Posted by: mdegeorge | June 25, 2010

Final verdict on World Cup snubs

Hindsight, they say, is 20-20. When it comes to the World Cup, that lens is turned squarely upon the issue of squad selection and who was left home. Snub by snub, the group stages have gone a long way in determining just how right (or wrong) managers were.

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Mexico

Jonathan Dos Santos: Right.

Javier Aguirre’s men have looked fluid and dangerous in attack even without the 20-year-old talent. Andres Guardado has been a constant threat every time he has gone near the bar, while Jonathan’s brother, Giovani, has blended in well despite initial unrest over his brother’s exclusion and indifferent form for club. Even temporarily reassigned central defender Rafa Marquez has adapted well to his holding midfield role for El Tri, notching the late equalizer against South Africa. The Mexican midfield, though thin in numbers, has helped carry them to the knockout stages; it’s now the strikers, especially Guillermo Franco and Carlos Vela, who need to step up.

South Africa

Benni McCarthy: Right.There’s blame to hand out for Bafana Bafana as the first ever host of a World Cup Finals not to advance from their group. A sizeable chunk belongs to goalkeeper Itumeleng Khune for his red card against Uruguay. Some goes to Steven Pienaar for a distinctly underwhelming performance in what was supposed to be his brightest hour. But manager Carlos Alberto Perreira allowed his young players, like 26-year-old Katlego Mphela and 24-year-old Bernard Parker, to grab the majority of experience on the world stage in an effort to build the nation’s soccer program. Having McCarthy would have been beneficial against France where maybe he could have poached a goal or two with the man advantage. But I have a hard time believing he would have changed the outcome of the group in the hosts’ favor.

France

Karim Benzema: WRONG.

No, my caps lock keys isn’t broken. You may think the omissions of Benzema and McCarthy are similar: big names, disappointing club forms, mercurial strikers. The difference is this verdict, though, is that at least the South Africans walk away with a modicum of satisfaction that they competed on the game’s biggest stage. The French just walk away with their collective tails between their legs (and, you could argue that tail is near where their head has been for the bulk of the proceedings). Anytime you score one goal in three games with the glut of talent at your disposal that Raymond Domenech had, there is no cure-all. But bringing in the most purely-talented striker the nation has at least removes a little doubt and one of the plethora of talking points. He and Nicolas Anelka are too similar in playing style to have been paired on the pitch, but Benzema provided a better alternative to the misfiring and moody Chelsea man than did Djibril Cisse. Benzema is just another nail—albeit a relatively minor one—in the Domenech miscalculation coffin.

Argentina

Javier Zanetti: Undecided.

Esteban Cambiasso: Right.

The Albiceleste’s back four has been breached only once in the group stage, but it came on a glaring unforced lapse of judgment by Martin Demichelis. His partners in the center, Walter Samuel and Nicolas Burdisso, have been unflappable, while fullbacks Gabriel Heinze and Jonas Gutierrez, in spite of two yellow cards in two matches from the latter, have yet to slip up. Gutierrez has often played in a more advanced role somewhere between the back four and the midfield, leaving a greater defensive burden on the implosion-prone Heinze, an arrangement they may come to rue at the wrong moment. Zanetti, while he doesn’t bring the aerial threat on set pieces that Heinze has already shown against Nigeria, is a more stabilizing force at the back. I have a feeling Argentina may miss that as the tournament progresses. As for Cambiasso, he has the dubious distinction of occupying the same position as Javier Mascherano, who has done little so far to discount his widely-accepted billing as the best holding midfielder in the world. Maxi Rodriquez, Angel Di Maria, Mario Bolatti, and especially Juan Sebastian Veron have been aggressive and effective pairing with Mascherano in the center of the pitch, leaving little room for a player even of Cambiasso’s class.

United States

Charlie Davies: Right.

Brian Ching: Wrong.

A lot was made of Davies exclusion by head coach Bob Bradley: he was the perfect man to pair Jozy Altidore up front; he could help rekindle the magic of last summer’s Confederations’ Cup; he had the desire and the talent and with time, would regain the form. Davies’ direct replacement, Robbie Findley, has been less than stellar in 122 minutes on the pitch, finding two yellow cards and a suspension for the Algeria game while collecting nary a shot, on or off target. Davies inclusion for the trip to South Africa would have altered the arrangement up front, but the questions over his fitness less than eight months after a car accident that would have left most people confined to a wheelchair was a risk Bradley was justified not to take. Ching faced a similar fight for fitness that he also lost in the eyes of Bradley—though he was healthy enough to log all but 10 minutes of club team Houston Dynamo’s pre-World Cup break games, even notching a goal. The Yanks have looked dreadful in set piece situations so far in the tournament; while that’s partially attributable to the propensity of the Jabulani ball to unpredictably flutter, especially at the higher altitudes, and the tentativeness of big central defenders to get forward, the presence of a deft aerial target such as Ching would have helped sort out a portion of the chemistry and decision-making problems plaguing the US in the attacking third. Thus far, the role of DaMarcus Beasley and Stuart Holden could have been consolidated into one player, leaving a spot for an adroit poacher such as Ching to help an offense that has been thirsting for goals with a striking contingent unable to supply them.

Germany

Thomas Hitzlsperger: Right.

