wherein DF travels to Deutschland for the 2006 world cup to follow the US men's national soccer team

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Fear the Lats

The last three friendlies before the World Cup are traditionally grouped together over the course of a week in a widely publicized, well-attended (by any standards, not just US Soccer standards) series of games billed as the Road to the World Cup. Last time out, we beat Uruguay 2-1, smoked Jamaica 5-0, and lost to Holland 2-0 in a performance that was much more impressive than the scoreline suggests.

The eagle-eyed readers at BigSoccer just identified a news snippet on FIFA.com revealing our opponents in one of these games, the last of the three and typically the major send-off against a challenging foe that will allow us to test our mettle against some sturdy competition. Ladies and gentlemen, it's...

Latvia. Or, depending on how ethnically correct you want your spelling to be, Latvija. Either way, it's a disappointment. Latvia's no Holland, to say the least, though they aren't quite the footballing chumps one may think. The Lats qualified for Euro04 (through the playoffs, beating Turkey on aggregate over the two legs), and managed respectable results against the Czech Republic (who squeaked out a 2-1 win after being down 1-0 at halftime) and Germany (a gritty 0-0 draw).

They haven't done much since then, failing to do much in their WC06 qualifying group and never even challenging for a playoff spot. There could be some sense that we want to line up opponents who will be like our WC foes, so one might think that the Latvians will play like the Czech Republic, but I'm skeptical. Apart from the fact that both teams are located in Eastern Europe writ large, I don't think there's any reason to expect that they're similar. It could also be that we simply got lucky last time with two of three solid foes (in 1998's WC run-up, we tied Scotland and Macedonia 0-0, and beat Kuwait 2-0). In any case, Latvia in Connecticut is on. Get psyched.


Blogger mirarchi said...

I agree that Latvia is a disappointing opponent. In the run-up to the '02 WC, we had the good fortune to be able to get friendlies against elite teams: Ireland, Italy, Germany, and Netherlands. In the run-up to the '06 WC, we've played Poland, who arguably is comparable to Ireland back in '02, and Japan, who arguably is comparable to Uruguay in '02. And Germany '02 is probably comparable to Germany '06. But this time around, we just don't have any friendlies scheduled against opponents comparable to Italy and the Netherlands.

I think we learned a lot from the way Germany bitch-slapped us in the '02 friendly -- we really looked like a different team when we met them again in the WC. And I think our strong performance against the Netherlands in '02 was a real confidence booster (I don't think I've ever felt better about a 2-0 loss).

Our friendly with Scotland, which was the send-off match to the '98 WC, holds special significance for me, as it was the first USMNT match I attended. Ever since then, I've been hooked... :)

11:13 PM, March 07, 2006


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