A mini frenzy of sport-journalist heart flutters accompanied the passing of the 100-day mark in the countdown to Brazil 2014. This was accompanied by a full set of international friendlies, so naturally there were deep, profound and potentially dubious proclamations. Nevertheless, there are some true developments to note and reflect upon.
The US squad had the most dramatic of these matches, its scheduled bout with the Ukrainian national team having been shifted from the tense city of Kharkiv to the theoretically safer location of Larnaca in Cyprus. Even then, the bombing of a top Cypriot referee’s car (hooliganism has been blamed) resulted in the canceling of all local matches over the weekend, and the new national teams played to a virtually empty stadium (there were enough Ukraine supporters to unfurl a large national unity banner). In the end, it wasn’t a very productive journey for Jürgen Klinsmann and the Americans, as they were defeated 2-0 and only heroics from Everton’s keeper Tim Howard prevented a worse result. The mostly Europe-based players that Klinsmann was trying out revealed little to alter his developing line-up.
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England’s friendly 1-0 victory over Denmark also didn’t reveal too much, other than that Three Lions coach Roy Hodgson is caught up in the present League form of Liverpool F.C. (It has recently been revealed that the Reds are facing examination by the England Football Association under Financial Fair Play rules if they qualify for a place in a European tournament next year – in other words, the team will be checked to see if they ‘overly bought’ their way in). Five members were in the starting line-up at Wembley: mid-fielder (and look-alike for Michael Palin in his early Python days ) Jordan Henderson, forwards Raheem Sterling and Daniel Sturridge, national squad mainstay midfielder Steven Gerrard and back Glen Johnson. Despite Sturridge and Sterling’s white-hot scoring streaks at the moment (Sturridge headed in the game’s sole goal), there was awkwardness in hooking up with their forward partners, Manchester United’s money man Wayne Rooney and the increasingly-exposed Jack Wilshere of Arsenal. Denmark will not be going to Brazil due a brutal draw for their Qualifying group, which included not only group winners Italy but the Czech Republic, Bulgaria, and the new rising force of Armenia. The Danes ultimately nabbed the runner-up place in the group but had the worst record of the play-off aspirants by one point, beneath Croatia, who will now be playing Brazil in the inaugural game on Thursday, June 12 at 1pm on ESPN.
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On that note, ESPN released their US television schedule for the tournament, which will include 43 games on their network, 11 on ESPN2, and a further 10 on ABC. All games on ESPN will be preceded by a half-hour build-up that will include the traditional entrance of the teams, playing of the anthems and ceremonial handshakes. Unfortunately for those of you, especially on the US West Coast, that were looking at the time zone and hoping for some happy hour or prime time games, the broadcast times show that Europe is still FIFA’s marketing ground central (which is requiring day games to be played in the sweltering heat in Brazil as well). In San Francisco and Los Angeles air times will range from 9 AM to 4PM, with the US team’s group games against Ghana and Portugal scheduled for 3PM, the latest for them at this point.
Finally, speaking of Portugal, Cristiano Ronaldo became the Portugal national team’s all-time leading scorer with his 48th and 49th goals scored in a 5-1 thrashing of Cameroon in Portugal, which also included a goal by his tattooed, fashion plate wingman Raul Meireles. “Records come naturally to me,” CR7 said in a humble translation. Meanwhile, his personal rival Lionel Messi was getting press primarily for vomiting on the pitch in Bucharest as Argentina turgidly drew 0-0 with their stay-at-home-this-summer Romanian hosts.
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