World Cup

Photo Credit: Courtesy of Michael E. Mason

The Longhorns are Quidditch World Cup champions for the third-straight year.

Texas defeated Lone Star Quidditch club 120–90 to finish off a comeback and leave Quidditch World Cup 8 victorious.

The Longhorns capped off their three-peat when seeker Evan Carr caught the snitch, worth 30 points in U.S. Quidditch League play, to end the game.

Lone Star Quidditch Team got off to a quick 20–0 lead, thanks in large part to chaser Christopher Scholz. The Longhorns tied the score at 20–20 when chaser Marty Bermudez was able to get past the vaunted Lone Star defense for a score. 

The game was back and forth, but Texas was able to take a 60–50 lead because of keeper Augustine Monroe. Monroe scored three-straight goals for the Longhorns and also played stellar defense to deny a couple of Lone Star shots. 

After a fierce battle, Carr came out on top with the snitch in his hand and a Texas championship in the bag. 

Texas finished the World Cup with a perfect 9–0 record.

Germany's Bastian Schweinsteiger raises the trophy after the World Cup final soccer match between Germany and Argentina at the Maracana Stadium in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil on Sunday. 

Photo Credit: AP Photo/ Martin Meissner | Daily Texan Staff

The 2014 World Cup broke records. It defined excitement. It showed us the country of Brazil in a way we’ve never seen it before. And it brought us one of the best soccer tournaments in recent history. But now, it is gone. In its absence over the next four years, we will have these memories:

The fall of the greatest

It will be written in books and shared down generation lines, but nothing will ever compare to witnessing what happened on Tuesday, July 8. Brazil, the host nation and greatest international soccer team that has ever existed, lost worse than anybody could have ever thought was possible. The 7-1 dismantling by the eventual champions Germany was two hours that stopped the world and will probably never happen again.

A superb host

Many factors made this World Cup great but at the root of it all was the host country, Brazil. The soccer-loving culture fit perfectly, as expected. The atmosphere of games was unmatched. The scenic views of surrounding mountains and the iconic “Christ the Redeemer” statue in Rio De Janeiro topped it off. There was little doubt left of the impact a South American host can have on a World Cup. It’s where soccer is religion and where international tournaments clearly belong.

The surprises

Who could have predicted the superstardom of Colombia midfielder and World Cup Golden Boot winner James Rodríguez? Or the unbelievable surge Costa Rica, a nation of roughly 4.5 million, made to the quarterfinals stage? And what about the last minute victories, the improbable loses, the penalty shoot-out finishes and the consistently close games? Add the social media frenzy with each game and the dramatic story lines that followed marquee names like Luis Suárez and Neymar, and nothing was left out of this tournament.

A showcase of perfect play

In June, we witnessed what perfect basketball could look like through the NBA champions San Antonio Spurs. And in this World Cup, we got to experience what that looked like on a soccer pitch. It shouldn’t be surprising that Germany tied the 2002 champion Brazil team for best goal differential in World Cup history, or that the team’s worst game was a 2-2 tie against Ghana in group play. Their play against Brazil put them on another level, and the way they picked apart teams with their defensive, but aggressive, style was incredible. It was soccer at its finest. Germany will be remembered as 2014 champions, but they’ll be more revered for the way they did it.

The tides possibly turning

Yes, a powerhouse German team did win. And all four of the semifinal teams are considered soccer greats, but down the line, other groups are emerging and ready to take the grand stage next World Cup. This tournament showed true promise of what the next World Cup could look like. Sides like Colombia, Belgium, Mexico, Costa Rica, and even the U.S., demonstrated the potential for less historic countries to make an impact. So many of these games were great because the margin of talent has come closer together between nations. This makes for a 2018 World Cup that should draw heavy attention. Because more than ever, the golden trophy could end up in the hands of first-time champions.

Germany's Bastian Schweinsteiger raises the trophy after the World Cup final soccer match between Germany and Argentina at the Maracana Stadium in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil on Sunday. 

Photo Credit: AP Photo/ Martin Meissner | Daily Texan Staff

Germany, on the verge of a penalty shootout ending with Argentina for the FIFA World Cup title Sunday, earned a victory from a strike delivered by substitute forward Mario Götze in the 113th minute of extra time, making them the first European nation ever to win a World Cup hosted in the Americas.

