Articles by Shawn Young

A listing of all the articles written by Shawn Young for the RotoWire Blog.

World Cup: Awards Banquet

Spain 0, Holland 0 (Spain wins 1-0 aet)

Spain’s Andres Iniesta smacked the World Cup winner home after 116 minutes against 10-man Holland in an ill-tempered final that saw 14 yellow cards over 120 minutes of play. It was yet another boring final in a string that stretches back at least as far as 1994.

There were only a couple of half-chances in a cranky first half that saw English referee Howard Webb book five players in the first half hour. Nigel de Jong should have been sent off on 28 minutes for a flying boot into the chest of Xabi Alonso, but it was clear to everyone that Webb wanted to let the players decide the match. As such, the brutal foul earned only a yellow. The Spaniards did not retaliate with a hard foul of their own before the break.

The second half saw a few more cards and a few chances amidst a lot more dreary play. Arjen Robben couldn’t convert on either of two semi-breakaways. Substitute Cesc Fabregas came up similarly empty on his chance for Spain, and Sergio Ramos put a free header over the bar from about four yards out.

Extra time was a cagey affair as well until Johnny Heitinga got sent off for a second yellow on 110 minutes. Spanish manager Vicente del Bosque bizarrely subbed off David Villa to start the second half of extra time in favour of World Cup bust Fernando Torres. Villa takes penalties for his club, so it was a brutal choice, but it wouldn’t matter: Iniesta controlled and scored from 10 yards out in open play to clinch the trophy. The Dutch went bananas that Iniesta was offside—he wasn’t. The first time the ball was played at him he was, but it came back off a Dutch defender and when it was played in the second time, Iniesta was legal.

It was a boring final, and the fans’ whistles of disapproval could often be heard above the vuvuzelas. If this was your first exposure to soccer, don’t let the largely poor play at this World Cup put you off: club soccer starts up in a month or so in major European leagues, and that’s much better than this made-for-worldwide-TV fluff.

My all-World Cup team (4-1-3-2):

Goalkeeper: Iker Casillas (Spain)
Defenders: Maicon (Brazil), Per Metesacker and Arne Friedrich (both Germany), Juan Capdevila (Spain)
Holding Midfielder: Mark v. Bommel (Holland)
Attacking Midfielders: Mezut Oezil and Thomas Muller (both Germany), Wesley Sneijder (Holland),
Strikers: Diego Forlan (Uruguay), David Villa (Spain)

Second Team (4-3-3):

Goalkeeper: Eduardo (Portugal)
Defenders: Lucio (Brazil), Martin Skrtel (Slovakia), Claudio Morel (Paraguay), Jorge Fucile (Uruguay)
Midfielders: Landon Donovan (USA), Arjen Robben (Holland), Xavi (Spain)
Forwards: Gonzalo Higuain (Argentina), Miroslav Klose (Germany), Luis Suarez (Uruguay)

And the rest…

Golden Ball: Diego Forlan
Silver Ball: Wesley Sneijder
Bronze Ball: David Villa

Best Under-23: Thomas Muller (wins tiebreaker over Mesut Oezil: Muller is 11 months younger)

Biggest flop (player): Fernando Torres (Spain)

Biggest flop (team): Italy (we’d already written France off before a ball was kicked; I’m sure no one but the England apologists on this board expected more from that team)

Player who deserved more time on the pitch: Fabio Coentrao (Portugal)

Al Davis "Just win, Baby!" Award: Luis Suarez

Al Davis Fossilized Manager Award: Marcello "Party like it’s 2006" Lippi

Manager of the Tournament: Bert v. Marwijk (Holland)

Worst Manager: Raymond Domenech (France)

World Cup: Rain on Spain, Revisited

As I’ve likely mentioned a thousand times, I currently come at sports from a betting angle. Before the tournament started, I posted that I took in a lot of bets on Spain to win the World Cup at +400 to +450. I thought this price was ridiculously low. The rationale was here:

Well, Spain’s in the finals. Am I laughing or crying?

