Tuesday, May 27, 2014

World Cup Warm-Up Preview

In anticipation of the World Cup kicking off in a little over 2 weeks, national teams will play a series of friendlies in preparation for Brazil. Now that most teams have named their 23-man rosters (with the US catching the biggest headline by leaving Landon Donovan off the roster), this is the last chance for teams to work on their chemistry before the big stage. The vast majority of matches feature teams that will play in the World Cup taking on teams that will not play in the World Cup, but there are a few games that you should circle on your calendar. I'll have more in-depth previews of each of the World Cup groups coming up next week, but since the teams are warming up for the World Cup, it seemed like a good opportunity to warm up on the blog as well.

The US Schedule

In the United States, the national team has dubbed this the "Send-Off Series." All of the games will be on ESPN or ESPN2 so that the American audience can get a full analysis on whether or not Landon Donovan should've been included with the 23-man roster that manager Jurgen Klinsmann is taking to Brazil.

USA vs Azerbaijan
May 27
San Francisco, CA
10pm EST ESPN2

Azerbaijan is the 85th ranked team in the world and was eliminated from World Cup qualification in the group stage, finishing 4th behind Russia, Portugal and Israel. Azerbaijan should be a good early test for the US as they don't offer much from an offensive perspective, but are a defensive-minded squad. Azerbaijan scored draws in 6 of their 10 qualifying matches and the only team to score more than once in a match against them was Portugal (who beat them 3-0 and 2-0). Azerbaijan also has one of the cooler flags in the world, though that doesn't mean much on the pitch. This will be the first match for the US team after Donovan's exclusion from the roster and will need to find a way to produce goals without Donovan's creativity in the midfield. If the US struggles against Azerbaijan, the critics will be out in full force for Klinsmann's choice to exclude Donovan from the roster.

USA vs Turkey
June 1
Harrison, NJ

The Turkish team, ranked 38th in the world, will be a clear step up from Azerbaijan. The Turks finished 4th in their qualification group behind the Netherlands, Romania and Hungary but were locked in a tight battle with Romania and Hungary for the second position. Ulitmately, Romania advanced with 19 points while Hungary (17 points) and Turkey (16 points) were eliminated. The Turks have a good balance of offense and defense and are capable of challenging the US team at both ends of the pitch.

USA vs Nigeria
June 7
Jacksonville, FL

Shortly after California Chrome makes his run at the Belmont, the US national team will take on Nigeria in their final match before the World Cup. This will be an important match for both teams as both are headed to Brazil. For Nigeria, the 44th-ranked team in the world, they will be looking to hit their stride defensively as they head into a group with offensive powerhouses Argentina and Bosnia and Herzegovina. If Nigeria is going to advance, they are going to need to produce on the offensive end as well, so expect them to press the US had in the midfield and on offense in the hopes of getting an offensive rhythm going as they head into Brazil. For the United States, this is the only match of the "Send-off Series" against another World Cup opponent. This match should have the intensity of a World Cup game as both teams try to work out the kinks offensively to prepare for their group stage matches.

The Enemies of our Enemies

Not only should soccer fans be taking note of how the US is playing heding into Brazil, but also how the three other Group G teams are playing. Two weeks ago, Germany was held to a 0-0 draw by Poland, sparking some concerns on the German homefront. Portugal, like the US, has 3 friendlies scheduled over the next two weeks with two of them being played on American soil. Ghana will also play three friendlies before the World Cup with the final one being played in the United States.

Portugal v Greece
May 31

This should be an immediate test of how good Portugal's team is on the offensive end. Greece plays a defensive, low-scoring game. Germany and the US would be wise to watch how Greece defends against Portugal's scorers and copy their blueprint in the group stage. Both of these teams qualified for the World Cup so this should be a good test of Portugal's offense against Greece's defense.

Ghana v Netherlands
May 31

Another match of two World Cup qualifiers. The Netherlands drew Spain and Chile in their group and are looking to right the ship after their disaster at Euro 2012. Holland is tactically sound in the midfield and this should be a good test of how well Ghana plays in the middle of the pitch.

