Tuesday, June 27, 2006

WORLD CUP -Round of 16: WIn or Go Home

I must apologize. World Cup Fever got the better of me last week and I found myself caught up more in the games, and the fanfare, than about writing about it. I was up to 6 games a day, the two games, with their replays in English and Spanish, as well as tapes of the games which I reviewed, later. I found myself swept away in strident conversations with other fans, on-line and in bars, about the line-ups, the matches, the results and, of course, the evil referees. I abandoned hard copy note-taking in favor of a digital voice recorder, to free up both hands for beer and cigarettes. I was living in the glow of televisions, to the hum of VCR’s; my lullaby- the roar of a crowd, my sustenance- cigarettes, sandwiches, cold beer, and tape time.
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

    WORLD CUP - Group Round Finish

    I’m not certain if it’s the lack of sleep over these games or all the drinking because of them that has worked me over but I’m still here, still watching, still cheering the players and still booing the ref’s. With the grace of God and more beer, I will be here doing that until the sweet, sad end of the World Cup on July 9th.
    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.

    Group D

    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.

    Group H

    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

    Monday, June 19, 2006

    World Cup - Week Two

    Ten days of World Cup Soccer action has taken it's toll on me. I have not missed a game; in fact, I have seen most of them twice. Once in English and again in the evening in Spanish, just because those colorful commentators on the Spanish stations get so excited. I was forced to miss the last half of the Mexico-Angola game on Friday because of an unavoidable appointment, and went the rest of the day avoiding the results until I could get to a bar and watch the end on replay. My friend calls it "World Cup Fever" and I'm inclined to agree. It's addictive. There's no question about it, each of these games brings something thrilling, new, and exciting...It's more than just a game, I tell people. It's the World getting together, putting aside their pettiness and politics, and playing with honor before the eyes of fans all over the globe. That, to me, is something special.
    Without further delay, here's the round up of the games:


    Germany vs Poland

  • This one was a tight match. These teams have been traditional rivals ever since the tanks crossed the border in the fall of 1939. The Poles have never forgotten the legendary 1974 "Rain Match", played in Frankfort, between these two teams. The story goes that, because of the torrential rain, the Poles asked that the game be delayed but the West Germans refused, leading to a Polish loss.
    This game was a battle of defenders, with Poland looking better than their 2-0 loss in the opener with Ecuador. They held the Germans to a 0-0 game until the last minute of regular play,when a thrilling blitz by the Germans pounded the goal frame twice in four seconds, before Forward Oliver Neuville finally found the mark, ending this one at 1-0. With this win and a loss by Costa Rica, Germany will play Ecuador for the top rank in the next round.

    Ecuador vs Costa Rica

  • Breathtaking. This match saw the astounding demolition of the Costa Rican defense. 8 minutes into the game a blazing strike by Carlos Tenorio gave Ecuador their first goal, leaving Costa Rica to play a defensive match for the rest of the first half. In the second half, at almost the same amount of time into it as the first, Agustin Delgado drove the ball in for the second. With Costa Rica looking confused and desperate, Ivan Kaviedes hit Ecuador's 3rd at the last minute in regulation time, leaving Costa Rica to play Poland with no hope for either team to advance. Well, what do you expect from a country that abolished their military?


    England vs Trinidad & Tobago

  • For a moment there it looked like the Soca Warriors were going to have a repeat of their 0-0 opener against Sweden, but one of the Worlds Great Soccer Super Powers wasn't going to let that happen. Amid soccer chants and beating drums Peter Crouch scored in the 58th minute, drawing cheers and jeers from the mixed crowd in Nuremerg. Shaka Hislop shined again after blocking England's aggressive strikes over and over, but England fought past a strong Trinidad-Tabago defense to allow midfielder Steven Gerrard to score again in the 90th minute. With this win England stays alive in their group and should be assured a spot in the next round and the Soca Warriors will play a do or die against Paraguay, and hope Sweden loses to England.

    Sweden vs Paraguay

  • In what looked to be a repeat of Sweden's 0-0 game with Trinidad & Tobago the game went back and forth, scoreless until the 89th minute when Freddie Ljungberg managed a devastating strike to shatter Paraguays chance of an easy in to the Final 16. This means that Sweden needs to pull a tie against England and hope that Paraguay beats Trinidad & Tobago. It's not over yet, and it's close games like these that keep the thrills coming.


