Friday, June 30, 2006

Germany: Vorsprung Durch Technik!

In the end, it was fair: the two teams were so evenly matched, a penalty shoot-out was the only way to settle a winner. After a soporific first half, we saw Germany play with so much heart it made you ache. A heroic Argentine defense finally got beat in the air.

If anyone can be faulted, it's Pekerman, who thought Argentina had the game sewed up too early and started substituting midfielders for attackers. Messi saw his team go down from the bench...oh cruel fate.

Both teams were still running flat-out deep into extra time. A truly awsome display. You couldn't really say one was better than the other. But the hosts are still in.

Germany vs. Argentina - Oh My...

Arguably the two best teams of the tournament so far will play two-teams-enter-one-team-leaves today. Oh my! I'm so excited about this one I've just about gotten over the Five Stages of Grief brought on by that Spain debacle (could you tell I was on Anger yesterday?)

Today's game should, by any reasonable calculation, be flat out fantabulous. Just to warm you up I'll link to this intriguing analysis in The Guardian making the case that Argentina are just too good for the hosts. The guy thinks Philipp Lahm is a terrible defender and Argentina will exploit his woes. We'll see...

The Guardian also runs this endearing profile on Maxi "La Fiera" Rodríguez - the silent-but-deadly Argentina midfielder who suddenly burst into worldwide acclaim with his spectacular left-foot volley goal against Mexico. La Fiera quips that he usually only uses his left foot to get on the bus. Fun read...

Meanwhile, Italy face Ukraine in a state of even more melodramatic than usual disarray. Four top Italian teams (Juventus, Lazio, Fiorentina and Milan) - clubs where 14 out of the 22 Azurri play - are facing relegation over the Calciopoli corruption scandal. Former Azurri have taken to jumping off of tall buildings in dispair. And that's before they lose. Lippi has played a different attacking set-up in each game yet - suggesting Erikssonesque levels of indecision. Amid all this disarray, could Ukraine pull off the upset this tournament has been crying out for?

Oh, and just so it doesn't fall too far down on the page, here's that poll again:

Who do you think will win the World Cup

Current results

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Frikkin' Spain...

Not to beat a dead horse or anything, but have another look at the play where Spain threw away its chance to advance to the quarters:

Notice, they're defending a 1-0 lead, and their defense is 1-made up just 3 players and 2-playing 40 frikkin' meters from goal! This is what gets me - every four years Spain seems to incinerate its chances just for fun. Is this any way to defend a lead in a game you can't afford to lose?

Damn them!

(Anyway, I'll be back rooting for them in four years...)

The Year of the Overdog

Well, I'm reconciling myself to the fact that - barring a highly unlikely Ukrainian victory over Italy - 2006 will be the World Cup without a Giant Killing.

Seven of the final eight teams can fairly be described as Big Guns. Six of them have already won a World Cup - in fact, only Uruguay is missing out of the previous winners.

Also, my innitial idea that this would be the year of Youth over Experience has been flat wrong. The teenage-heavy teams - Spain, Holland, Switzerland - have gotten a proper whooping by the Geriatric Set - France, Portugal and Ukraine.

At this point, I should probably have the decency to stop making predictions. But decency was never my strong-suit, so I'll say this: all seven of the remaining Big Guns are quite evenly matched. The one thing that might give one of them an edge over the others is home-court advantage. So I say Germany.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

A new poll

OK, it cannot be helped, a poll is in order. May I also suggest, if you reply to the poll, that you put your answer in the comment section. That way you will be able to brag that you were the only one that guessed Ukraine beating all the pundits of the world.
Who do you think will win the World Cup

Current results


Come out, come out, wherever you are!

Or is it that you are in such a funk because your predictions were even wronger than mine. For the readers: I did miss Swiss Ukraine, and France Spain, but Quico also missed Portugal Netherlands and Brazil Ghana...

Tuesday, June 27, 2006


Almost like a bad flashback.

Spain starts brilliantly, a young energetic and upcoming team, and flounders badly.

France raises all sorts of doubts, an aging team, but suddenly experience, steadiness and creativity come back when most needed. Not that a silly umpire help is not welcome.....

I am speechless. And ecstatic! France has finally erased the awful, AWFUL, performance of Japan Korea. But French supporters are left emotional wrecks.

At any rate, now comes Brazil and after today's game with Ghana, I am hardly less confident than 3 hours ago....

The head goal of Vieira as a departing note for the day.

France España: an angst a minute


Zizou! Superbe!!!!

Bye bye Spain!

4:41. Gooooooooooollll!!!!! But I must say that the fault taken by the umpire was a bad called that favored France. In fact, the umpire is too nice to the French and I am not afraid to say it.

A head by Vieira in a very crowded goal area.

4:32. The game has lost its excitement. Both teasm are good but not as dashing as they were earlier.

Meanwhile: To reach for the impossible star (from the Man of La Mancha, in honor of Spain). Casillas and Thuram.
4:10. Raul is out of the game, the team captian! Now Casillas gets the sash! Spain waking up to reality?

4:02. Second half starts.

Earlier: Unfortunately with Quico gone who knows where and work, the simultaneous broadcast will not take place. I only made it to the TV set a couple of minutes before the penalty in favor of Spain. But what was a French supporter sadness was a fan benefit: the 20 or so minutes that followed that penalty were perhaps the best football that we have seen so far, a brilliant contrast between Spanish energy and French experience, experience that allowed the team not to flounder, hold together and score after a great escape by Ribery. Fabulous game. It was so good, I suppose, that the FIFA site publsihes this rarest of montages minutes after Ribery scored, with a Casillas floored in probably more ways than one.

And we start the second half on a tie, with the French showing quite a different team from the past three games.

Monday, June 26, 2006

In a state of schock?

