Five things from….Belgium 2 USA 1


Back by popular request for potentially his last run out in the World Cup is Andy Mack with his view from downtown Manhattan on the mood in the US Camp for their game against Belgium.

Many questions coming into this game needed to be answered:  How much time will Jozy Altidore play? (Zero.) How would the Belgian attack look? (Strong.)  Could the US see enough of the ball to pull off the upset? (Almost.) We would have our answers after a grueling 120 minute affair.

1. Tim Howard – How could we start with anyone else?  US goalkeeper Tim Howard gave one of the most courageous performances in World Cup history. Tim broke the record for most saves in a World Cup match with 16, and the US needed every one of them to stay in the match.  Howard was named Man of the Match, even in defeat.   To put things in perspective, Belgian defender and captain Vincent Kompany tweeted after the match   “Two Words.. Tim Howard #Respect #BelUSA”

2. Belgian Dominance –  The even possession numbers masked the fact that the Belgians seemed to have virtually all of the best chances to score throughout the match.  The last ten minutes of regulation time had the Americans holding on and hoping for extra time.  The insertion of Roman Lukaku into the Belgian attack provided the Red Devils the spark in the final third that impacted both goals.  The goals, and win, were well deserved.

photo 1 (28)3. Wondo…. OH NO – Many US fans knew that chances were going to be few and far between. The only path to victory was to take advantage of any scoring chances that the Belgians may concede. That single moment came in stoppage time when the ball came down on the foot of Chris Wondolowski in the 6 yard box with only the keeper to navigate.  With only charging keeper Thibaut Courtois to beat, Wondolowski skied the ball over the net. The way the game played out, you could feel that this would come back to haunt the US.

4. Klinsmann Making Great Moves – US coach Jurgen Klinsmann proved that he truly understands this team with impactful substitutions during the match. With Fabian Johnson forced to exit with what appeared to be a hamstring injury, Klinsmann looked to Deandre Yeldin. Yeldin’s speed proved to be menacing down the sideline, causing problems for the Belgian defense. With Chris Wondolowski having the chance to be a hero and Julian Green’s late goal, all three of Klinsmann’s substitutions were impactful.

5. Heads Held High – The US should walk away from this match with their heads held high.  This team proved to have the grit and guts that has been the staple of US soccer for decades.  Losing to a Belgian side (who, going into the tournament, was considered a dark horse to win it all) is not something to be ashamed of. The US will need to pair their resilient mentality with a better touch in the midfield in order to take the next step in their progression of becoming a top team.  Belgium will be moving on to face Argentina in the quarterfinals, which appears to be a matchup of two teams who have yet to fire on all cylinders.

The Beer World Cup
The beautifully crafted Delirium Tremens has the sophistication to edge out the bold, brash, Brooklyn Lager by the same score line.

Belgium 2 US 1

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Five things from….Germany 2 Algeria 1


“It was the best of times, it was one of the worst of footballing crimes.”  Paul Doyle’s opening line in the Guardian two weeks ago took us back to darker World Cup days when skullduggary was all the rage and no-one ever mentioned the “M” world (Matchfixing).  The Germans back then obviously had a “West” as company in the 1982 World Cup but no one was prepared for their defeat to the Algerians.

Fast forward thirty two years and eight World Cups and the Africans would have an opportunity for revenge.  The German machine had simply re-invented itself every few years and whilst they were quietly confident coming into the tournament, few would have backed them to go all the way, especially as they are in the top half of the drawer, putting them on a collision course with the hosts in the semi-final.

I had a feeling this would be the game of the round, so I invested heavily in the Früh Kolsch and sat back, preparing to be entertained.

1. Why do goal keepers always seem to stand next to the captain? – I only noticed this on Saturday but since then almost every keeper when lining up for the national anthems has stood next to the captain.

BrZ6C9lIEAA0BPS2. Photographer with the hat – 16 minutes in and Algeria attack again.  What a cross from El Arabi Soudani, Islam Slimani gets ahead of Jerome Boateng to fire in a low header in off the post.  Alas he is offside and we get a close up of the linesman raising his flag.  But hang on. The photographer behind him is wearing a Mexican hat.  A bloomin’ big green wide brimmed Mexican hat.  Arriba, arriba, andale, arriba! (thanks to Dan Campbell for sending me a screen shot).

