Monday, July 31, 2006

The Golden Mullet: A Day 3 Weeks Late &
A Dollar Short

At the beginning of the World Cup I set out to keep an eye out to find The Golden Mullet that would take us all on a wonderful journey across the International Bad Line and beyond.

There were so many mullets on offer that you really had to be doing something special to stand out. Of course you had the classic like Argentine fullback Juan Sorin. But this was common and had been done so many times before.

Swedish midfielder Wilhelmson came with something never seen before - his own interpretation of the part mullet/part rattail/ part single dread, earning himself an honorable mention for originality.

All the rage in Sweden, meaning that it
will catch on in the USA around 2016

Spanish backup goalkeeper Canizares was sporting a crazy dye-blond mullet that made him look like he was straight out of an 80s metal glam band, earning himself an honorable metion as well.

Laid down a wicked bassline on "Dr. Feelgood" "Unskinny Bop"

All solid efforts. But there can only be one Golden Mullet, and that prestigous honor is reserved for midfielder Jan Polak of the Czech Republic.

There can only be one champion.

On a squad already boasting Patrick Swayze from Point Break, you really have to come strong to get any notice, and come strong he did. He not only went for the shaved sides look, the rooster mohawk on top, AND the blond dye on the mullet proper leaving a skunky two-tone effect, but he took the extra step of seperating the top and the back into their own sections.

Ghana's gladiator Essien, running scared.

Put all that together and you have your winner. I am proud to bestow this honor upon our hero Jan. It should go someway towards offsetting all of the dumb Polack jokes about him not being able to spell his name correctly or even suit up for the correct country.

So frightful that is was first shown yellow...

...and then red. The referee was clearly a hater, and Andrea Pirlo (21 in blue) is clearly in awe.

Speaking of 80s glam metal bands, the team award went to Ukraine, hands down. Argentina were pretty good, but in the end they could not touch this Ukranian team. I am pretty sure that I saw them open up for Skid Row back in 89.

Hard to tell here, but if you saw #s 4, 10, 14, 19
and a few of the subs in action then you know.

A nomination for team award, classic division was put in for Bulgaria 1994, particularly this dude. I honestly didn't have or take the time to do any legwork and come up with any challengers, and I just met a cute girl from Bulgaria, so there's your winner.

Finally we have the most fucked up haircut, mullets excluded. There were so many solid entries that it is a bit of a suprise that we had such a runaway winner. Our man plays defense for Angola and is named simply Loco, which serves not only as his name but as a one-word explanation of his unbelieveable haircut, which is basically 2002 Ronaldo meets Dreadlock Rasta. So awfully horrid that is absolutely rules.

Loco indeed.

Sadly, there was no competition for most fucked up haircut, classic division, and there never will be, because nothing can ever top the full on insanity of Carlos Valderrama (my God, take your pick). Ever. He will hold this title ad infinitum.

The one and only MFUHCCD.

Bernardini Is The Real Deal

Bernardini showed that his dominant win in the Preakness was no fluke - coming off a long layoff, and running for the first time on a sloppy track, he obliterated the field, which truth be told was not all that great, to jog home a 9 length winner in Saturday's Jim Dandy Stakes at Saratoga. He ended up in the lead around the first turn, and down the backstretch you could see just from watching the field how impressive his strides were in relation to the other colts. Jockey Javier Castellano held the reigns on Bernardini through the far turn, then let go and simply cruised home. He didn't even break out his whip, and actually seemed to ease the horse home to save energy for the Travers. Remember when sprinter Michael Johnson used to jog the last 30 meters of the 200 becasue he was so far ahead? That is basically what happened here. Pretty damn impressive stuff.

As impressive and effortless as you will see.

So that is 4 wins in a row, the last two in dominant fashion. He has anounced that he is for real and may very well have a major say in both the 3 year old horse of the year as well as the Breeders Cup Classic. With the win he leaps to the top of the Classic division standings. It would be really exciting to see this horse run the table and showdown with Lava Man and the other big boys in the Classic on Nov. 4th.

This weekend will see the Whitney at Saratoga, featuring Flower Alley, who last year won both the Jim Dandy and the Travers and then ran 2nd in the Breeders Cup Classic to Saint Liam. Flower Alley is 1 for 1 this year and is currently ranked 4th in the classic division. The main thread will be Invasor, an Argentine horse currently ranked 3rd in the Classic division. I'm looking forward to watching these two top horses duke it out on Saturday.

Also this weekend is the Haskell Invitational at Monmouth Park which will feature Derby & Belmont runner up Bluegrass Cat. Lava Man, bumped to 2nd in the classic division but considered by many to be the true leader, will run in the Pacific Classic on August 20th, and Bernardini will face a tougher field in the Travers Stakes on August 26, which is the highlight of the summer meet at Saratoga.

Here's hoping Bernardini, Lava Man, Flower Alley, and Invasor all make it to the BC Classic on Nov. 4 at Churchill Downs.

Friday, July 28, 2006

UGA Tailgaters: Make Room For Ned Flanders

I've been to enough UGA home games to know that alcohol-free tailgates are less than 1%, and this is way too much fucking space to be reserved for alcohol-free tailgaters. Prime-ass space at that. With that much room they can all bring a beach blanket, lie down and spread out.

Welcome to the Go-Giggely-Go Dawgs!-enest tailgate
in Athens, neighbor! Care for an O'Douls?

First the parking restrictions and traffic plan of a few years back, and now this. I guess as someone who attended UGA when football Saturdays were all about free-for-all anarchy, I see all of these new restrictions as the man being the man. I remember fondly walking to my morning classes and coming across RVs parked in the dorm parking lots (corner of Baxter & Lumpkin - I forget the name of that dorm Lipscomb Hall) tailgaiting and offering me beer and food... on Thursday mornings.

Here's an excellent writeup about the whole thing by PWD. I agree with damn near all his points. I am not saying that accomodating alcohol-free families is a bad thing per se. I am just saying that this seems to be overdoing it more than a wee bit. I imagine that there will be some hilarious scenes early in the year, especially at the first game. Shitfaced middle-aged Bubba hollerin' at the 20 year old campus police kid about how he has been tailgating at this spot since 1977 and challenging the dude to physically remove he and his buddies from said spot. "Do you know who I am?" An even funnier image to ponder is people using all of their tried and true methods to sneak in and covertly consume alcohol in the stadium at the tailgate. I can see people near the arch nervously scanning the horizon for cops and then quickly gunning a nice big gulp from their flask which resides tucked under their belt buckle. Will these be a better images for the innocent eyes of young Rod & Todd than what they have been seeing all these years? Should be very entertaining to watch for those of you who will be near these family zones.

Hell, some of my funniest and clearest tailgating memories were of random people, many of whom I had never met or didn't know, and their epic level of drunkenness. So are yours. Seriously - how many of you recall with fondness epic tailgate stories from seasons past that DIDN'T involve drunkenness? They ALL involve drunkenness, not "remember that nice couple we met from Clayton at the Carolina game back in '99, and we all did coloring books with their lovely children?"

I guess this fall I will lament living 3,000 miles from Athens a bit less on college football Saturdays, since my friends and I have always tailgated in that giant purple patch on North Campus near the Arch. I am sure that since they all live rather close to Athens that they are sufficiently pissed, since we always 1) drink but do not get out of control fall down drunk and 2) we pack up our trash. I heard from friends that last year's Auburn game was pretty out of control and that campus got trashed pretty good. Wouldn't the appropriate response be to put out a bunch more trash receptacles? Or take the extra security needed to police these areas and crack down on out of control drunks by citing them for public nuisance or something? Seems like everyone is being punished on account of a few bad apples. And what about self-policing? If you are tailgating and the people next to you are overly obnoxious, then move somewhere else; it's that simple - in those two areas you have already lugged all of your shit away from your car. That's what we all do everywhere else in life, so why not here? Just last weekend I went to the beach, lugged my shit down there, unpacked it all, and got settled, only to have these really obnoxious people set up shop next to me. So what did I do? I packed up all my shit and moved somewhere else. Not rocket science. It seems like once again Mr. Adams is playing politics with this.

