World Cup Final Preview

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Byline BenFirst off, let me say that it has truly been a pleasure covering the World Cup here at Baltimore Birds Blog, and I hope that I can continue writing here in the near future. I’d also like to thank everyone who read my World Cup-related posts, as well as my friend Matt Hamilton for creating the blog and letting me be a part of it. Now, on to the moment we all have been waiting for…the preview for the 2014 FIFA World Cup Final!

The Final

Now this is quite a matchup; not only is it the talent of Messi’s Argentina against the skill of Schweinsteiger’s Germany, but it is also UEFA against CONMEBOL. Since the semifinals were, as predicted, unable to declare a winner in this growing competition between two world-class confederations, it is up to this last round to determine who will reign supreme.

While many did not expect UEFA to be represented by Germany in this round, it is clear now that they had the best shot of any team from that confederation. Germany, much like many other UEFA teams this year, is very complete. It has high-quality players that complement each other wonderfully and an overall game strategy that works.

Argentina, on the other hand, is heavily reliant on Messi’s talents and has built a team to compliment him specifically. As shown during the Brazil-Germany match, this kind of a team falls apart when its key elements are missing.

That being said, I do not think that Argentina is just going to lie down like Brazil did when faced with Germany’s unique take on the UEFA style of play. Argentina is here to win, and did not make it this far on luck alone.

Both teams have talent and will likely keep this a close match. Don’t be surprised if this, much like the 2010 World Cup Final, is forced to go to extra time to decide the winner. In the end though, I expect Germany to come out on top. Germany is the complete package ─ good offense, good defense, and good coaching ─ while Argentina still has its clear struggles on the pitch.

Winner

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Matt Hamilton’s Preview

 

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UEFA vs. CONMEBOL: Two different strategies

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For many years, UEFA (Europe) has been widely thought of as the pinnacle of soccer; home to the best players, the best international sides and the best club teams of any confederation.

To some extent, this is still true, but this year’s World Cup has revealed that there are some cracks in UEFA’s armor, specifically when it comes to style of play. UEFA teams typically keep to a more traditional approach, emphasizing a good defense complimented by a methodical offense.

This year, the approach championed by UEFA has been directly challenged by a new, more modern approach from another part of the world, developed in large part by the members of CONMEBOL (South America); building around specific players, emphasizing offense and keeping up the attack. This style of play has also become more and more popular at the club level, since it keeps fans on the edge of their seats and games exciting enough to sell tickets and keep the endorsements rolling.

UEFA

I also want to mention that when I speak of UEFA’s style versus CONMEBOL’s style, we should keep in mind that these are just general archetypes, and that each team has its own unique take on them. At the same time, every team adheres to the same basic set of rules associated with the style they chose; UEFA-style demands balance and patience, while CONMEBOL-style needs attack and speed.

It should be noted that having an offense-oriented team built around a few superstars (such as Messi or Neymar) and basing game strategies around those stars seems to be a trend in not just CONMEBOL, but most of Latin America. Argentina does it, Brazil does it, Chile does it, and even Mexico does it.

The main problem that all these teams face is that when a key player is injured, that’s it; it’s game over. Brazil showed us this firsthand, when Neymar was hurt, by losing in historic fashion to Germany.

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I am by no means saying that UEFA’s strategy is any better, since the Netherlands and Belgium have demonstrated what happens when a team using the traditional approach simply loses steam. I am just saying that in this year’s final, the fast-paced, attacking style of play found in Latin America is being put to the test against UEFA’s more traditional, defense-heavy approach.

It is quite possible that whichever style, UEFA or CONMEBOL/Latin American, wins this year may have a huge influence on the style that less-successful teams try to emulate in the near future. Every confederation has teams, both club and national, that haven’t found a winning strategy in a long time and are most certainly looking for new ideas outside the approaches that their confederation traditionally champions.

If Argentina wins, it is possible that teams from all over will begin to adopt the CONMEBOL approach more and more, but if Germany wins, UEFA will prove once again that tradition trumps all.

FIFA World Cup: Semifinals Preview

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Byline BenI hope you all had a great 4th of July, and enjoyed the Quarterfinals this past weekend as much as I did. Now here we are; the clash of the titans!

Teams headed by Messi, Schweinsteiger, Neymar (previously), and Van Persie are all that’s left in what will undoubtedly go down as one of the most exciting World Cups in FIFA history. These upcoming matches will be unpredictable, and no less exciting than the previous rounds.

The semifinals also have a bigger theme than just superstar-led teams; UEFA versus CONMEBOL. These past few years, the debate has been raging over which confederation is better in terms of players and quality of national teams.

