Archive for June, 2009

Another Brazilian title

I had a couple of ideas for funny titles today:

Tim Howard’s no Tony Meola

We had it all along

Who needs left-backs?

Prelude to Citizenship (I’m Brazilian in the process of becoming a US citizen)

To be fair some of those titles are a semi-final and final twofer.

On to serious business though.  The USA were up 2×0 against Brazil in a final.  Brazil came back and won 3×2.  Either team would have been a deserving winner.  Both coaches were under pressure before the tournament and remain somewhat unpopular but have produced solid results.

Dunga has won both tournaments Brazil has played since he took over (Copa America 2007, Confederations Cup 2009) and has Brazil in first place in qualifying with 4 games to go.  He has also seen Brazil struggle to score in some entirely unacceptable situations (at home vs. Bolivia for example) but seen Brazil always score against big opposition and recently seen Brazil score even against tough defenses.

More importantly, he’s done well to introduce new midfielders this year and that has helped tremendously.  The big question remains: with Gilberto Silva clearly the weak link in midfield game in and game out, will Dunga drop the veteran before the World Cup?  I’ll offer a summary of which positions are still open and what might or should happen if Ronaldinho is called up in a separate post.

For now, the USA deserves some attention here.  They came out well and attacked effectively early in the game.  Spector puts in some brilliant crosses and in this particular game he found Dempsey for an early goal.  The couterattack for the second goal was a thing of beauty and the 2×0 lead was deserved and well-earned.  Donovan, Howard and DeMerit were again huge today.  It’s hard to measure the second half performance though.  The first Brazil goal came so quickly it’s hard to know how they were planning on coming out and whether they managed to stick to their plan.  They had moments of possession but they needed more in order to win.  Their substitutions did not keep possession and that’s enough to conclude that they were the wrong choices.

It’s strange seeing your second team beating your first team.  No, I wouldn’t be happy with Brazil losing and yes, I was happy that we won, but there was still an emotional negative from this game.  Not much of a negative to be sure considering the USA played so well and made its fans, including myself – the Brazilian-soon-to-be-American-who-will-always-follow-the-USA-but-always-keep-Brazil-first, made its fans proud.

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June 29, 2009 at 6:09 am Leave a comment

Brazil x USA preview, Confederations Cup final

I hate making predictions.  I love saying my team will win by this or that much but any score I try to settle on is inevitably too hopeful or too insincere.  It’s Brazil, it’s a final, we’ll win is all I can allow myself to think.

On to how we’ll win and what could possibly go wrong.

South Africa offered a solid blueprint for the US to follow in trying to stifle Brazil.  In order to put in a better performance Sunday than they did Thursday Brazil will need to see its midfield step up and create spaces and offer passing lanes for Kaka and Robinho to work with.  Whoever starts at right back will also need to provide the support that was missing from a tired Maicon against South Africa.

The line-up will likely be the same but hopefully substitutions will come earlier regardless of the scoreline.  If the unchanged line-up shows signs of fatigue and is unable to help the offensive trio find space to work in the US will eventually gain the upper hand for some time as they did against Spain for short periods.

In the end I expect Brazil to dominate possession and I expect the US to have little trouble closing down the middle against a tired Brazil but I hope that, unlike Thursday, we’ll be able to spread the field and find space to play on the ground and that if we don’t we’ll see Daniel Alves and Julio Baptista early in the second half to solve that problem.

June 28, 2009 at 7:34 am Leave a comment

Brazil x South Africa recap

A horrible game for any Brazilian fan ended with a brilliant free-kick goal that spared us from overtime and (greater) potential fatigue in the final.

South Africa was effective in defense while Maicon, Gilberto Silva, Felipe Melo and Ramires were all ineffective in supporting the offensive trio.  As a result Brazil tried too often to break through the middle with only one or two players at a time showing any movement.  Eventually South Africa began to turn the tide on possession and push forward.  South Africa had chances on set pieces and shots from outside the box.  Most did not challenge Julio Cesar but one in particular during the second half required an amazing save.

