Two days removed from Germany’s biggest group stage loss at any World Cup in 30+ years, I think the time is right to begin the ‘healing’ and address the obvious … “What the frick happened on Sunday?  Obviously, the Germany 0 – Mexico 1 result was a far cry from the 4:1 score versus Mexico at last year’s Confederation Cup and a final score no one, Germany fan or not, saw coming. Granted, Die Mannschaft under-performed during their last two pre-World Cup friendly matches, a loss to Austria and a weak 2:1 versus hapless Saudi Arabia, but I chalked it up to working on their WC game plan and trying out different players at different positions leading up to group play. Well, their game plan did not work before and the SAME plan, with few adjustments and less creativity and ingenuity, failed on Sunday as well. Hearing Mexican coach Juan Carlos Osorio proclaim that the Germany game plan was conceived six months ago, makes me even more incredulous.

Anyone who’s met/knows a German, knows we are stereotypically hard-headed and above else nihilists and doom and gloomers … especially when it comes to our Fussball. So, it goes without saying that the German team has been ripped to shreds by pundits, fans, politicians and the general public since Sunday’s loss. You have heard of slut shaming but what about selfie-shaming? So, in an attempt to appease Germany fans looking for a selfie with their footballing hero, Julian Brandt become the top post-match story. Not because of his big heart or a horrible match performance but because he had the audacity to smile and make friends after such a crushing defeat. Get a grip people, the kid is 22, it’s only one match and by the way snapping selfies is the least of our worries.

Julian Brandt selfie

What looked to be a harmless, gracious selfie with fans turned into “selfie gate” with German media blasting Germany’s Julian Brandt for smiling and taking frivolous pictures with fans after the horrific result versus Mexico.

After a few nights to sleep on it, I figured it was time to do some Monday morning quarterbacking and share my match take-aways.

Die Mannschaft … not ready to eat

ready to eat

Right from kick-off, it was evident that the Germans would be in for a struggle, and as it turns out a loooong day at the office. Mexico executed it’s game plan to perfection– be aggressive and punch Germany in the mouth early. It worked, and German’s lack of energy and resilience resulted in a shocking loss.

Match fitness

Going into Russia, the biggest question mark regarding player injuries was clearly the fitness level of Manuel Neuer. Prior to Germany’s pre-WC training camp, Neuer was recovering from a severe foot injury that sidelined him for nearly 10 months in 2017. Not only did Germany’s captain get the start in goal against Mexico he also served and will serve as team captain throughout the tournament. While Neuer played well, the same cannot be said for several of his pitch mates. To that end, it was quiet evident that especially Mesut Oezil in midfield and Jerome Boateng in defence where not a 100% match ready. Both, are also recoevering from previous injury and in contrast to Neuer they really struggled throughout the 90 minutes. I cannot imagine Germany coach Joachim Loew replacing Boateng (the central figure in the German defense) but Oezil I feel is definitely replaceable.

Different but the same

Confed cup GermansLast year at the Confederation Cup, considered the ‘dress rehearsal’ to the World Cup, Germany fielded and impressive squad on their way to the title. The 23-man roster was made up of mostly ‘B’ players versus the regulars that led Germany to World Cup glory in 2014. With a roster chock-full of of German prodigies including Timo Werner, Leon Goretzka, Leroy Sane, and Julian Brandt, the future is bright. On Sunday however, 9 of the starting German 11 where players from 2014 with only youngstar Timo Werner getting the start. Considering the ‘B’ team beat Mexico in the Confed CUp’s semi-final last summer 4-1 maybe ‘B’ should have been swapped with ‘A’.

Chucky’s Revenge

Chucky Lozano

Chucky Lozano, Mexico international and winger for PSV Eindhoven in the Netherlands elevated to legend status on Sunday with his match winning goal versus Germany in the 35th minute

I don’t know about you all but this Thursday ended four long years of waiting for the 2018 edition of the FIFA World Cup. Football/soccer fans are a forgiving bunch … at least mostly. I remember when Russia and Qatar were selected as 2018 and 2022 world cup hosts. I and the rest of the world called bullshit on the blatant corruption and at the time vowed a boycott. Well, here I am watching every minute of every match and eating, sleeping, and drinking (lots) the beautiful game.