“It’s an unbelievable feeling,” Götze, the FIFA Man of the Match said afterwards, “I don’t know how to describe it. I just took the shot and didn’t know what was happening. For us, the dream has become a reality.”

Germany dominated throughout the tournament. They had won their group, cruised through the round of 16 and quarterfinals and dismantled Brazil to reach the final. But against Argentina, it was a struggle.

There were times it appeared that the South American country would be the one hoisting the golden trophy. Moments like the 47th minute, when Lionel Messi was just feet away from the goal before he struck the ball and missed by the closest of margins.

There was also forward Gonzalo Higuaín’s miss in the 22nd minute, a shot that was taken from twenty yards out in a one-on-one situation with German keeper Manuel Neuer. The goal could have given Argentina the early lead in a very defensive contest.

But Germany had already proven many times this World Cup that if you let them stick around they will find a way to come out victorious. And that is exactly what happened at Estádio Maracanã in Rio De Janeiro.

They had put up their previous chances too. Defender Benedikt Höwedes’ header in the 46th minute was inches away from crossing the line, but bounced off the right goalpost instead. In the 91st minute, forward André Schürrle was just outside the box when Argentinian keeper Sergio Romero deflected his right-footed strike away from goal.

The scoreless draw was broken when a perfect lob pass from Schürrle in the 113th minute of extra time came down feet away from the goal line on Götze’s chest, from there he volleyed it past Romero for the latest goal in World Cup Final history.

A German side that had been awaiting this moment since their last World Cup victory in 1990 rejoiced, while Argentinians, who dominated the crowd inside of the stadium, saw their hopes of victory slip away. There would be no reliving the Diego Maradona 1986 glory days. 

“They left everything on the pitch,” Argentina coach Alejandro Sabella said. “These are very close matches and, when you make a mistake, you know it’s difficult to turn it around. But in general terms, I’m very proud and my boys played an extraordinary World Cup.”

With the heroic goal, Götze became the first substitute to ever score in overtime of a World Cup final. And for Germany, the team that played as sound and organized as any soccer team ever has, the World Cup title is now their fourth, only one behind all-time leader Brazil.

“We started this project ten years ago,” German coach Joachim Löw said. “We’ve made constant progress, we believed in the project, we worked a lot and, if any group deserves it, it’s this team. Every player in this team gave everything they had.”

Brazil vs. Germany – Tuesday, July 8 at 3 p.m. CT

No Neymar and no Thiago Silva. What will this mean for a Brazilian team that is making its 10th World Cup semifinals appearance? Brazil has yet to show their best, having made it to this point without any decisive victories. But perhaps that is where they find their peace going into Tuesday’s game against Germany. They know they can do better, which should be quite frightening for the opposing team. Replacing two of the most important players will be tough, but Brazil also has history on its side. The country has not lost a competitive match at home since 1975. And as shaky as they’ve been, they’ll need every ounce of advantage that they can get. Germany plays organized and disciplined, a style of play that has frustrated Brazil all of this World Cup. With a hard defensive line, Germany beats opponents by neutralizing attacks and striking when the opportunity presents itself. Players like Thomas Müller have been creating plays for the German side all tournament long. If Brazil hopes to reach its 7th World Cup final, scoring early, just as they did against Colombia in the quarterfinals, will be vital. The last time these two powerhouses met on such a grand stage was in 2002, when Brazil beat Germany 2-0 to win the World Cup.

 

The Netherlands vs. Argentina – Wednesday, July 9 at 3 p.m. CT

Through superstar Lionel Messi, Argentina is as close to winning the World Cup as it’s been since the days of the great Diego Maradona. The team has looked steady and Messi has been living up to his famed name. The country has yet to lose a match this World Cup, seeming to somehow always find a way to win. On the opposing side is the 2010 World Cup runner-up Netherlands, which has appeared to be the team of destiny so far. While they too have not lost a match this tournament, they have beaten opponents in nail-biting fashion, as they did in the penalty shoot-out victory over Costa Rica. Argentina has not made a semifinal appearance since 1990, and historically, they have only beaten the Dutch once. The Netherlands have the better numbers in both shooting and scoring for this tournament, with forwards Arjen Robben and Robin Van Persie each having scored three goals so far. But they also do not have a player like Messi. Nothing will be as important for this Netherlands team as keeping the Argentinian striker at bay. Messi has the second most goals in the tournament with four, but has also constantly created scoring for teammates, which is where the true danger lies. The Dutch will need to disrupt Argentina’s world class passing attack. A more wide-open type of match can be expected from this second semifinal, and based on how both teams have played; a penalty shoot-out would not be surprising. 

