Friday, December 15, 2006
You might ask yourself how he would finish school but, the point is exactly that. Maybe he shouldn’t finish so that he can wander around in life knowing that if he had not done that disgusting act while he had a full life ahead of him things would be ok.
I think he deserves the Idiot of the Week award. Then again he might be on some future sluts to do list at this point. Maybe he has a future in pornography. Only time can tell the tale.
Next time put a condom on before you jerk off into the condiment bottle.
Until next time my fellow freaks.
Thursday, November 09, 2006
A few unnerving quotes from the artcile:
"If you believe these things are extra terrestrial craft then you cannot rule out that what is happening is some kind of covert reconnaissance."
"The consequences of getting this one wrong could be huge," he said."
"And while Mr Pope says that there is no evidence of hostile intent, he insists it cannot be ruled out. "
"There has got to be the potential for that and one is left with the uneasy feeling that if it turned out to be so, there is very little we could do about it," he said. "
Monday, November 06, 2006
Help to combat online censorship by taking part
Everyone is invited to connect to the Reporters Without Borders website (www.rsf.org) between 11 a.m. on 7 November and 11 a.m. on 8 November."
Sunday, November 05, 2006
Now the death sentences go through an automatic appeals process, which could take anotehr six weeks or more. When all is said and done, it could be spring before the sentence is carried out.
As I am so fond of saying: Fiat iustitia et pereat mundus!
Thursday, September 28, 2006
The end for the Esquire Tavern came suddenly like the death of an old relative that you never even knew was sick. We always remember where we were when we receive news of a catastrophe. I got the news late in the afternoon on a very hot day, at a mild, little watering hole called the Bar Lay Low.
“Did you hear the news?” the bartender asked me, as I was tipping into my third bottle of beer. “They’re going to close The Esquire. Tonight’s the last night”
“The hell you say,” I said, annoyed that anyone would even joke about such a thing. Sadly, though, it was not a joke. He produced an article in the San Antonio Express News confirming that last call had indeed come for one of my closest, oldest, and dearest friends.
Without delay I gathered up some people and made the trip downtown to see the old place for the last time.
I don’t remember the first time I ever went to the Esquire, but it it was probably in 1976. . Every time my grandfather took me with him on his downtown errands, and it was just the two of us, we would almost always end at the Esquire.
For years, it was the only place I could get an underage beer. They served me because they knew my grandfather. Even after he passed away, in 1989, I could drink there without hassle, as long as I sat in the booth in the back, so that I could slip out the back door to the Riverwalk, in case the authorities walked in the front.
It was strange walking through those doors, on 155 E Commerce St, knowing it was going to be for the last time. Those doors have offered welcoming shelter to generations of San Antonians, and visitors from afar, since 1933. To the left is the longest long bar in the State of Texas, stretching almost the entire length of the room.
On the right, the row of high backed wooden booths that had offered me anonymity and safety, were all filled up. We had to wedge ourselves into the crowded bar, amid the regulars, and fans, and the gawkers that had come to watch the old place go down in style.
After talking to a few people I found out that the two fat-cat grossero owners, who had bought the bar out from under the original owner 15 years ago, had, at last, tired of the place and had decided to rape the place for her charms, and dress her up into another trendy tourist trap. Blame it on the Riverwalk Expansion Project, or on progress, or on greed.
Whatever the reasons, however, it was evident that The Esquire was making her last stand.
"They're keeping the light fixtures and the bar, I think," said one patron. "But I think they're going to rip out the wall-paper and paint over the murals on the wall."
The ceiling, I found out, is also going to be kept. It's a wonderful goddamn coffered thing, a real work of art, the kind of thing that makes it look like a real saloon. Photographs don't really do the wall-paper justice, but that too is part of the whole Old West Saloon feel. It's textured, and old, and feels like touching the past.
"I offered to buy one of those lamps on the wall," he went on. "But the they won't sell me one." He took a deep swallow off his longneck beer. "I'm going to steal one when no one's looking," he chuckled.
The jukebox was playing something up-beat, and there was a band setting up in the back, so we stood at the bar drinking beers , with an occasional shot of tequila or bourbon, to mark the passing of a landmark, trying hard to forget how fast the clock was moving.
We are always aware of the mortality of our favorite places, the intense fragility of a time and a place, but one expects a certain level of venerability of such a thing as an old bar. When one of them is taken from you it strikes you hard, and leaves you feeling stunned and hollow, like a batter giving it your all and still coming up one run short.
News of such a tragedy hits different people in different ways. Some of them weep openly, others enter into a state of denial, and still others stoically belly up to the bar and take part in the age old ritual known as The Wake, wherein fond memories and bitter-sweet recollections are passed around like a bottle. Pain shared is pain lessened, as the old bar room adage goes.
A booth opened up and my party went to sit there, but I stayed at the bar, talking to Joe Anthony, who was so proud of having just been interviewed for the Express News. He told me how he remembered coming to the bar with his mother, when he was a child, and raising cain until she took him to the Woolworths down the block to buy him a toy. "I'll still keep coming here when they reopen it. It's the only bar I haven't been thrown out of," he chucked. "And I've been thrown out of lots of bars."
But I won't be back. A few years ago I had a friend come all the way from Tasmania to visit. For most of her trip, she found some way to unfavorably compare things to her country. Now, it’s always been my habit to take tourists and friends from My Famous Alamo Tour to the San Fernando Cathedral, by way of The Esquire. It’s right along the way, from either the Riverwalk or the street level.
With her, I cut the Alamo tour short, and herded her into one of those tall wooden booths, where for the next two hours, she sat in wonder, drinking cold beers, and rolling her own cigarettes, finally giving me the satisfaction of hearing her say “We have *nothing* like this back home.” How can I top that in a "Family Friendly Atmosphere"?. No. I won't be back.
A little later, I was at the bar trying to get a bartenders eye, when I met a lovely couple from Houston. They were intensly absorbed by the extra innings of the Houston v. Pittsburgh game (Go Astros!), and I struck up a conversation. It turns out that they just needed to get away, came down to San Antonio, and had found the bar by accident. He lamented The Esquires fate, correctly blaming it on “the yuppies”. It turns out that the same thing is going on in Houston, the "trendification" of historic sections of town, sacrificing historical value for the mighty tourist dollar. I was glad that, even on her last night as a real Bar, The Esquire could still pull them in from near and far.
I stood there, at the bar, glad to be there at that time, and at that moment, letting my hands drink in the rough, worn, wood on the lip of the bar, as if I could, somehow, infuse myself with a small part of the place, take it with me when I left, and carry it forever.
When I was a kid I remember watching men in Western movies step up to the bar and order a shot of whiskey, toss it back, flip some money on the counter, and walk out. Even when I was in Cairo, where I'd honed my drinking skills to a near expert level, I had never had occasion to do that. So, one afternoon, after a particularly sour date, not long after my return to San Antonio from Berkeley, I walked in to The Esquire, feeling low, and ordered a double shot of Wild Turkey. I swigged it down and paid before the bartender could even blink, and I walked out of there without a care in the world, feeling just like Jesse James. It's not something that I do often, nor is it something that I recommend for the faint of liver or will, but I do think everyone should do it, at least once.
Later, I sat alone in a booth, listening to the loud rockabilly stylings of Mitch Webb and the Swindlers, and I thought about some of the musicians I'd met here, over the years.
The Esquire was never known for being a music venue. Live music is not a staple in such a narrow and enclosed space, but I could list some names that have shaken the pillars of heaven and hell with their music. Legends whose music still moves with me and will always be part of the sountrack to my life. To not only have heard their music, and met them, but to have shared a beer with them, talked to them. That's a rare thing that will not come that easily again.
Some of them are dead already, and some of them are on their merry way, but for me, they will never sound as good as they did when heard from one of those little booths in that long, old, narrow room, with a cold beer in one hand and a cigarette in the other. Maybe that's they way it'll be when I get to where they're at, and maybe they'll sound just as good as they did back then, but I have a feeling that, wherever it is, it will look and feel a lot like The Esquire.
As one patron said that night : "Damnit, if they take away The Esquire, where the hell is Jesus going to go and get a drink when he comes back?"
I had been there a couple of hours, that final night, roping up memories like strays, and drinking beer like it would actually do some good, when I noticed that several people wandering around the bar had adhered bits of masking tape to themselves, and on them they had written little messages in support of preserving the old place. It was pleasant to see them doing this, and they all seemed to be really into the idea of saving The Esquire, but, I felt, it was too little too late. Where were they when the plans were announced?
To be fair, however, if the gant-hawk owners had bothered to let the people know of their intentions ahead of time I am sure that these people could have mounted one of those industriously futile, grass-roots, kind of movements to try and Save the Esquire, the way they do in cities that actually give a rats fat ass about their heritage and history. Maybe it would have gained some support from the city drunks, maybe even from the old timers from the court house across the street, who used to wander in for a lunchtime triple shot and an ice cold bottle of beer. Maybe it might have actually done some good. Unfortunatly, however, all we had left to offer were little ticky-tacky scraps of tape with which to offer feeble support for a cause that was lame from the moment it left the gate. I noticed that hardly any of the regulars were wandering around the place with pieces of tape stuck to them. Certainly none of the Staff.
In fact, I noticed that the staff seemed quite surley and bothered by the fuss. Maybe it was the crowd, the rush for .75 cent beer, that made them cranky, or maybe it was that they felt the loss in a very personal and deep way that they chose not to share with the public on the opposite end of the bar, but I did notice that the moment was not wasted on all of them, that at least this one took the time to take a picture of the crowd.
After seeing the little strips of tape everywhere I had to go in search of the people that were scribbling these tags, and fighting the good fight. I couldn't confirm that they came up with the idea, but I was led to this couple with the tape and the marker. It seems that they had moved back to their native San Antonio from San Franciso, and had found out the terrible news much the same way as I had, and had to hurry down to the bar, to give it their fond farewell.
I reminisced some with them about the bar, and some good times in the Bay Area, but, after a round of drinks, I realized that, sweet as they seemed, they were not at all the type of people that would have ventured out of the City unless they had to, not into the DMZ of the part of Oakland I loved, and certainly not into Connolly's bar, at 4822 Telegraph Ave. It just wasn't their kind of place, and neither, for that matter, was The Esquire.
I remember when The Esquire carried a certain kind of seedy respect, when it was the kind of place that you didn't take a respectable date, and you took your life into your own hands by just walking into the place. The Esquire has always had a shady, sort of rough reputation. In its 73 years of business, more than one patron came to a messy end mid-swig and unaware. This prompted the management to hire security to frisk patrons at the door.
One chilly night in December of 1999, I went in there dressed wearing my winter long coat, tall combat boots, mirror shades, and black leather gloves and young, plump security guard was suddenly busy elsewhere. Since I wasn’t frisked an entire section of the bar moved closer to the back door, and every conversation stopped when I settled in. For the duration of three beers and four shots, I generated enough nervous energy in those people to launch the space shuttle. Being a total nerd, however, I was oblivious to this until my uncle told me about it later. They thought I was going in there to take some one out; they thought it was a hit.
