South Africa and Associations: Copa Mundial

South Africa is a country with a great deal of promise, and a great deal of trouble. It was a fairly open secret that I am seriously considering working in the country. Now, that secret is public. If my UChicago PhD had been successful, The University of Cape Town was my first choice for a job application. Before talking more about why I would consider that country, I’m going to blog an event from South Africa, city of Rustenburg – the Association football game between England and the US.

  • Pregame: I’m glad ABC is carrying the anthems, one of the nice parts of international competition. For my international viewers, it’s typical for Americans not to sing the anthem, unlike many other nations.
  • 3:30: Gerrard scores easily for England. Reviewing the tape, I’m not sure who was asleep there. I think it was US #13 Clark, because #3 Bocanegra had been covering the corner. The English commentator is very restrained, but I’m sure all of London and Manchester are relieved.
  • 13:00: The short corner is vastly underused in my mind. Given what non-Americans say about association football, that possession is very important, why do teams execute low probability attacks in corner kicks from a good position? Since the defense must stay 10 yards away, one could get 5 – 7 yards closer and improve the angle. US #6 Cherundolo is amazed he’s that open.
  • 19:00: After good service from Donovan on one end, England #7 Lennon gets open but for some reason doesn’t take a decent shot. Shooting is another underutilized tactic. The goal is huge! I believe it’s because players don’t practice it enough; casual street games generally utilize small goals and emphasis is placed on footwork. It’s the opposite of basketball, where casual contests are often all shooting.
  • 26:00: England #16 Milner is playing terribly; another late tackle results in a yellow card. Should he be substituted?
  • 29:00: US Goalkeeper Howard gets accidentally struck on a fair challenge. US #3 Bocanegra was too far inside, again. During the injury break, Milner is substituted. Drats.
  • 37:30: Late in the half, England has tried to slow the pace, kicking the ball around midfield. I’m not surprised by this. Donovan gets a hold of the ball and has a decent shot.
  • 39:30: Wow. Just, wow. “The man in the green jersey, the man with Green on the name of his shirt, has given away one of the softest goals you’ll ever see at this level of football.” From 27 yards, US 1 England 1. I play better goalie than that. To illustrate America’s biggest advantage, Howard then makes an excellent save on the post-goal counterattack. All of England sinks back into its rain-induced moroseness.
  • Halftime: the score is about right, though not in the way most people expected. The game is very, I must say, American – lots of long balls and higher risk play. Possession is roughly equal, as are corner kicks. England has had more good chances, due to superior offensive play – and Bocanegra’s random play. England already took out its weakest defender, who Cherundolo was beating easily.
  • 50:00: That offsides looks correct to me. While England #10 Rooney, the eventual ball taker, was not offside, the other player caused the defender to have to play him, not the ball.
  • 51:00: England #21 Heskey breaks free. That’s a mediocre shot in the center, but Howard still has to work for the save, keeping the US alive. If the goalies today were switched, it’d be 3-0 England.
  • 57:00: That was a horrible deep throw in for the US, with only one real option. The best possible outcome was a corner kick; instead the ball goes back to midfield.
  • 59:00: England #18 Carragher gets a yellow card for taking out legs and stopping an attack. It was dangerous, reckless, and smart. He was beaten.
  • 60:00: England #4 Gerrard makes a high, spikes-up tackle. I’m not sure that was dangerous enough for a yellow card, but it was dangerous play. This is a good location for a free kick. Bocanegra’s about 45 degrees off on the header.
  • 63:00: US #13 Clark appears to miss another marking assignment. Please substitute him, Coach Bradley.
  • 64:00: US #17 Altidore just runs by Carragher, who’s old and slow. Mr. Green makes a solid save, just barely; it hits the post.
  • 70:00: Compared to the other games I’ve watched, South Africa-Mexico and France-Uruguay, there’s a lot more space in defense on both sides here. It’s a lot faster. England is leaving only 3 defenders back. Unfortunately, US #10 Donovan has had to come back on defense.
  • 75:00: Another wonderful save for Howard. The US could use a defensive substitution at this point for fresh legs. Maybe for Clark, or Spector? No, they went for a fresh attacker. That makes sense for counterattacks, but a defender would also help. England’s last sub is Crouch, a fresh attacker.
  • 81:30: England tries to play the ball across the back and fails. I’m not sure why, since it’s dominated this half.
  • 85:00: A sub for Altidore? Not Clark? Oh. Moving Dempsey forward puts fresh legs in midfield.
  • 90:00: Good US offense gets a late corner. Donovan takes his time, but nothing happens, like most corners.
  • 94:00: Smartly, the US tries a very late substitution to kill time. It wasn’t needed, though, as the game ends. To misquote Dickens and quote the announcer, “It was a Tale of Two Goalkeepers.”

As for a longer stay in South Africa, I’d first go because of the weather and climate. Have a look at Cape Town’s sunshine chart. The lowest month, June, still has about 6 hours per day. Cape Town is between San Francisco and Los Angeles in sun hours, more than acceptable. Most of the rest of the country is just as good, or better.
For comparison, try
Chicago’s chart with bad winter months under 6 hours of sun per day. To be really scared, try London. No wonder the Brits are perpetually morose, or that they built an empire of sunny places.

Beyond that, South Africa has opportunity. It’s not just temporary economic opportunity, from the big tournament down there. I mean the chance to do big things, transformative things, particularly in education. The South African educational system is broken, like the US one. The Springbok system is much worse overall. The difference, and the appeal, is that the system down there can be fixed. People care, whereas here athletics departments have far too much power. (South Africa also enjoys sport, but it’s not so heavily intertwined with education.) Also, South Africa has centralized standards, which means a good idea can be propagated. In parts of this country, we have elections for standards, experience or thought not necessary. Even where we don’t, we have too much local control to get one set of ideas. Maybe I’ll go more into this later; in summary, the current American system cannot fix its problems without a major overhaul. Neither can South Africa, but my subjective evaluation is that it’s more possible to do down there.

