Thursday, June 29, 2006
Strange times wherer by missing my first flight (due to approx 1.5 hours in 'security' line, while flights leaving after mine were waved through with VIP, 2 bottles of Dom, minimum, stylings) I arrive at my final destination about 45 minutes later and with one fewer connection. If I can only figure out a way to get comped for some bevvies or a first class upgrade.
Anyway, a few requests, please, please no World Cup scores or texts re:Saturday's games. Going to do my darnedest to not know whether Ingerland gets whomped by Brazil or France in the semis. (Looking at no one in particular...)
Actually, that's my only request. Back in a few.
So, 8 games left. Interestingly, there is also one team from each group left, as the two group winners who lost, lost to the corresponding second place teams.
Argentina - Germany
If we're lucky, this could be one of Those Games like Argentina-Holland or Brazil-Denmark in '98. I foresee Saviola, Rodriguez and especially Riquelme giving Metzelder fits in the center of Germany's defense, and am not sure that Mertesacker is mobile enough to track Crespo. At the same time, Ballack and Lahm will surely cause problems (especially Lahm, as right back seems a problem for the Argentines as Scaloni and Coloccini). And as good as Ayala and Heinze are, Klose and Podolski are just phenomenal right now.
I have literally no idea what happens here, whether the Argies suffer any lingering fatigue from playing 98 hard minutes (and 22 at a stroll after Rodriguez reduced the Mexicans to a limp) on Saturday; whether Germany rises or wilts under to national expectations against the toughest team they've encountered by far.
All I do know is that I'll have just arrived at an airport, and my first move will not be to claim luggage or to secure my rental car, but to find a bar showing this game (hoping against hope it's the Beeb feed and not LemonCello.
Feet to the fire, 3-2 Argentina, perhaps 4-2 with a late clincher on a Messi/Tevez breakaway.
Italy - Ukraine
ZZZZZZZ...oh, penalty, 1-0 to the Italy. I think Cannavaro knows Schevchenko too well for the latter to get much joy unless Kalichenko plays like he did against Saudi Arabia (and it was frickin Saudi Arabia, not exactly mid-70's Holland by any stretch.) Though who will play alongside if Nesta can't go and Materazzi suspended is a cuase for concern. If Italy wanted to, they could probably win this game about 3-1, but coming out and using their technical dominance isn't their style.
England - Portugal
What does Sven do here? Neville obviously comes back in at right back (whether he should is another question, but if we know anything about Erickson, it's that, when fit, his 'name' players will always play. The 5 man midfield with Cole and Beckham on the wings worries me, as Joe Cole likes to wander inside, and leaving Ashley Cole to cope with Figo and Miguel (as good at right back as Lahm has been at left for Germany) is Bad Idea Jeans. Similarly, Nuno Valente could repeatedly torch Beckham for sheer pace, leaving Neville to deal with him and either Ronaldo or Simao (pending C.R.'s health.) Of course if Gerard comes to play and Lampard starts hitting what he shoots at, all that won't matter much as I don't think that Portugal's central midfield can cope with Deco and Costinha out. Tough to say what I'd do, but would be strongly tempted to bring on Lennon, move Beckham infield and have Lampard play on the left, where he might be slightly more attentive to defense than Joe Cole. Of course, Cole has been their best midfielder by a piece over the 4 games...ugh.
Having said all that, in the end, I don't think Portugal have enough creativity without Deco and possibly Ronaldo. Pauleta will get nothing from Terry and Rio, Rooney scores a pair and England win 2-0.
France - Brazil
Another fantastic matchup, with revitalised France against pedestrian (by comparison to expectations, at least) Brazil. If Domenech goes 4-4-2 and brings Trezeguet in for Malouda, France wins. Otherwise, they play well, but never have enough men forward to make Brazil defend, and get overrun by Ze Roberto, Roberto Carlos and Cafu (and perhaps Juan and Lucio...and, given that it's Brazil, Dida as well.) Also key will be the Zidane-Ze Roberto and Viera-Ronaldinho matchups. $5 says Emerson (or Gilberto Silva, if he plays) almost literally kicks the crap out of Ribery for the first 10 minutes.
The ride has been fun, but I think even ZiZou suspects that the clincher against Spain was his encore. Hopefully he'll go out playing well in this defeat. Brazil 3-1.
- The Sawx have won 11 straight. During the streak Papi has 3 walkoff's. Or one more than the number of goals the U.S. team
scoredacquired during that same period. Pedro got cheered, got shelled, got gone. Thanks for the memories Petey. If we see you in October, there's more where that came from, buddy.
- The NBA had it's Draft. FreeDarko, per usual, killed it.
- Speaking of FD, Kaiser and friends have gone similarly all grad-studenty on the Minnesota Twins - it's Tuesday's With Torii.
- For the last sports related tidbit, Fletch is not best pleased (or especially impressed) with the Weekly Standard's anti-soccer missive, which truth be told, sucks enormously - consider the central conceit:
Soccer is the perfect game for the post-modern world. It's the quintessential expression of the nihilism that prevails in many cultures, which doubtlessly accounts for its wild popularity in Europe. Soccer is truly Seinfeldesque, a game about nothing, sport as sensation.More cringe-worthy than an Italian 'earning' a penalty.
- Ezra Klein says not nice things about The West Wing (and here). It hurts because it's a little true.
- And finally in unquestionably good news, SCOTUS reversed then Judge Roberts' ruling in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld. Apparently, laws matter again. Not only laws, but legal and legislative process matter as well:
nothing in Hamdan means that the President is constitutionally forbidden from doing what he wants to do. What the Court has done, rather is use the democratic process as a lever to discipline and constrain the President's possible overreaching. Given this Administration's history, that's not necessarily a bad thing.In other words, as I, among others have said all along, if the administration thinks it is too constrained by the Law, as written, go through the proper process and get it changed. All that said, though, at 177 pages of opinion, the decision does raise many of the concerns about the inaccessability of Court pronouncement voiced by Publius (and here). I'm sure to have more to say about this later, but right now, all I can say is 'score one for law and democracy'.
Wednesday, June 28, 2006
The long arm of [FIFA President Sepp] Blatter even reached into the stands. A thousand Dutch fans showed up for a game against Ivory Coast in bright-orange dungarees that were adorned with lion's tails (the lion is the national symbol of Holland) and the logo of a Dutch brewery. (Picture Bert Lahr's cowardly lion going hunting.) FIFA, which is receiving millions from Anheuser-Busch to make Budweiser the official beer of the World Cup, told the fans that if they wanted to enter the stadium, their trousers would be confiscated.This story is, in a nutshell, illustrative of 2 of the 3 major complaints people have with FIFA. There's the obvious money grubbing (read up on former president Joao Havelange and you'll see graft to rival anything perpetrated by a tin-pot strongman, K Street politician or IOC flunky) as well as the iron-heeled dictatorialism.
The 3rd complaint, that the brain wizards have no feel for football itself has been well and truly demonstrated by the refereeing in this otherwise spectacular Cup. Other instances were requiring mid-day start times in the '94 Cup. In Dallas. In July. Of course this ties in with the power of the almighty Swiss Franc, but soccer is a fall, winter and spring game throughout the rest of the world for a good reason - you can't play 90 minutes straight at high tempo when it's hot. But screw the players, and the fans, their are sponsors to be appeased, money to be made and bureaucratic fiefdoms to defend and expand.
As to the original subject of this post, at least there was a happy ending:
"I watched the game in my [under]pants," one supporter said. "Fortunately I had quite a long T-shirt."
Tuesday, June 27, 2006
Everybody has to cross the river. Only 2 people on the raft at a time. The father cannot stay with any of the daughters without their mother's presence. The mother cannot stay with any of the sons without their father's presence. The thief (striped shirt) cannot stay with any family member if the Policeman is not there. Only the Father, Mother and the Policeman know how to operate the raft.It took me about 10 minutes to figure out, though I thinl you get 30. Enjoy!
To start, click on the big blue circle on the right.
To move the people, click on them.
To move the raft, click on the pole on the opposite side of the river.
As for Spain - France: 2nd best game of the round, rather obviously. The five minutes after France equalised and before halftime belong in a time capsule. France finally played up to their abilities - Ribery was fantastic all night. He has a little of the street-fighter in him to go along with his speed and skill. Plus he looks about as badass as a Frenchman can look (the scars are apparently from a car accident when he was an infant.) Spain did not play badly at all, but they lacked a certain edge after they gave up a goal. Rather predictably, I might add as the nerves were palpable from everyone over 21 (Fabregas and especially Sergio Ramos are absolutely fantastic; Real Madrid needs to get some central defenders so he can play full back.)
