JLo’s beginner’s guide to the World Cup: Messi vs. The Machine and where to go from here

Sunday are the finals of the World Cup, with Germany taking on Argentina. It’s tempting to look at the semi-final results and predict an easy German victory based on the 7-1 beat down they laid on host Brazil Tuesday. If there’s a lesson that this World Cup has taught us (other than stay away from Luis Suarez’s immaculate teeth when he’s feeling peckish) it’s this: don’t overreact to what just happened. At various times this tournament Brazil, France, England (just kidding), Uruguay, Columbia, and The Netherlands have all looked like possible champions. Perhaps none looked as absolutely devastating as the Germans have at times in ruthlessly crushing Portugal and in their felony molestation and assault of the entire nation of Brazil, but remember this is the same squad that looked hopelessly plodding and slow on defense against Algeria as recently as a week ago.

From the beginning I’ve backed Lionel Messi and Argentina as my winner, and they just have a bit of that team of destiny look about them. They are calling it Lionel Messi vs. the Machine, and in this case I’ll stick with my original selection and predict an Argentine win. Messi has consistently delivered this World Cup, and I think he’ll cement his place as one of the greatest of all time with a game winner on Sunday.

Now, a few random thoughts about the semi-finals:

  • How thankful am I that a busy few days at work kept me from writing a post in the days before the semi-finals, especially when I was trying to justify Brazil rallying around Neymar’s injury and pulling off a stunning victory over Germany? Actually, forget you read that. I had the German in a massive blowout the whole time.
  • How much of an outlier was Germany’s seven goal total? Here’s every other score in the knockout rounds (not including penalties): 1-1, 2-0, 2-1, 1-1, 2-0, 2-1, 1-0, 2-1 (damn you, Belgium!), 1-0, 2-1, 1-0, 0-0, and 0-0.
  • I wonder what Tim Krul was thinking watching the penalties unfold against Argentina? Let’s be honest, Argentina scored on all four of their attempts but they didn’t exactly hit four immaculate penalty kicks. At least two of them were far too close to the keeper and would have been easy saves had the keeper guessed the right direction. And one probably SHOULD have been saved but wasn’t. Only Messi and Sergio Aguero hit what you would consider good to excellent penalties from a placement standpoint.
  • Have you seen this? The Netherland’s Ron Vlaar’s penalty was saved and then almost went in when nobody was looking. Would it have counted? It’s hard to say since it is difficult to tell if the ball hit Vlaar on the rebound, which would have nullified the goal. Amazing stuff, regardless.

So, once this Sunday passes us by, I’m sure some of you new fans to the game will be asking, where do we go from here? (And welcome, by the way, there’s no bandwagon judgment here. It took me 35 years to properly embrace the game, so I’m not going to mock anybody for being a newbie. Unless you tell me that you’re now a Manchester United fan, then all bets are off.)

Well, I’m happy to report that you’ve got many options available to you, especially if you are in the Central Florida area.

First and foremost, get yourself down to Disney and catch Orlando City’s last season in the third tier USL Pro division before they step up to MLS next year. They Lions are having an unbelievable season, having not lost in any of their 16 league matches this season, winning 13 and drawing 3. Pretty good, no? Add to that the signing of former Ballon d’Or (world player of the year) Ricardo Izecson dos Santos Leite, who you may know as Kaka, the rumored interest in his former Brazilian and AC Milan teammate Robinho (as a Manchester City fan, I have mixed feelings about this), and the unveiling of their spectacular new stadium being readied for 2016, and now is an exciting time to be a soccer fan here in Orlando.

Outside of Orlando you probably do (or soon will if you live near Atlanta or Miami) have an MLS franchise near you. Go check one out and look for some of the names you saw in the World Cup like Kyle Beckerman of the U.S. or Tim Cahill (he of this wonder strike below) of Australia.

Just around the corner is the English Premier League coming up in August, and thanks to NBC Sports phenomenal coverage you can literally watch every single game of every team in the league. For those of you interested in latching on to a team, I wouldn’t necessarily recommend that you consider Manchester City unless you are willing to subject yourself to LOTS of bandwagon taunts at this point, but U.S. keeper Tim Howard and Everton would definitely be a club to consider. As great as it is to simply watch many of these game as a neutral, developing a rooting interest most definitely adds an additional level of excitement in the league. (Just remember my warning about United though.)

