The 2014 World Cup’s host country returns to action Tuesday, but we’ll be watching another game, in search of wunderkinds.Belgium vs. Algeria: 12 p.m. EDTBrazil vs. Mexico: 3 p.m. EDTRussia vs. South Korea: 6 p.m. EDTIN BRIEFSee our World Cup interactive for the latest probabilities.IN DEPTHBefore we get into why Belgium and Algeria is our game to watch, we should note that we cheated a bit in our criteria for Tuesday’s pick. Typically we’ve taken the greatest harmonic mean between competing teams’ SPI scores, which — as of Monday night — would have put the Brazil versus Mexico match atop the list at 82.4. But we’ve already seen both Brazil and Mexico play in this tournament and their matchup is one-sided, with Brazil having an 86 percent chance of winning (Mexico’s is 3 percent). So instead we’ve chosen to watch one of this year’s dark horses, Belgium, in its tournament debut.Belgium currently has the eighth-best chance of winning this year’s tournament (a mere 1 percent chance, but still). It’s the only team in SPI’s top 10 that hasn’t played yet. Its opponent, Algeria, on the other hand, has the lowest SPI of any team in the tournament and likewise a less than 1 percent chance of winning it all. But we think Tuesday’s matchup will be much closer than anticipated — the projected goal differential between the two teams is only 1.2, compared to 2.6 in the Brazil and Mexico match.But what’s most exciting about Belgium (which returns to the World Cup after failing to qualify for the last two tournaments) is its youth: 23-year-old Chelsea midfielder Eden Hazard, 21-year-old Everton striker Romelu Lukaku, 22-year-old Wolfsburg midfielder Kevin De Bruyne and 19-year-old Manchester United midfielder Adnan Januzaj all have dazzled in the top leagues in Europe but have yet to play on the World Cup stage. Both Belgium and Algeria feature rosters with 10 players under the age of 25, but Belgium’s youngsters are some of international soccer’s most talented. Hazard averaged 0.4 goals per game with Chelsea this year, and Lukaku averaged 0.45 for Everton.Many analysts discount Belgium’s talent after it breezed through qualifiers against teams like Macedonia and Scotland, so Tuesday’s matchup against Algeria will be the first time we see what these kids are really capable of.YESTERDAYThird time’s a charm. The United States entered Monday’s match against Ghana aiming to avoid becoming the first country to lose to the same opponent in three consecutive World Cups.Punctuated by a quick Clint Dempsey goal, the U.S. had the best of the first 10 minutes, with 66 touches to Ghana’s 52, including a 30-13 advantage in the attacking half. But from the 11th minute onward, not so much. The final score — 2-1 United States — didn’t reflect it, but the U.S. spent most of the game on its heels.Here’s a couple stats:The U.S. ended the match with 88 touches in the defending penalty area, the most by any team thus far in the World Cup. U.S. Goalie Tim Howard ended as the team’s leader in touches with 61, as well as pass attempts with 49. The U.S. recorded 45 clearances as a team. It’s the most by any team in a World Cup match since at least the start of the 1966 World Cup, as far back as ESPN Stats & Info’s data set goes.It was defender John Brooks, making his U.S. men’s national team debut, who scored the winning goal in the 86th minute, becoming the first substitute to score a goal for the U.S. in the World Cup. (At 21 years, 139 days old, Brooks is also the youngest player to score in this year’s tournament.)In the first match of the day, Germany became the first country to play in 100 World Cup matches, and in its 4-0 dismantling of Portugal was the first nation to score at least four goals in four straight openers.Germany had a slight possession advantage over Portugal, amassing 684 touches to Portugal’s 556, but had a big advantage where it counted; Germany had 24 touches in in the attacking penalty area compared to Portugal’s eight. Mario Gotze had more touches (nine) in the attacking penalty area than the entire Portuguese team. Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo managed just one touch in the attacking penalty area.The star of the match was Germany’s Thomas Müller, who had his country’s first World Cup hat trick since Miroslav Klose in 2002. Müller made the most of his seven touches in the attacking penalty area, scoring on each of his three shots on target. — Jacob Nitzberg, statistics analyst, ESPNOFF THE PITCHAlgeria versus Belgium is the most mismatched pairing in Group H, with a 65 percent chance of Belgium winning and just a 12 percent chance that Algeria will claim victory. And this imbalance is no less true in the countries’ trade relationship, at least as far as diversity goes. According to OECD data, Belgian exports to Algeria in 2011 totaled $2.06 billion spread over a wide range of categories — the plurality of which were cars and car parts at 22 percent, closely followed by preserved milk at 21 percent. But flip the relationship around, and