Friday, June 30, 2006

We're Not Gonna Take It!

It's no secret or surprise that most of us American soccer fans sometimes (most of the time) feel like outcasts in our own country. It's a melancholy, topsy-turvy road we venture down, and even here in P-town--a genuinely soccer friendly city--the going can get rough and a serious fan can easily get despondent over the lack of plebs attending the rowdy yet friendly Timbers matches and the frequent look of confusion, fear, and/or cluelessness that we're greeted with when the World Cup comes up in conversation with the confused, fearful, and/or clueless. It also doesn't help when the American media (local or national) perpetuate the "Americans don't like soccer" or "we like honest games that you can play with your hands" myths. It's even worse when a journalist simply outright lies to make a point . . . or deadline.

Well, Coach Mike over at On the Pitch is mad as hell and doesn't want to take it anymore. Better yet, he doesn't want any of us taking it either. Check out his post about some rather dishonest reporting and what us American footie freaks should do about it. Onward!

Practice! Practice! Practice!

Wow. That sucked. Really, what happened? And Germany didn't even play that well. But they had staying power, I guess. And they practiced their penalty kicks. Wish I could say something useful or insightful about the match, but I can't. Not at this moment. I'll watch it again later with Lynda (who was unable to see it) and perhaps say something positive about it. But where are my manners? Congratulations to the Teutonic Robots! You managed to pull off the win playing a rather mediocre and uninspired World Cup quarter final. Though I did like the shot of keepers Oliver Kahn and Jens Lehmann conversing right before the penalty kicks started. Very cool.

World Cup Sideshow

I can't really bear to think about tomorrow morning, about what might happen.

So I'm looking round at other soccer items instead:

Zach writes a fantastic piece about visiting the Chicago Fire and their supporters' group, Section 8. An earlier piece he wrote about some of the geopolitical implications of soccer inspired me to link to this post on a blog written by an Iraqi woman about the affect of the growing fundamentalism in the country on soccer fandom. She doesn't have a lot of love for the American forces, so in the interest of remaining fair and balanced (actually, just because if anybody's head explodes in here we'll be the ones to have to clean it up), I give you a link to buy a soccer ball to be distributed by soldiers to the children of Iraq courtesy of On the Pitch, a blog I've been liking lately written from the perspective of an American youth soccer coach.

Of course, like all right-minded people, you have been reading the World Cup Blog, but have you clicked on the referee's blog? You might have missed it as I did in the early days of the Cup--it's tucked away as the last flag in the row on the front page--but I've been enjoying Aaron's perspective on things (and his civility amidst some rather abusive commentators--but he's a ref, I suppose he's used to it).

The Italian footballing trial opened today and the story grew more bizarre (and tragic) this week with the apparent attempted suicide of former-Juventus-player-turned-acting-executive-manager Gianluca Pessotto, who was found post-defenestration clutching rosary beads outside the club's Turin offices. For the record, Pessotto has not been implicated in the scandal. This is awful, and reports seem to vary as to the severity of his injuries; he was visited shortly after by players from the Italy squad, Alessandro del Piero and Gianluca Zambrotta.

That's all I got. In thirteen hours the game will be over, and whatever happens, I hope I won't let it spoil my World Cup.

But I may not be a very good sport for a day or two.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

World Cup Miscellany

Not sure how everyone else out there is holding up, but it's been a hard 48 hours for me without any fresh World Cup matches. To keep the blood flowing, mind sharp, and the body relaxed in case a major Cup withdrawal blindsides me for good and I find myself crossing the touch line into an unrelenting footie-less seizure, I've been rewatching some matches (France v Spain; Brazil v Ghana; Italy v U.S.A.) to prevent going cleats up into the Big Pitch. I've also been watching a few episodes of the excellent documentary series The History of Soccer: The Beautiful Game, narrated by Toby Dammit himself, Terence Stamp. Splendid stuff and if you haven't seen it, you really should race out and do yourself a favor . . . once the Cup is over, of course.

And I've also been counting the hours until tomorrow's can't miss match between a newly inspired Germany and my pick to take the FIFA World Cup Trophy, Argentina. They have a long history with one another (please, no Nazi jokes) and I know the match has already been hyped to death, but it still threatens to be the match of the Cup so far. Though you didn't hear that from me if it ends up being decided on penalty kicks. Italy and the Ukraine are also playing, and though I'll watch it later in the evening, I can't really get excited by such a one-sided confrontation. Here are some links regarding the Germany v Argentina match:

Spain losing to France was such a gorgeous, exciting match, even though it broke my heart to see them go down yet again. Still, it was beyond brilliant watching the French (newcomer Ribery and old man Zidane most of all) find new life, soul, and imagination, playing again like the world class Team Fantastique that we thought was so 1998. Not sure if France can take it to Brazil in quite the same manner as they did back when they won the Cup, and there's Zidane's health to worry about, but I'll certainly be hoping for the best. Would be nice, no?

