Argentina, Germany, World Cup

German depth and genius won them the World Cup

IMG_4184This world cup final was one to behold, many many people (including me), were watching with a hopeful eye, wishing that Leo Messi would bring glory to Argentina by beating Germany (like Maradona in 86), and not just cement his legendary status, but allow him to be crowned as the best player of all time. But if one thing was proven by today’s result, it’s that football is a team sport, and every member of Germany has stepped up at one point or another to offer a decisive game winning moment… More on this later…

Germany Celebration World Cup pic copyThrough the first half of the game it became clear that Argentina had the edge, as Messi, Lavezzi and Pérez ran at Jérôme Boateng and Mats Hummels. This opened up space for crosses to Gonzalo Higuaín, and although he was caught offside for one of his finishes, I thought i was a nice indication of things to come.  Unfortunately for them, Argentina weren’t able to capitalize on many of those runs, and in the second half were also halted. That said, Messi played really well behind the top striker, it allowed him space using his dribbling and create chances from midfield (he should play the same role behind Saurez at Barcelona this year).

Towards the end of the second half, Germany’s attack was at it’s best, taking advantage of a tired Argentine defense. But ultimately, neither team could find a goal by the end of 90 minutes. And, in extra time it was really clear that Argentina couldn’t attack full steam ahead as it would have been a risk for their defense. It’s worth mentioning that a huge part of their defensive success was due to Javier Mascherano, who had the World Cup of his life – his performances have been top notch and have proven that he’s still in his prime at the defensive midfield position.

When Mario Götze scored in extra time, one thing became very clear: Germany have more depth Gotze Germany pic for blogthan any other team in this tournament. While Argentina also has a lot of attacking talent, they weren’t able to effectively replace Di Maria, whereas when Marco Rues went down for Germany, they still had more than enough players to come on and play well enough to replace him. Some of their other players didn’t even have a chance to shine at this World Cup due to their massive amount of depth and talent. For example, Julian Draxler didn’t have any role on this team/nation, yet he would have started for most of the others that battled it out for the cup. Germany proved that the World Cup is a battle of attrition- they have such an experienced and well disciplined squad – their team has gotten so far in previous tournaments and failed, yet this time they were more than ready to take on every challenge that was handed to them.

Leo Messi Argentina pic for blogI’m not sure how this loss will affect Messi’s legacy, especially as he won the Golden Ball, an award given to the most excellent player at the World Cup. All considered, he played admirably through each match, even despite the fact that he didn’t score after the group stages. Unfortunately for him, he couldn’t produce a moment of brilliance today to take the life out of the German squad. Furthermore, his determination and drive to show up on such a large stage was extremely apparent today – He was awake, ready, and motivated as he took on the German defense more than once all by himself. Gonzalo Higuaín also played well throughout the tournament, although today he had a difficult time, missing an easy opportunity in the first half when the ball was essentially passed to him for a one on one with Neuer (a moment that I’m sure will haunt him for years to come).

But anyways, congrats to Germany for a great performance at this year’s World Cup!

Also, attention to American readers – please follow The Soccer Dice on twitter for a chance to win a new Adidas World Cup Soccer ball (just click the twitter link above, then click follow, and you’re entered for a chance to win. A random winner will be selected in the next five days and I will message them for address details to send over the ball. Cheers!)

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Argentina, World Cup

A Messi conclusion

Javier pic for blogArgentina had a very strong first half today, and this was very much due to the fact that Javier Mascherano has been employed in his natural defensive midfield position. Today vs the Netherlands he disrupted many of their attacks, preventing them from playing their fierce counter-attacking football and took Arjen Robben out of his element (also making a last ditch tackle that prevented him from scoring in the last five minutes). Furthermore, Wesley Sneijder had tracked back quite a bit to help defend against Messi runs, assisting the not so fully fit Nigel de Jong in his defensive duties at midfield.

That said, here was the theme throughout the entire match: Argentina could not take advantage of the Dutch’s inability to attack – and anyone could tell that they truly missed Di Maria’s pace which surely would have haunted the slower Dutch defenders like winger turned wingback Dirk Kuyt. Lavezzi played well, but he is not as great of a dribbler as Di Maria, and neither is Gonzalo Higuain. Tactically it would have made more sense for Messi to start at the right wing to let Higuain work at center striker as he does for Napoli. Or, alternatively, let Messi play a free role from the midfield (like Neymar does at times for Brazil), or similarly to how Di Maria has been employed by Argentina (and Real) so that they could at least have some ability to create chances from the midfield.

