International Break: Finding Answers in the Friendlies
Created on Mar. 03, 2014 12:18 AM EST
March 5 is going to be the start of World Cup preparations for all 32 teams. Time is running out for every manager to tinker around with tactics and formations along with player selection. Some teams like Argentina and Germany might be wrestling with the issue of having too much talent, figuring out who among their deep pool would make the starting eleven while other teams like Greece and Iran are trying to figure out how to compensate the lack of talent in certain positions. Here are some matchups and issues you should pay attention to this Wednesday.
United States vs Ukraine
United States: It’s a bummer that Michael Bradley will not be joining the squad due to commitments to Toronto FC. If January’s friendly against South Korea was a tryout for the MLS players, this Wednesday’s match against Ukraine is a test for the Europe-based players to show how good they are to hold a spot in the starting 11. One of the players to look out for is Aron Johansson who has been putting on a solid season at AZ Alkmaar. He has shown to be at ease over in the Eredivisie, but will he finally show that same confidence when he puts on the Red, White, and Blue? Another question is if Oguchi Onyewu has what it takes to fight for a reserve spot in the 23 man roster or if young Hertha Berlin defender John Brooks should be awarded the spot. Despite being an all Europe-based squad, this team looks primed to put on an underwhelming performance due to lack of familiarity with one another. I’m just glad Clint Dempsey is inserted in the lineup to provide much-needed leadership. Lets also hope Julian Green decides to join the US. His decision determines the destiny of US soccer for the next 12 years.
Ukraine: They’re not in the World Cup, but lets hope Dynamo Kyi…I mean the Ukraine national football team provide a good test for the Americans.
Prediction: USA 0 – Ukraine 0
South Korea vs Greece
South Korea: The match against Greece might serve as a precursor to their opening match against Russia, due to the management’s belief that the two teams are similar in style. Korea’s strategy is to dictate the tempo of the game with their pace, but the player selection will have a major impact in how they will play. If the 196 cm giant Kim Shin Wook plays up top, they would utilize him as the center of the offense, leading to lots of air balls. If Park Chu Young plays, the focus will be on the ground and utilizing pace. A major issue Korea will bring into the match is figuring out their most effective offensive identity. The other? Defense. It’s up for debate whether veteran Jung Sung Ryung or the younger Kim Seung Gyu will be behind the posts and who the back four will be. Also who will be playing defensive midfield? That’s too many questions to answer coming into a friendly and it will take a miracle for South Korea to be prepared by the start of the World Cup.
Greece: This team is old. The fact that they are placed in the same group as Ivory Coast, Columbia, and Japan is just a recipe for an early exit due to the fast-paced style these teams play. Greece is still relying on the likes of 36 year-old Giorgios Karagounis and 34-year-old Konstantine Katsouranis to control the midfield and it’s likely that they will be overwhelmed by what their competition has to offer. Still, if they manage to outplay South Korea, consider that an encouraging sign.
Prediction: South Korea 1: Greece 0
Portugal vs Cameroon
Portugal: This team just reminds me of Kobe Bryant when he led the 2005-2006 Lakers into the playoffs (sorry for the basketball reference). This team only goes as far as Ronaldo takes them. This friendly against Cameroon is chance for the players not named Christiano Ronaldo to show that they are formidable individuals who make Portugal look like a legitimate football team, and not be the ones holding Ronaldo back. This specifically applies to the midfield where I don’t recognize any of these guys except for Raul Meireles.
Cameroon: Portugal picked Cameroon to be a precursor for their match against Ghana. Cameroon likely picked Portugal to be a tough preparation for Mexico or light preparation against Brazil. The team suffers an inconsistent midfield as Alex Song will need Jean Makoun to play at his best form to somehow make Cameroon look like a formidable team. Fortunately Portugal suffers the same problem. Winning convincingly against Portugal could be a confidence booster that they can beat Mexico and maybe be a tough match for Brazil.
Prediction: Portugal 3: Cameroon 1
Chile vs Germany
Chile: This is going to be the most fun match to watch out of all the friendlies. Chile has peaked at the right time and became the biggest goal-scoring juggernaut in South America that’s not called Argentina. This is the dark horse that can upset either Netherland or Spain in their group and a match against Germany is a great way to measure this team’s skill. If they dictate their tempo at the start of the match, they could give Germany trouble for the rest of the match. But if the Germans are the first to control the pace, consider Chile to be in trouble. The Chilean’s biggest weakness is their backline.
Germany: They really don’t have anything to worry about entering this match. Aside from who should be playing up top, Germany seems stable coming into this match and can only hope that they handily defeat Chile. There’s a good reason why they’re picked as favorites in this year’s edition of the tournament and this match will surely prove it.
Prediction: Chile 1: Germany 2
Mexico vs Nigeria
Mexico: A lot of attention is placed towards Oribe Peralta and his goal-scoring form. It’s funny how a debate is raging on who should be the starting striker, Peralta or Javier Hernandez. With Hernandez not getting significant playing time in Manchester United, the census might come to an agreement that Peralta should be the starter. That is unless Hernandez comes in and makes a significant impact to keep the conversation going.
Nigeria: Does Victor Moses, Ahmed Musa and Emmanuel Emenike provide enough punch on the offensive end? These guys are fast and athletic but they lack that needed composure to score goals consistently. Despite their deficiency in that area, the combination of these three players would bring headaches to the Mexican side.
Prediction: Mexico 1: Nigeria 2
France vs Netherlands
Netherlands: This is an experimental match for the Dutch. Manager Louis van Gaal already knows he has plenty of players who are up for the task, but the major question that arises is who will fill in the left back spot? Feyenoord’s Daley Blind might be up for the challenge, but Gaal has plans to play him in the midfield which means the spot is up for grabs. There will be plenty of other inexperienced players on the lineup who will be playing alongside mainstays Arjen Robben and Robin Van Persie. Despite this being only a friendly, expect Kevin Strootman to show off his chops as a central midfielder. Robben and Persie might get praised if Netherland wins, but Strootman will be the reason why the Dutch will control the French.
France: Despite having a plethora of great players on paper, the French always seemed to underwhelm as a team. It doesn’t help that Manchester City’s Samir Nasri is suffering a serious knee injury. So who will fill in at left wing? Real Sociedad’s Antoine Griezmann will be given a shot to take the spot. He has been having a solid season for the Spanish side and hopes his talent translates to a World Cup spot. Still, the team will be entering this match with high spirits and only hope to continue to carry on that good form they showed in the thrilling World Cup Qualifying playoff match against Ukraine back in November.
Prediction: Netherlands 2: France 0