Germany v Cameroon
June 1

The Germans only friendly against a fellow World Cup qualifier comes on June 1. Cameroon has the makings of being the basement-dweller of Group A (which also features Brazil, Mexico and Croatia. A blistering offensive performance against Cameroon would be a sign that the Germans are getting their act together as the World Cup nears. US fans should hope that the Germans continue to struggle to find their offensive touch.

Ghana v Guatemala
June 6

Guatemala does not represent an overly difficult opponent for the Ghanaians, but they have been notoriously hard to beat in Guatemala City. It is somewhat surprising that Ghana would schedule a true away game this close to the World Cup.

Portugal v Mexico
June 6

Unlike some other teams, Portugal certainly did not take the easy route in their warm up matches. Facing off against Mexico in a neutral/hostile location (Boston). Since ESPN shows a lot of the Mexican national team games, US fans will be able to get an early look at Portugal (this game will be on ESPN2).

Germany v Armenia
June 6

The Germans should walk all over Armenia in their last game before the World Cup.

Ghana v South Korea
June 8

Ghana's second match against a fellow World Cup qualifier should be telling for both sides. South Korea has been on a slide over the last year after reaching the knockout stage in the 2010 World Cup. South Korea has a window of opportunity in their group with games against Russia and Algeria and a good showing against Ghana could propel them into another successful showing in the group stage.

Portugal v Ireland
June 10

Portugal's last test before the World Cup coems against an Irish side that will be staying home. Of all the Group G teams, Portugal will have the last game before the start of the World Cup. However, this should not be too much of a disadvantage because Group G does not kick off their games until June 16, giving the Portugese team almost a full week's rest between matches.

Other Games of Note

Some teams have already begun their warm-up matches for the World Cup. So far, the only match between two teams that will be playing in Brazil was a draw between Ecuador and the Netherlands.

Bosnia and Herzegovina v Ivory Coast
May 30

Two teams that will be looking to advance to the knockout stage for the first time in national history. Both teams are offensively gifted and this could be a high-scoring affair. If one team wins decisively they will start to generate buzz heading into the tournament.

Chile v Egypt
May 30

Egypt is ranked as the second best team in Africa and is one of the best sides not to qualify for the World Cup. This will be a good test for a Chilean side that will face a brutal group stage.

Mexico v Ecuador
May 31

An important game for Mexico against a fellow World Cup qualifier as they attempt to find the offensive rhythm that eluded them through most of the qualification stages. Ecuador took a step forward with a draw against the Netherlands in Amsterdam, but will need to continue to prove they can contend on foreign soil.

Greece v Nigeria
June 3

Greece relies on defense and Nigeria will need a strong offensive game in order to advance out of the group stage. Both teams are underdogs in Brazil but could sneak into the knockout stages. It will also be worth noting how Nigeria is playing in the match before they face the US.

Mexico v Bosnia and Herzegovina
June 3

Bosnia and Herzegovina is challenging their young squad in preparation for the world's biggest stage. Mexico struggled through the group stages and if they fall to Ecuador and Bosnia-Herzegovina, it could be a harbinger of disaster in Brazil. This game will be on ESPN2.

Ecuador v England
June 4

The English side has two matches against fellow World Cup qualifiers in the week before the tournament begins. England perennially carries high expectations, which are a bit tempered this year as they play in a group with Italy and Uruguay. The matches against Mexico and England (both played in the United States) are important for Ecuador as the knock on them is that they struggle away from home.

England v Honduras
June 7

England's second match against a World Cup qualifier should provide them the momentum they need heading into the tournament. Honduras has never won a game at the World Cup and a decent showing against England could lay the groundwork for them to spring a surprise in Group E which features an offensively bereft Switzerland side, an up-and-down French contingent and a Ecuadorian side that is awful away from their home soil.

1 comment:

Sir Jorge said...

Wow, those warm up games look very interesting. I love some of the match ups. It'll be a good start to a great tournament, that's for sure. http://worldcuprants.blogspot.com/