Articles by Shawn Young

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

World Cup Tuesday: Super Spain Pip Portugal

Paraguay 0, Japan 0 (Paraguay win 5-3 on penalties)

A penalty shootout is always dramatic, but the 120 minutes of buildup might have been some of the worst soccer played at this World Cup. The goalkeepers came up empty in the shootout, but wingback Yuichi Komano drilled Japan’s third spot-kick off the crossbar to hand the match to Paraguay.

I’m really struggling for words to describe how boring the run of this match was. Opportunities were few and far between as these teams cancelled each other out. Even as the teams tired in the extra time, and balls started to get through the midfield uncontested, neither side really knew what to do in the attacking third of the pitch.

Paraguay have played very much to the level of the opposition in this tournament, and while they’ll be very unfancied in the quarterfinal, they’re the type of team that can be backed as an underdog. The quarterfinal with Spain is an opportunity. Paraguay tries to grind the opposition down. It was never likely to happen with the Japanese—beyond the top three or four players, Japan lacks skill but has fitness and discipline in spades. Against more mercurial Spanish opposition, Paraguay might well smash-and-grab a result.

Spain 1, Portugal 0

No goals in the first half here either but a great deal more energy. David Villa and Fernando Torres each signaled their intent early with great shots. Portugal had a couple headers flash wide. Goalkeepers Iker Casillas of Spain and Eduardo of Portugal each had to be tops of their games or it would have been 2-2. 

The revelation of the first half, however, was Portuguese left back Fabio Coentrao. I’d never seen this guy play before but he’s got the whole skill set—speed, tackling, and great control on the ball. Brazil’s Maicon came into this tournament as the wingback to watch; Coentrao will be a man to watch in next year’s club season.

Portugal started the second half on the front foot but Spain worked their way back into the game with a rash of chances on the hour mark. Andres Iniesta fed the ball to Villa who smacked it past Eduardo at the second time of asking for the match’s only goal on 63 minutes. Spain had 62|PERCENT| of the ball overall and seemingly 80|PERCENT| in the final quarter-hour as they killed the game off. Portugal played injury time with 10 men after left back Ricardo Costa was shown a straight red for elbowing Joan Capdevila (a yellow was warranted).

Portuguese fans will lament Nani’s pre-tournament injury that kept him out of the World Cup, but Cristiano Ronaldo had a poor tournament. We always said Ronaldo would face extra marking with Nani out, but the world’s most expensive player was largely invisible in four matches. He had very few touches in this loss, and never threatened the Spanish goal. 

Monday World Cup: Favourites Win

Holland 2, Slovakia 1

Holland beat a poor Slovakian outfit that had nothing left after upsetting Italy on Thursday. It was the first truly boring quarterfinal so far.

Arjen Robben’s 18th minute goal was the only highlight of a drab first half Robben ran onto a long ball and fired a low shot into the near corner of the net. If you see the replay and want to truly appreciate the goal, watch Robin v. Persie, who never touches the ball. Robben faced three Slovak defenders, and none of them closed Robben down. Why? V. Persie made a decoy run into space that distracted the defenders for half a second—just long enough for Robben to find a shooting lane. This is soccer’s version of a well executed trap-play on second-and-6 that rumbles for 15 yards. Well done all around. 

Slovakia briefly came into the game after 65 minutes and managed a couple of shots, but that was it. The clincher came late when Dirk Kuyt unselfishly fed Wesley Sneijder to make it 2-0 while a couple Slovak defenders were still trying to squabble with the ref over a previous free kick. Slovakia was awarded a dodgy penalty deep in stoppage time, and Robert Vittek put his team on the board with the final kick of the game—meaningless to the result but a massive swing in the betting markets as most outs had Holland -1.5 or -1.25. I know one bookie who had a $4 million swing to the good.

Brazil 3, Chile 0

Chile came to play right from the opening whistle. Full credit to Chile for not being overawed in the first half by a Brazil team that had won the previous seven meetings by an aggregate of 26-3. Brazil were just a little bit better in the opening half however, and cracked Chile open twice. Juan headed a Maicon corner home to open the scoring in the 35th. Four minutes later Luis Fabiano finished off a great break set up by Robinho and Kaka. Chile kept coming, and were likely saved from more damage by the halftime whistle.

The second half was the same story—Chile the welterweight champion in a heavyweight fight. Robinho put the game to bed on the hour mark, scoring Brazil’s third. Chile kept working, but had little quality in the final third.

Ramires picked up a yellow card for Brazil, ruling him out of the Holland game on Friday. With Felipe Melo still a question mark, this could put Brazil’s defence under strain with more runners now coming through. Felipe Melo will be rushed back if he can so much as walk.