There are two things that make a tailgate: pretty girls
and alcohol.
Why mess with a good thing?

This seems to me like one of the stupidest things I have ever heard of. Cutting 2 huge swaths of prime tailgating territory, one of which is at the gateway between campus and downtown Athens where they are 50 or so bars, decreeing that it is family friendly and alcohol free, and then policing it to keep alcohol and anyone drinking it out of said areas? Yeah, good luck with that.

What's next, banning of sundresses for all the beautiful women because they promote impure thoughts in all straight men who look upon them?

Horse Racing Odds & Ends

2 weeks ago Barbaro had developed full-on laminitis in his left hind leg and had an infection in his trying-to-heal right leg, and things did not look good at all. Now he appears to be doing better, so we'll wait and see. It sounds like he won't be out of the woods for another several months.

The dominant Preakness winner returns to the track at Saratoga tomorrow for The Jim Dandy Stakes (ESPN 2p.m. PST). He will use this as a prep race for the Travers Stakes on Aug. 26, then point to the Jockey Club Gold Cup and ultimately try to get to the Breeders Cup Classic on Nov. 4 at Churchill Downs.

Bernardini romping in the Preakness.

His main competition will be Peter Pan winner Sunriver. Not much else in the race as far as a significant threat: Hemingway's Key (3rd in Preakness), Oh So Awesome (5th in Belmont), and the dual entry of Dr. Pleasure and Ministers Bid. After such a dominant performance in the Preakness he will be expected to mop up this field with ease, but coming off a 9 week layoff you never know what might happen. I really like this horse so I hope that he does the business.

Yeah, I'm pretty much a hater when it comes to last year's Derby winner, because I thought that he was a joke winner who benefitted from a ridiculous pace scenario caused mainly by no-hoper Spanish Chestnut running as a rabbit and tiring out the best horses in the race, including my horse Afleet Alex, who went on to win the Preakness and Belmont and prove that he was the best horse in last year's Derby after all.

So I was a bit peeved to see that he finally won another race since his Derby last year, coming from behind to nip Preachinatthebar by a nose at the wire to win the Grade II San Diego Handicap. In between he finished 3rd in the 2005 Preakness, 7th in the 2005 Belmont, 3rd in the Grade II Strub stakes earlier this year, and 5th in the Santa Anita Handicap. As a hater, I was kind of hoping that he would never win another race after the Derby to support my theory that he is shit (he didn't win a stakes race in his career before the Derby but did have 1 win in a maiden race), but that is out the window now.

His connections seem to think that he can beat horse of the year candidate Lava Man in the upcoming Pacific Classic, even though Lava Man beat his ass by 11 1/2 lengths in the Santa Anita Handicap. Lava Man has won 5 stakes races in a row this year and is currently ranked #1 in the Classic division. They also seem to think that Giacomo can get to the Breeders Cup Classic. I think that they are baked on both counts.

Lava Man: out of Giacomo's league.

Excellent Synopsis Of Italian Soccer Scandal

Leave it to my main man Bobbeh to provide the best summary & details of the entire thing from beginning to end. Certainly the best writeup on this subject that I have come across.

Perhaps the best by-product of the 2006 World Cup is that Bobbeh now has his own blog.

Bobbeh: the fookin' mahn.

Champions League 3rd Round Draw Today

The draw for the 3rd round of qualifying for the 2006-2007 Champions League is today, at I believe 4 a.m. PST. Originally I thought that this was a "blind draw", meaning any team could draw against any team. In the last few says I was certain that Arsenal would draw AC Milan. But now it appears that I was wrong - it looks like the draw is split into seeded teams and unseeded teams, and that as a seeded team Arsenal will only be drawn against one of the unseeded teams.

Hafnarfjördur-Legia winner please. Thanks.

Worst draw for Arsenal would be Fenerbache, Dynamo Kiev, or Dynamo Moscow, because those are probably the three best unseeded teams but also because away legs in Turkey and Russia are no joke.

Personally, I am rooting that Arsenal draw the winner of the Djurgården-Ružomberok 2nd round tie.

The 2nd round of qualifiers is 1/2 way done - results available here. The 2nd round will finish on August 2nd, and the 3rd round of qualifying will take place over 2 legs on August 8/9 and August 22/23.

The draw for the group stage (i.e. Champions League proper) will then take place on August 24th.

***Update 6.13 a.m.***

Arsenal have drawn the winner of Ekranas (Lithuania) -Dinamo Zagreb (Croatia). Dinamo Zagreb lead 4-1 after the first match and the return leg is in Zagreb, so Arsenal will face Dinamo Zagreb.

Full draw here. Liverpool drew Haifa and will have to travel to Israel, which will be a wee bit distracting I would think. The best draw on paper for the neutrals looks like Hamburg-Osasuna.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Landis Wins Epic Tour De France With Ride For The Ages. Was It On The Up & Up?

So last weekend Floyd Landis finished the job after his amazing comeback in stage 17 from his amazing bonk in stage 16. He went over the top in Saturday's time trial and cruised to victory on Sunday.

Winner, or cheater?

None other then Lance Armstrong is now lobbying his ex-teammate to join the Discovery team that Lance is a part owner in. According to OLN's Paul Sherwin, after Landis' stage 17 heroics "one of the first people to call him was his ex-team-mate and former 7 time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong who told Landis he had the biggest balls of any cyclist he had ever met to even think about pulling such a move."

He is the 3rd American to win the race. Amazingly, Americans have now won 11 of the last 21 races dating back to Greg Lemond's first TDF win in 1986. That's pretty dominant when you consider that not a single American even rode in the TDF prior to 1981.

I took a liking to Landis after reading this Outside magazine piece on him 2 months ago. I was especially excited to find that he shared my disdain for the ridiculous concept of giving 110%:

"Well, why not 112 percent?" Landis inquires, eyes widening with burning incredulity. "Why not 500 percent or 1,300 percent or 38 billion percent? I mean, if he can crank it up beyond 100 percent, why not? What's stopping him, exactly?"

Exactly, man. This whole 110% thing has been a huge pet peeve of mine for years, so I took an immediate liking to him after reading the article. Plus he is a great story with his degenerative hip and looming replacement surgery, etc.

Now today reports have come out that Landis's urine sample after that epic stage 17 ride showed unusual levels of testosterone. If he won by cheating then it would be the worst scandal in cycling history considering he is the TDF winner. And given cycling's history of doping, that is saying something.

Critics will say that the fact that it was after that unbelieveable ride in stage 17 circumstantially proves that he cheated, because no one could believe that he did what he did. But I do not think that Floyd cheated to win. I am not saying that there might not be "unusual" levels of testosterone in his urine sample from that day. I just think that he didn't cheat to win. Cheaters in cycling don't pump themselves with testosterone because it is so easily traceable; they tend to use EPO and other designer type drugs that are much more difficult to detect. Additionally, from all reports Floyd knew from the night before stage 17 that he was going to try his go for broke super attack the next day. Knowing the Tour's policy of automatically drug testing the winner of each stage as well as several others at random, why would he juice if he was trying to win the stage?

Floyd has a reputation as a very clean guy. It seems more likely that his elevated testosterone level was the result of the cortisone shots that he takes for his jacked up hip, or perhaps from the daily medication that he takes for a thyroid problem, or both. He has denied the doping allegation in an exclusive interview with that is certainly worth a read.

