The Fire head to DC (live coverage at 6pm CT on CSNChicago) on the back of three straight victories after a tough 2-1 win at home against New England on Saturday. DC are entering the game after a fiery match against Philadelphia the following day where controversy and red cards reigned. Both United and the Fire are calling this a "six pointer" and DC will be looking for revenge after last year’s incredible "Capital Comeback" at RFK Stadium. Here are some things to look out for from a tactical perspective.
The Return of Pappa: Who Starts on the Left?
Marco Pappa came off the bench for the last 13 minutes (plus another questionable five minutes off stoppage time) against New England after playing longer than Frank Klopas had liked for Guatemala in a midweek friendly. Pappa's return means it’s likely that Patrick Nyarko will begin the game against DC on the bench.
WATCH: Chicago Fire vs. D.C. United Preview
Having set up Chris Rolfe’s 5th minute penalty call and assisted on Sherjill MacDonald’s eventual game-winner, Nyarko had a very productive 75 minutes before being subbed out after picking up a slight back injury.
Both players are playing well at the moment but Nyarko's slight knock combined with a well-rested Pappa makes it more likely the Guatemalan will start. Nyarko has excelled in his recent role coming off the bench and could make a big impact if called upon.
DC Defenders: Bare Bones at the Back
With a combination of injuries (Robbie Russell and Daniel Woolard) and suspensions (Emiliano Dudar), DC United are very thin at the back.
One position in particular which is a problem area for Ben Olsen is right-back. Dejan Jakovic played most of the Philadelphia game there and looked very shaky at times before being subbed out. Olsen stated that the sub was because Jakovic needed a breather in order to be ready for Wednesday's match but it is likely that he will play in the middle with Chris Korb moving to the right.
Olsen has also floated the idea of playing Andy Najar in this position but that seems unlikely Wednesday night. Pappa or Nyarko on the left, combined with Gonazlo Segares getting forward in support, has the potential to exploit this DC weakness.
Outside Backs: Beware of Runs in Behind
Though Sega and Anibaba have done a fantastic job getting forward to support in the attack, they must also beware of being caught high up the field. This happened on more that one occasion against New England last week and could cause problems Wednesday.
Fire coach Frank Klopas noted that in the New England match the team had a lot of turnovers and were sloppy at times with their passes and with Jalil and Gonzalo's eagerness to get forward, a bad pass resulting in a turnover can leave the team exposed.
Rolfe vs Kitchen: Holding Mid vs Creative Play-maker
The battle I am most looking forward to tonight is Fire PDL alum Chris Rolfe vs. a much more recent Fire PDL alum Perry Kitchen. Kitchen plays in the holding midfield role for United, sitting just in front of the back four, a position that Rolfe loves to operate in. Against New England, Rolfe was everywhere and his combination play was superb.
After seeing the performance against the Revs, it wouldn't surprise me if DC coach Ben Olsen had Kitchen man-mark Rolfe in an attempt to stop him from creating. What made Rolfe so dangerous was his movement, not only dropping behind MacDonald, but also looking to get in behind the defense. If Rolfe can create space for himself like he did on Saturday night, it could help to unlock the DC defense.
Prediction: 1-1 with Sherjill MacDonald tallying his second goal in a Fire shirt
Stephen Piggott is a contributor to Chicago-Fire.com. Follow him on Twitter @irish_steve.
There was a point Sunday afternoon in which things were looking pretty good for the Fire’s positioning in the East. DC United had just suffered a somewhat controversial 1-1 draw at home to Philadelphia while due north Bright Dike and Darlington Nagbe had put the West’s bottom team Portland up 2-0 at New York.
Of course Kenny Cooper and Tim Cahill had pulled the home side back level before halftime, the Timbers flubbed two breakaway chances and Heath Pearce headed home the winner in the 83rd minute to push New York back into sole possession of second place in the East.
Later on Sunday night, Columbus used goals from Cole Grossman and Eddie Gaven to erase a 1-0 deficit but had to settle for a 2-2 draw when Andy Gruenebaum muffed Adam Moffat’s 82nd minute equalizer.
