How to Take Apart a World Power

By Iron Chef Leftovers

Watching the Brasil-Germany semi-final, I figured that this was going to be a tough game for the Germans – it is a home game for Brasil, in front of an extremely loud, mostly partisan crowd, even with Brasil missing a couple of their best players and not exactly playing great soccer. I figured that Germany was going to press to try to get a lead and take the crowd out of it so when Muller scored; I figured that was exactly what they were trying to do. Then, about 22 minutes in, I figured that the game was just about over when Klose scored. The Germans were outplaying the Brasilians, and they have a great defense and the best goal keeper in the world with Neuer, so it would be tough to come back from 2-0 down. Well, then Germany went all blitzkrieg on the Brasilians and put 3 more in the net, in 6 minutes. I am writing this at halftime (and a couple of days before this will actually post) and I fully expect that Germany is going to use their 3 subs at the start of the 2nd half, just to avoid anyone getting hurt.

Germany is playing their best game since they dismantled the US in the group stage. Yes, the score was only 1-0, but at no point did you get the feeling that the US was going to mount any real threat. Heck, watching the game, it seemed like the Germans spent most of the second half trying to set up Klose so he could break the World Cup scoring record. That is what the first half of the Brasil-Germany game felt like, even before it became a blowout. It does not matter what the Brasilians do, Germany has complete control of the game.

World Cup Viewership

by A.J. Coltrane

From this ESPN link — “U.S. Soccer Ratings Top NBA Finals

NEW YORK — An estimated 21.6 million people watched Belgium knock out the United States in the World Cup on U.S. television — an impressive total for a weekday afternoon that almost certainly undercounts how many people actually saw it.

The Nielsen company said Wednesday that 16.5 million people watched the game on ESPN, with 5.1 million more seeing it on the Spanish-language Univision network. In addition, nearly 1.7 million people watched an online stream of the event, Nielsen said…

…Nielsen does not measure viewership in bars, offices or other public places. In 2010, ESPN estimated that the stated audience size for weekday World Cup games would increase by 23 percent if public viewing were taken into account.

Still, Tuesday’s knockout game exceeded the average viewership for the most recent World Series and NBA Finals, events that took place during prime-time when more people were home to watch.

The just-concluded NBA Finals where the San Antonio Spurs beat the Miami Heat averaged 15.5 million viewers, with 18 million watching the final game. Last fall’s World Series averaged 14.9 million viewers, with 19.2 million watching the Boston Red Sox beat the St. Louis Cardinals in the last game…

…ESPN said that overall viewership for the World Cup is up 44 percent over 2010.

The really positive sign for soccer in the U.S. is the 44 percent overall increase in viewership. Even games that don’t involve the U.S. are way up. My workplace showed the Belgium vs U.S. game — I’d guess at least 20 or 30 people watched some part of it. Everyone was glued to the tv, even though the laptop feed would hang for multiple seconds. It sort of doubled the anguish at times.

But hey, soccer at work. Nobody complained.

World Cup Thoughts

By Blaidd Drwg

For those who actually care about the US-Germany game, basically unless the US gets blown out and the Portugal-Ghana game is also a blowout, the US should advance. Here is the table for the results and possible outcomes:




















The real purpose of this article is about the disgust that I currently am feeling toward the international team I actually follow – Italy. For the second consecutive World Cup, they have failed to advance to the knockout stage. Both of their losses were embarrassing – they had absolutely no answer to Costa Rica bringing up their back line and instead of adjusting the game plan to account for it; they just kept trying the same things over and over hoping they would start working. Basically, by forcing the Italians to make a number of long runs in the first half, the Costa Rican defense effectively tired out the Italian attackers and made them a non-factor in the second half. I might have forgiven Italian coach Cesare Prandelli for that if it weren’t for the Uruguay game.

Italy just needed a draw to advance and unfortunately the new look Azzurri seemed much like the old-look version – it was obvious they were content to play keep-away with the ball and play for a 0-0 result. That plan backfired horribly when Uruguay scored and then the Italian side was down to 10 men thanks to a stupid challenge by Claudio Marchisio which drew a (deservedly) red card. Once again, Italy should have changed its game plan before that. Uruguay was playing for the win, and had a number of good chances early in the game, but were denied thanks to Gigi Buffon and some great saves. That should have been the wakeup call to switch to a more offensive minded strategy, but Prandelli didn’t. Heck, the only reason why Italy even beat England is that England is in far worse shape right now than the Italian squad.

