Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Portugal v Spain Starting 11


GK: Eduardo

D: Bruno Alves, Ricardo Carvalho, Fabio Coentrao, Ricardo Costa

MF: Pepe, Raul Meireles, Tiago, Simao

F: Ronaldo, Hugo Almeida


GK: Casillas

D: Puyol, Pique, Capdevila, Ramos

MF: Busquets, Xabi, Xavi

F: Villa, Torres, Iniesta

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Monday, June 28, 2010

Random Thoughts about World Cup 2010

Compiling some random thoughts about World Cup 2010 as I listen to Andres Cantor's call of Landon Donovan's goal over and over. Just sensational.

  • Dunga will be validated for going with these team and this approach. Defense wins for the first time in Brazil, which will win one for the other hand--a very Jordan-like sixth world championship.
  • Arjen Robben comes back to Holland's lineup and scores the Dutch's first goal. Who knew he was that good? Um, EVERYONE! Everyone except Slovakia
  • In a close race for the most overrated figure at World Cup 2010: Fabio Capello v. Jozy Altidore. Put them in a UFC octagon and Altidore would spend the bout behind Capello, who would be making the blowfish face while sitting on a bench with his arms folded. Altidore would come close with a lot of his punches, but be late or just miss all of them. Capello, meanwhile, still has his arms folded.
  • So FIFA says showing the replay of Carlos Tevez's offside goal for Argentina yesterday was a mistake and adds it will censor future replays at World Cup venues. So let's get this straight, non controversial goals will be shown, anything that could sully a referee's reputation won't be. I guess it will be easy to spot the bad calls, and there will be a lot of dark screens in South Africa.
  • Miroslav Klose has scored 12 goals in the World Cup finals; just as many as that Pele guy. Klose's dirty dozen are a well-kept secret, a quiet 12 goals. BTW, those two guys are tied for fourth all-time. Trivia: Name the top 3 (answer below)
  • Germany may give Brazil a battle in the final (I think I've conceded this point), but I'd still rather have Argentina-Brazil in the final; or even the real Portugal-Brazil game this time of course in the final.
  • Is it my prejudice, or is Portugal kinda sneaky lurking around in this tournament and might just play its way into the final? Or at least the semis? Maybe.
  • And speaking of Argentina, here's the perfect example of the "Is it the players or the coaching" argument. Diego Maradona ain't pushing all of these buttons folks. He just ain't. I don't know enough about his staff to say it's all them, but I know it ain't all Maradona right now. He's built an offensive machine, a relentless force that might outscore everyone all the way to the championship. Higuain, Aguero, Messi, Tevez--should I keep going? This is an unparalleled collection of offense. Players? Coaching? Let's see how this plays out.
  • Brazil's physical defense-first approach versus Argentina's Playstation-style of offense. If that's the final, I can't wait.
  • Trivia answer: Ronaldo of Brazil (15), Gerd Mueller of Germany (14), and Just Fontaine of France (13).
  • Ian Darke rocks. John Harkes, not so much
  • If the U.S. is going to can Bob Bradley--it should and I think it will--then hopefully Sunil Gulati is on the same flight out of town. In fact, I'll drive you fellas to the airport.
  • Portugal-Spain just has a whole lotta awesome about it.
  • I wonder under what bridge ESPN has Tommy Smythe tied up? Does he get to come out for the Champions League?
  • Did you like my Lady Gaga/France post? I did.
  • Speaking of the French: See ya in 2014, hopefully 2018. Yeah, that's it, 2022.
  • I'm 4-for-6 in my second round predictions so far, thanks Bullet Bob Bradley, and you too Fhony Fabio
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Starting Eleven Football Blog Roundup

Two weeks into World Cup 2010 and we've learned that the U.S. is not a world soccer power, refereeing is abysmal, goalkeeping is a close second to refereering in the abysmal category, and that Southern hemisphere teams rule in, well, the Southern hemisphere.

If I had to grade the World Cup, I'd give it a solid B-. I haven't been knocked out of my seat yet, though Donovan's goal was close. Brazil's physical approach has been fun to watch. Argentina has been immense, just overwhelming people with wave after wave of scoring chances--and conversions. The Germans are better than advertised, and Fabio Capello and Jozy Altidore are neck-and-neck for the most overrated things about the World Cup.

I hope the tournament ramps it up for the final two weeks and the final is a fight to the finish with no whistles and solid play between the goal posts. Otherwise, that B- might slide into the less-than-average range.

Here's another World Cup edition of the Starting Eleven Football Blog Roundup:

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Friday, June 25, 2010

World Cup 2010: Second round predictions

This was an epic first round of World Cup 2010. So many stories: France's disgraceful exit; Italy's unexpected ouster; the dominance of the South American nations; Ghana the lone standing African nation; shoddy goalkeeping; poor refereeing; Landon Donovan's goal; Argentina scoring at will; Portugal, Uruguay and Chile yet to surrender a goal.

How can the World Cup's sweet 16 top that? We're about to find out.

Uruguay v. South Korea -- The South Americans are physical, stingy and have Diego Forlan scoring goals. 2-0 Uruguay.

United States v. Ghana -- Ghana got in on goal-differential; the U.S. got in on its goal of the century. The U.S. can't do it the easy way finally, can they? Yes. 2-0 USA.

Quarterfinals: Uruguay v. United States


Argentina v. Mexico -- Argentina has the best scoring talent in the tournament. Mexico has a lot of heart and is playing well. Argentina has Diego Maradona. Mexico does not. They don't have Lionel Messi either. 3-0 Argentina.

Germany v. England -- Oh boy. The political and traditional implications aside, this is epic and mammoth. Germany leaked badly in its group after opening with a 4-0 win. Schweinsteiger may not play. England has yet to cut loose and play its best. Capello is outcoaching himself. But in this one, he pulls the boys together and Rooney wins it in extra time. Yes, this goes to extra time. 1-0 England.

Quarterfinals: Argentina v. England


Paraguay v. Japan -- Japan has been most impressive so far, but I have to stick with my Southern hemisphere theory and go with Paraguay. 2-1 Paraguay.

