Friday, June 30, 2006

Best game of the World Cup

OK, I saw the marquee matchup this morning in that Argentina/Germany game.  Wow, what a spectacle!  These teams were well matched, it seems, and both played their game for the most part.  Argentina controlled the ball and the midfield, and Germany created quick chances with pinpoint passes through the middle and lofted balls into their big strikers.  Both played great defense, and I just hated hearing Marcelo Balboa make comments to the effect that one team or the other weren't playing up to their usual standards.  There is such a thing as defense, you know.

Two things that could have ruined this game, but only slightly sullied it instead. 
1. The Diving.  Please, players, stop trying your hardest to get penalties called and try your hardest to get the ball in the back of the net.  To be fair, both teams were equally the villains here.  There were at least 4 blatant dives, 2 on each team (there were more on either team that could be argued were great pieces of acting), and one case in each direction of the ref buying it and issuing a yellow to the opposition for the phantom foul.  Only once was a player actually cautioned for diving.

2. Argentina's substitutions.  Heaven knows what Pekerman was doing there.  Perhaps it was a reaction to being up a goal and losing his starting goal keeper to injury, but pulling Requelme out?  And not replacing him with another play maker?  This was an Italy type of thing to do, put in defense specialists and try and bottle up the game and protect your 1-0 lead.  Guess what.  It didn't work.

What would have happened if he had put in Messi instead.  Or Aimar.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Round of Sixteen - Finit

I got to watch most of the round of 16 games this week, and this is my impressions coming from them.  The Quarterfinals are set, and here are the 8 teams.

Germany:  Look very strong.  All the negative press they got before the tournament was deserved, as they had played pretty bad coming into the Cup Finals, however it seems to have spurred them on to greater form.  Sometimes that’s the prideful response you get to negative press.  Klinsmann is helping too with his obviously strong leadership skills.

Argentina:  What was that?  It was a great game with Mexico showing up for the first time in recent memory.   They played great soccer, passing beautifully in the midfield and throwing the Argentines off their game.  Coach Volpe deserves lots of credit for this, but one wonders where all this skill and tactical brilliance was earlier in the tournament.

As for Argentina, they are still the biggest threat to Germany before the final, but will the team that smacked Serbia show up or the team that lost form when pressured by Mexico show?

England:  Still not playing great soccer, but defending well (the Sweden game was an aberration) and finding ways to get it done.  Contrary to many journalists I’ve read since then, I thought they looked better in this game than they did in the group games.  They have the potential to bring it all together against Portugal, who are missing their best player and playmaker Deco.  The 4-5-1 seemed to work for them once they got comfortable with it in the second half of the Ecuador game.  Will Sven stay with it?

Portugal:  In a game that will be talked about for years, most likely one of the most memorable of this cup, the Dutch for all their effort and nifty passing, could not score.  It’s a shame that it had to be tarnished by the officiating and that the next game will be tarnished by the loss of Deco due to that officiating. 

The game will also be debated for some time because of Van Basten’s decisions regarding who was brought (notable veterans were left at home) and who was played and substituted for this game. 

Portugal is playing well and has many great players who love to attack, and Figo is playing well, so I think they can still do damage.  If England doesn’t continue to improve their play, Portugal can win that battle.

Italy:  One of the games I didn’t see.  Word is that the Italians are playing well and were in control for most of the game over the Australians.  If that’s true why didn’t they score?  The Soceroos have played a massively good cup and deserve to fly home with their heads held high (no pun intended).  Italy’s lack of scoring prowess on the boys from down under is going to haunt them down the line in this tournament.  As for this game, I have one question:  Where was Harry Kewell?

Italy is in a lucky draw, though, and is playing strong enough to beat a still one dimensional Ukraine.

Ukraine:  I saw this game, and was mesmerized by the defensive battle that ensued.  Really, it was like watching a tennis match with the possession changing hands every few seconds.  Ukraine, Switzerland, Ukraine, Swiss, Ukraine, Swiss… ad nausium.  That it went to penalty kicks is no surprise.  That the Ukraine’s attack is still one dimensional is going to hurt them against Italy.  This is the last Cinderella team still alive, and it’s easy to see why people argue that international soccer will be in the hands of the traditional powers for a long time to come.  6 of the 8 teams left have won the World Cup in the previous 40 years (In fact they are the only ones who have won it in the last 40 years).

Brazil:  what can you say.  Even not playing at full form they were too much for Ghana.  The African teams at this cup were athletic and talented, but experience and passion mean something at this level, and it’s all about finishing power.  Ronaldo is back, and once everyone on this team starts clicking it’s going to be scary.  There’s no one in this side of the bracket who can touch them, so unless they have a really off day, they’re in the final.

France:  Viva la France!  Wow.  My vote for best game of the World Cup 2006 so far.  Scoring, great defense, low yellow card count, actual inventive play up front, great passing from the Spanish (and did I mention scoring?).  France finally decided to show up for this tournament by playing the game of their lives, capped off by a goal from the venerable Zidane.  Do they stand a chance against Brazil?  Heck no.  But who cares.  They just made up for the pathetic showing in Korea/Japan in 2002, and they are enjoying the role of underdog for a change.

Quarterfinal games on Friday and Saturday.  Two whole days with no games!  How will I survive until then?!?

Friday, June 23, 2006

You've been Red-Carded

If you’ve been watching the World Cup for the last couple of weeks, you’ve probably either noticed, or heard about, the more than usual occurrence of yellow and red cards.  For those of you not used to the game, yellow cards are the referee’s way of cautioning a player they think did something dangerous or otherwise unsportsmanlike during the run of play.  If you get two of them in a game the red card comes out.  The red card is immediate ejection from the game, and unlike most other team sports, the coach can’t replace the player and so they play with 10 men for the rest of the game.  Red cards can be shown by the ref for a very serious dangerous play before a first yellow card, but it’s up to the ref.

Anyway, we’ve seen some pretty silly excuses for bringing out the yellow this tournament, like dissent (players don’t like all the calls, it’s just a fact), wasting time, and even taking a penalty kick before the ref was set and ready to go. 