With three days and 8 matches down (and 56 to go), it’s time for some reflections:

United2026

United2026

A day before the World Cup kicked off, the FIFA Congress voted on who would host the 2026 World Cup. Well it might be old news by now, but the combined US/Mexico/Canada bid, better known as United 2026,  beat Morocco and will be the first to host a field of 48 teams with 80 total games across three countries in 2026. In fact, in a World Cup first, the opening match will consist of three matches held in each host country. I also heard that Atlanta might host a semi-final match at the Benz so time to start prepping. But honestly, this news was the smallest ray of sunshine for all US Supporters, most of whom are still crest fallen for not qualifying for Russia 2018. Let the games begin!

 

Match technology

goal line tech

Whether you love VAR or hate VAR, love goal line technology or could care less all where put to the test early on in this world cup. History was made in the France vs. Australia World Cup game on Saturday when an intervention by the Video Assistant Referee (VAR) led to Les Bleus being awarded a penalty. It was the first time video technology had been used in the World Cup to directly influence a referee to change his decision. Technology intervened again later in the same match when France’s Paul Pogba’s shot was shown to have crossed the line by the goal-line technology system on the referee’s watch. For all the haters of technology in soccer and especially the use of VAR, Luddites your loosing.

Egypt’s biggest distraction

Mo Salah

Mo Salah’s injury has kept us all guessing and wondering when we will see the rising super star. Maybe in match 2 vs. Ru

CR7

CR7

Love him or leave him, he’s the world’s best and proved this again against Spain this week. A hat trick and late free kick equalizer vs the might Spaniards … insanity

Messi let down

messi pissed  The world looked on as Leo Messi missed a penalty (his 4th out of the last 7 he has taken for club and country) versus Iceland in Argentina’s opening WC match. Judging by his reaction post-game you would assume Argentina just lost another final to Germany. Plus, if you believe reports that Diego Maradona was arrested by Russian police for trying to force his way into the Argentine dressing room to confront Messi about the miss, it’s safe to say things are not shiny in Messi land. All right folks, get a grip, not only is Messi human but he gives his team the best chance to win any and every day of the week. And oh yeah, they rescued a point from this match and have plenty of opportunities to advance to the next round. Take a breadth world.

 

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Representing for Die Mannschaft. German National Team Fan Club Smyrna, GA ready to go!

Here we are .. the end of day 5 Euro 2016: 12 matches, the opening group games for all 24 Euro teams, are in the books; 22 goals; 6 matches decided by one goal; 3 ties; Germany, Italy and Hungary managed 2:0 victories.

Based on the first week of play, here are some of our pleasant surprises, shockers, under performers and overachievers:

hal-robson-kanu-wales

Wales’ super sub Hal Robson-Kanu scores a late winner to shock Slovakia in its Euro 2016 opener.

Pleasant Surprise — Wales: The Football Association of Wales, the 3rd oldest national FA in the world, waited 58 years to field its national team  at a major international tournament. Not only did Wales’ superstar Gareth Bale score a goal, the team scrapped and fought it’s way to a 2:1 victory over Slovakia. With the win, Wales sits atop Group B (and England) … at least until Thursday when they battle the perennial underachieving English.

Shocker — Hungary: Many EURO 16 fantasy types picked Austria to go far … after all they took care of business in Euro qualifying plus have Bayern Munich superstar David Alaba and Christian Fuchs, proud member of this year’s Premier league winner Leicester City. Well, Hungary had an appetite for an upset and beat Austria soundly 2:0.

adam-szalai-hungary-austria-bordeaux-goal-celeb-fans-supporters-euro_3484047

Hungary’s goal scorer Adam Szalai does his best impression of the Lambeau Leap as his nation upsets Austria in their Euro 2016 opening match.

