Archive for the ‘World Cup '10’ Category

Op-Ed: Pass The Damn Ball!

The USMNT need more players like Holden. Players who are comfortable and safe with the ball.

Guest contributor John Nyen, wrote an interesting piece that TSG published on why one should be more excited about Tim Ream and Eric Lichaj versus Juan Agudelo and Teal Bunbury.

He maintained that the USMNT needed to shore up their defense in order for them to win more games. Though the US scored 5 goals, they also let in 5 and ultimately went home, earlier then expected.

Where as I do agree that the best form of offense is defense, I think the number one problem for the USMNT is not offense or defense, age or youth or formations. It’s the ability to complete a pass on a consistent basis.

If one looks at passing stats from the past World Cup, the USMNT ranks second lowest in passes completed out of the teams that made it into the group stage (1175) and out of the 32 teams, ranked 26th in percentage of pass’s completed at 67%.

Basically a third of the passes made by the USMNT went astray or were intercepted. They did have a better percentage with their shorter and medium length passes at 72% and 73% respectively, but that didn’t put them in the top of half of the teams that went to South Africa.

Ball possession is one of those overblown stats. We’ve all seen many matches, when the team who had the majority of ball, leaves the pitch as losers (Spain against both the US and Switzerland come to mind). There is a difference though between not possessing the ball, but playing good bend not break defense and losing the ball when in possession a third of the time.

When you get caught in possession or gift the ball to an opponent with a bad pass, your team gets caught out of position. This enables the offense to take advantage of space and can attack more freely and create goals. Obvious huh! but it’s the reason the USMNT give up so many goals (first goal against Ghana for example). If it wasn’t for Howard, who saves the USMNT time and time again, there would be many more goals being let in.

Also, the majority of the USMNT’s goals, are scored on quick breakaways where only a few passes are required or long/longish balls in a route one style (Bradley’s goal against Slovenia). This method is effective as a counter punch, but the lack of consistent passing would explain why no US striker has scored in a World Cup in a long while.

The USMNT’s best passers of the ball are also their most dangerous players. Donovan and Dempsey and now Holden are comfortable on the ball and rarely give it away cheaply. Problem is their team mates do, so a goal in which the USMNT works the ball around for a minute or so, looking for a hole in their opponents defense is a rarity.

Still needs to work on his passing and distribution before he becomes an elite full back.

In my opinion, all US players, especially the ones going to the camp need to work on their ball control and passing. Even players playing in the EPL like Lichaj and Spector, give the ball away too easily and for a defender especially, that’s a cardinal sin.

If the USMNT can hold the ball up and pass it around with ease and accuracy (doesn’t have to be Tika Taka), their chances at the next World Cup dramatically improve, because one thing is certain. If their opponents don’t have the ball, they cannot score.

Pass completion….something I’ll be looking at this Saturday when the USMNT face off against Chile.

Associated from the archives:

• Paging Bob Bradley: Let’s Get Holden & Feilhaber More Run!

ESPN UK’s Rebecca Lowe On All Things English

The lovely Rebecca Lowe with ESPN UK.

TSG had the honor once again of speaking with the absolutely wonderful and INCREDIBLY knowledgeable Rebecca Lowe. She had just finished doing her show for ESPN UK and we caught her while she was in a “football mind.”

We touched on some of the topics we discussed in our first interview and discussed the future of English football.

Here is an excerpt of what we talked about.

TSG: A rather large topic a couple of weeks ago was the whole Rooney saga. Do you think it was a carefully spun ploy or was it more of a desperate move by United and Ferguson to keep Rooney happy?

Rebecca Lowe: It’s so difficult to really know. I think, if you’re going to be skeptical and cynical and look at it with those eyes, you could say, similar to Cristiano Ronaldo and Sir Alex Ferguson, they made a pact which said, “Give me one year and then you can go.” I wonder if giving Rooney a whopping five-year contract might lead to them getting a huge sum for him next summer and allowing him to go then. I don’t think that’s beyond the realm of possibility at all.

The fans may not be as forgiving as Rooney hopes they will.