It looks like Quico and myself are barely recovering from yesterday's event. Heck, I did not even attempt to write a preview of today's events. Then again procrastination pays off as today's game were dismal affairs. Heck, Australia, a first comer, holding Italy for 90 minutes to end up in a lousily called penalty quick. The replays are clear, it was not a penalty but Oz is out. OZ can leave with its head very high and hopefully a secure seat for Oceania in a next FIFA tournament. Why not them instead of Saudio Arabia or Iran again, and again (I agree with Quico there)?

But that was just a taste of things to come: the second game ended up in a hopeless, and hopelessly boring, tie, implying a penalty shoot out. The drama suddenly promised to be high when almighty Shevchenko missed the first one! I thought that that was that, Ukraine would be out. But the Ukrainian goalie, in a dramatically impossible feat, stopped three canon balls from the Swiss Guards!!!!!!!! That was that, Ukraine was in. On the right, by any yardstick, the man of the day, goalkeeper of the incredibly lucky Ukraine, Oleksandr Shovkovskiy. I wonder which will be his next European Club.

Then again the only question I have is how come Ukraine and Switzerland came that far in the tourney when last year European champion, Greece, did not even qualify.

It does not matter: Italy won twice today as they are all but certain to beat Ukraine in a few days and reach the semifinals without much trouble.

To end this lackluster day, the shot of Shevchenko putting the ball into the Swiss goalie hands (who is not dishonored by tonight's bad luck: he leaves the tournament as the only goalie WITHOUT receiving a score except for today's penalty series. Yes, that is right, in all previous games no one could place a ball in Zuberbuehler gate.)

Another look at last night's brawl in Nurenberg...

This is the foul that set up all the craziness: just 10 minutes into the game, it was an assault, really, an intentona on Cristiano Ronaldo rather than a foul. Should've been a red-card right away. Cristiano Ronaldo managed to limp around for another 8 minutes before a second brutal foul sent him off crying (literally) into the bench. From this point on, the Portuguese had revenge in mind:

Sunday, June 25, 2006


Fulltime: Portugal 1 - Holland 0
That was easily the most violent 45 minutes of futbol I've ever seen in the World Cup or, indeed, anywhere outside a penal setting. 16 yellow cards, 4 reds: both World Cup records. Micro-brawl after micro-brawl. Obscene tackling. Impossible time-wasting schemes from the Portuguese.

The effective time-of-play in the second half can't have been more than 20 minutes. The Dutch lost their cool. The Portuguese were skillful, but also INCREDIBLY cynical - openly provoking the Dutch in order to waste time. Just amazing.

The official match report is now available and the Portuguese stole EIGHT minutes from the Dutch! The effective time of play for the whole match was just 52 minutes - 8 less than the usual!

The minute-by-minute report in The Guardian was great fun:

59 min Van Bronckhorst is booked for cropping his Barca mate Deco. Then, in the ensuing afters, Figo sticks the heed on Van Bommel! He nutted him! And the ref only booked him! WTF? You would think Fifa can ban Figo after the game, but apparently that's only for stuff the ref didn't see. So it depends if the ref booked him for the heed job, which I don't think he saw, or just the general aggro, which he might have done. But, Hackett-lovers, there's a chance England could face Portugal next week without Figo, Costinha and Ronaldo.

61 min From the resulting free-kick, Simao coaxes a beauty over the wall that lands on the top of the net.

62 mins: BOULAHROUZ SENT OFF! The ref evens it up to ten a side and it's all going off here! Handbags galore! Rochester High Street comes to the World Cup! Figo, who should have walked for nutting Van Bommel, is just muscled off the ball by Boulahrouz and goes down clutching his face. There was contact but I really don't think it was deliberate from Boulahrouz. Then Ooijer had a frank and animated discussion of the Long Blondes' back catalogue with the Portuguese bench, which enabled to crowbar in the obligatory shameless Long Blondes reference! Blimey!

64 mins Holland are now playing 2-4-3, so Cocu will have to drop in to make it 3-3-3. "This is laughable," says GU's Carrie Dunn, laughing.

65 mins “Ruud Gullit isn't wearing any socks under his loafers. Fancy,” says James Houston, who presumably is keeping the full story on the Gullit underwear for extra-time.

66 mins This, of course, changes the game completely, and pricks the momentum Holland were building up. Kuyt, who looks like Tommy from Trainspotting (before he got the cat), miscontrols a good through ball from erm, from erm...

67 mins: Holland substitution - Heitinga for Van Bommel 1-0 down, defender for midfielder. Odd. Anyway, it's definitely 3-3-3 now.

69 mins Great play from Van Persie, who Cruyff-turns past the inept Valente and skims a brilliant ball right across the face of goal six yards out. Van Nistelrooy would have buried that.

70 mins I should stress that Figo didn't properly stick the heed on Van Bommel - it was more a Kingston-upon Thames kiss than a Glasgow kiss - but the fact is he made the motion, and made contact. And while Van Bommel's 12-pints-of-Magners-have-just-hit-me act was pitiful, Figo should have gone off.

71 mins Ricardo Carvalho makes a truly wonderful, over-the-top (in the Blackadder Goes Forth rather than the Souness sense) block on the edge of the box to stop Sneijder's stinging volley.

73 mins: It's all going off again! Wonderful stuff. Holland ignored the unwritten gentlemanly conduct rule after a bouncing ball, playing on when Portugal expected to get the ball back, and Deco responded by scything down Heitinga with a comically disgusting hack. He was booked and, in the melee, Sneijder shoved Petit over - he was leaning over Heitinga, Keane-on-Haaland style - and got booked for that. This is brilliant! Van Der Vaart, I think, got booked also.

76 mins Ricardo booked for timewasting. Someone lend me Graham Poll's abacus.

77 mins This is pure theatre. Nuno Valente is booked for doing Van Persie from behind: that's the 14th yellow card!