Biggest disappointment — Belgium: If this is truly the best Belgian’s ‘golden generation’ of footballers can do than it’s time to sell your gold reserves. Pound-for-pound, player-for-player, the 2016 Belgian national squad is easily the most impressive of the 24 Euro teams. They started their Euro campaign with a haphazard, uninspired performance versus the laser focused and disciplined Italians. Not all is lost, but the Red Devils may need to watch tape from the 1980s-1990s teams that delivered true championship caliber performances.

Buffon singing

Italian national keeper Gianluigi Buffon sings his heart out during the EURO 2016 pre-match country anthems.

Overachievers — Italy: Oh the irony … the team best known for defense and eking out boring 1 nil victories, topped the week 1 scoring charts with two surprise goals against Belgium. Entering the EUROS as one of the weakest Italy squads in many years, the Azzuri are playing light and burden free. Will they be the team to watch? Let’s see what their next match vs. Sweden brings.

As we head into week 2, we have finally warmed up our Euro 2016 diesels and are ready to hit the open road. Who will shine? who will whine? and who will continue to dream of Euro glory. Stay tuned!

SO. I have been holding out on all TRF followers and supporters … my last blog post was on July 13th, 2014, the morning of the 2014 FIFA World Cup Final between my mighty Germans and the persistent Argentinians. What happened that afternoon and evening is now part of global footballing and World Cup history.

 

mario-goetze

22 year-old German young-star Mario Goetze sends the German footballing world into utopian frenzy with his World Cup Final match-winner.

Mario Goetze’s epic strike in the 113th minute earned Die Mannschaft it’s 4th world cup star and provided the icing to the sweetest German Fussball chocolate cake any team could whip up. Why so sweet? On its way to the WC trophy, Germany accomplished notable ‘firsts’ and ‘mosts’ … most goals scored 18; best goal difference +14; most goals scored in a match by one team: Germany 7 v Brazil 1 (in the WC semis!), most passes by a team: 4,157 passes, with a 82% completion rate, and first European team to win a WC in a South American host nation.

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Miro Klose scored 16 goals in 23 world cup matches in four world cups including the record winner versus Brazil in the World Cup semi-finals.

A lot has happened to the German National Team since that magical night at the Maracanã: Match winner Mario Goetze went from national team hero to club (Bayern Muenchen) bench-warmer and sometimes goat; Captain Philip Lahm, defender Per Mertesacker and goal-getter extraordinaire Miro Klose retired from Die Mannschaft; country and Bayen hero Basti Schweinsteiger left for not greener pastures at Manchester United; and overall the team has had a less than impressive showing since Brazil, with 10 wins, 7 losses and 2 ties in various friendlies and Euro 2016 qualifiers. On a positive note: NT regular Mesut Oesil had a sensational season with Arsenal (19 assists, 6 goals) and was voted the team’s MVP; Mario ‘9 Lives’ Gomez resurrected his career once again and won golden boot (26 goals) honors with Turkish side Beşiktaş (he’s back as Germany’s striker); and a new crop of German Young-stars (including Kimmich, Sane, Brandt and Weigl) are all poised to make their Euro 2016 or Rio Olympics NT debuts.

match-schedule-euro-2016-smallLet’s talk Euros. For the first time, the European Championship final tournament (Euro 2016) in France will be contested by 24 teams, having been expanded from the 16-team format used since 1996. The group stage consists of six groups, four teams, followed by a knockout stage (sweet 16, quarter-final and semis) and the final.

The June 10th France v Romania game kicks- off a 51 match, 10 venue celebration of Europe’s finest culminating in the July 10th Euro final at Stade de France located in the Parisian suburb of Saint-Denis. If all goes well, Die Mannschaft will be competing for a fourth European title , and the last since 1996. Also, according to my match-up math, if all tournament favorites hold serve, Germany will face German-killer Italy (Germany has never beaten Italy in an international tournament including a loss in the 2012 Euro quarters) in the Quarter-Finals on Saturday, July 2nd and Euro host and co-favorite France in the Semis on Thursday, July 7th.

copaamerica2016

For those of you who can’t sit tight for the Euros to begin in a mere 12 days, you can exhale and set your sights on the Copa America Centenario. The centennial Copa will be held in the U.S. starting June 3rd and marks the first Copa América hosted outside of South America. It will be held as part of an agreement between CONMEBOL (the South American football confederation) and CONCACAF (the football confederation for North and Central America and the Caribbean) as a special edition between the usual four-year cycle, and features an expanded field of 16 teams (an increase from the usual 12), with ten teams from CONMEBOL and six teams from CONCACAF.