Just as near back as then, there were not yuppies in the bar, and people didn't think it was trendy to go there; they hadn't yet built up the balls to "slum" it in that side of town.
I think of all the places here in San Antonio that have been taken over by the young, and the fashionable, and the altogether clueless, like the Bar America, and the Mission Drive In, and the entire south side of downtown, and I suddenly don't feel so bad about how The Esquire went out.
She didn't get taken over by the tourists, or the cash-rich, or the fraudulently cool, like so many other places in this town. Whatever they open up in her place might have the same name, but the intention was made clear already to make it a "family" "BBQ" establishment. In other words, The Esquire of my youth is dead, and nothing can change that, but at least she didn't fizzle, and reek, and fester in the throes of transition, at least she didn't get her spirit squashed out by the invasion of the trendies.
My grandfather was the same way, a relic from a different age. The weekend he died, he went partying on friday night, saturday night out with his girlfriend, and then to church on sunday morning. . That night he took me in his arms and gave me a monsterous bear hug that made my spine crack, and it was strong, and memorable, and forever. Monday by noon-time, he was dead. Just like that. No illness, no worry, no fear. That's the way I'd like to go.
I'm glad that he went out that way, and in the same way, I am glad that The Esquire did, too. We should all be so lucky.
Every (hour) wounds, the last kills
- Inscription on Roman Sundial
Saturday, September 16, 2006
By now, I’m sure, everyone has heard about the furor caused by the comments Pope Benedict XVI made during his recent trip to Germany. He was quoting from an argument between Byzantine Emperor Manuel II Palaiologos and a Persian emissary.
"Show me just what Muhammad brought that was new and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached."
First it is important to remember that the Pope was not claiming this to be his own views, but rather, was questioning the idea of Jihad, or “holy war”. Also, the historical context of these statements is very important to remember when considering what the Pope meant
The Ottoman Empire, at the time, was a sudden super power, and was threatening to overwhelm The Byzantine Empire, an event which eventually happened in 1453. (That’s why it’s now Istanbul, not Constantinople.) In other words, Manual II was the third to the last of the rulers of a doomed kingdom, who had lived his entire life in the shadow of war, defending a crumbling empire, losing family and friends in war with the invading Muslim horde.
Now, that the Pope was taken out of context is one thing. Misunderstandings happen. What is no mistake, however, is that the hostility and violence that Muslims worldwide demonstrated in the past couple of days has, in many ways, proven what Manuel II said as correct. Muslims can be a violent people, who will use any excuse to show this violent behavior to the world.
It stuns me to think that, in the 21st century, Islamic clerics can condemn the Roman Catholic Pope of being “medieval” and “Ignorant” when they repeatedly call for violence against people and nations, murder of their enemies, political mayhem to those who disagree with them, and all in the name of a very strict and temporally provincialist, ethnocentric religion.
I am reminded of an incident that happened to me in Cairo, back in the innocent days before the world fell into it’s present state of chaos. I was having lunch with an exceptionally snotty bunch of Western students, who had made no effort whatsoever to fit in, or make native friends, or get to know the people in any way at all. I listened to them share their overtly PC and saccharine thoughts and opinions about Islam, and when I’d had enough, I blurted out, ”You’re all full if it. Islam makes people stupid.”
Now, this was back in the days before the Islamofascist movement had taken a strong foothold in Cairo, otherwise, I may have been rent limb from limb like a bastard in the street. Fortunately, all I succeeded in doing was shocking my innocent Western brood. I went on to explain that Islam, by its very nature, calls for mindless submission, suppression of individuality, and drone-like servitude. I used the notion of praying 5 times a day, at intervals which interrupt a person’s sleep schedule, to show that one of the religions main purposes is to manipulate and warp. Sleep interruption and deprivation is a well known and time tested technique used to break down people’s will, and soften them up for mind control sessions. This has been used by interrogators, cult leaders, and bitchy domineering girl-friends for centuries, and usually leaves the broken subjects open all sorts of suggestion. Quod erat demonstrandum.
Now, it was not my intention to insult Islam, and yet, any Muslim listening to me would have been shocked and appalled, and probably visited upon my person great violence and harm. In this way, Islam keeps free dialog and debate from ever happening, and prohibits progress and open mindedness. The Pope, it seems, has had to learn this the hard way.
After my post on Tom Cruise I took some flack from one of my biggest fans over the rancor and ire that I heaped upon the wacky Hollyhood star. It made me think about why I dislike the guy so much, and if I was perhaps being irrational about it. I realized that I started to dislike the guy when he went off the deep end with this Scientology crap.
Those thugs are dangerous and have infultrated the American Film Industry to a dangerous degree. Take this story from RadarOnline.Com.
"According to a high-ranking media executive, Paramount Pictures honcho Grey had a highly unpleasant run-in with the Church during his tense negotiations with Cruise over Mission: Impossible 3. Grey, who had recently joined the studio, entered the talks determined to make Cruise accept a smaller share of the gross revenues than he had from the first two installments in the franchise. (For those films, the actor reportedly took home an unheard-of 30 percent of the total revenue.) Leaving the office one night, the diminutive Grey, walking to his car in the Paramount lot, suddenly found himself surrounded by more than a dozen Scientologists, who pressured him to ease up on the actor, according to the source."
So, now it comes out that one of the main reasons that Paramount Studios decided to end their contract with Tom Cruise is that he resorted to strong arm tactics to try and extort a better deal from executives. Now, surely, this is not the only times this kind of thing has happened in Hollywood. I saw the Godfather. But this is not the Cosa Nostra. We expect actions like that from Tony Soprano, or Don Vito Corleone. This comes from the Church of Scientology. Now, I'm no expert on cults, and, this being The United States of America, a person is free to worship in any way they choose to do so. However, when their church uses methods normnally reserved for orginized crime or dark Op's Government agents, then I start to get worried.
I start to wonder how many of our beloved hollywood celebreties are being held against their will by this strange and whacked out cult. Kirstie Alliey, John Travolta, Emelio Esteves, Candice bergen, Juliette Lewis...the list goes on.
Perhaps there is something more to this whole Scientology boondoggle than meets the eye, a sinister and dark plot to control celebreties and their money, who can in turn, control the very fabric of American cinema. If that is the case, then we must ask ourselves...What would Ronald Reagan do? What would John Wayne do? Maybe there is a link between the Scientology connection and the level of bad stinky acting coming out of hollywood in this day and age?
Get a Rope
Venezuelan strong man Hugo Chavez is at it again, stirring up trouble the day after a somber United States commemorated the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. In a speech to supporters he has started to support the fringe conspiracy theory that the United States was responsible for the events of that awful day.
‘The hypothesis is not absurd ... that those towers could have been dynamited…A building never collapses like that, unless it’s with an implosion…Why? To justify the aggressions that immediately were unleashed on Afghanistan, on Iraq.”
Now, this insulting idea has been spreading like a fungus around the internet for years, mostly, I have found, by anti-American foreigners who are looking to add insult to injury. There are several Americans who seem to believe this non-sense, mostly out to discredit the Bush administration, and bring dissent and doubt to the people. These subversives are probably bolstered by foreigners.
I’ve run up against the idea that the American Government was either directly responsible for the attacks, or allowed them to happen. Mostly, the unwashed masses that spew out this misinformation are barely literate, trouble makers who are as likely to protest the moon landing as they are the attacks. They use the flimsiest of “proof”, and illogical queries to dissemble their misinformation. They ask that rational people prove that it did not happen the way they say it did, without realizing that the burden of evidence rests with them to prove that it did.
To date, not one of their arguments has stood up to scientific scrutiny, and I believe that little green men from Mars will be proven to exist long before these nuts can present their ideas in a clear cut, scientific, and logical manner.
This, however, doesn’t make them go away. Remember, “They who know not, and know not that they know not…Shun them.”
They are relentless, assaulting the intelligent person with a barrage of meaningless questions as though their lack of answers of evidence somehow proves their point correct, and yours wrong. It’s like arguing with a Creationist, or a Liberal, there’s no winning, because they have already made up their mind that you have lost. It is these nuts that are letting the terrorists win. Chavez is just showing his true allegiance. In fact, in 2002, Free Republic News reported this:
“The private pilot of Hugo Chavez, Major Diaz Castillo has since defected and
has started to talk. As the trusted insider who flew the president's Airbus, he
was an eye-witness to secret meetings between Chavez and some of the top
dictators in the world. He was also in charge of organizing one million dollars
worth of assistance from Chavez to Al Qaeda.”
So, it’s very likely that, although he is aware of the truth in the 9/11 attacks, he is doing what he does best…Adding fuel to a fire. One day, though, that fire is going to burn him, and when it does, I hope it will be broadcast live on CNN, so that there’ll be no mistake who did what, to whom, when, and how.
Wednesday, September 06, 2006
Much fuss has been made over Tom Cruise and his overt weirdness over the last year or so. His strange antics on the Oprah Winfery Show didn’t win him any fans, and his bizarre outburst with Matt Lauer on the Today show, where he calls Psychiatry a "Pseudoscience", and bashes Brooke Shields made even Tom Arnold voice in, calling Cruise's comments "Ignorant". You know it's bad when Tom Arnold gets a dig on you.
Brooke Shields responded as well, in a her usual classy way, and has recently said that Cruise apologized to her. But the damage was done. Even Legendary actress Lauren Bacall was quoted in July of 2005 as saying "His whole behavior is so shocking. It's inappropriate and vulgar and absolutely unacceptable to use your private life to sell anything commercially, but I think it's kind of a sickness." (link) Earlier this year he made, what some would consider, a distasteful promise to "eat his baby's placenta" after it was born.
His belief in the strange cult of Scientology has brought him nothing but the ridicule and ire millions of people, and ultimately led to his being fired from Paramount Studios. In fact, his "erratic behavior" was one of the prime reasons cited by the Studio for dumping him. His antics hit the studio where it hurt the most, the Bottom Line. The long anticipated Mission Impossible III took a beating at the box office this summer, and I, too, believe it was because he hasn't been able to control himself.
But now that he and his Katie-beard have their freaky little alien baby, will he still act like a total, freaking, nut-job? Of course he will. If there’s one thing we can all count on in this mixed up world it’s that this freakish little midget psychopath will still be out there, whooping it up and spreading his particular brand of crazy for the whole world to see.
