Monday, July 10, 2006

One months, 64 games, 120 posts...time to put VFP to sleep...

It's been fun...

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Cannavaro's Night

Yes, France outplayed Italy from the second-half on. But then, Italy had Fabio Cannavaro, the greatest Central Defender of his generation. It's an unglamorous role, but it's what won it for them tonight: Henry and Malouda had no idea how to get around the guy.

For sure, this was Cannavaro's night.

To hear Corriere della Sera readers tell it, it was his World Cup as well:

And the question is...

...what the HELL did Materazzi say to Zidane to get that reaction?!?

This, incidentally, has to go down as the most wistful image of the tournament. Zidane, walking past the World Cup on his way to the dressing room. Just sad.

World Cup final: the France Italy live blogcast

And thus the Cup ended. France played a better game but the Catenachio prevailed and the psycho final settled matters over to Italy. When you reach that level you cannot let pettiness (the Trezeguet story) or temper take over.

4:49. On a perdu :(

I bet Zidane is crying his heart out in the locker room....

4:29. And we go to penalty rounds to settle matter, with Henry and Zidane out. This sucks big time.

4:19. And Zidane ends his career on a red card.

This temper tantrum cost him eternal futbol glory. Pele and Beckenbauer will remain alone in the pantheon. Fuck.....

4:15. End of the first prolongation. Henry out. Wiltrod in. The Italians are doign a demolition derby. Ribery also left, but Ribery cannot hold a full game, he overspends his energy.

Besides of the Italians palying dirty, it is a heck of final game. Antology material

3:40. Italians are really playing dirty. Now they dislocated Zidane shoulder. But he soldiers on.

3:31. Teams are nervous. But this is a hell of a game with two amazingly great teams.

The Italians have managed to destroy Vieira.

3:12. The second half is on. Yours truly is slightly buzzed. So is the umpire that missed a penalty agaisnt Italy again.

I am buzzed because we just served the paella and someone brought a bottle of old Jerez: a few drops of it over the paella are a tremenduous improvement(and add dangerously to the Sauvignon Blanc (Anakena, Chile, 2005, a very pleasant dicovery)

2:22. Italy evened up with Materazzi. This is going to be a hell of a game!

Barthez gets one....

2:06. Gooooooolllllllll Zidane trumps Buffon on a penalty kick.

Buffon in a rare moment of impotence.

The Italians meant business and started early doing a Dutch move: knock out of the game you most dangerous opponent. Soon Henry was having ice all over his face and Zambrotta a yellow card. But the Italians overdid it, a fault near the goal and France got a revenge penalty. Difficult to imagine more tense start for a game.

1:47. Shakira is entertaining Berlin Olympic Stadion. She certainly is the artist for the occasion.

1:34. Well, I was not really planning to do a broadcast today, but since I did it for the last three games of France and France won each time, I figured out that it could not hurt. The reason is that this time I am in Caracas and we have gathered a few French supporters to cheer our team (and drink and eat). The living room of the house has been transformed in some sort of mini movie hall, beer and white wine abundantly in the refrigerator, assorted finger foods and paella. Well, it is easier that way, self service buffet, no one needs to sacrifice the game to serve food.

Thus coverage will be erratic, but occasional. Though after 4 glasses of wine spelling and style will be worse than usual :)

Paris est une fêteFirenze e bella

The most global day of them all...

Today, you and 1,500,000,000 of your closest friends will get to spend some quality time together. One in four members of our species will be glued to TV sets to watch 22 grown men chase around a little ball. And that's a conservative estimate - it's what we'll get if today's final matches the 2002 Korea/Japan final.

But that game was played at an AWFUL time for most of the world's futbol-mad regions. Today's match, by contrast, will be played in Prime Time in Europe, Africa and the Middle East, and at a comfortable afternoon timeslot in the Americas. Counting in a few hundred-million futbol-mad Asians willing to wake up at some ungodly hour to watch the game - and believe me, they're out there - today's match could easily break the 2002 record.

As the AP reports, “The TV rights have been sold to 200 countries,” said Wolfgang Niersbach, vice president of the local organizing committee. “I think 207 contracts have been signed. That’s more than the U.N. has countries.”

