Friday, June 30, 2006

When Your Special Day Suddenly Isn't So Special

How about this ladies? Your wedding day. The day you have been looking forward to your whole life since you were a little girl. You have been planning it for over a year. Flowers. Dresses. Invitations. Reservations. On and on - you know how much time, energy, blood, sweat, and tears are invested in your one big day. This one day is all about you; every detail is exactly how you want it to be. After months of planning everything is all set. All the i's have been dotted and t's crossed. OMG- You can't believe it: in less than a week you are going to be Mrs. Scott Simms!

Then FIVE DAYS BEFORE YOUR WEDDING the Oakdale Social Club, site of your wedding and reception, calls to inform you that your wedding has been canceled because they will be showing the England-Portugal match instead. You can still get married that day, but not until around 6 p.m., when the match ends. Unless of course it goes to extra time and penalties: if that happens, then the club will be available around 7 p.m. "Sorry", says the General Manager of the Social Club, but it's just "one of those things".

I shit you not.


We have all had the "friend" who has been considerate enough to get married on a college football Saturday. I missed Georgia-Auburn 1995 because I was in Columbus, GA at my good friend's wedding. I always remember this: listening to Munson on the radio in the 1st quarter before going into the church, listenting to Munson in the car between the wedding and the reception, getting to the recption and heading right for the bar area where there was one TV, watching the valiant efforts of Hines Ward taking snaps at QB with a broken bone in his hand and unheard of before or since SIXTH STRING TAILBACK Torin Kirtsey come up just short against Georgia's oldest and perhaps most hated rival, not in Sanford Stadium but damn near the epicenter of enemy territory. On the bright side, my buddy's anniversary is one of the few out there that I NEVER forget each year. My buddy Solon had it even worse: he missed the 2005 Kentucky Derby because a "friend" of his got married in New York that very afternoon. Tragic. I'm just glad it wasn't a mutual friend of ours.

"PokerchipsUK" is so pissed about the fact that he is the best man in his mate's wedding tomorrow that he is auctioning off his best man role at the wedding reception on eBay since he will be down at the pub glued to the England-Portugal match instead. I can't decide if the best line is "I have already written my speech and will let you have it for the day", or "If ENGLAND win I will be back at about 1900 and at that point I am afraid you will need to leave".

To everyone out there: thank you for not getting married this weekend or next. And remember, always choose to get married in July of an odd numbered year: College football is out of season, soccer is in it's brief offseason (and no World Cup or European Championship in odd numbered years), and pretty much everything but boring baseball is out of season as well. Don't worry about the fact that everyone will be hot, sweaty, and uncomfortable in their dark suits and long dresses all day long. Oh, and make sure it's not the weekend of the British Open as well. Thanks - much appreciated.

"No, Dude, You Should Watch. It Will Still Be Really Interestin... Oh, Never Mind"

The 2006 Tour de France, which starts tomorrow, was always going to be a tough sell to the non-hardcore cycling fan because of the retirement of one Lance Armstrong. For whatever reason I have always geeked out on the TDF since I was a wee lad, and although it won't be nearly as compelling this year as it was the last 7 (the last 4 especially), I was still interested in the top two storylines heading into this year's event. Namely, will perennial bridesmaid Jan Ullrich finally step up and win cycling's biggest event now that Lance is no longer around to beat him? Will last year's main challenger Ivan Basso step up to the vacant throne and announce himself as the new King Of The Hill? I was starting to get interested in following OLN's outstanding coverage again this year to find out.

Who will be getting kisses and giant stuffed bears
from the beautiful Credit Lyonnais girls this year?

Ugggghh, nevermind.

I'll still watch, but not rabidly and not daily, since this is a giant anticlimax cherry on top of an already large natural letdown sundae.

That being said, the race is absolutely wide open now, and an excellent opportunity exists for some really talented Americans (Hincapie, Landis, Hamilton, others) to step onto the world stage and keep the all time high American interest in cycling going.

Can't wait to see that old dude dressed as Le Diable running through the windy roads of the Alps...

There are cycling "enthusiasts", and then there is this guy.

The More Things Change...

So Argentina are out, and we are left with 5 European teams and Brasil. That seems appropriate, since every one of the 9 World Cups held in Europe has been won by a European team. Except one.

Care to guess who that was?

As Chilavert hilariously says every 38 seconds on Univision, "Si Si". Brasil beat hosts Sweden in 1958 to win their first World Cup and be the exception that proves every rule.

Not alot of wacky upsets and cinderella stories this time around; instead things are very much as they have always been. Certainly not a bad thing, but interesting for sure.

Quarterfinals: Day 20 Random Thoughts /
Open Thread

If you didn't stop by last night, be sure to catch up on some pre-quarterfinals thoughts from Kanu, the class struggle of the quarterfinals, and where you should go when you leave here. Really tough not to call in sick today, but I'll get by with 1st halves on the Slingbox and 2nd halves on proper TV at the pub. Enjoy the matches, it should be a great day.


A massive, massive match between two of the biggest powers in world football: 3 time champions Germany (1954, 1974, 1990) and 2 time champions Argentina (1978, 1986). Oh, and they have just a bit of history. Not only have they met 10 times before (4 ARG wins, 3 GER wins, 3 draws), these two teams met in the World Cup final in both 1986, where Maradona's Argentina beat Germany 3-2 in the final in Mexico, and again in 1990, where Germany exacted revenge in a 1-0 final in Italy marred by a red-card, a penalty kick goal, and some truly brutal tackling.

ARG: very talented.

Which brings us to today's quarterfinal. Argentina are 1 of 2 clearcut favorites to win the tournament, and have as much talent and depth as Brasil if not more. Not a whole lot was expected of the German team this time around, but they have played arguably the best soccer of any team in the tournament over the first 4 games (and lots of anti-German stereotype Joga Bonito I might add). Oh, and they are the host country, which as you know is a massive advantage (8 of the 17 host nations have reached the final, with 6 of those 8 winning the Cup). Germany has really rallied behind this team, and now they believe that they can win the whole shooting match. So playing at home will be a massive advantage, and even moreso that they are fortunate that this match will be played in Berlin at the largest stadium in the country (80,000).

GER: talented as well, and playing at home.

Yellow cards: Germany have only midfielder Torsten Frings on a yellow. Argentina have two defenders, Sorin and Heinze, on a yellow card. That will be a bit dicey for Argentina, as both are not ones to shy away from a hard tackle, especially Heinze, who although very talented is a bit of a hardman enforcer.

Fitness/rest: For what it's worth, both teams are on 5 days rest. Argentina are playing their 5th match in 21 days and Germany their 5th in 22, so there's not much difference at all between the two.

GER: breaking with conservative tradition.

Both teams are going to play an attacking style and try to take the game to the other - no 4-5-1 here. Should be very exciting for the neutrals. Per usual, I think the key player for Argentina is Messi - they just seem so much more dangerous going forward when he is in. Saviola might not start, but his work thusfar has been excellent and has been lost in the shuffle a little and underappreciated. For Germany , their two strikers Klose and Podolski have been red hot - probably the best tandem of the entire World Cup. Will Ballack show up and boss a match? Also, Germany will need Mats Wilander to have a huge match in the goal. He has been great thusfar - 3 clean sheets in a row and the only 2 goals he has conceded were the two Paolo Wanchope breakaways, which a keeper is not expected to save and are really the fault of the defense (of course this hasn't kept Unfrozen Caveman Lawyer from bitching and moaning about not playing ahead of Mats, who has clearly been better all year). Anyhow, Mats hasn't really been tested thusfar but you know he will be today - he needs a big match for Germany to win.

ARG: always like to let it all hang out.

Bottom line: I can't call it. I think it will be an exciting match with lots of offense, so I'll give you a score but not the winner. 3-2 is your final in one of the matches of the tournament.

Halftime. 0-0. This match is just exciting enough not to be boring, and just boring enough not to be exciting. Intense and dramatic because of the situation/environment, but as a soccer match not so great - very few chances by either team. This match needs a goal badly to open up; the longer it goes 0-0 the more each team will play not to lose rather than play to win, and the mentality will become "defend at all cost, don't concede, try to nick a goal on a counterattack, and worst case scenario take our chances on penalties".