UEFA

This year, we may be closer to settling that debate. If the Final is Brazil vs. Argentina or Germany vs. the Netherlands, then the debate is over; at least until the next World Cup. If one team from each confederation makes it, then this round may just a prologue to an even bigger moment in the ever-growing rivalry between UEFA and CONMEBOL.

Will CONMEBOL finally dethrone UEFA in either this round or the next, or will UEFA be able to hold on to its crown for 4 more years? No matter what happens, the results are bound to resonate long after the final whistle has blown, long after the final piece of confetti has fallen at the Maracana and long after the last foreign fan has left Brazil.

Brazil vs. Germany

France vs. Nigeria

Although Neymar may still technically captain Brazil, he is out for the rest of the tournament with a spinal fracture. This has huge implications for the Semifinals, and potentially the finals as Brazil has made Neymar a key part of their attacking game.

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Germany, meanwhile, has all of its starters healthy and ready to take on the hosts. Ozil and Schweinsteiger remain strong, while Brazil has to rely on David Luiz to stop them and needs Hulk to take more responsibility up top against the formidable German defense.

That all being said, I still believe in Brazil. Even without Neymar and Tiago Silva, Brazil is a tough team to beat, and the home field advantage is still with them. Brazil has made it clear that there will never be another situation like what happened in 1950; where they, as World Cup hosts, lost in the Final to Uruguay.

Germany may be tough, but beating them is not impossible, especially by a team that has rallied around both a sense of duty to their injured teammate, and a determination to not let history repeat itself.

Winner– Brazil

 

Argentina vs. Netherlands

ARG vs. SWI

Argentina and the Netherlands are teams that have strong offenses, but the Oranje has the advantage over Argentina offensively. Argentina has often struggled to get that first goal, whereas the Netherlands has kept the goals coming, the previous game against Costa Rica notwithstanding.

In addition, the Oranje defense has been preforming better than their Argentine counterparts, meaning the Messi-led offense is likely to have trouble scoring while Van Persie and Robben score goal after goal.

Don’t be surprised, however, if Argentina suddenly rallies and keeps the score close for most of the game, or even if it goes into extra time, as neither team is to be taken lightly.

Argentina, despite its faults, remains a tough team to beat, and the Netherlands revealed their weaknesses to the world against Costa Rica. Argentina may be able to capitalize on a few of those weaknesses, but the Netherlands still remains a very complete team by any standard.

Winner– Netherlands

World Cup Quarterfinals Preview

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Byline BenDon’t fear soccer fans! Just because the U.S. is out, doesn’t mean we’ll stop writing about the World Cup. Here’s Ben Price’s World Cup Quarterfinals preview.

Brazil vs. Colombia

Ger vs. ALG

This is a match that could honestly go either way. Brazil and Colombia are both very tough teams, but Brazil seems to be losing steam while Colombia appears to be as strong as ever. Granted, Uruguay sans-Suarez was not as big of a challenge to face as Chile was, but it is still worth noting that Colombia beat a team widely acknowledged to be a powerhouse whereas Brazil struggled against a team that it outclassed on paper.

Colombia and Brazil both have very complete teams, but it’s clear that the Brazilian side is tired and battered, while Colombia still has some energy left in it. Home field advantage aside, Brazil might have finally met its match. No matter what happens, expect a close game, but expect Brazil to come up short.

Winner– Colombia

 

France vs. Germany

France vs. Nigeria

France and Germany are once again reigniting old rivalries, as they face each other in yet another World Cup. Make no mistake, there is no love lost between these teams, and both will be fighting tooth and nail to reach their ultimate goal. France, however, seemed tired these past few matches, while Germany is still going strong.

Ozil and Schweinsteiger seem to still be on the top of their game, while Benzema and Pogba have struggled these past couple of games against teams that they should have outclassed. France has had way too many close games for comfort here, and will likely come up short yet again against a team that they know all too well.

That all being said, expect Germany and France to maintain a close score throughout the match, since both teams have had plenty of practice against each other and will likely be able to anticipate typical plays.

Winner– Germany

 

Netherlands vs. Costa Rica

GRE vs. COST

The successes of the Costa Rican side have made up this year’s Cinderella Story, but I am sad to say that it looks like the clock has struck midnight on this ball. The Oranje are just too strong of a team for Costa Rica to beat; the best Costa Rica can hope for is that they play an impressive enough defense to send the game to extra time.

Van Persie and Robben have continued to have success on the field, and have proven that they can outwit most defenders that come their way. Costa Rica’s offense is strong, but not as strong as the Netherland’s defense, so expect the Oranje to have possession of the ball for much of the match as Costa Rica struggles to line up a shot. I expect the final score will be a bit more lopsided than other Quarter Final matches, but don’t think Costa Rica won’t give it their all.

