Thursday, June 24, 2010
AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez
Germany’s loss to Serbia in the second game of group play looks like it was only a minor bump in the road.
Without suspended star forward Miroslav Klose the Germans had control of their own destiny and seized the day, beating Group D leader Ghana 1-0 en route to winning Group D and advancing to the Round of 16.
Newcomer Mesut Ozil, the 21-year-old in only his 13th appearance for the National Team, scored the lone goal in the 60th minute.
After struggling against Serbia, Die Mannschaf regrouped and took care of business.
Ghana was the more aggressive and pressing team. They outshot Germany 17-13 but the Germans were more efficient, putting more shots on goal (6-5) and were the only team to put the ball in the back of the net.
Without much veteran leadership thanks to a slew of injuries before the tournament, it was unsure how the young players would respond to the pressure of needing a win to advance and keep up the proud soccer tradition in Germany.
At the end of the day the inexperienced would rise to the challenge.
Goalkeeper Manuel Neuer, in only his eighth appearance for Germany, made three saves and recorded his second clean sheet of the tournament. Ghana was the more dangerous team in the game and threatened to score more often, but Neuer stood strong and helped deny the Black Stars.
Neuer also had a lot of help from defender Philipp Lahm. Although not a newcomer to the National Team, Lahm was a newcomer to the role of captain, thrust into the responsibility due to a last-minute injury to Michael Ballack before the start of the Cup.
Lahm was all over the defensive part of the field thrusting himself to stop lethal goal scoring opportunities for the Black Stars. At times where the German defense was bending, Lahm kept the group organized enough in order not to break.
The hero, however, was Ozil.
Ozil was impressive in his World Cup debut against Australia but was rendered ineffective by a tough Serbian defense. However he was once again an active force. The Germans attacked up the wings, leaving plenty of space for Ozil to run through, and then channeled the ball to him, including leading up to Ozil’s goal.
The Germans will catch no break though as they will face off against England, who survived to finish second in Group C, in the Round of 16. It will be a battle of two world soccer powers. Still, Germany should be battled-tested coming out on top of a difficult group.
The victory over Ghana wasn’t as impressive as the one over Australia, but it was more important and showed that the Germans were closer to the team the world saw in game one rather than the one that lost to Serbia.
With the return of Miroslav Klose against England things are looking up for the Germans.
AP Photos/Michael Sohn
The United States Men’s Soccer Team needed a win in their final group play match against Algeria. A victory would push the team into the World Cup’s Round of 16. As the game started and England took a 1-0 lead over Slovenia in the other Group C game it became apparent that a tie would not do and a loss would doom the Yanks.
The team attacked aggressively the entire match but failed to connect on nearly every opportunity. Once the U.S. thought they took the lead on a Clint Dempsey shot on the back post but the assistant referee incorrectly ruled him offsides.
Stoppage time came and the outlook for the United States was not so rosy. It looked like the team would not lose a game the entire tournament but would not be rewarded.
However in stoppage time, with the United States urgency to score at a historic high, the team was finally able to pull through and scored a goal.
Goalkeeper Tim Howard made a routine save, but as soon as he looked up he saw Landon Donovan streaking down the right side of the field. He flung the ball nearly to midfield, putting the ball almost magically onto Landon Donovan’s feet without breaking stride.
Donovan surged up the field leading a four-on-two fast break. He passed the ball ahead to his right where Jozy Altidore was running. Altidore collected the pass and with a defender latching onto him and slotted the ball to the middle for a streaking Dempsey.
Dempsey got a foot on it, keeping the ball low, but Algerian goalkeeper Rais M’Bolhi came out and blocked the shot. As Dempsey toppled over M’Bolhi, Donovan came in trailing the play and put the rebound in the back of the net, subsequently going to the corner flag where he was mobbed by the entire U.S. team.
The goal not only pushed the United States into the knockout stage but also helped them win Group C, the first time the country won its group since the inaugural tournament in 1930.
The goal also was a perfect example of the team’s key attributes: teamwork, resiliency, and patience.
American players are not known for their individual technical skill. They are able to be successful and pull off victories like the one against Spain in the Confederations Cup because they play as a team. As the saying goes, “the sum is greater than its parts.”
The ball movement leading up to the goal was great. Four Americans touched the ball on the play. The pass from Howard to Donovan took a tremendous amount of chemistry between the two players, for Howard to know Donovan would be in that position.
“Landon kind of knows me a little bit," Howard said to reporters. "He breaks out when I get the ball and it's kind of easy to find him.”
The players charged down the field as a unit and attacked the Algerian defense together. When Dempsey’s shot failed, his teammate, Donovan, was there to back him up and finish off what he started. It was good teamwork.