As his 2014 World Cup journey came to a close, U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann had plenty to think about after the Americans 2-1 defeat at the hands of Belgium on July 1.

He could begin with the positives, and there are plenty of them.

His team played with an effort that is worth being proud of. They played with more grit and confidence than ever. They weren’t just the same old Americans that weren’t really feared. No, this time they had really earned some respect.

They had taken down old nemesis Ghana and imposed their will on powerhouse Portugal. They had held Germany steady enough to not lose decisively and had been outplayed by Belgium, but through Tim Howard, still showed that their country could also be a home to one of the best soccer talents in the world.

They had played with more toughness, wisdom and poise than ever, while making sure that after this World Cup, the clichés and jokes about American soccer were all but silenced.

They had also made a nation believe. They had made a country come closer together for soccer than ever before. Maybe it was because of the social media craze that’s sweeping America or maybe it was something else, but either way, “I believe” began to feel as patriotic as the red white and blue of the flag.

Klinsmann’s group did not come close to winning the World Cup. In fact, they lost in the exact same way as in 2010, a round of 16, 2-1, extra time loss. But even in losing, the American side was able to capture the attention of their fans at home.

“Many people watched this competition, maybe more than South Africa,” Klinsmann said the day after the Belgium loss. “We are all in this together. We all try to make this game grow in our country and get it to the next level.”

Klinsmann has begun to inspire belief in his national program, but he must also be pondering what needs to happen for his team to take the next step.

A marquee striker is needed with a game that reaches further than anything Landon Donovan or Clint Dempsey ever did. The U.S. needs a feared striker that the team can find its identity in – a Suárez, or Neymar or Messi type of player.

Right now, the best chances lay with 19-year-old Julian Green, whose goal minutes after making his World Cup debut against Belgium made a promising statement for the future of U.S. soccer. With four years to develop until the next World Cup, Green could be ready to lead this team and be supported by other young promising players like defenders John Brooks and DeAndre Yedlin.

Defense should be the bigger focus, though. A big time goal-scorer won’t make up for the lack of defending the U.S. had throughout the entire World Cup. This is their biggest task at hand to take the next step. Strong defenders are needed desperately. In the Belgium game alone, the U.S. allowed 26 shots compared to nine given up by Belgium. If it were not for Howard’s 15 saves, they would have been completely dismantled.

Great defending won’t necessarily win you a World Cup, but it can neutralize teams like Germany and Brazil in their attacking. If reaching a World Cup victory is possible for the U.S., it will have to start with learning how not to lose.

It’s something that Klinsmann will need to figure out. He will ultimately have to align a group that defends well and creates better counterattacks than the U.S. had in this World Cup.

Klinsmann surely knows this and he has likely already began pondering what his next group of guys will look like.

Older players like Dempsey and Howard might have seen their last World Cup. The U.S. will look completely different in four years. But they also might be more ready. Their time to really make a run at it might be only a few decisions away.

United States' goalkeeper Tim Howard waves to supporters after qualifying for the next World Cup round following their 1-0 loss to Germany during the group G World Cup soccer match between the USA and Germany at the Arena Pernambuco in Recife, Brazil, Thursday, June 26, 2014. (AP Photo/Ricardo Mazalan)

To understand who USA goalkeeper Tim Howard really is, you have to start with the part that lies closest to him – his tattoos.

Covering the entire frame of his front torso and half of both arms, the ink that Howard has carefully chosen, design by design, tells the innermost details of his life.

