Thursday, July 12, 2007

Terrific night of soccer

Last night featured perhaps the best clashes of the FIFA U-20 World Cup thus far. All of the matches were extremely close, with Austria defeating Gambia 2-1 on a late goal, the Americans besting Uruguay 2-1 in extra time, Spain getting two goals in extra time to beat the Brazilians, and the Czechs slipping by Japan in a shootout. The Spain - Brazil clash was one of the best games I've seen at any level in a long while. Both teams were terrific, but Spain probably deserved the win on the strength of their chances. It's unfortunate that their first goal came on what clearly appeared to be a handball, though. The replay showed it pretty well, but also illustrated that Gerard Pique had his body between the ref and his hand, so it would have been a tough call to make (however, I still think the assistant should have picked it up).

I'm quite confident that we'll see more of several players from both the Spanish and Brazilian sides in the near future. Six of the Spainards are listed as belonging to powerhouse Real Madrid, including goalkeeping standout Adan. Others belong to such illustrious sides as Barcelona and Liverpool, while Pique is a Manchester United prospect. Another Spanish player who impressed me was Sevilla's Diego Capel, who displayed tremendous pace on his runs down the flank and created several quality chances.

The Brazilians also have their share of stars. Most of them currently play in the domestic league, but many are being targeted by top-flight European clubs. Some, like Real Madrid defender Marcelo and his fellow fullback, David Marinho of Benfica, have already made the jump to European football. My prediction is that other stars, such as striker Alexandre Pato, midfielder Renato Augusto, and goalkeeper Cassio will soon follow.

The other games were also quite good. Erwin (Jimmy) Hoffa, who apparently is nicknamed after the famous American union boss, was surprisingly not picked to start for Austria, as he has been their highest-profile player thus far. However, he came off the bench in the 71st minute, and scored a brilliant goal ten minutes later to take the Austrian side through. Japan outplayed the Czechs for most of their match, but the Europeans were able to preserve a draw until penalties, where their keeper Petr Radek made two great saves to take them through. Set pieces played a major role throughout that match, with three of the four regulation goals coming off penalties and one off a corner. The U.S. also pulled off a late equalizer and an extra-time goal to advance against Uruguay. If tonight's games have even half the drama of last night's, the real winners will be soccer fans!

Most anticipated match of tonight:
Chile versus Portugal, 7:45 ET, Commonwealth Stadium, Edmonton

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