Along with good teamwork the Americans are well-known for, especially lately, having strong mental toughness and forging forward no matter the circumstances.
The Americans should have beaten Slovenia, but Maurice Edu’s game-winner was disallowed on an awful call. Dempsey’s goal was disallowed on a bad call and they couldn’t connect on their other chances. Things didn’t always go the U.S.’ way and critics were rounding up like vultures waiting to condemn soccer once more. But the American team is filled with fighters, guys who won’t give up.
Dempsey himself could’ve given up after his non-call and the stroke of bad luck in the beginning of the second half when his shot hit the post and his rebound attempt soared high and wide. Yet he kept plugging away, kept taking chances, and there he was in stoppage time trying to give the Americans the lead. And although once again he was unlucky, he stuck with it, got in the keeper’s way, and created space for Donovan to net the winner.
That kind of attitude and play is a style casual American sports fans can get behind and support.
Finally there is the virtue of patience.
It isn’t necessarily always a strength of the United States but it is essential for all winning soccer teams.
The sport is one that, unlike others, rewards patience. Things may not always go your way. Bad calls, missed chances, and great defensive efforts to deny you happen. But if you maintain composure, keep your organization, and keep playing your game—all aspects of patience—then all it takes is one moment; either a dazzling display of ball movement or a stroke of magnificent luck (Dempsey’s shot on Robert Green) can finally result in a goal.
The U.S. played with urgency knowing it needed to win, but was patient and good things came to them.
Now they will face off against Group D runner-up Ghana, the team that eliminated the United States in the 2006 World Cup.
It’s time to return the favor with another sports theme: redemption.
Sunday, June 20, 2010
AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez
It was a tale of two German teams on Friday.
As good as Germany looked in their 4-0 defeat against Australia, they were beatable in a 1-0 loss to Serbia (who had previously lost their first game against Ghana). It was akin to opposite day for the Germans.
While Miroslav Klose and Lukas Podolski showed their great World Cup form against Australia, both struggled terribly against Serbia. Klose received two yellow cards and was ejected before the first half ended, and Podolski was given a golden opportunity to put the Germans in position to earn a draw but his penalty kick was saved by Serbian keeper Vladimir Stojkovic.
The yellows Klose received were a bit questionable, the two-time World Cup veteran should have known better, especially on the second card. He will now be ejected for the match against Ghana
In the first game the German youngsters made a huge impact on the game. In the second group play game they showed their young age and inexperience.
Defender Holger Badstuber helped the Germans keep a clean sheet against Australia however he was abused down the flank by Serbian midfielder Milos Krasic. Krasic used a combination of speed and change of direction to keep Badstuber on his heels and constantly chasing him.
Mesut Ozil was extremely dangerous the first game, making a ton of runs. However, Serbia clogged up the middle of the field and left no space for Ozil to dart through, rendering him ineffective.
Then there was Thomas Muller. A goal scorer against the Socceroos, Muller was invisible against the White Eagles. Out on the right flank his name was hardly ever mentioned and he supplied nothing to the attack.
It was not a good day for Die Mannschaft but there were still a little bit of optimism to take out of the game. Even with only 10 men on the field, the Germans did hold a 58% to 42% possession advantage and really pushed hard for the equalizer while not breaking on the counter. Had they had a full team on the pitch, and especially not been without one of their best players, the outcome could’ve been different.
Still, it was a loss and the Germans will need to bounce back because they are not in an easy situation.
Currently, the Germans are tied for second in the group with Serbia, who will play Australia next. The Aussies are last in the group and although they will have Tim Cahill back, they will be without Harry Kewell who received a red card against Ghana.
Ghana heads the group with four points and will not be an easy opponent. Asomoah Gyan has looked quite impressive this World Cup and is a very speedy, goal-hungry striker. Watching how Badstuber was unable to contain Krasic, Gyan might focus his attack in that direction.
The Black Stars might also follow the Serbians lead and put an extra midfielder in the center of the pitch in order to lessen the space Ozil has to run through. Ozil will be an important player in the German attack without Klose available, and if he cannot get going the team may have a little trouble scoring.
Much like the Germans shouldn’t have believed they would win the World Cup after a great game one performance, they shouldn’t feel too down about game two; a win against Ghana and the Germans advance to the knockout stage.
That being said, it won’t be as easy a path as the team anticipated and the work has definitely been cut out for them.
Friday, June 18, 2010
AP Photo/Tom Curley
It’s a cliché, but the United States’ match against Slovenia today was certainly a roller-coaster ride.
The Yanks played a horrific first half and went down 2-0. The players looked out of sync and quite disinterested. However, coming out of the break they came out with passion, fire, and heart, any of the qualities really that the United States has always featured despite perceived lack of talent.
