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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…

The Other Beautiful Game

As player’s have regained their energy and coaches alike have had time to reflect on the group stage and exhausting round of 16 World Cup finale versus Belgium, the USMNT will likely feel equally proud, yet unsatisfied. While not all of their young and exciting talent was utilized (ie- #10 Mix Diskerud and #9 Aron Jóhannsson) and key players failed to shine to their full potential (ie- Michael Bradley), there are signs that point to a bright future for the Americans. DeAndre Yedlin showed he has world-class pace, raw talent and a skill for crossing dangerous balls into the opponent’s 18-yard box as a defender on the flank. John Brooks is clearly an offensive threat on corner kicks and Julian Green has vision that will soon impress Bayern Munich manager Pep Guardiola for serious senior team consideration between now and 2016 and 2018.

The rub: If the USMNT is going to take the next step and compete for a World Cup and not just in one, it must have faith in itself and dare to go for that dream. Overloading the central midfield with defense, which leaves a creative void in the middle that was desperately needed to bridge the gap with the forwards, sends a message to the team and their opponents that they are, in effect, surrendering the mental chess game.

Teams cannot win the World Cup playing only checkers, waiting to jump the competition one or two times in 90 minutes.

Speaking of daring to play and engage in a game of chess versus a grandmaster…

Seems like he’s got the mindset to be pretty good at breaking down opponents’ defenses.

If given the chance to play, he’ll be passing and/or shooting his way to checkmates left and right for the USMNT.

“I Believe That We Will Win!”

Argentina v. Switzerland will be a fascinating battle between a nation that was ranked as one of the best going into the 2014 World Cup (and not just for fancy, MacGyver-approved pocket knives) and the country next door to host nation Brazil led by one of the best footballers on the planet in Lionel Messi.

Both nations have played well enough to advance to the round of 16, but neither has necessarily dazzled with respect to the astronomical expectations each had entering the group competition. Can Xherdan Shaqiri make that definitive declaration to the world that Switzerland is no longer a force of neutrality, but a force to be reckoned with? Will Lionel Messi finally reveal a world-class performance he’s fully capable of against a highly-rated opponent during the sport’s biggest tournament while wearing baby blue and white?

The bottom line is that this match will be fun to watch.

Belgium v. United States is a rematch of a friendly most Americans have wanted to forget. The Belgians defeated the men in red, white and blue in a convincing 4-2 effort in Cleveland, Ohio back in May of this year. However, that was a friendly and the Americans proved to be anything but friendly to their World Cup adversaries in their three group matches. Since the Portugal game ended in a heart-breaking 2-2 tie, this game versus Belgium in the round of 16 is the U.S.’s statement game. And if Jozy Altidore makes it onto the pitch, it’s a fair bet he’ll be looking to make a statement or two of his own…

And that pregame speech for the Americans may go a little something like this:

“I Believe That We Will Win!”

Go USA!

Happy Monday!

First off: Great job yesterday by the United States versus mighty Portugal. Literally except for the last seconds, it was one hell of an effort.

“I believe that we will win!” 

The top two teams from Group A and Group B will advance to the round of 16 later this afternoon. While Group B already has the Netherlands and Chile advancing, their match at noon on ESPN will determine the #1 and #2 seeds for the next round. Group A will likely see Brazil control Cameroon and secure the #1 spot, but the Croatia v. Mexico game should be an absolute thriller for #2 in the group. However, if Cameroon plays inspired, they could potentially prevent Brazil from the #1 spot or from even advancing depending on the result from the Croatia v. Mexico game…

Bottom line: Group A’s matches will be exciting to watch on ESPN and ESPN2 at 4:00 p.m. ET.

While relaxing late last night watching television, I saw the scene below. It wasn’t the first time I had seen it, but it rang surprisingly true for this World Cup because it doesn’t always matter what teams or players are supposedly better or superior in certain skill-sets, but whether or not they win the big games when it counts.

Happy Monday and Congratulations Again to the San Antonio Spurs!