I’ll agree that these slight offenses need to be dealt with, but it’s the other rule of the Cup that if a player collects two yellows over a three game period he is suspended for the immediate next game.  When you get upwards of 6 to 10 yellow cards occurring in some games, as we have been getting, you can imagine that a lot of quality players end up suspended.

Mike Adamson, of the Guardian in England, speaks to this and offers an alternative for FIFA.  The real gem is in the countless comments following the post, where numerous fans of the game offer their ideas to solve this problem.

One more set of group games

Spain played a lackluster 2nd half, knowing they don't really need it, to beat the Saudis 1-0.  The Ukraine, only needing a tie, beat Tunisia 1-0 on a Shevchenko penalty kick.  They are in as well.

Now there's only two games left today to decide the final placements in the round of 16.  France needs a win and some help from the Switzerland-S.Korea game.  Pitiful that they put themselves in this position, but a win would make up for the dismal 2002 performance, if but just a little.

Current World Cup games

Spain is playing Saudi Arabia and the Ukraine faces Tunisia.
Spain and Ukraine are in position to advance 1 and 2.  However, Tunisia has a point from an earlier tie with the Saudis, and can advance if they beat the Ukraine.  It's a good game so far from the reports.  Tunisia actually creating more shots and more ball control.

Spain is dominating the Saudis with what amounts to their second string.  It's already 1-0, Spain has possession 63% of the time and they have taken 11 shots to the Saudis 2.

The Ref

More trouble for Markus Merk, the referee for the USA v. Ghana game.  Not only are Americans complaining about that call that led to the penalty kick that won the game for Ghana, now Ghana complains about the booking to Michael Essien that forces him to miss the next match.

      'The insistence on yellow cards is crazy,' Arena said. 'It is taking good players out of the tournament. The mandate to show yellow cards has gone overboard.'

      And he added: 'Essien out of the next game is unfair. The tackle was actually good. I feel bad for Essien. He will miss the next match. He is a great player.'

Hmmm, the opposing coach, even after a bitter loss, complains about the call.  Indeed I thought there were a ton of bad calls on both sides, and I certainly hope we don’t see Merk again in the tournament.

Italian player suspended

Italy’s midfielder, Daniele De Rossi, just got a four game match suspension for his elbow into American Brian McBride’s face last Saturday.  So unless the Italians make the final, this guy’s not playing in any more Cup games.

The Italians are not contesting it.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

USA out, Ghana in

Well that was a train wreck of a soccer game.  The USA falls flat on it’s face and misses an opportunity to slip into the second round this morning, losing 2-1, and Italy completed the Czech misery tour at the World Cup with a 2-0 victory.

Now let’s get one thing out of the way.  Yes the refereeing was horrible.  The German, Merk, is supposed to be one of the better refs in the world right now, but he threw a lot of bad calls in this game.  Something needs to be done about the calling this year, but I imagine it won’t happen until after the Cup is done.  To be honest, there were many bad calls going against either team.  No one was out to get the US here or anything.  However, only one of those whistles from Merk really mattered, and that was the horrible should-have-been-a-no-call flop in the box.  Please admit it: Pompong took a dive and got rewarded for it.  Even if their had been contact, it would have been pretty minor and not worth the extreme measure of a penalty kick. 

But getting beyond that, without the bad penalty kick call, the game would have still ended in a tie.  Which is not what the USA needed here.  In truth, all the other stuff is out the window and the only thing that matters is that the USA played pretty dreadful soccer for most of this game.  Actually: most of these games.

They are certainly the best team coming out of CONCACAF these days (you say Mexico’s in the second round?  Please, that was a wing and a prayer in a much softer group), however you can get away with that sling the ball up the field and out run and out muscle the opposing defense thing in North America.

Getting away with it on a World stage is not going to serve American soccer in the long run.

The only true moment of brilliance was Beasley’s perfect pass over to Dempsey for the goal.  But that wasn’t a play created by good ball movement from the midfield.  Beasley was in the right place at the right time to steal a errant pass.

The US has been described as a workman’s soccer team, and that’s only going to get you so far without a lot of luck.  We got lucky in 2002.  We didn’t this time.  If the USA wants to consistently make it out of the first round every four years, they are going to have to improve monumentally on a skill and tactical level.  Just watch the Argentina game vs. Serbia, and then watch this game the USA played against Ghana and you’ll see what I mean.  There’s ball control, and then there’s this game the USA insists on playing.

This is not to say that the USA isn’t good at all.  While they don’t deserve their no. 5 world ranking on the FIFA site, they are certainly talented enough to give any team trouble on any given day.  And you can’t get too wrapped up in their not getting out of Group E, which, I’m sorry bitter commenter from a couple of weeks ago, really turned out to be the group of death in this tournament.  The US kept it interesting, the Czechs, for all their talent, couldn’t overcome, and Ghana is the only African team to advance into the second round.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Wednesday at the Cup

Kind of a tepid day for the World Cup.  The only drama we had for a team that was not guaranteed a spot in round two was Mexico trying to get a last spot.   Angola had a mathematical chance to get in, but had to win to do it, and they didn’t.  They tied Iran 1-1, but they showed pretty well for a team that most pegged as the worst in the entire field.

Mexico proved how little of a roar they are going to make at this competition by losing the Portugal.  Next up: Argentina.  Yikes!

The next set of games formed an ironic pair.  I say ironic because the game that meant something, i.e. Argentina and Holland played for the chance to top the group and play Mexico instead of Portugal.  That game ended in a 0-0 tie, with some good run of play, but no brilliance in the box.  Not that surprising, considering all the players that both teams chose to rest.  The drive to not have to play Portugal apparently wasn’t all that important.  I guess if you can’t beat Portugal, you can just kiss any chance of beating actual contenders to the crown goodbye.

The other game between the Ivory Coast and Serbia was for nothing, as both teams had no points and crashed out of the cup after two games.  However, that game was a cracker (as the English keep saying), the Ivorians winning 3-2.  They didn’t get far, but the Ivory Coast certainly entertained.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

England top Group B

There were 4 world cup games today, but I'm only going to talk about the England match, because that's the one I got to see. Germany looks strong going into the next round, stronger than I gave them credit for. But despite how awful they've looked in the last few years, they always seem to pick it up for the Cup.

