Archive for July 2006


July 27, 2006

Hope everyone enjoyed the WC.  After the group phase, I thought this might be remembered as one of the greatest World Cups in history, but the knockout stages did not live up to the hype.  As for the WC final, so much as been written and talked about that the “Zidane” as entered into popular culture.  It was an unreal moment.  Congrats to Italy, who were probably the best team throughout and took advantage of their breaks (Australia/Ukraine) to win it.  The winner is usually lucky and good, which is what the Italians were. 

The Third Leaf is on hiatus until August 9th where it will be revamped and turned into a daily blog concerned mainly with sports along with some travel and culture thrown into the mix.  Thanks to everyone for reading and commenting.  Spread the word about The Third Leaf and please check back in for the relaunch.  Enjoy. 


The Wait is Over

July 9, 2006

Greetings all.  Sorry for the lack of posts but TTL has been traveling and is currently stateside in Chicago.  Been good to see so many people and hope to see more on our stay.  Pleasantries aside, let’s talk World Cup.

Congrats to Ze Germans on their 3-1 win over Portugal to take 3rd in the WC.  Germany has played well throughout the tournament and 3rd place is well-deserved.  Always great when the host nation plays well. 

Most people have probably read some sort of breakdown on today’s Final.  If not you can go to and read either Michael Davies or Jen Chang.  Both are excellent soccer writers.  TTL will try something different as usual with a Top 8.  Will list out 8 things that I want to happen in today’s final followed by 8 things I think will happen.

1)  France will score in the opening 20 minutes provoking a wide-open, attacking game.  Italy will score first, then sit back and defend like crazy in a patchy game.

2)  Zidane gives a masterclass performance in his final game.  Zidane gives a masterclass performance in his final game. 

3)  Midfield play will astonish as Pirlo and Totti control Italy’s attack and Zidane orchestrates the French side.  While there are moments of individual brilliance from Zidane, the defensive midfielders rule the day constantly breaking up promising attacks.  Look for the French duo of Vieira and Makele and Gattuso of Italy to play well. 

4)  The game will be decided in regulation time.  Yep, no extra-time or penalties as there will be a winner in 90 minutes. 

5)  The two goalkeepers, Buffon and Barthez, will be forced into making several great saves.  Frenchman Barthez is kept busy but the Italian defense thwarts all the promising French attacks before they trouble Buffon. 

6)  French striker Henry plays incredibly well and is all over the field much like his performance in Champions League Final for Arsenal.  The Italian defense frustrates Henry further cementing a totally undeserved reputation for disappearing in big games. 

7)  The crowd is as raucous as previous games with Italian and French fans contributing to a great atmosphere.  Too many corporate types and sponsor tickets make for a subdued stadium.

8)  France wins 1-0 in a taut thriller as Zidane retires on top.  Italy will win 2-0 in a dominating performance anchored by Cannavaro who is voted Most Outstanding Player of the World Cup.   

TTL will continue to blog after the WC.  A state of USA soccer piece is in progress along with a general recap of the entire WC.  I hope you’ve enjoyed reading as much as I’ve enjoyed writing.  If you have any comments, suggestions or ideas for what The Third Leaf should evolve into, please let me know.  Thanks for reading and please continue to check this site and spread the word.   Enjoy the Game.   


July 6, 2006

France continued its remarkable run to the World Cup Final with a 1-0 win over sniveling Portugal.  The match was a bore.  Neither side was convincing in attack, the goal came on a penalty and the only real Portuguese chance came courtesy of a huge gaffe by Barthez. 

Feel the passion:  French fans singing their national anthem during the last minutes of the game.  Always like when fans do this. 

Feel the passion II:  Budding Portuguese star and falldown boy, Ronaldo, getting booed every time he touched the ball.

Legends of the hug:  The two greats, Figo and Zidane, hugging and exchanging jerseys after the game.  Then Figo fell to the ground and rolled around like he was stung by a 200lb bee. 

Tone of voice:  Portugal’s incessant whining throughout the game exemplified by their coach haranguing referee after the final whistle.  Take it like a man Big Phil.  You lost.

Art Deco:  Portuguese midfield ace made a brief appearance early and then Deco disappeared for 80 minutes.  A lot of credit needs to be given to Vieira and Makelele for constantly breaking up the Portuguese attack. 

