Post-World Cup Slow Down

Monday, July 24, 2006 | 11:36 am

All work, much play, no blogging lately. Ridiculous amounts of soccer games in the heat as both my supposedly spring and summer seasons wound down in the same fortnight. 6 games in 11 days... egads! My farmers tan is full strength now.

So until I get to finish a blog redesign to remove the World Cup look and feel, I am indebted to providing this one for Brad so he can get excited about the start of this seasons English Premiership in 4 weeks time... I'd be more excited if Manchester would bloody well sign someone... anyone!

Ladies Premiership Team


Tuesday, July 11, 2006 | 6:20 pm

I think this Sports Illustrated article is much closer to the point as to why some Americans can't get behind soccer, rather than the often trite excuse of "not enough scoring".

He covers the Zidane incident with a refreshing perspective, and I can't say I disagree

Rights & Wrongs

Monday, July 10, 2006 | 1:09 pm

Well, my pre-final shots-in-the-dark pinged some actual events close to the bone, grazed a few, and completely missed the rest. Here's the hits, misses, and maybe's of my predictions.

tick Italy won.
tick France scored "first and early"
question mark France unlocked Italy's defense quite regularly, but still they kept out everything that wasn't a penalty.
cross Italy's varied strikeforce looked threatening in the first half (especially from corners), but really was a dead horse after that. Only 2 or 3 shots on goal? Maybe they thought that would be enough to beat Barthez.
tick Ref did a pretty good job and let them play. Post-quarter final refereeing has shown how bad the group stage officials were.
question mark The enigma that is Thierry Henry was blanked on the scoresheet, but had some moments of explosive brilliance, including a standout where he basically shrugged Cannavaro aside. Just couldn't pull the trigger effectively when he got there, and never seemed to trust in his teammates to finish it off for him.
tick Buffon was not beaten from distance, at least no distance greater than 12 yards.
cross In the end, it was decided not by one chance well taken, but by one chance poorly taken - Trezeguet's penalty.
tick As Eve commented, Zidane certainly had a "grand send-off"! I presume Materazzi will get the same reaction in France that C.Ronaldo can expect in England. I am counting this as a 'hit', cause it was one-hell of a hit!

And for those who followed the whole topsy-turvy ride of what was a pretty memorable World Cup, these lists of hits and misses will be interesting reading. Here is one Soccernet analysts list of The Best Players by position (not sure about Gattuso, but couldn't think of an alternative - Deco, Riquelme? Didn't see any of Torres)

Even more compelling, the list of The Worst Players by position can be found here (Kalac can count himself lucky he missed out on nomination, and I disagree with Adriano, but maybe he only looked effective cause he appeared at the right times in a Brazilian side that looked so awfully average).

And that was the World Cup that was! Now I get to start sweating over Manchester United's upcoming season, and how our strikers (Rooney, Saha and Ruud) may be affected by a rather dreary World Cup display, and the only form attacking player there (Ronaldo) may not be looking forward to playing in front of English crowds. Meanwhile, Chelsea spent millions of pounds, again.


Sunday, July 09, 2006 | 12:40 am

With Portugal being put to the sword by Schweinsteiger, we now move on to the denouement. I am torn on this one. My bias is against Italy, for reasons detailed previously, and my romantic hope is for a grand send-off for Zidane, but at the same time, the French were champions not long ago, so perhaps it is Italy's time.

But as far as predictions rather than partisanship goes, I really can't see France unlocking Italy's defense with any regularity. Henry playing alone up front in 4-5-1 should be countered by the excellent Cannavaro, and it will take something special from Zidane or Ribery to crack their way into the box or beat Buffon from distance. So far, the only team that has managed to score against Italy has been Italy.

France's defense has also been solid, but Italy's strikeforce could come from anywhere, with their 11 goals coming from 8 different scorers.

