Catch World Cup Fever

The US men’s soccer team would have been happy to earn a tie against Portugal before this year’s World Cup was underway, but victory felt assured until Portugal’s cross to the middle was knocked past goalie Tim Howard with only 25 seconds left in stoppage time. Where I was watching the game, you could instantly feel the mood deflate instantly. On the bright side, it’ll just make Thursday’s games that much more exciting. In case you’re confused about what the US needs to make it past the group stage, here’s a quick and easy summary followed by some interesting World Cup trivia.

Easy Scenarios:

US vs. Germany – If US beats Germany, the US advances.

US vs. Germany – If the US and Germany tie, the US advances.

Portugal vs. Ghana – If Portugal and Ghana tie, the US advances.

Slightly Complicated Scenarios:

These would apply if Germany beats the US, and Portugal and Ghana don’t tie.

Portugal vs. Ghana – If Ghana wins, the overall goal differential would matter. Currently, the US has a goal differential of +1, and Ghana has a goal differential of -1. Ghana would need to increase their differential by no more than +2 with respect to the US for the US to advance.

If Ghana wins and gains +2 goal differential relative to the US, the total number of goals scored would matter. Ghana current has 3 goals score and the US has 4. If the two teams end up tied still, the US would advance since they won head-to-head.

Portugal vs. Ghana – If Portugal wins, the same scenario as above would play out, except that Portugal currently has a goal differential of -4 vs. the US’ +1. If Portugal happens to dominate or the US has a major meltdown against Germany (à la Portugal’s first game that led to its overwhelming goal differential) and both teams have the same number of goals scored, they would have to draw lots – essentially, picking to see who gets the short straw.

Both games are going to be played simultaneously on Thursday morning, so the results will be known immediately following the game. Root for the US or for Portugal and Ghana to draw. If there has to be a winner, Portugal is the best bet for the US’ chances.

World Cup Firsts

If you haven’t noticed yet, I love firsts. Maybe it’s because it’s statistically favorable that as time goes on, there are less chances to be a “first” of something, and so being the first is truly fascinating. Maybe it’s because the “first” is a pioneer: a true explorer, testing mankind’s capabilities. Maybe it’s because 1st place is the top of the podium, where the gold and the glory is obtained. Either way, the World Cup has given plenty of opportunities for “firsts”.

The first World Cup was staged 84 years ago when thirteen teams met in Uruguay. Argentina faced Uruguay in the finals, and the home team prevailed and became the first team to capitalize on its home field advantage. Argentina supporters were lacking in numbers in part due to a thick fog that prevented thousands of Argentinians from ever reaching Uruguayan shores. The first World Cup was also the United States’ best showing when the team took home third place.

Italy won the next two World Cups to become the first back-to-back winners. They actually ended up being reigning champions for 16 years due to cancellation of the event during World War II. The World Cup trophy had been in Italy the entire time, hidden by an Italian sports official who kept the trophy under his bed to prevent the Nazis from confiscating it.

The United States hosted its first World Cup in 1994. It was widely considered a resounding success even though soccer was not a major sport at the time. The first World Cup hosted in Asia was also the first World Cup with co-hosts. Japan and Korea hosted the event together in 2002. South Africa hosted the first World Cup on the African continent, nearly rounding out the feasible locations for World Cup play (Australia still remains).

US vs. England, 1950

England and the US faced for the first time in 1950. The US team, composed of amateurs with day jobs that often did not involve soccer, were expected to succumb easily to the nation where the sport was invented. A double-digit deficit was not unlikely. Legend had it that the English newspapers believed that the message sent from Brazil must have been erroneously sent and published a final score of England 10, USA, 1 when the final score was actually England 0, USA 1. Of course, like most legends, this story is likely dubious, at least according to a recent report from The British Newspaper Archive.

US World Cup, 1994

The World Cup hosted in the United States kicked off dramatically. Albania played Spain in a qualifying match, but against tradition, the Albanian coach requested that his players not exchange jerseys after the game. The team, who had the pay their own travel expenses, did not have enough money to afford to make new shirts.

Chile had also earned a disqualification from the US tournament due to actions 5 years prior. Brazil and Chile were playing in a qualifying match and Brazil had taken the lead. Some rowdy members of the crowd threw firecrackers onto the field and the Chilean goalie faked injury from a firecracker. With a razor hidden in his glove, he cut his own forehead and blamed a smoldering firework nearby.  He and the rest of the Chilean team walked off in protest, claiming that the conditions were unsafe for competition. FIFA later reviewed video of the event and saw the goalkeeper’s ruse. The goalkeeper was banned for life and the Chilean team was barred from competing in the US.

Continental Advantage

Unsuccessful European teams playing in this year’s World Cup might attribute their demise to a so-called continental advantage. The idea of a home-continent advantage is not new; no European team has ever won a World Cup played in North or South America. Up until the last World Cup, no host team had ever been eliminated during group play. And the home-field advantage may even be more pronounced: 6/19 champions have won the World Cup while also hosting the tournament and 13/19 champions have won when the host country was on the same continent. Whether it’s due to jet lag, homesickness, or the sway of the crowd, it seems that teams produce worse results when far from home.

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