Then of course was the unbelievably bad call from the referee that disallowed a potential Maurice Edu game-winning goal.
So a 2-2 draw is what we’re left with. Uninspired play in the first half, a courageous comeback in the second, and a “football injustice” (as ESPN analyst and Wigan Athletic manager Roberto Martinez said) leave the fan and viewer in limbo.
Do we feel worried about the troublesome beginning, excited about the fantastic finish, or disappointed over what could have/should have been?
Here are grades for each player on a scale from one to 10, one being the worst, 10 being the best.
Tim Howard: 6
Howard didn’t need to be called upon like in the England game.
He couldn’t be blamed for either of the goals. Frozen on the second thanks to the defense giving up too much space, he had a better shot at the second but was still burned by poor transition defense by the Americans.
He did make some nice saves to keep the U.S. in the game.
Steve Cherundolo: 6
Cherundolo has, surprisingly, been the most dependable defender for the United States this World Cup. He did a good job of defending, springing the attack forward, and then making sure he got back on the counter. Solid job.
Jay DeMerit: 5
Non-descript game for DeMerit. He wasn’t particularly strong, but didn’t have any costly mistakes. The partnership of DeMerit and Onyewu wasn’t as good as it usually is, but DeMerit buckled down and played tough.
Oguchi Onyewu: 3
It was not the big man’s day. He didn’t step up to stop Birsa on the first goal and as hesitant to do so on the second goal, which kept Ljubijankic onsides. He could’ve made up for it had he connected with a free kick in the second half, but his slide missed.
Carlos Bocanegra: 4
Bocanegra didn’t really do much at all. Birsa really floated around the right-flank freely, where Bocanegra was defending yet didn’t really communicate to the rest of the defense about his whereabouts. Found himself in quite a few tangles/wrestling matches.
Landon Donovan: 8
He seemed relatively absent in the first half, but his goal coming out of the half absolutely ignited the Americans. The authority with which he scored (and thank goodness he didn’t pass it) really sent a message that the second half was going to be very different.
Played some great balls, including the one that set up Bradley’s game-tying goal. He showed great presence, leadership, and played well.
Granted most of his impact came in the second half and you want him to do it the whole game, but that was the performance the U.S. needed from Donovan.
Jose Torres: 4
Had a nice free kick that the Slovenian goalkeeper had to make a good save on, and did a good job tracking back on defense when he was stripped. The problem was that he was stripped too often. He was put in the starting lineup because he was supposed to provide good possession for the U.S. in the attack, but he just didn’t do that at all.
Michael Bradley: 7
Started the game off slow, like the rest of the team, but picked it up as it went along. He showed great poise on the tying goal. He gambled and lost on the tackle that set up the counter to Slovenia’s second goal, but he was effective offensively.
Clint Dempsey: 6
Dempsey had some nice looks to teammates, but they didn’t connect. He was in good position frequently, but nothing came of it. He got lucky he didn’t get carded for an elbow in the first minute or for his takedown in the box in the second half, but at least he was aggressive. He wasn’t special enough to make things happen, but he certainly wasn’t a liability on the field.
Robbie Findley: 5
They tried to play a lot of long balls to Findley in the corners so he could utilize his speed, but they just didn’t work out. His passing and decision making was a bit-suspect. However, he stayed active and looked better than forward-partner Jozy Altidore in the first half.
He was also the victim of a bad yellow card given from the referee and will have to sit out the Algeria match due to yellow card accumulation.
Jozy Altidore: 6
He knocked down the Landon Donovan pass with his head to Bradley, who scored the equalizer, which was a nice play. He played a good second half and did a good job of using his body and his strength. However in the first half, he had very few touches on the ball and seemed soft. Also, on the breakaway where he brilliantly held the defender off his back and broke to goal, why did he cut the ball back? If he keeps going straight he has a clear path to the goal.
He is a frustrating player because he has the skills and shows flashes of them, but the flashes are so few and far between.
Benny Feilhaber: 5
Coming on at the start of the second half, Feilhaber still did little to move up the midfield depth chart. He added a calm and attack minded presence, which certainly helped, but took too long to get involved and did little with the chances he got.
Maurice Edu: 6
Edu didn’t have the best touch early on, but he gained confidence as the second half moved forward. He was good defensively and made a great run-on and shot on what should have been the game-winner. Had the ref not blown the call the U.S. would have won, Edu would have been there hero, and he would have another point or two tacked on to his grade here. He did, however, play his way into the starting XI against Algeria.
Herculez Gomez: 5
He provided a great diversion to the defense which allowed Bradley to get free and have enough space to net the equalizer. It would have been interesting to see what he could’ve done with a little more time.