Anyway, on to old mother England. All England needed to do was tie with Sweden and they would win the group. Sweden would have liked to win the game and top the group, but that was a significantly taller order, as their form has been way off so far.
The final score was 2-2, so the English get their not-so-daunting matchup with Ecuador on Sunday. And Trinidad lost, so Sweden would have made the second round whether they lost or not.
England finally played much better against a quality opponent. Perhaps what they needed was a challenge, as they just couldn't get their heads around efficient play or finishing in the box verses Paraguay or Trinidad and Tobago. Today they looked dangerous on all sides of the ball. The two goals that were scored by Joe Cole and Stephen Gerrard were just beautiful and well inside the flow of play.

Players can only watch as Joe Cole's
lofted shot gets tucked in the top corner

But unfortunately, there is a defensive problem that England needs to overcome if it wants to go any deeper than the quarter-finals. The two goals from Sweden came on set pieces and the defensive positions and reactions of the English players made them seem confused and disoriented when the ball finally arrived in the box. The corner kick that was headed in for Sweden's first goal was very well played, but Beckham was guarding the man who's head deflected the ball in the net, and he wasn't even near him when the ball made contact.
After Gerrard's goal, the game looked in the bag for the English. However, in the 90th minute, Sweden took a throw in, aimed right into the box, that despite the announcer's insistence that Henrik Larson got a foot on it, seemed to touch no human being, English or Swedish, before lazily bouncing by the far post, where Ashley Cole was supposed to be on set pieces, and into the net. There should be some shame spread around the squad for letting that one in.

I think that ESPN gave the man of the match to Stephen Gerrard, coming off the bench to score the second goal. Which was a great header into the corner pocket. However did you see who lofted that perfect chip shot onto his head? No, it wasn't Beckham, who was largely absent from the game today. It was Joe Cole. Besides the nifty and dangerous looking antics from Rooney up front, Joe Cole is the life and soul of this team right now. His energy coming up the left side created trouble for the Swedish defense all day.

Also of note, during the first few minutes of the game, Michael Owen went down with a knee injury and doesn't look like he's going to be back any time soon. While I'm sad for him and hope he heals quickly, I'm cynical about all the press that labels him stuff like their "most dangerous striker" and waxes woe on the English side for having lost him.
Have you seen any of the games they've played? Has having Owen in the game made the offense more or less effective do you think? I think not having him in there, and having the Crouch-Rooney front line with Cole and Gerrard in the midfield is what is producing magic for England right now, and I think that they will be better not having to rely on whether or not his scoring slump is going to be over before the end of this tournament.

Looking forward to seeing if Sweden can handle the dynamic striker tandem of Klose and Podolski on Saturday. My guess is that they won't be able to.

Update: Nick Webster rates the English players in Tuesday's game.

Monday, June 19, 2006

World Cup: 2nd week

Reactions from a long weekend of exciting soccer.
It is finally getting really exciting, as teams are making their push for the 2nd round.  Winning the first game is important, as you don’t want to get into must-win situations too quickly.  However, teams usually get over their first game jitters and start playing ball like they mean it, and we’ve seem some interesting trends.

The Argentines are playing like they’re all channeling Maradona (who has been in the stands, by the way, as ESPN can’t stop panning over to see what he’s doing).  I haven’t seen better creativity or energy out of any team in the Cup so far.  After their thrashing of Serbia on Friday, they are in the 2nd round.  So is Holland, after probably one of the best games at the cup so far.  The Ivory coast played well and looked dangerous the entire game, but were unlucky to win over an equally skilled and determined Dutch team.  So many balls went just wide or hit the bar in this game that I was in permanent Ooooh and Aaaah mode.

Wednesday’s Argentina v. Holland game should be the Must-See game of the entire group round (sorry, team USA, but if I had to pick…).  I think it would be a mistake for either of these teams to give up momentum just because they have a guaranteed spot in the 2nd round.

Oh, by the way.  I had an interesting couple of comments about my group of death post last week.  Many people argued that Group C was the group of death this year and I got a pretty nasty comment when I declared that it was group E (foolish American).  Well, the two teams expected to come out of group C did, after two games.  Group E is still entirely up for grabs.  Any more arguments?

Portugal has finally shown some life with 6 points and a berth in round 2.  Mexico looks like a train wreck waiting to happen, and if Portugal takes this game seriously on Wednesday they could be looking at their first early exit from the World Cup in a long time.  It’s looking OK for them, but there’s a chance.

OK, I’m not going to comment on Saturday’s games too much, as in America here they’ve already been taken apart by everyone. 

The Czechs seem to have disappeared in game two, just in time for the Americans to wake up and take it to the Italians.  Yes, I’m surprised on both accounts.  I expected the Czechs to do better, and the Italians really should have taken the USA to the cleaners.  However, I’m wondering if after the first game both European teams relaxed a bit.

The Americans definitely played better in game two, and did very well to hold Italy to a draw.  But they have yet to score a goal in the tournament, and they need to solve that before playing a Ghana team who embarrassed a team that just finished thrashing the USA 5 days earlier.

Brazil.  What can you say.  They’re in round 2 and your not.  They haven’t looked like the magical samba band that they are known for, but they usually take a few games to really get going. 

Tough for the Australians, though.  They played a great game, and still have a great shot at getting into round 2.  I’m excited to see them there, as they look really good.  Harry Kewell is playing inspired ball right now.

France.  Ugh.  Check please, Monsieur.  At least they finally broke that 8 year scoring drought at a World Cup.  Friday is going to be a long day for the French.  Zidane got another yellow card and won’t be playing on Friday.  He’s looked pretty slow lately.  Will his absence be a bad thing?

Spain.  For a while in today’s game I thought that Tunisia had their number.  Spain tends to fall apart and choke at some point in every big tournament, despite their talent.  Would it be this early in the Cup? 

The answer was no.  They’re still able to create, and scored 3 quick goals toward the end of the game.  They still look really good, and controlled the ball well in the game, but we’re still holding our breath.

In the next round so far: Germany, Ecuador, England, Argentina, Holland, Portugal, Brazil, Spain.
Looks like a pretty familiar group.


I had a post on Thursday bounce back at me.  So it should be right behind this one.  Catching up from being on the road and watching as much soccer as an American can.

