World Cup Day Six: Five Thoughts

Kompany talks to the referee on behalf of Jan Vertonghen. - Jeff Gross

A United States paper roundup, Belgium's troubling victory, Scolari's punishment and the excitement of Group H.

A US paper round-up, of sorts

Following the USA’s World Cup win against Ghana I thought it’d be fun to look across American media and survey opinion on the performance.

Television wise, it was a roaring success. According to John Ourand, the game “did a 14.4 in NYC on ESPN/Univision combined. The average of all Jets/Giants games last season in NY was 14.1 across FOX/CBS/NBC.” In other words, the beautiful game got bigger ratings, for however small a sample size, than the NFL.

SI’s Brian Straus contends the “USA [went] back to its roots to drum up winning World Cup formula vs. Ghana.”

On the topic of Michael Bradley, Grant Wahl, also of SI, wrote “Bradley, too, had an uncharacteristically tough game, appearing to measure his passes too much, which led to multiple giveaways.”

ESPN’s Doug McIntyre believes “It took Clint Dempsey 30 seconds to cement his legacy as the greatest player in U.S. World Cup history.” Eventually going even further saying, “By the time this tournament is over, there's a chance that the 31-year-old Dempsey will have surpassed Landon Donovan as the greatest U.S. player of all time.”

Meanwhile, Jurgen Klinsmann remains “full of hope that [Altidore] comes back still in the tournament.”

The State of the Belgians

Led by City skipper, Vincent Kompany, Belgium got their World Cup off to a winning start. Down for most of the match after Sofiane Feghouli converted a penalty conceded by Jan Vertonghen, Belgium came alive following second half changes that saw Dries Mertens and Marouane Fellaini replace Nacer Chadli and Mousa Dembele. It was Fellaini, playing just off the striker (the only position he’s useful in), who scored Belgium’s equalizer on a wonderful set piece swung in from ex-Chelsea “star” Kevin De Bruyne. Ten minutes later, after Algeria got caught sending too many men forward – exactly what they had been so good at not doing in the first eighty minutes – De Bruyne released Mertens who lashed a screamer past Algerian goalkeeper, Sammy Bossut.

It was a poor performance from everyone’s favorite dark horse (a fact that really should disqualify them from being dark horses in the first place), and if they’re to escape what’s shaping up to be a tricky group, there’s much to improve – mostly finding a way to win despite a starting eleven that features three disappointing Tottenham players. Vertonghen at leftback should be classified a failed experiment at this point, while Dembele drimbles past players only to then play a horizontal or backwards pass, while Chadli, in truth belongs nowhere near the starting eleven. Perhaps the improved performance of the team following the changes will convince manager, Marc Wilmots, to tweak the tactics.

Another 0-0, only exciting this time

Yesterday’s 0-0 match between Iran and Nigeria was the first such game of the tournament, and to be honest, it was nearly unwatchable. Today’s 0-0 between Mexico and Brazil is now the second, and bears no similarities to the other. Where Iran-Nigeria was cagey, defensive, and technically poor, Brazil-Mexico was open, exciting and generally well-played. Mexican (free-agent, I might add) goalkeeper, Guillermo Ochoa, played the hero after several saves kept Brazil off the score sheet. (This save was especially stunning.)

Scolari’s tactical problems

I’ll begin, unashamedly, with this disclaimer: I believe Fernandinho was City’s player of the season in last year’s title winning campaign. It’s no surprise that Yaya’s wonderful statistical season came only after Fernandinho’s arrival, who, coupled with Pellegrini’s tactics, became the perfect midfield partner for the Ivorian.

Back to Brazil: how in the name of Pele, can Big Phil seriously start Paulinho over Fernandinho? Gustavo I can at least pretend to understand (especially given his specific tactical role), but there is not a single element of football where Paulinho is superior to our Ferny – and it seems only just that Scolari would have to suffer at least some punishment following this repeated idiocy. (For the record, if this 0-0 is not enough for Fernandinho to get a look-in, I suggest Scolari’s punishment be upped to a 2-1 defeat to lowly Cameroon.)

A topic I don’t have enough patience to discuss that I’ll leave for the comments: Ramires over Willian, really?

Group H will be fun till the end

Following Belgium’s flawed 2-1 win against the supposed group minnows and the 1-1 draw between South Korea and Russia, Group H promises to excite. With Belgium still to play Russia and South Korea, the likelihood of anyone in the group reaching nine points is now rather low (South Korea and Russia can obviously only finish on seven, while Algeria can top at six). Algeria proved (at least for seventy minutes) that they’ll be difficult to score on, Belgium look ill-equipped to deal with the pressure that has been perhaps unfairly been placed upon them, while Russia and Korea now look to overcome shaky goalkeeping displays that cost each side points.

How this group shakes out is really anyone’s guess.

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