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The Beautiful Game’s Russian Blemish?

 

2018 world cup poster

(The official poster for the 2018 World Cup in Russia spotlights former Soviet goalie and esteemed Ballon d’Or winner Lev Yashin, courtesy of FIFA World Cup’s Facebook page)

And the 2018 World Cup groupings are…

  • Group A: Egypt, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Uruguay 
  • Group B: Iran, Morocco, Portugal, Spain
  • Group C: Australia, Denmark, France, Peru
  • Group D: Argentina, Croatia, Iceland, Nigeria
  • Group E: Brazil, Costa Rica, Serbia, Switzerland
  • Group F: Germany, Mexico, South Korea, Sweden
  • Group G: Belgium, England, Panama, Tunisia
  • Group H: Colombia, Japan, Poland, Senegal

Way Too Early Predictions of the Group Winner & Runner-Up are in bold.   

Instant Reaction: There’s no “Group of Death” and the 2018 World Cup in Russia will showcase a seemingly underwhelming collection of the (supposedly) best 32 national soccer teams in the world. Without any matches even occurring, one of the major stories related to next summer’s competition is the group of prominent nations that won’t stepping onto soccer’s biggest, brightest stage.

Slightly Longer Reaction: Despite some of soccer’s most notable nations and their leading star players and, in some cases, burgeoning international soccer brands noticeably absent (the United States with Christian Pulisic, Italy with Gianluigi Buffon, Netherlands with Arjen Robben and Wesley Sneijder, Chile with Arturo Vidal and Alexis Sánchez, Austria with David Alaba and Wales with Gareth Bale), a World Cup provides the ideal opportunity to elevate the sport’s next big name who presently flies beneath the radar focused almost exclusively on Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, and Manuel Neuer. Think back to 2010 and 2014 with Wesley Sneijder and Arjen Robben of the Dutch and Uruguay’s sniper and FIFA’s 2010 World Cup Golden Ball winner (tournament’s best player) Diego Forlán.

Who’s going to deliver a World Cup performance akin to Diego Forlán or Arjen Robben? Watch out for Poland’s Robert Lewandowski, France’s tank Paul Pogba and its talented youth movement, Argentina’s Paulo Dybala, Brazil’s speedster on the flank Douglas Costa and Germany’s Joshua Kimmich and Thomas Müller, for starters.

*Also, keep an eye on the fundamentally sound players for Japan regarding ball control. Trust me.

Insanely Early World Cup Final Prediction: How about Germany vs. Argentina, a repeat of the 2014 World Cup Final that so the Germans lift soccer’s greatest trophy? I may go back-and-forth several times in the next few months for giving Germany or France the advantage in a potential game to reach the final that would be determined by a razor-thin margin, as of right now.

When was the last time a World Cup Final featured the same two national teams in consecutive cycles? Glad you asked. It was 1986 and 1990 between, that’s right, Argentina and West Germany. Argentina won in 1986 and West Germany hoisted the golden trophy to the soccer gods in 1990. Furthermore, West Germany was the runner-up to Itlay in the 1982 World Cup.

Crazy Early and Stressful World Cup Champions Prediction: Argentina (see paragraph above for intriguing precedent occurring again)

More importantly, this could be Messi’s last best chance to win a World Cup for his legacy (he’s 30-years-old), which could be the special “it” factor for Argentina against its toughest opponents in Russia next summer. Cristiano Ronaldo (will be 33-years-old next summer) has that incentive too, but Portugal’s squad may or may not be equipped to string together a magical World Cup title run.

We’re only a couple weeks six-and-a-half months from the thrilling, world-class opening June 14 match of the 2018 World Cup in Russia that will feature global superpowers host Russia and Saudi Arabia. Remember that slightly underwhelming dynamic surrounding this World Cup mentioned earlier in this blog post?

There’s just no concealing it.

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There’s No Coming Back From 4-Nil

Argentina 4 – United States 0 (played in Houston, Texas)

The same roster, the same “tactics” and the same result.

If Jürgen Klinsmann isn’t fired now, when?

The Jürgen Klinsmann Experiment reached its peak level of misery last night. The Copa América Centenario semifinal loss against Messi & Co. should’ve lit the final piece of wood in the fire beneath Mr. Klinsmann’s seat. Hopefully, the incompetent senior leadership at U.S. Soccer will finally act accordingly. The group responsible for hiring and firing has yet another opening (and possibly the last and best chance) to finally fire Mr. Klinsmann based on uninspired performances lacking purpose and creativity and drastically unrealized expectations throughout his 5-years as USMNT manager before the United States devolves towards a third consecutive underwhelming World Cup.

The United States is far better than what they’ve shown under the management of Mr. Klinsmann and five years has been more than enough time.

As Americans have proven for 22 years since this country hosted the World Cup and started Major League Soccer two years later, the United States is excited for this growing sport and are ready to see its best eleven take a step towards respect on the world’s best fields. In fact, the ambition should extend to being feared. That’s not happening. Perhaps surprisingly, the impatience in the USMNT is not rooted in enduring necessary growing pains, but instead in the Groundhog Day syndrome.

