World Cup

USMNT Trashed in Costa Rica, #Klinsmannout?

The USMNT got thrashed by Costa Rica 4-nil last night to complete an embarrassing start to World Cup Qualifying.

In the last 16 months, Jurgen Klinsmann has steered the USMNT to an atrocious (and historically bad) 4th place finish in the Gold Cup, a failure to qualify for the 2016 Olympics, a loss in the CONCACAF Cup, back-to-back losses in the Hex (one a historic home loss to Mexico, and the other a ludicrous display). Yes he did manage to sandwich a surprising run to 4th place in the Copa America Centenario this past summer, but that sure looks like a slight hiccup on his runaway dumpster fire of a career.

If we’re lucky, Costa Rica’s Estadio Nacional may very well be Jurgen Klinsmann’s Waterloo (if you’re a regular reader of this site, you’ll know I have favorite nouns and syntactical constructions. Some of my favorites are: “_____________, my favorite whipping boy,” and usually that blank is reserved for Caleb Porter or Klinsmann. But I also like “___________ was ___________’s Waterloo” as in Sporting Park was Sigi’s Waterloo). Seriously Klinsmann’s Waterloo feels about right. For those limited on their 19th Century European history, Napoleon Bonaparte, emperor of the First French Empire, lost the Battle of Waterloo thus ending almost two decades of a small man’s psychotic control over Europe. While Jurgen has abdicated Europe for sunny SoCal, he is a small man power tripping with US Soccer for what’s felt like 2 decades.

The wait may finally be over. Though all of our #jurgenout and #fireklinsmann cries have fallen on the deaf ears of US Soccer head Sunil Gulati, even Jurgen’s biggest apologist can’t deny the team has quit on the coach.


Things Fall Apart: The USMNT and a Shocking Upset

The USMNT plays Costa Rica tonight in San Jose, Costa Rica. And, after the second biggest shock of last week, things are not looking good for the United States.

The US were dramatically upset by Mexico on Friday. Having lost at home, in Columbus, birthplace of dos a cero, to our hated rival (more on that below), the USMNT is in a very early must-win game against the Ticos.

The CONCACAF schedulers started the Hex out with a bang. As I mentioned last post, the US plays the only other 2 winners of the Hex, Mexico and Costa Rica, in this tight window. We already failed our first test and, odds are, we fail tonight as well.

The Stars and Stripes will be hard pressed for a result in Estadio Nacional. We are 0-8-1 in Costa Rica, and the Ticos are on a tear, having won 5 straight international matches. Costa Rica is an organized, established team with a unique identity. They are a gritty, defense-first team and their 5-man backline was the talk of their unlikely World Cup 2014 run. The US, on the other hand, has an identity crisis.

Jurgen Klinsmann is a mess. He is a man banking on his past celebrity and his big name to cover his atrocious soccer mind. The man is a piss poor man-manager and an even worse tactician. He is just another blond blowhard who doesn’t deserve to be in a position of authority.

Jurgen, aside from again selecting an odd 11, put his men in a wacky 3-5-2 formation to start against Mexico. This was a lineup we hadn’t tried in nearly two years and results were as expected. A talented Mexican side attacked and easily found space around the disjointed and uncomfortable Yanks. We held on, despite an injury to Tim Howard, and were lucky to get into the break only down a goal.

Then things clicked. We regrouped to a comfortable shape and Bobby Wood went all medieval. The US enjoyed gorgeous ball movement, found the equalizer and, on a few occasions, very nearly the go-ahead goal. In the 89th minute, we were tied and looking good, until Rafa Marquez buried a set piece for the unlikely 2-1 win.

The result was frustrating, but zooming out it was a travesty. As Brian Straus at ESPN reports:

It not only was the Americans’ first loss in Columbus. It was the first home World Cup qualifying defeat since 2001—the run lasted 30 games—and the first home qualifying setback to Mexico since 1972.

Yes, that’s right. This was our first home WC Qualifying defeat since 2001, back when the shorts were baggy and Landon Donovan had hair (okay, he never had hair). The US had built a fortress and, for 15 years, always got a result at home.

Worse? The US was a bad abysmal soccer nation for decades. We failed to qualify for the World Cup from 1950 until 1990. For 40+ years we couldn’t punch our ticket and yet, from ‘72 on, we always got a result at home against Mexico, the clear-cut power in that era. One more time: for 40+ years we always got a result at home. That is until last night and Jurgen.

