The World Cup began with celebration and sadness this morning. Even from television, the scenery of the South African venues is breathtaking and the sound from the plastic vuvuzela horns is mind-numbing.
But the events began on a sad note with the death of Nelson Mandela’s 9-year-old great granddaughter in a car wreck last night.
One memorable moment is already in the books — the first goal of the World Cup was scored by South Africa, fittingly, against Mexico, after El Tri wasted a number of first-half opportunities, and all of a sudden, we have a game. South Africa has been billed as the weakest-ever host team, but it is up 1-0 heading toward the 60th minute.
Having gotten started, though, it’s time to look ahead at tomorrow’s 1 p.m. U.S. opener against England.
A roundup of stories:
— For those into the x’s and o’s of the game, we start with the site you must visit first, zonalmarking.net. It breaks down every team tactically and from a personnel standpoint. Of the U.S., it says, “a good side, but need tactical tweaks. [Zonal Marking on the U.S.]
— Another in-depth tactical look at the U.S. team. This one takes a position-by-position look. [Shinguardian.com]
— The Wall Street Journal says that England, looking for any motivational edge, has an old score to settle with the U.S.: “The official record states that, in their previous meetings England has enjoyed a comfortable advantage — having won seven and lost two of their nine meetings in international games. But to the English that’s an incomplete scorecard. It doesn’t take into account the hefty defeat of 1776 (an early showing for the Tea Party crowd) and the late winner the U.S. scored in 1781.” [Wall Street Journal]
— From NewYorker.com, a podcast discussion of the opener. It features Hampton Sides, who recently wrote about the U.S. team and Tim Howard for the New Yorker, Daniel Alarcon, a fiction writer who is blogging the World Cup for the New Republic, and New Yorker staff writer Burkhard Bilger. They also get into the development of soccer in the U.S. and the overall outlook for the tournament. [NewYorker.com]
— Kate Fagan writes of the importance of Wayne Rooney to the English hopes. “Rooney hunts the ball like there’s gold inside it,” Fagan writes, then poses the question, will U.S. players try to bait the temperamental star? [Philadelphia Inquirer]
— Kelly Whiteside of USA Today points out that it’s a long tournament and a loss to England wouldn’t doom the U.S. American goalkeeper Tim Howard says even a draw would be a lift for the U.S. “I’d take it,” he says. [USA Today]
— Luke Dempsey previews the match. It’s a case of “my heart versus my bones” says the Englishman who makes his home in the U.S. [The New Republic]
And last, and certainly least, my own view. I think the key in this game will be one of possession. Namely, that the U.S. doesn’t have anyone who can wrest the possession edge from Britain, and given the team’s defensive struggles leading up to the tournament, I think that spells trouble. England is too skilled up front, and barring some surprising quick strikes by the U.S., I think it uses a substantial edge in shots to win 2-1, despite the ability of Howard, who with a great individual effort in goal could yet pave the way for the upset.