  

World Cup Sunday: Refs cook England, Mexico

Germany 4, England 1

England started slowly as usual but played a quality team for the first time all tournament—as such, England were 2-0 down after half an hour. The first goal came off a long ball that John Terry and Matthew Upson made a hash of, allowing Miroslav Klose to poach a goal expertly. The second goal came on a break where the Germans ripped England apart, Lukas Podolski finishing matters off by putting it through England keeper David James’ five-hole.

Undaunted, England picked themselves up when Upson made amends for his earlier error on 37 minutes by heading a free kick home past confused, wandering German goalkeeper Manuel Neuer. It should have been 2-2 moments later when Frank Lampard’s long-range missile hit the underside of the bar and bounced down inside the goal, firmly hitting the ground past the line. Neuer grabbed the ball at waist-height and ran it out… no goal.

[Confidential message to any German who still feels aggrieved by Sir Geoff Hurst’s phantom goal for England against West Germany in the 1966 Final: after 44 years, you’re even. You can shut up now. Thanks very much.]

England started the second half on the front foot, and Lampard stung the bar again. England had to keep pressing and it led to disaster. Two German counterattacks midway through the frame sealed the victory. Similar in nature and four minutes apart, Thomas Mueller first finished off a sweet give-and-go with Bastian Schweinsteiger. Mueller also had the last touch on the other goal, capping a great individual effort from Mesut Oezil.

This space was convinced that England were garbage coming into this tournament. Although England were ultimately second-best today, the scoreline is a little harsh. If Lampard’s goal had been allowed, England had every chance to win this. This was England’s best game of the World Cup, and it sends them home.

Germany, for their part, are young and talented—but a little lucky that the talent decided to play for Germany. Fully 11 players of the 23-man squad could have chosen an international career for a different country. The German pedigree is a pretty strong magnet, but nothing’s guaranteed in this world. The German nation should feel fortunate to be able to field such a strong side. 

Argentina 3, Mexico 1

Mexico had more chances in the first half but fell behind 2-0. The first goal was headed home by Carlos Tevez from a clearly offside position. I like to rant that the offside rule is poor because it often forces the linesman to look in two places at once (the ball, and the last line of defence, which is often 20 yards upfield). On this one, there was no excuse to blow the call by either the linesman or the ref as the sightline should have been perfect. They blew it regardless.

Mexican rightback Ricardo Osorio (76 caps) gifted Gonzalo Higuain the second goal by clumsily passing him the ball when he thought he was passing to a teammate. Higuain broke in and scored easily. Osorio’s a free agent, and his phone won’t be ringing in the next little while.

Osorio and Mexico might still have been reeling from the offside call seven minutes prior, but it’s all too common for the Mexicans to lose their heads at the World Cup. Mexico, a soccer-mad country of 110 million souls, has only ever reached the last eight of the World Cup as hosts. The team finds new ways to underachieve on the world’s biggest stage time after time.

The teams traded goals in the second half. Carlos Tevez had one of the strikes of the tournament to put the Argies up 3-0 and out of reach on 52 minutes. Mexico had a goal not given which might have been over the line, but Javier Hernandez scored before the ball ever subsequently went out of play so the matter wasn’t really contested. And that was that.

Germany face Argentina in what should be a mouthwatering quarterfinal. 

World Cup Saturday: Uruguay and Ghana Triumph

Uruguay 2, South Korea 1

Two goals from Luiz Suarez put the South Americans into the quarterfinals on a brutally rainy winter afternoon in Port Elizabeth. A crowd of 30,000 was announced, but the 42,000-seat stadium looked half empty for what turned out to be a decent game.

The winner came on 80 minutes and was an absolutely beautiful strike, bending and dipping inside the far post. That rescued a scoreline created by goalkeeping errors. The very first thing goalkeepers are taught is “if you can’t get the ball, stay on your line”. Uruguay’s first goal on 8 minutes and Lee Chung-Yong’s reply after 68 minutes were each created by keepers ambling off the line and coming up empty.

Uruguay set out only to defend in the second half, but after the Koreans deservedly equalized Uruguay flicked the light switch and dominated the rest of the way. Korea had chances, including a 3rd-minute free kick off the outside of the post, and clumsy spillage by the Uruguayan keeper with a couple minutes left, but the Uruguayans dominated this match when they wanted to.

Uruguay is the first South American side outside of Brazil and Argentina to reach the last eight since Peru did it in 1978. The South American sides look great this year.   

