World Cup Analysis

Group Stage Round 1: Three Key Thoughts

The initial 16 games are in the books. (Let’s act like Brazil and Mexico haven’t played their scoreless draw yet) It’s been a whirlwind of a week. It’s a tough life consuming 24 hours of football over 6 days… but someone has to do it. There should be a day off tomorrow to denote the next round of group matches, but I would run the risk of being too efficient at work. These are my quick thoughts on the tournament so far:

1. Goals. 3.09 per match so far. It’s a popular theme in the American media to praise the amount of goals being scored. If goal scoring is up, casual fans will be interested and TV ratings will follow a similar path. I’m just excited the popular theme is not about a crazy, uncontrollable ball, such as the Jabulani from South Africa. Although the heat and humidity conditions are a popular mention, it doesn’t necessarily breed unexciting football. Generally, the start of a major tournament can be lackluster. Teams play conservatively, not minding a draw. With the exception of a couple of matches, the run of play has been wide open and free flowing. 

2. It’s natural to overreact, but don’t. Writers have to be salivating at a shot to dig into the end of the Spanish dynasty, the massive meltdown of the Portuguese squad, or the demise of Uruguay while their polarizing star looks on. Expect these teams to bounce back. These teams have all been here multiple times before and are too talented to fold after one bad result.

3. ESPN is the big winner. American fans can be dismissive of watching or supporting “soccer” for a number of reasons. Ties, low scoring, USA is not elite, flopping, lack of masculinity, etc. These reasons are scapegoats for the lack of interest in the U.S.A. To those casual fans – This has been a high scoring, only twice drawing tournament featuring a broken nosed Dempsey helping the USA win. Not only can point to real solutions to those issues based on the initial 16 matches, we can resolve the real issue why football is not as popular in the United States relative to the world. We don’t have it shoved down our throat on ESPN like we do baseball, basketball, and american football. Casual fans don’t know 20 of the 23 United States squad members because they don’t play their club games on American television. There are a lot of reasons why football isn’t on ESPN more, but with the World Cup, we get non-stop coverage. Americans have no choice but to get interested. We will gradually accept anything that is pushed on us. (See most all of pop music radio) It just really helps American interest when we have such a fantastic start to the World Cup. A start that nixes the aforementioned issues from casual fans. 

World Cup Analysis

The All Important 2nd Goal

Generally, the first goal of a such a low scoring sport like football is the important one. Google research shows a team who scores first is only about 10% likely to lose that match altogether. Not the case with the World Cup through eight matches. Four of the eight teams to concede a goal first have come back to win the game outright. Brazil, Netherlands, Costa Rica, and Ivory Coast have all appeared outmatched for major portions of their first halves. Each one of those games changed completely after the equalizer struck netting. In fact, it is the second goal which is all important. Six of the seven matches to feature two or more goals have been won by the team who scores second. It’s not uncommon to witness confidence flow from a team who has just scored, but those four games saw a dramatic shift in momentum post-equalizer. Not sure if the nerves of the initial World Cup match makes sense for this trend to continue, or we just have a bizarre first eight games.

Side note – We have seen the best celebration of the tournament just a few games in. Thank you Pablo Armero and the Colombian National Team.

World Cup Analysis

Brazil With a Convincing Win?

For much of the game, it appeared as though the Croatians had the perfect game plan. For a team technically gifted as Brazil, it can be frustrating when the opposing team puts 10 men behind the ball. Open space allows the Selecao to express their beautiful brand of football. With a crowd starved 60 years of hosting a World Cup, it was important for the Croats to bunker down and survive the first 15 minutes. They did more than that. Croatia looked incredibly dangerous on the counter attack and perhaps should have been up a goal even before Marcelo knocked the ball into his own net in the 11th minute.

Being down a goal at home with a raucous crowd can be an anxious time. If this 1 – nil lead bled into the second half, the anxiety of the crowd would have multiplied with each passing minute. As a neutral fan, I was pretty excited to see this sort of drama on day one of the Cup. However, the Messiah of the Selecao quelled all fear. You could talk me into Neymar’s first goal being a masterfully aimed strike or a goalie being caught on the wrong foot. It doesn’t matter. The insane pressure on Brazil is lifted. You knew Brazil would get a second goal eventually.

For me, I struggle with Americans who say they hate flopping in “soccer”. When you have 90 minutes that mean so much to your career and your country in this tournament, it makes sense to be very focused on winning. Winning in a football match only takes a goal or two most of the time. A penalty kick provides a goal about 80% of the time. If you are in that penalty box and a player grabs or kicks you, how is it not your natural reaction to go down and draw that foul? Not very different from LeBron or Kobe yelling every single time they drive the lane just to get two free throws on an errant shot attempt.

Because I get to see the replay in slow motion, I would say Fred’s penalty should not have been called. However, that is the risk you take anytime you grab someone in the box as a defender. The call didn’t bother me, but again, I am a neutral fan in this game. The final score line of 3-1 was slightly harsh on the Croatians. Neymar having two goals on his resume is also slightly misleading, as he could have had both shots saved. Again, it does not matter. The headlines will read that Neymar led Brazil to a convincing win with his double. The home favorites are not the best team in the tournament, but they have confidence and a crowd.