Portugal v Spain -- A classic in the making. This will be everything that Brazil-Portugal was not. Portugal will have to attack and so will Spain. But in the end, we need an upset in this round, and this is it. 2-1 Portugal.

Quarterfinals: Paraguay v. Portugal


Netherlands v. Slovakia -- The dark horse to win the whole thing, Holland is ever dangerous and with Robben on his way back, they're bound to get better. 4-0 Netherlands.

Brazil v. Chile -- My Southern hemisphere theory kicks in again -- has to! Brazil stomps on Chile. 4-1 Brazil.

Quarterfinals: Netherlands v. Brazil.

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World Cup 2010 Group Stage: How did we do?

So now that we're two games shy of the end of the group stage of World Cup 2010, let's check out how our previews and predictions have gone so far.

Group A: I got the two teams who moved ahead correct in this group: Mexico and Uruguay, but I had Mexico winning the group. Close, but no cigar. (Fine Uruguay lady, right) At least France is going home and I got that one right too.

Group B: Got Argentina right here, the two-time champs won the group as I predicted. But I had Nigeria and it's South Korea moving on.

Group C: Had the England and the U.S. here in that order; right teams wrong order as it turned out. I'll take it, no sweat. Landon Donovan can do no wrong.

Group D: I blew this one royally, just like Group B. I got the winner correct in Germany, but Ghana made it too by the skin of its teeth over Australia.

Group E: I figured this group for a three-way logjam at the top with a lot of tiebreakers coming into play. Nope. Netherlands went 3 for 3 and Japan pound Denmark for second place. I had Holland and Cameroon. Oh well.

Group F: Perhaps the most shocking result of the first round, Italy's ouster. The defending champs gone and of course, they messed up my predictions. Paraguay wins the group, as I figured. Slovakia is in also. I had Paraguay and Italy.

Group G: Nailed this one, almost to the point. Brazil finishes with 7, Portugal with 5. I had Portugal with 6. Oh well. The Group of Death is as expected for me.

Group H: Still to come this afternoon, but I had Spain and Chile. Switzerland a close third. Still could go that way.

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Thursday, June 24, 2010

Andres Cantor's Call of Landon Donovan's goal

Just had to share: This is a link to Andres Cantor's call of Landon Donovan's goal.


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U.S. World Cup Team Can't Rest on Algeria Win

The United States has been pining to be a world soccer power and they're so close, especially after the first round of the World Cup. But let's stop calling yesterday's 1-0 win over Algeria that enabled the U.S. to win its group and advance to the knockout stage of the tournament the biggest win in U.S. soccer history. This isn't the game that's going to make soccer the new football in the U.S.

It's the next game that will do that.

And then the one after that.

And hopefully one or two after that.

Enjoy this one now, because come Saturday at 2:30 p.m. ET, the win over Algeria and Landon Donovan's wonder goal will be long forgotten; especially if by 4:30, we're with our hands in our heads and tears of sorrow staining our faces. The U.S. has to take the next step, now. Their time has arrived because they won't get a more favorable road to World Cup glory. Ghana, and their either Uruguay or South Korea stand between the U.S. and the World Cup semifinals.

The U.S. made the semifinals in 1930, ironically played in Uruguay. The U.S. were hammered by Argentina 6-1, whom they could theoretically meet in this year's final.

Yes, I'm way ahead of myself and I wouldn't bet my chocolate lab on that happening, but they certainly could end up in the final four against Brazil, Holland, maybe even Portugal.

That's what yesterday's victory did. It wasn't the end game. It wasn't the end-all, be-all. No Bianca, it wasn't the greatest day in U.S. soccer history. That will be Saturday. And then July 2, July 6 and maybe July 11.

Until then, savor it, but don't be satisfied. That's how world soccer powers behave.

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Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Landon Donovan's Goal
puts U.S. into Second Round

I'm sorry Landon.

I'm sorry for crapping all over you not so long ago. I doubted you. I doubted your ability to lead the United States men's national team. I doubted your ability as a finisher on the field. I doubted your ability as a playmaker. I doubted your heart. I doubted you'd get it done.

What do I know?

Not much apparently. So I'm manning up and apologizing.

I'm sorry.

You are a soccer stud, the leader of this team and the rightful face of American soccer. You should be SI's Sportsman of the Year. You should be captain for life.

You've grown so much since the 2006 World Cup. You started to win me over before the Confederations Cup, you put David Beckham in his place, you made a huge impact at Everton and now this. Today's goal. 92nd minute. USA in the second round of the World Cup; not just in the second round of the World Cup, but for the first time, group winners. Hopefully we've avoided Spain by doing so and maybe, just maybe, opened up a clear lane to the semifinals.

I sure didn't expect this two weeks ago. I expected the US to get out of the group, but not like this. Not after being screwed by an incompetent ref. Not after playing so-so against England and needing an all-time gaffe to earn a tie there. Not after going toe-to-toe with a hungry Algeria team for 90-plus minutes.

You were at the center of all that was great today about the United States and it's so fitting you scored the game-winner. Cry those tears of joy son, because we know you can refocus. We know you can lead us to victory against Serbia--maybe even Spain if need be.

I apologize for all the crap I personally heaved upon you. I'm sorry; it won't happen again. I won't ever have to say I'm sorry to Landon Donovan.

Just "thank you."

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U.S. Starting 11 v. Algeria

The United States Starting Eleven for today's match against Algeria has been announced:

  • GK: Howard
  • D: Cherundolo, DeMerit, Bocanegra (c), Bornstein
  • MF: Donovan, Bradley, Edu, Dempsey
  • F: Gomez, Altidore

Clearly, the shocker there is no Oguchi Onyewu on defense. Gooch has not been stellar in the first two matches. Fanhouse is reporting Onyewu's benching is a "coach's decision." Very interesting stuff. Jonathan Bornstein is in the lineup in place of Gooch, giving the U.S. more speed to attack via the wings.

Coach Bob Bradley messing with his lineup for the vital win or go home game opens the door for a lot of second guessing and Monday Morning Quarterbacking. I kinda like it though; I've been critical of Gooch and I think it's pretty gutsy of Bradley to sit one of his best--well he's considered one of his best--players.

