Thursday, June 17, 2010

World Cup Tomorrow: Friday, June 18th

Stat of the tournament to date: North Korea and New Zealand are currently outscoring Spain, Portugal, and Cote d'Ivoire. Hope somebody out there had some money on that bet. In any event, tomorrow’s games feature an echo of WWII, a likely whitewashing, and the biggest game of the WC for the USA.

Germany v. Serbia (Group D, 7:30 AM ET)

One-sentence preview: Don’t say anything that even sounds like “Ustazi”

Germany were the tournament’s high scorer in the first round of games, courtesy of a combination of calm finishing and hilariously bad defense and bad judgment by Australia (did we not warn you about Tim Cahill? We warned you about Tim Cahill.) Germany got yet another goal from Miloslav Klose who has now scored only one fewer career World Cup goal than Pele, despite not being any good. I can’t even think of an equivalent in US sports; maybe Robert Horry, or Eli Manning if he wins another Super Bowl. Anyway, the Germans appear to be in mid-tournament form, which is bad news for their opponents.

Serbia were a bit of a trendy pick coming in, but were upset in their first game after they conceded a penalty kick on an absolutely ridiculous handball. They’re now up against it, because if they lose here they’ll need absolutely everything to break their way in order to get out of the group. They’re better than they showed, but will have to jump up about three levels to get a point off the Germans. Given the Serbs notoriously long historical memories, maybe they’ll draw inspiration from Germany’s occupation of Serbia during WWII (note: we would not want to be a Croat at this match). But it’s more likely that they’ll be worn down by this young, confident German team.

Prediction: Germany 2-1 Serbia

USA-Slovenia (Group C, 10AM)

One sentence preview: USA-England was the drive for show; USA-Slovenia is the putt for dough

It’s a little tough to know what to think about the USA’s result against England. We were unimpressed with the USA defenders (especially Oguchi Onyewu, who was repeatedly drawn out of position), and their goal was clearly down more to England’s two-decade long inability to produce a goalkeeper than to any skill by Clint Dempsey. But the midfield was generally good—England had real trouble moving the ball forward in rhythm, and the USA looked more composed than usual over the ball.

The only real midfield failure came from Ricardo Clark. Clark was in there for his athletic gifts, but looked lost, especially early. Against Slovenia, the US would be well served to bench Clark and put in Jose Torres, a much smaller player with much better passing ability. They also might want to make similar change up front, benching the fast but stone-footed Robbie Findley for the slower but more clinical Edson Buddle. The US had to withstand England; they’ll have to unlock Slovenia.

Slovenia looked for all the world like they were on their way to a lousy draw in their first game when Algeria managed to self-destruct and hand them the three points. As expected, Slovenia looked good at the back, with only wide runs by Nadir Belhadj really causing any problems. Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey came inside a lot against England, but it looks like they’ll have to stay further out to be effective against a defensive-minded Slovenia team. Working against the US is the fact that a draw suits Slovenia just fine; we think Slovenia are willing to risk going into the last round against England looking for 1 point and forcing the US to beat Algeria.

Prediction: USA 2-1 Slovenia. At this point, we’re just budgeting in a terrible early goal allowed by the US. That will mean a nervous 60 minutes or so, but we believe.

England v. Algeria (2:30 PM, Group C)

One-sentence preview: This is going to go exactly how you think it will.

Yes, England looked a little discombobulated on Saturday. Yes, Robert Green was terrible (in addition to The Miss, he should have done better with Jozy Altidore’s second-half breakaway—he got lucky and sort of muffed it onto the post). And yes, Wayne Rooney was strangely uninvolved, probably because the midfield of Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard aren’t used to playing with possession-heavy forwards. But Algeria just dissolved. Their goalkeeper let up a goal that was 80% as bad as Green’s, and their leading scorer from qualifying ate a red card, meaning he’s suspended for this match. Everyone thought this was a mismatch coming in, and one bad goal doesn’t change that.

Prediction: England 3-0 Algeria

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