Bob Bradley: 7
Starting Torres wasn’t a bad idea in theory. He is known for his presence and touch on the ball. It just didn’t work out. He didn’t panic. The right adjustments were made at halftime bringing in Edu, Feilhaber, and some much needed attitude and confidence. Could’ve seen Gomez come in a little earlier, but overall solid job.
What do you think? Was Edu robbed? Agree with the grades? Who was your man of the match? Comment below.
Sunday, June 13, 2010
AP Photo/Gero Breloer
Doubt crept into the minds of German soccer fans heading into the World Cup. Germany had the odds stacked against them.
There were all of the injuries, including one to captain Michael Ballack, on-top of an already supposedly thin German lineup. There was the large number of young and inexperienced players with high expectations put on them. There was the tough group draw, having to go up against Australia, Serbia, and Ghana.
However, after their 4-0 takedown of Australia in their first match of the tournament, Germany showed that they are still a world-class squad.
Lukas Podolski and Miroslav Klose were both coming off of rough club seasons but a return to the World Cup, where the two traditionally shine, brought out the best of them, and in turn, the team. Podolski blasted a shot past Socceroos’ goalkeeper Max Schwarzer in the eighth minute and Klose scored another header goal—his 49th in a Germany uniform—off a Philipp Lahm cross in the 26th minute.
Australia’s star midfielder Tim Cahill was sent off in the 56th putting the team down to 10 men and Germany took advantage of having an extra man. Thomas Muller and substitute Cacau scored three minutes apart in the second half to make the game not only a German victory, but a statement to the rest of the opposition that they are a force with which to be reckoned.
The youth movement looked impressive.
Muller (20), Mesut Ozil (21), Sami Khedira (23), Holger Badstuber (21), and Manuel Neuer (24)—all under 25-years-old and made their National Team debuts no earlier than February 2009—all started and were big contributors.
Neuer recorded the clean sheet in goal and Badstuber was part of the defensive line that helped him earn the shutout. Khedira was effective in midfield. Muller got the goal, but did a great job getting up and down the flanks, giving the Aussies’ fullbacks fits.
The most impressive was Ozil. He was extremely active in front of the goal and made a number of dangerous runs. He wasn’t able to put the ball in the back of the net, but he was a major threat and made Australia put a lot of focus on him, opening things up for teammates.
Another reason Die Mannschaft looked so good was because of their surprising cohesion and team chemistry. The squad put on a passing clinic, sending the ball crisply inside and outside, putting perfect crosses into the box and in front of the goal. There were great one-two passes and just simply some beautiful ball movement.
All players were on the same page and gelled nicely. They looked like a team firing on all cylinders.
It’s only one game, and there are still two difficult matchups against Serbia and Ghana to come before even thinking about the tough competition in the knockout stage, but Germany looked like the most dangerous team thus far in the tournament.
Thursday, June 10, 2010
If you’ve been following any lead-up coverage for the World Cup and the United States National Team, then you definitely know who Tim Howard, Landon Donovan, and Clint Dempsey are. You also probably know Jozy Altidore, Oguchi Onyewu, and Michael Bradley (even if it is because he is the coach’s son). There are still 17 other players on the roster however, and quite a few of those guys could make large contributions to the United States.
Here are five lesser known players who are in position to have big World Cups.
Jose Francisco Torres
The 22-year-old midfielder for Mexican club Pachuca continues to impress every time he sees the field, so much so that he is being considered to start in central midfield alongside Michael Bradley.
Torres’ best asset is his demeanor on the ball. He plays with a lot of poise and confidence with the ball at his feet. While he does admit to having some difficulties with the increase in game speed at the national level, he has worked on becoming comfortable during the game and has improved his defense to become a better two-way midfielder.
He may not get the nod for the starting spot in the midfield, but he will definitely be used as a super sub and looked to when the United States needs to make a late push for a goal.
It’s been a long journey for DeMerit. He went from no MLS team signing him out of college, to playing in the ninth tier in England, to signing a contract with Watford and helping them move to the Premier League.
The 30-year-old defender got his break with the National Team at the 2009 Confederations Cup when he started in place of an injured Carlos Bocanegra. He played the entire 90 minutes in the 2-0 victory in the semi-finals against Spain and made a case to be a starter.
An eye injury kept him out of action until December, but he came back strong and is expected to start at center back in the World Cup.
While he may not be the most skilled player on the field, he is strong, tough, and is hungry to take advantage of the opportunities given to him.
DeMerit enters the offseason without a contract. Many rumors have him going to MLS after the World Cup, but another strong tournament like the Confederations Cup and DeMerit could find himself with another mid-table club in a top-flight European league.
He was possibly the biggest surprise to make the final 23-man roster as a knee injury has hampered his performance with MLS side Real Salt Lake.
However, without Charlie Davies, Bradley has gone to Findley to play the role of the speed forward.