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The Chilen National Team celebrate their epic win in the 2015 Copa America vs. Argentinia to claim the title

This is your chance to watch all the South American stars as well as the US and Mexican favorites including 32 matches culminating with the Copa Final at Citi Field in Queens on Sunday, June 26th. The U.S. National Team just completed an impressive 3 match tune-up tour and silenced the critics with victories over Puerto Rico, Ecuador (also in the Copa) and Bolivia (also in the Copa). The U.S. kicks-off the Copa on Friday night (9:30PM Eastern) vs. Columbia. Other countries they’ll face in Group A include Costa Rica and Paraguay.

Consider TRF open for business once again and stay tuned for periodic updates and features on all things Euro 2016 and Copa America. And oh yeah, the Rio Olympics including a world-class soccer competition start August 5th.

SCHWEIZ SEPP HERBERGERGrowing up German … means honoring our aging and mostly deceased footballing legends and celebrating the dominant national teams of the 1970’s and late 80’s/early 90’s. It also means reveling in the German footballing renaissance that really began at the 2006 World Cup and is now flourishing.  We remember how we scraped and clawed in 1954 to earn our erster Stern (the first star) in what the footballing world has come to know as ‘Das Wunder von Bern’, a true miracle of a world cup performance by Die Mannschaft led by no other than 1. FC Kaiserslautern legend  Fritz Walter.

Fußball-Weltmeisterschaft 1974 - Finale - Deutschland - Niederlande 2:1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fast forward 20 years to 1974 and the 2nd star earned by a fierce German side that included the likes of Beckenbauer, Netzer, Maier, Mueller, Vogts, Breitner and Hoeness. Winning the world cup on home soil in Germany was spectacular … equally impressive was beating the Netherlands led by the Dutch master himself Johan Cruyff and the team’s Total Football philosophy.

Lothar Mattaheus 1990 WM

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our last Stern came in 1990 when Germany beat Argentina in Italy. It marked the second Germany v Argentina world cup final encounter … in 1986, Argentina and Diego Maradona (and his ‘hand of god’) beat the Germans 3:2. The 1990 team really reflects my generation and the heroes I grew up with throughout grade school and high school. Household footballing names such as Matthaeus, Klinsmann, Voeller, Brehme, Koeller, Buchwald, Augenthaler, Illgner, Littbarski and Haessler lived up the hype of favorites and were the first European team to beat a South American squad in a world cup final.

2006 wc team celebration

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The world cup in 2006 hosted by Germany really changed the game. Dubbed “Deutschland, ein Sommermaerchen”, thanks to an award-winning soccer film documenting the German’s quest for footballing glory in the Vaterland, the nation unified like never before to support the national team and most importantly re-discover its national pride. Led by national coach and #1 Germany cheerleader Juergen Klinsmann and awe-inspiring play by Miro Klose, Michael Ballack , Bastian Schweinsteiger, Phillip Lahm, Lukas Podolski and the rest of the 2006 Mannschaft, we collectively hit the attacking football ‘reset’ button. The 2006 team displayed a very aggressive, attack-focused, yet disciplined and technically superior style that has now become its trademark. Also, that year, we re-discovered what it’s like to compete at the highest level and beat big teams (such as Argentina in the Quarterfinals). This confidence and attacking mindset carried over to South Africa where ‘Jogi’s 11’ managed to beat footballing powerhouses England and Argentina by a combined score of 8:1.

