I have now devoted nearly 16 hours (over 16, by the time the Angola-Portugal revolution, which I am now watching, ends) to watching group play in the World Cup on various Disney-controlled media outlets. I have experienced the play of 16 world-class soccer teams, some of them beautifully exciting (Ecuador, Trinidad, Costa Rica, Ivory Coast), some merely interesting (Iran, Serbia), some exciting but evil (Mexico, Argentina), and some merely evil (Sweden, Germany, Netherlands). And then there's England, Poland, Paraguay, Angola, and Portugal. In that time, I have heard far more--what seems like a total of five hours, in the course of other games--about a team that hasn't played yet, that being Our Local National Team.
ABCDisnESPN is mercilessly hyping tomorrow's US opener against the Czechs (Ilse almost hit me when I made a joke about playing the Balances). Now, admittedly, they're an American network, and the US games are likely their best shot at ratings. But as my friend Sasha pointed out (in a phone conversation, not in something I can link to), it's getting pretty Olympics-like in the search for pathos and human interest. Shut the fuck up, ABCDisnESPN. If we watched a game that ultimately ended up being mostly a dog (the Dutch and the Serbians), we're damn sure going to watch the US game, if we can break free from our wage slavery. I mean, just shut the fuck up.
Ilse was over for the weekend, and given a between-games choice between banging Ilse and blogging the Cup, it's an easy call. So you got nuffin' yesterday, but here's my uniquely objective and responsible take on what happened yesterday and so far today:
Ecuador/Poland: It occurs that I said nothing about this, having blogged about German-hatin' during the space in between the opener and this game, then filled the remaining time before Ilse's arrival with cleaning and shopping, things Ilse expects in return for an occasional crack at marital bliss. The game was great--there was a lot of raving about Ecuador's awful record on the road, and intimations that they only qualified because they play half their games at an extremely high altitude in Quito. The Ecuadorans appeared unimpressed by this line of reasoning, holding the large, bruising Poles off on defense and striking twice, once in the middle of the first half and again around the 80-minute mark, both on sudden bursts. For their part, the Poles appeared surprised, and perhaps offended, that the Ecuadorans did not curl up at midfield and whimper for their homes and mommies, and what happens when solid Eurotrash teams make such assumptions is what happened here; Ecuador 2, Poland 0. Good game.
England/Paraguay: Marquee match, an alarm-clock game at 9 AM Eastern on Saturday. The Paraguayans were pretty pathetic, and I think they're a pretty good pick for 32nd place in the tournament, although that honor may go hotly contested since the English rested on the laurels of an early own-goal by the unfortunate Paraguayans. This is truly the best of both worlds; England won, perpetuating the possibility that the insane English football press will get a healthy feeding of chum, but they did it really, really badly, claiming the only 1-0 victory in Cup history that owed to an own-goal. The English, frankly, sucked, and except for the excitement of it being their first game, the whole thing was pretty effing dull.
Trinidad/Sweden: A scoreless draw that was the best game of the tournament so far. The Swedes are big, ugly, and brutal. I detest them. Trinidad was scrappy and quick, and the referee hated them--I wasn't real pleased with the officiating in this one, which seemed to allow the Swedes all manner of rough play while calling the Trinidadians (I'm not forgetting Tobago, it's just a lot of typing, and calling them TNT is just suckage). There were a ton of chances, more for the Swedes, and the Trinidad goalkeeper, last-minute replacement Shaka Hislop (who plays for West Ham but is best known, I am told by ABCDisnESPN, for leading Howard to either the 1988 NCAA title or the title game, I forget which and don't feel like looking it up), was nothing short of spectacular, making hard save after hard save on the hapless and overconfident Swedes. Further, the Trinidadians played most of the second half short a man, as Avery John was sent off with his second booking (a fair court, the second one, since the man knew he'd already been carded once, but the first booking was a tad sketchy, I thought). This game was the best answer I've ever seen to soccer critics--probably the most exciting scoreless draw I've ever seen. It also introduced an element of considerable interest to this group--both Trinidad and Sweden should beat the Paraguayans, leaving their performances against England as the deciding factor in which team advances to the knockout rounds.
Argentina/Cote d'Ivoire: Yuck. Brutal. The Ivory Coast team was pretty cool, as African teams tend to be, but the fucking Argentines just overwhelmed them. The Africans scored in the 82nd minute and then pressed demonically to make the 2-1 match interesting, but overall, the game was sort of unsatisfying, marked by a lot of whining and macho bullshit from the Argentines, who are despicable. The Ivoirians (?) needed a point out of the match to make the group interesting. Combined with the Dutch dominance of the thuggish but potentially interesting Serbians Sunday morning, it's hard to imagine this group ending with anyone but Argentina and the Dutch advancing.
Mexico/Iran: What a great game for wingnuts and those who dislike them. I mean, are there two nations on Earth that better focalize right-wing passions? Sadly, I wasn't watching with a wingnut, and while I'm stereotyping, I might as well note that wingnuts would tend more to think that soccer, black helicopters, and world Communism are linked, so there probably weren't many of them paying enough attention to be confused. Anyway, the Mexicans are stone evil--they're archrivals of Our Local National Team, and they probably got a seed in the Cup draw that our boys deserved, thus tossing our boys into a very dangerous group. But damn, the Mexicans are good, and they had the most compelling sort of human interest story--their goalkeeper's father died, and the poor keeper was just back from the man's funeral. They were pretty fired up, the Mexicans. But the Iranians aren't patsies--they're pretty quick, although they've a tendency toward ineffective attacking tactics--long balls for quick strikes against good teams tend not to be your best strategy in Cup play. For about 70 minutes, it was a really good game, maybe a little chippy (not a bad thing--anyone beating on Mexicans in this game is a good thing) at times, but the Iranians broke through and scored about 10 minutes after the Mexicans did in the first half. At around 75 minutes, the Mexicans scored again, then again five minutes later to seal the deal. The first of those pretty much deflated the Iranians, who might have a shot if Angola can get a draw out of the game I'm watching now.
Angola/Portugal: The Portos are dirty, whiny bitches, and this is one of those political dream games--former colony versus former imperialists. I hear the last time they played, the game had to be suspended after 68 minutes and four red cards. That's a game with some potential, there. We're in the 63rd minute with Portugal up 1-0, and I haven't been paying a lot of attention, so I might have more to say about this later, or tomorrow.
And tomorrow? I heard the US are going to be ready for some futbol. And it'll be my last day of complete coverage, at least until the weekend, since the Germans are inconsiderate enough to schedule all Cup games between 9 and 5 Eastern.