Friday, June 30, 2006
Portugal will be missing at least half their midfield, which should be a huge advantage for England. Biggest question in this match is whether right-winger/pretty-boy/dangerous motherfucker Christiano Ronaldo is going to play, and if he does play, how effective will he really be? The English defense has played well thus far, but they have yet to play against a player as creative and quick and lethal as Ronaldo is when he is healthy.
Apparently, for some reason, England is excited to have rather overrated defender Gary Neville back in the line-up. I don't understand the collective masturbatory exhalation over the news that Gary is fit to play, but they seem to think that's a big deal.
Portugal is going to have to shuffle a line-up that had finally started to look pretty good, if a bit cynical in its approach to defense. England will be starting basically the same team, with the aforementioned "bonus" of Neville. But again, they haven't played well once yet. They keep talking about not reaching their potential, but they've played a number of games now, and I think it is time to discuss how the whole sometimes doesn't equal the parts. Maybe this a group of talented individuals, but not a very good team.
There are almost an impossible number of variables in this game (well, any soccer game, really, but this one seems particularly convoluted), and any prediction made without knowing the health of Ronaldo seems silly, but I'm comfy with silly. And stupid. And being considered a bit of a rube. So be it.
But let's pick an overlooked variable. Goalkeeping. Robinson has looked a bit sketchy the few times he has been tested, as has Ricardo. But Robinson has looked particularly lost at times, and while they may fly against the underacheivers they've played thus far, I guarantee that Pauleta, king of the Garbage Men, will punish any mistake made in the box. And don't forget that Figo was once considered the Best Player in the World, by no less of an authority than Figo. He'll also punish mistakes. Who is going to punish Ricardo's mistakes? The goofy tall guy, or the pub thug who hasn't scored a goal in World Cup play (including qualifiers) yet?
Prediction: Portugal 2, England 1
Brazil vs. France First things first, if John Harkes is doing the commentary for this game, listen to how he pronounces "France." Half the time, it is the American, flat 'a' "France", and the other half of the time, he pronounces it with the Frenchian Accent, ala "Frounce". It's very distracting once you notice it. So now you'll notice it. Suckah.
OK, so France looked like warmed over shit throughout the first round, and didn't really look like a team to worry about until their last game. But that was against Spain, a team with a rich and well-storied history of finding ways to choke themselves like Michael Hutchence.
Brazil has no such history. Their most disappointing exit in recent years in fact was against the French in the 1998 World Cup, when Zidane went all bitchcakes on them. The Brazilians swear they aren't thinking about that game, but I do declare horseshit on that one. One of the reasons France won that game was their game plan of kicking Ronaldo in the knees every chance they got. It was an ugly, chippy game, with a few moments of brilliance. But there's no way that Ronaldo has forgotten that game.
Goalkeeping is again a huge issue in this game. Dida got flat-out lucky against Ghana--woodwork and his legs accidently saved a couple of goals. Counting on your goalkeeper being lucky isn't a great strategy. Counting on your goalkeeper not going totally apeshit isn't a very good strategy when your netminder is Fabien Barthez, either. Barthez usually makes a very big mistake in a big game. He hasn't done it yet. The laws of diminishing returns, or Schroedinger's Cat, or Game Theory says his fuck up is coming soon.
Zidane didn't train on Thursday, which could be to protect the 34 year old, and keep him fresh, or he could be nursing a hidden injury. That would be a huge deal, obviously.
There are players to watch in this match, obviously. Every team that France has played has had trouble containing Riberry, if he gets the ball in a decent position, he runs at defenses with pace and a willingness to shoot from anywhere. Brazil's defense is often maligned, and often deservedly, but they've been playing decently this cup. Can they contain Riberry? They'll need to.
Juninho is a dangerous player for Brazil who wasn't got a lot of clock yet, but he is set to start this game. He's like a slightly bigger, less pretty player than Kaka. But make no mistake, he cant set up an attack and then chill out 20 yards away from net, and hit absolute thunderclaps. Kaka and Juninho in the same midfield causes massive headaches for the French, as both can penetrate a defense, shoot well, and lay off well timed through balls.
I've thought the French were out of their league for a quite a time now, and while I was impressed with their work against perenially early exiters Spain, I think they are really, really over their heads now.
If Brazil plays with the kind of urgency they've only hinted at occasionally this Cup, not only will they win, they will win very convincingly. But Brazil has seemed content to play some sort of Advanced Keep-Away for a lot of this tournie. Will they really put the hammer down in this game? If they can't get up to crush France, there isn't a team that they can get up for. If they don't blow the fucking doors off France, than I think Germany or Italy becomes the new favorite to hoist the cup.
Prediction: France 1, Brazil 4 (one goal very late)
Germany 1, Argentina 1, Germany Advances on PK's
This game pretty much lived up to the hype. Lots of attacking both ways. What I enjoyed about this game had to do as much with pace than anything else. There would be moments when it felt like both teams had shut down for the match--people too tired, or playing for PK's, or whatever, and then suddenly, there would be a brilliant run, by Tevez or Lahm or somebody, and a near chance would come roaring into the box.
Admittedly, it was a bit of a slow start, 0-0 at half, and the first 10 minutes being officiated like some of the matches we've seen previously, which is to say, "overly officiated". I'm not sure why I put that in quotes. I'm quoting myself, I suppose. But the officiating got better as the half wore on, and so did the number of attacks, though quality wise it was a bit lacking. Still, it was an entertaining back and forth all the same.
Argentina struck first, in the 49th minute, off a corner kick. Rightback Ayala (who had a great overall game) shook off Klose's not very close marking and powered a header BACK WHERE IT CAME FROM, at the near post-ish area. Lehmann couldn't get to it, and Lahm, camped out on the post, couldn't get his foot to the ball.
The game truly opened up here, in part because of Argentina's score, and in part because of some bad luck and questionable substituting by Argentina. In the 65th minute or so, Argentinian netminder Abbondanzieri took a shot to the hip while corralling a corner, and while he tried to play on, it became clear he couldn't (first hint? Collapsing on the pitch). So in the 70th minute, Argentina had to blow one of their 3 subs to change keepers. Which was a shame, but maybe it is for the best that Argentinian skipper Pekerman was not able to sub 3 field players, because he made some odd decisions.
In my preview I said that I hoped Argentina would play phenom Lionel Messi for at least 45 minutes. He didn't play a single minute. I also talked about the importance of Riquelme who was subbed out for Cambiasso, who has some of the worst hair seen on a soccer pitch since Letchkov. I hate defensive subs with anything more than 10 minutes left in a game, and this appears to have been exactly that. No Messi, No Saviola. Questionable moves in my mind by Pekerman, and he appears to have agreed, as he resigned by the middle of the next match.
Germany tied up the game in pretty classic German fashion. Free kick from Ballack on the left side flicked on by Borowski to (who else) Klose, who had beaten Sorin so badly that I'm still a little uncertain how it happened. It's fucking Klose! How could anyone be not goalside AND not ballside of him? He made Sorin pay for it, as it was a rippin' header finish in the 80th minute.
The overtime was played fairly cautiously, but both teams got their chances. The PK's were Lehmann's dance. He guessed the direction of every shot taken by the Argentinians, and stopped two of them. Poor back-up keeper Franco didn't stop a one, and didn't even guess the right way for most of them.
I would have never picked Argentina to win if I knew that Riquelme was going to be subbed out as early as he was, or that Abbondanzieri would leave the game, or that fucking Messi wouldn't play a minute. I find that decision harder to justify than Van Basten leaving Nistelroy out of the last Dutch game.
There was also a pretty sweet kerfluffle at the end of the match. I'm not sure what it was about, but Heinze (of Argentina) went after German Assistant Coach (and Klose's spiritual daddy) Oliver Bierhoff with a righteous fury that suggests to me that Bierhoff said something like "Yo momma's so stoopid, she sits on the TV and watches the couch." Regardless, it was a great game.
Italy 3, Ukraine 0
The first 65 minutes of this game were much more compelling than you'd think from the score. Especially considering how early Italy pumped in their first goal. in the 6th minute, Zambrotta made a gorgeous run, sparking an attack that ended with him with the ball about 18 yards out, with a mind to unleash a vicious left-footed, near post shot that never got more than a foot off the ground.
I've decided that more than any other team, Italy plays not to the level of the other team, but to the level of the officiating. As long as they get calls, they will continue to push the envelope of the dive (like against the US). But against Ukraine, their dives were ignored, and they while they didn't stop diving, they also didn't linger as long as the ground, and I swear after one dive, an Italian player had the biggest shit-eating grin on his face I've seen in a while. This was the best I've seen the Italians play this cup. They weren't a bunch of Danny Ainges and John Stocktons. They were a bunch of Larry Birds!