Diligent about following my strategy, I pushed the money out at every opportunity. Here’s what I got:

Spain to qualify from group: 1/20 (parlay factor: 1.05)
Spain to advance past Portugal: -190 (parlay factor: 1.52)
Spain to advance past Paraguay: -400 (parlay factor: 1.25)
Spain to advance past Germany: -111 (parlay factor 1.90)
Spain to lift the trophy over Holland: -172 (parlay factor 1.58)

Whack those factors together:
1.05|STAR|1.52|STAR|1.25|STAR|1.9|STAR|1.58 = 5.988
Subtract the unit staked, and we get a price of +498.

Taking in bets at +400 to +450 and laying them off at +498 isn’t fantastic, but it’s a living.

I thought I’d be doing much better, actually. I estimated +670, and would have been satisfied with +600. Where did my calculations go off the rails?

The first stop is Portugal. I thought Spain would be -150, not -190. I thought Portugal would be stronger—and just maybe strong enough to win the group and set Spain up vs. Brazil in the round of 16.

I’m not really upset that Spain played Paraguay. There are always going to be surprises. And quite honestly the price I got vs. Germany was more than I deserved.

But this Holland price is low. I really think Spain should only be -140 or so here. I made a few calls, and there is a LOT of Spain money on the books so that price has started -170 or worse.

I could wait, and hope it gets better should bettors come in for Holland. Except, well, I can’t. I already loaded to boat on Holland in my own account at 12/1 before the tournament started. If I hold these Spain futures, I’m tripling my risk, and I can’t afford to do that now. I don’t have a full-time job (offers welcome!), so I don’t have the gonads to take even more risk on Holland. I’m pushing out all the Spain tickets, and a little bit more to guarantee some sort of profit.

If you want my advice, take Holland +0.5 or plus “quarter-ball” in the final on 90 minutes’ play. Spain should be favoured, but not by this much. That said, personal circumstances dictate that I won’t be joining you, as I already have too much risk on the match, and need to bail water.

World Cup: Spain Superior in Sleepy Semi

Spain 1, Germany 0

Spain got a headed goal from a corner kick on 73 minutes by fullback Carles Puyol to advance to the World Cup Final against Holland. Germany will play in the third place game for the second successive tournament, this time getting Uruguay.

A TV audience of over a billion suffered through a boring first half that challenged neutral viewers to stay awake. Spain had 70|PERCENT| of the ball in the first 20 minutes, but generated few chances. The Germans won corners when they came forward, but their only real chance came in stoppage time when Mezut Oezil was played in but should have shot with his first touch instead of playing the ball under control. He ended up on the ground, shouting for a penalty, but the challenge was deemed clean.

Fernando Torres, who has been poor, did not start for Spain, replaced by the ineffective Pedro. Fernando Llorente would have been a better choice: with Xavi and Andres Iniesta already in the engine room, Spain needed targets, not creativity. Piotr Trochowski stepped into the German side with Thomas Muller suspended. Trochowski looked fine when on the ball, but the Germans didn’t have nearly enough of it. As the players left for the halftime team talks, this game desperately begged for a goal.

After Spain’s breakthrough the game opened up. How unfortunate that we only got about 20 minutes of action. Germany had to chase the game, and Spain tried to hit on the counter.

Torres came on for David Villa with nine minutes left and should have scored the clincher shortly thereafter—not his fault as Pedro hogged the ball instead of passing it, coming up empty. Torres for Villa was a confusing switch—had the Germans equalized, it would have been disaster. If Spanish manager Vicente del Bosque insists on continuing to run Torres out, Pedro is the one to pull off in that spot, not the World Cup’s most dangerous man.