Vierte Stern fuer Deutschland

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fast forward 8 years … Die Mannschaft, this time around led by team captain Phillip Lahm, and what many consider the golden generation of ‘new school’ German Fussball are on the verge of securing our country’s fourth star and world cup victory; ironically, facing the same Argentinian side Germany beat the last time it raised the trophy. However, in contrast to other German teams and time periods of greatness, this generation could have staying power. Case in point, 12 players of the current 23 man roster are 25 years or younger. The German soccer academy system is in full effect and if some breaks go our way and the talent continues to develop at existing rates, the team could emulate Spain-type global soccer domination. In fact, after Tuesday’s record-setting and utterly dominant 7:1 victory versus host nation Brazil anything short of a 4th star and world cup final victory today would be considered tragic.

So as we prepare for battle today … whether that’s fighting our way through the crowds at world cup public viewings (The World Cup Fanatics will be doing it up at Atlanta’s Der Biergarten); sneaking a long lunch break (for those unlucky enough to be working) to catch the match, or sitting home alone with no distractions, just utter focus and determination, let’s remember Germany’s incredible footballing heritage but understand that all of us are a part of the next chapter of German World Cup glory. To take a page out of U.S. Soccer Supporters’ playbook …  “I BELIEVE THAT WE WILL WIN”.

Quote  —  Posted: July 13, 2014 in World Cup, World Cup Brazil, World Football

KO

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The World Cup 2014 has just started … the knock-out, winner takes all phase is upon us. We have seen 48 group stage matches so far with our share of headlines … 136 goals scored; 2 hat trick performances [German Thomas Mueller & Swiss Xherdan Shaqiri] massive upsets for European heavyweights including Italy, Spain, England and Portugal, and of course the ‘bite heard around the world’. Also, check out Wikipedia’s 2014 World Cup Statistics for updated numbers.

Our first weekend of knock-out matches includes four delicious match-ups including 2 main event south american matchups and a Cinderella v Cinderella encounter. Dude, our world cup spirit canine, is back with world cup predictions so let’s see what he sees unfolding this Saturday and Sunday.

chi_braBrazil v Chile: This match will set the tone for upsets in the ‘put up or shut up’ stages. Brazil is everybody’s favorite to win the title but after a lackluster group stage display featuring an electric Neymar (but only him), Dude sees the wiley Chileans seize the day and add their name to world cup history.

col_uru

Colombia v Uruguay: Saturday’s late match in Rio will be a no bite, no Suarez affair and continue Colombia’s impressive run during the World Cup.

hol_mexMexico v Netherlands: el Tri will look to continue it’s massive group stage performance and keep spunky coach Herrera happy. Unfortunately, the Dutch who scored the most goals so far with 10 and snatched 10 points in group qualifying won’t be in the mood to make the negative headlines. Look for a very close match that is decided by one of the Dutch superstars — Robben or van Persie — late, late in the match.

Costa Rica v Greece: Nobody expected this ’round of 16′ matchup so this should be an extremely scrappy and entertaining (yes, even with Greece) game. There are no clear favorites so this prediction was a bit tougher for Dude. He thinks Greece will find its shooting boots and score 2 in a 2:1 win.gre_cr

 

LUS-Soccer-Centennial-Germany-Football-Friendly-0613 (60)et’s backtrack a year to early June 2013 and the German National Team’s visit to the States and the Centennial Match vs, the U.S. National Team TRF headed out to DC to check out Die Mannschaft and enjoy all the festivities surrounding USMNT 100 year celebrations. The low light was a hapless loss by the Germans to the U.S, boys, the highlight was chanting “Miro wir lieben Dich” and “Kaiserslautern” as he took the practice pitch a day before the match.

Funny Fact: It turns out that our hotel (Hyatt Regency Washington) was the official U.S. Soccer Association HQ for the centennial celebration so we were greeted by literally 100s of local, regional and national U.S. soccer officials in town for the big event. Walking through the hotel decked out in Germany schwag was a blast especially when all of our chats with the officials focused on the bright future of the German NT, not their own. Of course, we toned things back a bit post-game on Sunday.

