June 23, 2006

USA 1 Ghana 2

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Ha....guess why I do not make a living predicting football.

The USA did look stronger in the second half and had a few good chances, including a Brian McBride header that hit the post, but even with the officiating looking much more balanced, they could not find the back of the net. And as much as I want to moan about the dodgy penalty kick at the end of the first half, they would have needed one more anyway. Ghana was the better team on the pitch.

After the US lost 3-0 to the Czech Republic, we had a pretty good idea this was not a team that would not make it through to the final 16...the draw with Italy just prolonged the agony.

There will be a lot of thinking in the US on how to go forward from here. To be a truly world class power, we need more players in Europe, more international matches outside of the Americas, and probably a new coach. Arena had four years to build on the promise from the last world cup and did not get it done. It was a tough draw, but truly competitive teams (Ghana, for example) find ways to win.

By the way, FIFA's so-called #2 and #5 ranked sides both crashed out.

Posted by Kirk at 01:55 AM | Comments (0)

June 22, 2006

Oh, this is difficult

Halftime for Ghana v the USA, with the Africans up 2-1. Ghana scored first on an impressive takeaway (enough to eventually take Reyna out of the game) and follow through. The US equalised just before half time with a nice breakaway by Beasley, who crossed to Dempsey who expertly guided it in. Best US goal of the tournament...anyone want to challenge me on that, heh heh.

But Ghana won a dubious penalty in injury time and converted to regain the lead. The US cannot get a break. It was a fair clearance by the defender, but Markus Merk seems determined to send the US home. If the US is to earn a place in the next round, they need to overcome dodgy descisions like this. It still hurts.

Meanwhile, Italy are up 1-0 and have a man advantage over the Czechs, who had a man sent off just before the break. They look like they are on their way out. Just the result the US would like to see...if they were winning. But, unlike the Czech game, I believe the US has the potential to pull this one out.

Posted by Kirk at 11:53 PM | Comments (0)

June 19, 2006

Japan 0 Croatia 0

A bit frustrating...

Japan played very well in most respects - certainly they were a stronger team than the one that faced Australia. But they needed a win, and they did not get it.

The highpoint of the game has to be Kawaguchi's save of the penalty kick. The foul seemed dubious (sorry - hometeam bias), but they were not hurt by it. Although the momentum changed, it was not enough.

Japan needs a real striker. I wonder if Jico, I mean Zico, is re-thinking his decision to leave Kubo in Japan. They looked most dangerous when shooting from outside the box, but whenever Japan had anyone crossing in there was not much to get excited about.

Yanasigawa could have been the hero for Japan, but at one point he tapped a weak roller to the keeper when ANYTHING further left (maybe ten metres of open goal (is there that much? it seemed like it-)) would have hit the back of the net. Like I said - where were the real strikers?

Having said all that, it WAS an exciting match and well worth watching.

As for venues - we ended up at Amaris in the basement of the Roi Building. Y2,000 cover (includes one drink) and it was really good - plenty of TVs and plenty of seats - they seem to have the formula worked out - it was crowded, but not over the top.

We started at Paddy Foley's next door, but it was a magnet for anyone walking by and there were a surprising amount of tall people that either stood between me and the TV or me and the beer line. Where did they come from and why do they only come out during the world cup???

Hobgoblin gets a big thumbs down for saying the Akasaka branch would be open tonight. It is on their super fancy (and, apparently, super unreliable) schedule that Akasaka would be open for the Japan match, so I thought it would be OK. I even called the Roppongi bar this afternoon to confirm and they said yes (daijobou). But we went by at 830pm and it was closed. Maybe they figured it would be a draw anyway?

Good night out, disapponting result.

Brazil v Australia starts now. A lot less pressure on the latter now.

Posted by Kirk at 12:43 AM | Comments (1)

June 18, 2006

Italy 1 USA 1

This team was more like the one we saw in 2002.