Remember, here's the qualification scenario for the U.S.:

  1. Win and they're in.
  2. Tie and they still advance if England loses
  3. Tie and England ties and U.S. maintains its goal differential advantage.

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Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Hey France: Buh-Bye!

That's for Ireland and Freedom Fries and all your other swarthy transgressions. See ya in 2014--maybe.

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Monday, June 21, 2010

Should Portugal Rest Stars against Brazil?

June 15, 2008, a little more than two years ago to the day, Switzerland hammered Portugal 2-0 in the final day of the group stage of Euro 2008. Portugal won its group on goal differential after beating Turkey and the Czech Republic in its first two matches, but it left a good, talented and expensive hunk of its lineup on the sidelines for the Swiss game. Cristiano Ronaldo did not play, neither did Simao Sabrosa, Deco, Nuno Gomes or Ricardo Carvalho among the regulars.

Former boss Big Phil Scolari decided to rest his stud horses, preparing them for the quarterfinals and a date with Germany. And we all remember how that one ended, a 3-2 German win in a game that was not as close as the final score would indicate.

I contend to this day had Scolari played his regulars at least a half, Portugal would have beaten Germany, hammered Turkey in the semis and maybe, just maybe, beaten Spain in the final.

You see, my theory is this: It may take you two years to qualify for the World Cup, but at the end of the day, the World Cup is a short tournament. By the time the managers select their final 23 players, there's scant more than a month to build some sort of final cohesion and continuity. To rest players during the tournament, players who aren't injured or aren't in yellow card hell, is irresponsible and risky.

Just ask Portugal.

So in that respect, it will be very interesting to see what manager Carlos Queiroz does later this week when Portugal meets Brazil. Brazil is through to the knockout stage, and after today's 7-0 dismantling of North Korea, Portugal would need a disastrous collapse and an equally heroic goal onslaught by Ivory Coast over North Korea not to join Brazil in the next round. To quote the Mythbusters, plausible, but I'd rather call it busted.

So what does Queiroz do? Does he play his regular Portugal Starting Eleven 45 minutes? 75 minutes? Not at all. Is there any validity to my theory.

I sure think there is. Portugal did not play well against Ivory Coast and today was an aberration. North Korea surrendered once the second-third-and-fourth goals found their way into the back of the net. The 7-spot was insurance against an Ivory Coast shellacking of the North Koreans. Portugal needs more quality minutes in this tournament. Hopefully they get them against Brazil, which has been dominant in the first two matches.

Brazil has physically overpowered both Ivory Coast and North Korea, imposing its will and flair on both opponents. It doesn't need to win against Portugal, nor does it need to tie. Hell, my theory may not even apply to Brazil in this case.

But it sure does to Portugal. The Selecao das Quinas needs to button up its unity on the field. They need to shore up defensively and figure out whether Tiago or Deco is the guy in the middle of the field. Another game of lineup shuffleboard won't do it for Queiroz.

Do the right thing Carlos. Go for the jugular against Brazil, try to win and infuse some confidence in your team--even if it's phony confidence against a Brazil team that does not need to win. You have seen the failure of Scolari in Euro 2008. History is doomed to repeat itself; let's hope not this time.

Quim, Rui Patricio, Bosingwa, Ronaldo, Petit, Simao, Carvalho, Deco, Nuno Gomes

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Friday, June 18, 2010

U.S. Robbed by Mali Ref v. Slovenia

Robbed. Absolutely and unadulteratedly robbed. Kiss me next time you're gonna screw me Koman Couilibaly of Mali. You're lucky your name isn't Smith and no one in the United States gives a shit about soccer. Robert Green needs to Google "Bill Buckner"; you need to Google "Don Denkinger" because you royally screwed the United States men's national team out of three points and passage to the second round of World Cup 2010.

A referee is supposed to stay out of the way, call a game fairly and objectively and not influence the game in either direction. You blew it Koman Couilibaly. Your phantom foul/offside call that wiped out Maurice Edu's go-ahead goal against Slovenia today was horrific. A clusterfuck of Biblical proportions.

Now because of you Koman Couilibaly, the United States needs a lot of help to get into the World Cup's version of the Sweet 16. We have to root for England and Algeria to tie and then root for, gag, England to beat Slovenia. All because you decided to blow your whistle after you saw something that wasn't there.

I hate blaming the ref for a team's woes. The U.S. was pitiful in the first half; Tim Howard was out of position on the first goal, but I'll contend the U.S. defense, Oguchi Oneywu in particular, gave the Slovenia goal scorer too much room, was way too late in reacting to the realization he was going to shoot, and then to top it off, he leaned and ducked in the wrong direction. Howard had no prayer to stop it and the shot was well placed and very opportunistic.

On the second Slovenia goal, the diagonal pass was sensational and Steve Cherundolo and Jay DeMerit were on their heels leaving Howard exposed. No shot.

And that's what set the stage for Koman Couilibaly.

The U.S. sure as hell knows how to close out a game; if it ever figures out how to start one, they'll win the World Cup.

Some other random thoughts:

  • Landon Donovan is a star; so much maturing and confidence and that goal is the goal of the tournament so far. He scared the Slovenia keeper into not even attempting to block the shot, which was hit with such pace and fury, I can't say I blame him.
  • Clint Dempsey disappeared unfortunately today
  • Jozy Altidore isn't a star, but he sure as hell thinks he's one. When he decides to play and go after the game instead of thinking it should come to him, he'll be the star he thinks he is.
  • The U.S. defense; major suckage again. Though Cherundolo has been the best of a bad bunch. Oneywu? I just don't know about this guy and whether he'll ever live up to the hype. He just ain't that good; forever out of position.
  • Michael Bradley, much better today and just a perfect finish to the tying goal. Bob Bradley's insertion of Herculez Gomez put a third attacker up front and freed up Bradley to own the middle of the field and finish. Credit Roberto Martinez of ESPN for that analysis -- spot on.
  • Finally, let's go tie game today!