77 mins: RED CARD - DECO! This is absolutely out of control now. Deco gets a second yellow card for stopping Holland taking a quick free-kick, and Graham Poll is a visionary compared to this bloke. England are going to be playing Portugal Reserves next week: no Figo, no Deco, no Ronaldo, no Costinha. They might blag their way into the semis!

78 mins “Are you suggesting the good burghers of Kingston-upon-Thames can’t fight?” offers Steve Morgan. “I have my keys ready every time I go past the Rotunda late doors of a weekend, such is the smell of fear. These Portuguese pussies wouldn’t stand an England’s chance in a World Cup in a scrimmage outside Europa Chicken son, unless you slipped on their hair grease and lost your footing.” I'd offer a witty response but a) that requires wit and b) it's all I can do to watch this barnstorming and bizarre game at the moment.

79 mins “This is brilliant, Smyth,” says GU alumnus Nick Harper. “Best game of the World Cup by miles.” Damn right – it’s genius.

80 mins Dirk Kuyt misses a one-on-one. He was played through the middle by a wonderful, Effenberg-like sliderule pass, and Ricardo came roaring out to meet him; Kuyt, stretching, whapped it straight into Ricardo's chest. He should have scored. Ruud would have scored.

82 mins: two substitutions. Or not. Tiago on for Figo and - how's this for a snub? - Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink (not Van Nistelrooy) for someone. And now Tiago's NOT coming on. What the eff? Actually, Hesselink isn't on either. Yet.

83 mins I can't be bothered reading emails as, every time I look away from the screen, someone gets nuked. But I'll have a look if we go to extra time.

84 mins Tiago comes on for Figo. Vennegoor of Hesselink comes on for Cocu. What the hell has happened to poor Ruud Van Nistelrooy?

85 mins “I’ve seen cleaner hockey games than this,” says Arthur Delano.

86 mins Vennegoor heads down a long ball to Van Der Vaart, who chests it up and tries a ridiculous karate-kick that flies well over. No aggro for 10 minutes, it is my sad duty to relate.

87 mins No real momentum for Holland at the moment, although there should be at least four decades of injury time in which they can try to grab an equaliser.

88 mins Portugal break four-on-three and mess it up completely. The indefatigable Miguel gets free on the right, but he tries a lame pass to Simao, who was offside anyway.

89 mins Dirk Kuyt's hooked shot from the edge of the box is smothered by Ricardo. “Graham Poll must think it's his birthday,” says Nick Sweeney. “No-one's going to remember his three-yellows after this match.”

90 mins An unbelievably good cross from Sneijder on the right swooshes along the six-yard line with about four players missing it by THIS much. Van Nistelrooy territory once again.

90 mins + 5 secs There are to be six minutes of added time, and then the flies on the tunnel wall should see some serious action.

90+1 mins Holland seem resigned to their fate here.

90+3 mins Now we know why Phil Scolari didn't want to take the England job in April, eh?

90+4 mins: RED CARD - VAN BRONCKHORST I have nothing to say really except that this is very, very weird. Four red cards is a World Cup record and, though the ref has been a total clown, that was probably a legitimate second yellow card for Van Bronckhorst: he just had a right good hack at Tiago (I think).

90+5 mins Tiago, full of energy and not on a yellow card, toebungs wide from 12 yards. Meanwhile, there's an amusing little gathering of the red-carded players, sat together watching and discussing the game like toffs in a park with Pimm's and cheques from Daddy. There have been 16 yellow cards tonight, and yet apparently the official statistics show just 25 fouls! That, ladies and gentlemen, is the product of the blather of Blatter, and this kind of farce has been coming ever since he insisted you get booked for pretty much everything.

Full time: Portugal 1 Holland 0 The end of a truly bizarre match: four red cards, 474 yellow cards, deliverance for Graham Poll and, at the end of it, Portugal will again meet England in the quarter-final. But they won't have Deco, they won't have Costinha, and they might not have either Figo or Ronaldo. Thanks for all your emails: it's been old-school. Rob.

Now this gets good...

Halftime: Portugal 1 - Netherlands 0 --- Portugal 10 Players, Netherlands 11

The Dutch have solved the Costinha problem (red card) and the Cristiano Ronaldo problem (mauled out of the game by successive, near-criminal tackles.)

Now it's 10 on 11. Van Nistelrooy is on the bench. Anything at all could happen.

The official match report is now available and the Portuguese stole EIGHT minutes from the Dutch! The effective time of play for the whole match was just 52 minutes - 8 less than the usual!

I blame Eriksson

So say a team happens to have 4 of the 9 or 10 best midfielders in the world. Say they're all fit, injury free, and playing together. Say they get 90 minutes to play a second-round World Cup match against a second-tier South American team. And say they do nothing, create next to no chances, fail to pierce the defense, fail to exploit the wings, fail to serve the super-star center forward, fail to find each other long enough to say hello for the whole 90 minutes forcing you to rely on a foul kick for a freak lead.

Say all that can you explain that? who do you blame?

I know who...

To think they wrote songs feting him a few years ago!

Words fail me...

...people tell me I'm a good writer, but somehow I can't quite string together a set of adjectives to adequately describe how fucking awful England were today. Granted, it was 35 degrees in Stutgart, probably the heat made problems for them. Nonetheless, they screwed up this game so bad it's hard to know where to start.

Passing: awful.
Off-ball running: practically none.
Shooting: oy vey!
Running down the bands: a disaster of tolstoyian proportions...

Everything about England sucked today...except Beckham's skill with a free kick. Ecuador gets good marks for holding the English, but often I had the sense that it wasn't Ecuador's defending that was good - it was the English attack that was bad.

A sorry spectacle...there is just no way these 11 people will win the World Cup.

Ecuador England: yawn!.....

England is playing real bad. Cole seems to be missing. England is just an average team, like one of those old dowagers who lives off its name. Ecuador is about to make a big kill. The Argentinian commentators on TV are now openly rooting for Ecuador and the Falkland/Malvinas thing is not the reason anymore.