I think it was a very strange episode. I don’t think that Rooney was handled very well in terms of his PR. I don’t think the statements he put out were very wise. There are United fans who will not forgive as easily as Rooney is hoping they will. There are still rumors that there are players who haven’t forgiven him.

I’ve talked to Man United players and they have assured me (and I suppose they would) that what is done is done and it was all over the top and newspaper driven and everything is fine. Whether or not that is true, I don’t know. I know that a lot of fans are not happy and it will be very interesting to see when he comes back to play for United. Lets put it this way: I’m not sure he will see out his 5 year deal.

TSG: Do these very public contract negotiations and demands for money create a jealously among the players which effect their relationships?

RL: I obviously don’t know that for sure, but I think if you put yourself in that position, and if you’re in a normal office or in any normal job and that was going on, AND then you learnt that that person (who by the way was not playing very well) was being

O'Shea could be benefiting greatly from the Rooney saga.

rewarded with a whopping great contract, having just come out and said he doesn’t really fancy the club nor does he want to stay anymore, I don’t see how you can get over that so quickly. In a way, I think it has opened the doors for other players to ask for more money. Like John O’Shea who reportedly might be getting a new contract around 100,000 pounds a week. I think it’s going push a lot of players and their agents forward to push for more money from United. I don’t know, I’m not in that dressing room, but there are stories that come out and say that the players are not happy, BUT they have assured me that it is all forgotten. Time will tell what happens and maybe some day someone will write a book which will tell us the truth.

TSG: I wonder if this sets a bad precedent for United because everyone is going to ask for more and at some point they are going to have to say no.

RL: Yes indeed. John O’ Shea is a versatility [utility] player, and appears to be on the verge of getting a four-year contract of  something like 100 or 120 a week which is surprising. That and the knowledge that Rooney is getting a quarter of million a week will give the other players and their agents a bargaining tool to use, and United cannot afford it, end of story.

They just can’t afford it which is why, if they have done the deal with Rooney in order to get a massive sum for him next summer, they might not have realized what it is going to do to the rest of the players in terms of coming forward. United just don’t have the money to give those sort of wages. They’re are not Man City.

Gareth Bale is the real deal and could possibly be one of the most exciting players to come into the EPL in the last 5 years.

TSG: Gareth Bale has been playing very well since last spring, but his recent performances against Inter Milan have propelled him into the realm of the best, and is garnering interest from the top clubs. Is he for real or is this just a flash in the pan?

RL: I think this is for real, no doubt this is for real. You just can’t do what he did against Inter Milan and not be for real. It’s not just what he did against Inter, but at the end of last season, I think they played Chelsea and won and he scored or set up a goal, but he was just magnificent and Harry Redknapp came out afterwards and said what more can you say about this kid. He has been so consistent and Inter Milan was him showing that he can play against the very best.

He had a bad run of injuries and I don’t think he had a great belief as a youngster, and didn’t keep on the right track at times in terms of his confidence because his injuries were so bad. He also had bad luck because when you start off playing 24 games without your team winning it effects you. Finally, they may have been up 5-nil or 4-nil  against Burnely or someone, and Redknapp said, right, it’s safe to put Bale on and we are going to win this game [and they did].

Psychology is a massive part of football and according to all reports and to Harry Redknapp himself, the losing streak was playing on his [Bale's] mind massively, and it is a great thing for the media to grab hold on to. I was using it, my colleagues were using it, as it was an interesting fact. Gareth Bale would listen to it and he didn’t need to listen to it, and that game freed him up. The things that set him apart. One is his engine. The guy runs about 20 miles a game and he never tires and in the 95th minute he’s running just as hard and as quick as he is in the first.

Not only does he have amazing stamina, but he is very quick. He was best friends with Theo Walcott growing up in Southampton and apparently Walcott is a little bit quicker but not that much. He’s quite speedy but it’s his finishing that sets him apart. It’s outstanding.

Andy Carrol should take note of Bale's career and keep himself out of the front pages for the wrong reasons.

Secondly, he is living his life off the field correctly. He doesn’t drink, he doesn’t go out clubbing and he doesn’t get himself on the front pages of newspapers. He’s a very down-to-earth guy and I’ve been lucky enough to interview him, and he’s incredibly polite and humble, and so far has kept himself on the straight and narrow. As we’ve seen from Andy Carroll at Newcastle at the moment, it doesn’t help when you’re on the front pages of the newspapers.

