I was going to use this space to write that I was in no way, shape or form surprised by defending champion Italy’s come-from-behind 1-1 draw with Paraguay.
Then the texts started rolling in. And a comment on one of today’s earlier posts. The texts all expressed shock at Italy struggling to earn a tie. The comment did too, but it also added the England draw with the United States, questioned France’s performance and mentioned Japan’s surprise win over Cameroon, with this observation: “… very strange World Cup so far.”
That got me thinking. Is it a strange World Cup so far? The horrible ball and its inability to bounce properly, instead skidding across the turf on every long pass; its inability to be caught, much to the chagrin of numerous goalies; and its odd spins that seem to make it challenging for even the most skilled players to connect on short passes aside, I’m not surprised by most of the outcomes.
The U.S. tie over England was unexpected. But England has had problems the last couple months, and not just in net. Their midfield hasn’t looked solid in linking passes together and working the ball to the forwards. Defensively they’ve had questions in the middle. Striker Wayne Rooney has struggled for the last several months for country and some of it can be attributed to an ankle injury.
France came in with plenty of question marks. Uruguay didn’t help France answer them, only raised more.
Japan’s win over Cameroon was a surprise. But maybe more because of Cameroon’s lack of creativity in what should have seemed like a home game. Then again, Japan’s midfield play looked like something you’d expect out of Europe – that was plenty surprising.
Italy was shocking in that it came out attacking – highly unusual for a team known for taking care of defense first. The problem was Italy didn’t have anyone to finish. Daniele De Rossi can only be so many places at once. Luckily for Italy De Rossi’s leg popped out of nowhere to tie the game. Italy was considered too old for this tournament. They didn’t look too old and didn’t look tired. They just didn’t look great.
Why so many results that will puzzle some? World football. The easiest thing I can liken it to is the World Baseball Classic. With so many players from around the world, mostly Latin America, coming to play Major League Baseball in America, those players get better, go back to there countries and teach/coach and make players there better.
Now, think about the World Cup. World football has been doing this longer than baseball, and has been a world game much longer than baseball. The big football clubs have scouts all over the world. The English Premier League is the strongest, most competitive soccer league in the world. Those teams are full of world players.
Those players from countries not in Europe take the game back home to their national teams, to the kids’ organizations they run. Soon all those kids and national players that only play in their home country are trying moves and using tactics taught at the highest level.
Essentially, the game is seeing more parity. Don’t get me wrong, Japan and the U.S. won’t have full squads of players like Brazil and England for years and years. But a couple of players like Japan’s Daisuke Matsui and the U.S.’ Clint Dempsey can help offensively while a team can play defensively easier than attacking.
The shrinking of the world game makes for plausible upsets, such as Japanese and South Korean victories. Or U.S. draws with England.
Now, if North Korea somehow defeats Brazil on Tuesday at 12:30 p.m. somebody text me. Of course, by then I might be too shocked to reply.
– Scott Kaniewski