WATCH: Red Bull 3, Timbers 2
The result meant that the Top 5 in the Eastern Conference closed the weekend the same way they entered it, effectively pushing the Fire back down to fourth place (losing the goals scored tie breaker to Houston).
All this is by way of saying its going to be a scrap or as Brendan Hannan put it this morning, a “real dog fight” the rest of the way in the Eastern Conference. With 10 matches remaining and five of them against the other four in the Top Five, the Fire control their playoff destiny and seeding perhaps just as much as anyone in the East.
"[Playoff qualification] is in our hands," head coach Frank Klopas told Chicago-Fire.com Monday. "They’re all obviously difficult matches because most of the games we play are going to be against teams that are going to be right there until the end. Its exciting but I think we feel good about having those games at home and having the opportunity to control our own destiny."
While Montreal and Columbus still have a shot at the postseason, popular opinion has the top five now remaining the top five come October 28 making a “mini-league” of sorts the rest of the way for the Fire, Sporting KC, Red Bull, the Dynamo and United.
See below the “mini-league” grid of remaining matches between the East’s top 5 teams.
|vs. 9/14||vs. 9/28||-|
|x||-||vs. 10/6||@ 8/29|
|HOU||@ 9/14||-||x||@ 9/2||-|
|CHI||@ 9/28||@ 10/6||vs. 9/2||x||
When looking at the chart, two things undoubtedly stick out...
1) No that's not a mistake, the East's top two teams Sporting KC and New York, will play eachother three more times through the end of the season. Depending on how their other matches go (something that will continue to be a common theme), the Conference's top seeds could well be decided in those three games.
2) The Fire are the only team in the Top 5 that will play everyone around them and have two games against D.C., meaning the team seems to have the best shot of controlling it's own destiny in the tight playoff race. With 15 points available in these matches, if the Men in Red can take anywhere around 11 or 12, they could be in very good shape for a top two finish.
Either way, the Fire manager reiterated the game of most importance is the one upcoming.
"It’s up to us," continued Klopas. "We don’t have to rely on other teams like we did last year but the most important thing is to not look too far down the road and so our next game against D.C. is what we have to hone in on right now."
The Fire face yet another Eastern Conference foe at home this week: New England. The clubs appear to be heading in opposite directions with Frank Klopas’ side only losing one of their last five while the Revs have lost four out of five but the Men in Red can’t overlook this one. Here are a few things to watch out for from a tactical standpoint.
Who will replace the captain? Logan out 4-6 weeks
Last week’s 3-1 win in Philly was very costly, namely because of the injury to captain Logan Pause who, to date, has had yet another stellar year. With Logan out for at least a month, two major questions arise – who should replace him in the lineup and should his injury force the Fire to change their tactics? The answer to the second question is almost certainly no. The tactic of two holding midfielders has served the Fire well this season and there is no need to change it.
Replacing Logan is a difficult task but the Fire certainly to have options. Fernandez slotted in for Logan in the second half against Philly but players like Corben Bone, Mike Videira, Daniel Paladini and Victor Pineda can all play in the center of midfield.
Having this many options is a luxury for coach Klopas but the obvious candidate in my eyes is Fernandez. He is the most experienced MLS midfielder and did a fine job in that position last week. Fernandez also didn’t play in Wednesday’s reserve game which could be another indication that he will be getting the start alongside Pardo.
Shots from Distance: Be Wary
Though New England haven't scored too many goals of late, its not for lack of trying. Midfielders, Lee Nguyen, Saër Sène (sometimes a striker) and Benny Feilhaber are all not afraid to pull the trigger from distance. Just a few weeks ago, Sène scored an absolutely brilliant goal against the Union, cutting in from the right before blasting it past Zack MacMath.
PREVIEW: Fire vs. NE
Nguyen scored a goal-of-the-season candidate earlier this season when he volleyed the ball from outside the box into the top corner. The Fire cannot allow the Revs' midfielders space to shoot from the outside. New England will also have target man Jerry Bengtson back from international duty and will be looking to him to provide layoffs for shots from the outside.
