Following its 1-0 loss to Germany, USA was still able to progress from one of the toughest groups at the World Cup. That’s more than England, Italy, or Spain can say right now. Let’s recap all the talking points. I’m staying with the Q&A format until I run out of ideas.
What’s your take on the USA-Germany game?
Germany has an elite-level offense, which is something that neither Ghana nor Portugal was able to throw at us. You all saw the difference. The scary part is, the Germans didn’t even play that well, which is why Coach Joachim Löw looked so upset on the sidelines. The reasons the defeat wasn’t heavier were Tim Howard’s play and Miroslav Klose missing a free header that he should have buried.
Should we be ashamed of backing into the round of 16 like this?
Are you insane? Ask the Mexicans whether they’re ashamed of backing into this tournament after we scored late against Panama in a qualifier that was meaningless to us. You won’t find many people saying yes. (And now El Tricolor have found their form, getting out of their group as well.) Back in December, I said we needed to scrape through. We’ve done exactly that. Granted, our next opponents won’t find anything in the game tape that’ll scare them. Still, there’s never any shame in losing 1-0 to Germany at the World Cup, especially to a goal by Thomas Müller, who’s having a sensational tournament.
Are there any positives to take away from this game?
Omar Gonzalez came in for Geoff Cameron and settled in nicely after a wobbly start, winning headers and cutting out German passes in the penalty box. This player’s confidence has taken a hit in the last season, and playing so well against Germany can only boost his frame of mind. Also, we may have Jozy Altidore back in the next game. If he’s healthy, that’ll help the flow of USA’s offense. They’ll also get an extra day of rest, and given how much traveling they’ve had to do so far, it’s no wonder they looked leggy against the Germans.
How should we feel about Cristiano Ronaldo now?
However you want to feel. He scored the goal that assured USA’s back-door qualification, but let’s remember that he provided the assist on the last-second goal that took away USA’s victory over Portugal. I’m not one of the Ronaldo haters. I don’t mind the changing haircuts and the shirtless posing in public and the having of sex with tons of women. (He acknowledges he’s not looking for marriage, so those women know where they stand, and at least there’s no cheated-on wife sitting at home.) I do sometimes wish he’d be humbler about his success, but he’s a destructive force to behold when he’s on. I’m sad that his injuries reduced him to so much less at this World Cup. As far as I’m concerned, we’re square. That said, if Ronaldo’s American son plays for us and is even 75% of what the player dad is, we will be in his debt.
What now for USA?
Now we get Belgium, a team that many experts had as a trendy pick to win this thing. It’s not hard to see why on paper; the team’s got speedsters, bruisers, playmakers, and tons of bench depth (which is why they won’t miss midfielder Steven Defour, who was red-carded in their last game against South Korea and won’t face us). That’s pretty impressive for a country whose population is slightly smaller than Ohio’s. Traditionally, the team and the country have been divided by French speakers and Dutch speakers, but an influx of Arab and African players, plus emigres from other parts of Europe, has mitigated that. They sailed through World Cup qualifying. They played us in a friendly match last year and handed our asses to us. They’ve been winning with offense, which is unusual for them. Their defense is tough, too — the only goal they’ve given up at this tournament was a penalty kick. Coach Marc Wilmots (nicknamed “War Pig” from his playing days) will have his troops motivated. Even if we can get the game to a penalty shootout, Thibaut Courtois is one of the few goalkeepers who’s better than Tim Howard. USA will be heavy underdogs against them.
Is there any chance we can win?
Their offense has looked stuck in cement in this tournament, and I don’t know why. Perhaps the expectations are weighing on them, or perhaps they’re just weighing on Romelu Lukaku, the big striker who has played in two games without doing a single thing of note. Wilmots benched him for Kevin Mirallas in the South Korea game, but that clearly wasn’t the answer. They only have one real fullback in right-back Anthony Vanden Borre, who only played one game. The rest of the time the wide parts of the defense are manned by center backs playing out of position. The Red Devils could be vulnerable down the flanks. They’ve won all their games, but they had to score goals in the late stages in all three. I’m throwing my question about USA at the Belgians: How long can they keep living on the edge?