Don't expect my man Puyol to be rooting for them though. The FC Barcelona armored saint is more than a little pissed that Thierry "Guess I am a woman" Henry took that dive which subsequently directly led to the Patrick Vieira header that put France on top. Not to be outdone, French coach Raymond Domenech is likewise pissed at some of the Spanish lot lice that heckled his players with racial epithets and the sadly ubiquitous pantomimes.

Over at the World Cup Blog they're discussing who some of the big losers of the tournament are. Can't disagree with any of the unfortunate line-up, though I might toss Mexico and Japan into the bunch since I thought both teams would perform much better than they did.

And lastly, Paul Doyle of The Guardian thinks there are simply too many teams in the Cup and that FIFA needs to strip it back down to sixteen of the world's best. Food for thought, though I think it's a daft idea and reeks of entitlement. Okay, nix the food for thought bit--I think he's full of shit. Next!

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Argentina v Mexico

Now, that's what I'm talking about! Both Argentina and Mexico seemed evenly matched last Saturday night--the final game stats confirmed it--and there were some absolutely brilliant moments sprinkled throughout a game that was always exciting, tense, and laced with passion. Rafael Marquez's pulse-quickening goal in the 6th minute startled the Argentinian side and showed that Mexico meant business. And when Albicelestes' striker Hernan Crespo answered back a few minutes later, you knew this wasn't going to be just an ordinary game. But has anything been ordinary in this World Cup? Strike that. There's plenty of business as usual, I guess, e.g. England's poor showings and Spain's disintigration after so much promise, to name just a couple of unfortunate patterns.

Mexico consistently troubled Argentina's defense and El Tri managed to play with a zeal I hadn't seen since their opening match against Iran. Jared Borgetti, the team's star striker and his country's leading scorer, failed to astonish like he had in last summer's Confederations Cup, and I'm blaming Big Sam Allardyce, manager of Bolton Wanderers, the English club where Borgetti spent the last season and was utterly wasted, for his lack of form (Lynda thinks Big Sam is to blame for the entire loss, not just Borgetti's failure to work magic). And where was Omar Bravo? Ah well, luckily Mexico played fast and looked good. And Marquez, like Lisa, I now forgive you for the handball.

I should note that I was more than a little conflicted about this match. Mexico is deep in my heart, but I have to confess that I've been falling fast for this particular Argentinian team and their seductive style of exquisite passing, control, and tempo dominance. No matter how hard I tried, I just couldn't see Mexico beating Germany in the quarter finals. But Argentina? Oh yeah, this is a team that can take down Jurgen Klinsmann's Teutonic robots . . . and then Brazil!

As you can probably tell, I'm not sad that Mexico lost. Well, a little perhaps. If they'd lost to anyone else I would've been crushed. But El Tri can hold their heads up high and know they went down like heroes of the pitch. The match could've gone either way numerous times. But when the crazily good Maxi Rodriguez from Argentina bounced that ball off his chest then aimed and fired it into the upper corner of the net, I realized that it was only going to go their way from that moment. Superb.

An unfortunate result for a Mexican team that should've had it. Why they are unable to move beyond the round of sixteen since 1994 is one of football's biggest mysteries. Maybe they need to host the festivities again, then they can make it to the quarter finals before they blow it. Adios, my south of the border friends! There's always the Gold Cup! And Argentina, may you unleash your nimble-footed soldiers of grace upon Germany and then beyond. The velvet victory is indeed yours!

congratulations shaun and all bleu folk

It was a pleasure watching yr bleus today. They looked like grown-ups fielding sweet, rambunctious kids. Even Puyol seemed like a little kid, and he's got to be older than almost everyone in the tournament. Part of his charm, but still. I was having a blast watching it, the whole first half, and then yr comperes kicked into Italian gear with that Puyol frame-up and resulting goal and that made me pretty severely cantankerous. I began cursing aloud, spoiling the civilized atmosphere at the Rose and Thistle.

Then, a miracle! When Zidane swept that beautiful ball into the net, all my rancor vanished and I was cheering and weeping with (I assume, for who could resist?) tout le monde. It snapped everything into perspective. What's more important, that my Spaniards romp through to the next round and what would probably be a fairly wacky match against Brazil? (although, think about it: wouldn't that have been a wonderfully wacky match to see? alas) Or that Zidane's noble international career end on the lovely note that he deserves? The choice is obvious, and I wish him well.

I am suffering, however, a certain personal crisis of faith. IS there no honor? Really? I'm not just talking about the Puyol frame-up. I'm talking about my boys, too, and Portugal v. Holland and, well, everyone. I think I could count on one hand the games I've seen in this World Cup that didn't turn crucially on a successful dive or a devious foul or just a really bad call. Something happened to me in that last moment of Italy v. Australia: I was truly wounded by it. It's an absurd thing for a fully-grown human to say, but I really was. The cynicism of it, that because those fellows were too tired to face the overtime and knew the Aussies were in much better shape, to cheat so boldfacedly, in such an ugly way, and to get away with it. Awful. And how many times have I used the word "awful" in the last three days to describe the football I'm seeing?

