Filed under: 2026 World Cup, Uncategorized | Tags: 1994 World Cup, Canada, CONCACAF, Japan, Mexico, Qatar, South Korea, United States, USA-Mex-Can. FIFA
The worst-kept secret in international soccer will be revealed tomorrow in New York when CONCACAF announces that the United States, Mexico and Canada will submit a joint bid to host the 2026 World Cup.
FIFA decided last year to expand the ’26 World Cup from 32 to 48 teams and from 64 games to 80.
The U.S., which lost out to Qatar in its campaign to host the 2022 World Cup, is expected to take a leading role in the ’26 effort based on its wealth of stadiums, training facilities and infrastructure.
The bidding process will culminate with a decision in May 2020. The CONCACAF bid will be an overwhelming favorite because Africa and South America hosted the last two World Cups and Europe (Russia) and Asia (Qatar) get the next two. That leaves potential challenges by England and China as long shots for ’26. [April 9]
Comment: Regardless of whether the U.S.-Mexico-Canada bid succeeds, the 2026 World Cup will not be your father’s World Cup.
If this bid succeeds, it will usher in a new era in which a bloated 48-team field will require not just co-hosts–as in 2002, when Japan and South Korea reluctantly joined hands to play host to 32 nations–but tri-hosts. And in this case, it would require a centerpiece host nation like the U.S., which in 1994 hosted the best organized, best-attended World Cup in history, to pull off a successful tournament.
And what of a tri-hosted World Cup? Will USA-Mex-Can ’26 prove conclusively that a World Cup with four dozen participating nations and four score matches will henceforth require three host countries? And if so, where will those trios come from in the future? Considering geopolitical realities around the globe, how many threesomes of nations with common borders–or within shouting distance–and adequate infrastructure are there out there with the will and means to work together and competently stage a modern World Cup?
Three-country World Cups would open opportunities to host to many nations that otherwise could never pull off one on their own, starting with Canada, thus invigorating efforts to develop the sport in those nations. But in the case of Canada, it will mean instances in which a bidding trio will include a nation that would be a long shot to qualify but whose automatic berth as host takes a berth from another regional rival. It all begs the question, as with its wrongheaded decision to award the 2022 World Cup to Qatar, did FIFA create an unnecessary problem in over-extending itself, with the excuses, lame explanations and, um, solutions to come later?
Filed under: 2015 FIFA Women's World Cup, Uncategorized | Tags: A, Abby Wambach, Ali Krieger, Argentina, Aya Miyama, Ayumi Kahori, Azusa Iwashimizu, BC Place, Becky Sauerbrunn, Canada, Carin Jennings, Carli Lloyd, China, Colombia, CONCACAF Gold Cup, ESPN, ESPN the Magazine, FIFA Women's World Cup, Fox, Germany, Golden Ball, Golden Glove, Hope Solo, Italy, Japan, Jill Ellis, Julie Johnston, Lauren Holiday, Megan Rapinoe, Meghan Klingenberg, Mexico, Nadeshiko, Nigeria, Portugal, Sports Illustrated, Telemundo, Time, Tobin Heath, United States, Vancouver, Yuki Ogimi
The United States overwhelmed defending champion Japan with four goals in the first 16 minutes to cruise to an impressive 5-2 victory in the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup final before a pro-American crowd of 53,341 at Vancouver’s BC Place and become the first nation to capture three women’s world titles.
The Americans, winners of the inaugural Women’s World Cup in 1991 in China and again on home soil in 1999, had lost to the Japanese on penalty kicks in the last final four years ago in Germany, but a first-half hat trick by attacking midfielder Carli Lloyd buried the Nadeshiko.
Lloyd, the Golden Ball winner as the tournament’s MVP, gave the U.S. a shock 2-0 lead with goals in the third and fifth minutes. Both came on grounded crosses from the right, the first a corner kick by Megan Rapinoe and the second a free kick by Lauren Holiday that was flicked on by defender Julie Johnston. In the 14th minute, Holiday allowed her side some breathing room with a volleyed goal after defender Azusa Iwashimizu’s poor header couldn’t stop a U.S. counterattack. But Lloyd’s third goal, two minutes later, applied the dagger.
