Friday, November 17, 2017

World Cup woes

By Steve Crane

Well, the World Cup is truly under way. It is shaping up the way many predicted, with few goals, very defensive tactical play and players with lovely technique who for some reason are failing to hit the target with the few shots they are taking. As I sit here watching Serbia and Ghana play out an entertaining game, with the score predictably at 0-0, I can’t help but think to myself, when will the goals come and what will be the over-riding memory left from this World Cup.

In the first few games we have had few inspirational moments, except maybe for the opening goal of the World Cup. However, we’ve now had 3 red cards and two complete goalkeeping howlers. The “vuvuzelas” have created an irritating backdrop to some pretty tepid games. Some of the stadiums have looked at best, half full, and the soccer has failed to inspire.

As an Englishman living in the USA I feel I must mention the England v USA game, which ended in a 1-1 draw. The US made a poor start, very poor tracking from Ricardo Clark allowed Gerrard to stroll into the penalty box and finish calmly and confidently. They then got better and when I say better, I mean more organized. ‘Gooch’ Onyewu had a very solid game, considering his lack of games during the season and Jay DeMerit, who has been awful in the warm up games, rose to the occasion.

England’s woes started when James Milner was substituted, clearly not recovered from his illness. Then poor Robert Green made a complete mess of a routine speculative Clint Dempsey shot, letting it bounce off his hands and somehow roll behind him into the net. I would like to praise Green though, for his attitude thereafter. It would be easy to let that huge racket play on his mind, but he played on and made a huge save from Altidore. After the game, he faced the English media, which is an unforgiving beast at the best of times, held his hands up, apologized and said let’s move on.

As I speak about howlers and rickets, the Serbian defender has just given away a penalty with a ridiculous handball. Ghana score. There’s a theme and trend I can see materializing.

Back to USA v England, the match was more like a chess match, with little endeavor on show. I fear that both teams will fall fairly early in the tournament, although I hope not for obvious reasons. I predicted a 1-1 draw, and I also predict both teams to qualify for the knockout phases.

I predict that the first round for every team will be nervy, edgy games, but from round two I expect the action to pick up. Teams will no longer be able to play defensively, as they will need at least one win to give themselves a chance of qualifying. This will open the field and create more chances and goals. The nerves and emotions will be more manageable and the players will get into their groove and produce the performances we expect.

But, on the bright side, we still haven’t had the pleasure of seeing Brazil, Holland or Spain yet. I think (and sincerely hope) that the tournament will start heating up and my early World Cup pessimism will be a distant memory. Robben, Van Persie, Torres, Iniesta, Villa, Ronaldo, Robinho and 10 other Brazilians, all still to whet our appetite. There will be more from Messi, Forlan and Rooney, and I’m sure that someone who is not a household name yet will stand up and make his name in world football.

I’m getting excited again!

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