Overall, this game was not entertaining.  Portugal never attacked with the desperate intent needed to equalise.  France looked tired and content to sit on its lead in the 2nd half.  Even with the speedy Henry and Ribery up-front, they didn’t mount any meaningful counterattacks.  Something TTL never understands as teams almost never lose a 2-0 2nd half lead yet never really push for that 2nd goal.  Very disappointing (and understandable considering the huge stakes) that in the knockout stage teams are playing not to lose rather than to win. 

After 62 matches, 3,123 fake dives, 141 goals scored, 514 stretcher appearances, 3 billion kegs of beer drank and 39 tons of sausage consumed, the World Cup Final is set with France-ItalyItaly looks to be in pole position to capture its 4th WC title. 

Enjoy the off days. 

Allez le Bleu

July 5, 2006

In honor of the country that gave us the Statue of Liberty (but not French fries, those were invented in Belgium!), this post is dedicated to FranceItaly booked their place in the Final with a thrilling 2-0 win over Germany, so all eyes turn to the French to win to avoid Italy-Portugal.  Before a breakdown of France-Portugal let’s review last night’s action post-haste. 

Feel the passion:  Italians mob deserving Del Piero after 2nd goal as tearful Germans look on in disbelief. 

Give credit:  Yes, Italy were the better side.  Attacked in numbers, didn’t just defend.  And no stretcher jobs either.  This was the type of football TTL has been begging Italy to produce for years.  Grazzi, grazzi. 

I am Canavarro:  Italian Captain was awesome at the back.  Definite Man of the Match.

Heads Up:  Germany gave it their all but not having Frings really hurt.  As the Italian defense neutralized Klose and Podolski, German midfield couldn’t find creativity needed to get vital goal.  Still, Germany should be proud of their WC run and uniting an often fractured country behind them. 

Very good game and glad was not decided on penalties.  Both goals were excellent and loved, loved that both sides pushed forward all during the OT to try and score.  Hopefully tonight’s game brings more of the same. 

France-Portugal @ 21:00 Central European Time.

1966:  Last and only time Portugal made it to WC semis.  Golden Generation of the ’90s underachieved in big tournaments, but this Portuguese side plays with heart, something sorely lacking in the past.  Much credit due to their coach Big Phil Scolari who is on a personal 12 game winning streak in WC after steering Brazil to the title in ’02. 

They’re back:  Deco and Costinha return to Portuguese team after missing the England game.  Coupled with Maniche and Figo gives Portugal a formidable midfield.  

Defence, Defence:  Portugal has proved awfully stingy with a backline anchored by Carvalho and Ricardo in goal.  But it just feels like the French won’t concede a goal as Thuram and Gallas keep everything clean in front of the resurgent Barthez in net.    Edge:  France

Midfield me:  Great match-up here as full-strength Portugal tries to thwart the best playing midfield in the World Cup.  Zidane is otherworldly but the devious, hard to contain Ribery is the key for France.  Edge:  France

Attack, attack:  Portugal usual plays with lone striker in Pauleta supported by the wildly inconsistent Ronaldo.  France has been leaving Henry up front to fend for himself lately.  Difference is that Henry is 10x the player Pauleta is.  Edge:  France

Intangibility:  Portugal has definite edge in coaching while France has heaps of  experienced players.  While this Portugal team is certainly playing with plenty of guts, I felt they were lucky to beat England France is simply on fire and their confidence as to be at an all-time high after knocking off Brazilians.  Edge:  France

TTL gives the nod to France tonight.  Some people believe this could be a high-scoring game but I can’t see that happening.  France wins 2-0 behind the masterful Zidane.  But since TTL does not have a good record of predicting games you’ll have to tune in to be sure.  Enjoy the game. 

March Germany, march (to the Final)

July 4, 2006

There is no better way to celebrate the 4th of July then beers, BBQ and the WC.  A Happy 4th to everyone stateside.  Without further ado, here is the breakdown. 

Germany-Italy @ 21:00 Central European Time

The trend is your friend:  Italy has never lost to Germany in the WC.  Germany has never lost an international match in Dortmund, site of today’s game. 

This game would make a great final:  It was in ’82 with the Azzurri beating Germany 3-1.