But considering the quick goal, Ukraine didn't fold up its tents right off the bat. They came at Buffon early and often, and though through the first half he wasn't tested too much, the Italian defense certainly was.
In the second half, Buffon was tested, as was his woodwork, which got pelted more than once. Buffon was up to the challenge, even stopping a point-blank rebound shot, and the woodwork was with the Italians, as the richochets bounced away harmlessly.
With Ukraine pushing hard, the Italian counter-attack proved to be deadly, and Luci Toni scored a relatively easy header to put the game out of reach, and then scored an even easier goal a few minutes later to really nail the Ukrainian's coffin shut. Better game than the score suggests--it wasn't a blow out until only 15 minutes were left in the game. And the Italians played the aggressive, attacking soccer that got them into the tournament in the first place. Good to see.
Italy vs. Germany, if they both play the way they did today, should be awesome.
Thursday, June 29, 2006
Here you go, online games a plenty, that won't reveal a result, but will give you your soccer fix:
Soccer Challenge (requires some sort of BS registration)
Java 2 on 2 (essentially, a video air hockey table)
Free Kick Simulator
thanks to the super powerful timewaster, MilkandCookies.com
In the end, this game may come down to who's young speedy disrupter is more effective. Lahm starts for Germany. Will Argentina give Messi at least 45 minutes?
It's going to be a great game.
Prediction: Argentina 3, Germany 2 (in extra time)
Italy vs. Ukraine. Ugh. These teams both seemed to be full of such exciting attacking soccer, and they've gotten as far as they have by playing very cynical defense, and pretty cynical offense, too. I think this game will come down to bullshits the referees best, and that's a shame. Unless something very unexpected happens, expect this game to feel like the hangover after the drunken pleasure of the first game. I'm more disappointed in Italy than the Ukraine, which really is a bunch of decent players with one truly super bad-ass in Shevchenko. Italy is a team of fucking superstars, and yet they cheat and whine at every opportunity. To use an American sports analogy, they are a bunch of Larry Birds and Michael Jordans, but they approach the game like a bunch of John Stocktons and Danny Ainges.
Ukraine needs to score first to make this a compelling game. If this goes to PK's, watch out, because Italy has some bad history there. If this game is tied at the end of regulation, and the Ukraine hasn't lost to many players to bullshit red cards, then I think they'll pull it out. If this game ends in regulation, it will be Italy's game.
Prediction: Italy 2, Ukraine 1 (one of Italy's goal will be total bullshit)
As blogger Fish has pointed out to me, a site exists that posts interesting statistics on World Cup Soccer. How many tantrums? How many dives? How many players not singing their National Anthem? And big surprise - who dives the most? Italy.
I have thought about the issue and have come up with a few theories.
Look at Italy from space. It looks like a giant boot slipping on the Mediterranean Sea. How can we persecute the Italians for falling when thier entire country is slipping on the Med?
The hypothetical gravitino is the supersymetric partner of the hypothetical gravitron. I assume that if there are gravitrons and gravitrinos, the Italians are more effected by the gravitrino. As such, when they contact non-Italian matter gravitron/gravitrino interactions cause a fissue in the space-time-gravity continuum and the Italian is pulled toward the earth.
Persistant Sexual Arousal Syndrome
Perhaps mere contact by another human being aggravates thier condition causing spontaneous orgasm, which causes the fall.
Arena: "And the way for us to get our players to get better is: We do need to get more of our younger talented players in Europe..."
Ok, lets remember how some of our stars who play in Europe faired.
Team Captain Cladio Reyna: Manchester City
The Ghana loss falls squarely on his shoulders. Any other player would have played the ball back to keeper or at least knocked down the Ghana striker. Reyna fell down, pretended to be hurt real bad and left the game to save face. The odd part is that Cladio is better than that - but he didn't play well with the exception of the Italy game. He was forced back to defensive midfield which may be part of the US scoring problems.
Demarcus Beasley: PSV (NED)
When he played for the Fire he looked good in the World cup, and this year he did pull out an assist but did not play well over all. He spent more time running backwards away from defenders than forward.
Brian McBride: Fullham
He did manage to hit the post once, and was bloodied vs. Italy but we didn't see much out of McBride. I will have to say it's not really his fault, he was the only striker forward and had two men crawling on his jersey for most of the cup.
Kasey Keller: Borussia Moenchengladbach
I did not see many important saves from Keller. You could say the strikes were out of his reach, or you might say he was out of position. In the end of the Italy game just kicking the ball out of bounds returning possesion almost cost them that match.
Now let's look at our soft MLS stars:
Clint Demsey: New England Revolution
He made runs, even at defenders (not so much, Beasley), scored the US's only goal, and managed the 2 shots on goal. Isn't that 50% of the teams offense?
Landan Donovan: LA Galaxy (but has played with Bayer Leverkusen over the years)
Sometimes I forgot he was even on the field. Stood with his back to the net 2 feet from 2 defenders most of time. MLS to blame? Bayer Lev to blame? No! Bald head to blame! He just doesn't feel as pretty as he used to, and it's hurting his confidence. I know how you feel brother... "who's that old man with Beasley and Brian?"
Pablo Mastroeni: Colorado Rapids
Sat out the last game, replaced by Cladio - we know how well Cladio filled his shoes.
So who's to blame, I think it's simlpe. It's Bruce. Just watch any interview he gave during the cup, his demeaner, tone of voice, and statements were flacid, just like the US performance. Uninspired coach, unispired team. Was he doing a Ben Stein impression? Beasley...Beasley...Donovan...anyone seen Donovan.....
And to clarify, I didn't expect the US to make it out of this group, and the Checks falling flat on thier ass after the first match was a big surprise (the check bloggers must be furious!) that opened the door for the US and Ghana. Ghana played with intensity the entire match and never looked defeated, I can't say that for the US. Then Brazil crushed them. Poor Ghana, the risky offside trap defense almost worked, but the officals made beating it a tad easier.
Wednesday, June 28, 2006
Surely, I am worthy of a free agent signing to the Knicks. I have savvy veteran cunning, and a work ethic that has been described as "somewhat disappointing". But I'll cost a fraction of your other players, and I'll contribute a lot to locker room morale.
Think about it, Mr. Thomas. You've only got a year to prove yourself. What have you got to lose? If it doesn't work out, you could always buy the NBDL, and bankrupt that.
So why not throw in last year's NIT MVP into mix? Hey, he was a tournament MVP. So what if he averaged less than 10 points a game, is a bit of a tweener, and doesn't help the Knicks in any conceivable way.
Not your fault, Renaldo Balkman. When you are booed and villified, just remember, buddy, you would have been a very nice 2nd round pick that no one would have booed. It is possible that your father wronged Isiah in some way years and years ago, perhaps as children, and he's been plotting his revenge for years.
He bankrupted the CBA, where you possibly belong. He ruined a franchise, and then picked you way too soon, just so you would get booed by the angriest sports crowd in America (after the Oakland Raiders, and every team in Philly) a few dozen times. It seems unfair. Life is unfair. Get a fuckin' helmet (to quote Dennis Leary).
It's just not your fault, Renaldo. Don't blame yourself. The Knicks have been frustrated for a very, very long time. You are what's known as a "Scapegoat", which by the way, gets its meaning from actual goats driven away from the Temple in ancient Jewish practice. And again, the goat was pretty much blameless, even then. Feel free, Renaldo, to change your name to Azazel. Though the early Bible is murky enough that it could be argued that the scapegoat wasn't called the Azazel, but it was actually the name of the cliff the scapegoat was driven off of. So perhaps the Knicks will becomes the New York Azazels? In later terminology, Azazel is considered an aspect of Satan, the biggest sinner of them all. Ladies and Gentlemen, GM and Head Coach of the NY Azazel, Isiah Azazel!
By the by. I agree with Greg Anthony--What the fuck were the Portland Trailblazers up to all night? Just oddness.
Chicago--hey great work. How about Jim Thome and Paul Konerko, despondent over Ozzie Guillen's "fag" comment, commit a homosexual suicide pact? I'm not saying they are gay, or that I want them dead. I just want Chicago to fall over, and this seems like a pretty good way. It could be two separate season ending injuries, too. I don't care. Note to those guys, though: feel free to bring A.J. along with you.
