Mustang News Alumnus shows that World Cup emotions are not only prevalent in the stadium. | Courtesy Photo

Nick Larson
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The 2014 FIFA World Cup has been ridiculous.

I dare anyone to find a tournament as exciting, passionate and dramatic as the one taking place in Brazil this summer. Through 29 matches in 10 days, we’ve seen an astounding 83 goals — nearly three per game — making this the highest-scoring tournament since the 1950s.

If you haven’t been watching thus far, start now. The best is yet to come.

Spain’s woes

The first major shock came when defending champion Spain was eliminated from contention after losses to the Netherlands and Chile. The Dutch squad exploded to drop five goals on Spain, thanks to the aerodynamic Arjen Robben and Robin van Persie’s best flying squirrel impression. Chile, a dark horse in this tournament led by steamroller Arturo Vidal, is simply a stronger, younger, more complete team than the Spaniards at this point.

Spain has dominated international soccer for the last six to eight years, but its golden generation is aging, and it shows. Xavi can’t play 90 minutes, Casillas forgot he could use his hands and the defense has more holes than the ozone layer. The Tiki Taka style that ran the world for the last eight years, with its dominating possession and quick, killer passes, is dead.

“The Adam Sandler of soccer”

The on-paper powerhouse England has also already been eliminated.

After a well-fought loss to Italy in its first game, England was single-handedly taken down by the current best striker in the world, Luis Suarez. Less than four weeks removed from knee surgery, Suarez missed the opener against Costa Rica, but he made it back just in time to help England do what England does best: underachieve.

England is the Adam Sandler of soccer.

In the early days, England was a great team and even won a World Cup in 1966. The team gained its loyal fans who now cling to the glory days. Sandler fans ignore things like “Jack & Jill” and “Click,” only acknowledging “Happy Gilmore,” “The Wedding Singer” and “Hanukkah Song,” just like England fans cling to Bobby Moore and Bobby Charlton while conveniently forgetting that Peter Crouch was once their starting striker. Every four years, England fans brainwash themselves into thinking they have a chance, and just like those who go to a Sandler movie thinking, “Will Adam be funny again?” they quickly realize they’re wrong.

Home field advantage

Brazil’s first two performances have been underwhelming, as Selecao struggled  to get into a groove against Croatia but were bailed out by the referee who rewarded a flopping Fred with a penalty. Brazil then drew Mexico 0-0, a poor result for the tournament favorite against a team that’s only in the World Cup thanks to two stoppage-time goals by the Americans in the last CONCACAF qualifier. Despite the slow start, you can never count out a team as talented and supported as Brazil.

If this tournament was in Europe, things would be different, but making Brazil the home nation spells trouble for the 31 other teams.

The American way

The United States team had been making headlines throughout the weeks leading up to the tournament.

First, there was the Landon Donovan fiasco, where coach Jurgen Klinsmann left Donovan off the final 23-man World Cup roster. Americans berated Klinsmann for the decision, but from a soccer standpoint, the arguments supporting Donovan’s selection to the team were all based on what he has done in the past, not what he could do to help the United States in this World Cup and beyond.

Landon is an American soccer legend, there’s no denying that, but on the national stage, his time had come. He was a player who relied on extreme speed and quickness to put him into scoring positions, but at an advanced age, Landon has lost a step and doesn’t have the technical ability compensate for that. He’s now simply a good player in the MLS, nothing more.

Soon after the Landon exclusion, Klinsmann was quoted saying that the United States had no chance to win the World Cup.

Again, people freaked out. Instead of thinking he was trying to take the pressure off his extremely young and inexperienced team, or accepting that he’s probably right, people berated him again.

Despite his exclusion of Donovan and his realistic comments, haters have to admit Klinsmann is a soccer genius. The guy took a waning German nation and turned it back into a powerhouse in his first coaching gig. He changed its mentality and philosophy, bringing an attacking style of soccer back to the German side. He chose to start youth over experience, bringing together a group of players that are currently dominating the world.

Sound familiar?

So before we call for Klinsmann’s head and do the American thing where we don’t give him enough time to develop his players, let’s give the guy a chance. I’m not saying we’ll be what Germany is now in eight years, but we can be close.

Last Monday, the United States took on archrival Ghana, a talented African team that has knocked the Yanks out of the last two World Cups. Thanks to a goal 30 seconds in by Clint Dempsey, the U.S. took the lead.

The next 84 minutes were hell for the Americans.

Ghana sent wave after wave of attack, swinging in ball after ball from the wings. Twenty-three minutes in, striker Jozy Altidore pulled up lame with a hamstring injury and was carried off the field in a stretcher. Altidore is by no means one of our best players — just ask Sunderland fans – but he might be one of the more important ones. He’s a big, strong guy who fits Klinsmann’s system perfectly.

At halftime, centre-back Matt Besler was also subbed out with a hamstring problem, so big John Brooks was brought in.

Ghana still dominated play, but couldn’t get one through Tim Howard until the 82nd minute. A draw against Ghana wouldn’t have been the end for the U.S., it’s still a decent result. However, John Brooks’ header off a corner in the 86th minute brought the nation to its feet. The United States, despite being outplayed, had done exactly what it needed to do — get three points against Ghana.

So as the United States squad heads into its second match against Portugal, the path is simple. Win, and the U.S. is through to the knockout rounds. Portugal was throttled by Germany last week 4-0, and won’t have their notoriously nasty and angry centre-back Pepe against the United States due to a red card he picked up in the last match. Also, Pepe’s teammate at Real Madrid, Fabio Coentrao, is out with injury, as is Hugo Almeida, the starting striker.

Unfortunately for the United States, its players will line up against the human cheat code, Cristiano Ronaldo.

Arguably the best player in the world, Ronaldo is faster, quicker, stronger and more skilled than anyone the U.S. has on the roster. If they lose, it’ll likely be because Ronaldo ran over DaMarcus Beasley like someone who just used a “star” in Mario Kart. If the United States can stop CR7, or at least slow him down, they have a chance.

The last thing the U.S. wants is to head into the final game against Germany needing points.

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