Filed under: 2014 World Cup final, Uncategorized | Tags: 2014 World Cup, 2016 European Championship, Albiceleste, America, Andre Schuerrle, Angel Di Maria, Argentina, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Beto, Brad Friedel, Cafu, Chile, Clint Dempsey, David Luiz, Dunga, Edmundo, ESPN, Ezequiel Lavezzi, FIFA Confederations Cup, Germany, Gonzalo Higuain, James Rodriguez, Jo, Joachim Loew, Juergen Klinsmann, Kasey Keller, Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez, Lukas Podolski, Manuel Neuer, Maracana Stadium, Maracanazo, Marcos Rojo, Mario Goetze, Miroslav Klose, Netherlands, Olympics, Pele, Per Mertesacker, Philipp Lahm, Portugal, Preki, Rivaldo, Roberto Carlos, Rodrigo Palacio, Romario, Ronaldo, Russia '18, Sergio Aguero, Sergio Romero, Spain, Tim Howard, Toni Kroos
Germany defeated Argentina in overtime, 1-0, before a Maracana Stadium crowd of 74,738 to win the 2014 World Cup.
Substitute Mario Goetze, who had not started in Germany’s last two games, scored the game’s only goal in the 113th minute. Another sub, Andre Schuerrle, lofted a cross from the left wing that Goetze, on the run at the top of the penalty area, chested and volleyed inside the far post past Argentine goalkeeper Sergio Romero. [July 13]
Comment I: The best team won.
The overhaul begun by Juergen Klinsmann ahead of the 2006 World Cup and maintained by successor Joachim Loew in 2010 bore fruit in 2014. All-time World Cup scoring leader Miroslav Klose (36) rides off into the sunset, and captain Philipp “The Magic Dwarf” Lahm (30), has announced his international retirement. But Bastian Schweinsteiger, Per Mertesacker and Lukas Podolski are all 29, and the rest of the nucleus, with some tweaking, figures to be around for the 2016 European Championship and beyond. Much can happen in four years, but for now, the first European team to win a World Cup in the Americas is well-positioned for Russia ’18.
Comment II: The not-best team did not win.
Years from now, the 20th World Cup may be remembered not for Germany’s triumph or Luis Suarez’s bite or James Rodriguez’s arrival but the incredible collapse by Brazil. The 7-1 loss to Germany in the semifinals and the 3-0 loss to the Netherlands in the third-place match were shocking on their own, but put them together and you have the most unbelievably pathetic 180 minutes in World Cup history.
If anything, it was all for the best. This was a not-so-great team that was riding a wave of emotion provided by its thousands of yellow-clad supporters and the inner pressure created by the need to wipe away the nightmare–the Maracanazo–of 1950. It needed penalty kicks to beat Chile in the second round and a fine free kick by David Luiz in the quarterfinals to keep up the facade. It was unconvincing in the group stage, leaving the suspicion that its triumph the previous year in the FIFA Confederations Cup, capped by a 3-0 romp over defending world and European champion Spain, was an anomaly. Not only could this team not be mentioned in the same breath with Pele’s 1970 champions, it was a far, far cry from another Brazilian also-ran, the 1998 array of stars headed by Ronaldo, Roberto Carlos, Rivaldo, Cafu, Beto and Dunga that bowed to host France. If that side needed a late jolt, it could look down the bench and call on Edmundo. This Brazil’s bench had … Jo. Had the current team pulled off two miracles and lifted the trophy at the Maracana on July 13, Brazilians would be the first to rank it behind its non-champions of 2006 and 1990 and 1986 and 1982 and 1978 and 1974 and 1966.
Comment III: The second-best team could’ve won.
A 4-1 pick to win it all, Argentina coulda, shoulda wrapped up a 1-0 or 2-0 victory over Germany in regulation. One goal could have come 21 minutes in, when Toni Kroos headed a ball back toward his goal only for it to be intercepted by Gonzalo Higuain. Perhaps seeing Manuel Neuer standing before him and believing the German goalkeeper immortal based on his earlier performances, Higuain skulled a hurried shot outside the left post. Eight minutes later Higuain had a goal disallowed for an offside call he easily could have avoided.
Either chance, if converted, would’ve thrown Argentina into defensive mode, and we saw what the Argentine defense (with the help of the midfield) was capable of against Germany for 113 minutes despite the Germans’ having greater possession. Ironically, it was the back line that was regarded as the weak link heading into this World Cup while the team’s strength was Lionel Messi and his supporting cast of Higuain, Angel Di Maria, Sergio Aguero, Ezequiel Lavezzi and Rodrigo Palacio.