Despite the expected bitching from Spain about the free kick which lead to the second goal (yellow card was perhaps harsh, but Puyol clearly used his arms to hold Henry back. Completely unnecessarily, I might add, as Pernia had the play covered,) the referee was fantastic as well. It's not rocket science folks. Make the calls quickly and decisively, and have a rapport with the players. To paraphrase Churchill, jaw-jaw is better than card-card.
(P.S. I forgive you. Sorta. Ok, not at all...)
And the answer? No. No it doesn't. Though he is doing his subtle part to blunt the 'English as a national language' movement - I don't think I'm the only one desperately wishing to understand Spanish due to his...stylings.
Adriano was miles offsides. Twice. First when the ball was played to Cafu, and then when it was crossed too him. That's awful, again. I can't imagine how the linesman missed it, other than sheer suckage. Occam's razor! Ghana deserves 1-1 at half time (typically, "Lemon" 'Cello (very tasty before 8, I must admit) was in raputres of the "good job" by Dida in making a save that he knew literally nothing about....)
Update: No I was not actually drinking at 7:40 am. And, no, my absence for the rest of the day was not...induced by bevvies. Let's just say that the IT guys are not my friends right now.
BTW, 3-0 Brazil is criminal on Ghana, but Balboa claimed in about the 77th minute that A) Ghana was the better side and B) that Ronaldinho isn't one of the best players in the world. Had I been drinking, that would have require killing the bottle.
Monday, June 26, 2006
As for the rest of the game, Oz looked livelier, but there was always a sense that their defenders where absolutely terrified any time Italy got 3 or 4 guys forward. Even down to 10 men, Italy seemed more menacing. Or rather, Australia seemed more menaced than vice versa - score one for unfussy Italian defending, they never looked panicked. Cannavaro and in partiuclar Zambrotta went a ways towards blunting any possible Aussie attacks. The absence of Kewell and Emerton really showed as Stejovski never looked like causing any danger.
So a crap Italian squad goes through to play the ubercrap Ukranians who beat the ultimately super crappy Swiss in the Worst Game Ever. I imagine that if the Swiss continued taking penalties until the start of the Italy-Ukraine game, they might bury one or two, but I wouldn't put money on it.
My World Cup (rather swiftly) Begin to Runneth Empty. (Though I'm not quite here. Yet.)
In fairness, England played pretty well, actually, for the last 30 minutes after Beckham scored, and Ashley Cole had, as they say, a blinder. Hargreaves looked capable at right back. Opinion on Carrick was mixed - some loved him:
And suddenly England have an excess of holding midfielders. After the energy of Hargreaves against the Swedes, the composure of Carrick, using his superior distribution, was a feature of the Ecuador match.Others? Not so much - in the Michael Davies scale of 'pantsness':
Each could argue that this was a game that demonstrated his value to the cause. The Tottenham man's [Pooh: that would be Carrick] passing suggested England, finally, had observed the lessons about the importance of keeping possession.
Pants ... billowy, stiff, scratchy, multi-pleated DockersHow do you really feel?
This just didn't work at all. He looked uncomfortable on the ball, rarely moved forward, barely made a tackle all game and had absolutely no presence. Don't think we'll see him in Gelsenkirchen on Saturday -- I think we'll be going back to 4-4-2.
As for Portugal - Netherlands (aka Mighty Russian Referee[/Boris Badunov accent] destroying weak football game) was something of a chicken-egg thing - where there tons of cards because the match was violent and bad-tempered, or did the match became violent and bad-tempered because of all the cards and whistles frustrated the players? Whatever. Crap game, but as Al points out, compelling in a multi-car pileup sort of way. Good goal to win it - Maniche does have a habit of getting his money's worth from those he scores.
Al also does well to pick out Miguel as the best player on the field, absolutely dominating Robben all game, as he did in Euro 2004. As for Holland - they need to find some midfielder's. Cocu is ancient, Sneijder did nothing in 4 games and Van Bommel is just dire. He looks awful playing for Barca and not much better for his country.
And now England and Portugal meet - though Portugal are certainly without Deco and Costinha, and possibly without Ronaldo. Figo can consider himself very lucky to participate. That game is going to penalties...
In a game this fast and furious, he could possibly have blown his whistle every 15 seconds and handed out cards aplenty. Instead, he excercised common sense, allowed the teams to match each other tackle for tackle, and the players adjusted. Despite some criticism, that is how the game should be reffed. (Heize getting only a yellow was debatable, but I'd prefer lenience to the Survivor-like quality of Netherlands-Portugal, where it seems a player is required to be voted off the island every fifteen minutes. Argentina also had a winner in stoppage time wrongly ruled offsides, but A) the call was tight, B) also made difficult by the long distance between Messi and the Mexican defender who may have played him onside; and C) the Argentines didn't think it was good at the time either.
As to the match itself, tough to say who 'deserved' to win prior to Rodriguez's goal. Guardado, getting his first World Cup action as a 19-year old in this game was absolutely nerveless. Marquez, in addition to his goal, was phenomenal all night, and Borgetti showed that a team can in fact play with one forward and still be dangerous. Much has been made of the Mexicans pressure on Riquelme, but I didn't see it that way - he still managed to move the ball quite effectively, even if he had less time to indulge himself then he had in previous matches.
After the goal, Mexico never once looked threatening - their spirit had been crushed, as one might expect.
Saturday, June 24, 2006
And of course FIFA thought Mr. Larrionda did a fab job, so he's still here, fussily overseeing the rather important France-Togo matchup (Marcelo thinks "he's just not good enough. He's just not. I'm sorry, at this level youhave to be better and he's just not good enough." Which is why they pay him the big bucks. Note to self - become fluent in Spanish prior to South Africa 2010.)
And as if to prove that no mistake is too egregious to make worse, FIFA decided that Mastroeni's challenge was worth an extra two games...because the one way to ensure people don't complain about the original bad call is to make them forget it in favor of the new clanger.
Is it me, or is the refereeing in every sport just crap right now? NBA playoffs? Check. Super Bowl? Ask Seattle fans. MLB? A.J. Pierzinski stole first...
Update: Charming penalty decision. Actually, Charmin', as in soft. If Larsson was going to signal his intention of falling dramatically any earlier, the program would read "The roll of Swan Diver normally played by Razak Pimpong will be played by Henrik Larsson this evening.")
Friday, June 23, 2006
- Pooh to the cable company service rep
So of course, today is the day my DVR box picked to die...thankfully, I had transferred almost everything to videotapes (digital revolution, my ass...) BUT, not only am I short 1 Brazil game, but all of today's action (save for the France - Togo game which they are replaying on Classic in a few hours) SOOOO let me extend my bleg to cover the following matches:
Brazil - Japan
Ukraine - Tunisia
Spain - Saudi Arabia
Switzerland - Korea Republic
Technojoy turns swiftly to technorage.
Now it starts to get a little tasty... or we get to see a lot of 1-0 games and penalty shootouts. As good as the group stages have been (only 3 or 4 real stinkers of games out of 48) what will be remembered is what happens over the next 15 (not counting the 3rd place game...which remains the stupidest thing ever.) So on to the Sweet 16, as it were.
Germany vs. Sweden
I love the way Germany is playing right now, but Sweden is both more athletic and more composed than any team they've played thus far (understrength Ecuador was really a shadow of the team which played so stylishly in the first two games). However, without Ibrahimovic at full strength, I have a hard time seeing Sweden getting a whole lot of good chances. Ballack has yet to really impose himself on a game, and this seems like a good a place to start as any - the center of the Swedish midfield is probably their weakness. Potentially fascinating matchup on the Swedish right between Lahm and Ljunberg. Also, if the game remains close, Klinsman has the better attacking options to bring off the bench wit Neuville, and especially Odonkor seeming likely to terrify a tiring defense. In the end, just too much of Ze Germans: 2-0.
Argentina vs. Mexico
The Mexicans faded badly after their fine second half vs. Iran. Unable to score on Angola, they were played off the field by the Portuguese before the latter took their foot off the gas 30 minutes in. Meanwhile, after looking electric the first two rounds, the Argentinines were clearly in control vs. Holland without really extending themselves. It's possible that Mexico takes the lead on a counterattack early, but aside from that, I see them getting pounded, 3-1 Argentina.
