Monday's World Cup wrapup

Monday's World Cup wrapup

By Adam Vaccaro

What happened Monday: Chile went a man up over Switzerland in the 31st minute but struggled to capitalize on the advantage for most of the game. Then, a pair of Chilean substitutes put La Roja on the scoreboard late in the contest. Esteban Paredes, who entered in the 65th minute, slipped past a defender into the right corner of the box before crossing to half-time sub Mark Gonzalez. With the goalie drawn out, Gonzalez got his head on the ball to net the game-winner. Unfortunately for Chile, this would be the game's only goal. The team is still undefeated in group play but will see Spain next week and may suffer for not having converted on more scoring opportunities.

Also Monday: Last week, North Korea gave Brazil everything it had in a 2-1 loss to the five-time champions. Based on this morning's result, in saying everything they had I am speaking very literally. Portugal posted a crooked 7-0 score in securing its first victory of the tournament. North Korea was able to hold them to just one score in the first half but the world's third-ranked team put on a finishing clinic in the second half, including three goals after the 80th minute. Tiago scored twice and Cristiano Ronaldo ended a long international scoring drought with a pretty juggling effort late in the match. All of Portugal hopes that the goal, which notably did not come in a high-pressure situation, will get the superstar rolling on the world stage again.

Spain got itself back on track with a 2-0 win over Honduras. David Villa, Barcelona's newest striker, scored twice on six shots and La Furia allowed very little in the way of opportunity to Los Catrachos. Having played pretty well in a losing effort against the Swiss last week, it stood to logic that things would straighten out for the Spaniards against the group's weakest opposition. The win sets up for a very interesting conclusion to what has probably become the tournament's most exciting group.

The head of FIFA's refereeing department did not directly comment on Koman Coulibaly's foul call that cost the United States victory against North Korea. Jose-Maria Garcia-Aranda acknowledged that the tournament has seen some poor calls but chalked them up to human error while saying that most of the tournament's officiating has been quite good (no argument here on that point). It's still likely that Coulibaly will be sent home before the start of the Round of 16, and he has not been assigned to any match through Wednesday's set, the latest with referees already assigned.

What it all means: Portugal finds itself very likely to survive the Group of Death after today's blowout. Should the team post a draw against Brazil, it will advance and the Brazilians will take the group's top seed. But even a loss should be an acceptable result for Ronaldo and Co. They weren't bullying North Korea in scoring seven times, they were improving their chances of advancing. Portugal now boasts a nine goal advantage over Ivory Coast in the event that the two tie. In other words, Ivory Coast is all but eliminated. With the loss, North Korea now knows that it will not advance. I do hope the squad was able to bring happiness to its Dear Leader, as was its stated goal.

Group G just might see three teams mount six points. The Swiss will be favored against Honduras and victory would give them two wins. If Spain beats Chile, already twice a winner, La Furia would also be at six. This would be a remarkable turn of events, as one two-win team would not advance. No group has seen three six point teams since the World Cup finals expanded to 32 teams (1994 saw two groups with three six-point teams, but under the format of that 24-team tournament, those teams advanced). A number of scenarios could play out in that instance. Essentially, advancement would depend on who wins or loses by the most or least in the group finales. Despite not having yet lost, Chile would be in the toughest spot; La Roja has hurt itself by only scoring twice despite numerous opportunities in its first two matches. If, however, Chile posts a draw, the team will win the group. And should that come to pass and the Swiss win, it would mean the shocking end of the line for Spain.

What to watch on Tuesday: It is unlikely that either France or South Africa will advance from Group A, but I would still prioritize their 10:00 a.m. match. The reasons? This will almost certainly be Bafana Bafana's send-off in its home country. The crowd should be loud and the team should have fun and play with a lot of pride, making for some enjoyable soccer. Perhaps even more compelling, Les Bleus have found themselves in complete disarray in group play's concluding week. France entered the tournament as a very difficult squad to cheer for. Frankly, it's been a delight to watch them implode. I'm hoping to catch a few final dramatics from the Frenchmen in what should be their last match as a group.

Also Tuesday: In other Group A action, Uruguay and Mexico will meet knowing that a draw will send both teams to the second round. This probably won't be a highly competitive match and at the end of the day, the two teams will likely advance and shake hands knowing that the only way they'll see each other again would be in the tournament finals. A different result could change things, but even then it's highly unlikely that these two won't advance. Should one team win, they'll take the group's top spot and the loser would be stuck in a tie breaking situation with a hypothetical winner of France versus South Africa. But because Mexico and Uruguay currently have a positive goal differential while Les Bleus and Bafana Bafana are in the red, it would take serious work on Tuesday for either of the latter duo to advance.

Group B on the other hand still needs to be decided. Argentina will win the group with a draw against Greece. The Greeks played well against South Korea in securing its first ever World Cup victory last week, but Argentina should outclass them in this one. South Korea and Nigeria will both play for a win when they meet. For either side, an Argentinian victory over the Greeks would send the victor into the Round of 16. Nigeria is yet to win but could still become this year's first African team to advance to knockout play. Vincent Enyeama has kept the team's hopes alive with his play in goal, and a victory over South Korea along with a Greek loss would advance the Super Eagles on goal differential. South Korea would also move forth with a draw, assuming Argentinian victory. Should both matches result in a draw, the fortunes of South Korea and Greece would come down to total goals scored. Stakes will be high all around during the two 2:30 matches.

Question of the Day: Will Lionel Messi score on Tuesday? The Barcelona superstar has yet to collect a goal for Argentina but has been dominant through two games. Messi played a hand in all four of his team's tallies in defeating South Korea. Against Nigeria, he was shut down on several great opportunities by Enyeama, arguably the tournament's best keeper thus far. Eventually he'll put one in. South Korea and Nigeria both hope it will happen against Greece, maybe more than once.
Full schedule (all times EDT): Mexico v Uruguay Royal Bafokeng Stadium, Rustenburg 10:00 a.m.; France v South Africa Free State Stadium, Bloemfontein 10:00 a.m.; Nigeria v South Korea Moses Mabhida Stadium, Durban 2:30 p.m.; Greece v Argentina Peter Mokaba Stadium, Polokwane 2:30 p.m.

Quote of Note: Yes, I think what happens with the team is sad. But it is also sad that we don't debate soccer. Still, France has a small chance, and this obstacle will be forgotten if France wins. - Former French midfielder and captain Zinedine Zidane, referencing the disarray surrounding Les Bleus on the eve of its Group A finale.

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.