Random Thoughts – Post-World Cup Round of 16

… The Brazil/Chile game was really surprising to me. Good chances, good opportunities for both teams, but they weren’t able to capitalize. It was tough to have to see one of the two teams get knocked out via penalty kicks. Julio Cesar still showed he’s among the best in the world in terms of goalkeepers, making two huge saves.

… Neymar playing injured has got to be a concern for Brazil going forward. He’s definitely been their star for the tournament. Even if he’s able to play, him not at 100% will be challenging against the likes of Colombia.

… James Rodriguez probably MVP of the second round. I managed to watch the game and man, that first goal was just amazing. His finish for the second goal just shows how he’s so in-form right now. Monaco fans are just dreaming right now of what he’s going to bring back to France after this World Cup.

… Uruguay really missed Suarez. Without him, they couldn’t get the attack going. They were just flat. It just shows that teams are just hesitant to take on a ticking bomb like him because they need him for games like this.

… It’s hard to say whether it was an actual penalty when looked at in real time. Probably Marquez didn’t need to do a whole lot to contain Robben, but he knows Robben’s ability to fall on the slightest of touches.

.. Mexico looked good though overall. Their attack was spot on and they had a lot of great chances. However, unfortunately, that’s what makes this such a cruel tournament.

… Greece being able to take it to penalties was one thing. However, the fact that they were up a man for 60 minutes and still couldn’t score a goal to take the lead is another. Even their game-tying goal required last minute heroics as they scored in injury time of regular time. Costa Rica defended well (especially Navas), but they should have put that game away with so much time.

… Props to Costa Rica for playing an attacking game until the end of regular time. Even while down a player, they still had even numbers in the opposing box to take some chances.

… France looked fine until the start of the second half. Then they had some nervous defensive sequences where it looked like Nigeria had a chance to score. Lloris was definitely the hero there in the back.

… Deschamps made the wrong line-up to start for the Nigeria game since Giroud looked pretty ineffective and him and Benzema weren’t connecting at all. However, he eventually made the right move, brought in Griezmann for Giroud and everything looked a lot more threatening. They needed another technically talented player to cause issues for Nigeria and bring Valbuena more centrally. The Griezmann substitution really helped with that.

… Pogba looked really good that game, in my opinion. Him and Valbuena were causing all sorts of issues for the Nigerian midfield, as they were passing and dribbling through them. Pogba looked like he was having fun out there and beating 2-3 players on the dribble. You wouldn’t expect that out of a guy as big as him.

… Algeria losing to Germany the way that they did was heartbreaking. They had the right formula, attacking the sluggish back four directly with pace and quick balls. Unfortunately, their finishing couldn’t get them through to the next round. They played well though and Rais M’bohli had an amazing game for them in goal. It’s hard to find teams that are willing to show confidence and just attack opposing teams, even if they’re powerhouse countries like Germany or Spain.

… Germany’s four center backs for their back line strategy seems to be a huge risk for them, especially with Hummels out. Speed and quick passing could be their undoing.

… For all their depth in the attack, they seemed to be struggling to get anything going after their first game of the tournament. Their second goal against Algeria was just fortunate, but their passing hasn’t been as crisp as most would expect out of them. Maybe it’s fatigue or something. They’ll have to pick it up against France though, whose mobile midfield will punish them for misplaced passes. Schurrle seemed like the spark they need though, even more than Müller, despite his four goals. He provided good width and directness in the attack, which they might possibly be lacking.

… Manuel Neuer was amazing yesterday. He was the reason why Germany was still in the game against Algeria with his alertness. He was playing the sweeper keeper role well and cleaned any balls that went through to the Algerian attacking players.

… I was really unimpressed by Argentina in their match-up against Switzerland. With all their attacking talents and speed, they resorted to just crossing it into the box all day long (I read something like 47 crosses by them today). That doesn’t make sense when you have your four main attacking players in Angel di Maria, Messi, Higuain, and Lavessi in the game. They want to play with the ball at their feet. They want to pass it and have combination play among each other. They want to run onto the ball via through passes. If Argentina keep this up against Belgium, they’re not going to get anything going.

… Argentina/Switzerland was definitely the most boring game of the eight Round of 16 matches. No question about it. Well, maybe Costa Rica and Greece, but you’d expect more out of Argentina and Switzerland given the talent on their respective teams.