Bye Britannia?

Second half: OK, things are changing. Beckham is Beckham after all....

End result: England won but did not deserve it. Embarrasingly petty match from their part.

Doesn't it look easy when Maxi Rodríguez does it?

Here's that Maxi Rodríguez goal

If you played for Brazil, what would your name be?

...hours of good, clean fun...

England have Lampard and Rooney, Ecuador have this guy...

That's DOCTOR Tzamarenda Naychapi to you. Shaman. Witch doctor. Santero. Call him what you will. The guy is Ecuadorean and he's been going around to all the different stadia to hold little ceremonies meant "to purify this important place for the World Cup and to bring positive energy." Well that's what he says, anyway. Somehow, I'm certain there's a little rag doll of Joe Cole full of pins in his closet.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

An awesome match

The man of the day, Maxi Rodriguez, with one of the most awesome scores that one is given to see in football! Of course mere pictures cannot render such an extraordinary kick, but Rodriguez finally placed Argentina in quarters after a stunning game. (added later: you can find the video of the Maxi Score, click here, look for "video highlights" (yellow and black rectangle somewhere in the middle, click again and look for the Argentina versus Mexico, match 50, in the menu of the window that opens. Then wait until 98 appears in the screen, about 1.8 minutes into the clip)

This is the kind of game that separates great teams from average: both Argentina and Mexico showed depth, strength, creativity, resistence until the last 120ieth minute. Mexico in probably its best performance ever! Anyone deserved to win. But Argentina most, and Argentina needed a difficult match to help focus against Germany. The shame of 2002 is washed and bleached :)

Ps: as Quico mentioned in a comment, this is the kind of match that we will remember twenty years from today.

Mexico goes in for the Giant Kill - but comes up just short

Overtime - Argentina 2-1 Mexico

Well, the Mexicans leave Germany with their heads held high. They played fantastically organized futbol against Argentina. They were vanquished in injury time thanks to one of the best goals in the World Cup so far. The All-Conquering Argentina of the first round was MIA tonight. Can they begin to deal with their quarterfinal opponents...GERMANY? Hmmmm...

Fulltime - 1-1
First overtime of the World Cup - Mexico is playing excellent futbol. The fabled Argentine attack has no way through them. But now the fitness premium really kicks into overtime - you have to be in supernatural shape to play 90 minutes of futbol at a more or less decent pace. But 120 minutes? Just brutal...

Halftime - 1-1

An excellent Mexico that's rendered Riquelme useless and shut down Argentina's legendary midfield flow.


Mexico 1 - Argentina 1

An own-goal that would've been a golazo if Borgetti had been aiming at the other goal. Guess it couldn't.


Mexico 1 - Argentina 0

Can this really hold?

German Blitzkrieg

I have had always a problem with the Germans, the team I fail to love but cannot bring myself to dislike. And today I was reminded of why.

I dislike Italy for their locked game that takes the fun out of watching futbol. It is efficient to a point, but 90% boring. Not been Italian there is no way I can empathize, like their style, even less when I grew up among the Italian theatrics that repulsed me even more.

The Germans in some ways remind me of Italy: a ruthless teutonic wall. But they do have something that I like (besides efficiency and lack of usless drama queenism): contrary to the Italians they try to deal with the issue fast before they get into a more defensive mode. Thus with the Germans you will always see a great team game (they are one of the least star conscious teams) and a significant chunk of great game until they build their ascendancy. Then it might be over, Italian style. The Germans do project that image that one has to take matters in one's hands to win by scoring first and fast, the Italians seem to rely more on luck to get out of a painful draw.

Today was no exception. The Germans scored brilliantly, with the very best of their brand of Football, early, fast, efficient, ruthless, fabulous!. Then we had to wait for nearly 80 minutes for the game to end. Oh, I am sure that the game was good or something, I did not watch it. At minute 20 I went out to do my week end shopping and came back for the last 10 minutes where all my fears were confirmed.

But I am grateful still, loving and disliking them at the same time, Klose and Podolski showed how great futbol is played, even if it was for barely 15 minutes. I wish Italy were to give me someday 15 minutes of pure joy :)

My predictions

One for the ladies...

...this is what the Germans are up against this afternoon...when he's not charging straight ahead into defensive lines, Sweden's number 9, Freddie Ljungberg, is hawking underwear...

Second round hopes and frustrations

The problem with the second round matches is that quite often they start with what would have been a dream finale. This time is no exception.

Germany will beat Sweden in a lackluster match, by 2 points. So will do Argentina against Mexico, maybe less lackluster. The end result? On June 30 what will be probably the advanced "real" finale of the Cup, Argentina against Germany (while the Swiss might hold on to survive and meet the winner of that game........)

Very frustrating for me. Fortunately tomorrows's games will be more interesting (the one to watch today is Argentina Mexico, tomorrow you can watch all of them).

On another note, I have taken the bullet from Quico and did my predictions for this first stage of the second round. Note, all the score indicated do not include and eventual penalty round, that is if team X I mark down as winning 2 to 1, it means that they tied the game 1-1 and at penalty round they scored one more than the other team. Your predictions Quico?

Now it's just scary for everyone...

Well, the tournament kicks up a gear today. The first round is fun, you get to see the two-bit teams that have no hope of winning, you get to lose a game and still come back, all that stuff. But the elimination rounds? Grueling, not fun.

Today: the likely champions Argentina against Mexico. And the hosts against Sweden. I've been pining for a Giant Killing from day one, but doubt I'll get one today. Maybe Sweden can give us a batacazo?...hmmm...

Here are those brackets again...

Friday, June 23, 2006

The complete brackets are here...

Courtesy of Wikipedia.

(click on the thumbnail to get a full-sized image.)

