Saturday, June 10, 2006

Swindle On Soccer, Vol. 1: Sputtering To Life

Swindle's Opening Salvo
Good morning, America--and you're so, soooo vulnerable right now, waking early in the morning of what could argubly be called the worst calendar month of sport, June, when the NBA Finals involve two teams no one seems to care about, baseball's not interesting yet (and for some of us, will never get interesting,) and football's still an eon away from reality. You are weak, desperate for passion...and along comes the World Cup to soothe your fears and give you hope again, to convert you into the legion of soccer-mad hooligans that genetically you should be.

Unfortunately, your first couple of dates with this new flame--the hot, cosmopolitan one who's so worldly and elegant--haven't gone as planned. In fact, they've been a bit awkward at times.

You know you need him

Sure, the opening date was nice: Germany-Costa Rica at least featured a boatload of goals, momentum swings despite Germany remaining firmly in control for much of the match, and Ticos team that would not die. If the Germans were the Mexican army in some strange international transposition of the Alamo scenario, Ticos striker Paulo Wanchope played the part of doomed John Wayne, firing in two valiant goals in the face of a stronger, more coordinated, and intimidatingly Wehrmachtish German attack. The Ticos now stand an Alamo's chance of getting out of the bracket, too, while Germany looked aggressive and ready to beat some ass. Which, true to national stereotype, is exactly how Germany should look.

Poland-Ecuador? At least it was a surprise, despite being a relatively uninteresting game across the board. Poland looked discombobulated, which could have been the product of the stunning Polish ladyfans jiggling away in the stands. (Thus far, from cursory scans of the stands, Poland has taken the lead in ass-factor differential, which would be part of World Cup scoring in a perfect world.) Ecuador pulls a stunner while dodging not one but two Polish bullets late in the game in the form of thundering shots off the bar, leaving Ecuador to figure out exactly how to flake out and blow the strategic position they've gained in game one, since that's what mid-size South American teams are born to do. Poland needs to seek solace in the arms of the milkmaids, down some glumki, and regroup for the upcoming match with Germany. Poland vs. Germany...aah, no historical enmity there whatsoever. We're sure it'll be sportsmanlike.

The P in Poland will stand for "pain" in '06

Most troubling of all to this point: the reappearance of the bickering, shambolic excellence that is English soccer in their first game against Paraguay. England's 11 outstanding, ridiculously well-compensated world-beaters filled that form perfectly, dithering around for at least 75 of the match's 92:14 span. The Ostrich, Peter Crouch, fell under the stinkeye of the refs early, earning a yellow card and drawing numerous other penalties while jockeying for position on headers. At 6'7", Peter, you are already guilty of a foul whenever the question arises; don't make it easier by arguing. Beckham sailed a few typically beautiful corner kicks into the box, including the one that turned into the only goal of the game, an own goal off a Paraguayan defender some four minutes into the game.

Beckham and the rest of the team together refused to take over the game, though, piddling away the clock following the initial score. Beckham remains singularly frustrating to the soccer fan: infinitely talented, blessed with a artilleryman's foot capable of smart weapon precision, yet ultimately just an nth of a degree shy of the freaky athletic dominance of a Ronaldo. Ashley Joe Cole seemed to lead the charge himself much of the time, and much of the time he remained just that: alone in his aggression.

In all fairness to England, that's just what most teams resemble playing Paraguay--shit. If the game Brazil plays is the joga bonito, the Paraguayans play what the Germans would call der scheisseballspiel, "the shit game." Strategy centers around keeping the score very, very low and losing by as small a margin as possible, much like Akido transferred to the footy pitch. Paredes played the part of "melodramatic Romance language-speaking dive whore" in the match, spending most of his time writhing on the ground in between fruitless runs into the teeth of the English defense. Paraguay plays a tenacious game, and once informed that putting the ball into the opponent's net advances you to the next round could one day be more than a spiky early-round curiosity. As it stands now, they're just one of the more aggravating games you can watch as a fan.

(Our favorite announcing moment: we think it was Eric Wynalda talking about how the formerly penniless Paredes used to walk miles to practice and use his bus fare for meal money, then letting everyone know that he was dating one of the top models in Paraguay and living the fat life. This fast-forwarded our brains to this afternoon's match with Cote d'Ivoire, where we'd be the entire squad is sleeping in a youth hostel and taking public transportation to the game. This should only serve as a reminder that Cote d'Ivoire is the greatest early stage story of the game, and we hope against all rational hope that they demolish the Night Ranger-loving mullet crew of Argentina this afternoon. Which. Will. Not. Happpen.)