For all the talk about globalization, it's not that often that a really large chunk of humanity sits down to do the same thing at the same time. Today's match will be a Total Social Fact.

France date with futbol destiny

This Sunday France has his biggest match ever. The 1998 was nice but it was at home and that always somehow slightly taints a victory, no matter how deserved it might be. Brazilians for example never believed the French victory was truly fair. France was a new comer to finals; they gave escargot to Ronaldo.

Tomorrow, with an aging team, France will have to prove that it is really a great football power, and will do so by entering this rarest of elite clubs, countries who won at least twice the World Cup (the same curse, by the way, suffered by England who only won once and at home).

But there is more to prove. Today's game showed that the younger German team has a lot of potential that if confirmed in the Eurocup of 2008 will make Germany an odds on favorite. Other younger team have shown their promise and will be at the perfect age in 4 years (Spain, England, even Portugal or Argentina). But France has few young values. It has some, like Ribery, but it has few of those. I know that France cannot offer us proof of renewal tomorrow but depending on how the youngest play or are allowed to play will say a lot as to the future of France who in the past got shut out of several World Cups in a row.

Another thing to prove is whether they can play without Zidane as Vieira is not that young either. Unfortunately that proof will have to wait for the Eurocup qualifications. Tomorrow is Zidane apotheosic end, even if France loses its game. All the team will do that last rally around its captain.

It is certain that a victory against Italy will go a long way to soothe the fears of France fans like yours truly. But I am not going to think about that now: I am in the enjoy mode. Today, while I visit for the week end, I got my large French flag, strangely available in Caracas streets (and even in San Felipe, but in the small version). If France wins, we shall get in the car with the flag and start honking around in the avenues. I have heard that Plaza Altamira, this den of opposition, officially known as Plaza Francia, will host a rally for the French supporters.

I am also amazed at how many Venezuelans support France over Italy, which makes France look like the underdog (or the vanquisher of Brazil so it cannot lose?) I have also got my special car flag to parade it around. Many cars sport the Italian flag but few the French. Then again French flag reached the buhonero stands only this week....

PS: the flags, after a hard bargain with a guy whose hair was bleach blonde, costed me 20 Bucks. Probably way too much still. But heck, the semi stoned guy to whom I bought them from, who offered me an 8 star Venezuelan flag to take along (which I declined holding to my 7 star one), in the middle of a Caracas highway, traffic running all around, with other buhoneros holding Italian flags for sale with a mean look, are impressions that are worth every penny.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

In praise of consolation games

Many do not like the traditional 3rd place game at the World Cups. One of the very few sports that does such a consolation prize. But futbol is somewhat different as its fans never seem to have enough. Today Portugal Germany game was no exception as from the bleachers adoring German fans forgave their team loss against Italy and came back for a last love feast.

In many ways today's game gave or renewed the reasons to hold such an activity.

1) It allowed the hosts to have a worthy consolation prize. Germany has given what is arguably the best World Cup held at least on logistics. Impressive "stadions", clockwork schedule, perfect and well behaved crowds; great hospitality (that I rely on reports); amazing grass; etc... They footed the bill, they deserve at least the third place.

2) As usual it was a good game where players and coaches relax some, take a few chances. As a result they tend to have higher scores and today 3 to 1 confirmed it.

3) But more importantly it allowed for two greats of futbol to retire gracefully and with a last hurrah. Oliver Khan returned to his goalposts to show why he has been one of the best goalies ever. Figo benched to allow the team to prepare for the future was called back in the last 15 minutes to set up brilliantly the honor saving goal of Portugal. Thus everyone went home happier, less sad than a few days ago. They were not in the final game but they left as two of the four best teams of the world, proving today that they deserved it. Let's say goodbye to Kahn and Figo with this image of end of game camaraderie which reminds all of us what sports should all be about first: a game to enjoy. We will miss them.

Pre-Final Roundup: Impudent Pirlo, Resurgent Zidane, Unloved Domenech and Updated Lippi

After a lull, The Guardian has snapped-to and is HEAVILY posting pre-final analysis.

