World Cup: Friday wrapup

World Cup: Friday wrapup

By Adam Vaccaro

What happened Friday: The day before their third-place tilt, Germany and Uruguay both said that they're taking very seriously what is often considered a low-pressure opening act for the final. Uruguay coach Oscar Tabarez went so far as to say that his squad will fight to the death on Saturday. His German counterpart Joachim Loew also said that his side will be approaching the match looking to win, suggesting that Die Mannschaft's morale needs lifting after Wednesday's 1-0 semifinal loss to Spain. As a third-place finish is of greater value than fourth but because neither side has a whole lot to lose, the contest is often offensively-minded, high scoring, and entertaining. Germany finished in third place after a 3-1 bout with Portugal on home soil in 2006, but as has been noted plenty, this year's squad has seen substantial turnover from that tournament's edition.

Also Friday: FIFA announced the tournament's Golden Ball finalists. The winner, as voted on by the media, will be named the tournament's best player. The ten finalists are as follows: Spain's David Villa, Xavi, and Andres Iniesta; Dutchmen Wesley Sneijder and Arjen Robben; Bastian Schweinsteiger and Mesut Ozil of Germany; Uruguayan striker Diego Forlan; Ghana's Asamoah Gyan; and Argentinian superstar Lionel Messi, who managed to put on a show in tournament play without scoring a goal. For my money, as I said on Thursday, Sneijder's been the tournament's best, or at least it's most valuable, in pacing Holland's march to the final since knockout play began. The winner will be announced after Sunday's tilt.

Further signifying the global influence of the game, at least 23 heads of state are expected to be in attendance when the Netherlands and Spain meet in Sunday's final. Fourteen of the leaders reside over African nations. United Nations secretary-general Ban Ki-Moon also plans to be in the crowd.

FIFA president Sepp Blatter said that Nelson Mandela will be given the honor of presenting the Sunday's winner with the World Cup should he attend the final. There's still no word on whether Mandela will head to Soccer City Stadium in Johannesburg, and we likely won't know until the morning of the match, but it does seem as though all the world is pulling for him to make what would go down as a very memorable appearance.

Paraguay coach Gerardo Martino, who led his rag-tag Albirroja bunch to the quarterfinals, has said that he will stay on through 2011's Copa America, South America's soccer championship. Late last week, Martino said that he was leaving his post and would be entertaining several offers from club teams around the world, but it seems as though he's not quite ready to call himself finished. Martino arguably gave the tournament's greatest coaching performance. Very few expected Paraguay, playing without Salvador Cabanas, to do much in 2010 but they were never outmatched not even in their 1-0 quarterfinal loss to Spain and only surrendered two goals in tournament play.

German octopus and World Cup prophet Paul, 6-0 in his tournament predictions so far, has made his weekend picks. Paul chose to eat out of feeders labeled with the flags of Germany and Spain, signaling that he foresees Die Mannschaft taking the third-place spot and the Spaniards winning the first final they've ever played in. Paul's prediction for Sunday is the first match for which he's ever served as oracle that didn't feature Germany, so it remains to be seen if he maintains his magically suctioned touch.

What to watch on Saturday: The third-place contest between Uruguay and Germany would seem to favor Deutschland, but there are reasons to believe in Uruguayan victory. La Celeste will be returning key players that did not feature against Holland, as striker Luis Suarez whose controversial handball against Ghana should render him the match's villain, fair or not will return from suspension and, more importantly, defenders Diego Lugano and Jorge Fucile are expected back in the lineup. Prior to defeat at the hands of the Dutch, Uruguay succeeded on the strength of its defense. The Celeste will benefit mightily from reinforcing its rearguard, especially given how mortal Spain not the tournament's best defensive unit was able to make the vaunted German counterattack appear.

Germany, meanwhile, may be a bit weak. They will be getting Golden Boot competitor Thomas Muller back from suspension but it's unknown as to whether they'll feature key scorer Miroslav Klose. The striker still sits just one goal behind Ronaldo for the most ever scored in World Cup play but is currently hampered with a back injury. Further, key German players Lukas Podolski and Phillip Lahm are battling the flu, as is Loew. They're expected to play, but they may not be at full fitness.

But perhaps most important for Uruguay is that a third-place finish would give the once-titans of world soccer its best finish since 1950. Since Germany's rebuilding effort remains underway despite its success in South Africa, the country is seemingly already content with what the young squad has already accomplished, at least judging by the nation's newspaper headlines. Uruguayan soccer would benefit far more than Germany from victory, and the Celeste players know that. I smell an upset. But then again, I'm no German octopus.

Question of the Day: What does the list of Golden Ball finalists say about superstar play in the tournament? Of those nominated, only Lionel Messi was a true global superstar to the point of being a household name prior to its start, and of the ten, he stands the least likely to win. Does the rightful exclusion of Cristiano Ronaldo, Wayne Rooney, Didier Drogba, Fernando Torres and Kaka amongst others mean that the 2010 World Cup has particularly emphasized team play over individual excellence? Bonus question: If the United States had advanced to the quarter or semifinals, would Landon Donovan have made the list?
Full schedule (all times EDT): Uruguay v Germany Port Elizabeth Stadium, Port Elizabeth 2:30 p.m.

Quote of Note: There are always people who want to eat our octopus, but he is not shy and we are here to protect him as well. - Oliver Walenciak, caretaker of World Cup prediction expert Paul the Octopus, responding to death threats against the soothsaying sea dweller.

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.