Tag Archives: Brazil

Ep. 31 – Roster Review: USMNT Fall Friendlies



The United States Men’s National Team has some big games coming up, and the roster has been released. Big names are making way for developing talent, and we break down the pool of players selected for each position. For a full roster listing, check out US Soccer.

  • Who would you rather see starting as goalkeeper: Bono or Steffan or Horvath?
  • Is a European based back-line better situated to compete internationally?
  • Should Bobby Wood get another chance?

These questions and more are answered by our hosts. Thanks for tuning in!

 

And apologies to Andrija Novakovich for mis-pronouncing his name … badly.


Parity in the World Cup?



Recently, I had a cousin ask if there was a power shift in world soccer this year, noting that many World Cup results were out of the norm. Her observations are not wrong:

DRAWS and UPSETS
-Argentina (5th in FIFA Rankings) 1-1 Iceland (22nd)
-Mexico (15th) 1-0 Germany (1st)
-Brazil (2nd) 1-1 Switzerland (6th)
-Japan (61st) 2-1 Colombia (16th) (1st Asian nation ever to defeat a South American team at World Cup Finals.)
-Croatia (20th) 3-0 Argentina (5th).

CLOSE VICTORIES:
-France (7th) 2-1 Australia (36th)
-Tunisia (21st) 1-2 England (12th)
-Uruguay (14th) 1-0 Saudi Arabia (67th)
-Iran (37th) 0-1 Spain (10th)
-France (7th) 0-1 Peru (11th)
-Germany (1st) 2-1 Sweden (24th)

Her first thought, and a reasonable one, is that there is a growing parity in world soccer, as lower tier teams keep getting better. To use an American example, we are no longer surprised to see a mid-major Gonzaga, Wichita St., Butler, etc. in the Final Four. In fact, it’s a point of discussion to pick the one mid-major that will advance that far. However, I think these odd World Cup results are the result of a few different factors.

PREPARATION
The groups for World Cup Russia were drawn on December 1, 2017. The first game was played June 14, 2018. That gave teams six months to prepare for their first match. Theoretically, teams were still fine-tuning rosters, confirming travel arrangements, and handling other routine business, and they also were preparing for the other two group stage games. However, statistics show that teams that win their first match advance at an outrageously high percentage compared to teams that lose. Therefore, it’s reasonable to assume that teams spent most of the time preparing for the first game.
Iceland and Switzerland had the perfect game plans to neutralize Messi, Neymar, and the rest of those nations’ offensive talent. Mexico talked about how meticulous they prepared for Germany, and the benefit to controlling their group with the early win.

OVERCONFIDENCE
I think the top teams were all guilty of overconfidence after seeing their groups. Who out there wouldn’t have expected Argentina to advance? Or Spain and Portugal to escape their group? Even Germany and Brazil are not 100% safe.
In my mind, there is no other reason why the top teams aren’t scoring more, or at least dominating close victories. The overconfidence is evident when you see players attempting individual feats of brilliance rather than making the simple, safe pass. Overconfidence is evident when a team “flips the switch” and finally seems to come alive in the 70th or so minute. It’s in the goalies who look at their defenders with wonder when a ball goes in their net It’s in the faces of players who pass the ball to Neymar, Messi, Suarez and Cavani, or Pogba and Griezmann and wait for them do something amazing.
(Yes, this may seem counter-intuitive to the above point, but just remember that the top nation’s had six months’ preparation time, too.)

X-FACTORS
There are always unforeseen variables that can affect any team.Some teams may succumb to travel weariness. Red card suspension and yellow card accumulation can affect others. Injuries are always possible. Own goals have been in an abundance so far. Specifically, Argentina is mentally shaken, and several members of Sweden even got food poisoning! Is there some x-factor out there for the other tournament favorites yet to be reported?

There has definitely been a trend of odd results this World Cup. And the mid-major soccer nations are undoubtedly getting better. However, we’re only through half of the second round of group stage games. I fully expect the favorites coming into the World Cup to re-assert themselves and advance to the knock-out rounds. (Well, maybe not Argentina.)


Waiting for Wow – World Cup Day 4



I’m still waiting for goals, and I’m still waiting for any team to show that they deserve to win this tournament. Today’s results were Costa Rica falling 0-1 to Serbia, Mexico defeating Germany 1-0, and Brazil drawing Switzerland 1-1.

Four goals. That’s it. Yes, I’m focusing on goals, but that’s what it takes to win. Today’s teams aren’t Iceland, trying to advance on points. These are tournament favorites who can’t find the back of the net. Combine this with a terrible effort from France, and Spain seemed to be the only country that showed they came ready to play. My favorite game so far was Peru’s 0-1 loss to Denmark. Peru played upbeat and exciting, they wanted to win. Am I being critical implying that other nations don’t want to win? Damn right, I am.

Strategically, teams need to win their first game. It gives them control in their group, pressures other teams to push for points, and allows their coaches to manage games as they see fit. They can rest players in the final group game, and start planning for the knock-out rounds. Statistically, teams that win their first game advance to the next round over somewhere in the range of 84%. Psychologically, winning your first game instills confidence in your players and your system, and it puts fear in your opponents. So it makes no sense for a team to not play their hardest and try to win their opening match.

So why the lackluster performances by these top teams? I honestly don’t know. There could be many reasons, like overconfidence, entitlement, indifference, or plain laziness. (The story ‘Casey at Bat’ comes to mind.) There are conspiracy theorists saying the refs are manipulating matchups for more favorable/appealing knock-out round games. Finally, there’s a legitimate concern that the club game has overtaken international competition as players’ and fans’ primary measure of success. Also, that there’s not enough time for national teams to practice together because of club commitments. I don’t believe the club arguments, at least not yet. When measuring all-time great status, players of today are compared to those who’ve won World Cups and national team glory. (Maradona/Messi, Neymar/Ronaldo/Pele, are two that immediately come to mind.) Neymar himself spoke about these comparisons in an interview aired before today’s Brazil game. These are also professional players while dedicated their lives to the sport, grew up together, and have been in their national federation systems for years. So why Brazil can’t beat Switzerland (or Argentina beat Iceland, or France dominate Australia) is just beyond me.

I wish I could point to one thing, say “Fix it!”, and then be treated to nothing but extraordinary soccer for the next two weeks. I know this won’t happen, and I worry for the future of the World Cup without stellar play by the world soccer powers and enjoyable play by the rest, especially in light of an expanded field in 2026. Meanwhile, I’ll keep watching and waiting to see something that truly makes me say “Wow.”

 

*Spain and Ronaldo’s individual performance being the only exception.