What's next? The sample that has already been analyzed is called the "A" sample. Now they will test the "B" sample to see if it matches, since each drug test requires 2 samples. Landis has retained the services of a doctor to help show that his elevated testosterone levels are not from doping. According to this interesting article by King Kaufman, ESPNews analyst John Eustice notes that many times in the past riders have been charged with elevated testosterone levels, and that:

"Every time an athlete has disputed a testosterone test," he said, "they have won. So the test is not quite as reliable as everyone thinks."

Landis adds in the SI article: "In hundreds of cases," Landis told me, "no one's ever lost one."

So we'll see what happens, but I'm falling on the he didn't cheat side of the fence.

Toigah Wins 11th Major in Typical Anticlimax Fashion

"Toigah" of course being the epic pronounciation of "Tiger" by ABC commentator Ian-Baker Finch.

Tiger had a 1 shot lead going into Sunday, and just about all of the other big names behind him folded up or melted down fairly early, most notably Sergio Garcia & Ernie Els. The day had a chance to be epic, but by the turn Tiger was 3 up. Although he is a hard core Gator, mad props must be given to Chris DiMarco, who was the only player to not shit the bed. In fact, after a birdie at 12 and then a 50 foot par saver at 14, he was within 1 shot of Woods and it looked like it was game on. Except that Tiger did what he so often does in such a situation: calmly birdies 14, 15, and 16 to put things away.

One thing that has gone largely unnoticed for many years was on full display last week: Tiger Woods is by far the best long iron player in all of golf. Period. For all the talk about his length off the tee, his amazing short game, and clutch putting, the biggest gap between himself and everyone else may very well lie in his ability ot strike the ball accurately with an iron from 200 to 250 yards out. Using his 2 iron off the tee almost exclusively (he hit driver only once all week and 3 wood a handful of times), woods hit 46 or 54 fairways for the week to lead the entire field at 85%. On Sunday he hit every green in regulaton except 1 - all week is was surgical golf, and was actually pleasant to see this strategy employed and successfull in an era where the prevailing attitude is hit is as far as possible with driver every time, fairways be damned.

So Woods is now 11 for 11 in majors when leading after 54 holes, which is pretty damn amazing (for the record, Nicklaus was 10 for 12 in his career with the 3rd round lead in a major). Perhaps even more amazing is that Woods has never come from behind on the final day to win a major. All 11 are from the lead.

Oh, and his 11 majors are 2nd all time in the history of the sport (to Nicklaus' 18), and dude is only 30 years old. Insane.

As I have talked about before, Woods is just unbelieveable at majors where par is 72, especially if the par5s are reachable. He is now 9 for 17 in his career in par 72 majors (.529). Compare the to his 2 for 22 record in majors where par is 70 or 71 (.091), and the contrast is quite remarkable. So I won another of my rolling bets with SD where I get Tiger at 3-1 odds against the field in every major. As long as they play at least two par 72 majors each year (Masters is always par 72), I feel pretty good about this ongoing bet.

The PGA Championship next month is at Medinah in Chicago, where Tiger won in 1999. Note that par is 72, although with the course lengthened to 7,561 yards it looks like only 1 of the par5s will be reachable, and even that one won't be easy.

One last amazing stat that I came across last week among all the talk about Tiger's chances to catch Jack's record of 18 professional majors. Jack not only won 18 majors, he finished 2nd 19 times and 3rd 18 times, for an absolutely insane FIFTY FIVE top 3 finishes in majors. Tiger may very well surpass Jack's record for major wins, but I highly doubt that he will ever come close to 55 top 3's in majors (currently he has one 2nd place finish and three 3rd place finishes). Think about that for a minute: Tiger currently has fifteen top 3 finishes in a major. So over the next 20 years, he would need a top 3 finish in every other major to match Jack's 55 top 3s.

Bergkamp Testimonial Opens Emirates Stadium

DB10: Arsenal Legend.

I'd like to thank DB10 and Arsenal FC for putting on that testimonial, because in doing so they brought back my 2 favorite footballers to Arsenal, even if just for a day. Seeing both Kanu and Vieira in the red & white again was pure sweetness - I wish I could have seen the whole match instead of just highlights on FSC. Kanu went so far as to score the gamewinner late on as Arsenal beat Ajax 2-1.

DB10 & K25: like old times.

The fact that Henry and Vieira each interrupted their short summer vacation to fly to London and participate, and that a bunch of Ajax/Dutch legends including Marco Van Basten and Johan Cruyff not only turned up but also played, shows how respected and well liked DB10 in the fraternity of footballers. If only he could have converted that final chance everything would have been perfect. After the match he spoke, did a lap of honor, and then was carried off the field by Henry & Vieira.

TH14, PV4 and the rest show their appreciation

Speaking of Vieira, what a range of emotions he must have felt. Happy for his good friend, happy to see many of his old mates, etc. But it also must have felt pretty damn weird to wear the Arsenal kit again in the first match at the new stadium knowing that he is no longer at Arsenal and will not feature in all that may or may not come in the new building, especially after going to Juventus only to then losr to Arsenal in the Champions League and then see Juventus stripped of it's titles and relegated to Serie B. When he was named captain in 2002, there were 3 years when all people talked about was that PV4 would lead out Arsenal at the new ground; now it will be his good friend TH14 who will be doing that.

Speaking of conflicting emotions, just seeing Paddy in the current Arsenal kit made me both very happy and sad all at the same time.

"Joy and pain... like sunshine, and rain."

By all account the new stadium is amazing - can't wait to see it on TV when the EPL starts back up in 4 weeks. Thanks again to DB10 for all that he did for Arsenal; his importance to the club really cannot be understated.

Take care & be well, Dennis.

Speaking of Being Back: Italian Soccer Corruption, And Tolerance Of It Are Back, Too

I was absolutely suprised when the ruling in the Italian soccer scandal came down a few weeks ago; I didn't think for one second that the clubs would get anything more than a glorified slap on the wrist. I was wrong, and I pleasantly suprised to be so; I actually had some respect for Italian soccer again.

How would Lee Corso say "not so fast my friends" in Italian?

"Non così velocemente i miei amici!"
(according to Babelfish, anyway)

The clubs appealed the decision, and a new ruling that significantly reduces the punishments was given a few days ago which is much more consistent with my original hypothesis. What a fucking joke. Even worse, Juventus and Fiorentina are still pissed and are now fighting to have their punishments reduced further or eliminated altogether, and Signori Moggi has gone so far as to say that Juve have nothing to be sorry for.

If you are scoring at home:

Juventus: 30 point deduction reduced to 17.

Fiorentina: Relegation reversed. Allowed back into Serie A with a 19 point deduction to start the season

Lazio: Relegation reversed. Allowed back into Serie A with an 11 point deduction to start the season.

AC Milan: Now will be allowed to participate in this season's Champions League, although they must play the 3rd round qualifying stage to make the tournament proper. Their 15 point deduction has been reduced to only 8.

Again, a total joke. Seems the equivalent of a child, after being punished by their old school Mom, simply going to their softie Dad, pleading their case, and getting a lesser punishment.

AC Milan have basically now escaped all punishment. Anyone suprised?

By the time they are done appealing for even more reduced penalties in civil court, don't be suprised if every punishment against all four clubs is thrown out.

I'm Back Like Akon...

... except that a) I am not Senegalese b) I cannot sing worth a shit

Friday, July 21, 2006

Has A Man With A Redneck Moustache Ever Won The Tour De France?

So it's Floyd Landis' Tour de France to win or lose tomorrow after a damn near unbelieveable week in the Alps.

He won the yellow jersey back on Tuesday after giving it up the week prior. Wednesday he bonked hard on the last climb and fell 8 minutes behind, and basically was completely out of it. Yesterday he went on a complete and total kamikaze suicide mission of a breakaway over 100 miles from the finish... by himself. The peleton let him go because he was 8 minutes behind, and there was no way that a solo breakaway could last that long. Except it did. Amazingly, he got damn near all the time back yesterday that he lost on Wednesday in what is being hailed as the single greatest single day ride in the past 30 years of the Tour. It's the most remarkable one that I have ever seen (I have been watching since the late 80s).