Gareth Bale has enough good people around him like Harry Redknapp and his parents which makes me think he’ll carry on like this and go on from strength to strength. I think he’s one of the most exciting players that has come out of the Premier League in the last five years.

TSG: When Spurs came out here for their pre-season tour, I went down to San Jose to check them out and it was finishing that stuck out the most to me. He started off as left back but now has a more prominent midfield role.

RL: Yeah. Up until the end of last season he was been playing at left back and they realized he was getting forward so much. He’s not a bad defender, but he is a much better attacker and Redknapp saw that he was being wasted back there, and that is why he’s playing in the left of midfield which absolutely works as he is dictating games. I think it helps that he is playing alongside players at Tottenham that maybe in the past few years haven’t had the quality that they have now. Rafael Van de Vaart who is of the same level. To be playing alongside someone with that sort of football brain is only going to breed more success, and the more good players Bale plays with, the better he will get himself.

TSG: Stuart Holden, Clint Dempsey and Maurice Edu are all playing well for their respective clubs, whether it be in the EPL or SPL. They’re getting on the score sheet, setting up goals and in Holden’s case doing a good job of controlling the midfield. Is the English public surprised that the U.S. outfield players can have an impact on their clubs?

RL: No. Less and less surprise as the years go by to be honest. We can’t deny that the World Cup was a disaster for England against America. I think leading into that World Cup a lot of the general public in this country probably saw the USA as a country that doesn’t really play football, so that will probably be an easy victory. But it didn’t work out that way and I think that made quite a few people sit up and take note. Obviously you got the fans of the clubs where the likes of Clint Dempsey and Stuart Holden are who know them.

Donovan loved by fans, players and media in the UK.

Dempsey has been a regular for a long time and is doing even better now (after coming off some injury problems) and really coming into form by scoring a couple of goals last weekend. Certainly within the game people say that American players can be as good as anyone else, but with the fans it is now beginning to get there.

It really doesn’t help that American goalkeepers have been so prominent because I think that was the general perception: that Americans just have good goalkeepers. But now, especially with Landon Donovan, when he was at Everton it pushed that whole situation forward because he made a serious impact on the Premier league; he was really good and then of course came the World Cup.

He probably is recognized much more in Liverpool than he is in LA, and I think it’s a shame he cannot make it a permanent deal because he was great for the Premier league. Not only was he so good and he proved a lot of people wrong, because they thought since he came from the Galaxy he wasn’t going to be very good in the Premier League, but he was and he did it brilliantly. As you know, media and sports personalities in America are so excellent in front of  camera and so at ease because they have to do it so much and his interviews were such a joy to watch. It’s a great shame he hasn’t been able to come over here. I think on whole people are starting to notice and respect the U.S. outfield players.

TSG: People here were very happy with how the USMNT played and were clearly disappointed when they exited the World Cup. They fell in love with the heart and passion with which their team played. We kept expecting the same verve and bite from the English squad, but they were lacking. Was there a general malaise in the camp? Did the players not buy into Fabio Capello’s plan? We never got a full explanation describing why England did so poorly.

RL: It was a very, very bizarre summer for English football fans. No one could understand then and no one really understands what happened, even now. No player has yet offered an explanation of what happened. I think it was a combination of the little things that weren’t quite well thought out. Their base was tucked away up in Rustenberg and the players were bored. Rightly or wrongly, as a footballer in South Africa having everything at your fingertips, whether or not you should be bored is irrelevant, because they were and that led to less energy. I’m not sure if Capello saw eye to eye with the players every day. As an international manager  you get your squad for a couple of days every other month and from what I’ve heard, his manner and his way didn’t sit well with them for more than two or three days.

Capello should have done more than just shout.

Another reason is that in this country the pressure is so great. I spoke to Ashley Cole about this a few weeks ago and I said to him, “What was it?” And he didn’t really know why, but he did say that he thinks that the England players fear the shirt. They actually feel the pressure. At their clubs there is pressure, but it is a different kind of pressure.

