Sunday, June 27, 2010

Soccer defined

For weeks I was so sure the US was going to end up playing Germany in this afternoon's game.  After all, who wouldn't have picked England to finish first in the group?  In case of the matchup that never came and the eventual knockout blow by Germany, I had done some research.  I found the perfect quote that I was going to use.  Instead, the US finished first in the group and played against the second place team from Group D.  And it was (as I'm sure you'll find in articles everywhere) deja vu all over again.  In 2006 Ghana delivered the death blow that knocked the US out of the World Cup.  That was a 2-1 loss in the final game of group play.

Last night proved no different.  The game looked just like the previous three games.  The US came out unprepared and paid an early price.  They tied it back up early in the second half, sending the game into extra time.  But Ghana scored quickly in the extra period.  This time the magic had run out.  This time there was no dramatic come from behind victory for the US.  They had plenty of chances and fought hard but just couldn't connect.  Only another loss and early dismissal from the World Cup courtesy of the same opponent from 2006. 

And that quote I previously mentioned?  It still works pretty well for the US.  Former English striker Gary Lineker was once asked to define soccer.  Here's the quote, with a sleight adjustment:
Soccer is a game played by 22 people that run around, play the ball, and one referee who makes a slew of mistakes, and in the end Germany Ghana always wins.
I'd be lying if I said I wasn't looking forward to today's England-Germany match.  However, after last night's game, you can excuse me if there's a bit of enthusiasm missing on my behalf.  Nevertheless, it should be a great game.  I'm curious to see if England (and specifically a Mr. Rooney) have finally woken up or if the above-mentioned original quote can be used once more.  As for Germany, they seem to have a few injuries to worry about.  Without the injuries, I would say this is Germany's game for the taking.  Now I'm not too sure.  If Germany fields their normal squad, I think they win 2-1.

What? You think I'd bet against Paul the Octopus?

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Der Kaiser goes Lion-baiting

National fußball hero Franz Beckenbauer won't let up.  He's been attacking the English squad from the start of the tournament.  In light of tomorrow's clash between Germany and England, he's really cranking it up.  Given the injury status of at least two of Germany's top players, I'd be at least a little worried if I were him.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Things that give me stress

Wow is it getting crazy around here.  Between coordinating wedding plans and watching more football than I should be allowed, I'm nearly burned out.  You'll be happy to know we finally found a venue for the reception.  Thanks to our roommate, we'll be celebrating at a restaurant owned by her cousin.  To be honest, he made us a deal we couldn't refuse.  It's a cozy little place and we've never been disappointed with the food there.  That has solved a major headache and we've been able to knock out a whole lot of other things this week.  The cake has been ordered.  I've purchased a new suit.  (My pleas for an Evil Knieval-style outfit, however, fell on deaf ears.)  All that's left is to get a new pair of shoes. 

Oh yeah, we also need to coordinate some family details.  I've now got four family members flying over from the US.  Given how tightly this has all been arranged, I didn't expect anyone from home to be able to show up.  I'm so excited for everyone to make it here and to be able to show them around town.  Unfortunately however, we still have to work out some minor details... such as where everyone is staying.  It's like someone told us regarding these wedding plans: for each thing you think you take care of, there's a whole other set of issues that come with the solution.

Case in point: in between all this, I've also taken it upon myself to create the photo slideshow/video thing.  We've been asking family and friends for some old photos to include in the video.  Everyone's been helping out, but now we need to scan these photos.  That takes time too.  If it's not one thing it's another.  And yes, if you're coming, you have no choice but to watch the video.  But don't worry, I'm doing my best to keep it short.

All this reminds me that there is probably going to come a day where the blog posts dry up again for a little bit.  Once everyone arrives and the big day approaches, I'm probably going to have very little time to write.  Just an early warning.


While the above mentioned things give me quite a bit of stress lately, at least I can control them. The US National Soccer team?  Well, at least the stress is always over in about two hour's time.
The US managed to beat Algeria in the closing minutes of the game allowing them to advance to the next round of the World Cup.  Just hours later, Germany beat Ghana to advance.  That was a much better day than the previous Friday.

Once again, I had given up hope.  I will no longer allow myself to do that again.  Not with this team.  In the middle of the first half, yet another US goal was disallowed.  That's twice in two games.  I didn't know what else they needed to do to prove they can win a game.  Fortunately Donovan's goal in stoppage time was something no one could deny.  It's worth another look.

