kewell has started the inevitable grumblings from supporters to start Australia’s golden boy at the top of the formation. By contrast, Harry seems to attract the ball and action at all times, and is always genuinely exerting himself for the cause. The talismanic figure has been sorely missed, and his impact on the side has been underestimated by many. Personally, I’d still give Kennedy the starting spot, and play Kewell as a genuine number 10 from the bench after we trail by a goal at half time against the Germans. (3 – 1 is the tip… same as last time against Japan… Cahill twice, same as last time…)

Off the bench, Valieri pushed his claim for a starting berth, fulfilling the pivot role with consummate ease. One particularly accurate diagonal ball caught the affection of Simon Hill, but his efficiency has long impressed FFTD. Robust in the middle of the field, he is doing his chances no harm. Vidosic had limited chances, but still embarked on at least one of his characteristically long winded runs. Rukavysta was afforded minimal time on the pitch, but had one shot on target and could be a valuable asset when goals are at a premium.

Final Verdict

In attack Australia showed plenty of the “attacking fluidity” Pim Verbeek would have been searching for. The Socceroos were patient in their build up (often painstakingly so) and dangerous every time the ball was swung towards Jesus up front. It is particularly  heartening to report, with conviction, that the Socceroos always seem a chance to score when the cross comes in. (Particularly true from the right sided Wilkshire) The other dominant positive was the fitness that seemed to shine once more. At the back end of both halves the boys looked the stronger – true of their last 2 outings as well. At altitude this could be an enormous factor. There were plenty of negatives however. Against a quality opposition forward line, the Aussies leaked plenty of chances. Despite the American’s star striker “Altidore” looking decidedly bored on the sideline, replacements Buddle and Findley caused plenty of problems. They beat the offside trap, scored off a cross and found the backline achingly slow. With comparison to the US, Australia looked lethargic and disjointed up front for the first 70 minutes. Under Hiddink a prominent feature was a defence that started from the strikers. Supremely fit, the Aussies afforded their opposition minimal time on the ball over the 90 minutes. I kinda miss Guus shouting for his players to pressure, pressure, pressure.

Overall, a high-quality match that was played at roughly a 87% intensity. With a final week to prepare, the Aussies will look to apply the finishing touches to a developing machine. England here we come…

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World Cup Preview – Group C – USA


Howdy partner, y’all a look at these Yanks

THE BASICS
• Nickname: The Yanks
• Colors: White, blue and red
• FIFA Ranking: 14
• How They Got Here: Finished first in the CONCACAF despite a fairly inconsistent showing
• World Cup Pedigree: 8 World Cups, finished third in 1930 and have qualified for the knockout round only two more times (’94 as hosts, ’02)

THE PLOT

Undoubtedly the world’s superpower in most other fields, the people from the US of A just can’t seem to get the whole round ball thing quite right. Consistently veiled in mediocrity, the best sporting talents produced in America seem to continue to flow towards the other more popular sporting outlets. While soccer (as it’s known in that part of the world) has an undoubted strong following, world cup success could crystallise support for a code to reach new heights. This is more a tale of cultural acceptance for the soccer community, who is still struggling to find its feet.

THE DIRECTOR

Bob Bradley

Bradley is by no means a popular choice for manager has been constantly criticised by pundits from the West to the East. Bradley struggles to please the average American fan, who expects action and has grown up on other high intensity sports that are part of the psyche of the average American. He prides himself on the side’s stability, consistency and fitness – emphasis on results over anything else. Undoubtedly, it’s a result based business, but his style of play hasn’t drawn in too many admirers. He has come under particularly direct fire for failing to employ flexible tactics and maintaining losing formations throughout games (Confederations Cup final against Brazil).

