Wednesday, June 23, 2010

USA Finishes Atop Group C with 1-0 Victory over Algeria

United States' Landon Donovan celebrates near Algeria's goalkeeper Rais Ouheb Mbouli (R) after scoring a goal during a 2010 World Cup Group C soccer match at Loftus Versfeld stadium in Pretoria June 23, 2010. REUTERS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh (SOUTH AFRICA - Tags: SPORT SOCCER WORLD CUP)

That picture pretty much says it all, the smile on Landon Donovan's face, the look of stunned disbelief on Rais M'Bolhi's face. Landon Donovan scored an extra time goal to secure a US victory over Algeria, a victory that ensured that the US would advance to the knockout stage of the World Cup finals. Thanks to England's 1-0 victory over Slovenia, the US won Group C on goal differential, the first time the US has won their group since 1930, the first World Cup finals ever held.

As expected, this was not an easy victory over Algeria for the US. M'Bolhi, the top keeper in Bulgaria's top flight, proved a tough obstacle, surviving 9 other shots on goal by the US. Algeria employed a conservative style, looking to make something happen on the counter attack, but the US defense meshed at the right time and Tim Howard was only bothered by 4 shots on goal.

With a win, the US advanced no matter what happened in the England-Slovenia match.

In the 21st minute it appeared that the US might have picked up the game winner when Clint Dempsey put the ball past M'Bolhi, but the goal was disallowed by a controversial offsides call. Finally, the 90th minute came and, despite numerous chances for the US, the scoreline was 0-0, while England had maintained its 1-0 lead over Slovenia. Unless the US could find a way to get the ball past M'Bolhi, they would be packing their bags on Thursday and heading home. Then it happened:

I was watching the match at Nick's Place here in Houston and the place, which was packed, erupted when Donovan scored the goal. (Note that Nick's Place wasn't even home to any of the sponsored watch parties that were being held around the city.) It's hard to describe that kind of goal, that kind of event, to someone who doesn't watch soccer, but today numerous of causal sports fans around the United States finally experienced it first hand. New fans to the sport hugged, high fived, cheered, cried, laughed . . . Driving home, I was both shocked and pleased that the US victory was the main topic of discussion on all three AM sports talk stations in the Houston market.

While it might be tempting to write about what today's victory means for the long term future of the beautiful game in the United States, I'm not going to do that. I just want to sit back and enjoy what a great day this has been.

Up next, the US faces the second place winner from Group D on Saturday at 1:30 pm central time on ABC.

USA v. Algeria Preview & One Goal: The Road to South Africa

The United States national soccer team runs during a training session at Pilditch Stadium in Pretoria June 21, 2010. REUTERS/Brian Snyder (SOUTH AFRICA - Tags: SPORT SOCCER WORLD CUP)

Today's the day, the day the US National Team finds out if it gets to stay a little longer in South Africa or if it is packing up its bags and coming home. Today's the day that the US National Team has to build on the success it has had in South Africa by picking up its first win of this year's World Cup finals. Today's the day that the US's defense needs to step up and ensure that they do not give up an early goal to Algeria.

With two draws in its past two matches the US holds its destiny in its hands, all it has to do is win today's match with Algeria to advance to the knockout stage. Yes, it is possible for the US to advance even if it picks up another draw, but most of the casual sports fans who have been sucked in by this US team have indicated to me that they really want a win, not another draw. Besides, if the US is serious about getting beyond the knockout stage, it would be a good idea to start winning now.

The good news is that since a win ensures survival, the US will start the match on the attack, and one thing we've seen over the past year or so is that when the US comes out with its attacking game, they tend to do pretty good. They do good because the US's attacking style usual limits the amount of time the ball spends near the US's net. We all know that the US's defense has been suspect, so the more its role is diminished, the better for the US.

Meanwhile, Algeria's odds of advancing are slim, but a win could possibly get them to the knockout stage. This means they'll come out on the attack too. Slovenia came out on the attack last Friday, and that resulted in two first half goals for Slovenia. That being said, the half-asleep US team we saw during the first half of the Slovenia match most likely will not be replicated today.

