Covering University of Colorado sports, mostly basketball, since 2010

Monday, June 16, 2014

Monday Grab Bag: Champions crowned as the World Cup begins

OK, so it seems I was just a little off base in my pronouncement last week that the Heat were set to roll to their third-straight NBA title.  It turns out that their LeBron-fueled Game 2 victory, which I took as a declaration of intent, was actually more of a reflexive yip from a wounded animal getting ready to die quietly in a corner.  Instead of it being 3-1 Miami headed back to Texas, the Spurs ran the table in South Beach, and comfortably claimed the title last night in the home of the Alamo.  Whoops, my bad.
Wait, that's not LeBron...
It was brutal watching Miami flop around harmlessly against San Antonio through three straight defeats. Culminating in yesterday's 104-87 Spurs triumph, the average margin of victory for San Antonio over their four victories in the series was 18 points per game.  It was utter domination.

While I can't help but wonder just how broken the Heat are, it would be criminal to take anything away from the triumphant Spurs, who clearly deserved the 5th title of the Tim Duncan era.  They were fantastic, putting on a display of team-oriented, fluid basketball that comes as a salve to any true basketball fan yearning for glimpses of the beautiful game we first fell in love with.  Honestly, it may have been the most impressive championship performance of the recent era.  Congrats, San Antonio!


Today in the bag, I'm taking an extended look at World Cup soccer, before acknowledging the crowned Kings in Los Angeles.

Click below for the bag...

Around the World Cup - 

I hope you've all been watching the soccer, as the quadrennial display of international 'footy' has gotten off to a roaring start.  Goals, goals, and more goals have rained down in Brazil, with nary a tie to be found.  The action has been fast-paced, dramatic, and, above all else, beautiful to watch.  If you haven't been able to find at least something to whet your appetite, there may be no hope for you.

Group A - 

A nervous stammer in the opening minutes from the Brazilians notwithstanding, this group has mostly gone according to plan through the opening two games.  The hosts conceded a stunning own goal to fall behind a game Croatia side in the Cup opener, before proceeding to slot three unanswered goals to secure the points. As expected, Croatia would not go silently, but I never thought the Selecao were in any real danger last Thursday.
Oh shit, did that actually just go in?
Mexico, likewise, looked strong against Cameroon in a 1-0 win that should've been larger, but for the inadequacy of the refereeing.  San Zusi may have punched their ticket, but El Tri are as dangerous as ever, and seem to be over their qualifying malaise.  A loss looms against Brazil, but any result against Croatia on the 23rd should see them through.  I expect them to earn it.

Group B - 

The stunner of the tournament, so far, was the thorough dismantling of defending champion Spain at the hands of their 16th Century rivals.  Once again the team that scored first was upended, as Spain saw their suspect lead (earned through a cheaply won penalty) evaporate into the heavy air of Salvador.  The Netherlands would score five successive goals, varying from spectacular (Van Persie's first) to embarrassing (Van Persie's second), before walking off with a triumphant 5-1 scalp.  Never before has a holder been so humiliatingly dispatched, and the Spanish, thought to be on the precipice of declaring themselves the greatest national dynasty in soccer history, are suddenly beset with questions and doubt.
Fly away, Robin, you're free now.
All of this - the five goal drubbing, the panic in Iberia - comes to the benefit of an enticing Chilean side.  They played to form in their opener against Australia, and claimed a solid 3-1 win.  Now a full six goals and three points clear of the defending world champions, it appears all they would need is a result against la Furia Roja on Wednesday to surprisingly survive to the knockout stages.

Group C - 

I wasn't all that invested in the pair of outcomes in Group C.  Colombia, thankfully, blew apart the always painfully dull Greeks 3-0, and the Ivory Coast earned a well-deserved 2-1 win over Japan through a pair of second half goals.  It's not that the games weren't fun to watch, it's just that I don't have a lot of vestment in any particular side.  I'll save my passion for other groups.  Groups like...