LEADING MAN

Landon Donovan

Donovan is the biggest name in the side, even if he probably isn’t their best talent. At 28 and with 100 caps to add to his wikipedia profile, the veteran will be the undoubted key to produce any sort of success. Speed, vision, passing, touch and attitude are his main positives, but his extended stay in the MLS still restrains his development to a true top class midfielder. A brief period at Everton showed significant promise and would have served to dampen some doubters.

SUPPORTING CAST

Clint Dempsey (midfielder, Fulham) has been some what of a revelation in England and has made leaps and bounds under everyone’s favourite bloke, Roy Hodgson. The experience he would have gained throughout their impressive Europa Cup run should give him confidence to stand up on the world stage. Don’t expect him to play too deep; he could start as a lone striker and if that’s the case will be the difference between a victory and a loss more than once. Michael Bradley (midfielder, Borussia Mönchengladbach) is a real enigma. Is it really true that he’s the coach’s son? Is this some kind of junior age joke? Apparently it’s not and he really is a feature of the side. Passthesugar is sceptical, to say the least, but he’ll try fill the important role of “box-to-box midfielder” for the Yanks. I still can’t believe that this is the coaches son… Oguchi Onyewu (defender, AC Milan) hasn’t played in 2010 following a knee injury sustained during qualification. His fitness continues to be an ominous injury cloud throughout the build up.

GET YOURSELF LABELLED AS “THE HOTTEST PROPERTY”

Jozy Altidore

Altidore is a crafty footballer who has largely failed in a disappointing loan move to Hull in the Premier League. In and out of the starting side, Altidore is a stereotypical candidate for this section. With Hull moving down a division and desperate to alleviate their financial woes, Altidore could become flotsam and be looking for a move from parent club Villarreal, where he is out of favour to say the least. The American saves his best efforts for the national side and looked dangerous throughout the Confederations Cup. A complete package, with speed, strength and a knack for goals, Altidore needs to lift to the next level to be billed as “the hottest property” by Andy Gray.

THE LIKELY VILLAIN

Bradley

Bradley. OMG! He’s still the coach’s son! He was also sent off in the Confed Cup semi-final leaving his team short.

FORMATION

Nothing’s for certain here – but your soccer correspondent favours a 4-5-1/4-3-3 with Dempsey and Donovan looking to push forward and wide from midfield. Bradley could opt for a 4-2-2, however and shove Dempsey next to Altidore in a two pronged forward line.

THE STRIP

IT’S SORTA LIKE…

The Star Trek franchise

The original “Star Trek” kinda sucked, but “Wrath of Khan” ruled. Then the “Search for Spock” was bad, but “The Voyage Home” was good. So on, so forth. USA works just like that. In 1990, things were bad. In ’94, things were better. Then the disastrous ’98 cup. Then ’02 was amazing. Since ’06 was a shambles, it’s not without of reason to speculate that this will be a bounce-back year.

THE ADVERTISMENT
This is marvelous. If this doesn’t pump you up, you ain’t American – I’m not American and didn’t watch the whole thing…

USELESS TRIVIA

Not only does average daily TV viewing in the U.S. (around 8 hours) lead the world, it’s about twice as much as the closest competitor (Greece).

THE FAIRYTALE SCRIPT

In 1950, the United States recorded, perhaps, one of the greatest upsets in sports history, knocking off England 1-0. The lone American goal was scored by Haitian immigrant Joe Gaetjens. The U.S. opens the 2010 World Cup playing against England (in jerseys, by the way, that are modeled after the ’50 version) with a striker who is the son of, you guessed it, Haitian immigrants. (His dad’s name was Joseph, just like Gaetjens.) A 1-0 victory with an Altidore goal is just about too perfect though, even for Hollywood right?

FINAL VERDICT

Finally the USA have some resemblance of depth to their squad. More than three quarters of the side is employed overseas, which is a big change from previous campaigns. As discussed elsewhere, Group C is nothing special either – England will be strong, but Slovenia and Algeria offer little going forward. The US will surely be content with second in the group and look destined to face off against Germany in a repeat of ’02. Group D certainly isn’t straight forward for the Germans, however, and the US will be praying for a bit of luck and a weaker opposition qualifying top of Group D. Reaching the quarter finals will be a great success for the side and is probably all they could wish for. It was alluded to above that ’06 was a veritable disaster, and all players will be looking to rectify the issue.