We didn’t get the Final most neutrals wanted. Spain did its bit, but Brazil played 20 poor minutes against the Dutch and paid the price. The Final should be a tense one to start, as both teams are most comfortable in possession. What that game needs is an early goal from either side.

World Cup: Dutch Treat foils Oscar the Grouch

Holland 3, Uruguay 2

Second half goals from Wesley Sneijder and Arjen Robben sent Holland into Sunday’s final in Johannesburg. Uruguay’s manager folded the tent too soon.

Long-range left-footed blasts from Holland’s Gio v. Bronckhorst on 18 minutes and Diego Forlan on 41 minutes cancelled each other out in the first half. The Dutch looked more dangerous and had more of the ball, but the teams left for halftime even.

The goal scorers’ career arcs are in different spots. 35-year-old Dutch captain Gio is retiring after this World Cup, having won major trophies at Arsenal and Barcelona and now having earned 105 caps for his country. Forlan’s career is entering a renaissance: after a bust spell at Manchester United, Forlan resurrected matters in Spain first at Villarreal and then at Atletico Madrid. Forlan has been on fire in this World Cup and Atlety will surely struggle to keep him. Forlan led Atlety to the Europa League title this year, but that’s realistically as far as Atlety can go.

Holland always looked the better team and midway through the second half the Dutch seemed to seal it with goals three minutes apart. Sneijder scored on 68 minutes, with the ball deflecting through a maze of players. Robin v. Persie may have been offside (no flag) but may have been played back on by a deflection. (That off-side rant entry is coming in this space one day, I promise you.) There was no doubt about the third as Robben latched onto the end of a beautiful Dirk Kuyt cross in open play to head home for 3-1.

Like I said, Holland looked the better team all day—but Uruguay manager Oscar Tabarez was too disheartened, subbing off Forlan on 83 minutes. Forlan was Uruguay’s most dangerous man, and though they looked 1000/1 to tie matters up, Maxi Pereira knocked in a shot from 16 yards in stoppage time to make matters interesting—and Forlan was unavailable for the final thrust. Could he have conjured an equalizer? Unlikely for sure, but we’ll never know now. Bad management.

The Uzbek ref handed out five yellow cards but with the amnesty kicking in after the quarterfinals, no one is suspended for the weekend. Luiz Suarez, who fisted that ball off the line at the death vs. Ghana, has not had anything added to his one-match ban, and is eligible for the third-place game Saturday in Port Elizabeth.

World Cup: Old, Fat, Public Nudity Averted

Germany 4, Argentina 0

Miroslav Klose celebrated his 100th cap for Germany with two second-half goals as the Horrible Huns ran riot in Cape Town. That’s 52 international goals in Klose’s career, and 14 in World Cup finals. Germany have hit Australia, England, and now Argentina for four goals apiece.

The first half was all about German sensation Thomas Muller. The 20-year old scored again in South Africa on 3 minutes as he drifted into the box unmarked and headed a free kick home. Germany started the game on fire and Argentina were glad to contain the damage and head to the locker room down only 1-0. Muller was busy with other half-chances, both as finisher and creator, but he foolishly handled the ball 35 yards from goal with about 10 minutes left in the first half and got himself booked. His play fell off after that: Muller realized that if Germany were to make the semis, he’d be suspended—and he let his head go down.

Argentina found the net in the chaos off the free kick awarded for Muller’s hand ball, but the goal was chalked off because at least four men were offside. I haven’t seen that many players offside all at once in ten years. While Germany looked really sharp for most of the first half, Argentina had only a few nice pieces of play. The Argentines struggled with the ball on long passes and shots, and the nicest bit of Argie footwork might have been manager Diego Maradona returning the ball with his wingtip shoe for a throw-in.