There are the crucifixes and bible verses, which parallel the faith Howard often says drives his every action. And there’s the Superman logo, engraved in the middle of his right arm, reminding him to always be strong. There are also the portraits of his two children, Jacob and Alivia, placed in the most important of spots – above his heart. Between the stars and Chinese symbols that symbolize important factors in his life, like health and happiness, hundreds of tattoos have become a part of who Howard is.

But perhaps none are more significant to Howard’s story, to how he got to the place he now finds himself in – the leader of the U.S. national team – than the name written on the middle of his chest. “Fekete,” his mother.  

Howard wasn’t raised like most children of his generation. The son of an African American father and Hungarian mother, his parents divorced when he was just three years old, robbing him of a normal childhood.

Esther, which is his mother’s first name, became the family’s backbone. While his father remained in Howard’s life, it was Esther who raised he and his brother Chris in a one-bedroom apartment. It was Esther who worked two jobs to put food on the table. And it was she who drove Howard to soccer practices and tournaments almost every day of the week.

“It was a one-bedroom apartment she made into a three-bedroom apartment,” Howard said in an interview with USA Today. “I don’t know how she did it.”

He may never figure that out, but he will forever understand how he did it. How he overcame a Tourette syndrome diagnosis in the sixth grade. How he established himself as a talented goalkeeper in high school and eventually was given a shot to make the New York/New Jersey MetroStars (now Red Bulls) roster. How he was offered a job as the starting goalkeeper for Manchester United in 2003, and after three years there, began at Everton, where he became a star. And finally, how, after eight years with the U.S. national team, he made his first start in a World Cup in 2010 and then again this year in Brazil.

It was Esther. That’s where it all began and that’s why Howard has risen to this point.

"A lot of people saw the amount of time that I spent with my children and the activities and saw that as a sacrifice. I never did,” Esther told ESPN in 2010. “I felt that was what needed to be done. You need to do certain things to raise them well and that's what you do … the best part is seeing my son achieve his dream.”

This World Cup, just like with many matches Howard has played, Esther can be found in the stands, hoping nervously that her son will play great and that the U.S. will win.

Sitting there, she’s been able to witness, along with the rest of the world, the special run that this American group has made. Everything from their spectacular goals to their survival of the “Group of Death.”

More importantly, she’s witnessed how important her son has been to putting this team in the next stage of this World Cup.

Against their first group play opponent, Ghana, Howard only allowed one goal on 21 shots fired his way, eight on target. He followed that with three-saves against Portugal, the No. 4 ranked FIFA team, which earned him “Man of the Match.” Then came Germany on Thursday, where Howard saved the Americans eight times in comparison to Germany’s keeper Manuel Neuer, who only had one save.

But the statistics don’t tell the full story.

Howard has not simply just put up good numbers, he has been the biggest reason for the U.S. surviving. Take the Portugal and Germany games, for instance. In both matches, the U.S. defense looked out of sink, especially on Thursday. Their misplay kept putting Howard in unfavorable positions. He responded, though, time and time again. When the camera panned to Howard, you could see him motioning his hands, yelling, navigating his defense on where they should be.

It comes natural to him. At 35 and three months, Howard is the oldest member on the 23-man U.S. roster. His mannerisms on the pitch, just like his tattoos, are carefully thought out. He’s learned from the best leader he knows. And he’s made sure to never forget those lessons she showed him growing up. The ones that still propel him today.

The U.S. has never looked so fearless in their play. And Howard doesn’t have Landon Donovan to fight for player’s attentions anymore. They know where to look to for guidance. Without as many marquee names, Howard has become the underrated center peace of this American side.

After the Germany match, one the U.S. lost 1-0 but still advanced to the final 16 of the World Cup, U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann was asked what Howard means to his team.

“He’s our leader,” Klinsmann said. “He keeps everybody together, and we need him right now. In a World Cup, if you want to go far, you need one of the best goalkeepers in the world, and we have that.”

It is Howard’s time, no matter the outcome, to fearlessly calm the storms the U.S. will surely face in the final 16. The team has already done more than most expected of them, and beginning on Tuesday against Belgium, they’ll look to continue to prove the doubters wrong.

The core of their fighting spirit will remain with Howard, just as the core of Howard remains with Esther. Tattooed in the center of his body, right in the middle, always reminding him who he is, where he came from and just how much farther he can go.  