We, as US soccer fans, have taken to enjoying the narrative that the United States is an ascendant soccer power. We take heart in our recent string of advancing out of the Group in World Cup play, our, at times impressive, international ranking, and that famous, though musty now, Confederations Cup run in 2009. Even recently we had a very nice showing at the Copa America.

And yet I think we all have to admit: this is a major low point for US Soccer. This. Is. A Low. Point. For. US Soccer. We had just lost at home to Mexico last October in the CONCACAF Cup, and then followed that up with Friday’s shocking heart breaker.

As long as Jurgen is steward of the team, we’ll see boneheaded 18s, poor formations, and much bus-throwing-under. For many reasons, we gotta quit the ascendant America narratives.

Complicated Feelings for USMNT v Mexico

The United States Men’s National Team plays rival Mexico tonight in the opening round of the CONCACAF Hexagonal World Cup Qualifiers.

The Hex, for those less soccer literate, is the final round of CONCACAF World Cup Qualifying. Six teams (hence Hex) all play each other in home and home series, totalling10 games for each team. The three teams with the highest point totals automatically qualify to represent the region in the following World Cup. The 4th place team advances to an interconference playoff.

The Hex is a year-long competition, lasting from this international break, 11/16, until 10/17. Only the US, Mexico and Costa Rica have won the competition since it’s inception in 1998, and the schedulers (and broadcasters) did the US no favors. We face Mexico and Costa Rica in this window. Starting off strong with a home win vs Mexico is key.



Home field advantage is very real, as studies have found that the roar of the home crowd objectively influences refs. Sounders fans don’t need to be reminded that in soccer this is especially profound, as the subjectivity of the ref can dramatically change a game (#geigered). One problem for the USMNT as it tries to become a world soccer power has been finding a stadium that feels like home when playing Mexico. Few cities overwhelming support the Stars and Stripes in this rivalry. Columbus, the birthplace of dos a cero and home to today’s match, is one of the few places where Mexican green doesn’t dominate the stands. In Columbus, the USA has never lost to Mexico.

Okay, I cannot act like this is easy to do, writing up this preview in a vacuum of political context. Tonight I will be cheering for America to beat Mexico because, of course, I want to see soccer grow in this country and the USMNT advance to the World Cup. However. In the heart of America, Mexicans will be facing a nation that elected a man who called them rapists. A man who threatens to build a wall, deport families, and jail immigrants. I find it very difficult to support America right now.

The reason the USMNT has a hard time finding homefield within its own borders is because of our inherent heterogeneity. We are a pluralist society. We were born of immigrants and two of our national touchstones, the Statue of Liberty and Liberty Bell, epitomize inclusivity and tolerance. We celebrate a shared history and huge border with Mexico and that interchange of cultures is key to our American identity. Who doesn’t love burritos, piñatas, avocados and California? Some of our greatest cities were founded by Spaniards and stewarded by Mexico: San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Antonio, Albuquerque etc. What was once Mexico is now America, and vice versa. To imagine the United States could revert to something so white, intolerant and nativist is heartbreaking.

I lived in Los Angeles in early April 2002 when the US beat Mexico in a World Cup gearing-up friendly. Bush was president and the post-9/11 unity most Americans felt was waning. That spring we were already killing civilians in Afghanistan and the WMD rhetoric was just starting to percolate. Worse, Bush had recently declared he wouldn’t follow Geneva Conventions for enemy combatants captured in the fighting. I wasn’t as diehard a soccer supporter then, but I followed the sport. Being in L.A., I had more friends who supported Mexico in that match and, honestly, I felt bad for El Trí. I was ashamed of my country and embarrassed we won.

Things got more complicated that summer. The USMNT followed up that victory with one of the biggest wins in their history at the 2002 World Cup. We beat Mexico, dos-a-cero, in the Knockout Round for our signature win of the modern era. This all happened at the advent of the Bush Doctrine, and it greatly complicated my relationship to US soccer.

Tomorrow in the Heartland, it’s America against Mexico. In the afterbirth of Trump’s America, there’s little hope the feud stays on the pitch.

USWNT! Three Stars! World Cup Champs!

