Costa Rica v United States - FIFA 2014 World Cup Qualifier

Brutal weather conditions test both teams in U.S.-Costa Rica World Cup qualifier


COMMERCE CITY, Colo. – So what will we call this one? “La Guerra Blanca,” perhaps? That is, The White War … a la the famously frigid win over Mexico in 2001 known as “La Guerra Fria?”

Whatever we all call it, Friday’s World Cup qualifier outside Denver will be remembered for two things: a 1-0 win over Costa Rica in a night of weather madness,  where the United States got its World Cup qualifying effort back on track, even if the result was down to an early goal and survival from there.

Mostly, of course, a memorable night was made by the harsh elements. The game resembled soccer in a snow globe.

(MORE: Images of the Colorado snow globe.)

The fluffy stuff began about three hours before kickoff at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park. It had started to stick as goalkeepers came out for warm-ups. Two snow plows worked hard to get some of the field cleared by kickoff – How about about that, Red Bull Arena … snow plows? –  but it was more or less fruitless by halftime.

There was even some questions about whether this one might get postponed. One international match, Northern Ireland vs. Russia, had already been postponed Friday.

As for the decision making authority …

An official FIFA match commissioner on site presides over all decisions and disputes, everything from uniform color to the more important matters such as weather conditions.  So the call belonged to Victor Daniel, from Grenada, right up to kickoff. From there the decision belonged to referee Joel Aguilar of El Salvador.

(MORE: Breaking down Deuce’s game winner.)

By the 30th minute,  the Costa Rica bench begin chatting up the fourth officials, gesturing to the lines and such, presumably complaining about the match going on.

The players were clearly struggling with footing and with … well, with everything.

So, should the match have even been played? The upcoming schedule applied some pressure on the choice. It could have been postponed a day, but the weather forecasts call for lots more snow on Saturday, so that made little sense.

U.S. Soccer spokesman Neil Buethe said the choice of moving the game back two days was problematic due to the match upcoming against Mexico on Tuesday. To play on Sunday, fly on Monday and then play again at powerful Mexico on Tuesday would be soccer suicide.

With conditions getting no better, and the Costa Ricans still complaining, Aguilar stopped the match briefly at about 55 minutes. It was only, as it turned out, to clear the  lines and then resume play.

It looked to everyone as if Aguilar might be stopping the game. “That’s why I went on the field a little, with my bad Spanish, [to say] ‘there was no way we are stopping this game. ‘ ”

Buethe announced to the press that previous information had been incorrect. In fact, a match abandoned due to weather would be resumed at the exact point at which it was called off.  At the 76th minute, U.S. Soccer passed the word that FIFA’s match commissioner had declared that the contest would be completed.

U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati said there was no discussion prior to the match about not going ahead with it.

So, should the match have been played. Said Gulati: “It’s up to the referee and match commissioner. We got it in. No injuries. I’d say the answer is “yes.’ “

Agent: “There’s no hatred” between Bale, Ronaldo

Gareth Bale & Cristiano Ronaldo, Real Madrid CF
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Gareth Bale doesn’t at all dislike Cristiano Ronaldo — or vice versa — despite what may seem a lukewarm on-field relationship between the two Real Madrid superstars, insists Jonathan Barnett, agent of Bale.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

Instead, Barnett insists that the two men with very different personalities have a healthy relationship, and competition, that pushes each Galactico to be the best player he can be.

Barnett, on Bale’s relationship with Ronaldo — quotes from the Guardian:

“They don’t go out eating every night together, but it’s fine. There’s no hatred there. Gareth is a quiet guy. They’re complete opposites. But I think Gareth can learn a little bit from Ronaldo as well, interacting maybe a little bit. But he wants his own life and he lives it. Gareth is a great footballer, he doesn’t want anything more. He has some very good endorsements but his whole life is to be the best footballer in the world. I don’t think he wants to be the best model in the world or the best underwear seller. That’s not him.”

That’s a hilarious closing quote from Barnett, but he knows exactly how some folks are going to interpret it: “Bale thinks Ronaldo loves himself too much.”

[ MORE: Giroud: “I must harden myself” to unseat Walcott ]

There’s nothing better for the ultimate success of a team than healthy, friendly competition between teammates who are spectacularly talented as Ronaldo and Bale. The former will only be around to perform at his current level for so much longer, but at what point does the latter officially take the torch and supplant Madrid’s biggest star, and how accepting will he be of passing that proverbial torch?

Olivier Giroud: “I must harden myself” to unseat Walcott

Olivier Giroud, France
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Is it just me, or does the press really only ever get noteworthy quotes from players during international breaks?

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

I suppose it’s not surprising, given Premier League players get away from the mean ole British press, go back to their respective homelands and speak with journalists they’ve likely known since their early playing days, thus feel more comfortable opening up about key issues.

Anyway, today we have Olivier Giroud essentially calling himself out for having lost the starting striker’s job at Arsenal because he’s been outplayed of late by Theo Walcott. As discussed before, this is bad news for Giroud because he’s now falling down the depth chart for France with next summer’s European Championship on the horizon.

[ MORE: Aguero admits he wants Guardiola link-up ]

Giroud, on losing his place at Arsenal — quotes from the Guardian:

“At Arsenal, I am in competition with Theo for the striker position. But he is doing well at the moment, so there is no reason to change.

“Whether it was at Tours, Montpellier or Arsenal, I have never experienced a situation like this, I have often played from the start. I need to take positives and to harden myself mentally. It is something new for me.

“I was in [Walcott’s] place in previous seasons at Arsenal. I imagine what he must have been thinking. But I feel that the coach believes in me.”

Giroud goes on to cast into doubt his own confidence, stating in very certain terms he needs “to believe more in [his] abilities.” Giroud’s always come across as a bit of an existentialist, but it’s always strange to hear players publicly call themselves out — particularly their confidence — as if that’s not going to increase the pressure currently weighing down on them.

[ MORE: Rodgers reportedly chosen to take over at Aston Villa ]

The next eight months are going to be monumentally important in Giroud’s career, as the 29-year-old attempts to prove he’s worth keeping around at Arsenal and deserving of a place in the national team squad for next summer’s EUROs, which are to be played in France.