The 3-5-2 formation employed by Algeria could cause the US some trouble, but it can also be exploited by the US. The key to this match will be control of the midfield. While the US will, technically, be outnumbered in the midfield, it can rely on some help from Edson Buddle who has the speed to assist the top end of the midfield and close the gap with Jozy Altidore. Yes, since Robbie Findley is not available due to yellow card accumulation, I suspect that Buddle will get the start up top today. Meanwhile, Coach Bob Bradley should start Maurice Edu who, in Friday's match with Slovenia, showed he's capable of working in the midfield while assisting the defense when needed. Finally, when it comes to scoring, Altidore and Buddle can throw their size around when facing Algeria's three defenders.

The final key to this match is stamina. On Friday, we saw Slovenia worn down come the second half. The US was able to rely on its superior conditioning to come back from a two goal deficit and almost win that match. That being said, last year we saw the US wear itself down in the first half of the Confederations Cup final against Brazil, giving up a two goal lead. In recent matches it seems that the US has learned to pace themselves in the first half and Algeria isn't Brazil, so the US will likely outlast Algeria. If Algeria is losing pace to the US, the match could get chippy, like the second half against Slovenia did, increasing the potential number of set pieces for the US.

I expect the US to win this match by one goal, but it won't be easy. Algeria is no pushover, look at how they held England to a 0-0 draw last Friday. Of course, England looked to be sleep walking through that entire match, but still, Algeria is a competent team that still has a glimmer of hope at advancing.

To bide your time until the match starts, here's some video to watch, One Goal: The Road to South Africa:

Sunday, June 20, 2010

The Return of Special One TV

Yes he is back in all his glory, enjoy:

A Glimpse at Italy & World Cup Sunday Notes & Videos

New Zealand's goalkeeper Mark Paston (C) blocks the ball as New Zealand's Chris Wood, New Zealand's Ryan Nelsen, Italy's Giorgio Chiellini and Italy's Fabio Cannavaro watch during their 2010 World Cup Group F soccer match at Mbombela stadium in Nelspruit June 20, 2010.  REUTERS/David Gray (SOUTH AFRICA - Tags: SPORT SOCCER WORLD CUP)

Well, it was not a good day for the defending World Cup champions, Italy, as their Sunday match with New Zealand ended in a 1-1 draw. New Zealand got an early goal when Fabio Cannavaro failed to properly play a free kick from Simon Elliot thereby giving Shane Smelt a great scoring opportunity, which Smelt didn't waste. Italy's only goal was off a penalty kick after Daniele De Rossi's shirt was tugged in the penalty box. Granted the penalty kick was without controversy since many viewers believe De Rossi dove so that Tommy Smith would pick up a yellow card.

On Thursday Italy faces Slovakia, which has proven to be the weaker side in Group F to date. Slovakia picked up a point thanks to its draw with New Zealand on Monday, but lost to Paraguay. Despite only having 2 points, like the US, Italy can advance with a win in their final group stage match. New Zealand, also with 2 points, has a shot at advancing out of the group stage for the first time ever if it beats Paraguay on Thursday.

Coming into this World Cup finals, I did not expect Italy to successfully defend The Cup, in fact I didn't expect them to get into the quarter or semi-finals, but I did expect them to advance past the group stage, which they will do with a win over Slovakia.

France, the team that Italy beat in the 2006 final of the World Cup finals, continues to be a mess. On Saturday, word came out that the French National Team was taking a page from the US Women's National Team by punishing Nicolas Anelka for disagreeing with the team's coach. On Saturday, news came out that Anelka was being sent home after insulting French coach Raymond Domenech and refusing to apologize. It's not completely clear what exactly Anelka said to Domenech, the Telegraph claims it was "go screw yourself, dirty son of a whore", while The Bleacher Report claims it was "F*ck off, dirty son of a b*tch." Either way, expelling Anelka did not fix the troubles at the French camp.

Today, Jean-Louis Valentin, the director of the French National Team, revealed that the team refused to train after an argument between the fitness coach, Robert Duverne, and team captain, Patrice Evra. In a statement to the press, the French players claimed they refused to train as a protest to the fact that Anelka was sent home. Meanwhile, Valentin also announced that he was quitting his job with the team and heading back to France.

