Greetings from of Paris, where I just cheered on South Africa along with many of my French friends at a public viewing near the Eiffel Tower! (Not really, I’m still watching Univision). Here are eight observations and a brief preview and prediction of US vs. Algeria. But first: a little brush-up on Algeria, compliments of the United States Department of State.
Now, some of you will see the game with Algeria as a relatively important World Cup tie with implications as to who advances to the second round. Others instantly will recall the famous, unforgettable, nation-defining Second Barbary War with Algiers in 1815. Please review this treaty prior to kickoff. An American naval officer who played a significant role in that war was a man by the name of Stephen Decatur. According to the impeccable (ahem) Wikipedia, 46 towns in the United States were named after Stephen Decatur, including the home of Paste, Decatur, Ga. Two words: full circle. Now, back to the World Cup…
1) Thank You
Thank you, Argentina, for making sure that we didn’t have to watch the intensely negative tactics of Greece in the Round of 16. Thank you, Group A, for giving us the highly entertaining spectacle of Les Bleus in Crisis and for putting a collective smile on the face of the Emerald Isle. Thank you, South American teams, for showing the rest of the world a splendid mixture of quality and style. Thank you, Michael Bradley and Landon Donovan, for spectacular goals in the Slovenia comeback. Thank you in advance, Honduras, for grabbing a point against Switzerland so both Spain and Chile can advance to the Round of 16 (Um, please?).
2) A National Scandal
Obviously, one of the biggest stories to emerge is the collapse, mutiny and disastrous performance of France. It’s gone beyond football, as President Nicolas Sarkozy told his Sport Minister Roselyne Bachelot to stay extra time in South Africa and deal with the crisis. Here’s what she told the players, who ended up crying after her speech: “It’s your kids, our children, for whom perhaps you will no longer be heroes. It is the dreams of your partners, your friends, your fans that you have perhaps broken. You have tarnished the image of France…French soccer is facing a disaster, not because it lost a match but because this disaster is a moral disaster. The reality of the situation must be faced head-on. It is not merely just a bad period that must be gotten through, nothing will be like it was before. I said so to the players in an extremely emotional meeting.” Then she offered them a choice of Pascal or Sartre for the plane ride back. (I kid.) But we learned a couple of things here: First of all, France has a sports minister. That’s awesome. Second of all, she reduced the players to tears. Also awesome. Still, sad to see Les Bleus reduced to such a farce.
3) African Disaster
Really, there’s no other way to slice the footballing aspects of this World Cup for the African participants. Nigeria and Cameroon had groups that were ripe for a second place finish but could not pull it off. Ghana and Algeria are the continent’s only hopes left of advancing to the Round of 16, barring a 10-goal onslaught against North Korea from Cote D’Ivoire and a Portugal loss to Brazil. Ghana is not a sure bet, given that they have to face a desperate Germany in their final group game. Algeria need a victory over the United States and a Slovenia win or draw against England. Nice to see Bafana Bafana go out with a win against France, given that they became the first host country to fail to advance out of the group stages.
4) European Powers on the Ropes
France are already out. The possibility remains, doubtful though it may be, that England, Italy and Germany could join them. England must either beat Slovenia or draw them while scoring many goals to overcome a goal differential deficit and hoping that Algeria and the United States draw. Italy are locked in a battle with New Zealand and Slovakia for second, with Paraguay looking sharp to come out as group winners. Germany must either beat Ghana or draw and hope for other results to survive their group. Is this truly shaping up to be a tournament of South American dominance? Yep.
5) Blanco and Perez Look Like Saturday Morning Park Players
I don’t really have anything to add to that, but it does endear Mexico to me to see those two huffing and puffing out there.
I’ve enjoyed these pieces on Chilean Romanticism by Franklin Foer on the New Republic’s fabulous World Cup blog Goal Post. Chile-Spain is not to be missed. It will be full of entertainment value, up-and-down passing and attacking, and multiple goals scored. But please Honduras, take the Swiss out of the equation for us.
7) Diego Maradona’s Suit
That charcoal gray suit that he’s worn for all three group matches—I imagine him sweating in those threads, hugging everybody in sight, rumbling through his press conference, and then immediately putting it back on the hanger in the hotel room until the next match. What will that suit look like by the final? By the way, you gotta give Maradona props. Three matches, three wins. They still look vulnerable at the back, but they will score goals and seem to have great team spirit at the moment.
8) North Korea…Well That was Awkward
Apparently wanting to avoid the nation witnessing the humiliation of their World Cup squad, North Korean television did not air the match with Brazil live. Too bad, because the North Koreans were fantastic, losing 2-1 to the heavyweights but acquitting themselves quite well. So well that Dear Leader and the North Korean government decided to air their second group match with Portugal live. Um, oops. Portugal 7, North Korea 0. Seriously, I hope their players will not face repercussions back home.
United States vs. Algeria Preview
The United States will not underestimate Algeria after their much-improved performance against England. Here are helpful previews of the match from SI’s Grant Wahl and Fox Soccer’s Ives Galarcep. I also found this tactical analysis from Steve Wilson interesting.
The Slovenia match was obviously a tale of two halves, and given that Robbie Findley is suspended, we know that line-up changes are in order. Will Edson Buddle start up front with Jozy Altidore? Will Clint Dempsey move up front? Will Stuart Holden or Benny Feilhaber start on the wing? Who partners Michael Bradley in the midfield? I’m not sure, but I suspect that Maurice Edu did enough to earn a start during the second half against Slovenia to get the nod. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Dempsey up front with Feilhaber on the wing since that worked so well against Slovenia. Algeria have not scored a goal yet, but they are certainly capable of changing that against our charitable defense. Honestly, I’m a little worried about Onyewu Oguchi’s stamina given the short rest and gimpy knee. Even though my doom-and-gloom gut tells me it’s going to be a 1-1 draw, I’m going to be a total homer here and predict that we snatch a late winner. Prediction: 2-1 USA. If it ends in a draw, we hope that Slovenia snatches a win or draw against England to see us through the group stages, which is very possible.
Did I mention that Stephen Decatur died in a duel? (Gulp…)