But, hey, let's not focus on that. The Twins have been playing some great ball, against some shitty teams (Pittsburgh, Cubs) and some great ones (Red Sox). They have won their last five series. The series against the Dodgers put Mauer in the spotlight he's deserved for quite a few weeks. I guess going 11 for 13 will do that. Not to mention hitting .394 for the friggin season. So justifiably, people are talking about Maurer hitting for contact and RBI's, and Morneau hitting for crazy power, and basically everybody taking their offense up a few notches over the past few weeks.
But truth be told, they didn't need to take it up two notches. Just one notch would have been enough, because the Twins pitchers, like I said at the beginning of season, really only need about 4 runs of support to win. They are that dominant. They've been pitching well for a lot longer than the Twins have been hitting well.
Let's look at the last few starts, shall we?
Starting Pitchers Against the Dodgers:
Johan Santana: 7 IP, 2 Hits, 0 Runs, 3 BB, 9 K
Francisco Liriano: 7 IP, 5 Hits, 2 Runs, 0 BB, 8 K
Carlos Silva: 8 IP, 6 Hits, 2 Runs, 0 BB, 3 K
So, that should be a sweep, right? And it was. 3 Games, 22 Innings from your SPs, who give up a combined 4 runs, and strike out 20 batters? And we're talking about the hitting? Maybe that was a fluke, though.
Starting Pitchers Against the Cubs:
Brad Radke: 7 IP, 7 Hits, 0 Runs, 1 BB, 6 K
Boof Bonser: 6.1 IP, 6 Hits, 0 Runs, 0 BB, 1 K
Another mini-sweep there. But surely, the Twins were playing shaky opponents won't don't hit that well. Well, this recent streak they are on began with a series against the Red Sox (6/13-6/16), and their starters came through there, too. In fact, this is the series that started this great run of starting pitching, and it seems appropriate that it was a game that the starter didn't win the game, but Santana and Schilling had a great pitching duel.
Starting Pitchers Against the BoSox:
Santana: 8 IP, 5 Hits, 1 Run, 0 BB, 13 K
Radke: 6 IP, 5 Hits, 1 Run, 2 BB, 3 K
Silva: 6 IP, 7 Hits, 0 Runs, 0 BB, 2 K
So there is a sampling of the 3 series the Twins have swept in the past couple of weeks, and while yes, Joe Maurer and Justin Morneau and Jason Kubel and Torii Hunter have been hitting, it is worth noting that in those 3 series, not one pitcher did not have a quality start. 8 Games, 8 Quality Starts. That's what we refer to as giving the other team "the business."
Oh, and Garwood B. Jones needs someone to mow his lawn.
As I drained my bladder last night, I assumed a hands free position and raised my hands to my head… and saw a vision in the water below….
Germany vs Argentina
Who can defeat the Germans in Berlin? Only the US, Britain, and Russia combined. Despite the general consensus that their D is lacking they have three consecutive clean sheets, and will send Argentina packing.
Germany 3 Argentina 1
England vs Portugal
England will finally come together as a team and Rooney will get his first world cup goal. Without Deco, Portugual’s offence stalls, and on goes England.
England 2, Portugal 0
Italy vs Ukraine
Just like in the US game, the heavy midfield will stifle the Italians, and their run into the box at a defender full steam and pray for a PK strategy will fail. I see yellows for the Italian strikers, and I see the yellow team advancing with a brilliant strike from Shevchenko..
Italy 0, Ukraine 1
Brazil vs. France, Ronaldino vs. Zindane, Ronaldo vs. Henry
I had an earlier vision of Barthez throwing the ball into his own net – that may happen in this match. However, the French will play on – who will be more creative in the midfield? Who will be offside more? Who is “cockier”? Who has gold shoes? Zindane!
Brazil 2, France 3 (overtime)
Now if these events do not occur I must have been gazing into bizarro world, in which case the exact opposite of what I said will occur. Barthez will throw the ball away from his goal – imagine that!
Try this on for size. I think the Bulls should make an offer for Kevin Garnett. The Bulls have the young players, the cap space, and the draft picks that should interest Minnesota. If I were Paxson I would offer Minnesota one of our young starters and both of our picks (2 and 16). The media around here has been saying 2 players and the picks. The Bulls shouldn't give up what would be 4 young players for a 30 year old Garnett. The Bulls should offer the picks and Luol Deng for Garnett. I think that trade would benefit both teams. Of course for Chicago, they would get one of the best players in the league. People say no way Minnesota goes for that, but this is why they should.
1) They would get KG's salary off the books and have the cap flexibility that haven't had since they gave Garnett that 100 million dollar extension back in 97 or 98.
2) They would get an outstanding young player in Luol Deng who is only 21.
3) They would get the Bulls two draft picks and have their own lottery pick. Which would give them picks 2,6, and 16. Not bad to start the rebuilding process. They would be able to get Aldridge or Thomas with #2 and maybe Brandon Roy would be there at #6.
The Bulls won't need to match salary because they have the cap room to bring in his contract. I believe you don't need to match salary if you have the cap room to take on a player's salary outright. Thats how the Nuggets were able to trade for Kenyon Martin for just 3 draft picks with no other players involved.
You must consider that KG is no longer the 'kid', and that he plays with the type of abandon and hard grinding style which makes me wonder how long he'll go at a high level. Plus, people love to blame the supporting cast, and obviously there is a lot to that, but.... KG does not have the type of game or the domineering hyper competitive personality that can in of itself carry a team to greatness. He'd be absolutely wonderful as a number 2 on a team... say to Kobe or AI, but he just doesn't have the what it takes to win as THE Man. Actually, the Bulls situation with Ben Gordon as the alpha male at crunch time of close games might work out really nicely for him.
Thats why Stephon Marbary's selfish stupidity in asking out of MN was such a tragedy. He had the type of talent and temperament that could have been the perfect ying to KG's yang.... but alas it was not to happen.
Remember how Cassell and Spree destroyed the Wolves a couple of years ago, I'm telling you... KG does not have the character to will a team to victory.... Trade him to the Bulls now... and force them to take Blount with him.
1) KG wants out, and has been sulking for quite a while now. Not good if you're going to build a winner.
2) His absurd contract immediately puts the wolves over the cap, and hamstrings the ability of McHale to put anyone of value around him that isn't a risk (either on the downside of a long career, or a tempermental tool who runs hot and cold at moments notice--- witness Cassel and Spree) ... So enjoy enjoy your fortune Mr. Garnett but don't bitch that you're a one man team
3) It obviously depends on how highly McHale values this draft. If he thinks Aldridge may be the next Bosh, or Roy's going to be a poor man's Wade (both of which I've heard and think are plausible). You take two in the draft, using the 2nd Bulls pick to have maneuverability to ensure you get your guys (Hell Ainge will help you out for taking Blount off his hands), get Deng who is going to be a player. You have increased salary flexibility to add veteran guidance and talent. I don't understand why anybody would say this isn't a reasonable chance to take.
Yes its somewhat of a risk, but any rebuilding always entails risk.
Ultimately, I think the trade comes down to the fact that I think KG is a bit of a nancy boy. You can sight as many stats as you want, but having had lived in Minnesota for the better part of his career it comes down to the fact that I don't think he has the stones to lead a team to a title.
Just my honest opinion.... bitches
Tuesday, June 27, 2006
Brazil 3, Ghana 0. Well, I was actually pretty accurate on this score, and the game. It was a good game, fast-paced. Ghana had some excellent chances, and either Dida played great, or he was lucky, or a bit of both. Brazil definitely got some love on their second goal, as Adriano was offsides on the play. On balance, a much closer game than the score would suggest, with Ghana dominating the run of play for a solid 25 minutes before Brazil broke out for that (offsides) counter-attack goal. Ghana didn't seem to regain their composure after that. Brazil faces the winner of...
Spain 1, France 3 Fuck me. I had predicted Spain to disappoint at the beginning of the tournament, after the first round, and constantly mocked their ability to crash out early. And then, when it came time to actually remember that, I looked at that old, underperforming French squad and said to myself "No way does Spain fuck up against them." But THAT'S WHAT MAKES SPAIN SPAIN, dammit. This is exactly the time and the kind of team that gets them out of a tournament. And it was a perfectly Spanish way to lose--a hospital backpass from Torres to Fabregas that gets eaten up by a French midfielder, who plays it into space in Spain's defensive third. A Spanish player was clearly en route to the ball before Henry was going to get to it. Puyol comes in to cut off Henry (somewhat unnecessarily) and Henry sells a foul simply did not happen--going to ground holding his face, when maybe Puyol's elbow glanced his chest. Fucking Lame, Henry! All the same, the classless fucking dive gives France a free kick about 20 yards out that Zindane delivers beautifully, it gets flicked on, and Viera, unmarked on the back post (because he's not dangerous on set plays? puts it in). Classic Spain mixture of bad luck/ref screw job, and absolutely boneheaded playing. Let's call it now, shall we? Spain crashes out in 2010 in the Round of 16 in South Africa.