Again, I think Messi can change the game and be the difference.

Is is just me or does the referee look like Steve Buscemi?

Germany 1-1 Argentina a.e.t (4:2 PSO).
Hero: none other than Mats. He kept Germany alive at the end of regulation with arguably the save of the tournament. Then when it went to penalties I thought Germany would win and Mats would be the hero, given his incredible history of saving big penalties. And damn if he didn't guess correctly on all 4 shots, save two of them, and become a legend and hero to an entire nation just like he has for Arsenal fans worldwide. Oliver who? Cromagnon man can shut it, because he would not have done what Mats did today. I am so happy for Mats, who has had to sit in the shadow of Kahn all these years, and when finally given the chance has stepped up and showed the world how damn good a keeper he is. He even threw in a bit of his craziness when he came 40 yards out of his goal to get in Rodriguez's face for rolling around and wasting time in the 75th minute. Sweet.

Mats! Legend in North London and now Deutschland as well.

Goat: Peckerman, the aptly named Argentine coach. Up 1-0 with 25 minutes to go and one sub left, he took of Crespo and brought on Messi Saviola Cruz. Cruz is a calssic #9 target man; Messi is amazing at holding the ball, controlling tempo and possession, and passing. This was just about as stupid a move as any man could make. When Germany equalized, Argentina were screwed because they were out of subs, had taken playmaker Riquelme off for holding midfielder Cambiasso (not a bad move at the time), and had a tired ass Tevez and target man Cruz up front, while Saviola and (in my opinion) Argentina's best player, Messi, got to sit and watch on the bench how ineffective Argentina had become at keeping possession and going forward.

Hey Peckerman: they don't make banners and murals
of bench warmers

More later...

Later: SO the first half was pretty boring, like two heavyweights feeling each other out. Argentina seemed to be controlling the match, and soon after the break they went ahead on a beautiful header by Ayala off a Riquelme corner kick. Germany had a defender guarding the line on each post, and the header was just out of reach of Mats' outstretched dive as well as the defender. I would guess that only about 10% of the entire goal was available and damn if he didn't find it. Very nice. Argentina stayed in control, and importantly their keeper got hurt & had to be subbed, leaving Peckerman with only two. I told the guys I had met at the bar that Germany better score an equalizer before Messi comes on, because after that I thought is was much more likely that Argentina would score a second than Germany a first. Around the 70th minute Peckerman took off Riquelme, the midfield quarterback who was heloing ARG control the ball and the match, and put in Cambiasso, more of a holding defensive midfielder whose strength is defending and winning the ball rather than controlling the midfield. Up 1-0 is was not a bad substitution at all, because he still had half-striker Messi on the bench. I assumed that soon thereafter he would take off Crespo and put on Messi, who would take over that role of holding the ball, holding possession, and controlling the midfield. Instead Peckerman took off Crespo and put on Cruz, a target man of a forward who is not at all a holder or controller of the ball. Ever since Riquelme went off GErmany controlled the midfield and the match, and 1 minute after Cruz came on as the last sub Germany equalized on a beautiful, cross, flickon header, and finishing header by Klose. Argentina were suddenly fucked. No Riquelme to control the middle, no Messi to control the ball, no midfield maestro - only a very tired Tevez and a target man Cruz up front. Messi & Saviola could only watch as it was clear that ARG did not have an effective team on the field at all. Huge advantage swing over to Germany.

Mats saved Germany's bacon sourkraut in the last minute with one of the saves of the tournament, a diving outstretching hand deflecting the ball around the post, all with a screening Argentine right in front of him. At that point I felt like this match was going to penalties and that Mats would be the hero.

That's exactly what happened as I wrote above. The penalty shootout was dramatic: the two best teams in World Cup penalty shootouts, both 3-0, and on top of the the Germans are known to pretty much never lose at penalties; they have that reputation, that aura, that mystique. Mats went into some Zen meditation thing before the shootout. At that point I knew the Albaceleste had no chance. Germany lived up to their stereotype of German Efficiency, unlike the Swiss who in their penalty shootout the other day were far from precise. Mats guessed correctly on all 4 Argentine penalties, saved two, and even got a hand on Maxi Rodruguez's near perfect penalty that went into the side netting. All four German penalties were true; 3 were literally unsaveable and Ballack shot his to the opposite side of where the keeper guessed. Dramatic stuff indeed.

The only other thing worth mentioning is that as I have learned in watching him since the last World Cup, Michael Ballack is a unabashed cheating diver. He blatantly dived int he box no less than three times. The last one was so obvious that I called it. As Germany lined up that free kick from the right near the end, i said to the bar, "Ballack will dive in the box and try to get a penalty", which is exactly what happened. They all looked at me like I was some kind of swami, but it was as abvious as saying "that drunk ass dude is going to hit on that pretty girl, make a total ass of himself, and strike out" at the club around 2 a.m. on a Saturday night. Shameless stuff from Ballack; I can see him and Drogba giving each other pointers off to the side of Chel$ea's practice sessions.

Lastly, Argentina went all Ron Burgundy just after losing: "You stay classy, San Diego Argentina."

Three time champions Italy (1934, 1938, 1982) represent Old Money, while first time participants Ukraine represent New Money. Italy have lots of superstar talent all over the park. Ukraine are largely seen as a workmanlike 10 plus Shevchenko, one of the 5 best players in the world, and in my opinion one of the 3 best strikers on the planet (Henry, Eto'o). They have only played three times, with Italy winning 2 Euro 96 qualifiers and the teams playing a 0-0 friendly just a month ago in their final World Cup tune-up match.

Don't try to act hard: you would wear the goofy-ass hat
too if she asked.
Oh yes you would.

Yellow cards: Italy will miss hardman defender Cosmo Kramer Marco Materazzi through suspension. Additionally, they have 3 players on a yellow - defenders Grosso and Zambrotta as well as bulldog holding midfielder Gattuso. Ukraine have their full squad and do not have a single player on a yellow, thanks to the sensible (or overreacting to the Portugal-Holland match) referee who worked their match with Switzerland and issued only 1 card (to a Swiss player).

Fitness/rest: Both teams are on 3 days rest. Italy are playing their 5th match in 19 days and Ukraine are playing their 5th match in 17 days.

The general perception of this match is that Italy are massive favorites and should win easily, but I think those who write off Ukraine as rank outsiders may be doing so at great risk. Both teams came in with high expectations and have underwhelmed thusfar, but as I said earlier, either team is capable of catching fire and stomping the other. So there are basically 4 scenarios: one team snaps out of it and plays great while the other continues to stutter and you see a convincing 2-0 or 3-1 win, both snap out of it and you see an epic extra time or even penalty shootout thriller, or both continue to stutter and you see a boring and disappointing scoreless draw or a 1-0 on the excitement level of England-Ecuador (read: not very).

So which is it? I have no idea: if I did I wouldn't be writing this right now I would be over here increasing my personal wealth. I do thnk that Sheva is going to create a goal either for himself or for a teammate, and I also think that Luca Toni is going to stop hitting posts and put one in the back of the net. Beyond that I don't know, although I will be rooting for Ukraine to pull the shocker.

UKR: ready to rise up and shock the world?

Italy 3-0 Ukraine.
In the pregame I gave 4 scenarios. As it turned out, the match was a hybrid of two of them. Both teams in fact played much better than they had, but we didn't get the classic match I thought that would bring. Instead we got what on paper is an Italian asswhipping. But I must say that in the 2nd half Ukraine played their best soccer of the tournament. Unfortuantely for them they have nothing to show for it, because Italy were straight up assassins: they had about 5 good chances and they scored on three of those. Ukraine created about a dozen really good scoring chances but just couldn't get the ball in the net, having one off the crossbar and a few cleared off the line. Buffon was outstanding, esprecially after slamming his head into the post. I wasn't sure he could continue but he not only finished the match he played great in goal. And Luca Toni put in 2 goals as I predicted he would. Last year's leading goalscorer in Europe wasn't going to go much longer without putting his name on the scoresheet. His first was a beautiful header, and his second was a simple tap in made possible by an outstanding move and pass by Zambrotta, who himself scored the opener for Italy with a beautiful rocket left footed shot from about 25 yards out. Definitely the best Italy have looked to date. Is Italy 06 a reincarnation of Italy 82, with Luca Toni playing the part of Paolo Rossi? We'll find out more on Tuesday I suppose.