AMERICA! Hell yeah! The USWNT laid a good o’ fashioned beatdown on Japan, 5-2, to capture their record third World Cup.

America, and specifically Carli Lloyd, came out inspired and fired-up. Lloyd had a hat trick within the first 16 minutes and Lauren Holiday added a strike to make it 4-0 before the game was barely begun.

Japan did not roll over. Ogimi got a goal back in the 27th minute. Japan shut down our attack and then, in the 52nd minute, the all-world Miyama hit a dangerous freekick forcing US centerback Johnston into an awkward play that accidentally went in for an own goal. At 4-2, with almost 40 minutes left to play, the stage was set for an epic US meltdown.

Remember 2011. Epic meltdown. The final between the US and Japan was a nil-nil nailbiter before Morgan broke the tie in the 69th minute. The US had only to hold the lead for twenty minutes, but they cracked. Miyama equalized in the 81st to force extra time. Deep into the first extra period, Wambach slammed home the would-be winner. But the US held that lead for just the next thirteen minutes before Japan’s Sawa equalized again. Just three minutes before the final whistle, the US had yet again coughed up the lead. We caved during penalties, our spirit broken.

Back to 2015. At 4-2, Japan was dug in, chasing well and the game had gotten very, very real. The US attack had been stifled and Japan had notched two unanswered goals. Ghosts of 2011 began to haunt the minds of American supporters. Kudos to Lloyd and Wambach, but Tobin Heath’s 54th minute goal was the biggest of the game. Just 2 minutes after closing the deficit, Japan was down 3 again after Heath’s cold-blooded dagger. Such a quick, composed response exorcised all the demons.

Still the Nadeshiko are a proud team and never went softly into the evening. Despite the hype around Marta, Sinclair and Angerer, Japan has been the only real competition to the US for the crown. Yesterday’s game was the rubber match after World Cup 2011 and the 2012 Olympics. The case is closed and the USA staked their claim as top team of the second decade of the 21st century.

No one has forgotten 1999. No one will forget 2015.



The USWNT is out for vindication today against Japan in the World Cup Final.

Bold Prediction: This game has been four years in the making. The penalty kick meltdown suffered by the US last World Cup can finally be rectified. After much American handwringing leading up to, and during the early stages of, the World Cup, the US finally looks like a champion.

The defense has always been solid (we’ve shut down every opponent since our first match against a very game Australia side), and now we have the attack to match. We were clearly the better team against Germany, putting two past Angerer.

Meanwhile Japan struggled to advance past England. Japan still has excellent discipline and defense, but lack the precise offense that made them so deadly in 2011. Never underestimate Americans on a mission. I see a red, white and blue victory. America! 3-1. First ever three-time champs!

USA Beats Germany Zwei Auf Null

The USWNT beat Germany zwei auf null to advance to back-to-back World Cup Finals. They await the winner of England and Japan’s match today.

The US played their best game when it mattered most. Germany had been a juggernaut in Canada: averaging 26.8 shots, and 4 goals, per game. But The US’s incredible back five continued their clean-sheet-streak and held Germany to 11 shots (just 1 on frame) and, most important, no goals.

Three cheers for Jill Ellis. This blogger, for one, has been down on our coach all World Cup. I stopped by the grocery store last night to pick up some crow. After dinner, I chased that with a heaping helpful of humble pie.

Ellis was brilliant yesterday, as she finally solved the midfield puzzle. The Americans came out in a 4-2-3-1, getting five dominant midfielders together to control the engine room. Morgan Brian, a natural centermid teamed up with Carli Lloyd as the holding pair, and the pacey and creative trio of Rapinoe, Holiday and Heath worked the attack. These five pressed high, connected pin-point passes and backed up the lone striker, Morgan. This was a helluva decision by Ellis and thoroughly confounded Germany in the first half.

Ellis’s innovated tactics didn’t end with getting all her best midfielders on the pitch simultaneously. When Germany had the ball, the US morphed into a strict 4-4-1 to shut down the Nationalelf’s vaunted attack. And at times, Lloyd joined Morgan up top in a 4-4-2. We had the Germans’ heads spinning.