England vs. Ecuador
Will the real England please stand up? And what does Ecuador really have? So much of this game depends on Erickson's boldness in his lineup choices - if he somehow finds the fortitude to move Beckham to Right Back (or perhaps even Left Out...) and starts Aaron Lennon, then we might yet see a convincing, high energy display. Of course, no way in hell SGE is so bold. 2-1 England on another Gerrard belter and a janky tap-in by Terry.
Portugal vs. Netherlands
With France-Spain, the most apetizing matchup of the round. In the end, I think that the Deco/Figo/Ronaldo trinity has too much for the ancient Cocu and other Dutchmen to really handle. Holland's best hope is that Robben goes absolutely out of his skin and wins the game on his own. Goodness knows he'll probably try and do just that. 2-1 Portugal.
Italy vs. Australia
The Aussies are streatwise enough to deal with the Italians. I'm not sure the Italians have enough fortitude to deal with the bustle of the Aussies, especially if Nesta can't play. Australia will almost certainly beat the piss out of Pirlo, Camorenese and anyone else in the Italian midfield not named Gattuso (who will get into a spat with Neil at least 4 times over the course of the game. Not that that's a bad thing, Gattuso has long been my favorite Italian - he seems to have absorbed a certain husky quality during his time playing for Rangers in Scotland.) 1-0 Oz.
Switzerland vs. Ukraine
zzzzzzzzzz. 0-0. Swiss go through on penalties.
Brazil vs. Ghana
Entertaining, but without Essien, ultimately one-sided. Will Parreira stick with a good thing and start Robinho for Adriano again? Ronaldinho is bound to take over a few games, and without much heft in the center of the field, he and Kaka could have too much space. 4-2 Brazil.
Spain vs. France
The chokers vs. the underachievers...France finally found some spark today. The question is, how do they incorporate Zidane without losing any of that zest. My guess is that they drop Trezeguet, when it probably should be Malouda (who did very little wrong today, must be said, but Ribery has recovered from a very disappointing opening game to play quite well.) As for Spain, can they restore the passion with which the played vs. Ukraine? Does Raul start or come off the bench? Who plays in midfield between Xavi, Xabi Alonso, Marcos Senna and Fabregas? Or does the occassion get the best of everyone involved? Sadly, I think the latter, 0-0 France through on penalties.
Now, tell me how I'm wrong!
He has to decide his professional career and national team career are important enough to him to sacrifice the comfort he enjoys playing in MLS, a league that stopped being a challenge for him years ago. This isn't an attack on MLS. This is reality. For all the strides the young league has made, it still is not equipped to help the truly elite player grow.I'd say that argument holds true for any of the U.S. players, once they reach the point where they are legit 'stars' in the MLS. (If they go over too young and too early, they are liable to get buried in the reserves, stunting their growth. Not time for Freddy to go just yet.) Some of them will not make it - those that do, will improve. See Eddie Lewis, Bobby Convey and most especially Brian McBride for examples of player's who have improved markedly.
Consider that the league's top players face no pressure for their starting job; they play in a playoff system that basically makes most regular-season matches devoid of true significance or intensity. Then there is the general lack of quality of talent as compared with the top leagues in Europe. There isn't an MLS defender Donovan can't destroy.
So where is the challenge supposed to come from for Donovan if he chooses to stay in MLS? The United States doesn't have a high-quality regional tournament to play in like the European Championships, and even World Cup qualifying offers only a handful of truly pressure-packed matches. So while the best players from other countries are honing their skills in the best possible scenarios, Donovan remains content to live the life of leisure.
It is certainly his life and his decision to make, but if he continues to insist on treating his career as something other than his highest priority, maybe it is time to look elsewhere for the U.S. team's next true star. As scary as it is to consider, maybe Donovan just isn't cut out for stardom. Maybe he's just not built to handle the pressure.
Donovan, is the cautionary tale of the stagnation which can occur from staying home and staying comfortable:
Czech midfielder Tomas Rosicky and Ghanaian midfielder Michael Essien played in the same Under-17 World Championships as Donovan just seven years ago. Donovan was the star of that tournament, but Rosicky and Essien are the players who left their countries afterward to hone their skills in Europe's top leagues and stayed there.While Donovan has done, well, f-all.
Neither player went running back to his home country when things got tough. Both stuck it out, and look at them now. Essien is one of the world's most highly rated players, and Rosicky just moved to English power Arsenal. At this World Cup, each has starred for his country and helped his nation win games.
As I said before, I think Onyewu will be very well served by a move to the premiership - he's got talent, which he demonstrated in the last two games and the English game is the perfect place for him to learn how to use his physical power. Remember, Jaap Stam had a nightmare at the 1998 World Cup, yet was absolutely world class for the next 4 or 5 years, and I think that's a fair comparison on the basis of raw potential.
Update Just for you, Fletch, (via Bill):
"Is it just me, or is Landon Donovan the JJ Redick of US soccer? (i.e overrated douchebag)"
(Additionally, this is chickenshit - you signed a contract, which everyone not named Dolan or Thomas thought was stupid, own up to it. As Teddy KGB would say, "pay dat myan. Pay dat myan his myuney.")
Ok, so Ronaldo can still play a bit. He looked far, far livelier vs. Japan than at any time in the first two matches. His second goal in particular was very well done. Neat interpassing with Juan (the best Brazillian centerback in years, surely) followed by a free-kick like shot into the lower corner. Maybe he was just a little under the weather. Though he still lacks the rhino-like explosiveness of his top form. Japan were simply and totally outclassed by Brazil playing like, well, Brazil (as the opposing fans can now stop singing "are you Belgium in disguise?")
Unfortunately, ESPN screwed me on this match - instead of replaying this one on ESPN Classic as has been the practice over the first few days of 3rd round games, they replayed both games from USA's group. So the one game I'm missing from the old collection is Brazil in full Samba mode. Pigf****r. A minor bleg to anyone who has tape of the game, hook a blogger up, yo?
Italy - Czech Republic
Once again the Italians go ahead, from a set piece, against the run of play. Up to the point Materazzin scored (great headed goal, to be sure), Nedved was everywhere. And then Polak gets the red, presumably for having even worse hair than Wilhelmson of Sweden. And I have to half-heartedly cheer for f'in Inzaghi. Is there anyone who doesn't hate Pippo Inzaghi?
Croatia - Australia
Enthralling, tense, though ultimately sloppy game. Not Graham Poll's finest as a referee either. Cast iron penalty when Simunic tackled, in the NFL sense, Viduka. Not sure how he could have missed that one really. Good catch to spot the first handball, though he missed a fairly obvious one late on when Australia was going for the equaliser. And Kewell was clearly offsides for his 'winner.' On balance, Australia probably deserve to go through - Croatia's inability to score vs. Japan, and all that.
Ukraine - Tunisia
Possibly the worst game of the tournament. Another soft penalty, too many cards. Too little ambition from the Ukraine, and especially after the sending off, no real impetus from Tunisia. Ukraine awaits any of 3 teams (hopefully, not Switzerland as they could just line up for the shootout after 0-0 finish now.)
So, 14 of the 16 spots are determined, the remaining 2 to come from France, Switzerland, and Korea...my hope is for Korea and France as that would make for the best games. France - Spain in the second round game looks potentially very tasty....
Thursday, June 22, 2006
- Overly negative formation: With different players (all-action goal scoring central mid-fielders such as those of England, Ghana or the Czechs), 4-5-1 can be a useful attacking formation, but the way we played it, it was simply defensive, with way too much reliance on long balls aimed at McBride, and not enough players to support and pick up the second ball.
- Relatedly, an overly negative attitude: Oddly, the only time we got forward in numbers from the run of play was in the second half of the Italy game.
- Poor use of the squad: Three of our most dangerous forwards (Ching, Wolff, Johnson) played little or no part. Beasley played almost the whole tourney, with his only, and I mean only contribution of note being the pass to Dempsey for the goal.
- Poor squad selection: Why even bring John O'Brien if he can't play? Admittedly, he might well be our best player, but if you can't use him? (Sinkoff would have liked to see Taylor Twellman. Can't say that I disagree.)
- And worst of all, the team was not fired up - this is the World Freaking Cup! Get after it. And that kind of lapse is almost certainly attributable to the coaching.
All that said, I can't bring myself to kill Arena. Think of where we were when he took over. We finished last in 1998 (and, in reality, were even worse than that indicates, the scorelines in all 3 games probably should have been more lopsided.) And that was with an aging team that started a German (Thomas Dooley) and Frenchman (David Regis) and a Dutchman (Ernie Stewart). And even before that, though we made the second round in 1994, we were almost comically bad, with Tab Ramos being the one player who didn't totally blow. Further, we advanced by finishing third in our group (there were only 24 teams in the '94 cup, making it NHL playoffs easy to get to the knockout stages.) Aside from goalkeepers, I think there was one U.S. player having success in Europe at the time of the '98 cup.