 
Ghana 2, USA 1 (aet)

Ghana went ahead early through Kevin-Prince Boateng. Landon Donovan equalized from the spot on 62 minutes. Asamoah Gyan got the winner three minutes into extra time. Gyan played the whole game but looked fresh as a daisy blowing through Carlos Bocanegra before rifling the ball home. Ghana face Uruguay in the quarters.

So now, it’s an open question, that question so routinely asked when the USA eventually bows out of World Cups: does soccer now have a bigger toehold on the American sporting landscape? I guess we’ll see in years to come. This American team wasn’t very good, but I’m not sure that matters. You know what would help? A winning fantasy sports formula. Soccer statistics used to be really scarce (goalscorers only, with dodgy timing of goals). Now, more and more stats are being kept.

The guys who invented rotisserie baseball or fantasy football didn’t get rich. The site that first markets a winning fantasy soccer format to the US won’t get rich either. But it’ll go a long way to keeping people interested in the game between their childhood years and the time their kids take up the sport. It’s worth a thought.

World Cup Friday: Anticlimactic Last 16 Setup

Public Service Announcement for Gamblers

The knockouts start Saturday. Games tied after two halves of regulation time will proceed to 30 minutes extra time, followed by a shootout if teams remain tied. (The 30 minutes is not sudden death.) The vast majority of shops offering match odds base betting on regulation time only, unless the bet says something specific to the contrary (“Brazil to advance to the next round.”). Periods of extra time and the penalty shootout do not generally count for wagering purposes in soccer.

Group G

Brazil and Portugal played out a stale 0-0 draw to leave Brazil atop the group and Portugal second. In the other game, the Ivory Coast signed off with a 3-0 win over North Korea.

So much was expected from Brazil—Portugal, and so little was delivered. The teams played a 6-2 friendly last season and many people were expecting fireworks in this one. The explosions came instead in heavy tackles and a total of seven yellow cards in the first half. Brazil boss Dunga subbed hard man Felipe Melo out before halftime, as the holding midfielder had lost his head completely.

Both teams were clearly told to dial it back in the halftime team talk. The result was a tepid second half that bordered on cruel and unusual punishment to the viewing public.

The Coast needed a Brazil win and a bucket of goals in its own game to have any chance of progressing—and the Africans were up 2-0 inside 20 minutes. North Korea tightened up at the back thereafter and although the Elephants fired a total of 27 shots, there was only one late goal to come. North Korea’s men now go home to a very uncertain fate, having been outscored 12-1 over three matches.

Group H

Spain beat 10-man Chile 2-1 in a game that saw both sides progress to the knockouts. Round of 16 games will have regional flavourings as the Iberian game sees group H winners Spain play Portugal, while Chile gets Brazil in a South American derby.

Mexican referee Marco Rodriguez did all he could to make sure of the points for Spain before halftime, littering yellow cards over the Chileans. Spain got on the board first when Chilean keeper made one of the goaltending gaffes of the tournament, screaming out of the box to make a sliding clearance—but only as far as David Villa who looped the ball into an empty goal from 40-odd yards. Spain next worked a give-and-go in which Chilean Marco Estrada’s feet momentarily tangled with Spain striker Fernando Torres’. Referee Rodriguez waved the advantage on, Andres Iniesta made in 2-0, and Rodriguez gave Estrada his marching orders once the ball crossed the line.

Chile pulled one back shortly after halftime through substitute Rodrigo Millar, but the game slowly ran out of fizz as word filtered into the ground and the benches that Honduras was holding Switzerland. The last ten minutes of Spain—Chile was played at a crawl as both sides realized Switzerland needed two goals to be a factor. The final minutes were an absolute travesty.

Switzerland—Honduras finished goalless. I didn’t see much of this match at all, but the highlight reel shows each side squandered a bucket of chances in front of goal. The teams managed a single goal between them all tournament. Goodbye and good riddance.      

Chile will also be without Waldo Ponce and Gary Medel for the Brazil game as each man picked up his second yellow of the tournament.  

World Cup Thursday: Italian Implosion

Group F

Italy’s frantic fightback was too little too late as the Azurri were eliminated 3-2 by Slovakia in a spine-tingling finish, the best 20 minutes of the tournament so far. Paraguay drew New Zealand 0-0 in the other game to leave the South Americans top of the group and Slovakia in second place.

