Saturday, June 24, 2006

World Cup picks, take 2

Before we move on, one more rant about the American's feeble World Cup performance.

The penalty kick call was ridiculous. If that's a penalty, then the refs in the other games have missed a couple of dozen PK calls. However, the play was set up by Bocanegro (I think) sending the ball blindly into the area right in front of his own net. We teach our U8 team not to do that. If he does even a bad job of clearing the ball, the PK opportunity doesn't exist.

Also, knowing that the possibility exists that you might need to win by as many as four goals to advance, why do you start only one forward? Why not start two, or even three. Take a couple of those useless defenders off the field.

Damarcus Beasley took a lot of well-deserved heat for performing poorly, but that play to set up Dempsey's goal was a thing of beauty, and it was one more good thing than US poster boy Landon Donovan did in this tournament.

After watching the Americans flame out against Ghana, and then watching Brazil smoke Japan, I came to the realization that Brazil's players make better passes with the backs of their feet than the Americans do with the front of theirs.

My group picks weren't too bad, but one commenter was quite correct in chastising my picks of the US and Poland. I also missed two others. I had the Czechs and Croatians moving on. Here's my new and hopefully improved knockout stage picks.

A1 Germany over B2 Sweden
C1 Argentina over D2 Mexico
E1 Italy over F2 Austrailia
G1 Switzerland over H2 Ukraine
B1 England over A2 Ecuador
C2 Holland over D1 Portugal
F1 Brazil over E2 Ghana
H1 Spain over G2 France

A1 Germany over C1 Argentina
E1 Italy over G1 Switzerland
C2 Holland over B1 England
F1 Brazil over H1 Spain

A1 Germany over E1 Italy
F1 Brazil over C2 Holland

A1 Germany over F1 Brazil (championship)
C2 Holland over E1 Italy (3rd place)

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

World chumps

Any hopes the US had of making a run in this World Cup were dashed with a shockingly wretched 3-0 loss to the Czech Republic in the first round.

What was shocking about it was not the loss (the Czechs are a very good team, albeit a little old), but that the US team did not compete. Getting beat is one thing, but just standing around and watching it happen was embarrassing. The US had a pretty good lead in time of possession, but nearly all of it was harmless. They had trouble stringing three or four passes together because there were so many passes that were poorly played or handled, which slowed down any momentum they might be trying to build upfield. As a result, the US ended up with about two or three decent runs at the goal in the entire game. Most of the game, Czech keeper Peter Cech was sitting in a lawn chair doing Sudoku puzzles. Late in the game, they showed a stat on TV showing that the US had not managed a corner kick or even an offside. That shows just how little aggressiveness they had on offense.

The part that wasn't shocking about the defeat was that the defense was terrible. The US has world-class players at every position except defense. The Czechs didn't have the ball a lot in this game, relatively speaking, but they had many more good scoring opportunities in part because the back line of the US either has no idea what they're doing or they don't have the ability to do it. Fifteen years ago, the US didn't have a world class player at all, so things are getting better, but until they get the better on defense, strong finishes in the World Cup will be based more on luck than anything else. As for this time around, they have to beat Italy on Saturday to have any chance of advancing to the knockout round.

The other team I picked for the third place game along with the US didn't look too hot in its opening game either. Poland was drilled by Ecuador 2-0 and is probably going to have to beat Germany now just to get out of its group.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Catch up/World Cup preview

It's amazing how little time I have now that we have another baby in the house. It's not so much the baby (she's doing great, BTW) that makes it difficult, but the fact that whoever isn't dealing with the baby (usually me) has to take care of the other three. That means writing for the blog has fallen down on the list of priorities.

Instead, I've been doing things like planting a garden, which is doomed to fail because I have a brown thumb. The only plants I can't kill are weeds. I'm the leading producer of dandelions in Lake County, despite attacking them with every form of chemical and home remedies known to man. Maybe if I let the big boys do most of the work, the garden has a chance.

I've also been trying to fix up a room so that we have a place for the baby to sleep when she outgrows the bassinet in our room. Whenever I attempt handyman-type stuff around the house, it always looks like vandals broke in and did it, so I have a friend who is a home builder helping me out and that's going much better than if I attempted it myself.