So, without further ado, a link to a new unofficial English Theme Song for World Cup 2006, The Colonel's "Cup My Balls". I don't know what to say, except that I'm sorry. Somewhat NSFW lyrics. Download at your own risk, and then blame my friend Chris for sending this along to me.
Monday, June 26, 2006
Brazil vs. Ghana On paper, Ghana is even more of an underdog than you might think. They lost Michael Essien in their last match to a red card, and he won't be available for this tilt. Also, Brazil is coming off their most impressive victory yet, a game where they finally began to look like the team everyone has been waiting for. I expect this to be a much closer game than what some people may think is reasonable, and nice and wide open and just fun to watch. Record this one, and try to avoid hearing anything about it during your workday. If I'm right, it will be worth it. And have I guided you wrong yet, aside from all those times when I guided you wrongly? I didn't think so.
Prediction: Brazil 3, Ghana 1
Spain vs. France OK, sure Spain is scoring goals at a furious pace, and France got through to this round by scoring less in 3 games what Spain did in 1 game (twice). But France only allowed 1 goal against powerhouses Togo, Switzerland, and South Korea. So you know their defense is more than capable of stopping that Spanish attack. Especially as France has announced plans to launch The Last Boy Scout Defense. Fernando Torres will be shot in the head on the field in the 25th minute or so, which should really affect Spain's morale and finishing. Barring that, expect a very entertaining display by the Spanish. Don't forget to curse them for their shenanigans during 1898. Remember the Maine!
Prediction: Spain 3, France 0
Italy 1, Australia 0
Italy got the game winner on a penalty kick, that while a penalty was one that was completely sold by the Italians. And for some reason, Balboa praised a guy for really "selling that Penalty!" like it was the most awesome play ever. Embarassing.
Ukraine 0, Switzerland 0 (Ukraine 3 PKs, Switzerland 0)
Ukraine and Switzerland took PK's to decide it. Commenter/contributor muumuuman has pointed out that it wasn't just a lack of offense, but good defense, and some fortuitious woodwork that kept this game scoreless. Still, this game served to underline a feeling that neither of these teams have really played well enough to deserve to be here. Maybe the World Cup needs some crazy wildcard system, where fan favorites get voted into the next round. I'm much rather have seen the Ivory Coast play Croatia then either of these games.
1. The ref thinks its Christmas as he sends another card to the Dutch....
2. We've seen more yellow today than the WC of your local pub...
3. In 1964 Italian Bobsleder Eugenio Monti lent the British team a bolt to fix their sled and the the Brits went on to win the gold, one of the greatest moments in sportsmanship - which is nothing like what we are seeing on the pitch here today.
4. The ref must think he's the bell of the ball as he adds another name to his dance card...
5. I see the fourth official is bringing out a new pencil as the man in charge has worn his out…
6. Perhaps, yes, I have to do it! I'm reaching in my pocket and pulling out a yellow for the man in charge... he’s lost control!
And today’s match of Switzerland and Ukraine was - SURPRIZE! - a 0-0 draw. I heard nothing but complaints about the lack of scoring and nothing positive about the superb defense both teams were playing. When the ball neared the box, two to four defenders merged to the spot, blocked the play or took possession - many crosses and shots were blocked. Note that the goal was struck on two set pieces, not many real chances from play. Did they not realize the Swiss had not allowed a goal, and with the exception of the pummeling they received from Spain neither had the Ukraine? For the final hour of the match all I heard from the booth succinctly was: “Hey - why doesn't someone just walk down there and score?” It wasn't 0-0 due to lack of effort from the offensive side, it was 0-0 due to spectacular defense. Give them some credit. I never hear during a basketball game “Oh no! Another blocked shot! What a horrible game! Can’t these players just shoot around the defender?” So please, no more whining in the booth. Try to make it interesting, try to be clever, and try to be funny.
Sunday, June 25, 2006
Ecuador 0, England 1. Once again, England doesn't impress, but does just barely enough to get the win. They did look like the heat affected them (Beckham puking all over the place was just the most graphic depiction), but a well struck free kick from Posh Spice's husband was enough to get a score and a win. I think I've said this after every single England game, but I'm going to say again--they need to play better if they want to get any further. Sooner or later, that's going to be true, so I'll keep saying it. Stopped clocks are right twice a day, and all that.
Portugal 1, The Netherlands 0. This game lived up to the advance billing. The Netherlands came up with a great strategy to contain Christiano Ronaldo--spike him in the thighs. Ronaldo left the game in the first half, limping pretty badly. The game was chock full of fouls and cards of all sorts of hues. It ended up finishing as a 9 on 9 affair. Portugal scored in the first half, with a great strike from Maniche. Van der Saar played out of his head to keep it at just one score. As guys were getting kicked off right and left, the field opened up dramatically, and the second half was just a ton of up and down play, stopped for the occasional card. Their were a couple of near full out fights on the pitch, and even Figo head-butted some dude. No Van Nistelroy in this game at all, something Van Basten is going to have to answer for to the Dutch press. And the Portugese are going to have to play England without Deco or Constinha and possibly Ronaldo.
Saturday, June 24, 2006
"Fun" Facts about:
Italy and Ukraine
Mexico & Ghana
Brazil & Spain
Argentina & The Netherlands
England (scroll down)
Germany & Ecuador
England vs. Ecuador Goliath seems a bit sluggish, still, and a bit banged up, and kind of pasty looking these days. England hasn't blown anyone out of the water this tournament, not even soccer Meccas like Trinidad & Tobago, or Paraguay. They probably looked their best against Sweden, another team that frankly limped into the 2nd round, and are already pining for the fjords. (which is to say, "dead". I'm throwing a lot of Monty Python references around lately. I don't know why). This game is being played on the hottest day predicted thus far, and their have been plenty of commentators who have suggested that England's sluggish play could be blamed on the heat. It could also be that this is an aging team, with their top skill players coming back from injury, or a tad young, or a tad one-dimensional. I've warned my england loving friends that they were going to get their hearts broken. And this could be the match. Because if heat is a factor, it surely favors the Ecuadorians, who have looked great, aside from some missteps against a very technically sound and dangerous German team. Klose has almost outscored England all by himself, by the by. The Ecuadorians, simply by training at home have a huge fitness advantage over the injured and fatigued British side. Their defense has looked tough, and their offense opportunistic. I thought France was going to be the first #1 seed to depart early, but this match up presents serious problems for England. And no matter how many times I'm wrong, I'm not scared to predict an upset.
Prediction: Ecuador 2, England 1.
Portugal vs. The Netherlands This is a battle of teams with tendencies to self destruct. Portugal, for all their talented players throughout the years has only once lived up to its potential, back in the days of Eusebio. The Dutch have managed to use infighting to implode some of the most talented teams ever seen. This team is nowhere near the talent level of Cruyff era, or the Van Basten/Gullit era, or even the Kluivert/Bergkamp era sides. And yet, the infighting continues. Arjen Robben is gaining a reputation for being a bit of a black hole on the pitch (Balls go into him, and never come out). Some of that criticism is fair, some of it not. A guy who runs at defenses isn't successful 100% of the time--it's the couple of times that he is that breaks games. Robben broke Serbia, but looked greedy against The Mighty Elephants of Cote de'Ivoire.
So this should be a great game. One question each team faces is how well they shut down the scary creative winger--Robben for the Netherlands, Christiano Ronaldo for Portugal. Both teams have some veteran savvy players (Figo, Cocu). I think both teams have some questions on defense. I give the nod to the Netherlands when it comes to goalkeeping playing, though. Van der Saar looked awesome throughout group play, and was tested a good deal more than Ricardo has.
I think this game will be very close, and I think it may come down to which goalkeeper makes the kind of saves that makes the striker who shot the ball cover his face and drop to his knees in agony. My heart is with The Netherlands, though, despite the fact that I dislike Ruud Van Nistelroy a lot. I'm picking the Netherlands because I couldn't live with myself if I went against them and they won. So this is a borderline 100% emotional pick, no matter how much I can dress it up with analysis.
