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Keeping a World Cup Diary …

June 29, 2018

I’ll admit it: It took me a long time to get excited for the Russia 2018 FIFA World Cup. I did not do my normal routine of studying all the rosters as they were released, watching every pre-cup prep friendly I could, and scouring the internet for preview material. Even when it started on June 14, with the hosts beating Saudi Arabia 5-0, I only caught that game on a late night replay.

My heart still wasn’t in it as I watched parts of the first two games the next day, Uruguay beating Egypt 1-0, and Iran beating Morocco 1-0 on an own-goal in the 95th minute, both dreary affairs. It wasn’t I finally hunkered down, grabbed some nachos and settled in to watch a recording of Portugal-Spain, that I rediscovered my usual jubilance in being able to watch 3-4 games a day of international soccer for two weeks. The World Cup was back, and I was happy, even if my Red White & Blue were MIA.

Now, the group stage is over, and the knockout round bracket is set. Before we look ahead, I often think it is important to look back at what has occurred, and gain some perspective towards the next phase of this tournament.  As it happens, I kept a daily diary of the Group Stage games, posting much of this on a private Facebook group, as the thoughts started to flow and my excitement built.  Most of the games I watched on DVR, as the broadcast schedule did not neatly fit with my daily work schedule, but in large part I was able to preserve the plausibly live feel by avoiding spoilers on social and mass media.

Below are excerpts from my diary, with some redress and forward-looking analysis. As always, some of my projections are spot on, while others turned out to be half-baked.

6/15

 Portugal 3:3 Spain – Might end up being the game of the tournament, especially after three opening contests that were rather boring. Everyone makes a big deal of CR7’s hat trick, and rightly so, but everyone also seems to forget that these are the reigning European Champions.

It certainly is up there for game of the Cup so far, among the top 3-4 I saw, which includes all but four games in group stage play. Both teams to me showed how vulnerable they are on defense, as both back lines had trouble clearing balls, a trend we would see in later games against lesser opponents.  Spain in particular, their best defense is possession of the ball by their midfield, as well as their ability to win the ball back in midfield with Andres Iniesta, Sergio Busquets, and David Silva.  That engine faltered more than usual.

6/16

France 2:1 Australia – I picked France to win the whole thing, and I immediately regret that decision. They really miss Dimitri Payet as a playmaker, Les Bleus don’t have anyone who can consistently set the table. Paul Pogba needs to be the guy every seems to think he is, because since the 2016 Euros, I haven’t seen it. And for crying out loud Samuel Umtiti, put your hands down in your own box! Australia was as expected, physical, compact, bunkered, waiting on the counter, and the definite minnows of this group. 

Argentina 1:1 Iceland – Honestly, I’m not too surprised. Kun Aguero took his chance well, but otherwise the Albiceleste is still 10 dudes standing around waiting for Messi to do something. Messi’s penalty attempt, no other way to say it, was lame. Iceland is the very definition of a tough out.

Peru 0:1 Denmark – Peru’s players, to a man, will lament this game for the rest of their lives. The Blanqiroja should have won this game 6-1, they were clearly the better team. Fox broadcaster Jorge Perez-Navarro’s “Boom Goes The Dynamite!” call on Denmark’s goal was a nice touch. As an aside, whenever I see a player pause in their run-up to a penalty kick – to do whatever, some fancy footwork, a jig, dance, a feint or fake – I’m pretty sure that player is going to miss that penalty kick.

Croatia 2:0 Nigeria – I expect Croatia to improve as the tournament progresses. I hope the Super Eagles, meanwhile, enjoy their short stay in Russia. If anything, this game proves the old adage: You can’t hug a man in the penalty box.

I’ll remember that day as the first with four games to watch (only one of which I watched live), and as the day that cemented my interest in this edition of the World Cup, as it had a little bit of everything. Croatia actually was better than I initially thought after this game, as Nigeria was problematic for all three of their opponents, and this 2-0 win was more impressive than at first blush.