In the team’s sendoff match against Turkey, Findley rewarded Bradley for going against common perception and choosing to take him to South Africa.
Coming on as a second-half substitute Findley made an immediate impact, teaming up beautifully with Altidore and Donovan. He connected on a nice pass to Donovan that would then set up the equalizer.
And while he missed some easy scoring opportunities in the final tune-up against Australia, no one got in better position to score than Findley.
Findley looks to be rounding back into form. If he can continue to mesh well with the playmakers like Donovan and Altidore and can get back his scoring touch like the 2009 MLS season, where he scored a team-high 12 goals and helped his team win the MLS Cup, than Findley could be the breakout star of the World Cup for the Americans.
At the age of 24 and on the heels of a trial with a Danish club in the 2009 offseason, Findley could also parlay a successful World Cup into a transfer to Europe.
The 24-year-old midfielder continues to quickly rise in status for both club and country.
Starting as a substitute for MLS side Houston Dynamo, he made star player Dwayne DeRosario expendable and took his spot on the field when DeRosario left for Toronto. This winter Holden transferred to Bolton of the English Premier League and the Dynamo has had a difficult time replacing him.
On the international scene, Holden went from key player on the Olympic squad (a U-23 team) to substitute, and now could potentially even start matches in the World Cup for the United States.
If Clint Dempsey plays up top, then Holden is the top choice to take his place on the wing. If Dempsey is put at midfield, than expect Holden to be the first choice off the bench.
He is considered to have one of the best crosses on the entire team and provides a lot of energy and hustle. With consistent playing time Holden came really shine in this World Cup.
Many fans have been clamoring for Edu to be the starter in central midfield next to Bradley. Even though he hasn’t been featured in many games, the fans like what they have seen from the 24-year-old.
A former MLS Rookie of the Year with Toronto F.C., Edu now plays for top Scottish side Rangers.
Injuries have held back Edu from firmly entrenching himself as a starter at Rangers, but when healthy he routinely makes the rotation mostly because of his strong defense (Edu is so good defensively that he can even fill in as a center back like at the 2008 Olympics).
Unlike Ricardo Clark, his main competition for the starting position with the United States, Edu isn’t just a defensive minded player. Edu is actually considered a good box-to-box midfielder with a good attacking mindset.
Another key attribute is Edu’s ability to handle pressure. Playing in arguably the most intense rivalry in all of soccer, Rangers’ Old Firm matchup with Celtic, Edu scored a stoppage time goal to lead Rangers to a 1-0 victory.
Excited to be a part of the team after he missed the 2009 Confederations Cup, Edu should play a big role in the World Cup.
Maurice Edu: AP Photo/Elise Amendola
Jay DeMerit: AP Photo/Paul Thomas
Robbie Findley: AP Photo/Elise Amendola
Wednesday, June 9, 2010
The 2010 World Cup is seeing genuine interest from American fans like never before. ESPN is providing extensive coverage of the World Cup and, possibly equally as important, leading up to the tournament in an effort to familiarize the common fan with the enormity of the tournament and its participants. There are many diehard soccer fans, but for the newcomers to the sport, here are 11 players American fans absolutely need to know.
Thierry Henry, France
His production has slowed down a bit, a perfect example being his inability to get onto the field much this season for Spanish league side Barcelona. And fans of the Irish team must think he’s a villain for his hand ball that went uncalled and directly lead to not only a goal, but the French National Team advancing to the World Cup over Ireland.
To Americans though, Henry is a very important player.
Henry scores a lot of goals, something the casual American fan appreciates. He also is a skilled passer and does a good job setting up teammates.
Now, Henry is at the center of reports that have him signing with the New York Red Bulls of MLS after France’s run in the World Cup.
Henry is an extremely skilled offensive player who would make a huge impact on the league. American soccer fans will get a preview of Henry’s skill set during the World Cup.
Nemanja Vidic, Serbia
Vidic is considered one of the world’s best defenders.
He is the backbone of a strong Manchester United defense and the leader of a traditionally tough and gritty Serbian defense. The six-foot-two-inch center back has an exceptional blend of strength and skill.
He was part of the Serbian defense that conceded only one goal in the 2006 World Cup qualifying. He is a three-time member of the Premier League Team of the Year. In 2008-2009 he was a major contributor in Manchester United’s streak of 14 consecutive games without allowing a goal, earning him the Barclays Player of the Season Award. He has also named to the FIFA World XI in 2009.
Serbia is in a challenging group with Germany, Australia, and Ghana, and the team will depend on continued stifling defense from Vidic.
Gianluigi Buffon, Italy
How successful Italy is in defending its 2006 World Cup trophy will depend on goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon.
