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The World Cup Blog chronicled the tournament, featuring members of the program twice weekly
Courtesy: GoldenBearSports.com
Cal Soccer World Cup Blog: Is it 2018 Yet?
Courtesy: Cal Athletics  
Release:  06/11/2014

July 15

In case you live under a rock and hadn’t heard, Germany is the 2014 FIFA World Cup champion, following their thrilling 1-0 extra time victory over Argentina on Sunday afternoon. The Germans secured their fourth ever World Cup in their eighth final, when 22-year-old substitute Mario Götze found the back of the net in the 113th minute. Götze was on the receiving end of an inch-perfect cross by fellow substitute Andre Schürrle, collecting the ball off of his chest and lashing the ball into the bottom of the far post past a helpless Sergio Romero. Germany, fresh off of their 7-1 shellacking of host nation Brazil, raised the trophy when all was said and done, and joined Italy (four) and Brazil (five) as the only nations to win the World Cup four times.

With the individual awards doled out, and the World Cup trophy raised, the end of one of the most exciting months in soccer comes to a close, with the next chapter beginning in four years time in Russia. As sad as that is, when reflecting upon this tournament that brought so much to the soccer fans worldwide, we enjoyed quite a spectacle. Germany won, and in all reality, was the best team in Brazil throughout the duration of the World Cup. Winning the “Group of Death,” destroying Portugal (4-0) and Brazil (7-1) and knocking out Argentina, France and Algeria on their way to the title, Germany put on a show. A new world soccer superstar was born at this tournament in Colombian James Rodriguez. The AS Monaco man could potentially be linked with 2014 Champions League Winners Real Madrid, who is set to play Inter Milan at Kabam Field at California Memorial Stadium on July 26 as part of the Guinness Champions Cup. Costa Rica shocked the world, as the CONCACAF “minnows” won all three games in group play over Italy, England and Uruguay and advanced to the quarterfinals. The Ticos came within a penalty shootout win against the Netherlands from reaching the semifinals.

The group stages saw goals, goals and more goals. Fabulous play from superstars from all over the world was showcased to the world audience. With the exception of a sub-par effort from an injured Cristiano Ronaldo from Portugal, the majority of the world’s best played as such. Lionel Messi led his team to the World Cup final, unfortunately for him, coming up just short on his way to the Golden Ball as the best player in the tournament. It could definitely be argued that Rodriguez deserved the award more, as the Colombian scored a tournament-high six goals in just five matches played. Arjen Robben led the Dutch, whom many thought would struggle, to a third place finish. Though his embellishment of fouls (or lack thereof if you ask Mexican manager Miguel Herrera) was certainly a focal point, the Dutch maestro was magnificent. France crashed out in the quarterfinals, but forward Karim Benzema was extremely impressive in the group stage, scoring three times. Brazilian superstar Neymar scored a brace in the opening match of the tournament and finished with four goals overall, but sadly, his tournament was cut short in the quarterfinals when he broke a vertebra. World Cup champion Thomas Müller scored five, including the first of seven against Brazil in the semifinal.

The United States captured the attention of the greater American audience, advancing from the “Group of Death” alongside the champions, Germany. Clint Dempsey opened the tournament with a bang, scoring less than 30 seconds into the U.S.’s opening match against Ghana, and substitute defender John Anthony Brooks scored the winner in the final five minutes to lead the Americans to three points in a 2-1 win over their nemesis of World Cups past. The United States left Manaus with a thrilling 2-2 draw with Ronaldo and Portugal, and fell just 1-0 to the Germans. They then saw goalkeeper Tim Howard put up one of the best performances in World Cup history for a goalie, saving 16 shots in the Round of 16 clash with Belgium in a 2-1 extra time loss. Youngster Julian Green scored his first ever goal for the U.S. on his first career touch in a competitive match for the red, white and blue. Manager Jürgen Klinsmann captivated the U.S. fanbase with his exuberance, and almost always beneficial substitutions. The future is bright for the United States as they look ahead into the next World Cup cycle.

So, now what? Well, in the immediate future, we’ve got the 2014 college season ahead, as the Golden Bears look to follow up arguably their most successful season in school history with another big season. Head coach Kevin Grimes will lead a team hungry for a Pac-12 title in one of the most competitive leagues in the country. Three of the eight teams in the NCAA Tournament’s quarterfinals (Cal, UCLA and Washington) hailed from the Conference of Champions. The race for league supremacy will undoubtedly be a battle until the end, as it usually is. While four Golden Bears from last season’s team moved on to Major League Soccer, a talented core remains, in addition to key newcomers to help lead the Bears this fall. Cal opens their 2014 regular season at Chapel Hill on Aug. 29, when they take on perennial power North Carolina. Following a trip to Wake Forest in Winston-Salem, N.C., the Bears return home for their home opener at Goldman Field at Edwards Stadium on Friday, Sept. 12 against Cleveland State. The Pac-12 season opens at Washington on Thursday, Oct. 2.

Members of the Golden Bears spent a lot of time watching the 2014 FIFA World Cup, and many weighed in here at the #CalWorldCupBlog throughout. Senior midfielder Connor Hallisey (@c_hallisey) wraps it all up below:

CH: Well, it was fun while it lasted. The World Cup has ended, ending the joy of all soccer fans. The final was between Argentina and Germany, a matchup of two powerhouses. I was hoping for an Argentina win, but things didn’t turn out in my favor. Germany was probably the best team in the tournament, but Argentina had their chances to win the game, even though Messi wasn’t at his best. Higuain had a phenomenal chance to put away what could have been the winner, but he put it well wide. Palacio also had a great chance, but it took 113’ and a world-class finish from Mario Götze to seal the deal for the Germans. Overall, Germany deserved to win, as throughout the tournament they provided strong performances against tough opponents.

            It was a great World Cup, and many are saying it is one of the best ever. It was close to being the highest scoring World Cup ever, showing that there was plenty of excitement throughout. In my opinion, the group stage was more fun to watch than the elimination games, as there were more goals and more upsets. There were a lot of questions about whether or not Brazil would be a good host, but at the end of the day they were able to put together a successful World Cup (however, it would only have been successful in the mind of the Brazilians if they had won the whole thing).

            I have to mention the performance of the U.S. in the tournament. I thought we played well and it was a great accomplishment to make it out of our group. However, as a country we should expect to make it that far and even further, and I can’t wait for the day when we are the favorites to win it all. We all have to wait another four years to see what progress the U.S. can make, but with Jürgen in control, we are in good hands. I am already confident that we will make it to at least the quarters in Russia, even if we draw the group of death again. Come as quickly as possible World Cup 2018, we’re all waiting for you.

Many thanks to those who read and participated in writing the #CalWorldCupBlog, Is it 2018 yet? We will see you there!

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July 11 - The Stage is Set

We are just two days away from the largest soccer match in the world, the World Cup Final. After a full month of one of the greatest tournaments in recent memory, we are finally at the final. In a lot of ways, it is sad, that we will have to wait another four years for another month like the world just experienced, but in others, the culmination of all that Germany and Argentina have worked for is something to be very excited for. The stage is set for Sunday afternoon; the two sides will meet in the final for the third time ever (1986 and 1990).

How did they get there? First, the Germans absolutely humiliated the host nation Brazil by an unbelievable scoreline of 7-1. SEVEN to ONE, over the five-time World Cup champions, the hosts, who had not lost a competitive match on home soil since 1975, a span of 68 games, and equaled their worst-ever loss, a 6-0 defeat at the hands of Uruguay in 1920. The most surprising part of Germany’s evisceration of Brazil was that it could have, maybe should have been worse. Save a 90th minute goal from Oscar, Brazil would have been shutout, losing by a score more appropriate in an American football game, 7-0. Germany opened the flurry of scoring with a 13th minute goal from forward Tomas Müller on a set piece, when he was completely unmarked on a corner. Then, German legend Mirolslav Klose struck in the 23rd minute, becoming the World Cup’s leading scorer with 16 goals over his illustrious career, cleaning up a rebound of his own to beat Brazilian goalkeeper Julio Cesar. That is when the silence hit Belo Horizonte and the nearly 65,000 fans of the host nation. Tears were flowing in the stands, and that was the moment that this match seemed to be over.

