World Cup Blotter

Man. What a World Cup, so far. Blogging time is still at a real premium for me, but I thought I'd punt out a few notes (no pun intended on Chime's entry "Incredible Golie Punt").

First of all, I'm glad for all the co-signs on my recent complaint about the atrocious ABC/ESPN announcers. I found the same on-line petition to get rid of these clowns others did. I signed with the following comment:

O'Brien is atrocious. Messing is an buffoon. The rest are tolerable, but ESPN must do better.

If you feel our pain, go add your sig. At least you'll get five seconds of satisfaction out of it.

I must say, though that I'm not quite as harsh as some of my fellow complainers. I do think that some of the announcers are decent. I don't mind Dellacamera. He clearly does not have a 130 football IQ, but he does keep a decent rhythm in his play-by-play, and knows enough of the game not to get too many details egregiously wrong. If he were paired up with a good analyst, again a Robbie Earle type, he'd be just fine. I also think Balboa is decent, and suffers mostly by having to spend so much time untangling O'Brien from his own tongue. I was relieved years ago when ESPN replaced Wynalda with Balboa for most of their big-game commentary.

I also share people's disdain for Wynalda (who does that punk think he is?) and Lalas (another self-inflated bladder). Balboa doesn't wear his hall-of-fame credentials as triumphantly on his sleeve as that pair. Finally, I won't hear a bad word against Julie Foudy. Some people may not like the idea that a woman is one of the better American football analysts, but it's true, and for good reason. She ran the on-field tactics of one of the most dominant football squads ever, and if you watched the US Women's national team at its peak, you'll know that it was often mid-game adjustments driven by Foudy that led to their success. In my opinion, she not only has a brilliant football brain, but she also explains the tactics well. I do think she has not shown her best in this World Cup coverage, but I think it's in large part because of the silly moderator, who has the apparent mandate to ask the analysts for dumb analogies, and for 100 different ways to repeat their assessment of the US team (even if the US game is days in the past, or future).

And hey, I've watched Faye White giving analysis on Sky TV, so I know it can get a lot worse than Julie Foudy.

I must say that I have resorted to watching some games on Univision, and I've always loved those commentators. Good way to practice my Spanish comprehension, as well. Good for Univision. They treat the game with respect, and they should get the advertising mojo. Based on comparing ads on ESPN and Univision, the big business names definitely know better than to sink too much money into the former's diffident coverage.

Qualifying countries But anyway, about the fun stuff--the games.

I must be the only one who thought Avery John's second tackle in the T&T/Sweden game was undeserving of a foul, let alone a second yellow card. Sure he went in hard, but he clearly went in for the ball. I thought the draw was a bit of justice.

Argentina/Côte d'Ivoire was a marvelous match. The Africans paid for being so wasteful in front of goal, and for having the most scandalously bad center back pairing until the U.S. team played. Their midfield pretty much dominated Argentina's, but they never picked their heads up to send the last ball in to the strikers. Instead they either dribbled into dead ends, or passed the ball merrily to astonished, but grateful Argentines. Touré and Eboué were as solid as you'd expect (Gooooooners!), but they were let down by their central colleagues.

The Dutch played their signature, gorgeous football, but seemed to lack predatory instinct beside Robben and van Persie. Robben's dazzling goal was enough for them in the end, though.

Mexico/Iran was also a huge treat because it's rare to see a game fought so uncompromisingly, and yet in such good spirit. It was high speed and high pressure across the board, but clearly played by 22 gentlemen (no one was calling Mexico gentlemen in 2002, so let's hope they keep up the hygiene). Mexico clearly had the advantage in fitness, which was the difference in the end.

Angola/Portugal shares the snoozer award with England/Paraguay and France/Switzerland so far.

Having watched Ghana play Italy I'm not so sure Côte d'Ivoire is the best African representative. Ghana played a lovely game, with the unfortunate lapses in concentration that have become characteristic of African teams. And we all know what Italy does to teams who lose concentration.

And then there was U.S. versus the Czechs. I hope now people can drop the hyperbole about Landon Donovan. He's a good player, but just put the likes of Nedved on the field and the difference in class is painfully apparent (and Nedved was having a relatively off day). At least no one gave Nedved reason to throw one of his characteristic temper tantrums. Sure Landon ran circles around an aging German team in 2002, but let's see him manage that against the current Germans (beside the still-ponderous central defender pairing). I hated to see Oguchi Onyewu so badly outclassed as well (Igbo represent, or...not). I just hope this tournament will teach him lessons that he won't really pick up in the Belgian league. Beasley's disappearance was amazing. I really didn't expect all that much from Convey, despite the hype, but I did expect Beasley to be ghosting past giant defenders until one of them decided to chop him viciously down. As it was the Czechs didn't need their hatchets.