Fun notes:

  • Africa had 5 teams - just 1 is still in (Ghana)
  • Eastern Europe had 5 teams - just 1 is still in (Ukraine)
  • South America had 4 teams - 3 are still in (Argentina, Brazil and Ecuador)
  • North and Central America, and the Caribbean had 4 teams - 1 is still in (Mexico)
  • Oceania had 1 team - It's still in (Australia)
  • Asia had 4 teams - All 4 are out.
  • Western Europe had 9 teams - ALL of them are still in.

  • Only France and Mexico failed to win the groups they were seeded in.
  • Out of the favorites, Italy has the easiest draw.
  • An Argentina v. Brazil final is still possible.

And the silliest-dressed fans of the first round are these three Swiss dudes, who somehow fooled security and managed to get into the stadium in full military uniform:

France Togo, live coverage

OK, so I swallowed really hard and took a leave from work today to watch the FrancoTogolese game. The things a supporter must do....

I also set up the WiFi at home so I can seat on my couch, lap top on lap (!) and cover the game as it goes.

--- --- --- --- --- ---

5:10. So France won but not by enough to avoid Spain. Still, I am happy and I rather have my team eliminated by Spain than Togo or Switzerland. It is no dishonor to lose against Spain in 8th round. Not to mention that there is a chance with this revived French team to even win. A distant one but an existing one as opposed to 4 days ago when I was wondering whether France would beat Togo. To leave this live coverage, a picture of the power of Thierry Henry (who was filmed swapping shorts with a Togolese player. They swap shorts now?).

4:50. It almost over. France will go to the second round. But against Spain.

4:40. Vieira goes to blow his candles. Govou tries to revive attack. The Swiss win by two.

4:32. Expreimented Wiltord replaces Maoula whose name has not come up once on Meridiano coverage. Still 15 minutes of game. Darn!

4:22. Vieira and Henry are the ones marking these two ones. Very appropriate. Now one more by Trezeguet and not only we will avoid Spain but I will be happy.

4:20. GOOOOOOOOooooooooollllllllllllll! Carajo!

4:14. Gooooooooooooooooool!!!!!

4:00. Here we go again. The situation is clear: as the Swiss are still winning, France needs a 1-0 victory to qualify. Togo is out anyway so why should they not be daring as France will have to attack with all its soul? Very tough situation for France. In fact, assuming that the Swiss keep that 1-0, France needs 2-0 to avoid Spain. Tough, real tough.

Intermission. Just a comment about the Togolese goalie: Kossi Agassa. The busiest man in this game so far. With one of his two nemesis, Thierry Henry

3:45. First time over. No prolongation as there was no time lost in injuries. Shows you that both teams are concerned enough and more interested in playing than theatrics.

Trezeguet has been great but missed narrowly everything, or was off side. He needs to cool off. As for how dangerous Togolese think Trezeguet is? Watch below.

3:30. Trivia you could do without. It is also Vieira birthday. The two captains of the French squad are born the same day, 4 years apart.

Also some French tackiness that you could live without.

3:20. Trezeguet is making a difference. Two near misses. Hope he does not exhaust himself too fast.

Togo is playing decently. No pushover there.

3:15. France is moving faster. Faster than Ronaldo anyway. Ball in control. A couple of good shots to the Togo gate keeper. There is hope.

3:00 PM, Venezuela time. The Marseillaise went fine. Barthez did not sing but the new captain, Vieira, was loud an clear. Veira is the captain as Zidane is benched, today, his birthday. If France loses, his most recent outing will turn out to have been his last one.

The team will be quite different from the original intentions of Domenech. Cisse out with a broken leg, Zidane red carded. A despirited team. Trezeguet in again. A new captain. IS all possible?

The picture is of Domenech, the man about to become the most reviled man in France if we do not make it to the second round...

Spains fielded the C team, I think

Well, we are into the 25 minute of the second half of Spain vs. Saudi Arabia and Spain is winning by ONLY 1 to 0. It gets worse when the stats show that Spain has already shot about 20 times to the Saudi goalie while the Arabs only shot 3 times.

Now I understand better why La Reconquista took 800 years....

Worst of 2006

We're almost to the end of the first round, so this may be a good time to mull that eternal question: which team stunk up the pitch the most?

Which is the worst team in Germany 2006?
Costa Rica
Saudi Arabia

Serbia & Montenegro
Current results

To Totti or not to Totti, that is the question

Repubblica readers can't agree on Totti's performance.

(Question: Totti's performance has divided commentators and readers. In your opinion, should he start against Australia?)

Crazy FIFA Overreaction Files: De Rossi banned for four matches

Does FIFA hate futbol?

OK, OK, this De Rossi foul on McBride during the Italy v. USA game was pretty rough. Guy's nose broke. Lots of blood. Still, it didn't really look intentional. And a FOUR MATCH BAN?

Se volvieron locos...

Pollgate Update: "This is a little bit too much..."

Graham Poll, the English referee for the Croatia-Australia match, is quickly becoming a punchline, a by-word for officiating so hideously awful you wouldn't stand for it in a backstreet pick-up game, much less at the World Cup.

For artful understatement, it's hard to top the FIFA spokesman who noted that "We had a first in the history of the World Cup, unfortunately, when a player received three yellow cards - this is a little bit too much."

A little bit?!!

Ronaldo: Still fat, still slow, now scoring...