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Live Blogging: U.S. v. Slovenia
World Cup 2010 Group C

Running commentary and random thoughts on the United States' World Cup 2010 Group C match v. Slovenia:

  • Ian, FTW; John Harkes, FML
  • Refs are from Mali. U.S. in blue again.
  • Anthems. No XTina?
  • Hmm, lots of Americans at the game? I hear lots of singing
  • Dempsey survives without a yellow for that elbow
  • Bradley in better form already
  • Donovan needs to do better with the corner
  • Disaster
  • OK, where's the MF support and why the hell is Gooch hitting the deck on that one?
  • This team needs a Belichick-like defensive coordinator, they suck
  • OK, so for 2014, I want to a real coach on the sidelines and a team built from the back line forward
  • Bob Bradley had better have been in that locker room throwing shit around and doing some screaming. Otherwise, fire this clown on the spot. This is over his head.
  • Two changes at the half for U.S. Benny, Edu are in.
  • Donovan!!!!!!
  • Goal of the tournament!
  • Glad our defense isn't the only that sucks.
  • Gooch! Dempsey, Bradley too. All of them missed a great cross from Donovan
  • My days of Donovan bashing ended last summer at the Confed Cup. He's a star
  • Oh yeah, we have to play defense. Slovenia free kick
  • Gooch again lost on defense
  • Short corners suck.
  • What will Bradley's third substitution be? Saving Buddle for the finish? Gomez?
  • Um, Go Algeria. Yeah.
  • Can we just say it please: Altidore. Overrated. Please.
  • The kid is never engaged.
  • Nice recovery from Cherundolo, because DeMerit had the poopy-squirts on that rush
  • Jozyyyy. Get the shot off
  • Great ball from Onyewu
  • Dempsey in a sweet takedown.
  • Harkes is a jackass. Oh yeah, we've covered this before
  • Nothing Jay DeMerit does will make me happy. Gooch is creeping into that territory as well
  • Slovenia is very disorganized right now. U.S. must press, through Cherundolo, Donovan and that side of the field.
  • Benny gets a weak shot off, but at least he took a poke at it. Jozy? You watching?
  • Every time Howard punts that shit ball, it's like kicking a helium balloon.
  • The U.S. isn't fond of first-touch passing. Bradley dribbles into the abyss, ends up dumping back to Cherundolo and a restart. Ugh.
  • 68 min: 2-1 Slovenia
  • Finally Suler gets nailed for grabbing Jozy
  • Dangerous spot, gotta convert
  • Prediction: Donovan far post. goal.
  • Jozy with a bomb into the keeper's chest.
  • 71 min: 2-1 Slovenia
  • Nice step up by Cherundolo, earns yellow v. Kirm
  • When does Bradley use that third sub? Who will it be?
  • Foul or offside? Harkes has no idea?
  • 75 min: 2-1 Slovenia
  • Uh, Bob, tick-tock
  • Finally he moves Donovan off that right side
  • That's the shot Jozy decides to take?
  • Slovenia wins, then U.S. is rooting for a tie this afternoon. Good luck
  • 79 minutes: 2-1 Slovenia
  • Bradley still sitting on that third sub. WTF
  • Gomez coming in for the U.S. Herculez
  • Gooch out, Herculez in. I guess Gooch has no value, not even in the air on corners?
  • Bradley gets one on goal, forces the save.
  • Michael Bradley!!!!!!!
  • What a finish. 2-2
  • Get the third one!
  • Stay 3-4-3
  • Need 3 points
  • 84 min: 2-2
  • Another foul from Slovenia, just falling apart
  • What a fucking horrible offside call
  • Edu's goal should be good.
  • Bradley was held. No offside. Explain it Mali ref. Please.
  • Slovenia will cock this up
  • 88 min: 2-2
  • That was the winner for Slovenia. Guess who gets burned. DeMerit
  • 3 minutes added time
  • That call just gets worse and worse
  • Dempsey face-plants
  • How's Mali ref gonna make up time for this?
  • So much for stoppage time after the Dempsey thing. Wow

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U.S. Starting Eleven v. Slovenia

United States coach Bob Bradley has named his Starting Eleven for today's World Cup 2010 Group C match against Slovenia:

  • GK: Tim Howard
  • D: Steve Cherundolo, Jay DeMerit, Oguchi Onyewu, Carlos Bocanegra
  • MF: Clint Dempsey, Michael Bradley, Jose Torres, Landon Donovan
  • F: Jozy Altidore, Robbie Findley.

So obviously, the change there is Ricardo Clark out, Jose Torres in. Addition by subtraction if you ask me, though some have noted Slovenia's size up front may challenge Torres.

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Thursday, June 17, 2010

World Cup 2010: What Have We Learned So Far?

OK, I'm going to mix my sporting metaphors here for a bit. We've gone once through the lineup at World Cup 2010 with each team having played at least once and it's time to play "What Have We Learned So Far?"
  • Not enough has been reported and commented about the weather in South Africa and its impact on the matches. It's been sunny, so I think those of us here in the summer countries are being deceived by just how cold it is in South Africa. I guess this is what it will be like for the 2014 Super Bowl in New York.
  • My southern hemisphere theory is intact! No northern hemisphere nation has ever won a World Cup south of the border, so to speak. So far, the South American teams are 5 wins, 2 draws and 0 losses at the World Cup (this includes Uruguay's win over South Africa yesterday). That's pretty spiffy. Must be the counterclockwise down-the-drain thing in full effect.
  • The African nations, however, are not holding up their end of the bargain. Ghana has the only win of the bunch with its 1-0 upset of Serbia. Ivory Coast gutted out a point against Portugal as did South Africa against Mexico. But overall, it's been a bummer and by the time we're at the second round, we may be fresh out of African teams to root for.
  • Goalkeepers. Oh boy. Where to go with this one? Well, they sure ain't shooting par; plenty of bogeys for this bunch. And I'm not so ready to give them the benefit of the doubt because of the ball. Robert Green is the poster boy for incompetence so far, but my guess is that all could be forgiven if England has smooth sailing through the rest of the first round and somehow get into the quarterfinals, maybe the semis. But what of Algeria's Faouzi Chaouchi? His half-hearted stab at Slovenia's only goal was a head-scratcher for sure. At the other end of the spectrum, we have the wondrous Tim Howard who singlehandedly kept the U.S. in its game against Green and England. Hopefully, Howard has some range of movement tomorrow against Slovenia with his injured ribs.
  • Hot chicks. I think Paraguay may have surpassed Brazil for the hottest World Cup babes. Just sayin...
  • Upsets. None until yesterday. Switzerland's 1-0 shocker against Spain is a victory for opportunism. Spain's dominance against the Swiss was overshadowed by its inability to finish against the upstart Swiss, who I predict will be dangerous for a while. Remember, this nation won the Under-17 World Cup not long ago. Spain-Chile should be a war.
  • The ball. OK, all I'll say is this (and I'll confess this isn't my line) but only in football would they allow a change to the ball in the sport's most important event. It's like, for the World Series, playing with a whiffleball.