Did you ever read PETER PAN? There's a part where Peter and Hook are fighting on a rock in the lagoon and Hook slips off into the water. Peter, doing the honorable thing, reaches down to help him up and Hook gives him the claw. Peter, since he can never remember anything, experiences every betrayal as the first one, and so is paralyzed with pain and horror every time Hook takes advantage of his sportsmanship.

C'est moi.

Still, I am pleased for France. Pleased for Zidane, and for Ribery, who has played so beautifully well. May my faith be restored (or replaced by something better) by the beauty of the games to come.

Monday, June 26, 2006

a vindication of the rights of american THREE LIONS fans

(in response to a challenge by Zach at 11 Devils, a man annoyed and perplexed by widespread American devotion to Sven's motley posse)

I understand your impatience. To the casual observer, the U.S. fan's fixation on the English team must smack of pretension, cowardice, or, at best, inane anglophilia. It's more than that, or, rather, OTHER than that, and I'll try to explain it.

Consider Shakespearean acting: the English do it better than we do. Not that we don't have many very fine Shakespearean actors--I could name fifty, seriously, without pausing for breath--but those Brits seem to have an innate comfort-level with the rhythms and sounds which we Yanks have to work to achieve. Is it because they've been doing it longer? because it was born on their soil? because it's more fully appreciated there, thus better funded? I don't know. Watch any Branagh film, you'll see it's true.

(OK, that's a bad example, since Branagh enjoys casting mediocre American actors, from kindness or Schadenfreude. But watch a great American performance--in New York, Ashland, Seattle, wherever--then watch the same play in London. They still have bad actors, sure, but theirs are better than our bad actors. Then choose our greatest and send him to London; he's going to be standing in a room full of his peers.)

Same with soccer. Any team is engaging when they're playing well, but who's more fascinating when they're playing badly? England, no question. The reason so many people spend so much time tooth-gnashing and hair-rending over the Lions is that even at their very worst, when they're torturing us with fumbled passes and a Lampardianly perpetual continuum of wide shots, even then there's a hovering possibility that they might without warning break into a moment of breath-taking splendor. It's that they so often don't,--and because they so often look like they're WILLFULLY CHOOSING TO DENY US,--that our teeth and hair are in such awful fettle.

Has any U.S. national team been able to do that, ever? No. Unquestionably, no. Nobody's fault. Soccer's young here. It'll grow up. Meanwhile, it's two wholly different worlds. To the Brits, football is an art-form and a way of life. To us, it's just a sport. So I ask you. How can you honestly prefer the U.S. team to England's?

carnage and bogus kerfuffle

The brilliance is off the orange, and nothing's shiny about Portugal, either. What an appalling spectacle. Great flutterings of cards, yellow and red, until Lynda muttered, "I wonder if he ever runs out of those." Such a stew of wounds and dives that I gave up trying to discern one from the other. Plays degenerating into such turmoil that nobody was certain how properly to resume play. Shouts escalating into shoving, which more than once turned into a sort of tribal stand-off, enemy warriors on the verge of combat.

In the end, whatever you say against Portugal (and you might, indeed, speak quite a piece), they showed impressive bravery in continuing their attacking game even after their first man was lost to the dread red card. He was Costinha, a defending midfielder and a crux on which Scolari centers his defensive system. Holland at that point had three forwards on the green: Robben, Kuyt, Van Persie. Later, as players were driven off the field in great locust-like swarms of red cards, Van Basten replaced one of his defenders (Mathijsen) with an attacking midfielder (Van der Vaart) only to see one of his remaining defenders (Boulahrouz) fall to the Red Plague, leaving him only two. He eventually righted the imbalance, and a good thing, because a third defender (Van Bronckhorst) fell to the same sickness before festivities wrapped. Today everyone asks WHERE WAS RUUD? An interesting question. Does anyone know why he sent on Vennegoor of Hesselink instead?

In any case, it's all immaterial now. It was horrible and fascinating, this match, the old proverbial train-wreck, and I could not for love or money avert my eyes. Never have I seen a game that felt so likely to end in a street-fight (and, remember, I watched Croatia v. Australia). Never was a victory so entirely devoid of sweetness (and I am a Portugal fan). Never did I so wonder about the post-game safety of a referee. Has anyone checked? Did the Russian fellow make it back to his digs all right?

Lynda put it succinctly and well when she said, "This is awful. If they go into overtime, I'm getting drunk."