England fans and media are so desperate to win the World Cup. We are so desperate for some footballing success and the press builds them up and builds them up a year before a major competition, and everyone is so desperate for them to win and that just yanks up the pressure. The media are quite tough in this country, and there are a lot of forthright, firm views and the players read it. They definitely read it and the fear of failure almost overwhelms them. Wayne Rooney is a separate case. I don’t think Wayne Rooney cares about pressure. I don’t think it gets to him. I think he knew what was going to come out of the papers not long after World Cup and his life was going to take a very, very sharp turn to essentially a mess really, and he was going to have to deal with that and that definitely weighed on his mind.

TSG: There doesn’t seem to be a general healthy support for the English National Team from the press as they tend to nit pick at everything about the team, whereas in other countries the press is a lot more “calm.” Does that make sense?

RL: Absolutely. There is no middle ground in this country when it comes to football. It’s a matter of extremes. You are either brilliant or you are off it, but that’s just the way this country is and that is the way football is unfortunately.

TSG: The USMNT’s success comes from their strong team ethic and game, but they don’t possess any world-class players. On a club level, the English team possess players who do play at the highest level, who win the EPL, Champions League, etc., but they all have strong foreign players around them. Are English players being “found out” a little bit in that at club level they are brilliant, but does it have to do with their surroundings rather than their skill?

RL: It’s interesting. When England came back from the World Cup I started thinking, “the Premier league is not the best league in the world is it,” because the players are making little impact at the World Cup, yet they win the Champions League and Premier league. It’s an interesting point. I don’t think that they are being found out, but I don’t think they’re as good as we think they are and I don’t think the level of English football is as good as we think it is.

Do Drogba, Torres and other foreign players make their English teammates better than they really are?

Man United, Arsenal, Liverpool, Chelsea are not filled with English players, whereas a lot of foreign clubs are like Barcelona being a case in point. They have a core which does very well for Spain.

I think in this country we have to decide: do we want a successful National Team or do we want a great Premier League? If we want a successful National Team then we have to limit the amount of foreigners in the league. It is preventing a bigger pool of players coming through and we’ve got to concentrate on the National Team if that is what we want.

No one is going to make that decision because the Premier League and the FA that decides the National Team are two totally different organizations and there is no one above them to make that decision, and the Premier League has a lot more money and therefore have a lot more power.

TSG: There seems to be a decent crop of future England players coming up: Jack Wilshire, Adam Johnson, Andy Carrol, Agbonlahor, Young, etc. Do you there is a new generation coming up that can measure up?

RL: Not really. I’m quite pessimistic about that. I don’t think they’re that good. Jack Wilshire is excellent and I think Adam Johnson is very good, but how could we possibly know how good they are when we thought that Lampard, Gerrard, Rooney and Ashley Cole were world beaters? And as you rightly say,  they can play at the top level of football, but they can’t bring it at the World Cup and I don’t know if we can say that the young players coming through will be any better, and I don’t really have a great deal of confidence.

TSG: Well, there were so many teams at the World Cup that might not have possessed superstars, but they could play their positions and play together as a system. Is that a direction that England need to take?

RL: Yes, definitely. We need to be a team. That was exactly what we are, a collection of 11 individuals as opposed to a team, and that is what Capello failed to create. I think the buck stops with him a fair amount, because he should have to shoulder the blame in the manner of which he went about things, like putting on Emile Heskey when you need two goals. [I rolled my eyes and I suspect Rebecca did the same when she said this.]

TSG: I think Fabio Capello should take the majority of the blame, because even though thought the players were better than they were, they were certainly not bad players and it is Capello’s job to find a way for them to play together.

RL: I think he needs to shoulder a lot of the blame and is quite fortunate to be in the same job. I think over the next year or so the call for Harry Redknapp to be the next England manager will grow and grow because the press love him in this country and partly because he’s been so successful at Spurs.

Is 'Arry the next England manager?

He definitely built a team, a real team ethic at Tottenham. The problem with that is that he’s quite outspoken, and I don’t know if the FA will go for it. Redknapp is someone who can create a team and take off that expectation that is being pushed on the English national team. Adam Johnson and Theo Walcott need the freedom to go out there and make their mistakes and play without fear, whereas now the moment they put on an England shirt and they make a mistake they get booed.