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Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Portugal, Ivory Coast Fail to
Impress at World Cup 2010 Opener

What if Cristiano Ronaldo had scored instead of hitting the post today against Ivory Coast in the Group of Death opener at World Cup 2010?

Would we have had the dreadful snoozer we were left with?

We certainly would have had Didier Drogba enter the game sooner (at the half?) than we did. We certainly would have had the Ivory Coast attack Portugal with some vigor much sooner than in the 91st minute. And we certainly would have had Simao Sabrosa in the game much sooner than he appeared.

One thing's certain, however: Portugal and Ivory Coast owe us an apology for producing a goalless draw that wasn't even up to the depths of a kiss-your-sister tie. Neither team was interested in playing attacking, interesting or imaginative soccer. And as soon as the raindrops started falling, we were more than destined for goose eggs.

So much for the Group of Death producing exciting football. It's going to be tight, but it's not going to be great. Thank goodness Brazil and North Korea played a competitive game. Kudos to the North Koreans for solid tactical defense and for not being intimidated by Brazil's imposing size and patient passing. Say what you will for Brazil's style and flash, it's their patience that will kill you. It's the 10th, 12th pass in a sequence that you need to be alert for. Brazil wore North Korea down with its persistence, its ability to lean on the North Koreans and wear them down physically.

Hopefully Portugal and Ivory Coast were watching because they will need to do the same or they may be doomed to take but just one point from the mysterious Asian team. I'm thinking there was a similar approach from both nations today that they would be happy to take a point out of this game, have their way with North Korea and then let fate roll against Brazil.

Well, Portugal gets first crack at North Korea and assuming it gets a result and Brazil beats Ivory Coast, the Portuguese could be in the driver's seat needing just a tie against Brazil to advance. Then again, Ivory Coast closes against North Korea, and one would have to think that it would jump ugly all over North Korea if it needed three points. That would leave Portugal having to beat Brazil in the group finale. Nothing I saw today told me that could happen.

Hmm, maybe this will be a Group of Death after all.

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Breaking News: Drogba on Bench,
Not on Ivory Coast Starting Eleven

ESPN is reporting that Didier Drogba will not start for the Ivory Coast today against Portugal in the Group of Death Opener at World Cup 2010.

Live blogging to come later.

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Monday, June 14, 2010

Who Will be in the Italy Starting Eleven today?

Italy-Paraguay is without a doubt the juciest matchup of today's World Cup 2010 matches. The defending champions take the field with a great deal of uncertainty surrounding their efforts and of course the starting 11 they'll put on the field.

Much like Fabio Capello's mysterious starting lineup, especially in goal, the Italians aren't really sure who will take the field today against the South American challengers. Only one player, defender Gianluca Zambrotta, has started all of Italy's warmup matches prior to the tournament, and even he's not sure what's going on in Marcello Lippi's mind.

"We don't know if this means he hasn't decided, it just means he hasn't told us."

Never mind player, Lippi apparently can't settle on a formation. He's played 4-2-3-1 to 4-3-3 to a number of other combinations that would make any craps player's head spin. Plus he's dealing with an injured Andrea Pirlo and shaky mix of aging veterans and youngsters.

Serie A Talk took a stab at a Starting Eleven for Italy. I think they're close. What do you think?

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Starting Eleven Football Blog Roundup

Honestly, I thought the Starting Eleven Football Blog Roundup was getting a little tired and I put it on the shelf for a while. Bringing it back today World Cup-style though.

I'm going to hit on a lot of things today and probably follow it up with a mailbag later today, not sure.

Interestingly, Americans' best metric for success and popularity of an event rests on TV ratings. Somehow, if more eyeballs are on something, it must mean it's a good thing. Odd. I doubt that happens anywhere else, and I'm sure that would be for a lot of reasons. But in the U.S., we're such a bandwagon country, especially when it comes to sports, that the World Cup's success/failure will be measured in Neilsen points.

Awful. I'm not against anyone or everyone watching the World Cup, but let's not confuse your girlfriend watching a game in order to be able to participate in watercooler discussions the next day at work with legitimate interested viewers. Those, I fear, are few and far between.

And that's OK I say. I don't need soccer to be huge here in the United States, because frankly, judging on past experiences, Americans will ruin soccer if they get their hands on it. You allow widespread American interest and influence in soccer, and you'll have a shot clock, shootouts, a and a two-point line quicker than you can say North American Soccer League.


Let's get on with our latest trip around the football blogosphere:

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Saturday, June 12, 2010

U.S., England tie in World Cup 2010 opener;
English Keeper Hands Americans a Point

Now that I have had almost 3 hours to digest the United States' 1-1 World Cup 2010 draw against England, I must say that my greatest fears have been confirmed. Not being one for moral victories, I'll say that the tie was better than surrendering three precious points and definitely leaves the U.S. in better emotional standing than the English.

But Lord oh Lord, the American defense is, well, to borrow an English coloquiolism, shambolic. As my Portuguese father put it, "meteram agua" which roughly translates to "they leaked" a lot. Ricardo Clark was so Lost, I thought I was gonna see John Locke's smoky ass creep out of the South African night and take him away. There was nothing Evangeline Lilly-pretty about the back four. Steve Cherundulo played well for sure, and Oguchi Onyewu had some moments to be proud of (though he was often scrambling to recover for being woefully out of position, and still did not challenge well in the air). Jay DeMerit and Carlos Bocanegra, for all the touting about their first-division European experience, they could have passed for MLS rejects all day long.