I know his kind of crazy. I have seen it before in the eyes of religious zealots and fringe fanatics. I’ve seen it on the faces of people who are ready to take it to the line and are absolutely certain of the veracity of their beliefs. There’s lots of different kinds of crazy in the world today, tin-foil hat wearing nerds, twisted little geeks who spend hours chasing conspiracy boogey-men. Tom Cruise fits in there somewhere between them and a teenage suicide-bomber in Baghdad, and mark my words, sooner or later, this little weirdo is going to push it too far, and blow his 30 year career and celebrity status off the face of the earth in one horrible, beautiful, resounding, ka-boom. You can also be sure of another thing: When the hammer falls on him we will be there to watch it happen…And we are going to laugh.
Sunday, September 03, 2006
Lovable Australian Steve Irwin, "The Crocodile Hunter" was killed this morning swimming off the Low Isles off the Queensland coast. He was 44. Details are still sketchy but initial accounts say he was stabbed through the chest by a stingray. It is a sad day for Animal lovers and fans of this enthisiastic and boyish television personality who brought joy to so many.
It is my belief that the murderous stingray should be caught and made to pay.
Steve Zissou: I'm going to find it and I'm going to destroy it. Possibly with dynamite.
[a woman asks a question about the shark Zissou is hunting]
Festival Director: [translating] That's an endangered species at best. What would be the scientific purpose of killing it?
Steve Zissou: Revenge.
The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004)
It seems Steve Irwin was filming a childrens documentary with Phillipe Cousteau, on the Great Barrier Reef for the Discovery Channel ("Worlds Deadliest Sea Creatures" or something like that) when he came up on a stingray in the sand and the evil bastard stung him in the chest, (some sources say "in the heart").
"The stingray barb that struck Steve Irwin would have been as deadly as a rifle bayonet driven into one of his vital organs, Australian wildlife filmmaker David Ireland said today." (link)Rescue was about 30 minuntes in arriving since a helicopter had to be called to the nearest island while Croc One, his boat, raced him toward help. Irwin was not concious and went into cardiac arrest. CPR was administered on the boat but by the time medical attention arrived, he had already passed away. He leaves behind two young children and a very loyal and loving wife.
"The world has lost a great wildlife icon, a passionate conservationist and one of the proudest dads on the planet," John Stainton, Irwin's friend and producer, said in the statement. "He died doing what he loves best and left this world in a happy and peaceful state of mind. Crocs Rule!"(link)
I still think this Stingray needs to be hunted down and killed. (Yes...Possibly with dynamite.) I know it goes against the whole spirit of Steve Irwin, and I know that it's not what he would have wanted, being such a staunch activist and defender of the Animal World, but I cannot help feeling that the stingray must be made to pay. I mean, there are millions of stingrays all over the world, but there was only one Croc Hunter, and now, because of one ill-tempered (and I suspect malicious) stingray, Steve Irwin is gone.
Phillipe Cousteau should launch an expedition to even the score. I bet ol' Jacques would have done so. Maybe Jack Hanna, Steve Irwins friend and fellow animal lover, should do it. Or maybe they should team up with the Widow, Terri Irwin, and all go after the mean bastard together. They could put that on the Discovery Channel, or on Animal Planet, and make a whole event over it. What do you think?
Wednesday, August 02, 2006
IDF commando’s attacked a hospital in Lebanon, today. Unverified reports accuse them of gunning down fleeing medical staff. Well, maybe, maybe not. Killed 10, captured 5 Hizbollah militants, is the official spin on it. Also, they shelled southern Beirut again. They are clearing out the area south of the Litani, village by village, house by house, life by life. They brought bull-dozers which makes me think they have come there to stay. An IDF spokesperson said that, what will happen after this will be talked about: “Six, after the war”, meaning, at six o’clock, after the war, they will meet for tea and discuss it. In other words, right now, they really don’t care.
There’s talk about an international peace enforcement force to take over the area but the IDF intends to hold it until that force is in place. The way that The System works, however, that could take years. No one seems to be offering troops. Syria and Iran have been taken out of talks, and no one else seems eager to send troops. After Israel murdered those four U.N. troops, and the specter of other wars going on in the world, no one is enthusiastic about offering the lives of their own citizens for someone else’s battles.
They know a lame horse when they see one.
"It is time for a new Middle East...It is time to say to those that don't want a different kind of Middle East that we will prevail. They will not." -Condoleeza Rice
The truth is that the idea of a New Middle East is not going to fly. For one thing, most people, in the States, have no idea what life is like in the Muslim World. Our Glorious Leader hasn’t even picked up the phone to call over there and see what the hell is going on. For another, who the hell are we to tell them how to live. They have been at this for seven thousand years. (Some say more, some say less…eh, whatever.) All we seem to be doing, from my America, is getting our hands on a piece of the pie. That idea doesn’t please anyone. Not in Europe and not in the Middle East. This idea of a New Middle East will force others to accept a vision of the future that is, simply, incompatible with what they have now, what they have had for centuries.
It’s not that I’m against Democracy, but what does it say about our contemporary views of it when Palestinians democratically elect members of Hamas to political office only to have the US cut off funds, and diplomatic ties with them, effectively freezing the peace process. It says “if we don’t like your democratically elected leaders, we’ll cry foul until we get someone we like.” Yeah, that’s Democracy.
I don’t know why some of these Super-Christians are so against these people, when, in reality and practice, they are more like them than the everyday person in America. In the Midle East they are a people to whom God, Blood Feud, and honor still mean something. Super-Christians are a people who pray daily, champion the family, and strive for specific ideals. One, I think, is better at it than the other but Americans don’t know a thing about life in the Middle East so the similarities, sadly, are lost on them.
Today is the Tish'ah b'Av, the Ninth of Av. It is a day of sorrow to Jews, who, on that day, commemorate the destruction of both the First and Second Temples. Some Islamic religious leaders are concerned that Zionist Extremists will use this time of turmoil as a chance to carry out attacks on the Al-Aqsa Mosque.
They have, I feel, good reason, for concern. This happened before and it pissed off Hezbollah .
Christian extremists, who, as I have said before, keep shoveling money at Israel (and, quite possibly, Zionist Extremist groups) feel that the return of their Messiah cannot take place until the Temple is rebuilt are all for the destruction of the Mosque. So, why shouldn’t they feel threatened?
So, maybe, the use of the term “WWIII” might not be such a wacky idea, after all. It would be a very tricky scenario but it could, indeed, happen. An attack on the Noble Sanctuary could trigger it, but remember, over here, in the land of Mega-Churches and GenriChristianity, that’s what some of those cracked pots want. So, if you hear that it was attacked, expect several, if not all, of the Muslim countries to get involved. Expect Russia to back them. Expect riots in Muslim communities all over the world and celebration amid the hard-line Jews. In short, my freaky darlings, Expect the Apocalypse. If that happens then follow these instructions for your safety: Clasp hands together, bend all the way over, and kiss your sweet asses good-bye.
About a week ago I was talking to some people about the Israeli war plan. Now, since right after this thing started, the IDF has been telling Lebanese citizens to move north of the Litani River, roughly 30 miles or so from the border. The reason for this, they said, is to clear out civilians so that they can attack Hizbollah fighters in the area.
Heavy shelling and nearly indiscriminate air-strikes have killed scores of civilians, though, children mainly, all over the area.
Now, this area south of the Litani River was, roughly, the area that had been occupied after the Arab-Israeli war in 1949. About 12 miles of this area was occupied by Israel for 22 years as a buffer zone, an occupation which ended in 2000.
Now, the IDF is at it again, with Ehud Olmert pushing the IDF back to the Litani, to recreate the buffer zone between Israel and Lebanon. Several people with whom I have spoken about the escalating situation, however, seem to believe that it is the Israeli intent to annex the land south of the river, not only for security reasons but to occupy it and, eventually, settle it. In other words, they need “Elbow Room”, a little "Lebensraum".
Today, 10,000 Israeli troops launched a massive invasion of Southern Lebanon and contrary to statements made by the Israeli government it looks like they are going to stay. Also, commando attacks were made deep into the heart of Lebanon, on the ancient city of Baalbek some 100 kilometers north of the Litani River.
With Israel attacking so far north, can there be any doubt that, any day now, further attacks will be launched into Beirut?
Early on in this conflict, Israel launched attacks on southern suburbs of the capitol, flattening roads, bridges and buildings, ostensibly to hinder the political wing of Hizbollah, but killing several civilians in the process. Many believe it is only a matter of time before Israel drops the façade and engages openly in an illegal attempt at regime change, or worse, out and out destruction of the country of Lebanon.
The world waits and watches but remains frustratingly indecisive and of split opinion over what, if any thing, there is to be done to end this conflict. With no real support for a cease-fire from the United States, Israel has no reason to stop their invasion, and the killing. In other parts of the world, however, public sympathy has slowly started to polarize against Israel, and, by default, the United States. In a world where the last Super Power has lost much of its credibility this openly pro-Zionist stance may ultimately serve to sway opinion completely against us.
WWIII is a term that has been thrown around rather carelessly lately, over this. Super-Christians are still fervently praying for this to be the End of Days, and expecting the fiction of the Rapture to sweep them away from their milquetoast lives at any moment. Evangelical preachers are being flooded with money to help Israel and it is to their financial benefit to milk the cash cow at the expense of Lebanese blood. The mindless flock will keep emptying their coffers to support this illegal military action as long as they feel they are sanctioned to do so by their fatback grossero ministers. Israel will continue to reap the rewards of American religious ignorance as long as the money keeps coming.
Speaking of American Ignorance, let’s take a moment to look at one of the domestic victims of this crisis in the Middle East. Yes, I’m talking about Mel Gibson. By now, I’m sure, everyone has heard that the openly Traditionalist Catholic Actor/Director was arrested for a DUI in Malibu. However, that’s not why everyone is raising a stink.
It turns out that he made a remark about Jews. I believe he said “Fucking Jews, they are responsible for all the wars in the world.” Then he asked one of the arresting deputies : “Are you a Jew?” (He also asked a female officer at the station “What are you looking at, Sugar Tits?”)
His statement about the Jews angered, shocked, and dismayed several people. However, Gibson is not actively involved with any sort of hate-mongering or anti-Jewish organization. He was a drunk, expressing his opinion, and, the last time I checked, The First Amendment has not yet been repealed here. That’s the one that allows Freedom of Speech. Now, who says that we must like or tolerate everyone? I know that there are certain people, or types of people, or even whole generalized groups that, I myself, cannot tolerate. Does that make me a criminal? Should I be forced to publicly apologize for my feelings, thoughts, and words? I mean, I can understand prosecuting hostile actions that were motivated by deep-seated resentment, intolerance, and hatred, towards others. Those are called hate-crimes. But where do we draw the line? I mean, so Mel Gibson doesn’t like Jews. Big deal, so what…Why, I’m sure if one posed the question in Lebanon, right now, you’d find several people who might share this sentiment. Should they apologize, too?
