Spain’s negative tactics and broing soccer killed the World Cup

That was miserable. It is remarkable what Vicente del Bosque has done to an awesome collection of skilled players.

Spain's negativity killed the World Cup

Spain’s most potent attacking play is a corner kick. Spain’s negativity is entirely elective – with that array of attacking skill they could overwhelm teams. But they choose to destroy the game by clogging  the middle of the field and keep possession without trying to score goals until the defense made a mistake. Only it hardly ever happend. The result was a dire final unworthy of Spanish and Dutch tradition. Italy and France, yest. Spain and the Netherlands, no.

Spain are very skilled. So what. They won their last four games 1-0.  They scored only 8 goals in the seven games of the tournament, eerily reminiscent of the 7 goals Greece scored to win Euro 2004 in six games.  The Americans scored 5 (really 7) in just four games and just one of the US games had more chances and excitement than all of Spain’s combined. You don’t believe me? The Guardian’s Richard Williams, who said, “Holland and Spain’s anti-football let Europe down.” Continue reading

FIFA to change officiating: Two refs is the best answer

Soccer should follow hockey and go to two refs

This World Cup has been plagued by poor officiating. From the mystery foul that ruled out a perfectly good Maurice Edu winner against Slovenia, or Frank Lampard’s goal that wasn’t against Germany, or Carlos Tevez’s offside goal to open the scoring against Mexico, referees have been at the center of attention too often and for the wrong reasons. FIFA seemed embarrassed by the number and shocking nature of the mistakes, and now it looks like refereeing changes are coming. Goal line technology and two end line officals are the most commonly discussed options, but both of those would only solve one problem – goal decisions. If changes are going to be made, FIFA should address officiating throughout the game, and two on field referees will improve goal line decisions but also make the entire game easier to officiate.

Human error is part of the game for officials too. One line of argument goes that controversial calls actually help the game as it elevates interest and media attention. That, frankly, is crap. Of all the major team sports, soccer is by far the most difficult in which to score, just one moment can turn a game. The stakes are magnified exponentially when they come in a tournament as important to players and fans as the World Cup that only happens once every four years. Who knows what would have happened in the second half of England v Germany if the score was tied 2-2, but it certainly could have been a much different game.

Despite earlier comments from FIFA President Sepp Blatter that no changes were coming, FIFA General Secretary Jermone Valke told the BBC Thursday that this “is the final World Cup with the current refereeing system.” Continue reading

Spain v Germany: Loew’s tactics against Spain’s skill

Joachim Loew has transformed Germany into potent attacking force

This is one for both the purists and the neutrals. Spain are the best team in the world at passing, possession, and controlling the ball. Germany are the best team in the world at counter-attacking with pace and efficiency, seeming to control the game without dominating possession. German coach Joachim Loew has displayed a master-class of tactical soccer while Spain’s Vicente del Bosque has struggled to get the most out of his unholy wealth of talent. Its the third straight match-up for Germany against a squad that seems to be less than the sum of its parts, but the one key difference is that Spain’s midfield strength and creativity will deny the Germans easy turnovers and transition opportunities. As much as it pains me to see German Chancellor Angela Merkel giggling in the stands, I hope Loew’s transformation of Germany into a flowing attacking force is rewarded with a spot in the finals.

Spain’s five attacking players are the envy of the world – Xavi, Iniesta, Xabi Alonso, David Villa, and Fernando Torres. Its hard to imagine a country for which any of those individual players would not start. Their technical ability and precision passing is second to none – as a team, their pass completion rate is 80%, the best in the tournament (USA was at 67%) – and Spain holds the ball for nearly 60% of the game. But they have struggled to turn those passes into goals, scoring only six in five matches. Continue reading

Greatest soccer rant ever: Socialism. Satan. Sodomy. Soccer

This is pretty indescribable. So I wont describe it, other than to note that it does not appear to be a joke. (H/T Ginge Talks the Footy)

Size matters: More Americans following the World Cup than entire population of UK

21% in US = 65 mil; or more than entire pop of UK

Andrew Sullivan, a British transplant living here in America has done an admirable job tracking the following of the World Cup here in America from a British perspective. Usually that means narrow-minded dismissal of “soccer” ever taking hold here, but Sullivan has not succumbed to that lazy analysis. He does post today, however, the chart to the right as his “Chart of the Day” without any additional comment. Visually, it appears to present a significantly negative account of support for soccer in America, with just 7% of Americans responding that they are  following the World Cup “very closely” and just another 14% saying “somewhat closely”. Those figures are overwhelmingly outnumbered by the 79% that say “not closely” or “not at all”. But looking a little deeper, that 21% in a country of 310 million people like the United States equates to 65 million Americans that are following the World Cup either very or somewhat closely, or more than the entire population of the United Kingdom.

This can be seen in TV viewership too. The ratings are in and more Americans watched the USA v Ghana game than had ever watched a men’s World Cup game featuring any team ever before. An average of 19.5 million viewers (15 million on ABC and 4.5 million on Univision) watched the US go out of the tournament in extra time, eclipsing the 1994 World Cup Final between Brazil and Italy and is only second to the 1999 Women’s World Cup Final between the USA and China. USSF President Sunil Gulati is right to lament what kind of impact another game at those viewer levels – and the guarantee of two more had the US reached the semis – would have meant for soccer in America, but these numbers are reason to celebrate as they equal the number of Brits who watched England v Germany. Size matters, and obviously the level of overall interest in soccer in the US and the UK are vastly different, but in sheer quantity its remarkable that the same number of Yanks and Brits suffered through those second round defeats.