6/17

 Serbia 1:0 Costa Rica – Mostly boring game, that only Los Ticos’ netminder Keylor Navas kept close. … Costa Rica’s bench was a joke at the end. No one on the sideline should interfere with the game like that; That assistant coach certainly isn’t living the Pura Vida. I think Costa Rica will have a tough time winning a game in Russia.

 Germany 0:1 Mexico – Both teams were flying that first half. Mexico converted their best chance, Germany did not … Mexico is clearly afraid of no one, and the way they pressed Die Mannschaft is a blueprint for the few teams willing and able to stay with Ze Germans for 90 minutes. Germany will be fine, despite a frustrating day finishing, neither South Korea nor Sweden should trouble them.

Little did I know about Germany, even as Mexico did put down a mighty fine blueprint …

Brazil 1:1 Switzerland – Brazil definitely relaxed after their first goal. The Swiss looked overmatched in the first 20 minutes, then methodically grew into the game and challenged a suspect Brazilian back line, culminating in Steven “Super” Zuber’s header goal in the 50th minute. … I would expect better from the Selecao, and better will be needed against Serbia and Costa Rica. Nobody should underestimate the Swiss going forward either.

This would not be the first time I described the Swiss as “methodical”. Or used the word “methodical” …

6/18

Took forever to slog through today’s games …

Sweden 1:0 South Korea – Way too many fouls (43 total). Korea’s keeper Jo Hyeon-Woo deserves hazard pay for preventing a blowout… Korea was as industrious as always but more wasteful than usual. Sweden is just boring in their methodical play, like a slower Iceland, but without creativity.

Belgium 3:0 Panama – I thought Belgium was on cruise control … Then Dries Mertens shook the Red Devils out of their doldrums with a thunderous volley 2 minutes into the 2nd, and Panama was inevitably toast. Good sign for Belgium that Romelu Lukaku got the feel for the wheel and kept the moving parts clean with his brace. Meanwhile, I still can’t believe Panama qualified ahead of the USA.

Tunisia 1:2 England – What would England do without “Hurricane” Harry Kane? (The answer: Lose). The rest of the Three Lions should be renamed “The Gang Who Couldn’t Shoot Straight”; They should’ve had like 9-10 goals against a hot mess of a Tunisian defense. Between that, the periodic wrestling matches that broke out in the box (I saw Kane get tackled twice on corner kicks, no call, which is ironic considering how open he was on the gamewinner), and Kyle Walker dropping “The People’s Elbow” on Tunisia’s Fakhreddine Ben Youssef and gifting a penalty kick, those are the only reasons the game was left ’til late. …The plague of mosquitoes was a nice touch, as was helicopters dropping insecticide on the stadium before the game. Well done Stalingrad.

In retrospect, Tunisia was one of the more entertaining teams not to advance out of the group. Constantly straddling that fine line between brave and stupid, impressive at times in attack, a mess on defense, good cohesion and fraternitè overall. The soccer equivalent of a “fixie” bike, only one gear.

6/19

Crazy day of futbol …

Colombia 1:2 Japan – Not even 3 minutes in and, as Jorge Perez-Navarro said on the Fox broadcast, the game was “On Fire!!!!”. Or “Bonzai!!!”, you choose. Ridiculous decision by Carlos Sanchez to pull an “Umtiti” and gift Japan the lead. As teams often do playing with 10, Colombia became more urgent and organized, culminating in Juan Quintero’s free kick goal in the 39th, but Japan slowly wrested back control of the match as the 2nd half progressed, increasing the pressure on Colombia’s midfield until Japan scored the winner in the 73rd, and Colombia was feckless in response. I have sooo many questions for Colombian jefe Jose Pékerman. For instance, why was Juan Cuadrado, constantly running free down the right side, pulled in the 31st, even if his decisions in the final 3rd were lacking? That was eventually going to come correct over the course of 90 minutes, wasn’t it? And why didn’t James (pronounced “Ha-Mess”) Rodriguez start for Colombia, only coming in at the 59th minute? To be fair, he didn’t look that great, but he’s one of the 10 best players in the world. Colombia might be in trouble.