Tonight they're gonna party like it's 1999 1982.

I have been very critical of the Azzurri in past matches, so it is only fair that I tip my cap to them for their performance today. They played well, and by and large kept the soap opera dramatics to relatively low levels, despite the fact that Ukraine were very physical with them, especially in the first half. Gattuso was a stud for playing on after having his wrist inadvertantly stomped, and Buffon was a stud for his performance after smashing his dome against the post. And they played some beautiful soccer today. Credit where credit is due.

There are some things to like about Italy.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

A Few Thoughts Before The Quarterfinals

Four things to look for as we enter the quarterfinal round:

Le Maillot Carte Jaune

In honor of Le Tour De France getting underway this weekend, let's talk about yellow cards for a minute. As important as they have been to this point (no Deco for Portugal Saturday), from here on out they are massive. Each team has a few players that are "on a yellow", meaning that one more will mean that they miss the following match. Missing a key player is never good; missing one for a World Cup semifinal or final can be devastating (Ballack, Germany, World Cup 2002 final; Nedved, Czech Republic, Euro 2004 semifinal, etc.). Pay attention to which players are on a yellow already and watch to see if they play any differently overall or if they avoid hard tackles specifically.

Beware Les cartes jaunes from Les maillots jaunes

Fitness and Depth
Each of these teams will be playing their 5th match in the last 16-21 days, and some are playing their quarterfinal on 3 days rest while others are on 5 days rest. This is definitely more grueling than the regular club season, where usually they play 1 match every weekend with a midweek match thrown in on many weeks. So fitness at this point is paramount. In addition to this, having a deep squad is also a massive advantage at this point. Lastly, all of the teams are so tired at this point that having a player sent off and having to play a long time with only 10 men will be even more of a disadvantage that it was in the first stage.

Oh, and all of this is on top of the fact that the club soccer season runs from early August to mid-May every year. In a non WC year these guys play a 10 month season and have just under 2 months off. Compare this to the 6 month offseason in futbol Americano or 4-5 month offseason in the NBA and NHL. This year they had 3-4 weeks "off" between the end of the club season and the start of the World Cup. However, the fact that most of that was spent training & preparing with their national teams means that many players have done all this in the last month on about 1 week off. Since last July.

A Word About The Ball
Every World Cup a new ball is introduced and gets alot of pub because it is invariably made with some new space age technology that makes it bend and swerve like nothing before it has. Usually we mostly hear complaining about it from the goalkeepers, and as expected there has been lots of talk about the new ball and it's flight. There have been some crazy goals scored at a long distance that have had just as much to do with the ball than with skill - Torsten Frings bender for Germany in the opener and Joe Cole's crazy looping bender against Sweden come to mind. This aspect of the ball has been much talked about.

But I have also noticed something else about this ball that I think is actually helping the goalkeepers that is not being talked about nearly as much: shooters seem to be having a really difficult time keeping the ball down on longer shots. In just about every match you see several shots that are blasted way over the bar. This happens regularly in soccer, but it seems to me that it is happening more than normal with this ball. I have even noticed this on penalty kicks; in the round of 16 alone I remember the Sweden guy kicking a straight-up field goal and one of the Swiss kickers blasting off the bar. Usually penalty takers don't miss high, although there certainly are famous ones that stand out (Baggio in the 94 WC final, Beckham against either Turkey in qualifying or Portugal in the Euro 2004 shootout, can't remember which it was). Anyhow, I could be baked but it seems to me like it is harder than ever for shooters to keep it down, which in a way actually makes life easier for the defense and goalkeeper. Something to keep an eye on as we move forward.

The Adidas WC ball, presented by Rush Limbaugh and Viagra

Shit Thusfar Does Not Guarantee Shit Going Forward
Three of the remaining 8 teams are being written off in varying degrees because they have underwhelmed to this point: England, Ukraine, and Italy. This does not mean that they are incapable of getting hot and marching all the way to the final. As I mentioned earlier, in the 1982 World Cup Italy started out playing poorly. They drew all 3 group stage matches and just snuck into the next round on the 2nd tiebreaker of goals scored, where Paolo Rossi caught fire and they dispatched Brasil, Argentina, Poland, and West Germany to become improbable champions. In 2002 a not-all-that-impressive Germany team rode a hot goalkeeper, some timely goals and a few other breaks all the way to the final. So to me it seems foolish to write off any team's chances at this point. We are definitely at the anything can happen stage.

Six Aristocrats and Two Upstarts

As I explained in what seems like a hell of a lot longer than 4 weeks ago, the fraternity of World Cup winners is quite an exclusive club. Of the 205 accredited soccer playing nations on Earth, only 72 have ever qualified for the World Cup Finals, only 11 have ever made it to the final match, and a mere 7 have ever lifted the most cherished trophy in world sport.

Forget passwords or secret handshakes;
you need a World Cup trophy to get in here.

Six of those 7 World Cup winners qualified for World Cup 2006, with only 2 time champion Uruguay missing out - they lost a 2 legged playoff with Australia in a penalty shootout after playing the Socceroos even for 210 minutes. The six that made it are all in the quarterfinals, so the chances are pretty good that the exclusive fraternity will not be accepting any new members this time around.

Your pledges trying to break into the club are Ukraine and Portugal. The aristocracy shouldn't dismiss the pledges out of hand and neither should you, as both are capable of getting to the final. Portugal have tons of talent and a great coach and from what I have seen of them thay are capable of beating any team left in the tournament on any given day. Ukraine have been disappointing thusfar, but are certainly capable of catching fire and riding on Super Sheva's back all the way to the final. I am reminded of Italy in 1982, who played poorly but advanced, and then in the knockout stage rode Rossi's suddenly white hot hand foot all the way to the title.

What these two will have to overcome is not playing at home: 5 of the 7 champions won their first World Cup when they hosted the tournament (Uruguay 1930, Italy 1934, England 1966, Argentina 1978, France 1998), and West Germany won their first World Cup in 1954 at their next-door neighbor's house (Switzerland). Only Brasil (1958, Sweden) won their first world Cup far away from the comforts of home.

So there it is. If you like pulling for the underdog, and you are bummed that underdogs T&T, Ivory Coast, Ghana, and finally Australia were knocked out, then hitch your wagon to either Ukraine, Portugal, or both.

You Are Reading An Inferior World Cup Blog. Here's What You Can Do About It

Subtitle: When Hitting The Goal Post Is A Good Thing.

Before the tournament I advised that if you were only going to read one article on the World Cup, to read this one. Then once we got started I advised that if you were only going to read one writer during the World Cup that it should be Myles. This morning I was planning to add that at this stage if you are going to read one article on the World Cup thusfar, it should be this outstanding multi-part piece by Gavin Hamilton, editor of World Soccer magazine, which deals with everything from Germany getting it right for the fans, to the battle for additional future World Cup spots between the confederations already being underway, to the commercialism of the World Cup. Excellent stuff, and a must read.

Then this morning, thanks to DC Trojan, I came across this. Holy shit, wow. Plain and simple: Goal Post is the absolute best World Cup blog out there, period. I just spent the last hour working scrolling down and down and down reading it in it's entirety, and you should do the same. It's contributers are Franklin Foer, author of How Soccer Explains The World and a wide cast of others collectively referred to as his friends.

The current top article is a fascinating commentary by Boris Becker on the significance of the tournament to Germany and Germans vis a vis their conflicted national identity since WWII. It is interesting, informative, and also leaves you amazed that Boris can be such an articluate man considering that he didn't go to college because he was busy, you know, winning Wimbledon at age 18 and becoming the best tennis player in the world. Another outstanding article about German nationalism and allowing itself to once again be proud, here.

Learning to feel good about themselves again.

Or read this excellent article about the national id of Argentina, and how that affects the way Maradona is viewed by his people as a sporting icon, 20 years after the epic match that encapsullated both his absolute genius as well as his cheating prowess. Combined, these two make for quite a nice little sociological preview of tomorrow's match.

Anyhow, Goal Post is absolute must read stuff every day. Extrememly intelligent, articulate, and informative. You should definitely stop wasting your time on here and go check it out. Now.