A lifetime Serie A player—he’s been named Serie A Goalkeeper of the Year eight times—Buffon has made over 100 appearances for the Italian National Team since 1997.
His most impressive performance came during the 2006 World Cup. En route to winning the championship, Buffon kept opposing teams scoreless for 453 consecutive minutes—a World Cup record—and conceded only two goals the entire tournament (one being an own goal).
Considered a top three goalie in the entire world, Buffon will look to be as unbeatable as he was four years ago.
Frank Lampard, England
Many consider this year’s England squad to be one of the most talented and deepest in a long time. Lampard leads the charge in midfield.
Continually one of the best all-around players in the English Premier League, Lampard is coming off his best season with top-team Chelsea. In league play he scored a career-high 22 goals as well as dishing out a career-high 17 assists.
He scores at the international level as well, netting 20 goals in 78 appearances, including four in 2010 World Cup qualifying.
He has been nominated for the FIFA World Player of the Year award each of the past six consecutive years.
And for those Americans whose interest has grown thanks to the EA Sports video game FIFA, Lampard is one of the cover boys for the 2010 version.
David Villa, Spain
Spain’s roster is really loaded with players you should know: Carles Puyol, Cesc Fabregas, Fernando Torres, Xavi, and Iker Casillas. It’s why they are the favorites to win the 2010 World Cup. The biggest star on Spain, arguably, is David Villa.
Torres gets more mention in the press, and not that the attention is undeserved, but Villa is Spain’s biggest goal scoring threat. His 37 goals for the Spanish National Team—in only 57 appearances—ranks him second on Spain’s all-time leading scorer list behind only Raul.
He was the Bronze Shoe winner in the 2009 Confederations Cup and was part of the FIFA.com User’s Top 11.
Villa has spent his entire club career in Spain’s La Liga and in 384 career league games, Villa has scored 202 times. A 20-goal scorer with Valencia the past two seasons, top-La Liga side Barcelona acquired Villa for €40 million and he signed a four-year contract, with an option for a fifth year, with the club.
Brazil’s players are famous for not only their talent on the field, but also for being referred to by only one name: Gilmar, Cafu, Robinho, Dunga, Ronaldo, Ronaldinho, and Pele. Kaka has joined that list.
He signed his first professional contract with Brazilian club Sao Paulo in 2001 at the age of fifteen. The 2010 World Cup will be his third. A former Ballon d’Or and FIFA World Player of the Year, Kaka embodies the image people have of Brazilian soccer players essentially dancing up the field with the ball. He has great footwork and good speed.
The 2009 FIFA Confederations Cup was the first international tournament Kaka played in since the 2006 World Cup, but played exceptionally. He scored two goals, was named “Man of the Match” against the United States in the final game, was on the FIFA.com User’s Top 11, and was awarded the Golden Ball as the top player in the tournament.
Lionel Messi, Argentina
Simply put, he’s the best soccer player in the world.
The Argentine is gifted with fantastic footwork, good pace, and creative dribbling and attacking moves. He also scores at will. In 44 appearances for Argentina he’s scored 13 goals and in 144 league games for Spanish La Liga superpower Barcelona he’s scored 88 times. One stretch in 2010 saw him score 11 goals in five games, including the first player to notch back-to-back hat tricks in consecutive La Liga games.
Messi has earned numerous individual accolades, including 2009 FIFA World Player of the Year and 2009 Ballon d’Or (best soccer player in the world judged by a panel of international sports journalists), and is still only 22-years-old.
Cristiano Ronaldo, Portugal
Another popular candidate for best player in the world, Ronaldo is the star and captain of a good Portuguese team.
Fast footwork, a creative mindset, and a blistering shot make Ronaldo an extremely dangerous player. He has youth at only 25-years-old as well as top-flight experience, starting not only for the Portugal National Team, but top club teams Manchester United of the English Premier League and Real Madrid of Spain’s La Liga, dating back to 2003. Ronaldo has also previously won the FIFA World Player of the Year and Ballon d’Or awards.
Want to know just how valuable Ronaldo is? His transfer fee from Manchester United to Real Madrid in 2009 was a whopping $132 million dollars, making him the most expensive soccer player in the world. His contract is also believed to make him the highest-paid soccer player.
Didier Drogba, Ivory Coast
Drogba is arguably the best goal scorer in the world. No one has a nose for goal quite like him.
The Ivory Coast captain is the nation’s all-time leader in goals, with 44 scored in 68 appearances. His 131 goals in all competitions for Chelsea make him the club’s seventh leading goal scorer of all-time and the top international scorer.
Unfortunately for Drogba, he broke his forearm in a World Cup tuneup against Japan June 4th and originally told teammates he wasn’t going to be playing in the tournament. That being said, he rejoined his teammates after surgery with arm in cast and has not been listed as out of the tournament just yet. Whether he plays or not will play a big role in if the Ivory Coast can get past Brazil and Portugal in group play.