Poland 1:2 Senegal – All of Group H is “Bonzai!!!” Weird game. Senegal’s first goal, the autogol, was just bad luck. Their second goal was also a complete fluke, more the result of poor officiating and Woj Szceszny going all “Woj Szceszny.” What should be of concern to Poland is not that they got beat, but that they took too long to muster the necessary urgency and get into the game. Their goal was well taken; Maybe another 10 minutes and it ends tied at 2. I will also say Senegal didn’t look like an underdog, organized and enterprising, so I hesitate to use the word “upset” here.

Russia 3:1 Egypt – Despite the fact that he played today – and looked plenty spry, if a bit rusty, with an emphatic penalty kick goal – I can’t help but feel that Mo Salah’s injury derailed Egypt’s chances of advancement before the World Cup even started … I’m sure fans of The Pharaohs will continue to direct their ire at Sergio Ramos #GoneFishing. Meanwhile, it’s hard to tell how much of Russia’s impressive performances stem from the homefield advantage, the level of opponent (less than challenging, the easiest group by far), or how much can you contribute to actual quality of play. We’ll definitely know more after they play Uruguay … P.S. – Zhirkov really does sound like “Jerk Off”, it’s the new “Yanni/Laurel”.

I still have a lot of questions for Jose Pékerman.  Like, who’s your tailor? But I have to give him credit, not only for his impeccable suits, but for figuring a way forward without James Rodriguez.  Los Cafeteros (Translation: The Coffee Growers) are on another level with a healthy James; Without, they’re still a tricky proposition, as Senegal would find out.

6/20

Portugal 1:0 Morocco – The mark of a good team is their ability to win a match when at less than their best. Aside from goalkeeper Rui Patricio, and CR7’s goal in the 4th minute – a textbook set piece finish – Portugal was less than stellar, downright dumb at times … Morocco’s manager Renard looks like Boris Becker’s younger, more glamorous brother. His team looks like the unluckiest squad in Russia. Have looked good building the attack in midfield, with more possession and shots than their opponents in each game, and were quite organized, but lacking quality and fortune in the final third  #GoneFishing. Their parting gift is a game with tourney favorite Spain. There’s a reference to the Moors in here somewhere …

Uruguay 1:0 Saudi Arabia – Proof that #WinningUgly is still winning. One gets the sense that Uruguay as a whole plays to the level of their competition, and it must drive their longtime manager, Oscar Washington Tabáres, nuts. A pair of world-class strikers in Cavani and Suarez, one of the best defensive units in the World Cup, but oooohhh that midfield. So passive. So deliberate. So mediocre. Still, as long as Mr. Bitey Suarez keeps his chompers in check, La Celeste has every opportunity to go deep in this tournament. But the warm-up games are over. Saudi Arabia, we hardly knew ye. #GoneFishing

Iran 0:1 Spain – Apparently both Portugal and Spain suffered a hangover from their epic 3-3 match five days ago, as La Furia Roja wasn’t so “Furia” #WinningUgly. I’m not sure whether Iran’s aim was to beat Spain or just frustrate Spain. The time wasting went beyond the comical to the cynical, and the “bunker and no-counter” worked, for about 53 minutes until Diego Costa was in the right place at the right time. Ironically (or predictably), Iran was much more dangerous down a goal. I will say that Carlos Queiroz has done an admirable job with Iran, unbeaten in their last 19 FIFA sanctioned games entering this match. Portugal can’t afford to take Iran for granted in 5 days.

It struck me that in many ways, Portugal and Uruguay are mirror images of each other, with world-class striking, solid goalkeeping and a questionable midfield. That’s fascinating tangle between them tomorrow.

6/21

Denmark 1:1 Australia – Denmark’s bright start off of Christian Eriksen’s wonder strike 7 minutes in was negated 30 minutes later when Yussuf Poulsen pulled an “Umtiti” (or is it a “Sanchez”?) and gifted Australia a spot kick that Bearded Maniac Mile Jedinak converted. From there the tension never lifted, both teams seemingly on the verge of tilting the match in their favor, only to squander time and again. The tie was a fitting end.

