Sports Outside the Beltway

Ghana beats Czechs 2-0 in World Cup

The United States team got some help from an unlikely source, as Ghana stunned the Czech Republic in World Cup play.

Photo Ghana Beats Czech Republic World Cup Group E soccer match between Czech Republic and Ghana, at the Cologne stadium, Germany, Saturday, June 17, 2006. Ghana won 2-0. The other teams in Group E are Italy and the United States. (AP Photo/Murad Sezer) Ghana pulled off the biggest upset of this World Cup and might have helped the United States along the way. The first win for Africa in this tournament was a stunner, 2-0 over the same Czech Republic team that routed the Americans in their opener. Asamoah Gyan scored in the second minute Saturday and the Ghanians peppered star goalkeeper Petr Cech before getting the clincher in the 82nd.

With the victory, Ghana assured that the United States would not be eliminated from contention even with a loss later Saturday against Italy. A U.S. win would put all four teams even at three points in Group E.

Quite bizarre.



Monks face World Cup defrocking

From Reuters

PHNOM PENH (Reuters) – Phnom Penh patriarch Non Nget has told Cambodia’s 40,000 Buddhist monks to remain passive while watching World Cup football games or be defrocked.

Non Nget said on Monday monks should not watch the games in public, cheer or bet on matches as such actions were against Buddhism.

“It is very difficult to ban them because new technology means the games can be aired live and seen everywhere,” he said. “They may watch, but must be calm.”

“But if they make noise or cheer as they watch, they will lose their monkhoods,” Non Nget told Reuters.

Non Nget seems to have forgotten Buddhist monks are people too. Isn’t the world just full of nuts?


US Embarrassed 3-0 by Czech Republic

Despite coming into the tournament ranked number five in the world, mostly thanks to playing against relatively weak competition in the Americas, Team USA was trounced in their opener in the 2006 World Cup.

Czechs Beat USA 3-0 World Cup 2006 PHOTO Czech Republic's Tomas Rosicky, right, is followed by team captain Tomas Galasek, left, and teammate David Rozehnal as he celebrates after scoring during the World Cup, Group E soccer match between the United States and the Czech Republic, at the Gelsenkirchen stadium, Germany, Monday, June 12, 2006. The other teams in Group E are Italy and Ghana. (AP Photo/Petr David Josek) MOBILE/PDA USAGE OUT Jan Koller scored early, and Tomas Rosicky added two more goals Monday to lead the Czech Republic to a 3-0 win over the United States in Group E of the World Cup. Koller, who returned only last month from knee surgery, already had been fouled by Oguchi Onyewu and Eddie Pope in the first two minutes. He then headed a cross to put the ball past United States goalkeeper Kasey Keller for his 43rd goal in 69 international appearances, a Czech record.

Rosicky scored on a soaring 25-meter (yard) shot in the 36th minute, and the Americans never got back into the game. Rosicky hit the crossbar in the 68th and added a goal in the 76th minute, getting past the United States defense off a through pass from Pavel Nedved and beating Keller on the breakaway.

Koller injured his right leg battling Onyewu for a ball on the flank in the 43d minute, and was taken off on stretcher. He was taken to a hospital to be examined, the Czech team said.

It’s looking like another first round exit for the Red, White, and Blue. And they wonder why Americans don’t get excited about soccer.

Commenter Brandon Minich notes that the Czechs were ranked 2nd in the world, and thus should have beaten the 5th ranked USA team. A fair point; only Brazil is ranked higher.

Of course, this points to another reason why the World Cup is unlikely to cultivate much of an American fan base: Idiotic bracketing. There are 32 teams in 8 brackets. How on earth can the 2nd and 5th teams be in the same bracket, virtually guaranteeing one will be eliminated in the preliminary rounds?! Wouldn’t we expect teams 1-8 to be in separate brackets, with teams 9-16, 17-24, and 25-32 distributed accordingly to give the top seeds the best shot at advancing?


USA Serious Contenders for 2006 World Cup

For the first time in decades, Team USA enters a World Cup competition with a legitimate chance to go deep.

In his polo shirt, pleated pants and loafers, Bruce Arena might have been an executive exhorting the troops on a corporate retreat. Instead, he was pacing the tiny locker room at the SAS Soccer Park in Cary, N.C. On this April night, the United States men’s national team would play a friendly against Jamaica, its last match before Arena, the coach, named his 23-man roster for the World Cup this month in Germany. The dressing area bore the reek of men huddled in a cramped space, the players lightly sweating after warm-ups and desperate to catch the boss’s eye, to win his approval in this final audition.

