Sunday, June 25, 2006

Weekend Wrap-up

Germany 2 Sweden 0

If Germany's Miroslav Klose isn't the player of the World Cup so far then I don't know who is. Already the leading goal-scorer with four, Klose set up two Lucas Podolski goals in the first twelve minutes here as the Germans struck early and then held on for the remainder of the afternoon.

When playing on the road, the last thing you want to do is give up an early lead and get the crowd rocking, and Sweden did exactly that. It was over early. Listen, overcoming a two-goal deficit to the Germans in Munich is a bit like Ozzie Guillen taking the high road and suppressing his true feelings. It isn't happening.

It's also advisable not to miss a penalty kick, but Henrik Larsson was guilty of this offense as well.

Germany continues to play with an attacking style that is both entertaining and quite out of character and Jurgen Klinmann continues to jump around on the sideline with the joy of a little kid. I can't help but be a fan of these guys. It will be interesting to see what happens in their quarterfinal against Argentina, which in another dimension could be the final. It's almost a shame they have to meet at this juncture.

Argentina 2 Mexico 1

The story? Right here...

Welcome to World Cup lore, Maxi Rodriguez. Your winner in the first period of extra time will be one of those majestic goals that is replayed again and again down through the years. It wasn't enough merely to score such a beauty, but to do so in extra time? Well played, my amigo.

Rodriguez's goal makes me wonder why FIFA has reverted back to its policy of no golden goals. The last two World Cups briefly switched to the idea that extra time was sudden death and a goal ended things instantly. I like that. Now things are back to the way they used to be, and while I certainly don't have a problem with that, I like the intensity and pressure that hangs in the air when you know that one instantaneous, shocking strike such as Rodriguez's ends things immediately. Sure, there is still all kinds of pressure, but why not raise it up a level or two? It's no big deal, though. Works for me either way.

As for Mexico, yet again they are heading home after the second round. I don't know if we should be impressed with Mexico's ability to get out of the group stage, or if we should snicker at their ability to choke once the knockouts begin. Considering the Mexicans like U.S. soccer about as much as I like Jay Mariotti, which is to say not at all, I think I'm going with the latter. So snicker, snicker.

England 1 Ecuador

Great. Here we go again. David Beckham "bends" a free kick to score the only goal of the game and now the world we'll be talking about how great he is, how amazing he is at curling the ball, and how fine Posh looks cheering him on in the stands. (Actually, this last part isn't so bad.)

Of course, the world will also neglect to mention that Beckham does pretty much nothing the other 99% of the time he's on the field or that yesterday he spent the second half dry heaving all over the place and barely able to move.

Oh, well. Listen, I don't dislike Beckham. He seems like a nice enough chap. But his reputation, at least at this late stage of his career, is completely unwarranted. But then again, when you score the only goal in a World Cup knockout game, you deserve some props. So I'll give him props. Well done. I'd just like to see something a little more dynamic from the dude before the world gets back on its knees for him again. Call me salty. I'm just jealous I don't have a Posh cheering me on.

England, meanwhile, continues to look wretched while winning. In four games thus far, I have yet to see the spark that suggests this is a potential World cup-winning side. They do just enough in a boring, workmanlike fashion to beat teams they're supposed to beat - which there is nothing wrong with per se - but they're going to get bounced by a big boy sooner than later and it won't be pretty. It may just happen against Portugal even with Deco and Costinho on the sideline.

Portugal 1 Netherlands 0

Easily the ugliest game of the tourney so far. Easily. This one made the USA-Italy affair look like Swan Lake.

Just like the USA-Italy debacle that ended up with both teams shorthanded, this game ended up being nine vs. nine with the ref looking lost in the middle of it all. But unlike the USA-Italy game, in which both teams eventually settled down and played cleanly, Portugal and the Netherlands seemed intent on proving which team could most make the likes of Bill Romanowski proud. I'm surprised nobody was spit on and no face bones fractured. To call this soap opera a disgrace would be an understatement.

