So many thoughts on this beautiful game. Let’s talk about it, debate it, and discuss it. We won’t agree, but we can agree that this is truly the beautiful game.
Three games today:
Greece vs. South Korea
Argentina vs. Nigeria
England vs. USA
Watched all three on tape delay, and I haven’t logged into Facebook or Twitter to see what everyone is saying, but I think these games show that the first match is rarely a good one for most teams in the World Cup. Even with one month to prepare (or maybe a lifetime one could argue), the quality of team play wasn’t strong today outside of South Korea. I would say I’m most impressed by the Taeguk Warriors.
In opening match play for Group B, I thought that the Greeks just looked horrible. There was no organization, and they constantly kept coming to their left winger (who I’ve affectionately named Helmut Head for his hair cut), who was just awful. The South Koreans were extremely disciplined, and show off why they made it through qualifying for this World Cup undefeated. 0-2 was well deserved, and I think we’ll definitely see the South Koreans in the mix to advance out of the group stage (though an inspired Nigeria may make things difficult).
The second Group B game was a fascinatingly boring match between the Argentinians and Nigerians. In ’94, when the World Cup came to the US, I remember well the energy and excitement that the Super Eagles brought to the tournament. Ironically, both Argentina and Greece were in their group that year as they are again this year. This is a new and recharged version, and they really delighted me with their effort and passion, and I think they have an amazing goalkeeper. However, I think Argentina gets most of my attention from this match, which they took 1-0. While the drama around Argentina is focusing on the relationship between the world’s best player in Lionel Messi and the sport’s greatest player in Argentine Manager Maradona, I’m most interested in seeing how the three forward system plays out, and whether Argentina has enough of a defensive midfield to go deep into this tournament. They are definitely my favorites to get out of Group B, but I’m not convinced that they can go as deep as they should on paper. I hope they prove me wrong. All in all, today’s match hasn’t changed my mind as of yet.
The day’s third game was a really wide open match between the United States and England. The hype in the US was clearly somewhat dampened by the achilles injury which David Beckham suffered in April. ESPN was forced to focus on the 1950 US upset over England, which in my opinion didn’t really rile anyone into watching the match. The first goal came too quickly to really say it was deserved, and I thought it actually hurt England more than helped them. They weren’t forced into a rhythm, and seemed to be content simply disrupting the US’s game as opposed to establishing their own. The goal that Clint Dempsey scored was, in my opinion, an excellent example of why you shoot given the chance. Shoot, put it on frame, and only God knows what will happen. His double clutch move to get into space to take the shot was really excellent I thought.
I found two things to be really fascinating in this match. I was amazed at how poorly Bradley played. I would argue that he’s actually the best all-around soccer player that the US has. He really got dominated defensively by the combination of Lampard and Gerrard, and I felt as if he almost refused to establish himself in the offensive midfield. If the US has any chance of impressing in this tournament, then Bradley has to do much, much better.
The second interesting bit for me, was the notion of Rooney being an attacking central midfielder. I actually thought that The Three Lions were much more effective offensively when Rooney was working through the midfield as opposed to playing as a target forward. It’s almost as if the US defense would lose him if they had to mark him out of the midfield. Interesting experiment if it continues as the tournament moves forward.
Finally, one last thought. Could we please, please, please stop asking Landon Donovan to play defense? He’s an awful marker, and he generally has no idea where his position is supposed to be defensively. If Rooney were three inches taller, then all of the replays tonight would have been Ronney walking by Donovan and heading into a wide-open net to take the match 2-1 for England.