If there was any doubt, it was definitely over when Toni Kroos made it 3-0 less than 60 seconds later. For good measure, he added his second goal just two minutes later. Midfielder Sami Khedira made it a high-five in the 29th minute. Within less than half an hour, Germany led a shellshocked Brazil 5-0. The Germans sliced through the Brazilian defense like they weren’t even there. It appeared that the Seleção had flat out given up. Khedira was instrumental in the German attack, the finishes by the four goalscorers were clinical, and a nation was in absolute shock. Not just a nation, quite frankly the world was in shock by the score in the 29th minute. Brazil needed halftime, and they needed it badly. Its fans had turned on forward Fred, who admittedly was not having a great match, or tournament for that matter, but certainly was not the issue in a 5-0 deficit. Brazil had a built-in reason (or excuse, whatever you want to call it) for a defeat at the hand of the Germans. Neymar, their star had fractured his vertebra and was out. Their captain, Thiago Silva was suspended due to yellow card accumulation (an inexcusable yellow card against Colombia was to blame). But neither would have been the difference in this one. Brazil was embarrassed, simple and plain. Manager Felipe Scolari had never lost a World Cup match after leading Brazil to the 2002 World Cup title in Japan and South Korea.

Brazil held the score at 5-0 until halftime and came out with a bit of a rejuvenated vigor, pressuring the Germans for the first 10 minutes of the second half. Multiple chances to snag a goal, or two, or three were turned away impressively by Germany goalkeeper Manuel Neuer. That was about it for Brazil, who seemed even more dejected by the zero on the scoreboard. Germany added the finishing touches when substitute Andre Schürrle scored a brace, bulging the net in the 69th and 79th minute to push the lead to 7-0, or “seventh heaven,” as ESPN commentator Ian Darke exclaimed. Schürrle’s second was a thing of beauty, taking the ball out of the air with a deft touch, and thundering his volley off the underside of the crossbar past a helpless Julio Cesar, earning applause and cheers from the Brazilian fans. It was nearly 8-0, when Mesut Özil was through on a breakaway, but pushed his shot wide of the target. Brazil then came down and finally gave their crowd a reason to cheer for them, when Oscar scored in the final minute. Did Germany use up all their goals in this one? Or do they have more in store when they take the field on Sunday?

Things just got worse for Brazil, when their arch-rivals Argentina booked their tickets to the Maracanã, Brazil’s most hallowed stadium for the final. Argentina defeated the Netherlands on penalties (4-2) after 120 minutes of scoreless soccer. It wasn’t quite the spectacle that we saw on Tuesday, but the storylines are plentiful. Arguably the best player in the world, Lionel Messi has his opportunity to write himself into Argentinean lore, alongside Diego Maradona as a legend in his native country. He has been incredible throughout the tournament, leading La Albiceleste into the final, scoring goals and creating them for his teammates. Their semifinal match saw just two shots on goal through the first 90 minutes, and the Dutch were definitely held in check. Argentina now has the opportunity to do what it did in 1986 in Mexico City, and what it couldn’t in 1990 in Italy: beat the Germans in the final.

Argentina is seeking their third World Cup trophy, while the Germans, who have been to four consecutive semifinals, are searching for their fourth. This is an opportunity for Germany to carry the flag for all European nations, who have never raised the World Cup trophy on South American soil. Argentina is also playing for South American pride, Brazilian fans excluded. There are a lot of factors in this match, that can play a role in which team will be crowned champion. Will Messi, the lone true superstar remaining in the tournament, lead his team to glory? Or will Germany, a team comprised of world-class talent, a starting XI made up of many members of the same club team (Bayern Munich), continue their dominance from Tuesday’s semifinal? Set pieces, a German staple could be a big factor, as they have been throughout the tournament. Argentina’s back four has been a question mark, but they were strong against the Dutch, holding down a team that put up five goals against Spain in their opening match. Goalkeeper Sergio Romero has been very impressive in the tournament and was, along with Neuer, nominated earlier today for the FIFA Golden Glove award for the tournament’s best goalkeeper. Romero came up with two gigantic saves in the penalty shootout win over the Netherlands, saving Ron Vlaar and Wesley Sneijder’s penalty attempts to lead Argentina to the final.

Two members of the California Golden Bears, forward Stefano Bonomo (@bonomo_93) and goalkeeper Alex Mangels (@AlexMangels), have been all over the World Cup, and with the final looming this weekend, they share their thoughts below:

SB: There hasn't been a World Cup I have been more excited to watch. You can't ask for much more when there is the world's biggest sporting event taking place in a country that not only loves the game of soccer, but also embraces it as a way of life, as their religion. I was fortunate enough to be in Brazil during the group stage games and all of the round of 16 games. My two week experience lived up to its expectations and I had one of the best times of my life.

I remained in Rio de Janeiro for the whole vacation and enjoyed the life and atmosphere of the World Cup that way. Some of the main highlights of the trip were: attending the Belgium vs. Russia game in the Maracanã Stadium, watching plenty of games in the FIFA Fan Fest on Copacabana Beach (most importantly the USA vs. Portugal game), and enjoying the culture of Rio especially after Brazil won a game.

Unless Brazil was playing, the streets, beaches, and stores were always packed. It was awesome seeing so many different people from all over the world come together in one place. Everyone was very happy and friendly and within one day, you could easily meet people from at least five different countries. One thing I learned was that when Brazil plays, it is equivalent to a national holiday; the beach and streets are deserted, the grocery store and all other stores are closed and every single place in Rio that had a TV screen was packed with a sea of yellow jerseys. Some way or another, the fan fest in Copacabana Beach was able to squeeze 40,000 Brazilians even though its maximum capacity was 20,000.

I know the tournament is coming to an end, but I must say this has been one of the best World Cups I have witnessed. With all the injuries of star players building up to June 12th, there was doubt that this would be a fun tournament to watch. All of the goals being scored, second-tier teams making surprising runs and the records that have been broken have proven this World Cup to be one of the best. As a supporter of Italy, I would love to see Germany lose this final so Italy would remain alone with four stars. The final is always a bittersweet ending, but I know four years from now the country of Russia will see the world come together again to watch the United States take it all the way.

AM: As the World Cup Final approaches, I can't believe this month of soccer has almost come to an end.  This tournament has already become one for the history books. Recently, the knockout stages have provided excitement in every round. One of the shocks of the tournament was Germany's 7-1 dismantling of the tournament host, Brazil. That historic matchup crushed an entire nation that lives and breathes the world's game.  It showed that Germany's high-powered, fast-paced play is overwhelming to the playful, samba style of football that the Brazilians display. One of the highlights of that game was Miroslav Klose's record breaking 16th World Cup goal, allowing him to surpass the great Brazilian Ronaldo as the player with the most goals in tournament history. The other semi-final, Argentina vs. Holland, provided dramatics in the form of a penalty kick shootout. The Argentine 'keeper, Sergio Romero, was my man of the match as he came up big as he saved two penalties to help his nation reach the final.  

This weekend has some great games in store for us as the tournament comes to a close.  In the third place match on Saturday between Holland and Brazil we will see if the hosts can come out and make up for their embarrassment of a semi-final. However, all eyes will be set on Sunday's final.  Look to see Germany come out flying, keying in on their explosive offense and efficient defense to combat the Argentinian team built around the magical Lionel Messi. If Argentina is able to combine and create offensive chances through Gonzalo Higuain, and if Angel Di Maria is healthy, we will be in for a very exciting game. Germany will be looking to find Tomas Müller in the offensive third and will rely once again on a strong performance from one of the most in-form goalkeepers in the world, Manuel Neuer. I am looking forward to an exciting finish to this installment of the World Cup, and as the world stops to watch some of the best battle in Rio de Janeiro's legendary Maracanã stadium.

Your Viewing Schedule for the Weekend Ahead:

Day                                 Time   Fixture                                                Round           Network
Saturday, July 12 1 p.m. PT Brazil vs. Netherlands 3rd Place ESPN
Sunday, July 13 12 p.m. PT Germany vs. Argentina Final ABC

 

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July 7 - The World Cup Final Beckons

The dust has nearly settled in this month-long odyssey in Brazil. Four teams remain, with the world’s biggest prize still up for grabs; host nation Brazil, perennial power Germany, the Netherlands and Argentina. The two semifinals will take place tomorrow (Tuesday) and Wednesday, as a shorthanded Brazil battles Germany and the Netherlands, fresh off of their penalty shootout win over the Ticos from Costa Rica, face off against South American giants, Argentina and Lionel Messi.

