Wednesday, June 16, 2010

A typical World Cup day

One of the joys of this World Cup has been the time frame in the Eastern Time Zone. The games are played at 7:30 am, 10 am, and 2:30 pm which has made scheduling really easy. Here is my typical World Cup day:

7:02 am- Roll out of bed
7:03 - Put on robe
7:04 to 7:10 - Make Breakfast
7:11 to 7:14 - Get ready for the match
7:15 to 7:29 - Watch Pre-game
7:30 to 9:22 - FOOTBALL
9:23 to 9:49 - Doze as I listen to Mike & Mike in the Morning on ESPNNEWS
9:50 to 10:00 - Wake up and watch pre-game
10:01 to 11:52 - FOOTBALL
11:53 to 1:45 pm - Either go to the gym and swim, take a nap and make lunch, fight the Rancor, or enjoy the fact that I am not Glenn Beck
1:45 to 2:20 - Putter around the house, watch some pregame, walk the dogs,
2:20 to 2:29 - Settle in
2:30 to 4:18 - FOOTBALL

That is a typical World Cup day in the life of Mike Abelson. It's great.

P.S. I know about the Swiss

Tuesday, June 15, 2010


There will no post today as I am protesting the World Cup tonight due to the incessant draws that are plaguing the tournament. I.....HATE.......DRAWS!!!!!!!!!!!!

Monday, June 14, 2010

Monday recap and Vuvuzelas

Today was not a good day for me. My beloved Indomitable Lions lost at the foot of a guy named Honda (insert Street Fighter 2 reference if you msut), , the Dutch won, and Paraguay blew a lead that they needed to keep. Other than that the World Cup was great today.

Match of the day: Paraguay 1, Italy 1 --> It as an excellent back and forth affair that saw Paraguay take advantage of the few offensive chances they got, but it was marred by a goaltending error that was diabolically awful. How could Justo Villar so poorly misjudge a set piece like that? Needless to say it was most saddening.

I want to take a moment to comment on the vuvuzelas. The long, plastic horns have gotten almost as much press as the football itself. The horns produce a long, never-ending sound that is reminiscent of a swarm of bees constantly buzzing within the stadium. I love them because of the atmosphere they add to the games on television. However, the constant buzzing has caused many a player, fan, and manager to complain and I get it. Can you imagine paying hundreds of dollars for tickets, airfare, lodging, and food to come to South Africa only to have three drunk Serbians blowing a vuvuzela directly into your ear. I enjoy the atmosphere they bring to the match on television, but I'd rather hear the crowd and the chanting that football is known for.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Weekend notes

By now you've seen at least 27 replays of Clint Dempsey's goal that tied America's match with England; so,I'm going to skip a recap of the US-England match because it has been analyzed to death by ESPN and all of their hired-gun European analysts.

Have you noticed that with the exception of the moderators and Alexi Lalas all of ESPN's analysts and game announcers were plucked away from European networks only for the tournament. While I love the insight and the analysis that they provide I sometimes finding myself wishing that a match would get called by Chris Berman and Joe Morgan for the hilarity of it. I can see it now:

Berman: Dempsey goes FLYING down the left side and..WHOOP! He squeaks past Steven Gerrard and into the attacking third.
Morgan: See there Chris, that pass was like a cutter. You could tell because it cut across the field.
Berman: Dempsey crosses it into the box to Jozy "and the Pussycats" Altidore who rumbles and bumbles his way into the box.
Morgan: See there Chris, that pass was like a cutter. You could tell because it cut across the field.

So far the best matches of the tournament have all included African teams. South Africa's emotional draw with Mexico to start the tournament, Nigeria's entertaining battle with Argentina, and Ghana's 1-0 win over Serbia on Sunday morning. The African nations play an exciting brand of football and everyone should stop to see at least one match involving an African team.

Question: Why can't anyone score? Germany pummeled Australia 4-0 on Sunday night and their scoring outburst equaled the amount of goals on Friday and the other two games on Sunday combined. I know that there were questions about the ball coming into the tournament, but the teams need to find a way to put the ball in the net or risk having the tournament becoming a slog of 1-0 and 1-1 games.

Best game from the opening weekend: Argentina 1, Nigeria 0. I know that it is ironic that I'm awarding a 1-0 game right after I railed against the low scoring of the tournament, but this match had it all. After Argentina scored in the 7th minute both teams ran up and down the pitch trading scoring chances. It was the beautiful game at its finest.