World Cup: Some are moving on

The 2nd games of the group round have barely begun, and already we have some teams who have booked their slots in the 2nd round.  Yesterday Germany won their 2nd game, and guaranteed a spot, and today Ecuador and England won their 2nd games.  I thought Germany looked pretty sketchy in their match against Poland, but a win is a win.

Today Ecuador convincingly beat Costa Rica, controlling the ball all over the place and scoring 3 times.  If they tie Germany in the next match they could conceivably end up topping the group and playing the runner up from group B. 

England 2, Trinidad & Tobago 0
The score is misleading, as England didn't get their first goal until the 82nd minute.  Trinidad defended well and even got through the English defense a couple of times.  However, for 65 minutes of that game (as well as the first game) England played like smeg.  They couldn't find the penalty box of the opposition to save their tea.  It was close your eyes embarrassing. 

Sometime in the 65th minute, after some intelligent subs by Sven, the English woke up.  Finally: they were passing and keeping the ball.  Finally:  they seemed to find that inner passion they needed to win the game.  Finally:  they found a way to get the ball into the box and look threatening.

The reward came late with a perfect cross from Beckham to the tall and lanky Crouch (whose sole contribution up to that point was collecting penalties for climbing over defenders).  Gerrard's goal after that was beautiful, but academic in the 91st minute.

Sweden 1, Paraguay 0
Sweden has a chance to redeem themselves in the game vs. England next week.  They didn't look good in their first game, and from the reports they didn't sound very good in this game, but came away with the win anyway.  Paraguay is going home now.  They declared that they weren't afraid of England and Sweden before coming into this tournament, and perhaps they shouldn't have been.  But lack of fear doesn't help.  You also need to be able to score.

I'm on the road tomorrow.  Probably won't post again until Saturday.  Catch the action tomorrow, there should be some good games.  Up until this point, many of these teams have just been warming up.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

End of week one

Continuing from yesterday, I stopped off at the Sunday games and Group D of World Cup action. 
Monday was the big day for the USA.  And they lit it off in spectacular style, showing just how you lose to European powerhouses.  You lose big.

To be fair, I’ve seen the US play tons better than they did.  And to be further fair, the Czechs played as good as I’ve seen anyone play in the tourney.  The passing was precise and the play was fanatic.  You can get reactions from anywhere and everywhere on this game, and I will probably agree with most of them, except the ones that insist that the US really is that bad.  There is a certain amount of bias against America on this point, however it must be said that the Americans looked unfocused and sloppy.  They acted like they didn’t want to be there at that moment, and they definitely are not ready to take on the mantle of World Cup champions any time soon.  It was obvious from the lack of passion and the ability to keep up the pace of the European players.

In case anyone is keeping score here, I have never claimed that the US was going to beat the Italians or Czechs out of this group.  It was unfortunate that they got put here, but since they are, while I think that they could surprise us and beat the Italians, I don’t think they will.  And, consequently, they won’t get to the next round.  I’m just hoping they play a bit better and leave Germany with something to be proud of.

Anyway, on to the other games.

Australia 3, Japan 1   
Oh, how I wish that I had caught this game.  The Aussies coming back from a 1-nil deficit to win 3-1?  How crazy was that?  They definitely made a statement, and it will be fun to see them play Brazil and the Croatians.  Can they get out of the group?  It depends on their game with Croatia.

Italy 2, Ghana 0
Who didn’t predict this?  Unfortunately, I was driving in no man’s land on the way to the northern California coast on business when this was going on, so I didn’t see the game and can’t comment on the play.  I’ll see them when they play America.

Brazil 1, Croatia 0
Really?  Just one goal?  Didn’t see this one either.  Can’t wait to see the Brazilians play.

South Korea 2, Togo 1
You have to admit that the Togo players put up a heck of a fight and provided some entertainment along the way.  These matches between lower quality teams get under-billed.  I enjoyed the scrappiness of both teams, and neither one was beyond the other in skill.  Togo could have pulled this one out.  However, it was obvious that the Koreans had the edge in skill and inventiveness, and so I’m not surprised that they eventually pulled it out.  That’s it for the Koreans, though.  As bad as France and Switzerland played in their match, I think they both won’t have trouble with these two.

France 0, Swiss 0
Ugh.  I was looking forward to this one over the previous game, as I predicted this great battle between very evenly matched opponents.  France looking to get back finally at a Swiss team that held them to two ties in the qualifying rounds.  How utterly bored I was while actually watching this.  How disappointed I am at seeing a team with such immense talent as the French waste it as they did.  Henry seemed like he was on Valium.  Zidane is beginning to play like he’s at the end of his career.  And he is.  They are missing the presence of Sissi as much as England was missing Roony last week.  Problem is they won’t be getting Sissi back.

Spain 4, Ukraine 0
Another game I was looking forward to.  It was still fun to watch, but only because the Spanish look really good this year.  I wanted to see some of Shevchenko’s blistering runs to the goal, but had to settle for the wonderful ball control, passing and finishing of the Spanish.  They might even make a believer out of me. 

As for the Ukrainians, Jamie Trecker of Fox says it best.

      Spain is firing on all cylinders for the first time in ages. And Ukraine, apparently, is unfamiliar with the alarm clock. (But no matter: All America today thanks them for taking over last place. Way to step up, Operation Freedom ally Ukraine!)

Tunisia 2, Saudi Arabia 2
Didn’t get to see this one.  Thought it wouldn’t be worth my time, but heard from people that it was quite the game.  Not great play, but definitely suspense and passion.  Tunisia is the only African team to not lose a game so far.  The 2nd round should finally see some African team wins, but it’s not going to be Tunisia, as Spain looks unbeatable, and the Ukraine won’t be the pushover that Spain made them seem like.