But going into the break tied 0-0 after dominating for the first 45 hurt. I started feeling mighty uneasy and then Germany bossed for a long first 20 minutes of the second half. The time that really tried our souls was the 59th minute. The usually stolid Johnstone pulled a streaking Popp down in the box, giving Germany an obvious penalty. Thankfully, Sasic, the Golden Boot leader with 6 goals, missed her PK wide left. I firmly believe if it was any other keeper between the pipes, a player of Sasic’s pedigree would’ve iced her penalty. Hope Solo is so all-world, she has an aura about her. Her juju stopped goals before her hands do.

After the missed PK, Germany’s fatigue from going 120 in a nail-biter against France showed. The Nationalelf got tuckered out. Lazy defending resulted in the US’s first goal. The USWNT earned their own penalty just 15 minutes later when Morgan was taken down hard on a run into the box. Ice-cold Carli Lloyd buried it to Angerer’s left. The recently subbed-on O’Hara finished the scoring with a ninja kick off an assist from Lloyd in the 84th minute.

It was one helluva win. After we beat China, all the women in white walked off the pitch looking business. After yesterday’s game this team looked like giddy little leaguers. But captain and player-of-the-game Carli Lloyd said on her interview, “We have one game left.” Going into Sunday’s Final, I have full faith in our squad and, finally, our coach.


USWNT vs Germany: Matchd Preview

The USWNT plays Germany today in the semifinals of the Women’s World Cup. Prepare yourself for a doozy, as the US gets their first real test of the tournament.

To be fair, Australia and Sweden were strong opponents in group play, as both made it to the knockout round, but Germany is of the US’s caliber: a two-time champion and perennial contender. Today’s match pits the #1 and #2 teams in the world, unfortunately they are on the same side of the bracket.

The good news is the US put together their best showing against China on Friday. And they did so without Pinoe and Holiday, t’boot. US fans have been waiting for a coming-out party by the team, but this team only kept scraping by. Though Friday was just another 1-0 win, the US finally looked like the US. We possessed, we attacked, we passed cleanly and, best of all, we looked like we had a plan.

Jill Ellis’s management finally impressed me. Starting Rodriguez up top with Morgan, and committing to the high press was smart. Rodriguez has speed and energy to burn (and probably a huge chip on her shoulder for fuel). Her and Morgan play a similar style at forward, and though that can be a problem, both players complemented each other in the press. Our pressure kept an inexperienced China team frazzled, and didn’t allow the Chinese to play paddy-cake with the ball and bleed the clock in bunkered fashion.

I am sure China would’ve loved to milk a draw, looking for a quick counter or just settling for PKs. Instead, the game was way more open than I expected. Our game plan (wow it feels good saying that) forced China out of their mold, and opened up their tight defense to exploitation. The USWNT’s possession in the final third was lights out.

The team is finding itself. Tobin Heath is a starter. With Pinoe out, Heath was a major creator. Morgan Brian had a chance to prove her worth in the middle but was mostly, unfortunately, a nonfactor. Holiday’s return will be timely, considering Carli Lloyd is getting in a hot streak. The big lineup question now: will Ellis go right back to Wambach and the boot-and-chase? I’d like to see the swift-attacking Rodriguez and Morgan, but high-pressing Germany could be catastrophic. To press or not to press, that is the question.

Bold Prediction: Germany barely beat France, so they are vulnerable. I didn’t catch the entire game, but that was France’s match to lose. The Germans played all 120 minutes, and so will be less rested on three days off. I doubt Ellis wants to go for the throat, she seems too conservative. But she can still take advantage of our fitness by starting slow with Wambach up top, before subbing in Rodriguez for the last half hour to really harry Germany when their legs start to fail.

Germany is a juggernaut. Ask Ivory Coast, Thailand and Sweden. Les Bleus were a quality opponent, but their D was shaky and Germany pounced. Germnay steamrolled us 3-0 at home in the semifinals of the 2003 World Cup, but this year our defense is a rock. We’ve only allowed one goal through five games. If we keep our shape and discipline, Germany will have a difficult time getting one past Solo. And we have the firepower, whether it’s Abby’s head, or Pinoe’s genius, or Llyod’s golazos or Morgan’s hustle. USA 1-0.


Faith No More: USWNT vs China

The USWNT plays China today in the quarterfinals of the FIFA Women’s World Cup in Ottawa. With the yellow card suspensions to both Megan Rapinoe and Lauren Holiday, prognosticators seem to be down on the US.