Putting 8 min. into the peleton on a 100+ mile solo breakaway = badass.

Anyhow, tomorrow is the penultimate stage, a long individual time trial. Landis is in 3rd place, 30 seconds behind overall leader Oscar Pereira (Carlos Sastre is in 2nd 12 seconds behind Pereira). Landis is flat out better at time trials that any of his other rivals, so he should end the day with a couple minute advantage, which would be damn near unbeatable on the final day's cruise into Paris - no Tour has been decided on the final day since 1989, when Greg Lemond overcame a 56 second defecit when the last stage that year was itself a time trial. But should is the key word; this tour has been one completely unexpected adventure after another. Whatever happens, tomorrow should decide the whole thing.

Pretty amazing that the top 3 riders are seperated by only :30 after over 84 hours of riding. If Landis pulls it off then his ride Thursday will go down in the all time annals of the Tour. If he doesn't, then it will be kind of like Joe Tereshinski's amazing TD catch against Florida last year - heroic, but not nearly what it would have been if Georgia had won the game.

Here's hoping he does it; that would probably be the best story for American, and maybe even world, cycling. For those not in the know, Landis had a bad crash in 2003 and as a result his hip had degenerated to the point where he is having hip replacement surgery immediately after the tour this year. If he were to win and then have the surgery, the soap opera of his rehab and if he is able to compete at the highest levels or in the tour in the next year or two would be up there with Lance's comeback from cancer in terms of generating interest from common sports fans.

Hopefully he can do it tomorrow.

Allez le moustache de Floyd!

Tiger & Ernie To Battle For The Open Championship

When Tiger wentout early this morning, holed out for an eagle 2 on the 14th hole, shot 65 and posted -12, with no one else in double digits, the talk was that the British Open was all but over, because unlike Phil Mickleson, Tiger does not beat himself and relinquish leads, especially in majors.

But Ernie Els went out and matched Tiger's 65 to finish at -11, just one behind Tiger. So it is very much game on for the weekend. Those two will play together in the final pairing tomorrow, with the 2nd to last group being Retief Goosen and Florida Gator Chris DiMarco. Should be good stuff to watch.

With 3 par5s on the back nine, including two of the last 3 holes, there is a chance for anything to happen down the stretch on Sunday. One interesting thing about the 18th hole is that as a reachable dogleg right par5, there is O.B. all down the right side. I predict that on Sunday someone will block one out to the right, hit it O.B., and lose their chance to contend. John Daly came to the 18th today 1 ahead of the cut number and proceded to hit his tee shot O.B., then his 4th shot O.B. as well. He made triple bogey 8 to miss the cut by 2 shots.

Should be exciting stuff. After a month of getting up at 6 a.m. for World Cup matches, the early starts this weekend should be no problem. Enjoy.

Bergkamp Testimonial Opens Emirates Stadium on Saturday

Tomorrow Emirates Stadium will host its first match, which will be the testimonial match for retired Arsenal legend Dennis Bergkamp. I wrote about Dennis' contribution to the club and what a testimonial match is back here.

The pictures from the new stadium look pretty great.

From the article:

Saturday’s friendly will be a game of two halves; the current Arsenal and Ajax squad contesting the first, all-time XIs from the two clubs contesting the second. Ian Wright, Patrick Vieira and Johan Cruyff are confirmed, a host of big names will join them.

“It is going to be special,” said Bergkamp. “I had a little bit of an experience with DB10 Day last season. That was quite emotional, this going to be a bit more. The most important thing is that I enjoy the day and share it with some of the other players.”

He is one of the most unique and special players I have ever seen play. Best of luck ot DB10 tomorrow and into the future.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

What's The Italian Word For "Wrong"?

It's already old news but I was definitely wrong about the punishments in the Italian soccer scandal. Here is how it broke down:

Juventus: stripped of their last two league titles, not allowed to participate in the Champions League this year, relegated to Serie B, and given a 30 point deduction for the upcoming season.

Fiorentina: not allowed to participate in the Champions League this year, relegated to Serie B, and given a 12 point deduction for the upcoming season.

Lazio: not allowed to participate in the Champions League this year, relegated to Serie B, and given a 7 point deduction for the upcoming season.

AC Milan: not allowed to participate in the Champions League this year, and given a 15 point deduction for the upcoming season.

In short, Juve are fucked. Estimates have them immediately losing 50% of their revenue (TV money, sponsorships), and despite being Italy's most popular club, thier mysteriously poor attendance means that ticket revenue won't do much to help things out. The 30 point deduction basically means that they will be in Serie B for 2 seasons; it would be quite an accomplishment for them to finish in the top 3 of Serie B to gain promotion given that they are starting the season with -30 points, especially considering that many of their star players will be sold off (Cannavaro and Emerson have already been moved to Real Madrid, and more are sure to follow). So it will probably be 3 years before they are back to Serie A and then they would have to finish in the top 4 to get into the Champions League for 2009-2010. So it is a long, long road back for them.

PV4 will probably leave Juve; rumors
have him going to ManUtd or Inter.

Fiorentina and Lazio start the Serie B season with -12 and -7 points respectively, so it seems like they have a good chance to finish in the top 3 and gain promotion back to Serie A next year. Much will depend on how many 0f their players they are able to retain.

AC Milan got off the easiest of the 3, which isn't much of a suprise given their immense power and connections. However, starting the Serie A season with -15 points means that a top 4 finish to qualify for the Champions League for 2007-2008 will be extrememly difficult task.

So your 4 Italian participants in the Champions League this year are Inter Milan, Roma, Chievo, and Palermo.

Of course all of the clubs are appealing their punishments; mostly they are trying to get the point deductions lessened or removed.

Interesting commentary on this as well as Lippi retiring as Italy's national team coach here.

The Open Championship

So the British Open kicks off today at Royal Hoylake, which has not hosted the Championship since 1967. Two of the last 3 holes are theoretically reachable Par5s which should make things extremely interesting.

Par is 72 which means that Tiger Woods is an excellent choice to win based on his past performance at majors on par 72 tracks. Phil Mickleson will be trying to recover from his hideous fall off the sane golf wagon in the final round of the US Open. It will be interesting to see how he comes back after that, especially considering that he historically does not play well in the British Open (1 top 10 finish in 13 starts), probably because his style of play does not seem to be suited to links golf. By my estimation the current BPTNHWAM (best player to never have won a major) is Sergio Garcia. Hopefully he can compete and finish stong on Sunday instead of continuing his habit of flaming out on Sunday in majors.

For some strange reason I think that the winner will be a Euro.

Anyhow, if you are stuck at work today and tomorrow you can follow all of the action at They have a great radio commentary all day which, like most everything done by Brit announcers, is extremely entertaining.


Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Off The Grid

That is where I will be until Monday. Hopping on a red eye tonight to Boston (is JetBlue as amazing as everyone says? I'll finally find out for myself) then up to the lakehouse on Lake Winnepesaukee in New Hampshire for the rest of the week. Rest, relaxation, golf, swimming, and general laziness will ensue in the company of great friends and family. However, I will be about as off the grid as you can get. No internet, no TV - hell, no shower (bar of soap in the lake, son). The only way to find out what is going on in the world is to try to dial up some scratchy AM action on the radio that is circa the Korean War era, or to drive into "town", buy a Globe, and read about what happened yesterday. Very much looking forward to being unplugged for a few days, and relaxing & rejuvenating.

So anyways, it will be pretty dark around here until next Monday. Y'all have a great week.