Germany 1, Poland 0
This was and interesting game.  I sat with some buddies over lunch and tried to get into this game.  There was definitely lots of emotion and hard tackling, for these are storied foes on the pitch.  What helped was that Poland decided to bring their B game (instead of the D- game last week) and German didn’t look as focused or disciplined as when they carved up the Costa Rica defense.  This game was kind of scrappy itself.  I honestly thought that the Polish were going to pull out a draw and take away some sort of foolish pride before they got sent home.  Oliver Neuvell, a hero from the last Cup, came in late in the match and scored the winner in injury time, after the 90th minute.  Oh, heartbreak!  I was surprised it didn’t happen sooner, as the Polish lost a man due to red card in the 75th minute.  Germany tried and tried, but just couldn’t put the ball in the back of the net.  Credit the Polish defense, but I see lots of problems with the German side that need to be addressed before the next round, which they have now a guaranteed spot in.

Just so as you know, despite my American fanship, I’m enjoying this cup to the hilt.  Hope you all are to some extent too.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

World Cup - Week One

Sorry I haven't been posting.  I've been out of town, and happen to still be out of town.  So the time and access to internet has been compromised.

Well, where to begin.  First I would like to address my post last week, that got some pretty good criticism, concerning so called "groups of death."  Seems that me and my critics might both be proven wrong.  He seemed to think that Group E, containing the lowly USA, couldn't possibly be a group of death, as the Czechs and Italians would handily beat the US and Ghana, whereas the Serbs and the Ivory Coast were more than a match for "just waiting to be upset" Argentina and Holland.  Ok, here's my prediction for the two groups.  I think that after this week the best that will be said for the two groups is that  neither was a "group of death."   The USA looked HORRIBLE in their game vs. the Czechs, and their opponents looked every bit of the 2nd in the world ranking they have.  Ghana too looked overwhelmed by an experienced and determined Italian squad.

However, I wasn't really impressed with the Ivory Coast.  I watched that game, and thought that the Argentinean team was playing very well, while their opponents had some very obvious flaws.

I think of all these teams you could say that they are dangerous.  The USA is still dangerous, and they have the talent to put it together.  But will they?

OK, down to business.
Saturday:  England 1 Paraguay 0
This was a cover-face-game for the English.  Yes, they won.  However they looked very unfocused and couldn't seem to get the ball under control in the box.  Getting it to the box wasn't all that hard, but they look like they are just waiting for Roony to come and bail them out.  Their one goal comes from a Beckham kick from a set piece.  You can't count on those in every game.  Paraguay was just along for the ride.  Sweden can definitely take them if they improve from their last game.  Which brings me to:

Sweden 0 Trinidad-&-Tobago 0
This was a fun game to watch, but not because the talented Swedes played a pleasing version of the beautiful game.  It was fun because supreme underdogs T&T overcame playing with 10 men for an entire half to hold the Swedes scoreless.  Kudos for them, but this has just as much to do with Sweden playing under their ability.  And they are in danger of not getting out of this group unless they do well in their next two matches.

Argentina 2 Ivory Coast 1
I've said a bit about this one above.  I think that Argentina looks about as good as anyone in this tournament.  They played a group of larger and faster opponents well, defended well, and were very creative and fun to watch when attacking.  If they continue like that this group will come easy for them.  Not at all like the last world cup (when they were in a true group of death).  The Ivory Coast is going to be a dangerous team, but only because they are fast and strong.  They looked lost when they had the ball, and their main play was to get the ball to their fast strikers, notably Drogba, and hope they could do something with it.  Every time they got the ball into the box, the man with the ball tried to dribble around, like he was trying to make his own shot.  Lots of people think they can go far in this tournament, but I think that their lack of imagination is going to catch up to them before the end of the group round.

Holland 1 Serbia 0
I didn't get to watch this game, but I'm not surprised at the result.  Serbia cruised through the qualifying, but they haven't had the experience on the main stage.  Sure they won their group, but they didn't beat Spain, and they had to beat teams like Bosnia, Belgium and San Marino.  Holland seems to have handled them without a problem, now on to the Ivory Coast, and we'll see what the African boys are really made of.

Mexico 3 Iran 1
Who didn't see this coming.  Thank goodness the Tricolores were up to this task, because nobody wanted to see the Iranian President trying to visit Germany to watch the games.

But it also goes once again to show that Mexico is getting a gift here that the USA should have been given.

Portugal 1 Angola 0
The constant underachievers slipped by probably the worst team at the tournament.  They aren't looking good trying to walk the path of redemption.  But they will escape this group, anyway.

Friday, June 09, 2006

World Cup, Day One action

Deutschland uber alles!  Wow, what a great way to start this years World Cup! 
We went over to Kells Irish pub at 9Am, the start of the Germany v. Costa Rica game and the first game of the tournament.  I liked watching it there.  It wasn’t really all that crowded (although all tables were taken), the service was good, and the mood was fan frenzy.  I had my wife and daughter with me, and I was pleased to note that Kells is smoke free (smoking room in the basement).  They kind of redeemed themselves from two years ago when they showed the Euro Cup, and charged $20 at the door.  This time it was free.

To their defense, the media company with the rights to Euro Cup charged thousands for the rights to show the game, and the World Cup is on ESPN for free.

The Germany game was very high scoring, as the Germans won 4-2.  Someone said that it was one of the highest opening game scores in World Cup history.  The game started out with Germany controlling the ball in the Costa Rica end of the field.  In fact, for most of the game they kept it there.  Germany plays a very aggressive and offensive style of ball.  They were constantly trying to quickly get the ball up field, to the sides and then boost it into the middle.  German team is known for their dead ball and heading ability, so I wasn’t surprised by this.

However, none of the goals came on dead ball situations.  There were also no goals scored by headers (although Klose’s 2nd goal came as the result of a failed header). 

The first goal by Philipp Lahm was a thing of beauty.  I don’t think he could have hit that ball any better, as he was running across the box from the left side.  The ball hit the upper far post to elude the keeper.  Nice.

The second goal of the game (and later the fifth goal as well) was scored by Wachope of Costa Rica.  Both his goals were very similar, and it seems that it’s the only play the Ticos (as they’re called) know how to run.  Kick the ball over the defense and hope that Wachope can work some magic.  Well, thanks to a totally porous German defense, he did work some magic.  Twice.

However, Wachope is getting past his prime, and I shudder to think of what a truly world class offense is going to do to this German defense if they don’t figure out how to stop those streaking strikers.

