Brazil advances out of the Group of Death

Brazil advances out of the Group of Death

By Adam Vaccaro

What happened Friday: Playing without Kaka (suspension) and Elano (minor shin injury) in its first World Cup match against Portugal since 1966, Brazil won the Group of Death with a scoreless draw. A win would have clinched the top spot for the Portuguese, but they seemed fairly content with the result that sends the squad to the second round as runners-up. Coach Dunga of Brazil was far less pleased, and he showed his ire with the lack of offense on the sideline throughout the match. Still, Brazil wins its group for the eighth straight World Cup and remains a strong favorite as knockout play begins.

Also Friday: Winning the group was significant for Brazil, as it means that Selecao will avoid Spain in the second round. La Furia Roja beat Chile 2-1 to win Group G. David Villa sent a 50 yard bid home to start the scoring and picked up another goal from Andres Iniesta in the 37th minute. Down a man, Chile pulled the score within one just out of halftime on a deflected bid from Rodrigo Millar and showed good spirit in trying to level the score, but the task was just too tall. Even in losing, Chile earns a trip to the Round of 16 thanks in large part to a surprising scoreless draw between Honduras and Switzerland. They won't have much time to celebrate, however; Brazil awaits on Monday.

Ivory Coast needed a Portuguese loss and to score at will in the process of beating North Korea to wipe out a wide goal difference and advance. The Elephants showed the required attacking urgency early on, scoring twice in the first twenty minutes, but they only got one more and Portugal's draw kept them from possibly advancing regardless. We knew all along that only two of three very strong teams were going to survive the Group of Death. Ivory Coast ended up the unfortunate exclusion despite playing on its own continent's soil. The 3-0 win at least made for a solid send-off result.

What it all means: Spain and Portugal will partake in a great neighborly dispute on Tuesday morning. That one of these two powers will be eliminated so early is good news for the rest of the tournament. Brazil draws the easier assignment in Chile, but La Roja has shown itself very capable not to mention entertaining in group play. It'll be an uphill battle for the Group H runner-up, but they do at least belong on the same field with their fellow South Americans. In Chile, a nation still recovering from a devastating February earthquake, the team's success is a welcome distraction and a beacon of hope.

Switzerland heads home with four points but will be a team to watch over the next few years and are likely to be quite strong in 2014. The draw against Honduras is a disappointment, however, as the Swiss entered the day looking very likely to advance. Honduras was clearly happy just to have qualified and proudly takes a point away from its first World Cup in 28 years.

The talented Ivory Coast had an opportunity to go deep in the tournament, but they knew elimination was a distinct possibility from the moment groups were drawn. Brazil and Portugal are just too good. Overall, the country will be proud of its scoreless draw against Portugal and Didier Drogba, who at 32 has likely played in his last Cup, will go down in history as one of Africa's all-time greats.

With North Korea departing, we bid farewell to the source of some of the tournament's best off-field stories. We'll likely never hear from much of the team again, but for all we know they'll be celebrated as the tournament's champions in their country. What are tangible results to tell Kim Jong-Il otherwise, after all?

What to watch on Saturday: They've done what was expected of them and have captured the attention of America in the process. Now the United States has an opportunity to match its best ever World Cup finish and really shift the country's insatiable sporting attention to its soccer team. The Yanks face off tomorrow afternoon with Ghana, the team that eliminated them during the 2006 group play finales. The Black Stars are a physical, defensive group that play five in the midfield. Asamoah Gyan is a very legitimate offensive threat, however, and it will be on the sometimes questionable American defense to keep tabs on the young striker. Landon Donovan and (assuming he starts in the midfield) Clint Dempsey, usually known for their prowess in the attack, will also need to be at their defensive best against the quick Ghanaian wings.

But we can talk tactics and strengths and weaknesses all weekend. Let's say this: if America shows that same urgency it did against Algeria and against England and in the second half against Slovenia, the same urgency that stunned Spain in the Confederation's Cup last summer, the same urgency that Bob Bradley demands and his players understand they need in order to win, then the Yanks stand a great shot of making it to the tournament quarterfinals for the second time in history. If they got there, they'd see a match-up with either South Korea or Uruguay, neither of whom would be easy but both of whom would be beatable. Then our dreams would start getting really wild, and rightfully so.

Also Saturday: Traditionally a strong soccer nation, Uruguay is undergoing a revival after watching its team post three straight clean sheets en route to easily winning Group A. They'll see Group B runner-up South Korea in the first match of the second round. With respect to Japan, the Taeguk Warriors represent Asia's best chance to go far in the tournament. With Uruguay very strong on the back line and perhaps even more talented up top, South Korea will look to control the midfield in pursuit of the upset.

Question of the Day: How will the United States respond to what is likely to be a very pro-Ghana crowd? Their usual role as underdogs usually nets the US at least even crowd support. While there are high numbers of American in South Africa, this time around the vast majority of the crowd will be supporting the host continent's lone second round representation. The Yanks may relish being villains, or the scenario may stall them. Or maybe the buzz of the vuvuzelas will just negate any support either way.