Steven Gerrard proved he is a world-class midfield. His composure and confidence are two traits the U.S. team as a whole needs to stock up on. And, oh yeah, he scored England's goal with an instinctual play off a throw-in he delivered. He flew through the U.S. back line, losing Clark along the way, and collecting a cheeky pass from Heskey which he finished with a one-time flick. Gerrard was a methodical monster all over the pitch today, defending well, sending dangerous crosses all night long at Emile Heskey and Wayne Rooney and Peter Crouch. One has to wonder how well Rooney is physically. He was invisible for much of the match, though in the final 20, the few times the ball found him, he managed to challenge Tim Howard with it.

And oh yes, the keepers.

Shall we start with Howard since we've already mentioned him. A close second to Gerrard for man of the match. Check that, he was man of the match. Clutch save after clutch save made Howard an early star of this tournament. He had to feel like a man on an island with the way his fullbacks were playing in front of him. His constant shouts of positioning calls and encouragement made him a giant among many small players today. Howard may be the man who carries this U.S. team, one that had very little inkling what it wanted to do with the ball on offense. Michael Bradley was a disaster; he couldn't do anything right. How about that giveaway in the first half that almost sent Gerrard home alone against Howard?

Landon Donovan was another bright spot, but still not active enough for my liking. Every time he touched the ball, he did something positive; maybe he just didn't touch the ball enough?

Clint Dempsey, the U.S. goalscorer, was the most fortunate man on the continent. After a clinical series of fakes and dribbles, he found enough space to deliver a low shot with some pace, but not enough that it should have bothered England keeper Robert Green. But ol' Stone Hands somehow managed to redirect what should have been an easy save over the goal line. English hearts were breakin all over the world. Young English lads would do well to Google the name "Bill Buckner" to console themselves. At least it's only been 44 years for England since their last title.

I'll be watching Slovenia-Algeria pretty closely tomorrow because honestly, don't know much about either one. And chances are, one of them will be leading this group after tomorrow, putting both the U.S. and England in the position of HAVING to win both their remaining games to assure passage to the second round. If either finds some courage against the U.S., for example, we'll quickly forget whatever moral victory we think we have after a 1-1 draw against England.

I posted on Twitter earlier today something to the effect of Come On U.S., time to be one of the big boys. F-ing act like one and win this game. I'm not ready to say it's more of the same for the U.S., but they're still not acting like one of the big boys.

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Friday, June 11, 2010

World Cup 2010: One Day Down,
Bring on U.S.-England

Day 1 is in the books and what do we have to show for it? Aside from an epic South Africa goal, right, we're left with two draws, a bunch of questionable refereeing and inane analysis from Alexi Lalas. Lord help us, hopefully Day 2 is a lot better tomorrow.

Can't wait for U.S.-England and Argentina-Nigeria too. Any day you get to see Messi play, it's a good day and hopefully he cuts loose and plays like the hero he is for his country. His ineffectiveness for Argentina is a big and overlooked storyline so far; and don't forget Dummy Diego Maradona. If anyone can screw up a good thing for Argentina, my money is on Maradona more so than Messi.

The story of U.S.-England will be the American defense. If Rooney is less than 100%, the U.S. has a chance to steal a result, especially without Ferdinand in the back. Criticize him all you want, but the man is a veteran and a solid player. For consistency's sake, his absence will hurt England.

But the U.S. back line is a fright. Oguchi Onyewu is a shell of himself and if he can't challenge John Terry and Peter Crouch in the air, it's going to be a lonnnnng day for Tim Howard in goal. If the rest of the backline blubs in Bornstein, Bocanegra, DeMerit, Spector et. al. don't play the game of their lives, see the above as well.

Tim Howard, I fear, will have to be a big-time hero for the U.S. to earn a precious point, or 3.

Either way, you have to figure it's gotta be better, in terms of quality of play, than Day 1.

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Injured Stars Returning to World Cup Starting Eleven

Call them the Lazarus Squad: Didier Drogba, Andrea Pirlo, Julio Cesar, Jozy Altidore, Arjen Robben -- all of whom suffered injuries that were expected to keep them out of their respective World Cup 2010 Starting Eleven for at least a couple of games, if not the whole tournament.

And now, it looks like they're all playing [where is my sarcasm font?]

Can David Beckham be far behind? Prolly not since Posh is not into winter, and after all, South African nights might be cold this time of year.

So was it gamesmanship, medicinal miracles or just good fortune that all of these stars were listed as questionable for the World Cup, only to turn it around. Broken bones be damned, eh Didier?

There's nothing more specious in professional sports than stories about injuries, especially to prominent players. There's no way to legislate it, though the NFL tries with its injury lists, but hardly ever succeeds (Tom Brady was listed with a sore shoulder for I think three seasons, so what's the point at that point?).

Perhaps the problem is that we're all so gullible in believing what comes out of these respective teams as gospel. Was there any real doubt we wouldn't see Altidore against England tomorrow? Or Drogba line up against Portugal later this week? Julio Cesar with a bad back! Psshaw. Show me a bad back, and I'll show you a liar or a slacker. You pick.

Italy's players say they don't know who will be on Marcello Lippi's Starting Eleven. Lippi hasn't stuck to a consistent formation, though he is sticking to his story that Pirlo will miss at least the group stage.

Let's just set some ground rules for the rest of the tournament: If we don't see blood, ambulances or an Eduardo-style gruesome broken-bone type injury, spare me the stories and BS about boo-boos. I'll be right here watching the games, and watching Julio Cesar, Drogba, Rooney, Pirlo et al.