a whopping 92 percent of Algeria’s $3.45 billion in exports to Belgium consisted of crude petroleum.Mexico and Brazil, on the other hand, have a much more symmetrical trade relationship. On both sides, a majority of the exports was some type of machinery, which made up about 53 percent of Brazil’s exports (a well-spread mix of everything from cars to sewing machinery) and 58 percent of Mexico’s (of which cars made up a 46 percent plurality).Russia and Korea are another evenly matched trade duo, and the sectors even complement each other. Korea’s biggest export to Russia was machinery (mostly cars and car parts) at 55 percent, while Russia’s was — surprise, surprise — oil, at 60 percent. — Hayley MunguiaFURTHER READINGThe U.S. Now Has a Better Shot at the World Cup, But Still Needs a Point Against PortugalWhy Isn’t the U.S. Men’s National Team Better at Soccer?A World Cup Fan’s Guide to Accepting Refereeing Decisions in Your FavorU.S. Soccer Fandom: The Investigation Continues
Day: September 30, 2019
With Atlanta Hawks A Prime Opportunity Opens For MuchNeededWith Atlanta Hawks A Prime Opportunity Opens For MuchNeeded
Dominique Wilkins, Hawks Hall of FamerFour months later, the Atlanta Hawks’ ownership alliance has decided to sell the team in its entirety and not piecemeal. This step opens the way to accept bids from individuals or groups interested in purchasing the franchise.About time.The real issue now is about who takes over this club that is about as viable as any other franchise in the city. That is to say, it’s a mediocre property, in one sense. In another sense, it’s a precious commodity in that there are only 30 teams in the NBA, and owning one is nice for the portfolio.Thirty teams and one majority Black owner—Michael Jordan. It’s time to increase that number, and the Hawks are the best place to start in the entire league, with its vast population of African-Americans who support the team so much that current majority owner Bruce Levenson revealed in emails his discontent with the lack of white people at home games. Seriously. This is the state of the team: Black people support a slightly above average product and the majority owner has a problem with it. Whatever happened to “the only color that matters is green” in business?Apparently, to Levenson, green means more when it comes from whites and not Blacks, and that’s why he needs to be run out of Atlanta on the next Megabus.The people responsible for accepting and approving bids should give special consideration to minorities in general, Blacks in particular. It would stand to reason that Black ownership would appreciate those who support a team that has been mediocre at best over the last two decades. A diversity specialist has been hired by the team, which is a decent start to addressing a big problem.Still, the ocean-wide gap of white men owning teams made up of mostly Black players has to be bridged, starting in Atlanta.And there are plenty of viable candidates, too. Dominique Wilkins, the team’s Hall of Famer who is the one tangible reminder of the successful years of the mid-1980s, surely is part of a group that will make a strong big.Wilkins has never received the respect he deserved from the organization. When he was a vice president, he was among the lowest paid in the NBA. When he was available to work out and share his knowledge with players, coaches mindlessly rebuffed the idea. Now he serves as a color analyst, probably to stay connected to the team.A Hawks owner would be an ideal scenario, however late, for Wilkins to take his proper place within the franchise.There also has been talk about Chris Webber working with a group to purchase the team and entertainers who will join or create a group to make bids.And there is a young businessman from Washington, DC, Darryl K. Washington, owner of DKW Communications, an IT company that has a gross annual backlog of more than $200 million in the past several years.Washington maintains a home in Atlanta and was in the hunt for the Washington Wizards when they went up for sale a few years ago. He’s the kind of young, fresh mind that wouldDarryl K. Washingtonbe committed to winning and creating a diverse working environment, an element desperately needed for a team where the majority owner sent out a racist email about too much Black involvement at games and the general manager (Danny Ferry) called a player of African descent (Luol Deng) a “liar and a cheat” because of his heritage.The Hawks are valued at about $425 million, according to Forbes magazine’s estimates from a year ago. The owners decided to go with Levenson and sell their portions of the team, no doubt a result of the Los Angeles Clippers being (over)sold for $2 billion after Donald Sterling was forced to sell his team following release of phone recordings of racist rants against Black people.The Hawks are not worth that much. But they merit ownership that represents the city, not the typical NBA ownership that represents a lack of diversity that has to be changed.