Despite having two players sent off, Team USA managed to hold on for a draw against Italy. And Ghana's surprising win against the Czech Republic means the US is still not out.

Of course, they will have to win their next match against Ghana, which looks much harder than it did yesterday, and hope Italy can rebound from their frustrating performance to knock the Czechs out of the finals. They could also advance if Italy and Czech draw and they manage to win by four goals, but that is hard to imagine. In their favour, Ghana's two goal scorers are out for the last match after receiving two yellow cards.

The US has managed to get back some of the respect they gave away after losing to the Czech Republic in the first round. Nice. They have a massive uphill battle to get out of the group and even if they did that, Brazil remains their likely opponent in the last 16. But a place in the last 16 would be more than most people expected.

Posted by Kirk at 09:27 AM | Comments (0)

June 14, 2006

America's chances to advance

Stop laughing...no team can be eliminated after one match (mathematically, at least). So, can the US still advance? Of course, it is possible.

I am sure you have already heard the statistic that only one team in the last two world cups has advanced to the round of 16 after losing their first two matches (Turkey in 2002). That indicates how tough it will be.

Coach Arena said before the match that a first match loss means you need at least four points from the last two matches. With the loss to the Czech Republic being the most lopsided score in the tournament to date, they probably need to win both matches since being level on points is unlikely to be enough.

Two wins could still do it. The US is three points behind Italy and the Czechs, but they cannot exert any influence over the latter as they have already played. But a US win against Italy both levels the points between them and narrows the goal differential.

Following that up with a win against Ghana means Italy would have to win its later match against the Czech Republic to keep the US out. Even then, goal differential could be an issue.

So, it is possible. But is it probable?

The US has never won a world cup match in Europe. They have been roughed up in their first match and doubts remain on whether they are a competitive side for European teams.

They are taking one of the weakest attacking sides in the World Cup to play Italy, known for a national style of play that is firmly centered on not conceding goals (insert your own "f***ing boring football" comment here). With Italy five points ahead on goal differential ( 2 v -3), a US victory by one goal, amazing as that would be, may not be enough.

Assuming an improbable one-goal win, even then a draw with Ghana is only sufficient if Italy loses to the Czech Republic in its final match. There are other ways the US could advance...the Czech Republic could loss its next two matchs while the US wins its next two. The Czechs could beat Italy as badly as they did the US. The Czechs could beat Ghana and lose to Italy...etc

But the likely scenario would have to be two US victories. I would love to see that and I am hoping it happens. But I am not putting money on it. If they beat Italy next week, we can revisit the issue.

Posted by Kirk at 02:24 PM | Comments (1)

June 13, 2006

With some perspective

I should have said congratulations to the Aussies up front. Their first world cup win and they came from a goal down to to do it. I am certainly hoping to see them surprise Brazil, and you have to fancy their chances to advance to the round of 16. Does anyone know if the various schemes would eventually put them up against England? That would be an interesting match. Is the World Cup full of ashes?

And I am sorry for calling the guy that danced in front of the screen a muppet. In hindsight, if the US had scored I would have done the same thing. Of course, I was at home for that game.

Speaking of the US, a massive downsizing in expectations is going on. I re-watched some of the match today - it is not that they were hopelessly lost, but there was absolutely NOTHING going on upfront. Reyna was amazing, but there did not really seem to be anyone else on the pitch that would step up. I criticized Japan not being able to finish, but at least they were shooting. I read somewhere that Coach Arena went with a 3-5-2 formation, but it does not matter how many strikers you have if none of them are focused on the goal.

Anyway, I mentioned a downsizing of expectations. Instead of a quarterfinal run, let's see if they can win a world cup match in Europe. They face Italy and Ghana in the next ten days, so it may be tough.

Posted by Kirk at 03:42 PM | Comments (1)

One of those days

The Czechs have just got their second goal - a beautiful shot, but not what I wanted to see. This could be setting the stage for a miraculous comeback for the US.

