The US played a friendly against Australia on Saturday, which they won 3 - 1 on the strength of 2 goals from Edson Buddle and one from Hercules Gomez. The general consensus appears to be that the US was decent in midfield, strong on attack, but at best patchy on defense and lucky to get away with only conceding one goal, thanks to the work of Marcus Hahnneman in the second half. Predictably smug articles in the Guardian and the Telegraph underline the prevailing English view that US defensive weaknesses mean that England won't have too much trouble beating them on June 12th. Henry Winter of the Telegraph did sound a warning note about the quality of Landon Donovan, who built a lot of respect with the English press during his stint at Everton in the winter, but even he doesn't seem to see the prospect of a goal-a-palooza from the meeting of two teams with lots of speed on offense and not a hell of a lot on defense...
ESPN doesn't seem to want to allow me to put the highlights here, so if you're interested in the highlights you will have to visit them.
In other news, players from around the world are getting crocked faster than a Johannesburg cab driver can take you on a 40 miles detour. The definitely lost and at risk thus far are as follows:
- England defender Rio Ferdinand. He's spent a lot of the past season with injury problems, so the main surprise is that it's not his back but knee ligaments that have let him down. I'm no expert, but he looked awful in the friendly against Japan, which leads me to think that the ability to replace him before the tournament at least allows Fabio Capello to make the best of the situation.
- Italian midfielder Andrea Pirlo, who has a calf injury. He's a thinking fan's midfielder - his thoughtful play and passing allows Italy to counter; he's a real loss.
- Brazilian goalkeeper Julio Cesar has a back injury.
- Slovak defender Martin Skrtl (who always looks like the Liverpool player most likely to glass an opposing forward on the field) ssuffered a non-serious ankle injury against Costa Rica.
- Jozy Altidore has a sprained ankle. If Edson Buddle and Hercules Gomez remain on fire, that may not be a huge problem, but there's no denying that he brings pace and as shaky as the US looks on defense, any dent to their attacking opportunities is more worrying.
Didier Drogba of the Ivory Coast appears to have broken a bone near his elbow in a friendly. There have been conflicting reports about whether he's going to miss the World Cup or not in the wake of emergency surgery; only time will tell.
- Arjen Robben appears to have picked up a hamstring injury in Holland's friendly against Hungary (which they won 6 - 1, incidentally). His pace down the wing and relatively recent willingness to track back on defense (a habit which I suspect he picked up because Real Madrid's defense was so unreliable when he was there) makes this a potential blow if he can't make it to South Africa.
It's always a bit baffling to see all these friendlies right after the European domestic seasons end and shortly in advance of long travel to South Africa. Based on my wholly unscientific method of "watching a lot of English, Spanish, and Champions League games," staying competitive in tight domestic leagues and European competition seems to leave a lot of players on the ragged edge and one can't help but wonder if the benefits of playing friendlies (getting the team to gel) aren't worth picking members of the team off at the same time.
(This post written to the mellow sounds of Humbug by Artic Monkeys.)