Spotting Japan goalkeeper Ayumi Kaihori far off her line, Lloyd launched a 54-yard bomb from just inside the Japan half. The backpedaling Kaihori got a hand on the ball, but it banked in off her right post for a 4-0 lead. It was the fastest World Cup hat trick–men or women–in history. The only other player to score three goals in a World Cup final was England’s Geoff Hurst in 1966.
Japan pulled one back in the 27th minute when striker Yuki Ogimi scored on a brilliant turn that left Johnston sprawled at the top of the penalty area. And the Japanese gave the Americans cause for concern seven minutes into the second half when Johnston headed a long diagonal free kick from the left by midfielder Aya Miyama into her own net.
Midfielder Tobin Heath, however, restored the three-goal lead two minutes later from four yards out on a pass across the Japan goalmouth by Morgan Brian off a corner kick by Holiday.
Lloyd, whose six goals tied her with Germany’s Celia Sasic for most in the tournament, was awarded the Golden Ball. She joined Carin Jennings (1991) as the only Americans to win a World Cup MVP award. Hope Solo, whose off-the-field misadventures were well-chronicled in the weeks leading up to Canada ’15, won the Golden Glove award as best goalkeeper, her second straight. Supported by the young but air-tight back line of Ali Krieger, Johnston, Becky Sauerbrunn and Meghan Klingenberg, Solo allowed only three goals and posted five shutouts. The triumph, meanwhile, came as something of redemption for coach Jill Ellis, whose moves drew heavy criticism until she moved 22-year-old Brian to holding midfielder mid-tournament, thus freeing Lloyd to join the attack, and the USA’s service and finishing went from disappointing to–in the final–overwhelming. [July 5]
Comment I: So the United States becomes the first women’s national team to plant a third star above the crest on their jerseys. Among the men, whose first World Cup was played in 1930, only Brazil, with five, and Germany and Italy, with four apiece, have more. The real winner in Canada, however, was American soccer.
Americans, it is said, will watch an international tiddlywinks championship if they think an American will win. And the U.S. team marched into this World Cup with a winning legacy, recognizable standout players, and a wholesome, likable aura.
But Ellis’ women transcended all that. Nearly 27 million U.S. viewers watched the final (25.4 on Fox, 1.27 on Spanish-language Telemundo), making it the most-watched soccer match in U.S. history. Better than the 18.2 million who saw the U.S. men held to a tie by Portugal on ESPN at last summer’s men’s World Cup. Better than the 17.9 million who saw the U.S. beat China on PKs in the 1999 women’s World Cup. Better by 41 percent than the U.S.-Japan final four years ago (13.5 million). As for the 2014 World Cup final between Germany and Argentina, those guys attracted 26.5 million American viewers.
That’s a lot of Americans tuned in to a soccer match, and many were soccer fans to begin with. But many were not. And what they saw was a tremendous advertisement for the sport. The good guys–er, women–won. But what they demonstrated in the final against Japan was the very best of the sport. Fitness. Athleticism. Skill. Invention. Fearlessness. Teamwork combined with improvisation.
Most important, they demonstrated little of the gamesmanship that plagues the men’s game. Fortunately, there was no overriding need for a U.S. or Japanese player to dive in the penalty area during the final–nothing turns an American off to soccer like a dive, or “simulation,” or, as they call it in basketball, a flop. And if there had been a dive, it would’ve been somewhat jarring after 29 days of relatively clean play.
So it’s now on to the CONCACAF Gold Cup. And if we’re treated to a U.S.-Mexico finale, as the organizers are hoping for, we’ll get a reminder of business-as-usual soccer, with rolling bodies and chippy fouls and all kinds of nonsense. Fortunately, many of the innocent Americans who enjoyed U.S.-Japan will never tune in to such a match–for now–and remain blissfully ignorant of the game’s ugly macho side.
Comment II: Despite appearing on the cover of both Sports Illustrated and ESPN the Magazine pre-tournament, that month in Canada was a relatively quiet one for 35-year-old U.S. striker Abby Wambach, who came into the tournament with a world-record 182 career goals, including 13 in three previous World Cups. She played only 297 total minutes over seven matches (three starts), including the last 11 minutes of the final, when Lloyd handed her the captain’s armband, which Wambach has worn so long and so well. She scored one goal, against Nigeria in the first round, and missed a penalty kick against Colombia in the second round when she curiously chose to use her less-favored left foot.