Klose’s two goals were both mayhem in front of the goal events.  Both included fine footwork on the part of midfielders to thread the ball into Klose through traffic.  Klose is probably the best finisher they have.

The last goal, scored by Torsten Frings, was a rocket of a volley from 30 meters out.  That ball had a sonar wake behind it, and there was nothing the goalie could do. 

I think that the Germans are going to have to keep scoring or solve that defense issue if they want to progress far.  But due to the report of the other game between Poland and Ecuador, which Ecuador won 2-0, I don’t think Germany is going to have any trouble emerging from Group A.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

And they enter the starting gate...

Well, I’ve taken a small break to take more effort at work and at home in preparation for watching the World Cup this month.  So I’ll still be arguing, at least in my head, whether or not my commenter from a couple of posts ago is right in saying that it’s Group C that’s the group of death, and not group E.  Whatever, in either case I don’t know if there is really a true group of death this year.  Not like in 2002.

Anyway, I don’t get cable or satellite TV at my house, which under normal circumstances is preferred with me and my wife.  However, many of the games are on ESPN and ESPN2, and so I’m on the lookout for places to watch.  Downtown here I usually watch games over at Champions Pub in the Marriott.  European evening games play at 11:30AM here on the West Coast, which is about lunch time for me.  However, upon calling them, I found that they are not going to open before their regular opening time of 11:00. 

Kells is probably the ideal place.  What better venue than an Irish pub.  They are opening early, and allow youngsters, so my wife can join me even when she can’t get a sitter.

The Cheerful Tortoise is a college pub and eatery by the university, which is pretty close to where I work.  They also plan to open early for the 6AM games.  Haven’t really hung out there, though, so I don’t know what the atmosphere is like.

The Horse Brass pub is, shockingly, not going to show all the games, and they only plan on opening early on some days.  They have grown a reputation for showing Premier league games, so this move is disappointing, to say the least.

The A&L tavern is probably the other place I’ll consider going to.  I’ve watched soccer there before, and it’s a great place to go.  It’s been pretty smoky in the past, so I’ll end up there if I’ve got nothing else.

The games start tomorrow, so expect to hear from me, commenting on what I see.  I’m no expert on soccer, but I’ll call it like I see it anyway. 

I’m the kind of guy who likes to analyze games before hand, but I might not want to take all that time this year.  You might hear from me who I’m going to be cheering for, though.  If anyone.

Tomorrow’s game, Germany v. Costa Rica, I don’t really have a favorite there.  However, I tend to have that analytical personality that causes me to want the team who’s supposed to win on paper to do well.  So I’ll probably be pleased if Germany does well.

I’ll be routing for Poland in that group, though, considering my minor Polish lineage.

Soccer is one of those things in life that brings otherwise disparate peoples together in brotherhood.  Nowhere is this more unexpected than in the conflicted regions of the middle east. 

Check out this article in the BBC about Israel and Palestine.

      It is about the only issue Israelis and Palestinians can agree upon. The TV subscription rates to watch the football World Cup are too high.

      Furious Israeli football fans are staging a consumer rebellion that has prompted a parliamentary probe and already led to a reduction in prices.

      Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza are fervently trying to circumvent charges of up to $600 (£325) and watch matches on pirate TV channels which are pledging to broadcast the games free of charge.

      Making light of the sporting unity, the Israeli daily newspaper Haaretz published a cartoon showing Israelis clambering over the West Bank security barrier to join Palestinian farmers to watch the tournament for free.

I’m wondering what effect this will have on tension in other parts of the world.  In Europe things basically shut down for the month.  Will the world be at relative peace while the Cup is being played?  Will Iran, who are participating, stay quite for a month?  Or will they use the distraction to make some bold move?  Will the disinterested Americans irritate the Iranians by continuing to press the issues, while all the Iranians want to do is watch Iran v. Portugal?

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Somalia Taliban

Just in case no one was looking… You know this soccer business.
You all probably remember the country of Somalia.  Warlords.  American intervention.  Disaster, embarrassment. Black Hawk Down.  Stuff like that.  Well, someone seems to have cleaned up that situation.  Only…

      Islamists committed to implementing shari'a law in Somalia claim to have defeated warlords in Mogadishu after months of fighting in a country wracked by anarchy since 1991.

Oops.  Might have been better if, in full Bush style, we had not chickened out and left so quickly.  Or maybe it wouldn’t have.  Hard to say with warlords.  Funny thing was that they finally found common cause and banded together, but only because the Islamists were getting as powerful as they were.

Too late, though.

World Cup press story

Anyone wondering how much mania there is in the rest of the world there is for the game of Futball, check this out.

      This morning, eagle-eyed readers of the British papers saw the "shot all England had been waiting for," according to one tab: Wayne Rooney doing a bicycle kick. What you didn't see was the same picture in every paper, and therein lies a story.
      Behind the scenes papers bidded on the shot, which was captured by a freelancer and immediately put up for auction. The Daily Telegraph paid some £10,000 for it according to a high-placed source; the Sun got secondary rights for £5,000. The Guardian, which did not have it, balked at paying for a news photo, though the practice is common in the U.K. with celebrity snaps.
      The goods were also handled in a quite high-tech way: The freelancer reportedly made copies onto USB mass storage devices — those "penclips" that are becoming ubiquitous — and handed them over in exchange for hard, cold cash. I am told, quite relaibly, that one of the devices would not be relinquished until the purchasing editor went out and physically drained his bank account — apparently, a check was not good enough.

Photographers can get thousands for one snapshot.

I might even route for them

But not if they're playing the USA.
Ever since 1994, when the World Cup was played in America, I have had it in for Brazil.  It’s not like they aren’t a great team, or contain some really great players, I’ve just always thought they have held a sporting rabbit’s foot when it came to the big tournament.

They haven’t really performed well on other stages, like their own regional tournament, and have been getting beaten by Argentina on a regular basis.

Back in 1994, they tripped and crawled into the final, winning most of their games by 1-0, and two on penalty kicks.  During the final, they were totally outplayed by a fantastic Italian lineup, including the world’s best player Roberto Baggio, but the swarthy Europeans just couldn’t get the ball into the net.  But Brazil couldn’t either and it remains the only cup final to be decided on penalties.  Brazil won because, of all people, Baggio missed his kick.