This, after I'd been talking Portugal enthusiastically up to my cohorts. They're starting to give me sidelong looks, what with my newfound Aussie-fondness (I am the only one here at a pretty move, I think, who realizes full well that the Socceroos are not thugs, not in the least, but Tough Gentlemen. Think Kirk Douglas, or Clark Gable) and now my passion for a team who can inspire Holland to ugliness and rancor and physical violence. Holland! That paragon of all which is lovely and geometrical! (Do not think I blame Portugal alone for the ugliness, not a bit. Holland has entirely as much shadow to carry in this fiasco.) My compadres have begun looking at me as if they suspect I have a secret cache of BDSM porn in the closet.

Still, in the end, I stand by Portugal. Nothing pretty about it, but I come away from the debacle with this: in all the swarming hideosity, they never gave an inch, never considered backing off, not for a second. They got a little Italian about it, sure, but, in fairness, so did Holland. When Portugal's best road to victory dwindled and died, they switched to an alternate track, then another, until they--well, they stumbled into their win, thick with blood and infamy.

It matters little, in the end. England's up next, and so--sorry, Deco--they have to go.


Woke up early yesterday morning, too excited to sleep at the prospect of catching my first live match in days, even if I wasn't so excited about the two teams in question. Lost interest in the slaughter of Sweden after about 40 minutes (while the scoreline does not necessarily reflect that they were slaughtered, they started to play like they had been), wandered off to exchange trash talking emails with my friend whom you may have seen around here bearing the sobriquet Chigger Christ. He supports Germany, for heaven's sake (and you think you know a person).

Walked downtown to hop a fareless Max over to Lloyd Center and legged it to Costello's Travel Cafe for Argentina v. Mexico (about a fifteen minute walk, this portion of the post brought to you by the Cheapskate's Guide to Traveling to World Cup Venues in the Portland Area). Costello's was too packed to even stand without interrupting someone's line of sight, so I wandered a few doors down to the more subdued Rose & Thistle (nice place, decent TV, good Guinness, very nice staff, about twenty amiable spectators down to ten by the time we went into overtime).

It pained me to root against Mexico, but I do love Argentina (a team I hated in their match against Mexico in last year's Confederation's Cup, by the way, because I am a fickle, fickle girl) and let's face it--Mexico has little chance of stopping the relentless onslaught of Sexy Jurgen's lads (thanks, Zach. I am unable to look at this man now without saying "Sexy Jurgen!" to myself, at least, or worse, to whoever happens to be sitting next to me), while I believe Argentina can. Of all the teams with a real chance to hoist the Cup, Germany is the one team I will be disappointed to see in the final round. I might be able to resign myself to it were it the great Oliver Kahn in the net this year, but the presence of Lehmann only adds insult to injury.

It's not even that I dislike them so much as I am just bored by their style--that of a relentless, powerful machine. Sure, under Klinsmann's attacking tutelage they're more entertaining than in years past (although putting it that way is kind of like saying, "My, your cooking tastes better than cardboard!"). It's certainly impressive, but somehow it leaves me feeling vaguely depressed. They play soccer like they're getting a job done, with efficiency and strength but little visible joy. Let's indulge in a little cultural stereotyping for a moment, shall we? They play soccer in a way that seems so . . . so German.

The funny thing is, I would characterize my general disposition toward Germany as one of warm sentiment. My father was stationed there for four years in his Army days and I grew up hearing stories about the country that was clearly the setting for some of the happiest days of his life. I still own his old battered German phrasebooks and language primers that I used to thumb through in fascination as a child, a symbol for me of foreign (and hence magical) lands. And then there's my last name. Somewhere along the way, I'm told, we lost the umlaut--there's no mistaking where that came from.

A couple of anecdotal and therefore entirely unreliable observations about Germans: A friend of my two Irish roommates, when I was living in Dublin many years ago, came home for a visit from Germany, where she worked, and I remember them telling me that she hated it there because she found Germans to be really boring. And I quote: "Because when they go to parties, all they want to do is stand around and talk about politics." Sounds grim, no?

And this: Derek and I have this good friend who's German. He used to live here in Portland, and he's since gone home, and I still miss him--we used to have a lot of fun, the three of us, staying out much too late, shutting down the bars, talking for hours, ordering one round after another. What did we talk about, all those late nights?

Well, uh, I remember a lot of passionate talk about politics. It seemed really fun at the time.

I'm not sure what the moral of this story is, except that maybe I hate what I am? I have nothing against Germany in general, I just hate their soccer? And that watching Germany play soccer makes me feel like I'm standing in the middle of the road with a semi-truck bearing down on me: simultaneously awestruck and hopeless in the face of unstoppable fate.

I hope someone can change fate.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Well. That was a complete travesty.

It was the silliest thing. I walked down to the Marathon today to meet Lisa in hopes of catching the Portugal v Netherlands game. Well, I'm not sure what they were broadcasting--it looked like the World Cup, but that was no soccer match. Apparently, I got dosed with the same bad batch of acid that Zach took for Italy v USA. It must be loose on the streets of P-Town.

