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Sunday, June 18, 2006

6/18 World Cup of Coffee

Wow. What else can you say after the afternoon twinbill at the World Cup? Portugal and Iran got us off to a quiet start, with a 2-0 Portugal win that lacked the spectacular play and intensity of the subsequent matches. First, Ghana--holy freakin' cow! They absolutely thrashed the Czech Republic. You could make a case that Czech keeper Peter Cech was the man of the match, because this could have been 5-0 or 6-0. Ghana is for real and perhaps now the favorite to top the group. They certainly fancy their chances of getting three points against the US.
Not that I'm selling the US short. In fact, I think it's safe to say that the 1-1 draw with world power and title threat Italy in a World Cup played in Europe--when reduced to 9 men against 10--is the greatest result yet in American soccer history. We saw the fearlessness, the passion, and the willingness to attack that we sorely missed in the first match. It's hard to single out a player b/c they all played their tails off. But Clint Dempsey and Bobby Convey wreaked havoc on the wings, Landon Donovan showed up, Gooch was a man at the back, and of course Keller made great saves to salvage a precious point. It's this simple: the US needs to beat Ghana. Italy needs to beat the Czech Republic. Forget other convuluted tiebreakers b/c our goal disadvantage dooms us. We need those two results to advance.
Now, what about the red cards? I think the first red card on the Italians was legit. That was a vicious, unnecessary elbow to the face. As for the second red on Mastroeni, I have been surprised to read pundits, including Grant Wahl (read below), say it was legit. My first impression while watching was that it was an absolute travesty. These pundits know better than me, but after thinking about it I still don't believe it was any worse than a yellow. Granted, they are cracking down on bad tackles. But we have seen equal or worse not get reds in this tournament. We know a red when we see one. That just wasn't a red. Eddie Pope's second yellow was not as outrageous, but one could argue that it should've just been a professional foul. The bottom line is that the referee permanently altered the match. He became the story with decisions that are hard to justify. Moving on...

JAPAN vs. CROATIA
Japan needs nothing less than a win, but I don't see it. Croatia looked like they belonged on the field with Brazil. Japan was fortunate to be ahead of Australia by virtue of a goal that should have disallowed--and then the roof caved in. They just don't have the quality or home field advantage of four years ago. Croatia needs to pay attention, however, to Ghana and the US and come out ready to battle. Japan will give a strong effort, but come up short. Croatia 2 Japan 1

BRAZIL vs. AUSTRALIA
I wonder if Guus Hiddink won't adjust his strategy based on the outcome of the Croatia-Japan match. He's hinted he may rest starters with yellow cards against Brazil to ensure their participation against the more winnable Croatia match. But if Croatia wins against Japan, he may feel pressure to go for a result. The worst thing that could have happened for Australia is Argentina's 6-0 clinic against Serbia & Montenegro. Brazil will not take kindly to being outshined by their archrivals. Look for Brazil to crank it up a notch despite a battling Aussie effort. Brazil 3 Australia 1.

FRANCE vs. REPUBLIC OF KOREA
I am frightened for France and Thierry Henry. Raymond Domenech has not found the magic formula for this team. The line-ups don't seem right, the formations don't seem right, the cutting edge seems absent. They could draw this match and beat Togo to get through, perhaps. But they need a goal badly after failing to score in the last World Cup and against Switzerland a few days ago. This team needs to bench underperforming past-prime veterans and Arsenalize the line-up around Henry. The Koreans will make them sweat this out, and even though my gut tells me draw, I'm going with hope. France 1 Republic of Korea 0.


DAILY DIGEST

Here are American soccer experts Grant Wahl (SI) and Jamie Trecker (Fox Sports) on the US-Italy match and American prospects in Group E.

Ghana erupts in celebration after their thrashing of the Czech Republic. Meanwhile, Ghana fans feel confident about their chances against the US: The way we are feeling now we're sure we'll thrash the USA, we are going to make them look like schoolboys.

An Embarrassment of Riches: It's a scary thought, but Argentina's two best players don't even start...

Henry Kissinger's Guide to the World Cup (brought to my attention by NY Times World Cup Blog ): profound or pretentious?

Welcome to the World, Australia: A nice Guardian profile of Australian soccer culture and the present-day Socceroos, who face Brazil today.

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