"Get Up, Get, Get, Get Down, The Golden Ball Is A Joke In Your Town"

So FIFA awarded the golden ball to Zidane as the best player in the tournament. Pure & total political BS, a going away present and lifetime achievement award. I love Zizou as much as anybody, but the truth is he wasn't even one of the 2 best players... for France. Vieira and Thuram were France's 2 best players. Zizou did pretty much nothing until the 90th minutes against Spain, played the best match of anyone in the tournament against Brasil, then showed flashes of brilliance after that, but Vieira & Thuram were consistently dominant from beginning to end in the tournament.

The two best players in the tournament were Cannavaro and Buffon, and one of them should have won and the other should have been 2nd. I suppose neither really care too much because they got the Jules Rimet Trophy instead.

FIFA did get the Best Young Player award correct by giving it to Podolski of Germany. Dude played the best of any young player (actually Messi did but to use baseball parlance didn't get enough at bats to qualify).

Speaking of Podolski, he probably should be added to my World Cup list of Mike Jonses, along with Grosso of Italy. Inter Milan announced yesterday that they signed Grosso on June 29th, but for some reason they delayed the announcement until after the World Cup. Anyways, quite a coup for Inter - I know that A10 is thrilled.

Props To Kanu's Heart Foundation. Now Can We Get Them Some Pro Bono Webpage Work?

Just wanted to throw some love to the real Kanu, as his charitable foundation which helps Nigerian children with serious heart problems has been named the NGO (Non Governmental Organization) of the year in Nigeria.

Outstanding recognition for Kanu, a year after being appointed the UNICEF Goodwill ambassador for Nigeria. I am proud of my favorite footabller for doing so much to give back to his community and his country, which sure as hell needs it.

A big man with a big (repaired) heart.

For those not in the know, Kanu established the Kanu Heart Foundation in 1997 (when he was only 19 I might add), a year after he was diagnosed with a serious cardiac disorder and had to have a potentially life threatening surgery to replace one of his aortic valves in his heart. The KHF mission is to help young Nigerian and African children who suffer similar heart defects.

Being an African NGO I am sure that they need all the help they can get. I'd go all Sally Struthers on you and plea for you send them the change from under your couch cushions, but the official website isn't even up and running at the moment. Maybe I should send a letter to Bill & Melinda Gates...

The Hangover After The Party

Considering that the World Cup final didn't end until almost 11 p.m. local time in Italy, I'm sure they have been partying like absolute rockstars since then. As an aside, I would love to know what the absentee rate of Italian workers was yesterday - 50%, 70%, higher? Did the government call off work and declare a national holiday?

Anyhow, I hope that they are living it up as much as humanely possible, because the hangover is coming. The ruling on the match fixing/betting/corruption scandal was supposed to be handed down yesterday, but it has been delayed a few days. I can only assume that this was to allow the arbiters to get properly drunk and sing and dance their asses off with everyone else. Now they are saying the ruling should come sometime between today and Thursday.

Since I am going out of town tonight I just wanted to go on record with my predictions. Although there has been significant chatter in the Italian press about blanket amnesty becuase Italy won the World Cup, I don't think that this will happen. On the other hand, I don't believe for 1 second that Juventus will really be relegated to Serie C, let alone Serie B. Any other club but Juve or Milan I believe would get relegated for doing what Juve did, but these two are just too damn powerful - I just don't see it happening, considering the insane power of the club (both actually) in addition that millions and millions of dollars of television and marketing/sponsorship agreements would be affected, both league wide and club specific, and would have to be competely thrown out and re-done. Hell, damn near every Italian sesaon is threatened with delay until the 11th hour becasue they can't get the TV contract sorted out, and that is when everything is going well! Anyways, I'll be Rooneh (read: "gobsmacked") if Juve really get sent down.

Here is my prediction:

Juventus: Will be stripped of the last 2 scudetto titles, but they will not be awarded to anyone else, like an NCAA basketball team having to "vacate" a Final 4 appearance i.e. UMass 1996 or Minnesota 1997. They will be banned from participating in the Champions League for 1-3 years, and the will be on super double secret probation for a while as well.

AC Milan: Perhaps a CL ban for 1 year, and super double secret probation as well.

Fiorentina: Same as Milan.

Lazio: Same as Milan.

Additionally they may cut back their respective shares from TV contracts for 1-3 years.

So that's my guess. Basically, glorified slaps on the wrist all around, which would be extremely disappointing except that seeing some of the smaller Italian clubs get the Champions League spots would be interesting I guess.

What do you think?

Monday, July 10, 2006

Rumors Swirling About What Materazzi
Said To Zidane

First off, this camera angle (tip of the hat to Moin) from Brasilian TV best shows the talking that went on before Zidane lost his mind; after Materazzi's last comments you can see ZZ turn and think to himself in a gangsta Ron Burgundy way: "What did you say?".

Some are claiming that Materazzi said something about Zizou being a terrorist, but Materazzi himself has denied this, hilarously claiming that he does not even know what the word terrorist means, which 5 years after 9/11 is just so absurd that it is funny.

Intrepid DAB reporter (and starting FC Kanu libero) Moin brings us this:

A Brazilian newspaper hired 2 deaf lip-readers and said that Materazzi said something along the lines of "your sister is a whore." Which doesn't seem any worse than anything else Zidane might have heard on that day.

According to Channel 4 news (in France I think), the French camp has claimed that what Materazzi said was actually "your mother is a whore", which, on the surface didn't seem that bad, except when you accompany that with the claim that Zidane just found out earlier in the day that his mother is seriously ill and in the hospital.

The Daily Mail ties most of the rumors together, and is claiming that:

First Marco Matterazzi called the French star the Italian equivalent of 'n*****', and then insulted both his mother and his Muslim background by saying he is the 'son of a terrorist whore'.

The (London) Times hired a lipreader who confirms the latter part of the Daily Mail allegation:

After an exhaustive study of the match video, and with the help of an Italian translator, Rees claimed that Materazzi called Zidane “the son of a terrorist whore” before adding “so just f*** off” for good measure, supporting the natural assumption that the Frenchman must have been grievously insulted. As the son of two Algerian immigrants, the 34-year-old is proud of his North African roots, dedicating France’s 1998 World Cup win to “all Algerians who are proud of their flag and all those who have made sacrifices for their family but who have never abandoned their own culture”, so such a slur would certainly explain, if not justify, his violent response.

Another rumor found here (tip of the hat to DCTrojan) claims:

Rumor has it that Materazzi called Zidane's father a 'harki' - the Arabic term for Algerians who fought for France against Algeria during the occupation. It's beyond all insults, the ultimate traitor. If this is true it means that they did their research - Le Pen suggested the same thing 9 years ago and in the next game Zidane stomped on a Saudi player who repeated it.

Yet another bit of speculation here, along with admittance by MM that he insulted him but claims that the insult was normal for football.

I am as interested as anyone else to find out what Materazzi said to Zidane, but for me the provocation defense is pretty weak: 1) shit talking of various levels goes on all the time in these soccer matches, both club and international. 2) He shoud have learned his lesson from the 1998 World Cup, where a SAudi Arabian player made a remark about his Algerian/Arab heritage and he reacted by raking his cleats on the dude's leg - he was given a 2 match ban. 8 years later and as team captain there is simply no excuse 3) He is a veteran, been through all this stuff, is the captain, it is the biggest match in the world, and also the final match of his career. No excuses whatsoever. I guess he has never heard of Woody Hayes...

Sorry to say it, because he is a soccer God, but plain and simple, Zidane got what he deserved. I don't care how much of a reputation Mr. Materazzi has for unsavory behavior on the field. It seems like too big of a shitstorm has been caused that it won't come out in the next 48 hours, so we'll just wait and see.