Anelka and Valentin will most likely be joined in France by the rest of the team. France, which is in Group A, plays its last group stage match on Tuesday against host country South Africa. Both teams each only have one point and little shot at advancing to the group stage. If Mexico and Uruguay finish their match with a draw on Tuesday, then they automatically advance no matter the outcome of France-South Africa. Having wins in both matches doesn't necessarily mean the winner of the France-South Africa match will advance, it will boil down to goal differential, which Mexico and Uruguay control at the moment.

Now for some recent World Cup related video:

French Reporter Eric Bielderman tells ESPN's Bob Ley what Anelka said:

John Terry's Press Conference:

Patrice Evra Press Conference:

AP Report including Bob Bradley Presser:

Evra beats Steve Nash in hoops:

Steve Nash discusses US-Slovenia:

Finally, our own Erin Dutka made it onto the broadcast of US-Slovenia about 3 times Friday, here's one of those times:

Now for some fun - Rob "The Stoner" Stone takes on the hottest chile pepper:

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Group C, Round 2: The Day After

JOHANNESBURG, June 18, 2010 Landon Donovan (R) of the United States vies with Bojan Jokic of Slovenia during the 2010 World Cup Group C soccer match at the Ellis Park stadium in Johannesburg, South Africa, on June 18, 2010. The match ended 2-2.

All four teams in Group C, which includes the United States, played on Friday in South Africa. The US battled Slovenia to a 2-2 draw while Algeria and England slogged it out for a 0-0 draw.

The US-Slovenia match was an emotional roller coaster ride for the fans of both teams. Slovenia was clearly the better team during the first half of the match. Once again, the US gave up an early goal when Valter Birsa scored in the 13th minute for Slovenia. The US seemed to sleep walk through the first half and were lucky that Slovenia only managed to pick up one more goal when Zlatan Ljubijankic scored in the 42nd minute.

As the second half kicked off, it was clear that the US side had finally woken up and realized they had a big hole to crawl out of in order to have any shot at advancing past the group stage. Landon Donovan set the tone for the second half when he scored a goal in the 48th minute. Meanwhile, Slovenia looked tired, as if they had used the majority of their energy during the first half, and, as a result, the second half became very chippy with three Slovenian players picking up yellow cards. Finally, Michael Bradley managed an incredible goal in the 82nd minute when Jozy Altidore used his head to cross a Donovan free kick to Bradley. Minutes later it appeared that the United States had done the unthinkable, picking up a third, and possibly winning goal, when Maurice Edu put the ball into the goal on a free kick. However, the goal was disallowed by match referee Koman Coulibaly.

It's not clear why Koman Coulibaly called a foul that disallowed Edu's goal, and it appears that we will never get an explanation for his call. While it's understandable that the US team and fans are angry with Coulibaly, had the US played better in the first half, the call might not have mattered as much.

After experiencing the emotions of the US-Slovenia match, it was hard to get focused on the England-Algeria match. My general impression was that England looked unfocused despite getting off 6 shots on goal. In the end, England was booed off the pitch by their own fans.

Coming into this World Cup, I was concerned that all the hype surrounding the England-US match would mean that both teams would be on an adrenaline high for that match and would have trouble focusing on the next match or matches. Both England and US did look unfocused on Friday, but the US managed to pull out of their funk while England did not.

The group stage for Group C wraps up on Wednesday when US plays Algeria and England plays Slovenia. Right now, the standings in Group C are as follows:

Slovenia 4 points
US 2 points
England 2 points
Algeria 1 point

The US controls its destiny going into Wednesday's match with Algeria. A win will ensure that the US advances to the knockout stage of the World Cup finals.

It should be noted that American striker Robbie Findley has picked up 2 yellow cards in the first two matches; therefore, he won't be available for Wednesday's match against Algeria. I suspect we will see Edson Buddle get his first World Cup finals start on Wednesday.

In past World Cup finals, had the US gone down 2 goals in the first half, the match would have been over. While it is nice to see that this US team has the ability to bounce back from goal deficits, it would be even nicer to see them take and hold a lead. That's what US needs to do against Algeria on Wednesday.

As for England, it is unclear how they'll look against Slovenia. Despite all the pronouncements in the English media that this World Cup was the one that England was going to win, England is now in a position where they might not even advance past the group stage. England are in need of a serious attitude adjustment if they hope to have a good result against Slovenia on Wednesday.