Fortunately, Prandelli realized his mistakes and did the right thing and resigned from the national team after the loss. They really need to get a coach in there to get this team out of their defensive mindset. There is plenty of fire-power on this roster, so why the hell would you play a defensive minded 3-5-2 set the way they did against Uruguay or the even worse 4-5-1 against Costa Rica. The Azzurri need to get out of the 20th century mindset of defense wins games and go on the offensive and bring us back to glory.

The 2014 World Cup Group of Death

By Blaidd Drwg

Much has been written about the U.S. being in the “group of death” in the upcoming World Cup, but I happened to be reading a WC preview and realized that it isn’t so much a group of death as the U.S is in a group with two good teams and two middle of the road teams and they are not one of the good ones.  Sure Germany is pretty much going through to the knockout round, but is Portugal, give their history of fading in international competitions, really a shoe it, leaving the U.S. out of the knockout stage? Is this group any more the “group of death” than Group B with Spain, Chile (who are better than you think), The Netherlands and Australia.

It got me thinking, which group is actually the group you don’t want to be playing in?

Let’s take a look at the groups. The SPI ranking is the ESPN ranking and the odds are the percentage of times a team advanced in their simulation.

Group A

Team FIFA Rank SPI Rank SPI Odds
Brasil 4 1 99%
Mexico 19 25 44%
Croatia 20 30 34%
Cameroon 50 38 23%
Average Rank 23.25 23.5  


Obviously, Brasil is making it to the knockout stage and if they don’t the entire country is going to burn, so you really won’t have to worry about the rest of the tournament. The other spot is really between Mexico and Croatia, and that one could go either way. Cameroon has a chance, albeit a small one to sneak in. A tough group with 1 powerhouse and 2 middle of the road teams and 1 team happy to be there. Hardly a group of death, well, unless you are Cameroon or the team that finishes third.

Group B

Team FIFA Rank SPI Rank SPI Odds
Spain 1 3 85%
Chile 13 5 71%
Netherlands 15 10 38%
Australia 59 40 7%
Average Rank 22 14.5  


Spain should have no problem going through and Australia is happy to be there. It is going to be a tough battle between Netherlands and Chile for that second spot. ESPN likes Chile, I like Netherlands here, but don’t be surprised if it comes down to the Chile-Netherlands game on 6/23 and the final is something like 4-3. This group as a whole is going to light up the scoreboard. A candidate, just not a strong one for the group of death moniker.

Group C

Team FIFA Rank SPI Rank SPI Odds
Colombia 5 6 85%
Ivory Coast 21 16 48%
Greece 10 27 46%
Japan 47 36 22%
Average Rank 20.75 21.25  


Here is a group that there is really no clear favorite. Colombia is good, but is by no means a team that I think is a shoe-in for a spot. Japan is not as bad as people think and they could give the other teams in this group a run for their money. Ivory Coast is inconsistent and Greece is old, so who knows how they will hold up in the Brasilan sun. If you want to know who is going to advance in this group, you might as well pick names out of a hat.

Group D

Team FIFA Rank SPI Rank SPI Odds
Uruguay 6 8 60%
England 11 9 56%
Italy 9 12 46%
Costa Rica 34 24 38%
Average Rank 15 13.25  


This is far and away the most balanced group in the tournament. Any two teams have a legitimate shot at advancing, especially given the complete inconsistency of both England and Italy on the international stage in recent years. Any one of these 4 teams could conceivably get through to the knockout round and don’t be surprised if it ends up being Uruguay and Costa Rica. I could probably make an argument that this qualifies for a group of death if this was 20 years ago, but England and Italy are playing more on reputation right now than actual skill.

Group E

Team FIFA Rank SPI Rank SPI Odds
France 17 7 77%
Ecuador 26 11 62%
Switzerland 6 22 38%
Honduras 33 33 23%
Average Rank 20.5 18.25  


Another balanced group due to the horribly overrated France who are going to be missing their 2 best players for the World Cup. Again, any of these 4 teams could make it through and the Swiss are young and aggressive and, if they beat France, will probably advance with Ecuador. Probably the toughest group to be in.