… I think the Belgians might be the worst match-up for the Americans. They can counter you if you try to play the possession game and push into their attacking half. They can hold the ball if you choose to take in pressure, sending in balls into the box in multiple ways (on the dribble, the through ball, or the cross). So which option do you go with? I think it was the correct call to be positive and go on the attack against Belgium, especially with Kompany dealing with a groin injury. In the knockout stages, there is no draw, so you need to play for the win.

… The only issue is that the U.S. was really struggling to produce anything in the final third. I think this is partly to do with Jurgen’s choices. Zusi might be a #10 for the U.S., but he looked quite poor. Bradley, who I’ll talk about more in a second, showed his abilities as a deep-lying playmaker with that beautiful pass to Julian Green. But when you look at the lineup that Jurgen brought out in this game, it wasn’t exactly a creative squad. Johnson (followed by Yedlin after injury) provided some width, but you knew he was going to cross the ball pretty much all game long. Jermaine Jones scoring goals? Not really. He’s a destructive midfielder and meant to break up play. Bedoya and Dempsey were good options for scoring, but Bedoya’s role is also more of a guy that provides crosses into the box. He wasn’t direct and attacking the goal like he plays in France when with Nantes. The U.S. needs creative players that aren’t just about crossing the ball. Someone that can penetrate defenses with solid passes. Someone willing to take chances and shoot. Someone with good vision to see those runs. Because right now, without those options, it’s going to be difficult to get much going for the attack for the United States because it’s too predictable. However…

… Could Julian Green be a sign of that spark and creative mind that the United States needs? That run and finish was definitely a lot more mature than what a 19 year old player would do. Let’s see if he can do some more as he goes back to Germany and possibly plays with the senior team in Munich.

… Another person that could be in this creative role? Darlington Nagbe. Once he gets U.S. citizenship, I think he’ll take on the opportunity to become part of the USMNT. He’s got the qualities that I just mentioned. A good dribbler that’s confident, someone that has good vision to make runs and provide penetrating passes through opposing defenses, and someone that’s willing to take chances. He’s a playmaker in attacking spaces, which is what the U.S. really needs.

… Tim Howard had probably the best goalkeeper performance I’ve seen in a tournament. I’ve never seen a player carry a defense the way that he did. The U.S. defense was just shredded into pieces with all the runs and shots. But he managed to save 16 shots that game. Unbelievable.

… Let’s go back to the Michael Bradley argument. Yes, it wasn’t his best tournament. A lot of stray passes, some poor decisions here and there. But let’s put this all into perspective again. Bradley was asked to play as an attacking midfielder for the U.S., which is pretty much out of position for him. He’s known for being a distributor and creator from deep positions. By being in deeper positions, you typically have more time on the ball since the attacking midfielders that you’d be defended against will be poor defenders. They’ll give you that time to let you do what you want. That means more vision and accuracy with your passing. Today, he was given that chance to play deeper and make plays from that position and it showed. He made key passes that resulted in chances for the U.S., including the attacking ball towards Beasley that led to a near-chance and the goal made by Julian Green. But you can’t expect him to do everything, especially from such a deep position. You need to have other creative players to take the load off of him. It’s the same situation with Italy and Pirlo. Shut him out and the ball movement because poor. Bradley is still the U.S.’s best player with his creative passing, vision, and control of the midfield. But there needs to be better personnel surrounding him to ensure that he can do the work he needs to do.

… I still question Jurgen’s tactics, his selection, and decisions as a manager. If it wasn’t for Howard’s heroics, I think the U.S. would have been out after the group stage.

… Marc Wilmots, Belgium’s manager, has to deserve a lot of credit for that move to take off Origi for Lukaku. Origi was constantly threatening the U.S. goal with his chances, linking play, and speed. However, when they put on Lukaku, I thought they were going to lose the former two due to his poor performances during the group stage. However, he shined as he shrugged off Bresler and passed it off to de Bruyne for the first goal and eventually showed his strength and provided the second. The first two subs of Mirallas and Lukaku were great. The Chadli sub though… Not so much.

… Belgium woke up at the right time for the tournament. They showed their ability to attack ruthlessly and why they’re so highly rated by analysts. They have a talented squad that can go far. If Argentina keep up their tactics, I think Belgium will knock out the Argentineans from the World Cup, to the chagrin of the Brazilians.

… My predictions on who make it to the semis? France, Colombia, Belgium, and the Netherlands.

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