Random Thoughts – Post-World Cup Group Stage

… So the group stage for the World Cup finals is complete. I was surprised at who made it and who didn’t make it. Anyway, it’s a slow day at work so I figured I’d just jot some thoughts from the group stage and things that I’ve seen during the last 48 games (or at least as many as I could). We’ll see how long this goes. Pretty sure it’ll be pretty long: 

… Mexico surprised me with their performance. They were a disorganized mess before the World Cup playoffs against New Zealand. Then they hired Miguel Herrera and do insanely well through the group stage.

… Croatia was a disappointment by far. They have a lot of great talent on that team like Modric, Manzukic, Olic, Corluka, and others. I think part of the reason was the assumption that their performances with their clubs would translate to success for their country. But for players like Modric, they were playing different roles (going from a deep-lying playmaker to an attacking mid is really different).

… Despite the 0-0 draw versus Mexico, I think Brazil did a good job. They showed their attacking prowess and defensive mettle (not that hard when you have players like Thiago Silva and David Luiz as your center backs).

… I really like Louis van Gaal’s approach with the Netherlands so far. They went with the unconventional 3-5-2 (or 5-3-2 depending on how you look at it) and just exploited teams with Robin van Persie and Arjen Robben up top. Teams were struggling to adjust to their wingbacks bombing down the wings (especially with Blind). It’s different from the typical 4-2-3-1/4-5-1/4-4-2/4-3-3 formations that most teams are going with in the tournament, so if teams aren’t finding ways to handle the front two and their bombing wingbacks, the Netherlands could make a straight shot into the final again.

… Spain’s downfall in this tournament seems to be three things: (1) having a Plan B outside of their tiki-taka strategy, (2) using Diego Costa with the wrong tactics and (3) their ability to strength their defense. The interesting thing about the first part is that they’ve had more than their double-pivot 4-2-3-1 formation and tiki-taka strategy by running a 4-4-2 using both Torres and David Villa. It was more direct when it needed to be but also put a lot more pressure on opposing defenses. This leads to (2), where Diego Costa would have been far more effective. Costa plays along side with another striker (usually David Villa) for Atletico Madrid. However, to go from that to a lone, hold-up striker didn’t exactly work out like del Bosque wanted it to. The other thing is that teams were aware that the best way to exploit Spain was through their porous defense. Just attack it directly and goals will follow. They’ll need to find players that are more disciplined in the back. It would allow them to rely less on tiki-taka (which is meant to protect that back four).

… It’s hard for a team like Australia to advance when they have two of the three top teams in the world in their group and another strong South American team to boot. But they showed some grit and did the same like Chile. They chose to play the game and didn’t bunker down against some of those teams. Cahill definitely had a great performance and showed he still has game. Even van Basten would have been proud of that wonder goal Cahill scored against his country.

… Colombia might go far if James Rodriguez can keep up his performance here. He’s definitely been my MVP for the group stage with his great play and contributions to the team. Granted, they’re coming out of a fairly soft group, but they’ve played a very fun style.

… I considered Group D to be the “group of death” before the tournament because you had three very good teams in England, Uruguay, and Italy all vying for those two spots and they could all beat each other on any given day. But I didn’t expect England and Italy to leave the tournament with a whimper. England’s tactics were poor (never let Pirlo have time with the ball) and mistakes were costly (the second time Gerrard has screwed up in a way than resulted in a goal). Italy didn’t have much going for them if Pirlo was made ineffective. The fact that Costa Rica advanced in the way that they did showed how dangerous the group was as well, especially with their performance despite not having to deal with Suarez.

… I may have a bias towards France, but this team is looking very, very good, despite their “poor” performance against Ecuador (poor finishing really to blame there). When Deschamps made changes for the Swiss line-up, everyone worried it would affect the locker room dynamics. But he proved everyone wrong as they just went on to demolish Switzerland. This group is focused and unified as a group, which says a lot more than the 2010 group. Their mobile midfield, depth, and ability to change tactics as need be is huge. The only issues seem to be making sure that Valbuena doesn’t get hurt and who their center backs are. Koscielny had a decent game, but he had a few mistakes that could be costly for France. Sakho and Varane have been excellent for them, and if they stay the choice for center backs, there aren’t any blaring weaknesses for the French team (minus their inability to finish when they need to).

… Argentina has been slightly worrisome. While Messi has done an excellent job this World Cup, you’d figure that the rest of the team would step up. Their talent doesn’t just drop off at Messi. With the likes of Angel di Maria, Higuain, Aguero (who’s now injured), and Lavezzi, you’d figure Argentina would have a few more goals. If other teams focus on Messi defensively and the other guys don’t step up, Argentina could see themselves leaving without the title.