Now, I'm not even sure I can name all those currently playing regulary off the top of my head. No, the increase in the overall talent level of the team is not solely due to Arena, but surely he deserves some credit.
Further, part of the reason why I feel bad about this early exit is I had actual expectations - call 2002 a fluke if you will, but we sucker punched Portugal, survived the Koreans (legitimately terrifying on home soil, just ask Italy) before absolutely mauling Mexico in the second round (a feat we duplicated in qualifying, I might add) and were desperately unlucky to lose to Ze Germans in the QF's. Thus the bar was raised, which is good. The only way we are going to get better is if we have expectations of reaching the next level.
So though it is probably time for the players to hear a new voice, and a man with new ideas (Eric Wynalda, anyone? Hell, you think we couldn't find the jing to make a run at Big Phil Scolari and that he wouldn't whip us into a scary side?) to take charge, let's pause for a moment and give some gratitude and credit were it is due to Mr. Arena.
That said, our largely legit grievances will probably be allowed to obscure that fact that, goalkeeping aside, we're just not good enough. Donovan might win the 2006 Nakata Award for overrated 'star.' Beasley seems just hopeless, and Eddie Johnson demonstrated why he has been on the bench for most of the cup: he's not very good. There are some positves to take - McBride is useful, though probably too old to be around for much longer. After a nightmare against the Czechs, Onyewu has looked quite good - I can't blame him for the penalty because the call was astoudingly bad - a 5'4" guy was going to leap backwards, through Gooch and power a header in from 20 yards? Shennanigans. If he does move to England, it will only help him learn how to use his strength without fouling against crafty, floppy types. Dempsey has been a revelation, he should be the first name on the teamsheet, our most dangerous player by a mile over the last two games, and a thumping finish for our one real goal of the tourney.
Arena has demonstrated that he is overmatched as well. It's simply criminal to start in a 4-5-1 in a game that you not only have to win, but possibly have to win by a lot. Coaches have a shelf life, and he's probably passed his sell-by date. There's a reason that national team coaches don't last long, and I don't think it's too much of a surprise that the only two teams with the same manager as 2002 (us and England) have visibily underperformed.
I think this Deadspin commenter captures it perfectly:
I am just so upset right now. I'm upset at the ref. I'm upset at Donovan. I'm upset at Beasley. I'm upset at Arena. I'm annoyed at the Ghana people rolling around on the field to waste time.Indeed.
mostly, I'm frustrated that this means four more years of soccer haters making nyah-nyah noises at all of us for caring.
Oh, and after the Ghanians demonstrated that they've learned a few of the 'finer' points of football from the Italians, I fully endorse this as well:
I hope Brazil goes Spurrier on these guys in the 2nd round and win 11-0.
Wednesday, June 21, 2006
Is there a stupider interview question than "where do you see your self in ten years?" And while you're thinking on that one, is there a stupider answer than the one I gave today? Honesty is not always the best policy, it seems. Even in the legal field, shock me, shock me, shock me.
Maybe I should have been completely honest and gone with the suggested "middle-class, middle-weight, getting paid and driving an SUV," which has the dual benefit of being largely true and perhaps flattering the interviewer as he or she will think "hey, that sounds like me. He wants to be just like me! Sign him up!"
Tuesday, June 20, 2006
First things first, these games present something of a quandry to the coaches - you're both through and realistically, it's stupid to try to figure out who you might play because A) you have to beat somebody good anyway; and B) by the you get to the final 8, everybody is damn good. So you are left balancing keeping players fresh, healthy and non-suspended with the desire to keep playing the way that has brought your squad to this point. I'm not sure there's a good answer. It can either work, or you can be like Nigeria in '98 - impressive in your first two games, play your second team in the third, get pasted, then go to the second round and get drilled again (Nigeria lost 4-1 to Denmark in the round of 16)
So I understand what Ecuador's coach was doing by resting Delgado, Hurtado and Tenorio. And who's to say they don't get stomped by the Germans even with those guys playing?
But, their absence means that this game was, again, not a meaningful test of the Germans. They looked superb, but, but, but...In honesty I like this team - their body language tells a story of a team enjoying playing together, and that cannot be undersold. It starts from Klinsman who brings real verve and enthusiasm to what is usually a stereotypically dour team. I've mentioned it before, but Klose looks like a much better overall player than he was 4 years ago, and Lahm has been the best fullback, by a good margin, of the tournament so far. The Germans third goal was an inch-perfect counter-attack.
MoM: Miroslav Klose - it would be amusing if me passes Ronaldo on the WC scoring ranking as the latter continues to be stuck at 60% speed.
England - Sweden
Good thing they have Jermaine Defoe ready to step in...oh wait...Sven always looked likely to be an idiot for taking only 4 strikers, especially where 2 are injured and 1 is 17 (seriously, how stupid does including Walcott and not Defoe look right now?) In a way, incoming manager Steve Mclaren may have been fortunate with Owen's inury, as he's simply not the player of 1998. This way, he doesn't have to drop him, but can move on quietly.
First half was England's best of the tourney, with Joe Cole in particular being outstanding. And that's before we add in his fabulous goal (better than Argentina's second vs. Serbia? Tough to say. I will say that that goal was the first time Dave O'Brien really seemed to 'get' soccer, as his baseball drawl vanished for about 5 seconds of hysteria. Balboa thinks the keeper should have saved it. Of course, Balboa's an idiot.)
Second half started the same way...until Sweden scored, rather out of the blue. From that point, the Swedes were absolutely rampant, hitting the bar twice and pounding England to bits...until Gerrard scored, again from nowhere (though with a nice assist from Joe Cole.) And then perhaps the worst defending I've ever seen at a World Cup, and Larsson equalises at the death. Strange game, and if England weren't playing Ecuador, I'd half expect them to get anihlated in their next match.
MoM: Joe Cole. At this point I think England's best lineup (once we recognize that Beckham, Gerrard and Lampard are going to play, come hell, highwater or ze Germans) is Rooney along up front with Cole just behind. Lampard on the left, Gerrard and Becks in the center and Aaron Lennon on the right. Some have suggested moving Beckham to right back and Carragher pairing Terry in central defense to bring Lennon in on the right of midfield. Intriguing, but there's no way Sven has the juevos to try it.
So here's my question: At what point are we compromising the competitiveness of these games? If you've ever played basketball, then you know that s---, um, staff happens during a competitive game. It's not abnormal for two teammates to start screaming at one another. It's not abnormal for someone to foul someone else a little bit harder than he intended. It's not abnormal for two opponents to start exchanging some good-natured barbs -- if anything, that kind of dialogue always livens up the game and gets everyone else going.What he said. Seriously what's wrong with a hard foul? What's wrong with a little bit of jawing? What's wrong with Mark Cuban popping off at the league for the frankly craptacular state of the officiating?
Believe me, I understand why we reached this point -- in the late-'90s, an entire generation of players weaned on hard fouls (like the McHale-Rambis clothesline), trash-talking superstars (like Bird and MJ) and constant woofing (from the Fab Five and UNLV in particular) ended up taking all three of those elements to inappropriate levels. I concede this point. But haven't we swung too much the other way now? For instance, when LeBron psyched out Gilbert Arenas at the free-throw line in the final game of the Cavs-Wiz series, that was one of my favorite moments of the playoffs -- not only that LeBron had the confidence to do something like that, but that it reminded me of something that would happen on the playground, just two ballers talking smack before a big moment.
Of course, the NBA decided that this was deplorable and ordered their referees to prevent this from ever happening again. (God forbid the last two minutes of an NBA game was anything other than formulaic and predictable.) But I think this is one of the reasons why I enjoy watching those games from the '80s so much -- not just because of the style of play (constantly moving, constantly going) but the competitive energy that never seemed to wane. Now guys are allowed to compete, but only to a point. It's like a glorified youth soccer game with more fans. And out of everything that's happened in the Stern Era, this was their biggest mistake. Well, other than continuing to have Bennett Salvatore work playoff games.
I've thought that this has been the most enjoyable NBA season in at least 10 years, but after the second round of the playoffs, they pissed it away by allowing the Same Old Shit to come back in, (not to mention the absence of anybody besides D-Wade able to make clutch FT's. Looking at you Josh Howard...) I just don't care. I might watch tonite, but I probably won't. And of course, all this BS is driving Cuban himself to consider selling the team, because goodness knows the NBA doesn't need owners who give a crap about making the product better.