Prediction: Portugal 2, The Netherlands 3. (This result may occur in PK's)
I don't want to toot my own horn, as I believe it may be illegal in my state, but I did get the Germany Sweden tilt exactly right, aside from Klose scoring. He seemed happy to draw in four defenders and then pick up an assist instead. It is very tempting to say that Germany is far better than anyone predicted them to be, and that might be the case. I'd also say they haven't been truly tested much yet, either. In terms of teams who have looked against other teams, Ecuador has been their greatest challenge. Sweden was one of the weaker sides to get out of Group Play, and Zlatan was still clearly hampered by his pulled groin (which is not as fun as it sounds. Trust me). So Germany is looking good against sketchy competition. But I have to say, I'm impressed with the way Klinsmann has this team playing. I may need to rethink my opposition to him being a potential US coach. Though I'd say it's a bit easier to win with 2 strikers in their prime compared to too old McBride and too young Eddie Johnson.
Argentina 2, Mexico 1 (overtime)
This game was much closer than I had thought it would be. Surely any team that the US dominated in the past 4 years can't be much of a match for Argentina? Of course, this game could have easily been 3-1 Argentina, in regulation if that linesman got the memo that even with the defender is no longer offsides. Argentina was robbed of at least 1 goal, and maybe 2 with bad offsides calls. But I'm glad it didn't end in regulation. We would have been robbed of one of the goals of the tournament. Argentina's second goal was a masterpiece of control and power from Maxi Rodriguez. Taking a cross off his chest from the top of the 18, and then ripping it with his left foot out of the air into the opposite upper far post, it was a thing of beauty. Hopefully soccer neophytes saw that goal, and went, "Ah, now I get why dorks like that Big Blue Monkey love this game so much." Also, it should be noted that Argentina seems to be getting away from the "Art of the Flop". While Mexico was falling all over the place, at the slightest touch, Argentina didn't do that too much. And Lionel Messi should have defenders shitting their underwear all around world. 19 years old yesterday, and poised and speedy on the ball. He's something to behold.
Sweden has looked energetic but without skill, and without real ability to finish. Meanwhile, Germany has looked far better than anyone predicted them to be. This team is better than the 2002 team, I think. And I think the difference is Lahm. the Swedish seemed happy to sit back and counter in their group play. It won't work here. Unless the Swiss overhaul their philosophy, they are going down in this game. Klose gets another goal, at least.
Prediction: Germany 2, Sweden 0.
Argentina vs. Mexico.
This feels like a first round game. Mexico has, to be frank, no chance. Ass kicking about to happen here. Sure, sure, anything can happen! Maybe Scott Bakula is going to teleport into the middle of the field, and save Mexico with the skills he learned in 18th century England. Barring that, Mexico isn't going to be suddenly talented the way Argentina is. I expect a total ass-kicking.
Prediction: Argentina 4, Mexico 1
1. Staute of Liberty. an architectual marvel, and also a marvel of shipping.
2. Marquis de Lafeyette An unexperienced, but brilliant military mind that the French sent over. He quickly became Washington's sounding board. And he spread the virus of liberty to the French homeland. Which got Thomas Paine killed, at least according to Neil Gaiman's Sandman, which, while fiction and a comic book, is still fucking great.
3. Sartre & Camus. Most important writers in the 20th century. They gave a language to the disaffected Europeans during WWII and after it, and also gave a language of understanding to the underclass of America. richard Wright and Sartre were peas in a pod, and they knew it. Why don't we know it now? As Richard Wright himself said, "I was an existenialist before I ever heard the word."
more fun here
1. Not invincible. The Swiss have this reputation with being neutral, but not a country to fuck with. They have had this reputation for centuries. But they did get their asses handed to them once, in the Battle of Marignano, back in the early 16th century.
2. Harry Lime thinks little of them. One of the finest films not seen by the typical American is "The Third Man", directed by Carol Reed, starring Joseph Cotton and Orson Welles. Orson Welles plays a rather amoral son of a bitch, who delivers a brilliant monologue about the interaction of crisis and art.
"Like the fella says, in Italy for 30 years under the Borgias they had warfare, terror, murder, and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and the Renaissance. In Switzerland they had brotherly love - they had 500 years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock."
3. William Tell! Sure, he shot an apple perched on his son's head. But do you know why? It's all about Swiss nationalism, or something.
Friday, June 23, 2006
1. Etruscans. Shrouded in mystery, overshadowed by the later greater Italian cultures, The Etruscans were to the Romans what the Olmecs were to the Mayans. They helped establish civilization. They seem to be not part of the Indo-European language migration that came out of India, and presumably predate most other peoples who now claim Italian heritage. They were assimilated into Roman culture well before they had a chance to write a whole lot about themselves. They seem neat.
2. Dirty Filthy Popes. Wikipedia, because it is awesome, has a list of Sexually active Popes. It seems appropriate that the list begins with St. Peter.
The most awesome of them was Pope Alexander VI, who was a Borgia, and held the Banquet of Chestnuts, wherein several dozen whores were brought in, stripped naked, and then encouraged to pick up chestnuts on the floor. The Pope kept score of who penetrated the most whores as they were bending over to pick up chestnuts. Man, the Catholic Church was a lot more fun back in the day.
3. Brilliant playwrights. Of course, everyone is going to think first of Luigi Pirandello, and his Fourth (and to me, Fifth) Wall shattering play, "Six Characters in Search of An Author.", wherein 6 characters storm a rehearsal of a play demanding to explain themselves. Right after that is "Henry IV", with its very troubling rumination on the nature of insanity. Another great Italian playwright, injustly out of print in the US, is Ugo Betti. I read a copy of his "Crime on Goat Island" which is a disquieting mediation on the nature of love, sex, and jealousy, as young stranger shows up, and seduces in turn all the female members of a family. Brilliant, scary stuff, and pretty much impossible to find in the U.S., last time I checked.
Next up, Ukraine!
1. Chernobyl. Simply put, the worst nuclear disaster, aside from Hiroshima and Nagasaki ever witnessed on this particular planet. It happened back in 1986, when I was a youngster. Thanks to the USSR's policy of not revealing too much, the scope of the disaster was in question. But in 2000, some 4000 kids in the area were growing up with thyroid cancer.
2. People have been living there a long, long time. about 6500 years, give or take. Which is almost exactly as long as the Earth has been around. Perhaps the Garden of Eden is in the Ukraine.
3. They Dig the Eastern Orthodoxy. I'll let wikipedia explain it: "Orthodox Christians believe in a single God who is both three and one (triune): Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, "one in essence and undivided". The Holy Trinity is three "unconfused" distinct divine persons (hypostases), with no overlap or modality among them, who share one divine essence (ousia)—uncreated, immaterial and eternal."
more fun facts here
Switzerland 2, South Korea 0 Hey, one of my very early predictions came true. I said Switzerland would finish ahead of France, and they did. They've been even more workmanlike and opportunistic than I was expecting. South Korea is clearly part of the new soccer--Asia and Africa are beginning to show signs of seriously competing with Europe and South America. South Korea, Ivory Coast, Tunisia, Japan are all part of the coming movement in soccer. I'll deal with predictions when it is time, but as an aside, Switzerland plays the exact kind of soccer that could frustrate and stymie a much more talented side.
Ukraine 1, Tunisia 0. Ukraine may have the least impressive entrance into the round of 16. They got spanked by Spain, spanked Iran, and used a dive in the box to get by Tunisia. Not impressive, and this team is supposed to be fucking good, or at least talented with a guy named Shevchenko. Tunisia had many chances to tie this game, but not too many to win it, which is was they needed. Still, Tunisian soccer is on the rise. And that's a sentence I would have never imagined typing.
Spain 1, Saudi Arabia 0. Spain didn't really need to do anything in this game, and it showed. Lovely set piece goal, and then they took their siesta on the pitch. It was by design, and it worked fine for them, and they will be well-rested and full strength when they suddenly crap out for no good reason. I kid, I kid. This edition of Spain can't possibly fail! (I've now doomed them to failure).
2001 MLB #1 and #2 draft choices Joe Mauer and Mark "Gloss Joe" Prior
This weekend’s interleague series between the Cubs and the Twins has brought to mind a running argument that I have had with a friend of mine, stemming from the MLB draft several years ago now. My team, the Minnesota Twins had used the 1st overall pick to draft the highest rated college quarterback prospect in the nation, oh he played catcher in baseball too. Anyway, this friend of mine’s team the Chicago Cubs chose the top college pitcher, who had proven himself a winner at all levels of play. I heard non-stop shit about how the Twins had really screwed the pooch on the pick, passing on the “best pitching prospect ever”, for some local kid who might put some butts in the seats, but would never be as good as the guy the Twins passed on.
