Fire & Ice(land)
Holy Eyjafjallajökull, Batman.
The last time most American sports fans were thinking about Iceland, it was in the D2: The Mighty Ducks, which was not only vastly inferior to the first one, but also convinced a generation of 90s kids that Iceland was somehow a hockey powerhouse.
They’re actually a soccer powerhouse.
Or something like that.
In the annals of UEFA history, Iceland’s name is not frequently mentioned, if at all, but the team has been on the rise for the past few years. While in 2011 they were hovering at #120 or so in the FIFA world rankings, recent years have been them climb as high as #23 in 2015, and they began 2016 at #34… which, coincidentally, ranks just 3 spots behind the US men’s national team at #31.
In Euro 2016 qualifying, or the Íslenska karlalandsliðið í knattspyrnu, lost only two games and somehow beat the Netherlands twice, but they still entered the finals as massive underdogs. But a 1:1 draw against Portugal (#8 in the world), a 1:1 draw against Hungary (#20), and a 2:1 win over Austria (#10) punched their ticket to a Round of 16 matchup against England (#11). And, as I predicted not too long ago, the English crashed and burned, losing 2:1 to the Icelandic juggernaut, triggering a deluge of #Brexit tweets for the second time in just a few days.
With host France (#17) lying ahead in the quarterfinals at the Stade de France on Sunday, it will be a tall task to advance to the semis, but I‘m a believer. This Icelandic saga has a few chapters left.
In the other semis, I’ll take Portugal over Poland, Belgium over Wales, and Italy over Germany.
And here’s an extra present- the Icelandic commentator literally losing his mind during the tournament run. I hope we hear more of that on Sunday at around 5 pm EST.
Houston, We Have A Problem
I was very tempted to go to Houston for the USA/Argentina Copa America semifinal. I had some Southwest vouchers to use, there were no baseball games that night, and hey, YOLO.
Good thing I didn’t.
Argentina’s 4:0 spanking of the United States was about as one-sided an affair that I’ve seen with the USMNT….like ever. A 4th minute goal for Argentina. No attack. No possession (68%-32%). NOT ONE SHOT ON GOAL compared to 11 for Argentina. One measly corner kick. They were dominated from pillar to post and it wasn’t even competitive.
Michael Bradley looked lost in the midfield, Clint Dempsey didn’t touch the ball until the 40th minute or so, and La Albiceleste were literally doing dances through the midfield and into the attacking third with the US having no answer at all.
As much as I dislike Klinsmann, it’s tough to blame him for getting outclassed by arguably one of the best teams in the world, albeit a team that lost to Chile for the second straight year in the final. He was missing Jermaine Jones and Bobby Wood and his defense did him no favors, particularly John Brooks and Kyle Beckerman on the opener. And against Messi’s stunning strike, well, what can you do. What a golaso.
The US has time to lick its wounds before the CONCACAF World Cup qualifying continues in September, but time will not solve the problem of quality. Sure, the USMNT can gut out a win against teams like Paraguay or Ghana, and once in a while salvage a draw against the likes of Portugal, but against a Belgium, Argentina, and, recently, a Mexico, it’s not that close.
Not close at all.