One thing is for sure, I will miss it. It is 140am and I can watch the miracle when it is rebroadcast tomorrow. I am half asleep and waking up because the Japanese commentators are screaming the Czech Republic have scored again is not pleasant.

Will save the strategic commentary for tomorrow. It is one of those days - Japan was thoroughly outclassed, but led most of the match. This game seems much more even-handed, but the US are down by two. Early lessons? Finishing is important. It also helps to be lucky.

Posted by Kirk at 01:35 AM | Comments (0)

Arrrgghhhh - almost got it back

Ohhhh...USA takes it to the Czechs against the run of play. Reyna slots through the midfield and catches the back four off guard. Beautiful shot, but it hits the post. I hope it is not going to be one of those days (nights).

Posted by Kirk at 01:22 AM | Comments (0)

Oh crap...

Well, the US has picked up its first yellow card and conceded a goal, all in the first five minutes. That is annoying...In 2002, England and the US went out on the same day. This feels a lot like that. Do I really want to watch the full 90 minutes. And drinking water as I have to get up early tomorrow?

US has its first corner...let's see what happens.

Nothing.

Maybe I better have a drink after all.

Posted by Kirk at 01:07 AM | Comments (0)

Australia 3 Japan 1

Hmmmm - you cannot be happy if you are supporting Japan (which I am). Nevermind the pain of losing...having it happen in such a dramatic fashion in the last ten minutes has to really hurt.

But Japan did not deserve to win. They were thouroughly outplayed by Australia. Their opening goal was one of the dodgiest I have seen. It reminded me of Ronaldinho's goal against England in 2002...did he really hit it expecting it would go in?

Japan's problem is that they cannot score. They left their best striker in Japan and their best midfielder on the bench for the first 80 minutes. Maybe Japan's problem is Jico. I mean Zico. Not that it matters now...this was a must-win game. Japan has two matches left and little chance to win. Considering how quickly they deflated after conceding the first goal, there is no realistic chance they will advance.

Not that Australia is covered in glory. There was some pre-match controversy over comments from the Japan Football Association that the Australians were playing dirty football. Whilst they played well enough to win, it was ugly: Australia committed 23 fouls comapred to 11 for Japan...an idea reinforced by the muppet at the bar that chose to dance in front of the screen when Australia scored. I doubt he will dancing when they face Brazil.

To be fair, this was the most exciting match of the tournament so far. Both teams (alright...Australia) played a full 90 minutes in contrast to England (four minutes) and Holland (18 minutes?).

Next up is the USA vs Czech Republic...1am start. It is 12:21 now and I am absolutely exhausted. What to do...

Posted by Kirk at 12:05 AM | Comments (1)

June 11, 2006

Paraguay 0 England 1

Well, that is a relief! England took a big step towards advancing out of the group with a 1-0 win over Paraguay.

As for the football - I think England will have to raise their game if they move onto the final stages, but they did what they needed to. I wonder if any team has ever advanced from the group stages without scoring?

These are my observations:
* Peter Crouch was better than I expected. That is coming off low expectations, however, so do not read too much into it.
* England got the short end of the stick from the referees. It was a physical game on both sides, but usually the free kicks were going the other way.
* Sven Goran Ericsson looks like he is about 70 years old now. Never mind that he looks like that old bloke on the Simpsons...how on earth did he ever score with that FA secretary?
* And someone tell me what the substitutions were all about? Downing and Hargreaves? Maybe he is 70 years old.

It doesn't matter, England won.

As for the experience...I could have done without it. I tried Hobgoblin Roppongi, but it was already full 90 minutes before kick off so I went to Legends, which was not much better. If I never watch another football match there I will be happy. This is where the "I do not usually watch football, but I watch the world cup" fans went. And the American stockbrokers. Match that with crap TVs and shoddy service and you get the idea.

My big dilemma now is where to watch the football Monday night...any suggestions are welcome.