3. The problem of sock tape – Stupid rule number 1332 from FIFA was the one about the tape that players use to keep their socks up has to be the same colour as the socks themselves. So can you use red tape on white socks if there is a red bit at the top of the socks, like Germany’s? What if you want two bits of tape, one at top and one at bottom?  Do you need two different coloured tapes?  And what about tape used around fingers for rings?  Shouldn’t that be skin-coloured?  FIFA once again not thinking through the really important aspects of these law changes (that was irony for the benefit of my German followers).

4. The cavity search – Mustafi falls awkwardly and lays face down as the German medical appear to be checking all his cavities. The TV cameras focus on his wincing face and then the physio’s gloved hand going up his shorts. Grown men around the world looked away in agony.

5. Neuer centre-back – Time after time the German keeper came off his line and out of his box to act as the last defender. His timing was impeccable, risking not only a goal if he missed a challenge but also a certain red if he took out the player. A sure sign of problems at the back for the Germans. Would a better side have taken advantage? Who knows…

The Beer World Cup

Like the earlier tie, there was never going to be any competition in this game.  I could have chosen one of two hundred German beers (not that I have 200 different ones in my beer fridge, but you get the idea) whilst I have never seen an Algerian beer, let alone try to buy one.  I went with a cheeky Kölsch option for tonight – light, smooth and less likely to give me a hangover than a Paulaner.

Germany 7 Algeria 0

The five best keepers of the World Cup…so far


Normally in these major tournaments we see more keepers who fall into the “oh dear” bracket rather than the “Wow” one.  In general, the goalies have had a good tournament so bar, with the exception of Iker Casillas, but which ones have been the stand outs?  Here are our top five so far.

Guillermo Ochoa (Mexico): The Mexican stopper arrived at the World Cup looking for a job next season after ending his time with French club Ajaccio, and it’s fair to say he won’t be short of offers after the tournament if you listen to the Betfairodds. Following a promising start to the World Cup with a clean sheet against Cameroon, Ochoa made the headlines with an incredible performance in the 0-0 draw against hosts Brazil.

Keylor Navas (Costa Rica): Costa Rica have undoubtedly been this World Cup’s surprise package, and goalkeeper Keylor Navas have been integral to the underdogs shocking the world to progress from their group. Levante stopper Navas has been attracting interest and plaudits aplenty during the tournament, and the 27-year old could be set for a big-money move to Atletico Madrid this summer, according to the Betfairodds.

Tim Howard (USA): While maybe not as surprising as Costa Rica coming through their group, USA’s progression to the second round upset a number of Betfairpunters. As ever, Howard’s commanding presence in goal has set the tone for his team’s defence, and the Everton stopper has further cemented himself as one of the world’s most consistent goalkeepers.

Victor Enyeama (Nigeria): As well as being one of the tournament’s most eccentric goalkeepers, Nigeria’s Victor Enyeama has also proven himself to be one of the most reliable. Behind a questionable Nigerian defence, Enyeama has brought a sense of calm despite his sometimes-wacky antics and has been key to the Africans coming through their tough group despite being written off by many Betfair fans.

Thibaut Courtois (Belgium): While the Belgians may have not torn up as many trees in Brazil as many expected, their young goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois has proven why he has been labelled as the best prospect in world football. The 22-year old is expected to be given his long-awaited chance at Chelsea next season, but Belgium fans will be hoping Courtois still has a job to do in Brazil this summer.

Five things from….France 2 Nigeria 0


The big question before this game was which Nigeria team would turn up.  They had stumbled through the group, flattering to deceive in their single win against Bosnia, yet putting on a real show in the 3-2 defeat to Argentina.  Once again, it seemed that their build up to the game was being derailed by talks of player bonuses, or the lack of them.  Of course, the fact they are representing their country on the biggest stage in the world isn’t enough for some players.

The 5pm games during the working week serve up a big dilemma as to when I should go home.  I’d love to say that my 3g/4g network in London is good enough to support even radio commentary but alas I am still tied to EE/T-Mobile (they change their name in rotation to blame each other for poor service) I struggle to raise an analogue signal on my way home.

1. Why play a centre-forward on the wing? – Benzema is a decent centre-forward with pace and a goal every 3 games ratio at international level.  So what was going through Dechamps mind when he stuck him on the wing?  Even (even!) Rio Ferdinand saw that was a strange move when analysing the first half. He hardly got a sniff of the ball in that first period, but after the break when he was let loose as a traditional centre-forward he caused the Nigerians all sorts of issues, and can feel aggrieved his second half effort that was cleared off the line hadn’t given the French the lead.