Another reason you should know Drogba though is for his impact off the field. Ivory Coast had been in a brutal civil war. When the Ivory Coast qualified for the 2006 World Cup Drogba got on his knees on live television and pleaded that the nation lay down their arms. He also played a role in getting an African Cup of Nations qualifier in the rebel stronghold city of Bouake.
For his involvement, Drogba is recognized as helping the peace movement in the nation and was listed as one of the world’s 100 most influential people, as named by Time magazine.
Tim Howard and Landon Donovan, USA
American fans need to know the best players on their own team. Donovan and Howard are the class of the United States.
Howard, who plays at the club level for Everton of the English Premier League, has developed into one of the best goalkeepers in the world. He shines at the biggest moments, against the best competition.
Case in point against Spain in the Confederations Cup, who was then unbeaten in their previous 35 games and ranked number one in the world, Howard made eight saves and was a huge factor in the United States upsetting Spain 2-0. Howard would go on to win the Golden Glove award as the best keeper in the tournament.
Donovan is the face of American soccer. After so many accolades he is arguably the best player in Major League Soccer history. For the national team, he is the all-time leading goal scorer for the United States and is the active leader in caps. He is a six-time Honda Player of the Year—the only player to ever win the award six times—and was named Honda Player of the Decade.
After a successful winter loan stint with Everton, a good World Cup could get Donovan a transfer back to a top team in Europe.
Lionel Messi: AP Photo/Eduardo Di Baia
Gianluigi Buffon: AP Photo/Massimo Pinca
David Villa: AP Photo/Paul White
Saturday, June 5, 2010
Group D of the 2010 FIFA World Cup is one of the strongest, yet under the radar, groups. Other groups may get tons of media attention—Group A for host South Africa’s possible chance to advance out, Group C for the match between the United States and England, and Group G being the Group of Death with powerhouses Brazil, Ivory Coast, and Portugal—but Group D has the strongest collection of teams top to bottom.
Germany is a big favorite to come out on top, but Australia, Ghana, and Serbia all are more than capable of upending Die Mannschaft.
2006 was the first time the Socceroos made the World Cup since 1974. It was a strong coming out party, as the team made it to the Round of 16 before losing a heartbreaker to eventual champions Italy on a dubious penalty kick call in stoppage time.
They further displayed their talent in qualifying. After dominating the Oceania region, Australia moved to Asia and finished first with an undefeated record.
With an experienced squad that features a number of players competing in top European leagues, namely the Premiership, the Aussies will look to build on an impressive outing last time around. A good run in the World Cup could also improve their chances of winning the hosting vote for the 2022 games.
Australia has a good defense, but the question is: who will score?
The team typically plays a formation with a lone striker and, during qualifying, defender Brett Emerton tied midfielder Tim Cahill for the team lead in goals. They will need more offensive players to step up to improve on their 2006 finish.
The Germans will be playing in their 15th straight World Cup. They have the most top three finishes in the history of the tournament. The last time they failed to reach the second round was 72 years ago.
With a strong history of successful teams and players, they are favorites to win Group D for good reason.
However, 2010 may prove to be a more difficult journey than per usual.
Already having a very young and inexperienced team, Germany will be without five potential starters—goalkeeper Rene Adler, defenders Heiko Westermann and Christian Träsch, midfielder Simon Rolfes, and midfielder and captain Michael Ballack—due to injury.
Expectations and pressure on the young members of the squad will now be intensified. The players have a long line of success to follow, but will it all be too much of a burden to handle for those with such little experience?
Key Players: Philipp Lahm (D), Mesut Ozil (M), Miroslav Klose (F)
The lone African nation to reach the round of 16 in 2006, Ghana was a popular dark horse pick for 2010.
While not household names, the Black Stars have a talented roster with a number of players from the top leagues in Europe.
Ghana’s biggest positive is its strong youth movement. In 2006, they were the youngest team, with an average age of 24 years old. This squad will add a number of players from the team that beat Brazil to win the 2009 U-20 World Cup, who also were featured prominently on the squad that went to the finals of the Africa Cup of Nations.
Hurting Ghana’s chances is the absence of star player Michael Essien. The midfielder is one of the best players in the entire continent of Africa and is a key player for English Premier League side Chelsea, but he will miss the tournament due to injury.
Does Ghana have enough firepower without the extremely skilled Essien? And much like Germany, will too much pressure be put on the rising youngsters?
Key Players: John Paintsil (D), Stephan Appiah (M), Asamoah Gyan (F)
Competing for the first time as Serbia (previously played as Serbia and Montenegro in 2006, and Yugoslavia prior to that), the country looks to be a strong contender.
