World Cup wrapup: Wednesday

World Cup wrapup: Wednesday

By Adam Vaccaro

What happened Wednesday: The morning and early afternoon dragged and dragged, with Germany and Spain's much hyped semifinal match a rematch of Spain's 1-0 Euro Championship final win in 2008 shining as the reward for the soccer world's patience. When the game finally arrived, the world's No. 2 and No. 6 ranked squads did not disappoint.

The match kicked off in Durban to a massive ovation as the teams settled into a tense first half. Both sides proved themselves well prepared for one another from a preventive perspective, as there was little in the way of opportunity for either side. Spain dominated possession throughout the half but that was mostly a product of Germany playing very cautious and Spain's focus seemingly centered on, well, remaining focused. La Furia Roja did see two first-half scoring chances: David Villa made a bid for his sixth goal and Carles Puyol blew a header opportunity that likely would have resulted in a goal.

Things heated up a bit in stoppage time of the first half. The German counter finally showed itself briefly but Mesut Ozil's break was stopped short by an alert Spanish defense. Less than a minute later, Spanish midfielder Pedro, starting in place of the struggling Fernando Torres, got a shot on goal to end the first frame. The sequence set the stage for the second half: Germany's best effort just couldn't crack Spain's defense, and the Spanish attack was revving its engine.

Indeed, Spain's attacking pressure increased in the second half. Germany managed to sustain most of it, keeping its opposition off the scoreboard until the 73rd minute. But an unmarked Puyol redeemed his earlier mistake when, crashing into the box, the strong central defender's head met Xavi's corner kick and netted a potent winning strike. La Furia's defense remained cagey through the end of the match and even as Germany increased its pressure, the well-organized Spanish defense did not break. Spain held on for the 1-0 victory, matching the Euro final two years prior.

Germany is headed for the third-place match against Uruguay and will be favored to win. Any team that gets this far in a tournament is sure to be disappointed in defeat, but like Uruguay, Die Mannschaft exceeded expectations. And early though it may be, it's likely appropriate to start pegging this young, athletic, and well-tuned German side as a 2014 favorite.

Spain advances to its first-ever final and will face the Netherlands on Sunday. The World Cup will see a new champion for just the eighth time, as neither La Furia nor the Dutch have won the tournament. Spain does have one fourth-place finish to its credit, earned in 1950 under a different format, but is now guaranteed no worse than second place. Wednesday's victory, therefore, is a massive triumph for Spanish soccer.

Also Wednesday: With the day's match, the tournament's total attendance went over the 3 million mark. That makes the 2010 edition the third highest attended World Cup in history behind 1994 here in the United States and 2006 in Germany. Thus far, an average of just more than 49,000 have attended each match. Those are impressive figures given that South Africa is a very expensive journey for much of the world, but the tournament will still fall a few hundred thousand short of its maximum capacity.

The Argentina Football Association says that the ball's in Diego Maradona's court (or at his feet?) as to whether the coach will return to manage Albiceleste. After initially experiencing outrage and disappointment in the team's early elimination, Argentina seems to have embraced the squad and in particular Maradona as lovable losers. One lawmaker has proposed the building of a monument honoring the eccentric coach and once-Cup winning scorer.

What happens next: We get a couple of days to cool down maybe a poor choice of words given this heat wave before the third-place match on Saturday. And Sunday, it all comes to an end when, after a closing ceremony, Holland and Spain will make history as one side will lift its first ever World Cup trophy.

Question of the Day: Will Paul predict a winner for the final? I didn't want to discuss this, but it's gone from gimmicky to uncanny and is now impossible to ignore. Paul, a German octopus, managed to correctly pick the victor of each Die Mannschaft match throughout the tournament. The eight-legged tank dweller upset much of Germany when he chose to eat from the feeder marked by Spain's flag rather than his Germany's, indicating that he saw La Furia advancing to the final. With a 6-0 record in his World Cup predictions (including Serbia's Group D win), Paul blew me out of the water pun unintended, but recognized. It's understandable if Paul's focus is on the third-place match it's clear that his first duty is to predict Germany's bouts but it would stink of poor sportsmanship if he refused to pick a winner for the final at this point.

Quote of Note: "This is one of the greatest moments for Spain, for us to be in the final of the World Cup, it's history. And we want to make more history in the final." - Spanish striker David Villa after his team's semifinal victory against Germany.

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.