Posted by Kirk at 12:13 AM | Comments (1)

June 09, 2006

The guide to the World Cup in Japan

world cup logo.jpg

Instead of heading out at 6pm on a Friday night for a few drinks, I am at home. But not for long! With the opening match of the 2006 World Cup starting at 1am (2500), I figured I could wait a bit before getting some drinks in. And it gives me some time to put together this entry. A lot of the credit should go to Nick Carter (whoever you are!) who did the hard work of figuring out the broadcast schedule for games in Japan and then sharing that information with everyone ( I received the e-mail at least three times)! If you have not seen it, you can find the relevant information by clicking on the last link in this post.

Also, I will keep this entry on top for the next month and update it as I get more information. Comments and suggestions are welcome.

Your daily reading

Worldcup365 - This is run by the people at Football365 and a must read EVERY DAY, especially if you are an England fan. Mediawatch is highly recommended.
Official FIFA World Cup site - Good for the official spin and updates on team news (injuries etc)
The Guardian World Cup site - If you aren't reading this, what are you doing?

Where to go out and watch

Despite the time difference, there are plenty of choices for going out...finding a place that is comfortable is a different story altogther. Expect these places to be busy, especially for England and Japan matches.

* Hobgoblin and Legends (World Cup schedule here)
* Paddy's - They have apparently put in a few more TVs, so could be a good place to go.
* Tokyo Sports Cafe - the event schedule is here.
* Footnik - It looks like they are on a limited reservation system. I do not usually go here, so I was not paying attention.
* Meguro Tavern is working on a reservation system...the web site does not have any information, but you can click here to access it.
* Newcomer Baron in Nishi-Azabu will also have near-full coverage, but you will have to trust me on that as their web site is also lacking in details.

I imagine for major matches, ie anything with England or Japan, you will need to go early to stake out your territory.

If anyplace particularly stands out, I will let you know.

As for tonight, I am headed to Hobgoblin Roppongi or Legends for the Gernmany v Costa Rica match.

Surviving at home

In contrast to four years ago, Japan is not an ideal place to be for the World Cup. The time difference with Germany means that match times are 10pm, 1am (25.00) and 4am (28.00). The early games are bearable, the late matches almost impossible if you have anything to do at all the next day.

One small consolation is that Japan's world cup coverage is on terrestrial and free satellite TV, meaning late night trips to the bar are not always necessary. If you expand this entry, there is a listing of matches, including date, time and TV channel.

9 June (Friday)
25.00 Group A Germany v Costa Rica TBS, BS1, Bs-hi
28.00 Group A Poland v Ecuador BS1, Bs-hi

10 June (Saturday)
22.00 Group B Englandv Paraguay Fuji-TV, BS1, Bs-hi
25.00 Group B T&T v Sweden NHK-G Bs1, Bs-hi
28.00 Group C Argentina v Ivory Coast BS1, Bs-hi

11 June (Sunday)
22.00 Group C Serbia and Montenegro v Netherlands NHK-G, BS1
25.00 Group D Mexico v Iran TV Asahi, BS1, Bs-hi
28.00 Group D Angola v Portugal BS1, Bs-hi

12 June (Monday)
22.00 Group F Australia v Japan NHK-G, BS1,Bs-hi
25.00 Group E USA v Czech Republic NHK-G, BS1

28.00 Group E Italy v Ghana BS1, BS-hi

13 June (Tuesday)
22.00 Group G South-Korea v Togo NHK-G, BS1
25.00 Group G France v Switzerland TV Tokyo, BS1, BS-hi
28.00 Group F Brazil v Croatia TV Tokyo, BS1, BS-hi

14 June (Wednesday)
22.00 Group H Spain v Ukraine NHK-G, BS1
25.00 Group H Tunisia v Saudi-Arabia BS1, Bs-hi
28.00 Group A Germnyn v Poland BS1, Bs-hi

15 June (Thursday)
22.00 Group A Ecuador v Costa Rica NHK, BS1
25.00 Group B England v Trinidad and Tobago NHK-G, BS1
28.00 Group B Sweden v Paraguay BS1, Bs-hi