Group F

Team FIFA Rank SPI Rank SPI Odds
Argentina 5 2 93%
Bosnia 21 15 48%
Nigeria 44 28 37%
Iran 43 39 22%
Average Rank 28.25 18.25  


ESPN likes the teams more than the FIFA rankings do in this group. Argentina is arguably the best team in the world, so it would take an act of God for them not to make it through. Iran is just happy to be there. Bosnia and Nigeria, in just about any group would probably be a good bet to move through to the knockout stage, but they are going to be competing against each other to survive this group. Both of those teams are better than you think and whoever makes it through has a good chance to possibly win a game or two in the knockout round. You definitely have 3 teams who would be close to locks to make it if you could have that.

Group G

Team FIFA Rank SPI Rank SPI Odds
Germany 2 4 87%
Portugal 4 14 47%
USA 13 21 35%
Ghana 37 26 31%
Average Rank 14 16.25  


What you have here is Germany who just needs to show up to advance. Portugal doesn’t seem like they ever show up for these international tournaments – they are almost as talented as Germany but play so inconsistently that they aren’t a great bet to even make it out of the group stage. The other two teams, USA and Ghana are both plagued by inconsistency also, so who knows. It is a case where any one of the non-German teams can make a case to get through, but I don’t think that in most of these groups, any of those teams would be the second best team there. A tough group if you are not Germany, but not quite a group of death.

Group H

Team FIFA Rank SPI Rank SPI Odds
Belgium 11 13 73%
Russia 19 17 68%
South Korea 57 31 43%
Algeria 22 69 16%
Average Rank 27.25 32.25  


This group is probably the worst in the tournament. Belgium probably finishes at best second in any other group and I don’t think that any of the other teams would get through in any other group. This is where you probably would want to play if you were a team like the US – getting through wouldn’t be much of an issue.

For what it is worth, I think Group E is really the group of death in this tournament and I think that Brasil beats Argentina 4-2 in an insane final.

The World Cup!

by A.J. Coltrane

The best quadrennial event is here again!

TV Schedule.


Monday, June 16 at 3pm, Ghana [ESPN]

Sunday, June 22 at 3pm, Portugal [ESPN]

Thursday, June 26 at 9am, Germany [ESPN]

The DVR will be getting a workout!


For fun, Bill Barnwell’s Grantland piece about transfer values of teams and players. (Transfer values are how much one team would need to pay another to assume a player’s contract.)

A couple of snippets-

Most valuable teams:

Team Rank Value Avg Value
Spain 1 $919,564,800 $39,981,078
Germany 2 $777,638,400 $33,810,365
Brazil 3 $691,152,000 $30,050,087
Argentina 4 $578,793,600 $25,164,939
France 5 $560,683,200 $24,377,530

The Spanish players are worth nearly 1 billion dollars in aggregate. The USA is 26th at $85 millon. Total.

Most valuable players, relative to the least valuable teams:

Player/Team Value
Ivory Coast $180,438,720
Lionel Messi $177,408,000
Cameroon $173,735,520
Bosnia and Herzegovina $169,948,800
Cristiano Ronaldo $147,840,000
Japan $144,883,200
Mexico $142,716,000
Ghana $142,450,560
Nigeria $128,399,040
Greece $118,120,800
Ecuador $91,022,400
NeymarEdinson Cavani $88,704,000
USA $85,448,160

An especially relevant Barnwell quote:

Maybe Jurgen Klinsmann is right. For all the chatter about Klinsmann dropping Landon Donovan for the promise of Julian Green, this isn’t a particularly young United States team, as the U.S. side heading to Brazil is the 12th-oldest of the 32. It’s also not a side teeming with valuable properties. The team’s two most valuable players are Clint Dempsey ($10.3 million) and Michael Bradley ($9.6 million), each of whom have returned to North America over the past 12 months. The third is Jozy Altidore ($8.8 million), who was a disaster this season after Sunderland paid $13 million for him, scoring just once in the Premier League before being supplanted by Connor Wickham and sent to the youth team. Tim Howard is 35. Jermaine Jones is 32. And Transfermarkt doesn’t see younger talents like Green ($840,000) and DeAndre Yedlin ($420,000) as worth much yet. You may disagree, and a few players may emerge as more valuable properties if the U.S. makes it out of the group stage, but this just isn’t a very valuable U.S. team.