I think that there’s a big difference between bigotry and racism, and Mel Gibson did not cross that line. People are calling for Gibson to “Pay the price of Bigotry”, does it come down to money or just a pound of flesh? Is that a bigoted statement, too? Again, who cares? It’s everyone’s right, as an American, to dislike whomever the hell they want. As long as they don’t physically harm others, or advocate the harm of others, then there’s really nothing hurt but feelings. So, what’s the price to pay for hurt feelings? And why the hell should we care about someone else’s hurt feelings, anyway? Everyone has their own personal bigotries and that, my freaky darlings, is a fact.
Thursday, July 20, 2006
“And when the Lord your God delivers them over to you, you shall conquer them and utterly destroy them. You shall make no covenant with them nor show mercy to them.”
In an area where conflict has become a way of life it can be a difficult task to try and figure out what's going on. For the most part, people that I talk to in the 'States about this aren't very clear about it. There seems to be a somewhat sizeable chunk of them that still think that one side is right and the other is wrong. Many of them still believe that God gave the Israeli's that land. (It was Ralph Bunche, and the UN, that did it, actually.) Hell, My Freaky Darlings, I barely believe in a God, anymore. That's not meant as a proclamation of Atheism, but rather, as a reaffirmation that no one is going to put one over on me.
The media here has the usual Pro-Zionist slant to most everything coming out of there, right now. There has been much coverage of people evacuating, cramming into cars, and military aircraft, or chopper. The ones on boats got particular attention, as they were the pretty people.
Loud-mouthed, GerneriChristian leaders are thumping their Bibles from their pulpits, proclaiming that the End Times are upon us, and the cracked-pots that follow them are rejoicing with much hallelujah-ing and giving of money to Israel. On the flip side, we’ve got bloggers flooding the internet with news, words, and images of destruction, devastation, death, and despair of Lebanon.
It may not be the start of the Apocalypse, but the shit has surely hit the fan.
With everything happening so fast, it’s sometimes hard to realize how they’ve reached this point. Let’s take a look at some of the events that led up to the sorry, sad, deadly situation going on right now.
Here’s a map to help:
On Saturday, June 24, 2006, Israeli Defense Forces abducted two Palestinian civilians, a doctor and his brother, in Al Shouka, near Rafah. They have not been heard from since. This is not uncommon in the Occupied Territories.
On Sunday, June 25, 2006, Palestinian militants crossed into Israel through a tunnel from the Gaza Strip, and attacked an IDF post, killing two Israeli Defense Force soldiers and wounding four others. A wounded, 19-year-old, Corporal, Gilad Shalit, was captured.
On Monday, June 26, 2006, his captors offered to exchange Shalit if Israel would release all female Palestinian prisoners, and all prisoners under 18.
At 11:51PM, on Tuesday, June 27th, 2006, Israel launched a full scale attack on Gaza. Israeli fighter jets destroyed bridges and, at 1:42 AM, took out the Gazan power plant. (This was, incidentally, insured by the US government and will cost American taxpayers some 48 million dollars to rebuild) At 2:24 AM, Israeli tanks and troops moved in to occupy the area east of Rafah. Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said that the aim of these attacks was "not to mete out punishment but rather to apply pressure so that the abducted soldier will be freed. We want to create a new equation: freeing the abducted soldier in return for lessening the pressure on the Palestinians."
On June 28th, 2006, Israeli forces launched search & rescue operations in Khan Yunis. David Siegel, spokesman at the Israeli embassy in Washington, D.C. said that "Israel did everything it could in exhausting all diplomatic options and gave Mahmoud Abbas the opportunity to return the kidnapped Israeli... This operation can be terminated immediately, conditioned on the release of Gilad Shalit".
That same day Palestinians fired a barrage of Qassam missiles at Southern Israel, and, for the first time, a katyusha-style rocket. Few serious casualties were reported.
On July 1st, 2006, in the midst of continuing Israeli attacks, the Palestinians raised the ante by asking for the release of 1,000 additional prisoners, and a cessation to the assault on Gaza, but, still, the Israeli operation continued, killing and injuring several. Reports came in from the Rafah border crossing of deaths due to Israel’s refusal to allow anyone in or out. Israeli authorities threaten that the "sky will fall" if Shalit is harmed.
On July 3rd, 2006, the Palestinians issued a 24-hour ultimatum for Israel to meet their demands; however, a few hours after this, Israel officially announced that "there will be no negotiations to release prisoners." Prisoner exchanges have been a regular practice there over the last several years.
For the next 9 days Israel carried out ever more devastating attacks on civilians in Gaza, primarily around the Rafah area, where they they believed the captive to be held. Again, scores of civilians were killed and injured, and vital infrastructure in Gaza destroyed.
Then, on July 12, 2006, with Israel once again threatening a long term occupation of the Gaza Strip, the armed wing of Hezbollah launched Operation Truthful Promise, in regards to a promise made by their spiritual leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, to capture Israeli soldiers and trade them for the remaining Lebanese prisoners held by Israel, taken during their occupation of the region. .
In an early morning diversionary tactic, Hezbollah launched Katyusha rockets and mortar shells along the Israeli/Lebanese border, allowing Hezbollah commandos cover to enter and attack two armored IDF humvees near the village of Zar’it. This attack killed four Israeli soldiers. In this attack, two more IDF soldiers, Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev, were captured. Four more IDF soldiers were killed when theur Merkava Mk. II tank was hit by a 200 kg IED while pursuing the attackers.
For the last several days, Israel has been carrying out “Operation Change of Direction” (renamed from “Operation Just Reward”) as a retaliatory strike at Lebanon. This started with a series of devastating air raids on bridges and roads all around in the south of Lebanon and around the southern suburbs of Beirut. Also, they took out the Beirut International airport, effectively stranding civilians in a war zone. A naval blockade of the country has kept vital supplies from reaching a beleaguered Lebanese populace, and brutal cross-border raids by IDF tanks, troops, and APC’s along the border, have driven thousands of people north of the Litani River.
Hezbollah has continued an extensive rocket bombardment on cities in northern Israel, including Haifa, Nahariyya, and Nazareth. Lebanese government officials have tried to distance themselves from Hezbollah but have not openly condemned them. As Israeli attacks have grown more frequent and deadlier, Lebanese government officials have urgently called for UN condemnation on Israeli actions, and have asked for help to bring about a ceasefire.
This is by no means a complete timeline, nor does it take into account much of the posturing and rhetoric that has gone on with leaders on both sides, as well as around the world. More has happened since then and, I’m sure, more will continue happening. And, of course, I have more to say about it, but I’ll leave you with that for now, because, really, it’s all too much to chew on at once. For those not accustomed to the taste of Middle Eastern politics it’s very easy to choke and gag. Until then, though, My Freaky Darlings, Watch the news, Stay informed, and Watch your backs!
Thursday, July 13, 2006
Hi Fellow STAers,
We're on high alert here in Israel-- "It's War!" is heard on every channel. Fighter jets flew early before dawn (around 0400) this morning waking my sleep and there's an eery tension in the air.
Within the last hour they are reporting missiles were fired into Nahariya, Israel from Lebanon. 1 dead, 16 injured so far. Remember, this is a very tiny country-- that's only about 2 hours from Jerusalem. [Nahariya (meaning river of God) is situated on the sea coast (northmost seashore town in Israel) between Acre and the Lebanese border; 25 km north of Haifa.]
I will keep you all posted as information becomes available, or if things escalate.
Things are gettting uglier...
Monday, July 10, 2006
Tuesday, June 27, 2006
The Round of 16 was intense. Each game in the Round of 16 was breathtaking, electrifying and, at times, even heart-stopping. Each match was an elimination game; each win meant a ticket home for the loser. There were no ties. Ties at the end of regulation time were decided by 30 minutes of extra time, with a short break at the 15 minute mark for the teams to switch sides and get a drink of water. If, after extra time, there is still no clear cut winner, it goes down to penalty kicks. Each side chooses 5 players to strike from the penalty area, and each Goalkeeper takes them one at a time, trying to defend his net, and the chance for his team to advance. The Round of 16 ended today, though, and the world gets two days of rest before the Quarter-Finals start on Friday.
Germany v Sweden
It’s always good to see the host country advance in these games, and usually, when they win, there’s talk about “home court advantage” and “favoritism from the refs”. In this case, however, Germany made a fantastic showing against Sweden, with a hard offense and tight, unrelenting defense.
Jurgen Klinsmann led his team to Group A wins over Poland, Costa Rica and Ecuador, and, in this elimination match, German forward Lukas Podolski kept the German crowd cheering. With the help of Miroslav Klose he scored first at the 4 minute mark, and then again in the 12th, securing a commanding lead for the Mannschaft.
Sweden coach Lars Lagerback tried to rally The Blue and Yellow, but was stunned when Brazilian referee Carlos Simon reduced them to a 10 man squad, with Teddy Lucic getting two yellow cards before the half. Sweden held the German assault off as best they could and could have picked up a goal early into the second half with a penalty kick that might have energized the team, but Henrik Larssons shot went up and over the crossbar.
Germany has made a strong showing since their 4-2 opener against Costa Rica and, with this win, will take on Mexico or Argentina in the next round. They have been playing like champions, displaying the combination of teamwork and skill that has helped make it 68 years since they lost a game in the second round of the World Cup. If they can keep it together it could take them all the way to the Final.
Argentina v Mexico
Here was a match in the true spirit of the game. Fans on both sides displayed their pride and their confidence in their teams with the passion one has come to expect from Spanish speaking countries.
On the Spanish channel, for example, the Mexicans were started their broadcast in full party mode, and invited several Argentinean friends to participate in the fun. In Germany, the fans arrived with face paint and hats, waving banners, flags, and singing, and everyone seemed to be dancing.
Mexico started strong, with excellent plays in the center, trying to take the ball to Argentina, again and again, with a pay-off in the 5th minute when Rafael Marquez sent the Mexicans into hysterics with a fantastic goal. Argentineans looked shocked as the Tri Colores held their team through until a devastating penalty kick from Argentina 4 minutes later.
Midfielder Juan Riquelme took the kick, and Hernan Crespo went in for the finish but it went off the head of Mexican Forward Jared Borgetti and into his own goal. With the game at a draw, tension filled the stadium like an over stuffed tamale.
Mexico tried to recover testing the net as often as they could, playing excellent defense to deny Argentina anything more through the half. Argentina pushed hard, taking the ball to the net, but getting only heart-break and rejection from Oswaldo Sanchez.
In the second, both teams moved with confidence and determination, each side vying for the one goal needed to keep them from elimination, knowing the clock was slowly edging them towards the first overtime of the series. Several times each side gained and lost control of the ball, taking excellent advantage of opportunities that presented for a goal. Lionel Messi was able to net a ball but the shot was rules offside, and, when the whistle blew, the score remained 1-1.
The capacity crowd was filled with apprehension, neither side as confident, but both still exuberant and hopeful. With barely a minute between the end of regulation and the start of the 30 minute overtime, players on both sides seemed a little slower but no less hungry for winning goal.