    Argentina vs Serbia & Montenegro

  • An unbelievable game by Argentina. Six minutes into the game Maxi Rodriguez slipped in the first goal of the game and it was a thing of beauty of behold. 26 minutes later, midfielder Esteban Cambiasso finished a classic play, landing another with ease. 10 minutes later Maxi Rodriguez makes another and Serbia & Montenegro look thoroughly disheartened. The beating, however, did not stop there.
    27 minutes after their last goal, forward Hernan Crespo plays smooth and fast to make it 4-0.
    Amid the deafening cries of exuberant Argentinian's in the crowd, Serbia & Montenegro watched their defense fall apart like the walls of Jericho. Los Albicelestes kept serving up the goals with a side dish of humiliation courtesy of Carlos Tevez and Lionel Messi to clinch their teams berth in the next round, 6-0.

    Netherlands vs Ivory Coast

  • The longshots from Africa, the Ivory Coast Elephants, faced a tough match against the Netherlands in this game. The action took place in the first half, with Robin Van Persie and Rutgerus Van Nistelrooy scoring 3 minutes apart early in the first part of the half, leaving Les Eléphants searching for an opening in the Dutch iron defense. Finally, Bakari Kone brought the joy home to Africa to bring the sentimental favorites within 1 point of a much needed draw.
    Sadly, the Dutch gave no ground and Les Elephants could never get their momentum going enough to strike in for a tie. Didier Drogba led the team, rallying a powerful defense in the second half to keep the win from being an embarrassing one, but in the end, the Netherlands came out ahead, leaving the first time World Cup rookies from Africa to build on their experience and, hopefully, return stronger, leaner, and wiser in 2010.


    Mexico vs Angola

  • Here's a good example of how African Soccer can undermine the fast pace and sharp ball handling of American Soccer. After coming off of their 3-1 win against Iran, Mexico appeared confidant and strong but faced a hungry Angolan team, eager to prove themselves after a 1-0 loss to Paraguay. With several goal strikes both teams came up empty, leaving the game at a 0-0 draw. This leaves Mexico waiting to see how Portugal fares against Iran, and quite likely, facing elimination.
    The combination of missed goal chances and a tough defense from the Black Antelopes could have devastating results on the Mexicans chances of advancing to the Round of 16.

    Portugal vs Iran

  • This one went back and forth for the first half with crowd support present for both sides but it was midfielder Anderson Deco who scored for Portugal 23 minutes into the second half. Iran tried repeated unsuccessful replies but without Ali Daei on the pitch, were left scoreless. Portugal broke through Iran's defense more than once but was denied by goal keeper Ebrahaim Mirzapour. In the end it was a penalty kick by Cristiano Ronaldo five minutes from the end that doubled the Seleçao das Quinas lead and shut out Iran. Next, we wait to see how Team Melli will perform against Angola.


    Czech Republic vs Ghana

  • The team that flogged Team USA got their own bell rung by Ghana. The Second Ranked Czech's looked stunned to be taken down so hard by this team from the tiny African Nation. 2 minutes into it forward Asamoah Gyan scored the first goal of the game for Ghana, and let the Czech's know that they were in it to win it.
    The Lokomotiva looked stunned as goal attempt after goal attempt was denied, and the Black Stars were determined to defend the honor of their continent, after their 2-0 loss to Italy in their opener.
    But the Czech's didn't earn their #2 world ranking by giving up. They marshaled all their efforts to scoring, taking wild shots, while keeping up a strong defense until the clock ran out. In the end, however, midfielder Sulley Muntari locked in the win for Ghana in the 82nd minute, sending the fans from Ghana into fits of ecstasy and leaving Czech fans to shake their heads in disbelief.
    Ghana remains safe from elimination, at least for now.