Richard Williams has a very good profile of Gennaro Gattuso:
Italy's football fans usually idolise players who ooze style and class. This time, however, their choice is not Francesco Totti or Alessandro Del Piero, the golden boys, or even Fabio Cannavaro. Their affections have been engaged by the bearded Gattuso, the hard man of the midfield, the terrier, the spoiler, the warrior who embodies the success of Marcello Lippi's squad in overcoming a series of recent events that could have destroyed their will to compete before they had even kicked a ball in the tournament.

Gattuso incarnates the quality known to Italians as grinta, or fighting spirit. As well as acting as a bodyguard to Andrea Pirlo, whose suave passes direct the flow of Italy's play, Gattuso is charged with disrupting the opposition's attacks at source. When Marco Materazzi was asked this week how Italy would cope with the threat of Zinédine Zidane tomorrow, he had no hesitation in announcing their strategy. "Zidane won't be a problem," he said. "We've got Gattuso. He'll stop him."

This Lippi profile describes the way Italy's new manager has caught up the National Team with the prevalent trends in Serie A:
The Spanish press have declared Tuesday's performance as "the game the world fell in love with". Coming from traditionally the Italian game's keenest critics this is praise indeed, but the truth is that Tuesday's showing is some way from being a revolution. Italians have quietly been playing exciting, attacking football for years. Consider the following statistic: the past three seasons have seen more goals scored per game in Italy's Serie A than in either the Premiership or the Spanish Liga. Or consider Milan: Liverpool fans may recall that it was precisely their lack of a defensive mentality that saw them come so spectacularly unstuck in Europe.The difference now is that the national team is finally reflecting this.

Kevin McCarra notes the way Andrea Pirlo has quietly stolen Totti's role as playmaker:
Take Andrea Pirlo, who is among the most acclaimed figures at this competition. He was the complete master of his art at Grosso's goal, resisting the temptation to have a speculative shot as Germans charged at him following a corner and being calm enough to make the pass to the left-back. Not everyone had faith that he would ever be capable of such influence.

The head swims at the task of rating Internazionale's prolific bungles but their dealings with Pirlo must come near the top. They had little concept of what to do with this son of a rich family and, following loan periods at his first club Brescia and Reggina, he was transferred to Milan. To give credit, it was there that the coach Carlo Ancelotti had an inspired notion about Pirlo's real purpose.

He put the apparent playmaker in the holding role, letting him start moves and also go on the attack now and again. His deficiencies in defence are covered, for club and country, by the siting of Gennaro Gattuso close to him. Pirlo has been named man-of-the-match in two of Italy's six games at the World Cup.

Roberto DiMatteo notes that Italy is - uncharacteristically - starless this year:
This is a team that has played well without there being any individual who's really stood out. In one game there's been one player and in another match another player who has been the best performer. If there's one player off his game, then another will raise his. So it's been the team spirit and teamwork that has most shown through.

Jon Brodkin writes in defense of France's underappreciated manager:
Two hundred years after Napoleon Bonaparte occupied Berlin, the French leader who takes his troops into the city tomorrow does so amid considerably less personal fanfare. Few coaches can have reached a World Cup final to so little adulation as Raymond Domenech. Amid the plaudits heaped on Zinédine Zidane, Lilian Thuram and other players, the 54-year-old has barely received a mention. It is as if his team's progress in Germany has been achieved in spite of rather than because of him.

This piece delights in Zidane's determination to shut up the impudent journalists who trashed him at the start of the tournament:
Spain's sporting press has always worn its power like a badge of honour, but even by its standards this was something else - this was playing God. Marca, the country's best-selling newspaper, had not so much awakened a sleeping giant as resurrected a deceased one. And, while the consequences for their own national team were disastrous, they had presented football with the greatest of gifts - the return, however fleeting, of Zinédine Zidane.

With Spain preparing to face France in the second round, and amid a collective sense of euphoria, Marca roared: "We're going to retire Zidane!" The very impudence guaranteed they would be wrong: balding and ageing he may be, but the Frenchman is a single game from a second World Cup medal and a queue of admirers and bandwagon-jumpers are pleading with him not to leave football behind forever in Berlin tomorrow night.

This bit sums up the pre-final gambling odds.

Finally, this piece lists the ten best reasons to support one side or another.

