4 Things About the World Cup I Don’t Understand

(Christopher Lee / Getty Images)
(Christopher Lee / Getty Images)

If you’re an American who cares about the World Cup, you’re probably as devastated as I am that the US lost a victory today with 25 seconds left to go. I have a few quick things to say about the match before I get to the topic of today’s post.

  • As a whole, the US played remarkably well. In fact, this is one of the best games I’ve ever seen them play on the world stage. They were aggressive, sharp within the attacking third of the field, and put constant pressure on Portugal’s goal.
  • That said, the defense wasn’t great. They had some good moments, but they were also quite lucky that Portugal didn’t score several more goals.
  • Tim Howard was great in goal, but I can’t help but think that he could have done more on the first goal. If you watch the replay, he goes to ground before Nani kicks the ball. Of course, no one likes getting a 100 mph ball in the face, but he’s a world-class keeper–stay on your feet!
  • Last, much ado has been made about Bradley giving up a ball in midfield with 30 seconds left to go, allowing Portugal to score. Yes, he could have done better, but that wasn’t the reason the game ended in a tie instead of a win. The reason is that Bradley didn’t score 30 minutes before that when he had a completely open net. The goal was wide open, and Bradley shot it straight at the lone defender on the line. That, for me, was the defining moment why the US didn’t win.
  • Actually, this will be last: I’m being critical here, but again, overall the US actually played really well. I don’t think they stand a chance against Germany, but hopefully they’ll keep it close and advance anyway.

Okay, now for the actual topic of this entry:

  1. Why isn’t every corner kick perfect? Sure, I have high expectations for these elite, world-class athletes. But I think this one is reasonable: Every corner kick should be perfect. Or at least pretty damn close to perfect. I’m talking about the kick itself, not the mosh pit inside the box–these athletes have taken thousands of corner kicks since they were 8 years old. By this point, no corner kick should go behind the goal or way short or way long. It simply shouldn’t happen.
  2. Why do some teams “turtle” after scoring 1 goal? This confounds me. It seems like the worst strategy ever to sit back on defense for the rest of the game after score a goal. The best way to ensure a victory isn’t to let the other team pound you for 70 minutes–rather, the key is to score more goals. This isn’t rocket science.
  3. Why do coaches wait until 5 minutes to go to sub in new players? In professional soccer, you get 3 substitutions. You need to save 1 pretty much the whole game for injuries/yellow cards. But why do most coaches wait until the very end of the game to make the other 2? Sure, you want to field the best team, which is presumably the starting team. But I would bet you anything that a 9-star player with fresh legs is better than a 10-star player who has sprinted for the last 65 minutes. Especially in the Brazilian heat and humidity, it confounds me that coaches wait until the last few minutes to make subs.
  4. Why do players think the best time-wasting strategy is to run to the corner with the ball? This seems like something I did in pre-school when I thought girls had cooties. It didn’t make sense then, and it doesn’t make sense now. If you want to waste time and force the other team to chase you around, pass the ball. It doesn’t matter how fast the opponent is–they are not faster than a crisp pass.

Is there anything about World Cup strategies that you have a hard time understanding? Also, this chart explaining the US’ chances to move on to the elimination round is pretty awesome.

5 thoughts on “4 Things About the World Cup I Don’t Understand”

  1. I agree with all four of the things you don’t understand! I actually think the US stood a good chance to score a 3rd goal the 2nd time a player ran to the flag instead of taking a shot or passing the ball. (I can’t remember who it was.) I could actually see the moment where the player chose not to attack the goal, and I could see the clear path to the goal. I know there is a discipline to holding the ball, but I think there has to be a balance of common sense if a darn good shot is available.

    As for your points about the US above, I agree with most of those. I think they played a good game and outplayed Portugal for about 70 minutes of the 90. I had two observations that gave me a slightly different take on two of your points though. I’ve rewatched the first Portugal goal a few times, and I keep thinking that Howard expected Nani to shoot one step earlier, and that he went down thinking Nani was going low. Either that, or he flat out slipped. I can’t be certain. I’ve also rewatched the Bradley miss, and while disappointing, I think it happened so quickly in real time that I think Bradley did exactly what I would do–instinctively hit the ball on target. In my opinion, that was a phenomenal piece of Portuguese defending (with great positioning). I credit the defender a lot more than I take away from the attacker in that situation. Just a thought–overall, I’m mostly in agreement with your assessments!

    • Trev: Yeah, I know that moment you’re talking about. In a way, it indicates good coaching–I’m sure the player was instructed to go to the corner, and he fought his instinct to try to score. But on the other hand, if he had tried to score, pretty much the same amount of time would have been used up, and they might have had an extra goal.

      That’s a fair point about Howard. We have the luxury of watching the play in slow motion, while it happened really quickly in real time. Perhaps he slipped, perhaps Nani faked him out. And I think giving the defender credit on Bradley’s miss is nice…but he has to score that. No goalie? Open net? It wasn’t a tap in (the ball was in the air), and I’m glad he put it on goal, but…I don’t know. I think that needs to be a goal. 🙂

  2. Your notes are often the same kind of thing NFL fans scream about 🙂
    * Teams that get ahead, then sit in the ball, taking long amounts of time to run the ball 1.5 yards, then playing defense. I assume the reasons are the same – just trying not to turn over the ball in scoring position for the other team, pound the other team into submission (or the soccer equivalent – make them run), and try and get the other team to get frustrated and foul.
    * I assume the coaches know that the drop off in skill between players is more than the fatigue level of the starters.
    * I don’t know why things that any professional does a million times goes poorly, but look at pro golfers – they still spray the ball, mishit shots, and do things that make you say – I can hit that shot, WTF?

    • Charles: That’s a great comparison to the NFL (and I wonder why they do that in the NFL). I think you can mitigate risk and continue to push forward at the same time.

      As for golf/corner kicks, messing up now and then is fine, but I think these players might let the adrenaline get to their heads, because some of the kicks are so far off!

  3. I missed the Portugal-USA match but it seems like your thoughts are pretty on, especially about Bradley missing that goal. Failing to capitalize on a golden opportunity is pretty much always worse than an unexpected blunder that leads to freak success from the opposition.
    As for the questions,
    1. I think there’s a big component of “it’s harder than it looks” combined with (as you mentioned) adrenaline/nerves. There’s also the potential strategy that goes into it. A team like Portugal is going to try to put the kick near Ronaldo because he’s awesome and the rest of them aren’t. But teams playing against Portugal will anticipate this and try to crowd Ronaldo out of the box. So whoever’s taking the kick might see the situation and think “Oh man Ronaldo’s all the way back there and I have to get it to him” and then the nerves kick in and what was supposed to just be a long kick turns into something that gets shanked totally wide. Of course this doesn’t apply all the time, but it’s a possibility.
    2. I think in the case of teams that know they have inferior players to the opposition, the idea is that it’s easier to defend than to waste your energy trying to attack again when that’s only more likely to expose you to a counter from your more skilled opponents.
    3. I have no idea.
    4. Also no idea. And don’t forget the honorable time-wasting strategy of rolling around “injured” for however long it takes until the ref gets mad!


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