France 1:0 Peru – Les Bleus aren’t yet the sum of their parts. Peru is South American Morocco, enjoyable to watch, but ultimately unsuccessful #GoneFishing …

Argentina 0:3 Croatia – What? Was? That? Both teams spent the first 50 minutes missing point blank chances … until Argentina’s keeper, the Clown Prince of Chelsea Willy Caballero, took over the game (not in a good way)… Modric is a bad little man, and Croatia now deserves the mantle of true dark horse Cup contender. Every World Cup, a pre-tournament favorite (often the Defending Champion) can’t get past the group stage. Spain in Brazil 2014, for instance. Or 2006 Finalists Italy & France finishing last in their respective groups in South Africa 2010. The Fighting Messis might that team in Russia. They need an already-qualified Croatia – likely to start a number of bench players and rest key vets – to get a result against Iceland, then beat Nigeria, otherwise it’s Dasvidaniya Evita.

Croatia’s victory over Argentina is among the five most impressive wins in the group stage, along with Sweden over Mexico, Colombia over Poland, South Korea over Germany, and the mosquitoes over insecticide in Stalingr errr..,Volgograd.

6/22

Brazil 2:0 Costa Rica – I just don’t understand why Real Madrid is trying to move on from Keylor Navas. Dude is nails, keeping Los Ticos in the match until extra time when Coutinho megged Navas on Brazil’s 16th shot, while Neymar’s finish in the 97th ended the dream of the Pura Vida #GoneFishing. Meanwhile, is it too much to ask of Brazil to stop whining after every whistle and act like you’ve been there before?

Nigeria 2:0 Iceland – To be honest, I nodded off and on watching the 1st half, but then again so did both sides. Iceland got thunderclapped in the 2nd half … Ahmed Musa was a one-man wrecking crew, countering swiftly on both goals as The Super Eagles pressed the space between Iceland’s lines and were rewarded for their efforts.

Serbia 1:2 SwitzerlandGreat game. Serbia started like a house afire, Alexander Mitrovic converting to grab an early 1-0 lead. Yet like clockwork, the Swiss grew into the match, gaining more possession and probing the flanks of the Serbian defense to create several chances off crosses and rebounds. The payoff came in the 2nd as Granit Xhaka (rhymes with “Frere Jacques”) scored a thunderous volley in the 52nd, and The “Alpine Messi”, Xhedran Shaqiri (not to be confused with Shakira, who is Spain defender Gerard Piqué’s baby mama, but I digress) capped the comeback in the 90th with a lightning counter strike … Serbia has the daunting task of having to beat Brazil to advance, and could become one of the better squads not to escape their group …

More on Keylor Navas, I think he’s the best goalkeeper in CONCACAF history.  That may rankle keepers (no pun intended) of the flame for the American Goalkeeper tradition (Tony Meola, Brad Freidel, Kasey Keller, and the Secretary of Defense Tim Howard), as well as devoteés of Panama’s Jaime Penedo and Mexico’s Memo Ochoa and Jorge Campos, but there you have it.

6/23

Belgium 5:2 Tunisia – There was a period after Tunisia’s first goal where you could almost convince yourself they were still in the game. That ended with Romelu “The Beast” Lukaku’s second goal right before the half; The second half was just window dressing #GoneFishing. Oh … and Belgium is good. Eden Hazard & Dries Mertens are the best set of wingers at the World Cup. If England beats Panama tomorrow, both Belgium & England advance, and Tunisia & Panama have a plane to catch.