Sadly, for all involved, Brazilian superstar Neymar fractured a vertebra in Brazil’s quarterfinal win against Colombia, when he was fouled from behind by Colombian defender Juan Zuniga in the 88th minute. Neymar will miss the remainder of the tournament and leaves the final two rounds without one of the tournament’s brightest stars. Captain Thiago Silva will also be absent from Brazil’s semifinal date with Germany, though for a much more unforgivable reason. He earned his second yellow card of the tournament, along with a one match suspension for getting in the way of the Colombian goalkeeper when he was attempting to get the ball downfield. A rather silly challenge that earns a yellow in any situation for one of the world’s best central defenders, could potentially cost Brazil a trip to the final.

Thiago Silva opened the scoring for Brazil in the early going off of a corner kick however, and his central defensive partner and soon to be club teammate at Paris St. Germain, David Luiz launched a screamer from a free kick to provide the hosts with a 2-0 lead. Colombia were tossed a lifeline when they earned a penalty in the 78th minute, which breakout star James Rodriguez coolly slotted home for his sixth goal of the tournament to halve the deficit at 2-1. The Colombians were unable to fight back to level things, and Brazil punched their tickets into the final four.

Germany advanced to the semifinals in rather unimpressive fashion, dispatching of France 1-0, thanks to a Mats Hummels header in the 13th minute. The Germans have to be feeling fairly fortunate that they will be going up against a Brazilian side without two of their key players. Bearing that in mind, the Brazilian bench is ripe with talent hungry to step in and fill the void. That, paired with their home field advantage will be extremely difficult for the Germans to contend with. Expect a close, deliberate match that could come down to extra time, or penalties. Both teams excel on their set pieces, as evidenced by the previous five games, and this could absolutely be the deciding factor in a match between two world soccer giants.

Argentina handled Belgium by the scoreline of 1-0 over the holiday weekend, reaching the semifinals for the first time since 1990. All they needed was a kind deflection, and a moment of class from striker Gonzalo Higuain, who buried his chance to the bottom corner inside of eight minutes. The Belgians, who defeated the United States 2-1 in extra time in the Round of 16 last Tuesday, were frustrated early and often by the Argentines, and were unable to create the late magic they had conjured against the Americans, and other opponents before them. The Netherlands had the shakiest path to the semifinals, advancing 4-3 on penalties over tournament darling, Costa Rica after a scoreless 120 minutes. The Dutch were stymied throughout the match by Costa Rican goalkeeper Keylor Navas time after time, and the woodwork on three separate occasions. They were still able to overcome it and reach their second consecutive semifinals, after substitute goalkeeper Tim Krul saved two penalties to advance.

We would be remiss if we didn’t talk about the United States run in the tournament before we go. The team seemed to capture the attention of the American public, advancing from the “Group of Death” and nearly completing an improbable comeback in the Round of 16 against the aforementioned Belgians. Goalkeeper Tim Howard absolutely stood on his head, posting 15 saves, the most in the modern World Cup era, holding Belgium scoreless through the first 90 minutes. Though they were outplayed for nearly the entire match, the Americans had a chance to snatch a winner in the third minute of stoppage time, when San Jose Earthquakes forward Chris Wondolowski skied his shot from close range over the bar. Belgium capitalized three minutes into extra time when Kevin De Bruyne beat the seemingly unbeatable Howard with a low shot into the far post. All appeared lost for the Americans ten minutes later, when substitute Romelu Lukaku blasted a shot to Howard’s near post to put the Red Devils on top 2-0. The United States showed the fighting spirit that they are renowned for however, as 18-year old midfielder Julian Green scored a beautiful goal in the 107th minute on his first touch of the match to cut the deficit in half. A flurry of chances for the United States ensued, but unfortunately time ran out on the game, and on their quarterfinal dreams.

Senior midfielder Seth Casiple (@scasiple) is back for more, and shares his thoughts on the World Cup thus far below:

SC: Five World Cups ago, I watched Brazil play Turkey on a VHS my grandpa recorded for me. I saw Robinho’s flair, Ronaldinho’s joy, and the legendary Ronaldo,“El Fenomeno”. These players illustrate what it means to enjoy the game of soccer and watching this cup’s Brazilian team play reminds me why this game is so worth playing. Neymar’s exit is a national catastrophe in Brazil and to top it off, Thiago Silva’s amassed two yellow cards resulting in his suspension. This forces the Brazilians to run an uphill battle against the German machine. My keys for this game are: watch for high-energy players from Brazil, they will try and play at a pace that forces the Germans to lose discipline. In response the Germans need to efficiently use their possession to give service to Muller. For me they don’t create enough chances for him, he has more than proved his abilities in front of goal he just needs service!

In the second semi, the Netherlands need to revive the kind of form they had against Spain, which, makes me scared for the English Premier League because (manager) Louis Van Gaal knows his stuff, but I see a good team mentality in their ranks. To continually grind out victories brings a team together. Look for them to stay in the game against Argentina even if not in possession for long spells. It is the perfect formula for an Arjen Robben or Memphis Depay breakout.

Finally, Argentina is my favorite for the tournament. MESSI IS HITTING HIS STRIDE. That is why. Although their defense is average, Angel Di Maria is out, and Gonzalo Higuain isn’t the most reliable striker in the world, I believe that Messi can do it. Who else in the world can take over a game like he can? No one; and to top it all off he is starting to really move off the ball and create for his team, that’s a dangerous sign.

Germany and Argentina are my winners for the round; both games will be exciting, fast, and end-to-end. There will be electricity around the world, and this is what the World Cup is all about. 

What to Watch For: Will Messi Lead Argentina to the Promise Land?
Can arguably the greatest player in the world, Lionel Messi, lead his country into the World Cup final? He has forever been in the shadow of fellow countryman and legend, Diego Maradona. Now, the time has arrived for Messi to write his own history. He has been a force thus far for Argentina, scoring goals and creating chances, as he is expected to do, but with the flair for which he has been known at FC Barcelona. A tough matchup looms for Messi and Argentina however, as they prepare for Wednesday’s fixture with the Netherlands.

Chalk
All eight group winners advanced to the quarterfinals in the Round of 16, while all four favorites have made their way to the semifinals. Things seem to be going according to plan for the tournament favorites, as a collision course for the final is now set. Before the tournament began in mid-June, many pundits predicted an all-South American affair, between Brazil and Argentina in the final on July 13. That is still in play, and could come to fruition after all. Will an injury and suspension-hampered Brazil advance past a physical, organized German side? Can Argentina escape Arjen Robben, Wesley Sneijder and Robin van Persie’s Dutch? Or will there be an opportunity for one of the European teams to do what has never been done before? Raise the World Cup on South American soil.

Your Viewing Schedule for the Week Ahead:

Day                                Time          Fixture                                                      Round          Network 
Tuesday, July 8 1 p.m. PT Brazil vs. Germany Semifinals ESPN
Wednesday, July 9 1 p.m. PT Netherlands vs. Argentina Semifinals ESPN

 

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June 30 - Oh, the Drama...

Ah, the knockout stages, the most dramatic part of the FIFA World Cup. It is upon us, as six of the eight matches have already gone final, meaning that only two more spots are available in the quarterfinals. Hosts Brazil, Colombia, the Netherlands, tournament darling Costa Rica, France and Germany are already through. But it has been the way that these games have finished that has been the story. A pair of penalty shootouts (Brazil over Chile and Costa Rica over Greece), the cruelest way to be eliminated from a major tournament, as well as a slew of late goals (ie: the Netherlands cardiac comeback over Mexico and Germany’s extra time win over Algeria) have added to the lore of the 2014 World Cup.