Pass it on...

And if you have abnormal levels of free time, my World Cup Reader's Guide has been updated with lots of references to excellent soccer writing. Enjoy.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

And On The Twentieth Day, There Was Rest

In the fall, college football Saturday means a 14 hour marathon of sitting and watching all the games, where everything else is shunned. At the end you are tired, but you have all week to recover before you do it all over again the next weekend, so the disruption to your life is minimal, except for perhaps a bit of guilt that on a beautiful 75 degree sunny day you didn't go outside one single time. Pretty simple to handle, and because the NFL is so boring, you have all day Sunday to do stuff outside, run errands, or attempt to make up your Saturday behavior to your significant other. No big deal.

A great day to sit inside and watch football all day.

College basketball can be a bit more difficult. You may be that guy, or at least you know him. The one who, every March, takes off work the Thursday and Friday of the opening weekend of the NCAA tournament and spends 4 consecutive days watching basketball pretty much non-stop at a sportsbar that is showing all of the games on different satellite feeds. I am that guy. In fact, I have never in my adult life worked the first two days of March Madness. I used to post up at Frankie's in ATL from noon to midnight for 4 days straight; now it is Bayside on Union Street from 9 a.m to 9 p.m. By Sunday evening several things have occurred without fail:

1) What little ass I have to begin with is straight up numb from sitting in a chair for 50 hours in an 80 hour span

2) I am on a first name basis with every waitress at the sportsbar, as well as the bartenders, the manager, and the assistant manager who is in charge of the remote controls.

3) I have eaten damn near everything on the menu of said establishment. Twice.

4) I invariably make a new friend or new friends over the course of the 4 days just from chatting about college hoops with other that guys who are as omnipresent as myself.

5) I become so absolutely sick and tired of seeing the same 5 commercials 28,000 times that I am tempted to reach for my fork and gouge out my eyeballs. Instead I develop a deep resentment and distate for Cingular for making such shitty commercials that I have to watch over and over and over and over and over.

6) By Sunday, I am flat out exhausted

I am waaaay too familiar with this place.

It is all worthwhile, and I love it, but make no mistake - I love the fact that after the completion of the second round on Sunday, there are no more games until the Sweet 16 starts back up on Thursday afternoon/evening. Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday are a great buffer- a time to rejuventate and get your life back in order, then come back fresh and strong for the 2nd weekend, which is at the same time much more interesting and much, much easier to watch than that first weekend.

Which brings me to this World Cup. No less than 19 consecutive days of soccer to start the tournament before today, with each day having 2, 3, or even 4 matches going on. For me it means getting up at the buttcrack of dawn, which as a non-morning person is always tres difficile. Add to this my desire to write about the tournament, and now I am getting up before 6 a.m. and staying up late in to the night writing, never the smartest or healthiest combination. Running to the pub at lunch to watch the noon match. Watching on the Slingbox at my desk. Going home after work to watch the coverage on Fox Sports World, then writing a post that I think will take an hour and always manages to take 4. Rinse and repeat. NINETEEN TIMES.

Calgon take me away.

It is relentless and unmerciful; I was exhausted and drained after day 5, and I still had two straight weeks to go. My apartment achieved a level of disaster area-ness never before seen, Laundry Mountain rose to an unprecedented elevation of 4.5 feet, sleep was coming in the form of 2 to 5 hour naps, and excercise - what is that? - has ceased altogher. Most all other free-time and weekend activities took a back seat or were neglected altogether. I fell way behind on life, which became unorganized and chaotic. Don't get me wrong, I am absolutely loving it - enjoying the footy, making new friends, both virtual and real, etc. But saying that it has been a grind is a massive understatement.

56 matches in 19 days will leave you needing one of these.

I realized about 6 days in that this makes the first weekend of March Madness seem like watching a Mike Tyson fight. I am so relieved to have made it, and I couldn't be happier that there is no soccer today or tomorrow and that I can catch up on life a little bit. Got some laundry done last night and might even go for a bike ride tomorrow, although after 3 weeks off the Marin Headlands will be more pain than fun.

And after surviving that grueling marathon, it's all downhill from here. Two days off, two days on, two days off, two days on, then 3 days off before the final. Cake.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Day 19 Random Thoughts / Open Thread

Very happy to have finally reached the last of 19 match days in a row and the 2 days off that come after today, but more on that later. I couldn't decide whether to rock my France jersey circa Euro2000 or my Spain national team shirt, so I left them both in the closet and went with Vieira, Arsenal away circa 2004. Enjoy the matches.

With Essien, I would give Ghana a punchers chance against Brasil. Without him it is difficult to do so, but you never know. They do get back the two goalscorers from the match against the Czech Republic. Ghana are still a quality side capable of playing some good soccer, and given great play and cruise control from a Brasil team sure to be taking them for granted (Roberto Carlos has come out and said "Ghana have no chance"), you never know. I am reminded of the 1996 Olympic semifinal in Sanford Stadium, when the the heavily favored and arrogant Brasilians went up on no-hopers Nigeria 1-0 and then 3-1, only to watch in horror as 18 year old Kanu equalized near the death and then scored a stunning golden goal winner in extra time to knock them out 4-3. Many of Brasil's current squad were in that match (Dida, Roberto Carlos, Ronaldo, Juninho) , so I am suprised a bit by RC's arrogance (Brasil showed further arrogance by flying home right after their 3rd place match and skipping the medal ceremony that followed the next day's final; Brasilian president of FIFA Joao Havelange allowed this without punishment). Throw in the possibilities for penalties, yellow and red cards, and wacky-ass refereeing, and anything is possible. I know that in typical African team fashion they will fight to the very end no matter what; this is not a team that will roll over and die if they go down 0-2.

Roberto Carlos slept on these guys;
why so little respect for Ghana?

Brasil looked so much better without Roberto Carlos and with Robinho, as Myles so astutuely pointed out. Surely Roberto Carlos will be back in the team, since Brasil's team is largely selected on seniority, and Robinho picked up and injury in training, so the less than thrilling Brasil team might show up, especially given their aforementioned expectation that all they need to do is show up to win the match.

Does she just need to show up to win?

I am not saying that Ghana will necessarily win, I am just saying that it may very well be closer than the 5-0 Brasil romp that many are expecting.

Part of me really wants Ghana to pull off the all-time African World Cup upset, but part of me also really wants to see Brasil face Spain in the quarterfinals, since I think that may be the best match of the tournament and I think Spain can beat Brasil. At this point I just hope that it is a really entertaining match that is not overshadowed by poor refereeing, which at this point seems to be asking a hell of a lot.

Half time. Brasil 2-0 Ghana. The scoreline many expected, but if you watched then the match was not the domination by the Selecao that people assumed would occur. Frankly the score is flattering to Brasil. Thier first goal was a classic case of beating the offsides trap; Ronaldo was put through by a brilliant pass by Kaka (great vision to see it and then make it happen) and finished cooly by R9 to make him the leading goalscorer in the history of the World Cup with 15 goals.

R9's World Cup goals: all 15 of 'em.

After that it was mostly Ghana, and they damn near dominated the next 40 minutes of the half. For many stretches it was one-way traffic, and although Ghana created a half-dozen great chances, they were unable to put any into the net, including an agonizing shot from 2 yards out that unfortuantely was right at Dida, who was able to save it. During that stretch Adriano went down in a collision with the keeper, and I thought for sure that a penalty would be given. Instead Adriano was booked for diving. Interesting - was this call influenced by what happened yesterday with Grosso at the end of Italy-Australia? Probably.

In the 44th minute Brasil scored a 2nd that was not legal. In the initial pass out to the right, Adriano was clearly offsides by about 2 yards; he is now said to be in an passive offsides position and if he is then involved in the play then it should be whistled for offsides. The play goes on, and as soon as the ball is crossed into the box to him, he should be whistled for offsides. To make matters worse, he was also offsides when the cross came into him from the right. So he was offsides twice on the same play, the first one clearly and the 2nd one marginally. He bumbled it into the net off his thigh and it's 2-0 Brasil, the 2nd goal being very much against the run of play. Tough luck for Ghana, who damn near dominated most of the half, but have only a 2 goal defecit to show for it.

Dude couldn't have been pleased with Brasil's 2nd.

