SAO PAULO (AP) — Michael Bradley is just shy of a marathon in this World Cup.
He has run more than any other player in Brazil and might be right up there with Luis Suarez among the most scrutinized.
The U.S. midfielder is taking the heat from fans and soccer pundits for his lack of offensive production through the three Group G matches. Yet the Americans reached the knockout rounds in consecutive World Cups for the first time with the help of his defense. And Bradley has coach Jurgen Klinsmann’s utmost respect.
The American Outlaws even chanted “Michael Bradley! Michael Bradley!” after he was admonished by the referee for a studs-up tackle on Thomas Mueller in the 45th minute of Thursday’s 1-0 loss to Germany in Recife.
“I am very, very satisfied with Michael in this tournament so far,” Klinsmann said. “I know that he has another gear in him.”
Bradley has covered a World Cup-leading 23.6 miles, or 38 kilometers. Chilean midfielder Marcelo Diaz is the only other player to go more than 36 kilometers, with three others having covered slightly more than 35.
Klinsmann challenged all his players Friday once the team returned to its training base and held a session under sunny skies at Sao Paulo Futebol Clube in preparation for Tuesday’s knockout game against Belgium.
“I believe that in our team so far nobody can claim that he reached his 100 percent yet, so this is a very important message to the players that now prove it,” he said. “This is what you worked for so long, so hard for it. Now take it one game at a time with total focus just to this one game, and after that game is done to the next game and make it happen. Is it doable? Absolutely.”
The 26-year-old Bradley, who plays for Toronto FC in Major League Soccer, is starved for a goal this year on soccer’s biggest stage. Some of his touches have been heavy. His most memorable moment so far might be when he gave up the ball to Eder late in stoppage time, starting the sequence that led to Portugal’s equalizer in a 2-2 draw last Sunday in Manaus.
Not that it seems to have Klinsmann concerned. The Americans know they must find ways to generate more shots to put themselves in position to keep this special Brazilian run going beyond Tuesday in Salvador. Bradley is expected to connect better with captain Clint Dempsey, who in the last two matches has been the Americans’ lone forward.
“If he already plays on this level right now, we came through this group because of his influence on the field,” Klinsmann said, “then if he steps it up another notch, it gives us with other players as well … a big hope now getting ready for the knockout stage. Because we know that players have not reached their highest spot yet. He is one of them, but overall I am very, very happy with him. The leadership is, I mean he has covered so much ground, he is all over the place. The defensive work that Michael puts in is absolutely outstanding.”
And Klinsmann credits Bradley’s efforts in the back as a big reason Germany was unable to get many opportunities.
Bradley is his own toughest critic.
“I’m certainly honest enough and hard enough with myself to know that it wasn’t my sharpest night, but unfortunately they’re not all going to be,” he said after the Ghana game, a 2-1 victory. “And on those days it’s still about finding every possible way to help your team.”
Klinsmann has called on players at all positions to consciously think about moving upfield. The Americans realize full well it’s going to take everybody, not just Bradley behind Dempsey, pushing the attack to give them the best opportunity to reach the quarterfinals for the first time in 12 years.
“We needed to do a better job at the beginning of the game of not letting them have the ‘German effect.’ A lot of times teams will just sit back and allow them to come at you,” midfielder Graham Zusi said. “We didn’t really want them to do that. It took about 15-20 minutes for us to realize that we can knock the ball around as well.
“The first minutes of the game, impose yourself, step on their toes a bit, get in their face. I think that once we realized that we could play, we saw it turn around. We know that we can now. It’s just a matter of doing it early on.”
SAO PAULO (AP) — Mexico’s national soccer coach Miguel Herrera just can’t keep his joy bottled up, and his enthusiasm has made him one of the most entertaining and popular figures of the World Cup and an Internet sensation worldwide.
Memes of Herrera flood the Web, like one that shows his hair catching on fire cartoon-style. In one picture, he playfully sticks out his tongue while he photobombs three members of his team on the pitch. In a video, he dances happily to Spanish ska music.
Forget Coach Herrera’s success in turning around the troubled Mexican team, which faces off Sunday against the Netherlands after becoming one of the international soccer tournament’s biggest surprises. Soccer fans around the global have fallen in love with Herrera’s colorful antics, which are often as absorbing as the goal replays.
“He is so authentic, so expressive and so genuine,” said Enrique Krauze, a Mexican historian and World Cup commentator. “He’s becoming the representation of the Mexicans’ ability to celebrate and party. That is very seductive.”
Although he wears a suit and a tie, Herrera rumbles up and down the sidelines like a classic Mexican wrestler. When his players score, he shakes his arms in the air and seemingly goes into a state of euphoria, throwing his short, stout body up and down the sidelines.
He jumps atop one player like a friendly puppy, carries another team member in his arms like a proud father or simply kneels down on the sideline, face up, eyes closed, ecstatic.