The White Eagles finished first in their qualifying group (ahead of 2006 World Cup runner-up France) and combined a rock-solid defense with a new emphasis on offense, as the Serbs were the fifth highest-scoring team in European qualifying.
Even more important is the locker room atmosphere. The Serbian team is notorious for imploding at major tournaments, however this squad finally seems to have gelled together under the helm of head coach Radomir Antic, a characteristic that shouldn’t go overlooked.
Serbia’s recent form has been disappointing, however. They were beaten last week by New Zealand, who although being a team in the 2010 World Cup, is one of the weaker opponents in the tournament and was ranked 63 places lower than Serbia. The team followed that match with another goalless effort, this time drawing with Poland.
It is not the right time for a team to start struggling. Even worse, all is quiet in the locker room now but, if the Serbs continue to struggle, is another locker room blowup to come?
Key Players: Nemanja Vidic (D), Neven Subotic (D), Dejan Stankovic (M)
Tim Cahill: AP Photo/Ricardo Mazalan
Philipp Lahm & Miroslav Klose: AP Photo/Frank Augstein
Stephen Appia: AP Photo/Ermindo Armino
Nemanja Vidic: AP Photo/Darko Bandic
Friday, June 4, 2010
AP Photo/Gero Breloer
When the Germans take on Australia June 13, they will begin the journey that they hope ends with their fourth World Cup victory. One of the most successful and storied teams in the history of the World Cup, Germany has its work cut out for themselves this year, but adversity has never stopped them before.
Here is a look at some strengths, and weaknesses of Germany squad heading into the World Cup.
Three World Cup victories. The most top three finishes of any nation. Countless legendary players with numerous awards, and accolades. The Germans are a mainstay in the late stages of the World Cup, and that fact alone makes it hard to bet against them.
Many say that this German team isn’t the best collection of talent they’ve ever had, but they were supposed to have down years in 2002 and 2006, yet they managed to finish second and third respectively.
History has a way of repeating itself. So while 2006, 2002, and even 1990 has little to do with the 2010 version of team Germany, there is a strong precedent of success for the nation.
In the past two World Cups the German team has been aggressive in the attack. In 2002, they tied Brazil for most goals scored in the group stage (11), and in 2006 they led all nations in goals scored with 14.
Forward Miroslav Klose has been the main man for Germany the past two World Cups, scoring five times in both tournaments en route to winning the Silver Boot in 2002, and the Gold Boot in 2006. He is the only player to score five or more goals in consecutive World Cups, and is six goals away from passing Ronaldo as the World Cup’s all-time leading scorer.
He is joined by the 2006 World Cup’s Best Young Player and Silver Boot winner Lukas Podolski, midfielder Bastain Schweinsteiger, who tied for third in goals in the 2006 tournament, and newcomer but fastly rising midfielder Mesut Ozil.
The Germans will be aggressive, and the goals will come.
The three will go hand in hand for Die Mannschaft in South Africa. Former captain Michael Ballack had already stated that the Germans “do not have the consistency or strength in depth” to be serious title contenders, and many pundits agreed.
This was before the team lost five potential starters due to injury: goalkeeper Rene Adler, defenders Heiko Westermann and Christian Träsch, midfielder Simon Rolfes, and Ballack. There were so many injuries to an already small pool of players that head coach Joachim Low only had to make one cut to get down to the final 23.
This year, 15 Germans will be making their World Cup debut. Not only do they have little World Cup experience, but many also have little national team or even life experience. Six players are 21-years-old or younger, nine players have fewer than five caps, and three have only appeared for the German National Team once.
Some very young kids have some very large shoes to fill, both in replacing players this World Cup, and just the general history of great German players.
That’s a lot to leave on the shoulders of a very inexperienced group.
With such a young roster, veteran leadership is extremely important in getting everyone on the same page, and properly prepared for the spectacle that they are about to be thrown into.
However, Ballack’s injury, as well as those to the other veteran players, leaves the team without that invaluable leadership.
Defender Philipp Lahm, a very talented player, will take over as captain, but his soccer experience cannot match that of Ballack’s. Not only will the team have to rely on young players in the lineup, but they will also have to rely on a relatively young captain. It can’t help that Lahm was given the duty on such short notice heading into the tournament.
Although they aren’t thought to be as talented as in years past, Germany is still favored to win a rather difficult Group D which includes Serbia, Australia, and Ghana. They have an impressive track record in the World Cup, and the fan base is excited over a strong youth movement.
However, with so many injuries the pressures put on the younger players now intensifies. Will they be able to meet expectations, or will the increased burden cause them to yield, and pave the way for the German team to have an early exit?
ESPN "32 Teams, 1 Dream" spot. Video from Youtube.