Oh, there were some great moments, but not in the run of play itself: Cristiano Ronaldo weeping as he repairs injured to the bench in fears his World Cup is over (I want to dislike him, but with a scene like that, how can I?). Bad kids Deco, his Barca teammate Van Bronckhurst, and Boulahrouz, sitting together watching the match, presumably talking about what a horse's ass the referee was. I'd give a lot to know what went on in that conversation.

And "Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink" is officially my new favorite name of the World Cup.

As you have already figured out, I have nothing substantive to say about any of this. I did not witness any substantive soccer today. (I mean, I could also write about England v Ecuador but that carries with it the occupational hazard of death by boredom.) Of course, there are calls for the ref's head, some of them from me in the course of the match. But you can't pin this whole disgrace on him. The players were fouling and diving like crazy. Twenty-two grown men flopping around like little kids who just figured out that their babysitter's a soft touch and it's easy to get their friends in trouble.

I went into this one as a neutral, but I'm pleased to see Portugal progress and I look forward to seeing them play England--and hope for better sportsmanship all around.

And if you missed it all, relive the Mad Hatter's Tea Party of a football match at the archived liveblogs at the World Cup Blog or the Guardian.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

in which my spaniards let me down, but just a little

In yesterday's news, Spain's "B" squad took a few hours to laze around a pitch awhile, which was unfortunate, since Saudi Arabia was trying to play a real match on the same green. Only Reyes and Joaquin seemed determined to secure that personal World Cup goal, and only Juanito did (a lovely header off Reyes' lovely pass), so he could laze around with his friends some more after that. When Aragones put Villa and Torres in during the second half they seemed like kids in detention ("We already PASSED this class! Why do we have to take it AGAIN?"). These kids today. I swear.

It was due to sheer luck (mostly bad luck for the Saudis) and certainly not to the quality of their defending that they kept one step ahead. As the Saudis grew more determined in their attacks, the Spaniards seemed willfully to counter it until they seemed positively desultory. I have a note here in my journal from late in the second half: "Spain defending through clumsiness and thuggery."

As shabbily as the Spaniards played the game, at least they came out to shake hands and mingle at the end, unlike Shevchenko and his Ukrainians after their Saudi victory. Straight to the locker room. Couldn't be bothered. This, from the fellow (watch him! it's true) who's always the first to whip off his kit. That man loves being shirtless in public.

Do I meander? I'm not surprised. My poor flesh begins to complain: the broken sleep cycles, the steady intake of bar food, unending torrents of coffee. Like Hamlet, I have of late foregone all custom of exercise. It struck me after Argentina v. Holland. Derek and I emerged from the Marathon blinking and pale and slightly cringing in the sun, like crepuscular creatures skittering across the bottom of a lifted rock. I walk around these days, ostensibly job-hunting, my clothes heavy with smoke, my head cluttered with caffeine flashes, my belly begging for a nice piece of fruit, maybe a thing made out of tofu and sprouts.

So it was a relief to be able to stay in for this morning's match (thank you, ABC, in spite of those soul-wearying announcers) and feel my blood chilled as it always is when Germany is in invincible mode, as they were first half. They lost their groove in the second, but Sweden never took the leap. And how about that Argentina v. Mexico? That was some fun. That Marquez. I thought I was going to hold that handball against him (v. Portugal) for a long time, but here he comes in the first five or six minutes, wiping away any lingering resentment away with one sweet sweep of the foot. Much as I enjoy both teams, I was backing the Argentines in my heart, and they came through.

Onward to England.

Friday, June 23, 2006

The Good Soldier Nedved

Pavel Nedved moves like a kill-crazy berserker across the pitch. Hard muscled, agile, fearless, mecurial, and dedicated to victory, Nedved is the battle-hardened soul of the Czech national team. He may look like a baby face off the pitch, but anyone who has watched him in motion knows that he's Ragnarok personified. His eyes reflect a deadly courage and determination that is, I'm sure, startling to behold in the midst of play. Pity the poor man who has Nedved storming down on him!

But not even Nedved's inspiring play and refusal to give up could sway the sometimes brutal Italian onslaught yesterday, a win that sent the Czechs packing for home and the Azzurri into the round of sixteen. After their defeat at the feet of Ghana, I still believed that the Czechs could pull through against Italy. Alas, the mighty Bohemians--who were missing due to injury Jan Koller, the player who headed in that thunderous first goal against a daunted and seemingly unprepared U.S. team in the first round of the World Cup--played a cracking good game for awhile, keeping the Italian squad confused and unable to control the rhythm. But when the Italians drew first blood, the Czechs lost their momentum and by the end, only Nedved continued to play as if the whole damn thing still mattered.

I was alert and prepared for a victorious morning for most of the first half, until that blasted first strike. Then, I found myself pulled back down into slumber. Much like Lisa, my dream life of late has been heavily footie oriented. And so I started dreaming about the match in progress...