    Italy vs United States

  • After a dismal loss to the Czech's in their opening match, followed by a vicious tounge lashing from Bruce Arena, Team USA came out with good ol' American grit to hold the Italians off. Things looked grim when Alberto Gilardino scored in the 22nd minute for the Azzurri but US Goalie Kelsey Keller stood his ground against an unrelenting Italian assault, blocking every other ball that came his way. It was by sheer luck and the grace of God that Team USA received a score when Italian defender Cristian Zaccardo bumped Clint Dempsey's cross into the net for an own-goal to tie the game at 1-1.
    When Italian midfielder Daniele De Rossi threw an elbow into Brian McBrides face that split his cheek and sent the American off the field covered in blood things got ugly. De Rossi was red-carded out of the game, but Referee Jorge Larrionda seemed to get a taste for the red card, because Pablo Mastroeni and Eddie Pope were thrown off the pitch on each side of the half.
    This game brought up concerns by World Cup Chairman, and Soccer Legend, Franz Beckenbauer, over the amount of yellow- and red- cards being thrown around by the ref's in these games. Jorge Larrionda, for his part, ref-ed a terrible game, stopping the momentum at every chance, and tossing players when either a yellow-card or a warning would have sufficed. Consequently, Team USA goes into their deal-breaking game with Ghana without two of their best players. In light of this I'd like to pass along a Sam's Army Soccer Chant:

    I want a rope, a tree
    To hang the referee
    I said I'm blind, I'm deaf
    I want to be a ref

    Group F

    Japan vs Croatia

  • In scoreless games like this one it's always the Goal Keepers who shine. In this game it was Yoshikatsu Kawaguchi keeping the Champs from Asia a little farther away from elimination with dazzling saves and pin point blocks, and Stipe Pletikosa for Croatia who remained on the mark to deny Japan a score. Both teams held fast to their chances, but need to win their last game to keep any hope of moving into the next round going.

    Brazil vs Australia

  • This was the game of the week for me. Not only did the Spanish stations feature shapely women in skimpy outfits with tight little green BRAZIL tee shirts, but the outpour of fan support for both teams was a delight to watch. Early on there was some confusion about uniforms because both teams sport yellow and green as their colors but this was soon solved when the Socceroos came out in their dark blue uniforms, leaving La Verde Amarella to their own.
    Australia didn't really need to win this game, a loss or a draw would have placed them pretty much the same. As long as Croatia doesn't beat them on Thursday the Socceroos will waltz into the next round.
    With the artistic style that has become their trademark, Brazil kept Australia from scoring through the first half, and early into the second forward Adriano knocked home a goal to put Brazil up, and at the close Fred tapped one in right over the line to close it 2-0. Thrown in through the game there were moments of bliss watching Ronaldinho.
    For those of you who don't know who this man is I urge you to find out. Get some tapes, find some footage on the 'net, or better yet, catch their next game on Thursday. Chances are you have already seen his swarthy, buck-toothed face in a commercial somewhere and thought that what you saw him do with a soccerball had to be trick photography. I assure you. it's not. This 26 year old has several more years left in him but, as the World Cup comes along only every 4 years, he will be 30 for the next one, and undoubtedly slower and less agile. He is at his prime, and a thing of beauty to behold.


    France vs South Korea

  • Les Bleus had not scored a goal in the World Cup since their Emmanuel Petit sank one back in 1998 with their win over Brazil. The World Cup was held in France that year and the streets of Paris were filled with joy. France went into this game in an already desperate situation, needing a win to assure a place in the next round but the fans would have to be satisfied with what they got, which was an end to their dry spell. That came to an end in this game when a Sylvain Wiltord bounce fed one to Thierry Henry, who put it in to the net 9 minutes into the first half.
    Korean fans were out in force, too, though. In Los Angeles they opened up the Staples center and filled it with 20,000 fans of the Reds, cheering from thousands of miles away from both home and the game. The Koreans kept France down to a 1-0 score for the rest of the game until, toward the end of regulation, they attacked with a furious volley of attacks on the French net that kept Fabien Barthez busy until midfielder Park Ji-Sung finally hit one home to tie the game 1-1.
    Now France is dependent on the outcome of the remaining games in the group, and what's worse, they will face Togo without play maker Zinedine Zidane who drew a red card 85 minutes into the game and was tossed.

    Togo vs Switzerland

  • After Togo's 2-1 loss to South Korea this was a must win situation for the African team. In this game they showed little of the ball handling and all of the determination they showed in that game. This time, the Swiss scored on them first when forward Alexander Frei scored on them in the 17th minute of the game.
    For the Swiss it was their first World Cup goal since Adrian Knup scored one in Detroit during the 1994 games to beat Romania 4-1.
    The Sparrow Hawks went into full defensive mode and held Die Eidgenossen off through the rest of the first half. They came out strong in the second but dissolved into a desperate team, deflecting, blocking and tackling until, in the 88th minute, midfielder Tranquillo Barnetta scored one on them, sending Swiss fans into song and silencing the fans from Togo.
    The Chief Shaman from Togo said that the spirits had predicted the tiny African nation would advance to the next round, would, in fact, win 2 games. So much for other worldly aid at the World Cup.


