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Impending World Cup an exciting time

June 6th, 2014 8:16 pm by Joe Avento

Impending World Cup an exciting time

The World Cup starts in less than a week and soccer fans all over the world will be paying close attention.

"Life pretty much stops every four years," said Michael Balluff, a local soccer enthusiast who runs the Johnson City Indoor Soccer Complex at Buffalo Valley. "I'm beyond looking forward to it. With ABC and  ESPN televising every single game, I'll be burning up my DVR and not getting a lot of work done."

The World Cup gets underway Thursday when host country Brazil takes on Croatia. It will bring back a lot of memories for local soccer coach David Strickland, who spent a month in Brazil last year volunteering for FIFA at the Confederations Cup, a dress rehearsal for this year's main event.

"Everything I think of when I think of the World Cup reflects back to those games that I was involved in," Strickland said. "The atmosphere, the buildup to the games, the Brazilian people, the stadiums. At the opening match between Brazil and Mexico, 80,000 fans were singing the Brazilian national anthem. Even though I'm not Brazilian, I had chill bumps."

Brazil has come under fire for not having some of the infrastructure and facilities completed just days from the start of the tournament.

"The infrastucture, the roads, the buildings, I was saying that there was no way this can be done," Strickland said. "It's not surprising that they're not finished."

While in Brazil, Strickland saw some of the protests that are expected to escalate during the World Cup.

"I'd say you're gonna see a lot of protests from 18- to 30-year-olds," he said. "The issues are health care and education. They want that money being put into stadiums and into the Olympics to be put into the health care and education system.

"The Brazilian people are very upset with FIFA. They see FIFA as a thief that just wants money. The game in Brazil is for anyone, it does't matter whether they have money or not."

Of course, Balluff and Strickland are both pulling for the United States, but they also have a backup plan as far as a favorite team goes. They both like Spain, the defending champion and the top-ranked team in the world.

"I like their style of play," Balluff said. "I like watching them play."

Strickland got to see the Spanish team up close during the Confederations Cup. He worked two of their games and also attended two of their practices. The players even playfully kicked a ball in his direction so he could pass it back.

"You see all those top class players and the way they train," Strickland said. "Their ability is phenomenal. And the speed of play is unbelievable, how fast those guys can play. It just flows.

"It's so fun to watch."

The Americans drew a tough group, called the "Group of Death." The four-team group includes second-ranked Germany, No. 4 Portugal and No. 37 Ghana. The United States team is ranked 13th. Only two teams make it out of the group to the knockout stages.

"I believe we'll come out of our group," Strickland said. "Portugal barely made it. They had to get in their last match.

"If we win our first match and tie our second, we're through."

The Americans open with Ghana, which has beaten the United States at the last two World Cups.

"The Ghana game is do or die," Balluff said.

The United States will be playing without Landon Donovan, who had been a fixture on American international teams for more than a decade. Donovan, 32, was left off the World Cup roster by coach Jurgen Klinsmann. It was a controversial move around the world.

"I have to trust the coach on that," Balluff said. "I have grave concerns about Jozy Altidore not being able to finish, but I'll trust the coach. We'll see."

Strickland agreed as well.

"We have to trust the manager," he said. "He had ample time to evaluate and make that decision. That's the nature of athletics at the highest level. You age out at a certain point. When they have young players who can create and do what he can do, it's time to make a change."

The Americans will be hoping their world ranking of 13 is a lucky number in Brazil.

"We have some proven talent and a manager who is proven at the player level and manager level," Strickland said. "We should be a true competitor in the tournament. I don't think we have what it takes to win it, but I think we can be a team nobody wants to play."

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