It came 8 minutes into the over time, when Juan Sorin passed the ball across the pitch to the right corner penalty area and Maxi Rodriquez chested the pass before letting fly with a hard left foot that sent it past Sanchez and into the net. Argentinean fans sent up a roar that could be heard in Buenos Aires, Maridona, who had looked so glum at the end of regulation, was back to his cheering, flag waving self, and order, it seems, was once again restored.
Mexico, however, continued to try and equalize, pushing at every opportunity. Los- Albicelestes, however, held on to their lead, and the ball, as much as they could, eating up the clock, demoralizing the Mexicans, and pushed their lead through to the end.
This was one of the most exciting and satisfying games of the whole tournament. Afterwards, the teams embraces, and, through tears of loss and joy, wished each other well. Fans on both sides spoke only well of each other, and partied together all over the world, with the friendship and sportsmanship unique to the World Cup.
England v Ecuador
England is a perennial favorite at the World Cup. They have qualified all but six times since the games began in1930, have made it to the quarter-finals 6 times, came in 4th one and, in 1966, they actually won the World Cup. They come from one of the strongest soccer nations in the world, and, as I have said before, have some of the most passionate fans in Europe.
All that being said, however, they came out against Ecuador with very little new to offer their fans, and it was primarily a weaker Ecuadorian offense that kept them from getting beat. Ecuador, for their part, made several attempts at scoring, using thrilling ball handling and excellent strategy to outmaneuver an English team that looked, at times, confused and out of synch.
It was, in the end, a typically stylish free-kick by Superstar David Beckham that sent England past Ecuador and into the next round. With the kind of show they put on out there, however, it doesn’t seem likely that this is their year to repeat the Joy of ’66.
Portugal v Netherlands
This was a match that displayed just how important a win is at this stage, with vicious playing from both sides to secure a spot in the next round. The fact that both teams are riding 15-game winning streaks may have helped to fuel the pressure. The tensions and passions on the field kept Russian Ref Valentin Ivanov busy. He handed out a record-tying 16 yellow cards, and threw 4 players out with red cards. He also had to reprimand players and step in over several minor disputes.
In one, in the 8th minute, Defender Khalid Boulahrouz was yellowcarded for a hard check on Christian Ronaldo. Ronaldo was bothered for the rest of his 43 minutes in the game, limping through his plays and requiring treatment for his thigh two times, before leaving the field in tears of agony.
The Netherlands pushed hard, trying to secure a goal early on but faced a strong Portuguese defense that game them no ground to on which to play. Clashes and tumbles were many as both teams battled hard for control. The fans picked up on the nervousness in the game and watched with a fierce breathlessness.
Then, in the 23rd minute, Pedro Pauletta found fellow midfielder Nuno Manche near the net. Manche moved in with grace and fury around defender Joris Mathijsen, to launch a shot into the right corner of the net and bring the fans back to life. The men in Orange try a quick come back with Mathijsen out to prove a point but his shot goes high and over the net.
The game went back and forth, each team the equal of the other for defensive and offensive zeal. A number of well timed shots went off the crossbar, sidebar, or missed by wishes-breath. The Netherlands played hard to equalize the score, push the game into overtime, to find one more chance to pull through, but the Portuguese seemed to play with God on their side, making excellent saves, well timed blocks, and keeping enough pressure on the Dutch to keep them off their game.
The Selecção das Quinas went on to win it 1-0 and go on to face England in the next round.
Italy v Australia
The Azzurri were always the favorite coming into this match-up but the Australians game them a fantastic run, keeping the score to 0-0 to within kissing distance.
The Italians were taking no chances with the dark horse team from Down Under, however, issuing hard tackles to assert their authority early on. The Aussies would not be intimidated, however, and played with their usual force.
Italy seemed unable to find their rhythm in the game, and were kept off balance by a highly motivated Australian team, that seemed to get fired up with every cheer from their rowdy fans. With artistic ball handling, though, and lively passes, Italy kept the Australians guessing. The Azzurri displayed the famous Italian poise and style as they edged themselves into the next round.
Unfortunately, it was not a strike that did it but a stoppage time penalty kick that broke the hearts of Australians everywhere. With 30 seconds to the end of the match, Francesco Totti made a penalty kick that had the Socceroos kissing their chance of advancement goodbye.
Switzerland v Ukraine
Games like these make me crazy. Both of these teams won their right to play each other at this stage but neither team seemed to push as hard as they could have. With several missed opportunities and lost chances to score in regulation time, this game went into a 30 minute over time, and then, when that remained scoreless, it came down to penalty kicks.
Now, for many people, games like this, are a measure of each sides resolve, tenacity, and defense, but after having come so far, I find it a shame that a spot in the next round should be decided by a series of penalty kicks.
Either way, it turned into a match up of goalkeepers, with Pascal Zuberbuhler tending for the Swiss and Olexandr Shovkovskyi for the Ukraine. It’s a very interesting sort of ritual, these penalty shots, with the goalkeepers warming up, the quintet of men for each side who will take the shots focusing and concentrating. With absolutely no clear way to predict the outcome of this sort of shootout, all anyone, fans and players alike, was watch, hope, and pray.
Andriy Shevchenkos shoots first for the Ukraine and it goes to the right and so does Zuberuhler for a fantastic save.
Switzerland forward Marco Streller shoots his shot straight at Shovkovskyi, for a turnaround save.
Artem Milevskiy stepped up and gave the Ukraine some joy with a shot into the net. For the Swiss Tranquillo Barnetta sent the second Swiss kick into the crossbar.
Serhiy Rebrov placed another past Zuberuhler to make it 2-0. Ricardo Cabanas, for the Swiss, shot down the center and was met with denial from Shovkovskyi. With only one shot needed to win the shoot out Oleg Gusev eyed the ball with no trepidation or concern. He lounched and landed the shot to win the Ukraine a place in the next round with a 3-0 win.
Now, this win doesn’t exactly mean that the Ukraine is the better team. In fact, Switzerland hasn’t allowed a goal in this whole tournament. In 390 minutes or so of play, their defense was strong enough to keep their net untouched. So, in these games, as in life, the uncertainty remains to the very end, and no one can predict how they will turn out. As the guy on the Spanish station said- “Es la ley del futbol” –“It’s the Law of Soccer”.
Brazil v Ghana
Although, as the previous game showed, there are no sure wins in the World Cup, this game showed that there are such things as safe bets. Brazil was a safe bet. It was a wonder that The Black Stars of Ghana made it as far as they did. These debutants may not have had a chance of winning but they were thrilled to be playing their heroes at the World Cup.
Ronaldo hit an interesting high point by becoming the highest scorer in World Cup finals history with is 5th minute score. With comments still being made about his weight, he again proved that he still has the artistic ability and skill. His 4th minute goal was a graceful dance around Richard Kingson, leaving the net empty and wide open for him to tap it over the line.
Ghana played hard, however, keeping the Brazilian defense working hard, but their less than formidable finishing and, perhaps, lack of experience at this level, left them goalless. In the 45th minute Adriano made it 2-0 at the half.
Ghana came out pushing hard but missed several chances and had several more taken away from them by the better team. With one of their strongest players, Michael Essien, on the bench, the Black Stars lost their poise and focus, leaving the door wide open for Brazil to shine through.
In the second Brazil seemed more at ease, the comfort of a team with a padded lead. It was Brazils turn to turn up the heat on Ghana, taking it to the net and forcing Richard Kingston to use every skill he had to keep the ball clear of his goal. Ghana did not give up, however, and kept working to score, pushing hard but losing time and opportunity.
At the 84th minute, Jose Ze Roberto brought it into the net for another Brazil goal, leaving the Africans out of the next round, but with more experience, and the memory and joy of having played Brazil in the World Cup.
Spain v France
When this match up was announced I was decidedly for Spain. Having been following these games on several Spanish language stations, it just seemed the natural selection to back. That was before I heard about the controversial and racists statements Luis Aragones made about Thierry Henry last year. He was
Friday, June 23, 2006
This week 32 teams played again but only 16 of them go through into the next round. Even though half of them were eliminated, it’s important to remember that they’re all champions. These teams spent most of the last 3 years playing qualifying matches all over the world to arrive at these last three weeks, so, win or lose, none of them have lost any glory because it’s an honor just to be in the World Cup.
The only ones that have lost much of their honor this week are the referees. The trend that started last week continued in many games this week with the referees flashing yellow-cards and handing out red ones like garage-band flyers. Bad calls over phantom fouls led to the elimination of more than one team this week. In one CNN vote over yesterday’s Croatia- Australia match 100% voted to send English referee Graham Poll home.
The fact that many of these referees have day jobs in another profession does not inspire fan confidence in their ability to officiate a game any better than your local bartender. More than one penalty kick was handed out over a simple foul, yellow cards and red cards, when a simple warning was all that was needed. In some games players were ejected in the first five minutes and, in others, in the last five seconds of play. In some cases referees missed red-card fouls and let play continue to the devastation of a team’s chance to advance. In others they halted play much to the same effect.
More than one team had their hopes married to O.J. over a questionable call that lead to a penalty kick. When these games are over, FIFA would do well to review their policies and raise the referees to the same champion level as the players over whom they officiate.
The other thing I’ve notices this week, as World Cup Fever gets into full swing, are people who don’t understand the appeal of the World Cup. These are the same people that are “not into soccer”, or say that soccer is a “wimpy sport”. The World Cup is not just soccer, and not just a sport. These games represent the hopes and dreams of millions of people, everywhere, whether their country is in it or not. In Egypt, Mexico, and countless other countries, massive-screened monitors were set up in public squares so that fans without televisions could also enjoy the games. In Somalia, angry fans planned massive protests because Islamist Rebels cut the electricity to outdoor theatres, and in Bangladesh, mobs of angry fans stormed electric company offices after power failures interrupted two elimination games.
“As the pinnacle of the only truly global game, played in every country by every race and religion, it is one of the few phenomena as universal as the United Nations. You could even say it's more universal. FIFA has 207 members; we have only 191”
Kofi Annan, Secretary-General, United Nations, “An Open Letter to Football Suppoorters Around the World”
Now, onto the recap of this last week of Group Action and the eliminations:
Ecuador v Germany
These two teams both qualified for the Round of 16 with thrilling wins in the first couple of game and were playing only for the number 1 spot in Group A. Although they were both assured a spot neither side let up the pressure. Ecuador emerged strong and took about a minute to take the first shot of the match when Midfielder Luis Valencia made a hard cross to the net but was denied joy by German Goal Keeper Jens Lehmann. Germany retaliated 3 minutes later in the form of a left-right flick to Midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger who caught Forward Miroslav Klose in the penalty area. Klose launched a slick strike to the net and sent the fans into thunderous cheers.