Chris Tierney: A Threat from the Left
New England have deployed different formations in its past two games but one thing that hasn't changed is the team’s reliance on left back Chris Tierney to get forward to provide crosses into the box. Against KC, Nguyen constantly pushed inside to allow space for Tierney to move into on the left.
Against Montreal last week, New England played with one striker but again the Revs made room for Tierney on the outside to get the ball in the box. The players pushing inside also meant that New England had numerous players waiting to attack Tierney's crosses instead of just the forwards. In both of the past two games, the Revs have pushed Tierney up in advanced positions while keeping the outside right defender on more a leash.
If the Fire do indeed bring Fernandez into the middle it will be up to his replacement (presumably Nyarko) to track back and help either Jalil Anibaba or Dan Gargan when Tierney gets pushes forward into the attack.
PREDICTION: Chicago Fire 2, New England Revolution 0 with goals from Chris Rolfe and Sherjill MacDonald
Stephen Piggott is a contributor to Chicago-Fire.com, follow him on Twitter @Irish_Steve.
Last week, the Fire played a team with a newish coach and it’s the same with week when the Men in Red travel to Philadelphia to face a Union team headed by interim coach John Hackworth. Philly have had some ups and downs but are a very difficult team to beat on their day. Here are a few tactical things to look out for in Sunday night's game:
Freddy Adu: Jekyll and Hyde
COACH'S TAKE: Matko on Philly
Freddy Adu has a long history of inconsistency. When he is on, he can be one of the best attacking players in MLS but far too often fans haven't seen the best of him. This season has also been a mixed one for Freddy but the past two games in particular, he has failed to show up. He did score a penalty in a 2-1 win over New England but in Montreal last week he was very isolated on the right wing.
Fullback Sheanon Williams failed to get forward to support Adu on the outside and this forced him to constantly play the ball into the middle when he would get it in a wide position. He even switched wings for a time but this didn't help. Under Hackworth, Philadelphia have become an attacking force but last week the wing play of Davy Arnaud and Justin Mapp prevented their outside backs from getting forward.
The Fire should look to mimic that tactic, especially because it limits the support for young Fredua.
New Forward Taking On New Defender?
Last week, Fire Designated Player Sherjill MacDonald replaced Dominic Oduro at halftime and helped the team overturn a 1-0 deficit. MacDonald is getting back to match fitness and Sunday’s game could be a good opportunity for him to get his first start.
Oduro has struggled to find the net of late and his speed could be a game changer off the bench. If Philly are in need of a goal, Oduro is the perfect person to bring in because his “freaky fast” pace enhances the Fire's counter attacking ability ten-fold.
Whoever starts up top for the Fire Sunday could be facing a new center back paring for the Union, who may give a first start to former Fire player Bakary Soumare. The Mali international has been rehabbing a knee injury since returning to MLS from Germany side Karlsruher in June but he did play 90 minutes in a reserve game last week and could replace second-year defender Amobi Okugo at the heart of the Union defense.
New partnerships have the potential to be shaky and if Soumare does indeed start, I would look for the Fire to test out the new look back line as early and often as possible.
This, of course can also be achieved through set pieces. Philly have had a major problem this year in that department, giving up the most headed goals in the league. As we saw last week, the Fire and especially rookie-of-the-year candidate Austin Berry are a threat from corners and free kicks and this could be key to unlocking the Union.
Depth: If we need it, it’s there
With any team, having strong options off the bench is a massive bonus. It can help the coach to change his tactics but it also increases competition for the first team. After last month’s acquisitions, the Fire now have a bench that is not only stronger but has plenty of MLS experience.
Take last Saturday’s game for example: the Fire lineup card had names like Dan Gargan, Patrick Nyarko, Daniel Paladini, Alex and Sherjill MacDonald on the sub’s list. Soon enough we could be adding Cory Gibbs there.
The team's depth is going to be very important in the push to move as high up in the Conference standings as possible. If things aren't going well on Sunday, coach Klopas has tried and tested players that he can call on, something that could be the difference between one point and three.
