Random World Cup observations:
First, does anyone still want to argue about the mediocrity of the U.S. team, which was mercifully eliminated by Ghana on Saturday? In what was arguably the weakest group of the Cup, it managed a tie against England (thanks to a muffed play by the goalie), a tie against Slovenia, a last second goal to beat Algeria (that soccer powerhouse), and a loss to a good but not great team from Ghana. In the two critical overtime periods, the American team was completely outplayed. And so the U.S. goes out with a record of 1-1-2 — perfectly mediocre.
Note to American supporters: Falling behind bad teams and rallying to tie may be exciting to watch, but it doesn’t make you a good team, as so many people desperately concluded, it reveals you to be a weak team. Many American journalists wrote stories saying that the U.S. team was especially disappointed because it knew it could have achieved so much more. No, it realistically couldn’t have achieved anything more, and was supremely lucky to get as far as it did. After watching the weekend matches, does anyone really think the Americans could play with the German or Argentine teams?
Here’s an email I received from Kevin Jon Heller, which puts the case well:
As an American ex-pat who lives in Australia and used to live in New Zealand, I find reading ESPN’s coverage of the team and watching the games on ESPN to be an utterly appalling experience. I’m glad you were willing to state the obvious, regardless of the ensuing scorn. The Aussies, for the record, are almost as bad — sitting two weeks ago in a room full of intelligent friends listening to them insist that their old and mediocre team would likely beat Germany, and would certainly do no worse than draw, was surreal. I’m happy they lost, too. And delighted that my beloved All Whites (the only national teams for which I can stomach barracking are Kiwi ones) did so well.
Second, the bad calls in the Mexico-Argentina and Germany-England games truly were atrocious, though in both cases the better team clearly won. It was funny, though, to see how the U.S. press, which had a collective nervous breakdown after the miscall against the U.S. team in the game against Slovenia, calmly accepted the results. “While the gaffe is likely to rekindle the debate about the lack of instant replay in international soccer, as well as the sport’s resistance to reversing egregious calls, Sunday’s outcome hardly turned on officiating,” wrote the Washington Post (whose coverage rivaled ESPN in its over-the-top support for the U.S. team).
Third, anything can happen in the knockout round, but Argentina looks great (and I say that despite loathing their team, and their coach even more). So does Germany, which makes their upcoming showdown so exciting. Spain and Brazil are very good, but it remains to be seen if they are great. (If Brazil can’t convincingly beat Chile later today, they certainly aren’t anywhere near as good as advertised.) I tend to forget about the Dutch because they have a history of folding at the World Cup, but they also look to be a contender. Again, its first knock out game this morning will reveal a lot. Portugal also is a Cup underachiever, but if it beats Spain tomorrow it has to be considered one of the favorites. It’s very hard to see Uruguay, Ghana, Japan, Slovakia, Chile or Paraguay winning it all, but you never know.