As the years passed, the argument was made louder and more arrogantly as Mark Prior continued to impress the league with his pitching, he was healthy once, and the Twins guy Joe Mauer was still making his way through the system. I would have to remind my friend that it was only a matter of time and that Prior had 4 years of baseball life on Mauer at the time of their selection. As Mauer made his way up the ladder the Twins had to get rid of A.J. Pierzynski and in off-loading him to the Giants they picked up Joe Nathan, Boof Bonser and the best young arm in a quarter century, Francisco Liriano. Mauer’s value increased tremendously before he ever played a game in the majors.
Now, on Saturday the MLB batting leader, and one of the finer defensive catchers in the Bigs will face-off against the crystal-armed Mark Prior who will be making his second start of the season. Not only will we get to see them face each other, but my friend will be reminded of how very, very wrong he was in saying that Prior was the better pick and player. The Tortoise and the Hare fable comes to mind.
Regardless of our ranking, which we all within the team think is a bit too high and not right, we’re still a small footballing nation. We’re getting better and the expectations are up for us to at least get out of our group. That’s why we’re disappointed. In a short time we've come a long way and that’s the goal we set coming into World Cups.
Indeed, we are still a small footballing nation with small footballing salaries and limited footballing celebrity. If we were a big footballing nation with big footballing salaries and fantastic footballing celebrity, the starting eleven for the 2006 Cup could have looked like this:
Strikers: Dwayne Wade, Terrell Owens
Midfielders: Chad Johnson, Allen Iverson, Derek Jeter, Rip Hamilton
Defenders: Michael Vick, Mike Modano, Randy Moss, Kobe Bryant
Keeper: Antonio Gates
Can you imagine how dangerous this team would be on set pieces?
Prediction: Saudi Arabia 1, Spain 3
Game 46: Ukraine vs. Tunisia. This is the big game right here of the group. If Ukraine wins, they finish no worse than 2nd. If they tie, they finish 2nd. If they lose, Tunisia jumps into 2nd place, depending on the game above. This is probably the game to watch. Shevchenko will make his presence felt, and Ukraine is talented, but so is Tunisia. I have a hankering for the North Africans, but I think I'm misguided in that.
prediction: Ukraine 1, Tunisia 2.
Game 47: Togo vs. France. France needs this game. They have to win it. Togo is playing for nothing but pride, and keeping a formerly good team out of the next round. France will be without Zindane, and as old as he is, he does key their so-called "offense". Togo has looked dangerous throughout this tournament. It will not be shocking no matter how this game ends up, unless it is a 6-5 thriller. I won't be shocked by either of these teams scoring 3 goals, say. Even if France wins, they aren't guaranteed to advance. A tie between Switzerland and South Korea would keep them out. I'm rooting for Togo. and that's not as completely unreasonable as it should be.
Prediction: Togo 1, France 1
Game 48: Switzerland vs. South Korea. Prepare for boredom! Two conservative teams that know if they tie, they both advance, unless France wins and makes up the goal differential. The only thing to play for is to avoid Spain, and then the "winner" of that scenario probably gets Ukraine, which isn't very fun either. Any action in this game will happen after halftime, when it is revealed that France is beating Togo. Otherwise, just look for cautious soccer, and the one mistake to be pounced on. Both of these teams are equally capable of making and pouncing on mistakes.
Prediction: South Korea 1, Switzerland 1. Both advance.
Thursday, June 22, 2006
1. Artificially heightened expectations. ESPN grabbed onto that #5 FIFA ranking and went to town, despite every commentator on ESPN admitting it was basically bullshit. There's no way the US has ever been the #5 team in the World, ever, ever, ever, and every US soccer fan who looked at that team and knew even a little bit about other teams could rattle off 10 teams who were at least as good as the US. I'd say Ireland, had they played in the CONCACAF, would have been in the top two. They didn't qualify in Europe.
2. The fact that FIFA rankings aren't used in World Cup seedings. Many casual fans may have come in knowing that the US was ranked #5, and thought that the US was given a seed deserving of that ranking. They weren't. World Cup #1 seedings are based, at least in part, on the past 2 World Cups. So, keep in mind, the awful team and coaching of Steve Sampson (8 years ago!) played a part in the US not getting a #1 seed. It was that Cup performance that led to Arena getting hired. He's still dealing with the penalties of the Sampson era. Does even the most angry fan amongst us think that if the US were in a group with Portugal, Iran and Angola we would fail to advance? I don't think so. Which leads me to my next point.
3. Lack of Understanding as to what "Group of Death" Means. Some people labeled Group C as the Group of Death. A lot of people did. But Serbia laid a bigger egg than the US did, losing all three of their games. Ivory Coast, while entertaining, didn't win a game until they played Serbia. Group of Death is called that for a reason. In Group D, there were four teams that had a decent chance to advance. And I watched the seedings of that Group live, with quite a few of my friends, and when Italy and the Czech Republic were placed together, we all started praying that the US would not end up in the that group. And then they did, and we all sat around and looked at the teams left, and said, Please not Ghana, please not Ghana. And boom. Ghana. Let's not forget what a fucking nightmare of a draw this was considered to be, right from the outset. Even in the FIFA rankings, which are bullshit, you had 3 of the top 10 teams in the world in one group. Two of those top 10 teams are going home. I'm far more surprised by the Czechs heading home than I am by the US. Anyone who knew the US team isn't that surprised that they lost to the Czechs and Ghana. The surprise is that they tied Italy. Arena didn't pull off a miracle this time around. Is that really a firable offense? We expect miracles, and you didn't deliver? Phht.
4. Corey Gibbs + Red Cards. The most signficant injury to the US occurred prior to the tournament. Gibbs would have been a great player to have to sub in for Eddie Pope. Of course, neither Eddie Pope nor Pablo Mastroenni should have had to sit out game 3. Every commentator on ESPN has said so. So, why is it, if we acknowledge that the US defense was missing half its starters due to bad calls, and we all know that the US isn't very deep at central defending, that we are now blaming Arena? What happened to the refs that we were blaming during the games?
5. Shoddy play by usually reliable starters. Landon Donovan disappeared in this tournament, as did DeMarcus Beasley. They have played extraordinarily well under Arena. In fact, the reason they were ever offered lucrative offers in Europe is in part to the way they played under him in 2002. I don't think it was Arena who told them to be tentative and not take shots on goal. The fact remains, these guys are young, but played like old men who are no longer secure in their talents. And old men like Reyna, who just purely fucked up against Ghana. No other way around that. Mastroenni would not have sat there and gotten the ball taken off of him like that. Reyna was playing defensive mid like he does offensive mid, and it cost the US the game. Does anyone think Arena encouraged Reyna to dribble the ball in the defensive third?
Real quick: Good news for the next cup: Convey, Dempsey. Adu will be 20 in 2010. That's about it.
6. Lack of Eddie Johnson. This is a somewhat legitimate beef, but at the same time, the guy never recovered the scoring touch he had in the early qualifying, after he suffered an injury. He came into the Czech game, and yeah, he put some shots near the goal, but nothing that wasn't handled or didn't soar over the net. In the Italy game, Arena decided to go for the tie, and knew that McBride would track back and play defense, and had no faith that Johnson would. They got a point from a vastly superior Italian side. You can't question that decision. Johnson had 30 minutes against Ghana and didn't do a damn thing. At some point, we have to realize that the US is talented against CONCACAF, not the World, and Arena's system, while not perfect, is the most successful system we've had, ever. Again: Steve Sampson. Steve Sampson.
7. Lack of John O'Brien This I have no good answer for. Was he not healthy? Not fit? Play him and get him fit. I would call this Arena's biggest gaffe. Unless O'Brien wasn't healthy, and he was just holding out hope he could get healthy.
Arena's moves were not as questionable as they have been portrayed, to me. For all the talk about Lewis and Cherundolo, it was Oguchi who got worked against the Czechs, and it was the ref who decided the Italy game, and it was a combination of Bocanegra and the ref in the Ghana game. Those were pivotal moments, and none of them were Arena's fault. The guys calling the game said so, and how that became Arena's fault is frankly beyond me.
1. Monty Python was cruel. And still one of my favorite sketches of all time, despite its meanness (or maybe it was irony masquerading as meanness?). The Philosophy Department at the Univeristy of Wooloomooloo. Which can be found here in script form. It may be hiding somewhere at YouTube, but YouTube is down at the moment. If I can track it down, I'll be putting it up, no doubt, Bruce.