Let’s start with the hosts, who have been a bit underwhelming thus far, short of their superstar Neymar who has been fantastic. They opened the scoring, however, in the 18th minute with defender David Luiz’s first ever goal for his country. Chile responded just 14 minutes later, capitalizing on a poor throw from Brazilian defender Marcelo and subsequent turnover, as FC Barcelona striker Alexis Sanchez buried his chance into the far post to draw things level. As the match wore on, the anxiety of the home supporters could be felt through the television. When full time came, with the score 1-1, it was our first foray into extra time. Chile nearly stole the show in the 120th minute, though forward Mauricio Panilla clanged his shot off the crossbar. Penalties were next. The rounds got off to a bit of a shaky start, as Chile’s first two attempts, though poorly taken, were saved by Brazil’s Julio Caesar. Heading into the fifth and final round, Neymar stepped up, and after his trademark run-up, bulged the back of the net giving Brazil the 3-2 advantage. It all came down to Chilean defender Gonzalo Jara to try to force the sudden death rounds; but unfortunately for the game Chile side, Jara smashed his attempt off of the post and out. You could hear the exhale of the crowd, the Brazilian team, as well as manager Felipe Scolari, as they advanced to the quarterfinals to face fellow South American side, Colombia, who were led by newly discovered star, James Rodriguez. His brace led Colombia to a comfortable 2-0 win over a Luis Suarez-less Uruguay.

El Tri and all of Mexico had to be heartbroken yesterday after their 2-1 loss at the hands of 2010 finalists, the Netherlands. Mexico nursed a 1-0 lead, seized by Giovani dos Santos in the 48th minute on a fantastic strike from distance. They dominated and frustrated the Dutch on a scorching hot afternoon for the better part of 50 minutes, and then grabbed the 1-0 advantage. That’s when things went wrong for Mexico. They stepped off the gas, and played a much more defensive-minded game, and in the end, it did them in. The Dutch finally broke through two minutes from time, when Wesley Sneijder rocketed a shot off of a corner kick into the bottom corner of the near post past a helpless Guillermo Ochoa, who had been fantastic on the day. Just when it appeared as though this match were destined for extra time, in the second minute of stoppage time, Arjen Robben went on a tantalizing run into the area. As he reached the touchline, his dribble carried him past Mexican captain Rafa Marquez, who was a tad late in his challenge, catching Robben slightly, and the forward fell to the ground. Penalty. A difficult decision for the referee, when there is no question whether Robben exaggerated his fall, but the question remains, was it enough regardless to draw a penalty? The referee certainly thought so, much to the chagrin of the Mexican players, sideline, and most of all, manager Miguel Herrera. Substitute Klaas Jan Huntelaar calmly deposited his chance into the corner to the right of Ochoa, who went the opposite way. Just like that, a 1-0 lead manifested into a 2-1 defeat, marking the sixth consecutive time that Mexico has exited the World Cup in the Round of 16.

The Netherlands will face off next against Costa Rica, who despite conceding a goal in the 90th minute to Greece, won the penalty shootout to continue their fantastic run into the quarterfinals. The two matches today saw France advance somewhat comfortably with an impressive 2-0 win over the Screaming Eagles of Nigeria, and Germany did so as well, escaping Porto Alegre with a much more difficult than anticipated 2-1 extra time win over a scrappy Algerian side. On deck tomorrow are the final two matches of the Round of 16; Argentina against Switzerland, and the United States, bolstered perhaps by the potential return of forward Jozy Altidore, against Belgium at 1 p.m. PT.

While all of the Golden Bears have been undoubtedly glued to their televisions, two weighed in today, as sophomore forward/midfielder Christian Thierjung and fellow sophomore forward Nick Lima discussed their thoughts on the tournament below:

CT: The World Cup has been very eventful throughout the group stages and will continue to keep us on the edge of our seats, as the teams attempt to continually progress through each of the knockoff rounds. I have been super-glued to my couch thus far and will most likely not escape anytime soon with the way this World Cup has been unfolding. Up to this point, there have been several teams such as Spain, the previous World Cup champions, and the powerhouses of England and Italy that have all failed to advance out of the group stages. The standout teams for me up to this point have been Colombia, Netherlands, and Germany. The key players to watch out for throughout the knockout rounds are James Rodriguez of Colombia and Thomas Müller of Germany. These two players have been putting on a clinic by scoring several remarkable goals and playing a major role in advancing their respective teams to the next round. I am predicting that Germany will win the World Cup with fellow German Thomas Müller taking home the golden boot.

We have already seen some nail-biting finishes in the first few knockout stage games with two games going into penalty kicks and one game being won in the final minutes of the game. The most recent match between Mexico and Netherlands ended with the “orange machine” coming from behind to beat Mexico 2-1. Mexico dominated most of the game, but was unable to finish more chances and time-manage the last minutes of the game. As I watched this game unfold in the second half, many Mexico fans where I was watching chanted, “O-CHO-A!, O-CHO-A!,” after his clutch, point-blank saves after each corner kick. Their cheers suddenly disappeared as Wesley Sneijder silenced the crowd with a rip inside the box. Netherlands fought their way back with consistent darting runs by Arjen Robben. In addition, Mexico tried to double-team Robben on every play, but the Dutch speedster would continuously race down the field as if he were “off to the races” and blow past each player one-by-one in the scorching heat. Even with the “Flying Dutchman” being substituted, also known as Robin van Persie, after his extraordinary diving header against Spain, the Dutch were carried by a Wesley Sneijder blast, “slicing and dicing runs” by Arjen Robben, and a clutch penalty kick taken by Klaas-Jan “The Hunter” Huntelaar.

Two upcoming soccer games I suggest to watch are the Argentina vs. Switzerland match and USA vs. Belgium tomorrow. Even though Argentina has been winning, thanks to a little Lionel Messi magic, their defense has been very weak. They will need to adjust their formation in order to get the full potential out of their clinical striker Sergio Agüero and hopefully use Ezequiel Lavezzi to add more pace on the wing. Switzerland as a team has been playing excellent football as we saw in their group stage thriller against Ecuador. Switzerland may be able to pull off the upset with another fight to the finish team effort or if Xherdan Shaqiri decides to be the hat-trick hero again like he was in the game against Honduras. Belgium is considered a dark horse by some and expected to go far in this tournament sneaking under everyone’s radar. They have a lot of talent with Eden Hazard, Dries Mertens, and Romelu Lukaku as their front three. However, they have not been scoring many goals in this tournament, which could be a concern somewhere down the road. The Americans have been playing very well as a team in this tournament. Even with a loss to the powerhouse Deutschland side, we still have played wonderful football and have a great shot against Belgium. Dempsey is in great form right now with a lot of confidence and our defense has been very strong for the most part. Hopefully, Michael Bradley will be back to his old self in this game, since I feel Bradley has not played to his full potential in this tournament.  Expect more ball movement in the center midfield and an increase in scoring opportunities in the final.   

NL: The World Cup has always been my favorite sporting event to watch. Not only because I play soccer, but the cultures it brings out from across the world for one month. Getting the opportunity to watch our country play with the support of everyone behind them is the joy of the World Cup. Seeing the support the U.S. has received and the increase in support over the years is something every soccer fan here in America likes to see.  

To see the U.S. get out of their group was pretty spectacular, however not surprising as we have a team that is competitive with any other country. It is just a matter of how each team will perform on the biggest stage, and the U.S. had shown that it can.  Being a huge USA fan I am more than excited to see them in the first knockout game and start to make some noise in the tournament. All the games are fun to watch though. I haven't missed a game yet in the knock out stages and plan to watch as many as I can. It’s exciting and rarely does soccer get this kind of support in the U.S. and it's nice to enjoy it while I can.

What to Watch For: Can the Americans Continue Their Run?
Manager Jürgen Klinsmann has the United States right where he said they’d be all along; the knockout stage. After an impressive showing in the so called “Group of Death,” the Americans have a golden opportunity at their feet in their Round of 16 battle with the Belgians. While Belgium won all three matches in group play, and many would say have much more individual talent than the U.S., we would not count out the Americans in this one. Their resolve, unity and overall joy in which they have played could potentially carry them to a quarterfinal date with Argentina or the Swiss.

Bradley Must be Better
While on the topic of the United States, it would be unfair to not mention the necessity for a complete, 90-minute performance from one of their lynchpins, Michael Bradley on Tuesday. He has not been himself yet in this tournament, though his tireless work effort has been on display in the defensive third. But, where he is also counted on offensively, Bradley must excel against a very talented Belgian side to help see the Americans through to the quarterfinals.

