Tag Archives: Brazil

The Day of Finals

July 7, 2019 presented a rare confluence of futbol championship events.  In the morning (US time), the 2019 Women’s World Cup final between the U.S. and the Netherlands took place in France.  In the afternoon, the Copa America final featured host country Brazil versus Peru.  In the evening, the U.S. men’s team faced off against Mexico in the Gold Cup final in Chicago.  The U.S. women’s team rightfully considered themselves disrespected by the North and South American soccer federations for scheduling their finals on the same day the World Cup came to a conclusion.  Nonetheless, it was a great day to be a soccer fan.

2019 WORLD CUP FINAL:

The United States cruised through the group stage scoring an astounding 18 goals while giving up none.    The Netherlands didn’t have it quite so easy in their group, but still came away with three convincing wins.   The American found tougher games in the knockout rounds, but won by a 2-1 score in each round–the Round of 16, the Quarterfinals, and the Semifinals–on their way to the finals.  The Dutch gave up a goal in their 2-1 Round of 16 win, but threw shutouts in the Quarterfinals and Semifinals.  This was only the second World Cup that the Netherlands had qualified for, but they served notice of their abilities by winning the European championship two years ago.

From the start, the U.S. dominated the game.   They continually pushed the attack, fired shots, and earned corners as the game was largely played in the final third.  The Dutch showed resilience on their back line though and turned away attack after attack by the  Americans.  For the first time in the tournament, the U.S. failed to score in the first 15 minutes of the game and the game was still scoreless at the half.

The American lethal front line of Megan Rapinoe, Alex Morgan, and Tobin Heath continued their relentless assault into the second half and earned a penalty kick 15 minutes in when a Dutch defender kicked too high in an attempt to prevent Morgan from receiving a pass inside the box.  Rapinoe buried the penalty kick as she has done all tournament.  The Dutch defense seemed rattled at that point and less than 10 minutes later, that discombobulation cost them.  U.S. midfielder Rose Lavelle took a pass near the mid-line, dribbled straight down the center of the field, made a simple juke move at the top of the box that turned the defender the wrong way and then rocketed a left-footer past the goalie into the right corner of the goal.  Even with the two goal lead, the U.S. continued to press the attack, something many squads fail to do when they build a lead.  The Dutch got their best chances as time ran down, but could not convert.

The 2-0 win gave the U.S. their fourth World Cup title–their second in a row–two more than any other national squad.  Rapinoe won both the Golden Ball and Golden Boot awards.  With the emergence of the 24-year-old Lavelle, who won the Bronze Ball award, the future of the U.S. team continues to look very bright.  Much of the Dutch squad will still be in their primes in four years, so look for them to be a force at the 2023 World Cup.

Given the American womens’ dominance at the highest levels, it is high time that the U.S. soccer federation paid the women the same as the men.  The womens’ team scores better results, draws bigger crowds, and gets better TV ratings.  It’s time they get PAID!

2019 COPA AMERICA FINAL:

In a rarity, the Copa America final matched two teams that came out of the same group.  In the group stage, Brazil punished Peru 5-0, but La Blanquirroja managed to advance out of the groups with a tie against Venezuela and a win over Bolivia.  Peru then won Quarterfinals and Semifinals games against Uruguay (penalty kicks) and Chile, respectively, that they really had no business winning, but for a stout defense that turned away numerous shots and making the most of the few chances their offense received.  Seleção fought through some minor bumps in the road, notably a tie against Venezuela in the group and a penalty kick win against Paraguay in the Quarterfinals, two national squads that Brazil should have dominated.  In a hard fought game, Brazil turned away Argentina 2-0 in the Semifinals, disappointing Leo Messi on the world stage yet again.

in the Final the Peruvians surprisingly came out swinging at the start, repeatedly pushing into the Brazilian box, but could not finish.  At the 15-minute mark, a Brazilian run down the right sideline produced a long cross into the box where Peru’s defense had collapsed inward, leaving Everton alone on the back side.  He ran onto the cross and rammed home the first goal of the game.  Just before half-time, Paulo Guerrero delivered the equalizer for Peru on a penalty kick after a pass in the box bounced off the arm of a falling Brazilian defender.  Minutes later, in extra time, Peru’s defense again failed, leaving Gabriel Jesus with too much space at the top of the box which he converted into a 2-1 halftime lead for Brazil.