In the end, give some props to Portugal for gutting this one out. Long regarded as a side that wilts early and disappoints, the Portuguese grabbed the lead on a strike by Maniche in the 23rd and then endured not one, but two, lengthy periods of the Dutch having a man advantage. The effect of Luis Felipe Scolari is clearly evident. Scolari reminds me of Bill Parcells, the type of no-nonsense hard man who makes a team tougher the moment he signs on the dotted line to take charge. I'm almost positive Portugal would have lost this game in the past.

Let the second guessing of Marco Van Basten begin. After leaving several established Dutch vets off of the roster heading into the World Cup, he was given the benefit of the doubt because he had an unblemished record as coach. But some of those vets may have come in handy for a Dutch team that exited having scored just three goals in four games. Meanwhile, Van Basten's decision to let Ruud Van Nistelrooy rot on the bench againt Portugal was even more perplexing than the Dutch decision to not wear their traditional orange garb, which come to think of it, must have lessened their mojo. It was one thing to leave Van Nisteltooy out of the starting lineup, but to ignore your star striker even as you're down a goal and holding a man advantage? That's just wrong and moronic. There must be some friction between Van Basten and Van Nistelrooy that the world doesn't know about. Which would be so Dutch. Friction in the camp has long been cited as the Dutch achilles heel, from one generation to the next, and this was like watching the New York Knicks.

Anyway, good riddance. The Dutch are normally regarded as one of the beautiful teams, whatever that means. You watch a Dutch game and you expect some attacking soccer and ample skills on display. Total football, as they like to call it. But this Dutch team was ugly. It started early in the game when Khalid Boulahrouz nailed Christiano Ronaldo with a vicious assault that sent the Portuguese star limping to the bench, and it all went downhill after that. Boulahrouz, who - surprise, surprise! - is nicknamed the Cannibal, was later ejected for elbowing Luis Figo in the face. It's surprising a Van Basten-coached team would assume such a hard, pseudo-dirty identity considering Van Basten himself was an amazing talent whose career was cut short by violent defenders who chose to repeatedly hack his ankles rather than deal with his skills. Perhaps Van Basten took all the wrong lessons from this experience.

After Boulahrouz set the tone, there was no going back, and the second half saw several heinous fouls, a couple of scrums, and even Figo, the supposed captain and wise sage, head-butting a dude. It was lunacy. Ugly and disappointing, but strangely compelling.

Russian ref Valentin Ivanov had little choice but to start dealing yellow cards left and right, totaling 16 by the end of the game. While the immediate reaction will be to blame Ivanov for being trigger happy with the cards, as has been the resounding cry during this tourney, he didn't have much choice. Both teams willingly danced the ugly dance and payed the price. As bad as the officiating has been in this World Cup, it gets tiresome when two teams blatantly choose to act like complete dickheads and then the world casually blames it all on the ref. Sure, it may not have been Ivanov's best day, but to blame him here is to miss the big picture. He was in the middle of the mess, but he didn't create it.

Now Portugal will be without Deco and Costinho for their quarterfinal with England. That sucks for both Portugal and for fans, but neither Costinho nor Deco have much room for criticism. They committed stupid fouls. That's their own damn fault. Um, Deco, you can't grab the ball in hand and walk away with it in the final moments and not expect the ref to card you for time wasting. That's just stupid. Extremely stupid. Ivanov didn't make you act so stupid. Nobody did.

Anyway, not everything was so ugly.

Good god. That is all. Good freakin' god...


Anonymous chisoxfaninla said...

I started reading this site while looking for Ozblogging during these latest manufactured controversies, but I find myself staying for the Portuguese ladies. Glad to see Portugal advance.

1:01 AM  
Blogger UnknownColumn said...

Well, if you're a ChiSox fan you're more than welcome.

4:31 AM  

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