During the World Cup, sportscasters have affectionately compared Herrera to a cartoon monster — Tweety Bird’s version of Mr. Hyde, from an animated short by Warner Bros. There is unquestionably a humorous resemblance, right down to the shock of sandy hair.
Herrera’s theatrical gestures are not new to Mexican fans who followed him through his two years as a coach for Mexico City’s America soccer club. But his performances on the pitch during the World Cup have won new admirers for the man known as “Piojo,” or louse, since he played for Mexico’s professional Atlante soccer team.
“Piojo is the way he is and there’s no way he is going to change. I am happy they are talking a lot about him,” said Mexico’s captain Rafael Marquez.
Herrera has more followers on Twitter than other coaches — 735,000 — and often posts selfies to his official account, http://twitter.com/MiguelHerreraDT . A favorite is a June 15 snap with a legion of Mexico fans in the background.
“You generally don’t hear a lot about the coaches,” said Jesus Berumen, 59, a Mexican fan in Los Angeles. “He spreads happiness. He’s so natural in the way he does things.”
Herrera’s overly enthusiastic side hasn’t always gotten him positive attention.
As a player, he was on the bubble to make the Mexican team for the 1994 World Cup, but was scratched after he wildly tackled a Honduras player during a qualifying match. He still insists he doesn’t know why he didn’t make the team.
His coaching career began in 2002, but it wasn’t until nine years later that he became well known as the manager for the America team. He led the underperforming club to the Mexican league championship last year, and earned a reputation for turning teams around.
Herrera was chosen as an interim solution last fall when little hope was left for Mexico to qualify for the World Cup. He took the reins as the team limped into an inter-continental playoff thanks to a win over Panama by its eternal rival, the United States.
“He revived the team and the country,” said Hector Diaz, 27, a Mexico fan on Copacabana beach in Rio de Janeiro, sporting a Mexican jersey and enormous green sombrero. “He lives soccer as if he were there on the field playing. It’s easy for fans to identify with his enthusiasm.”
RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — Luis Suarez told FIFA’s disciplinary panel that he did not deliberately bite Italy defender Giorgio Chiellini at the World Cup.
The Uruguay striker’s defense that he lost balance and fell on his opponent will now be presented to FIFA’s appeal panel, after his national federation notified FIFA late Friday it would challenge the nine-match, four-month ban.
“In no way it happened how you have described, as a bite or intent to bite,” Suarez wrote in Spanish in a letter dated June 25.
The player’s defense is in paragraph 6 of FIFA’s disciplinary committee ruling, which has been seen by The Associated Press.
“After the impact … I lost my balance, making my body unstable and falling on top of my opponent,” Suarez wrote in his submission to the panel which met Wednesday, one day after Uruguay beat Italy 1-0 in a decisive group-stage match.
“At that moment I hit my face against the player leaving a small bruise on my cheek and a strong pain in my teeth,” Suarez said.
However, the seven-man panel which met on Wednesday evening dismissed the argument.
The bite was “deliberate, intentional and without provocation,” the ruling stated in paragraph No. 26 of the panel’s conclusions.
Suarez was banned for nine Uruguay matches and four months from all football. He was also fined 100,000 Swiss francs ($112,000).
The panel, chaired by former Switzerland international Claudio Sulser, included members from the Cook Islands, Hong Kong, Pakistan, Panama, South Africa and Singapore.
On Saturday, FIFA confirmed that formal proceedings had begun to challenge the longest ban for a World Cup player in 20 years.
“We have a declaration that they are planning to appeal,” FIFA spokeswoman Delia Fischer said. The Uruguay federation now has seven days to submit written grounds for the appeal.
Back in Montevideo, Suarez has been welcomed home as a hero by Uruguay fans.
“I’m writing this message to express thanks for the outpouring of support and affection that I’m getting. Both me and my family really appreciate it,” Suarez said Saturday on his Twitter account.
“Thank you very much for being on my side and I want all of us to support our teammates today in the match against Colombia,” he wrote, ahead of Uruguay’s Round of 16 match at Maracana Stadium in Rio de Janeiro.
FIFA’s disciplinary ruling confirmed that Suarez’s bite was missed by referee Marco Rodriguez of Mexico, who acknowledged the oversight in his match report. So did his two assistants and the fourth official.
“I haven’t seen the incident because the ball was in another sector of the pitch,” Rodriguez writes in paragraph No. 4 of witness submissions in the 11-page document.
FIFA’s verdict was welcomed by Brazilian great Pele.
“FIFA’s decision was good, it was correct, because they had to set an example,” he was quoted as telling Folha de S. Paulo newspaper. “If this example hadn’t been given quickly, it could spread (the bad behavior on the pitch). This example shouldn’t be copied by anyone. I think it was fair because it serves as a parameter going forward.”