Monday Preview: We got the Dutch taking on the Danes right after sunrise, but the game I am most interested in is Japan v. Cameroon at ten because I want to see Samuel Eto'o play. He is one of the best strikers on the planet today. The final match of the day features the reigning champions Italy taking on Paraguay.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Argentina holds off Nigeria

When Gabriel Heinze headed in Argentina's first goal of the World Cup in the seventh minute against Nigeria I felt that a rout was coming. Instead, I saw the most entertaining game of the World Cup thus far. It was a back and forth tussle that saw Argentina's massive firepower held at bay by the stellar play of Nigerian keeper Vincent Enyeama, who turned aside six Argentine shots. For a 1-0 game it was quite the spectacle. Seeing Lionel Messi get turned aside time after time was just as entertaining as seeing him work his magic. All in all it was a tremendous match between two terrific football teams.

South Korea Wins as The Sun Rises in The States

After a whole day of fixtures that saw missed chances and shots off the woodwork, South Korea notched the first win of the World Cup over Greece by a score of 2-0 to kick off play in Group B. Korea dominated for the duration of the match and struck early when Lee Jung-Soo found the back of the net in the seventh minute. The Koreans put the nail in the coffin when Park Ji-Sung took an errant Greek pass from about thirty yards out before dribbling in and putting it home in the 52nd minute. The win gives the South Koreans three key points, and with their up-tempo style they should be able to advance pending their game with Nigeria.

Finally, someone got a win. As I predicted, Greece played like hell and South Korea ran right by them. I can't wait to see them play Argentina

Friday, June 11, 2010

Uruguay frustrates France, Play to 0-0 Draw

In a game that was supposed to show off offensive firepower France and Uruguay put on an anemic display that was highlighted by Uruguay's stifling defense en route to a 0-0 draw. If a non-soccer fan decided to watch this match as their "I'll watch one match to give this sport a try" match then they'll probably never watch the sport again. Each team had a few chances. Patrice Evra for France and Diego Forlan got as close to a goal as anyone on the pitch could get. Nicolas Lodeiro was disqualified with ten minutes to go for a hard tackle, and even with an extra man the French were unable to break through and score. Theirry Henry had a free kick in the 93rd minute, but he kicked it straight into the wall.

This match was almost unbearable to watch. Most of the match was played in the middle third of the pitch with neither team getting many solid chances. For most of the second half I found myself staring at my laptop rather than watching the match. I know that the tournament will get better, but today's showing by Group A was mixed. The first match was compelling, and the second was mind-numbingly dull.

Mexico Spoils the Party; Draws with South Africa

As the opening game of the 2010 FIFA World Cup progressed the fairy tale that was the South African football team continued to grow. After dominating the first half and getting a goal disallowed it looked as though it would be a matter of time before the Mexicans would assert their dominance over the 83rd-ranked team in the world. However, in the 55th minute Bafana Bafana was touched by little magic as Siphiwe Tshabalala took a long feed and hit a left-footed strike into the top corner of the goal to give the hosts a 1-0 lead. Most of the 95,000 people in attendance at Soccer City in Johannesburg erupted in a frenzy. The South African defense buckled down and kept Mexico at bay. Star Giovani Dos Santos cracked a shot that looked good only to have to turned away by Itumeleng Kuhne.

In the 79th minute South Africa suffered a huge mental lapse as they horribly misplayed a play off a corner kick and left three Mexicans onside with only one defender back. Rafael Marquez made quick work of the miscue and tied the game at one.

The teams traded chances throughout the last twenty minutes before South Africa's Katlego Mphela got some space and put a shot past Mexican goalkeeper Oscar Perez in the 89th minute only to be denied by the left post. That would be the last credible chance either team would get as the match finished as a 1-1 draw.

This was a tremendous match that built slowly and almost reached the status of becoming a national day of celebration in South Africa before the evil left post reared its ugly head. Going forward South Africa must be able to take this result and move forward. They were able to take one point from a team that at least on paper should have dominated them. A win in their next match with Uruguay would put them in a good position to advance. However, if it comes down to it goal differential could be a problem for Bafana Bafana.

Mexico needs to take this draw and put it behind them. Most pundits picked them to win the group and advance, and taking only one point from South Africa hurts them as much as it help South Africa. A win in their next match against France would silence the critics and put this result behind them, but a loss would turn this team from "the greatest Mexican team ever" to one of the biggest busts in World Cup history.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Group G & H Preview

Group G has gained the moniker o f "The Group of Death" and for good reason. A group that includes the king of football (Brazil) and two of the best teams in the world (Ivory Coast and Portugal) will mean that it will be difficult for anyone to advance out of the group.

