Next month:
July 2006

tomorrow's matches

England-Portugal, 8:00 Pacific Time

Portugal is already going to be missing players due to suspension after that travesty they played in the previous round. Now Cristiano Ronaldo looks doubtful ... and of course, the injury from which he is trying to recover was inflicted by the Dutch in that last match, so their ugly influence is still around. I look for England to make the semi-finals.

Brazil-France, 12:00 Pacific Time

Much as I like Thierry Henry, his cheating fakery against Spain means I'll be hating him until the tournament is over. The French are capable of a surprise, but I'll be like everyone else and predict a Brazilian victory, which is the only way to keep a non-European team in the competition. If Juninho starts, he'll score off a free kick.


italy-ukraine

Nothing makes me reach for the caffeine faster than when Italy has a one-goal lead in an important match. The first half showed why this is the case, as the Italians scored early and then bunkered down. But then Ukraine, miracle of miracles, played one of their best halves of the tournament, and while bad luck and perhaps an overall lack of talent kept them off the scoresheet, and while Italy was able to counter with two more goals, the Ukrainians can hold their heads high.


time shifting

Having three dual-tuner DVRs in the house means nothing gets watched live, it seems, not even a crucial World Cup match. And so it was that I was about half an hour behind for Germany-Argentina today. Not a problem, I just avoided the Internet until the match was over.

Except my cell phone started ringing at about 10:30 my time. The match as I was watching it was in its final minutes of regulation, tied 1-1, and I didn't want to answer the phone during such a crucial moment, so I didn't. Fool that I was, though, I checked to see who called. It was my brother Geoff. And I immediately knew what was going to happen in the soccer match, even though I didn't listen to the voice message he left, and even though there was certainly no reason why he shouldn't have called.

Here's how my thinking went: when I saw Geoff had called, I knew the match would go into extra time, because I knew he had called after the 120 minutes had been played (even though they were only about 85 minutes in on my television), and that meant no one was going to score in the remaining few minutes of regular time. And I was right.

Then something happened that led to another correct conclusion, even though my reasoning was faulty this time. About ten minutes after Geoff called, the phone rang again. This time I didn't look to see who was calling ... I'd been burned once ... but it didn't matter, because I knew right then and there that the match had gone to penalties, because I knew that was Geoff calling again ten minutes later, and that meant he was trying my cell again after penalties had been kicked. And, in fact, they did go to penalties, so I was right again.

Except when I looked at the call log ... it wasn't Geoff who called the second time, it was Neal.

I ought to be able to figure out a way to use this anecdote in my critical thinking class.


germany-argentina

I am such a dick. I really do want to get over my stupid prejudices, but then I find myself rooting for Argentina, and the next thing you know, I hate Germany, so that even when they show a cute little boy with a decal on his cheek of the German flag, I look at his blond hair and think Hitler Youth. It's so dumb ... Spain doesn't exactly have a pristine history, themselves, and I dare say they are more backwards on issues of race etc. than the Germans in modern times. But I get a knee-jerk reaction to the Germans, and all logic goes out the window.

The first half wasn't much, but the second half picked up. The Argentine goal helped, of course, at least from the Germans' perspective, since they were forced to go forward. But Argentina disappointed, or rather, I'd say their coach disappointed. Instead of going for the dagger that would have been 2-0, he seemed to be holding out for 1-0, and doesn't it seem like that never works? Having to sub for his goalkeeper didn't help ... who knows how the penalties might have gone with their #1 keeper, of course, but it also took away a crucial substitution, which, combined with Pekerman's oddball subs, meant that when Argentina needed a goal, Messi and Saviola were sitting on the bench.

The two teams played reasonably well in the extra time, not quite going all out for a goal but not sitting back, either. Ultimately, this was a decent match that excited in part because of its import ... it wasn't a great match, but I suppose it was good enough. Certainly the German fans loved it.


tomorrow's matches

Break time is over!