According to the piece the average age of the starting 11’s is… well, here:

Five youngest: Belgium (25.2), South Korea (25.6), Nigeria (25.7), Ghana (26.0), Germany. Five oldest: Ivory Coast (30.4), Portugal (29.3), Honduras (29.2), USA (29.1), Iran (29.1). AT LEAST WE’RE YOUNGER THAN YOU, HONDURAS!

I’d expect the USA team to get younger over the next couple of World Cups as new talent is infused into the roster. We’ll know that the USA is going to be competitive when the average age is closer to 27, rather than 29. (Which is basically what we talked about in the May, 2010 CSE post “Beer Leagues and Major Leagues“.)


More stuff:

Barnwell’s piece on the youngest players at the World Cup. It’s soccer’s future (and present) stars. I’ll be paying special attention to them, assuming that they get on the field. Neymar is #15, adjusted for the age of the rest of the Brazil squad.

The odds of winning the whole shebang:

Brazil: 7/2
Argentina: 5/1
Germany: 6/1
Spain: 8/1

Belgium: 16/1
Colombia: 22/1
France: 24/1
Italy: 29/1
Netherlands: 29/1
England: 29/1
Uruguay: 31/1
Portugal: 39/1

Chile: 59/1

Russia: 89/1

Switzerland: 129/1
Ecuador: 149/1
Mexico: 149/1
Japan: 189/1
Ivory Coast: 189/1
Bosnia: 219/1

Croatia: 279/1
Ghana: 279/1

USA: 299/1

Nigeria: 309/1
Greece: 359/1

South Korea: 519/1

Australia: 809/1

Cameroon: 999/1
Algeria: 999/1
Iran: 999/1
Costa Rica: 999/1
Honduras: 999/1

Brazil Preparing For World Cup

by A.J. Coltrane

From Sports Illustrated:

Prostitutes in one of Brazil’s biggest cities are beginning to sign up for free English classes ahead of this year’s Confederations Cup and the 2014 World Cup.

Cida Vieira, president of the Association of Prostitutes in the city of Belo Horizonte, said Tuesday that 20 have already signed up for the courses and she expects at least 300 of the group’s 4,000 members to follow suit. The association is organizing the classes and seeking volunteer teachers.

…and the part that I found amusing:

“I don’t think we will have problems persuading English teachers to provide services for free,” she said. “We already have several volunteer psychologists and doctors helping us.”

How about that?! I guess you could say that English speaking soccer fans will be in good hands during the World Cup!

The Sounder’s Eddie Johnson Scores Two For The US

by A.J. Coltrane

There was a lot of surprised reaction last week when Jozy Alitodore was left off of the US squad for the two upcoming World Cup qualifiers. To quote Wahl:

Coach Jurgen Klinsmann left forward Jozy Altidore off his squad for the U.S.’s two important upcoming World Cup qualifiers, a decision that may well be the most surprising of Klinsmann’s 14-month tenure.

It’s true that Altidore has not had a standout year for the U.S., providing no goals and one assist in two starts and four substitute appearances. With Hérculez Gómez and Clint Dempsey expected to start up top in Friday’s qualifier at Antigua and Barbuda, it would not have been surprising to see Altidore come off the bench as a second-half sub. But for Altidore to be omitted entirely from the 24-man squad is a shock. (Pure forwards Gómez, Eddie Johnson and Alan Gordon are on the roster instead.)

After all, Altidore, 22, is tied for the Dutch league lead in goals with eight for AZ Alkmaar, including a terrific slaloming strike Sept. 30. The World Cup 2010 veteran has also played in a team-leading 17 straight World Cup qualifiers for the U.S. and brings big-game experience to the table. Under Klinsmann, the U.S. has scored more than one goal just three times in the coach’s 18 games, which makes you wonder why he would leave the U.S.’ most prolific European-based goal-scorer at the moment off the squad.

It worked out. Eddie Johnson scored two goals to lead the US against Antigua and Barbuda:

In his first game back with the U.S. national team, Johnson scored twice Friday night, including the winning goal in second-half injury time, lifting the United States to the verge of advancing in World Cup qualifying with a nervous 2-1 victory over Antigua and Barbuda.