16 June (Friday)
22.00 Group C Argentina v Serbia and Montenegro NTV, BS1, Bs-hi
25.00 Group C Holland v Ivory Coast NTV, BS1, Bs-hi
28.00 Group D Mexico v Angola BS1, Bs-hi

17 June (Saturday)
22.00 Group D Portugal v Iran Fuji-TV, BS1, Bs-hi
25.00 Group E Czech v Ghana NHK-G, BS1
28.00 Group E Italy v USA BS1, Bs-hi

18 June (Sunday)
22.00 Group F Japan v Croatia TV-Asahi, BS1, Bs-hi
25.00 Group F Brazil v Australia Fuji-TV, BS1, Bs-hi
28.00 Group G France v South-Korea BS1, Bs-hi

19 June (Monday)
22.00 Group G Togo v Switzerland TBS, BS1, Bs-hi
25.00 Group H Saudi-Arabia v Ukraine NHK-G, BS1, Bs-hi
28.00 Group H Spain v Tunisia BS1, Bs-hi

20 June (Tuesday)
23.00 Group A Ecuador v Germany NHK-G, BS1, Bs-hi
23.00 Group A Costa Rica v Poland BS1
28.00 Group B Sweden v England BS1 (ONLY!!!)
28.00 Group B Paraguay v Trinidad and Tobago Bs-hi

21 June (Wednesday)
23.00 Group D Portugal v Mexico NHK, BS1, Bs1-hi
23.00 Group D Iran v Angola BS1
28.00 Group C Holland v Argentina BS1
28.00 Group C Ivory Coast v Serbia and Montenegro BS-hi

22 June (Thursday)
23.00 Group E Czech v Italy Fuji-TV, Bs-hi
23.00 Group E Ghana v USA BS1
28.00 Group F Croatia v Australia BS1
28.00 Group F Japan v Brazil NHK-G, Bs-hi

23 June (Friday)
23.00 Group H Saudi-Arabia v Spain NTV, Bs-hi
23.00 Group H Ukraine v Tunisia BS1
28.00 Group G Switzerland v South-Korea Bs-hi
28.00 Group G Togo v France BS1

24 June (Saturday)
24.00 1/8 Final 1 Winner A v Second B NTV, Bs-hi
28.00 1/8 Final 2 Winner C v Second D NHK-G, BS1

25 June (Sunday)
24.00 1/8 Final 3 Winner B v Second A NHK-G, BS1
28.00 1/8 Final 4 Winner D v Second C BS1, Bs-hi

26 June (Monday)
24.00 1/8 Final 5 Winner E v Second F TBS, BS1
28.00 1/8 Final 6 Winner G v Second H NHK-G, BS1

27 June (Tuesday)
24.00 1/8 Final 7 Winner F v Second E TBS, BS1
28.00 1/8 Final 8 Winner H v Second G BS1, Bs1-hi

30 June (Friday)
24.00 Quarterfinal 1 NHK-G, BS1
28.00 Quarterfinal 2 TV-Asahi, BS-hi

1 July (Saturday)
24.00 Quarterfinal 3 NTV, BS1
28.00 Quarterfinal 4 NHK-G, BS1

4 July (Tuesday)
28.00 Semifinal 1 NHK-G, BS1

5 July (Wednesday)
28.00 Semifinal 2 TV-Tokyo, BS1, Bs-hi

8 July
28.00 3rd/4th play-off NHK-G, BS1

9 July
27.00 Final TV-Tokyo, BS1, Bs-hi

Posted by Kirk at 07:46 PM | Comments (1)

May 15, 2006

Mad Zico...and we thought he was sleeping?

Can anyone explain this to me? Zico seems to have taken a page from Sven-Goran Ericsson's playbook by putting out a seemingly daft couple of choices for Germany.