Eddie Johnson came in and provided a heck of a spark. I'd been pretty annoyed when Arena didn't start either of the soccer-hip-hoppers Dempsey or Johnson. They're the only two players on the U.S. team who don't know any better than to take on world class defenders one on one (that's probably the Hip-Hop attitude right there). I think that considering that Italy will neuter the U.S. midfield as surely as the Czechs did, Arena had better bench McBride (a shame, because McBride is a fine goal-scorer) and put in both Johnson and Dempsey, who can cause havoc blazing in from near the half-way line. McBride plays best with his back to goal, and the present U.S. midfield will never get the ball to such a forward. Personally, I can't see the U.S. beating either Italy and Ghana without wholesale changes. Italy versus Ghana proved how fast and physically imposing both teams are. If the U.S. couldn't handle Koller's strength and Rosický's quickness, they'll really be in for a belting against the other Group E teams. Sure the U.S. was over-matched, but I put the loss down to Arena's tactics. He never really gave them a chance. And the way he's shifting responsibility to his players in the media is disgraceful. The last thing the U.S. needs right now is blow after blow to team spirit inflicted by their own manager.

Speaking of Rosický, hell yeah! Let's see some of that at Ashburton Grove. It would go some way to making up for his big mouth.

So Togo actually scored a goal. They should be thankful. I predict misery for Togo, and it would serve them right for their treatment of Keshi. It's not just that Keshi is a Nigerian, but that he's an African. I have as much disdain for the Nigerian sport authorities for not promoting Sia-Sia after the Flying Eagles' U-20 world championship heroics. If African nations don't start appreciating African coaches, they'll never attain the class of the Europeans and South Americans.

Brazil/Croatia was what I expected. Brazil did just enough to get the result. It's too bad Croatia never managed to score, or we'd have had more of a spectacle. Ronaldinho had a few flashes of outrageous brilliance, and Carlos proved again that he wallops a leather ball as if it were a toy balloon. Ronaldo, however, grew roots under his boots. Something's up, and I wouldn't be surprised if he doesn't make an appearance for the next game.

Spain/Ukraine was nothing like I expected. The new-look team seems to have worked for Spain, because the players clearly haven't read the script, and have no idea they're supposed to disappoint everyone. They assailed the Ukraine, sally after sally with such venom that the Eastern Europeans staggered back instinctively, finding themselves down two-nil in under 25 minutes. I hope some other teams pay attention and go for the feeding frenzy start. The U.S. definitely will have to do so against Italy. The Spanish victory was quite sullied by the inexplicable foul call and red card early in the second half. The referee looked as if he was in a great position to see that David Villa took a wild swing, didn't strike the ball well, and fell of his own clumsiness. How he construed a whack by the Ukranian defender is beyond me. The refereeing so far has been--shall I say--quirky. But my oh my, that fourth goal. I would have thought nothing would top Puyol's rampaging run and visionary pass, but El Niño's scorching strike just about did it justice. I picked Puyol as a player to have a real presence, but I expected it to be more a matter of erasing an opponent's star striker, rather than with mid-field cameos.

BTW, I was going to say that this World Cup has been a terrible advertisement for central defenders, and then Puyol came along and redeemed the class. Who knew he'd shed his occasional clumsiness so emphatically on the big stage?

Tunisia/Saudi Arabia was maybe the best spectacle so far. It was also fought with a combination of intensity and good spirit. You're either Tunisian or born with a heart of stone if you didn't cheer Al-Jaber's marvelous goal. And if you know Bolton at all, you recognize the pugnaciousness that went into Jaidi's response.

As for Germany/Poland, all I can say is: didn't I say Neuville is one of the wiliest strikers? And a great choice for a late entry? One thing the World Cup is lovely for is giving the true soccer fan those occasional moments when he can puff himself into a petty Nostradamus.

[Uche Ogbuji]

via Copia
5 responses
"(and Nedved was having a relatively off day)". That was funny. :-) I must admit I thoroughly enjoyed that thrashing. The ESPN hype about the US team was getting a wee bit annoying.
Some people may not like the idea that a woman is one of the better American football analysts, but it's true, and for good reason. She ran the on-field tactics of one of the most dominant football squads ever, and if you watched the US Women's national team at its peak, you'll know that it was often mid-game adjustments driven by Foudy that led to their success.

I speak from deep ignorance, but as a colleague pointed out to me, women's soccer in this country is in much better shape than men's: the discrepancy between U.S. and world standards is not nearly so great.

We think this is because U.S. male athletes are drawn into the Great "American Rugby" Machine, aka the NFL.  There being no comparable women's equivalent, women can pursue whichever sport they prefer without trashing their (basically nonexistent) future sports careers.

Ya think?
Hallo John.  Long time.

Yes.  I think your assessment is spot on.  Women's football in the US is in much better shape at the college and national levels.  Unfortunately due to the demise of WUSA this is not the case at the domestic professional level.  I hope the amazing progress that we're seeing in Europe will spur some action Stateside.  The recent Women's European cup was a fairly well attended festival of high-quality football.  Without better domestic support, the rest of the world will bypass the U.S. in Women's football at the national level.  The image of Chastain whipping off her shirt can't sustain the sport forever.
nice to see you're watching the same tournament i am. rosicky - sheer genius - he rivals robben for player of the tournament so far. not that one game tells you anything
Great blog. I'm a relative neophyte at football (the non-American variety) so I can't pretend to know what constitutes learned commentary from announcers. I will say, though, that I also find Wynalda to be insufferably self-promotional, and that I would enjoy the studio work more if Foudy were allowed to talk about strategy instead of being talked over by Wynalda.

Thanks for the chance to comment!