2. France away kit again – So I know I was banging on about this last week but it really bugs me.  Why do they need to wear the off-white away kit?  What colour clash could there be with a lime green kit?  Called me an old cynic but I have a feeling that a certain US sportswear company may have a say in what kit is worn.

3. John Obi-Mikel – What exactly does he offer any team?  He has always been the poor man’s Dechamps, Makalele, Essien with a poor disciplinary record.  But on at international level he takes wandering around letting the play pass him by to a new level.

4. Celebrating an own goal – On first watch we all thought that was a smart little flick by Griezmann to seal the win in the last minute.  He wheeled away, arms stretched out to receive the congratulations of Valbuena.  But he hadn’t scored.  He didn’t even get a lucky touch.  The ball hit Yobo’s knee and went in.  Man up and give credit where credit is due.

5. France are the new France – They are going to win it…you all know that deep down.  Unfancied before the tournament, slowly progressing towards a semi-final win against Brazil and then beating Argentina in the final.

Beer World Cup

Obvious (!) no beers whilst I was still at work, or on the train home but as soon as I walked through the door I had a 1664 thrust in my hand.  With no Guinness Export left it was a comfortable win for the French.

France 2 Nigeria 0

Five things from….Netherlands 2 Mexico 1


I could get very used to weekends like this.  The beauty of having games on at 5pm and 9pm is that you can do a day of family stuff, get home, watch game one, cook dinner/do chores and then settle down for game two. The heat was always going to be the deciding factor in this game as to whether we were going to see a match of all out attack like the Brazil v Chile one, or a more tactical one like Colombia v Uurguay.

1. Holland v Netherlands – Are ITV right in referring to the Netherlands as Holland?  Holland is actually a region and former province located on the western coast of the Netherlands. The name Holland is also frequently used as an informal term to refer to the whole of the country of the Netherlands. This usage is generally accepted, but some individuals, particularly from the other parts of the Netherlands, dislike the use of “Holland” as a substitute for “the Netherlands”. So it’s like New York being part of New York, right?

photo (2)2. “Let the ball do the work, the chance will come” – Exactly how will this happen?  Clarke Carlisle is suggesting that if the players simply play it to feet without any running then someone will get a chance?  Did he not see Germany v Austria in 1982 where this was exactly what happened?  Then 10 minutes later Carlisle bemoaned the Netherlands play as they did exactly what he said they should do, saying that it was “dull and defensive football”.  Wisdom of a former professional player.

3. Cooling Break – Preparation for Qatar 2022?  Imagine the temperature 10 degrees hotter and you will need breaks every 15 minutes.  Whilst I can see the medical sense in it, who benefits the most out of that five minute break in the first half?  The TV companies who can sell an additional TV advert break? Absolutely.  The coaches who have a chance to alter things? Correct.

4. Girl in the crowd – Surely a record for “most number of attractive girls given a close up on TV at a football match”?  There must be one cameraman whose job it is to troll the crowd looking for attractive girls to zoom in on.  Hard life.

5. “Van Gaal must be dreading this going to penalties” – Another great Carlisle line.  If you are trailing 2-1 in injury time do you think the Dutch manager will say..”tell you what, it is a bit hot out there.  I don’t want us to equalise and take this game to extra time.” So when Snejder’s 88th minute equaliser went in, he would have been absolutely fuming.  Almost as good as Glenn Hoddle’s comment that the final minute challenge on Robben was a “double penalty”.

The Beer World Cup

After a trip to the sunny Kent seaside it was a very pleasant beer match enjoying a cold Sol in the first half, with a twist of lime of course, against a chilled Amstel in the second.  Tough choice and one that eventually went to penalties with a bag of Totilla chips against a chocolate pancake….close but there could only be one winner.

Netherlands 2 Mexico 2…Netherlands won 3-1 on penalties

 

Five things from….Colombia 2 Uruguay 0


So how do you follow that game?  Brazil v Chile was nearly three hours of pure football gold, as Partridge would have said.  Penalties are the cruelest way to settle such an enthralling tie but you had the feeling that neither side would have scored again if they had played for another hour, such was the tiredness of all the players.  But football is about winners and losers so whilst Chile would be heading back home across the Andes, Brazil would be able to go out on the piss until Friday night.  But who will they play?