Winner– Netherlands

 

Argentina vs. Belgium

ARG vs. SWI

On paper, this match should go in Argentina’s favor, but Argentina has underperformed for the entire tournament while Belgium has been holding its own even with some key injuries.

Argentina has run its course this tournament, and the near-loss to Switzerland only proves it. Belgium, meanwhile, has demonstrated time and time again that it has a complete team, and it is ready to take on the powerhouses of soccer.

Expect Argentina to struggle for most of the match as it did in previous games, while Belgium comes out on the attack. The Red Devils’ offense should be able to get past the Argentine defense, and expect an interesting matchup on the other side of the pitch with Messi going up against a Belgian defense plagued by injury. Again, Belgium should come out on top, but not without a fight.

Winner– Belgium

 

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Matt Hamilton’s Updated Bracket

Quarters

U.S. Soccer is in Good Hands

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Byline BenNow that the U.S. Men’s National Team’s run in the World Cup is over, it is time to sit and reflect for a bit on what these past few weeks mean for America, and the future of the USMNT.

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These past few weeks have revealed to the world that not only is the team a rising powerhouse, but the country itself is ready for that spotlight. America has gone from ignoring soccer to fully embracing it, from lack of passion to potential World Cup hosts, and from being doubted to being cheered by millions.

America, soccer has officially landed, and it isn’t going away anytime soon.

The USMNT showed the world that Americans can get passionate about soccer during the World Cup, and that we have a passion that can rival that of many other nations. I am not saying that America is the next Brazil, England, or Argentina in terms of passion, but I am saying that we showed the world that we do care.

We care about our team, we care about whether they win or lose, and we care about the outcome of the World Cup. We have demonstrated that Americans can inject the same kind of passion seen at NFL, MLB, NBA, and NHL games into USMNT games, and we made it clear that we are hungry for more. We will keep following soccer, and we will be ready for more come next World Cup.

Keep in mind that I am not saying that the MLS is going to see a huge ratings boost overnight, but it will likely see some benefit from the increased interest Americans have for soccer; as will the broadcasts of the English Premier League, La Liga, and Liga MX here in the U.S.

Americans know there is more than just the World Cup; increased soccer coverage over the past few years by ESPN and Fox Sports proves it. America also knows that high-quality matches can be viewed stateside and many will likely be tuning in once the 2014 World Cup is a distant memory.

As we have done with the NHL, America will develop pockets of die-hard fans that will help perpetuate the popularity of the sport for years to come. Will soccer one day overtake the NFL? Unlikely, but it may one day reach the same level as hockey here.

Will the MLS be a powerhouse league like the EPL or La Liga? Again, unlikely at the moment, but it will develop an even larger, more passionate following than it enjoys now, especially as domestic talent improves.

This year, Jurgen Klinsmann showed everybody that America can produce talent, and not just in the form of Landon Donovan. Clint Dempsey fought through injury and played his heart out during his entire tenure in the tournament, and has clearly demonstrated why he was chosen as captain. Tim Howard has gone from being relatively anonymous in the world of mainstream American sports to a household name due to his impressive goaltending and the setting of a new record for the most saves during a single World Cup match.

Not only did our leaders shine, but so did the younger talent as well. Julian Green’s goal against Belgium made us excited for the future of the team, since he still has so much potential and so much time left to play and mature as a member of the USMNT.

It is safe to assume at this point that future World Cup teams will be of better and better quality as time goes on as long as the organization keeps developing young talent like Green, and surrounding them with leaders like Dempsey.

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Even if Klinsmann isn’t the coach come next World Cup, it is still safe to assume that the team will continue to be in good hands after the example set this year. Our future looks bright, and this year has given us a history to be proud of.

I Still Believe.

USA vs. Belgium Preview

USA vs. BEL

Byline BenOk folks, this is it, the final stretch before the big day! The much-anticipated match between our Yanks and Belgium’s Red Devils will be seen around the world.

In honor of this match I’ll break my previous habit of only providing previews for each round and give you what you all have been waiting for; a match-specific preview! I stated in my previous post that the Yanks have a tough day ahead of them, and I still stand by that thought.

However, Belgium has recently been decimated by the injuries of key players like Thomas Vermaelen, Vincent Kompany and Anthony Vanden Borre.

Meanwhile, the latest out of the U.S. camp is that Jorgen Klinsmann revealed that Jozy Altidore has a very good chance of coming back for such a crucial game. Needless to say, Altidore’s return could have a huge impact on the outcome of the game.

 

Belgium’s midfield and defense are severely hurt while the U.S.’s attacking game might be improving very shortly. Even without Altidore, Klinsmann built up a powerful side that could force the match to be decided in a penalty shootout.

At the same time, the Yanks still need to be careful; though the Red Devils are down, they are by no means out. They want to advance as much as the U.S. does, and will fight tooth-and-nail to make it happen.