What did such a big win mean for the US and the country in general?  Here's a Daily Show clip that explains it all.

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
World Cup 2010: Into Africa - US Beats Algeria
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical HumorTea Party

For those not living here, almost all the games here are aired on public TV.  But some of these games that were going simultaneously were not carried on free TV.  If you were lucky, your team's game would be the "feature" game.  Then, throughout the game, they might cut back to the other game to see what's going on.  Unless you've got pay-per-view tv or are at a bar, you may not see much of the "other" game.

The US-Algeria game ran at the same time as England-Slovenia.  Given the fact that (1) I am in Europe and (2) England is generally a much more popular football team, I knew the chances of the US game being aired fully on regular TV would be pretty slim.  Therefore we went back to the one "American" bar in town to watch this game.  We had previously watched the US-England game from there.  That first time, there were quite a few England fans.  I figured that was acceptable, especially given the fact that they probably should have won and would have loved to throw it in everyone else's face.

This time around, the game was on a weekday afternoon.  It wasn't nearly as crowded as the previous game, but there was still a lot of English fans.  Maybe as many as there was American fans.   The management caved to their demands (and drinking ratio I'm sure) and ran the England game on about 80% of the TVs, as well as the audio from that game.  We had to squint our eyes and watch the US game without audio on smaller TVs across the bar.

This town has about 30 Irish/British style pubs.  These are not good enough to watch your game there?  Hell, there is one directly next door.  This was the one place I thought I would be able to see the entire US game in it's entirety.  Well, I guess I was able to.  And the England game ended earlier, so the big ending was up on all the TVs just in time.  But seriously, just change the name and decor of your place and call it a British pub.  It might as well have been.  Needless to say, I will be watching tomorrow afternoon's game at home.  I have to... I gotta finish making that wedding video one of these days!

I'd give an in-depth preview for tomorrow's game, but I realize it really isn't necessary.  If you're interested, you know where to look.  Getting out of the group round was an accomplishment in and of itself.  To me, anything beyond that is gravy.  Ghana beat the US in group play during the previous World Cup.  They just lost to a pretty solid looking Germany 1-0.  But they are Africa's last hope for a representative country.  All I can say is that you can never count this US team out.  Prediction time: US comes away with the win, again in the second half.  US 2-1 over Ghana. 

And finally, tired of those vuvuzelas?  Tired of the vuvuzela bashing?  I'm tired of both, but this was too good to ignore. 

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
World Cup 2010: Into Africa - Goal Diggers
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical HumorTea Party

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Bring on the Desert Foxes

Algeria vs USA

I'm all with his strategy in the above link.  Attack from the get go and hope Algeria finds themselves too stretched out playing with three forwards.  But that's always easier said than done. 

I don't know what else to say.  Win and they move on.  Lose and they're on their way back to the States.  I don't think most people predicted the situation Group C would be in by the last game.  And no one would have predicted such a strong game by Algeria against England.  This seemed like the easiest game in the group stage to predict.  But Algeria has only been gaining confidence.  So this leaves it all up in the air for me. And apparently for everyone on Team USA.

I like his first lineup here.  I'm curious to see what Buddle can bring to the game aside from a few chuckles by me whenever the German announcers say his name with that hard "t" sound.   

Fun fact: here's another preview that gives a little background on Algeria's previous World Cup appearances.  For shame, West Germany and Austria!  (More on that disgraceful performance can be read about here.)

Another fun fact: Look for a battle of teammates.  USA's Michael Bradley and Algeria's Karim Matmour play together for Borussia Mönchengladbach in the Bundesliga.

Not-so-fun-fact: Since the 1950 World Cup, the United States have lost all of their third and final matches in the opening group stage.

Prediction time: Team USA comes out slow as usual and finds themselves down 1-0 quickly with another defensive lapse, but comes back once again to win 2-1.  I hope.  But what the hell do I know?

Monday, June 21, 2010

I love a parade

... except when it kicks off outside my bedroom window at 7:30 on a Sunday morning. 

Yesterday morning we were treated to the lovely sound of a marching band opening the festivities for the local schützenverein's festival.  What is a schützenverein? Think the Loyal Order of Water Buffaloes complete with uniforms and funny traditional hats, but add some guns to the festivities.  Seriously, check it out here.