I shook my head when I saw Joachim Low had excluded the veteran midfielder. I was befuddled by Low’s choice to carry just six recognized midfielders—none of whom were older than 26 and only two of whom (Bastian Schweinsteiger and Piotr Trochowski) had more than a dozen caps—with him to South Africa. I assumed Michael Ballack’s injury clinched Low’s need for Hitzlsperger to provide veteran cover to a midfield lacking the household names and central strength the footballing nation has become so accustomed to. But the youngsters Low chose to gamble with have paid off with aplomb. Sami Khedira, who elicited head scratches from many when he was named as Ballack’s replacement, deserved a goal against Australia and has been a constant threat. Mesut Ozil is showing the world what fans of the Bundesliga have long known, displaying his deadly left foot for the game-winner against Ghana. Schweinsteiger has been the usually dependable midfield fulcrum, while Marko Marin, Toni Kroos, and Trochowski have been capable if unspectacular in their limited substitute roles.

Italy

Giuseppe Rossi: Wrong.

Despite my opinions of the Teaneck, New Jersey native’s loyalty (or lack thereof), even I have to admit that his distinct skill set would have been an asset for the floundering and aging Italians. He may not have been able to single-handedly stem their historic collapse, but his pace, lively saunters forward, and lethal shot would have helped jump-start an attack that didn’t show signs of life until their backs were firmly against the wall. It seems unwise, especially with the benefit of hindsight, for manager Marcelo Lippi to have selected just five forwards when: a) he intended to use a 4-3-3 formation; b) he lacked depth in terms of wingers that could provide width; and c) he had no guarantees over the health of players like Andrea Pirlo and Mauro Camoranesi. And it’s not like Italian strikers have a penchant for failing to rise to the occasion on soccer’s biggest stages (I’m looking at you, Christian Vieri and Luca Toni). Add Alberto Gilardino’s name to that list after he failed to create a chance in two starts and was relegated to the bench for the finale. The use of 6-foot-2 Vincenzo Iaquinta out wide was disastrous and robbed the team of width. Simon Pepe was frequently misfiring, Giampaolo Pazzini was hardly given a chance with just 29 minutes on the pitch, and the only strikers to score from the run of play, Fabio Quagliarella and Antonio Di Natale, are very much like Rossi. On the bright side, Rossi’s name isn’t attached to this train wreck and will perhaps be disproportionately hailed as part of the winds of change moving forward.

Brazil

Ronaldinho: Undecided.

Alexandre Pato: Undecided.

It hasn’t come to bear just yet, but there’s a noticeable lack of creativity in this squad. Of their five goals, two have come from Elano and two from Luis Fabiano. Dunga (who has been an histrionic figure on the touchline much like his Argentine counterpart) has been reluctant to allow anyone other than Fabiano to play up front. Dani Alves, Nilmar, and Julio Baptista have been ineffective in their brief opportunities. Robinho has been proactive in creating chances but unable to finish any as of yet. And both Kaka and Elano carry question marks into the Round of 16 after picking up a red card and injury, respectively, against Ivory Coast. Let’s also not forget that outside of a dominant performance against the Elephants, they have just an uncomfortable and often times frustrating win against North Korea and a dull stalemate against Portugal to their credit. They haven’t missed Pato or Ronaldinho just yet, but if the lack of joga bonita is to blame for their premature exit from South Africa, you can bet fingers will be pointed in the direction of those two Milan-based absentees.

Switzerland

Johan Vonlanthen: Wrong.

No one would have thought the creative Vonlanthen would be missed after the storybook upset of Spain in the opener. But after another 180 minutes of scoreless soccer, his contributions would have been greatly welcomed. That was exacerbated by the red card given to right winger Valon Behrami that ended his Finals in the 31st minute of their second match. Hakan Yakin was at best a bit player, while Gelson Fernandes’ one moment of brilliance against Spain wasn’t replicated in the remaining two matches. Blaise N’Kufo was a constant culprit for the misfiring Swiss, Alexander Frei rarely got that close, and far too many opportunities for Eren Derdiyok—namely the golden chance that would have earned a draw with Chile in stoppage time—went begging. Much like Rossi, Vonlanthen might not have been the answer, but in such a nip-and-tuck group, any offensive contribution would have been greatly appreciated.

Spain

Marcos Senna: Right.

Daniel Guiza: Wrong.

The Sergio Busquets era has dawned in the center of Spain’s midfield without much consternation, giving them yet another, and harder tackling, option in the middle of the pitch. The more established central players like Xabi Alonso and Cesc Fabregas are now free to meander forward and better use their attacking guile with fewer defensive responsibilities. While Busquets doesn’t bring the attacking flare that Senna displayed at Euro 2008, his youthful vigor has made the decision to exclude the aging naturalized Brazilian beyond debate. The same isn’t true for Guiza. Fernando Torres has been alarmingly unable to find the net, and David Villa’s goal total would read more in the order of seven rather than three had he been in top form, including a missed penalty against Honduras. Pedro and Fernando Llorente, while talented, haven’t gotten the chance to prove themselves of yet. An established option like Guiza would be a welcome addition to the substitutes’ bench. The fact that the tipping point in the decision may have been that Guiza is very much former manager Luis Aragones’ man, following him from Euro 2008 glory to Turkey when the coach took the reins of Fenerbache, would be an unfortunate reason to deprive that national team of a prime striking talent.

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Responses

  1. Wandered across this blog in a search, and felt like Vieri deserved his name cleared. Best striker of the 1998 World Cup. At his best in big tournaments.


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