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World Cup 2010 Running Commentary: South Africa-Mexico

Random thoughts while watching the first match of World Cup 2010 between South Africa and Mexico:

  • ESPN has already had a bunch of audio glitches and video flubs. Um, you've only had years to get this right World Wide Leader.
  • The hiring of Martin Tyler will prove to be ESPN's best move. Just awesome sparing us JP Dellacamera, Tommy Onion Bags et al.
  • Mexico in black; looks wierd
  • If South Africa has a strong on-field leader, they need him now in that huddle.
  • Thinking of Senegal's '02 upset of France. Hmm.
  • This is like a Mexican training session
  • Wow. DosSantos should have buried that. South Africa is playing petrified.
  • How many times do you see a team dominate completely early on, only to give up a bad goal in counter-attack. Not sure South Africa has it in them.
  • South Africa is poor fundamentally. This isn't just nerves.
  • Great point, don't be afraid to lose South Africa.
  • That was promising, decent run down the right for The Boys, The Boys
  • Just for fun, you know like counting yellow cars on the highway during a boring Sunday drive, let's count how many consecutive touches the Mexicans manage during a given possession.
  • 10 ending in an offside
  • 7 and out of bounds
  • BTW, 13 mins. 0-0
  • Poorly defended corner, Franco's header off the mark untouched. Should be 2-0
  • Ref fell for a dive, dangerous spot for a free kick for RSA
  • Ack. Bad miss son, at least put it on goal. 18 mins, 0-0
  • One more free kick for RSA after handball, and another set piece disaster.
  • robbery!

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Let's Play Some Football

Behind me, Martin Tyler's voice is the soothing contrast to the horns of South Africa. That will be the signature sound of World Cup 2010.

I can't imagine the pride of the South African people and the celebration that this tournament will be to them. Here's to them and here's hoping the emotional lift carries on for decades. This has been a challenge for them, but no great deed happens without tears, sweat and hard work.

Let's play some football.

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Tuesday, June 8, 2010

World Cup 2010 Group Predictions and Previews

Here's a one-stop landing page for Starting Eleven World Cup 2010 Group Predictions and Previews

Group A

Group B

Group C

Group D

Group E

Group F

Group G

Group H

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World Cup 2010: Group H Preview

And now we come to the favorites, Spain. In all my years of following football closely, I've never seen such an under-valued, ignored and overlooked tournament favorite than Spain. These guys were the rage of the Confederations Cup, the Euro two years ago and now on the biggest stage, no one is talking Spain.

Well, I'm going to say it: Spain. Spain. Spain. The rest of the tournament better pray for rain.

Xavi and Iniesta are the best midfield in the world, one of the best ever. Casillas is the best keeper (OK, maybe Julio Cesar is right there with him). Torres, when healthy, is one of the world's top 3 finishers. This is a cakewalk -- well, it should be.

So the battle is for second and it's going to be a war between Chile and Switzerland, and hell, maybe even Honduras. The Swiss are the Under 17 World Cup winners and are building a quietly interesting team over there. Honduras always plays with a lot of heart in Concacaf and survived a group that included the US and Mexico among others. Chile, meanwhile, was a point back of Brazil in World Cup qualifying, right there with Paraguay. This is probably the toughest call in the tournament, but I'm making it based on, yes, my hemisphere rule. Spain and Chile.

  1. Spain 7 points
  2. Chile 5
  3. Switzerland 4
  4. Honduras 0

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World Cup 2010: Group G Preview

Welcome to the Group of Death, or the GOD group. God help us here, because this is one for the ages. Brazil and Portugal, two countries divided by a common language (kinda like England and the US). And the Ivory Coast, Africa's best hope whose best player broke his elbow in a meaningless friendly. Finally, North Korea. Who knows what we have with these poor guys? Locked behind an iron wall for all eternity, they could be studs, or more likely duds.

If Didier Drogba can't play, then the pendulum definitely swings toward the Portuguese speaking lads in the group. If Drogba is effective, then we could have the dream group we prayed for back in December when the pairings were announced.

Let's go on the assumption Drogba won't play much, or if he does, won't make much of an impact. Either way, if this comes down to Brazil-Portugal on June 25, it will be all-time epic if both teams need to win to advance. I say they both do.

  1. Brazil 7 points
  2. Portugal 6
  3. Ivory Coast 4
  4. North Korea 0

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World Cup 2010: Group F Preview

Well, well, surprise surprise, the defending champs get a cakewalk draw. Or do they?

One thing is certain about Group F and that's New Zealand. It's certain they won't win, maybe won't even score a goal. It'll be a quick holiday in South Africa for the Kiwis. So we have three nations fighting for two spots, and one going to Italy, one would presume.

So it's down to South America's upstarts Paraguay and Slovakia. I'll stick with the hemisphere argument and Paraguay; having Oscar Cardozo scoring goals and Roque Santa Cruz wandering about doesn't hurt either. What the hell, let's say they win the group too.

  1. Paraguay 7 points
  2. Italy 5
  3. Slovenia 4
  4. New Zealand 0

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Monday, June 7, 2010

World Cup 2010: Group E Preview

Group E for excellent (tip o the cap to Sesame Street). Do we have a surprise champion resting here? How about an African slayer. A beast from the East? And what of Denmark?

The Netherlands are the popular upset pick to win the whole thang, but it ain't happening. Especially if Robben is hurting. Denmark, one time Euro winners, can't catch a break here with Cameroon and sly Japan waiting in the wings.

Tough call, wish I had one of those Harry Potter hats to tell who will make it out. I think it would tell me, it's gotta be, Holland and Cameroon.

  1. Netherlands 5 points
  2. Cameroon 5
  3. Japan 5
  4. Denmark 0
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World Cup 2010: Group D Preview

Four countries, three continents; must be Group D, otherwise known as the Germany and everyone else group.

Germany is going to win this group, they're going to blow through this group, they're going to be in the second round and probably the quarterfinals. Ho-hum. It's probably no secret I despise German soccer. Not for political or historical reasons, no, it's primarily because they bore me to tears when they play. And they always win. Hate the Yankees. Loathe the Canadiens. Don't get me started on German soccer.

Ghana is here, so is Australia and Serbia. I would have made Ghana an automatic, but Michael Essien is out, and he's awesome. So Ghana is done. It's between the Socceroos and Serbia and I have to go with the Serbs. They've got former Sporting keeper Stojkovic, and 18 other guys whose name ends in 'vic. Except for that Vidic guy in the middle of their defense. I like him. I like defense.

It's Germany and Serbia.

