So, yeah, I didn't agree with the festival of pocket finery the Uruguayan referee handed out during the USA-Italy game. I mean, I guess that unlike some of my opinions, my whole position on, you know, punching a guy in the face and making him bleed hasn't changed much over the years: it's worthy of a red card. But the other two reds given to the United States, and, frankly, most of the yellows that went against both teams were some real overreactions.
A pity, too, because the United States were clearly the better side. The difference between the performance versus the Czechs and their game against Italy could not have been more night and day. Arena's formation adjustments worked to perfection: bringing Donovan back to the midfield forced Italy to honor his ball-handling and the flexibility of bringing a defender into the middle third to halt any developing attacks fit the team's attitude to a T. The United States are far, far removed from Brazil's effortless freelancing, but there's no doubt that the team thrives when there's a little flexibility and some room to improvise.
Italy, looked bad. What I said to Kyle was right. Italy wasn't hungry. The US challenged their ball-handlers well on defense, formed nifty attacks throughout the game, and routinely left defenders looking as if they left their jockstraps in some other part of Germany. Even down two players, the US side continued to play well. The commentators were quick to point out that no team has ever scored in World Cup play with only nine men on the field, but I'd point out that we would have scored with eight had the referee had the foresight to toss McBride minutes before he was caught offside on DaMarcus Beasley's goal.
All that said, Hugh Owen's prediction that the United States wouldn't score a goal in the tournament still stands!
But while Italy lacked the hunger, you have to wonder about France, who seem to ravenously sit down at a table packed with feasting only to forget how to use the utensils. What a positively dreary game against Korea. Thierry Henry played well--if only he had some teammates! And, yes, the refs took a certain goal away from the French in the first half, no doubt about it. But it's a truism in soccer that if you need to win by one, you better go and win by three. The replays may show that France won 2-1, but the newspaper the next morning said they drew, and, ultimately, everyone goes with what the newspaper said. So France drew and Eddie Pope's chippy little tackle was red-card worthy. Stop crying, accept it and move on.
Even as I write this, Ecuador is down to Germany, but I think all the same that the South Americans have been the distinctive surprise of the tournament. They dispatched Poland and Costa Rica with speed, shut out the side (until this morning) and have played good team soccer.
Brazil's Fred is the first person to ever play for the Brazilian Men's National Team who is named after an apartment building in Charlottesville. Though that may not last long. I hear that young Brazilians Graduate Court and 1800 JPA are real up and comers.
I am at a loss to understand how FIFA officials could get away with requiring hundreds of Dutch fans to remove their pants before entering the stadium for their second round game. Apparently, Dutch beermaker Bavaria NV manufactured some weird orange lederhosen with a lion's tail and bearing their brand and gave them out to the Dutch faithful. These fans then had to remove these things if they wanted to get in. FIFA is known for protecting their official sponsors from ambush marketing but making a few hundred people attend the game and then go through the rest of their day in their underwear is ridiculous. If I were ever asked to give up my pants by a stadium official, I'm afraid the guy would find himself stamped with my limited-edition brand of throatpunch.
Most of the games I have to watch with Yahoo's MatchCast, which isn't without it's delights. For starters, you can follow the fan chat to see what nations' fans are simply unreasonable. You gotta love people who, three days before the game, are saying things like: "Obviously, Australia will beat Brazil!" I think that the next step for American soccer fans is to start having outsized and unreasonable expectations.
Also, whoever types the official game narrative and summary is prone to cute little turns of phrase. To wit:
Oooh, snap! Gerrard got him right in the Tobagoes! Another shot like that and Dwight Yorke'd singing like Thom Yorke!
As before, the following rankings correspond to the end of play yesterday.
- Czech Republic
- Trinidad and Tobago
- Ivory Coast
- United States
- Costa Rica
- Saudi Arabia
- Serbia and Montenegro