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World Cup Preview, Day 13

Nobody told me that I had repeated Day 11 in my headlines twice. But I fixed it! I’m confused about what day of the week it is anyway since my workweek for this week is Sunday-Wednesday-Saturday (taking two vacation days).

Groups C and D get settled today and half of the final 16 will be set. Brazil and Mexico moved on from Group A and Netherlands and Chile moved on from Group B. (Although that was clinched.) Costa Rica and Colombia are playing today after having clinched spots in the final 16 from Groups C and D respectively. England is the only team playing for pride alone.

9 am Group C

Italy vs Uruguay at Natal

Costa Rica vs England at Belo Horizonte

The Costa Rica-England match won’t matter too much since the TIcos have already clinched a spot in the final 16. England is out. The Three Lions are returning to Belo Horizonte, scene of one of their most shocking losses, a 1-0 loss to the USA in 1950. 

England’s squad is obviously dispirited after its early ouster from the tournament. If Roy Hodgson can get the team to put in a halfway decent effort, he should be applauded. 

The Ticos are walking in rarefied air. They did advance to the Final 16 in 1990, but their wins that year were against Sweden and Scotland. This year, they’ve beaten two of soccer’s longtime powers: Uruguay and Italy. If Costa Rica beats another former champion, this will be one of the World Cup’s most surprising runs, probably on a parallel to Senegal’s run in 2002. (England is actually a slight betting favorite at -125 to win. Because CONCACAF gets no respect. Although there are pretty good reasons for that.) 

You should know that CONCACAF stands for “Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football.” It’s the governing body for all the teams in those areas, plus Suriname and Guyana, who don’t want to play with South America. Because they would get slaughtered. Instead they get slaughtered by El Salvador.

Italy and Uruguay are battling for the second spot in the group and they both could also finish atop the group. Italy holds the upper hand as they can advance with a draw. Uruguay needs a win. 

Both the Azzuri and the Charruas are well known for spoiling the party at the World Cup, so it will be interesting how they match up when one has to spoil the other’s party. I would lean to Uruguay because Luis Suarez seems to be healthy and, despite being History’s Greatest Monster, he is a lot better at scoring than anyone on Italy’s roster. Oddsmakers have this pretty much as a tossup. I don’t think there will be a lot of goals in this one. Which means there will be a lot of goals in this one.

Noon Group D

Japan vs Colombia at Cuiaba

Greece vs Cote d’Ivoire at Fortaleza

Colombia is already through in this group with six points after two impressive wins over Greece and Cote d’Ivoire (or Ivory Coast, I go back and forth.) The Ivorians (nicknamed the Elephants) have the best chance of making it to the round of 16, but even Japan and, God forbid, Greece can make it through.

Despite outscoring its opponents by a 5-1 margin, Colombia is just a slight favorite over Japan, who has just one point. Japan have to beat the Cafeteros to have any chance of advancement. The Japanese (the Samurai Blue if you prefer) need the Elephants to lose to Greece, whom I do not think deserve a nickname.

Japan has just one goal in two matches, although in their second match, against Greece, it was pretty hard to score against a Greek defense that parked the bus, hid the keys, ripped the starter out, and then slashed their tires after they went down a man early. 

Colombia will win the group with a draw. Japan is going to need to play their best match to get to the Round of 16.

In the other match, Cote d’Ivoire will try to finally make it out of group play with its “Golden Generation” of players. This team may be a bit long in the tooth, but it should be able to beat Greece (or even draw) and get to the next round.

If Greece wins (and by a large margin) and makes it to the Round of 16, you will be able to hear me sighing and moaning if you are standing near the Parthenon.

The winner of Group C plays the runnerup of Group D and will play in Rio de Janeiro on Saturday. The winner of Group D will play the runnerup of Group C and play in Recife on Sunday. 

If you want to look ahead, if you assume Costa Rica wins Group C and can beat the Group D runnerup (probably Cote d’Ivoire), the Ticos would be playing Brazil on July 4, if Brazil beats Chile.

I forecast the other quarterfinal coming out of these groups to be the Netherlands vs Colombia on July 5.

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World Cup Preview, Day 8

Day 7 saw three countries bow out of the tournament, although they will still play one more match. Australia and Cameroon weren’t expected to do much, but Spain’s ouster was … unexpected. Two Group C matches and one Group D match today. One team could possibly be eliminated, but it would take some doing. (If Colombia and Cote d’Ivoire draw and there is a winner in Japan-Greece, the loser would be eliminated.) The game drawing the most interest will be the noon game because England is playing. Time for some high quality English fatalism.

9 am

Colombia at Cote d’Ivoire in Brasilia

Both squads won their openers. Colombia won easily 3-0 over Greece, but the Ivorians had to come from behind to beat Japan 2-1. This should, in theory, be a pretty good match.

I think the best preview of this match should just be looking at some of the very cool sounding names involved with it. Colombia’s coach is named Jose Pekerman (he’s Argentinian). Cote d’Ivoire’s goalkeeper is named Boubacar Berry and I like to say that name. And Yaya Toure is a rare combination of a good name and an even better player.

I hope this match isn’t close. Because I will have to leave for work with about 5-10 minutes left in the match. 

Noon 

Uruguay vs England at Sao Paulo

Both of these teams played disappointing opening games. Uruguay let themselves get steamrolled by Costa Rica in the second half in a 3-1 loss. England fell to Italy 2-1 in a match that didn’t seem that close.