On the other hand, she loved it.

Full Time.
Brasil 3-0 Ghana.
As predicted, Ghana did not roll over and die when down 0-2. Instead they kept attacking and creating chances, even after they were reduced to 10 men when Gyan, already on a yellow card, was booked for diving and sent off. Not as bad a call as the one on Adriano, but I don't think it is any coincidence that I think only 1 card was given for diving in the first 38 matches, yet two were given in the first match on the first day after the Italy-Australia incident yesterday. A classic case of overcorrection. The third goal was a tap in by Ze Roberto and his rapidly expanding retro afro, courtesy of a mistake by the Ghana goalkeeper.

Brasil were deserved winners; they played well and although their 2nd goal was illegitimate they probably should have been awarded a penalty when Adriano was booked for diving.

This quartet party on to the quarterfinals.

Ghana fought valiantly and the final score is not at all indicative of how tough they played Brasil. They represented African soccer well and probably earned alot of respect around the world with their performance today.

First things first: watch this game if you get a chance simply because it may be the last match in the amazing career of Zinedine Zidane, who as I said in the preview is most probably the best player in the world since the retirement of Maradona in 1994. Zizou has retired from Real Madrid, and his last match for France in this competition will be his last ever.

Wow what a matchup, where to begin? Two of my favorite teams, one with two of my favorite players in the world (France: Vieira, Henry) and the other my pick to win the tournament with two other favorites (Spain: Fabregas, Reyes). The ghosts of Arsenal past (Vieira, Wiltord), present (Henry, Fabregas, Reyes) and perhaps even future (Wenger is allegedly interested in Torres, although I doubt at this point Arsenal can afford El Nino) will all be on display in addition to Zizou. This is the sexiest match of this round on paper; hopefully it can live up to it on the field.

In the first two matches France basically played a 4-5-1 with Henry up top, which was foolish by coach Domenech. In the third match they played 4-4-2 and looked considerably better: was this due to the formation, or not having Zidane and with the offense flowing to and through Henry? Probably a little bit of both. Zidane will obviously play, so we'll see what happens. In my opinion Zidane should play, but they should play 4-4-2 with Henry and Saha up front. I think Saha is currently much better than Trez, who like Ronaldo only runs and tries when he thinks he has a chance to score; he's lazy and goes massive stretches of matches being invisible. That being said, just like Ronaldo he is always capable of coming out of nowhere to score a huge goal, like his extra time golden goal winner in the absolutely amazing Euro 2000 final against Italy.

I hope shipping & handling was free 0n that bad boy.

For Spain it looks like 18 year old Cesc Fabregas will get to start, and based on his performances thusfar (not to mention his play for Arsenal this spring) it is difficult to argue against it. His introduction at halftime and 2nd half play in the the Tunisia match was instrumental in Spain turning 1-0 down into 3-1 up. Reyes should be used as a dangerous 2nd half super sub, his pace and work rate alone will cause fits for some of the tiring French legs. Torres has been great and I think Raul has played well, too. Spain have so much talent all over the park it is just ridiculous.

I can't mention this match without bringing up the Aragones/Henry incident as well. In a 2004 Spaninsh training session:

Aragones approached Spain striker Jose Antonio Reyes, who like Henry plays for English club Arsenal, at Las Rozas and shouted in his face: "Some players have to see things more clearly.
"Tell that black shit that you are better than him. Tell him from me. You're the best."

He went on to add "Me cago en su puta madre", which literally translates as "I shit on his prostitute mother" (which apparently is a commonly used curse phrase in Spain).

When asked to clarify his comments, he said:

"Reyes is ethnically a gypsy," said Aragones. "I have got a lot of gypsy and black friends. All I did was to motivate the gypsy by telling him he was better than the black."

This caused an immediate uproar in England, where Henry plays for Arsenal, and a massive cultural clash brewed between the two nations, coming to an ugly head when England played Spain soon thereafter in a "friendly" international that was friendly in name only, with all of England's black players being taunted by the Spanish crowd with monkey chants whenever they touched the ball, and plenty of other bad blood as well.

Aragones: happy that the ball is white,
unlike that dark ball used at Euro2004.

So now we have Aragones' Spain against Henry's France, the majority of which is black players of African descent.

But don't count out Domenech, the coach of France. He is not a racist, but he a shitty manager, and he is insane. It just came to my attention this morning that the reason for his long dispute and non-selection of proven star and goalscorer Robert Pires is because... wait for it... Pires is a SCORPIO. No I am not making this shit up. That is also his explanation for sticking with Barthez instead of the better Coupet. What a wanker. Oh, and since young and talented Arsenal defender Gael Clichy is a Leo, he can forget about playing for Les Bleus as long as this nutjob is the coach, which hopefully won't be too much longer.

What the World Cup looks like if you are on acid,
or insane like Domenech.

Like the earlier match I am conflicted here: part of me wants to see France win because thay are my boys, and also nothing would be better than for Aragones to be knocked out by two goals from Henry and a third from Senegalese born PV4. On the other hand I really like Spain despite not having any respect for Aragones, and I picked them to upset Brasil en route to winning it all and lifting the World Cup. Again, I just hope that all of the Arsenal connections do themselves proud and that we get a great match that is decided by the players and not the referees.

So either 3-2 to Spain with Henry and Vieira scoring for France and Cesc as the man of the match, or 5-2 to France with Henry netting two, Vieira one, Saha one, and Zidane getting the other goal and also assisting one of Henry's, the first Henry goal from a Zizou assist.

Half Time. 1-1.

France came out and had the better of it in the first 20 minutes. Vieira was clearly up for it after being outplayed and embarrassed by Fabregas at Highbury in the Champions League quarterfinals. France were making most of the chances, and a cross across the goalmouth was barely missed by both a sliding Ribery and a sliding PV4, both with the goal at their mercy. Shortly thereafter Spain were awarded a penalty when Thuram took down Pablo in the box. Credit where credit is due for the referee- the call was correct. David Villa stepped up and slotted a perfect penalty, barely beating Barthez who guessed correctly and dove low to his right. 1-0 to Spain and they looked more dangerous for the next 10 minutes.

Shortly before halftime Vieira controlled the ball with a brilliant bit of skill, then quickly got off a perfect pass with his left foot just before the defender could block it, releasing Ribery perfectly through the defense and putting him 1-0n-1 with the keeper. Ribery rounded the goalie and slotted home. 1-1 and game on. The last 5 mintes of the half were intense - a preview of what is to come in the 2nd half, which should be a classic. I'm off to the pub to watch it on the big screen instead of my little PC monitor.

Spain 1-3 France.
{to the tune of Volare}
"Oooooohhhh, Vi-ei-ra!
Ooooooohhhh, Vi-ei-ra!
He comes from Sen-e-gal,
He plays for Ars-e-nal France!"

The old men beat the younger and more talented Spainards, once again largely on the sheer will of one Patrick Vieira. Although Ribery scored the opener, it was made by PV4's skill, and in the 83rd minute he headed home the crucial go-ahead goal for France. He bossed the midfield, gaining a measure of revenge on young Cesc, and he seemed to carry France through the match with his sheer will as Thierry Henry and Zinedine Zidane were largely silent, absent, and ineffective throughout. Sorry FIFA, but Ribery is not the Man Of The Match. Your real MOTM, for the 2nd match in a row, is PV4. He has scored a goal and made another in each of the last two matches, not to mention his header that was wrongly not given which would have been the gamewinner against South Korea. He is France's MVP in this tournament, and it seems that he realizes that this might be his last realistic chance to really shine on the big stage. He is taking that opportunity, reminding us of what a colossus he was between 1998-2004, and showing that at 30 he is not over the hill and can still boss a match when he is "in the mood".

Ribery MOTM, my ass. Le MOTM c'est ici, mes amis.

As I said, Zizou was largely absent throughout, but showed at the end his penchant for coming through huge in the clutch. First he provided the cross that PV4 headed in to make it 2-1. Then in extra time he was given one good chance and there was little doubt that Zizou would bury it in the back of he net, which is exactly what he did. The most clutch footballer I have seen in the last 8 years killed the game off in the final minutes. Trois-Un au Les Bleus.

Monsieur Clutch kills the game off.