However, she came up with the quote of the tournament, albeit six months earlier in an interview with Time magazine. It illustrated what drove her during her limited time on the field and, no doubt, drove her teammates, especially the ones who were part of the 2011 team:
“‘All the hardships, the sacrifice, the blood, the sweat, the broken bones, the broken relationships will make more sense if we can bring home the trophy,” said Wambach. And if the U.S. falls short? “I’m sure I’ll be fine. But I’ll be pissed off the rest of my life.”
Filed under: 2015 Algarve Cup, Uncategorized | Tags: Abby Wambach, Africa, Alex Morgan, Algarve Cup, Amy Rodriguez, Argentina, Asia, BC Place, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Colombia, CONCACAF, Copa America, Denmark, Estadio Algarve, Estadio Municipal, European Championship, Faro, FIFA Women's World Cup, Fox Sports, France, Germany, Holland, Iceland, Italy, Japan, Lagos, Mexico, NCAA Division I, Norway, Parchal, Portugal, Spain, Stadium Bela Vista, Sweden, Switzerland, U.S., U.S. National Women's Team, Uruguay, Vancouver, Vila Real de Santo Antonio
The U.S. National Women’s Team awoke in the second half to score three goals and cruise past Switzerland, 3-0, in an Algarve Cup match at Vila Real de Santo Antonio and take over first place in Group “B” with a 2-0-0 record. Alex Morgan opened the scoring in the 54th minute, Amy Rodriguez doubled the lead with a brilliant finish off a goalmouth scramble in the 72nd and Abby Wambach, aided by a poor Swiss back pass, sealed the victory nine minutes from time.
The Americans will play Iceland three days later in Lagos their its final group match. The two best group winners will meet in the first-place game; Brazil leads Group “A” (1-0-1) and France tops Group “C” (2-0-0). [March 6]
Comment: This 22nd Algarve Cup underscores how far women’s soccer has come . . . and how far it has to go in comparison to the men’s game.
Held in the tourist-friendly southernmost region of Portugal, it’s the biggest annual tournament in women’s soccer. Nine of this year’s 12 national teams have qualified for this summer’s FIFA Women’s World Cup in Canada. With the exception of host Portugal (No. 42), every team is in the top 20 in FIFA’s latest Women’s World Rankings. How tough is the competition? The U.S. won two Women’s World Cups before it won the first of its nine Algarve Cups. And Fox Sports is televising it live.
Yet despite the prestige and world-class quality of this event, attendance puts the Algarve Cup on a par with a decent NCAA Division I women’s match. The U.S.-Switzerland game at Vila Real de Santo Antonio’s Estadio Municipal drew a crowd generously listed as 500; the USA’s 2-1 win over Norway at the same site two days earlier also attracted “500.” Not all five of the Algarve Cup venues have bothered to report turnstile counts, but through the first two rounds of group play the biggest turnout was 769 for Sweden’s 4-2 upset of top-ranked Germany. Denmark appears to be a particularly hard sell: 133 patrons watched the Danes lose to Japan, 2-1, at Stadium Bela Vista in Parchal, and another 45 returned to see them get thumped by France, 4-1. How seriously are the Portuguese organizers taking all this? The U.S.-Iceland match cannot be televised due to inadequate lighting at Municipal Stadium in Lagos.
This is not unusual. The local Portuguese have a history of being completely indifferent to this showcase of women’s international soccer. Most matches have been played before crowds in the dozens–a stark reminder that outstanding women’s soccer doesn’t always draw. A women’s Olympic soccer gold-medal match? Sure. And the 2015 Women’s World Cup final on July 5 in Vancouver will fill the 55,000-seat BC Place. As for last year’s Algarve Cup final at Estadio Algarve in Faro, 600 bothered to show up for Germany’s 3-0 rout of defending world champion Japan.
Imagine, then, a men’s Algarve Cup, an annual tournament involving the world’s 12 best national teams–virtually a combination of the European Championship and Copa America. To the critics of the expansion of the men’s World Cup over the years, this would be a Hyper-World Cup with none of the long-shots and no-hopers from Africa, Asia and CONCACAF (apologies to the U.S. and Mexico) that those critics dismiss as mere fodder. Play it in Portugal, where the national team is currently ranked seventh worldwide, and you’ve got No. 1 Germany, No. 2 Argentina, No. 3 Colombia, No. 4 Belgium, No. 5 Holland, No. 6 Brazil, No. 8 France, No. 9 Uruguay, No. 10 Spain, No. 11 Switzerland and No. 12 Italy. Not bad. And chances are it would out-draw the Algarve Cup.