Home Cooking
There will certainly be a lot of yellow in the crowd when host nation Brazil and fellow South American side Colombia square off on Friday in Fortaleza. It will be Neymar against James Rodriguez on the biggest stage. Will Brazil continue their march, albeit a bit uncharacteristically, through to the semifinals? Or will Colombia advance with the flair and exuberance that Brazil are traditionally known for?

Your Viewing Schedule for the Week Ahead:

Day                                  Time          Fixture                                                  Round            Network 
Tuesday, July 1 9 a.m. PT Argentina vs. Switzerland Round of 16 ESPN
  1 p.m. PT USA vs. Belgium Round of 16 ESPN
Friday, July 4 9 a.m. PT France vs. Germany Quarterfinal ESPN2
  1 p.m. PT Brazil vs. Colombia Quarterfinal ESPN
Saturday, July 5 9 a.m. PT USA/Belgium vs. Argentina/Switz. Quarterfinal ABC
  1 p.m. PT Netherlands vs. Costa Rica Quarterfinal ESPN

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June 27 - And Then There Were 16...

We are down to 16. 16 nations with an opportunity to win the 2014 FIFA World Cup. First, let’s start with who is here: Brazil, Mexico, the Netherlands, Chile, France, Switzerland, Argentina, Nigeria, Colombia, Greece, Costa Rica, Uruguay, Germany, the United States, Belgium and Algeria. Who isn’t? The Iberian Peninsula, for one (Spain and Portugal), England and Italy, amongst 12 other disappointed nations. Luis Suarez is gone too, courtesy of his curious appetite for opponents. Suarez was banned by FIFA for four months from “footballing activities” after he bit Italian defender Giorgio Chiellini’s shoulder in the final quarter of an hour of Uruguay’s 1-0 win over Italy.

The United States fell 1-0 to Germany on Thursday morning, but thanks to their strong start to the tournament and a 2-1 win by Portugal over Ghana, the Americans claimed second place in Group G. This marks the second consecutive tournament that the U.S. will have advanced to the knockout stages, which is a first for the Americans. They were clearly outplayed for the majority of the match against the Germans, but defended well, and short of a classy finish from Thomas Müller in the 54th minute, could have earned a point. In fact, even with Müller’s goal, the United States nearly equalized in the waning moments of the match, when midfielder Alejandro Bedoya’s shot from 12-yards was blocked by a defender, and then the ensuing corner kick gave captain Clint Dempsey an opportunity, which he nodded just over the bar. Head coach Jürgen Klinsmann and his troops walked out of the “Group of Death” with their heads held high, and have a fantastic opportunity in front of them next Tuesday, when they battle the Group H winners, Belgium.

The Belgians claimed the full nine points from a rather weak group, and didn’t look tremendously impressive in doing so. That said, results are results. Three wins at the World Cup in the group stage is nothing to dismiss, regardless of the fortune of the draw. Belgium have quality players up and down their team sheet, but have certainly looked beatable, which bodes well for the U.S. The match kicks off on Tuesday at 1 p.m. PT from Salvador, Brazil, and a quarterfinal place seems in reach for the Americans. They could potentially have injured striker Jozy Altidore back in the fold, and Belgium will be without midfielder Steven Defour, who was red-carded in their win over South Korea on Thursday.

Elsewhere, tasty match ups on the docket include two all-South American fixtures on Saturday morning between hosts Brazil and attack-minded Chile, a Suarez-less Uruguay against Colombia and the Netherlands battling a rejuvenated Mexican side. Brazil certainly didn’t look like world beaters in the group stage, however, they got the job done, and their star, Neymar carried them with four goals. Their homefield advantage can never be ruled out either, as it will factor in heavily to any match involving the Seleção. But Chile have proven up to the task against the world’s best. A 2-0 win over 2010 FIFA World Cup champions Spain and a convincing 3-1 win over Australia. The Netherlands topped that group and must be swelling with confidence after three solid wins over the aforementioned teams, including a 5-1 dismantling of Spain. Mexico, who were it not for a late Graham Zusi goal in Panama in qualifying, wouldn’t even have been in the tournament, have certainly impressed. El Tri knocked off Cameroon, drew 0-0 with Brazil and handled a talented Croatian side 3-1. Manager Miguel Herrera has the team clicking, and though the Dutch are flying, you’d have to take Mexico as a serious opponent at this stage.

One California Golden Bear who has had his eyes on the tournament every waking moment is senior defender Max Oldham (@MaxOld20), his thoughts are below:

MO: Firstly, I want to say this has been one of the best World Cups I can remember viewing. The sheer number of goals has raised this World Cup to a new level of excitement. I have also been pleased with the level of play from the majority of the teams. The styles of play have been contrasting, but all have been entertaining to watch. The playing field has been very level and most of us have enjoyed seeing the less favored teams come out on top.

I think it is fair to say that this has been the World Cup for Central and South American teams. CONCACAF has done exceptionally well with three out of four teams moving on to the round of 16. Mexico and Costa Rica are playing some fantastic fluid football and it is great to see some of the talent they have broken out on to the world stage, i.e. Joel Campell of Costa Rica and Oribe Peralta. Then we have the USA that has also moved on from what many people considered the Group of Death, a fantastic achievement from Jürgen and the entire team. I have especially enjoyed watching Colombia and Chile play; the flair and speed at which they play has been amazing. The combination play amongst those two teams is something to definitely look out for in the next round. 

I think this tournament has also highlighted some exceptional players performing on the world stage. First is Lionel Messi, who has four goals in three games and two game winners. He was exceptional in the match against Nigeria and it makes you wonder if this will be his chance to cement his place as the greatest player of all time. Second is James Rodriguez, who has three goals and two assists in three games. He has been amazing in all three games and is the lynchpin to Colombia’s success. Lastly, I have been thoroughly impressed by Arjen Robben. He has three goals in the group stage and has been a livewire in all the games. Look for Robben and the Dutch to light up the next stages of the World Cup.

Games to Watch:
6/28 9:00 AM: Brazil vs Chile
6/28 1:00 PM: Colombia vs Uruguay

What to Watch For: Familiar Foes
The Round of 16 brings us some matches with opponents that certainly have some level of familiarity with each other, especially with the two South American match ups (Brazil vs. Chile and Colombia vs. Uruguay). Chile hasn’t defeated Brazil since 1993, and have never done so on Brazilian soil. The United States and Belgium have also met twice in the past few years in friendlies, with the Belgians having come out on top each time, including a 4-2 win in 2013. An interesting twist would have been the closed-door friendly that was originally scheduled between the two sides in Brazil in mid-June that was cancelled due to traffic concerns, as each team would have seen the tactical plans of the managers first hand.

Masterful Messi
Argentina forward Lionel Messi is widely regarded as one of the best players in the world. In previous World Cups, he has struggled to lead his country, and statistically hasn’t measured up to expectations. This tournament, that has all changed. Messi has been fantastic, as he is the tournament’s co-leader in goals scored with four, all of which would be described as world class. He has Argentina in the Round of 16, with a date with Switzerland on Tuesday, July 1 and they figure to be heavy favorites on their side of the bracket to reach the final.

Algeria Makes First Appearance in Knockouts
The Algerian national team made history on Thursday, with their 1-1 draw with Russia, securing advancement to the knockout stage for the first time ever. They finished with four points, and placed behind Belgium in Group H after drawing with the Russians and defeating South Korea 4-2. In that match, they became the first African side to ever score four goals in a World Cup match. They now look to shock the world on Monday, June 30 when they tussle with Group G winners, Germany.