2. Behold the Mighty Wombat. Fuck kangeroos. I wrote a report in 5th grade on Australia (that's right, I was able to boil down an entire continent to 100 words. It had everything you would have needed to known). I fell in love with the cuddly, stumbly, potentially lethal wombat. I don't even need a wikipedia link for these facts, as they are ingrained into my skull from way back when. A wombat is a marsupial. It looks rather like a more portly, ground based koala. It has very sharp claws that it uses to dig through just about anything. They can dig through concrete or brick. In their burrows, they use their armored backsides to smother any potential predators who attempt to infiltrate--like a combination of the Viet Cong and Rikishi's Stinkface move (man is there anything wikipedia can't do?).
3. Peter Carey. One of my favorite authors living and writing today, despite me having only read one of his books. I have bought several others of his, but the Marvel Civil War is getting in my way of productive reading, not to mention this whole World Cup thing. But Peter Carey's Booker Prize winning Oscar and Lucinda, which I read with a very dubious frame of mind (the movie based on it looked like romantic bullshit crap) sucked me in, and had me pounding my hands in frustration at a beautiful love story that doesn't quite work out the way you'd want it to. I found it terribly soul-crushing. (Happy ending--the person who gave me Oscar and Lucinda received a book from me, which I described as very funny--T.C. Boyle's "Water Music". It is a funny book, but she found it soul-crushingly sad. So, payback. Accidental, but payback all the same.)
more "fun" facts here
To paraphrase Lisa, "Well, I like Brazil because they're pure of heart, Ghana because they've got something to prove, and Australia because they always cheat."
Let's get to the wrap-up
Ghana 2, USA 1. A lot has been talked about, and I'm going to talk some more in a bit about things related to this game. But basically Garwood and I have ranted and raved enough. Ghana advances, and good for them. They were the better team, but they aren't going to be against Brazil, particularly sans Michael Essien.
Czech Republic 0, Italy 2. A lot of the American media has been so consumed with the US' "early" exit that no one seems to be noticing that the Czech's leaving is the much bigger surprise. Ghana ripping them in half was something they never recovered from. Losing Koller against the US was a huge factor, and like I said yesterday, missing Ujfalusi was a big blow. They were a man down a good chunk in this game, too. The Italians seemed to have righted the ship after looking flat against the US. This is a formidable squad, even if they do go down quicker than Paris Hilton on a trust fund dickhead.
Japan 1, Brazil 4 Uh-oh. Brazil is looking like Brazil. After a serious ballwatching offense of a goal they gave up to Japan, Brazil took control of this match. Ronaldo took advantage of some ballwatching himself, free himself up for his first goal in this game, and then waited until Gilberto and Juninho scored goals before he showed his trademark quick turn and strike. Something Brazil doesn't get enough credit for in my mind is their focus on playing defense in their own offensive third. They disrupt the slow buildup many teams who like to use against them. They run at the ball, no matter where it is. Japan's scoring the first goal aside, the Brazilians dominated, even resting some starters, and they look like they are hitting their stride right at the right time. First truly convincing victory for these guys, and it was very, very, very convincing.
Croatia 2, Australia 2 Well, Australia is quickly becoming the Oakland Raiders of this tournament. Their game tying goal, by Harry Kewell, which put them into the next round over Croatia, was scored in what should have been an offsides call that was blown. Croatia fell apart of this missed call, and the red cards started flying. Still, Australia inexplicably stayed on the attack, and should have been punished, but managed to push a guy over in the box, who had the ball, and was lining up his shot, that didn't result in a penalty kick. They got very, very lucky. Enjoy playing Italy. Should be interesting. The team that flops the most vs. the team that has gotten away with more cheap shots thus far this tournament. I know I should be rooting for Australia, as Jon Stewart said tonight, "Australia is the Drunk US. You know if the U.S. as a country got drunk, left the bar at 4 am, and drove into a tree? That's Australia." I should be rooting for my felonious cousins across the sea, but I'm not. I'm tired of their charmed luck, and wish to see them punished. A red-hot Italy seems like perfect punishment.
odd note: I'm not the only sports blogger to use Lisa the Greek in the past 48 hours.
52 min: Chipperfield hits it low and hard across the Croatian box; it's cleared
for a corner. Which is wasted. Have there ever been so many wasted corners in
one match? It's like watching Liverpool play Liverpool.
Hah-hah! Liverpool v. Liverpool. I love those pasty Brits and their wacky sense of humor.
First Up, Mexico!
1. The Olmecs. You know, these guys just don't get enough credit. It's all Inca this, Aztec that. Fuck them! These dudes were rockin' it some 2300 years before the birth of that Jewish hippie carpenter fella. Mathematics, writing, astronomy, government, religion--they were innovators in all of these. Without the discoveries the Olmecs made, the Mayans would have never been what they were. Much like there would have never been a "Benson" without "Soap". Remember, when looking for a gift, an Olmec Head makes "an extravagant present! A mad, unthinkable, impossible present! A frabulous, grabulous, zip-zoom-zabulous present!"
2. Benito Suarez is one a long line of dudes around the world to oversee the overthrow of French occupation. He went on to become the only indigenous person to serve as President of Mexico.
3. The Zimmerman telegram is one of the overlooked causes of US involvement in World War I. Those dirty Krauts, looking to strike the good ole USA first, proposed to Mexico that if they were to attack us, the Germans would help them gain back lands completely fairly stolen from Mexico by the earlier more pugnacious US Preisdents (ah, Polk, you glorious, evil bastard). The English got their hands on the telegram, gave it to the US, presumably while saying, "What's all this then?" The Mexicans rightfully decided that siding with Germany was probably not a great long term solution, and turned down the offer. by the time they did, the US had officially entered the war against Germany.
Our Next, Qualifer, sadly, is Ghana. But I also see this as an opportunity to learn something about a place that up until now has held very little interest to me. Who knows? Maybe they did something really cool that only the nerds at wikipedia know about.
1. Ghana was the first sub-Saharan European colony to gain independence, and they did so against the British (the colony was the Gold Coast) , so that would be a fun match up, if it should happen. there is little doubt that in the struggle for independence, and forming a state from essentially imaginary English made borders, Kwame Nkrumah deserves the lion's share of the credit. His bio is pretty fascinating. I mean, how many African country-builders get their college degrees at Penn? I'd bet less than 10, easy.
2. Due to reasons I'm not wholly willing to put the time into learning, a good chunk of Ghana which should be rainforest isn't, despite being surrounded by rainforest. The name of this phenomenon is the Dahomey Gap.
3. Ghana is named after The Ghana Empire, which was located to the North of current Ghana, and existed from about 750-1240 C.E. in 1067, according to reports, the Empire could field a 200,000 man army.
Previous fun facts here!
Ouch. More here.
After losing all its World Cup final matches in Germany, a disgraced and jetlagged Costa Rican soccer team had to face taunts from a group of angry hecklers when it arrived home on Wednesday.
One heckler, 65-year-old truck driver Leo Herrera, suggested the players might do better in an industry for which, unlike soccer, the small Central American nation is renowned for its excellence across the globe.
'Sirs: Coffee pickers are needed,' read a sign he waved at the players. 'The only requirement: lack of shame.'
How about some suggestions for signs to wave at the US? I'll get us started...
'Donovan: Born high, forever don't try, shot velocity nil, Wanna hide forever? Shoot, if you want your cup to fill! They call you Mellow Yellow because you're a coward (quite rightly).'
Okay, it's a little verbose but you get the jist...
Not that it was predictable because they needed help (which they did).
Not even that it was predictable because US foreign policy is so bad that referees from all over the world have it out for us just because we love freedom so damn much (any other explanations?).
The US predictably failed to advance because they put one shot on frame in thee games (it was Dempsey's today, and it went in).
Depressingly, this squad doesn't look to have very many guys who given two pieces of bread, some mayonaise, mustard, and a slice of bologna, could finish a sandwich. To put it another way, if coffee is for closers, right now there's a whole bunch of US guys in the lockerroom (that's what we call it in America sorry) with severe caffeine-withdrawl headaches. This team cannot score consistently, and the problem becomes even worse when they fall behind.
They played most of today's game somewhat like they played the middle 40 minutes of the Italy game (20 on either side of halftime). Throughout the game, and especially the 2nd half, they won corners, had a few free kicks in dangerous positions and sprung some guys through on good runs - both up the middle and on the flank.
Once in dangerous territory, the quality of the service was poor probably 60% of the time. 10% of the time the passer and the recipient of the pass were not on the same page - Donovan played one nice chipped ball for Beasley who never made a run thinking he would be offside (I don't think he was), and then the rest (about 30%) was due to poor finishing. I'd say they had 4-5 really solid scoring opportunities and never put the ball on net, much less in it. Tough break, innit?