Lynda and I were in the Czech Republic having a picnic lunch of sausage, cheese, and hearty bread upon a grassy hill somewhere in the country. There were people peppered around us, and most of them were either listening to the World Cup match on radios or intently watching on big widescreen televisions (black & white no less). I walked over to a family who were mesmerized by their side's outstanding performance and we all sat together shouting an equal measure of encouragements and curses at the respective teams. The next thing I remember is . . . well, there's no other way to describe it--I freaked out. Everyone was screaming, laughing, crying, and I with them. Lynda looked at me and asked why I was sobbing, but she immediately started as well, no longer needing a verbal explanation. When I woke up I was more than a bit confused by the real score confronting me--Italy 2, Czech Republic 0.

I watched the last couple of minutes or so with a desperate ache bleeding in me, my partisan emotions drowning in the certainty of defeat. And like the soccer masochist that I am, I rewatched the entire game later in the evening to see if I had missed something--I had; that awful image of the feral Italian striker Filippo Inzaghi skittering around Czech keeper Petr Cech in the 87th minute, delivering the killing blow. Brutal, brutal stuff. Only the image of a heroic yet exhausted Nedved, his eyes still defiant even though his body was reluctantly resigned to the nothingness of what awaited, eased my heartbreak a little.

The Czechs will be back, and though Nedved (and possibly Koller?) will not be part of the next national squad, the berserker's presence will always be felt. And with talent like the young Tomas Rosicky (who will be playing for Arsenal this season) gaining experience and fine-tuning his skills (though where were you against Ghana and Italy?!) in the Premiership and the Champions League, the Czechs will deliver much more than tears in four years.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

The Reclamation of Ronaldo?

It took him until the 45th minute to do so, but Brazil's Ronaldo--who has been hampered of late by his bad match form, weight, insecurity, what have you--finally regained his dazzle by delivering a crucial header to equalize against a determined Japanese side right before the half. Though I didn't hold out much hope for the scrappy yet occasionally fluid Samurai Blues--who I was rooting for because of sentimental reasons--I was elated that poor Ronaldo had finally come alive and seemed focused on reintroducing himself to the world. Even the small group of outnumbered Japanese supporters hunkered within the smokey bowels of the divey Marathon tavern couldn't resist the return of one of the greatest and most feared Brazilian strikers.

Has Ronaldo returned fully fit and confident for the rest of the World Cup? That's impossible to answer after a single match, especially considering that his two goals (however joyous to watch) weren't jaw-dropping or spectacular. But it's a start, and his committed turnaround shot in the 80th minute (which put the brave Brazilian even in all-time World Cup scoring with Germany's Gerd Muller) certainly had me excited to behold the transformation taking place.

Did anyone, outside of the few Japanese fans in attendance, really think that the Samurai Blues could pull off a cataclysmic upset? Not really, though I did manage to get swept away with my wish-fulfillment until the barking yet amiable Aussie started jeering and haranguing the Japanese to surrender all hope, Brazil was about to crush them with happy feet.

i didn't sleep at all last night

In the past two days I've been the sole Portugal fan in a room full of Mexico supporters, one of a small (and ultimately abashed) crew of Czech fans in a restaurant packed with Italians, and cheering robustly alongside a contingent of Aussies. Today alone I beheld what may be the two ugliest goals I've seen in my life: Inzaghi for the Italians, and Kalac for the Croats (yes, I consider it a keeper's own goal. The fumble was that bad).

What happened to the Czechs? You seduced me with your winning ways, then collapsed before consummation. Italian operatic buffoonery doesn't seem quite as amusing when there's a beloved team at the other end of the pitch. That said, it would take a dourer person than I to resist a belly-laugh at Gattuso's yellow card move: scrabbling across the ground, clawing at Medved's legs. But that in turn invokes the horrific image of Peter Cech, alone, abandoned, crawling on the pitch at Inzaghi's feet. Where did everyone go? Did I see a Czech player crumpled on the far end of the pitch? Is that why nobody came? Is there a reason for that nightmare moment?

I was watching at Piazza d'Italia, a wonderful place, where the spontaneous roars of heartfelt joy that filled the room at every turn in Italian favor at least sheared the worst edges off my first real World Cup disappointment. Medved fought bravely, and I am as bemused as I ever was at the praise which seems to follow Baros around.

For the second leg I met Derek at the Marathon and sat in a crowd of Australians watching both matches at once. I was determined to focus on the Socceroos, but who can resist watching, once Brazil falls into The Magical Place? (Ronaldo! Good on you, mate.) Once Brazil settled into their easy glide to victory, we were free to turn full attention back to a game that was as exciting as any I've ever seen, and probably the most physical. BRUISINGLY physical, right from the start, with Croats emerging from the locker room cleats-first, as it were, and kid-gloves long discarded. The Aussies, fortunately in this case, are no shrinking violets, and plunged head-first into the fray, never stopping for breath. The last half was heart-stoppingly suspenseful, and when Kewell's 79th-minute equaliser came, the room erupted. Off-side? I don't care. The ref was ignoring one infraction after another from the Croats, including a blatant handball, brutal tackles in the box and a temper on Simunic that made Kewell's post-Brazil rant look like an invitation to tea. How come the Croatian fellow gets to hit the ref in the arm and get away with it? It's not like all the rest of us never wanted to. Do we all get a turn?

