World Cup off-day wrapup: Thursday


By Adam Vaccaro

What happened Thursday: On the eve of the first day of quarterfinal action, things were relatively quiet in South Africa, but focus shifted to Friday's games there were still a few stories to look at.

The most pertinent in a series of coaching notes: US coach Bob Bradley said that he would be honored to be kept on as the Yanks' manager. Earlier this week, US Soccer Federation president Sunil Gulati issued a statement that oddly seemed both damning and praising of Bradley. No official decision from the higher-ups is expected for a few weeks. Bradley's resume, though, has grown quite impressive and his players certainly seem to respond well to his coaching. Personally, I'd like to have him back. US Soccer has come a long way under his leadership and stretching the run a bit longer couldn't hurt.

Mexican coach Javier Aguirre resigned from his post after his team was eliminated in the second round for the fifth straight World Cup. Portugal's Carlos Queiroz refused to do the same, arguing that being eliminated by Spain, the world's number two team, is hardly a complete failure, even if it occured in the Round of 16. Indeed, between taking part in this tournament's Group of Death and being given that tough second round assignment, it's plenty reasonable to say that Portugal was given the 2010 World Cup's least favorable schedule.

Coach Fabio Capello has at least one backer in the England Football Association. On Monday, joint chairman David Sheepshanks publicly supported the coach's staying on, referring to the Italian as the best man for the job. A decision on Capello's future is expected later this month. The coach does not intend to resign, but after another disappointing Three Lions finish there is quite a bit of public and, in particular, media pressure for change.

Lastly on the coaching front, Greece named Portugal native Fernando Santos as its new manager for at least the next two years. Greece was eliminated in the first round, but collected its first ever Cup win in so doing against Nigeria.

Speaking of Nigeria, on Wednesday Goodluck Johnson, the country's president, placed a two-year ban from international competition on the Men's National Team and dissolved its Football Federation. Today, the team officially informed FIFA of its intentions to sit out for a couple of years. As Nigerian legislators passed a resolution in hope of Johnson rescinding the ban, FIFA began an investigation of the circumstances surrounding it, saying that it needed time to take a good look at the situation. This is a pretty clear instance of a government involving itself in soccer matters, and is therefore a violation of FIFA rules that can result in varying degrees of punishment. While the Super Eagles obviously wouldn't be hurt by a suspension in this instance, Nigeria's youth and women's teams could find themselves also banned from competition because of the president's actions. The ban was imposed after Nigeria disappointed in World Cup play, collecting only one point out of Group B en route to a first round elimination.

Two days before his team's marquee quarterfinal match against Germany, Argentina's Lionel Messi missed training while dealing with a cold. Messiperhaps the tournament's best player thus far despite not having recorded a goalwill be examined again on Friday, but it's just about unimaginable that Albiceleste would take on the Germans without their biggest star.

Ghana's Asamoah Gyan should be good to go Friday against Uruguay after tweaking his ankle in training on Wednesday.
What to watch on Friday: Brazil will return to action in a great matchup against the Netherlands. Selecao and the Oranje met in the 1994 quarterfinals and the 1998 semis, with Brazil twice emerging the victor. The winner will outclasson paper, at leastthe winner of Uruguay and Ghana's match, so victory represents a great opportunity to reach the final. That aspiration is Brazil's birthright, but for Hollandwho have never won the tournament despite long holding a place amongst the world's top teamsit would be a dream come true. The teams are trending in opposite directions from a health perspective, as the Oranje have returned Arjen Robben to action and Brazil is set to play without Elano for a third straight match. Holland is also unbeaten in 23 straight contests, compared to just ten for Brazil. This could be the best opportunity for the Dutch to get past the five-time champs, but it's still World number one Selecao's match to lose.
Also Friday: In crossing all sorts of geographic, cultural, religious, ethnic, economic, and political boundaries, Ghana's Black Stars have captured the host continent's hearts and given life to the once-myth of Pan-Africa. But to be the Africa's first team to play in a World Cup semifinal match, they'll need to get by a sneaky-strong Uruguay squad. Both sides feature strong defense and have the talent up top to support it. Ghana's more physical, but Uruguay's more flashy, skilled, andyestalented. On neutral ground, Uruguay's probably a clear favorite, especially considering that the Black Stars will be without midfielder Andre Ayew (suspension). There's no denying, however, the value of an entire continent's support when playing on home soil (just ask South Korea circa 2002). Despite the fact that they eliminated the United States last week, it's proving tough to root against Africa's last standing.
Question of the Day: The match is certainly set to be one of the tournament's best so far, but might Brazil be more prepared than the Netherlands, having already been a part of some of the World Cup's most compelling early round contests? The Oranje have not yet faced an elite team in the tournament, with Japan likely its toughest opponent to date. Brazil, winners of the Group of Death, have already seen opponents tougher than the Blue Samurai in Portugal, Ivory Coast, and second-round victim Chile.

Full schedule (all times EDT): Netherlands v BrazilNelson Mandela Bay Stadium, Port Elizabeth10:00 a.m.; Uruguay v GhanaSoccer City Stadium, Johannesburg2:30 p.m.

Quote of Note: We're not under any obligation to make history but that doesn't mean we don't want to. We will not change our style or worry about so-called pressure. - Ghana coach Milovan Rajevac, on the eve of his team's quarterfinal clash against Uruguay. With a win, Ghana will become the first ever African team to advance to advance to the World Cup's semifinals.

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