… Germany looks good, as always. Despite Marco Reus getting hurt and out of the World Cup, they had plenty of depth to replace him (Gotze, Schurrle, Kroos, Draxler all could play his role). Müller has been excellent. Klose finally tied Ronaldo for all time goals in the World Cup. However, something of concern is that they’ve run with four center backs for their back four. This might seem good, but there’s an issue: They’re not exactly fast. Ghana exposed them with a great goal by Gyan. But they kept bombing the ball down the wings and at the German back four, which let them get a couple of goals eventually. Any team that looks to counter attack against this German squad could reap the rewards greatly.

… The United States… I have to say I’ve been pretty unimpressed thus far. They did get out of the “group of death” by beating Ghana and then almost beating Portugal before conceding that last goal. And their game against Germany was definitely uninspiring, as they rarely showed any sort of threat until the last couple of minutes before the end of the game. Jurgen has went with a defensive posture, mainly relying being willing to concede possession and hoping to capitalize on counters, set pieces, and mistakes (as seen in the Ghana game). It may have had something to do with Altidore being injured since he provided the pace they were looking for. But playing this reactive game is a risky proposition. In the Ghana and Germany games, by letting teams that are strong on the attack dictate the game, you’re not giving yourself any room for error if you mess up. And against strong attacking sides, you’re basically going to succumb to the inevitable doing so. The U.S. has the roster to keep possession and actually score goals in open play. The second goal against Portugal was a prime example of how they can do that. But to force your team to have to chase after the ball constantly is going to concede goals in the long-term.

… I also have this hatred for seeing teams play extremely defensively. It’s not fun to see your team do that and unnerving when you need a result.

… It feels like United States are trying to emulate Greece of Euro 2004, hyper-defensive, win off on set pieces mostly, which is even more reason why I hate what they’re doing.

… The United States (Part II)… Also, something to note is the concern of the three center mids for the United States: Jones, Beckerman, and Bradley. So far, they’ve played all 270 minutes and each have run for a total of 33 (or more) km. Bradley currently has the most distance covered in the World Cup at 38 km. The question is can they keep up this pace of tracking, defending, and then helping with the counter. While they’re trained to cover a good amount of distance, it’s tough to have to do 10+ km per game on four to five days of rest.

… Also, Michael Bradley can’t be blamed for all their mistakes. I think people forget that he’s typically a deep-lying midfielder, not the attacking midfield that Jurgen has put him in, so his play has been different. It’s kind of like Modric, where he’s not use to that position. As a result, he’s taking on more defensive minded midfielders and struggling. His strength is in passing and distributing the ball. By being in that deep-lying position that’s occupied by Jones and Beckerman, he has more time on the ball to make a decision. Also, he can make those runs into the box and offer goals that way.

… I think everyone that’s facing Belgium has to worry when they actually turn up their game before the 70th minute. So far they haven’t. Like Croatia, they have a lot of talent on their squad. Their defense is pretty solid with the likes of Kompany and Courtois and van Buyten. And with only four players having played all three group games (all of them having at least one sub appearance), they will be pretty fresh. I think that’s only something international managers can dream of: winning all the games in your group with a full rotation of your squad. The only thing they have to worry about now is injuries.

… In terms of  players to keep an eye on beyond this World Cup that you may have not heard of, here’s my list:

  • James Rodriguez (COL): He’s really good on the Monaco squad. It’s like what you’ve seen here at the World Cup. Except that he has Falcao was playing with him…
  • Paul Pogba (FRA): Ever since his move to Juventus, he’s been a huge presence for the team with his technique and flair. He’s also been playing along side Pirlo, which is huge. A great motor, proven winner (getting Scudetti in Serie A and winning the U-20 World Cup for his home nation.
  • Daley Blind (NED): While everyone was saying how RvP was magnificent for scoring such an amazing header, Daley was the provider of that cross. He also was the provider of the cross for the Netherlands’ third goal against Spain. He has three assists already.
  • Serge Aurier (CIV): He’s fast, strong, lots of energy and loves to bomb down the flanks. Where he plays after this remains to be seen, but he’s a fun fullback to watch.
  • Joel Campbell (CRC): He’s been good for Costa Rica. He’s hoping to play for Arsenal next season after being loaned out for the last few seasons by them. With their style of play, he could thrive and score some good goals there.
  • William Carvalho (POR): His game is overlooked a lot since he’s a defensive midfielder. But if you’re a purist, it’s really good to watch. Strong on tackling, very good with the ball at his feet, and a solid passing game, he provides a steady presence in the midfield that’s really calming and reassuring to see.

… And lastly is Suarez. Third bite on record. Four months. Nine games for Uruguay. And some chump cash. So out for the rest of the World Cup, out until October for the Premier League, and pretty much gone for at least a year for Uruguay. I think that’s fine in terms of disciplinary action. I think the bigger concern is the guy doesn’t actually think about his actions, let alone bites people. It’s difficult for a club to really want a player like that because he’s so talented, yet he could be unavailable for your line-up due to actions like this. Is it worth the risk and the club’s reputation when something like this happens?

Dang, this was long. I’ll probably post something after the Round of 16 that should be a little more concise. I hope…

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