I’ve been working quite a bit this week, only managed to catch a couple of games end-to-end live, and some bits and pieces in the evening repeats; I have to say, watching the Cup in high-def on a comfy couch with a comfy newborn on your lap is pretty darn enjoyable. Herewith the week’s notes, starting where the previous instalment left off.
In General · Item: Can we drop the “FIFA” already? It’s been the damn World Cup since I was a kid. Item: Do soccer referees get selected on the basis of having standard facial expressions? The schoolmarm scowl achieves near-perfect uniformity whether it’s a Colombian referee berating a Dutch striker or a Korean referee an Angolan keeper. Perhaps the players find it comforting. Item: One thing that drives me nuts is the way the advertisers pound the same ads at us over and over; there are some that, by the end of the Cup, will have me leaving the room the microsecond they start. Having said that, the Adidas “Jose +10” series, with the Latino urchins picking all the big stars for their courtyard game, is amusing and touching and stays fresh, I find. Item: If you want a Web site that summarizes the schedule, games and standings compactly with a minimum of Flash and trash, TSN.ca is pretty good.
On to the games.
Australia 3 Japan 1 · The Aussies are a likable team and it would be fun if they could put a scare into Brazil, but I’m not betting on it. Japan can play better, and I hope they will.
US 0 Czech Republic 3 · The Yanks weren’t that bad; I thought the Czechs were that good. They could go far; it warms my heart to see Nedved in form. Czech-Italy should be a humdinger.
Italy 2 Ghana 0 · The Fox Sports World channel I watch late-night soccer on shows a lot of Serie A, so I’ve watched a lot of the Azzuri play. They are one of two or three sides that, if they stay on form and get a little luck, can clearly win the World Cup. Totti, when he’s on his game, is maybe my favorite soccer player, and if he strengthens over the month he could break the hearts of a few other countries’ fans.
Having said that, I enjoyed the Ghana game as much as any I’ve seen; the Ghanaians’ slashing attack was really a delight to watch. it’s a pity they’re in there with the Italians and Czechs; I’d love to see them scaring the pants off one of the favorites in the second round. Also, this match was a visual treat; the Italians in blue and olive (skin), the Ghanaians in white and black (skin).
Don’t miss the Czech-Ghana game on Saturday.
Korea 2 Togo 1, France 0 Switzerland 0 · Korea, who bring actual joy and excitement to the game, are so obviously the class of this group. I’d be happiest if Togo were the other team to advance because that passionless, attackless, half-speed France-Switzerland affair was a blot on the face of the game. Probably France will limp into the second round, but I can’t see them lasting long.
England 2 Trinidad & Tobago 0 · England might manage to take one or two steps down the road, but I really hope not. Late in the T&T match, Crouch, whose can get a header any time because he’s eight feet tall, but whose headers had been missing by yards either side of the goal, got one on target. So then England checked out, defending their 1-0 lead, lazy triangle passes in open space. Exactly as they did against Costa Rica. What contemptible behavior; have they no respect for their own profession? And I’d actually started liking England a little bit when Rooney brought some second-half life to the affair. The Gerrard goal was perfectly fine but I booed it, and unless they actually wake up and play like men I’ll be cheering for whichever team eventually knocks them out.
Netherlands 2 Côte d'Ivoire 1 · The Ivorians are an appealing bunch, and totally have the best hair in the World Cup. I wish there were one of the big-name favorites that I could like as much as I like all these scrappy attacking African teams. And you know, they could and maybe should have won this one. There was a totally obvious Dutch foul deep in the penalty area in the early going that went uncalled. Having said that, the referee in that game is totally OK by me for having booked Robben on an egregious, blatant, dive. Robben is a wonderful player, an obvious choice if you were putting together an Earth team to take on the Alpha Centauri All-Stars; so why does he do things like that?
Further: Kone’s goal was maybe the best individual effort by anyone, any team, in the tournament so far. But you know, having said all that, I’m not sure I’d bet against Holland in this tournament, whatever the opposition.