Prediction: Chicago Fire 2, Philadelphia Union 0 behind goals from Marco Pappa and Sherjill MacDonald.
Stephen Piggott is a contributor to Chicago-Fire.com. Follow him on Twitter @Irish_Steve.
With his equalizer in Saturday’s 2-1 victory over Toronto FC, Fire midfielder Marco Pappa moved into a tie for fourth on the club’s all-time regular season goals list with former captain Peter Nowak at 26.
Throughout his time with the Fire, the Guatemalan international has quietly moved up the goal chart, bagging more than half of his goals (14) in the last 18 months.
Sitting eighth at the start of 2012, Pappa began his ascendency up the chart this season by tying Nate Jaqua at 21 goals with his “Olimipico” on April 28 vs. Seattle. A week later, his late game-winner at Chivas moved him into a three-way tie for fifth with Damani Ralph and Dema Kovalenko at 22.
Pappa took over fifth place with another game-winner vs. Dallas on May 23 and built towards Nowak with goals vs. Columbus (June 23) at Sporting KC (June 29) before tying the former Polish international Saturday night.
Sitting six goals back of Josh Wolff at third place on the list (32), I pose this question: Can Marco pass Josh with 12 matches remaining in the 2012 campaign?
While Pappa has never scored more than eight goals in one single campaign, it’s important to also note that he’s never had six this early in a season.
History could be construed to be on Pappa’s side in this quest as well as he’s tallied 11 career goals against the team’s remaining opponents and has scored two goals each against the likes of D.C. United (who the Fire still play twice), Toronto FC, Sporting KC and Red Bull New York.
Two of those remaining 12 games also come against the two worst defenses in Major League Soccer in Montreal (43 goals conceded) and Toronto FC again (40). All he needs is six to tie…
What becomes more evident with Pappa is the team’s success rate when he finds the back of the net. Marco has tallied 26 goals in 23 matches and the team has earned points in 19 of those games, winning 13. Over the course of his time with the Men in Red, the Fire have only lost four times when he’s tallied, once in each season since 2009.
With the team already losing a match in which he’s scored this season, you can tie a lot to wanting to see Marco hit at least for six more goals before the end of the campaign.
So what do you think, can Marco do it? Vote to the right and comment below to give me your thoughts...
1) FIRE LOVE NBC SPORTS… If you didn’t already know, tonight’s match can be seen LIVE on NBC Sports Network and that’s a good thing for the Fire. The side has won both previous matches on the national sports network earlier this season (3-2 at Toronto April 21; 3-1 vs. New York June 17) and had three different players score in both matches. Will the good ride on NBC Sports continue tonight?
"Soccer is a game about goals. It's a low scoring sport. We love it dearly -- when goals are scored, they need to be given." - NBC Sports Play-by-Play Announcer Arlo White's immediate comments following the above instance from Sunday's match vs. New York.
The idea of goalline technology has likely been floated since Geoff Hurst's "not-so hat-trick performance" for England in the 1966 FIFA World Cup Final but that was the 60's and this is now.
The above photo clearly shows former Fire defender and current Red Bull player Wilman Conde working to deny Dominic Oduro's 64th minute strike in Sunday's 3-1 victory over Red Bull. It was just the first instance this week of a ball clearly crossing the line without a goal being given (see also Ukraine vs. England on Tuesday).
"That’s never happened to me," said Oduro this week. "Obviously I think they missed the whole thing. I thought it was a goal, everyone thought it was a goal except for the two officials. Its my first time having a goal that was so obvious be disallowed."
Had it stood, it would have given the Fire a 2-1 lead as well as counted as the Oduro's fifth of the MLS campaign and first since a 2-1 victory over Sporting KC on May 12.
After the ball crossed the line, the Fire striker's celebration quickly turned to disbelief as the farside linesman denied the goal.
"It was a little heartbreaking for me," he continued. "I needed that going forward, just getting back on track scoring goals and it didn’t happen. My emotions were really high and I got a yellow card. It was all in the heat of the moment."