South Korea 1:2 Mexico – The “Umtiti” Affliction has spread to the Korean squad, gifting Mexico the lead, which Chicharito extended to 2-0 in the 66th with a clinical counterattack goal. Korea made things interesting late with Tottenham Hotspur Son Heung-Min’s exquisite strike in the 92nd, and actually played well, generating more shots despite a 40-60 possessions disadvantage. Alas …#GoneFishing

Germany 2:1 Sweden – Frenetic is the word I would use to describe this affair on a hot night in Sochi … On Sweden’s first counterattack, German defender Jerome Boateng got away with an obvious forearm shiver in the box on Ola Toivonen ~10 minutes in (say that five times fast)… Toivonen got his revenge 22 minutes later, beating the entire German back line and chipping a dangerous throughball over a stranded Manuel Neuer for a 1-0 lead in the 32nd. Facing elimination at halftime, Die Mannschaft responded as one expects of the defending World Champions, scoring less than three minutes into the 2nd, Marco Reus putting a knee onto Timo Werner’s cross and redirecting it into the back of the ole onion bag! [/Tommy Smyth]. Their blitzkrieg continued, scrambling the Swedish defense and forcing their young keeper Robin Olsen to stand on his head time and again. As if they needed a higher degree of difficulty, Boateng got himself red carded in the 82nd, and Germany had to go the last 8 minutes + stoppage down a man. To the rescue came Toni Kroos, scoring a wundergoal in the dying moments that brought Ze Germans all the way back from ze brink, and put their destiny back in their own hands. 

For my money, that was the best game of the tournament so far, and it’s still going to take a whopper of a match to best that one.  I mean, I really thought Germany would be fine after this great escape …

6/24

England 6:1 Panama – The Three Lions were hot shoe, burning down the avenue, John Stones scoring a header in the 8th minute and England never looked back. Harry Kane’s hat trick was the strangest one I’ve seen, 2 PKs and a goal he knew nothing about. Meanwhile Panama was far from model citizens, with zero discipline, earning their first yellow card in the 10th minute, giving England spot kicks in the 22nd and 45th, and never stopped their petulance … At least their goal was nice #GoneFishing.

Part of me would like to think that the USA Men’s National Team would have shown that typical American resolve, risen to the occasion and done better at this World Cup than both Costa Rica and Panama. Part of me suspects they would have sucked just as bad or worse, as they were what they were, a team that couldn’t tie Trinidad & Tobago to qualify for Russia. Panama was the worst team I saw here by far, and officially finished 32nd at this World Cup, the first CONCACAF team to do so since the USA in France 1998.

Japan 2:2 Senegal – Fox Sports Analyst Warren Barton best described this game writ large when, in reviewing Senegal’s second goal on replay, exclaimed  “There was confusion, there was movement, there was bodies!” … Another evenly matched duel where a tie was a fitting result … Good to see old warhorse Keisuke Honda coolly finish that 2nd tying goal, having scored in 3 consecutive World Cups…

Poland 0:3 Colombia – Only saw about 20 minutes of the match before life got in the way, which apparently was how long it took for Colombia to get their engines revving. I’m guessing most Polish fans wish they had that excuse #GoneFishing. Watching extended highlights online, Colombia danced their way around and through the Polish defense for 3 barnstorming goals, and it was great to see James and Juan Cuadrado find their form again.

With six teams already qualified after two games in group play, and eight teams already eliminated, that meant there were 18 teams fighting for 10 spots in the knockout round. And, four games a day, which combined with my refusal to watch both at the same time on two different screens, well … Watching four games in one day is hard work, don’t let anyone tell you differently …

6/25

First day of the 3rd round of group stage games comes in like a lamb and goes out like a lion …

Uruguay 3:0 Russia – Entertaining for a game that didn’t matter much, as one of them was going to play Spain, the other Portugal; Six in one, half dozen in the other. Uruguay’s first goal was clever, a wormburning free kick in the 10th from Mr. Bitey … Russia regularly challenged Uruguay’s goal thereafter, only to go down another 13 minutes later on a deflected own-goal. Stake Uruguay’s defense an early 2-goal lead – and give them a man advantage in the 36th – and usually that’s all she wrote.  … La Celeste have finally arrived to the party.