Brazil continued to dominate the ball in the second half, but neither team was able to get much in the way of shots on goal.  However,  as Jesus tooketh, he also gaveth away, doing Peru a favor and earning his second yellow card of the game by delivering an elbow to the back of an opposing player’s head while jumping for a high ball.  Brazil had to play a man down for the final 20 and Peru nearly tied it up again on a long shot by Edison Flores.  However, Brazil maintained its attack and got an insurance goal on a questionably earned penalty kick just before extra time.  With the 3-1 victory, Brazil won its first Copa America championship since 2007.

2019 GOLD CUP FINAL:

Mexico and the United States have long dominated the CONCACAF Gold Cup with 7 and 6 championships, respectively.  Canada is the only other national squad to have won a Gold Cup.  So it came as no surprise that El Tri and the Americans found themselves facing off in yet another Gold Cup Final.  Both squads rumbled through their groups without much problem scoring many goals in the process.  For the U.S., always known for their conservative game, this attacking approach was refreshing.  Both team faced tougher games in the knockout rounds, but survived to reach the championship game.

The Americans did not abandon Coach Gregg Berhalter’s attacking style, creating two great early opportunities for Christian Pulisic and Jozy Altidore that could not be converted.  The Mexicans played a more patient passing approach, but the stiff U.S. back line prevented any troubling penetrations in the final third.  At the end of the half, the stats say Mexico had more possession and shots, but the U.S. clearly created the more dangerous opportunities, though they were unable to finish them.

An early corner in the 2nd half nearly put the Americans on the board.  A header off the Pulisic corner was saved by a defender’s header on the goal line at the near post.  A follow-up shot went off a defender’s back.  As the half progressed though, Mexico’s attack kept building, earning corners and putting shots on goal.  Momentum had clearly shifted and the Mexicans finally cashed in on a push up the middle where Raul Jimenez put through a beautiful back heel pass to Jonathan dos Santos at the top of the box.  Dos Santos then placed a left-footer into the top left corner of the net that U.S. goalie Zach Steffen could only watch.  The United States staged a furious rally in the final 20 minutes, but despite some great opportunities, they could not find the equalizer.

The Americans should feel good about their showing in this tournament.  They still need to find a Clint Dempsey-like finisher, but the attacking style suits the make-up of the team.  Budding stars like Pulisic, Weston McKinnie, and Reggie Cannon, all 20 or 21 years old portends a bright future for the USMNT.  Mexico’s bend but don’t break approach survived this time, but many of their attackers are 25 and under, so they will get better with experience too.  Hopefully both squads continue to get better so that CONCACAF can put forward a better presence at the World Cup.

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FIFA World Cup 2018: Quarterfinals Day One

Quarter-finals Day One

Uruguay 0-2 France

This was not going to be as potent a squad in attack for Uruguay without Edinson Cavani partnering up front with Luis Suarez in the box due to injury, so less reliable Christian Stuani came in to play just behind Suarez in a 4-1-2-1-2 diamond formation that played like a 4-4-2. But they did still have the best defense in the tournament with Diego Godin and Jose Gimenez at the heart of the four-man backline, Lucas Torreira providing them cover, and the thrust of their attack is to get the ball to Suarez as quickly as they can, getting help from flankers Matías Vecino and Nahitan Nández and trailing help from attacking midfielder Rodrigo Bentancur up the middle. France started out with a standard 4-2-3-1 formation that could morph into a 4-5-1, N’Golo Kanté the hard man in front of the four-man backline, with box-to-box center midfielder Paul Pogba winning the ball and introducing the attack, center midfielder Antoine Griezmann making attacking runs through the center, Olivier Girould the target man up top and speedy scorer Kilian Mbappé coming in from the right.