TSG: Early in your career you were a reporter for the Women’s World Cup. Do you still pay attention to that?

RL: It’s difficult as I’m not nearly as caught up with it as I was at the time, and naturally you have other things that fill your day, but I keep an eye on it because of the World Cup. What happened with America? Did they get through?

TSG: They’re playing Costa Rica this evening and if they win they will be in a playoff with Italy, I believe. They should easily win against Costa Rica though.

RL: Yeah, they should. There is the World Cup next summer and if America do get there they will be one of the favorites along with China and Germany and England who are there as well which is great. I certainly keep an eye on it, but it’s very difficult to be abreast of all the divisions in the international and domestic games is quite difficult.

TSG: You’ve worked for the BBC, Setenta and now ESPN. How is it working for them? Is their a different attitude being a U.S.-based company?

RL: Not really. On the show tonight there is nothing American about the show or innately different from anything I’ve done in my entire career. You are aware though, always of being part this huge group which brings about quite a lot of excitement, quite a lot of confidence to the company.

ESPN's World Cup coverage was excellent.

I think it has an excellent reputation in England already, partly because a lot of people go to America and see ESPN over there, and partly because they’ve done a good job over the past year and a half of covering the Premier League.

It’s different from the BBC because the BBC is a lot more…I must pick my words carefully here [TSG chuckles]…It’s a lot more traditional and it’s funded by the taxpayers, so they have to make sure they are appealing to a wide range of people, whereas ESPN being an international company can target certain groups and can go for it and have a very forward thinking attitude, break new ground and take some risks.

It’s quite like Setenta in that way as they can be innovative, but working for ESPN you definitely know that you’re working for a worldwide company from everything from getting e-mails in Spanish and God knows what they are saying.

TSG: During the World Cup people in the States loved the production and commentary and all in all thought ESPN did a great job of presenting the tournament.

RL: Yes. ESPN were very clever about the World Cup because they didn’t quite know enough about it, but they identified where the opportunity was and got the right people on board and that’s the right way to go about it.

TSG: Back to the EPL. It’s a bit of topsy turvy season with traditional sides like Liverpool and United struggling a bit and the promoted sides doing so well. Is this just early doors or will everything come back to normal come May?

RL: Yeah. I think it will return pretty much back to normal come May. I do think it’s one of the most interesting Premier League seasons so far and I really cannot pick a winner. I went for Chelsea in the beginning of the season and I was happy with my choice in the first few weeks, but a team loses one game and then you start thinking “Oh, maybe they might not win the league.”

I think the Premier League is a better product now than it has ever been because it is so unpredictable. With the newly promoted sides I can see any of those, well maybe not Blackpool, but certainly West Brom and Newcastle, finishing in the top half and that is really unheard of as a whole.

Will the Special One be back in the EPL next year?

Most often promoted sides would go back down again and the fact that these sides haven’t, I don’t really know the reason why, but there is carefully a closing of the gap between the top and the bottom teams and it makes for much better division. I mean no one wants predictability. I don’t think United will win it. I think Chelsea will win it,  but I’m not convinced in saying that.

TSG: Do you want to talk about Crystal Palace at all? [Rebecca Lowe is a Palace supporter and at the time of speaking were last in the Championship.]

RL: [sternly] Let us definitely skip over that one.

TSG: You’re the one in “the know.” Any rumors that you can tell us?

RL: Oh God! I’m rubbish at finding things like that out cause I’m not a tabloid journalist and they know everything! Well, I wouldn’t be surprised if we saw Mourinho over next summer to take over Man City. I wouldn’t be surprised at all.

TSG: Well I would love it if the Special One came back to the Premiership as he was so much fun. Thank you so much for taking the time and hopefully we will get to talk again soon.

RL: Take care and have a good day.

Are The States Sweet 16?

A hockey game broke out in the comment section of our previous piece.

By hook or crook, the US is a top 16 team? (Sorry, I use this pic a lot, just really dig it)

The question?

“Is the United States Men’s National Team a top 16 team?”