Egypt 1:2 Saudi Arabia – Didn’t watch it at all because it 100% didn’t matter, both teams already eliminated. Saw highlights. Salah had a cheeky goal. Egypt couldn’t stop fouling the Saudis in their box, then conceding the loser in the 95th minute. Thanks for playing.

Spain 2:2 Morocco – Fighting and taking turns invading opposing territory as their countries had for centuries, Spain and Morocco went toe to toe for 90+ minutes and had me yelling “Fight! Fight! Fight!” throughout. Morocco struck first off a terrible giveaway by the Spanish midfield (surprisingly including Andres Iniesta) … Morocco’s lead lasted all of 5 minutes as Isco equalized off a typo La Roja build up, Andres Iniesta doing Andres Iniesta things. Second half, both sides traded salvos … Spain was wasteful with many opportunities,while Morocco converted their best one 81 minutes in, Youssef En-Nesyri heading in off a corner to retake the lead. VAR pulls Spain’s jamón out of the fire, correctly ruling that Iago Aspas was onside when he back heeled in the equalizing goal in the 91st, and in the ultimate twist, Spain ends up winning Group B because …

Portugal 1:1 Iran – … At the same time the late madness was occurring in Kaliningrad, Iran tied up their match with Portugal on a penalty kick in the 93rd in Saransk. Portugal’s goal came off a nice give & go for Old Man Ricardo Quaresma at the end of the 1st half. Cristiano Ronaldo, showing he is mortal, missed from the penalty spot in the 53rd after VAR correctly reversed the non-penalty call. From there, you could just feel Iran’s goal coming, in between all the officiating controversies that amounted to very little other than time I won’t get back. … Iran almost sent Portugal home in the 94th, hitting the side netting, but Portugal survived and will face Uruguay, while Spain gets the hosts in Moscow.

Both Iran and Morocco won a lot of respect this World Cup with their valiant play, if not advancement out of the group stage. Russia did play a bit better in the 2nd half against Uruguay down a guy, but that game went a long way towards settling the idea that their hot start was more the home field against poor opposition than actual quality.

6/26:

Australia 0:2 Peru – Playing for pride only, the eliminated Blanqiroja scored a fantastic volley in the 18th minute, and the game felt decided already. …The Socceroos never looked like they were going to score. Even moreso when Paolo “Coca Tea” Guerrero scored a neat side volley to make it 2-0 in the 50th. Betcha The Bearded Maniac Mile Jedinak was sorry he signed a petition (along with French Captain Hugo Lloris & Denmark Captain Simon Kjaer) to allow Guerrero to play in this World Cup and stay his suspension until afterwards, which was granted. At least Jedinak is a good sport, and he has that going for him, which is nice. But Advance, Australia Fair, they did not #GoneFishing.

France 0:0 Denmark – I always forget how catchy “La Marseillaise” is, which sadly was the best thing about this match. Both teams only needed a tie to achieve their objectives. So it went in the most boring game of the tournament. For their reward in winning the group, France gets 2014 Finalist …

Nigeria 1:2 Argentina – … Argentina, who got through in second place in Group D … Grabbing an early lead through a bit of magic from the footballing Houdini himself, Argentina got the start they needed and lacked the prior two matches … Bold move – whoever made that decision, the coach or the players – to start a goalkeeper getting his 1st cap, but aside from the penalty kick goal by Nigeria’s Victor Moses in the 51st, Franco Armani’s debut was quite dapper. From there, the tension in St. Petersburg ratcheted up minute by minute, Argentina desperation growing as they missed several chances, until the pressure found its release as Rojo, having escaped the guillotine 10 minutes earlier with a handball correctly called inadvertent, coolly slotted home a low volley, giving Messi and their entire country a piggyback ride into the knockouts. … I get the feeling we’ll be hearing more from Nigeria, who won the U-20 World Cup last year #GoneFishing.

Croatia 2:1 Iceland – Making nine lineup changes, the Mad Phat Croats showed off their depth against a resolute Icelandic side unable to recreate their wonder from the 2016 Euros #GoneFishing. Ivan Perisic gets the winner in the 90th, overcoming teammate Dejan Lovren’s Umtiti in the box …The Croatian Sensations get Denmark on Sunday, in a battle featuring Tottenham Hotspur’s past (Luka Modric) and present (Christian Eriksen) midfield engines.