Friday, July 07, 2006

There is hope

As futbol fans must face the fact that Sunday night we will hit bottom even if France wins, there is an opportune presentation: the logo for South Africa 2010 World Cup. I like it, I like it a lot actually. It will help us as Sunday we start the long 47 months calvary again

Thursday, July 06, 2006

This one's a bit late...

But Weil is always brilliant...

Cristiano Ronaldo villification update...

One guy who's made no friends in this World Cup is Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo, who is rapidly attaining cartoon villain status worldwide for his "pouting, diving, pretty boy antics - designed mainly to get himself a lucrative transfer to Real Madrid."

Now, the BBC reports that patriotic Englishmen are doing their bit to derail his chances to be voted Best Young Player of the World Cup:
A concerted email campaign by England fans looks set to rob Ronaldo of the World Cup's best young player award.

The Portuguese winger, pilloried for his part in the sending off of Wayne Rooney, was leading the Fifa website vote by a huge margin.

But an email urging supporters to vote for Ecuador's Luis Valencia instead has led to an incredible turnaround.

In 24 hours, Ronaldo's vote increased from 210,290 to 241,775, but Valencia's soared from 195,377 to 331,087.
You too can do the decent thing by voting against the monster...

Fun Sideshow: The Pizza War

Responding to German newspapers' calls to boycott pizza in protest at Italian futbol superiority, one Neapolitan pizzaiolo in Munich came up with this one: the 2-0 Pizza.

Gutten apetit!

Ah, how the Italian press is enjoying this one...

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Post game high

Today's game importance does not reside in its actual performance. By any means it was not one of the great games of the tournament. Good enough, plenty of tension, but nothing as scintillating as the France Brazil, or the Argentina Mexico to name two of the half dozen games that we will carry in memories for a few weeks, perhaps even to the Eurocup in two years.

There were two pictures among the ones that offered the FIFA site. The first one is a picture of Lilian Thuram and Cristiano Ronaldo. Arguably the two great players of today and a fitting symbol of the old departing generation and the coming young one.

This next picture is the post game embrace of Zidane and Figo, the two greats of the Real Madrid, the two great ones of their countries (France in 1998, Eurocup 2000, Portugal Eurocup 2004), forced by fate to clash in the game of their lives, before their retirement. A departing look at a decade of Football. Thanks for the memories guys!

No, the real importance of today's game is its implication:

**A new final pairing. France Italy happens for the first time in a final of World Cup (it did happen in the Eurocup 2000). Even if France does not win next Sunday, it will mean the defintive break of the lock that Brazil, Argentina, Germany and, well, Italy had on that final pairing.

The French victory at home in 1998 is finally vindicated. The "dark legend" circulating since 1998, including Ronaldo being drugged so as to allow France to win, is finally put to rest. If the French did it with an elderly team, surely they could have done it with a much fresher team 8 years ago.

**But more important than anything, Zidane is one step away from Football immortality. If next Sunday he is the one carrying the trophy he will enter into history of Futbol next to Pele and Beckenbauer, on an equal footing with them. It is just about time to bring a new hero to the game.

This being said.

CNN reports that the Champs Elysees are a huge party again.

Le Monde has its own photo gallery of their favorite moments of the game. In all modesty Le Monde allows itself to glorify Zidane with the following title "The Zidane's Bleus reward themselves with a dream finale". Well, yes, he shot the penalty score but this was not the game to leonize Zidane.

And now, to get ready for next Sunday where amazingly the two least favorites of the favorites will be the ones playing. Quico and myself did trash them enough in the past weeks, but I am pretty sure that I can write for both of su saying that we sure are glad to have been proven wrong.

The France Portugal live blogcast

4:54. On a gagné.

Figo and Zidane exchange shirts in a truly emotional moment that even brought tears to my eyes. Well, my team ahd just won too, it helps.

In a last corner kick EVEN Ricardo came up to kick the ball. Awesome.

4:43. Saha was two minutes in the game and he already got a yellow!!!! AGAIN!!!

4:42. France pulls Henry and bings in Saha. Defense, defense, defense! Good, if Portugal does not even the score.

4:39. Dreadfull, still 10 minutes to go at least and Portugal is playing hard. It is not a great game but it is a good and tense game. And Caravahlo got a yellow, making him miss next game. Poor guy, when his fault was not even a lesser evil.