Seriously, this 'fine the guy a ton for saying something bad about us' development is the worst thing to happen to sports in forever. Instead of telling Cuban to shut up about how the refs are bad, make sure they aren't bad first. Now it just looks, well, Stalinist.
Feh! upon thee, David Stern.
Things continue to go well here. It has been an incredibly interesting couple of weeks both at work and in getting more opportunities to get out and see the city. The most interesting day so far was when we drove out South of the city to visit the old palace. This area was where some of the most intense fighting took place between the mujahideen after the Soviets left. While there has been and incredible amount of construction and revitalization in the main parts of Kabul, most of the area around the palace is essentially the same as it was left after all of the violence. Any of the buildings that are still standing are littered with thousands of bullet holes and crumbling from where rockets and grenades hit. It is pretty unbelievable to be in an area where not even five years ago thousands of people were fighting and dying.We actually had a long talk at the wedding reception about the process of reconstructing an economy and the various interests which needed to be balanced. Hopefully, if he and his colleagues do their jobs well, they'll go a way to remedying a major cause of extremism - the abject poverty in undeveloped regions.
In general it is hard to fully comprehend everything that is going on at the same time here. On the one hand there are new office buildings and hotels, there are a bunch of good restaurants with all different types of food, hundreds of trees have been planted, and things in Kabul are totally normal for any large, crowded, developing country. On the other hand it there is a at least one person with a kalashnikov on every block, and if you drive 15 minutes outside of the city in one direction you drive into shelled out buildings and in the other direction you drive past army bases fortified with bunkers, barbed wire, and unbelievable amounts of firepower. Most bizarre of all is that fact that about 3 hours away the largest counter-insurgency battle since 2001 is taking place, with more missions flown in the past 3 months than in Iraq last year. Sitting in Kabul there is absolutely no way of telling that it is happening. Talking to some of the locals who work in our office, they say that most people don’t even really know that it is taking place.
As a side note, the guys in our office are amazed that the US / NATO forces are going into the areas they are going into, saying that essentially no one, including the Russians and the Taliban, has controlled that area for the past 30 or 40 years. I thought our office manager had a nice summary of the feelings of the average Afghan when he said most people view the US/NATO as an occupying force, but after 30 years of violence no one really cares. What they want most is for one group to take control and bring some stability and economic development to the country. . .
In general day-to-day life is really quite normal. Work is interesting, I have cable and internet (sometimes) in my guest house, and we end up going out for lots of dinners and events. The weather is gorgeous 80s/90s during the days, kind chilly in the evening. The only downside is that is in incredibly dry, and in the afternoons the wind tends to pick up and you can get some pretty strong dust storms. But we are able to have lunch on the roof most days and enjoy the views from one of the taller buildings in Kabul. All in all it has been a really good summer so far. Will keep you all updated.
Best wishes to him. Stay safe buddy.
Monday, June 19, 2006
Switzerland vs. Togo
Togo has Adebayor, who is world class, and Kader, who is making himself a bundle with his play at the cup, and er, 8 other dudes who want way too much money. Switzerland has Senderos, who's been the Next Big Arsenal Defender for about 3 years and is almost as overrated as Nakata and a bunch of guys who speak 5 languages apiece. The Swiss are the most archetypically German team in the W.C., meaning while that Togo had a lot of the play, they were punished for any weak defending. Yes, yes you should have had a penalty, but karma's a bitch. Good bye and good riddance, Togo.
MoM: Tranquillo Barnetta: Fabulous name. Scored one, assisted one, struck the bar, almost scored from 45 yards, most dangerous player on the field
Ukraine vs. Saudi Arabia
Men against boys - at times in the second half, the Ukranians were almost contemptuous, as they should have been. Every four years the Saudis are shown that their insular league is just not good enough and does not force their players to learn the requisite skills...and every four years, they burn through coaches like an Escalade burns gas. Almost to a man, their first touch was decidedly Junior Varsity. By comparison, the ref, Graham Poll, controlled the ball much better the two times it was pinged at him (of course that might mean a call-up to the England lineup, as that is more than can usually be said of Peter Crouch.)
The Saudi keeper was egregious - Rebrov's goal was either the best strike ever, or complete incompetence from Zaid, I've yet to see a conclusive replay angel. Kalinichenko, Schevchenko and Voronin all looked very active and dangerous for Ukraine.
MoM: Kalinichenko, goal, 2 assists, one struck crossbar and a genuine menace all day long.
Spain - Tunisia
Not to toot my own horn, but I predicted that Spain would win 3 or 4 to one with about 65 minutes gone and 10 Tunisians in their own box at all times. Bad, bad coaching by Lemerre for Tunisia - first in defending so deep with a 1-0 lead, second continuing to defend like that once the game was tied. With the Ukraine result already known, there was no difference between tying 1-1 and by losing by up to two goals - they should have gone all out at 1-1 as a win would have been huge, but as between a loss and a tie, didn't matter. Some justice to the Spanish goals, as a dislike noisy keepers, and Boomijiel was that. All 3 goals he could and should have done better, especially Torres' first; Jaidi was in a reasonable spot if he had stayed back. Instead, he made it easy.
For Spain, they controlled all of the possession, and never, ever looked panicked. Xabi Alonso could have scored twice an another day. Senna was nowhere near as good as against Ukraine, and Fabregas was an improvement. Torres looks like the real deal.
MoM: Tough to say. Probably coach Luis Aragones for some intelligent substitutions.
Pooh's Team of the Second Round:
G: Woonjae Lee - S.K.
LB: Juan Pablo Sorin - Arg
CB: Rafa Marquez - MEX
CB: Oguchi Onyewu - USA
RB: Willy Sagnol - FRA
LM: Sulley Muntari - GHA
CM: Ze Roberto - BRA
CM: Maxim Kalinchenko - UKR
CM: Deco - POR
RM: Luis Valencia - ECU
CF: Javier Saviola - ARG
Coach: Luis Aragones - SPA
Germany and Ecuador are through. Germany wins the group with a win; tie or loss and Ecuador takes it. Costa Rica and Poland are out.
England are through, win the group with a win or tie vs. Sweden.
Sweden win the group with a win, take 2nd with a draw, and are out with a loss and a T&T win with a combined margin of 4 or more (or 3, depending on the scores)
Argentina and the Netherlands are through. Netherlands needs to win to win the group, draw means Argentina win on goal difference.
Portugal are through and win the group with a win or tie vs. Mexico
Mexico win the group with a win, take 2nd with a draw, and are out with a loss and an Angola win with a combined margin of 4 or more (or 3, depending on the scores)
This one is complicated. Italy, the Czechs and Ghana are all through with a win.
Italy wins the group with either a win, or a draw combined with Ghana not winning. The Czechs win the group with a win combined with Ghana not winning by a larger margin. Ghana wins the group with a win and either a draw or a Czech win by a smaller margin.
Now, for the U.S. to qualify...well first of all, just win (vs. Ghana) baby, and then one of
1. Italy defeats the Czech Republic.Obviously, any scenario by which the U.S. advances also KO's Ghana. The scenarios involving an Italian win or tie KO the Czechs. The U.S. can win the group if they win by 5 and the Italians and Czechs tie.
2. Italy ties the Czech Republic 0-0 or 1-1 AND the United States beats Ghana by at least four goals.
3. Italy ties the Czech Republic 2-2 or with a higher score AND the United States beats Ghana by five or more goals.
4. Italy ties the Czech Republic 2-2 or with a higher score AND the United States beats Ghana by four goals AND the U.S. team scores at least three goals more than the Czechs do in their tie.
5. The Czech Republic beats Italy AND the total combined margin of victory for the Americans and Czechs is six or more.
6. The Czech Republic beats Italy AND the total combined margin of victory for the Americans and Czechs is five AND the U.S. team scores at least three goals more than the Italians do in their loss.
7. The Czech Republic beats Italy AND the total combined margin of victory for the Americans and Czechs is five AND the U.S. team scores exactly two more goals than the Italians do in their loss AND the Americans win a drawing of lots by FIFA.
Brazil are through and win the group with any result except a loss combined with an Australia win with a combined margin of 3+.
The Aussies are through with a win, or a draw and any result except a Japanese win by 3 (or by 2 if Japan scores 2 more in the win than Australia does in the draw)
Croatia is through with a win as long as Japan does not win by more than Croatia.
Japan is through with a win by 3+ goals and an Australia draw, or a win by more than Croatia beat Australia.