My contention–which I admit is unique and highly debatable–is that–in a World Cup year–success and ranking is wholly predicated on the results of the World Cup.

The United States made it to the second round, composed of sixteen teams, and thus in my opinion they are a top global team. I did add–though FIFA ranking can be highly discredited–that the World Cup technical analysis that came out today has the United States at 12th.

So please let’s create and debate, using whatever methodology you want.

World Cup Jerseys Made In America

A few weeks ago TSG brought you a top-ten list of World Cup jerseys you could flaunt from nations around the globe that balanced uniqueness, hipness, and longevity.

TSG writer Brian Mechanickwho penned our popular first piece on US jerseys–is back after some deliberation to share with you what jerseys to consider heading out of 2010′s festivities, through the next qualification and into World Cup 2014.

Which USA Jersey?

A "DeMerit" will be nostalgic, but might need updating...

You go into your closet to find a suit to pretty-up for your cousin’s wedding, and you see it lying there, crumpled on the floor: your white ’10 Jay DeMerit kit. You see it in all its glory: beer stains from celebrating Donovan’s 91st minute goal, beer stains from crying after Asamoah Gyan’s heartbreaker. It reeks of trying too hard to hit on that cute girl in the Heather Mitts jersey (albeit somewhat masked by the smell of your friend Big Mike, who loves man-hugs after goals).

But then a realization: it’s that time again!  Time to head over to your local soccer shop and buy a new USA kit. But your favorite player Brian Ching is too old for the USMNT and Carlos Bocanegra is off to star on billboards, so whose jersey should you get?

11. Landon Donovan- [GASP] How could America’s hero, the man who saved the US versus Algeria, who scored three goals in the World Cup, not even be in the top ten? Well, after appearing on every media-outlet from Regis & Kelly to The Daily Show to throwing out the first pitch at a Dodgers game, as Madison Avenue types would say, LD’s Q-rating has never been higher. Great news for American soccer, but bad news for your new Donovan kit.

The original L.A. Cobi...

Showing up to the Brazil friendly in a crisp Donovan shirt screams, “I have no idea who Cobi Jones and Claudio Reyna are, but I love the US Soccer team!”

Appreciate you jumping on the soccer bandwagon and are glad to have you supporting the squad, but you can’t exactly go reminiscing about USA-Portugal in ’02 with that type. Love Landon unconditionally in your heart, but keep him off the back of your new jersey.

10. Alejandro Bedoya- One of the last men cut from the 2010 US World Cup squad, Bedoya is relatively anonymous in the States. But a budding club career with Örebro in Sweden has the right winger on a path to bigger and better things. The man has produced in his brief time with the USMNT, attacking the Dutch right side in a March friendly with similar verve as Barca’s Pedro brought for Spain against the Oranje in the World Cup Final.

Getting a 2010 Bedoya means you get to drop knowledge on people who don’t know about the Boston College prospect now, then brag in four years with your 2010 kit that you were setting up his 2014 fan club since the beginning.

Continue reading

World Cup’s Best 11 (and honorable mentions)

Took over from the injured Ballack with grit and style

After every major tournament, journalists and the tournament organizers do their best to come up with a starting 11. Often the vast majority of the 11 consists of players from teams who participated in the semis and finals and there is an obvious logic to that.

More often than not, those are the best 4 teams in the tournament, and it’s their players who got them there. That coupled with the last 3 games (4 if there is a placement game) being the most memorable and people tend to forget about outstanding individuals from teams earlier in the competition.

Knowing this, I tried from the group stage on, to remember certain players and keep my eyes on them. I have lists of notes that make no sense to me now, and in the end a lot of the more exciting games were due to sloppy play rather than brilliance.

I often have trouble making final decisions and go back and forth ad nauseam, so I gave myself an escape clause by coming up with an honorable mention for each position. As usual, we welcome your comments!

For this team we’re going to use the formation du jour, the 4-2-3-1.

GOALKEEPER
Diego Benaglio
– (Switzerland)

Benaglio was the main reason that Switzerland only conceded one goal.