Consitently average across the squad + Favourable draw + Nationalistic sentiment – consistently average across the squad – Bradley (both manager and player) = another year in world cup wilderness with a straight forward second round exit.

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World Cup Preview – Group A – Mexico


The Mexicans are famous for more novelty items than anyone else, and when it comes to the football field they have a particularly novel approach – attack, attack, attack!

Check out the other Group A contenders – Uruguay South Africa France

The Basics

• Nickname: El Tri
• Colors: Green and white with a hint of red
• FIFA Ranking: 17
• How They Got Here: Qualified second in CONCACAF.
• World Cup pedigree: 14 World Cups, advanced as far as the quarterfinals only twice (’70 and ’86, when they were hosts).

The Plot

Historically the Mexicans have struggled and to be honest don’t look to have the side to mount any serious challenge this time round. A largely anonymous bunch of youngsters and attack-minded, right-sided players leave them unbalanced at best. They’re ranked 17th so are right on the cuff of the next stage on paper. They couldn’t have hoped for a better draw and should feature beyond the group stages.

The Director

Javier Aguirre (Mexico)

In the central American nation, Aguirre is considered somewhat of a sporting god, having overturned the run of poor results under the guise of Sven Goran Eriksson. El Tri were very much an under fire side, but since he’s stepped into the role, they’ve gone 5 wins, 1 draw and just the 1 loss. They’re yet to face any serious tests however, with a relatively timid qualifying zone, and Aguirre will have to ensure that they’re not underdone in South Africa. He hasn’t been afraid to shake things up – handing recalls to legendary Cuauthtemoc Blanco and Guillermo Ochoa between the sticks.

Leading Man

Giovani Dos Santos (midfielder, on loan to Galatasaray from Tottenham)

Dos Santos is a typically Mexican player. Largely overrated, and a bit of a flop. Nevertheless, there’s plenty of quality in the youngster who wears much of the attacking responsibility for the side, both in terms of creating and finishing chances. He’s featured at a number of clubs on several loan deals. The latest is a spell at Turkish giants Galatasaray. He has plenty of pedigree, winning the prestigious silver ball for second best player in the 2005 under 17 World Cup in a side that took the cookies. By all reports, Dos Santos has progressed considerably in a team full of experience with the likes of Kewell and Neill sure to pass on a few world cup secrets to the boy. On the big stage, however, he’s known to struggle, achieving little in spells at Barcelona and Tottenham. If he fires, however, the Mexicans should be a handful. Check him out below…

Supporting Cast

Mexico have enough quality across the pitch to be a bit of a dark horse. Indeed, it was a tough challenge to pick one standout player, and in the end Dos Santos isn’t that much of a star. Instead, the Mexicans have a core group of players who possess the talent to succeed (get passed the group) in South Africa. One of the most publicised moves by the new manager has been the inclusion of Blanco (midfielder, Veracruz) who has already attended Korea and Germany as a World Cup participant. He’s the centre of everything for the Mexicans and his performance and ability to stay injury free (he’s 37 years young) will go a long way to determining their success. Rafael Marquez (defender, Barcelona) is struggling under an injury cloud. If he recovers he could be the difference between qualification and failure. Their largely porous defence will get a huge boost with his inclusion in the lineup. Additionally, Ocho (goalkeeper, Club America) is held by many expert pundits to be the best shot stopper on the planet.