The Ecuadorians tight defense, and missed chances, along with several wide shots from Die Nationalmannschaft kept it at 1-0 until the 44th minute, when Klose closed the play around Goal Keeper Cristian Mora with a pass from Midfielder Michael Ballack before the half with a fantastic follow through to the net, ending the first have with a deuce-nil to the sound of singing German fans.
Germany came out hard in the second half as Midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger launched a low strike 40 seconds in that was tipped out by fleet footed Mora. Midfielder Edwin Tenorio played a 35-yard shot over Lehman to stay in the game but without success, and in the 57th minute, Lukas Podolski came in hard and close to give the Germans 3-0 lead over Ecuador, and the German fans another reason to cheer.
Germany now takes on Sweden on Saturday and Ecuador is set to face England on Sunday.
Costa Rica v Poland
This was an honor game for both these teams. Going into it Poland, who’d remained scoreless in this entire tournament, had no hope of advancement. Costa Rica also had no chances to take it into next round. They arrived in Germany with the misfortune of playing the hosts, proceeded to make a good show with a 4-2 loss against them, but looked stunned by Ecuador for a 3-0 loss.
The heat was on as 4 minutes into it Forward Ronald Gomez took a 35-yard free-kick that slammed off of Defender Barosz Bosacki . Forward Maciej Zurawski took an awkward free-kick 17 minutes into it but goalkeeper Jose Porras stopped it with ease. 7 minutes later Gomez shoved one past the Polish Defense and through Goalkeeper Artur Boruc in front of a disheartened and mostly Polish crowd but despite a continuing Costa Rican assault, that kept Borac busy at the net, the Bialo-Czerwoni was far from beat this time.
Poland Midfielder Ebi Smolarek slid a smooth one to forward Ireneusz Jelen, 6 minutes later, for a clear smash at Porras, who appeared undisturbed. Polish fans looked like they were once again facing Sultan Osman II, but now, as then, they rallied. In the 33rd minute of the first half, with Porras nowhere close enough to block it, Bosacki cannoned one into the net to tie it 1-1 and give Poland their first score at the World Cup.
The players seemed as energized as the fans, and went on a wild, but fruitless, offense before and after the half, with a flurry of blocked and missed shots until the 66th minute when Bosacki struck gold, again, from the corner off midfielder Jacek Krzynowek blocked shot, that silenced Costa Rican fans and made it 2-1.
A tense moment came in the 82nd minute when it seemed that forward Paulo Wanchope had tied it up but he was offsides and the point thrown out, sending Poland home with their honor intact, and their fans in better spirits than when they came into this game.
Paraguay v Trinidad & Tobago
This game was much like the last one, with the hopes of advancement for of teams jockeying for position in the dirt derby. Neither team won a match, although Trinidad & Tobago did play Sweden to a 0-0 draw that, theoretically, gave them the better chance to advance with a win, both teams had yet to score a goal in Germany. The dejected fans in the stands mirrored the subdued performance of the teams on the pitch, which led to a very reserved game. There was excellent defense and great shots on both sides, but the players lacked intensity and the crowd lacked the energy to give it to them.
T & T Forward Cornell Glen hit La Albirrojas goal hard but was denied by Goalkeeper Aldo Bobadilla. Edgar Barreto retaliated with hard long shot off of Kelvin Jacks chest that very nearly let forward Nelson Valdez sneak one in around back.
The Soca Warriors started Kelvin Jack as their Goalkeeper and benched dynamo substitute Shaka Hislop. Jack, who was kept out of their previous matches with a hurt ankle, defended the net fiercely, and was given a Paraguayan work out from the start. Roque Dos Santos attacked with a fearsome strike that Jack was just able to keep out of the net, but 25 minutes into the first half, rattled and disoriented Defender Brent Sancho smacked midfieldman Roberto Acuna’s free-kick with his head and into his own goal.
The goal gave Paraguay the energy they needed to renew their attack on the T & T net, keeping The Soca Warriors busy on defense until the half. Valdez sent two shot into face Jacks rejections. Midfieldman Carlos Paredes launched one at the net only to have it sent out of the box by Kenwybe Jones, who’d come in for injured defender Avery John, 31 minutes into the first. Finally, defender Denis Caniza netted ball past the exhausted Jack but the shot was ruled offside.
In the second half, Trinidad & Tobago came out strong, with a pair of incomplete low crosses from Midfieldman Carlos Edwards, and star player Dwight Yorke, “The most celebrated name in the history of soccer in Trinidad and Tobago,” rallied his team and the fans, to a make it a real game. Russell Latapy came in for Aurtis Whitley and helped keep the pressure on Paraguay with a massive 20-yard shot that danced off the bar on the net.
Paraguay came at them hard toward the end of regulation and kept up the pressure with some superb ball handling from Dos Santos and Nelson Cuevas, who came in for Nelson Valdez in the 66th min. In the end this was not to be the year for the Soca Warriors. It was Cuevas who scored in the 86th minute, giving Paraguay back their dignity, and sending the Long Shots from the tiny Caribbean country back home with only one goal to show for their time in Germany…Sanchos own goal in the first half.
England v Sweden
Before I discuss this game I want to say something about the English Team and their fans. This team is the best team in the United Kingdom. They have gone to the world cup 12 times, as opposed to Scotlands 8, Irelands 2 and Wales 1. That means that they have been more times than the next three teams put together. Of the 53 games they have played at the World Cup, they won 24, tied 16 and lost only 13. They’ve scored 73 goals and allowed only 47. Their fans, regardless of their negative image in the press, are the best in all of the United Kingdom. They show a spirit, energy, passion and desire on a truly National level and, unlike their closest neighbors, know the sweet smell of a Victory in a world cup Finals match.
This is not yet the Final but England has an excellent chance of taking it all the way.
Also, I bring this up because, after Midfielder Joe Cole’s goal 34 minutes into the first half, the English fans started to sing God Save the Queen so loud that it drowned out the colorful commentators on the Spanish station.
Up until that point the action had gone back and forth, with neither side seeming to have the advantage. Concern washed over fans of the Three Lions in the 4th minute when Michael Owen went down hard with a horribly wrenched knee and Peter Crouch substituted in his position, and demoralized both fans and players alike.
Crouch, who made his first appearance in this tournament, came out strong to replace him, and picked up the pace to bring the game to Sweden, with midfielder Frank Lampard hitting for the goal twice only to twice be repelled by confidant Swedish Goalkeepr Andreas Isaksson, but the Blagult were relentless and came back for a volley of plays that were all kept safely out of the danger-zone.
England fought back ferociously, with midfielder Owen Hargreaves working off position in central midfield, and forward Wayne Rooney and midfielder Joe Cole backing up the counter attack. Defender Teddy Lucic sharply rejected a Rooney attempt, off a Beckham hard, stretched cross 25 minutes into it. Nine minutes after, Joe Cole took the ball down and sent it soaring passed a floundering Isaksson, into the net, rousing the crowd to song, and silencing the broadcasters.
After the half, the Swedes came back strong, slipping through a firm English defense and, at 51 minutes, Midfieldman Tobias Linderoth air-mailed one across to leaping forward Marcus Allback, in from the left, who butted it in past Paul Robinson to tie the game 1-1, giving the Swedish fans a chance to cheer and jeer.
At 55 minutes Paul Robinson glanced away a rocket that shot through a screen of defenders by Henick Larsson. 4 minutes later defender Olof Mellbergs shot slapped the bar and midfielman Kim Kallstroms shot from the line was blasted away by an alert Stephen Gerrard at the 71 minute mark.
Again, with a tremendous roar from the crowd, at the 85th minute, Gerrard snaked in for a powerful head-butt into the net. It looked to be over, with England up 2-1 over Sweden but amid the celebratory elation of the fans, Larsson pushed through to bop a strike at the 90th minute, tying the game 2-2, and sending both these fantastic teams, and their exuberant fans, into the next round.
Ivory coast v Serbia & Montenegro
The Ivory Coast came into this game #3 in their group, having scored a pair of 2-1 games against Argentina and the Netherlands. To have any miniscule chance of moving into the next round, however, they needed Argentina to trounce the Netherlands, and a huge win against Serbia &Montenegro. Serbia & Montenegro, for their part, came in to it with slim to no chance to advancement and Slim was already on the plane home.
Amid a steady rain, and very little reason for either side to fight on the damp pitch, neither the fans nor the players let their losses or the weather dampen their spirit. The Elephants, however, came in to the game without a red-carded Didier Drogba, and a weak defense, which was only made worse by the slippery pitch, which saw players on both sides sliding around like they were the D troupe of Disney on Ice.
9 mins in to the first half, Midfieldman Dejan Stankovic launched a ball to Nikola Zigic letting the forward dance one past confused and off-balanced goalkeeper Boubacar Barry for a 1-0 lead. In the melee in the box defender Mladen Krstajic collided with midfielder Gneri Yaya Toure and they both went down. Barry gave a bewildered shrug over his miss and seemed to indicate the wet ground and the replay showed definite slippage action going on around players boots and the pitch.
The Elephants charged back, though, with midfieldman Kader Keita feeding star forward Aruna Didane a tight one but his strike was denied by goalkeeper Dragoslav Jevric, and the second-chance slipped painfully past forward Kanga Akale, to lose the opening to tie it up.
The Plavi went into full offense mode after that, attacking the Ivorians with all they had. Defender Cyril Domoraud lost the ball to midfielder Predrag Djordjevic who passed to midfielder Sasa Ilic for a clear shot the past Barry to make it 2-0 match at the 19 and a half minute mark. Through the rain that continued to fall, the fans of the Plavi could be heard singing. A free kick at 33 the minute mark by Midfielder Dejan Stankovic failed to make it in the net. Defender Emmanuel Eboue took an elbow to the eye but there was no card or penalty.
Defender Milan Dudic took a caution for a hand ball in the 37th minute, allowing the Ivory Coast a free kick to let the Elephants come stomping back with Didane shooting, and landing, the shot twice past Dragoslav Jevric from the line because Mexican referee Marco Rodriguez forced a do-ver when some over zealous Elephants encroached over the line. The game stood at 2-1.
The Serbs receive a penalty kick but can’t cash in because it was deflected by Barry at the post. Dindane picks up a yellow card for chasing down a pass from forward Arouna Kone but cannot figure out why…He was on the receiving end of a trip by Jervic and it was never made clear why he drew the card.
In the second half The Elephants looked hungry for a win. Serbia & Montenegro was playing a man short because of a second yellow card on midfielder Albert, and they felt the pressure of an Ivorian battering in a series of rapid fire attacks, first by forward Akanga Akale who challenged Jervic head on with no fear, then from Kone, whose shot went a little too wide to threaten the lead. Defender Blaise Kouassi’s downtown shot bounced off the goal bar, but the Ivorians were relentless. Dindane finally made good on a cross pass from Abdulkader Keita, sending the soggy crowd to their feet, and started the African team dancing a festive celebratory stomp in the corner, the score standing at 2-2. Serb fans looked on sad, silent and subdued.