There were many great performances by keepers in 2010, though no one was perfect. The ones that stood out were often from the “lesser” teams. Paston from New Zealand and Enyeama from Nigeria, to name a couple. In the group stages, Kinson, Neuer and Stekelenburg all kept their teams in the tournament, though all could have done better with some of the goals they let in.

Switzerland were the only team to keep a clean sheet (and beat) the eventual champions, and that was all to do with Benaglios acrobatic saves and fantastic positioning. Against a prolific Chile, he thwarted Sanchez, Gonzales and Suazo, as the South Americans attacked in waves. When he was finally beaten, it had more to do with poor defending than his skill.

He’s only 26 and currently plays in the Bundesliga for Wolfsburg, but look for some of the bigger clubs to call on him soon!

Honorable mentionIker Casillas (Spain)
The Real Madrid keeper had a dodgy World Cup by his usual high standards. He was clearly responsible for the goal against Switzerland and never looked comfortable with the Jubalani. He didn’t pull a “Green” but there were plenty of bobbles and awkward parries.

That said, when he was called into action during the group stages, he performed admirably, finely saving a penalty against Paraguay, a volleyed shot from Podolski, and a one-on-one with Robben to name just a few. He captained his country, and his fine saves ensured they went home as champions.

LEFT BACK
Fabio Coentrao
– (Portugal)

The Portuguese leftback took it to everyone including Dani Alves

The Portuguese left back was one of the bright moments in a disappointing campaign. Surprisingly, Portugal, with their abundance of creative and attacking players, took a “park the bus” mentality against their opponents (North Korea aside). Coentrao was the exception.

His forays up the wing were always productive and exciting and he was responsible in some way, shape and form for most of Portugal’s World Cup goals, as his attacks from the left side were deliberate and precise.

He also formed a great partnership with Ronaldo, so look for the Spanish giants to inquire about the Benfica defender’s availability!

Honorable mentionGiovanni Van Bronckhorst - (The Netherlands)
The 35-year-old captain of The Netherlands team was one of the few Dutch players to play the final with the classiness that has been prevalent throughout his career. His wonder strike in the semis was a thing of beauty, and his intelligent positioning and experience made up for the lack of speed in his “old” age.

The final was his last game, as he retired from international and club football and he will be missed greatly.

CENTER HALVES
Carlos Puyol
- (Spain) and Juan – (Brazil)

No hair gel needed!

The floppy haired defender was the rock in the Spanish defense. He had a lot of help from his club-mate Pique, but it was his controlling and tireless effort in the back that was the major reason for Spain keeping clean sheets in the knock out rounds.

Not only did he marshal the defense, but he was always a threat in the (h)air of set pieces, and it was his thumping header that secured their passage into the finals.

Juan, like Puyol, is a rock in the center of a defense on a team that is best known for its attacking and fluid play. Often the forgotten one amongst his more celebrated and flashy teammates, the Roma defender has almost 80 caps for his country, and it’s his solid and fundamental play that has enabled Maicon, Lucio and Bastos to venture up field.

Also like the Catalan defender, Juan is a danger on set pieces, and it was off one that he scored the first goal for Brazil against Chile. Sadly, his defensive partners let him down in the quarters, as mistakes by Cesar and Lucio failed to deal with the ever present Sneijder, whose two goals sent Brazil and Juan packing for home.

Honorable mentionsDiego Lugano – (Uruguay) and Marcus Tulio Tanaka – (Japan)

The Juan you can count on

Both center halves were instrumental in their teams’ advancement into the knock out stages. Sadly for Lugano, he was hurt midway through the first half of his quarter and had to miss the semi’s. He came back for the third place game, but was sorely missed against the Dutch.

Marcus Tulio Tanaka not only possessed one of the best names of the tournament, but was tenacious at the back for the Blue Samurai. After dispossessing any attacker, he used his considerable ball skills to bring the ball up from the back to initiate Japan’s attacks. Many a mid-level European team could do with someone of his skill set.

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Wrap-Up: World Cup 2010

Some quick thoughts from TSG as the 2010 tournament comes to a close:

Spain's victory was much prettier than Puyol....