The X factor in this match is Uruguay’s Luis Suarez (aka History’s Greatest Monster). His recovery from knee surgery (just what his knee injury actually was has never been officially disclosed) may be going fast enough that he could play in this match. Or it might not. 

England looked slow and unimaginative against Italy while playing in Manaus. The English team is fairly young and may be taking time to jell, but the World Cup is not a good place for OJT. 

Personally, I think England actually didn’t suck as much as Uruguay in its first match. But, I’m not sure they will beat Uruguay either. A draw will keep both of the teams alive in Group D.

3 pm

Greece vs Japan at Natal

The Greeks and Japanese both lost their opening matches in Group C, so they should try to go for a win here.

Greece plays a very defensive brand of soccer. Which explains why they lost 3-0 to Colombia. Japan lost a 1-0 lead late to Cote d’Ivoire, falling 2-1. 

This match has draw written all over it. Which won’t make either side happy. And you will probably wonder why you went to the trouble of watching it. But you will become more familiar with the names of the top players in Greece. 

My feeling is that you shouldn’t develop a deep personal attachment to either of these teams as they both have a hard time getting to the round of 16, especially Greece. 

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World Cup Day 3 - The Marathon

Four matches today. First one starts at 9 am and the last one kicks off at 6 pm. They will all be spaced out nicely. And I don’t have a lot of time to write stuff because I was up late.

9 am

Colombia vs Greece in Belo Horizonte

Colombia’s best player Radamel Falcao is out for the World Cup. So the Colombians will have to make a go of it without him, although they are still pretty good. Colombia’s internal politics are a little more settled after the tragic 1994 World Cup experience. Sadly, no Colombian player this year has Carlos Valderrama hair.

The Greeks do not play a dynamic brand of soccer. They tend to pack it in and hope for an occasional counterattack.

Interestingly, this match will be officiated by an American in the middle, with an American and a Canadian on the lines. But the fourth official is Iranian. I suppose they will all get along.

Noon

Uruguay vs Costa Rica in Fortaleza

Uruguay will be without Luis Suarez, aka History’s Greatest Monster. However, there should be enough quality in the Uruguayan team to get past one of the weaker teams in North America in Costa Rica.

I’ve always wanted to visit Uruguay. Seems like it would be a nice place. I’ve been to Costa Rica, and it’s amazing. Costa Rica, the country in the World Cup, who presumably nobody hates. Such things happen when your country has no military and a relatively large middle class.

3 pm

England vs Italy in Manaus

Two of Europes heavyweights slug it out in the Amazonian jungle. And they probably won’t like it. The pitch in Manaus is supposed to be bad and Italian goalie Gianluigi Buffon turned an ankle on it and will miss the match.

Expect to hear a lot of complaints from the English about having to play in heat and humidity. And when the English are done complaining, they will complain more. Just to make sure you know for certain that they don’t like heat. 

Italy will complain too, but they complain in World Cups all the time. Even when they win. Which they’ve done four times.

The English they are to soccer what Canada is to hockey. Except Canada is actually good at hockey.

6 pm

Cote d’Ivoire vs Japan in Recife

World Cup after dark! This match kicks off at 10 pm local time. But it shouldn’t damper the enthusiasm of the Ivorian or Japanese fans who made the trip. (I’m betting there are far more Japanese fans than Ivorians).

Cote d’Ivoire, or Ivory Coast, has a lot of great players who have never shown the ability to put it all together at the World Cup. Keep an eye on Yaya Toure, who is : 1) very big, 2) very strong, and 3) very good. When he gets going, he can look Fred Flintstone playing college football.

Japan is probably a better organized side. They are considered the best Asian team at the World Cup, although that usually isn’t much to get excited about. Japan’s best player may be Shinji Kagawa, who plays for Manchester United. Except Man U manager David Moyes rarely played him. Because he was an idiot.

The first and last matches of the day are in Group C. The second and third are in Group D

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What did the World Baseball Classic ever do to these guys?

Aaron Gleeman, at NBC’s Hardball Talk, has enjoyed pointing out the small crowds in Fukuoka, Japan for the WBC games there that don’t involve Japan.

The commenters seem to enjoy piling on too.

Words like “farce” and “dumb idea” are the common descriptors.

For some reason, baseball players are not supposed to be like competitors in other major team sports (like soccer, hockey, and basketball) where there are regular international tournaments that can help to bring some worldwide publicity to the game.

Is it bad that not many people showed up for some games in Japan? It’s not perfect, but the schedule required some games to be played in the afternoon during a workweek, when people are… working. Japan is not a country that is kind to the idea of phoning in sick for work to go to a baseball game. Which is why just about every midweek game in Japan is a night game. (There were some more day games in 2011 to save electricity after the earthquake/tsunami.)

I have been to two WBC games in my life, both between Japan and Korea, and they have been two of the most intensely played games I’ve seen and in an exciting (yet extremely cordial) atmosphere. 

I’m not certain what would satisfy some people about the WBC? Would they need crowds that would fill Maracana Stadium for every game? 

Describing a handful of extra exhibition games played over a few weeks in spring training seems like a weird thing to get worked up over. 

Perhaps, it’s just more fun to have endless debates over who will be the Dodgers #5 starter or who will get the utility infield spot for the Padres.