Adding to Argentina’s frustration was Palacio’s chance six minutes into overtime. Left back Marcos Rojo chipped a ball into the middle of the box to Palacio, alone with only Neuer to beat. But he tried to chip the ball into the net and sent it wide left. That was the Albiceleste’s last chance and only made Goetze’s goal seem inevitable.
Comment IV: The bottom line on the impact Brasil ’14 had on America:
The U.S. media finally stopped referring to soccer as “perhaps the world’s most popular sport” and the World Cup as “after the Olympics, the world’s biggest sporting event.” Instead, soccer and the World Cup became an unqualified “most” and “biggest.”
Comment V: Naturally, those Americans who don’t like soccer came out with their sharpened knives in June and July, and to soccer fans, their increasing desperation was another sign of progress.
Most of their criticisms–too low scoring, foreigners running around in shorts–have fallen by the wayside over the years, but they concentrated their efforts on two issues in particular this time.
The most curious one involved how time is kept during a soccer match. “The game ends, and then it keeps going–no one but the referee knows when it’s gonna end!” Of course the entire crowd and a worldwide television audience sees the fourth official hold up an electronic board indicating how much time has been added. Two minutes, four minutes, and so on. We all get the idea. And TV viewers see the clock continue ticking in the upper left corner: 91:05 … 93:41 …. with a +4 next to it, for example. However, “getting the idea” isn’t good enough in a country grounded in gridiron football countdown clocks and basketball games in which the final 30 seconds are massaged through 10 minutes of TV commercials. Maybe they were fired up by Portugal’s late equalizer against the U.S., when it was mystifying to some that the game seemingly went on and on, but soccer fans who saw the man with the electronic board knew that enough time remained for Ronaldo’s heroics, plus a subsequent kickoff and a few additional seconds of play. If anything, that game should have been a lesson to the uninitiated. Soccer is not a Hail Mary pass or buzzer-beater shot type of sport. There is no way to “stop” the clock, so there is no need for a clock that shows 0:013 remaining. And some people like being freed of that sort of nonsense.
The other complaint has merit. “They flop, they roll on the the ground and act as though they’re in their death throes.” From one ESPN radio talking head: “This country will never embrace a sport in which the players are encouraged to be pansies.”
Good point. We’ve seen all sorts of histrionics on the soccer field, and we all know it’s in an effort to draw a foul or induce a yellow card, not because the player has an incredibly low pain threshold. But all that rolling around runs contrary to American sensibilities. When Clint Dempsey is fouled hard he goes down like he was shot by a sniper. No movement, no drama. Stoic. It’s the American way. (Usually, Dempsey is either really hurt or trying to give his teammates a breather, or both. If he’s trying to get the call, it’s by making the referee feel guilty over this lifeless figure on the turf.)
FIFA hasn’t been able to come up with a better tiebreaker than what it refers to as “The Taking of Kicks from the Penalty Mark.” So it would do well to instead address its chronic play-acting problem–at least if it wants to win over America and its treasure trove of potential corporate sponsors. There is a form of soccer that is played with a minimum of dives, flops and various sundry simulation. It’s called women’s soccer, which is quite ironic. These were, after all, the people who were once deemed too delicate to play this sport. Instead, they cut each other down–hard–and the fouled party usually bounces to her feet and gets on with the game. And no one questions their macho.
Comment VI: And finally, while many Americans had finished applauding Tim Howard’s heroics in the USA’s 1-0 overtime loss to Belgium and had wandered away by the time Germany’s Manuel Neuer was awarded the Golden Glove as the World Cup’s best goalkeeper, it should be pointed out that Howard’s was not the greatest performance by an American ‘keeper in a meaningful match.
For those who saw it first hand, nothing will top Kasey Keller’s string of miracles to help the U.S. upset Brazil, 1-0, in the semifinals of the 1998 CONCACAF Gold Cup in front of a sparse crowd at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Keller made 13 saves that cool, damp night to Howard’s 16 against Belgium, but while Howard was masterful in handling several difficult shots, Keller made saves that left the Brazilians shaking their heads. Two rapid-fire reflex saves on Romario defied belief, and the Brazilian striker later said of Keller, “It was an honor to be on the field with him.”
It should be recalled that this was mostly an under-23 Brazilian side preparing for the Olympics; that it took a goal by Preki in the 65th minute against the run of play to win it; and that the U.S. would go on five days later to lose to Mexico by the same score back at the Coliseum before an overwhelmingly pro-Mexico throng of 100,000. But it also should be remembered that for one night, Keller, an outstanding goalkeeper very much the equal of Howard and Brad Friedel, was otherworldly.