The Final

• Easy to see now that Spain were the best team in the tournament. A line-up change by Del Bosque, not only removing the ineffective Fernando Torres, but moving to a 4-2-3-1 set the team in motion to capture the trophy. That said, I’m much more impressed with Spain’s Finals win against the Dutch then their victories over Paraguay and Germany.

A lot more "stick" for the La Furia Roja today...

Against their quarterfinals and semifinals opponents–to me–Spain played soccer like Oscar De La Hoya boxes. Meaning, little “stick” and a whole lot of “move” content to keep possession without testing the defense.

That changed in the final as David Villa was played in multiple times against a weak central defense for the Oranje and Iniesta often got himself more forward than in the matches before.

• I typically don’t use this word, but it would be absolutely “shambolic’ if FIFA didn’t pay a little visit to Nigel De Jong before he leaves South Africa. Whether you believe he–and Mark Van Bommel–are intent on injuring in their tackles or not, both players fouls were beyond reckless and should be reined in going forward.

The Dutch made sure Webb was more overworked than our waitress at the Phoenix. That's hard to do.

Referee Howard Webb was castigated after the game by the Oranje, but I thought all things considered he did a good job. Maybe Puyol deserves a yellow card on Robben’s last run, maybe not, but few glaringly bad calls from a man who was overworked on the whistle all day. Correct me if I’m wrong, but every one of the Dutch’s starting outfield players earned a yellow? (Update: 8 out of 10 in the starting 10 outfielders earned a citation. Wow.)

• Tactically, I think Spain pretty much played their game. For the Dutch, I did like their move floating Wesley Sneijder out wide to start the 2nd half. Where the lowlanders suffered was Sneijder having a single option–long–when in possession. Rafael Van Der Vaart perhaps should have been called in earlier–who knows?

I also think, with 3 to 4 men shadowing Arjen Robben every time he received the ball, that Dutch coach Bert Van Marwijk might have considered flipping Robben to the vacated left flank side where Sergio Ramos kept going forward. However that is not a strategy that the Dutch had employed before.

• Speaking of Robben–amazing how muted his game was with little opportunity one-on-one and a perceivable change in his penchant for diving.

• Highly impressed with four-year Ajax starter–and 22-year-old–Gregory Van Der Wiel who maintained his composure all day long, got forward when he could and made few errors. Gio may be out, but Van Der Wiel is a worthy to carry the torch of excellent Dutch fullbacks.

Conversely, highly disappointing effort from Robin Van Persie who made few plays all Cup long.

• For Spain, a pretty much banner day for their famous midfield. Sergio Ramos controlled his flank and flashed some of his offensive skills. Iker Casillas, brilliant of course. Carlos Puyol, again a threat in the air, but also a threat to his team in defense today–just a tad shaky.

• Looking back our preview, I suggested the Dutch needed to….Control the midfield; they didn’t do that. The Dutch needed to play to the flanks; they didn’t do that as Sniejder was closed down, had no linking options and Spain got behind the play. Steckelenburg had to play as good as Casillas; this occured. And finally, the Oranje had to pressure the ball up the pitch; they did this quite impressively.

Two keys out of four kept the Oranje in the game.

Elsewhere

Will Abramovich for Chelsea pony up the ducats or will a 31-year-old striker conjure up the name Schevchenko...

• Diego Forlan–Golden Ball and well-served–some team, perhaps Manchester City or Chelsea will overpay for him.

• In watching Luis Suarez, his ball control, slanted runs, and ability to keep attackers on his hip–Suarez would make a good mentor for Jozy Altidore.

• If you missed my comments on why I believe it’s unlikely Bob Bradley will go to Fulham or another high-level Premiership club, I’ll republish them here:

First, the London club has had just a single manager (Jean Tigana) from outside Great Britain–hard to look American now in our opinion with the darling of England having just vacated the spot.

Second, Bob Bradley’s manager cache might resonate with executives abroad–I’m just not sure it does with players and Fulham will want to retain and attract some names this summer.

Third, is the risk of hiring an American–with the anti-American sentiment at Liverpool and Manchester United–and the possible impact on ticket sales, worth it?

• As TSG’s Shaun points out, New Zealand is the only club to go undefeated in South Africa. Probably could won some big money on that one.

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