While on location, we took the chance to catch the Germans’ Saturday pre-match practice. Here’s a short vid edited and produced by the fabulously talented Victoria Hersey

Back to Miro Klose … he had just joined the team after winning the Italian Cup in Rome. While Klose was not able to break Gerd Mueller’s total national team goals record against the Americans, we’ll keep our fingers crossed he stays healthy and in form heading into next summer’s World Cup in Brazil. Update: Miro broke Gerd’s Mueller vs. Armenia almost a year after the US match in DC. After his late clutch goal vs. Ghana on Saturday, he’s also on track to break Ronaldo’s all time world cup goal record. I am hopefully he’ll get and seize his chance tommorrow!
US-Soccer-Centennial-Germany-Football-Friendly-0613 (16)

Germany contests its 2nd Group G match today versus Ghana. While Ghana, similar to most of the African Federation world cup teams in Brazil, has disappointed so far, the squad has the talent and fight to make this an exciting matchup. Here are some of our musings and match facts ahead of the match.

Pressing the reset button

Fans of the German national football teaHistorically, the Germans have been challenged with staying focused throughout the duration of international competitions. Surprisingly, the dip in focus and form usually occurs the second match into the group stages. In Euro 2008, Germany fell to Croatia (after a sound victory vs. Austria) in its 2nd match and  in South Africa (WC2010), the team lost to Serbia after an inspirational win against Australia. With Ghana out for blood and in ‘do or die’ mode after falling to the U.S. boys, Germany needs to keep their eye on the ‘winning the group’ prize and treat the Ghana match like their first one.

oezil & rocky balboaCelebrating Özil

Mesut Özil was the difference maker in Germany’s last world cup match vs. Ghana. His lethal strike in the 59th minute of the must win last group match solidified his standing as a ‘up and comer’ on the global soccer scene. In fact, due to his performances in the 2010 FIFA World Cup, Özil ensured his place among Europe’s top young talents and was sought by teams like BarcelonaArsenal, and Real Madrid. On August 17th, 2010, his German club Werder Bremen announced that they had reached an agreement with Real Madrid for Özil’s transfer. He now plays for Arsenal along side national team colleagues Lukas Podolski and Per Mertesacker.

 

 

Match Facts
  • Germany will play its 101st world cup match compared to Ghana’s 14th which qualified for a 3rd world cup in a row
  • Last time Germany lost to an African side at the World Cup was way back in 1982 against Algeria
  • Since 1994, Germany have won their second World Cup group game only once that was against Poland in 2006 (whichTRF attended in Dortmund with his daddy!)

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    My dad and I celebrating Oliver Neuville’s extra time winner versus Poland in the 2nd match of Germany’s 2006 World Cup campaign

Four of the last six World Cup goals conceded by Ghana have come from set-pieces …  Germany has one of the tallest teams!

  • Today is Germany and Ghana’s third meeting. Germany emerged winners on both previous encounters, 6-1 in a friendly in 1993 and 1-0 in group stage at the 2010 World Cup
  • All seven goals scored by Germany against Ghana have come after the 60th minute
Predictions

Germany will break its curse of bad 2nd match group performances and add 3 points to its WC 2014 tally. 2:1 the final score with Mesut Özil reminding the world that he’s top class.

My Germerican heart has been beating out of my Brust with excitement this week. Not only did Die Mannschaft ‘Mueller-handle’ CR7 and his portuguese brethren in their Group G opener, Juergen’s U.S. boys, five of whom also claim Germerica, finally broke the seal vs. Ghana in a thrilling yet agonizing 2:1 victory for the ages. Oh yeah, there’s more … FIFA’s goal line technology (designed by a German company) made its debut during Sunday’s France-Honduras match … technology 1 technophobic naysayers 0. And if things couldn’t get any rosier fuer Deutsche and Deutschland lovers everywhere, Wednesday marked the end of Spain’s reign as global football juggernaut (and Germany killer) guaranteeing that Brazil will crown a new world cup champion in 2014 … hallelujah! Let’s take a closer look …

Germany 4 Portugal 0: What a way to celebrate Germany’s record 100 world cup matches

Angela Merkel has made a habit of visiting the national team after matches and she did not disappoint after Monday’s win over Portugal. Pictures of her enthusiastically celebrating German World Cup wins have become standard fare. She’s definitely Germany’s talisman.