Switzerland are through with a win or a draw. They also advance if they lose and France does not beat Togo. They win the group with a win, or a draw a France winning by less than 2, or if France win by 2 and the Swiss score in their draw.
Soute Korea are through and win the group with a win. They are through with a draw or loss if France does not win. They advance with a draw and a France win if France only wins by one and scores no more than 1 more goal in their win as South Korea does in their draw.
France is through with a win by two or more, or with a win by one if they score 3 more goals in the win than S.K. does if they draw. They win the group if they win by 3 goals and a draw, or 2 goals if they score 2 more goals in their win than do Switzerland in drawing S.K. If France wins by one, scoring exactly 2 more goals in their win than does S.K. in a draw, I have no idea what happens. Coin flip?
Togo are out.
Spain are through and win the group with a win or tie or a loss combined with a Ukraine loss or tie. They also win the group with a loss and a Ukraine win with a combined margin of less than 6. If the margin is excatly 6, then it's total goals, I believe. If total goals are tied, Spain wins.
Ukraine are through with a win, or a draw and a Spain win or draw; or with a draw and Saudi Arabia beating Spain by less than 4.
Tunisia are through with a win by at worst 2 less than Saudi Arabia beats Spain (or obviously a draw or Spanish win).
Saudi Arabia are through if they beat Spain by at least 4 and a Tunisia win where S.A. wins by 3 more than does Tunisia (or by 2 more than Tunisia and the Saudis score 3 more than do Tunisia, if Saudi Arabia wins by 2 more and scores exactly two more, then it's a coinflip)
I have no earthly idea what happens in Ecuador vs. Germany, so I'll punt, call it a draw and say Ecuador wins the group.
England and Sweden draw 0-0, but T&T lose to Paraguay so they both advance, England on top.
Argentina beats an understrength Holland to win the group.
Portugal and Mexico play to a desultory draw, both teams advancing.
US and Ghana tie 1-1, as do the Italians and the Czechs in a smelly match sending both the Italians and the Czechs through.
Brazil wins, finally turning on the style, Croatia can only manage a draw vs. the Aussies.
France carves Togo to pieces, the football gods being displeased with the attempted extortion at the World Cup. South Korea proves too fit for the Swiss winning on two late goals.
Spain pounds Saudi Arabia about 7-0, Tunisia has nothing in the tank and loses 2-0 the the revitalised Ukranians.
Giving final 16 pairings of my pick to win bolded
Ecuador - Sweden (Sweden has nothing, especially with Ibrahimovic probably out)
Argentina - Mexico (Mexico is aiiight, but Argentina still blows their doors off)
Italy - Croatia (1-1 on some janky scrambled, 90th minute Italian goal. Probably by f'in Inzaghi in his only action of the tourney. Italy then wins on Penalties)
South Korea - Ukraine (A brace from Schevchenko as class tells over industry.)
England - Germany (Rooney breaks his foot and the goal post on the last penalty)
Portugal - Netherlands (Figo runs out of gas, Robben outduels Ronaldo)
Brazil - Czech Republic (The real Ronaldinho stands up, scores one makes 2 more, fatbastrdo gets on the scoresheet. Finally.)
Spain - France (Zidane delivers his final masterpiece, Spain are, per usual overawed by the bigger stage)
Ecuador - Argentina (Crashing down to earth)
Italy - Ukraine (Schevchenko brutally exterminated by 'crafty' Italian marking)
Netherlands - Germany (RUUUUUUUUD gets the better of the wobbly center of the German defense)
Brazil - France (Finally on form, Brazil carves the aged French to pieces)
Argentina - Italy (Playing against a foe who can be equally as cynical, dramatic and dirty, the Italians lack of real class is brutally exposed.)
Netherlands - Brazil (Holland mainly happy to have gotten this far with their young team, Brazil fully in exhibition mode)
Netherlands by about 30 over the couldn't give a shit Italians
Vamos a Argentina - South American grudge match with the Argentinians' greater toughness and organization winning a game that is uglier than it might have been.
Sunday, June 18, 2006
6. Croatia - Japan
One of the ESPN commentators opined that the weather won this game. True, to a degree, the pace was much slower than the other weekend games, but still entertaining. The Croat fans were again fantastic, though they tired. Much like Japan, who appear to have exactly 77:37 of soccer in them before they collapse. The Croatia's biggest problem is the lack of a finisher - both forwards, Klasnic and especially Prso look quite lively, but they are perhaps a little peripatetic, always dropping into midfield or shifting to the wings to get the ball, and there's no one in the box to score. This works if you have a certain type of midfielder (see, for example England when they aren't playing like crap - Lampard and Gerrard are exactly this type of player), but as good as Krajncar is, (quite - he's not playingjust because his dad is the coach. It helps, but he's also good.) he's more of a schemer than a scorer. Japan really didn't offer much for the second time. The players are individually fine, they just don't seem to combine to produce much. Nakata is close to entering his second decade as Most Overrated Player in the World. Great penalty save by the keeper, though.
MoM: Krajncar - always dangerous and inventive, almost scored the goal of the tourney with the 30-yarder off the bar.
5. Portugal - Iran
Good atmosphere. The Iranians demonstrate the difference between the good teams and the not so good ones. Individually, they have some quality (Mahdivikia in particular,) but there seem to be 3 common characteristics of the crap teams at this WC. A) Lack of a coherent system. The Iranians (much like the Saudis, Tunisians and Togolese, it must be said) seem to confuse "selfish" with "swashbuckling" always trying to beat one man too many, and not really working hard for each other. B) Relatedly, a lack of team-wide ambition in attack. When they get in good spots, they always seems a dearth of extra players getting into the box, so to score they need either one player to beat 3 or 4, or to hope that a perfect cross is perfectly converted by one striker vs. 3 defenders. C) Absolute crap goalkeeping. Mirzapaur might be the worst player in the tournament fatbastard Ronaldo included.
Portugal, with Deco back in the starting lineup, looked very dangerous. Even not quite clicking, Cristiano Ronaldo has every defender terrified. With better luck and/or finishing, he could have 4 or 5 goals by now.
MoM: Deco. Night and day with him playing again.
4. Brazil - Australia
To hackney my own (borrowed) cliche, when Robinho comes on for Ronaldo, the ball is round once again. He was better in this game but still not good. And this time, quite clearly, he dragged Adriano down with him - aside from the goal, Adriano had a certain ungainly, Ogre-like quality. As if by magic, he became a dancer as soon as Ronaldo left. And everything just moved faster with Robinho out there. Ronaldinho is certainly making the claim that he plays better for Barcelona look accurate. On balance 2-0 is criminal and Australia probably deserved a draw - they got no love from the ref being a little nit-picky with Viduka's physicality. Kewell and Bresciano brought a lot more out of the Aussie attack.
MoM: Ze Roberto. Okay, so he is more than just a holding midfielder. Genuine class in all areas of the game.
3. France - South Korea
Who wins in a fan-off, South Korea or Croatia. Those guys are amazing. While France should have had 2 in the first half, (led me add my voice to those saying "obvious goal, why not a chip in the ball?") the Koreans dominated the second half. They clearly had more energy, and it was largely the fans who inspired them, I'd say. France looked better. Wiltord playing alongside Henry seemed to give the latter more freedom and he responded with a very energetic game. Scored one, probably could have had two more, but for good goalkeeping. Ribery is probably better suited to being used as a sub.
The Koreans, when they are playing well, are fantastic to watch. So much off the ball running and pressing to get it back. Every ball into the box looks dangerous as well. Park was disappoiting - aside from scoring the goal.
As it stands, France is almost certainly through with a win over Togo, who I can't seem them doing anything other than hammering, based on all the BS surrounding Togo, though the absence of Zidane won't help - big game upcoming for Viera and Henry, I say. And hopefully, Trezeguet on from the start? (Seriously, what does he have to do?)
MoM: Woonjae Lee - kept them in the game with some good saves, notably from Henry, allowing for Park's equlaiser.
2. Ghana - Czech Republic
Fabulous game. An early goal from the underdog will do that. Both sides attack with verve, though Essien and Appiah did a lot more to occupy and shut down Rosicky and, to a lesser extent, Nedved then did the US. I have to say that Lokvenc is a terrible fit for the Czech style. Koller is both enormous and mobile - something of a soccer version of Dirk Nowitski. Lokvenc is just enormous - kind of a soccer version of Erick Dampier. Clearly, they miss Milan Barros. On the other hand, the Ghanians have me terrified for Thursday. Muscular, skillful, quick. Whatever, they have it. Interestingly, Essien was anonymous for the first 30 minutes. From that point he was dominant. I'm happy that Muntari is suspended as well. I also hope Kingston plays in goal like he did against Italy rather than against C.R. I can't believe it's the same guy, actually (he fully qualified in the above despcrition as 'crap' against Italy. This time, he caught everything in the box.)