Torsten Frings, menace to society:  German midfielder is banned from semifinal for slapping Argentinian player in post-match melee on Friday.  To add more spice, Italian Soccer Federation supposedly supplied the video that led to Fring’s suspension.   Huge loss to Germany, because Frings was playing excellent soccer.   

Duetchsland, Duetchsland!!:  Germany will enjoy ridiculous homefield advantage with literally an entire nation stopping to cheer on the Nationalmannschaft. 

Klinsmann the talismann:  German coach claims he has combined solid German work ethic with Californian positivity to produce overachieving side.  TTL has no clue what that means but gives a hearty endorsement for USA soccer to sign Klinsmann as next national coach. 

Friendly affair:  Yes, the Italians did decimate the Germans 4-1 in an international friendly (exhibition) in Florence in March.  About as meaningful as NFL preseason game is to a Conference Championship game. 

12 year itch:  Italians have progressed to WC final in ’70, ’82 and ’94.  Is ’06 next? 

On form:  Both sides are playing well with Germany having dispatched Argentina on penalties in last game.  Italy won the toughest group, yet faced easier opposition (Australia, Ukraine) in knockout rounds.   

Keeperman:  German Lehmann is on a roll and great on penalties but Buffon is best in the world.  Edge:  Italy.   

Defense, defense:  Italian strength even without injured Nesta. Germany has looked shaky but hasn’t conceded many goals.  Italy has not been scored on (only own goal vs USA).  Edge:  Italy

Midfield wanderers:  Suspension of Frings hurts Germany. Schweinsteiger has to be an influence on the game from the wing.  Both Ballack and Totti capable of producing magic, but Ballack is more consistent. Hard man Gattuso will try to slow Ballack down.  Subs could be key.  Edge:  Germany 

Attack, attack:  German strikers Klose and Podolski playing excellent.  Linking up play, holding the ball and finishing ruthlessly.  Italian strikers have been iffy although Toni scored 2 against Ukraine.   Edge:  Germany

Intangibility:  Both teams sincerely believe the WC is their destiny.  Both are unified and saying all the right things.  Both are littered with seasoned professionals who should embrace this big stage.  Obviously, the Germans have a huge homefield advantage but the Italians are great on the road.  Edge: Even

TTL allegiance:  I admit to a strange sensation of cheering for Germany during this WC.  This seems to have spread to several readers although no one can quite figure out why.  If you can’t fight it might as well give in.  I think the Germans take it 2-1.  C’mon Germany.  Enjoy the holiday and the games. 

All Hail Zizou, King of les Bleus

July 3, 2006

There is only 1 Zinedine Zidane.  The player of the last 20 years put on an unreal display, even when measured by his own lofty standards, against Brazilon Saturday night.  He stamped his authority on the game a mere 30 seconds into it when he danced around 3 Brazilian players before passing.  His vision, range of passing, ball-control and technical skills controlled the game and continued France’s surprising mastery of Brazil.  Le Bleu has eliminated Brazil in the WC in the quarters in ’86 and ’06 and the final in ’98.  Good thing for Brazil that the French didn’t qualify for ’90 and ’94. 

Suddenly the French, who only 1 week ago needed to score 2 goals against Togo just to advance to the knockout stages, are in the semifinals.  Playing 2 of the more complete games of the tournament they have done the extraordinary and made two white-hot favorites, Spain and Brazil, look ordinary.  Much of their resurgence is due to their thirtysomething core of Thuram, Makelele, Zidane, Vieira and Barthez who all looked good against Brazil. The French newspaper Dimanche Ouest-France summed up their performance perfectly:

“A generation that refuses to give back their jerseys. They will not be stopped. The museum awaits.”

Now it’s time for The Third Leaf (TTL) to turn its gaze from the beauty of the Zidane-led French performance to the tepid Portugal-England game.  It’s no surprise that England lost on penalties, as its what they do best (Euro ’96 and ’04, WC ’90, ’96 and ’06).  English TV pundit Alan Hansen when asked if there is anything England can do to win a penalty shoot-out:  “Yes.  Import 5 Germans.” 

As with many English exits from big tournaments there was an INCIDENT along with penalties.  Rooney’s talent is probably only matched by his temper and his temper won again.  He deserved the red card for the stamp on Carvalho’s nuts and followed that up with a quick shove on his Manchester United teammate Cristiano Ronaldo.  Rooney is only 20 but has to get his anger under control.  He makes Bob Knight look like a kindly grandfather.   