Rapinoe is our MVP. Though Solo is incomparable, the backline the strength of the team and the forward position stacked, Megan Rapinoe, is the franchise. Holiday has been doing yeoman’s work for the USWNT since 2011, but her star really ascended last year in the NWSL leading FCKC to the championship (over Pinoe’s Seattle’s Reign). Missing both will hurt, as the midfield has been a mess.

I don’t know how the US will compensate. Jill Ellis has proven somewhat inscrutable with some of her roster and lineup decisions. We won’t be at our very best, but we should beat China. China hasn’t been that good for a long while. They are currently ranked 16th in the world and, other than memories of 1999, have been mostly irrelevant. And yet, pundits doubt the United States’ chances against China.

Whether they doubt or believe is irrelevant. The USWNT’s record stands alone: objective, excellent. The USA is the Brazil of women’s soccer. Winners in two of first three World Cups (and never off the podium), dominating the Olympics (always gold, except for silver in 2000) and the Algarve cup (10 championships, the record). These are the premier competitions for women’s soccer, and we just plain own.

Oddly, one of the only chants I heard in BC Place during the US-Nigeria game was the Nike-spawned “I believe. I believe that…” It was fun last summer for the USMNT. They stink. They’ve gotten better lately, serious contenders in CONCACAF, relevant on the world stage, and they have a plucky charm. But the men have only won 1 knockout game in the last 81 years. Contextually that chant doesn’t work with the USWNT.

Saying you merely believe the USWNT will win is at best, weak sauce; at worst, solipsist. The US should win. They have talent, infrastructure, culture and recent form on their side. I always assume they will win and when they don’t it’s an upset.

The chant “I believe that we will win” also puts all the agency on the fan, the I. It is weird to make you, the spectator, the subject of the chant. All you are doing is espousing the virtues of your faith. Okay? Traditionally chants are imperatives, exhorting the home team to excellence: “Let’s go Cubbies” or “Fight and win!” These women don’t need your faith. They have proven, time and again, their championship bona fides: Wambach’s header against Brazil in the quarterfinals of the 2011 Cup, Morgan’s ice-cold strike in stoppage time of extra time against Canada in the semis of the 2012 Olympics. They don’t need us, we are along for the ride/

Bold Prediction: If China bunkers and the US flounders, this game may be ugly. I am worried about Wambach’s minutes, but this game should be key for her. We can win if we pump crosses into the box and hope to find Abby’s towering noggin. This is the style of play that has been cheesing me off lately, but should work against China: USA 1-0.


USWNT vs Colombia: Match Recap

Yesterday the USWNT beat Colombia 2-0 to advance to the quarterfinals of the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup. Things have yet to click for the US as they punched in another grinding, hiccupping performance against a very game Colombian side.

One of the most refreshing aspects of the women’s game is the lack of cynicism. The men’s game, especially the World Cup, is a world-class diving exhibition. Players, even the very best (*cough* Neymar *cough*), selfishly flop and dive and roll around in histrionics. Yesterday Colombia made up for years of solid, honest play at the Women’s World Cup with a flop fest for the ages.

If an American sneezed on a Cafetera, she went down screaming. It is being reported that forward Ingrid Vidal just got a call from Hollywood. The ref was a sucker for all the diving, as the US was charged with 22 fouls. In the entirety of group play, we averaged only 10 fouls a game. We somehow managed to commit more than double that.

The gamemanship of Colombia and inconsistent officiating had me terrified of a fluke upset. Especially after Abby Wambach missed her penalty (actually her whiff preserved my bold prediction streak (and if you believe my bold predictions are infallible, I have a MLS franchise in Miami to sell you!)). Luckily, the ref was forced to call the egregious penalties that allowed us to go a player up and ice the victory.

Again, just like against Australia, Rapinoe and Holiday both got soft yellows in the first half. Now both will be out for Friday’s showdown with China. Coach Jill Ellis is going to have to get creative with her lineup, as Pinoe and Holiday have started every match so far. The US, even with their ideal eleven, failed to create much of an attack yesterday. Against the bunkering defense of China, the absence of both creative midfielders will be felt. Almost every goal scored by the US this Cup has been somehow affected by Pinoe. I’d love to see us overload on forwards in a 4-3-3, get Morgan, Press and Leroux (or Rodriguez) pressing high and making runs, but I doubt Ellis gets that out-of-the-box. The US just hasn’t been creative this World Cup.