 Your Viewing Schedule for the Week Ahead:

Day                                 Time           Fixture                                                       Round        Network
Saturday, June 28 9 a.m. PT Brazil vs. Chile Rnd of 16 ABC
  1 p.m. PT Colombia vs. Uruguay Rnd of 16 ABC
Sunday, June 29 9 a.m. PT Netherlands vs. Mexico Rnd of 16 ESPN
  1 p.m. PT Costa Rica vs. Greece Rnd of 16 ESPN
Monday, June 30 9 a.m. PT France vs. Nigeria Rnd of 16 ESPN
  1 p.m. PT Germany vs. Algeria Rnd of 16 ESPN

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June 23, 2014 - Heartbreak in the Amazon

It is hard to believe it has already been 12 days since the start of the 2014 FIFA World Cup, but has it ever been entertaining! Everyone is now done with their first two matches across all eight groups, and both groups A and B are now complete, with Brazil, Mexico, the Netherlands and Chile securing passage into the Round of 16. The question now begs, who will join them, and how will those fixtures stack up to what has been one of the most memorable group stages in recent tournaments.

Now, to the United States of America. Four points clear from the first two matches in the “Group of Death” would have been a dream six months ago when the draw came out, though it feels very disappointing after yesterday’s 2-2 draw with world power Portugal in the sweltering Amazon jungle. The Americans were literally 20 seconds from a thrilling come from behind victory that would have seen them book their tickets to the next stage, but then he struck. And by he, we mean Cristiano Ronaldo, “CR7” or whatever else you want to call him.

After being held in check for 94:35 of the match, Ronaldo was freed up on the right flank after a poor giveaway in the midfield by midfielder Michael Bradley. In a moment of brilliance from the Portuguese maestro, he played in an inch-perfect cross that found the head of Varela, a substitute, who thundered it past a helpless Tim Howard to equalize. Arguably, defenders Geoff Cameron and Fabian Johnson, to a lesser extent, should have done better, as both were caught switched off and ball-watching, but only the perfect cross in that scenario could have broken American hearts. And break they did, with the match ending 2-2, the U.S. still yielded a point, pushing them into a tie atop the group with the Germans. Portugal meanwhile, kept their hopes of advancement alive, as they head into their final fixture with the Black Stars of Ghana. The United States takes on Germany on Thursday morning at 9 a.m. PT, and a win or a draw, a draw between Ghana and Portugal, or a one-goal win by Ghana would see the red, white and blue through.

Elsewhere in Brazil, Colombia seized control of Group C, advancing for the first time since they did so in Italy in 1990 with a pair of victories in their first two matches. The Ivory Coast (three points), Japan (one point) and Greece are all still fighting for the second spot in the knockout stages, and the Ivorians will do battle with the Greeks, while Colombia will look to make it three on the trot, when they face Japan on Tuesday, June 24 at 1 p.m. PT. In Group D, England crashed out, and though there is no consolation, for the most part, played well during spells in their two defeats. Surprise side Costa Rica are through, atop the group with shock victories over Uruguay and Italy. The English are next in line, and it will be interesting to see how they respond, already set for a return home. Italy and Uruguay will be battling it out for the final spot in the knockouts earlier in the morning on Tuesday.

The French are on six points after their 5-2 thrashing of Switzerland, and are sitting pretty atop Group E, with Ecuador and the Swiss both on three. Honduras is technically still alive, but would need a big win over Switzerland, and a lot of additional help from France on Wednesday. Argentina have advanced with six points in Group F, while Bosnia-Herzegovina are out. The two remaining sides in contention for the final group qualifying spot are Nigeria (four points) and Iran (one point). Argentina will take on Nigeria, while Iran and Bosnia-Herzegovina match up on Wednesday morning. Belgium (six points) are through in Group H, while Algeria sit second (three points), Russia (one point) and South Korea (one point) are all still alive. Belgium plays the South Koreans, while Algeria, the only African team to ever score four goals in a World Cup match, battle Russia on Thursday afternoon.

Two Golden Bears have been glued to their television sets for all of the action, and goalkeeper Justin Taillole and defender Dylan Serrano weigh in below:

JT: The event soccer fans everywhere have waited for since Spanish Goalkeeper Iker Casillas last hoisted the golden trophy over his head has finally arrived. So far the World Cup has proven to be well worth the wait. The group stage has been filled with upsets, last minute drama, a flurry of goals, and heartbreak. For over six years, we have witnessed Spanish influence and dominance in the soccer world, but that all came to an abrupt end last week when Spain failed to qualify for the next round of the tournament. With one of the tournament’s favorites out, the stage is open for any country to put on a run to reach the Final. When I say any country, I mean any country. Teams like Costa Rica and Iran have proven that even the least likely of nations can put up a fight against the perceived world soccer powers like Italy and Argentina. We may see a new winner in Brazil at the World Cup Final. 

Games to watch:

Tuesday: Italy V. Uruguay

Italy needs at least a draw in this game while Uruguay must win to go through. Be prepared to watch the Italians put on a defensive spectacle as Uruguay and their highly rated offense goes to battle.

            Prediction: Italy will hold Uruguay to a 1-1 draw. The Italian defense will not be able to keep the Uruguayan offense out of their net, but they will score one from a counter attack against the vulnerable Uruguay defense.

Wednesday: France V. Ecuador

France is already through, while Ecuador needs a win, betting on a Swiss victory against Honduras. This is a great chance to watch a peaking French offense play. Ecuador will have to work hard to score, while holding off a fierce and fast French attack. 

            Prediction: France 3 Ecuador 1. The French attack has proven to be one of the best in the tournament. Their speed of play will help the ball find the net. Ecuador will score one against a somewhat shaky French defense.

Thursday: USA V. Germany

A must watch for any fan in the United States. USA is searching for a result against Germany. This will be a difficult task for Klinsmann and his troops, but it is possible. A great second half against Portugal is a good sign that the team is starting to gel. The USA will give Germany a tough match.

            Prediction: USA 1 Germany 2. The German squad is one of the best in the world.  It will be a close game but I see the Germans outplaying the US. Muller and Mertesacker will find the back of the net.

DS: I could not be more excited to watch all the games in the World Cup. There are a lot of strong teams right now which creates a really good competition. There have been some shocks and upsets so far that have been shaking up the World Cup. Spain and England are just a few of the bigger names that are out of the tournament already. With all these matches of course come great goals. The obvious two goals of the tournament for me are (Robin) van Persie’s header and the volley from (Tim) Cahill. The incredible plays and energy put into every match have made the playing field fairly even. So, the overall level playing field in the World Cup has definitely stood out to me. Germany can beat Portugal 4-0 and then tie Ghana 2-2. Small twists and turns like this have been everywhere, making group stages very interesting. Some stand out teams for me would be the Netherlands and France.

I am really looking forward to the USA and Germany game later this week. USA has been playing really well, and I think we can make it out of group stages for sure. We will definitely be sharp for a full 90 minutes to tie or beat Germany. Another game I am looking forward to is the Belgium game which is also on Thursday. I see Belgium as a really talented team that could be somewhat of a dark horse.

What to Watch For: Jürgen and Several U.S. Players Face Native Germany
When the United States takes on Germany on Thursday, there is more at stake than just the winner of Group G. One of the many key storylines is that U.S. head coach Jürgen Klinsmann will be pitted against the country he won the World Cup for in 1990 (West Germany at the time), and the team he managed to a third place finish at the 2006 FIFA World Cup in Germany. German manager Joachim Löw was Jürgen’s lead assistant in his time in charge of the club. With both sides needing only a draw to move on, undoubtedly conspiracy theorists will be talking. Another storyline involves the five members of the U.S. outfit who own German citizenship; midfielder Jermaine Jones, defenders Fabian Johnson, John Brooks, Timmy Chandler and midfielder Julian Green. When the anthems play, it will be very meaningful in a unique way for all involved.

Heavyweights Out (Or Very Close to Being So)
2010 FIFA World Cup champions Spain are already out with one group match to spare, as are England. Neither of these sides would have ever foreseen this, and other usual tournament heavyweights are on the brink heading into their final fixtures in Portugal, Italy and Uruguay, though one of those last two will survive. 

Superstars Showing Up
The fans come to see the superstars, right? Well, they’ve certainly gotten their money’s worth thus far. Brazil’s Neymar (four goals), Argentina’s Lionel Messi (two goals), the aforementioned Cristiano Ronaldo (key assist), the Netherlands’ Arjen Robben (three goals), Robin van Persie (three goals), France’s Karim Benzema (three goals), Germany’s Thomas Müller (three goals), Uruguay’s Luis Suarez (two goals) and even the United States’ Clint Dempsey (two goals) have all factored heavily into the 2014 FIFA World Cup. The world’s best on the world’s biggest stage is always a plus for everyone involved.