Later in the match it was interesting that Alejandro Sabella took off Higuain to put in Aguero, especially considering Wesley pic for blogthat Gonzalo had seemingly found his stride as the game went on – and also because Aguero’s fitness has not always been at 100%.  That move clearly suggested that Sabella and Argentina were content to play conservatively and believed that their attack could get it done in extra time or in the last ten minutes (or in penalties).

Sabella pic for blogThis was the safe move, and it really shouldn’t be criticized, and despite all the reports that he isn’t an adequate coach (and that Messi coaches them), he should ultimately be praised for getting Argentina as far as he has in this World Cup. When he subbed Maxi Rodriguez for Lavezzi, I thought it was a great move – Maxi plays with exceptional energy which is exactly what teams need in extra time. And fortunately for him, he powered a penalty kick in after 120 minutes.

Throughout the match, I eagerly anticipated a moment of brilliance from either Robben or Messi, but both teams understandably played without taking risks, and in doing so went against Nike’s slogan to “risk everything” and this lead to penalty kicks (soccer’s ultimate fallacy). Ultimately though, I believe that this is one of the most exciting World Cup finals in a very long time as it will decide whether or not Messi can take the title of “best player of all time.”

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Brazil, World Cup

Samba Sadness

Scolari Pic for BlogBrazil’s game today was not a clear indication that Germany is a thousand times better than them – rather, today’s game was a clear indication that they missed their best defensive player and their best offensive player.

Germany didn’t have much of a challenge today (if any), and Brazil lost their game against Germany before it even started (which I honestly didn’t expect). I said in a previous post about Brazil that Scolari missed the boat with some of the selections he’s made for the World Cup. Lucas deserved to be called up as he offers the flair that they so sorely missed without Neymar today. With Thiago Silva missing the game, Filipe Luís would have been a great player to put in the back next to Dante, especially considering that he is more defensive-minded than Marcelo – who I believe has been a weak link throughout the World Cup.

But all of that is quite irrelevant, and what is relevant is Brazil’s unfashionable demise… In this World Cup David Luiz pic for blog
Brazil never emphasized playing their Joga Bonito style football. Instead of playing the “beautiful game” as they are known for, they relied on midfield grittiness from the likes of Paulinho, Luis Gustavo, and Fernandinho – and in my opinion this proved to be their downfall. They simply could not compete with Germany’s midfield offensively, and as a result were completely take advantage of. Brazil’s best defense has historically been it’s attack, and today that was clearly proven as they lacked any semblance of attacking structure. Their dependence on Neymar throughout the World Cup was impeccably obvious today. Their team got by when Neymar was healthy, and it would have certainly been interesting to see if Thiago Silva could have influenced their defense if he were in the game. But ultimately, and as I said before, their absence is irrelevant, and Brazil should have never lost so terribly to Germany in the first place. Furthermore, I can’t comprehend why the best right back in the world – Dani Alves – didn’t start in such an important game. While I do like Maicon, he is way past his prime and should not have been given the chance on such a big stage today. Brazil will now need to respond with fury if they are to defend their World Cup performance – and the best way to do this is to dominate in the third place game.

Andre pic for blogBut anyway, Luiz Felipe Scolari will have a really tough time dealing with the football press as Brazil’s suffered it’s worst defeat in their 94 years of football. This game was not just a loss, but it was a uppercut to Brazil’s football willpower and a microcosm of their larger issue – that they need to field more technically sound creative players. Joga Bonito is not dead, just as Tika-Taka is not dead – Brazil just needs to find the players to play with a technical love and passion that they have seemed to miss this entire world cup. Also, Brazil lacked depth, and that is Scolari’s fault first and foremost. Countinho deserved a spot after his year at Liverpool… Pato is better in Scolari’s system than either Fred or Jo, and Miranda played lights out for Atletico this year. Yet, Scolari overlooked them all, which is utterly unbelievable.

That said, Germany’s performance should be admire as they took all the chances that Brazil gave them. Germany is playing much better with Khedira and he should continue to start. Furthermore, Hummel’s return seemed to have shored up a defense that was terrible against Algeria.

One more point: André Schürrle should start in the final and for Chelsea this year. He’s more clinical than people give him credit for and takes all the chances he gets without a moment’s hesitation.

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Argentina, World Cup

The Messi-ah has arrived

Messi Argentina pic for blogYou might disagree, but I think this is Messi’s World Cup to take… his biggest competitor for the title of ‘Best player on earth’ Cristiano Ronaldo has been eliminated, the Spanish stars that have dominated on both a club and international level for the past decade are out, and Italy is no longer a worry for him – and while there are many other great teams (Brazil, Germany, Netherlands) with many great stars (Neymar, Müller, Robben), I still think that this is Messi’s stage more so than anyone else’s.

