Well, if you’re going to spend three days in a hospital room with a recovering wife and an adjusting newborn, the first few days of the World Cup are the time to do it; I’ve watched six of the first nine matches. Soccer isn’t my favorite spectator sport, but I’m a sucker for a Big Occasion, and sports-wise, this is the biggest. Plus the matches look so great, the flower-bright uniform colours and the arc of the ball in the German sunshine. I totally recommend catching a few, it’s first-rate TV. Herewith some comments on the early going.

Germany 4 Costa Rica 2 · I was unimpressed by the Germans. The underdogs came to play and it wasn’t clear the hosts did. It may seem lunatic to question a team’s offense when they get four goals, but first, that CR defense was pretty flimsy stuff, and second, two of the goals were on big outside-the-box circus shots, hardly the stuff of winning campaigns.

As to defense, if a team like CR, with only one credible offensive threat, can use it to shred the German offside trap like toilet paper twice in one game, what’s going to happen when a team with a real multi-pronged offense gets down to business?

Having said all that, the Frings goal was pure demonic poetry.

Ecuador 2 Poland 0 · Paint me in Ecuador colors, I’m a fanboy. The result was no fluke; the Poles were cleanly out-run, out-passed, out-shot, and out-coached. Ecuador played attacking ball and never let up; their match with Germany on June 19th is going to be totally must-see.

England 1 Paraguay 0 · The one thing I can say for England is that it wasn’t really an “own goal”; if Beckham gets that much pace and twist on that shot from that location ten times, it’ll be in the net three or four, doesn’t matter that much who touched it last. But then they went to sleep, big slow triangle pass patterns in midfield, no movement, no inspiration, nothing. After a half hour of that, I was rooting for Paraguay. If England can win playing that style, soccer is dead.

And then there were the Mexicans dressed unconvincingly as officials; maybe it looked better from on the field, but through the TV screen it seemed like rank anti-England partisanship.

Trinidad & Tobago 0, Sweden 0 · An unqualified triumph for T&T, and good on ’em. You can say that the Swedes were off their form, and you’d be right. You can say that T&T only had one serious scoring chance in 90 minutes, and you’d be right.

But you’d also have to note that Shaka Hislop faced the dreaded Ibrahimovic three times at point-blank range and sent Zlatan away empty, and you can’t say that about many keepers in any league anywhere. That was remarkable defense.

Argentina 2, Cote D’Ivoire 1 · I guess the Argentinians deserved to win, which is a pity, because the Africans were sure a whole lot more fun to watch; there’s nothing quite like Drogba in full flight when he’s got his good game going. First-rate entertainment.

Mexico 3, Iran 1 · If I had to pick a team as a personal favorite, it might be Mexico. They’re in Canada’s qualifying group, along with a pocketful of tiny Central American nations; the result is that Mexico usually gets to go to the tournament, then it depends whether Canada can beat El Salvador or vice versa, a near-run thing. But we get to know the Mexicans a little.

By the end of the first half, I was thinking about becoming an Iran fan. Both sides played well, but the Iranians with more more fire and passion. And I’m 100% hetero so the wrong person to judge, but did anyone else think the Iranians looked just great? Hawk-faced, pale-skinned, raven-haired, with the brilliant red uniforms?

Both sides went to sleep in the second half. None of the commentary I’ve read has come out and admitted that two of the three Mexican goals were really pretty soft, the Iranian back line and (especially) keeper being fooled way too easily. Still, the Mexicans are a team to watch.


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June 11, 2006
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