 

2014 FIFA World Cup Round of 16 Schedule:

Brazil VS Chile – Saturday, 6/28 at 11 a.m. CT

Colombia VS Uruguay – Saturday, 6/28 at 3 p.m. CT

The Netherlands VS Mexico – Sunday, 6/29 at 11 a.m. CT

Costa Rica VS Greece – Sunday, 6/29 at 3 p.m. CT

France VS Nigeria – Monday, 6/30 at 11 a.m. CT

Germany VS Algeria – Monday, 6/30 at 3 p.m. CT

Argentina VS Switzerland – Tuesday, 7/1 at 11 a.m. CT

USA VS Belgium – Tuesday, 7/1 at 3 p.m. CT

Already, the 2014 FIFA World Cup has been historic in many ways, and we’re just 29 games in as of Saturday night. Here are the five biggest takeaways so far from the tournament, as well as a preview of the USA-Portugal matchup tonight at 5 p.m.

  1. South America has dominated

Teams from the host country’s continent have obliterated the competition, going 8-1-1 combined so far. But it’s not just South America, though, that has taken charge. The entire Americas have played well above their opponents at this point of the tournament. Combined, North America and South America have an 11-2-0 record. It could be a changing of the guard or it just could be that the Americas, especially the Southern continent, feel more comfortable playing closer to home. Whatever it is, teams from this side of the world are showing no sign of slowing down.

  1. Is this soccer or the NFL?

But really, the kind of offense we have seen from World Cup teams in Brazil has been incredible, and its comparison to the offense-heavy league we see in our American version of football might not be that far-fetched. The point is that this World Cup has been about scoring, and the numbers back it up. There have been 80 total goals scored so far. Compare that with 2010’s World Cup number with the same number of games played (29) and the result is 23 more goals this year. 23. That’s about one more goal per match so far at this World Cup.

  1. Star play has come from non-marquee names

We heard so much about big names like Neymar, Ronaldo and Messi before the World Cup, and while two of those three have already made an impact, they have not led the pack. It has been players like Germany’s Thomas Mueller, who’s in a four-way tie for most goals so far with three and leads FIFA’s Castrol Index: Top Player rankings, a statistic that measures the overall impact a player is having on the game. Then there’s Mexico’s keeper Guillermo Ochoa, who’s four world-class saves against Brazil were the reason El Tri was able to stun the host country in a 0-0 draw. In total, Ochoa has a World Cup-leading seven saves and zero goals allowed in what has been a surprising Mexican run so far. And speaking of surprises, there have been plenty of them already. Besides countries like Mexico playing well, not many predicted teams like Spain and England to already be out of contention. 

  1. Technology has made what’s already entertaining, even better

For those on social media, especially Twitter, the fun has existed beyond the pitch. Whether it’s the hundreds of memes that have been shared or the cool flags that twitter has created to go alongside each team’s country abbreviation, it’s safe to say this has been the most interactive World Cup to date. Never before has this sporting event been almost as easy to follow online as it has been watching live. But technology has not just been about the tweets or Facebook posts. It has also directly affected the games. This World Cup introduced goal-line technology that has eliminated any question of close-called goals. Situations like what happened in the 2010 World Cup, when a clear goal by England’s Frank Lampard was not counted as his team was trailing 2-1 in a second-round match against Germany, have been eliminated. Any close call has been easily resolved in this World Cup. Tracking player’s fatigue, among other playing factors, with specially designed chips inside of their jerseys, has also affected the overall quality of play during games. This technology has been important for team’s use in Brazilian host cities like Manaus, where the high humidity and temperatures can affect play.

5. No Vuvuzelas deafening every other noise

Everybody remembers the 2010 World Cup in South Africa and how much the loud, annoying Vuvuzelas became a part of the headlines. This time around, Vuvuzelas have been replaced with what we’re used to hearing at World Cup matches – screaming chants from fans. Brazil has provided stadiums filled with unbelievable atmospheres. For all of the talk of problems with getting the facilities ready before the games began and the safety concerns plaguing host cities, Brazil has, from a far, looked like a solid host. The fans have shown up with passion and the culture of South America has been ever-present. Between the high scoring and energizing crowds, this World Cup has been worth the four-year wait.

