Monday, July 14, 2014

World Cup 2014


The FIFA 2014 World Cup wrapped up yesterday, with German captain Phillipp Lahm hoisting the coveted award after a hard fought 1-nil extra time victory over Argentina. Die Mannschaft deserved it - cruising through blowout wins vs Portuguese speaking countries, gutting out tough 1 goal victories in the knockout stages and salvaging a draw (vs Ghana). They were perhaps the most balanced side in the tournament, able to dictate possession and strike on the counter. Their only weakness was the that defenders were played a bit out of position - which was somewhat exposed against Ghana's speed. So congrats to Germany for their fourth World Cup finals victory.

The Yanks

For the 2nd World Cup finals in a row, the Americans gave a credible performance - let's forget that 2006 ever happened.. The USA however, were knocked out by an upstart Belgium squad- one filled with individual talent. Hardcore fans like myself hoped that the Belgians had yet gelled as a unit but alas, that individual talent won out. But just like in 2010, we went home with heads held high. We took them to extra time, and had a chance but Chris Wondolowski did not convert. Now, to reach the knockout stage in itself was an accomplishment. None of the four teams in our group were pushovers (eventual champs Germany, Portugal, Ghana) and through goal differential, we advanced. The win vs Ghana and draw vs Portugal were such memorable experiences for US fans. For the Ghana match, a few friends and I stood under the heat for 5 hours with hundreds of other USMNT fans at Hooligans, the go-to futbol venue in Charlotte. For each USA goal, the crowd leapt up and down in jubilation, spilling beer everywhere and on everyone.

I am also proud of how Americans got behind this team and in my opinion, exceeded the interest of the 2010 finals. Although social media wasn't as pervasive then as it is now.. But I digress, I loved the support for the USMNT and hope that they keep following the squad. There should be increased coverage for the Gold Cup and for qualifying for 2018. I'll be honest, interest from the casual fan seemed low during the Hexagonal, when a US berth in the finals was far from secure. I was the only person at the bar clad in USA gear. So for the hardcore fans, the drama started then and not when FIFA placed us in the "group of death".

So how does the squad itself improve? We can make excuses about injuries and questionable selections all day, but the USMNT were simply outclassed against superior opponents. Yes, Tim Howard and the defense played admirably, but with a toothless offense moving forward - we could not relieve the pressure. The squad needs more technical players if we are to progress past the round of 16. So I am in the camp advocating that our best players transfer to a European League - preferably, the top flight leagues in England, Spain, Italy and Germany. This isn't a slight to the MLS, which has made strides -but the exposure to top players even in training in the European leagues is more beneficial than regular playing time in the US league in my opinion. So go for it, Matt Besler and DeAndre Yedlin. Michael Bradley, I hope you return to Europe. He appeared regularly on AS Roma's starting lineup at one point in his career, and would be a good fit for a mid table Premiership club.

Extra Time

  • I wish that the casual US soccer fan would have seen the best of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo - the two top players in the world. Both had iffy international records prior to this world cup and although Messi won the award for the best player in the tournament, he was far from his best. For Ronaldo, it was a tournament to forget. Although neither will admit it now, they were probably both hampered by injury. Neither one of them have been at 100 percent in months and this is the last world cup finals for these two legends in their prime (Ronaldo will be 33, Messi 31 in 2018). 
  • Michael Bradley was surprisingly average - he was touted to be the most important player on the team, perhaps the USMNT's most technical player ever (he was at least the hardest working). But he did underwhelm and gave away a ball cheaply which led to a Portugal equalizer. 
  • The tournament was a small sample size - most teams played only 4 matches. Dips in form are expected, but is especially tough when the whole world is watching. There are brilliant players who's talent was obscured by such a small sample size. Long story short, follow the club season! Preseason starts soon, I need more fans here in the US to banter with.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Peru: Biggest Regrets

People say that you should not have any regrets - that your past moves make you who you are today. Could be true in the bigger picture, but not in travel! I could have done a few things differently during my latest international romp that would have made the experience more memorable. And in my hindsight is 20/20 view, here they are:

  • Buying a physical map: Yes, they scream "tourist" and smart phones have google maps, etc but I am a hands-on learner and would have retained information better had I been able to mark out routes.
  • Haggling: Something I did not do at all in Peru. Doing so would have shown respect to the local culture and saved me some nuevo sols. But at least the cab drivers got the full price plus tip.
  • Documenting food: Peru is apparently the gastronomical capital of the world and I agree. This blog would not be able to do the cuisine a bit of justice. Now I am aware that there are regional differences in terms of cuisine, so they could vary greatly between the Amazon, Andes and Lima regions. Allow me to rephrase: The cuisine of the Lima area exceeded my expectations, displacing Hong Kong and Singapore as my top food destinations. 
  • Wearing sunscreen: The desert sun isn't to be taken lightly. It made me pay and was unable to go surfing til late in the trip
  • Be in better shape: I did a lot of walking, swimming and climbing dunes and they wore me out. Had I been in more physically fit, I could've made the most of my experiences.
  • Go to some famous ruins up in the Andes: I gave up on pursuing Macchu Picchu way too easily because travel bloggers said you needed x amount of days to get the full experience, which I did not have. I was offered by a US expat's wife that her agency could make it happen within the parameters of my stay at around 500USD. I should've considered that offer and gone. Now my Peru visit will have an (*) because I did not make it there.
The Peru trip was great overall, but it could have been better had I made some minor changes and shot for the stars with confidence.