So Los Campeones Del Kanu are out. Today Spain were frankly disappointing. I thought that they would come out and really take the match to France, with their superior overall talent and youthful legs. In fact the opposite happened for most of the match. Spain's goal was against the run of play and they never showed the constant attacking threat that we saw in the group stage. I am biased, but I thought that Aragones should have brought on Reyes in the 2nd half to utilize his pace, speed, and skill against the tiring older legs of France, but instead he brought on Senna with his last substitution. It is sad for Spain, because they were so clearly better than France during the 3 matches of the group stage, but today France were simply better than them. It is unfortunate that such a good, talented team that played so well are knocked out, while 3 teams that have not played nearly as well as them are in the final 8 (England, Ukraine, Italy). But that's the way the cookie crumbles.

Adios, chicas. I'm sad to see you go.

And as Moin so astutuely pointed out a while back, don't believe the hype about Spain choking/underachieving in the World Cup. Yes they have not advanced as far as their talent suggests they always should have, but they have had some terrible luck/circumstances against them more then they have outright choked. I'll let Moin tell it:

I can't say for tournaments I don't recall, but of the ones I saw, Spain hasn't been choking in tourneys, they just have an incredible string of bad luck. USA94: Lost out when Baggio did his Baggio thing. England96: Lost out to England in PK shootout. Frace98: (drawn into Group of Death) Lost out because their all time best keeper, Zubizereta, let in a howler against Nigeria. Also Paraguay did a catenaccio impression and then proceeded to beat a Nigerian squad that played like it had nothing on the line. Euro2000: Lost out to France (best team in the world at the time). WC2002: You covered that already (2 goals wrongly disallowed in quarterfinal against SK; lost on penalties). Portugal2004: (drawn into Group of Death) Lost out to the hosts in the Group Stages. The group produced both finalists.

If international soccer were golf, then Spain would still be the BPTNHWAM: Best Player To Never Have Won A Major (a title, which interestingly, is generally regarded as belonging to Spanaird Sergio Garcia). They are a young and insanely talented team, and if I had to pick a winner right now for Euro2008, they would definitely be my first choice. Cesc at 20 will be so much better than Cesc at 18, and he will only be 22 at World Cup 2010. Throw in 22 year old Torres and 21 year old Reyes and that is a great nucleus to build around in the next 8 years.

France move on to face Brasil in the quarterfinals, a rematch of the 1998 final where France shocked Brasil 3-0, handing them their worst defeat in an international. Ever. Lots of the same players will be involved on Saturday - should be epic.

Finally, I won't lie: I LOVE it that Aragones was knocked out of the Cup by PV4, a dark skinned black man of African birth, who scored the goal to knock his ignorant ass out. I'm just thankful that Paddy isn't a Scorpio...

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Day 18 Random Thoughts / Open Thread

Before the tournament started I picked Australia to upset Italy here, and from what I have seen I am going to stick with that pick. Australia create chances and never say die; Italy have all the pressure on them to win and advance, while Australia have none. The longer this match goes tied, the more tight Italy will get. Plus, you know that Guus will have Australia fighting and scrapping until the end. What the hell? I'll take Australia 2-1, with Cahill and Viduka netting for Oz.

Nothing personal, Bella.

Half Time. 0-0. Exciting match - definitely not the boring variety of 0-0. Several good chances by each team, with Schwartzer for Australia making 3 or 4 outstanding saves. This feels like a game that might only have 1 goal in it, and that whoever scores first will make it stand up. The referee is doing a good job as well; nice to watch a match that is not a cavalcade of cards.

50th min.: So much for the card free match. Materrazzi sent off, and rather harshly I must say. I can't really see how that tackle is anything more than a yellow card. Another in a neverending series of questionable referee decisions. Italy will play the last 40 minutes with 10 men.

55th min.: Lippi takes off Luca Toni and puts on a defender. Looks like Italy will be defending their goal and playing for penalties, hoping maybe to nick a goal on the counterattack.

Italy 1-0 Australia.
An utter and complete joke. 0-0 after 90 minutes, there were to be 3 minutes of extra time. At 92.45, Italian player Grosso made a complete meal of some contact in the box, dived, and conned the referee into deciding the match. The Australian defender has already gone down and was lying prone on the ground. He did not initiate the contact with the Italian. Rather, the Italian completely conned the referee by falling over the already lying down Aussie and making it look like a foul, when it was a total and complete snow job of a dive. Here: watch for yourself. To make matters worse, Iaquinta runs over as dude is "agonizing" on the ground, leans down on top of him, and alternately talks into his ear and looks at the referee. I don't imagine he was saying "Get up man, you are embarrassing us." Also, why at that point was Grosso clutching his head with both hands when he fell on his belly? Then the rest of the team come over and congratulate him on his brilliant performance. What a fucking sham. Penalty awarded, and Totti buried it with the last kick of the match. A total fucking joke. Of all the referee jokes in this World Cup, that one takes the cake given the situation, timing, etc.

Oh, and memo to Grosso from Cantona: "your dignity will forever remain on the floor."

Grosso celebrates his dive with the judges.

I have tried to temper my feelingas about Italy and be somewhat subjective, but fuck it, let's just get this out into the open: I fucking hate Italy. I hate everything about them, from their invention and constant use of their chickenshit, negative, defensive cattennacio style, to their ceaseless diving and attempting to con the referee, to their utter refusal to ever accept any foul called against them let alone any loss, ever, always instead concocting some conspiracy theory about the referees or FIFA or other nations conspiring to screw them over instead of looking themselves in the mirror or ever manning up and saying "You know what? We lost, we weren't good enough today and we lost - full credit to the other team, they played well." I hate all of it, and I cannot stand Italy, and like every NCAA tournament with Duke, I will not be happy until they are knocked out.
End rant.

If you are an Italy fan then I apologize for my shortminded attitude, but might as well put it out there for full disclosure.

Sorry, Sheila. You got screwed, and not in the fun way either.

Yes, Australia didn't do much with their man advantage for 40 minutes, and they should have created more chances and made a goal, but it was always going to be difficult with all 9 Italian outfield players behind the ball. But that doesn't mean that they deserved to get fucked so hard either, and without any foreplay either. Anyhow, Italy are through to the quarterfinals where they will face the winner of Switzerland-Ukraine, where I hope that they lose 0-18.

***Update 9.15 p.m. PST***
I have calmed down a bit and in all fairness want to say a few things, although I have not changed my opinion about the penalty even though Bobbeh McMahon, the commentator who I most respect, completely disagrees with me. Nor do I retract any of my statements above about Grosso or Italy.

1) As I said when it happened, Italy should not have been reduced to 10 men in the first place. That foul was either just a foul or a yellow, but no way it was a red. Most of the contact was made on fellow Italian defender not even on the Aussie attacker. Anyhow, they were hard done by to have to play the last 40 minutes a man down.

2)In the 2nd half, Italy did what Italy do best; defend. Australia were up a man in the 2nd half but didn't create nearly as many good chances as they did in the 1st half when the teams were level. So full credit to them for defending for 43 minutes when down a man.

3) To be fair, although they played 9 men behind the ball for most of the 2nd half, they did create some chances themselves. And as Bobbeh pointed out, the key moment of the game happened when an overlapping left back got into the penalty area at the end, so credit must be given for that specifically by all us cattenacio-bashers.

4) It is too much to say that Australia got what they deserved, but with a man advantage for much of the 2nd half they really didn't do shit with it, and Hiddink only made one substitution in the 81st minute. What was he waiting for? My point is that they could have done more to press forward and create a goal despite the fact that Italy were bunkered in.

5) Lucas Neill was a bit foolish to go to ground in the first place.

Having said all that I still think that the penalty was total and complete rubbish, but to be fair these things should be said in Italy's defense. I think one's reaction to this has everything to do with their overall attitude towards Italy. I am predisposed to dislike Italy, so of course I see the penalty as rubbish, whereas an Italy fan, like say A7, would view the same thing and see it as a penalty. All depends on your predisposition I suppose. In fact, A7, what do you make of all of this?

The bottom line is that it is a shame that this match was not decided by the teams on the field, but rather by the referee.

