Reactions following Spain’s World Cup victory

Spain defeated the Netherlands, 1-0 in extra time, to capture their first ever World Cup. It’s a great day for Spain, South Africa, and soccer fans everywhere. Well, except in the Netherlands.

Quick thoughts following the game:

  • It’s THE NETHERLANDS. Not Holland. Period.
  • The dives were ridiculous, as were the number of cards. The ref got too caught up in the game, and started handing out cards for every foul. There were only three Netherlands starters who weren’t booked, one of which being the goalie.
  • The Netherlands really should have won the game in regulation. Robben had numerous chances that he didn’t finish, and the Dutch collectively had poor execution on odd-man chances and breakaways.
  • I know soccer commentators during the tournament weren’t exactly known for their energy, but the ones during the game were reallllyy boring. Given the magnitude of the game, I would have liked them to be more animated and made the chances seem like bigger deals. It’s the World Cup final, wake up.
  • I am glad though that someone scored and the game didn’t have to be decided by penalty kicks. Yes, they’re exciting, but that’s not the way to lose the World Cup. I’d be in favor of, for the semifinals and championships, adding an additional 20 minute session (two 10 minute halves) and giving each team one more sub.
  • I’m glad ESPN and ABC gave full coverage to the tournament. It did a lot for soccer here, and I’m sure it had similar impact for many other parts of the country, too. It’s a beautiful game, all it needs here is more exposure. (Side note– Thierry Henry looked past his prime for France this year, but I like bringing him to the MLS. We want our players playing in their leagues, but having some of theirs in ours couldn’t hurt either.)
  • Coming into this World Cup, only seven countries had won the tournament. I found this graphic online, which illustrates the number of cups per country. If you asked me, I could have named all of them, but seeing them laid out like this was an eye-opener. For those of you who are geographically challenged, it’s Brazil, Italy, Germany, Argentina, Uruguay, France, and England (and now Spain).
  • There will be people who complain how low scoring the game is, but I always argue back that it should be fun to watch because there is constant action. People say they like watching hockey but not baseball because of the difference in game speed, but really, soccer should be the easiest to watch. Constant gameplay, no timeouts, no commercials, no coaches challenges, no measuring for first downs, no pucks out of play, and definitely no switching pitchers after one batter. Just action, action, action.
  • After this showing from Team USA, they really need to go at least as far as they did this time for the next one to be considered a success. As mentioned before, soccer in this country can not afford to have the States eliminated in the group stage.

That’s all she wrote, folks. Congratulations to Spain for winning their first ever World Cup, and for becoming the first team to lose their opening match and then go on to win it all. Soccer doesn’t stop for four years, though. You can tune into the Fox Soccer Channel for some English soccer, or check out the MLS for America’s pro league. Locally, you can get out to watch FC Buffalo play (or catch their final home game in about 90 minutes at All-High Stadium). Knock the ball around with friends or get a game of World Cup together with the guys. This may be my last soccer post for a while, but that doesn’t mean the sport stops until the world reconvenes in Brazil, just over 1400 days away.

The U.S. Men play Brazil in New Jersey, Tuesday August 10 at 8pm. It’ll be live on ESPN2, or catch the game.

Go States. Go Soccer.

So near, but yet so far

For a second, everything was perfect. It seemed like Ghana, who made it through by way of two penalty kicks, were going to get a taste of their own medicine. We were about to avenge a defeat at the hands of Ghana during the last World Cup. Landon Donovan had netted a PK to tie it for the USA, and we were pressing for more. But shortly during the first period of extra time, disaster struck. And then before we knew it, it was over.

First, there was disbelief. The entire room was stunned. It was a hands-on-your-head, blank stare, “that didn’t just happen” kind of moment as everyone looked up at the TV in silence. For some, glazed eyes turned to tears. Others too proud to cry found a chair and sulked for what seemed like an eternity. Head shaking replaced verbal communication, as if the dejection itself was enough to overburden a voice box. It is by no stretch of the imagination to say heartbreak had set it.

