Final pre-game Spain v Holland thoughts

July 11, 2010

* Sergio Ramos is really the Achilles heel of the Spanish team. If the Dutch fail to exploit the space he creates on their attack, it’s hard to see how they win.

* Puyol and Pique aren’t super quick. I’d like to see some attempts to play a through ball to Robin Van Persie or Arjen Robben.

* If you’d told me that Robin Van Persie had only one goal, I’d have assumed the Dutch didn’t make it very far. Sneijder isn’t really a finisher, despite his 5 goals this World Cup (if neither Sneijder or Villa score, the two will share top scorer honors with Uruguayan Diego Forlan and German Thomas Mueller). Van Persie has to make life difficult for Pique and Puyol. Interestingly, Van Persie and the Dutch coach had some serious feuds in the early part of this decade.

* Interesting matchup to me will be Dutch holding midfielders Nigel De Jong and Mark Van Bommel against Xavi and Iniesta. De Jong and Van Bommel need to be careful not to pick up any yellows early that could lead to reds later. Referee Howard Webb is not a guy afraid to give marginal red cards or penalties in big games, if my memory serves.

* Spain really should try to counter the counter-attack once in awhile. One of the few great things about playing Spain is that they seem to think it is unsporting to counterattack when an opponent turns the ball over. The Dutch can bring people forward with a little more confidence than against Uruguay.

* Dirk Kuyt is the un-Dutch Dutch footballer. He’s all hustle. Yet he’s pretty vital because his work rate sets the tone. He’s a bit less valuable if the Dutch try to out ticky-tack the Spaniards.

* Do you switch Robben to matchup against Sergio Ramos? Or would matching up against Robben make Sergio Ramos more likely to stay at home and not get out of position? And while Sergio Ramos is overrated offensively, he does bring something to the table, meaning that Kuyt gets back against him better. I bet we’ll see the status quo — Kuyt on the left. I’d consider Ryan Babel, but why bother thinking about these things when van Marwijk obviously isn’t going to do it: he hasn’t put Ryan Babel on the pitch for a single minute this tournament.

* Iker Casillas has occasionally looked shaky, I’d like to see the Dutch try from distance. The Uruguay goalkeeper had had a pretty good tournament until today, hadn’t he? I wouldn’t mind seeing a Schweinsteiger-esque 45 yard strike that Casillas fails to parry and leaves it on doorstep for someone crashing for the rebound. Nope, wouldn’t mind that at all.

* There is some truth to the idea that Spain plays a more classically Dutch game than this Netherlands team does. That’d be cruel if it works for them.

It is always true that the first goal is just massively crucial. Against some opponents, the game completely changes. Not really against Spain, who play the same game up 1-0 or down 1-0.


It’s not the Jabulani combined with altitude

July 11, 2010

I just ran the numbers, and there’s pretty much no evidence that the Jabulani is to blame for the low scoring of this World Cup. So this is essentially a teaser post. I’ll put up the numbers after tomorrow’s final.

I admit it: I was wrong that it was likely that one of the reasons we had a low-scoring World Cup was the Jabulani combined with the altitude. Call me gullible. It was a theory advanced that seemed plausible.


2010 is not the lowest scoring World Cup

July 10, 2010

I have just run the numbers and 2010 will not be not the lowest scoring World Cup in modern history. Post-group play the number of goals per game is above average.

It’s still awfully close to being the lowest scoring World Cup, but 1990 will remain the king of low scoring. 1990, of course, was when Argentina made it to the finals against Germany despite scoring 5 goals in the entire World Cup. Yes, that’s right…Argentina scored less than a goal per game and made it to the finals. Pretty amazing, huh?

Edit to note: Graphs and charts to come tomorrow after Holland wins and we have final numbers.


Spain v Germany thoughts

July 8, 2010

1. You would think it is trite to mention that Spain v Germany = Barcelona v Bayern Munich. Both sides are pretty heavily centered around those domestic club teams. Spain started the game with 7 starters from Barcelona (including David Villa, who hasn’t played a game for them yet), while Germany started Lahm, Schweinsteiger and Klose…although they finished the game with 5 Bayern Munich players on the field. This of course doesn’t count Lukas Podolski, who played at Bayern Munich for the last 4 years.

