Cope: It’s July: It must be the quarterﬁnals
Vail, CO Colorado
And down the stretch they come.
July is here and the World Cup is down to eight teams. Some of them are the usual suspects and some are upstarts. Of the eight teams left, seven were group winners – the U.S. were the only group winner not to advance.
Four have won the World Cup previously, two seem destined to win it one day if they can overcome their internal divisions, one is from the host continent and one is a pure party crasher.
Recapping the last round briefly, we saw the demise of the U.S.A., England and Mexico in quick succession over a cruel weekend. The USA succumbed to their usual slow start, yet again they were able to come back, just not all the way. In each of their four games, the American team gave away an early goal or, in the case of Algeria, an early chance that hit the crossbar. Even in extra time against Ghana, the U.S.A. couldn’t start without spotting the opponent an early goal.
Reflecting on it, now that sufficient time has passed, the verdict on the USA is that they were just not good enough. Many people were looking at a possible semifinal place when they saw the draw but a team must score goals to advance and we were unable.
Our forwards were pretty woeful in this tournament and nobody should be surprised. Jozy Altidore might become a good player one day, but he has yet to fulfill the potential hinted at by a $10 million transfer from MLS to Villareal in Spain.
Failing to make the grade in Spain, Altidore was loaned out to Hull City for this season where he scored a goal. Yes, a single goal. His counterparts on the Uruguay team that awaited them in the quarterfinal features Diego Forlan, who has scored 120 goals in the last six seasons in Spain and Luis Suarez, who scored 35 goals this season for the Dutch team Ajax.
Partnering Altidore up front was the Real Salt Lake forward, Robbie Findley with his total of zero goals for the U.S.A. Findley may never score a goal for the U.S. as his performances at the World Cup may hold him back future selection.
This team didn’t fail. They came back from being a goal down on three occasions to advance out of their group and lose to a decent team in the World Cup second round. Looking at the draw in December, few would have foreseen the Americans winning the group.
Several players enhanced their reputations, Jay DeMerit, Michael Bradley, Clint Dempsey and Landon Donovan. Another group solidified themselves as decent pros, Tim Howard, Steve Cherundolo, Jonathan Bornstein and Carlos Bocanegra among them. Another group including all of our forwards and the hapless Ricardo Clark saw their reputations and value suffer.
One day there will be an American forward if we don’t keep yelling at them, “pass the ball!” when they are 10-years-old. Don’t pass it, kid. Stick in the back of the net and go celebrate. We’ll be waiting for you in 2022 when we host this tournament again.
England, on the other hand, did fail. Lacking team spirit, cohesion and any sense of joy about the occasion, the Queen’s men failed to live up to expectations. The less said about that group the better. Yes, it was a goal and no it wouldn’t have mattered. Germany were far better in every aspect. As predicted in this column early on, it was a struggle for European teams from the start and England joined Italy and France on the scrapheap of faded European giants.
Previewing the quarterfinals, there are two gigantic matches and two intriguing ones. Saturday morning at 8 local time sees a match that could produce the champions. Brazil, the five-time champions, play the Netherlands, a team that is always in the mix at the end and who have reached the final twice but have never won it, in a match that features some of the best attacking players in the tournament.
The Dutch have been ruthlessly efficient thus far, without showing the joy and togetherness of the South American nations or Germany. In fact, a fracture line may have become evident at the end of their second round game when Robin Van Persie was substituted for and had harsh words with his coach. This type of discord has been the undoing of the Dutch in previous World Cups and may be surfacing again.
Brazil have improved with each game and looked to have found a very high gear against Chile in the second round. Speaking of a high gear, if the World Cup does in fact end for the Dutch on Friday, at least they have the first stage of the Tour de France which kicks off (pardon the pun) on Saturday in Rotterdam.
In the afternoon, two-time winners, Uruguay, play the last remaining team, Ghana. One of the teams will be the surprise semifinalist this team. It seems there is always one.
Ghana play with a youthful exuberance, and have one of the tournaments leading scorers in Gyan. His second against the U.S. was a thing of beauty as he took a long pass on his chest and, despite heavy pressure from Bocanegra turned and volleyed it past Howard.
We could have done without the time-wasting tactics by Ghana at the end of the match but until FIFA cracks down on that ugly aspect of the sport, expect it to continue. A simple solution would be that if a player goes down with an injury that requires the trainer, they must stay off for five minutes, be substituted for or return with a yellow card.
Honest injuries probably should get that much time to be treated anyway and the fake injuries should be dealt with harshly. FIFA resists video technology because it might interrupt the flow of the game, yet continues to tolerate this farce at the end of close matches.
Sunday’s games feature an 8 a.m. matchup between the German conquerors of England and Argentina’s Diego Show. Diego Maradona’s enthusiasm has galvanized their players and taken the attention and the pressure off of them. He lost in the 1990 final to Germany as a player and would love to avenge that defeat this weekend.
Argentina and Brazil look a different level than everyone else at the moment. Messi has been the magician, Tevez the ruthless executioner with his offside goal against Mexico and his long range missile of a shot.
Higuain is simply the leading scorer in the tournament and the beneficiary of the physical effort and pressure applied by Tevez alongside the artful and cunning play of Messi. Germany were clinical against England and thoroughly outplayed the English. Youngsters Ozil and Mueller, in particular shined for Germany.
Add these ingredients to the spice of the simmering feud from a brawl that erupted as Germany eliminated Argentina at the end of their quarterfinal game in 2006 and this has the makings of a classic.
Finally, the fourth semifinalist will be produced by the winner of the match between European champion, Spain, and Paraguay. Spain have yet to show their full arsenal of weapons in this tournament but have quality all over the field.
Paraguay proudly represent South America, all five of whose teams qualified for the second round, with four advancing, one in each quarterfinal matchup. Don’t be surprised to see a few of them in the semifinals and one of the South American countries crowned champions in just 10 days time.
Down the stretch they come.