Crosses that found their mark were ballooned over. Donovan scuffed a couple shots off of good service, a cross that should have hit Lewis squarely in the forehead at about the 12, somehow went about an inch over his head as both his boots were on the floor and his knees were bent. Wasteful shots from Convey and Bocanegra, wasteful passes when a shot was called for. Onyewu couldn't get over the top of a header and looped it onto the roof of the net when he really should have done better. McBride's solid header onto the post was probably covered by the keep.
Throughout the 2nd half, the US dominated possession but Ghana always seemed more likely to score on the counterattack. I don't believe there were any saves for Ghana keeper (a few punches and catches on service maybe but I don't believe he was ever forced to turn a shot away).
The frustrating part is the US probably had a makeup PK call coming if they could have gotten a guy running into the box but it wasn't to be. To their credit, the US are not divers, unlike the Black Stars who rolled around the pitch like Frenchmen all afternoon. When they weren't writhing in agonizing pain, Ghana sat back with 8-10 men behind the ball and defended for the majority of the second half.
I complained about the ref earlier but I think the US got the majority of the 50/50 calls in the second half and as they were the aggressor, Ghana was fouling which explains the foul differential (35 Ghana, 15 US). Still, the US never looked creative or incisive enough to take advantage. And for the many-ith time in a row, they left their finishing boots at home.
The final insult was in about the 89th minute. Donovan picked up a wayward clearance, beat one guy and strolled into the box. The Ghana defense shaded him on his left - inviting him toward the goal. They were all protecting against the pass, daring him to run at the net or shoot. Predictably (well, at least the Ghana defenders were predicting it), Donovan hesitated for a second and then laid it off to the top of the 18 and Ghana defended easily.
While he may not have scored had he taken off toward the net, the only thing you can take from watching his decision making process was that he was scared to have a go. A collective groan went up in the establishment where I was taking a 'working breakfast' followed quickly by a chant seldom heard from your supporters - "O-ver-rated! (clap clap clap clap clap) O-ver-ray-ted (clap clap clap clap clap)".
That moment will define Donovan for 4 years - maybe forever if he continues playing in the MLS. The golden boy of US Soccer has a little something to learn from the great one of Canadian hockey- "100 percent of the shots you don't take, don't go in."
Predictably, the US generated chances but few shots. Predictably, they're going home.
Reyna's giveaway was awful. There maybe was a foul but still... embarrassing. Really gross. And that's too bad - he's been a good player. Shame that his pooping himself will be his last memory as a US international.
Dempsey was the man of the match and tournament for the US I think. His goal, while hit hard, was not precise or particularly well taken (it skimmed the keepers right hip and went into the middle of the net chest high). Goes to show what a little fearlessnes and putting the ball on frame can do. He'll be in Europe in a year. Maybe they'll enjoy his awful rapping.
Despite the fact that Bocanegra made an all-world stupid play on the clearance that led to it (all he had to do was hoof it up the line or touch it out, instead he tried to turn toward the middle of the field and clear it long and high - he sliced a huge rainbow about 50 yards in the air that came down near the top of the box) the PK was bullshit. Onyewu and Pimpong were there for a 50/50 ball. Onyewu won it, headed it clear, the Ghana guy fell down, and all of the sudden the ref is pointing to the spot and Ghana is up 2-1. Really disappointing.
It's hard to blame a single one of the six goals on him, but for all the hype as the best keeper in the world Keller didn't really ever make a difference.
Well, if I'm up for it, we'll have more of a discussion on the US game later on. But 3 key things:
1. Don't fuck up inside your own defensive third.
2. Take shots on goal. You can't win if you don't score, and you can't score if you don't shoot. Someone needs to remind the players and the coaches of that fact.
3. Ref beats his wife.
OK, so here's a palate cleanser for those of you who suffered like I did through those 90 minutes of almosts and groans and screams of "what foul?" and at the like. Thank you to Stephen Pastis, for being a weird, warped cartoonist who makes me feel better about the angry ideas that float around in my head.
Wednesday, June 21, 2006
Prediction: USA 2, Ghana 1
Game 42: Czech Republic vs. Italy Both are coming off what are kind of disaster games. Italy couldn't notch a 2nd goal (at least not one in the USA net. Ha-ha! Take that you dirty Italians) to beat the US when the US was down to 9 men. Ghana simply stomped a mudhole in the Czech's ass. Czech injury issues and suspensions are huge problems for them. No Ujfalusi patrolling the back maybe their biggest problem with the talent and depth of the Italian strikers. I think (and hope, of course) the Czechs are in a lot of trouble in this game.
Prediction: Czech Republic 1, Italy 3
Game 43: Japan vs. Brazil. Talented, somewhat out of shape and out of form Brazil vs the somewhat talented, crazy in shape and playing decently Japan. I gotta think this is when Brazil shows us some magic, possibly with their younger bench. Robinho may star in this game. Also, look for Fred. We love Fred. I don't know who to tell you to look out for on Japan's squad. They just aren't that dangerous, truth be told, at least no one individual is. The Dutch had Total Football. The Japanese have "The Hive Mind". That's right, I'm likening talented Asian sides to insects. We should also remember that Japan has to, has to win this game to have even the smallest chance to advance. Look for the first goal to be a Brazilian counter-attack of all things.
Prediction: Japan 0, Brazil 2
Game 44: Croatia vs. Australia. Pretty simple math here. Australia ties, they advance. Croatia wins, they advance (at least that's the likely scenario). Second place in this group is up for grabs, and so far, no one has seemed to be all that interested. Croatia looked better against Brazil than they did against Japan, but the fact remains that I still think they are the best team in this group not called Brazil. Australian play is a bit thuggish, and it could hurt them in this game a bit, as their reputation has been seen to be well-deserved in two straight games. The refs have been swallowing the whistle of late, but that doesn't mean Australia can keep getting away with some of the shit they've pulled.
Prediction: Croatia 3, Australia 2.
Croatia and Brazil advance. Brazil will face the US in the next round (shit!) and Croatia gets Italy, which should be a great game. This all supposes that my predictions are correct, which they haven't been in awhile. Fuck you for making me admit that.
Portugal 2, Mexico 1. Portugal was the better of these two teams. Mexico moves up the charts as early exit contenders in the my book. Mexico does advance, our only new team to join the group of 16 today. I suppose I'll come up with some fun facts about them, but I don't really wanna.
Angola 1, Iran 1. Dammit! Stupid heart! My heart told me Angola would do whatever it took to advance. My heart fucking lied. Apparently, my heart works for Angola. hmmph.
Ivory Coast 3, Serbia 2 Entertaining game by the looks of it. Serbia came out swinging, and it worked to their advantage in the first 20 minutes, notching their first two goals of the tournament. Dindane, a scary talented striker for the Elephants, brought them back to within one on a PK a few minutes before half, and then went to work in the second half. I really wish there was a way that team could be advanced ahead of say, Mexico, or France.
Netherlands 0, Argentina 0 OK, so maybe I won't watch that game. But I have already seen at least one remarkable save by van der Saar, and it was on The Hunchback of Argentina, Carlos Tevez, who is one bad little dude. I hope we see more of him. Got to see some Messi in this game, too. This was Argentina's way of little people know that they have more talented people on their bench then other teams have starting. Be scared of Argentina. Because of the draw, Argentina takes first in the group, The Netherlands 2nd.
Portugal vs. The Netherlands should be a sweet match. One can't help thinking that the Argentinians will run roughshod over Mexico.
Zidane Zinedine: Sure, those gold shoes he stole from Carl Lewis are nifty but his performance, and the performance of the French side, has become a nasty doppelganger of the team that won the cup in 1998. No cheers for Zindane as he left the pitch and may sit out his last game. Zero goals, nil assists for Zindane so far in his final cup, but I predict more woes for the French side. After Barthez slips on the turf and throws the ball into his own goal in the 90th minute costing France the game, Zindane will retire with some jail time for assault charges.
Wayne Rooney: So much hype for the "white Pele", anything short of hat trick after hat trick for England would appear disappointing. The raging bull/floating butterfly has only impressed me so far with his temper tantrum on the bench. When my kids act like that, they get a spanking. When Rooney acts like that, he pays for his spankings. No jeers kids, in Germany it's all legal!
Justo Villar: First World Cup... 3 minutes and an own goal... 7 minutes and he's out...3 matches and Paraguay heads home. Ouch, that has to sting a bit.
Ronaldo: I think everything has been said short of "Fatty Fatty 2 by 4! Can't run on the pitch no more!" Maybe that has been said. Let me know.
That's all for now, feel free to post some of your own nominations....