France-Argentina is  World Cup Final-quality match.  No result would surprise me there, although I tend to think Argentina has already hit their ceiling, and France is far from it; Plus, I can;’t go against my pre-tournament pick. Meanwhile, I’m still in a bit of disbelief …

6/27

South Korea 2:0 Germany – Funny how what goes around, comes around, and the time that can take to happen. Germany knocked Korea out of their own World Cup in the 2002 Semis, and 16 years later, Korea sends the Defending World Champions tumbling out of Russia … Korea just sat back and absorbed Germany like a sponge, stifling their final move towards goal time after time, and were then rewarded for their obstinance in stoppage, scoring two of what can only be called silly goals, VAR only extending the German agony (As an aside, the linesman who called that 1st goal offsides, and then nodded as if it was an obvious call, shouldn’t see the field again this tournament). Hard to pin the German collapse – and that’s what this is, a complete, and unprecedented collapse – on any one thing, although their midfield to a man was just plain awful at both ends, constantly stranding their backline during Korean sorties and squandering scoring opportunities. Inserting Thomas Mueller and Mario Gomez didn’t improve that status quo either, their improvidence (26 shots but only 6 on goal) enduring as they were stuck several gears below top. Were they just arrogant?Slow? Did they really miss the suspended Jerome Boateng in central defense? Did they age in dog years since their triumph in Brazil? Was it a general malaise that only the genius possess and the insane lament? I’m babbling. Die Mannschaft has had several identity crises in the 20 years since their loss in the 1998 France Quarterfinals, but they hadn’t been out of the World Cup Top 3 since, finishing 2nd, 3rd, 3rd and 1st in successive tournaments. Continuing the “Curse of the Cup Winners”, becoming the 4th defending champion in the last five World Cups to go out in the group stage, Ze Germans finished last in Group F. Worldwide schadenfreude is off the charts, in any event. #GoneFishing

Mexico 0:3 Sweden – The fastest yellow card in World Cup history – 13 seconds into the game – was likely a harbinger of Mexico’s doom. If not, then it was the terrible call 5 minutes later by the Argentinean ref on Mexico’s goalie Memo Ochoa, on what clearly never was a hand ball outside the box. Or was it when Fox’s Jorge Perez-Navarro called their opponents “Swehhdish”? But I digress … Clockwork Yellow took control early in the 2nd, Mexico allowing a sloppy goal, then a sloppy penalty inside the box to go down 2-0 in the 62nd, and the sloppy autogol in the 74th was a microcosm of it all, as Sweden’s methodical play unwound a more talented side. Mexico clearly didn’t have it today, ultimately needing that German collapse to advance after dominating Group F heretofore. Probably a necessary wake-up call, as Brazil – their vanquished opponent in the 2012 Olympic Gold Medal match, with several of the players from those Olympic squads (Brazil with 4, Mexico 7) on these World Cup rosters – awaits on Monday.

Sweden is enigmatic to me, I’m still trying to figure out how they actually won Group F, other than the “slow and steady wins the race” trope I keep coming back to; Hard to deny the quality of their product though, having dominated Korea and Mexico, and extending Germany to the last kick of their game. I like them against Switzerland (who have two of their starting defenders suspended for yellow card accumulation) in the Battle of the Methodical, and they could become the 2016 Euros Iceland of this tournament.

Serbia 0:2 Brazil – This won’t surprise Liverpool fans much, but Phillipe Coutinho is the straw that stirs The Selecao’s drink, not Neymar. His vision to see Paulinho on a run from deep midfield and loft the perfect pass to him was sublime …The Serbs were formidable throughout the group stage, albeit missing that little something something which the teams playing this coming weekend have #GoneFishing. Brazil played their best game so far, but will have to be better against a dangerous and unafraid El Tri.