Anger soon followed, and for myself it was a widespread anger at that. I was mad at Ghana for winning. I was mad at Africa for owning Ghana. I was mad at Ghana’s players for wasting so much time and pretending to be injured, and I was mad at the referee for not doing anything about it. It’s depressing that we can’t even hope for next year, and who knows what I’ll be doing four years down the road. Olympic soccer is two years away, but it isn’t the same.

I was irate with Jozy Altidore for playing such a miserable game. I was mad at our defense for letting 80 minutes of decent soccer go to waste because of the first 10, for the third time in four games. I was livid that no one showed any killer instinct in the final third, and I will never understand the reasoning behind the short corner kick.

Another reason I’m furious with Ghana is that they are a great example of why people hate soccer. They showed that diving, wasting time and pretending you’re hurt are all successful tactics that can be used to help you win soccer games. The one guy on Ghana was down late holding his ankle in his own box, doing his best to look like he was on his deathbed. They brought the stretcher out for him, and the second they put it down on the sideline he hopped back up and started walking. It’s a miracle! It’s… exactly why soccer players catch a bad rap.

I guess the most upsetting thing of all was understanding where the anger was really coming from. Despite the waiting and suffering endured as a U.S. soccer fan, we still aren’t there yet. Ghana was the better team on the pitch. In what was arguably the most important game of their lives thus far for the majority of our roster, how many players can you name who really played well? For all 120 minutes? Tim Howard’s wife can count them on her Y chromosomes.

If being outplayed isn’t enough, it’s insult to injury to remember Ghana did so without their best player, Michael Essien. How many teams are the USA beating without Donovan? Realizing just how much work is still left to be done is another deep gash into the sides of American supporters.

Back at the bar, I started to find the strength to make my way back to the car. I unlocked the door, and then just sat in my seat and thought. I didn’t feel like driving just yet. As the time passed, a new thought came to mind. As depressed as I was about the elimination, something else was nagging me. It wasn’t just that we lost, but how we lost it. Not that it was in extra time, but the vague familiarity of it all. Watching Team USA today felt an awful lot like watching the Sabres in the playoffs.

You wanted so badly for your team to pull through, but somewhere in the back of your head there was that doubt that wouldn’t go away. Being dumbfounded as to why your team can’t get their butts in gear until the very last second definitely felt like being a Sabres fan, as did wondering where that extra effort was. How many times have we complained of a lack of desperation? The Sabres and Team USA look similar during the first 40 minutes. Pouring it on late and hoping it’s enough? That’s definitely a Buffalo thing.

How about a Tim Howard-Ryan Miller comparison? I’m sick of the goalie being the only one who wants to win during the first 90% of the game. If you wanted to be corny you could say Ghana was a “head” better, because we couldn’t win a head ball to save our lives, but this picture may be the most telling of all. There’s five Americans in the shot, and who wants it most? The only guy who doesn’t belong in the box for a corner kick. I’m sure Miller would park himself in front of the net on the power play if they’d let him.

So yes, I’m mad that we lost, I’m mad we’re not good enough, and I’m crushed that the dream is over. I’m extremely bothered by the fact that I have to be surrounded by teams like this, and I refuse to accept my team turning in half a performance and thinking it’s good enough.

So maybe my girl friend will never understand why I buried my head in my food at Tully’s to avoid seeing replays from the game, or why I can’t sleep at 6 a.m. after the night following the loss. But through all the tears and heartbreak, the stunned silences and minutes spent with your hands over your face, somewhere in there will all become true Buffalo sports fans. You can tell me I’m in the bargaining stage of grief right now if you want, but I wouldn’t trade that for anything. There are times like these where we stare at our computer screens at a complete loss for words, wishing we could just go to sleep and wake up from this nightmare; but at the same time, we know the suffering will make winning the big one that much sweeter when it finally happens.

There’s a lot of work to be done, but that’s the great part about sports, there’s always next time. Go States.