Brazil very simple is the first nation of football. This year's sqaud is highlighted by stars all across the field, but the biggest of the big names is certainly Kaka. Look for him to lead the offense with the typical flash that Brazil usually plays. Look for a run to at least the semifinals and most likely beyond.

The Ivory Coast is the best football nation on the Africa continent. The team will be piloted by Yaya Toure on defense and Salomon Kalou and Didier Drogba up front. The Elephants will surprise a lot of people and take down Portugal to advance past the group stage and into the second round.

Portugal are chronic underachievers. When the standards are high they play down, and when the standards are low they live up to them. Even with international superstar Cristiano Ronaldo the Portuguese will wind up with egg on their face yet again. The loss of midfielder Nani will be hard to overcome if Portugal is going to have a chance at advancing.

The last team in the group is North Korea, and they are by no means a pushover. Their game is based around conditioning and counterattacking and they could steal a win or at least a draw based on conditioning alone. They probably won't win a game, but they will be a huge thorn in the side of Group G.

As it seems with most of the groups at this year's World Cup Group H is filled with a surefire quarter finalist, a solid second team, and a few dark horses.

Spain will win the group and advance to at least the quarterfinals. A team that has David Villa, Fernando Torres, Xavi, Xabi Alonso, in the field and Iker Casillas in goal. The Euro 2008 champions will make quick work of an otherwise solid group because of their seemingly endless amount of talent.

The battle for second will get very muddy. Chile is considered to be the number two in the group but it isn't by much. Like most South American teams they have the ability to score from anywhere in the attacking third and they will play an up-tempo style. Humberto Suazo, who had ten goals in qualifying, will lead the way for Chile.

The team I believe will advance alongside Spain is Honduras. They are quick, intense, and can score in bunches. They will also play with a purpose as this will be their first World Cup since 1982. Look for Honduras to be one of the most entertaining teams in the tournament and look for them to advance out of Group H.

Switzerland is a one trick pony. They will only go as far as their star Alexander Frei will take them. He has had recent injuries that have plagued him and look for the Swiss to play uninspired football as a result. They have the talent to advance, but they will fall short.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Group F: Champs and All

The Champs are back to defend their crown in Group F, and they will have no problem advancing.

Four years ago Italy took the cup back to the the peninsula after defeating France in an epic on penalty kicks. This year's incarnation of the Azzuri is not as good as four years ago, but they can still play with the best in the world. They will advance out of a very strong group, but their age could catch up with them later in the tournament. Look for a run to the second round and nothing more for Italy.

The next best team in the group is Paraguay. Not only are they one of the top teams in South America, but they will be playing with a purpose. Their star, Salvador Cabanas, was shot in the head in Mexico City back in January. Paraguay will be eager to play for him and his honor. Look for Paraguay to advance to the second round.

Every groups seems to have a dark horse and Group F is know different. Slovakia is a solid team that beat the Czechs in their qualifying group. They play a fast and aggressive style that will please the fans. However, better teams such as Paraguay and Italy will be able to exploit their aggressiveness and turn it against them. Look for Slovakia to play fun football before exiting early.

The final team in the group is New Zealand. All I have to say about New Zealand is enjoy South Africa, it's a beautiful country, and get ready to get steamrolled. They have no chance.

Tomorrow: Group G

Monday, June 7, 2010

Group E Preview

Unlike the other seven groups there is no walkover in Group E. There are three teams that have legitimate shots of advancing and a fourth that could wreak havoc in the group.

The group is highlighted by the Orange Crush known as The Netherlands. It is certain that this year's incarnation, which is led by Robin van Persie, Dirk Kuyt, and Arjen Robben will advance out of the group. However, problems will arise in the knockout rounds if the Dutch fall flat when it counts most, like they have done in the past two World Cups. Also, mediocre goaltending could hamper the Dutch from going deep in the tournament.

Cameroon has the best nickname in the tournament and arguably the best player as well. The Indomitable Lions, who shocked the world by taking gold in the 2000 Olympics in Sydney will be a force to be reckoned with in South Africa. The offense is led by international superstar Samuel Eto'o and is chocked full of capable young talent that will make Cameroon the toughest of all the African teams at the tournament. Look for the Indomitable Lions to beat the Dutch, win the group, and advance to the quarterfinals.

Denmark, like Slovenia, practices a team first philosophy. A squad that is short on star power was still able to win their qualifying group that featured a very strong Portuguese team. The biggest name for the Danes is Nicklas Bendtner who plays for top English club, Arsenal. They will make life tricky in the group, but they will lose against the Netherlands and Cameroon which will all but eliminate their chances for advancement.

The final team in Group E is Japan. The Blue Samurai (damn, these football nicknames are awesome) have never won a World Cup game off the Asian continent. They might be able to sneak a win against the Danes and perhaps Cameroon if the Lions come in flat. Their offense is a big weak spot which will mean that capitalizing on chances will be imperative in order for Japan to sneak out of Group E.

Tomorrow: Will I pick the reigning champs to advance to the second round? Come back tomorrow and find out when I preview Group F

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Group D Preview

Injuries have taken Group D from being a good group to a must watch for any football fan. All four teams have a legitimate shot of advancing which will make it a tight, competitive group. Let's start at the top:

There are few certainties in life; the sun will always rise, there will always be 24 hours in the day, and Germany will advance beyond the group stage. However, for the first time in over seventy years it isn't a sure bet that the Germans will advance out of their difficult group. They are certainly the favorites, but not by an overwhelming margin. The Germans are on their third goalkeeper after number one Robert Enke committed suicide and his replacement, Rene Adler, suffered a rib injury leaving inexperienced Manuel Neuer to tend the net for the Germans. The German midfield also took a huge hit with the losses of Simon Rolfes and international superstar Michael Ballack. With a group that includes Serbia and Ghana look for the Germans to be challenged but still advance out of the group stage.

Serbia is the European team that most people don't know about. They are young, experienced, and talented enough to win their group and go deep in the tournament. All of Serbia's biggest stars are key players on top level European clubs. Look for 19-year old Nikola Zigic (all 6-7 of him) to wreak havoc on defenses and take the Serbs far.

I would have picked Ghana to be the second team to advance out of the group, but then the omnipresent injury bug hi the Black Stars. Chelsea star, Michael Essien and team captain Stephen Appiah are both out which leaves the midfield duties left to a group of young players who are inexperienced at the top level of international football. If the youth of Ghana can play up to their ability (they won the U-20 World Cup) then look for Sunday's match-up against Serbia to be the game that decides who advances past the group stage.

In football, a great goaltender can take you a long way. Case in point, Australia's Mark Schwarzer is just that: a great keeper who could take his team far. Schwarzer compounded with a solid defense gives the Aussies a good chance of containing the potent offenses of Germany and Serbia. However, their lack of offensive productivity will certainly hamper them in a tournament such as this. If Australia's defense can be as good as advertised then look for the Socceroos to cause problems for their opponents and potentially steal a win before going stubbornly into the night.

Tomorrow I'll preview Group E: The Group of Death

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Group C Preview

Group C is one of the most high profile groups because it has one of history's great rivalries renewed: Redcoats v. Americans. Yes, back on the day of the draw the US and England were put into the same group and the hype and discussion about their June 12 match-up will only continue to grow and expand as kickoff nears. However, there are two other teams in Group C that want to make their mark on international football, and one has the skill to do it.

Let's start with Algeria. They were one of the last teams in after beating Egypt 1-0 in a "winner advances to South Africa" match to advance out of qualifying. While the Desert Foxes (I love the nicknames of the African teams) did get past Egypt, they won't go much farther. Due to red cards in previous matches they will be without their starting keeper for the first two group games and without their star back, Nadir Belhadj for one game. These disqualifications compounded by injuries in the midfield will make advancing past the group stage nearly impossible. Like Greece, the Algerians will leave South Africa with nothing more than a "participation" award and a lifetime of memories.

The most intriguing team in Group C is Slovenia. A team described by manager Matjaz Kek as "having no outstanding players" is team personified. Kek has stuck with a starting eleven for nearly all of qualifying and their chemistry has payed dividend on the pitch. After upsetting Andrei Arshevin's Russian team on away goals the world was put on notice to the abilities of the Slovenes. They won't play the prettiest football in South Africa but if they can get by Algeria look for Slovenia to potentially steal a second group win and advance.

For the last thirty years people have been saying that football was about to turn a corner and take off in America. Well, it hasn't happened so far and if this team does what it did back in 2006 then any hope of a football boom in America might be dead. This year's American squad is packed with top talent that has an outside shot of making it to the semifinals. Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey will lead the way offensively while Oguchi Onyewu, Jay Demerit, and Carlos Bocanegra will key a defense that has the ability to lock down their opponents, like they did at the Confederations Cup last year. The x-factor will be Jozy Altidore. If he can play up to his otherworldly ability then the Americans will go places that were only dreamed about twenty years ago.

The last team in the group is England; need I say more. The Brits created the game, and like always have fielded a damn good team to live up to their home country's expectations. The Three Lions have the talent to go far, but the loss of captain Rio Ferdinand to a knee injury could shake up the team. However, the Three Lions will be eager to wash out the taste of failing to qualify for Euro 2008 out of their mouths. This year's incarnation of the English national team has plenty of firepower in Wayne Rooney, Frank Lampard, and Steven Gerrard. However, they lack a solid goalkeeper and the defense could be on shaky ground with the loss of Fredinand. Also it should be noted that no team has ever won the World Cup when being managed by a foreigner, and this year England will be piloted by Italian, Fabio Capello. This year's English team won't take home the nation's second World Cup (1966 being the other), but look for at least a run to the quarterfinals.

Tomorrow: Could it be; yes, it's Group D

Friday, June 4, 2010

Group B Preview

Group B is one of the most straight-forward of all the groups at this year's World Cup. There is a distinct front runner, a strong second team, a dark horse, and a weak fourth. Let's start from the top:

The group is headlined by Argentina. Anyway with any knowledge of football knows that Argentina will advance out of the group. With Diego Milito, Carlos Tevez, and World Player of the Year Lionel Messi leading the attack look for Argentina to score early and often in the group stage. However, they might come into trouble early in the knockout rounds when first-time head coach and Argentina legend Diego Maradona leads his team against stiffer competition. If Maradona turns out to be a coach in name only then look for Argentina to exit by the quarterfinals, but if he truly can manage his squad then look for Argentina to be amongst the last four teams standing in South Africa.

Arguably the best African team at the World Cup, Nigeria has a lot to live up to. After going away from their traditional up-tempo attacking style to a more hard-nosed defensive game the Super Eagles have become a strong team in the defensive third. Look for John Obi Mikel to lead the offense and take Nigeria to the knockout round but no farther.

Eight years after their Cinderella run to the semifinals on home soil South Korea is back, but nowhere as strong as it was in 2002. Most of the squad has turned over and it will come down to whether or not their young and inexperienced attackers can handle the pressure. There match with Nigeria will decide who goes on with Argentina to the second round.

You know those participation awards you used to get back in summer camp? Well, that is all that Greece will have to show for their 2010 World Cup. The team that stunned the world by winning Euro 2004 is all gone, and the current squad is nowhere near as good. They might pull off a win against the Koreans, but it will take devine intervention from Zeus himself to push the Greeks beyond the group stage.

Winner: Argentina
Advances: Nigeria

Tomorrow: Group C Preview

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Group A Preview

Group A is one of the most enigmatic of the groups in South Africa. The favorites are certainly going to be the young, yet seasoned Mexican team that has all the tools necessary to advance past the group stage and go far in the knockout rounds. 22-year old Javier Hernandez will be El Tri's X-factor; if he can play like he did in Mexican league play then Mexico's offense will be even better than it already is.

After Mexico the quest for the second spot in the knockout round becomes very murky. At first glance the French squad looks like a surefire lock to take second in the group but the French are aging. They have Thierry Henry providing great work in the attacking third and midfielders Franck Ribery and Yoann Gourcuff will be key in determining how far the French will go. Look for their game with Uruguay to be the game that decides who advances out of the group.

Uruguay is good. They have a recent European golden boot winner in Diego Forlan and they are big up front. Some might consider Uruguay to be a middle of the pack South American team, but those teams are still amongst the best in the world. Look for the nation that won the first World Cup eighty years ago to make a run to the quarterfinals.

The final team in Group A is also the one with the most to gain. The host South Africans are in the unenviable position of being stuck in a group with three teams that are much more talented than they. Even though they will have the loudest cheering section of all 32 nations it won't be enough for the Bafana Bafana because they will most likely go 0-3 and become the first host nation not to qualify for the second round. However, even one win in the group would legitimize South Africa as a top footballing nation in Africa and would shock the world.

Tomorrow: Group B preview