Wednesday, June 25, 2008

And Then There Were 4

Quick thoughts on the quarterfinals:

- Germany won two quarterfinals: their own, where they were a little lucky in that Ballack's obvious push in the back for their 3rd goal went unnoticed and what ended up being the winning goal should not have been given, and the Croatia-Turkey match, where they were again lucky that Turkey came back to win in the end, as they had 3 key players suspended through dodgy yellow cards {more on that in a minute} in addition to their injuries, and they won't have to face a Croatia team full of confidence that knows it can beat Germany because it already has, in the group stage. I'm not saying they're not good, they certainly are, but it helps in any competition like this to be lucky as well.

- Despite all their cardiac kids success and everyone concentrating on the Cinderella story, Turkey were extremely unlucky with 3 of their 4 suspensions. First and foremost, two of their best players, Tuncay and Arda received yellow cards against Croatia that ruled them out for the semifinal against Germany, and each of them could be described as soft yellows at best. More likely they were simply fouls, and not even bad fouls either- pretty poor refereeing to give such BS yellows when he should have already known which players were on a yellow and would potentially miss the semifinal with a booking. Asik is also suspended, and you could even argue that his yellow against Croatia should have just been a foul. Adding injury to insult for both Asik and Tuncay is the fact that in the 1st half against Croatia Asik was kicked in the face, right in the mouth, and a foul wasn't even given, and then Tuncay was kicked really hard right in the knee, with studs, and there was no foul given, even though his knee was bleeding and he limped off. That's tough. Hell, if you go back to the red card for the goalkeeper at the end of the Czech Republic match, yes it was silly and stupid, but a straight red? Koller made a total meal of it with a Dennis Rodman exaggeration, but being that it was a little push and not a punch, I'd go so far as to argue that the red card should have been a yellow at most, and he should even be playing today.

This isn't to say that I am a huge Turkey fan, although I like them just fine. I just think it sucks that they have been penalized so harshly and in my opinion, from seeing all the incidents, unfairly, because it really takes away from how good the semifinal against Germany could and should be.

- Russia have been the revelation of the tournament, and I'm happy that I was just a little bit ahead of the curve there on them as well as Arshavin, who I got to see play in the UEFA cup this spring and knew would likely make a big impression at this tournament. But let's remember how close they were to not being here at all. Grouped with Croatia, England, and Israel, they went to Israel in their penultimate match needing a result to clinch, and they hit the bar late and then lost to a late Israeli goal, seemingly knocking them out altogether. On the final day of qualifying they needed to beat Andorra AND hope that already qualified Croatia could go to Wembley and beat England outright, which seemed preposterous since Croatia had already won the group and had nothing to play for. Well Russia beat Andorra 1-0 and Croatia came from behind to beat England at Wembley and famously knock England out, but in doing so they also let Russia in. Russia should send a big fat thank you note or some oil billions Croatia's way, don't you think?

- After Guus Hiddink took South Korea all the way to the semifinal of World Cup 2002, the South Korean government have Hiddink his own freaking island, which left me wondering at the end of the last match- holy hell, what will Putin give him if they win this whole thing?

- Lots of attention has been given to Russia attacking play & domination- and rightfully so- and the Dutch being disappointing, but I'm not sure people are giving enough weight to the fact that the effect of defender Boulahrouz's tragedy had on the team. For those that don't know, Khalid Boulahrouz's and his wife were expecting a child, but complications happened on Wednesday and the baby was born prematurely and then died {that is why Holland were wearing the black armbands on Saturday}. Truly tragic, and I was amazed that he even played on Saturday. Looking back it seems that the Dutch lacked a certain intensity that they showed earlier in the tournament and were sleepwalking/going through the motions just a bit, as compared to their earlier romps. Not to take anything away from Russia, but it's hard to imagine that they psyche of the team was not significantly affected by this tragic loss. Be clear- I am not blaming them at all or saying that they should have worked through it and somehow overcome it, there's not really a way anyone can do that, no matter what people say, but I'm just saying that it was sad and unfortunate timing for the team and for my money it may have played a part in their performance.

- I've never been so happy to see Italy lose as I was on Sunday. They were actually pretty good in the group stage with all the diving, cheating, and usual theatrics- keeping them in check, or as much in check as an Italian team can, but like they so often do, when it gets into the do or die knockout stage, they pulled out all the stops. It was sickening, and even more sickening that the beyond horrid officiating by the referee allowed, enabled, and encouraged it. The whole game had a totally undeserved 1-0 to Italy written all over it, and I was certain that they would win on penalties. I have never liked Italy, but again that was the happiest I've ever been that they lost.

- It sure can't hurt Arsenal any next season that young Cesc Fabregas stepped up and slotted one of the biggest penalties in Spanish history on Sunday, which will do wonders for his confidence- as if he needed that. But it again makes me wonder about Aragones' use of him- it's been pretty obvious to me that in every match he has come on as a sub, Spain has instantly looked better, more dangerous and threatening {or is this observation because I am an Arsenal fan who absolutely loves Cesc? I've seen this written elsewhere, but is that just the English media who see everything through the EPL lens?} . So why doesn't Cesc start? I hear seniority but don't really get it- Aragones has the huevos to leave Raul out altogether but then plays Xavi ahead of Cesc- there's no consistency there. Also curious that Cesc, who despite all his good displays is still seen as the 12th man substitute and not good enough to start, is then assigned to take the 5th penalty kick, which is even crazier when you find out from Cesc himself that this was the first penalty kick he has ever taken at top level, and the first he has taken in any match since a youth game 6 years ago when he was 15. It's not killing me that Cesc is the 12th man, but those things just don't seem to really square up. Either way, fuck it, it's only going to help him be even better at Arsenal.

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