4:38. Still 15 long minutes left. And them Portuguese are not giving up.

4:26. Changes are starting in the teams. Simao in for Portugal. Ribery probably out for France. They need him more Sunday (if they make it there) than today. I guess I agree, Ribery has run so much that he probably reaching the end of his rope. Let's hope that Portugal does not manage to even the score.

4:17. Game is going again for about 10 minutes. Ronaldo is really a dangerous character, but he seems rather lonely within Portugal.

3:46. End of first half. A well deserved break for all.

3:39. The game has of course changed dramatically. Protugal is going up but the French have not stopped their attack.
3:33. Goooolllll.... Penalty cashed by France through Zidane.

Ricardo could not stop that one

3:27. Nothing much yet. The game is not bad but it has not found its rythm. One thing seems certain, the abundance of "yellow carded" in each team is exerting a real restraint. Heck, they all want to play in the final! Even if they do not seem to have realized yet that one has to win the semifinal first...

3:20. No clear dominace so far. No yellow card yet. Both sides are holding, and each one ahs had at least one good shot at the goalie.

3:08. Maniche has just scared Barthez.

3:07. General notes.

The stadium is not quite full: apparently the general fill up German public is despondent today.

The Argentinean sportscaster said that La Marseillaise is the most beautiful anthem. Well, the Argentina one is rather dreadful and pretty much any other one is nice in comparison.

I am watching from San Felipe instead of Caracas. At home I have access to Direct TV, so I am safe from any silly cadena on this Venezuelan independence day.

Figo and Zidane hugged after deciding the toss. They are afterall old friends and the two leaders of the Real Madrid, even if one of them must die today.

Two glories of the Real Madrid

3:00. The game has just started.

I did not want to cover it a few minutes ago but then I realized two things: it helps me not to be a nervous wreck, and the last two times I covered France won. I like to think that I am contributing to the French victory through some weird electronic Yaracuy-Maria-Lionza voodoo...

Nervy Preview, Jubilant Postmortems

I don't have that much to say about tonight's game - except that the Portuguese are getting a bit of a reputation as a rogue squad with lots of pre-match coverage dwelling on French concerns about Portuguese dirty tactics, and Cristiano Ronaldo increasingly villified as a kind of Evil Genius. Les Vieux, however, must count as favorites.

Elsewhere, The Guardian's John Hooper writes this fun review of the Italian press after last night's stunner. "If you could distil jubilation into ink and put it on newsprint, you would have the front pages of Wednesday's Italian papers," he says.


Consider anything nasty I've said about Italy so far null and void. What a game! What a performance! Wow! Turns out if they don't have an early lead to protect, they're great fun to watch.

If I had to single out one guy for praise from Italy's uniformly excellent team...PIRLO! Wow! Very good for 119 minutes, then BRILLIANT for the last 60 seconds. Hits the strike that wins the corner, then makes the startlingly lucid pass to Grosso for the goal...

Hell, even Del Piero scored.

Too bad for the krauts, who were excellent as well, in their fashion. Italy deserved this one.

A day in the country

I could not watch today's game, which seems to have been quite something (from the last 25 minutes that I managed to get). Germany could not break its losing streak against Italy and Italy proved that witchcraft worked by renewing the 12 years curse.

But that is OK, I have the pictures of the game and I sort of tried to recreate what must have been this charming outing in the country side (bonus points for each character you recognize).

There was a lot of inviting grass and some people took a chance to lay on it.

There was plenty of drink, if not food.

Spirits flew high.Boys played wild games.
Some neighbors came to watch the acrobatic displays.

New dance steps were tried out.

This man was happy but we do not know whether it was because he avoided police arrest.

And of course there are always some that take any opportunity to roll in the hay.

One thing is certain, Pizza sales were slow in Germany tonight....

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Frings bitch-slapped - Italian futbol haywire...

Check out the dumbest disqualification EVER - this is the totally inane, post-match punch Frings threw at Cruz after the latter had - erm - bitch-slapped him. Man. I really think FIFA hates futbol if they're disqualifying people over this kinda thing...

Meanwhile, right on Big Match day, Italian sports prosecutors announced they are seeking the relegation of four top Italian teams over the Calciopoli scandal. Yup, four teams where 14 of the 22 azzurri play.