Filed under: ISIS executes boys for watching soccer, Uncategorized | Tags: 1972 Munich Olympics, 2015 Asian Cup, Al-Yarmouk, Australia, Black September, Brisbane, Doha, FIFA, FIFA Executive Committee, Iran, Iraq, ISIS, Israel, Japan, Jordan, London, Madrid, Mosul, New York, Persian Gulf, Qatar, South Korea, Sydne, Tokyo, U.S., Zurich
ISIS militants executed 13 teen-aged boys in Islamic State-controlled Mosul for watching the 2015 Asian Cup first-round match between Iraq and Jordan.
The youngsters were caught in the Al-Yarmouk district taking in the match being televised from Brisbane, Australia. Accused of violating Sharia law, they were rounded up and, after their crime was announced over loudspeaker, machine-gunned to death in a public execution. Family members did not immediately recover the bodies out of fear of murder by ISIS gunmen. [January 12]
Comment: The 2022 World Cup will be held in Qatar. The tiny Middle Eastern state on the Persian Gulf was selected host nation in a vote of the FIFA Executive Committee in 2010 that had a strong odor to it and left runners-up the U.S., Australia, Japan and South Korea dumbfounded. Since then, concerns over the heat in Qatar in June and July–the traditional World Cup months–have stirred speculation that the event would be shifted to December-January for the first time ever, a move that would turn many of the world’s club schedules upside down. And, most recently, the release of the report of an investigation into suspicions that the Qataris bought the Executive Committee has been stonewalled by FIFA. But if matches played in 107-degree temperatures and bald corruption aren’t enough to prompt FIFA to reconsider its decision to risk its prime jewel (a.k.a., its prime cash cow), perhaps it’s this heinous execution in Mosul.
As the Qatari delegation asked of the Executive Committee in its final pitch to become the ’22 host nation, “When?” When would a World Cup be awarded to a region that is as passionate about soccer as any on the planet? But the turmoil in that part of the world continues to grow, and with it the fear that if ISIS is ultimately defeated over the next few years, another extreme Islamist force will take its place. And, as these ISIS monsters demonstrated, while soccer is blithely called a religion around the world, to a few on the edge of sanity, to them it’s an anti-religion.
That raises the formerly unthinkable prospect that a World Cup could be a prime target of terrorists–namely, Qatar ’22. Previously, it was easy to believe that the World Cup was immune to any sort of attack because of soccer’s sky-high popularity. The Black September massacre of Israeli wrestlers at the 1972 Munich Summer Games shattered the image of the Olympics as a joyous festival of global goodwill–and turned the planet against the terrorists behind it. But today’s terrorists doesn’t care. We’ve seen through the beheadings and the summary execution of boys that they have no public relations department and don’t want one. If they enrage soccer fans around the globe, they’ve made their point in the strongest possible terms. Worse still, they may be able to reach New York, London, Madrid, and Tokyo, but striking in their own backyard is so much easier. And that should be cause for concern at FIFA headquarters in Zurich. This latest atrocity was committed in Mosul. That’s only 910 miles from Doha, the capital of Qatar.
For the record: Iraq, whose soccer triumphs have united the country like nothing else, beat Jordan that day, 1-0, and later finished second in its Asian Cup group to advance to the quarterfinals, where it edged arch rival Iran on penalty kicks, 7-6, after a 3-3 draw. The Iraqis succumbed in the semifinals to South Korea, 2-0, in Sydney.
Filed under: Brazil 1, Uncategorized | Tags: 1924 Olympics, 1928 Olympics, 1930 World Cup, Andre Schurrle, Argentina, Austria, Belo Horizonte, Brasilia, Brazil, Carnaval, Copa America, David Luiz, Estadio Mineirao, Germany, Japan, Luiz Felipe Scolari, Mesut Ozil, Miroslav Klose, Netherlands, Neymar, Oscar, Ronaldo, Sami Khedira, Sao Paulo, Sapporo, Saudi Arabia, Thiago Silva, Thomas Mueller, Toni Kroos, Uruguay, West Germany, World Cup
In the most shocking semifinal in World Cup history, Germany built a 5-0 halftime lead and went on to humiliate host and five-time champion Brazil, 7-1, before a stunned and tearful partisan crowd of 58,141 at Estadio Mineirao.