2. I obviously thought Spain was more likely to win, so the result wasn’t too surprising to me. Even so, after creating numerous decent scoring chances (and not scoring any of them), Germany very clearly deserved a penalty in the 43rd minute. Ozil was one on one with the Spain goalie Iker Casillas and Sergio Ramos clipped his back heel to send him tumbling. If Germany goes up 1-0, that is a very different game. I’d guess that 80% of refs give at least a penalty (and maybe a red card) in that situation.

3. While Pedro clearly should have passed the ball in the 83rd minute or so, when Fernando Torres was standing wide open in front of the goal, I call a penalty there 100% of the time.

4. Spain created chances, Germany maybe created two: both of them involved Sergio Ramos. I can’t understand why Spain manager Vincent Del Bosque continues to start Sergio Ramos. He’s a black hole defensively, and is always caught upfield when the other team is counter-attacking. Given that Spain plays with the not super-fast team of Gerard Pique and Carlos Puyol at centerbacks, this baffles me.

Spain is playing a tactical system that leads to low scoring games. In a way, it is almost more of a defensive strategy than an offensive one. But they are definitely vulnerable because of the strange insistence to play Sergio Ramos…will Arjen Robben play on the left against Spain to take advantage of Sergio Ramos’ wanderlust?

5. Spain might be the worst team at scoring off of opponent mistakes. A few times Germany turned the ball over and Spain could have attacked with a numbers advantage, but instead decided to play for possession.

6. Leo Messi’s implication that Barcelona is better than Argentina looks a little bit stronger after Spain advances to the finals and Argentina is out in the quarters. Barcelona is essentially Spain, plus Messi, the best player in the world. There’s almost no better indictment of Diego Maradona in the world as that.


Prediction: Maradona to stay as Argentina manager

July 6, 2010

Here’s my prediction: Maradona will go in hiding for a bit (couple weeks-monthish*) letting speculation build in the media.

Then he will emerge, talk about how he wanted to quit after his heart was broken in the most difficult experience of his life, and say that because Copa America 2011 is in Argentina, he feels obligated to defend the honor of the Argentine jersey.

But really, he’ll continue because his salary is pretty sick. He negotiated his contract through Copa America on purpose to keep that salary. It’d be like if the US paid Bob Bradley $4 million bucks a year. Do you think he’d quit?

*This might change if Argentina has any games scheduled, but I searched the Argentina Football Association website and found no games scheduled for months.


Holland v Uruguay preview

July 6, 2010

More thoughts, in numbered form.

1. This isn’t really Uruguay on the field. It’s Uruguay minus injuries and suspensions. Suarez (he of the handball, who by the way plays in Holland for Ajax where he has scored 3 goals in every 4 games) is missing. Center defender and captain Lugano won’t be there, while the other center defender, Godin, missed the last game for injury, so you have to wonder how solid the middle of the defense will be. Defender Fucile won’t be there, nor will playmaker Lodeiro.

2. Holland is missing a van der Zwiel and De Jong. De Jong is pretty key, but de Zeeuw is a suitable replacement. I’m a bit more worried about Khalid Boulahrouz and his capacity for gaining penalties and red cards through his defending. If I recall correctly, van der Zwiel’s suspension is for the yellow he received for touching the ball when it was Kaka’s throw-in. Pretty ticky-tacky card that while I technically agree with, it is unique in this World Cup. A shame.

3. I’d expect Uruguay to come out fairly defensively, much like they did against France. Try and keep the game scoreless in the first half and hope Forlan can poach one in the second half. Suarez’s replacement Cavani isn’t a zero either, playing for Palermo in Italy.

4. Not many teams can be missing this many starters and win. Uruguay has only 3.5 million people. They also played 120 minutes in their last match. They’re a good team — if I recall correctly after their first game I said they are one of the most underrated teams at this World Cup, but I’m not going to search for the post right now — but those are alot of obstacles to overcome. Anything can happen in football, but Uruguay has alot of factors working against them.

5. Please Boulahrouz, please. Don’t do anything dumb. If you don’t, Holland cruises into the finals 3-1.


My highs are higher than my lows

July 4, 2010

1. As I noted in my writeup of Holland-Brazil, I was quite surprised by the statistician’s decision to record the first Dutch goal as an own goal. A day later, it was credited to Wesley Sneijder.

2. Spain coach Vincent del Bosque put Cesc Fabregas into the game in the second half, and Spain started to create chances. How many times have I said that Fabregas has to be on the field for Spain?


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