Quick Preview: USA VS Portugal, 5 p.m. CT at Arena Amazonia stadium in Manaus, Brazil –

Very simple. Win, and the U.S. is in to the knockout round of the World Cup. Not so simple, is how this game could play out. The Americans come in with pure confidence after their 2-1 victory over Ghana six days go and feel even better that they are facing a hobbled Portugal squad. 

The European team got dismantled by Germany, 4-0, in their first match of group play and lost one of their key defenders, Pepe, to a red card and suspension for this game. Cristiano Ronaldo’s injured knee is a concern for Portugal and a factor that will determine how powerful the team’s offense can be in attacking, based on how he’s feeling. 

But, with all that’s happened to this squad, they are still Portugal, and this is still the “group of death.” Portugal will not go out easily and they certainly won’t allow the U.S. to walk into the round of 16. Argentina’s Lionel Messi proved on Saturday, when he scored the game-winning goal for Argentia in the last minutes of the game against Iran, that if you have one of the best players in the world on your team, anything can happen. Ronaldo will try and second that notion Sunday evening. 

This matchup will be won in the midfield and in the counterattacks, where the U.S. could take advantage of a weaker Portuguese defense. Historically, the U.S. and Portugal are as even as you can get, each having two wins and one draw against each other with five total goals scored by each country as well.

Already, the 2014 FIFA World Cup has been historic in many ways, and we’re just 29 games in as of Saturday night. Here are the five biggest takeaways so far from the tournament, as well as a preview of the USA-Portugal matchup tonight at 5 p.m.

  1. South America has dominated

Teams from the host country’s continent have obliterated the competition, going 8-1-1 combined so far. But it’s not just South America, though, that has taken charge. The entire Americas have played well above their opponents at this point of the tournament. Combined, North America and South America have an 11-2-0 record. It could be a changing of the guard or it just could be that the Americas, especially the Southern continent, feel more comfortable playing closer to home. Whatever it is, teams from this side of the world are showing no sign of slowing down.

  1. Is this soccer or the NFL?

But really, the kind of offense we have seen from World Cup teams in Brazil has been incredible, and its comparison to the offense-heavy league we see in our American version of football might not be that far-fetched. The point is that this World Cup has been about scoring, and the numbers back it up. There have been 80 total goals scored so far. Compare that with 2010’s World Cup number with the same number of games played (29) and the result is 23 more goals this year. 23. That’s about one more goal per match so far at this World Cup.

  1. Star playi has come from non-marquee names

We heard so much about big names like Neymar, Ronaldo and Messi before the World Cup, and while two of those three have already made an impact, they have not led the pack. It has been players like Germany’s Thomas Mueller, who’s in a four-way tie for most goals so far with three and leads FIFA’s Castrol Index: Top Player rankings, a statistic that measures the overall impact a player is having on the game. Then there’s Mexico’s keeper Guillermo Ochoa, who’s four world-class saves against Brazil were the reason El Tri was able to stun the host country in a 0-0 draw. In total, Ochoa has a World Cup-leading seven saves and zero goals allowed in what has been a surprising Mexican run so far. And speaking of surprises, there have been plenty of them already. Besides countries like Mexico playing well, not many predicted teams like Spain and England to already be out of contention. 

  1. Technology has made what’s already entertaining, even better

For those on social media, especially Twitter, the fun has existed beyond the pitch. Whether it’s the hundreds of memes that have been shared or the cool flags that twitter has created to go alongside each team’s country abbreviation, it’s safe to say this has been the most interactive World Cup to dat. Never before has this sporting event been almost as easy to follow online as it has been watching live. But technology has not just been about the tweets or Facebook posts. It has also directly affected the games. This World Cup introduced goal-line technology that has eliminated any question of close-called goals. Situations like what happened in the 2010 World Cup, when a clear goal by England’s Frank Lampard was not counted as his team was trailing 2-1 in a second-round match against Germany, have been eliminated. Any close call has been easily resolved in this World Cup. Tracking player’s fatigue, among other playing factors, with specially designed chips inside of their jerseys, has also affected the overall quality of play during games. This technology has been important for team’s use in Brazilian host cities like Manaus, where the high humidity and temperatures can affect play.