Thomas Mueller ignited the rout with a side-volleyed goal off a corner kick in the 11th minute, and the opening barrage wouldn’t end until Sami Khedira’s strike in the 29th. In between, Miroslav Klose scored in the 23rd minute–his 16th–to pass Brazil’s Ronaldo as the all-time World Cup scoring leader; and Toni Kroos put the match away with goals in the 24th and 26th minutes.
With the Brazilian defense in shambles and on the verge of capitulation, German substitute Andre Schurrle plunged the dagger in twice more, in the 69th and 79th minutes. Brazil’s Oscar scored a consolation goal in the 90th, moments after Germany’s Mesut Ozil missed an easy chance that would’ve finished off the clock and made the final score 8-0.
The evening began in a frenzied atmosphere as Brazil fans tried to urge on their team, which was missing injured superstar Neymar and suspended captain Thiago Silva. After a high-octane start to the match, the Brazilian defense, led by David Luiz in Silva’s absence, collapsed, and following Schurrle’s second goal the yellow-and-green-clad spectators began to cheer every pass completed by Germany.
The loss was Brazil’s first at home in a dozen years and its first at home in a competitive match since 1975, a string of 62 games. It was Brazil’s heaviest defeat since a 6-0 loss in Rio in the 1920 Copa America to Uruguay, which would go on to win the 1924 and ’28 Olympic soccer tournaments and the first World Cup in 1930. It was the biggest margin of victory in a World Cup semifinal since West Germany’s 6-1 flattening of Austria in 1954. And it also was the biggest World Cup blow-out since an equally ruthless German side crushed Saudi Arabia, 8-0, in a first-round match in 2002 in Sapporo, Japan. Perhaps most galling to Brazilians: Germany is now the highest scoring nation in World Cup history with 223 goals, overtaking–yes–Brazil.
Comment I: The Germans may very well have spoiled the party that has been this wonderful World Cup. Hard to believe that the host nation will still be in a Carnaval mood for the remaining five days after this shocking fiasco. On the other hand, Germany may have erased fears that this will be the World Cup in which an outstanding team never emerges. The final is yet to be played, but most observers would now concede that the Germans, with a solid performance Sunday, would be worthy champions.
Comment II: For the sake of Saturday’s third-place match in Brasilia, root for Argentina to beat the Netherlands in Sao Paulo in the other semifinal. Otherwise, it will be the sullen Brazilians facing their arch rivals in a consolation game neither side wants to play, and what is usually an open, carefree exhibition of soccer could turn into something ugly.
Comment III: Another of the beauties of soccer on display in Belo Horizonte: No time-outs. Coach Luiz Felipe Scolari and his shell-shocked defense would have loved a two- or three-minute break to regroup midway through the first half, but this isn’t basketball or gridiron football. It was up to David Luiz and his mates to figure it out on the fly, and they could not.
Filed under: Bright start for CONCACAF, Uncategorized | Tags: Belo Horizonte, Brazil, Cameroon, Colombia, CONCACAF, Costa Rica, Croatia, Diego Forlan, FIFA, Fortaleza, France, Ghana, Greece, Group "A", Group "C", Group "D", Honduras, Japan, Joel Campbell, Luis Suarez, Marcos Urena, Mark Geiger, Mexico, New Jersey, Oscar Duarte, Sean Hurd, South Africa '10, Ticos, U.S., Uruguay, Wilmar Roldan, World Cup, Yuichi Nishimura
Costa Rica pulled off the first major upset of the World Cup, surprising Uruguay, 3-1, in Fortaleza in a Group “D” game.
Joel Campbell, Oscar Duarte and substitute Marcos Urena all scored in the second half to shock the Uruguayans, who reached the semifinals four years ago. Two of Uruguay’s heroes at South Africa ’10 were non-factors; Diego Forlan, still recovering from the flu, was substituted in the 60th minute, and Luis Suarez, 23 days removed from knee surgery, did not play. [June 14]
Comment I: The Ticos’ victory came 24 hours after Mexico defeated Cameroon, 1-0, to join Brazil–a 3-1 winner over Croatia in the tournament opener June 12–atop Group “A”.