The key match-up was how Uruguayan left back Diego Laxalt handled Kilian Mbappé, and if Laxalt was going to make overlapping runs given the responsibilities he had in the back. Uruguay were going to challenge France high, not giving them a chance to build up that quick transition attack; they surrounded Pogba and made him work for every possession. Pressure from both sides defensively but choppy going forward; neither side was going to allow the other to build up a head of steam in attack, breaking up each other’s offensive rhythm and tempo. Godin is a dying breed, an old-fashioned defender, thinks nothing but defense, always organizing the backline, never comes up to attack.

The pace of the game favored Uruguay; France just couldn’t get into their fast buildup. Even when the ball made it into the box for France, there just wasn’t any panic in Uruguay’s game. On a 40th minute set piece, Griezmann stutter-stepped a free kick, freezing Uruguay and opening up Raphaël Varane to head one in, the only time Uruguay were 6’s and 7’s at any time in this tournament. Then Griezmann with a shot with some cheese on it that goalkeeper Fernando Muslera can’t handle and puts in his own goal in the 61st minute.

It changed everything for Uruguay, who up until then had controlled pace and tempo, but now they had to chase the game and put numbers forward, opening up all kinds of lanes for France to pass and run into in counter. But France started dropping players back into their own end in defense and maintain possession. Good effort by Uruguay, but they didn’t looked even close to getting on the scoreboard. I thought the best organized team in this tournament was Uruguay, but two fatal errors in the back did them in, plus without Cavani they weren’t able to play the way they wanted to play. Not the best from France, but they did enough to get through.

Brazil 1-2 Belgium

Quite a few changes for the Selacao in this one, going with a spread 3-4-3 formation, Marcelo on the left wing assisting talisman flanker Neymar, with Willian flanking in the box on the right. Cultured striker Gabriel Jesus in the box, but the important player trailing in through the center is Philippe Coutinho. A number of significant changes for the Belgians as well in a risky yet attacking 4-3-3 formation. Box-to-box midfielder Marouane Fallaini comes in to introduce the attack from the center as well as provide cover when Axel Witsel abandons the center. Talisman Eden Hazard providing service into the box, Kevin De Bruyne providing crosses from the right with Romelu Lukaku the sole target man up front looking to get on the end of service to either score or bring in trailing help.

A three-man backline and emphasis on service through the center meant that Nacer Chadli and Thomas Meunier had a lot of responsibilities on the sides. Belgium was most likely to sit back and counter, hoping that Lukaku would occupy center backs Mirando and Thiago Silva enough to bring in De Bruyne and Hazard. Both teams pressed high from the outset, looking to build from the back, although Belgium would have loved to have turned it into a track meet. Whether through a patient buildup or a quick strike, not much of this game was spent in the middle third.

Belgium looked to use their size advantage, and it paid off in the 13th minute on a set piece corner from Chadli to Vincent Kompany. A track meet is what Belgium were able to turn this into; a clinical attack by Lukaku through the middle brings in De Bruyne to hit a laser to the back post in the 31st minute. Same attack for Belgium coming out of halftime; interception by their defense deep, getting the ball to De Bruyne to find Lukaku cutting on the inside with an outlet pass on the break. Surprisingly Belgium did all of this without much help from Hazard.

Good combination play from Brazil the last 45 minutes, but they were getting interrupted in the final third and having to transition back quickly to thwart the Belgium counterattack. Roberto Firmino came in after the half and provided much better attacking on the right side, as well as switching play much more effectively. Renato Augusto was subbed into the game to make deep runs through the center of the defense into the box and get on the end of crosses; that’s exactly what happened in his goal in the 76th minute on an assist by Coutinho.

Long switches by Brazil from side to side were causing all kinds of problems for Belgium. In an attempt to hold on, Belgium brought on Youri Tielemans to clog up the middle and interrupt the Selacao attack. Belgiun head coach Roberto Martinez got his tactics right on the day, his big time players showed up big time and got it done.

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FIFA World Cup 2018: Quarterfinals Preview

World Cup Trophy

The Quarterfinals

The Round of 16 found 6 group winners moving forward.  The two second-place finishers that won, Russia and England, did not look particularly impressive in doing so, each squeaking through on penalty kicks.  The two sides of the quarterfinals bracket have some slight differences in the quality of the competition.  One side of the bracket has no team ranked lower than 14th in the world rankings.  The highest ranked team on the other side of the bracket is 12th ranked England and all the other teams in that bracket are ranked 20th or lower, in one case, much lower.  So what do we have to look forward to in the quarterfinals?