Azzurri Defeat Les Bleus, Win 4th World Cup Title

Italy 1-1 France. a.e.t.(5-3 PSO).
I went to Dolores Park in SF to watch the match with a group of friends: my sister, her friend DF, SJ, A7, and his buddy the ManUtd supporter. I prepared 3 liters of mimosas and 3 liters of sangria, and we stopped at Noah's on the way for bagels & coffee. It was pretty fun, I would say about 3,000 people were there, and it was the hottest day of the year - probably 80 and sunny, although Twin Peaks, only a mile away, was completely fogged in. I especially enjoyed getting to watch the match with my good friend A7, a big time Azzurri fan. I had told A7 before the WC that the key for the Azzurri was trying to avoid wearing those absolutely horrid white sweatervest away uniforms. They made it all the way through without having to wear them, and when I found out it was France that had to wear white today I told him that Italy had a great shot to win. We showed up an hour before the match and I thought, "Damn, we're far away. Should have gotten here at 9 - kinda sucks that we'll be in the back". As more & more people showed up we ended up closer to the front than the back. Anyhow, this is what the scene was like at the park from someone else's vantage point.

Dolores Park between full time and extra time.

I celebrated the occasion with the most Euro-tastic haircut I could conjure up, a rooster mohawk thingy that served as an homage to France's sporting symbol, Le Coq Sportif. Myself, A7, and his friend the ManU fan celebrated the occasion with mimosa and then sangria.

Azzurri A7 & Les Bleus Kanu pregame:
which jersey is about to be short a star?

Oh, the match. Right. The penalty was pretty soft. Looked worse in real time, so I can understand how the referee gave it, but the replay showed just a little contact from Cosmo Kramer Materazzi. Zizou always curls his PKs left into the side panel. For whatever reason he decided to go with the cheeky chip; usually when players do this they just chip it down the middle and kind of low, the keeper dives, and there you go. But Zizou went even cheekier. He took a pretty big swing under the ball - reminded me of a Phil Mickleson flop shot from just off the green, and his cheeky chip went high and to the right. It hit the bar and came down a foot behind the line. To even attempt this in a World Cup final takes absolute balls of steel, and he was very lucky to get away with it. "Mighty cheeky" indeed. 2" higher and he would have missed. Anyhow, 1-0 to France. After this Italy had the better of it for a while and got a deserved equalizer on a Materrazzi header from a Pirlo corner. Materrazzi is a big dude, but still did amazingly well to outjump 6'4" Patrick Vieira and head home. I've seen PV4 play probably 300+ times, and I can't ever remember seeing a dude out jump him an beat him to a header that both players contested. Just a fabulous goal. A few more good chances for each team, the best being Luca Toni's header from a corner which rattled off the crossbar.

So 1-1 at halftime and Italy definitely had the better of it in the first half. France came out strong in the 2nd half and started to assert themselves more. Personally I was extremely sad when Vieira, one of my 2 favorite players in the world, had to leave the match around the 55th minute with a pulled hamstring. Up until that point I thought he was France's best player (along with Thuram); he bossed the midfield and completely shutdown Totti, won a bunch of 50/50 balls, etc., etc. Then about 10 minutes later a truly bizarre moment occurred when the camera flashed into the stands and showed none other than Billy Clint. Very random, and funny that the SF crowd gave a huge cheer. France should have been awarded a penalty, but it was not given. Understandable, since the one given in the first half was so soft, so I would say between the two it came out even or as it should have overall. France really had the better of it in the 2nd half, although Italy's Luca Toni scored a classic counter-attacking headed goal that was ruled offside. They only showed the replay one time, and at the park he definitely looked offside. Last night on the replay I realized that it was another player who was offside when the ball is kicked, so I think Toni might have been onside, but I haven't seen another replay of it since then. I guess this shows that he was offsides by the slimmest of margins. Anyhow, the last 20 minutes was pretty much all France, but like everyone else during the entire tournament they just couldn't put it past Buffon. 1-1 full time and onto extra time we went.

I can't say this any clearer: France dominated extra time. In fact, Italy did not produce 1 single shot during the 30 minutes of extra time, the last 9 of which they played with a man advantage. I'm not even talking shots on goal: they didn't even produce a single shot, period. Henry had to be subbed because his legs were cramping; at this point I was thinking "shit, Vieira's off, Henry's off - Zizou is going to have to do something special". And in damn if he didn't almost do it. A cross came in from the right and Zizou jumped and put a bullet header on goal that was not unlike his first goal against Brasil in the 1998 World Cup final. Buffon was caught a bit flat-footed and wrong-footed, but still managed to jump straight up and make an amazing save and push it just over the bar. That would have been the absolute Hollywood ending for ZZ in his last match, to score the World Cup winning goal in extra time and then ride off into the sunset, but Buffon spolied the script with his amazing save.

Then in the 110th minute, 70 yards from the ball, Materazzi was lying on the ground in pain. Replays showed that he and Zidane were talking back and forth and then Zidane turned around, squared up to Kramer, and have him the wickedest headbutt I've ever seen, right to Kramer's sternum. It was bizarre, it was shocking, it was surreal. Obviously Materazzi said something to him which made him snap. I can only assume that it was something racial about ZZ being Arab and/or Algerian, and there are rumors on the internets that it involved ZZ's mother in some way. Either way, no matter how horrible whatever was said was, there is no excuse for Zizou losing his mind like that. Materazzi has always been the hard man/enforcer on whatver team he has played on, kind of like the thug/enforcer in hockey but with more skill, but still - Zidane has absolutely no excuse, especially after serving a 2 match ban during World Cup 1998 for raking his studs down the leg of a Saudi Arabian player who made a crude comment to him about his Algerian heritage. You would think that between that incident, and all the shit talking that goes on in soccer, he should have let it go and beat him with his skill, ESPECIALLY in his last ever match. Anyhow, Zidane was given a straight red card and rightly sent off. It was eerie to watch him walk right past the World Cup trophy on his way off the field and to the locker room.

Zizou's career ends not lifting the cup but walking
past it to the dressing room after a moment of madness.

The whole world wants to know what Materazzi said to get such a reaction out of Zidane, but as of right now neither player is talking. I am guessing that it will either come out in the next 48 hours or it won't come out for like 40 years, until one or the other spills the beans as a very old man.

The strange thing is that because it happened about 70 yards from the ball, almost no one in the stadium saw it, and I don't think either coach did either. Domenech faux-applauded the decision, which tells me that he didn't see it. Furthermore, for the rest of the match the crowd booed every time Italy touched the ball, because they all thought that Materazzi was rolling around and got ZZ sent off, because they didn't see the headbutt. They must have all had an "oops" moment when they got home and saw the replay.

*This is pretty funny - you can play the role of Zizou and get sent off yourself. Enjoy.

So France played the last 9 minutes 10 v 11, yet still they had the better of it; Italy did exactly nothing with their man advantage. The extra time ended, so onto penalties we went.

This was the 2nd World Cup final to go to penalties. The first was 1994, which Italy lost to Brasil. In fact, Italy had never won a World Cup shootout, going 0-3. Normally I would have thought that France would win a shootout, but given that 3 of France's 5 automatic shooters gone (Zidane, Henry, Vieira), I told A7 that I thought Italy might very well do it. Italy went first, and every single penalty kick was pretty well taken; none were saved. The difference was that David Trezeguet for France hit his shot off the crossbar, it bounced straight down, hit the outside of the line, and bouced out. Very similar to Zidane PK in the first half except it never crossed the line. Every other kick was converted by each team. (Pirlo made, Wiltord made, Materazzi made, Trezeguet missed, De Rossi made, Abidal made, Del Piero made, Sagnol made, and finally Grosso made). Italy made all 5 rendering France's 5th kick moot, so Italy won 5-3. Here's my video of the crowd reaction to Grosso's World Cup winning kick from where we were.

Italia: Campeoni della mondo.