Now that it’s a few days later, let’s see how the US fares against Slovenia. It’s nice that I don’t have class on Friday mornings.

  • 0:10: In Ultimate Frisbee, that ball would be called a hospital pass. US #8 Dempsey gets above the Slovenian player, and puts an elbow into the Slovenian player. The referee calls a foul, but no card. Looking at the replay, there doesn’t appear to be malice; the arm was next to the body. Maybe it’s a yellow, but without extension I don’t see an ejection.
  • 8:00: The US makes a throw-in error, leading to a decent chance for Slovenia. Or, as some might call them, the Charlie Browns.
  • 11:30: The US spends 30 seconds kicking it around the back in midfield, then for some reason decides to send it to the opposite far line with nobody there. It looks like France.
  • 12:30: Great GOAL for Slovenia #10 Birsa. Though the shot was great, it again came from horrible American defense. The Slovenian player was completely open at the top of the penalty half circle. The US should be better at defensive organization. North Korea looked better.
  • 15:00: Decent service by US #10 Donovan to the penalty area; a US player had a chance at a header for a goal but couldn’t get there.
  • 22:30: Has anyone explained why goal kicks are always so long and random? It is like punting. Has anyone tracked the proportion of goal kicks that are recovered? At best, it seems to go back to the defenders at midfield. Why don’t teams kick the ball to their defenders and walk it up? Teams don’t play tight defense often.
  • 26:15: The camera manages to find the archetypal American: very portly, hairy, shirtless, and holding a relatively cheap beer. I cringe.
  • 30:30: US #5 Onyewu doesn’t really pull down someone, but it’s dangerous and a bad referee could have called a foul. This game is not as good for the defender as the last.
  • 35:40: Slovenia #5 Cesar picks up a yellow card on a marginal drawn foul. US #16 Torres makes a good shot, and the keeper does well to block it.
  • 38:30: US #20 Findley doesn’t take a shot when he has the chance, getting a corner. On the corner kick, it’s a strange yellow card for handball. The US immediately gets another good chance and another corner, but no shots. I wonder if this is conditioning? Donovan should have made a slide tackle, instead of staying up. All he needed was to deflect the ball to the goal.
  • 41:00: Slovenia #9 Ljubijankic gets another goal, with a great finish. He was not offside – Onyewu was too far back. Goal difference matters now. 2-1 is much better than 2-0.
  • 47:15: Donovan has been watching hockey. A Slovenian defender misses a sliding clearance, setting him free. He has a very tight angle. He roofs it! The goalie expected a low shot to the far post. The US has some momentum.
  • 51:00: Slovenia gets a good free kick, and does well, getting a corner off a goalie punch. Slovenia has already started to slow down. Slovenia tries a short corner, but the US has it defended. I’m pleased.
  • 59:00: It’s wrestling in the penalty box. Both people fouled, and Slovenia got the call.
  • 68:00: On a US counterattack, Slovenia #4 Suler clubs a US player from behind. I agree with the commentator, that yellow is correct. Red cards are awarded only for clear chances, and the ball was rolling away here. Suler was smart by hitting the US player just before the penalty box. The free kick leads to chaos, and a shot, with a good goalie save.
  • 71:00: Slovenia is starting to play Euro defense, picking up yellows. They’ve played pretty until this point, but it might change. The Americans will have the conditioning advantage. At 74:30, there’s another, though I’m not sure about that one.
  • 79:30: This game has opened up as players tire, on both ends. I’m about eight minutes behind on TiVo, resisting the temptation to jump forward. The US substitutes attack for defense.
  • 81:10: It’s a dogpile! US #4 Bradley! Gorgeous soccer! 2-2! The father even jumps up. I wonder why the US coaches have giant parkas. It’s not that cold in South Africa. The Slovenian coats are nicer.
  • 84:30: US #17 Altidore is beating defenders, getting a foul near the corner of the penalty box. It’s into the back of the net, but the goal is disallowed. I’m not sure who fouled. The US commentator thinks it’s horrible. I can’t see inside, so I really don’t know. On the replay, I see 3 US players getting held. Seriously, two of them are encircled at the waist! “I see Michael Bradley being fouled, and that’s a penalty kick.”
  • 87:30: Nice header by Slovenia, which is saved.
  • 92:30: Even though two players go down, that’s not a foul. Dempsey stepped on the ball, which led to a pile.
  • 94:00: That’s the match, which ended with a double final whistle. Slovenia 2, US 2. Slovenia was better in the first half, the US much better in the second. It was not a good game for the referee.
    • At noon, Slovenia has 4 (with +1 goal differential), US 2 (0), England 1 (0), and Algeria 0 (-1). In the afternoon game, the US should root for Algeria. An Algerian win means the US controls its destiny; a victory advances them. An Algerian draw does as well. The best possible outcome is a 0-0 draw, since then the US would likely advance if the remaining two games draw as well. If England wins, it’s not a given. A US victory by two goals would then be sufficient, but not necessarily by one.

      I’ve now hit 2000 words, and I haven’t even done the review of rugby. That will have to wait for another post, I guess. There are plenty more games on.

About Adam

My quest is a world where calling someone "virtuous like a fairy tale hero" is routine, not fantastic or ironic. My vocation is the teaching and learning of statistics. My dream is a long happy life with a wonderful wife and kids. Who knows if any will become true? More information is at my homepage on the twelvefruits network:
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