Couldn’t fit this in, but more thoughts on something I mentioned earlier, Ghana showing that diving equals wins. Perhaps America will always be behind the eight ball in soccer for one reason–pride. Think about it, if somebody hits you in the face, as an American, whats your reaction? You find the mother f—er who hit you and get him back twice as hard. But for the rest of the world, apparently the proper reaction to getting hit–or cleated, or pushed–is to lay on the ground like you just got shot. No shame. Can it be that Americans are too proud for that?

Quick thoughts following USA-England

First things first, a draw for the States is a favorable result. With a weak remaining group schedule, avoiding a loss to England will go a long way towards advancing from our bracket.

English goalkeeper Robert Green puts his head down in disbelief after allowing the goal

Secondly, I can’t help but feel bad for English keeper Robert Green. It was nothing more than a bad bounce, and he will go down in history as the goalie who blew it against America. He could have gotten in better position to make the save, but I’m not holding it against him. I’ve scored on my own net before, and it’s the absolute worst feeling in the world. But on this stage? That will haunt him forever.

Personally, I would have stared David James in goal, but I’ll give England coach Fabio Capello the benefit of the doubt. After all, he is with the team everyday, and my knowledge is based on the fact that James is awesome in my video game.

Opposite of Green, U.S. goalie Tim Howard played spectacularly in net. The goal in the 4th minute was iffy, but after that he looked phenomenal and kept the Americans in the game. Howard also showed his toughness, playing through an injury in the first half that looked pretty painful. England had several open looks late in the game, but every time Howard was equal to the task.

I would like to see the American’s tighten up that defense, though. The Brits often had men open in the box and failed to convert on several open looks. They did a good job at containing Wayne Rooney in the first half, although he had some chances late. The only other thing I have to add is that I want to see American defenders find their marks sooner on second and third chances–there were a few times England had a man unmarked but they failed to find him.

Steve Cherundolo and Jay DeMerit had their names called on the broadcast more than anyone, and after they shook of the initial jitters they played good soccer.

England's Emile Heskey slides and crashes into Tim Howard (orange) in the first half

Check back throughout the week for more World Cup coverage. The other teams in group C are Slovenia and Algeria, who play each other tomorrow at 7:30 a.m. EST. The United States play their second match next Friday, June 18 at 10 a.m. EST versus Slovenia.  

Let’s go States!

An American’s guide to soccer

Watching Team USA play in the World Cup? Read this first.

Let’s face it: even if you aren’t a soccer fan, you’re going to watch the game between the United States and England. It’s more than just a social event; it’s your duty as an American to cheer on Team USA. Non hockey fans across the country piled on the bandwagon behind the men’s hockey team during the Olympics, and non soccer fans will do much of the same for our World Cup team; even more so if we win.  

There’s a common misconception that you need to be able to juggle a ball 15 times off your head to understand soccer. Soccer is just like any other sport—you try to get the ball in the net. The only difference is that you can’t use your hands.  

There are some things, however, that are special to soccer. But don’t worry, that’s where I come in. This is a rundown of things you’ll hear during the game tomorrow (and the rest of the tournament) that may be foreign to you. They aren’t that hard to follow, and you’ll understand them more once you see a game in action. But before we start, there are three things to keep in mind:  

  • It’s harder than it looks. It might just look like they’re running for no reason and kicking the ball around for the heck of it, but to the trained eye, every run and every pass has a purpose. And those “first touches” they’ll be referring to… incredibly difficult. Those guys just make it look easy. Yes, they are THAT good.
  • You could NOT do what they’re doing. “Wow. The goalie dove for a shot that was right next to him and barely saved it. Piece of cake.” Not so fast. Everything they do on that field is 10 times more difficult than it looks, and those players are elite athletes in tip-top shape. Anybody can sprint full speed two minutes into the game. It takes a world class athlete to do so in the 85th. Oh and those headers, those hurt. We’re not trying to say we’re equal with (American) football on a physical contact level, but heading a hard kicked ball is the equivalent of a fullback hitting a linebacker in the hole. It hurts, it jars you… but you do it because you want to win. If you don’t go hard for the ball, you have no shot of getting it.
  • Yes, the net is big, but scoring is very difficult. The big box outside the net is 18 yards away from goal. The 18-yard box is a close place to shoot from for soccer players, and it’s still longer than a half court shot in the NBA. Keeping the ball low is no easy task either; hit it wrong and it will sail high and wide. 

