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Weekend Status Report While Wondering Where the Monsoon Went …

July 17, 2011

It’s Sunday morning, and I thought I’d check in on some of the significant sporting events of this weekend, all of which happen to be outside of the United States (it seems like half of ESPN is either in England or Germany).  Even approaching the Dog Days of Sporting Summer, days like this occur when events overlap and the DVR comes in handy.

Copa América, Argentina – Yesterday the Quarterfinals of South America’s soccer championship began, which was a welcome development as to date the tournament has been a snoozefest.  Clearly most of the teams are comprised mostly of players exhausted from their club seasons, much like the World Cup last year which resulted in too many uninspiring matches, but the renewal of several border rivalries should shake the doldrums.  In the 1st Quarterfinal, Peru beat Colombia 2-0 in extra time, the only noteworthy parts for me being Colombia was favored and that the goals were scored in extra time; I didn’t pay much attention to the game, too busy watching the British Open (which I’ll get to later), and really it was the amuse bouche compared to the 2nd Quarterfinal of the day, host Argentina against despised rival and neighbor Uruguay.

Argentina tied their first two games and didn’t secure advancement out of group play until their final Group A game against Costa Rica, by and large failing to inspire anything but criticism home and abroad – Journalists and fans alike have taken to calling Lionel Messi a “Barcelonista”, which is to suggest he’s not Argentine as he only plays well for his club team Barcelona, quite the pejorative indeed for someone who shows up to each Copa game in the Albiceleste kit – and amounting to decidedly less than the sum of their glorious parts.  Meanwhile Uruguay, coming off last year’s World Cup Semis appearance, similarly tied their first two games in group play before getting a quantum of solace in their last game, beating Mexico (you’ll recall Mexico beat Uruguay in the U-17 World Cup Final earlier this month) to advance to the knockout stage, but having watched their games they appeared to me to be in cruise control, waiting to accelerate when called upon and still possessing much the same engine from last year’s success in South Africa.

The atmosphere at kickoff was electric, with plenty Uruguayans making the trip over to Santa Fe, a city that wasn’t much farther from the population center of Uruguay (Montevideo) than it was from Buenos Aires.  The teams traded quality goals in the first 20 minutes, then settled into a stalemate with much invention but little execution.  In the 38th minute Uruguay went down a man on a questionable call by the referee, as the goal scorer Diego Pérez was called for his second yellow card, and Uruguay retreated into a defensive shell, in an obvious attempt to survive to penalty kicks where the pressure would mount on the home team and the advantage would shift to their fantastic goalkeeper Fernando Muslera.  Late in regulation time Javier Mascherano was sent off for Argentina, bringing the match back to 10 vs. 10 and the hope of  resolution before penalty kicks, but Muslera stoned the Argentines time and again throughout the remainder of regular and extra time, and it was another Muslera save off of Carlos “El Apaché” Tevez’s penalty kick that sealed the hosts’ all-too-foreseeable fate.  I expect Uruguay will dispatch the upstarts Peru hastily in the semis and await

Today, Brazil faces Paraguay in La Plata, a suburb of Buenos Aires, in a tasty rematch of their Group B 2-2 tie, and then Chile plays Venezuela in San Juan, just across the Andes from Chile in a game that has Venezuela punching above their weight.  Paraguay is always a tough out in any tournament, even if they lack the overall quality to ever win any tournament, and it’s no different with this year’s squad, tying all three of the Group play matches with solid, unexceptional play.  Brazil has also played to type, warming up with two ties in the first two matches before revving up with a 4-2 win over a game Ecuador squad.  Always talented, it’s usually the first game of the knockout stage before we discover whether the Selecao has the goods to deliver on the constant threat to win any tournament they play.  My guess is they have the goods, considering the form of the remaining teams and especially with the host Argentina out of the picture. Paraguay will put up a fight (too bad I’ll have to catch the game on my DVR), but I would be mildly surprised if Brazil isn’t in the Copa final a week from today in Buenos Aires.

The British Open, Royal St. George’s Golf Club, Sandwich, England – Replete with storylines too numerous to detail in this space, the leaderboard entering the 4th and final Round of what most call “The Open Championship” (which I find pretentious, so I will call it “The British Open” out of spite) was as fascinating as any major tournament since the beginning of the Tiger Woods Era not involving Tiger Woods that I’ve witnessed, maybe even as much as those with Tiger.

