Tag Archives: Cavani

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.)


World Cup 2018 Day 2 – Groups A & B Action



Egypt vs. Uruguay (0-1)
Soccer is a funny game. After 89 minutes, Group A favorite Uruguay could not find a goal against Egypt. To Egypt’s credit, they played stalwart defense, nullifying Cavani and taking away the space in which Suarez is used to operating. Egypt was prepared, and it showed. But a soccer game lasts 90 minutes.

Egypt made two late mistakes, giving up two dangerous free kicks. Cavani took the first, his curler slamming off the post. But Uruguay kept attacking, winning a second free kick that was basically a short corner. This one proved to be the break through for Uruguay, with Gimenez heading in the game winner in the 89th minute. Sadly, Mohamed Salah was only seen shaking his head on the bench and didn’t see any game time. I thought Uruguay would win, but I feel for Egypt after watching how it unfolded. I’m happy that soccer fans got to actually see a goal, after watching Uruguay’s potent attack produce only near-misses. Maybe Russia set the bar too high in the opening match?

Morocco vs. Iran (0-1)
Soccer is a funny game. One bounce can change the fate of nations. And that’s what separated Morocco and Iran in their opening match. A Moroccan own goal in second half stoppage time gives Iran the victory.

Morocco dominated possession (63/37). Amine Harit played an excellent match. The game featured mostly mid-field play by both teams, evidenced by only five total shots on goal. I kept waiting for a team to assert itself, but they seemed content to play for a draw, and perhaps play the odds to advance on points. But with the loss, Morocco needs nothing short of a miracle to advance, as divine intervention is the only way I think they’ll take points against both Spain and Portugal.

Portugal vs. Spain (3-3)
Soccer is a funny game. On Day 2, fans of soccer were already treated to the best player vs. the best team. That is, if you consider Cristiano Ronaldo the best player and Spain better than Germany, France, and the reigning European champions Portugal. This is the type of game that FIFA and the fans want. Powerhouse vs. powerhouse, stars vs. stars. Would it live up to the hype?

Yes, and quickly. CR7 draws and converts a PK in the 4th minute. Diego Costa equalizes for Spain in the 23rd, but not without controversy: VAR checked whether he fouled Pepe, the Portugese defender, but there was no clear and obvious error in not calling the foul. (Watch the replay and watch Diego Costa’s career, and you know it was a foul. But you also know it was a brilliant individual effort to beat two Portuguese defenders.) In the 44th minute, Portugal plays a long ball from the back line which eventually ends up at the feet of Ronaldo, who slams a low shot right at a waiting David de Gea … which bounces of his gloves and into the net. 2-1 Portugal at the half. Despite controlling the game, Spain was trailing their continental rival on the biggest stage.

But Spain was unphased. Their combination of skill, experience, and sheer desire produced another Diego Costa goal in the 56th and a Nacho goal in the 58th. Nacho’s 20-yd blast may already have won goal of tournament. I woke my kids up from their nap with my reaction. But soccer is a funny game. Not to be outdone by the best team (who dominated possession 62/38), the best player completes the hat trick in the 88th minute, scoring with a beautiful free kick. de Gea looked lost.

Perhaps the high-scoring draw between these two favorites was fitting. Spain should still win this group. Portugal should advance, as well. But can Ronaldo can keep scoring 2-3 goals every game? And can Spain can stay disciplined the rest of their group stage? They should, but soccer is a funny game.

Parting Words
What else is there left to see? After only four matches, we’ve seen a blow out win, a last minute victory, an own-goal defeat, and the best player score a hat-trick against the best team. What will Day 3 hold? Can any other match live up to Portugal vs. Spain? Comment below and start the discussion.


World Cup 2018 Kicks Off – Russia vs. Saudi Arabia Recap



The 2018 FIFA World Cup has officially kicked-off, and there was no shortage of goals in the first game … well, at least from the perspective of the host nation. Russia defeated Saudi Arabia 5-0, using a strong performance from their subs.

I thought Saudi Arabia would play better, even though I believed Russia would win the game. Saudi Arabia had plenty of time to prepare for this crucial first match. However, they played right into Russia’s strengths: mid-field pressure and counter-attacks. I was impressed with the pressure that the Russian midfield exerted. To me, it resembled an NBA-style, half-court trap. Their strikers collapsed back, the wingers pushed up, and the central midfielders pinched in, resulting in multiple Saudi turnovers and inaccurate passes. This strategy was perfect in this game, but a faster or better passing team should be able to break out against the Russians. After giving up a goal in the 12th minute, Saudi Arabia failed to sustain any meaningful possession, and Russia simply kept up the pressure.

I would have liked to see more out of Saudi Arabia, if only to evaluate the Russian defense. The goalie didn’t have much to do, and I’m not sure how he’ll handle a striker like Mohammed Salah of Egypt, or the combined offensive talent of Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani of Uruguay. These three players are in the prime of their careers, and each is coming off a stellar season of scoring. I also wonder how the Russian defense will handle a technically superior team in Uruguay, and if they will employ a “bunker-and-counter” strategy. Russia started in a 4-5-1 (or a 4-2-3-1, if you’re really into tactics), and I wonder if they’ll keep the same formation over their next two matches. However, it might not truly matter against Uruguay, as Russia and Uruguay don’t meet until the third group stage game. If they both win their first two matches, their final match might only be for position in the knock-out round, and the coaches may choose to rest some of their regular starters.

With their first victory, Russia is in control of Group A. They have 3 points and are +5 in goal differential. With such an early advantage, they are free to play their style of soccer, and don’t have to worry about pressing for points (at least not yet). I still think Uruguay wins the group, as they are clearly the most talented team. What Russia really has done with this win is forced Egypt to beat both Saudi Arabia and Russia, and for Uruguay to try to overcome the goal differential if it desires to win the group. Uruguay opens against Egypt tomorrow, June 15, and can basically see themselves through with a win. They should beat Saudi Arabia in their second match, and then can take it easy against Russia in their final group stage game. This group schedule really shaped up nicely for Uruguay and Russia, assuming both teams win their opening games.

What else did you see? Who are your picks to advance? Please comment below and contact us with any other thoughts. I hope you all enjoyed the opening game and that you enjoy the rest of the tournament.
-Nick