What I learned from this World Cup

So, now that Spain has yet another excuse for not doing any work for 3 months, we’re left turning our attention back to club soccer, World Cup 2014 Qualifying, and praying that your team doesn’t get put in a group that will have to play a World Cup match in Manaus, Brasil (a mere 1,427 mi from the nearest fellow host city (Cuiabá–which happens to be a neighborly 627 mi from it’s nearest fellow host city of Brasilia).

So, before I start pondering what could possibly make me interested in watching DC United again this year (they’re lucky I bought my tickets before the season started), I thought I’d take a look back and see the Top Ten Lessons I’ve learned from this World Cup–especially considering my very well received first post as a guest blogger for Fighting Talker.

LESSON #10 – Never skip another World Cup
I’d say that this is a no brainer, but having traveled to one, I have to say that being at the World Cup is unlike any other experience on earth (no matter where it takes place on earth). The fears of a developing country hosting the Cup were put to the test and ultimately proven unfounded. And despite the recently negative news about Brazil’s preparedness for 2014, South Africa has at least given me hope that bad news now only increases the likelihood of success in 4 years.

LESSON #9 – There are more bad performances than bad teams
I think going into the tournament, I expected the lower ranked FIFA teams like North Korea, New Zealand, South Africa, or Algeria to be pushovers, but they played a surprising competitive game and made the final round of the Group Phase much more exciting. And to think that New Zealand left the tournament its only undefeated Nation. That said, Mexico should have done better with it’s chances against South Africa, Italy & France really should have showed some interested in the games, and I hope the Argentina that showed up against Germany never shows up at World Cup again… that should have been a good game (instead it was great since I can’t stand so many of the Argentine players).

LESSON #8 – Not all traditions should be honored
Despite the claim that Vuvuzelas are part of South Africa’s traditions (which I doubt), the only good thing to come out of the World Cup’s conclusion is that we don’t have to hear that tradition any more. <- Although, the Vuvuzelas do make me wonder if DC United winger Khumalo's nickname is actually pronounced BzzzzzzzZZZ Khumalo

LESSON #7 – Nobody knows why Diego Forlan couldn’t succeed in England
Despite playing for one of the best teams in the UK, Diego Forlan couldn’t score goals like he did in this tournament… and nobody knows why.

LESSON #6 – Lalas may have found his post-retirement day job
Since Alexi Lalas retired from football, his professional career could probably have been compared to that of a clown. However, he may have found a spot as a soccer commentator. He came across as both informative and not arrogant, something that ESPN failed to capture in many of its other commentators. The unfortunate fact is that he may have also been the only personality hired by ESPN for the World Cup that could accurately explain off-sides… leave it to a defender, I guess.

LESSON #5 – We didn’t really learn anything new about the US Team
Sure, Landon had a great tournament and got the proverbial “monkey off his back.” But going into this tournament, we already knew Donovan, Dempsey, Bradley, Cherundolo, and Howard were good players… but nobody else really stepped up to make a name for themselves. That’s somewhat disappointing. In ’02 Donovan and Beasley became stars, in ’06 Dempsey did, in ’10… nothing.

LESSON #4 – The Black Stars are doing something right
If the US needs a lesson of how to build off of a success, they shouldn’t look much further than Ghana’s Black Stars. Following their Round of 16 exit from the 2006 World Cup, Ghana went on to finish 3rd and 2nd in the African Nations Cup (in ’08 and ’10), and won the U20 World Cup in ’09. Then they managed to advance to the Quarterfinal last month, losing a heart breaker to Uruguay. The average age of Ghana’s Black Stars… 24 yrs 9 Mo.

LESSON #3 – FIFA HAS TO help its referees
There were several bad & debatable calls during this tournament that really annoyed me, but despite wondering how de Jong stayed on the pitch after cleating Xabi Alonso in the chest during the final, the call that highlighted FIFA’s need to help out its referees the most was Lampard’s disallowed goal against Germany. It was the fact that sideline referee was in the “correct position” yet couldn’t see the goal really drove home the point that the current system needs to be changed.

As for some of the other bad calls, they unfortunately are part of a larger issue that has helped change the way the game is played around the world. For example, if you don’t call a foul on Carlos Pujol for molesting then attempting to sweep the legs of Arjen Robben (who remarkably managed to stay on his feet <-SARCASM), then you're going to see more diving. Although, you could argue it was a make-up (non-)call for not giving de Jong a straight red for tattooing the cleats of his Adidas adiPURE III XTRX into Xabi Alonso's sternum.

LESSON #2 – Stats and Analysis have no place in the World Cup
One of the reasons why I agreed to help Aaron blog was because I like doing detailed analysis of stats, facts, and other pointless trivia to come up with a point of view. Unfortunately, there is no place for this type of behavior during the World Cup. I spent several “unproductive” hours coming up with some analysis of why South American nations were doing so well during the World Cup, only to see them get knocked out immediately by their European counterparts. Whether I was on to something with analyzing economic conditions in South Africa (32 largest economy) when compared to Brazil (8), Argentina (30), Chile (46), Uruguay (84), and Paraguay (103), we’ll never know. We’ll also never know if the various leagues that Brazil’s national team members compete in make them better suited to play in international tournaments.

LESSON #1 – Don’t bet against the Octopus
Seriously, what the ********?