OK, ok, so I panned Ronaldo really harshly for his performance in the first two games and then he went and scored two lovely goals yesterday. Credit where credit is due - Ronaldo is so extravagantly talented that he doesn't even have to run to score goals. The guy is obviously not as mobile as he once was, but his touch is so fearsomely precise, his futboling vision so acute, his sense for goal so terrifyingly inspired, he can turn a game around while standing still. So a round of applause to Ronaldo - the man is an inspiration to fat people everywhere.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

A Friday to forget: a prelude to a new Rocroi or St. Quentin

Let's see if there is anything salvageable from tomorrow's games. After today's excitement (Bravo Oz! Viva Ghana!) it is difficult to get excited about tomorrow, in particular if you are a dispirited French supporter. So let's start with France. It needs to win by three just in case Korea and Switzerland tie. It should be able to do it against the smallest African country in the tournament, Togo. And perhaps face Ukraine. But the best hopes are for France to qualify is to win by 1 and either Korea or the Swiss to win. In this case France will meet its maker in the guise of Spain that will take a wicked pleasure in trashing the hell out of France. I might root for Spain then...

Spain should sail free, and Ukraine undeservedly should qualify. The only question is whether Spain will score at least twice to become the top scoring team in the first round of the World Cup. A little bit of trivia that will go a long way with the ardent Spanish fan base in Venezuela (I shiver about the next four years if Spain wins the Cup!). Unfortunately it should be a piece of cake for Spain to score at least 4 times against the Saudis... I am doomed to avoid any futbol discussion with a Spaniard for the next 4 years (and run away from them if they win the Cup).

PS: the title refers to my childays history books when these things were still important. Rocroi was a the great French victory against Habsburg Spain. But a couple of decades before Phillip II had won at Saint Quentin a battle that justified the construction of the Escorial convent. In those days futbol had not bee invented to settle national differences. Then we got convents now we get fabulous stadiums. Progress!

The defender who played so dirty they had to book him three times...

Tonight, Croatian defender Josip Simunic broke the world record for yellow cards: three in a game.

The English referee Graham Poll booked him for a rough foul in the 61st minute. In the 90th minute, he booked him again, but didn't realize he'd already booked him half an hour earlier, so he didn't show him a red card. Looking baffled, Simunic continued to play. Three minutes later, another Simunic had the bravado to actually protest a call and out comes the yellow card...for the third time! Only at this point did Poll realize he'd already booked the guy twice, and expelled him. Amid the vaudeville, Poll totally lost control of the game towards the end.

Worse still, FIFA is being accused of a bizarre cover-up, because the official match report omits any mention of the second yellow-card, though millions and millions of people saw it!

I don't think there is any precedent for this, not that I can think of. Poll's mistake, technically, could be grounds for annuling the whole game and playing again...which won't happen simply because it would send the schedule all haywire. Totally crazy.

The Plebes say: Buffon, man of the match

This is how Repubblica readers ranked the Italian players today:

Ghana wins, to meet doom as a reward

Ghana won. The US is out. FIFA rankings are meaningless. And for its prize Ghana gets to play Brazil next round. Though perhaps for Brazil it might make sense to lose against Japan and meet Italy instead.... Seems that nobody can make much sense of Ghana and Brazil perhaps even less... This getting really fun!

PS: I will let Quico write the obit of the Czech

Bounced Czech

Italy scored early, deciding to go for a win and play it safe in next round (good call from Quico). The Czechs lost one player. 45 minutes more of game with one less man and an Italian team that will lock itself up. Have you noticed that there seems to be always like 15 Italian players around Baros or Nedved whenever these go on Italian grounds?

And Ghana just scored a penalty against the US, to take a 2-1 lead. Tough, tough for the Czech. Unluckily Venezuelan broadcast in San Felipe only give the Italy game. I need cable to watch Ghana US.... And no cable at work. Not to mention that I do have to work :(

Big break for the Czechs...

Milan Baros will start in attack against Italy. Köller is still out. But how fit will Baros be?

Lippi took out Toni and will play with Totti behind Gilardino in attack. It looks like a 4-4-1-1. Camoranesi starts for the first time. Inzaghi is still on the bench, to the wrenching disappointment of his legions of fans.

In midfield, we'll have a classic duel: Milan's Gennaro Gattuso, known as Italy's best marker, trying to stop former European player of the year Pavel Nedved. One of the world's best offensive midfielders up against one of the world's best defensive players. Will Nedved get engatusated? Great fun.

One note: Topping this group is very, very important - the difference between facing Brazil in the Round of 16 and facing Croatia or Australia. More than that, topping the group puts you on track to meet Switzerland or Ukraine in the quarters. Winning Group E is virtually a by into the semifinals!

50 minutes to go and I can barely sit still!

Layers and layers of drama tonight for Italy...

Well, as though the futbol itself wasn't exciting enough, Italy will be playing tonight knowing that, just minutes after the end of the game, the first report into the Calciopoli scandal now racking Serie A will be released by the - get this - one-time anti-mafia prosecutor running the probe. Calciopoli, as the scandal is known, has grown into one of the most serious in Italy's futbol history, with up to six teams accused of fixing matches and paying off referees, and mega-team Juventus accused of out-and-out stealing the scudetto in 2004-2005.

Lippi, of course, says the players are thinking of nothing except the Czechs, but can that really be true? Pundits back home expect some very tough penalties to be handed down this afternoon. The "nuclear option" of suspending the Serie A championship altogether for a year seems to have been avoided. Instead, there is now credible speculation that the once all conquering Juventus will be stripped of one or both of their most recent titles and will be demoted all the way to Serie C next year. That's right, Buffon, Cannavaro, Zambrotta, Camoranesi and Del Piero will play tonight knowing that they may spend all of next year playing in 2,000 seat stadiums and facing opponents of the caliber of Lumezzane, Pizzighettone and Novara in the Italian third division!

(Of course, Nedved is also in that position!)

It would take Juventus at least two years to fight their way back to the top tournament. And though Juventus is in the most trouble, they're far from the only ones in trouble. Milan, Udinese, Fiorentina, Sampdoria and Lazio are also, to varying degrees, in hot water. That's Nesta, Oddo, Gattuso, Pirlo, Gilardino, Tony, Iaquinta and Inzaghi to you. 13 out of Lippi's 23 players are in teams implicated in Calciopoli.