Angiesboys

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

FIFA debuts goal line technology and wins … German tech startup GoalControl to the rescue

GoalControl installed 14 cameras in each of the 12 World Cup stadiums, located high up above the stands. The cameras work together to triangulate the motion of the ball with calculated precision, snapping up to 500 images per second. The result … when French striker Karim Benzema struck a ball toward the Honduran goal and it looked to be on the line (no goal) not over the line (goal) the brand new technology took over and erased any doubts. France scored, FIFA scored and GoalControl celebrated.Goal line tech

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The mighty Spaniards failed to make it out of group qualifying … after only 2 matches in WC 2014 … Enuff Said!

Adios Spana

Here we are, on the first world cup Sunday (the Final is today in 4 weeks!), half-way through the first round of matches in the group stages, with 8 games under our belt.   There have been plenty of eye-raising and even hair-raising and downright shocking moments … here are my top headlines:

Red card goes to WC refsFIFA World Cup Referees …anything but world-class: Right from the very first match the official’s performance has been criticised and scrutinised and the spotlight yanked from the world cup players that so far have delivered a lively, high-scoring and entertaining tournament. After Mexico’s victory vs . Cameroon, despite several inexplicable officiating faux pas, I was seriously contemplating my own for of walk-out … watch less matches because of the horrible and seemingly acceptable lackluster officials. Luckily, Holland’s exhilarating performance and a handful of very high quality matches since — all without official interference, have turned the spotlight back on the players, teams, fans and the host. Let’s hope the next 56 matches are void of ANY officiating controversy.

van Persie goalDutch Treats: Look at the 8 WC final scores so far and the 5:1 tally stands out … a dismantling of the Spanish compliments of the Netherlands. Who’d have thunk it? Clockwork Orange, true grit, focus, bravery, believe and unprecedented unity come to mind. I said before the tournament that Spain might well have a tough time this WC, primarily based on its aging roster and a lack of hunger (after gorging at the ‘highest level of soccer’ buffet too long) to 4-peat (Euro 2008- WC 2010-Euro 2012- WC 2014), but surely no one expected this. Anyone who knows me, realizes I am not the biggest Holland football fan (mild understatement) but anyone who enjoys the beautiful game was surely licking their lips on Friday. I really hope this was just the beginning of the Oranje show and I’ll be the first to raise a cold glass of Crush to celebrate this Dutch revival.

Mexican Calm: I was thoroughly impressed with Mexico’s convincing 1:0 win over Cameroon … El Tri created plenty of scoring chances and looked like a completely transformed squad from the crew we saw struggling to even qualify to earn a ticket to the big dance. To me, even more impressive than the result, was the squad’s calm and collected, ‘chillin’ attitude after being literally robbed of 2 goals by atrocious officiating in the first half. No one lost their cool and led by Mexican mascot and skipper Miguel Herrera pulled together to still end up victorious. What role models and consummate professionals.

Costa Rican Miracle: Another day, another upset. The Costa Ricans surprised the world saturday with an inspiring come from behind victory versus footballing giants Uruguay. The South Americans who on paper have one of the strongest, experienced squads (even without Luis Suarez who did not play with a knee injury) took an early lead but got majorly out-played by the wily islanders. CR’s win gives CONCACAF member nations an impressive 2 and o record heading into upcoming matches for federation mates Honduras (today vs. France) and the US (Monday vs. Ghana).

Andrea Pirlo

Italian Youth: I know this may sound as an oxymoron, especially if comparing the likes of 35-year-old midfield maestro Andre Pirlo, goalie legend Buffon (36), defender Andrea Barzagli (33) and midfielder Thiago Motta (31), but the Italians looked young and fresh versus the crampy, limping English last night. While England took advantage of multiple water breaks and other interruptions to barely survive the rigors of the rainforest humidity, the Italians (who are also European and don’t play in the Amazon heat) looked rejuvenated and ready to run post match wind sprints. Who knows what’s in the Chianti but if your Italian bottoms up!

FYI … Dude, our world cup spirit dog, is taking Sunday off and will be back Monday with new World Cup 2014 predictions. 8 matches in, he’s picked 5 winners including correctly predicting 2 final scores!