World Cup off-day wrapup: Thursday

World Cup off-day wrapup: Thursday

By Adam Vaccaro

What happened Thursday: On the eve of the first day of quarterfinal action, things were relatively quiet in South Africa, but focus shifted to Friday's games there were still a few stories to look at.

The most pertinent in a series of coaching notes: US coach Bob Bradley said that he would be honored to be kept on as the Yanks' manager. Earlier this week, US Soccer Federation president Sunil Gulati issued a statement that oddly seemed both damning and praising of Bradley. No official decision from the higher-ups is expected for a few weeks. Bradley's resume, though, has grown quite impressive and his players certainly seem to respond well to his coaching. Personally, I'd like to have him back. US Soccer has come a long way under his leadership and stretching the run a bit longer couldn't hurt.

Mexican coach Javier Aguirre resigned from his post after his team was eliminated in the second round for the fifth straight World Cup. Portugal's Carlos Queiroz refused to do the same, arguing that being eliminated by Spain, the world's number two team, is hardly a complete failure, even if it occured in the Round of 16. Indeed, between taking part in this tournament's Group of Death and being given that tough second round assignment, it's plenty reasonable to say that Portugal was given the 2010 World Cup's least favorable schedule.

Coach Fabio Capello has at least one backer in the England Football Association. On Monday, joint chairman David Sheepshanks publicly supported the coach's staying on, referring to the Italian as the best man for the job. A decision on Capello's future is expected later this month. The coach does not intend to resign, but after another disappointing Three Lions finish there is quite a bit of public and, in particular, media pressure for change.

Lastly on the coaching front, Greece named Portugal native Fernando Santos as its new manager for at least the next two years. Greece was eliminated in the first round, but collected its first ever Cup win in so doing against Nigeria.

Speaking of Nigeria, on Wednesday Goodluck Johnson, the country's president, placed a two-year ban from international competition on the Men's National Team and dissolved its Football Federation. Today, the team officially informed FIFA of its intentions to sit out for a couple of years. As Nigerian legislators passed a resolution in hope of Johnson rescinding the ban, FIFA began an investigation of the circumstances surrounding it, saying that it needed time to take a good look at the situation. This is a pretty clear instance of a government involving itself in soccer matters, and is therefore a violation of FIFA rules that can result in varying degrees of punishment. While the Super Eagles obviously wouldn't be hurt by a suspension in this instance, Nigeria's youth and women's teams could find themselves also banned from competition because of the president's actions. The ban was imposed after Nigeria disappointed in World Cup play, collecting only one point out of Group B en route to a first round elimination.

Two days before his team's marquee quarterfinal match against Germany, Argentina's Lionel Messi missed training while dealing with a cold. Messi perhaps the tournament's best player thus far despite not having recorded a goal will be examined again on Friday, but it's just about unimaginable that Albiceleste would take on the Germans without their biggest star.

Ghana's Asamoah Gyan should be good to go Friday against Uruguay after tweaking his ankle in training on Wednesday.
What to watch on Friday: Brazil will return to action in a great matchup against the Netherlands. Selecao and the Oranje met in the 1994 quarterfinals and the 1998 semis, with Brazil twice emerging the victor. The winner will outclass on paper, at least the winner of Uruguay and Ghana's match, so victory represents a great opportunity to reach the final. That aspiration is Brazil's birthright, but for Holland who have never won the tournament despite long holding a place amongst the world's top teams it would be a dream come true. The teams are trending in opposite directions from a health perspective, as the Oranje have returned Arjen Robben to action and Brazil is set to play without Elano for a third straight match. Holland is also unbeaten in 23 straight contests, compared to just ten for Brazil. This could be the best opportunity for the Dutch to get past the five-time champs, but it's still World number one Selecao's match to lose.
Also Friday: In crossing all sorts of geographic, cultural, religious, ethnic, economic, and political boundaries, Ghana's Black Stars have captured the host continent's hearts and given life to the once-myth of Pan-Africa. But to be the Africa's first team to play in a World Cup semifinal match, they'll need to get by a sneaky-strong Uruguay squad. Both sides feature strong defense and have the talent up top to support it. Ghana's more physical, but Uruguay's more flashy, skilled, and yes talented. On neutral ground, Uruguay's probably a clear favorite, especially considering that the Black Stars will be without midfielder Andre Ayew (suspension). There's no denying, however, the value of an entire continent's support when playing on home soil (just ask South Korea circa 2002). Despite the fact that they eliminated the United States last week, it's proving tough to root against Africa's last standing.
Question of the Day: The match is certainly set to be one of the tournament's best so far, but might Brazil be more prepared than the Netherlands, having already been a part of some of the World Cup's most compelling early round contests? The Oranje have not yet faced an elite team in the tournament, with Japan likely its toughest opponent to date. Brazil, winners of the Group of Death, have already seen opponents tougher than the Blue Samurai in Portugal, Ivory Coast, and second-round victim Chile.

Full schedule (all times EDT): Netherlands v Brazil Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium, Port Elizabeth 10:00 a.m.; Uruguay v Ghana Soccer City Stadium, Johannesburg 2:30 p.m.

Quote of Note: We're not under any obligation to make history but that doesn't mean we don't want to. We will not change our style or worry about so-called pressure. - Ghana coach Milovan Rajevac, on the eve of his team's quarterfinal clash against Uruguay. With a win, Ghana will become the first ever African team to advance to advance to the World Cup's semifinals.

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.