Cope: Early takes on the World Cup
Vail, CO Colorado
After Wednesday, we, the sleep-deprived, have seen every team at the FIFA World Cup once.
Some, such as Argentina, Germany, South Korea and Brazil provided a nice appetizer course for what could be a long and sumptuous meal. Others, such as the U.S.A., Mexico, Switzerland, Slovenia, North Korea, Japan, Chile, Uruguay, Ghana, New Zealand, and Paraguay provided us with a taste of something new and spicy.
Still another group of teams seemed to contain ingredients that were past their, “sell by” date or ingredients that don’t seem to go quite well together and added nothing to our meal. This last group, including France, Nigeria, Greece, England, Netherlands, Italy, South Africa, Cameroon, Ivory Coast, Portugal and Spain, could still be salvaged with the removal of certain disappointing elements, the addition of others and perhaps just some additional time to set up just right.
Beginning with the first strata of teams, Argentina and Germany were simply awesome. Playing with three up front, Higuain, Tevez and the magnificent Messi, the Argentines created chance after chance but only saw one go in, a terrific diving header from a corner by Gabrielle Heinze (ex-Man U). The team showed balance, creativity, dynamic attacking playing and stout defending.
South Korea reflect their country, all hard work, team work and commitment to the cause. They simply out worked Greece and Park Ji Sung showed a touch of class that can be acquired when the Korean work ethic is polished with the rough stones of the Champions League while playing with Manchester United. These two play in the early game today in what should be a great game.
The winner probably takes Group B but, honestly, none of the teams in Group A will frighten these two. Look for them both in the quarterfinals. Messi will be desperate to get his first goal of the tournament today.
Germany, represent the new Europe; young, dynamic, fast paced and multi-cultural. They put on a master class of movement, passing and finishing against a hapless Australian team. One of their four goals came from a young player Thomas Mueller, with the same last name as the German goal-scoring machine Gerd Mueller, whose 14 goals in two World Cups (1970 and 1974) are second only to the Brazilian Ronaldo’s 15.
Polish-born immigrant Lukas Podolski had the opening goal. A child of Turkish immigrants, Mesut Oezil, had another goal. The fourth goal came from Cacau. Why one name, you ask? Cacau emigrated to Germany at the urging of relatives in 1999 as a young man gained his citizenship 10 years later. It doesn’t seem fair does it, a Brazilian emigrating to Germany to ally the two nation’s attributes and create some sort of uber footballer. Unfair, maybe, but beautiful to watch, certainly.
Serbia awaits on Friday morning.
Brazil sees the tournament in terms of a seven-game journey, no need to rush things in the first game. By the second half of their game against the mysterious and tough North Koreans, they began to hit their stride. Two marvelous goals were the result.
Maicon, the overlapping right back fresh off a Champions League win with Inter Milan, showed the emotion that players bring to playing for their national teams. His reaction gave us all a glimpse of what it must be like to play for Brazil and score a marvelous goal, which by the way, he meant to do. The North Koreans showed great heart in scoring a late goal and may yet prove the spoilers in Group G.
I don’t want to start a rant, but ….
The overachievers of the first set of games are led by the Swiss. A classic counter-attack goal saw them defeat the Spanish, 1-0. The American team showed great resolve in not caving in after an early goal by England caused by poor marking by Ricardo Clark in our midfield.
Perhaps the biggest goalkeeper error ever seen at this level by the English goal keeper, Robert Green, allowed Clint Dempsey to equalize for the U.S.A. A great American crowd in the stadium, and the collective energy sent by thousands gathered in bars across this country saw the U.S. hang on for a point.
The game would be summed by two thought – Clark can’t mark and Green is green.
The U.S.A. now come into the next game against Slovenia, Friday morning 8 local, in the unusual role as favorites. They must win if they hope to advance to the next round.
Slovenia already has three points and England expect to get three against Algeria the same day, so a draw will not do for the Americans. Tim Howard is fit to play after receiving cleats to the chest against England.
Expect a largely unchanged lineup, apart from perhaps giving Ricardo Clark a day off in midfield. Let’s hope “Slowvenia,” embody the attribute suggested by their name.
One expects a slow start from Italy, and they usually survive it, but think about what a shambles England are at the moment. Fabio Capello didn’t pick a starting goalie until the morning of the first match. At Battle Mountain High School, we know our starter days before the first game. Then his lack of confidence leads to the biggest British spill since, well …
He picked a crippled guy to play center back who got hurt in the first half of the first game. Surprised? He replaced him with a retired guy who plays for Liverpool. Did he watch Liverpool this year? Was my Dad unavailable?
Finally, he starts a forward who can’t score. Heskey must be a wonderful guy because every England manager picks him, but he can’t score. I know he assisted on the goal, but then he did nothing else except kick Tim Howard in the chest, which wasn’t a bad idea. But even if it worked for him the U.S.A. still have two other good goalies, unlike some other countries, as we’ve seen.
As the ball skidded off the top of Wayne Rooney’s head, all you could think of was, Peter Crouch. Fabio should look up how many times the 6-foot-7 Crouch has scored for England.
More action to come
The next two games for England and the USA are against Algeria and Slovenia who were both awful when they played each other. One fan looked like he was trying to escape by climbing a light tower but was hauled back in by security, so they wouldn’t have more empty seats show up on TV.
These empty seats, by the way, must help the USA’s bid to host the World Cup in 2018 or 2022. 1994 in the USA is still the most attended FIFA World Cup ever. Let’s hope they give us a chance to top it.
So, the verdict on the first set of games is, perhaps, not bad but still not great. We are waiting for some better matchups in the second games, as a draw is no longer a good result. Winners of their first game usually advance, though not always, losers of the first game almost never advance.
A draw keeps a country in it for another game. That accounts for the cautious second halves in many of these games. Hopefully there is an improvement in the next round of games as places in the second round must be won, not just preserved.
Spending every other summer glued to the television or watching in person the World Cup and Euro Championships, David Cope is the soccer coach for both varsity teams at Battle Mountain. In the small windows between games, he will be writing a regular column for the Vail Daily and checking in on his family.
Cope’s must-see TV
Today, 12:30 p.m., ESPN2: France-Mexico … Each team has a point. Mexico is playing well and France are in disarray, but we’ve seen this type of start before from France, notably in 2006 when they reached the final. Don’t count on it this time. I see Uruguay and Mexico in the next round.
Friday, 8 a.m., ESPN,: Slovenia-U.S.A. … Almost a must win if the U.S. hope to advance.
Saturday, 12:30 p.m., ABC: Cameroon -Denmark … Somebody must win this game or they are both out.
Sunday, 12:30 p.m., ABC: Brazil-Ivory Coast … Marquee matchup of the first round. Didier Drogba’s arm is getting better each day. Brazil have yet to hit their stride. A draw or win could be the difference that sees Ivory Coast as the only African team to advance to the second round.
Monday, 12:30 p.m., ESPN: Spain-Honduras … Can Spain rebound against our Central American neighbors? They’ll need to or face a shocking first round exit. We might see a load of goals from Spain or one of the biggest World Cup busts ever.