If the Americans draw with Guatemala on Tuesday night in Kansas City, Kan., they will move into the final round of CONCACAF qualifying for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. The U.S. has 10 points and so does Guatemala after a 2-1 win over Jamaica.

Johnson connected on headers in the 20th minute and then in the dying moments in his first game for the U.S. team in two years. He was added to the squad by coach Jurgen Klinsmann, ostensibly replacing the disappointing Jozy Altidore, and the move paid off.

“It’s good to be back in the mix,” Johnson said. “Going into this game the coach has a ton of confidence in me to put me wide out on the wing.”

“We have a world class coach who played at the highest level. He knows the game.”

And the correct quotes after the game.

Johnson was something of a speculative pickup by the Sounders prior to the season. He’s now 5th in the league in scoring, ahead of even Fredy Montero (7th). Their production has contributed to the Sounders +17 goal differential, good for 2nd in MLS. The team is advancing to the playoffs.

Everything else aside, he’s a huge upgrade from Nate Jacqua and he’s been really fun to watch.



That last link is an excellent read. Here’s something I didn’t know:  Of Johnson’s 14 goals, 9 have come off of headers.

For the First Time in World Cup History…

By Blaidd Drwg

We will have a European Champion in a tournament not played in Europe. As hard as it is to believe, no European team has ever won a World Cup Title when the tournament was played outside of Europe. With the Dutch 3-2 Victory over Uruguay this morning, it guarantees a European champion for the 2010 tournament.

I do have to wonder how the people of South Africa feel about having their former colonizers in the finals.

Jozy Altidore and Dwight Howard

by Coltrane

It looks like ESPN is now “on board” with soccer in America.  Here’s today’s piece by Bill Simmons, it has an interesting comparison between Jozy Altidore and the NBA’s Dwight Howard.

We scored five goals in four games: two on hustle goals off second chances, one on a penalty kick, one on a brain fart by England’s goalie, and Donovan’s goal against Slovenia, which came with the help of a mistimed defensive play. Not a single “WOW!!!!!!!!!” play among them. 

…We reached a certain plateau in 2010, a little like a 47-win NBA team that everyone knows can’t make the Finals. Watch how those crafty Germans bang home scoring chances, or the blinding speed of their young stud Mesut Ozil on the wing. Rewatch that “WOW!!!!!!!!!” goal scored by Uruguay’s striker to beat Korea Republic, or the one by Tevez in the Argentina-Mexico game. Team USA never made you scream “WOW!!!!!!!!!” for a really good reason: We don’t have a player with that kind of chops. This was a team of grinders and overachievers. We didn’t have enough speed without Charlie Davies, and we certainly don’t have a world-class striker who creates scoring chances out of thin air. In four Cup games, our forwards scored zero goals. That’s why we went home over everything else.

By 2014, maybe young Jozy Altidore (only 20) will get there; he certainly has the physical gifts, although it’s unclear whether he has any scoring touch. (It’s the difference between Dwight Howard’s low-post game and Pau Gasol’s low-post game; you can work at it all you want, but you’ll never be as good as the guys who are born to put it into the net. A guy like Germany’s Miroslav Klose could find the far post falling out of a wheelchair when he’s 60. It’s a DNA thing. I am convinced. So the worry is that Jozy has too much Howard in him and not enough Gasol.) Maybe Davies and Fast Young Guy X will provide that missing burst on the wing. Maybe Teenage Prodigy X is four years from saving us and we don’t even know his name. But you can’t advance to the semifinals without the “WOW!!!!!!!!!” factor. Impossible.

I’m rooting for Altidore to make The Leap, but I’m definitely concerned that he has too much Dwight Howard in him.  The U.S. Soccer Team needs more guys with the physicality and athleticism of Terrell Owens and Allen Iverson — if those guys were “heady” soccer players.

I just named three headcases for my desired athlete(?)  

(2-1/2, at least.)

Maybe that’s the reason U.S. soccer has yet to win big on the world stage — all of the headcases gravitate to the “big three” sports —  if only because that’s where they’re tolerated.

Check out Simmon’s piece — it’s 20 bullet points about the World Cup and soccer in America in general.