Anyway, here are some things you may hear soccer people reference that you should be familiar with.  

A cap is a game. You will often see stats for a player’s international caps. That just means the number of games he has played with the national team.  

Fouls are different from basketball. A minor infraction is a foul and is signaled by a blown whistle. While record of fouls is kept, there is no number in which a player will be thrown out for accumulating. The fouled team gets a free kick of the ball at the spot of the foul. The ball must be still before it is kicked and opposing team must be 10 yards away from the ball. An indirect kick means the ball must touch another player besides the kicker before it goes into the net, and a direct kick means it can be kicked directly in. Direct/indirect is at the referee’s discretion.  

Should a yellow card be awarded (not in American use of the word; here “awarded” is negative), the offender’s name goes into the ref’s book. Two yellow cards turn into a red, which means the player has been ejected from the game and his team must finish the game a man down (reds can also be given directly without first being given a yellow). The same rules apply about kicking the ball to resume play as for a foul . If a player is said to be “carrying a yellow,” it means he received a yellow card in the game before, and is still at risk of it turning into a red/receiving suspension. A free kick is sometimes referred to as a “dead ball” opportunity.  

Offside is also different from hockey. At the moment the ball is kicked (NOT when it gets to the player), the man must be in front of the second to last defender; which includes the goalie. In English, this means that when the ball is kicked, there has to be at least one defender between you and the net (plus the goalie). If you are closest to the goal, you’re offside. If you want to think of it in terms of a blue line, you could say that the blue line moves and is at the feet of the farthest back defender. But unlike hockey, offside is ruled from the moment the pass is made, not the time it gets to you. There is also no offside on your side of half, so if the other team’s defenders push up and you get the ball before the half field line, you are good. To resume play after an offside, the ball is placed parallel with the spot the offside occurred at and the defending team kicks the ball.  

A ref shows a yellow card

  

Balls out of play are similar to basketball; the team who touches it last losses possession of the ball. If the ball goes out of the side it results in a throw in, where a player throws the ball over his head with two hands and must have both of his feet on the ground. If the ball goes out past an end line, things get slightly more complicated. If it was knocked out of the back by the attacking team, the defenders get a goal kick; a free kick when the ball is placed on (or inside) the smaller 6-yard box. Should the ball go out off of the defending team, the attacking team takes the ball to the corner of the field and takes a corner kick, where other members of their team stand in front of the goal and will try to put the ball in the net. These are very good scoring chances.  

Each team is allowed only three substitutions per game. The player coming in waits at the half field line and may come in at a stoppage of play when his team is awarded a kick. When he can come in gets confusing, but he must wait for the ref’s okay. If a team makes all three subs and a player gets injured… for lack of a better term they’re S.O.L. If a player is awarded a red card, he may not be subbed for and his team plays the rest of the game shorthanded.  

Formations change from team to team and half to half. The goalie is never listed. A common formation is 4-4-2, which means four defenders, four midfielders, and two forwards. Goalies are also called goalkeepers, but never goaltenders. Defenders are also fullbacks, and a sweeper is the last defender before the goalie. Midfielders can also be called halfbacks or middies, and have very different roles on different teams. Forwards are simply strikers, and are often the more well-known players. Teams are also referred to as squads or sides. Coaches have a number of different names in Europe, but you will probably just hear them referred to as coach. Boots are cleats.  