Switzerland 2:2 Costa Rica – An open, freewheeling affair …  Both teams continued riding the see-saw in the 2nd, Costa Rica leveling in the 56th, then the Swiss regaining the lead late in the 88th, before Pura Vida earned a consolation result on a bizarre Yann Sommer own-goal off a penalty kick in stoppage time. If only Los Ticos played with such abandon against Serbia and Brazil, maybe “CONCACAF Thunder” would have been a thing in Russia too. Switzerland meanwhile was a late Shaqiri goal against Serbia from having 3 ties in group play, which would befit a country known for its neutrality. As it is, a cagey matchup with “Swehhden” looms.

That left side of the knockout bracket is monstrous, Uruguay-Portugal, France-Argentina, Brazil-Mexico, and Belgium/Japan are all Semifinal quality games. The right side of the bracket might as well be called the “European Regional”, with 7 of the eight teams from UEFA.

6/28

Senegal 0:1 Colombia – Stylistically this appeared to be one of the more intriguing matches of the group stage’s last round, especially since it was likely only one of the two would advance. Wasn’t quite the barnburner I hoped for, James going out 30 minutes in seemed to tilt the match against The Cafeteros, who posed little threat thereafter, save for the one chance that ultimately mattered the most. … When Poland scored their goal against Japan, there was a 15 minute period where both Senegal & Colombia were in at Japan’s expense, but that ended with Jerry Mina’s header in the 74th off a Colombian corner. Senegal seemed to be playing for the tie throughout, going down a goal only increasing that urgency but not their efficacy, and as it went they bounce out on Fair Play points (basically, 2 more yellow cards than Japan), killing the last chance for an African team to advance #GoneFishing. Hopefully for Colombia’s sake, James can play 5 days from now, otherwise their days are numbered. Literally.

Japan 0:1 Poland – Only skimmed through it to see if Poland would finally show up, which they sort of did, I guess. The last 10 minutes were weird as both teams took turns salting the game away to preserve the 1-0 score … Jan Bednarek’s goal in the 59th provided a nice parting gift for Poland, while Japan is the only AFC team to get out of their group.

Panama 1:2 Tunisia – Didn’t watch. Don’t care. Of course there was an own-goal. Of course Panama lost their lead. Tunisia was full blast and top down, got an on-ramp comin’ through Panama’s box with two solid goals off nice crosses, from the highlights I saw.

My apologies to David Lee Roth and the rest of Van Halen

England 0:1 Belgium – I’d been excited for this game since this World Cup began, but this one was just for funsies, despite some potential for perverse incentives to finish second in the group, as both teams had already advanced to the knockouts. Both Belgium and England emptied their bench, making 17 lineup changes between them, and eventually played everyone who hadn’t yet except for the backup goalies. As a result, the game lacked flow, and had a preseason exhibition feel to it. … The lone goal coming from Belgium’s Adnan Januzaj with a crossover Allen Iverson would be proud of, sending a laser beam into the opposite corner of the net in the 51st … Belgium wins the group, gets the easier Round of 16 opponent in Japan, but the tougher half of the bracket. England sees a tricky match with Colombia, but a kinder draw to the semis.

I’ll miss four games of World Cup soccer a day, but my work productivity will not. Advancing to the knockout phase are 10 European teams, 4 from South America, and 1 each from Asia and North America. Weezer blessed the rains down in Africa, and it did not matter.

Not for nothing, but I did participate in a FIFA Bracket Prediction game in a private group, and got 12 of the 16 knockout phase teams right, only missing out on Egypt, Serbia, Poland and of course, Germany. I’m supposedly #146,491 out of 543,369 players! Here is my revised bracket predictions for the knockouts, with the benefit of added information from two weeks’ worth of games. Croatia, Belgium and Brazil were the best three teams I saw in the group stage, but I do think some switches are about to be flipped, and I see no reason to jump ship from France, who won their group, are still as talented as anyone, and still have the opportunity to become more than the sum of those parts.

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From → Soccer, Sports

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