Tag Archives: Ronaldo

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.


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.