The Last (16) Roundup
After a scintillating round of group play I thought the WC was only going to get better. However, the momentum seemed to stall a bit for this last slate of 8 games. Time to separate the wheat from the chafe.
Saturday June 25.
Germany 2 Sweden 0: The Swedes inexplicably survive the group stages in big tournaments and then get exposed in the knockout phases. Ze Germans ran roughshod over them with Podolski netting a brace (2 goals- soccer lingo) in 12 minutes. Swedes never recovered and the game was really over when Lucic received his walking papers in the 35th minute for a 2nd yellow. Terrible call, just a quick tug on Klose at midfield and the Germans shamelessly baited the ref into producing the yellow. Far from a classic and perhaps all the Nordic countries should merge into a super Viking team for the next WC.
Argentina 2 Mexico 1 in extra-time: Mexico played Argentina to a standstill in a stirring game. It only took the goal of the tournament from Argentina’s Maxi Rodriquez to separate the teams. Worth a 2nd, 10th or 50th look. Best game of this stage.
Sunday June 26.
England 1 Ecuador 0: The Equatorians put up a game fight with only Ashley Cole’s great hustle in blocking Carlos Tenorio’s shot preventing Ecuador from taking an early lead. This was followed by 80 more minutes of sputtering offenses best summed up by England’s Lampard repeatedly “shooting” balls into various sections of the stadium. Only Beckham’s sublime free kick rescued England. And according to the English press Beckham and Lampard deserved to be benched, Hargeaves sucks, Sven tactics are abysmal and England is plain awful. Just think how delighted the press will be if England reaches the semifinals.
Portugal 1 Netherlands 0: A terrible game that was strangely compelling like watching clowns riot. Didn’t know whether to look away in incredulous horror or stare with mouth agape. Portugal committed 10 fouls and received cards on 9 of them. The Netherlands trailed by a goal for 70 minutes yet their coach Marco van Basten never subbed in their best goal scorer Rudd Van Nistelrooij. Instead he played my feudal overlord, Jan Vennegoor Of Hesselink (real name), who I owe my allegiance and 40% of my barley harvest.
Monday June 27.
Italy 1 Australia 0: The Aussies played for 40 minutes with a man advantage, but the Italians managed to fend them off. To quote Italian goalkeeper Buffon:
I thought I played well even though I had less to do than in the previous match against the Czech Republic. I did well on the few occasions I was needed. I never thought the Australians would score, but in the second half I didn’t think we would either.
This quote perfectly sums up the game and the cocky, me-first spirit of the Azurri. Italian soccer players should all be stamped “Fragile; Handle with Care or I’ll dive on the ground and roll around in tremendous mock agony unless a penalty is called then I will leap to my feet and celebrate with my teammates.” Needs to be a big stamp.
Swizterland 0 Ukraine 0 a.e.t. 0:3 PSO: In less complicated terms the Ukraine defeated the Swiss on penalty kicks. Swiss are 1st team in WC history to get knocked out without conceding a goal. Ukraine is the first former republic of Mother Russia to advance to the quarterfinals. Game was a complete bore. And somewhere a solitary Swiss striker is out practicing his penalties to the faint sounds of cowbells.
Tuesday June 28.
Brazil 3 Ghana 0: The Black Stars of Ghana gave a valiant effort. (For a more complete recap read the “Joga Bonito” post listed on your right). Unfortunately, they shouldn’t have invited England’s Frank Lampard to give them a shooting clinic. All this ragging on Lampard pretty much guarantees he scores in his next game. After all, I believe my constant nitpicking on the French inspired them to this:
France 3 Spain(no longer Espana) 1: Party like it’s 1998. Great storyline. The French behind aging stars Zidane, Vieira, Thuram and Barthez recapture their form of old and defeat white-hot favorites Spain in a thrilling affair……HOLD IT. I saw it a bit differently. This was 1-1 game almost certainly heading into OT when Thierry Henry went all Italian and dropped like a rock when nudged by Puyol. That swan dive produced the free kick that resulted in France’s 2nd goal and effectively ended this game. Zidane’s injury-time stunner was chantilly sur la mousse chocolate. Or something like that. I respect Henry immensely but I think diving has no place in the beautiful game.
After 4 days of mildly entertaining soccer and 2 off days, it is time for the quarterfinals. Storied rivalries, revenge games, the Ukraine and Posh Spice are all on tap. I’ll preview the match-ups in the next post.
Enjoy the games.