    Saudi Arabia vs Ukraine

  • After holding their own against Tunisia, Saudi Arabia was expected to make a stronger showing against the Ukrainians, who were beaten by Spain 4-0. Defender Andriy Rusol crashed through the Saudi defense 4 minutes into the game to set the tone for the rest of the match. Al-Akhdar goalkeeper Mabrouk Zaid stayed busy, guarding his net through several attacks from the Ukraine and finally gave over another to forward Sergei Rebrov in the 36th minute. In the second half a refreshed Saudi defense kept things clear and looked to be making a rally but a minute into it Andriy Shevchenko shot one into the net and robbed the Saudi's of their vigour faster than a Texas wildcatter with their oil. It was all down hill from there, and when midfielder Maxim Kalinichenko scored to make it 4-0 at the 84th minute, the death knell was sounded for the Saudi's. Now, it's all but over for them, as the Ukraine need to win their next match to advance into the next round.

    Spain vs Tunisia

  • A very painful game to watch. midfielder Jaouhar Mnari scored 8 minutes into the game and Tunisia held on to that lead by the strength of goalkeeper Ali Boumnijel, who was always in command of the team. With a snarl and a wave, he seemed to challenge Spain to attack his net and, for the first half, he defended it with the passion and frenzy worthy of Hannibal. Through the first, Spain looked frenetic and disoriented but remained intact enough to launch several vicious attacks on Tunisia, each sustained and denied by an energetic Boumnijel. But he's 40 years old, and perhaps, not the man he once was. In the second half Les Aigles de Carthage held strong until a lean Raul Gonzalez finally netted one in the 72nd minute for La Furia Roja, energizing the fans and, perhaps, his team.
    Suddenly, The Tunesian Carthage Eagles were forced to go in the offensive again, sparing their defense on the needy Spanish Red Fury. Four minutes later young-blood Fernando Torres scored again, slipping Spain into the lead. Energized, Spain showed renewed ball handling skill, moving in on the second lead Tunisia has lost in these games, to force the showdown penalty. Torres lined up in the rain soaked pitch and stared down the old vet, Boumnijel for the penalty kick. Long story short, Spain wins it 3-1.
    There's several reasons why he missed that block but none of them really matter since having held it would have done Tunisia no good. A thrilling game and a fantastic end to this round of play. Now, Tunisia has little hope of advancing and Spain is almost assured of a spot in the next round.

    Wednesday, June 14, 2006

    World Cup Round Up


    Germany vs Costa Rica

  • Got up early to watch Germany trounce Costa Rica. This years Host Nation trounced Costa Rica 4-2, coming out slow but finishing with a flair befitting of one of the most orginized and aggressive teams. The amazing part is that they did it withoug any yellow card penalties. If this was any indication of the rest of the games, then we're in for an excellent World Cup.

    Poland vs Ecuador

  • Poor Poland. As hard as they tried they stank it up against Ecuador. This match vindicates the validity of American Futbol. As hard as the Polish team struggled they could not hold off Ecuadors coordinated offense and flawless defense. My notes of the game are fuzzy but I think it's because I spilled beer on them.


    England vs Paraguay

  • The highlight of this match, of course, was the fans. England has a long and loud tradition of enjoying soccer and their fans are as much a part of it as is the state of David Beckhams hair. Although, their only goal was an accidental one tossed in my a Paraguayan player, no one seemed to care as the crowd chanted and danced around in the streets afterward.

    Trinidad & Tobago vs Sweden

  • The highlight of day one. Although Trin=Bago could hardly have hoped for a strong showing against higher ranked Sweden, their excellent defense kept Sweden back for a 0-0 final. The fans, however, celebrated as though it was a win, because, at this round, a tie is better than a loss.


    Argentina vs Ivory Coast

  • As much as I wanted the Ivory Coast to win this one, it was a far fetched and outlandish dream from the start. I was moved by that commercial that told how their 3 year civil war was called off, that the rebels and the president called a cease fire, and the whole war torn nation was cheering their team because they'd qualified for the World Cup. Unfortunately, they were paired against one of the strongest teams in the world. Still, there were no tears. All that really mattered was that they'd made it to the World Cup...and they scored against Argentina.