We wandered over to the fest later in the day.  They had bumper cars and a carousel for the kids, a couple of carnival midway games, a booth selling candy and another selling food.  And they had a monstrous beer tent set up where most of the festivities must have taken place earlier.  And by festivities I mean drinking.  We didn't observe too many adults walking in straight lines as we sat and enjoyed a bratwurst and kölsch.

It is good to know that these are the people who are allowed to have guns in this country.  That target competition must have been a sight to see.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

A good day if you love Yugoslavian football

Huh... well, at least I got half the score right.

2-2.  It could have been worse.  It certainly looked like it at half time.  Then again, it should have been way better.  The US got it handed to them for the first 45 minutes, then stormed back in the second half to score three two goals and win tie the game.  It looked as if they had the go-ahead goal in the closing minutes of the game, but the referee called it back.  As of yet, I still haven't found a written explanation for disallowing the third goal. Unless of course he meant all the holding the US was doing involved in.

I don't know why this team can't come out and play a full game like they did in the second half.  They always seem to play better once they get punched in the face.  At least this time they got it together before it was too late.  Landon Donovan stepped it up big time and Michael Bradley seemed to put the exclamation point on the evening's affair.  It is just a shame that last one did not count.  See for yourself.

I still don't find myself an expert by any measure, but I took some satisfaction in that much of what I feared came true.  Slovenia came out guns blazing and scored a relatively quick goal.  Their second came off a quick counter-attack.  As usual, the US stumbled for a long stretch following the previous big game.  Sloppy passes and poor discipline had me groaning in agony for a good 50 minutes.  And yes, I'll admit it, I thought all was lost by halftime.  You have to admire the resilience of a team like that. 

The other two games yesterday were just as shocking, if not more so.  Germany lost 1-0 to Serbia while England played Algeria to a scoreless draw.  Playing one man down, Germany kept pressure on Serbia, but just couldn't find an equalizer.  One of the heroes of the last game (and FC Köln's own) Lucas Podolski failed to find the back of the net on a penalty kick, essentially curbing the enthusiasm of an entire nation for at least a few days.  Here's a rather fair and balanced assessment of that game.

And to cap off a day of surprises, England, mighty England, looked no different against Algeria than they did against the US.  At this point I don't know if that makes both the US and Algeria look that much better as teams, or if England is truly much worse than everyone expected.  Either way, the two draws by England and the US leave both teams with a pair of points and trailing group leader Slovenia.  But as tough as Algeria played yesterday, I am much happier the US is facing them and not Slovenia again.  The US is not out of it yet.  As they say at the end of all those cliff hangers, stay tuned...

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Do you know your enemy?

Slovenia vs USA

First thing's first.  Who IS Slovenia?

According to one writer, it looks like the US is facing their doppelganger

One of their more dangerous players, striker Milevoje Novakovic, plays for FC Köln.  He was the captain of the team until he had some sort of spat with the new trainer last season.
According to the experts, Slovenia is a more defensive-oriented team, preferring to sit back and wait for a chance to counter attack.  However, after their 1-0 victory in the opening game against Algeria, I wouldn't be surprised to see them push harder offensively for another three points, essentially guaranteeing a spot in the next round.  I don't think they'll have much of a chance for success next week against England.  Keep in mind that Slovenia hasn't lost a game since November 2009.

This game could make or break the World Cup for both sides.  On paper, this seems like something the US should be able to handle.  But the US seems to have a bad track record when they come off big games like last Saturday's draw.  Hopefully they can shake that off tomorrow. 

A bit of history here.  Eight years ago, the US shocked everyone by beating Portugal 3-2.  They followed that up with a 1-1 draw versus South Korea.  South Korea, by the way, ended up finishing fourth in the group.  Flash forward four years later.  The US ties eventual World Cup champions Italy 1-1.  The only team to not lose to Italy in the entire tournament.  That was followed up by a 2-1 loss to Ghana. 

For those of you really into the technical aspects, here's one last one to check out.

Prediction time: Slovenia's winning streak comes to an end, overwhelmed by the speed of the US attack down the sides.  If Tim Howard really is ok, he'll make the crucial stops and the US comes away with a not-so-easy 2-0 victory.