Look around you this summer. Lots of big European clubs come to the U.S. to play matches and tournaments (the International Champions Cup is an especially good one, featuring Real Madrid, Liverpool, AC Milan, and my beloved Manchester City amongst others.)

Want to root for the US of A again? There will be USMNT (the men) games this fall (exhibition matches, known in the soccer world as “friendlies.”), but the big draw will be the USWNT (the women) in the Women’s World Cup next year. One thing to get used to though – we’re a plucky, mid-level underdog on the rise in the men’s game, but an absolute powerhouse in the women’s game.

Anyway, enjoy the World Cup final then go out and find a team to support until we do it all again next year with the ladies.

Cheers and happy viewing.

JLo’s beginner’s guide to the World Cup: America is out, but there’s plenty of reasons left to watch

America is out of the World Cup. If we’re honest with ourselves, we’ll admit that Belgium is just better than we are and deserved to win that game based on the number of great chances they created (thank you Tim Howard.) Round of 16 was a realistic goal and finishing point for the U.S. based on our talent and experience level, and it was a great achievement to get out of the Group of Death.

If we’re being honest with ourselves though, we’ll also admit that we had an incredible chance to score and steal an epic win right before the end of regulation and missed a tap in into an open goal. Those are the kind of chances that you just can’t miss and expect to survive in the World Cup.

Even though the USMNT is out, there’s still some great soccer left to be played and plenty of reasons for you to have your TV on during this 4th of July holiday. The two games today are ultra tasty, with Germany and France meeting in the first game, and Columbia taking on Brazil in the late game. I’m still not quite sure how good France really is, but then again they haven’t looked nearly as shaky as Germany did against Algeria, and their pace is likely the give a plodding German back four fits. I’m looking for a 2-1 French win, followed by the man of the tournament James Rodriguez leafing Columbia to a shock 1-0 win over Brazil.

Cheers and happy viewing.

JLo’s beginner’s guide to the World Cup: Germany should have lost, Argentina needs more Messi magic, and some other team plays today

Just a reminder, this is another vacation edition of the WC guide, so lower your expectations accordingly. The is the best I can turn out on an iPhone before going to bed. As always, you get what you pay for from this space.

The headline says it all. Germany should have lost. All Algeria needed to do was show some more composure on a couple of great first half chances. A simple ball across the front of the goal to a player waiting to tap in at the far post would have done the trick. Instead, Algerian players twice tried to go for goal from tight angles and failed to convert. Credit to Germany’s world-class keeper Manuel Nauer for keeping Germany in the game by repeatedly coming off his line to cover for the mistakes of Germany’s rather cumbersome back four. When the match got to extra time a German victory started to feel inevitable, and in the end it took them a mere 90 seconds of the extra time to score their first goal. The say good teams find a way to win even when they don’t play well, and the Germans certainly did that today.

The positive of this Great Escape is that it pits Germany against France in the quarterfinals on Friday. We don’t really know how good France is yet, as they have had one of the easier routes to the quarterfinals possible, but the Germans will surely test their mettle. You need to find a way to set aside a good portion of your 4th of July celebrations America for the world game, because both Columbia-Brazil and Germany-France should be tremendous.

Man of the match: Manuel Nauer

Big game today, as Argentina squares off against Switzerland. It’s another chance to see Lionel Messi play, and he has been exceptional the entire tournament. I have a feeling that the Swiss are going to give Argentina all they can handle, but with Messi in this kind of form I find it hard to believe that will knock out the Argentines. It will be another tight one, but I’ll call 2-1 for La Selección.

Oh yeah, there’s another game today, right? Despite the fact that I pride myself on being rational to a fault in most endeavors, I’m highly superstitious when it comes to sports. I totally don’t want to jinx anything, so I’ll just leave you with this.

Anything that Jon Hamm, Ice Cube and Abby Wambach say has to come true, right?

Ah, screw it. 2-0 to USA. USA! USA! USA!

