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Brazil Diary: 'Super Howard, Superior Belgium'
by Mike Woitalla, July 2nd, 2014 2:39PM
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TAGS:  brazil, world cup 2014


By Mike Woitalla

The Brazilian national team is trying to find emotional balance, so its players are communicating via text with a psychologist.

Argentina survived a close call against Switzerland and moved on to the quarterfinals, thanks to an overtime goal by Angel di Maria set up by Lionel Messi. And thanks to “The Post of God,” announces the front page of Lance!, referring to Blerim Dzemaili’s header that missed by inches in the final minute.

And Tim Howard set a World Cup record with 16 saves.

But the Brazilian camp dominates Wednesday morning news coverage here in Rio de Janeiro.

The starters have been resting since Saturday’s shootout win over Chile while the reserves scrimmaged Fluminense’s U-20 team. Neymar is nursing a sore knee and thigh ahead of Friday’s quarterfinal with Colombia. Paulinho is expected to return to the midfield, replacing suspended Luis Gustavo.

James Rodriguez, with five goals, is Colombia’s big threat, but O Globo writes it’s crucial for outside backs Dani Alaves and Marcelo to stifle Colombian wingers Pablo Armero and Juan Cuadrado.

Coverage of the USA’s elimination with a 2-1 overtime loss to Belgium is relegated to back of the sports sections. It focuses on World Cup record-setting (since they were kept in 1966) statistics:

Belgium’s 38 shots and Howard’s 16 saves. Twenty-seven of the Red Devils shots were on target. The other 11 were blocked by field players.

“Super Howard” is the popular headline. O Globo considers many of saves as “miracles.” It writes that the USA defense was slow, Belgium was superior, but the Americans played with energy and created an exciting finish. In fact, they could have won, but Chris Wondolowski “unbelievably” missed a chance in stoppage time of regulation time. Jogo Extra has two photos of Wondo’s miss.

As was the case in 2010, the USA’s World Cup ended in the round of 16 with a 2-1 overtime loss. Four years ago it came against Ghana, after the Americans won their group with ties against England and Slovenia, and a win over Algeria.

Here in Brazil, the USA finished second in its group, with a 2-1 win over Ghana, a 2-2 tie with Portugal, and 1-0 loss to Germany.

The best American World Cup performance of the modern era remains its quarterfinal appearance under Coach Bruce Arena at the 2002 World Cup. In South Korea, the USA managed two wins, against Portugal in group play and Mexico in the round of 16.

Only twice has the USA, in 10 World Cup appearances, won two games. The other time came in 1930, when the Americans defeated Belgium and Paraguay to reach the semifinals, where they lost, 6-1 to Argentina.

If Wondolowski had hit the target. Or if, after Julian Green pulled the USA within one, had Clint Dempsey managed to lift the ball over Thibaut Courtois – maybe the USA would have won the shootout … And the USA would be playing Argentina and Messi on Saturday in Brasilia.

World Cup enthusiasm in the USA, already at a fever pitch, would have reached have unimaginable heights. A missed opportunity.

But not just because of a couple of mis-kicks. For however admirable its fight to the finish, however entertaining its dramatic games against Ghana and Portugal were, the USA leaves Brazil having been outshot by each of its four opponents.

The USA was simply never able create an effective attacking game. That is the obvious challenge going forward.