Ultimately, as badly as it began, my day became full-on magic. There's nothing better than a great game, except a great game that your team wins. Thanks you, Aussies, and thank you, Brazil.

Tonight, I sleep soundly and dream of pretty moves.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

No More Liming in Germany

The Soca Warriors went down painfully against Paraguay today--and it might have been just as bad if they'd fought to a 2-0 win only to fall to the Sweden v England tie. Okay, it probably couldn't have been any worse for Brent Sancho, socring an own goal--a painful finish to three games' worth of good defensive work. Still, their presence at the Cup has made it more fun (particularly within an otherwise dull group), especially their first-round shakeup of Sweden. I wish they'd managed to go a little farther and I hope they'll be back.

There are folks out there who believe squads like this don't belong in the Cup. I can't understand this attitude. I always look forward to seeing what the debutants will bring with them, and it's important to the spirit and health of the tournament that every four years, everyone has a chance on the biggest stage of all.

Each World Cup, several of the wealthy, famous, superstar teams come dragging their high expectations behind them, and subsequently fail to impress. Eduardo Galeano waxed rhapsodic about Senegal in 2002, the team that came "with no World Cup history, no stars, no obligation to win or trepidation about losing." Doubtless, every player hopes for glory and perhaps a better contract for the coming year; all the same, squads who are mostly written off before they even step on the pitch remind us, lest we forget, of what matters more than the three points, the money, the endorsements, the careers, more money, the image, the fame, the press, the glamour.

And what is it that matters? The energy of your supporters, the chance to see your team tangle with Goliaths on the pitch. National pride, representing your country. Oh, and something about kicking a ball around.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

World Cup Miscellany

If performing dismally at the World Cup wasn't bad enough, England striker Michael Owen crumpled to the ground not a minute into the game against Sweden and was immediately stretchered off. With Owen now out, Rooney still healing and definitely not up to match fitness, Crouch still unpredictable and well . . . like Crouch, and Walcott firmly on the bench, it seems unlikely that England will make it to the quarter finals. But Rob Smyth over at the Guardian thinks that Owen's injury may actually be a good thing and says that they still have a fighting chance if Sven gets imaginative.

Two of the finest teams in the tournament meet Wednesday--of course, I'm talking about Argentina vs. Holland. Should be a brilliant game all-around and if you're an Argentina fan you know that one of the central figures of the squad is the moody, introspective Juan Roman Riquelme. Here's a nice profile of the talented tactician from the Guardian, and from the BBC a piece about Hernan Crespo urging his team to keep up the fancy. If there's any team that can dismantle the not-so-pretty-at-the-moment Brazilian juggernaut, it's got to be Argentina.

Anyone who watched the U.S.A. vs Italy game from last Saturday won't easily forget the brutal elbow to the eye that Italian midfielder Daniele De Rossi delivered to Brian McBride. Who says football isn't a contact sport? Well, it looks like the young De Rossi has apologized to McBride and the two have made up. Just don't expect Azzurri coach Marcello Lippi to forgive and forget De Rossi just yet.

And Mexico and Portugal go at it tomorrow as well, though unfortunately Mexican striker Jared Borgetti is still nursing a hamstring injury and will miss the match. Mexico need the win to move on and coach La Volpe says to hell with everyone else, "we need to focus on ourselves" to do it. Well, okay then. I won't argue.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Portland Timbers Top USL Table

In the football anthology My Favorite Year, Harry Pearson writes about the disorientation of seeing your reliable, comfortably mid-table team--in his case, Middlesbrough--suddenly rocket to success:

It was stimulating, it was provocative, it was thrilling. It was all a bit much, really.

Portland Timbers head home after a long away weekend in which they collected five points, from the Minnesota Thunder (2-1), the Rochester Rhinos (2-2), and the Montreal Impact (0-0), and they now sit at the top of the USL table.* After last year's inconsistent performances and struggles just to stay in fifth or sixth place for the playoffs (and with an ever-shrinking bench that had you fearing that you as a spectator might be press-ganged into service at any moment, who could blame them?), it's almost disconcerting to taste unmitigated success. I keep looking back at the standings to make sure it's real. It's been an entire weekend of Bizarro World soccer.

Of course, I've seen the Timbers play at every home match so far this year, and I know they deserve to be sitting exactly where they are now. This team has talent, depth, and hunger, and can win the league if they keep it up.

Match reports here.

*Granted, they have played one game more than any other team in the league, which helps with standings--but still!