Living the same day/watching the same underwhelming team over-and-over-again isn’t fun.

At least the movie has Bill Murray.

One criticism that cannot be kicked at USMNT head coach Jürgen Klinsmann is inconsistency. Mr. Klinsmann has been, to a fault (or two or three), relentless in his approach and supposed vision. As has been written about and examined many times on this blog, U.S. Soccer needs to move on from its current manager, most of its roster, current style of play (there’s a style of play?) and hire a manager with a proven track record of success at the highest club or national team level.

A list of potential replacements will be the focus of a separate blog post.

Jürgen Klinsmann, given time, was supposed to build and mold a USMNT that could compete with the best in the world. Last night was Mr. Klinsmann’s litmus test five years in the making. When he started with the USMNT in 2011, genuinely competing against Argentina and the like was the main reason for his hiring. Hosting and playing the second best team in the world (Germany is still the best), hands across America quickly covered the faces of the game’s discouraged viewers.

Not again…

Yes, Messi was Messi (whose beautiful assist and subsequent free kick strike made him his country’s all-time goal scorer) and Argentina played very well, but the Americans didn’t even make the game competitive. The first Argentinian goal, headed past a visibly startled Guzan in the third minute with Beckerman day dreaming nearby, was a perfect encapsulation of the match: Argentina was ready at every touch of the ball with spontaneity and vision, while the Americans couldn’t decide whether to pressure or back off, play or watch.

The end result was a comprehensive 4-nil domination by South America’s footballing royalty.

Like Lavezzi, U.S. Soccer needs to use its head or Groundhog Day could get Russian subtitles in a couple years.

The Lion Roars No More

I really wish I had been wrong in my World Cup Final prediction…

Back on June 12th, I wrote a post titled Mês de Ouro do Futebol! Within this article, there were lists of players and teams to watch for the 2014 World Cup, as well as a prediction of the World Cup Final. If you recall, I chose Germany and Argentina to play for the championship. It was a purely pragmatic choice, despite my love for the United States of America and the Dutch. As a long time fan of the Netherlands, there were many question marks for them entering this tournament. Put simply, they could only exceed expectations.

Last night, the Dutch lost to Argentina in a penalty shootout. Penalty maestro Krul was unable to be subbed in late and after Dutch defender Vlaar’s penalty was blocked to open the shootout, a paralyzing shock set in for those cheering for the Netherlands. While technically it was just the first shot, the momentum shifted like a tidal wave and it proved to be unrecoverable for the Oranje.

It was over.

A golden generation of Dutch superstars may never hoist soccer’s biggest trophy.

In a single word: devastating.

However, attempting to put this game aside for a slightly happier note today, Jimmy’s Daily Planet would like to offer a throwback this Thursday to a late night contest that happened a while back.

Enjoy:

Escaping in 8-minute intervals may be what it takes for Dutch fans today.

A Defining 90 Minutes Awaits

Argentina v. Netherlands

This will be a fascinating battle (with some interesting World Cup history) that will feature offensive creativity near its height once one team dares to expand its wings and go for it to earn that treasured spot in the World Cup Final against the mighty and goal-exhausted Germans. While defense wins championships, today’s match is not the championship and, therefore, offense will take center stage in what will likely be a showcase of world-class talent courtesy of the likes of Messi, Higuaín, Robben and Sneijder (to name just a few of the headliners). There will be gaps and lanes opened and created throughout, unless both coaches implement über cautious tactics. However, this reality seems unlikely given the personnel and strengths of each squad. A 7-1 final score also seems improbable, but after yesterday and all of what’s transpired in Brazil the past few weeks, who knows anymore?

It’s been beautifully crazy.

For Argentina (and Messi in particular), this is a legacy match that will go a long way towards defining the footballing strength of this South American nation that has played “little brother” to Brazil for longer than they’d wish to concede. Can Messi orchestrate a Barcelona-like performance when they were in their championship-rich years? Understanding the relative inexperience of the mostly youthful Dutch defense, Messi may shine brightest today. Will it lead to a win? That is the question in Buenos Aires today. On the other side, Argentina will have to brace for the Flying Dutchmen of Van Persie (or Huntelaar), Robben, Sneijder and Kuyt and Depay. Once the ball reaches the middle of the pitch, the Dutch love to open it up and run. It’s hard to imagine this game won’t have a few goals. But this is also a legacy math for the Oranje after a disappointing loss in the 2010 World Cup final versus Spain (both the score as well as stylistically). Van Persie, Robben, Sneijder and Huntelaar are all 30 years old, all in their prime and all cognizant of the fact they are two games away from lifting the very first World Cup trophy for their nation. Could this be destiny played out as the ultimate comeback story for the men in orange?

As my club soccer coach used to say, whichever team “let’s the ball do the work” will likely come out on top.

The night sky will either be painted light blue or orange tonight…