Basically, I'll be heading to the pub to just enjoy the game, hope for a referee who is immune to deception, and wishing that France scores first and early, to ruffle Azzure feathers and get them on the attack rather than time wasting defence. But all the signs are this will be a game of few chances, and it may very well be decided by just one well-taken.

By the way, has anyone else noticed that the telecast "half-time report" is a shadow of actual journalism and devoid of useful information? You get a few slow-motions, some talking heads, and ABC/ESPN trying desperately to make up for the fact that they cannot show commercials during the game. We timed the Germany v Italy half-time report, 15 minutes long, 3 minutes of non-commercial content. I would be ok with this if they didn't keep pumping it up with infographics and commentary all through the first half. Lucky I squeezed that in, I was running out of time to bitch about the telecast...

History Repeating

Monday, July 03, 2006 | 7:06 pm

Last weekend saw the World Cup quarter-finals leap into it's time machine, and take a fantastic journey. For the French, this was like drinking from the river of eternal youth, for the English, it was the ghost of World Cups past.

The first game saw England once-again stumble in familiar fashion. A Manchester prodigy got red-carded, a shorthanded game brought some grit, but no chance at real life, and once again, England fell at their greatest mental bugbear, the penalty shootout.

It didn't help that three of Englands penalty takers (Rooney, Beckham, J. Cole) were off the field by extra time, but make no mistake, Portugals Ricardo was a monster in goal, getting a hand on every penalty fired at his frame, except the unfortunate disallowed spot-kick by Carragher. Even Gerrard's shot was tame, and Frank Lampard, lauded as one of the best midfielders in the game capped a horrible tournament display with the a soft strike easily picked off.

But penalties or not, England did not establish any dominance. They stuck to a flair-less game plan from minute one, with Sven favouring 4-5-1 agan, and Rooney's frustration at not seeing much ball finally getting the better of him. If anything, Beckham's departure and Rooney's send off actually ignited some attacking play, with Lennon breaking space down the flank. And although lively and honest in his toil, the lanky Peter Crouch was never permitted to turn toward goal, neutered by Carvalho and outrun by the excellent Miguel (who blanked Robben in the previous game) The standout for England came from a man oft overlooked due to his participation in the Bundesliga but Owen Hargreaves ate up the turf in the second half like a madman, in both offense and defense, leaving more fancied midfielders gasping. And if there was any justice in this game, it was that Hargreaves penalty went in.

Some pity for poor old Theo Walcott, all the press attention, none of the playing time, even when Engand were reputedly short of strikers even before the injuries. The pre-tournament hype was that old Sven would abandon his safety-first approach with some risky undertakings, but no change was evident. So England sputtered to another quarter-final exit, and the media will blame Erikson, Rooney, and somehow Christiano Ronaldo.


But the wound-back clock came with good news, the Les Blues resurgent and a joy to watch, thanks primarily to the footballing masterclass put on by Zinedine Zidane. In the kind of performance that would have had any other sport reaching for the doping-test unit, Zizou's drug-o-choice seems to be beating Brazil, and the apparent tournament favourites looked truly impotent against the last team to beat them, squeezing off only one shot on goal. Standouts that were able to shine near Zidane's spotlight included a tough as nails Viera, and Frank Ribery demonstrating blinding pace and invention - lets hope he comes to Old Trafford as rumours would have it.

So the last South American team now slinks home carrying the weight of a million over-hyped headlines, Ronaldinho never allowed to play, Roberto Carlos found AWOL on Theirry Henry's goal, and the electric Brazilian reserves never given enough time to carve out their niche as Perreira preserved his skin by keeping his stars on the field, even though they never truly gelled. So it is that a Brazilian side that touted they will play to win not to excite, must now face their harshest critics back home , their supporters who demand they always play the beautiful game.

And so it is, teams of champions fall against the champion team.

Now, with Portugal winning themseves no friends, and my desire to see Italy out in the most ignominous fashion possible, a Germany v France final is a mouth watering possibility.