Even down to 10 men, the Czechs still had that buzz about them. (Again, I think a yellow is sufficient in that situation, especially since it was by no means a violent foul by Ujfalusi.) But they tired, and in the last 10 minutes, Ghana could have named the score.
MoM: Sulley Muntari. Started off strong in defense, and became more and more attacking as the game progressed. A rocket of a finish to seal the game.
I though this was the best game of the tourney until...
1. USA - Italy
Watching this game, I became Howard Dean - We're going to Italy and Ghana and Brazil...YEARGHHHHH! Not sure what I can rationally say, other than that all those who are claiming that Mastroeni's red was justified are anti-American wackjobs. That's a yellow card in any game, anywhere on the planet. For us, Keller was good. Dempsey was a revelation, confidence bordering on cockiness, just what we need. Onyewu was far superior to his performance against the Czechs.
As for my thoughts on the Italians...I adopt this statement as if it were my own.:
I love the country of Italy, love it--the people, the food, the aesthetics, the San Siro, Serie A. But it suffers from an undeniable pathology. This pathology has lead its civil society to tolerate ungodly levels of corruption among its politicians. And the same pathology leads the Italian national team to dive, flop, and relentlessly test the limits of the off-sides rule. The Italian will to victory, in soocer at least, is ferocious--and provides the context for the recent Serie A scandals. Di Rossi's elbow to McBride's head will go down as the dirtiest play of this tournament. I could keep venting about this, but I won't. Instead, I'll vent over the referee. How can we account for his Mickey Mouse performance? What hint of corruption will be turned up? Was this a display of anti-Americanism? Or just sheer incompetence? Clearly, his miscues affected both sides--and clearly they affected one side more than the other.And now I have to root for them...wankers.
Come on you wankers!
Saturday, June 17, 2006
I'm quite angry right now. More later. (Aside from to say we whupped your asses with 9 men, you cowardly ^*&^*)
Update: A litte history of the esteemed Mr. Larrionda. He was going to ref in the 2002 WC until:
Jorge Larrionda the 33-year old Uruguayan referee has been suspended for 6 months by the Uruguayan FA for unexplained 'irregularities' only two days after his appointent to the FIFA list and may not now take up his whistle.Good work, FIFA!
Friday, June 16, 2006
Argentina's second goal (video here) is the epitome of Why Pooh Likes Soccer, 7 players, 20+ passes (all played one or two touches), a backheel and the supposed 'defensive' midfielder rifles one in from the top of the box. Best goal of the tourney by a mile.
A note to England, France, Portugal and Brazil, note that the teams that have looked most dangerous (Argentina, Spain, the Czechs) share two characteristics - quick ball movement and a lot of off the ball movement from players. Saviola in particular showed up all over the field - he made the third goal from what seemed like right full-back. That is exactly what I meant about England needing to up the tempo - certainly they won't be able to match the skill of the Argentinians (see, e.g. Sorin's backheeled lob through-ball on the edge of the area), but they can certainly hustle and bustle their way to something akin to that effectiveness.
As for the Serbs...so long and don't let the door hit you, I guess. Kezman in particular, you leg-breaking bastard, you (easiest red card one is likely to see...)
Too bad that the Argentina-Holland game will be largely meaningless (Holland looked fantastic for the first 30 minutes or so vs. Ivory Coast. Somebody apparently remembered to wake Ruud up before kickoff. Also, the extended embrace between Robben and Van Persie after the latter's rocket of a goal was vaguely uncomfortable in a sort of "why can't we be friends?" manner.)
MoM: Tough to say, there were so many good performances. I'll probably take Saviola for being the key man in the first half, as most of the second was just icing.
As a young American Jew spending his first few hours on German soil, let's just say I'm leaning toward skepticism. As I sit down to the match at an insanely crowded cafe in the heart of Bonn, the two syllable chant of "Deutsch-land" is nearly deafening, and leaves a weird feeling in the pit of my stomachThough it's often silly how much sports mean to many of us, if there is one area where the meaning is less superficial it is in issues of race - France's '98 World Cup win featuring a French Basque captain, Senegalese midfielders, led by an star of Algerian parentage was seen as a direct rebuke to Le Pen style nativism. In the U.S., it seems the only time we speak about race with even a remote degree of candor is in discussions of sports. Those were some of the things on my mind as the German crowd roared its approval for Odonkor before his electric performance. One can only imagine the adulation he'll receive next match.
. . .
David Odonkor, whether fairly or unfairly, represents a lot to me about Germany. Not only is he one of Germany's many offensive-minded young stars that threaten to abolish its boring style of play forever, but he is also black (or at least his father is Ghanaian). When this young black man appeared on the sidelines to the loudest cheers I had heard all night from my German companions, something inside me changed. I no longer feared the cheers of "Deutcsh-land" that came pouring forth, but rather embraced them. For if this new German nationalism can embrace a half-Ghanaian boy as its national hero, its good enough for me. And when his cross led to German ecstasy across the country, I too, I must admit, was ecstatic.
Thursday, June 15, 2006
As I was racing off to save the world, other characters kept coming up to me to engage me in side quests, whose purpose I now see, but I kept blowing them off, thinking, "No time for that, I gotta go find that prince and stop those demons"Hi. My name is Pooh, and I'm a vidiot.
I have a confession to make - I was in Best Buy last weekend to buy blank tapes for my "own the World Cup" project (will take approximately 24 tapes to capture the whole shebang - if you miss a game, you know where to find me)...and I almost impulse purchased an XBox360 just to get the new FIFA World Cup '06 video game - the graphics look better than do the games on TV in HD, and the announcers are real life (pre-recorded) Brits, damnit. No Marcello Balboan meally-mouthed idiocy (any announcer who talks about 'good fouls' in soccer is off the island). No Tommy Smythian barmy blarny. Luckily for me, though they had the console in stock, they were fresh out of the game itself (apparently I'm not the only one.)
In any event, I have long been a confirmed vidiot, though my tastes differ from Cal's son in that I prefer the grand scale of Civilization or Transport Tycoon (vastly underrated model train-set type game) to RPG's and sports games to 'shooters' (though Halo and Goldeneye and Doom will always have special places in my heart...) My vidiocy has had two main consequences.
First, despite what people tell you about rotting the minds of our young, I fully believe that video gaming has done as much as anything to develop my problem solving and spatial reasoning skills. Or, more specifically, given the design of the LSAT, Super Mario Bros. got me into law school.
Second, despite the obvious fiction of the game-world it's never been difficult for me to find 'meaning' among the pixels and sprites, whether building empires or seeing how many consecutive years I can win the World Series with the Red Sox (helps when you engineer a massive trade for Ichiro, who's not quite video-Bo, but in the right hands (and with Papi and Manny and...whomever else I trade for hitting behind him) is good for 300+ runs per season.)
So here's to both vidiocy, and Best Buy saving my credit card balance by not having the game in stock...
Just as I was thinking "for a big guy, he sure does suck at heading," well, see above. (For he big guy, he also sucks at kicking, witness his corner-flag threatening 'volley' from Beckham's cross in first-half injury time.)
Aside from that, I think I've figured out England's problem - they aren't Italy, though Sven clearly wishes they were. Ericksson's preffered game would be a crafty goal, scored without committing too many players forward, possibly from a set piece. Then, they defend for 80 minutes. Of course, this style suits neither the English players' temperment or talents. England simply needs to play at a high-tempo, pressuring the ball, and allowing Lampard and Gerrard to make those late runs into the box. The, measured, 'continental' approach does not work with a group of players who are skillful, but not exactly crafty.
Rooney gave them a boost, clearly, but Lennon made the bigger difference. Perhaps he should start instead of Lampard (or perhaps Downing, who was also good after coming on? Joe Cole has been England's best player, and moving him into the center can't hurt, can it?) I don't think it's an accident that Gerrard finally got involved once Cole was taken off, balancing out the midfield.
T&T looked dangerous on the break, at times, but they seemed to tire almost instantly when Rooney and Lennon came on - almost an "oh no, what now?" reaction.
So, England are through, but they need to do much, much better or risk an embarrassment at the hands of the dangerous looking Ecuadorians (Valencia is a very good young midfielder, and the Delgado/Tenorio forward pairing looks pretty good right now) or...Ze Germans!