Anonymous said...

Greetings, soccer person. I'm a college football fan (and gambler) ready to whittle my June away watching futbol.

You're right about ABC's stinking coverage. I may not know anything about Sweden, Trinidad, or Tobago. But I don't need to be told 20 times that "a win by T-T or even a draw would be a huge upset." Sweden's the favorite. Got it.

I'd love it if you'd make some predictions against the betting spread. It would save me a lot of work, and you seem to know more about the sport than the average bettor.

Anonymous said...

Well I never would have expected to find good WC analysis and discussion via an SEC centered college football site. A nice surprise.

Are you sure you named the right Cole there Orson? I thought Ashley had a down game and he looked the weakest (today) of the England defenders to my eyes. Joe Cole looked like the best player on the field to me today.

Beckham and Owen had some nice flashes, mainly very early in the game, but didn't do much overall. Lampard made some nice plays but Gerrard was disappointing (I though HE looked like the best player in the world when I saw this year's FA cup final).

England/Paraguay wasn't an exciting game to watch, but Sweden/T&T made up for it.

Anonymous said...

It was Joe, Phil--good catch. He was the only pulse England had.

Anonymous said...

For much of the game, yes England didn't have much of a pulse. I think after Crouch's three goals against Jamaica last week they were emphasizing the high balls to him a bit too much. Owen should still be the main threat, though to be fair Paraguay kept him marked pretty tightly.

I blame Sven for the lack of entertainment value, with the substitutions he was clearly playing for the 1-0 result.

BTW, If it's not clear by now I'm an England fan. I was born there and only became a fan of the American game when I happened to go to a university that was pretty good at it (USC).

Now, it's time to fire up the Tivo and check on the Argy's.

Kanu said...


Betting indidual games in soccer is a fool's errand in my humble opinion, and I gave it up after betting against Greece (and losing my money)over and over and over again at Euro2004. On the other hand, if the US was like England and there was a Ladbrokes on every corner, then I would be giving them my money as well. I also hate putting down a bet, and then being forced to root against a compelling story or underdog becasue of my bet - perfect example would have been Sweden-T&T today. I liked Sweden to win 3-0, and if I had a bet on them to win I would not have been able to root for the cinderella underdog and enjoyed the match for the wonderful display of soccer that it was; rather, I would have spent the entire match stressing and pissed of that Sweden kept managing to miss good chances by the dozens. For this reason I have decided to take a pass this time around and just enjoy the madness of the world cup on it's face value.

Myles Palmer, an excellent writer over at Arsenal News Review, often talks about bets that he makes on matches and why, so I can only assume that he will do the same during the world cup. He knows way more about footy than I do, so you might want to slog through his articles looking for nuggets:

There is a great link to the right in the sidebar under PROPER FOOTBALL called WORLD CUP BETTING ODDS, which will take you to a website that shows the odds for like 20 different books so you can shop and compare. It's the coolest sports gambling site I know of.

As far as the outright winner of the tournament, if you thnink Brasil might not win, then in my opinion England, Italy, and Germany are all way overbet and offer very little value at their current prices.

Argentina offered massive value at 8-1 or 9-1, but have already dropped down to 6-1 based on today's result(if and when they get out of the "group of death", they will drop all the way down to 2nd choice to Brasil. SO if you like them to win the cup, bet them ASAP.

I also thnk Spain at 14-1 offer massive value, as do Holland at the same price(same thing with group of death with them - they will start to drop if they win tomorrow and will drop waaaay down if they get out of the group). And France at 12-1 is a good value too. I could see Portugal winning the whole thing if everything goes their way, so at 22-1 they offer a nice price as well.

Personally, I think the winner will come from one of the following 5: Spain, Holland, Argentina,France, or even Portugal. This is assuming Brasil fail as no-value 5/2 favorites.

The smart thing to do I suppose is to bet Brasil to win the world cup way early, as soon as they offer it and before the qualifying is even done - on that same website during Euro2004, you could have bet Brasil to win World CUp 2006 at 8-1. Being that they have never failed to qualify, and they have been to the last 3 finals, I should have put a hundy on them two years ago at that price. Might be the way to go in 2010.

Good luck, whatever you end up playing.