Anyway, time to turn my attention back to MLS and the very few bright spots on a very dismal DC United team… ugh.

Cheers

-Ted

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13 thoughts on “What I learned from this World Cup

  1. In regards to lesson # 5…. wouldn’t you say Michael Bradley took the next step? Admittedly he still has 4 or 5 steps to go, but he’s a certifiable young star in a top-4 European league. Certainly ahead of where Dempsey was in 2006….

  2. Edu could have had a break-out tournament if Bob had started him instead of Clark in every game. Maybe Torres, too, if we played a formation that better suited his play (I’d try him in a 4-2-3-1).

    But, alas, none of that happened, so we had no break out star. Poo.

  3. Agreed, Junior became Michael Freakin’ Bradley in SA. I think he could be the engine of the NATS for 2 more cups, and in ’18 will prob wear the captains armband.

  4. I’d say the rest of the World probably took note of Michael Bradley in this tournament, but I think generally, we (US fans) already knew he was a top notch midfielder, and as a result, we didn’t learn much “new” about him.

    He demonstrated that he was a hard working, smart, midfielder who has an eye for goal prior to the World Cup and his success in the Netherlands and Germany has only confirmed that.

    But he, of all the other players maybe made the biggest name for himself.

    I agree that Edu also could have had an opportunity to showcase himself a little more had Bob Bradley played him more, but I don’t know what was going on in training or from a tactical perspective that led Bob to putting in Ricardo Clark (who I still don’t know why made the team… he’s like the Taylor Twellman of defensive midfielders… good enough for MLS, struggles in Germany, and not good on the International stage).

  5. Stats do have a place in the World Cup, and this man proved it:

    You see, the people who in theory have no time for stats are often in practice obsessed with one — goals scored. A lot of these people believe, preposterously that Messi had a bad tournament and Higuain mysteriously had a good one, rather than that Higuain had a good tournament with a lot of help by Messi. (Until Germany came along, anyway.)

    It oughtn’t happen, but I’ve seen it plenty–there are actually people out there, people who claimed to have watched the games, that nonetheless actually need objective evidence that Messi>>>Torres in this tourney. If the Castrol rating (8.77 to 6.64) or distance on the ball/shots/what have you is what you need to show that, then so be it.

  6. I don’t know, there were probably a higher percentage of non-believers among US fans, who believed (lord knows why) Bradley was only in the 23 because of his dad.

  7. You’re probably right there, but none-the-less, he had demonstrated the same qualities he exhibited during the World Cup in the majority of his prior US National Team matches.

  8. I’m not clear on your point here. Are you say, Messi proved that statistics do have a place in the World Cup because he helped Higuain scored X many goals? Or that statistics play a flawed role in the World Cup?

    I think that San Jose’s GM (or someone within their organization) is trying to use statistics to evaluate performance and direct strategy. I’m a little curious to see what he’s measuring and how he collects that data.

    % of completed passes
    % of completed passes in the attacking third
    # of players running off the ball in the attacking third
    Avg time it takes midfielders to track back to support defense

    I have no clue… but you got to think that if you can take a Myers-Briggs test and have some seemly random questions identify your personality type fairly well, then there’s got to be a way to measure patterns in soccer.

  9. I’m saying, anyone who says Messi had a bad tourney (and I’ve been surprised to see that more than once) based on 0 GF already is following stats, they’re just following very crude and incomplete ones.

    I do know the Castrol index measures distance covered in possession of the ball and pass completion percentage (as well as some kind of measure for what types of pass you were trying to complete). I seem to recall reading a Billy Beane article where they were focusing on “touches that lead to a shot” (ie how many times did you touch the ball during an unbroken chain of possession that eventually resulted in a shot. Doesn’t matter whether the eventual shot was made or was even on goal).

  10. Gotcha… and I agree. And Messi is a good example of how conclusions based solely on statistical analysis can be flawed. Messi typically ended up in a 1v3 situations where he was able to get rid of the ball quick enough to allow for players like Tevez to be more dangerous. Messi sometimes didn’t even need to have the ball to draw defenders his way, but there’s no quantifiable statistic that can be easily tied to Messi to say he had a good game.

    The other obvious situation is when you have two people watching the same game, they often turn around at the end and say, so and so had a great game, while someone else may say the exact opposite.

  11. I don’t remember Taylor Twellman starting in the 2-0 defeat of Spain in South Africa last summer, do you?

    Saying that Clark did not even deserve to be part of the 23 that went to the World Cup is pretty ignorant.

  12. I do remember Clark starting against Italy in the Confederations Cup and earning a quick red card for a pointless reckless challenge.

    I don’t think he’s had any other straight reds for the United States, but he has shown a tenancy to lose focus. Technically, he’s a pretty good player. And I get that a loss of concentration is something you see in young players, but he has not demonstrated that he is becoming a smarter player.

    Fortunately for Ricardo Clark, the US doesn’t have a lot of “smart” players to replace him in the midfield, so he’ll likely be called up more. Hopefully, a full year with Eintracht Frankfurt will help him learn the game more and calm him down as a player.

  13. There were some bright spots for DC last night. Najar made some good runs and Quaranta should have scored but Keller managed to make some good saves despite looking injured. I feel like they’re at least getting more entertaining as the season progresses, if not that much better.

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