Cheers and happy viewing.

JLo’s beginner’s guide to the World Cup: Vacation edition

I’m on vacation this week, so you’re only getting about 50% of my usual half-baked effort that I put into this blog, so adjust your expectations accordingly.

The Netherlands, I know you are happy to have advanced and you should be rightfuly proud of the fight back against Mexico, but there has to be a hefty dose of shame in the manner in which you scored the winning goal. There may have been a little bit of contact on Robben’s foot, but not enough to send him flying through the air and onto the ground as if he had been shot with a high-powered rifle. I’m torn about Mexico’s departure, as goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa and of course Mexico’s Miguel Herrera have been two of the more entertaining folks at the World Cup. As United States fan though, Mexico is my sworn soccer enemy so if anybody is going to get hosed out of the World Cup it may as well be them.

In the second game, Costa Rica thankfully vanquished the most boring team in the entire tournament, Greece, even though it looked like the Greeks were going to sneak through at the last minute and subject the world to at least another day of their special brand of turgid football. The world owes you a great debt, Costa Rica.

Man of the Match: Arjen Robben’s acting coach

Two game today, and there’s no reason to expect the favorites not to win, as neither Algeria nor Nigeria appear to have enough to prevent a very tasty Germany-France matchup in the quaterfinals.

Cheers and happy viewing.

 

JLo’s beginner’s guide to the World Cup: All hail Hamez and the cruelty of pens

I’ll be the first to admit that when I chose to write about the extra time rules, penalties, and the beauty of watching James Rodriguez yesterday, I didn’t necessarily expect the very first match of the knockout rounds to be decided by one of the more thrilling penalty kick exchanges in recent memory and for James (remember, pronounced “Ha-mez”) to score two goals, including one THAT good. Not gonna lie to you though, I am feeling pretty good about the timeliness of that post and the accuracy of the predictions contained therein.

I’m traveling today so this an abbreviated edition of the WC guide, but I wanted to write something about the penalty kick process and what we saw yesterday in the fantastic Brazil-Chile game. On the whole, what you’ll hear referred to as “the run of play,” I think Chile probably deserved to win that game yesterday, and they came agonizingly close at the end of extra time when a shot careened off the bar and away from the goal, when it very easily could have bounced down or sideways and across the line with just a centimeter difference in direction. Part of me does not enjoy deciding games on penalties, as they in no way decide who the better team was on the day, but there is no denying how thrilling and dramatic they can be to watch. Brazil should consider themselves lucky and Chile will feel hard done by, but Brazil are starting to have that “team of destiny” look about them. I don’t think you can say that they’ve played a great or ever particularly good game so far this tournament, but they have an exceptional talent in Neymar who keeps delivering at crucial moments, the support of the home crowd, and the all important luck factor on their side so far, and that has kept them advancing.

One team that looks more than capable of beating them, however, is Columbia, yesterday’s other winners and Brazil’s next opponent. Check out this screamer of a goal from James yesterday.

On thing to note: watch his eyes throughout the play: he never looks at the goal once, but rather follows the ball in flight down of his chest until the moment he makes contact with the ball, trusting his instinct about where the goal was and where exactly he was in the pitch. That is not a learned skill. Incredible.

Man of the Match: Do you need to ask?

By the way, saw a ton of Columbia shirts while wandering around Florida Mall yesterday, and check out this crowd around the large screen they had set up for viewing during the Brazil match.

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Ok, quick prediction time, as I’m typing this in an iPhone in I-95 and my thumbs are failing asleep. I have a sneaking suspicion that Mexico is going to give The Netherlands all they can handle today, and wouldn’t be surprised to see this one going into extra time today. In fact, I’m calling the upset with Mexico advancing on the shootout after a 2-2 draw. As for the other game, I still have no idea how Greece advanced this far, but they are the kind of team that is frustrating to play against. Call it a 1-0 Costa Rica win in a game that not even I can work up much enthusiasm for from a style perspective. You have my permission to skip this one unless you have a serious routing interest and just enjoy sullen looking Mediterraneans committing lots of fouls and defending in numbers.

Cheer and happy viewing.

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