No matter what happens after the whistle blows, I expect a very close, exciting game that will undoubtedly go down as one of the most important in U.S. soccer history.

Matt’s USA vs. Belgium Preview

Round of 16 Preview

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Ok, so that was an interesting group stage, to say the least! Between Suarez’s biting, the poor officiating, the major upsets early on, and the unexpected results of Team USA (but in a good way; US has been able to beat the odds more than once so far in this tournament), I can safely say that my own personal bracket has been busted. I am really starting to miss Paul the Octopus right about now…but then again he would run me out of a job! In lieu of a magic octopus, I shall try my best to bring you the most accurate predictions my meager human magic can muster, without fear of being bested by a cephalopod.

France vs. Nigeria

France vs. Nigeria

France. Need I say more? Well, actually, I probably should. See, Nigeria benefitted from facing opponents that had trouble living up to their potential, allowing them to swoop in and take the 2nd seed away from Bosnia and Herzegovina. This does not mean, however, that Nigeria is a complete team. Nigeria has many holes in its defense just waiting to be exploited, and while France did not live up to expectations against Ecuador, it is still safe to assume that Les Bleus will fully exploit those holes and dominate. At the same time, however, France must exercise caution, since it still has yet to fully shake its habit of losing to teams it should have easily won against. If France wants to avoid a near-repeat of 2010, then it should not take Nigeria lightly.

Winner– France

Germany vs. Algeria

Ger vs. ALG

Germany has been given a gift this round; Algeria cannot possibly field a team that can beat the Germans. Algeria, much like Nigeria, benefitted from opponents that for the most part underperformed (with the exception of Belgium) in the Group Stage. Germany is not the type of team to just suddenly underperform this late in the tournament. Admittedly, Germany did show that it still needed to work out a few kinks during its later Group Stage matches, but these were minor issues at best. Even the worst of Germany’s players can still find a way to score on Algeria. That being said, don’t expect starters like Muller, Ozil, and Schweinsteiger to be relegated to sub roles as Germany is here to win, no matter the costs.

Winner– Germany

Netherlands vs. Mexico

NEd vs. MEx

Ok, so El Tri was able to beat the odds and advance, but that still doesn’t mean they have what it takes to take down The Netherlands. The Netherlands squad has been on a roll since the tournament started, and they do not show any signs of slowing down anytime soon. That being said, I also do not think that the Oranje will be pulling off a victory with a large goal differential. Mexico’s squad is hungry, and Chichirito seems to be getting back to his usual self. Expect a close match here, with both sides on the attack for the majority of the match.

Winner– Netherlands

Costa Rica vs. Greece

GRE vs. COST

Costa Rica has beaten the odds and made it to the Round of 16. The real question is, can they do it again? My vote is yes. Greece is an incomplete team that, in my opinion, should not have even made it into the tournament this year. As good as Greek players like Samaras are, they are not as fast, and not as strong as their counterparts on the Costa Rican side. Costa Rica plays the fast-paced, offensive style of soccer common in Latin American teams, whereas Greece still plays the old-school European style; slower, with more emphasis on defense. The traditional style works when the defense is good, but Greece does not have the players required for that to happen. Expect Costa Rica to run laps around its opponents, while Greece struggles to score.

Winner– Costa Rica

Argentina vs. Switzerland

ARG vs. SWI

This match is a surprisingly tough one to call; Argentina, much like Brazil, has not quite lived up to expectations this year. If they continue to underperform, Argentina could expect to exit earlier than anyone could have imagined, and against a team that on paper is severely outclassed here. Messi has yet to show up, dramatic late-game goals notwithstanding. Messi is just not stepping up to be the leader he needs to be, and the team that has been built around him is hurting as a result. Because of Messi’s lack of performance, Switzerland might just be able to pull off one more win here. I am by no means suggesting that Switzerland can win it all this year, but the Swiss side might be able to come together again just long enough to hold off a weak Argentina side. Switzerland was, after all, favored for a deep run by many analysts this year, and might just be able to live up to its expectations.

Winner– Switzerland

Belgium vs. USA

BEL vs. USA

Belgium and the US, now this will be talked about for some time. If the Yanks can make it past a formidable Red Devil defense, then it is possible that the US could pull off an upset. This already difficult task has, however, been made even worse with the loss of Jozy Altidore, and the numerous other injuries that seem to perpetually plague our boys. Therefore, I expect Belgium to come out on top, but for the US to give it their all against an opponent they have yet to beat even in friendlies. Klinsmann has hopefully learned from past mistakes, but that does not mean that he is destined to lead us to victory this time around; Belgium is healthier and stronger than the US at the moment, and will likely have a few new tricks up their sleeve to throw at our boys.

Winner– Belgium