Still The Elephants kept coming like something out of Hemingway’s African nightmares, playing the short game in the danger zone and keeping the pressure on Serbia & Montenegro, who looked organized but too rattled to make good on a Djordjevic free-kick. At the 90 minute mark, however, with Barry on his knees praying at the opposite net, the Serbian & Montenegran World Cup dream went tail-gaiting with Jesus as Midfieldman Bonaventure Kalou made good on a freekick of their own to send the Africans home with a 3-2 win, the first World Cup win ever for their country. The Ivory Coast showed great faith, spirit and camaraderie. There was great ball handling on both sides but the second half belonged to them.
Argentina v Netherlands
The wild fans on both sides were not only the highlight of this game but the main feature in this scoreless draw. Raucous, rowdy and noisy, they cheered with the confidence of people that knew for certain that their berths in the next round were secure. The fact is that either one of these teams could go all the way in the Final, to win it all. They both show the talent, skill, and audacity of World Cup Champions.
There was excellent ball handling on both sides and athleticism that left one marveling at repeated dashing cross field sprints from both ends. Argentina is another one of those Soccer loving nations that sent a huge contingent to cheer their team in Germany, and the excitement they and their Dutch counterparts are going to be add extra excitement to their next round matches: Argentina against Mexico on Saturday and Holland against Portugal on Sunday.
Midfielder Juan Riquelme and forward Lionel Messi displayed the panache for which Argentina has become famous, with Maradona cheering fanatically from the stands. Riqulme, forwards Carlos Tevez and Maxi Rodriguez kept the pressure on goalkeeper Edwin Van der Sar. Riquelme sent across past Van der Sar but defender Khalid Boulahrouz footed it away off the bar to preserve the 0-0 game.
Both teams displayed superior defense, Van der Sar shining again and again, taking on a head on Messi kick that he snatched like a Shaquille O’Neil rebound. Forward Dirk Kuyt came close for the Dutch with an off-the-the bar shot to take it into the half.
Argentina stayed on the offensive in the second half with
Riquelme sending a wide shot to the net. Midfielder Phillip Cocu tied to give the Boys in Orange the lead but had it knocked away by and alert Roberto Abbondanzieri at the net. Tevez attacked Van der Sar’s net but in the end both teams were content to wait and take it into the next round.
Iran v Angola
Las Plancas Negras needed a win in this game, coupled with a loss to Portugal from Mexico to advance into the Round of 16, but Iran sent those chances to hear the Fat Lady in concert with a goal by defender Sohrab Bakhtiarizadeh in the 76th minute. The Iranians were playing for their honor after a 3-1 loss to Mexico and a 2-0 loss to Portugal, and they looked determined to make a showing at this one.
Team Melli came out with a strong defense but failed to make a single goal in the first half. Angola was defiant of the odds and gave no ground, needing to make the point differential to stay in it after their 0-1 loss to Portugal and a hard won 0-0 tie with Mexico. The first have ended scoreless, and it was very much either sides game going into the second half.
60 minutes into it, though, Amado Flavio smacked in a magnificent head shot into the net to give the Angola the much needed advantage. Iran came back hard, and Mkhtiarzadeh made good on a pass from Mehdi Mahdavikia to tie it 1-1. This was Iran’s first and only goal in Germany, this year, and was enough to satisfy honor in a game that had no chance of earning them any sort of advancement into the next round.
Goalkeeper Jaoa Ricardo blocked a rapid fire Iranian offense, led by a desperate Ali Daei. There was to be no joy for the veteran scorer, and the game continued to trudge on without pushing the score any higher. Both these teams went home, Iran with two points scored and Iran with just the 1.
Portugal v Mexico
Meanwhile, over at the Arena AufSchalke, in Gelsenkirchen, Portugal was facing down Mexico. Now, the Mexican fans are another one of those passionate Futbol crowds. A noisy sea of red, white, and green poured across the stadium, with may more who couldn’t get tickets setting up camps in bars all across the world. It amazed me to see so many of the fans dressed like the Frito Bandito, complete with over sized sombreros and fake mustaches. The fans knew that it was not so much important to win as to make a good show of it, as they were almost assured a place, as long as the #3 and #4 teams (Angola and Iran) didn’t pull a miracle out of their hats.
Ricardo La Volpe, looking more than ever like a tough-guy out there, ran his team hard, even though they were a man short. In the 2nd minute Francisco Fonseca took a shot but goalkeeper Alexandre Ricardo wrapped his body around it to prevent the score.
Mexico weathered a major blow when Sambrosa Simao passed one to midfielder Nuno Maniche at the 6 minute mark to put them down 1-0. 2 minutes later Omar Bravo brought Mexican fans to their feet with a almost point blank shot went wide of the net. 12 minutes later, Portugal got the break when a handball by Rafael Marquez earned them a penalty kick that they turned into a fantastic slam to the net in by Simao.
Helder Postiga tried to make it three but Oswaldo Sanchez slapped it away. Cardoso Tiago tried for the second chance but couldn’t get it to work for him. El Tri could have tied it before the half but Ricardo denied any and all shots at his goal.
The second half brought no joy to mexico, missing a penalty kick at the 58 minute mark and this one ended with a 2-1 loss for Mexico. Somehow, thought, they coasted into a spot in the next round by the skin of their teeth
Ghana v USA
If the USA‘s games against the Czech Republic and Italy were painful to watch, this one was pure heartbreak. Team USA needed Italy to come out on top of the Czechs, and they needed to beat Ghana in this one for a hope to move into the next round. No one thought it would be easy, and with key players benched for each side because of red-cards in previous matches, starters on the American side were played off position, which may have led some to their confusion.
The yellow cards kept flying in this one, too, the first coming in the 4th minute when midfielder Michael Essien dropped Team USA Captain Claudio Reyna with a hard tackle. Defender Eddie Lewis picked one up for a hand-ball three minutes later.
Defender Jimmy Conrad fouled and gave Ghana a free kick that Midfielder Stephen Appia fed to Essien, who launched it up way too wide. 17 minutes into the first Lewis took an elbow to the head from Defender John Pantsil, and had to hit the sidelines to get a cut over his eye examined. USA kept up the pressure to deny Ghana any opportunities. Midfielder Landon Donovan slipped up and took a wide shot to the sound of a disappointed crowd. Soon after, Lewis found an opening but had it slapped away by Goalkeeper Richard Kingston. Kingston moved like a cat and stayed on top of his goal the entire game.
Finally, in the 22nd of the first, Midfielder Haminu Drama pulled past an off-position Reyna, stripped him, and came in hard to score one past Keller and put Ghana up 1-0. Reyna went down hard with what seemed to be a wrenched knee from the match-up to defend against Drama and was stretchered off the pitch. He came back in a few minutes later to a thunderous American crowd but looked winded, and slower.
Meanwhile, at the other net, defender Carlos Bocanegra collided with Kingston, and the game was stalled for ac little while, to allow the Ghanan goalkeeper time to get treatment on the pitch for what seemed to be an injury to his back. When play resumed The Black Stars come out strong and put the USA on the defensive right away, moving with speed and ease.
At the 30 minute mark it looked like forward Razak Pimpong was going to make it a 2-0 game but the shot went wide. Midfielder Clint Dempsey took an elbow to the head from Defender Illiasu Shilla, who drew a yellow card for the bump. 11 minutes before the end of regulation time, Forward Brian McBride sent a long ball to Midfielder Landon Donovan , who blew a sweet shot, sending what could have been an easy goal too wide to make it any good.
At that point Bruce Arena looked like he wanted to strangle someone. Midfielder Haminu Dramani triped up defender Steve Churundalo on a wild dash to the goal, and gave the US a chance to equalize. Defender Eddie Lewis takes the penalty kick looking for Dempsey at the end of it but Kingston deflects it out of danger. Lewis slips another a fantastic pass but no one was in the box to take the shot.
The USA launched an attack with Dempsey, Donovan and McBride on but are stopped short with an empty cross from McBride, and go back on the defensive to face an aggressive African team. At the 40 Reyna goes out and Olson comes in. Olsen immediately gives a hard foul on Midfielder Michael Essien .
Finally, a little bit of fried gold in the 43rd minute when Clint Dempsey scores a goal. It was a clean shot by the Texan into the net, which he celebrated in the corner with a little honkey tonk shuffle. The celebration is short lived when, in the 46th minute, amid boos and jeers from the crowd, ref Markus Merk gave Ghana a penalty kick off an invisible foul on defender Oguchi Onyewu. Stephen Appiah converts on the 12 yard kick to score with Kasey Keller going the wrong way. The call and the goal put American hopes of advancing on the unable to breathe list.
The second half started slow, with the USA against the wall. Team USA spent too much time on defense, and picking up petty violations. Ghana seemed confidant and strong, taking shots like winners and keeping Keller busy at the net. Team USA looked disoriented and confused, and that confusion and lack of support from Bruce Arena, and several mistakes by Donovan and Reyna, led to tears of frustration and despair on the eyes of some American fans.
Ghana left the game exuberant hitting the field to pray, and dance, and give thanks for their win against Team USA. Ghana advances to the Round of 16 and it’ll be interesting to see how they fare against Brazil on the 27th.
Czech Republic vs Italy
With the stinky games by other teams in Group E, Italy could have just sat this one out, drinking espresso on the sidelines and watching the clock run out. Win or lose, on other words, they were going to advance. The Czechs, however, had to win or tie to advance, and Midfielder Pavel Nedved was coaxed out of retirement to try and help his team do just that.
Italy has always been a Soccer powerhouse in Europe, but the Czech team hasn’t seen a World Cup since 1990, when things were different there, before everything changed. For them, I think, it was more than a matter of national pride, it was a matter of national identity.
Both sides came out playing elegant defense, and moved the ball quickly into strike range with a fierce determination. The Lokomotiva tried to take advantage of the talent gap left open when Defender Alessandro Nesta went out with an injury and Marco Materazzi came in in the 17th minute. The Czechs displayed spirited and agile ball handling but the Italians held them off and went on the offense, driving again and again to the box, finally carving out a score in the end of the 25th minute from Materazzi butted close off a corner kick.
The Czechs came back with a gritty assault, trying to keep their chances alive, but the Italian crowd sang and chanted and let the world know that, once they’d taken the lead, they planned on taking it the distance. The rest of the first half saw some close calls but the score remained the same into the second.
In the second half, the players surged back and forth across the pitch, the pressure to score was intense, with exciting steals, perfect tackles, and slick Euro-Style blocks. The Czechs looked close to equalizing and were certain to have done so if the Azzurri creative efforts had not foiled their runs, dribbles and shots.
Finally, in the 87th minute, Forward Filippo Inzaghi surged into the penalty area and knocked one into the net with a fiery left foot, ending the Czech Republics chances to move beyond the Group Round. Next, Italy faces Australia on June 26th.
