Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Soccernomics: Omnibus World Cup Post

Haven't written much for a while so a collection of thoughts:

My first thought about Uruguay's Luis Suarez batting what would have been Ghana's winning goal away with his hands in the last seconds of the extra-time period was that he was an astute student of game theory.  Not using his hands would have meant that Uruguay would have lost and he would have played his last game of the tournament.  Using his hands meant his team still had a very slight chance to win and he would have played his last game of the tournament.  It is a no-brainer - he had nothing to lose.  What it suggests is that there needs to be a more effective punishment for such horrendously cynical behavior - perhaps awarding a goal if it is clear it would have scored.

I was saddened by the USAs ouster, but happy that they escaped the humiliation of 1998 and 2006. Given their consistently terrible starts where they look tentative and tight - I am wondering whether the extremely cerebral and analytical approach of coach Bob Bradley causes them to be thinking too much at the beginning of the match and not just playing the game.  Either way, though Bob has done a great job it is time for a new approach, it is rare for a national team coach to last more than one World Cup and I think a new, perhaps European, perspective might be good for the team and for US Soccer.

Brazil deserved to lose. The Netherlands, which looked ready to implode - yet again - on Robin Van Persie's petulant outburst, managed to overcome the usual Dutch tempest of egos and play hard for the entire game and find two goals, even if they were soft.  The most striking aspect of the game was how bad the Brazilians looked in the midfield - completely lacking creativity and flair save for the one beautiful counter that lead to their goal.  Such is the state of the team under Dunga, but perhaps it is also indicative of the fact that the best Brazilian players are going to Europe as youngsters and their are fewer and fewer with real flair and talent.  I am left wondering whether Ronaldinho would have made a difference.

I was impressed with Argentina under Maradona until the real competition started and the lack of tactics was painfully exposed.  The manager as cheerleader bit only goes so far.

Speaking of managers, Jurgen Klinsmann is, perhaps rightfully, taking a lot of the credit for Germany's success.  A master plan, implemented prior to the 2006 World Cup, appears to be paying dividends. 

Finally, Spain look good but at times the short-passing deliberative approach seems to stall and they are a bit at a loss.  Paraguay seemed to completely flummox the Spaniards for most of the game and I wonder if Germany will do the same.

If I had to pick right now, I'd pick the Germans - strange as that seems to me. I never gave them a second thought before the cup - too young and inexperienced.  But they are playing as a total team, working hard for each other and staying organized, and they are playing with confidence and verve.  I think they will miss Mueller tomorrow though.  If they win, they will be thoroughly deserving winners.

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