  1. Germany 7
  2. Serbia 7
  3. Australia 1
  4. Ghana 0

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World Cup 2010: Group C Preview

Group C; it's my favorite cup. Just like the World Cup. My favorite cup.

Saturday's England-USA opener has so many storylines I'm dizzy. Two hundred-plus years of storylines as a matter of fact, so what to do? Worry about Rooney and Rio's injuries? How about Gooch? How well will he play? Will the U.S.'s goal scoring dry up? Arrgh. Just play already.

It's England and the U.S.

  1. England 9 points
  2. U.S. 6
  3. Algeria 3
  4. Slovenia 0

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World Cup 2010: Group B Preview

Group by group we go previewing the 2010 World Cup. On to Group B:

Getting a real sense of deja vu here with Argentina, Greece and Nigeria in the same group, just as they were in 1994. In fact, this group was based in Foxboro, Mass., and I saw a few of these matches in person. In fact, the opener was Maradona's final World Cup match, a 4-0 win over Greece with Maradona scoring once and Batistuta potting three. Maradona was suspended shortly thereafter and never played again.

The Nigerians meanwhile, went out in the second round to Italy and South Korea and the Greeks out in the group stage.

So in the name of deja vu, let's go with Argentina and Nigeria here.

  1. Argentina 7 points
  2. Nigeria 7
  3. Greece 3
  4. South Korea 0
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World Cup 2010: Group A Preview

Group by Group we go previewing the 2010 World Cup. Today's it's Group A:

This is an interesting group for a couple of reasons. Clearly, the host side being here presents a quandary, because, well, frankly they're not that good. Yet South Africa could get a boost on emotion alone and if it could somehow manage to steal a point or three, it could at least influence the outcome of the group rather than be a doormat for the other three nations.

The other story here is obviously France, who is in Africa only because of Thierry Henry's not-so-magical hand. You can bet there won't be a lot of love for the French in the tournament, very little emotional support outside of France and a lot ill will.

So in the interest of ill will and rude hosts, we'll go with Mexico and Uruguay, lending credence of course to the fact that Northern hemisphere nations have no chance of winning in the south.

  1. Mexico 7 points
  2. Uruguay 5
  3. France 3
  4. South Africa 1
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Mr. Abigail Clancy-Crouch
Could Feast on Frail U.S. Defense

Forgive me for getting all-American with today's post, but Peter Crouch is going to be my early favorite for World Cup MVP because Crouchie is gonna bag himself a goal or two on Saturday. There, I said it.

That's more of a statement denouncing the pitiful state of U.S. defending than praise for the gangly Crouch's finishing abilities. I'm scared for Saturday's match. I'm scared because I can see this getting real ugly, real fast for the U.S. against England in the group stage opener for both teams.

The U.S. defense has been exposed for months by much lesser opponents than England; most recently by Australia on Saturday. Granted, the U.S. beat the Socceroos 3-1, but every cross into the area was an adventure, every header an agita-inducing moment. Mr. Abigail Clancy-Crouch may not be a star, but he sure is a finisher in the air at 6-4. Oguchi Onyewu had less vertical lift against the Czechs two weeks ago in Hartford than George Costanza did in his "Jimmy" shoes; what's he gonna do against Crouchie?

And we haven't even gotten to the always shaky Jay DeMerit, or relative newbie Clarence Goodson. This is porous. Tim Howard will have a case for a civil suit for non-support if Gooch can't play anywhere near 100%.

It's a shame because the U.S. is finally putting some biscuits in the basket. Clint Dempsey, Landon Donovan, Edson Buddle, Jozy Altidore (if he plays) et al are scoring goals (seven in three warm-ups for the tournament). There's some cohesion in moving the ball forward, and yes, some finishing. But the U.S. isn't going to win any shootouts starting on Saturday when Jonathan Bornstein, Heath Pearce and Carlos Bocanegra, as well as a 50% Gooch are your last line of defense.

The U.S. is so desperate for success at this World Cup that when it's exposed, it's going to be horrific, I fear. The letdown is going to be crushing, especially for a side that has no excuses at this World Cup given the soft group draw and progress the team has made overall.

Thankfully for the U.S., Algeria and Slovenia should make for six points and passage to the second round. But history in the World Cup has not been kind to the U.S. and if Saturday's match ends up being the Crouch Air Show, there are no more slip-ups to be had. Every point will be precious and every touch of the ball critical.

Here's hoping for the best.

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Sunday, June 6, 2010

'Private' Security Fails in pre-World Cup
Fan Stampede Outside Friendly

Less than a week out from the start of the World Cup, and the tournament is filthy with injuries, terror threats and now fans stampeding outside today's Nigeria-North Korea friendly.

This begs the question, a query that's been haunting this tournament since South Africa was selected years ago: Are the players and fans safe?

Suddenly, South Africa's rampant crime rates seem tame to the political turmoil and apparently lackadaisical attitude toward security. Today's tragedy that left 14 injured--a number that's surely to rise--is being blamed on the fact that the match was a friendly. Therefore, World Cup security was not on the job. Apparently the rules say it was Nigeria's match, they provide security. The Nigerians' crack private security team was, apparently, on crack today.

Fans rushed the gates twice trying to get into the grounds and people were run over like traffic cones during a teen's driver's license exam. Pitiful. Frightening.

What are we in for in the next month?

How does FIFA allow this? Again, a very legitimate question. How can FIFA just wash its hands of a friendly less than a week from the start of the event. What? "World Cup security" whatever that is, is too expensive for a friendly? Crowd control isn't important before the tournament? Ridiculous. FIFA proves again that it does not value the safety of its players, its product. The players and the game, and of course, the fans, are the core of the game. To allow private security to be in charge today is irresponsible and negligent. I dare say if Brazil was in a friendly against, oh, anyone, there would have been World Cup security on the grounds.

This is disgusting, and harkens back to the terrorism attack on Togo's players during the African Cup of Nations. Why would FIFA allow a national team to travel through war-torn roads by bus? Probably the same reason it would allow private security to be in charge less than a week out from the World Cup.

Say a prayer for this tournament; I hope this is the last such post I have to write in the next five weeks. We all do.

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