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: Alzheimer's disease, America, Aston Villa, Atlanta Chiefs, Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium, Caribous of Colorado, Chicago Sting, Clive Toye, Cosmos, Dunwoody, English First Division, English Third Division, Franz Beckenbauer, Ga., George Best, Giorgio Chinaglia, Ian Woosnam, Johan Cruyff, Julio Cesar Romero, Leyton Orient, London, Los Angeles Aztecs, Major League Soccer, Miami Toros, Minnesota Kicks, National Professional Soccer League, North American Soccer League, Pele, Peter Beardsley, Phil Woosnam, prostate cancer, Soccer Bowl, Team America, Teofilo Cubillas, Total Soccer, Trans-Atlantic Challenge Cup, Trevor Francis, Vancouver Whitecaps, Wales, Welsh National Team, West Ham United, WorldCupUSA94, www.DaveBrett.com
Phil Woosnam, commissioner of the North American Soccer League during most of its 18-year run, died at age 80 in Dunwoody, Ga., of complications related to prostate cancer and Alzheimer’s disease, on July 19. The death was made public two days later.
Woosnam represented Wales on the schoolboy, youth and amateur levels before making 17 appearances for the full Welsh National Team from 1958 to 1963. A forward, he began his professional career with Leyton Orient–while doubling as a physics and mathematics teacher in London–and later played in the English First Division with West Ham United and Aston Villa.
Woosnam moved to America in 1966 and played in the pirate National Professional Soccer League before becoming player/coach/general manager of the Atlanta Chiefs of the new 17-team NASL in 1968. The league withered to five clubs in ’69, but under Woosnam, who was appointed commissioner two years later, the NASL mushroomed to 24 clubs in the U.S. and Canada, thanks in part to the acquisition of such international stars as Pele, Franz Beckenbauer, Johan Cruyff and George Best. The hard-charging Woosnam, perhaps best known here for his proclamation, “Soccer is the sport of the ’80s,” was dismissed as league boss in 1983, a year before the NASL’s final season. [July 21]
Comment: There can be no doubt that without Phil Woosnam, the evolution of soccer in this country would have been stalled for years. At one point, the NASL’s very survival came down to Woosnam and the man who later signed Pele, Clive Toye, hunkered down in the basement of Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium, trying to figure out their next move. Without the crowds of 60,000 and 70,000 the league occasionally drew, without the generation of promising young American players the league inspired, WorldCupUSA 94 might have become WorldCupUSA 06 and Major League Soccer’s debut might have been delayed to, well, a handful of years ago.
Mistakes were made, of course–mistakes MLS, to its credit, certainly learned from. But what raised the hackles of Woosnam and continues to get a rise out of the NASL’s former players and coaches is the suggestion that the league’s level of play was poor, that the NASL was a comfortable landing spot for aging superstars, a second chance for anonymous English Third Division players, a version of the sport degraded by transcontinental travel, summertime heat and humidity and artificial turf unfamiliar to its many imported players.
Though the NASL is long gone, you can judge for yourself. Go to http://www.DaveBrett.com Historic Soccer Videos and DVDs, which offers a treasure trove of soccer telecasts, including more than 300 NASL matches dating back to 1969. The recordings are for sale or trade, and trades are preferred. Contact Dave at DaveBrett@austin.rr.com
The long list of offerings includes the marathon 1974 championship game between the Los Angeles Aztecs and Miami Toros, the Minnesota Kicks’ crowd of 50,000 to see Pele and the Cosmos in 1976, the classic 1979 playoff semifinal between the Vancouver Whitecaps and Cosmos, the grand experiment that was Team America, and a game between the Chicago Sting and the team with the most wonderfully awful uniforms in the history of sports, the Caribous of Colorado. Of course, there’s plenty of Beckenbauer, Cruyff, Best, Teofilo Cubillas, Giorgio Chinaglia, Trevor Francis, and even a young Julio Cesar Romero and Peter Beardsley. There’s also Soccer Bowls, Trans-Atlantic Challenge Cup games and various friendlies against other clubs from abroad, and NASL highlight shows, plus matches with Spanish and French commentary. (For those so inclined, there are indoor, college and MLS games as well.)
The sport, as presented by Phil Woosnam, was indeed a different game, one that was adjusting to the advent of Total Soccer and other changes. But have a look. Those who experienced the NASL in person will get a pleasant reminder of how good and entertaining the league could be. And as for the MLS generation, it should be an eye opener.
Comment 2: Phil Woosnam was a cousin of golfer Ian Woosnam. Phil Woosnam was 4-4-1 as U.S. National Team coach in 1968. And in Phil Woosnam, has any other U.S. sports league had a commissioner who had more first-hand knowledge of his sport?