You might say that the missed call helped rile the team up more as four minutes later Gonzalo Segares slammed home what would be the go-ahead goal after Oduro dug a ball out in the box from Red Bull 'keeper Ryan Meara. In the 81st minute, substitute forward Chris Rolfe iced the match with a tap-in off a beautiful run up the right from Patrick Nyarko.
"At the end of the day, I’m glad we were able to pull it back, score two and get the win."
Having gone through the whole experience, the Ghanaian attacker sees the addition of goal-line technology, which MLS Commissioner Don Garber has shown an interest in for the league, would be a good move.
"I think implementing goal line technology would be the best course going forward. I’m not saying we should stop the whole game and have a replay but to just have something that tells you right away whether or not the ball crossed the line would be a positive. We’re all humans, sometimes referees get it wrong. Sometimes the line of sight is blocked. I don’t think any soccer player would disagree on that.”
Except maybe Wilman Conde...?
If it seems like it’s been ages since one of these, that’s because it’s been 15 days since the last time the Fire played. A 2-0 loss in New England combined with a two-week break from action left the team as well as yours truly antsy. Lucky for us, the Fire are back this afternoon as they welcome the New York Red Bulls to Toyota Park at 4pm CT (LIVE on NBC Sports Network).
With that, five things to know about today’s match vs. Energy Drink FC.
1) LACKING IN THE STARS… Excitement at having the Fire back is one thing but if you were hoping to see the stars come out of the woodwork for Red Bull this afternoon, you’ll be sorely disappointed as both Thierry Henry and Rafa Marquez didn’t make the trip due to injury.
On the Fire side, the long-term projection was to have Arne Friedrich back from a hamstring injury that’s kept him out of the team’s past four league matches. It appears the decision on whether or not he'll play will be of the gametime variety.
2) NO HENRY, FORMATION SHAKEUP… The strike partnership of Henry and forward Kenny Cooper has been deadly for Red Bull this season with the two combining for 20 goals in 22 joint appearances so far. When Henry has been out, Red Bull has moved to a 4-5-1 with Cooper alone up top and the likes of Joel Lindpere and Dane Richards providing support.
Still, it will be Cooper that is the focal point of Red Bull’s attack Sunday. The former FC Dallas striker is tied with San Jose’s Chris Wondolowski in the MLS Golden Boot Race at 11 and has tallied in each of the team’s last four matches.
3) COOPER, LINDPERE: GOAL SCORING HISTORY… Both players have histories of scoring against the Fire, with Cooper tallying six goals (all with Dallas) in nine career matches against the Men in Red while Lindpere has bagged three goals in four appearances since joining Red Bull in 2010.
Conversely, Fire forward Chris Rolfe, who looks set to make his first appearance at Toyota Park since re-joining the club in April has tallied six of his 36 career MLS goals against Red Bull.
4) LAST TIME PAPPA RETURNED IN SUMMER… Fire midfielder Marco Pappa returned to the team on Thursday after being away with the Guatemalan national side for friendlies and two FIFA World Cup qualifiers, culminating in his 82nd minute free kick to earn a 1-1 draw with the United States on Tuesday.
It reminded me of last year when Pappa returned from competitive June matches with Guatemala at the CONCACAF Gold Cup…In his first game back, he hit a bouncing 58th minute effort to draw a Sunday afternoon affair level at 1-1. The day, June 26, 2011. The opponent, Red Bull New York.
5) A RUBBER MATCH… Since a 2-0 win in the the Grand Opening match at Toyota Park on June 25, 2006, the Fire have never lost to Red Bull at the team’s soccer-specific stadium, going 5-0-3 in eight regular season matches.
On the flip, Red Bull comes into the game riding a six match unbeaten run, going 5-0-1 since dropping a 4-1 defeat at Eastern Conference leaders D.C. United on April 22…
6) HAPPY FATHER'S (and Mother's) DAY... Both my parents are awesome. I didn't have a Five Things to write on Mother's Day last month so I'll use this opportunity to wish my Dad Happy Father's Day and my Mom a Happy belated online Mother's Day wish. Both of my parents didn't always understand the obsession I had with soccer but they were always supportive and have been there for me throughout. Thank you both, sorry I can't be home today!