When’s the game?
Tuesday afternoon. Fort Worth Weekly goes to press on Tuesdays, and I may be chained to my desk while the game goes on. If so, my apologies in advance for my incomplete analysis during my next blog post.
How’s CONCACAF doing?
Good. Of the four teams the confederation sent to the World Cup, three have advanced to the Round of 16, with only Honduras failing. None of the four Asian teams are left, and only two of the five African countries survive.
Luis Suárez — what the hell?
What the hell indeed. People have written lengthy attempts to psychoanalyze him and why he bites opposing players, but it’s hard to get past what Roberto Martinez said on ESPN: The dude needs help. Yes, he comes from poverty and treats every game as if his life depends on it, but plenty of other players fit this description. They don’t go all dental on their adversaries. Suárez led the English league in scoring this past year, even though he missed several games at the beginning because he bit Branislav Ivanović at the end of the previous season. That tells you how good he is, and how much of a problem he is. As you might have predicted, the internet is having great fun with the bitey soccer star.
How’s his act going over in Uruguay?
The country is rallying around him in the most unseemly fashion, floating elaborate conspiracies and outright denials. The bite mark was Photoshopped onto Giorgio Chiellini’s shoulder! And it’s an old scar, anyway! Even Uruguay’s president has defended the player. I can’t be sure, but I’d like to think that our nation wouldn’t lose it like this if we had a goal-scorer like Suárez and he did something like this. (Or she — the Women’s World Cup is next year.) It’s sad; four years ago, Uruguay were the plucky overachievers from a country the size of Connecticut who got to the World Cup semis. Now this incident has transformed them back into their historical role as World Cup villains. Suárez’ bite was just the lowest point in an Italy-Uruguay game full of flopping and dirty play. It was a game where you truly wanted no one to advance. Well, now Italy’s out, and without Suárez, Uruguay will probably get stomped on by a Colombia team that knows them well. Good riddance.
All this talk about Uruguay and biting is making me hungry. What should I have for an Uruguayan snack?
You should try chivito, a steak sandwich with ham, pork, bacon, melted cheese, mayonnaise, and a fried egg. The locals also call it “heart attack on a plate.”
What about the other round of 16 matches?
I’m interested to see that Brazil-Chile match. None of Brazil’s group opponents had the offense that Chile will throw at them, and Brazil’s own offense is short of firepower aside from Neymar. The two countries will know each other well, at any rate. Argentina vs. Switzerland might be a better game than it looks. Nigeria’s Ahmed Musa was able to pierce Argentina’s shaky defense twice, and Switzerland has a better version of Musa in Xherdan Shaqiri, plus better players around him. Speaking of Nigeria, they’ve never played against France at the World Cup, but those two countries will go at it. Nigerian goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama is the best keeper in Africa, and he knows the French well as a player in their soccer league. As for the Costa Rica-Greece match, rooting for Costa Rica should be easy. The Greeks are only in here because Ivory Coast choked at the very end. Mexico-Netherlands will be worth watching to see if irascible coaches Miguel “El Piojo” Herrera and Louis van Gaal blow their top. Herrera, whose nickname means “The Louse,” has become a human GIF, but van Gaal came up with perfect tactical plans against Spain and Chile. If his defense doesn’t let him down, De Oranje might defy my earlier prediction and go far.
Wait, didn’t Mexico’s fans use a homophobic chant against an opposing goalkeeper? Should we cheer against them?
Over on Slate, Juliana Jiménez Jaramillo breaks down exactly what was meant when the Mexican fans chanted “puto.” There are unsavory elements in every fanbase; look no further than the Nazis cheering for Croatia, Mexico’s opponent. Still, it’s disheartening that FIFA let the Latin countries get away with this as part of their tradition (or under the legalistic dodge that they were insulting gay prostitutes rather than gay men in general). The statutes of soccer’s governing body prohibit all forms of discrimination, including sexual orientation. It would be nice to see the organization back that up. Anyway, all this puts USA fans’ newly adopted “I believe that we will win!” chant into some perspective.