As you might know, Messi didn’t have the best campaign with Barcelona this past year and didn’t win any medals on the club level with them.  So, the World Cup is his time to not only make up for the bad year that he’s had at Barca, but also play well enough to prove that he’s worthy of praise on the world stage similar to that that he’s gotten on club level. Furthermore, it’s his chance to shut up all the critics that refuse to acknowledge his brilliance until he wins a World Cup (or at least lead Argentina deep into the tournament).

Although Argentina were drawn into relatively easy competition in the group stage, they still managed to win all three of their games in a World Cup that proven that each and every team is a force to be reckoned with – Brazil struggled with Chile, Germany struggled with Algeria – and today Argentina struggled against Switzerland as the game went to extra time.

Di Maria Argentina pic for blogThat said, this game’s result had huge implications on Leo Messi because there can really be no excuses for Argentina’s talent/performance – they’re stacked on offense and many of their players have had wild success on the club level this year. Di Maria won the Champions league with Real Madrid, Lavezzi won the French league at PSG – and they’re both players that are used to supporting bigger stars (Ronaldo, Ibra), so you’d imagine that their experience would translate well in that they’d support Messi as well as they do the superstars they play with on club level…

But, as we know, despite such great offensive talent surrounding him, Messi has had Lavezzi Argentina pic for blogto take control in all three of Argentina’s group matches – he single handedly beat Iran, and had an incredible game against Nigeria to secure the three points. He also scored a crucial goal against Bosnia and Herzegovina….

Fast forward to today… Rather than be the hero, Messi dropped the ball off to Di Maria for a curling shot that won the game. Messi’s making all the right decisions in this World Cup, and their progress in this competition shows it. Furthermore, he’s stepping up when it counts most – and that’s the true mark of a superstar and leader.

 

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Germany, World Cup

Is Germany overrated? … Or are they misusing their players?

Jerome and Per pic for blogIt’s difficult to assess Germany’s play so for in this World Cup, and here’s why: 1, I don’t know if they would have dominated Portugal had Pepe not stupidly gotten a red card, 2, Germany tied Ghana (totally unexpected), 3, Germany beat the US one to zero (although they did control possession the entire game, and it was raining) – But still, have the Germans been as dominate as everyone accuses them of being? It’s a question worth exploring.

Germany’s an interesting team, today vs Algeria their defense seemed out of tune, and while this could be because Hummels could not start, I think it’s worth investigation. Per Mertesacker is not a fast player, and neither are Jerome Boateng and Benedikt Höwedes, furthermore, all three of them are natural center backs playing in a four man back line with Shkodran Mustafi – who is also not the most agile player in the world…

If you take that information into consideration and think about Germany’s first half display German team pic for blogagainst Algeria, one thing stood out for me more than anything else – the German midfield and attack didn’t have fullbacks overlapping on the right and left sides of the pitch to open up the field. And I’ll explain why that is a problem: Bastian Schweinsteiger and Toni Kroos are not midfield maestros that can dribble past a player or two with creativity that disrupts defenses and start attacks… They are both incredible midfielders, although they let Ribery and Robben do most of the creative work on Bayern – and Germany simply doesn’t have players (like Robben and Ribery) for Kroos and Schweinsteiger to supply the ball to. Furthermore, Lahm is not Pirlo, and can’t start attacks from the deep lying midfield position that he holds and has played for Bayern as well. Let me make my point in another way: FC Bayern are so successful because Alba and Rafinha support the attack, plus Robben and Ribery are World class players that plat at a level that Özil and Götze haven’t reached yet.

Germany looked shaky today, and had a lot of trouble dealing with Algeria’s fast paced players. Germany needed to adjust Lahm pic for blog– they need to start playing Lahm at fullback, and allow him to overlap on the right to allow Götze more space to operate and be creative – and the same can be said for Özil – he also needs players to overlap him on the left… Otherwise Kroos and Schweinsteiger will continue to take long shots instead of working the ball around to their playmakers on the wings…  If Lahm does switch to fullback for the rest of the tournament, Germany should use Sami Khedira as a defensive midfielder in front of Mertesacker and Boateng to shore up their defense.

When André Schürrle replaced Götze at half-time of their game today against Algeria, Germany seemed a bit more offensively equipped, and I think this is because he dribbles less than the likes of Götze and Özil, plus he’s a bit more athletic than either of them as well. But still, with all the fuss made about Germany, they should be more dominant than they were today as I thought that Algeria actually outperformed them for the better part of the first 90 minutes. Furthermore, Schürrle’s goal proved that he should start (he should also start regularly for Chelsea). Now that it’s all said and done, Germany can rest easy… But they can’t rest on their laurels and must learn from their performance in extra time that Lahm’s ability as fullback is crucial to their success.