It's a total cliche but it truly is a game of inches. If Trezeguet's shot is literally 1 or 2 inches lower, then it goes in and penalties would have went on . If Zidane's penalty was 1 or 2 inches higher France never would have scored. Anyhow, full credit to Italy on the penalites. Like England, penalty shootouts have always been their nemesis and they stepped up and slotted all 5, two of which were even by defenders.

Italians celebrate in Berlin.

And speaking of defenders, what a day for Kramer. He conceded the penalty to France, scored the equalizer for Italy, got Zidane sent off, and buried his corner into the side panel. Then he donned an Italy flag Superman Cape style and pimped out the WC trophy with a new lid as well. Quite a day for Cosmo.

Cosmo accessorizes the Jules Rimet Trophy.

So full credit to Italy and congratulations as well. I thought overall France played better and probably deserved to win a little bit more, mainly because they outplayed Italy in the 2nd half and dominated the extra time, but at the end of the day they failed to put the ball in the net, and Italy's defense was once again outstanding. On the other hand, Italy clearly "won" the first half. Either way, although I feel like France outplayed Italy I don't feel a big sense of injustice that Italy won.

Tre signores send a message to Kanu & all the haters.

So I take my hat off to Italy. Those who are still hating on Italy point to the Australia penalty, which was certainly bogus, but it must be remembered that the game was tied at that point so even if it was not called, there is no guarantee that Australia would definitely have knocked Italy out - The azzurri may very well have won it in extra time or even penalties. And for all the people still moaning about how boring they were, I didn't think they were really that boring overall. They scored 12 goals from 10 different goalscorers, and the defenders uncharacteristically (or unstereotypishly, if that were a word) got forward a good deal. Three of those goalscorers were defenders, and 4 of their 12 goals (25%) were scored by defenders. I certainly didn't think they were as boring and defensive minded in this tournament as say Greece was in winning Euro 2004. I also tip my hat to them that they didn't do much diving, rolling around, and whining in the final, which is always what gets me irritated about them in the first place. Almost every time they were rolling around it was the result of a legitimate hard foul, so as someone who hated on them pretty hard earlier in the tournament, I have to give them credit where credit is due.

Bellisima adds her sentiments as well.

So there it is. Italy are now the only 4 time champions, and trail only Brasil's 5 World Cup titles overall. Unfortunately it is A7 whose jersey is now obsolete not me, but such is life. I can save $75, while he has to go out and get a new one.

Unbridled joy: A7 post match,
showing off his recently retro kit

After the match we went home for a minute and then walked down to North Beach to check out the scene. I wish I had brought my camera - it was absolutely INSANE. North Beach is the Italian section of SF, and I'm sure it is the largest concentrated Italian neighborhood out West. It's up there with Little Italy in NYC and the North End in Boston (I assume Chicago has a similar neighborhood as well). Anyhow, it was madness. People dancing in the streets, flag waving, cars driving up and down the streets honking horns like crazy with people hanging out of them waving flags, singing, chanting, etc. It was really cool to take in the whole scene. I was still wearing my France kit and was congratulating them left and right, and everyone was very cool. The whole thing was very joyous and positive, which struck me a really neat compared to how edgy and violent impromptu championship celebrations tend to be here in the US. Here's a taste
and another as well.

Oh, one more thing that I forgot. These two teams are in the same group for Euro 2008 qualifying, so they are guarantedd two more competitive matches over the next year and a half. SHould be interesting to say the least.

Sunday, July 9, 2006

World Cup Final: Random Thoughts /
Open Thread

I'm off to Dolores Park in SF this morning, where they are showing the match on a giant TV screen. Should be fun, especially since I am going with a group that will include my good friend A7, a proud Italian-American and fan of the Azzurri. We'll both be rocking blue jerseys but that is where the similarities will end: his will be Puma and have 3 stars (1934, 1938, 1982) while mine will be Adidas and have 1 star (1998). By the end of the match one of our jerseys will be obsolete. So no liveblogging today; I'll write up my comments tonight, probably after I watch the replay on Telefutura. Enjoy the match and Allez Les Bleus!

These two teams have a considerable soccer history with one another. The last two meetings were perhaps the most famous: in the 1998 World Cup quarterfinal these two played a scoreless 120 minutes before France knocked Italy out on penalty kicks. The last time they met was the final of Euro 2000, which was one of the best international matches of the last decade and maybe the best international match I have ever seen. Italy went up 1-0 on a beautiful goal, dominated much of the match, and should have been up 2-0 or 3-0 but missed a few great chances. At the end of the match, 3 minutes of extra time were added on. Literally in the final 20 seconds of extra time, Sylvain Wiltord scored a great left footed equalizer, and they went to extra time, where Pires made a great move and crossed for Trezeguet who volleyed home a left footed golden goal (sudden death rule that is no longer used) to turn certain defeat into a European Chamionship. This spawned perhaps the greatest sports taunt/joke I have ever heard, told to me 3rd hand from (originally) a Parisien:

"How do you put the cork back into a champagne bottle?"

"Dunno. How?"

"Ask the Italians."

Excellent video highlights of the match here and here.

Many of the same players today, so France will have the confidence from that match while Italy will see today as an opportunity to get revenge for the one that got away.

Zidane's last match, which you will hear ad nauseum I'm sure. And while he played the best match of any player in the tournament against Brasil in the quarterfinal, it is Vieira and Thuram who have been the consistent rocks of the team throughout the tournament, with Zidane and Henry (and Ribery too) intermittently showing their flashes of brilliance.

France is really damn good.

You know I'm no fan of Italy, but I must praise them for a few things. First, they haven't played too much traditional catennacio defend at all costs. I have especially been suprised at how much their fullbackks have gone forward, especially Grosso and Zambrotta, who have been imitating Cafu, Roberto Carlos, or Ashley Cole at times. Also, the traditional Italian stereotype is defend at all costs and then score on the counterattack with 1 to 3 main threats. Well in this World Cup it is very impressive that they have had 10 different players score a goal, which is an all time WC record. So 11 goals scored by 10 different players, and 3 different defenders scoring is definitely not the traditional Italian soccer template.

So is Italy.

These are the two best defensive teams in the tournament. Italy still have not conceded a goal to another team. Through 6 matches the only goal they gave up was an own goal in the US match. France have been almost as great. They have conceded 2 goals through 6 matches: 1 penalty kick against Spain, and a complete howler by mistake-prone Barthez which gifted a goal to South Korea. Both defenses have been anchored by respective rocks Cannavaro for Italy and Thuram for France.

The midfields are both great. Interesting battles will be Vieira trying to shut down Italy's offensive midfielders (Totti, Pirlo) and Gattuso trying to shut down France's offensice midfielders (Zidane, Ribery) .

Up front will be Thierry Henry and Luca Toni. Henry was the top goalscorer again last year in the Premiership, while Toni was the top goalscorer in Italy's Serie A and I believe all of Europe as well (I think Henry might have been 2nd in Europe).

All three of the aforementioned aspects (defense, midfield, strikers) are pretty damn even. That brings us to goalkeepers, where Italy have a massive advantage. Italy's Buffon is a rock, and I rate him as one of the 3 best keepers in the tournament and the world right now (Cech, Mats). France's Barthez is prone to two things: occasional world class saves (and a penchant for saving penalties) as well as occasional blunders. He also has a terrible habit of punching or blocking the ball when he could easily catch it (or serving up volleyball sets for opposing strikers). Basically every time the ball goes into him you have the fear that he might have one of his howlers and gift the other team a goal; with Buffon there are no such fears.

Based on the teams being so even except in goal where Italy are way better, I have to say that I would give the advantage to Italy and that in my mind it seems more likely that they will win. However, this is a veteran France team who have won a World Cup and a European Championship, so they are supremely confident in their ability to win this match on the world's biggest stage. They also have in Zidane and Henry two players capable of a moment of magic that can produce a goal, which might be all that is needed to win this game.

"But" is the French word for goal.
Will we see one today?