In 1998, they made it again to the final, only to get embarrassed by the French, who made them look like they didn’t deserve to be there.

In 2002, once again they played to the last game (and I suppose I should give them something for being able to make it to these final games one way or another), but their opponent was a lackluster German side, who didn’t have to beat world class opponents to get there.  In their defense, the Brazilians did have to beat some serious teams like Turkey and England, and beat the Germans convincingly.

But during that tournament we found that Brazilian players can be just as dirty and deceptive during play as anyone else (we won’t name names), and I secretly wished (well, not so secretly) that they would meet their end before the final.  Alas it wasn’t so.

This year I’ve been watching some of the players, and have to admit, as does this article, that the world’s favorite team looks really good.  They are playing well, and Ronaldino is really everything they say he is.  I can’t help but like this team and won’t be a bit disappointed if they win the whole thing.

Although for a change of pace it would be nice to see two different teams in the final.  England would be nice.  Or the Czechs.  Even Argentina if they make it out of round 1.  Spain anyone?

Monday, June 05, 2006

World Cup Group of Death talk

So I’ve been reading a bit about the teams and groups involved in this years World Cup, and it’s been interesting reading how they got there and what the various pundits think about who is going to do well and who isn’t.

But there’s only one thing rankling my so far in all the articles I’ve read.  In a couple of particular cases, writers have declared that poor Argentina has been thrust in yet another “Group of Death” from which they are going to have to fight their way out of.

So I’m thinking to myself, this really doesn’t sound right.  Argentina is paired with the Dutch, that’s for sure.  However the other countries are Serbia and the Ivory Coast.  Not exactly regular contenders.

I can’t find the sad sap ESPN article at the moment, but here’s a blurb from Fox Sports regarding the Ivory Coast’s chances: “That said, this is the "group of death," and any of these teams is capable of making it through to the second round. If one were to bet, I'd be tempted to pick CIV over Holland and Serbia/Montenegro.”

Seriously?  You’d pick the Ivory coast over the 3rd ranked team in the world?  What are you smoking?  Are you a sucker for the underdog normally?

Last time around Argentina was grouped with England, Sweden and Nigeria.  Now THAT’S a group of Death, with a capital D.  Argentina was picked to win the tournament in 2002, and England and Sweden made it out.  Nigeria’s no slouch, and it’s a terrible disappointment that they didn’t qualify this year.

I’ve been saying all along that the U.S. got caught in the group of death this year.  But just to show that my bias for my own country doesn’t have everything to do with that, check out the FIFA world rankings of all national teams.

Here are the groups this year.
Here are the rankings of all the teams as taken from FIFA website:

Group           Rankings        Average StDev
A               19,26,29,39     28.25           7.2
B               10,16,33,47     26.5            14.53
C               3,9,32,44       22              16.7
D               4,7,23,57       22.75           21

E               2,5,13,48       17              18.34
F               1,18,23,42      21              14.6
G               8,29,35,61      33.25           18.9
H               5,21,34,45      26.25           14.9

Note first of all that the USA’s group has the lowest average, indicating the most concentrated high ranked teams.  The standard deviation isn’t saying much, except that Germany’s group A is pretty close ranking-wise.  That’s an aberration because they have been performing poorly lately and are ranked lower than I have ever seen them at 19.  It’s also skewing group E, the USA’s group, because there is one team there, Ghana, with a terrible ranking. 

Note the other aspect of this list.  The top two teams come out of each group, so if we look at things as they are on paper, how close are the top two ranked teams vs. the bottom two teams in each group?

Group A is going to be exciting, but only because after Germany walks away with the top spot the other three are going to be fighting for the other spot in the round of 16.

Group B has a pretty significant gap, with England and Sweden taking it away on paper.
Group D is a little tighter.  However, the third ranked team there is Iran, who has only won a single game in the few times they have appeared in this tournament.  It was the USA in 1998.  I don’t think Mexico and Portugal are going to let this group get away from them.

Group F is like group A.  There is a significant gap in talent between Brazil and the other teams, but the battle for 2nd place is going to be lots of fun.  This is kind of a mini group of death, in that after Brazil, any one of those teams could make it.

Group G was some sort of heavenly gift to France.  Like groups A and F, they have a chance to really outclass their opposition.  However, in 2002 they got a similar pushover group and blew it big time, so this could be tighter than it looks on paper.  Switzerland is playing well above their ranking right now, so the two Euro teams should walk away with this group.

Group H is an anomaly.  The Ukraine is ranked below Tunisia at the FIFA site, but I can’t see them falling to the Saudis or Tunisia. 

Group C, if you’ll notice, looks a lot like groups B and D on paper.  Basically, instead of saying that anyone could come out of this group, which is basically true of any grouping, why don’t you say that, based on expectations, if Argentina and the Dutch don’t come out of this group there are going to be some very angry fans back home.  Argentina failing to come out of a group like this, after the last World Cup, will register a new record on the scale of shame in sporting history.  Calling this a group of death is a tool to give the White and Sky Blue an excuse to fail.  How pathetic.

The real group of death is a group that has more than 2 power teams in it.  This year that’s Group E  Up until the last 4 years, the United States has not been considered a power team, which is probably why they are where they are.  However they are one of the better teams in the world right now, and have the ability to play with just about anyone.  That Mexico, who they beat soundly in the qualifiers and finished ahead of, got to have a seeding and ended up in a group they should have no trouble getting out of is proof that there will probably always be a bit of bias in favor of tradition, history and culture over actual performance.

The USA has to deal with the Czechs, ranked 2nd, and the Italians, currently ranked 13th, but Italy has the players and will pick it up for the tournament.  Ghana is this years Nigeria. 

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Meet the new Peruvian President

Same as the old one. Or rather one that they had about 15 years ago. Alan Garcia, former President of the country in a time that saw the country collapse economically, is leading his runoff opponent Ollanta Humala by a significant margin.
This is a good thing. Humala is a Chavista follower, and would complete a trifecta with Chavez in Venezuela and Evo Morales in Bolivia. Chavez has been meddling in Peru politics as of late. He would knock the foundations of Peruvian economy right out from under it with a massive Socialist/Communist overhaul. Luckily it looks like the Peruvian people are seeing through this.