South Africa’s domination occurred in the second half as well under similar circumstances.  Once again they stifled Brazil easily and pushed forward into a surprisingly spacious offensive half.  On a few occassions Luis Fabiano and Kaka had a chance to do something but either hit the keeper or missed by varying degrees.

Full credit to South Africa because even if the Brazilian midfield had played one of its better games they would have been outnumbered and forced to work hard to spread South Africa out.  The USA will want to keep that in mind and will likely have a good shot at repeating South Africa’s succesful defense if DeMerit, Onyewu, Bocanegra and Clark can be compact and close down the middle.  Brazil will have to hope Maicon is refreshed or Daniel Alves starts in order to keep Bocanegra wide and open up space to invite the midfield into.  If they do and the midfield finds that space, expect Brazil to retain possession more effectively than against South Africa and create better chances.

So how did Brazil win?  As Brazil often has under Dunga they counted on a bit of luck and a bit of individual brilliance.  Julio Cesar made a save where many keepers would simply watch the deflected shot go in.  Ramires in one of his only forays forward earned a foul just outside the box.  Daniel Alves, the right-back who subbed in for a left-back, took the free-kick brilliantly putting Brazil ahead with only three minutes left.  Luis Fabiano did miss an easy goal a minute later but it would have been undeserved.

Brazil must now figure out whether they need to make one or two changes to the line-up to offer a more rested midfield a chance to shine or whether they simply need to regroup with this line-up if they believe it has what it takes to create chances and that this game was a fluke.  Based on past performances and recent trneds I wouldn’t mind seeing two changes – one at right-back and one in the middle – to provide some energy.  Either way, Dunga will also need to substitute earlier if today’s story repeats itself.

June 25, 2009 at 11:20 pm Leave a comment

Brazil x South Africa preview, US x Spain recap

So the US beat Spain.  What to say that hasn’t been said on bigsoccer?  To be entirely honest I don’t know if there’s anything new left to say, so I’ll simply evaluate those thoughts I had ahead of the game and what this means for each team

The US played an exceptional game overall.  They sacrificed on the defensive end, putting in the kind of effort that makes any fan proud.  They made, more often than not, good decision in the final third even if they spent a long stretch from the end of the first through much of the second not seeing good possession.  Both of these are what I wanted to see from the US and they contributed mightily to the win.

If Brazil face the US on Sunday it will likely be a much different match than the group game.  Regardless of the result in the final though the US needs to find a way to perform as well as they did today in their remaining CONCACAF qualifiers.  If they do that they’ll qualify easily, relieve the immense pressure they have been under since the second set of Hexagonal games and enter the World Cup with justified optimism.

For Spain, this game simply reminds them that the Euro 2008 does not cure all ills – they will enter the World Cup as a perennial underachiever in World Cups.  Whether they use their Euro experience to defeat that attitude or their US loss to let it get to them might be the big question.  At full strength, I expect they will go far having learned from both competitions.

Brazil of course are favorites against South Africa today but the hosts are coached by a Brazilian and that leads one to wonder whether he’ll have something up his sleeve.  In the end though Brazil have begun to string solid performances together – coincidentally since the inclusion of Felipe Melo, a better midfielder than Josué who started far too many games last year.  The question will be whether these good performances continue against a team likely to defend with all they have.  If South Africa attack, as they promise, I expect Robinho, Kaká and Luís Fabiano to have a first half similar to the game versus Italy.

The longer the game remains scoreless, the better it will be for the hosts who will be fueled by the crowd to spring an upset.  If they come out too quickly and too soon and don’t get a lucky goal with an offensive strategy, they will be allowing Brazil to do what they have always done best, not simply now under Dunga: to counter attack into open spaces.

It’s late and this new blog deserved an earlier post, maybe while I watched the US x Spain replay.  So tomorrow, following Brazil x South Africa, expect something a little more timely.