MoM: Crouch was so horrific for most of the game, there's no way he gets it. Joe or Ashley Cole were the best England players over the course of the game.
Wednesday, June 14, 2006
Switzerland 0 - France 0: Ugh. Worst game of the tourney thus far. Yes France should have had a penalty, but them's the breaks. You need a certain kind of midfielder for the 4-3-2-1 Christmas tree to work, especially when the one up top is not a target type player. Zidane is not that kind of player at this point, nor, certainy is Makelele. Viera can be that late arriving finished, but it's not natural for him. I'm sure Ribery is a fine player but who are his crosses going to reach? Henry is not going to outjump two teutonic center backs and score headers often. (Incidentally, who does Trezeguet have to blow to get in the game?) It's not like Switzerland offered much going forward either, but then, they aren't expected to be challengers either.
South Korea 2 - Togo 1 and Tunisia 2 - Saudi Arabia 2: Can't shake the feeling that these were rather Junior Varsity events. South Korea probably deserved the win, Ahn changed the game coming in at halftime. Saudi Arabia was unlucky and a little naive not to win - I was shocked to see them put a free kick into the box 1:45 into injury time. Don't they know the corner flag dance in Riyadh?
MoM: Ahn for South Korea, Jaidi for Tunisia.
Team of 1st round:
GK: Shaka Hislop T&T
LB: Phillip Lahm GER
CB: Brett Sancho T&T
CB: Robert Kovac Cro
RB: Sergio Ramos Spa
LM: Arjen Robben Net
CM: Marcos Senna Spa
CM: Juan Roman Riquelme Arg
CM: Tomas Rosicky Cze
RM: Kaka Bra
CF: Fernando Torres Spa
Not much else to say really, right? I was going to comment after the frist round game that Odonkor looks like a potential game changing sub...what do I know right? Aside from the goal, all of Germany's best chances came through Lahm, who is making a strong case for best left back in the tourney. Podolski was completely taken out of the game as was Schweinsteiger. Klose seems much improved as an overall player from 4 years ago. Nice goal by Peter Lorre as well.
Very tough on the Poles, who were far better than against Ecuador, Bosacki in for Jop really shored up there defense, and Bak, Bosacki and the keeper Boruc were all excellent, after the sending off (harsh, perhaps, but no real option for the ref) they simply had no outlet and were asked to defend once too often (as if the double crossbar shots from Klose and Ballack wasn't warning.)
2-0 at the half was probably fair. Unfortunately, Ukraine never really had a chance to see if the replacement of their midfield at half-time would have any effect - the penalty given was harsh, but I don't mind shirt and shorts-pulling being harshly penalized. The red card, however, was ludicrous. The "professional foul" rule (automatic red card for fouling to stop a clear goal scoring chance) made perfect sense when it was only for fouls outside of the box - I think a penalty and a yellow card is much more appropriate a punishment, as a red card essentially ends the game as a contest. The fourth goal was one of the best of the tourney so far.
For their sake, I hope Ukraine realises that they still have an excellent shot to advance given the need to beat Saudi Arabia and Tunisia - not exactly two powerhouses.
A good take on why Spain looked so good while other "big" squads (such as Brazil, England and Portugal) is here.
MoM: Tough to pick one of the Spaniards, as they were all excellent, but I'll go for Fernando Torres who was a handful all game and struck his goal well.
Tuesday, June 13, 2006
"I was great! You were crap!"
This year's Brazil team has been compared to the 1982 version - regarded as the most entertaining team of all time, but not necessarily the best. I was reminded of the analogy during the Brazil-Croatia match by Ronaldo's...unenergetic display. The weakness of the '82 team was it's strikeforce, with one Brazillian journalist dismissing their 'star' forward thusly: "When Serginho plays, the ball is square." To paraphrase Brian Glanville's wonderful "The Story of the World Cup", as soon as Robinho replaced Bucky McThunderthighs (aka The Blob), the ball became round once again.
Ronaldo's lethargy carried over and affected Adriano, who looked slightly ponderous himself before the switch, at which point he suddenly looked dangerous as well. Parreira, Brazil's coach, has already guaranteed Ronaldo's starting place in the next game, which is really too bad - on this game Robinho is both more entertaining and a better fit with the natural flow provided by Ronaldinho and Kaka (nice goal, btw.)
As for their Croats, I've had a soft spot for this team since Euro '96, when as plucky upstarts they made the semis (losing to the evil Germans and the even more evil but equally magnificent Matthias Sammer), with Davor Suker seeming to conjure up goal scoring chances at will - his 25-yard lob over Peter Schmeichel remains my favorite goal of all time. Plus soccer has an interesting backstory in Croatia.
This match did a lot to rekindle my affection - first, they are damn good, Prso and Robert Kovac in particular. Second, there was so much obvious passion, yet the game never, ever became dirty - though this seems partly due to the Carnival atmosphere of most every Brazil match. But most importantly, aside from the idiot who ran onto the field, their fans were unbelievable - they're losing 1-0 and the supporters are singing and jumping and setting off flairs and roaring their team on. The upcoming Croatia - Australia game is the match I'm perhaps looking forward to as much as any besides Netherlands-Argentina in the opening round, what with the likely import (a spot in the second round), the relatively bonkers status of both teams' fans, and the fact that several Australian players are of Croatian heritage.
MoM: Kaka - very good goal and at the heart of every Brazillian attack. Though realistically all 22 Brazillians not named Ronaldo did their part...
Second, though is the national anthems - for some reason one of my favorite parts of international matches. Really gives the nationalistic flavor, but almost more importantly, serves as a sort of introduction to who's playing. Incidentally, ESPN is doing a crap job of showing the lineups and formations - it took me about 15 minutes to figure out France's back 4 as the whole game was in Switzerland's half to that point.
2) Via TNR's World Cup Blog every goal of the tourney is here. My favorites to this point are Zihna's header for Mexico and Cahill's rocket of both posts to win the opener for Australia.
3) At ESPN.COM, Michael Davies is blogging the World Cup again. His 2002 diary was quite strong (with its appreciation of the Japanese team. More specifically, their individualistic hairstyles [incidentally, one of the stronger passages in "Thinking Fans Guide to the World Cup" is the entry on Japan discussing the transition from the corporatism of baseball to the individualism of soccer] Most specifically, the glory of the spiky red hair and even spikier game of their midfield enforcer TODA!.)
He's off to a good start this year as well, including his rating of the 'pantsness' of various English players in their unsatisfying victory over Paraguay.
And Arena (perhaps rightly) tossed a nutty after the game. We are going to have to be much much better to not get drilled by both Italy and Ghana in our next two games. 1998, here we come.
Incidentally, Otto Man revises and extends on America's indifference towards soccer.
MoM: Clearly Rosicky. Arsenal bound. Just when is Man U going to sign a few players?
Japan vs. Australia
Egregiously bad missed call by the ref for the Japan goal, though not atypical of Schwarzer to make a howler in goal. Australia were the superior team for most of the game, I thought. Viduka was very effective as a sort of "post-up" forward especially in the first half. A shame he doesn't always play this hard, as when he does, he's a load. Great winner from Cahill. Having watched him at Everton for a few seasons, he seems like the kind of guy you wouldn't want to mess with in a bar. Third Oz goal was well done, but the Japanese defender looked like he had been watching the Gooch Onyewu "This way, sir!" instructional video.
MoM: Tim Cahill.
Italy vs. Ghana
Good game. Two good teams. Something of an archetypical Italian performance, I thought. Looked classy without necessarily doing much. After the first goal from Pirlo, they defended well and counter-attacked.
2-0 was pretty harsh on the Ghanians, especially since the had two reasonable penalty appeals turned down - interesting that through 11 games there have been no PK's awarded (and really, very few missed calls where they should have been). Pisses me off that Iaqinta got the second Italian goal - his performance of the "Oh My God I Broke My Ankle! Send Him Off! Give A Penalty! Waste More Time!" opera was Tony, Oscar, Emmy Grammy and espeically Razzy worthy.
I don't see how the U.S. beats either team - no way they even score against Italy without a sudden injection of creativity. Toni and Gilardino will give us fits, and I'd be surprised if we don't give away at least one penalty. I foresee Ghana's midfield of Essien and Appiah ripping ours to shreds.
MoM: Despite the loss, Essien was the best player on the field by a fair bit. (Yet another Man U. target lost to Chelsea...this is getting old, fast. It's like losing out on A-Rod (but good) every single year)