Lastly, unless these are totally watered down by FIFA, I want to point out the pure class shown by the Australian coach and players in defeat in their statements. This shows by contrast one of my main problems with Italy: if things had been reversed, and Italy had been eliminated by a last minute dodgy-at-best penalty, what would the Italians be saying? Exactly. We all remember the uproar/sour grapes theory that Sweden and Denmark conspired to draw in Euro2004 and eliminate Italy, and in the 2002 World Cup after being knocked out by an Ahn Junj-hwan extra time goal, he was summarily fired by the Italian club that he played for at the time, and also told by the mayor of that club's town that he was never welcome to set foot in that town again (from memory - too lazy to source right now). Just to name two. Anyhow, full credit to the Aussies for being much classier than I was.

That being said, Go Ukraine!

Switzerland lost centreback Senderos to a dislocated shoulder, but his replacement is another young Arsenal defender Johan Djourou. He's not as polished as Senderos, but fully capable and I think he'll do just fine. Switzerland are a really good team that have no star and play as a team. Their defense is very solid; they have yet to concede a goal through 3 matches. Ukraine on the other hand have not looked very good at all, except for a breather game against Saudi Arabia. They were fortunate to get through against an average Tunisia team thanks to two huge (and wrong) referee decisions that went their way. They are also missing some defenders due to cards and injuries. If they don't sort themselves out and play the kind of football that they are capable of, and if Sheva doesn't step up and have a Golden Boot candidate performance, they will go down to the Swiss. I'll take Switzerland 1-0.

Damnit! I am DEFINITELY going to South Africa 2010.

20th min.: Sheva appeals for a penalty, looked pretty 50/50 as it looked like there was contact but also that he went down too easily.

22nd min.: Ukraine hit the Swiss crossbar.

24th min.: Beautiful screaming Swiss free kick rattles off the Ukraine crossbar. Match is high spirited and fairly even at this point.

35th min.: Djourou is replaced; I can only assume that he picked up some sort of injury.

Half Time. 0-0. The last 20 minutes saw some hard tackles on both sides, and emotions have cranked up a notch. Like this morning's match, this one looks like it might only have 1 goal in it and that the team to score first will end up winning 1-0. I'm off to the pub to have lunch and find out.

Full Time. 0-0. This referee is the Bizarro World Cup 2006 ref, giving only 1 yellow card and ignoring several cardable offenses (and no less than 4 handballs). Sepp and Beckenbauer are there; it would not suprise me in the least if Sepp went to the referee before the match and told him to swallow his whistle, because the officiating in this cup was already a complete joke before this morning's match and it's absolute farce of an ending. Swiss defender Barretta was especially lucky, having the lone yellow of the match, not to be sent off for a studs up tackle to a Ukranian dude's shin. It surely should have been a 2nd yellow; that is the kind of tackle that breaks legs.

This match has 0-0 and penalties written all over it.

End 1st extra period. 0-0.

End 2nd extra period. 0-0. For the first time in this World Cup it's on to "the lottery of the shootout" as the Brits say.

Ukraine first.

Sheva shoots left and it is saved. I wonder if Sheva had memories of last year's Champions League Final horrid penalty in his head.

Streller weak shot is saved. still 0-0.

Ukraine scores on the cheeky chip down the middle. 1-0 Ukraine.

Swiss guy blasts it off the bar. Advantage Ukraine: 1-0 after 2 rounds.

Ukraine scores. 2-0 up, and Switzerland pretty much have to convert this 3rd kick.

Another shit Swiss kick right at the keeper. To use a golf term, Ukraine are dormi.

GOL! Ukraine. Ukraine win the shootout 3-0 after only 3.5 rounds of kicks. Not a very exciting penalty shootout.

Congratulations to Ukraine, the only 2nd seeded team out of the first 6 matches to beat a group winner.

You jokers better beat Italy.

Switzerland played well in this tournament for such a young team, and they did not concede a single goal in 4 matches and 2 extra periods. As co-hosts of Euro2008, they are going to be a tough out, and if they can find some offense, other than Frei and Senderos on set pieces, in the next two years then they are going to be a really tough out.

Get some rest, love. You'll need it.

And Ukraine? Like the Swiss today, they looked tired, like a team who, having to play their first match later than everyone else, has had to play 4 matches in 13 days. They really need the three days off between now and Friday, which will be 5 matches in 17 days (Italy played their first match 2 days before Ukraine, so they have played 4 matches in 15 days and Friday will be their 5th in 19 days, for what it's worth).

Day 17 Random Thoughts / Open Thread

Today is one of the strangest days of the year in SF, with both extreme ends of the social spectrum being represented. On the left, the Gay Pride weekend, largest in the world, with 500,000 loud and proud at today's parade. On the right, NASCAR NECKCAR, just up the road in Sonoma. I chuckle as I imagine some akward moments at baggage claim at the SFO airport this weekend, with 2 dudes waiting for their bags: Johnny Redneck with his #3 hat, Dale Junior shirt, and dungarees, and Swinging Richard with his pink mesh tank top, leather hat, chaps, and whistle. I can see them both standing next to each other waiting for their bags, channelling Ron Burgundy: "Uggh, this is a bit akward". Enjoy the matches.

Which Eduador will show up? The odds-beaters from the first two matches, or the we suck at sea level boys from World Cup qualifying and group match 3?

Hoping for the former.

Can England win despite Sven? I think so -with Gerrard and Rooneh, you have not one but two dudes capable of completely bossing a match, putting the team on their shoulders, and pullig a Jay-Z: "I will NOT lose." I look forward to watching Ashley Cole show again why Arsenal have the best left back in the world, even if it is only for another couple of weeks.

"Eng-er-land, Eng-er-land, Eng-er-land..."

Half Time. 0-0. Not a very pretty match for the neutrals. England are playing 4-5-1 with Rooneh on top, and have largely been ineffective. Ecuador have created equal chances if not a few more and are NKOTB: Hangin' Tough.

Moment of the match thusfar happened when John Terry screwed up a header and put Ecuador's Delgado through on goal all alone. He measured up his shot and took it, and there seemed no way that he wasn't going to score. Only problem was that Ashley Cole came flying literally out of nowhere to slide down and deflect the shot off the crossbar. Very probable that Ash saved England from going 0-1 down.

Ash saves the day; Cheryl Tweedy to write a song about it.

60th min.: 1-0 England. Spiceman does what Spiceman does best. As good of a free kick as you will ever see. 30 yard curler that just beat the keeper even though the keeper was well positoned and reacted quickly. His full stretching dive only allowed him to just barely meet the ball and deflect it off the post and in. Beautiful, beautiful free kick.

Spiceman's amazing free kick barely beats The Ultimate Warrior.

England 1-0 Ecuador.
England were rubbish yet again, but Robinson made a world class save to hold the lead, and they made Spiceman's goal stand up. England are through to the final 8, where they will play the winner of Portugal-Holland.

Congrats to England and also to Myles, the best football writer I read, who predicted exactly what would happen.

Best match on paper in the round of 16, along with Spain-France. Should be a classic.

These two have played as recently as the semifinals of Euro2004, with Portugal beating Holland 2-1.

Horseface VanDivesalot has been dropped; Holland are going with Robben, Kuyt, and RVP up front. Joy.

12.01 p.m. - 1 minute in and this is already better than England-Ecuador. Van Bommel misses the post by about 1 foot with a low rocket shot, then gets booked for a stupid challenge on C Ronaldo.

12.20 - C Ronaldo picked up a hard knock in the 3rd minute and is clearly not 100%. Trying to run it off, but you can tell it has affected him a bit. He has received treatment twice, and it looks like a gash/bruise on his thigh. Interesting to see how much it affects him.

12.22 - Nuno Maniche has the same face as Irish golfer Paddy Harrington. Lots of lookalikes today: Dean Cain (Deco), Patrick McEnroe (Robben), Boris Becker+Cobra Kai Johnny (Kuyt), and even a hint of a pasty Peter Brady (Van Bommel).

12.23 GOLASO! 1-0 to Portugal. Maniche has done it to Holland yet again. Great cross in from Superman Deco to Pauleta, who kills it and drops it for hippy Paddy Harrington Maniche, who buries it. Beautiful. Watch for yourself.

Hippy Padraig Harrington Nuno Maniche sinks Holland again.