Full schedule (all times EDT): Uruguay v South Korea Port Elizabeth Stadium, Port Elizabeth 10:00 a.m.; The United States of America v Ghana Royal Bafokeng Stadium, Rustenburg 2:30 p.m.

Quote of Note: We have received incredible support from all our fans at home and from the many, many fans who have made the trip here. Whenever you have a team, one of the things you try to achieve, you want to have a team that the people who care about that team and follow that team and root for that team can feel part of, a team that people can believe in. That's part of our responsibility and we are excited in the moment that there is that kind of feeling. - United States coach Bob Bradley on the eve of his team's second round match against Ghana.

Jurgen Klinsmann fired as coach of United States soccer team


Jurgen Klinsmann fired as coach of United States soccer team

NEW YORK - Jurgen Klinsmann was fired as coach of the U.S. soccer team Monday, six days after a 4-0 loss at Costa Rica dropped the Americans to 0-2 in the final round of World Cup qualifying.

Los Angeles Galaxy coach Bruce Arena is the favorite to succeed Klinsmann, and his hiring could be announced as early as Tuesday. Arena coached the national team from 1998 to 2006.

Qualifying resumes when the U.S. hosts Honduras on March 24 and plays four days later at Panama.

"While we remain confident that we have quality players to help us advance to Russia 2018, the form and growth of the team up to this point left us convinced that we need to go in a different direction," U.S. Soccer Federation President Sunil Gulati said in a statement. "With the next qualifying match in late March, we have several months to refocus the group and determine the best way forward to ensure a successful journey to qualify for our eighth consecutive World Cup."

A former German star forward who has lived mostly in Southern California since retiring as a player in 1998, Klinsmann replaced Bob Bradley in July 2011 and led the team to the 2013 CONCACAF Gold Cup title and the second round of the 2014 World Cup, where the Americans lost to Belgium in extra time.

The USSF announced in December 2013 a four-year contract extension through 2018, but the successful World Cup was followed by poor performances. The U.S. was knocked out by Jamaica in last year's Gold Cup semifinals and lost to Mexico in a playoff for a Confederations Cup berth. The team rebounded to reach this year's Copa America semifinals before losing to Argentina 4-0. But this month Mexico beat the Americans 2-1 at Columbus, Ohio, in the first home qualifying loss for the U.S. since 2001.

And last week, the Americans were routed in Costa Rica, their largest margin of defeat in qualifying since 1980. They dropped to 0-2 for the first time in the hexagonal, as the final round of World Cup qualifying in North and Central America and the Caribbean is known.

While there is time to recover, given the top three teams qualify for the 2018 tournament in Russia and the fourth-place finisher advances to a playoff against Asia's No. 5 team, players seemed confused by Klinsmann's tactics, such as a 3-4-1-2 formation used at the start against the Mexicans.

"Today we made the difficult decision of parting ways with Jurgen Klinsmann," Gulati said. "There were considerable achievements along the way ... but there were also lesser publicized efforts behind the scenes. He challenged everyone in the U.S. Soccer community to think about things in new ways, and thanks to his efforts we have grown as an organization and expect there will be benefits from his work for years to come."

The U.S. had not changed coaches in the middle of qualifying since the USSF made the position a full-time job and hired Bob Gansler in 1989 to replace Lothar Osiander, who also at the time was a waiter at a San Francisco restaurant.

Klinsmann made controversial decisions, such as dropping Landon Donovan from the 2014 World Cup roster while taking along relatively inexperienced players such as John Brooks, Julian Green and DeAndre Yedlin. Brooks and Green were among five German-Americans on the 23-man U.S. World Cup roster, which drew criticism from some in the American soccer community.

He coached the team to a 55-27-16 record, including a U.S.-record 12-game winning streak and victories in exhibitions at Italy, Germany and the Netherlands. He has worked in the past year to integrate more young players into the lineup, such as teen midfield sensation Christian Pulisic, Bobby Wood and Jordan Morris.

Arena, a 65-year-old wisecracking Brooklynite known for blunt talk, was inducted into the U.S. National Soccer Hall of Fame in 2010. He coached the University of Virginia from 1978-95, then coached D.C. United to titles in Major League Soccer's first two seasons before losing in the 1998 final. As U.S. coach, he led the Americans to the 2002 World Cup quarterfinals in the team's best finish since 1930.

He was let go after the team's first-round elimination in 2006. Gulati unsuccessfully courted Klinsmann, who won the 1990 World Cup with West Germany and the 1996 European Championship with Germany, then coached his nation to the 2006 World Cup semifinals.

When Gulati and Klinsmann couldn't reach an agreement, the USSF hired Bradley, who coached the team to the second round of the 2010 World Cup. A year later, the Americans stumbled in the Gold Cup, and Klinsmann replaced Bradley.

Arena coached the New York Red Bulls of MLS from July 2006 to November 2007, then was hired the following August by the Galaxy. He led the team to MLS titles in 2011, '12 and '14.