Argentina looked good early in the second half but couldn’t break through. Lukas Podolski fed Klose for a tap-in to make it 2-0 on 68 minutes and the Argies promptly quit. Bastian Schweinsteiger made a searing run six minutes later and fed Arne Friedrich for a toe-poke goal. The Germans attacked so lustily, that was centre back Friedrich’s first goal for his country in his 77th appearance—but he wanted the ball as much as anyone else and he got it. Centurion Klose, whose first goal moved him past Pele on the all-time World Cup list, banged in a fourth for Germany to finish matters off.

Where did Argentina go wrong? Some will blame the Jabulani ball. The commentator, John Helm, repeatedly pointed to the fact that Germany was the first quality side Argentina had played. (That’s the problem with the World Cup: a lot of crap teams.) For me, it boils down to the idiotic call to let Maradona manage the team. Maradona had zero managerial experience before taking this job. Anyone can “manage” Argentina over the likes of Peru, Bolivia, and at these finals Nigeria, South Korea, Greece, and Mexico. But it takes more skill to manage against a top-class team. I’ve coached under-15s, and while I’m hardly ready for prime time, even I know more about the task than Maradona does.     

Spain 1, Paraguay 0

Spain rode an 83rd-minute videogame goal from David Villa to a quarterfinal date with Germany.

It was a ragged first half with few chances. Paraguay had a goal called back for offside, and while the offending player never touched the ball, he was interfering with play. Someday I’m going to write a 5,000-word rant on the offside rule, but the ghost of Bill Shankly ("If a player is not interfering with play or seeking to gain an advantage, then he should be.”) assures me the ref got this one right.

Spain continues to start Fernando Torres even though Torres is not match fit. I’m a little surprised he would risk further injury that way, but I know that manager Vicente del Bosque always leaves that decision up to the player. (I’ll tell you a sad personal story about that someday.) Torres must think he’s good to go.

Torres came off on 55 minutes and the game entered the Twilight Zone. Gerard Pique put an armbar on Oscar Cardoza inside the Spanish box. Cardoza was sent to the spot to put Paraguay ahead. No dice: Iker Casillas saved and hoofed the ball downfield, and Villa went down cheaply in the Paraguayan area and Xabi Alonso scored from the penalty spot—but it didn’t count. Guatemalan ref Carlos Batres ruled that Spanish players encroached on the area before the kick, and it would need to be retaken. Justo Villar saved this time, and the ball was scrambled out of play, 0-0.

The goal came as Andres Iniesta led a break, fed Pedro, and Pedro hit the post. The ball ricocheted out to David Villa, who then one-touched the ball off both posts and in. Spain used passing skills to keep the ball away from Paraguay the rest of the way. On Paraguay’s one half-chance, Sergio Ramos threw his face in front of the ball but got cracked with a leg instead. He should be good to go in the semi after being bandaged up in this one and continuing on.    

World Cup: Holland edges Cowdenbeath FC

Holland 2, Brazil 1

Holland woke up at halftime and upended Brazil to set up a winnable semifinal vs. Uruguay.

Brazil ripped Holland open time after time in the first half, but only had Robinho’s goal on 10 minutes to show for it. A confused back line played Robinho onside with Andre Ooijer the most likely culprit, and Robinho made no mistake. That play came seconds after Brazil should have opened the scoring but were denied by a very late flag.

The tournament’s worst pitch (Port Elizabeth) was in bad shape before the action started, It degraded further as the match went on. I thought the players would have more trouble, especially the Brazilians, but they dealt with it well for the most part.

It all fell apart for Brazil at the back in the second half. Michel Bastos should have picked up a second yellow and his marching orders on 50 minutes for a bad sliding tackle but the Japanese ref seemed intimidated. The soccer gods took matters swiftly into their own hands off the ensuing free kick sequence: Felipe Melo and goalkeeper Julio Cesar converged on a long ball in from Wesley Sneijder which glanced off the back of Felipe Melo’s shoulder into the goal, 1-1. Another defensive lapse let Sneijder bang in the winner on 68 minutes, and Brazil quickly lost their heads. Five minutes later, Felipe Melo was sent off for stamping on a fallen Arjen Robben’s hamstring.