Portugal also deserves blame for the ugliness of the game.  They wasted an 11-10 advantage for 60 minutes, playing part of that time without a striker.  Not exactly offensive-minded soccer and somehow England looked more likely to score than the Portuguese.  Although its hard to score when trying to out-dive the Italians, which Portugalmanaged to do.  The finger of shame is pointed directly at Figo, Maniche and Ronaldo whose uniforms probably need some extra scrubbing to get out all the grasstains.  Boo. 

Europe celebrates as all 4 semifinal teams are from the continent for the first time since ’82.  Germany-Italy and Portugal-France look to be good on paper, but TTL will break these down tomorrow.  Here’s hoping the WC final is not Portugal-Italy.  Could not stand all the rolling, grabbing, diving and whining.  And that’s just the Portuguese. 

Enjoy your holidays. 

To the Semis(2)

July 1, 2006

Yesterday, the games ran true to form.  Germany outlasted Argentina on penalties and Italy rolled over the Ukraine.  Quick to the breakdown.

It was a bad move to replace the sublime Riquelme in the 70th minute for a defensive replacement.  I don’t think Germany would have equalised with Riquelme on the field.  The Argentian coach Pekerman (snicker, snicker) said Riquelme looked a little tired.  Then Pekerman fell on his sword and resigned.  Even if Riquelme couldn’t move at all ala Ronaldo, he needed to stay on the pitch.  

Never go to penalties with Germany.  They are 4-0 in penalty shoot-outs in the WC.  Their kick-takers (Neuville, Ballack, Podolski and Borowski) looked as composed as Jason Bourne in a car chase.  And their goalkeeper Lehman has the two most important intangibles needed to save penalties:  he’s big and crazy.  He covers alot of the net and the Argentian players had no idea which way he’d dive.  

Full disclosure.  I did not see the first 80 minutes because of a previous committment.  Was celebrating Canada Day by playing golf and then having a steak dinner in a hockey rink while listening to the Tragically Hip and Loverboy.  I kid you not.  2517_small.jpgBut that lead to a weird experience where we watched the end of the Germany game at this golf course in the middle of nowhere, BelgiumAnd in the tiny, tiny clubhouse the former Belgium Foreign Minister (like Condi Rice) and current EU minister Louis Michel watched it with us while calmly sipping some water and puffing on fat Cuban cigar.  There was no security around him, he was joking around with a couple of buddies and was just a nice guy.  He’d get my vote. (He’s got the beard). 

The 2nd game offered up no surprises as Italy completed their usual trifecta.  Won the game, kept a clean sheet and lead in stretcher jobs 3-1.  Italy meets Germany on July 4th in the first semifinal.  Hope the TV ratings are huge in the US for this game.  And now a quick peek at today’s games.   

England-Portugal @ 17:00 Central European Time. 

Potugal coach Big Phil Scolari goes for the quadruple diss against England.  He beat England in the quarterfinal at WC 2002 with Brazil, in the quarters at Euro 2004 with Portugal and then turned down the England coaching job two months ago.  Normally my money would be on Big Phil, but Portugal goes limping into the game missing 2 key players.  Midfielders Costhina and Deco both received well-deserved red cards in the NetherlandsPortugal debacle.  I think England has one great performance in them and deliver today in a 2-0 win.  The English are in a frenzy anyway with their team on the verge of the semis and the unreal line-up at Wimbledon today:  Agassi vs. Nadal, a Sharpova match and then Murrary (great British hope) vs Roddick.  You gotta love sports!!!!

France-Brazil @ 21:00 Central European Time.

The winner of the last 2 WCs meet in a dream match-up.  Can an aging France recall the glory of ’98 and defeat the defending champions Brazil?  Will the old midfield horses Vieira, Makele and Zidane keep up with the splendid Brazilians Ronaldinho and Kaka?  Do Ronaldo and Henry both score?  How do the sometimes shaky keepers Barthez and Dida fare?  Questions, questions.  For no particular reason, this is the most excited I’ve been for a game (outside of the USA).  If France plays well, this will be a memorable game. 

Enjoy your Saturday and enjoy the games.