A brace from Robert Vittek seemingly sent Slovakia on their way to the second round but Italy woke up after going 2-0 down.  Antonio di Natale banged in a spilled ball with 10 minutes to go and the game was back on. Italy had the equalizer denied for offside (looked level to me) and Kamil Kopunek scored on his first touch with a video game goal (running onto a ball thrown at the net) to restore the two-goal advantage.  Substitute Fabio Quagliarella pulled a goal back for Italy in stoppage time but it wouldn’t be enough. The Slovaks fell over after every whistle toward the end and while four minutes’ added time was indicated, English referee Howard Webb gave the Italians every opportunity by playing seven.

New Zealand go home after three successive draws. While the All-Whites will trumpet their unbeaten status, in three matches they managed only three shots on goal total. The rest of the tournament will be better without them.

Group E

Japan won the crunch game with Denmark 3-1 and will now face Paraguay in the Round of 16. Holland won 2-1 to top the group and set up a winnable Round of 16 match with Slovakia.

Japan used two brilliant free kicks to open up a first-half lead on Denmark. Keisuke Honda hit one with power on 17 minutes and Yasuhito Endo took a little off a finesse offering on the half hour. We haven’t seen many goals from free kicks in these championships and those were surely two of the best—and delivered in a losers-go-home atmosphere. Jon Dahl Tomasson missed a penalty but stuffed home the spillage to bring Denmark to 2-1 down, but even a draw wouldn’t be enough for the Danes—and substitute Shinji Okazaki took advantage of the holes and made it 3-1 two minutes from time.

Arjen Robben came on after 73 minutes in the Holland match, but I was watching the Japan game so I don’t know how he played. Greybeard Rigobert Song came on at the same time for Cameroon in what might be his international finale. Robin v. Persie spotted the Dutch a halftime lead. Samuel Eto’o leveled from the spot before Klaas Jan Huntelaar won it late for Holland.

World Cup Wednesday: Oh, you again.

Group C

The USA and England each scored ugly 1-0 wins to progress. Landon Donovan scrambled home a stoppage-time winner for the Americans. Jermain Defoe justified his inclusion in the England XI by volleying James Milner’s cross into the onion bag on 23 minutes. The goalkeepers should have done better in both instances (the Slovenian getting two gloves and a face on Defoe’s ball) but that’s a theme in this tournament by now.

I spent most of my time watching England—Slovenia, a dreary affair in which England were clearly the better team but not all that impressive. Wayne Rooney continues to be much below his best but managed to knock a ball off the goalpost. The Slovenians had little, and one wonders if they were halfways content to lose 1-0 and hope for a draw in the other game or an Algerian win.

That wasn’t coming. The Algerians entered stoppage time just as the England match ended, and I clicked over just in time to see Donovan mop up a spilled ball to send the Americans top of the group and condemn Slovenia to an early exit. The Americans had a goal which looked perfectly legit to me disallowed for offside in the first half, but prevailed regardless.

Group D

Germany edged Ghana 1-0 to top the group. A surprise 2-1 for Australia over Serbia gifted the Ghanaians second place. This sets up USA—Ghana in one knockout game and dear friends England—Germany in the other.

I was focused on watching the Germany match. What struck me above all else was the young Germans’ patience. They laid siege to Ghana’s goal almost immediately but were unable to break through in the first half. When the second half started, neither side could find its footing for the first few minutes. That all suited Ghana, who only needed a draw to progress, and as the hour mark approached I fully expected the Germans to start to panic. Not so: Mezut Oezil calmly blasted a swerving ball into to inside side-netting from 23 yards out to give the Germans the goal they needed.

Ghana goalkeeper Richard Kingson, unfancied coming into the tournament and at fault on the goal in the Australia game, had no chance on this one—more importantly for Ghana, he and the rest of the Black Stars will still have a stab at the USA. Australia conceded free kick after free kick and defended perilously high but Serbia repeatedly found themselves offside and unable to capitalize.   

Ghana bounced the USA 2-1 on the last day of group play in 2006; plenty of players on both sides return for the rematch. 

Presidential Audience

Thierry Henry has asked for and been granted an audience with French President Nicolas Sarkozy on Thursday, after Henry and his teammates return home. I’ve no idea why Henry wants to get cozy with Sarkozy; Laurent Blanc has already been signed as France’s next manager. Henry has nothing to personally apologize for, and isn’t the team captain. Perhaps Henry wants a glimpse of the little fellow’s lovely wife, heiress and former supermodel and singer Carla Bruni.

Florent Malouda, in the meantime, has asked for the French public’s forgiveness. While it would be unkind of me to doubt Malouda’s sincerity, anyone who though Malouda was being self serving could be excused for doing so: Malouda only started one game, and got France’s only goal of the tournament as a substitute against South Africa. None too happy about his lack of playing time, Malouda is savvy when dealing with the press.