Other things you will notice that are different from other sports:  

  • Players will touch the referee. That’s grounds for suspension in baseball, but it is not uncommon to see in soccer.
  • People in the stands blow horns the entire game. That’s how you can tell real soccer players/fans apart from the newbies; new people hate the horns but for diehards, it’s music to their ears.
  • The captain is denoted by an armband worn on the upper arm, not a ‘C’ on the shirt.
  • They go down “hurt” a lot. Sad, but it’s a part of the game. Getting taken down certainly hurts, but just because they look like they are in pain doesn’t mean it’s all that bad. Soccer will always be the beautiful game, but this is one of the slight blemishes on its face. 

That’s all I have for now. If you have questions, leave a comment. Try to remember how special this is for Africa and the country of South Africa. If Nelson Mandela makes an appearance, it will be insane for them. He’s their George Washington and Abe Lincoln all in one. (That’s NOT Morgan Freeman.) I think USA will get out of their bracket, but I still think England has the more talented side. I could never pick against the States, so color me vanilla but I’m predicting a 2-2 draw.  

Go USA.

O Captain! My Captain!

With the World Cup just seven days away, two squads took huge blows today when it was announced that their captains will not participate in the tournament. While neither player has fallen cold and dead, they both fell this morning and will sit out due to injury.     

The biggest loss is that of Didier Drogba, one of the world’s top strikers who plays for Africa’s top nation, Ivory Coast. You won’t find them on a map—they are officially the “Republic of Côte d’Ivoire” and prefer the French be used in all languages—but they have a legitimate shot at advancing from their bracket.     

Well, had.     

Without their leader Drogba, Ivory Coast’s chances take a serious nosedive. He is not only their most talented and widely known player, but their off-field leader as well. He is a cultural icon in the country, especially so after 2005 when he led Ivory Coast to its first ever World Cup qualification, one that put the nation’s civil war on hold.     

But now, he will be a mere spectator at the games after reports surfaced today that the 6’2” forward will not play due to a broken right arm suffered in a tune up game with Japan early this morning. He was subbed out in the 18th minute after having a knee collide with his arm during a tackle.     

A write-up of the injury says Japanese defender Marcus Tulio Tanaka was shown a yellow card for the tackle, but the match summary does not have any bookings listed for Japan.     

Drogba holds his arm on his way off the pitch

It should be noted that the report is coming from Ivory Coast players and that the Elephants have not officially ruled Drogba out of the contest.     

While no one ever celebrates an injury, this is certainly good news for Portugal, who will compete with Ivory Coast for the final spot to advance from Group G behind the mighty Brazilians.     

As someone who as broken an arm before, I would be disappointed in Drogba if he missed the tournament due to the arm. Certainly every injury is different and everyone’s body responds differently, but I know I could have played soccer with a cast on. Drogba is 32-years-old, which may make this the last World Cup he could play in, and it would be an utter shame should he miss it. I don’t think Ivory Coast has the talent to phase him out in four years, but his body may not hold up that long.     

Ivory Coast opens tournament play June 15 versus Portugal at 10 a.m. ET.     

England also lost its captain early this morning. Star defender Rio Ferdinand suffered ligament damage to his left knee during the English side’s first practice in South Africa.     

The injury occurred during training when Ferdinand attempted to execute what coach Fabio Capello called a “minor tackle.” He was later reportedly seen leaving a hospital on crutches, and England already has a replacement in mind.   

A fuzzy paparazzi shot of Ferdinand on crutches

The loss of Ferdinand will hurt England as he is one of the better defenders in the world, let alone on the English roster; however, England has more depth to cope with the loss than does Ivory Coast. The injury puts a damper on England’s spirit heading into the contest, but it does not drastically affect their outlook on advancing from Group C. I still expect England and the United States to advance from pool play, although this gives the States an edge against the otherwise more talented English squad.     

Steven Gerrard will take over as captain for England when they open against the USA on June 12. The game is at 2:30 p.m. ET and will be aired on ABC.     

Both Drogba and Ferdinand play professionally in the English Premier League; Drogba for Chelsea and Ferdinand for Manchester United. The video game FIFA ’10 rates Drogba as an 85 and Ferdinand as an 86.