With these two amazing defenses it is hard to imagine a high scoring game, or even a game with more than one goal. I could totally see the defenses cancelling out the offenses, with the result being a 1-0 match or even a scoreless one that goes to extra time and then penalties.

So what happens? My brain says 1-0 Italy but my heart says 1-0 France with Vieira getting the goal. I'll be rocking my Euro 2000 France jersey at Dolores Park hoping for the latter. Enjoy. Allez Les Bleus! Et Allez Paddy et Titi aussi!

Italy 1-1 France. a.e.t. (PSO 5-3).
Italy are World Champions.

Just finished watching the replay. It's midnight, and I'm exhausted. Thoughts & pics tomorrow by 9 a.m. PST.

Contratulations Azzurri.

Saturday, July 8, 2006

3rd Place Match: Day 24 Random Thoughts /
Open Thread

Today's match is probably the most irrelevant game in all of sport. Imagine, if you will, the losers of the AFC & NFC Championship playing a game the week before the Super Bowl. There you go: that's what we have here. I really don't understand whey they even play this match anymore (other then $$$ of course); both teams are deflated at having been eliminated, they are tired, and their minds have already shifted to having the next 2-3 weeks off before starting the new season with their club teams. It's not even like the Olympics where the match must be played to award a bronze medal - I just don't get it. I can tell you the last 3 sets of semifinalists: Turkey/South Korea, Holland/Croatia, and Sweden/Romania, but I can't tell you who finished 3rd or 4th in any of them without looking it up.

She perfectly encapsullates the 3rd place match:
Not thrilled to be here, but still worth watching.

That being said, I'll still watch it. Although not really exciting by definition, this year's 3rd place match will be somewhat exciting/interesting mainly because the host nation are in it so the fans will be very enthusiastic, and for German fans it is a 90 minute curtian call for them to shower their team with thanks and praise for doing so well. For Portugal this will be the end of the road for a bunch of players as far as their international careers. They have 7 players on their team who are age 29 or older, so it is hard to see any of them making it to World Cup 2010, although a few may make it to Euro 2008 if Portugal qualify. Most notable in this group is Luis Figo: this will most likely be the last match he ever plays for Portugal.

This match would be more interesting
if she were somehow involved

Both teams may very well tinker with their lineups, because truth be told this isn't much more than a glorified exhibition match. Portugal, as I said, are an older team, so Scolari might give a match to some younger players who have not played thusfar, to give them some experience with and eye on the future. Germany are a very young team, but Klinsmann might do the same thing: try a new player to give him experience and see what he might be able to do during qualifying for Euro 2008, which starts in the fall. One notable substitution will be in the German goal, where Mats has honorably stepped aside so that his rival Oliver Kahn can play in this match, which will likely be his final match for Germany. Nice gesture by Mats, especially considering the fact that over the last 4 years the two have pretty much openly hated each other and often not even spoken to each other at times. In that regard it will be a little bit like a testimonial match for Kahn, then legendary German keeper for so many years.

The only other thing to note about this match is that the 3rd place match tends to be very open and high scoring, because again it is basically consequence free. Another note of interest is the race for the Golden Boot, the award given to the top scorer of the tournament. Miroslav Klose leads with 5, with Lukas Podolski with 3 and Thierry Henry with 3. It's tough to see TH12 netting a hat trick tomorrow, so it looks like the award is Klose's unless Podolski gets 2 goals today. If Klose can net 1 then he is probably home free.

One other note is that the inaugural Young Player Award was handed out yesterday: it is a new award given to the best player in the tournament who was under 21 as of Jan. 1, 2006. Germany's Podolski won the award and C Ronaldo finished 2nd, and they should both play today. Ronaldo was booed every time he touched the ball in the semifinal even before he started in with the Greg Louganis impersonations, so look for more of the same today.

That's about it; I can really get into discussing strategy, tactics, etc., etc., since like I said this is a glorified exhibition match. I would guess that Germany have much more at stake and will really want to put in a good performance in front of their home fans, so I'll pick them to win. Score? Hmmm, they have scored lots of goals and Portugal haven't, so I'll go with Germany 3-1 Portugal. Enjoy.

Germany 3-1 Portugal.
Portugal didn't play poorly, but Germany were dominant, rampant, and thoroughly deserved their win. Their first & third goals by Bastian Schweinsteiger were wonderful, the third one particularly, and Portugal pulled back a nice one with a Nuno Gomes divingheader from a Luis Figo cross. I was actually on ESPN because my Univision was screwed up today, and I was starting to think "hey, JP Dellacamra is doing a good job today" until he referred to Nuno as "Goames" about 50 times instead of "Go-mezz" which is dudes name. Horrible, horrible stuff from their best soccer announcer who has been calling soccer matches for 20+ years. I would expect such a bad mistake from Dave O'Brien, but not from you JP. FWIW, Harkes was pretty good as well - how the hell this is ESPN's #2 team behind the morons O'Brien and Balboa I'll never know.

A good showing by Portugal, just not good enough.

Ollie Kahn played excellent in perhaps his final appearance for the German national team. Germany were great and played awesome offensive soccer - could Frings make that much of a difference? Ballack didn't play today and he wasn't missed at all. Anyhow, based on their play in this tournament, I would have to say that right now Germany and Spain are my 2 favorites to win Euro 2008 - might be worth a bet this far out; the price will be great because they haven't even started qualifying yet.

Good for Figo that he created Portugal's goal in his probably swansong, but if this was to be his last match ever for Portugal, then why didn't Scolari start him? C Ronaldo was dangerous and pacey yet again, but the diving thing is currently overshadowing his play - he had another beauty today in the first half.

So that's about it. Congratulations to Germany: the team, the fans, and the nation, for putting on a great tournament, showing great enthusiasm and support, and for playing arguably the most beautiful soccer of any team in the competition.

Danke, Germany: beautiful all around.

The World Cup for Men Who Hate Soccer

FYI: SFW = Safe For Work. NSFW = Not Safe For Work.

Regular titillation resumed, and this time it's interactive. Galleries and games for all the hetero men (and lipstick lesbians) out there:

The Onion Bag's Babe World Cup
: You play out the entire tournament from group stage to knockout stage by selecting beautiful women from each country. I had Mexico's Selma Hayek beating Switzerland's Michelle Hunziker in the final. SFW.

Mexico finally gets past the quarterfinals.

FHM World Cup of Women: One beautiful woman for each of the 32 countries. Kind of like the baseball cards I collected as a kid, only more... interesting. Selma damn near wins this one as well, but I can't put her ahead of Croatia's Korina Longin, my champion. SFW.

She massively outperformed the Croat team.

FHM World Cup Wet T Shirt Contest: This will suck up some bandwidth, but is pretty well done. Interestingly, my choice was Jacqueline from France. Foreboding? SFW.

FHM World Cup WAGS: That's short for Wives And Girlfriends. A bunch of world cup stars significant others, each with their own photo gallery. Speaking of foreboding, if there is any to be found here then Italy will win tomorrow rather easily. The main page is SFW, some of the galleries are definitely not.

Figo: You'll respect him a lot more once
you see the pictures of his wife. I promise.

Playboy UK Women Of The World Cup: Pretty self explanatory: too bad they only have 14 of the 32 teams represented - no Italy? Strange. Hungary's Hajnalka Hornyak wins this one for me, hands down. NSFW.

France lost the final to Hungary here.

Soccer Strip Quest: Ever wasted hours and hours of your life played Bejeweled? Did you ever think to yourself: "this is cool, but it would be much better if instead of jewels they had soccer balls, and for every 1000 points you score you get a different picture of a girl in a world cup nation shirt flashing her tits"? If so, then I have only 2 words for you: you're welcome. NSFW, unless you open an Excel spreadsheet or something and position it so that it covers up the left hand side of the game window, and another to cover up the ads at the top of the page.