Your Viewing Schedule for the Week Ahead:

Day                                 Time           Fixture                                                       Group       Network 
Tuesday, June 24 9 a.m. PT Italy vs. Uruguay Group D ESPN
  9 a.m. PT England vs. Costa Rica Group D ESPN2
  1 p.m. PT Japan vs. Colombia Group C ESPN
  1 p.m. PT Greece vs. Ivory Coast Group C ESPN2
Wednesday, June 25 9 a.m. PT Nigeria vs. Argentina Group F ESPN
  9 a.m. PT Bosnia-Herzegovina vs. Iran Group F ESPN2
  1 p.m. PT Ecuador vs. France Group E ESPN
  1 p.m. PT Honduras vs. Switzerland Group E ESPN2
Thursday, June 26 9 a.m. PT United States vs. Germany Group G ESPN
  9 a.m. PT Portugal vs. Ghana Group G ESPN2
  1 p.m. PT South Korea vs. Belgium Group H ESPN
  1 p.m. PT Algeria vs. Russia Group H ESPN2

 

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June 17, 2014 - The U.S. are in Dreamland!

After six enthralling days of the World Cup, the best part is that there are still countless group stage matches to enjoy. The biggest story stateside has to be the thrilling 2-1 win by the United States over Ghana on Monday afternoon. The match had just about everything; the sixth fastest goal in World Cup history (29 seconds, officially), scored by U.S. forward Clint Dempsey to thrust the United States into the lead, a bunkered down U.S. defense that withstood wave after wave of Ghanaian attacks for the better part of 65 minutes, before finally conceding a beautifully taken goal by midfielder Andre Ayew in the 82nd minute after a delectable backheel touch from Asamoah Gyan, and a “where on earth did he come from?” 86th minute winner from 21-year-old U.S. substitute John Brooks. Though they were bossed around at times by Ghana, the United States did what they needed to do; seize three crucial points from their opening fixture, setting them up with a tremendous opportunity to advance to the knockout stages ahead of their clash with a battered Portuguese side.

One could go on and on about the USA, but, that would do the rest of the first week of the tournament a grave disservice. From the opening whistle of the first match, the energy from the pro-Brazilian crowd against Croatia set the tone early about how wonderful the month ahead would be for die-hard and casual soccer fans alike. Though the first couple of matches had some dodgy officiating (the harsh penalty called against Croatia in a 1-1 game late in the second half comes immediately to mind), the audience at large were treated to the beautiful game at it’s best.

A 5-1 thrashing of the 2010 FIFA World Cup Champions (Spain) by the Dutch certainly shocked the system last Friday, but also put on display the unbelievable level of skill some of the world’s best players truly possess. For instance, the Netherlands’ Robin van Persie’s header was a thing of beauty, finished off with pure class over the top of Spain’s goalkeeper Iker Casillas. Van Persie added another tally, while teammate Arjen Robben also added a brace, continually bursting through the Spanish defense with the vigor of a 20-year-old.

The United States weren’t the only CONCACAF team to shine this past week. Mexico was dominant in their 1-0 victory over Cameroon on Friday, and stood toe to toe in Fortaleza earlier today with the host nation Brazil in as exciting a 0-0 match that you will ever see. El Tri now sit tied atop Group A with Brazil with four points apiece. No doubt that the Croatians’ and Cameroonians’ hearts sank when that result went final, making advancement a much more difficult task. Additionally, Costa Rica pulled a shocker, surprising 2010 semifinalist Uruguay 3-1 in their opener. Though the fourth CONCACAF team Honduras were victims of a 3-0 drubbing by the French, a strong showing by teams from the region could help maintain the three-and-a-half qualification spots (fourth team must advance by virtue of a playoff) in future installments of the tournament.

Two members of the Cal Men’s soccer program were certainly watching over the course of the last week as senior midfielder Seth Casiple (@scasiple) and goalkeeper Alex Mangels (@AlexMangels) weigh in with their thoughts below:

SC: What a day to be an American!! USA! USA! USA! Watching the game I was on pins and needles the whole way, honestly, expecting for us to concede and vigorously hoping that we could steal one back. I think the result really set the tone for us as a country and puts us in prime position to advance out of the group. Unfortunately victory does not come without concessions. I fear that (Jozy) Altidore is out for the rest of the tournament; that hammy looked very bad, 6-8 weeks most likely. I think that (John) Brooks is a capable replacement for (Matt) Besler until his hamstring is recovered in time for Portugal and can’t wait to see what Jurgen (Klinsmann) comes up with to counter Germany’s excellent midfield.

As a whole I think I speak for the whole footballing world when I say, “Goals! Goals and more Goals!” The excitement and electricity inside the stadiums sounds awesome from this side of the telecast and I think that playing in such a vibrant, Brazilian atmosphere is inspiring teams to really play all-out. The entertainment factor of this World Cup is through the roof.  So far I think that the Dutch, and Germans have presented us with the most dominating performances, the Swiss and the U.S. with the most inspiring, and the Belgian and Argentine with the most promising. I am personally still waiting for the Brazilian team to really start revving their engines, and would like to see England continue to play with confidence and authority. The 3 Lions came up against an experienced Italian side, who at the end of the day simply played a more consistent 90 minutes. England had their chances and were found wanting, while Italy played composed, deliberate soccer and exploited England’s left side. Overall I absolutely love this World Cup, every game is interesting and each team brings their own style and passion to the game. I am looking to the USA to manage their team expertly and make it out of the group and am hoping to see the English respond strongly and also advance. Don’t forget about Chile, my game to watch this week is Chile vs. Spain. They may surprise people with their pace on the break and will cause problems if Spain leave Ramos and Pique isolated.

AM: This year's World Cup has started off hot. The level of play from most teams has been pretty high across the board. Personally, I love this month of soccer and the passion that comes out from each and every nation that is represented on the world's biggest stage. Every four years the best in the world come together in one tournament, bringing the world together through one sport, something that I look forward to more than the Olympics.

The group stages are always my favorite, especially with three matches being played each day. So far there have been a lot of goals scored in the tournament, which always gets people excited. Obviously everyone has been talking about the 5-1 shellacking that the defending champion Spain suffered at the hands of the Netherlands, and I think that this momentum that the Dutch have started off with could send them deep into the tournament. Looking at the American side, I think that we stand a good chance of advancing past the group stage after the crucial win over Ghana, but it will still be a challenge. Germany looks tough as always, but can they get over the semi-final loss curse that seems to loom over them? There are many great teams in this tournament, but only one will lift the cup, and I'm excited to see how the rest of the tournament unfolds. Each of the next few days has match-ups that I am excited to watch:

Wednesday: Cameroon vs. Croatia

Thursday: Uruguay vs. England; and Greece vs. Japan

Friday: France vs. Switzerland

What to Watch For: How does Spain Respond?
Let’s be honest, the Spanish were flat out embarrassed in one of the first marquee matches of the tournament. It was billed as must-see-tv, a rematch of the 2010 World Cup Final, and after converting an early penalty chance, the Netherlands were on them like gangbusters, running them off the pitch. 5-1 doesn’t even fully do the second half domination justice, it could have easily been 8-1 with the chances the Dutch created. Spain fell in their opening match to the Swiss in 2010, and will be looking to rebound quickly against a game Chile side on Wednesday.

Will England Bounce Back?
The Three Lions played pretty well in their 2-1 defeat at the hands of Italy, but the Azurri were just too much to handle. This was also the first match in the Amazon, in the city of Manaus, where the humidity certainly played a factor. England are on the hunt for three points on Thursday against also wounded Uruguay, who are trying to avoid a tailspin, following their upset loss to Costa Rica.

Portugal, Will They Come Out Fighting, Or Roll Over?
The Portuguese, like the Spanish, had extremely high hopes for the tournament, despite being drawn into the “Group of Death.” And like the Spanish, they were embarrassed, falling 4-0 to Germany, who were in control from the outset. A 37th minute red card to central defender Pepe didn’t help, as 24-year-old German forward Thomas Muller netted a hat trick. Portugal must win their next match against the United States, whose confidence will be high after their win over Ghana. Cristiano Ronaldo seemed to go into solo-mode once they were down two-nil, and it was clear that the team’s psyche was rattled. How do they respond if the U.S. strike early again?