Juventus would get knocked all the way back to Serie C, with a 6 point penalty, while Lazio and Fiorentina would go back to Serie B with 15 points of penalty and Milan to Serie B with a 3-point penalty. Milan's owner/president, Silvio Berlusconi, calls it "political persecution" by - who could doubt it? - communist judges.

Juventus manager Fabio Capello was the first to jump, taking up a job managing Real Madrid. The great Italian star fire sale is now the Feria del Arte, los de 300 a 75, los de 150 a 25. Want a knock-down price on Kaka? Nedved? Del Piero? Toni? Now's the time to move...

In the meantime, the German press has whipped the plebes to a fever pitch of anti-Italian frenzy, calling for a national boycott on pizza. Italian defender (and Pizza-chain owner) Fabio Cannavaro's response? "They don't know what they're missing!"

Oh, and on more match-related news, Lippi finally leaves his attack alone - he'll play Toni as lone striker again, with Totti behind him. Hmmmmmm. Well, it worked against Ukraine, why wouldn't it work against a team that's 10 times better?

Totally biased thoughts on the World Cup

I figured out that before the European World Cup starts in a few minutes, I should write some random thoughts on the World Cup that ended when France kicked Brazil out (by the way, did anyone see those angry Brazilian supporters screaming insults at their team as they left Germany?)

To give some form I will randomize within the good, bad and ugly format

The Good

This Cup had definitely its share of good, exciting matches.

Myths were created. When France beat Brazil for the third time in a row, it started a new myth, a new angst once and for all for the Brazilian players of the future. Now France will be to Brazil what Germany is to France, or Argentina to England, One of those good rivalries that put some spice in the tournament.

A myth might be about to come. If Zidane carries France to the title, it will make him enter into that selected pantheon where only Pele, Beckenbauer and, arguably, a couple more of players reside. This reason, for many outside France, is enough for them to wish that France wins. That is, if Zidane comes out alive from the Portugal encounter.

There were many fabulous scores. Klose, Maxi, Henry in particular left us speechless. Not to diminish any of the other scorers, but those three guys hit it once the way we hit in our dreams.

The Bad

Some umpires. Some were truly great, but some really sucked.

The schedule. How come they could not insert an off day between the first round and the first round of finals? How could they not insert an off day before subjecting us to a 4 games a day schedule?

The mysteries. How come Ukraine went so far when other noteworthy teams were left behind (USA, to name a first round elimination, or the Swiss or Australians to name a second round elimination). I mean, even Shevchenko missed a penalty kick!

The tackiness. Well, this could also be included in the good. The pictures of the four finalist make up.

The Ugly

The brawls. Italy USA. Netherlands Portugal. England Portugal.

The sore losers. Argentina Germany, or how to spoil a great World Cup run on a stupid temper tantrum. Then again Argentineans have never been known for class…

The see if I care. Brazil sometimes perceived attitude of been there, done that, hated it.

The Homoerotic

This Cup for some reason had more incidents of dubious content than I remember from past World Cups, be it Rooney kick in the balls to Portugal, or Henry swapping shorts with a Togolese player to this strange picture of Khan and Lehman.

A touch of Brokeback Mountain

However before any US reader starts gloating about the sissyfication of futbol I would like to point out that no other major sport has as much unnecessary butt patting among men than US Baseball. No other is as disgusting spiting wise, by the way. Let's just say that when emotions reach such a high level, boys will be boys.

My World Cup Runneth Over: No me despiertes mamá...

This one is really really funny: Click here, then take the slider to 35:02...

My World Cup Runneth Over: Thai Monks Join the Mania

While temples may be places of sanctuary from the outside world, even they are not completely free of the all-pervasive love of football.

In Pariwas temple, where Phra Prawit lives, the monks have taken this one step further. A golden statue of David Beckham - forever immortalised with his late 90s-era floppy hairstyle - is nestled among the Buddha images.

Since it was created in 1998, the statue has become a tourist attraction, but the temple's monks are non-plussed by all the interest.

"Beckham's all right," said Brazil supporter Phra Phitak, busy washing bright orange robes outside the temple, "but personally I think Ronaldhino is a better player."