That was pretty much game over, although Holland was wasteful with several late chances that would have put matters totally out of reach. All in all it was very much a game of two halves, and he who laughs last laughs longest.

Uruguay 1, Ghana 1 (Uruguay win 4-2 on penalties.)

Luiz Suarez got a red card for Uruguay. In the process, he became a national hero.

Both teams resolved not to make a mistake in the first half; the mistake at the end was Uruguay’s. Uruguay had the better of the first half hour but then Ghana took over the rest of the first half. Sulley Ali Muntari put Ghana ahead with the last kick of the half from 40 yards out as it seemed that Uruguay lost their concentration. The goal was just what the game needed as each team had spent spells of the game treading cautiously: Ghana had never seen a World Cup quarterfinal before this tournament; two time champions Uruguay’s last quarterfinal was in 1970, before these players were born.

The game opened up a little in the second half and Diego Forlan pulled Uruguay level on 55 minutes with a lovely, long, swerving free kick. Ghana looked better and better as the Uruguayans started to tire and Asamoah Gyan had several half-chances for the Africans in regular and extra time.

With 120 minutes played but time for one last Ghanaian free kick, the ball was hoofed in to the box and it ping-ponged about. Dominic Adiyiah headed the ball on goal, and Suarez, the man who led Uruguay in goals scored, brazenly fisted the ball off the line—saving Uruguay temporarily, but drawing a red card and conceding a penalty.

Gyan stepped up to the spot for the final touch of extra time and cracked the ball off the crossbar and over, basically snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. The Ghanaians looked brutally poor in the shootout. Goalie Richard Kingson is a scrub for starters, and John Mensah took no run up on his weak penalty attempt. Uruguay went 4/5 with the miss over the bar; Ghana was 2/4, and are heading home. Substitute Sebastian Abreu hit the winning penalty, an insulting, teasing, childish, brilliant chip.

Suarez will miss the Holland game through suspension. The Puritans in the crowd will also want him suspended for Uruguay’s finale, be in the Championship or the third-place match. Centre back Diego Lugano left injured on 38 minutes; his status for Tuesday is in serious doubt.

World Cup: I Said, You Said

We called for predictions before the World Cup started. With a lull in the action before the quarterfinals, now’s as good a time to go back and see how everybody ran.

The Blogger

1. “Holland wins.” This pick is still alive, but in tough against Brazil on Friday. Not hopeful.

2. “France and England to fall in first knockout game.” Got England spot on, but it turns out even my lowered expectations were too much for France.

3. “South American dominance; Asians crash out.” I got the South American part right. Two Asian outfits reached the round of 16, which is two more than I thought would be there, but neither looked to be any good.

4. “African teams to do poorly.” Got this one mostly right; even tipped one misc. African country to make noise—but I couldn’t find Ghana as the country to do it.

5. “USA to go out in group stage.” Wrong, but perhaps the right idea? The USA was pretty poor. Even after a very fluky goal against England, the USA was only stoppage time away from bowing out in the Algeria game. The USA couldn’t impose itself on lowly Ghana in the knockout game.

The Responses

Chris Morgan might have done better than all of us. He has Brazil over Spain for the final, and the USA in the second round then going out. Well done.

Kevin Payne expected bigger things from the USA, but his blog after the Yanks were eliminated means we can’t really hold what amounted to a homer prediction against him. More objective in identifying Uruguay and Paraguay.

Erickson also had the USA in the office pool, but is on record changing his mind for Uruguay before the first kick of the ball. Correct. He’s also got Brazil, who are looking great.

evantodd is looking very good, calling a Holland—Argentina final. As I wrote, Brazil looks tough, but he’s still alive. More impressively, he was the strongest in his statement about fading France. Secondary “dud” choice? Italy. WOW, nailed them both. He had South Africa in the last 16, but they were nipped on goal difference.