5. No Vuvuzelas deafening every other noise

Everybody remembers the 2010 World Cup in South Africa and how much the loud, annoying Vuvuzelas became a part of the headlines. This time around, Vuvuzelas have been replaced with what we’re used to hearing at World Cup matches – screaming chants from fans. Brazil has provided stadiums filled with unbelievable atmospheres. For all of the talk of problems with getting the facilities ready before the games began and the safety concerns plaguing host cities, Brazil has, from a far, looked like a solid host. The fans have shown up with passion and the culture of South America has been ever-present. Between the high scoring and energizing crowds, this World Cup has been worth the four-year wait.

Quick Preview: USA VS Portugal, 5 p.m. CT at Arena Amazonia stadium in Manaus, Brazil –

Very simple. Win, and the U.S. is in to the knockout round of the World Cup. Not so simple, is how this game could play out. The Americans come in with pure confidence after their 2-1 victory over Ghana six days go and feel even better that they are facing a hobbled Portugal squad.

The European team got dismantled by Germany, 4-0, in their first match of group play and lost one of their key defenders, Pepe, to a red card and suspension for this game. Cristiano Ronaldo’s injured knee is a concern for Portugal and a factor that will determine how powerful the team’s offense can be in attacking, based on how he’s feeling.

But, with all that’s happened to this squad, they are still Portugal, and this is still the “group of death.” Portugal will not go out easily and they certainly won’t allow the U.S. to walk into the round of 16. Argentina’s Lionel Messi proved on Saturday, when he scored the game-winning goal for Argentia in the last minutes of the game against Iran, that if you have one of the best players in the world on your team, anything can happen. Ronaldo will try and second that notion Sunday evening.

This matchup will be won in the midfield and in the counterattacks, where the U.S. could take advantage of a weaker Portuguese defense. Historically, the U.S. and Portugal are as even as you can get, each having two wins and one draw against each other with five total goals scored by each country as well.

Nina Frausing Pedersen’s road to Texas was a long one.

As in 7,230 miles-long, the approximate distance between Auckland, New Zealand and Austin.

While the sophomore defender is a native of Silkeborg, Denmark, the prospect of playing for the Longhorns came about during the 2008 FIFA Women’s U-17 World Cup in New Zealand.

The Danish international dreamed of coming to America to continue her soccer career and she turned to Facebook, of all places, to make that dream a reality.

After the tournament, Frausing Pedersen sent a friend request to U-17 U.S. World Cup goalkeeper, Alexa Gaul, whom she had never met and who just happened to be the goalie for the Longhorns.

“We had no idea who each of us was,” Gaul said. “I remember we were in the same hotel at one point, but I had no idea who she was.”

At that point, Frausing Pedersen was simply looking for more information on how to contact coaches and the possibility of playing collegiately.

“I was just like, ‘you can talk to my coach, here’s his email,’” Gaul said. “And it all worked out. We just built a friendship over Facebook and just communicated through that and she just ended up coming here, which was awesome.”

The friendship grew so strong that the two have since become roommates.

“We talk about everything on the field and leave everything on the field,” Frausing Pedersen said. “But we can be straight up with each other if we need anything. She’ll tell me what to do and I’ll do it, and afterwards we can go talk about it if we want something done differently. But we have a really good relationship.”

After Texas head coach Chris Petrucelli made the trek to Denmark to see Frausing Pedersen play, he knew she had to come to Texas. Ultimately, in a choice between Stanford and Texas, she chose the Longhorns and Petrucelli credits Texas’ persistent recruiting in convincing her.

“I was excited when I watched her play,” Petrucelli said. “I saw someone who was really good athletically, solid technically and a hard worker.”

But Petrucelli acknowledges that there are some difficulties in recruiting international players, such as not being able to see them play often or differences in academic standards.

“There are culture issues and whether or not they want to go that far from home,” Petrucelli said. “I will say that Nina, early in her freshman year, struggled with some homesickness.”

But her team was always there for her.