Group D - 

Hello, Costa Rica!  Los Ticos furthered the banner of CONCACAF with their impressive showing against a favored Uruguayan side.  The thumped the 2010 semifinalists in front of a hostile crowd 3-1.  Certainly not a fluke, the win flips the table on this Group of Death, leaving hopes of advancement up in the air for everyone.
If only it had snowed...
While it appeared that new England was better than typical England, the Three Lions were still completely out-classed by a competing UEFA monster.  Behind a phenomenal 100-pass performance from Andrea Pirlo, the Italians put the English to bed early, and the Queen's men are scrambling to find points on their remaining schedule.  While Daniel Sturridge, Raheem Sterling, and Danny Welbeck make the Limeys a more attractive side to watch, they're painfully vulnerable in the midfield and back-four, as shown when Italy waltzed through on the wing for the winning strike.  I look at them as fodder for early elimination at this point.

Group E - 

I don't want to get ahead of myself, or sound too batshit, but I actually kind of enjoyed watching France play over the weekend (*gasp*).  During the Euros a few years back, I went to watch the Frogs play with a coworker who hails from Paris.  In his words, the team was incapable of living up to expectations because they were always 'too French.'  Indeed, that very problem seemed to plague them in 2010, when a spate of lethargy and infighting held the team back from even escaping group play.  That doesn't seem to be the case this year, however, as Les Bleus look a 3-0 win off of Honduras in fulfilling fashion.  Certainly, the Honduran side was never going to be much of a challenge, but I take it as a good sign that the French didn't find a way to turn that game into a 1-0 snoozer, or even a dour draw.
Dare I say it, the French are... interesting
The remainder of the group played to the finish of the still developing tournament, as Switzerland stole a 2-1 victory at the death of injury time from shell-shocked Ecuador.  The winning goal came off the counter, just seconds after the Ecuadorans had almost secured the win themselves.  Swiss winger Haris Seferovic netted the goal, and gave his team and country a leg-up on advancing to the knockout rounds.  Thrilling stuff.

Group F - 

Unsurprisingly, Argentina appear to be the class of this group.  Their 2-1 win over Bosnia and Herzegovina only confirmed that they're ready to soar in front of home continent fans.  Opening fixture action concludes today when Iran and Nigeria stumble onto the pitch.  Given their win yesterday, and the suspect quality of the other two squads, look for a nine-pointer from the Argentinians.

Group G & H - 

The final two groups kick off their action today, including the US, who look to avoid another Ghanaian-sized road block in a few hours.  I'm so excited that I've donned my Dempsey 'sash-model' jersey from the 2010 World Cup.  The team is completely different from the previous versions which fell to the Black Stars, to the point that I've convinced myself that this round will be different.  Here's to the US proving me right with a 2-1 revenge-laced win!
Welp, here we go...
As for Group H, I'm excited to see Belgium take the field.  A ridiculously talented side, I think that they're capable of a dark horse run to the semis.  Certainly, their group should be no issue for them.  Algeria isn't capable of hanging with their talent, the Russians are awash with unanswered questions, and the South Koreans are on the wane after their golden generation has passed.

Kings reign, again -

Those damn Kings did it again.  Pushed to overtime by the feisty New York Rangers, and facing a goalie, Henrik Lundqvist, who was in the form of his life, LA once again squeezed out an overtime winner, taking Game 5 3-2 to earn their second Stanley Cup in three years.

I feel bad for the Rangers.  Contrary to popular belief, they were clearly worthy of skating on the same ice as the Champions of the West, and were only a handful of moments away from still playing hockey into this week. All three games won by the Kings in LA were decided in overtime, and in each I could easily see New York stealing the victory given a do-over.  Them's the breaks, I guess.
The Kings are back on top of the hockey world.
Don't take that to mean I discount the Kings as worthy champions, however.  They certainly earned their second skate with the cup.  They are as deep as any team in the league, have a sensational goalie minding the net, and a crafty, veteran coach who knows how to put his players int he position to succeed.  What's more, there's not much that they'll need to maintain to keep the run going.  They look to remain as a contender in the west, and a budding rivalry with My Blackhawks could drive the sport for the next few years.  I can't wait to see that develop, just as I can't wait to see Chicago leap-frog them back into the Final in 2015.

Happy Monday!

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