I'm also managing my two older sons' baseball team. It's a 7- and 8-year-old league, although my older son is nine. We held him back because he hasn't played much baseball and he isn't ready for the next league up. My team has four 7-year-olds and six 8-year-olds, plus my 9-year-old, which is roughly the age makeup of all the teams, but all my kids are about the same size, which is smaller than the average 8-year-old. Every team we play has at least one kid that looks like he's ready to start shaving, and all my guys are about the size of the bat. We're the only team in the league where the best player is a 7-year-old. That's not to say my 8-year-olds are bad players, but they aren't all-star caliber players. I'm really fortunate though that my kids do a good job playing hard and following instructions, and they're all getting better, which is the only goal anyway. It's a non-competitive league, so there's no score kept or standings. They are really good kids, so it's a fun team to coach, but it's a pretty time-consuming job.

So, today is the start of the World Cup and I'm excited to get to watch it this year without having to stay up until ridiculous hours of the night like I did four years ago when the tournament was in South Korea and Japan. I'm a fan of the game, although not as rabid as I am about more traditional American sports, but I watch some MLS games or some of the European league games on Fox Soccer Channel. I went to a World Cup game in Chicago in 1994 and saw Germany and Spain play to a 1-1 tie. I had my German jersey on and it turns out my ticket was in the top row of the Spanish cheering section. That was the only time I used all that Spanish I took in high school and college.

Anyway, Brazil is the big favorite in this year's tournament, and you'd have to be a blithering idiot to pick against them, so naturally, I will. I'm picking the host Germans. If you have a good enough team, and the Germans appear to have one, home field advantage is big and they'll use it to knock off Brazil in the final. Germany will be breaking in a new goalkeeper after the retirement of Oliver Kahn. They'll need a big tournament from his replacement Jens Lehmann.

I also like the US team to come out of a very difficult group E with the Czech Republic. They key for the US will be to get at least a draw with the Czechs in the first game. To be successful, the US have to be tight on defense, which occasionally lapses, and do a better job finishing its scoring chances. Italy is also in our group, but they've had some turmoil and look ready to be sent home. Ghana is probably not good enough to come out of this group, but is certainly good enough to be a spoiler for one of the other three.

Group A has Germany, Poland, Ecuador and Costa Rica, and it would be a huge upset if Germany didn't win the group and Poland didn't finish second.

England leads Group B and is the favorite despite the injury to Wayne Rooney. It looks like he will play in this tournament at some point, but Rooney's health will be a key to the Brits advancing much beyond the group stage. Sweden is a slight favorite to advance over Trinidad & Tobago and Paraguay, but both have puncher's chances to take out the Swedes.

Group C has a heavy favorite in Argentina, and I the rebuilding Dutch squad to come out of there as well. If the Netherlands struggle, then Serbia-Montenegro, which isn't a country anymore, will advance. The Ivory Coast is the other member of the group, and they'll leave with lovely parting gifts.

Mexico and Portugal will advance from Group D, but the order isn't as clear. I'll take Mexico, although they've not been sharp in recent friendlies. Expect an inspired performance from their keeper, Oswaldo Sanchez, whose father just died. The funeral may cause Sanchez to miss the opener with Iran. The others teams in this group are Iran and Angola, neither of which have much of a chance.

The Brazilians will win Group F and Croatia will finish second. The other two teams, Austrailia and Japan, could not compete with either even if they combined forces.

Group G is where we find France, which won the tournament as host in 1998. Zinedine Zidane was the star of that team, and he's still kicking around, but the new star is Thierry Henry. France should advance easily. South Korea, which did well in 2002 as host and has many of those starters back for 2006, will battle Switzerland for second. I'll take the Swiss, which were undefeated in qualifying. Togo will be satisfied to be a spoiler.

Spain and Ukraine figure to emerge from Group H, though neither look good enough to do much damage after the group stage. Tunisia has a chance to surprise, but Saudi Arabia looks overmatched.

Knockout stage picks:
A1 Germany over B2 Sweden
C1 Argentina over D2 Portugal
E1 US over F2 Croatia
G1 France over H2 Ukraine
A2 Poland over B1 England
D1 Mexico over C2 Netherlands
F1 Brazil over E2 Czech Rep
G2 Switzerland over H1 Spain

A1 Germany over C1 Argentina
E1 US over G1 France
A2 Poland over D1 Mexico
F1 Brazil over G2 Switzerland

A1 Germany over E1 US
F1 Brazil over A2 Poland

A1 Germany over F1 Brazil
E1 US over A2 Poland (3rd place)