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Assessing US World Cup Performance

The US had a successful if disappointing World Cup

The US showed some great strengths and glaring weaknesses in its four games at the 2010 World Cup, but overall this team is in position to continue its improvement before the next World Cup in Brazil in 2014. The top players performed well, young players had solid tournaments, and coach Bob Bradley showed admirable flexibility and courage. By far the most impressive feature of this US team was its ability to create scoring chances. Not only did it put in five goals but it created numerous excellent opportunities to get more.

The flip side of all those chances is the failure to convert many of them into goals, a real weakness that must be rectified if the US is going get to the next level. Of equal concern is the frailty at the back, which is a combination of lack of skill and consistency. That inconsistency plagued the whole team at times, and solving that problem will be key to stepping up to the next level. And Bradley needed to be flexible and courageous because he often got the original team selection wrong. Continue reading

Congratulations to our boys for earning respect of soccer world

I know its hard in the midst of such disappointment to push away those feelings and recognize that the US team accomplished a great deal in this tournament. There will be plenty of time for analysis and recriminations. The bottom line is that this team earned the respect of the soccer world. I can’t tell you how many of my British friends sent messages of support and appreciation for what this US team brought to this tournament. Yes there were embarrassing lapses at the back and yes we repeatedly failed to finish our chances, but gone are the days when the US team is considered a pushover and a US win must be down to good fortune.

No phase of the US team escaped error, from each line of players to the coach, but no other team in this tournament displayed the resiliency, confidence, and toughness to fight through mistakes that would have sent other teams to the showers far earlier than our boys went out. We were, seriously, among the revelations of the tournament. Which other team has provided a quarter of the drama of the United States so far? I know that its more intense for a supporter, but even the nuetrals have been entranced by each of the four US games. Going behind early and storming back late is hard on the nerves but great for entertainment. The cardiac kids sure did open some minds about US soccer. Continue reading

USA v Ghana: Jozy Altidore needs to score

Altidore needs to score against Ghahan

Here we go, the business end of the World Cup begins today. As we have discussed repeatedly, the US has a favorable draw but none of that matters unless it performs well and wins games. The Ghanaians are a quick side that play two holding midfielders that help clog up the middle and stiffle their opponents. The US needs to be sharp in defense and be sure to communicate and keep track of Ghana’s deep runners. The key for the US team, however, is for Jozy Altidore to turn his solid performances in the last couple of games into goals. Donovan, Dempsey, and Michael Bradley are having excellent tournaments, but for the US team to make some real noise today and beyond, Altidore must start putting the ball in the back of the net.

There are a lot of fascinating matchups in the second round – the Iberian clash of Spain v Portugal, another big European rivalry with Germany v England, a tantalizing match with lots of attacking flair in Argentina v Mexico. Don’t count out the USA v Ghana as one of the games of the round as the Ghanaians are playing for the entire continent and the Americans have provided virtually all of the drama of the group stage. American fans, lets be sure to enjoy this. We do want to win, of course, and our big players will have to show up and lead us into the quarterfinals. Continue reading

Norway embraces Association Football setting up Scandinavian rivalry at AF

Norway loves AF! Your turn Sweden

Norway loves Association Football – the sport and the blog! The Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation has run a story on Americans embracing soccer and watching the World Cup in record numbers. The piece, titled “Amerikanrnes VM-interesse tar av (The Americans Interest in the World Cup Takes Off)” picks up a quote of Max’s from today’s Agence-France Presse story about Americans embracing soccer and puts it together with a link to the AF post of videos of Americans celebrating the Donovan goal. This is a bit of a breakthrough of our own as America’s (and the world’s – go Jakarta Globe!) interest in Association Football is also taking off.

The entire AFP story is worth reading and the broad interest in the growth of soccer in America (and AF’s contribution to that analysis!) reinforces my view that the sport may be on the verge of a breakthrough. Nearly as many Americans watched the USA v England game (17 million) as did game 7 of the NBA Finals between the Lakers and Celtics (19 million). President Obama called the US team to congratulate them on winning the group and reported that the West Wing erupted in cheers when Donovan’s late winner went in, temporarily interrupting a meeting with General David Patraeus. President Clinton is in South Africa and has “fallen in love with soccer at my very advanced age.”

We love the love from the Norwegians, but it does set up a good spirited Scandinavian rivalry here at AF. Continue reading

Is this the breakthrough for soccer in America? Videos of reactions to Donovan winner

Max and I created this blog because we love soccer and we firmly believe that the growth of the sport in America is irreversible. More than most, we know that at times, just being a soccer fan in America is hard – you have to endure constant invectives about how it will never take hold in the US, about how its boring, how there are no goals, how we suck at it, and how its a European game. At times being a fan of American soccer is hard – hello finishing last in the World Cup in 98, or getting smoked by the Czechs in 06 in the opener, or getting laughed out of Copa America with our B team in 2007. And of course, there is the feeling among American soccer devotees that we constantly get screwed when we are so desperate to prove ourselves and earn some respect – that 02 game in the quarters against the Germans with the shocking no call on the line, the mystery penalty against Ghana (payback time) in 06, and the disallowed winner against Slovenia. For a very long time, our best soccer moments were near misses – losing to the 1-0 Germans in the quarters in 02, earning a hard-fought (literally) point against eventual champions Italy in 06, beating Spain and leading Brazil only to ship three in the second half and lose the 09 Confederations Cup.

I know it was only winning one game and topping the group, but it seems all of those moments were avenged yesterday. I know we had that run in 02, but we backed into the second round losing in our last game to Poland 3-1 only to squeak through as South Korea got a late goal against Portugal. And while we did win our Round of 16 game, it was against our old rival Mexico – no mean feat but it didn’t seem as significant because of our familiarity. Now, we’ve overcome adversity, deservedly won the group, and have a legitimate path deep into the tournament. And apparently, all of America was watching. More reactions to Donovan’s goal from around the country after the jump.

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