12.34. C Ronaldo cannot go on. He is replaced by Simao. I don't wish an injury on anyone and I hope C Ronaldo is OK, but I must admit that the result now makes this matchup my fantasy: two teams I really like minus the one player on each team that I really don't like (VanDiver and C Ronaldo).

12.37 - Van Persie schools two Portugese defenders then shoots just wide form a tight angle. This match is really "coming to a boil" as the Brits say.

12.40 - Costinha, already on a yellow, fouls Cocu hard again, kicking his ankle. He has been warned for the last time, and must beware - his next hard foul and he will be off.

12.42 - Collision in the box between Robben and a Portugese defender. No foul given, although replay shows that Robben was kicked in the chest.

12.44 - Van Der Saar makes an amazing save from a point blank Pauleta rocket shot.

12.45 - I told you. Costinha sent off for Portugal after handling the ball. File that move under "not smart". One of the few times this has happened this tournament where you can't really argue against the referee's decisions.

12.48 - Half Time. Great half, and the 2nd should be even better. Portugal must defend their 1 goal lead for 45 minutes playing a man down, and without one of their most talented players in Ronaldo who is off injured. Should be exciting.

1.10 - Cocu smashes one off the crossbar; Holland so close to getting an equalizer.

1.13 - Holland creating chance after chance after chance. Horseface is warming up; when he comes on it should be for Kuyt, who has been the least effective Dutch forward. It would be a mistake to take Van Persie off, as he can create a goal out of nothing and is their best free kick taker.

1.17 Free kick awarded, pushing & shoving, Figo lightly headbuts Van Bommel, Van Bommel does his best Rivaldo, grabbing his face and falling to the ground like a sack of potatoes. More pushing & shoving. Figo booked.

1.22 Figo elbowed in the face by the Dutch right back, who is already on a yellow. He receives another yellow and is sent off. Can't really argue with the call after seeing the replay. 10 v 10 for the last 26 minutes, and the match is already open and intense. It will only be moreso from here on out. This game has extra time classic written all over it, but Holland will need to manufacture a goal to get us there.

1.32 - Deco makes a hard foul and is rightly carded. Another scuffle breaks out, lots of pushing & shoving. Sneidjer pushes Petit to the ground and he is also booked. Van Der Vaart is also booked. Portugese keeper Ricardo is also booked - I think every single player is now on a yellow card. Saying that emotions are high is like saying there's a small party in the Castro today.

1.36 - Nuno Valente is booked for a bad challenge on Van Persie. 15 minutes to go; we may not finish with 20 men on the field.

1.37 - No sooner do I say that then Deco is given a 2nd yellow and is sent off, I guess either for picking the ball up or for being tackled by Cocu. Why was Cocu not carded? First one that I think the referee got wrong. This match is straight-up crazy. Anyhow, Holland now have a 10 v 9 advantage for the last 12 minutes.

1.39 - Ricardo saves a Kuyt shot when Kuyt is played through all alone 1 on 1 with the keeper. Kuyt slides into Ricardo and kicks the shit out of the Portugese keeper (not intentionally), who is hurt. 10 minutes to go.

1.40 - It just hit me like a bolt of lightning: Big Phil Scolari is Gene Hackman. I cannot believe I never noticed this before.

1.41 - Big Phil shows his brass balls by taking legend/icon Figo off just as he did in the Euro2004 quarterfinal. Tiago on for him.

1.42 - Best name in the tournament is on for Holland: Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink. Ruud looks absolutely shocked that he has not been used (and now cannot be).

1.49 Kuyt just misses 2 chances as regular time expires. No less than 6 minutes of extra time...

1.53 - Van Bronkhorst given 2nd yellow for a bad challenge and sent off. It's now 9 on 9 for the last two minutes.

1.54 - Barcelona teammates Deco & Van Bronkhorst are sitting together watching the end and chatting, having both been sent off. Funny.

1.56 - Full Time.

Survive and advance, mami. Survive and advance.

Portugal 1-0 Holland.
Wow what a match - literally a battle. I actually thought the referee did a good job with all his decisions except one - the 2nd yellow for Deco was a joke - he was grabbed and thrown to the ground. I can only guess the the ref decided that he was wasting time by picking the ball up. My point is this: some of the other refs in this cup would have sent 6 dudes off and we would have seen a forefit. Anyhow, Deco and Costinha miss the quarterfinal with England. Costinha is replacable, but as I have said all along, Deco is their most important player and will be sorely missed. I still think Portugal can beat England.

The pro-VanNistelrooy camp will rake Van Basten over the coals for not bringing him on and then losing. His ManUtd career is in peril/chaos/turmoil; now it seems you can add his international career as well. It couldn't have happened to a nicer guy bigger dick.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Day 16 Random Thoughts / Open Thread


In my original picks I had both teams playing but not playing each other. I still like Sweden to beat the Germans. Not saying they definitely will, but I really like their team. Thusfar they have created 2 million chances and only converted 2. I think against Germany's defense they will create a bunch more, and we still haven't had that game where Sweden put it all together. Germany are great going forward, and this one should be fun. I can see a 3-2 or 4-3 classic. I'll take Sweden 3-2. Watch out for Zlatan - he hasn't done much yet but is capable of some serious circus shit.

Like Kanu, they have no idea what they are talking about

Half Time: Uggh, nevermind. Germany are rampant, Sweden are impotent offensively. Sweden are 0-2 down and playing 10 v 11. This shit is over. Sweden: thank you for coming; we have some nice parting gifts for you.

Where's Waldo Sweden? They're damn near invisible.

Germany 2-0 Sweden.
How to you say total and complete domination in German? Damn, they could have been 4-0 at the half, and from there they cruised. Very disappointed in Sweden - after playing nice offensive soccer and creating a ton of chances in the group stage, they didn't do much of anything. Down 2 goals and a man by halftime they looked to have no chance, but early in the 2nd half they were awarded a penalty which should have put them right back into the match. Except for the fact that they missed it. Pretty standard stuff from there on out.

German women (and 10% of German men) want him.
(the other 90% of) German men want to be him.

Disappointing way for Henrik Larsson to end a wonderful international career with his team playing with such a whimper. Zlatan was very disappointing - perhaps the most disappointing player in the tournament. Whereas Landon Donovan is a good player who was overhyped and didn't perform, Zlatan is a great player who wasn't overhyped but certainly was expected to shine, and he didn't do much of anything over the 3 matches in which he played.

Sweden: the long kiss goodbye.

Suddenly Germany have gone from pre-tournament no-hopers but will be a tough out cause they are at home, to a genuine threat to make it all the way to the final. On paper you would think Argentina should handle them, but today GErmany looked amazing and Argentina were a little off, and it is a home match for Germany, so I would say it is even. That match will be must see TV.

Argentina will simply have too much for El Tricolor. 3-1.

Argentina 2-1 Mexico aet.
Wow. What a match. The Mexicans fought valiantly, and it really showed how much better they are when Borgetti plays. Both goals in the first half were outstanding. The whole 2nd half I was thinking that for Argentina the match was screaming out for Messi, and that if he came on he could really create problems. I was suprised that he came on so late (85th minute I think). Once on Argentina looked more dangerous to me. He and Tevez are just great - at 19 and 21 the future is bright for Argentina for sure. A very tense and dramatic 2nd half couldn't find a goal, so for the first time we got extra time. I for one am glad that they have abandoned the goalden goal/silver goal experiment and gone back to the traditional extra time 2 15 minute periods no matter what happens, then onto penalties if it is still tied.

Mexico put in a huge effort.

No penalties were neccessary today thanks to the goal of the tournament (thusfar) by Maxi Rodriguez. Received a cross at the edge of the box ont he right, used his chest to kill the cross, then fired a booming left footed volley into the far corner that was simply unsaveable. The ball never touched the ground. Just ridiculous. Golaso Enormo. It will take something really special to beat that out for goal of the tournament. Mexico made a few chances but couldn't get a leveller, so Argentina are through to the quarterfinals where they will face old rivals Germany. Mexico earned the world's respect today with their valiant performance. Just a great match, 3 amazing goals, and nice to see an entire match with 22 men on the field for a change.

Oh, and Riquelme looks just like Gilbert Gottfried in the face.

Party time in Buenos Aires.