“Our team took to Nina right away and they were certainly looking out for her and protecting her early on, but I’ll tell you what — right now, it’s almost like she’s a Texan with a Danish accent,”
Petrucelli said.

Now in her second year, things have become easier for Frausing Pedersen. She knows her teammates better and she’s more comfortable with the language and with Austin. She‘s more confident in her ability and has earned the trust of Petrucelli, who has put her in his starting 11 every match this season.

The Dane, who began playing soccer at age 4 because of her father, even scored her first goal as a Longhorn in a 2-1 victory over Iowa State. That, according to her, was her greatest accomplishment during her time in Austin.

Along with providing stability to the backline, Frausing Pedersen showed her versatility last Sunday against Seattle University when Petrucelli asked the central defender to start at forward, something she had never done before.

“We’re making it a little hard on her by moving her all around, but I thought she did well up front,” Petrucelli said. “But she has the ability to play at a number of different spots and she’s good at all of them.”

Despite the accolades, Frausing Pedersen remains grounded. She understands that the expectations for this team, and for her personally, are high. She also feels that there is more to accomplish this season.

“This year we have such a good team, so I think we can win the Big 12,” Frausing Pedersen said. “And hopefully we can go further than last year in the NCAA. But [the goal] is to win the Big 12.”

For Frausing Pedersen, who admits that she still misses her friends and family back in Denmark, life has become a little easier. And in only her second year, her future as a Longhorn looks bright.

“She’s certainly going to be one of our better players and a leader here over the next couple of years,” Petrucelli said. “I think we’re just starting to see the beginning of a really talented player.” 

Going to a historic stadium that holds 100,000 plus and hosted the “granddaddy” college football game, numerous Super Bowls and soccer’s World Cup final, would be enough to raise a player’s anxiety level. Combine that with this being the first road trip for the freshmen Longhorns, you would think they might be on edge. But with the help of their coaches and experienced teammates, the young guns appear prepared for the challenge of this road trip to UCLA half-way across the country.

Defensive coordinator Manny Diaz and the rest of the coaches will teach the players about all the history that occurred at the Rose Bowl, but he believes some of the players who have never even been on an airplane before will be focused on other concerns.

“They’ll be wondering what the fasten seatbelt light means more so than who scored a touchdown at which end of the Rose Bowl,” Diaz said. “But it’s a great place to play. It’s why you come to Texas, to play in games like this.”

He said the coaches rely a lot on the older players to help with the freshmen and sophomores who have not experienced the rigors of travelling so far for games. There are a lot of distractions that go along with preparing for trip, the hotel and practice logistics in Los Angeles and the eventual game.

“They’ll probably be real quiet during ascent,” Diaz said. “During the first plane trip of the year, there’s not a lot of chatter going on when the plane takes off.”

So far this season, both on the field and off the field, this group of talented freshman have come through. Texas has used 18 true freshmen in their first two games. The continued development of these underclassmen is the key factor to the Texas’ return to excellence.

Freshman running back Malcolm Brown said he is very excited, yet nervous to walk out onto the field at the Rose Bowl.

“I’m nervous before every game,” Brown said. “I was nervous before the games in high school my senior year and I had been doing it for awhile. It is a little nerve-wracking, but once the first hit gets out the way, I’ll be fine.”

Senior Fozzy Whittaker said it’s vital that the team stays hydrated on the plane because traveling has the potential to wear players out and dehydrate them. In addition, he said a potential challenge that faces the younger players is the crowd, which is going to be loud.

“They need to make sure that they stay focused with the calls that are called and that you’re tuned in to your quarterback and offensive line,” Whittaker said. “Just zone into the field because the crowd is going to play a big factor.”

California native Blaine Irby is confident in the freshmen’s skills. He said despite the new-ness of this weekend’s game, their strong play will continue even with the trip all the way to California.

“You just let them know that it’s just football,” Irby said. “It doesn’t matter how big the stadium is, it’s still 100 yards and 50 yards across. It’s just one of those deals where you tell them it’s the same game that they’ve’ been playing since middle school.”

Head coach Mack Brown said the coaches attempt to make the trip fun and exciting, rather than full of anxiety.

“What you try to do instead of worry is prepare,” Brown said.