June 25, 2009 at 8:37 am Leave a comment

Group A thoughts

Wow, where to start?  Here’s an example of a horribly lopsided group that while unlikely to happen in the World Cup is still a good example of what can happen when the host country is seeded.

Not that I don’t approve – it’s just that you kind of know this will happen when the host is announced.  So far no host has missed the second round and I won’t bet against South Africa advancing in 2010, but they did not impress at all here, managing to score only against New Zealand.

One caveat: Iraq, although already out of the World Cup, is a very solid defensive team.  They held Spain to 1 goal and South Africa aren’t the kind of world-class team that can say they absolutely have to be able to break such defenses apart.  New Zealand tied Iraq earning their first ever point in FIFA competition but most viewers will probably hope a 5th Asian team wins the play-off against New Zealand for that World Cup spot.

While this group was always going to result in Spain taking first place it offers very little for them to build on and presents the risk of throwing them into the semi-final without properly warming them up for the competition.  Fortunately for them their opponent does not looking particularly challenging but on the other hand their opponent has certainly been tested and may be ready for this challenge.

June 24, 2009 at 12:25 am Leave a comment

USA x Spain preview and Group B thoughts

The first semi-final kicks off tomorrow and I’ll take today to catch up on the action so far and preview US x Spain.  Tomorrow I will preview Thursday’s semi after some post-game thoughts.

Let’s start with Group B as it featured both of the teams I have a vested interest in: Brazil and the USA.  I could’ve made an optimistic prediction ahead of opening day that both would qualify.  I wouldn’t have expected it and after the first round of games I had dropped that optimism and would have revised my prediction.  Yet here we are at the semis and guess who made it through?

The biggest disapointment then has to be Italy.  Current World Champions who rely too much on aging players, they’ve looked best with Giuseppe Rossi, a 22 yr old, on the field, but he hasn’t played a full 90 minutes.  Of course adding only Rossi does not solve the problem of an aging defense or midfield and that was seen clearly against Brazil who dominated the first half and scored 3 quick goals.  An earlier loss to Egypt meant that Italy were out and the USA had a shot at the semis if they could score 3 of their own against Egypt.

Sure enough, the US beat Egypt 3×0 despite previous rounds showing Egypt to be the stronger team among the two.  It’s harder for me to say good things about the US right now than it usually is.  They’re my “second” team if there can be such a thing but they have consistently underperformed in competitive games this year – giving up early goals, struggling to maintain possession early and doing very poorly on the offensive end.  Stringing two solid performances together in a row will not be easy but is, in my eyes, necessary for the morale of the team.

The US put in a solid effort against Italy but saw it fall apart following a rash tackle.  Against Brazil they fell apart early and compunded problems with another red card.  They need a better performance against Spainm win or lose.  They can’t beat themselves and make it easy on the higher-ranked team.  I’d love to predict an upset and the US is certainly capable, but doing so would be overly optimistic based on recent performances.  I want to see the US do better on offense – counterattacks especially where they need to make better decisions.  If they make good decisions on the offensive end and don’t overcommit defensively I won’t be too surprised by an upset.

June 23, 2009 at 11:53 pm Leave a comment

Halfway there

It might feel right to start at the beginning of the qualifying campaign. I’ve always wanted to chronicle the World Cup from the very beginning to end but the start/stop tendency I have with blogs doesn’t help.

In the end the best place to start is here, today, looking at the World Cup a year away. Most qualifying groups are just over halfway there. CONMEBOL is the farthest along at fourteen games in and still hasn’t given up any guaranteed spots.

There’s also the Confederations Cup. The Semis are set after an improbable final day in group B and Spain, Italy and Brazil will all draw very different conclusion from their results and performances so far.

So with the obvious focus my mind has on international soccer and Brazil in particular expect a few catch-up updates in the next week as I talk about Confed Cup and what’s left in qualifying.

In the meantime, stop by the Brazil forums on bigsoccer.com and chat with us.

June 23, 2009 at 11:20 pm Leave a comment


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