Unknown Talent

It seems a little strange to include Carlos Vela (forward, Arsenal) in this category, but he hasn’t made his mark just yet and remains on the fringes at Arsenal (Wenger picked him up as a 16 year old out of absolutely nowhere for the measly 150 00 smackaroos). He’s the type of player that could really shine at the Cup and make a name for himself as one of the best young talents in the world. However, in keeping with the name of this section, the bloke that you wouldn’t know about is Andres Guardado (winger, Deportivo de La Coruna), who is yet another quality attacker to wear the green shirt. He’s in the same mould as a Lennon or Walcott and is a nightmare for defences. He was also a member of that under 17 winning side. If he shines then look for Wenger to come running for this creative youngster.

The Likely Villian

Marquez. No one in America has forgotten his studs up challenge on keeper Tim Howard. He has a worrying history of dismissals in big games. It may be true that we only chose him because of the photo – but it looks as if he’s about to launch a zorro-like attack on the dude who he’s staring at.

Formation

Mexico claim to play the conventional 4-4-2, but on the pitch its more like a 4-1-5, not dissimilar to the Gunners (is this about Mexico or Arsenal). Guillermo Franco will partner Vela up front and then the rest of the midfield is given free reign in a fluid and attacking set up. Dos Santos, Blanco and Guardado often feature as forwards in their club sides and will constantly press up the pitch. In qualifying this trio was described as lazy and disinterested as they often fail to trackback and help out in their own half. This makes the holding midfielder Gerardo Torrado (whoever that is – but say his name five times fast and you’ll get the idea) a pivotal player.

The Strip

It’s Sorta Like…
The Mexican
Pretty bizarre and very confusing, but featuring enough big name players to just get it over the line. In a typically two-faced story, you’re sure to be left guessing what’ll happen next.
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Usless Trivia

Mexico is the proud record holder of the most people to ever dance the Michael Jackson epic “Thriller” thanks to their tough jail standards. It’s the one in orange jumpsuits if you can’t remember. And yes, there’s 12,937 of them. And yes, I’m running outta hosting space, so you’ll have to search youtube for this one yourself.

The Fairytale Script

The Mexicans will burst onto the World Cup radar with an impressive 4-0 victory over the hapless South Africans to spoil their party (and possibly kill already underwhelming local interest in the tournament). They’ll snatch an impressive draw against under fire France and with a narrow win over the dangerous Uruguayans, they’ll be sitting pretty top of the group on goal difference. They’ll account for the Nigerians/Koreans in the round of 16 and key man Marquez will have put his injury woes aside in time for a showdown with the Poms. The arrogant and pompous English will sing a lot but be played off the park by their prodigal attacking force winning in a classic 4-3. They’ll go all the way from here gaining a wave of momentum on the back of special taco sauce that is shipped to their training camp. Alternatively, they’ll finish second in the group and polish off the Argentinians next. USA will follow suit and oblige by knocking off Group D winners Germany. Confused? Well… this would leave a mouth watering clash between bitter rivals USA and Mexico and for many, this will be enough of a fairytale…

Final Verdict

The side, under new manager Aguirre, looks electric. They’ll loom large as a danger game for the Frogs and could have enough class to upset the group favourites. Even if they progress in second and face the Pumas they’ll be a darkhorse to keep going forward. They have an extremely solid looking spine to the line up in keeper Ochoa, defender, Marquez midfielder, Blanco and Dos Santos and forward, Vela. Goals won’t be a problem and if Marquez recovers in time then they’ll be good value to outperform their surprisingly poor official ranking of 17. The Mexicans typically struggle away from home and discipline is not their strong suit either. They have the world cup opener against South Africa which is not a kind draw and will have to spoil the entire continents party to progress to the next stage. If they look good at the outset then start telling your mates that they’re a real darkhorse threat. Most of their world cup winning under 17 team will be pushing for a start and they’ll be expected to put forward a strong showing. However, this may not be their time and they’ll be building for a cup winning side in nearby Brazil ’14. (You heard it here first)

Outstanding attacking weapons + impressive qualification + easy draw – poor discipline – weak defence – inexperience = top of the group and a loss to England in the quarter finals.

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