Thursday, June 19, 2014

World Cup - All on the Line in Second Match for Many Favorites

As we reached the end of the first round of games and some have played two things are starting to take shape, and as always there’s no shortage of story lines. The biggest has to be the Spain not just exiting but being the first defending world champions to lose their first two matches and not qualify to move on as a result. No bad calls, no red cards, no excuses. They simply looked too slow, too old, and unprepared to compete in a tournament of this magnitude despite knowing that they would have a target on their back coming in as the defending champs. In that regard Vicente del Bosque has something to answer for as not being prepared to play solely rest on the shoulders of the coach, and he will as the end of an era comes down. It only took to games to send Holland and Chile to the next round out of group B which could have made a case for the real “group of death” and now you can see why. England and Uruguay find themselves in a must win situation in their second game of the group stage after losing game 1. England was a toss-up against Italy in the their first match but Uruguay was a heavy favorite against Costa Rica in their first game as the general census was they would be ‘sacrificial lamb’ of Group D but that didn’t turn out to be the case. Now what was already a must see game of the cup has added drama as the loser will surely be eliminated if not mathematically but realistically. CONCACAF so far has made a statement for gaining respect as it’s representatives have gone 3-1-1 in their first 5 games. The US, Mexico, and Costa Rica all won their first games while Honduras fell easily at the hands of France. Then Mexico drew the host nation in one of the most exciting matches of the tournament thus far even though there weren’t any goals scored. For a team than needed a miracle followed by a playoff win Mexico sure doesn’t look like a feeder fish that won’t be around for the knockout phase rather a contender that if/when they do play for blood, are capable of making a deep run. The US are still viewed as underdogs despite their top 15 world ranking and perhaps why they can still sneak up on people. As Ghana was still walking off the bus the US took the lead inside the first minute then refused to give it back. Now they control their own destiny but even with the win they’re still no lock to move own as the teams waiting for them are the number 2 and 4 sides in the world respectively. Lastly, if I see one more player get ‘red carded’ for doing something stupid I’m going to turn the tele off. Seriously, there truly is no other event in sports where you can say you’re on the “World Stage” like you can at the World Cup. Literally the entire world is watching and the stakes for the country you represent are biblical, and you’re going to lose your head, get tossed and at least cost your team the match, goal differential in a tie-breaker, or at worst the tournament. You build up to this for four years and then get out on the pitch and head butt a player just outside the penalty box as if no one will notice? As a result of Pepe’s bone head play Portugal was down a man early to the second ranked team in the world whom immediately took advantage and dropped a 4-spot on them, sending them to last place in the group and giving them a huge goal differential to make up. Now the cup may not be over for A Seleccao but they have a mountain to climb and must win their next two matches in the group of death (the next one without the services of Pepe) or their world cup is over before it started and he’ll have to explain his actions to a country that has never made it further than 3rd in 1966. Alex Song of Cameroon was almost as egregious chopping the arm of a defender in mid field while on the break, earning him an instant red while the match was still in doubt, but the end result was the same, a 0-4 loss to Croatia, sending them down to the bottom of the group. There have been two other players which have accumulated reds as a result of two yellow, Wilson Palacios of Honduras and Kostas Katsouranis Greece, and both teams couldn’t muster wins although Greece did save their cup chances with a draw. So perhaps now the excitement that often accompanies the end of anticipation is over, perhaps we can see why these players are the best in the world at what they do, on the pitch, not in the stands.

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