Can all those players really put it out of their minds that their whole multi-million dollar, Serie A-funded racket of a lifestyle is about to collapse like a house of cards? Or will it all just set off a mad scramble by English, Spanish and German teams to buy up Italian talent at bargain basement prices?

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Czech out your pacemakers!

If the two previous days were on the boring side, in spite of occasional bright spot such as the tribal dancing from the Ivorian players, tomorrow might be high noon. We will have everything: supsense, the last chance for some teams to show they deserved to play in this Cup, drama as much as you can have, and probably some ridicule too.

Of course, the real group of death is settling accounts. In group E everything can happen. Italy can crown itself as a favorite or find the back door quickly before the fans storm the field. Ghana can redeem Africa's hope or prepare an expiation dance as its neighbours did. The United States can demonstrate it is willing to play with the world according to world rules, or go back to its parrochial World Series. And the Czech, well, they can show that they are more than a Smetana ditty, that they are the Slav March (did anyone realize that there are 5 Slav countries in the tournament and that they are not doing any better than the 5 African ones?).

At any rate, Italy versus Czechland will be a tough clash. Nedved knows the Italians better than anyone else outside of Italy. We might even hope he does not think he is playing with his Italians buddies ;) But what will be horrendous is that Italy qualifies with a tie and they will block the game, they will not be able to resist the temptation of doing what they do best: give football a bad name. Period. Expect high drama and unacountable delays. And imagine if the Czech score first? Three quick replacement to rebuild an attack?

The US and Ghana will put it all on the table as they both need to win to go to the next round. If all tie, Italy and the Czechs move up. If either one wins, then it has a very fair chance to move up. Adn either one can win! They are both reckless teams. A match to watch!

The other games in group F will be less nerve racking. Brazil is in, and Japan must go all out to take 3 points and hope for a draw in Australia-Croacia. Who knows what can happen as Brazil might not care enough since it is all but certain to be the first in the group (Australia would have to pull a victory over Croacia by 4 points!). As for Croacia versus Australia? who knows! I will root for the soceroos of course but I must confess that I have no idea how that one will go, or even if it is worth watching! No matter what, the interest in this group is that three of them need a victory to have a chance to pass, while Brazil might lose a game, as it always does in the first round :) Attack game anyone?

The Plebes Demand Inzaghi

According to Repubblica, Italians are not happy with the Gilardino-Toni partnership Lippi has been using in attack. Their readers are pining for SuperPippo.

Wearing that shirt in this country may be hazardous to your health...

Just to reassure us that the Scots are just as violent and barrenly nationalistic as the stereotype suggests, The Guardian reports that England fans have been attacked in Scotland for displaying the Cross of Saint George north of the border. Ugh.

Argentina - Netherlands: What a game...

15 minutes in, both teams are playing with such clockmaker's precision it's amazing. The level of play is definitely the highest we've seen this World Cup. The Netherlands is keeping possession, but the Argentine attack - Messi and Tevez (Imagine! Those are their B-Team strikers!) is so good anything could happen.

Portugal sails, Mexico wavers

By winning its three games in group D Portugal has shown how it is done and how a top seeded team should behave. Although I think their game is still not as good as two years ago in the European cup, Portugal has been improving as the tournament advances. It has also demonstrated that their B team is as good as their A team, now that boy wonder Cristiano Ronaldo took a break (and other top players). Portugal is now a definiteve candidate for the top 4 if it overcomes Holland next round. Well, assuming that Holland makes it second in its group.

On the other hand Mexico good start has not been confirmed. It is erratic enough that there is little hope for it to be able to face convincingly Argentina or Holland. The good news there is that now the Argentina-Holland game will be more interesting as each one of them will definitley want to face Mexico! More reason to play hookie this afternoon and go home watch the game!

PS: Angola Iran? Did anyone watched it outside of Teheran and Luanda? A disapointing tie at that. All African hopes are on Ghana.

Argentina-Holland Press Review

Argentina's line-up is a well-kept secret, Pekerman hasn't even told the players. The only thing that's sure is that he won't play Heinze, Crespo or Saviola, who have yellow cards, to make sure they're available for the Round of 16. That means Tevez and teenage wunderkind Messi in attack.

Clarin hypes up the game as a modern futbol classic, recalling memorable encounters between the two squads in 1974, 1998, and of course the final in 1978. Buenos Aires' Diario La Prensa, on the other hand, calls it "little more than a bureaucratic procedure" and notes Van Basten is leaving four Holland starters on the bench. (Arjen Robben, Mark van Bommel, Joris Mathijsen and Johnny Heitinga).

La Nacion chips in that the Spanish referee Luis Medina Cantalejo is known for letting play flow and showing few yellow cards.

La Nacion also note that Pekerman baffled foreign reporters with his extremely somber, funeral director's demeanor and barely audible voice in yesterday's press conference. "Is he feeling ok?" they kept muttering to themselves...but, apparently, that's just his way. Obviously, he refused to be drawn on whether he'd rather face Mexico or Portugal in the next round, but Saviola broke with protocol, telling Pagina 12 that he'd much rather play Mexico.

So we'll be seeing a lot of the B-Teams, but I think that will make the match more exciting, not less. For one thing, both teams have so much talent on the bench that their B-Teams are virtually as good as their A-Teams. For another, B-Team players are desperate to start in the next round, and this is their one last chance to impress their coaches.

This match will determine once and for all which nation is the greatest on earth: Mexico or Portugal!

Simpson's Mexico vs. Portugal Preview:

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

The end of a boring day, waiting for another one

Except for the rather unexpected 3-0 win of Germany over Ecuador, it was a boring day (unless you morbidly focus on England's injuries like one that shall not be named). But it might be good for Ecuador: after their great start it is good that they are reminded that the real tests are still laying ahead. Time to focus again guys, you are not playing at 6000 feet in Quito! England, even with half their team killed is still not a cup of tea.