    Serbia & Montenegro vs Netherlands

  • This was one of those no-brainers. Netherlands are a better team, with excellent tactics and even better coaches. Serbia Montenegro tried their hardest but could never manage a score on the Netherlands.


    Mexico vs Iran

  • My most awaited game. With the death of Mexican goalie Oswaldo Sanchez's father, and the strong leadership of Iran’s Ali Daei t his was a passionate game from start to finish. Iran showed dignity and grace with the presentation of condolences and flowers to Sanchez before the game, and in defeat showed dignity and class. For Mexico the celebration was well deserved. I don't know if they come much more intense than this game. With Mexico’s final scores as regulation time ran out, all one had to know was that Esto arroz ya se cucio....This rice is cooked.

    Angola vs Portugal

  • This was another one of those clashes which dragged on from side to side as each teams unique characteristics seemed to counteract the others. In the end, the Angolan teams eagerness to score left themselves wide open for a Portugese strike that won the game.


    Italy vs Ghana

  • I have heard it said that Italy is the best team in the world. I'm not sure about that but I am certain that they are one of the best teams in Europe. With this game, however, they showed that they are probably the best team outside of the Americans. While Ghana was just happy to be there, they held Italy to 2 points, and walked away with the right to say they played them in the World Cup.

    United States vs Czech Republic

  • As much as I feel I should be loyal to my countries team this was a truly painful match to watch. The Czech Republic scored on us 3 times without an answer. Even the Coach was embarrassed by the teams performance out there. The team looked like a bunch of dogs trying to open a doorknob with their teeth. The fans looked depressed but with any hope there will be a loophole in the rest of the matches and and leave the team a way into Round 2. One cannot blame the fans, though, because Sam's Army (as they're called) made a tremendous showing, no matter that the rest of the Nation doesn't pay any attention to the game.


    Brazil vs Croatia

  • For being the defending World Cup Champions, Brazil looked like they never got it out of first gear. Croatia held them down to only 1 point but that was all it took for the party to start up in Rio.

    Australia vs Japan

  • This was another one of those early morning games that I had a hard time paying much attention to. I never really pay much attention to those until the first goal is scored. In this case, Japan pulled off an early one and the rest of the game looked grim for the Socceroos. Then, when the Koala fat was in the fire, they crushed Japan by pulling off 3 beautiful shots to finish the game.


    France vs Switzerland

  • Here was one of those games that was like watching paint dry. With France a strong team and Switzerland evenly matched the game flowed back and forth like soft, metled cheese. In the next round of games both of these teams are the ones to keep an eye on because they're going to want to prove themselves.

    South Korea vs Togo

  • This match moved at a swift and wickid pace, with both teams looking to put on a show. In the end South Korea had better timing and coordination, leaving the tiny African nation to figure out how to tighten their game. Again, one of the African examples of keen soccer skill, but not enough to match the expirience of South Korea. Expect them to come out strong in their next game with better ball handling, with luck, more a more aggressive game.


    Spain vs Ukraine

  • Spain has always had a good showing with Soccer. They are a leaner team this time, with good defense and even better offense. There was little chance that Ukraine could deliver against such a sharp team. While the Ukraine showed excellent defense of their own, they seemed to always be on the brink of collapse. In the end, Spain game out on top 4-0 and looks to be a strong contender for the Second Round.

    Tunisia vs Saudi Arabia

  • Here was an excellent game today. 1-0 tunisia for most of the way then Saudia made 2 putting their north african brothers down and everything looked good until the last minute of stoppage time when tunisia scored another Praise Allah goal to tie it up without much time for the Saudi team to do much more than kiss it massalaama.

    So, the front runners now seem to be Spain, The Czech Republic, and Italy. Angola, Mexico, Brazil are also some teams to keep an eye on, but don't rule anyone out yet because there's more action yet to come this week. With Poland’s loss to Germany today in the first of the second round robin games, the United States only has to score on Italy to stay in it. That would but them in an excellent position to score on Ghana and make it into the next round.
    I've been keeping strange hours while watching these games and, since they go on until July 9th, there's no telling how weird this is going to get. Well, at least there's always beer.
    Until next time, my Freaky Darlings, I'll keep watching. It's only once every 4 years, anyway, and it's well worth it.