Croatia v Australia
The Socceroos came a long way to play this game, much farther than the 10,000 some odd miles from Sidney to Berlin. The last time they made the trip to the World Cup, in 1974, it was also in Germany. Back then they were knocked out in the First Round without having scored a goal. In their first game against Japan, this year, however, they scored 3 and, although they remained scoreless against powerhouse Brazil, they came into this game determined to make a good showing to keep their dream alive.
For Croatia, this was their third time to the World Cup. They made won Third place in 1998 but were eliminated at this very stage in 2002. They’ve remained scoreless so far this time, and came out to the pitch eager to redeem their honor, and , with a win, their chances of advancement with a win.
The referee seemed determined to addle both teams, however, and through out the game Graham Poll awarded 17 fouls, 4 yellow-cards and 2 red-cards to Croatia and 21 fouls, 1 yellow-card and 1 red-card to Australia.
So far, this year, this was the most thrilling game in Germany. Starting with a free-kick goal 2:06 into the first half, masterfully played into the net by Midfielder Darijo Srna, the action came fast, and tense. With the score 1-0, Croatian hopes of moving up looked better than they had in the whole tournament.
Australia looked baffled at their poor start, and spent several hard minutes trying to regain control and get into the game. A vigorous Srna kept the Socceroos off their game, battling defender Craig Moore at every turn for control of the ball. At 6:30 into the first, Defender Josip Simunic tipped his teams hand and revealed just how desperate the Vatreni were to win this game, by bringing down forward Mark Viduka hard in the box. Graham Poll, the referee, however, let play go on, without a call, giving the Aussie fans another reason to get rowdy.
The Socceroos were pinned down by the Croats, who defended fearlessly by Defenders Stjepan Tomas and Igor Tudor against several sloppy Aussie attacks. Simunic and Srna, kept the pressure up with excellent ball handling and a manifest desire to take the game to the net Down Under, serving up rough steals and hard passes.
Bret Emmerton held off midfielder Niko Kranjcar in the corner, showing off the brash style of dogged soccer that brought this team into the knock out round. At the 13 minute mark forward Harry Kewell made a wild attempt from 30 yards out that pegged a sideline camera man right in the gut. Not productive shot but something that I’d been waiting a long time to see. Next, I hope to see one of the security guys that stand with their backs to the pitch take one in the back of the head.
Mile Sterjovski gets taken down hard in the corner by Babic and earns the Aussies a free kick and a chance to tie it up but Scott Chipperfields shot gets cleared off Simunc’s head. A little while later Simunic kicks his boot dangerously close in Cahills face, but there’s no card and the ref lets the game go on, giving the ball to Croatia.
It went on this way, with each side growing more restless to hit the net. A series of bad calls from an either careless or inept referee did not prevent either side from pushing to the limit, and getting rough with each other, with several empty strikes and close saves at both nets.
In the 37th minute Cahill caught a shove to the neck that was ignored by the ref and a yellow card for Tudor but Tomas gets the call for a handball, giving the Aussies another chance to tie it up with a penalty kick. Craig Moore takes the shot and ties the game 1-1 at the 38th minute. Amid a roaring dancing crowd of Australian fans and Socceroo fans world wide.
The second half moved fast and smooth with the Prso getting a fruitless free kick and the Australians pushing for the initiative, through a sometimes violent Croatian defense. Nico Kovac takes the shot and Australia goal keeper Zeljko Kalac put his whole 6ft 8 in frame down to block it but the ball bounced off and over, and rolled neatly into the net sending Croatian coach Zlatko Kranjcar again leaping into the arms of the closest person around with a 2-1 lead.
This would be the last moment of joy for the Croatians in this years World Cup. As in their game with Japan the Australians stepped it up in the end when Harry Kewell finally found the net to tie it up and send the Australians onto the next round, and giving the Croatians a ticket to ride the Perma-Pine highway all the way back home.
Switzerland v South Korea
This was an important game not only for the teams but for the very complicated workings of the FIFA ranking system. Follow me on this one as best as you can. Now, a South Korea win would have put them in the next round along with France, who are supposed to play Togo. A tie would also send them into the next round as long as France could win by a point. A score-less draw and a 2-1 French win would leave Switzerland in the #1 group spot with France and South Korea with exactly the same score and goal differential. If France beats Togo 2-0 and a1-1 tie with Switzerland and South Korea would leave both the Swiss and the French qualified and shut out the other two teams but, then, Switzerland and France would have exactly the same standing. This would mean a drawing of lots as a tie-breaker to decide the Group G second place. Basically, it’s as if they flip a coin.
Both sides wanted to avoid this tricky situation, and both sides came into this game confidant of a win. South Korea showed excellent motivation and hustle with the ball and goal keeper Woon-Jae Lee was alert and on the ball at the net. In fact, a vigilant South Korean defense kept the Swiss from making any progress until defender Philippe Senderos slammed home a Hakan Yakin free-kick, and sent the Swiss fans into paroxysm of delight and glee.
As in many other games in this tournament the end was decided upon an unpopular and a questionable call by the referee, Horacio Elizondo. In the 76th minute of play, well into the second half, with the score still 1-0 and South Korea still very much in the game, Xavier Margairaz shot bounced off a Korean defender in the box, and the lineman raised his flag to signify an offside play. Swiss Forward Alexander Frei collected the ball, after several South Korean players paused play for the flag, and launched a surprise shot into the net that caught everyone off guard. At first, it looked as though the score would remain unaltered until Elizondo over-ruled the lineman and let the Swiss advance 2-0.
This turn of events severely demoralized the South Koreans and pissed me, and thousands of South Korean fans, off. Since the flag was clearly raised the mistake lay not with the players but with the officials. Perhaps that sort of thing could be understood in a qualifying match, or in the earlier rounds, but in an elimination game, if the officials error then neither team deserves to be penalized.
I am starting to pay more attention to the referees than to the games and that’s a shame, since so many of these teams have worked so hard to get here, to make it this far, only to have the officials shatter their hopes over miscommunication, error, and old fashioned stupidity.
The Swiss advance but I’m not a happy about how this game turned out. Both sides played hard and deserved better than to have this effort be marred by the underhanded kind of victory this game offered. These ref’s stink.
Togo v France
Things did not look good for France. Their Group standing was as mysterious as a fanatical adoration for Jerry Lewis and a love of stinky cheese. What was clear was that, unless there was a clear winner in the Switzerland v South Korea game they had to beat Togo by at least 2 goals in order to advance into the Round of 16. A tie in that game would leave France sitting pretty with any kind of win, but anything less than a win and they would be accepting the consolation call from Charles DeGaul on their way back home.
Togo’s trip to the World Cup has, sadly, been overshadowed by the off pitch action of their coach and their players. First, coach Otto Pfister quit his position before the start of the games but returned just in time for Togo’s first game against South Korea. Then, before their game with South Korea, the players threatened to walk out over a pay dispute. They lost both those games, scoring only one goal the whole time. They, in other words, were going home either way, honor be damned.
The worry and questioning about the outcome of this Groups match-ups was, in the end, for nothing. France came out in this game with their defense put together and held Togo at bay through the first half, testing the Sparrowhawks blockers and goalie, in order to mount a better offense.
Togo seemed to have finally realized they were on the world stage, and played, now, to go home with some smidgen of honor, holding off the increasingly more determined French to a scoreless first half.
In the second half, however, Togo looked bewildered and ungainly, flubbing passes, missing crosses, and all around stinking up the scenery.
Birthday boy Patrick Vieira played with style and determination, breaking through the Africans defense to score in the 55th minute of play, and then, six minutes later, he gave a snap cross to set up Thierry Henry for the match.
The rest of the game was a series of missed opportunities for the Africans, who seemed to sense that the end was near. Desperation made them sloppy, but they fought long and hard to push through, and tried to score to the bitter end. There would be no dancing for Togo, however, and the game ended 2-0, the win that France was looking for to send them into the Round of 16.
Tunisia v Ukraine
Both of these teams needed a win, but neither sides fans seemed willing to hope for one, helping to create one of the quietest crowds in this round. Except for occasional jeers and whistles at the refs for some bad calls, the fans looked more intent on focusing their energies to the player, by sheer will, to keep their side alive. Tunisia needed the win, for the Ukraine a win or a draw.
The Ukrainians suffered a 4-0 loss at the hands of Spain in their opener, and were the subject of strong and harsh criticism from their fans back home. Honor was restored with their crushing victory over Saudi Arabia in their second game, ending in a 0-4 win over the Arabs.
The Tunisians came out strong, pushing hard against the Ukrainian defense, but the Ukrainians refused to give away any easy shots. When Zied Jaziri was ejected at the tail end of the first half, the wind seemed to go out of their sails.
The Ukrainians, for their part, played about as well as the Tunisians, but without as much passion for the game, merely functional and utilitarian soccer. But, with Tunisia growing ever more desperate to score as the clock ticked down, Andriy Shevchenko took advantage to push it to their net, with several blocks by phenominal goalkeeper Ali Boumnijel, who was a whirlwind of a defense and motivator for his team.
In the end, it came down to a penalty kick earned when Karim Haggui clipped Shevchenko in the box. Shevchenko took the shot and, as Boumnijel dived one direction the ball slammed into the net. Score 1-0 in the 77th minute.
Both teams struggled to score again against the ticking clock, but in the end, the 1 point would suffice to send Tunisia home and let the Ukraine eek into the next round.
Spain v Saudi Arabia
For the most part, there was never any question about the outcome of this game. While the Saudi’s are a strong team within their league, on the international stage, they seem to be lacking a certain level of competitive push to be taken seriously.
Not that this team didn’t have heart. The Saudi’s brought more than enough of that to each of their games in Germany, but in the end, it took goals, not heart to advance into the Round of 16. Spain had plenty of those in this round and just enough in this game to move them onto the Round of 16.
Saudi Arabia had no illusions that they could move on, they just wanted to play well, and make a good show of it, but in the end they went home having scored only 2 goals in a 2-2 tie in their match with Tunisia.
For most of the match both teams seemed well balanced, with excellent blocks, superb defense, and skillful ball handling, but at the 35:34 mark, forward Jose Antonio Reyes put in a corner kick and found defender Gutierrez Juanito in the middle, who broke through and launched it into the corner of the Saudi net.
After that the Saudi’s tried to mount repeated counter attacks to try for a tie but a reinvigorated Spain held them off through to the half.
The next half was full of desperation from both sides, Spain to hold onto their lead and Saudi Arabia to try and tie it up, but there was slipshod playing full of missed opportunities and missed shots, and in the end, Spain was able to proceed into the Round of 16, and the Sons of the Desert went back home.
So, that’s the end of the Group Round. The match ups for the Round of 16 are
Germany v Sweden
Argentina v Mexico
England v Ecuador
Portugal v Netherlands
Italy v Australia
Switzerland v Ukraine
Brazil v Ghana
Spain v France