Uruguay vs. France

Uruguay got past Portugal in the round of 16 despite the Portuguese dominating possession and shots because they played a deep and disciplined backline and bet on their attackers Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani to get the job done up front, which they did.  France has a new star in the making, Kylian Mbappe, and topped Argentina in the round of 16 by making good use of his explosiveness.  However, the French gave up more goals to Argentina than they did in three group games because Messi and the Argentines were the first offensively proficient team they faced.

Unlike Portugal who had difficulty breaking through Uruguay’s defense, France has the speed and one-on-one ability in Mbappe up front and Paul Pogba in the midfield to find the seams even though Uruguay does not concede many shots.  Unlike most players, Mbappe can make his runs to either side of the field, so Uruguay can’t overplay him to one side or the other.  On the other end, Suarez and Cavani have the ability and experience to give the French backline a rough time.  However, Cavani’s left calf is ailing, which could put them at a disadvantage.  France has the more complete squad and should prevail anyway, but if Cavani doesn’t play or is playing hurt, it will be that much easier for France.

Brazil vs. Belgium

Brazil topped Mexico 2-0 in the round of 16 by sending waves of attackers and trusting their defense.  Brazil has some of the best one-on-one players in the world and are patient on the attack till the find the cracks to exploit.  Belgium was expected to run Japan off the field in their game, but the Japanese played them evenly through the first half and when Belgium pressed the attack in the second half, Japan used their quickness, particularly on the wings to run up two quick goals.  Belgium kept up their attack though and quickly got the two goals back.  Both teams attacked back and forth looking for the winning goal.  Belgium prevailed on a quick counterattack late in extra time.

Brazil and Belgium are the 2nd and 3rd ranked teams in the world, respectively.  However, Belgium’s defense has shown cracks against teams with creative offenses and Brazil will be the most creative offense they have faced yet.  Brazil has been getting better each game in this Cup and their veteran defense has given up only one goal so far.  Brazil ends Belgium’s World Cup run here.

Sweden vs. England

Sweden managed to get by Switzerland last round by playing stout defense and patiently waiting for Emil Forsberg to make some magic on the offensive end.  The Swiss also looked to defend heavily and find their spots on offense.  It made for a boring game.  Despite the Swiss controlling the ball more of the game, Forsberg made the difference late.  England survived its bout with Colombia on penalty kicks.  Colombia played without their star James Rodriguez, but still played England tough.  England has not shown much creativity in their offense in this tournament, but has done well on penalty and free kicks.

Sweden and England figures to be a boring game with little scoring.  Neither team creates well enough against stiff defenses.  Sweden will have to watch its fouls in the defensive third lest they give the English the edge they need with a set piece.  The English defense will have to keep a close eye on Forsberg.  This game could go either way and figures to be won by the team that makes the least mistakes.  I give England the slight edge to be that team.

Russia vs. Croatia

Russia managed to get by Spain in the round of 16 by way of Spain’s inability to create in the offensive third and some questionable referee calls and non-calls.  The Russians spent the entire second half and the extra periods surviving by pulling everyone back on defense.  Their goalie then bailed them out in the penalty kicks phase.  Croatia also got to the quarterfinals via penalty kicks against Denmark.  Croatia gave up a first minute goal to Denmark, but struck back minutes later and then settled down on both ends of the field.  They created a number of scoring opportunities, but couldn’t finish.  They showed some backbone though winning the shootout after star Luka Modric couldn’t convert a penalty kick late in the game.

Croatia and Russia appears to be a mismatch in the Croats favor, but then, so did Spain and Russia.  As with every other game against superior teams, Russia will play a patient defense-heavy game and hope for a breakdown by Croatia or penalty kicks.  Croatia will control the midfield and count on the attacking front of Mandzukic, Pericic, Rebic, and Modric to do a better job of creating opportunities than Spain did.  Modric creates a lot of scoring opportunities and he will need to ramp it up a notch against Russia’s 11-man defense.  Croatia should end Russia’s surprising World Cup run barring another run of fortunate refereeing.

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