In Ellis’s postgame presser, when asked what she thought of the US’s attack and ball movement, she said she was pleased. That was the wrong answer. Through 4 games, the US has failed to sustain an attack. We have three goals in our last three games, the last two against subpar defenses. We’ve benefitted from red cards in our last two games and two penalties yesterday. We have three goals to show for it.

Ellis preaches strong defense. This is great. But it seems she just kinda lets the offense do its thing. She reminds me of Rex Ryan coaching the Jets: merely focusing on fielding a formidable defense while settling for a mediocre O. But it’s not like the USWNT only has Mark Sanchez to lead the attack. Maybe the better analogy is Buddy Ryan and the 1990 Philadelphia Eagles. Buddy coached the hell out of a star-studded defense, but couldn’t be bothered to worry about offense. He wasted prime years of Randall Cunningham, Mike Quick, Fred Barnett and others’ careers. It is almost a coaching crime to let Pinoe, Morgan, Holiday and Press lie fallow.


USWNT vs Colombia: Match Preview

The World Cup is about to get real. The USWNT plays Colombia today in the win-or-go-home knockout round. Though we haven’t looked great lately, we won the “Group of Death.” Australia, a team we beat on a bad day 3-1, advanced past Brazil yesterday. The US should, should, have no trouble with Colombia.

The big narrative for the Yanks is whether coach Jill Ellis can figure out the lineup. Against Nigeria, our eleven was the strongest of our Cup so far. Alex Morgan, making her first start in over a year, grabbed the headlines, but it was Tobin Heath who made the difference. Our midfield finally worked together against Nigeria. Coach Ellis had been forcing out-of-position players to the fill the winger role opposite Rapinoe. In the first game it was natural forward Christen Press; in the second, natural centermid Morgan Brian. The confusion in the midfield snuffed the connection between the center third and attacking third and limited the strengths of midfielders like Lloyd and Holiday.

Tobin Heath is a winger. Occupying the space along the touchline, flying box-to-box and pumping in crosses is her bailiwick. She is positionally aware and has a high soccer IQ. That said, I don’t think as an individual player she is exactly top flight: at times she gets beat 1v1 and has limited technique. But just having her on the pitch makes the whole team better. She allows the midfield to be a midfield, she allows Holiday and Lloyd to be at their best.

The US has a wealth of riches up top. I understand why Ellis was trying to get Press on the pitch earlier: she is very, very talented (that goal against Australia). You have the US goals-scored leader in Wambach and the speedy quality of Sydney Leroux also on call. And, oh yeah, Amy Rodriguez, only the highest scoring American in the NWSL last year. With Alex Morgan back, the logjam at forward further congests.

Ellis has tried Leroux and Wambach up top, Press and Leroux, and Morgan and Wambach. This last duo has made the most noise for the Stars and Stripes, but looked rusty against Nigeria. Hopefully they can rediscover their chemistry on the fly. Morgan has energy and hustle and she fought her whole 65 minutes on Tuesday, which is a great going forward. I think Wambach starts again up top because Ellis is so committed to boot-and-chase.

The Nigeria game was boring, it was mid-Century footy in the worst possible way. After we got the header from Abby, Ellis showed no desire to push for another score. In a way, I can understand. Nigeria attacks well, so why keep pushing and open yourself up to an unnecessary counterattack? And yet we didn’t just park the bus, we parked the whole damn cruise ship. We ceded all possession to a quality attacking team for a little over half an hour. Normally this would be a recipe for disaster. But we have a great defense and it worked Tuesday. Let’s hope it works again today.

Bold Prediction: To Colombia’s credit, they have done something we haven’t at this World Cup: scored in every game so far. Los Cafeteras advanced from a difficult group, getting results from the 33rd and 25th best teams in the world. They only lost to #6 England. This team is not a push over, especially with Andrade on the pitch.

However. This game will be decided by the USWNT. If we field a team that works together and knows themselves, we win in a rout. If we are still working the kinks out against a team that shocked France 2-0, we could be the next big team to suffer an upset. I think Morgan is the catalyst and I hope Heath starts. If so, US 2-0.


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