PREVIEW: Fire vs. Red Bulls
"Win at home, draw on the road.", "World Cup Qualifying can often be ugly and is rarely easy."
These are the old adages that U.S. Men's National Team fans hate hearing but time and again they remain true. While Tuesday night's 1-1 draw will leave a conflicted, sour taste in a Fire and USMNT fan’s mouth, the sky isn't close to falling.
Newish fans of the U.S. will look at a nation like Guatemala and ask why the U.S. couldn’t win there. It’s a fair question, though understanding historical context is important -- the U.S.is now 1-0-4 all-time at Guatemala in World Cup Qualifying with the only victory coming with an ugly 1-0 win there in 2008.
In his first true, competitive test as U.S. Men’s National Team coach, Jurgen Klinsmann had his side well prepared going in as the Guatemalans pushed the U.S. to a furious pace for much of the first half. The team moved the ball well and as we’ve seen in the past few matches, did well to create chances, though conversion still remains an issue.
Despite that, Clint Dempsey’s goal five minutes from the half was a perfect blow to the home side who looked ready to go into the locker room. Though after the break, Marco Pappa’s insertion into the game seemed to spark Guatemala and while the U.S. still created, los Chapines put Klinsmann’s side under threat via counter attack throughout the second half.
And as you go back to the final 10 minutes of the match – seeing Fabian Johnson whistled for a foul about five yards outside the U.S. box – you were likely on the edge of your seat. As a Fire and U.S. fan, you might have cringed when you saw Pappa stand over the ball with Carlos Ruiz. As he struck it, you sort of knew it was going in – 1-1.
It’s alright to feel conflicted this morning. Marco’s goal came at a time when his country was facing having zero points from two matches. Like he has a few times this year, he struck late to help his team and he did it with the skill that all Fire fans know he has in him.
In the end, the U.S. scrambled to defend and earn the point and that’s fine. It may not “progress” on paper but there is something to be said for the fact that the team is playing much more attractively than previous years.
Having admitted that, attractive soccer isn’t always going to get results and those all that matter in World Cup Qualifying. Klinsmann still hasn’t been on the job a year and has had some good ones. The team is still in a bit of transition and the biggest issue from the past three U.S. matches shows a team that can attack but hasn’t yet figured out how to play a complete 90 minutes.
Looking at the big picture, that’s sort of okay.
Earning a point in Guatemala is still nothing to shake a stick at, with most considering the match the most difficult of the six semifinal games.
By virtue of Jamaica and Antigua drawing 0-0 Tuesday, the U.S. sits alone atop the group and in the driver’s seat heading into their September home and home series with the Reggae Boyz – one that could potentially see the U.S. into the next round inside four games. Even sticking with the win at home, draw on the road mantra, the U.S. would still have eight points and need just a win from their final two games to go through.
In the end, playing beautifully is great as long as you’re getting the results. In CONCACAF, drawing on the road in a place like Guatemala City is a result…not what you want, not necessarily what could have happened but also not a disaster.
Poland 1-1 Greece • June 8, 2012
The first match of the 2012 Euros featured Greece taking on hosts Poland in Warsaw. Polish Borussia Dortmund star Robert Lewandowski wasted no time getting the first goal of the tournament hammering down a cross from Jakub Błaszczykowski with his head. Although it would be difficult to top the bizarre opening ceremony, the referee did his best to become the focal point in the match due to several controversial calls, which were later described by some Greek supporters as “ridiculopoulous.”
Greek Sokratis Papastathopoulos received a debatable red card for a push and the Greeks headed into halftime down a man and down a goal. At this point, I like to imagine that Greek captain Gorgios Karagounis gave a rousing locker-room speech reminding his men of Spartan King Leonidas from the film 300; “No retreat, no surrender!”
