World Cup Qatar 2022, Part Three.

I’m getting worse at this. I got five picks right out of eight picks, and even a few of the ones I got right were somehow wrong.

I had Spain as a lock, and they lost in PKs. Senegal got blown out instead of upsetting England. And the US got knocked out by the Netherlands in embarrassing fashion.

This was a weird Cup for watching the US. Normally we get assigned to a group and I think, “With a little luck and catching the other teams on bad days, we can advance.” Not this time. This time we were legitimately the second-best team in the group going in. We clearly should have beaten Wales instead of tying, which nearly came back to haunt us since we needed that final win against Iran. We could have beaten England, and a tie was a just result, if such a thing exists in sport. In years past, I would’ve thought we’d be lucky to escape with just a one-goal loss, but our guys went toe-to-toe with them and could have won. So we advanced and took on the Netherlands, and…

I honestly thought that was a winnable game. There was some offense, though Pulisic’s miss will haunt him for the rest of his life. Haunting us was the lack of real strikers. It was obvious there was no target player at all, no dedicated finisher, nobody who struck fear (or even mild discomfort) in the hearts of our opponents. They seemed locked in on Pulisic, because he was clearly our go-to on offense, but he’s just not as finishy as Donovan or Dempsey were, and he’s not a big ball-winner in the box like McBride or Altidore were. I’m not saying any of those were superstars, but they were clearly the best we had at those vitally important scoring or assisting roles back in the days, and that just seemed to be missing. This team had a bunch of hybrids between forwards and attacking mids, and couldn’t seem to settle on who should be up top running at defenders, or winning headers in the box, or… anything.

And on the defensive end, you had the defensive mids losing track of the Dutch scorers. If you go back and watch the first two Dutch goals, you’ll notce American defensive mids jogging a few yards behind the scorer instead of being goalside, or even shoulder-to-shoulder with him. Amateur mistake. Grade school mistake. Old man in a beer league mistake. Disgusting.

A new metric occurred to me, while watching USA-England, to gauge the difference between two teams. When the back four are passing the ball around, preparing an attack, notice how far back they play. The more skill they have and the better organized they are, the further downfield they can set up. The less skill, the less organized, the deeper in their own end they have to set up because they need the extra time and space to keep the ball away from the opponents. Against England, our back four was often lined up level with the bottom of the center circle on our side of the field. England’s back four lined up in our half. That’s a 10- to 15-yard difference in skill and organization.

Anyhow, I’ll ramble more about the USMNT some other time. Back to my horrible picks. I didn’t expect Croatia to need PKs to beat Japan, and I didn’t have Portugal blowing out Switzerland. I even had Portugal-Switzerland as the most likely to go to PKs. Not even close. The Swiss should be banned from the next three World Cups; that performance was atrocious. Their slot really should have gone to someone else this year; maybe the second-place finisher in their qualifying group.

Brazil and France looked great. I expect to see them in the final. Spain was atrocious. It’s like they don’t understand the point of the game, which is to score goals. Possession is great; possession is necessary; but you have to remember to shoot. Spain didn’t. They had over 90% accuracy on over 1000 passes against Morocco… and one less shot on target. Riciulous.

Anyhow, let me do a bracket for the rest of the way, which will undoubtedly jinx certain teams.

Argentina over the Netherlands and Brazil over Croatia in two close games. An upset in either wouldn’t be too shocking.

538 has England as a slight favorite over France. I think that’s garbage. France has looked great so far. France over England. Portugal remembers to actually attack Morocco, and will win.

Brazil over Argentina in one semifinal. Brazil has too much talent that has learned to play well enough without starters, unlike the 2014 team. France over Portugal in the highest-scoring game of the tournament, I hope.

France over Brazil in the final. I like the Brazilian team, but nobody’s repeated in 60 years so I’d like to see that bit of history. Then again, maybe I’m compensating for picking against France over and over again in 2018. We’ll see.

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