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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.

Don’t Mess with Messi

Pep’s homecoming to the sidelines at Barcelona was like déjà vu…for Barcelona.

The Chimera of Camp Nou (Messi, Neymar and Suarez) is an ever-attacking three-headed monster that stretches the defensive barriers of its adversary with dangerously dynamic precision. These three players for Barcelona are world-class in their own rights, and playing against a squad missing several key players, found lots of space to roam and pressure Bayern Munich high up the field without serious consequence in the first leg of their Champions league semifinal in Spain.

In the present moment, Barcelona (led by its offensive monster) showed why they have the most potent attack in the world. Having to deal with the brilliant dribbling and misdirection of Messi, Bayern’s defenders did well until the 77′ when the aforementioned Argentine’s first tally sparked a barrage of goals during the next several minutes. Before then, it was entertaining back-and-forth soccer with Neuer making some sublime saves.

Bayern Munich’s Lewandowski and Müller did well up top, considering they were consistently outnumbered on their counter-attacks. Unfortunately for them, their golden chance at a first half combination for the prized away goal was literally half a diving foot away. There were moments when Bayern Munich found space and exposed vulnerabilities in Barcelona’s defense, but Pep’s Boys (sans Robben, Ribery and Alaba) were unable to command a threat on the flanks that was necessary (and open) for that essential away goal/goals.

While Barcelona was going to find the back of the net, it is worth contemplating how many goals Bayern Munich could have scored if the two missing pieces in their 3-headed offensive monster were healthy? How would that have altered Barcelona’s tactics? How would Barca have performed if it was missing Messi and Neymar?

Curiosity aside, 3-nil was the final score. It was a result well earned for the Catalans.

Barcelona is elated.

Bayern Munich is deflated.

The Soccer-Pointer

Basketball games are filled with lots of points. They’re not hard to come by. Conversely, goals in soccer are (comparatively) significantly more rare, but lauded with comparable energy and jubilation as an alley-oop, backboard-breaking slam dunk or buzzer-beating 3-pointer.

So, how would world-class footballers fare in the world of basketball, with that tiny hoop and a regulation size 5 soccer ball? Interestingly, a layup seems more impressive when soccer players do it:

The half-court heave has nothing on this:

“Basketttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttt!!!!!”

(That’s soccer for, “Yeah, that just happened”).