  1. Kent James
    commented on: July 2, 2014 at 3:02 p.m.
    In the last 20 years, the US has developed more skillful players and developed an attacking game, but only against weaker opponents. So this has been an improvement. But against superior opponents, we almost always hunker down and try to counter (I think our win against Spain in the Confederations Cup is an exception). I would like us to continue to attack, even against superior opponents. Sure, we might lose (even by large margins), but the only way to improve is to try to play the way we want to play. I think if we continue to try, eventually we'll get it right (and it will be better for the fans).
  1. Jeff Gingold
    commented on: July 2, 2014 at 3:11 p.m.
    Tremendous work rate, effort, heart, teamwork, something to be very proud of. Individually, with the exception of Tim Howard who is phenomenal, individual technical skill remains an area that invites continuing development. As a Sounders fan, I hope a lesson learned is that Yedlin should be playing MF and should only be given defensive responsibility if there is another defender backing him up. He looks terrific as a MF. May be moot after the transfer window opens. As a soccer fan, despite the loss yesterday this has been the best World Cup I can remember and I hope the remaining games are as exciting.
  1. Karl Ortmertl
    commented on: July 2, 2014 at 3:42 p.m.
    The US has always had great goalies and will continue for a while with guys like Howard and Guzan. Klinsmann also has definitely tightened up the "D". However, the "O" continues to be extremely subpar. Agreed with Kent that it's improved against weaker opponents, but is nowhere near the good nations. I thought Klinsmann was saying, when he first came in, that he was going to fix that and make us fast, crisp, purposeful and accurate with our passing. I guess that's phase II, because it certainly ain't phase I. There are three Americans that come to mind with the attributes that Klinsmann was originally espousing - and he took none of them with him. Donovan, of course. The other two are Torres and Gil. All three are comfortable on the ball, creative, excellent passers. If Klinsmann continues on this path, we may be more effective down the road, but I believe winning soccer ugly is a cynical approach and I'm hoping for much better out of him over the next four years
  1. Alex G. Sicre
    commented on: July 2, 2014 at 3:45 p.m.
    Thank you, Jeff, Kent, and Karl. You all have valid comments.
    commented on: July 2, 2014 at 3:48 p.m.
    Timmy not happy with a moral victory........amazingly, nike sells no USA keeper jersey...
  1. Dan Gautieri
    commented on: July 2, 2014 at 5:51 p.m.
    The team fought hard and made all of us proud. That being said, the things that are being said about the team, "great heart, courage, never give up," were the same things being said about the team in 1994. It was frustrating to see a team that didn't seem capable of stringing five or six effective passes together. The team was able to do so against Portugal, but not against either Germany or Belgium. It's amazing that there was such a talent gap between the US, which is ranked #13, and Belgium, which I believe is ranked #11. At times it seemed like the strategy was to hope Howard saved everything and that we'd get a lucky break on offense. Other CONCACAF teams, which did worse than the US in qualifying, were able to take the game to their opponents. It's time to stop trying to play David against Goliath, and to work on being more like Goliath.
  1. Mike Jacome
    commented on: July 2, 2014 at 7:09 p.m.
    Dan, Very well put "At times it seemed like the strategy was to hope Howard saved everything and that we'd get a lucky break on offense." And it was exactly that, because JK did not believe in this team capabilities, he does not believe in MLS or in US Soccer, to him he was given the task of out of thin air make the impossible. If he had more faith in his players and teams, he should have lay out a different strategy. If only the US had played the first 90, with the same concept and attitude they played the last 12 minutes we should be playing Argentina.
  1. Daniel Clifton
    commented on: July 2, 2014 at 8:31 p.m.
    Klinsmann is a strange combination. He has the courage to make tough decisions and to pick three young men to represent the US, but on the other hand he talks about attacking soccer, and he repeatedly puts teams on the field that are defensive oriented. He needs to decide on what he really wants to do and go forward with it. This team was less offensive oriented than the 2010 team. Playing one forward out of position for that concept is not offensive soccer. Klinsmann had no fall back plan for the possibility of Altidore getting injured. I am sorry but LD would have been an improvement over Zusi or Bedoya. That is reality as I see it. Yedlin would have been an improvement over Zusi or Bedoya. When things aren't working out go to an alternative if you have left yourself that option.
  1. I w Nowozeniuk
    commented on: July 2, 2014 at 10:18 p.m.
    You guys can forget about strategy or tactics. This team and others before it, had all the ingredients of athleticism, team spirit, heart, and technical skills. And for the most part these teams lacked the special qualities and nuances to make things happen with the ultimate result. Those nuances are the difference between the better teams and the USA. When the moment is there, it has to be executed, and for us it hardly happens.
  1. G O
    commented on: July 3, 2014 at 3:02 a.m.
    I agree with Mr. Daniel Clifton's comments above. Yedlin had more composure on the ball in just about every situation, far more than any other guy wearing a white shirt. Not sure how a 20 year old does that, showing up guys like Jones, Zusi, Cameron, a wholly lackluster and incompetent Bedoya, Dempsey, and the very pathetic Bradley. I also agree with Mr. Mike Jacome's comments above. Only the last 12-13 minutes (with the exception of YOUNG 20 year old Yedlin's play in midfield and up the right flank from just about his very first touch of the ball after being subbed in), only those 12-13 minutes revealed what ought and should be the standard. If the coaching staff had its act together, the US would be facing Argentina, a very normal Argentina with only the stellar Messi holding them up. I don't know why people don't see a quarterfinal or semi-final as possible for the USMNT when so many of the so-called world elite teams like England, Italy, Portugal, Spain and even now Uruguay show up to World Cups with exhausted, overused players from their club duties, long seasons, long CL campaigns, etc. in their European clubs. Does France really look that good right now? No. Does Germany? No. This was a World Cup 2014 for the taking. And the USMNT under Klinsmann's charge blew the chance of a lifetime.
  1. TK TK
    commented on: July 3, 2014 at 10:46 a.m.
    Mike, i dont think we would have beaten Belgium playing like we did the last 15 minutes but we would have been better off going out like that. The rest of the world would have respected us for it. Not the case now. Outside of USA everyone is saying that we have not shown any progress whatsoever from last world cup 2010. Here we are claiming how great a job MLS did because it had more players in on the USMNT than ever before and we got to the 2nd round yet again. All this even though JK has stated more than once that he wants USA's best players playing in Europe!! The only time MLS can truly be proud is when at least one of our USA players shows skill and that he can at least hang with other nations like Belgium. You know like Donovan used to do.

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