The U.S. opens play Monday against Ghana and Honduras will face France on Sunday. But at the moment, it’s a bright start for CONCACAF. The Confederacion Norte-Centroamericana y del Caribe de Futbol has never had much respect from the rest of the world, which can point to the region’s thin World Cup record: the USA’s semifinal adventure at the very first cup in 1930, then three quarterfinal appearances by Mexico and one by the Americans since. At South Africa, Mexico, Honduras and the U.S. combined to win two games, lose five and tie four, with the Mexicans and Americans tumbling in the round of 16.
The victories by Costa Rica and Mexico may not mean much at a time when the combined FIFA rankings of CONCACAF’s four current World Cup finalists is a ponderous 94, but it’s temporary progress for a region still in search of a World Cup group seeding that doesn’t come by way of being a host (Mexico ’70 and ’86, USA ’94).
Comment II: Earlier in the day, Colombia, a dark horse favorite, pounded Greece, 3-0, in Belo Horizonte. The Group “C” game was played at breakneck speed, but it ended without incident.
That bodes well for the referee, Mark Geiger of New Jersey, who was assisted by linesman and fellow countryman Sean Hurd. With a dreadful penalty-kick call by Yuichi Nishimura of Japan in the Brazil-Croatia match and two Mexican goals erroneously called offside by Wilmar Roldan of Colombia the next day, another solid performance by Geiger could get him into the middle for the knockout rounds–a first for an American referee.
Filed under: 2014 World Cup draw, USA's Group of Death | Tags: 2014 World Cup draw, Amazon, Argentina, Asia, Australia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Cameroon, Chile, Clint Dempsey, CONCACAF, Costa do Sauipe, Costa Rica, Cristiano Ronaldo, Cuiaba, DeMarcus Beasley, Eddie Johnson, England, FIFA Player of the Year, Fortaleza, Germany, Ghana, Golden Generation, Group "B", Group "D", Group "F", Group "G", Group of Death, Guadalajara, Holland, Honduras, Iran, Italy, Japan, Jogi Loew, Juergen Klinsmann, Landon Donovan, Lionel Messi, Luis Figo, Luxembourg, Major League Soccer, Manaus, Maracana, Mexico, Michael Bradley, Natal, Nigeria, Paris, Portugal, Recife, Rio de Janeiro, Salvador, Sao Paulo, South America, South Korea, Spain, Steve Cherundolo, Sunil Gulati, Sweden, Tim Howard, Torsten Frings, Ulsan, United States, Uruguay, Washington DC
The 2014 World Cup draw, as expected, produced multiple “Groups of Death” as the 32 finalists were sorted into eight groups of four nations each for the 64-match tournament, which will begin June 12 scattered over a dozen Brazilian cities.
The United States got the worst of it, being drawn into Group “G” with three-time champion Germany, the Cristiano Ronaldo-led Portugal and Ghana, the nation that knocked the Americans out of the last two World Cups. Not far behind in terms of difficulty were Group “B” (defending champion Spain, 2010 runner-up Holland, Chile, plus Australia) and Group “D” (2010 third-place finisher Uruguay, four-time champ Italy, England and Costa Rica).
Conducted at the beachfront resort of Costa do Sauipe before an international television audience, the draw also produced a first-round cakewalk for Argentina, which was joined in Group “F” by the tournament’s only World Cup newcomer, Bosnia-Herzegovina, as well as Iran and Nigeria. [December 6]
Comment I: In a repeat of the Brazilian nightmare of 1950, Brazil will tumble in its own World Cup. Argentina will defeat host Brazil on Sunday, July 13, before a stunned, heartbroken crowd of 73,531 at the Maracana in Rio de Janeiro, and lift the World Cup trophy for the third time.
Argentina, unlike host Brazil, has been steeled by 16 World Cup qualifiers in the ultra-tough South American region–and finished first. It went into the draw at 6-1 odds, just behind Brazil and Germany. It will be playing virtually at home, without all the pressure that comes with hosting a World Cup. It will have the motivation of the opportunity to humiliate its neighbor and historic arch-rival. Its only question mark is its defense, while its absolute certainty is up front, four-time FIFA Player of the Year Lionel Messi, who will turn 27 the day before his team meets its final group-stage opponent, Nigeria. And the draw produced brackets that make a Brazil-Argentina final possible.
Comment II: To distraught fans of the U.S. National Team: Enough with the hand-wringing.