Don’t Cry For Argentina

Argentina beat the Costa Rican elementary schoolers today 3-0.  I supposed I shouldn’t really make fun given that those same elementary schoolers beat Bolivia and only lost to Colombia 1-0.  In any case Argentina has made it to the quarterfinals so the Argentinians can stop worrying about their team.

They can also stop worrying about Messi.  Give the poor guy a break.  He terrorized the Costa Ricans.  He was usual brilliant self, which is a good indication that coach Sergio Batista’s plan to remake a Barcelona is a failure because it requires a Xavi and an Iniesta.  The problem was not Messi, it was everyone else.  The 4-3-3 that Barcelona play did not work for Argentina although Messi did his part, no one else did theirs, particularly Tevez and Lavezzi.  In a 4-2-3-1, the rest of the squad is more comfortable and can keep up with Messi.  Notably both Tevez and Lavezzi were left out of the starting line up.

This is not just an Argentina thing.  Spain does not play Barcelona’s 4-3-3, even with Xavi and Iniesta.  Barcelona’s system is very difficult.  It requires time and effort.  Most of the players have been playing that way since their childhood or early teens.  That’s why even David Villa had trouble adjusting at first and why Zlatan Ibrahimovic never could.

Argentina look like Argentina again.  So much so that their own fans whistled at them whenever, up by three goals, the team slowed down the pace and passed back to the defense.  That right there is an unrealistic burden of expectations.   In any case, although he didn’t score, Messi set up two of the goals, and a host of other chances.  He looks brilliant again, and I am glad.  Once Maradona and his clown show was gone, I felt I could safely cheer for Argentina and Messi.  One always wants to see the greats win titles.

Of course Costa Rica is not Brazil, Uruguay, or Chile.  But it is nice to see Argentina look like world beaters for the night.

Women’s World Cup: Semifinal Predictions (A Chance To Be Wrong Again)

I just looked over my quarterfinal predictions, and boy was I off.  Woefully so.  One out of four correct is not just bad, it’s embarrassing.  (I had a much better record with the Asian Cup.)  To be fair I don’t think I am alone in choosing Germany over Japan, and US v. Brazil could have gone either way, but I don’t know what I was thinking when I picked Australia over Sweden.  In hindsight I feel shame.

So hopefully no one is listening to these predictions as I make them.  With that in mind, here goes nothing:

United States v. France

Both the US and France are coming off of emotional highs.  Both matches went to penalty kicks.  Both teams are fighting for their leagues and reputations as well as the title.

The US have the better coach.  For all the fan complaints about Pia Sundhage, the only female coach left in the tournament, she has always delivered when it counted most–usually at the expense of Brazil.  She would never have sat her best players in the final group match and said it wasn’t important. (Yes, yes, the US still lost.)  France have an extra day of rest, but I doubt that will make a difference.  The US has the advantage in size, strength, and physical preparation.

On the other hand, France, unlike Brazil, are a tactically sophisticated team who prefer to keep possession rather than use the counterattack.  The French players are also superior to the US players in terms of individual skill, but unlike Brazil (who were also superior in individual skill), the French squad does play together and functions as a team, largely because much of the squad plays for the European champions Lyon.  France’s defense has looked shaky at times, and the strikers have some trouble finishing, but they have dominated each match they have played thus far, except the match against Germany (and there were other circumstances involved.)

In the end, I am not sure the US will be able to come down from their emotional high against Brazil.  France is a completely different team, a better team, and I believe they are ready for the US.  I hate to say it, but I think France is going to win this match.

Sweden v. Japan

For all the earlier trashing I did of Sweden, they have proven to be the most ruthlessly effective team of the tournament.  All the problems with finishing vanished and left behind a squad of assassins.  Unlike every other semifinalist, Sweden got their quarterfinal done in the allotted 90 minutes.  No overtime, no drama, no problem.  Australia were gone.

The converse is that unlike England, Brazil, and Germany, Australia did not win their group.  In fact, Australia were arguably the weakest quarterfinalist.  In Japan, Sweden will not find a team prone to defensive errors.  Rather, they will find a tightly organized, defensively sound squad of giant killers led by the great Homare Sawa, who, if there is any justice, should win the tournament’s Golden Ball.

On the other hand, Japan have three things major negatives: (1) Sweden are taller and stronger than Japan.  (2) One wonders if Japan can replicate their awesome form of the last match against Sweden.  (3) Before the match against Germany, Japan’s record against European opposition was horrendous.  Even with one win, it is still poor.

Additionally, because this is the farthest that Japan have ever gotten at the World Cup, and because they eliminated the mighty Germany en route, one wonders if the players are still hungry or are now sated.  Samurai Blue only dream of the success and style that Nadeshiko Japan have achieved at this World Cup.  Even if Japan lose, they have already given their country its greatest football moment ever and the promise of a none-too-distant Women’s World Cup triumph.

My heart says Japan, but my head says Sweden.  I have to go with Sweden.