Here's a look at what the papers in the US and England are saying about Friday's Group C matches:

In Defense of Koman Coulibaly. Sort of. - New York Times

Stunning Rally. Shocking Goal. - New York Times

US Rallies for Tie - Washington Post

Analysis: Referee's call leaves Americans fit to be tied - Bergen County Record

US Rallies to Tie Slovenia - St. Petersburg Times

US players left stunned by referee call - Philadelphia Inquirer

England v. Algeria: fans boo one of their team's most inept performances - The Telegraph

Rooney blasts angry fans - The Telegraph

World Cup 2010 paper view: England Mess up. Blame the the Italian. - The Guardian

Martin Samuel: We were promised Rooney. We got his ghost. - The Daily Mail

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Zygo Soccer Report No. 15

Time to talk about the World Cup finals in South Africa. This episode features the music of Eminem.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Sunday World Cup Video Day

Here in the States we're still basking in the glow of Saturday's 1-1 draw with England, so what better way to enjoy a lazy summer Sunday than with some World Cup related video?

Here's the highlights from Saturday's US-England match:

In the States, the Super Bowl is known for the number of new commercials and advertising campaigns that are aired during the one day affair. While the Cup doesn't have that reputation, there have been some interesting commercials to pop up during the coverage this year:

Saturday, June 12, 2010

United States Beats England: 1-1

Okay, I know, technically it was a draw, but it was one of those draws that felt like a win. Going into what was arguably the most anticipated US World Cup match since playing Mexico in 2002, it was hard to nail down how the match would turnout. While England is not the best squad in this tournament, they have players like Wayne Rooney, Steven Gerrard, and John Terry, and a ton of expectation riding on their shoulders.

It seemed that the key for the US going into this match was maintaining form in the first 20 minutes. Conventional wisdom had it that if the US could keep England from scoring during the first 20 minutes, they were putting themselves in position to get a result. Unfortunately, the US did give up a goal in the first 20 minutes, the shaky American defense broke down and allowed Gerrard to score in the 4th minute.

Despite the early England goal, the US did not lose focus, instead they drew upon a certain workmanlike maturity that has developed since Bob Bradley replaced Bruce Arena as head coach and plowed on believing that the England lead would not hold. In the 40th minute, Texas native Clint Dempsey took a shot from distance that should have been an easy save for England keeper Robert Green who failed to get a secure grip on the ball, not surprising for Green, allowing the ball to roll into the goal giving the US the equalizer.

Ultimately the key for the US was the fact that they had 12 shots, 4 of which were on goal. While England did outshoot the US, the US never bunkered, they slowed the pace towards the end of the match, but they never bunkered. This is key, because as I noted above, there's problems with the US's backline. By starting Findley today, Bradley was sending a sign that he understands that the US defense is poor and that the team needs to stretch the field, relying on speed up top. While Findley is not the best finisher, his speed did help to keep England honest, keeping them from playing too far up.

While not as momentous as the 1-0 win over England in the 1950 World Cup finals in Brazil, today's draw was a solid result for the US, one they can build on as they look forward to Algeria and Slovenia. Getting a result from their big match with England should give US extra confidence in themselves, and extra swagger in their walk.

Here's a glimpse of what the English press is saying about today's draw:

England Miss out on fine start as USA benefit from Robert Green gaffe - The Guardian

USA tame three lions of England - The Times

606 Football Phone In on BBC 5 Live

Wayne Rooney left frustrated as Americans keep striker subdued - The Telegraph

England 1 - 1 USA: Match Report - The Telegraph

England 1 USA 1, Robert Green's clanger gifts Americans draw in opening Group C clash - The Daily Mail

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

US v. England - Time to Get Pumped

We're only a few days away from US v. England in the World Cup finals at 1:45pm central time on Saturday June 12th. If you're in the Houston area, come join 1560 The Game for a live broadcast starting and viewing party starting at noon at Jake's Philly Steaks. Additionally, every weeknight through the end of the World Cup finals, 1560 The Game will be airing a nightly, one hour World Cup Show. Not in Houston? You can listen online at

Now that I have the business out of the way, time to have some fun, time to get pumped up for the big show down, and what better way to do that, then with some videos: