Let’s start closest to home and with the match that my prediction came closest to forecasting. The USA’s 3-0 win was exactly the kind of result they needed at home to a team like T&T. The defense held strong while the game was still competitive, and Clint Dempsey showed that he absolutely deserves a spot in this starting lineup for the time being. Ed got to this first, and I agree with what he says. The rest of my thoughts on this game and some of the other surprising results around the world, after the jump.
- This was a World Cup qualifier people! Where was everybody? I appreciate that it was a weekday night and that it looked pretty cold, but come on! 11, 452 was the best you could do, Chicago? Who marketed this thing?
- In a proud moment for Concacaf, all three semifinal groups look pretty much wrapped up with three matches to play. If you could get a casino to let you bet on the current top two in each group advancing out of the group, you wouldn’t even get that long of odds. So much for the rise of other competitive teams in Concacaf. And, though it looks like my dream of a USA-El Salvador match is coming true, I don’t want to get too excited yet so I don’t jinx it.
- Has Sasha Kljestan earned a starting spot for the qualifiers to come? I think it’s a close call.
Moving out of FIFA’s most predictable region and into the one that proved far more interesting and unpredicable – UEFA. Where strangely a whole bunch of teams blew easy points and one team restablished its claim on belonging with the best in the world.
Let’s start with the most unexpected road win of the day – Luxembourg. They’ll be dancing in the streets of erm, Luxembourg today after Alphonse Leweck’s 86th minute goal gave the tiny country their first qualifying win since 1972. If I am Swiss coach Ottmar Hitzfeld (he of the two Champions League titles), I would be thinking about job opportunities after blowing a two goal lead at home to Israel and then losing to a country that features numerous part-time players and is smaller than Rhode Island.
But on to other surprises – like England. Now, certain commenters have taken some glee in pointing out that I predicted that Croatia would beat England again. That’s a fair enough criticsm. That said, I don’t care. Not because I am happier England won. Not even because England won emphatically. It’s because Theo Walcott, that’s Theo Walcott of Arsenal, scored a hat trick on the road with three really great finishes. As if we didn’t already know this after the goal against Liverpool in last year’s Champions League, but a star was truly born last night in Zagreb. Those finishes were simply outstanding and he won’t even be 20-years old until Februrary. Drink that in for a moment. He is by far the best player to come out of England since Rooney, and arguably the only world class player to arise in England since Rooney. He is a real reason to be optimistic for the future, especially if Rooney can continue the kind of partnership with Walcott that flourished last night. You all have Arsene Wenger to thank. Please commence shortly.
Also, I’d like to hand out the Bill Simmons Award for the most tenuous and obscure route to an otherwise good lede to Richard Williams of the Guardian, who began his column with this gem.
In 1967, the year in which Fabio Capello left his first club, SPAL of Ferrara, to join Roma and the big time, his compatriot Germano Celant, a prominent art critic, gave a name – Arte Povera, or “poor art” – to the activity of a group of young artists who assembled their work from scrap material and other bric-a-brac. According to a new biography of Capello, this was the first kind of art in which England’s new manager showed an interest; subsequently, as his career brought him wealth, he became a collector.
Arte Povera’s principal source of inspiration was the work of Marcel Duchamp, and in the opening phase of his time as England’s manager Capello may have feared that he was being invited to reproduce the great Dadaist’s most famous act: taking a urinal and calling it a fountain. Last night, however, he added a gold fitting to a humble appliance.
Moving on across Europe, Denmark stunned Portugal with goals in the 89th and 90th minute to tie and then beat Portugal in Leiria. That’s a bit of a surprise, but nothing like Germany just scraping out a draw at Poland with Miroslav Klose netting three goals including the tying goal in the 83rd. Someone needed to remind the Germans that this wasn’t a hockey game and that they were Germany and those other guys were just Finland. How does that German defense allow three goals? That said, if the adjascent cover of Germany sports daily Kicker indicates anything, it’s that folks are fairly satisfied with the result.
It would be easy to say that “France returned to form” with their win over Serbia in Paris, but really, that’s a surprise result. Henry and Anelka both scored but according to press reports, Domenech was booed everytime his face appeared on the big screen. Yet his job appears safe. Is it really going to take a failure to qualify to a major tournament to convince the French Football Federation to can this guy?
But let’s move on now to South America, where both Brazil and Argentina could only draw on the road with Brazil’s near-capitulation to a 10-man Bolivia side apparantly pushing Dunga even closer to the firing line. From the sounds of it, Brazil was pretty dire as they yet again push their qualification right to the limit just as they did in 2002. You’ll be challenged today to find anyone anywhere writing anything positive about Dunga. How, with the players he has at his selection, he could only get a 0-0 with Bolivia who had a man sent off in the 53rd minute. A quick note for DC fans, Jaime Moreno started the match and played 57 minutes.
Argentina gave up a 90th minute equalizer to Johan Javier Fano to allow Peru to tie 1-1 in Lima. (And what a goal it was, too)These results leave both Argentina, Brazil and Chile tied for second in the standings, but four points behind the leaders Paraguay. Read that again. The leaders are Paraguay!?! Paraguay didn’t play last night as everyone else caught up their game in hand. But keep an eye on the happenings down there. The parity that was supposed to have arrived recently in Concacaf, may have just landed a bit further south.