Tomorrow's promise is hardly better, though we have the hope of two good games as opposed to only one that seemed promised today. The day will start sorting out group D. Portugal and Mexico should be a good game. Even though Portugal is already in, Mexico must ensure a draw to be in. Actually a win by Mexico will place it at the head and avoid Argentina more fearsome than the Dutch. Portugal gets to face the Dutch with a tie, thus ensuring a strong Portuguese attack if Mexico were to score the first point.

Angola Iran? ZZZzzz..... Well, yes, if Angola wins, by 3 points!, and Mexico loses without scoring, Angola goes on to the next round. Possible but unlikely, Angola's fate is pretty much settled, unless they want Iran to help them with nuclear weapons...

The other group is less interesting. Côte d'Ivoire and the ex S&M are out so they play for honor. The Côte should be the winner as S&M has not even a country's honor to fight for.

Argentina versus Holland (the delicious replay of a memorable Buenos Aires game I watched as a child with a 39º fever, or was it elsewhere? the fever did kill a few memory neurones) should normally be good. Unfortunately neither is particularly motivated as not only they are both already qualified but they are both arguably at least as good as Mexico or Portugal, making no real difference in who they face next. So taking risks injuring players is not an option. Besides, unless Portugal grows some more, it is quite possible that they will face again in the semifinals: then it might be the game of the whole tournament. At any rate, for tomorrow it will be a safe and sound and perhaps boring game. Too bad....

Me? I will take off from work to watch Argentina who has become my team to root for now that I have burnt my French passport (and that I am not ready to embrace Spain, Quico will not have to put up with thousand of Spaniards in Venezuela for the next 4 years!).

To end this post I will like to pay homage to Trinidad and Tobago who leave the Cup with a very, very honorable performance, not only from the tiniest country in the Cup (not 2 million people) but for first timers with no experience at all. This picture below where the T&T player seems to have metamorphosed into a futbol ball is quite symbolic. Good bye T&T and may you come back next time.

England 2 - 2 Sweden: Tanto nadar para ahogarse en la orilla...

Everything went wrong for England tonight. After weeks of hype about the night when Owen and Rooney would start together, the partnership lasted exactly 3 minutes, when Owen took what seemed like a bad injury and was stretchered off. This took them right back to where they were before Rooney recovered: with a gangly 2 meter clutz bearing the burden of the attack alongside a very talented striker who is still recovering from injury, with the other talented striker definitely hurt. It's just that Owen and Rooney switched roles.

Joe Cole was the only good news for England. He put in one of the best goals of the tournament, added a superb pass to set up England's other goal, and he created chances out of thin air time and again. The Swedish defenders had no clue how to deal with him at all.

Still, it's damn hard to win the world cup with great midfielders but only so-so strikers. If Owen is out of the tournament my prediction that England can win the Cup looks pretty unlikely.
On the other hand, the Swedes were definitely much better than against Paraguay, especially in the second half, and especially in the air. I know a lot of Latin Americans think the air game is just an aberration, but it's the weapon they have and they can't be blamed for using it, and using it well. Sweden deserved their tie.

Still, I can't imagine that this kind of shenanigan is going to work against Germany. Or that Ecuador can do to England on the ground what Sweden did to them in the air.

Germany wins, England out to avoid them...

The Sun, I think, sums up the mood in England. Expectations surrounding Wayne Rooney are stratospheric.

A boring day?

OK, I admit it, since Sunday afternoon I have trouble to regain my full interest in the cup. But it will come back, no matter what France does (or rather, does not do) there is something about futbol that is always redeeming and brings you back to it. Ulysses had it easy with the Sirens...

But today does not help, ladden with matches of little interest or little importance.

Germany and Ecuador are already in the second round and will battle for top tier. But since they do not know who will be on top between Sweden and England, any guess or trickery they do might backfire... they will probably settle for a comfortable tie, no injuries, no yellow cards.

Costa Rica Poland? Who cares! Except that I root for Costa Rica not to finish last. Too bad for the Poles, but heck, they had a Pope, that should be enough for their self esteeem for a least a couple more of decades.

England and Sweden? Well, Sweden will do well to at least tie the match as a victory of Trinidad over Paraguay could be enough for them to go on to the next round. England will see that game as a practice and warm up for better things to come... expect another tie.

Trinidad versus Paraguay is the only interesting match. Paraguay is already out but will fight like hell to bring home at least one victory. Trinidad will do the same in addition of having a very faint chance of overtaking the Swedes. Obviously I am rooting for Trinidad, the most pleasant surprise, with Ecuador and Ghana, of the tournament. If you have time for only one game, that is the one to watch.

Italy Training Camp Exposed!

Disclaimer: this is a joke...

First Battle of the Titans: England v. Sweden

Sure, the later stages of the World Cup are packed with matches between top teams. But the reality is that few first-round matches bring together genuine heavy-weights. That all changes tonight, when England face Sweden amid a storm of amusing tactical speculation in the English press, and some intriguing chatter that, if Ecuador manage to tie with Germany and win Group A, England could try to lose against Sweden deliberately to come second in Group B and avoid meeting the Germans in the second round. Sweden would like that just fine, as they need a win at all costs to ensure qualification, but FIFA has warned England to not even think about it.

The personal drama will come from England's Swedish coach, Sven Goran Eriksson, having to face his own countrymen in a high stakes game. The English are all excited that he will finally leave NBAer-manque and Concentration Camp Victim Lookalike Peter Crouch on the bench, letting Rooney do his thang instead. "When Crouch is on the pitch we play too many long balls. I can agree to that," Eriksson said. "Statistically we played 50% long balls and 50% through midfield. Tomorrow [Today,] I suppose the team will play more short balls."

I just have only one thing to note about Eriksson...the guy looks exactly like Mr. Burns with glasses:

Trivia: England haven't beaten Sweden since 1968...