Rhythmic clapping began reverberating off the cement walls. “Let’s go, boys,” someone shouted, then “Come on, boys,” and Arena stepped into the middle of the shouts and the perspiring hopefulness and the discarded warm-up shirts. He did not yell or embrace a football coach’s us-against-the-world paranoia; rather, he spoke with the calm assurance of a coach whose team is ranked No. 5 in the world, a team that could have — should have — reached the semifinals of the 2002 World Cup in South Korea and Japan but lost, 1-0, to Germany after a grand, improbable advance to the tournament’s quarterfinals.

“When we’re in possession early in the game, let’s open up the play,” Arena, who is 54, told his players before they left to take the field. “We want to pressure them early. Make sure we’re talking. Be smart. Let’s not give away stupid fouls in the defensive third of the field. Be prepared to make adjustments. Let’s be aggressive, let’s attack them.” Arena told his players to exert themselves all night in front of the goal. “Pressure,” he continued. “We’re looking to be very aggressive. Our outside backs must join in attack. Our midfielders, figure out where you need to move to be dangerous.”

These plans for the match went awry when Jamaica scored in the fourth minute and then turtled into a defensive shell. Eventually the game ended in a 1-1 draw. But Arena’s pregame speech serves as a useful blueprint for how he expects the United States to perform in the first round of the World Cup against the Czech Republic (June 12), Italy (June 17) and Ghana (June 22): by applying defensive pressure, counterattacking and playing aggressively; by relying on speed, fitness, athleticism, competitiveness, teamwork and intelligence; and by drawing on the professionalism that results from having a domestic league, Major League Soccer, reach its second decade and from having an increasing number of American players gain experience at European clubs.

The glue binding all these qualities together is the perseverance and determination that Alex Ferguson, the coach of Manchester United, in England, has called “that American thing.” It’s a method of commitment that Jürgen Klinsmann, Germany’s national-team coach, told me is born of optimism and confidence, of “how to deal with people, how to look at things, how to believe in yourself, how to focus on things and also to take risks, to say, ‘Let’s go for it.’”

In late March, the day before the United States played an exhibition against Germany in Dortmund, Arena was asked at a packed news conference whether, as a sort of guru, other coaches come to him for advice. Implied in the question was Arena’s résumé: five National Collegiate Athletic Association titles at the University of Virginia, two M.L.S. titles with D.C. United, a record 69 victories with the American national team and the quarterfinal appearance in the 2002 World Cup. Among the 32 countries participating in the 2006 World Cup, Arena’s seven-plus-year tenure as a national-team coach is unmatched.

Still, Arena smiled and parried the question like a goalkeeper punching away a free kick. “I don’t think there are too many coaches in Europe who are looking at me and are very impressed, believe me,” he said.

Indeed, no one considers the United States a top-five team. The ranking, determined by FIFA, soccer’s world governing body, is inflated by American dominance in the mediocre North American, Central American and Caribbean region. As Arena notes, American names are unfailingly absent from FIFA’s listing of the top international players. M.L.S. is a middling league, and with the exception of the midfielder DaMarcus Beasley, who is at PSV Eindhoven in the Netherlands, the European-based Americans are not playing regularly with the continent’s biggest teams or forging their skills in the furnace of soccer’s premier club competition, the season-long Champions League tournament.

But don’t be fooled by Arena’s answer. He is supremely confident in his abilities. And he has done a remarkable job elevating the stature of the United States in international soccer. Partly this is because of his strategic and tactical skills in putting the right people on the field in the right place. At the 2002 World Cup, for example, he took a chance on the callow Beasley and Landon Donovan, when both were 20; he put Brad Friedel in goal instead of the equally experienced Kasey Keller; he started a less-than-fit Clint Mathis against South Korea and coaxed a goal from him that produced a draw; and he switched to a somewhat unfamiliar alignment with three defenders on the back line for a second-round victory over Mexico.

I don’t know that soccer can become much more than a niche spectator sport in the U.S., even though it has become a major participant sport for our youth. It may just be too low scoring for our tastes. Certainly, though, making a legitimate push at the world championship would help.


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