Bush reverses decision

Albeit on the Federal Marriage Amendment. (Hat tip Instapundit)
After all the fuss a couple of years ago on this issue, and lots of water under the bridge, Bush is now saying that he withdraws his support for the Amendment and that he had overreacted to situations on the ground, as well as some poor decisions by the courts and local officials. He now says that he should have trusted the people in those localities to bring their officials into line.
As against gay marriage as I have been, I respect the President on this. I think that his reasons for doing so are genuine and I have to admit that I was just as doom-sayer about the whole issue myself, torn as to whether I really wanted an Amendment to the constitution.
But the history of the Amendment, and Bush's actions during its lifetime suggest that he never really wanted it in the first place and was only over reacting. He doesn't like that gay marriage is popping up in some places, but recognizes that it's the people making it happen, not the judicial system. Not activists trying to work the system despite the people.
Here is part of his statement:
Two years ago, in this place, I announced my support for a constitutional amendment defining marriage as the union of one man and one woman. I strongly believe that'’s what marriage is and should be. If I were a state legislator or a governor, I'd oppose defining marriage in any other way. I supported the amendment because, at the time, I feared that uncontrollable judges and local officials were recklessly and lawlessly playing with the foundation of the American family. But I was wrong. Like others, I overreacted to what seemed like an emergency. I did not have sufficient faith in the historic processes of American government. The local officials who were defying state law in 2004 have been brought into line. DOMA is still good law. The states have begun amending their own constitutions to define marriage. I have appointed many federal judges in the mold of Justices Scalia and Thomas, including two to the Supreme Court, who will not tamper with marriage. And while I still fear that some state courts will attempt to redefine marriage in years to come, I am confident that the people in those states can deal with their own courts if that is what they choose to do. After all, that is what we have always trusted them to do.
Follow the link for more of the statement. This is a great piece of work. The retraction of support for the Amendment should score some points with libertarians (the left will hate him anyway) and his strong statement of faith in the American political system and Federalism/State's rights should comfort conservatives somewhat.
And this is a different side of Bush, the side that admits mistakes, that is going to get some real press. The left is fond of criticizing him for not admitting anything, but I think this will go a long way to silencing those critiques, even though there are many other examples of Bush admitting mistakes that get suppressed by the media.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

World Cup is Next week!

Man, sometimes big events just creep up on you. Or maybe that's just age, as I have known that the cup was coming, but time seems to fly recklessly.
So in the meantime, I'm reading about the teams, some of the players, checking the schedule and seeing what games I want to catch and when I have time to catch them. The tournament is in Germany this year, which means that we're going to have some early morning games. Like 6Am or 9AM. Which is a lot different from the last cup, which was in Korea and Japan, where the games were at 2AM and 5AM mostly.
Paul Mirengoff of Powerline is a big soccer fan and has been mulling all this over. It caught him by surprise too. So I'm not alone in this malady.
ESPN's soccer page has modified their motif so that it's all World Cup, all the time. They'll probably have this setup until mid-July.
Fox Sports has their page up too. Check these sites out if you need quick information to get you up to speed on what's going on.
My impression is that all the games are going to be on ESPN and ABC. That's certainly not without precedent. ESPN might have some scoreboards up that offer some play by play action. One would hope that they have some sort of streaming radio coverage so I can catch some of the action when I'm not within screaming distance of a cable TV.

Rules of War, and why things like Haditha happen

I haven't said anything about the Haditha incident being investigated by the military, and being judged prematurely by the press.
However, I stand with those who are waiting until the results of the investigation are in. It seems asinine to report to the American public that the marines in the incident acted "unprovoked" or are immediately declared murderers simply because Iraqi civilians were killed. Especially when all the facts are not in.
But even when the facts do come in, and the events are thrust into the light, whether the marines are declared guilty or not, we deserve to know why they have such a tough job and why not killing civilians is sometimes much more tricky, and in this case dangerous, than we here at home realize.
John Bambanek writes that there are a few Rules of War that armies have been following, or at least paying lip service to, for centuries that cause this sort of thing not to happen.
There are laws of war in place to prevent this kind of thing. They were in place hundreds of years before anyone conceived of the United Nations. At each step, the terrorists (and they are terrorists) have not only violated the laws of war, but used those laws of war against us to further attacks on our soldiers.
The first is that soldiers wear uniforms. Bambanek states that the primary purpose of this is to tell your enemy that you are a target, and thus not a civilian.
The second is that you don't attack civilian structures such as schools, churches, etc. The corollary to this is that you don't make one of these structures a military outpost or storage depot.
The third that Bambanek describes is that when you surrender the fight is over. If you use surrender as a ruse to kill more of you enemy when they come to get you (or help you get medical help) you put at risk those who legitimately want to surrender or need help.
Bambanek notes that this isn't an exhaustive list, but just three examples that insurgents/terrorists have broken over and over again.
The terrorists simply don't care about the civilian population. If the military mistakenly engages civilians or they hit civilian buildings after taking fire from them, the terrorists mark up another public relations victory because of the willingness of their allies on the American left to use these incidents for political gain. In this way, the terrorists are extremely intelligent… and incredibly evil. So those who wish to sit in judgment over the Marines at Haditha (before the investigation is even completed, mind you) manage to put on the blinders and refuse to consider how the actions of the terrorists almost guarantee these events will happen. If these Marines did snap and break the laws of war, they will be tried and punished. It is a shame, however, that no one seems to stand up for the soldiers who have to put up with an enemy who consistently breaks those laws. It's a national disgrace that some in the U.S. will stand up for the actions of those terrorists as legitimate.
Well said. I might add that, for those of you who are unaware of the geographic significance of Haditha, that it is well within the Sunni triangle where most of the attacks have been over the last 3 years. There were news articles and reports that occurred right before this incident happened about how Haditha was a terrorist outpost almost as bad as Falujah was before the marines took that city. There were lots of bad guys there.

Update: Here's a video from Powerline. A two minute film from the military showing how they have set up a system of recourse for Iraqis claiming that the US military damaged their property or, compensation for an unjury or the life of a family member. Quite the opposite picture from the beatial occupying force we see in the papers today.