Your Viewing Schedule for the Week Ahead:

Day                                Time            Fixture                                                        Group         Network  
Wednesday, June 18 9 a.m. PT Australia vs. Netherlands Group B ESPN
  12 p.m. PT Spain vs. Chile Group B ESPN
  3 p.m. PT Cameroon vs. Croatia Group A ESPN
Thursday, June 19 9 a.m. PT Colombia vs. Ivory Coast Group C ESPN
  12 p.m. PT Uruguay vs. England Group D ESPN
  3 p.m. PT Japan vs. Greece Group C ESPN
Friday, June 20 9 a.m. PT Italy vs. Costa Rica Group D ESPN
  12 p.m. PT Switzerland vs. France Group E ESPN
  3 p.m. PT Honduras vs. Ecuador Group E ESPN

 

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June 11, 2014 - And So it Begins...

As the largest sporting event in the world is set to kick off on Thursday, June 12, CalBears.com and members of the Cal men’s soccer program are here to help guide you throughout the 2014 FIFA World Cup tournament. The festivities get underway with the opening ceremonies in São Paulo at Arena Corinthians on Thursday afternoon, which precedes the opening match between host nation Brazil and Croatia.

The Brazilians, winners of five World Cups, will be gunning for number six on their home soil. Opening against a talented Croatian side will be no easy task for the Seleção, as the European outfit is littered with quality players such as Real Madrid midfielder Luka Modric, Shakhtar Donetsk defender Darijo Srna and Bayern Munich forward Mario Mandzukic. One would have to assume the pressure is on the Brazilians from the outset, and three points in front of their adoring fans is a must to open the tournament, and solidify themselves as the favorites in Group A.

While American fans still have a few days to wait before the United States does battle with their nemesis of World Cups past, Ghana, their neighbors to the south in Mexico are slated to begin their campaign on Friday against Cameroon. El Tri needed a playoff victory over New Zealand just to qualify for the field of 32, but now that they are in Brazil, their focus shifts to the Indomitable Lions of Cameroon. Key storylines from this match are whether head coach Miguel Herrera keeps Manchester United forward Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez out of his starting XI, and how Mexico deals with talented striker Samuel Eto’o and FC Barcelona midfielder Alex Song.

Other delectable fixtures on tap for the first few days of the tournament include a rematch of the 2010 World Cup Final between defending champions Spain and the Netherlands, which airs at noon PT on Friday on ESPN, as well as a pair of European battles between England and Italy on Saturday and Germany facing off with Portugal early on Monday morning.

Fans of the United States will undoubtedly have an eye on the result between fellow group members Germany and Portugal, as they prepare for the match with Ghana. The Black Stars have eliminated the United States in successive World Cups, and figure to be another potential stumbling block for the Americans; however, the third time may be the charm. Ghana enters Monday’s fixture after dispatching fellow World Cup side South Korea 4-0 rather easily this past Monday in Miami, while the U.S. enter the tournament following a three game sweep of their Send-Off Series, most recently defeating the African champions Nigeria 2-1 on Saturday.

American striker Jozy Altidore led the red, white and blue with a brace against Nigeria, his first two goals for club or country since December of 2013. Finding the back of the net for Altidore is paramount, as he needs to be in form come Monday for the United States to have an opportunity for three points against Ghana. It remains to be seen what effect the absence of Landon Donovan will have on this run for the U.S., however, it is likely that regardless of the outcome, it will remain a discussion point for American supporters and detractors, alike. Being drawn into the “Group of Death” is a cruel fate for all four sides in Group G, which makes the opening match all the more important. Three points from the opener will go a long way in securing passage into the knockout stage.

Cal senior midfielder Connor Hallisey (@C_Hallisey) and senior forward Omid Jalali weigh in on the tournament at large, and the weekend ahead below:

CH: The World Cup is only 24 hours away. Anticipation and anxiety have overcome almost every soccer fan in the world as they await the best month of soccer there is. The World Cup is all I think about as I sit here at my desk, pretending to get some work done. I have my United States Jersey ready to go, and I will wear it probably every day for the next month, even when the U.S. isn’t playing. I couldn’t be more excited, yet nervous to see how the United States fares against the best in the world.
 
I believe the World Cup is up for grabs. In my opinion, there are four favorites to win the tournament; Brazil, Spain, Germany, and Argentina. These teams have world-class talent and play entertaining soccer. However, I believe other teams have a chance to win as well. I could see England and Belgium both making a run for the title. They are both young squads with lots of flare, and I am excited to see them compete. While I believe all of those teams have a decent chance of winning, my dark horse is the United States. I have confidence in the United States, and I BELIEVE THAT WE WILL WIN. There are some great games in the upcoming days, and I am excited to watch them all. Here is the one game I am looking forward to the most each day:
 
Thursday: Brazil vs. Croatia
 
Friday: Spain vs. Netherlands
 
Saturday: England vs. Italy
 
Sunday: Argentina vs. Bosnia-Herzegovina
 
One Nation. One Team.

OJ: There is nothing as powerful as the World Cup. Friends of mine who never watch soccer games have been calling me to talk about how excited they are for the tournament. It goes without saying that I can barely contain myself.

This year is interesting as it's hard to pinpoint a clear favorite for the tournament. Brazil is young, Spain and Holland are old, Germany is without a clear striker, Argentina is a monster up front but weak in the back, and you never know what you're going to see from Italy or France. Because of this, I think one of the second-tier teams is going to surprise the world and take the tournament. A team like Belgium, Uruguay, Portugal, Chile, or one of the unpredictable African nations.

Between the first few games, I'm most excited for the Spain and Holland matchup. After that game, I think it will become clear if we are going to see the Spain team that ran over everyone in their path to three straight major championships, or witness the beginning of the end of their "golden generation".


I love the way the USA has been playing as of late. We impose our style on teams, rather than letting opponents dictate play. I think we will beat Ghana 2-1 in our first game. I would be surprised if there is a bigger team USA fan than me - so I admit to a tad bit of bias - but I think we will get out of the group. It's pretty much just a toss up to see if we will come out on top or take it easy on Germany or Portugal and settle for second in the group.


Keep an eye on: Argentina forward Lionel Messi
The diminutive striker is widely known as arguably the best player in the world with his club FC Barcelona in Spain, but has yet to lead his country past the quarterfinals on the world’s largest stage. Argentinean fans have a World Cup championship in mind this time around on South American soil, and Messi will need to be the driving force for La Albiceleste if they are to raise the trophy. They kick off their tournament with Bosnia-Herzegovina on Sunday at the Estadio de Maracana in Rio de Janeiro.

European sides in South America
A European team has never won the World Cup on South American soil. 13 European nations will be in contention this year, including 2010’s champion (Spain) and runner-up (the Netherlands), as well as world powers Germany, France, Italy, England and Portugal, amongst others, who aim to rewrite history.

Your Viewing Schedule for the Week Ahead:

Day                                Time            Fixture                                                      Group           Network   
Thursday, June 12 1 p.m. PT Brazil vs. Croatia Group A ESPN
Friday, June 13 9 a.m. PT Mexico vs. Cameroon Group A ESPN2
  12 p.m. PT Spain vs. Netherlands Group B ESPN
  3 p.m. PT Chile vs. Australia Group B ESPN2
Saturday, June 14 9 a.m. PT Colombia vs. Greece Group C ABC
  12 p.m. PT Uruguay vs. Costa Rica Group D ABC
  3 p.m. PT England vs. Italy Group D ESPN
  6 p.m. PT Ivory Coast vs. Japan Group C ESPN
Sunday, June 15 9 a.m. PT Switzerland vs. Ecuador Group E ABC
  12 p.m. PT France vs. Honduras Group E ABC
  3 p.m. PT Argentina vs. Bosnia-Herzegovina Group F ESPN
Monday, June 16 9 a.m. PT Germany vs. Portugal Group G ESPN
  12 p.m. PT Iran vs. Nigeria Group F ESPN
  3 p.m. PT Ghana vs. USA Group G ESPN

Cal Bears Men's Soccer


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