Anyone in the Top 12 at Even par or below who emerges to win would make for a worthy “Champion Golfer” (the title bestowed to the winner every year):  From Dustin Johnson (-4, 2nd), who last year could have won the US Open and the PGA Championship if not for 4th round catastrophes in both, to Darren Clarke (-5, 1st) and his return to the big stage after an extended fortnight in golf’s hinterlands following the tragic death of his wife from cancer, to 2009 PGA Rookie of the Year Rickie Fowler (-2, T3), the American Capo among the young turks of the game, and the Dane, Thomas Bjorn (-2, T3), who last time the British Open was held at Royal St George, held a two-shot lead in the final round with three holes to play before succumbing to the moment and shooting double bogey-bogey-bogey to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.  Add in 2009 US Open Champion Lucas Glover (-1, T5), 2010 PGA Champion and former World #1 Martin Kaymer (E, T7), perennial contender Miguel Angel Jimenez (-1, T5), the man who inspired Cigar Guy at last year’s Ryder Cup, a suddenly resurgent and finally healthy Anthony Kim (E, T7), Davis Love III (E, T7) or “DL3” for the hip among you, and the usual couple of relative nobodies in George Coatzee (E, T7) and Anders Hansen (E, T7) that the British Open almost always manages to pluck from obscurity (like last year’s Champion Golfer Louis Oosthuizen), and the intrigue is thicker than the local morning fog.

And of course, there’s Lefty.  Far from “of course” actually, since for the first time in what seems to be a century (but only since 2004 at Royal Troon),  Philip Alfred Mickelson (E, T7) is in contention during the Final Round at a British Open.   Like Pete Sampras on the clay courts of tennis’ French Open, Lefty has never been a good fit for British Open courses, his high ball-flight trajectory prone to havoc in the usual wind while cavernous bunkers and dense rough await his occasional wayward shot, negating his world-class short game and scrambling ability.  But here he is, beginning the 4th round five strokes back, and if he can make a quick start could find himself in the thick of things as long as he limits miscues in the fescue.

Finally, weather is ALWAYS as much the story as any and everything else in a British Open, and while the first two days were relatively benign compared to the British Opens of yore, yesterday followed through on its promise to sour the conditions before letting up towards the end of the round (breaking just in time for most of the contenders to enjoy a calmer setting).   Mother Nature will again have her say today before the Champion Golfer kisses the Claret Jug, and if I were a betting man, my money might be on Fowler, who was the only golfer among today’s leaders who braved the worst of the weather yesterday yet managed to one-putt nine greens.  Him or Clarke, who looks to have the steel to withstand anything that history, the weather, the course and other golfers can throw at him.  All of which makes a fine prelude to Sunday’s Main Event …

Women’s World Cup Final, Frankfurt, Germany: USA vs. Japan – In a fitting paradox, The World’s Number One ranked team finds itself where nobody or nothing but the rankings would have projected prior to the tournament.  The United States have a third Women’s World Cup title in their sights, and unlike their prior two triumphs, a win today completes the most unexpected of runs for an eventual Champion and turns once-crashers to the toast of the gala.

Waiting to spoil the party (and crash the party crashers) is Japan.  They’re on a roll, they’ll be motivated by the love of a country still recovering from natural disasters earlier in the year, and even more so than the US, they’re playing with house money.  From a tactical standpoint Japan’s possession & passing game is worrisome, drawing endless comparisons to Barcelona’s style in the men’s game and poised to take advantage of the US’ lack of patience in the center of the pitch.  The US may have to flood the midfield to prevent Japan from totally dominating the possession and scoring chances, and will have to exert their physical superiority as often as possible and hope to wear down Japan, although that didn’t work for either Germany or Sweden.  The US will also have to be much more disciplined than the last two favorites Japan vanquished, as no team has been as disciplined or efficient as Japan in the knockout stage. Set pieces, especially corners, will be key for the US as they have been all tournament, and it may come down once again to doing with their heads what they can’t with their feet.  Finally, the US backline can not get caught too far upfield, as Japan can counterpunch with the best of them.

One thing is for certain though, they won’t be sneaking up on the US.  No underestimation or taking for granted will flow from the US side.  Not in a World Cup Final.  I also think the US haven’t played their best game of the tournament yet.  Calling my shot, the US wins 2-1, with a second half goal that breaks a tie in the last 20 minutes of regular time while Japan proves valiant in defeat.  America awaits their newest sweethearts, and having come this far, they won’t disappoint.

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From → Soccer, Sports

One Comment
  1. Cheers pal. I do arppeacite the writing.

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