Thursday, June 22, 2006

Don't call it a deathknell

Another day, another eight teams finished with group play, and another drastic over reaction by American Sports Journalists.
"We stink!" "We're lousy!" "We have no talent!" "We can't play with the best teams in the world!" "We have to overcompensate for our lack of knowledge about this game with blind prejudice and increased volume!!!"

But if I may, please refer to the title of this post, a paraphrase of the late 20th century American philosopher, LL Cool J. This overeactionary attitude seems to be the sensibility following today's games, but rather than recite the vapid statements of Jackassitude that emanate from Sports Journalists today, let's fondly remember and admire the eight teams finished today.

In memoriam--
U.S.A.: Let's get the big boys out of the way first. We had one problem this World Cup (well two if you include the magical sprites that caused Rezak's Pimpong's collapse in the box this morning) a lack of urgency. Fall down by one goal to the Czechs, and suddenly you begin to wither, deferring to the point of calamity. Then you fall down farther and farther. Go up a man versus Italy and just knock it around until Mastroeni gets carded. At the end of the day it was philosophy that did us in, but it shouldn't be used as an indictment of our abilities on the pitch. More players are going abroad, and still more will follow. The game is growing in importance and being debated in corner bars and living rooms around the nation. We'll come back from this, and if we can finally get a little gift in terms of our group we should have a good chance of going farther the next time around.

Czech Republic: Ouch. Hard as it is to believe, the U.s. is not the most disappointed squad in Group E. The 2nd ranked Czechs collapsed like a flan in a cupboard (thanks Eddie Izzard). True they had no world class striker for the better part of three games, but still, going down without a goal in their last two matches is just plain harsh.

Japan: Watching the first 35 minutes against Brazil today it was clear what made Brent ooh and ahh over them. They have great creativity and chemistry, creating chances and capitalizing on mistakes. Then it became clear why they didn't go farther: they make bigger mistakes that other teams capitalize on. Tough luck, but they should be better in the future.

Croatia: As ever, the Croats are dead to me. Flipping to their match I still managed to see one tackle, one high kick and one hand ball (all in the box) that weren't called against them, thus making their match with the Socceroos much closer than it deserved to be. So once again Croatia, congratulations, I remember when I once only vaguely disliked you, but once again you are deader to me than Mr. Belding's acting career.
In Action--
Italy: Back in business and ain't it grand. The Azzuri are fashionable again and just in time for the summer season (they still flop more than a John Steinbeck euphemism, but that's not always a bad thing).

Australia: Phew! I thought the Socceroo's were finished during their battle with the dirty dirty Croats, but trust in Guus to get them on ahead. Their lack of genuine scoring panache still means they won't go father, but it's a big day in Australia.

Brazil: It took a goal from Japan to wake them up but it finally happened, and the boys from Rio finally looked like the side we all thought they would be. (And that was without Cafu/Adriano and a handful of others in the game.) And once again, big ups to Fatty for moving into a tie for first place on the All-Time World Cup scoring list (why don't you have a slice of celebratory cake?)

Ghana: I admit, I was awfully conflicted during the Black Stars match with the U.s. And honestly, I'm a trifle peeved that they won on a cheeky penalty. It's not to say that they wouldn't have won or advanced anyway, but this just gives everyone a reason to overlook them as a talented side and takes a lot of the glamour out of winning against one of the best teams in the world (which, the U.s. is). (Sadly, without Essien in the next match it's already chiming midnight in Accra.)

Tomorrow we set the final two matches in the second round. Spain tries to continue their impressive run against Saudi Arabia (good chance of that happening), while the Ukraine and Tunisia have a play-in game. Meanwhile South Korea and Switzerland have the same fight to get into round two (though a draw would probably mean the controversial drawing of lots), and if you have a soul in your heart you've got to be rooting for Togo to upend France just to save us all from Monsiuer Lamey McGee's idiocy in the Second Round.

Finally, let me just say this: keep watching and cheering during this World Cup. The absence of our home side means little to nothing in contrast with the great teams, players and storylines that march forward. And if ever you doubt that the United States is a soccer country, take solace in this fact: we are concerned enough with soccer to be debating it in major news papers, online, on television, on networks not even devoted to sports. When Steven Colbert gives in to the fever, you know you've got something that appeals to the masses. Better still, we are clearly NOT the New York Yankees in some facet of the worldwide landscape. We've been bested at something, and there is nothing we like better than a comeback. Of course Mr. Cool J would rather we didn't call it that either.

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