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France, World Cup

No egos on France

This World Cup has proven one thing so far: That every team is a contender; it doesn’t matter if a team has a world renowned super star (or 2, or 3), or if a team has all the momentum in the world, any team is capable of losing at any time in this tournament. And, I must say, this World Cup has been that much more exciting because the “best” teams haven’t just eased their way through the competition.

We’ve already seen teams with huge expectations get knocked out of the group stage (Spain, Italy), and Benzema pic for blogwe’ve also seen teams like Brazil and Holland struggle against opponents like Chile and Mexico – teams that have performed much better than expected. Today, Nigeria continued that trend, giving the French an extremely tough time. I expected France to have their way considering how well they played in the group stage, yet Nigeria was more than up for the challenge – they fought admirably all game, and Vincent Enyeama had played extremely well.

The most interesting aspect of the French football team is watching their group of players come Pogba pic For Blogtogether as a team, especially after their last World Cup when everyone was so divided. The French team is eclectic to say the least, the ages and experience of their players are so different – Varane and Pogba are both aged 21, Benzema is hitting his prime at 26, Matuidi is 27, Giroud is 27, Cabaye is 28, Valbuena is 29, Evra is 33… but what seems to allow all of these players to come together is their lack of egos.

All of the players just named are stars in their own right, but none are insanely over-hyped. Worldwide, Benzema is perhaps the most well known – yet even he seems to have bought into this beautiful no ego/work hard mentality that has been established within the squad. Their team is the perfect mix of young France pic for Blogplayers wanting to learn, old players willing to teach through their experiences, and also players that are trying make more of a name for themselves on the world stage (Cabaye, and Valbuena) in particular. Furthermore, I think Valbuena has been their most important player as he is really stepping up as a captain
on the pitch that all players respect.

Another note: The French have been solid on set pieces, they have been great on the counter, and also
have played offense nicely within their opponent’s half. I’d go as far as to say that they’ve been the best team at the tournament so far, but hey, they were also in an easier group than many other teams with high expectations… but still, as I said in the first paragraph, every team has come to play at this World Cup, so I truly think that the French are a step ahead of the competition. That said, it’s been beautiful watching this French team play for each other, rather than just with each other.

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Holland, World Cup

Robben Mexico’s hopes… Does Robben deserve the Ballon D’or?

The Dutch’s two year pursuit of redemption after a terrible Euro campaign seemed in vain. 86 minutes in, down a De Jong pic for bloggoal, and unable to penetrate Mexico’s taught lines, the Netherlands seemed on the verge of an early trip home. Then came Sneijder’s kick, a bullet to the left side of the net; the yellow card against Marquez, and Huntelaar’s penalty shot.  Ten minutes from desolation, the Dutch reversed course and launched a party in the The Hague that will last throughout the night.

That said, it should be realized that while the Dutch won, they weren’t very convincing… When Nigel De Jong exited
the game, their formidable three center-back defensive scheme became quite shaky, and Giovani Dos Santos took full advantage with a beautiful individual effort (and when he was taken out of the game, I was quite surprised).

For the Netherlands, many lessons can be learned from this game, beginning with the fact that their back three should never play without a player like De Jong in front of them, and… Dirk Kuyt is a terrible right wingback…

Van Persie pic for blogBut anyways, although they performed extremely well in their first three games, the Dutch looked shaky today – after Mexico scored their first goal, their attack dropped back slightly and the Dutch were left with the ability to control more possession from within their opponent’s half – and quite frankly, they didn’t seem to have the ability to take advantage of that situation. Their first goal today was the result of set-pieces blunder on Mexico’s part, and their second goal came from the penalty spot… The Dutch won’t get so lucky when they play better teams, and Robben will no longer get the calls in the box that he expects – that’s why the Dutch must learn to rely on forms of offense other than the counter-attack and set-pieces.

Furthermore, I didn’t understand why Van Persie was substituted for Huntelaar (despite Huntelaar’s header pass to Robben pic for blog
Sneijder for the tying goal): Van Persie is a player that needs to be on the field at all times, especially in a Dutch system that relies so much on the attacking three that he, Sneijder and Robben make up. Huntelaar is a great player, but if world class Van Persie is struggling to get going, I’d find that Huntelaar would also have a lot more trouble finding a rhythm – especially as he hadn’t played in the previous three games.

If the Dutch can continue to win, I’ll shut up, but after today’s performance, and De Jong’s injury, I see them having a hard time advancing much further as the competition gets better. That said, I still look forward most to seeing how teams defend Robben moving forward, and how he responds. The World Cup stage has proven to be a place where players can make their careers, break their careers, and transform from world class stars, to world class legends. If Robben continues his fantastic form, he could win the Ballon D’or, and right now if the World Cup were to end today, he’d deserve it.

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