It’s fair to say that most football fans across the world would be shouting for Colombia in this game.  Not just for the ridiculous stance taken by Uruguay over Suarez – and let’s not forget that if the average man in the street had done what he did, he could be charged with assault but because the Colombians style of play is nice on the eye, not to mention the frequent close ups of some of their more photogenic fans in the crowd.

1. Clever corner-kicks – So what was wrong with that Colombian corner-kick where he tapped it and then left it to his mate?  Not enough of this type of sneaky innovation in the game today so it should be applauded rather penalised.  There is always the danger that they will go wrong, as Thierry Henry and Robert Pires will testify.

2. Proper goal – Rodriquez’s opening goal – wow.  Wow. WOW.  Perfect control, outstanding shot and to make it even better it hit the underside of the bar.  Goals are always so much better when they hit the underside of the bar and bounce down. Not quite in the Johnny Metgod class but close…Uurguay’s response?  Keep their 5-4-1 shape…of course.

photo3. Empty seats – Where did everyone who was sitting on the halfway line go?  Ten minutes after half time and it was still a mass of empty yellow seats?  The Brazilian authorities must have been taking lessons from Club Wembley.

4. The flappy man – Remember the bird man of Colombia from Italia 1990 and France 1998? Well Gustav Llanos is back here in Rio, although he has been stuck in the corner behind the goal. But when his moment came, with a corner to Colombia, he sprung to life and flapped his big wings.  The TV cameras seem to have been told to just focus on the pretty females in the crowd in this tournament.

5. Bogie team – The last four games between Brazil and Colombia, outside of the Copa America, have all been drawn – with three goal less games.  Expect next Friday’s game to be a corker now.

Five things from….Brazil 1 Chile 1


Out of all of the weekend’s games, this one promised to be the most fiery.  Two teams who don’t appear to have a defensive bone in their bodies (I mean, David Luiz plays centre-back for Brazil!), some pre-match hype about the pressure on the referee and the fact it was on BBC, which meant we would not have any stupid advert breaks or Gordon Strachen’s bare legs.  Chile had surprised many in the tournament so far, easing past Spain to qualify alongside the Dutch.  Huge expectations from the millions of home fans would surely put pressure on the home side too.

1. A large block of empty seats – The hottest ticket in Belo Horizonte bar none, with locals lining the streets on the way up to the Estádio Mineirão pleading for any spare seats yet behind the goal (to the left of the TV cameras) there is a large block of completely empty seats. By half time a large number of stewards had appeared to take the seats.  I can just imagine a coach, broken down somewhere outside Belo Horizonte with 50 fuming Brazilians standing on the hard shoulder.

photo (2)2. Colour – Almost every game has been filled with fans wearing the (home) shirts of their nations – makes a fantastic spectacle on TV and one that I cannot remember seeing at any other tournament – well apart from the three largish chaps in the front row on half-way line who had whipped off their tops to reveal some impressive man-boobs.

3. Big decisions – In the run up to the game, the appointment of Howard Webb caused a media storm “We are going to talk about this only once,” Paiva, senior press officer for the Brazilian Football Federation, said. “This is immature at the moment in football and the world we are living in today. This is ridiculous.Talking about this is not just a lack of respect to Fifa and the Brazil Selecao, but the whole of Brazil and the Brazilian people. It is a lack of respect. Brazil does not need a referee to win a match. You are insulting Brazil and the Brazilian people.”  Just to show there was no home bias, Webb agreed with his English assistant to rule out Hulk’s second half goal for a dubious handball.  He also showed some real inconsistency by failing to book Fernandinho despite 5 or 6 bookable offences.

4. No Mexican Wave – See it is possible to have a game at this World Cup without the spectacle of a Mexican Wave. They aren’t “fun”; They don’t add to any atmosphere…or any sloooooow motion replays.

5. Nicknames – “He has the nickname of the South American Xavi”.  Now I have to take exception to you here Mr. Mowbray.  Who calls him that?  It’s hardly a nickname, is it?  Nicknames are “Giggsy”, “Robbo”, “One size” (love that one for Fitz Hall”.  I can hardly imagine his team mates shouting across the pitch when he has the ball…”Oi! South American Xavi…over here”.

Beer World Cup

For a chance we’ve gone with a beer to celebrate the officials, which in this case were led by Howard Webb.  I have it on very good authority that his favourite tipple is a Timothy Taylor’s IPA so we put that up against his assistant Darren Cann’s possible favourite beer (he’s from Norwich), a Greene King Gold.