Germany-Argentina, 8:00 Pacific Time

Well, here it is, a dream matchup coming a bit too early … be nicer if this was closer to the finals. But that’s being picky. It’s always possible these things will crap out, but this gives every sign of being a classic match. Both sides are playing attractive soccer, probably more so than any of the remaining teams. Argentina is the only Spanish-speaking side that is left, and while that’s a pretty lame way to choose a team to root for, I’m sure they’ll be favored by the Univision announcers, and I won’t be surprised if their bias rubs off on me. Germany, though, has overcome their reputation as methodical, grind-it-out workers, and so we will all pray for one of the best matches of the tournament.

Italy-Ukraine, 12:00 Pacific Time

Italy’s got injury problems, and the match-fixing scandal isn’t helping much. I’d say this match comes down to Shevchenko … if he pulls off some magic, Ukraine will advance. Unlike the early match, this one does not look particularly enticing on paper. Hopefully that means it will be a barnburner, just to show how wrong I can be.


seven goals and a punch-up

As we go through World Cup withdrawal, I thought I'd present Nick Hornby's list, from Fever Pitch, of things that match a soccer match special.

1. Goals: As many as possible....

2. Outrageously bad refereeing decisions [he prefers his team to be the victims "as long as they don't cost us the match," because "Indignation is a crucial ingredient of the perfect footballing experience"]....

3. A noisy crowd ...

4. Rain, a greasy surface, etc.... you can't beat the sight of players sliding ten or fifteen yards for a tackle ...

5. Opposition misses a penalty ...

6. Member of opposition team receives a red card ... it is crucial that this doesn't happen too early. First-half dismissals frequently result either in boringly easy victories for the team with eleven men ... or in an impenetrable defensive reorganization which kills the game dead; second-half sendings-off in a tight game are impossibly gratifying....

7. Some kind of 'disgraceful incident' (aka 'silliness', aka 'nonsense', aka 'unpleasantness') ... there is nothing like a punch-up to enliven an otherwise dull game.


no surprises

I was going to post something about how unsurprising this tournament has been. Speaking of results, of course ... it was pretty surprising when two teams could only manage one offside call in 120 minutes ... but, whatever the result of Spain-France, the result will be six European teams, Brazil, and Argentina in the quarter-finals, and I'm not sure there's been a time since the heydey of Uruguay going back more than fifty years where the eight best national teams weren't some version of six Europeans, Brazil, and Argentina. Nonetheless, in the 2002 World Cup, the quarter-finals included Senegal, South Korea, Turkey, and the United States, none of whom are still around in 2006.

Like I say, I was gonna post something longish on the subject. But then I was visiting rec.sport.soccer, and the multi-everything Renaissance gal of rss, Victoria Barrett, said the following, which sums it up much more concisely:

This World Cup is by-the-book, straight, and with no surprises. It's the missionary position of World Cups. 2002 was a buttf*ck fest.


payback, or something like that

In 1984 we traveled to Europe for the first time, visiting England, France, Andorra, and Spain. The European Cup was being played, and at every stop on our trip we found people glued to their televisions. France had Michel Platini, and I'd never seen anything like him (he ended up scoring nine goals in the tournament). I had watched the occasional soccer match in my life, going back to the mid-60s, but I mark my true introduction to the sport as coming while watching Platini in '84.

In the final, France went up against Spain. I rooted for Spain, of course, and of course, they lost as they always do, with Platini scoring a famous goal to put the French on top to stay.

I've never forgotten the Frenchman ... don't believe me, try emailing platini84 at gmail dot com ... but today is Spain's.


brazil-ghana

I said Ghana would play well, Brazil would rise to the occasion, and Brazil would win by at least two goals. I was right about two of the three. Brazil didn't exactly rise to the occasion ... I know it's unfair to complain when they win 3-0, but they seemed to be coasting. Maybe they're saving themselves for the next match, I don't know. At least this match was an improvement on yesterday's.

Oh, and ¡Viva España!