With this call to arms, his men responded though a goal from Dimitris Salpingidis to even the battle. Later, the match reached its apex following Polish goalkeeper Wojciech Szczęsny’s foul to give a penalty to Greece. Replacement goalkeeper Przemysław Tytoń made a diving save to keep the score tied at 1-1 with ten men on each side.
Ultimately, the result of this exciting inaugural match felt fair as both sides headed home with a point.
Russia 4-1 Czech Republic • June 8, 2012
Russia got on the board quickly with a goal from Alan Dzagoev in the 14th minute. Soon after, play was stopped due to a flare thrown on the field, used as a sort of makeshift firework celebration. On Sunday, the Russian Football Federation warned its fans to “Respect yourself, your home, and your team.” Despite the interruption, Russia would continue to score fairly consistently throughout the match with later goals from Roman Shirokov, Dzagoev, and Roman Pavlyuchenko.
The Czech Republic was not silent though, with a lone goal from Vaclav Pilar. The high-scoring affair ended a superb first day of action in a group that was predicted to be lackluster.
As analyst Alexi Lalas has pointed out, the fascination of Group A comes from the idea that each team in the group truly has the belief that they can advance.
Netherlands 0-1 Denmark • June 9, 2012
Group B’s first goal came from Denmark with a nutmeg from Michael Krohn-Dehli in the 24th minute. Krohn-Dehli has been marked in the media as a possible star of the tournament and could have transfer offers to leave his current side, Brøndby IF.
In the 88th minute, Denmark’s Lars Jacobsen contacted the ball twice with his arm in the box, but the referee controversially let play continue. The Netherlands would end the match with 28 shots to Denmark’s eight. Ultimately, the Oranje suffered the first upset of the tournament due to failure to finish chances.
Germany 1-0 Portugal • June 9, 2012
The second match on Friday featured the first meeting of giants, with Die Mannschaft facing off against Os Navegadores. Portugal set themselves up to absorb pressure for the majority of the match, in a Chelsea-esque manner.
In the 72nd minute, German Mario Gómez leapt into the air, heading down a cross from Khedira into goal. It should be noted that the cross actually deflected off of the back of a Portuguese player before making its way into the box.
Nonetheless, Germany capitalized on a created chance. In the end, it was all that they would need to assert early dominance in the tournament.
Spain 1-1 Italy • June 10, 2012
Saturday’s matches in the “Group of Debt” began with Spain and Italy, the last two World Cup champions. The feared Chelsea goal scorer Fernando Torres began this match starting in his natural position, on the bench. Meanwhile, much of the commentator’s attention throughout the game was directed at the holy terror Mario Balotelli. The Manchester City villain highlighted his performance on a breakaway where he choked by simply failing to kick the ball. Personally, I believe that he was trying to think of a fancy way to get by the goalkeeper and was unable to choose which trick on FIFA 12 he was going to try.
Luckily for the Italians, Balotelli’s ineptitude was negated by Andrea Pirlo’s class performance. His searing passes and assist on Antonio Di Natale’s 61st minute goal were truly enjoyable to take in. Spain would not be outdone, however, responding three minutes later with a typical passing display that led to a slotted goal by Cesc Fábregas.
After the match, Spanish players complained to the media that the conditions of the playing surface made their usual, quick passing impossible.
According to Xavi, “It was super dry and that makes passing the ball difficult.” Talk about first-world problems.
Republic of Ireland 1-3 Croatia • June 10, 2012
Saturday’s battles between failing economies continued as the Boys in Green tried to hold their own against the Vatreni (that’s “The Blazers,” for any non-Croats out there). I’ll forego the generic witty headline about the “bad luck of the Irish” and instead remember the tried and true virtue...you create your own luck in life.
The Irish failed to defend well, allowing goals that were softer than my new kitten. At some points it was difficult to differentiate whether Ireland was bad or if Croatia was good. Croatia’s goals came courtesy of Mario Mandzukic (3’, 48’) and Nikica Jelavic (43’).
Ireland did get a goal from Sean St. Ledger in the 19th minute, but certainly fell to a stronger side. That being said, some of my Irish friends insist that their side was just using this match to lull Italy and Spain into a false sense of security.