His lineup for Japan in the World Cup does not include striker Kubo Tatsuhiko. Considering he is the most prolific of the Japan forwards and that Japan seems to have trouble scoring, it is a bit odd.

His explanation does not really help me:

Team coach Zico defended the controversial choice up front. "Kubo was not right physically and Maki is an interesting player who gives us another option," he said. "He's shown he can be a threat in the penalty box."

...another option for what?...a threat to whom? I have no idea whether this is a smart move or not, so anyone with reasonable knowledge of the Japanese team, please leave a comment.

He has also included Inamoto Junichi, who peaked in the opening stages of the 2002 World Cup and done little since, but as one of the few Japanese players in the Premiership one imagines he has to be selected. (Does anyone remember that Arsenal famously dropped Inamoto after the World Cup in 2002?)

For the BBC writeup and player list, click here.

Posted by Kirk at 06:58 PM | Comments (0)

May 09, 2006

Japan 1 Bulgaria 2

I haven't written about sports recently, so I thought I would take the opportunity to do that while watching Japan play Bulgaria in a pre-World Cup friendly.

It has to be a disapponting match for Japan in some respects. A little confusion early on and they were down 0-1 before two minutes had passed. For most of the rest of the match they were very aggressive and it seemed they spent most of the match in the Bulgarian half of the pitch. Eventually they equalised, although it seems to have been more accidental than anything.

And all was well until Bulgaria scored again from a free kick with less than ten minutes left. Oops. It was so late in the match that I had already started to write this. Japan seemed to have problems with finishing but I would not read too much into it as the Europe-based players did not participate.

It was very exciting. Scotland is next up on Saturday, which should be an interesting match. At least until the FA Cup final starts.

I thought I would use the match as an opportunity to improve my Japanese language listening skills, but I am crap at listening in any language and I was trying to do my homework at the same time, so I doubt I have made any improvement. Ugh.

Posted by Kirk at 09:12 PM | Comments (0)

December 10, 2005

World Cup finals draw - good for England, tough for the US, awful for Japan

The groups and matches for the 2006 World Cup finals were announced last night. England should have an easy time of it in Group B, with Sweden the only real challenge in their group. The USA, in Group E, has a much tougher road, with Italy and the Czech Republic to advance past. Not only that, but Group E faces off with Group F in the knockout stages, so the runner-up will in all likelihood face Brazil. Here is the American view on that:

If the U.S. team advances to the second round, it most likely would play defending champion Brazil, Croatia or Australia. What will Arena do if the Americans get past the first round? "I'll be drinking in the hotel bar," he said

And that is why Japan has it tough...it is already in Group F and will play Brazil along with Croatia and Ghana - it would be surprising if they made it past the group stage. That rounds out the teams I have an interest in.

The tournament starts with host Germany and Costa Rica on 9 June in Frankfurt. That should be an interesting match...I wonder if it will be as surprising as France-Senegal at the 2002 World Cup finals. I hope so - Germany was lucky to get to the final in 2002 and I would like to see them knocked out early.

Here are the match-ups for England, the USA and Japan. I am really keen to see England-Sweden (I went to the same match in 2002 in Saitama, Japan), all the US games, and Japan v Brazil.

England matches
10-Jun-06 Frankfurt v Paraguay
15-Jun-06 Nuremberg v Trinidad
20-Jun-06 Cologne v Sweden

USA matches
12-Jun-06 Gelsenkirchen v Czech Republic
17-Jun-06 Kaiserslautern v Italy
22-Jun-06 Nuremberg v Ghana

Japan matches
12-Jun-06 Kaiserslautern v Australia
18-Jun-06 Nuremberg v Croatia
22-Jun-06 Dortmund v Brazil

If you are wondering where some of these places are, click here for a BBC guide to the venues. It has a map with the locations as well as facts on the stadiums, including trivia. For example, the ground in Gelsenkirchen has a 5km beer pipeline...what else do you need to know?

Posted by Kirk at 04:23 PM | Comments (0)