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Ronaldo: Asset or Liability?

He just stood his ground for most of the game against Croatia, uninspired and unable to transform the match into one of his own making like he'd accomplished countless times before. Soft in appearance and toxic with inertia, the once great Ronaldo was determined to play the role of liability for a team that always demands loyalty, mental and physical dexterity, and flamboyance from its all-star squad. What must the other players think of their indulgent, fading superstar?

A week or so earlier, the Wave Generator and I spent the evening after a Portland Timbers match drunkenly watching some vintage Rolling Stones footage from the mid-1960s and early-1970s--extraordinary film of the band performing (with Brian Jones) on British telly and most memorably (sans Jones) rehearsal footage of the drug and whiskey soaked group in Montreal with guitarist Mick Taylor uncomfortably wedged in between the in-fighting meltdown of a lineup. Over the course of the late night viewing, it occurred to us how fantastic Mick Jagger could actually be, as well as truly rotten. "Jagger is the Stones' biggest asset and liability," my friend muttered at some point. "Sometimes within the same song."

The same is undoubtedly true of Ronaldo.

It's been a lackluster year, to say the least, for the once formidable Real Madrid striker. And that once speedy grace he used to exult in, has now given way to a slothful contempt. His considerable talent has slowed, turning mushy and clotted with resentment for the Madrid supporters, the press (who have been brutally honest and just plain brutal), and possibly even himself. Ronaldo has had injuries, illness, and his own lethargy to contend with for years. But he's always bounced back into shape, proving his critics wrong with a sly back flick or a blistering charge towards the net.

But what now? It seems that the weight of the accusations may have finally seeped into him too deeply this time. If not that, then what? Is his sex life falling apart again? Are his dire, nonexistent World Cup performances in the match against Croatia and in today's mediocre game against Australia some sort of protest against his critics, a way for him to punish those who would doubt his ability to dazzle? Or does he simply not care anymore?

Asset or liability?

It's difficult to say definitively, since just when you count him out, the Brazilian Buddha snaps back to life and almost scores (like today in the 41st minute) or delivers an exquisite pass (which he also did for a goal-bound Adriano). Ronaldinho, who has also been disappointing of late though for entirely different reasons, sent the ball Ronaldo's way numerous times, as a way perhaps to invigorate his teammate's confidence. It seemed to work a little, though honestly anything would be an improvement over Ronaldo's wretched performance against Croatia. And what about that horrid missed kick in front of the goal today? Sad really, but typical of what we expect. But it's still sad.

Ronaldo's absence from the pitch in the 72nd minute, to be replaced by the youthful Robinho, helped spark the Brazilians to their 2-0 victory, and the team noticeably seemed engaged with speed again once he was gone. Perhaps if coach Carlos Alberto Perreira keeps Ronaldo on the bench next game until the second half, and starts Robinho instead, the crafty striker will have ample time to decide for himself what he wants to be when he grows up.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Dear Team USA

It's no secret that you and I have a troubled relationship. I'll never love you. I'm completely unfaithful to you, and, well, I've been seeing teams in your very group on the side. What can I say? There's just no chemistry between us. Sometimes I don't even like you very much, despite the fact that I do like several of your players a lot. But frankly, I'd written you off.

And what did you go and do? You showed--spirit! passion! drama! determination! You refused to give up! You were kind of inspiring! Even down to nine men--nine men!--you held on. Minutes after the match finished, my mother (hi Mom!), a lifelong fanatical supporter of the other football, left an exhilirated message on my voicemail about how thrilling you'd been! Derek tells me people are wandering into the bookstore, seeing the daily World Cup results posted, and asking about the draw, what it means, what next. Is it possible you might have gone some way toward captivating the average American sports fan at last? (After all, who can call soccer a "sissy" sport anymore after that image of blood pouring from Brian McBride's face?) (Actually, I'd like to send the next American who uses the s word straight over to the Polish hooligan camp to get a good old fashioned re-education--with axes.)

The harsh reality of the situation is that you are the only team in your group who has not yet scored a single goal, and you're still in last place. And you are up against some very strong and experienced sides. But today, in both matches, we learned that the competition is not nearly as invincible as it seemed. Whatever happened next week (and do not underestimate the Black Stars of Ghana), this is going to be the match people remember for you for, not that embarrassing drubbing at the hands of the Czechs. Following the first round, I thought this was one group that was a cinch to predict. I never expected you to turn into the scrappy underdogs. Well done, lads.

One small request, though: could you ask your supporters to do something about that "U!S!A! U!S!A!" chant? Aside from being not a bit clever (and what's the point of football chants if they aren't?), it has an ugly aural quality about it that kind of makes my blood run cold, like you're about to invade a country, kill their leaders, and convert them to Christianity, you know?

Thanks. I'm sorry things haven't worked out between us, but I hope we can still be friends.

See you next Thursday.


a few late thoughts about yesterday

Here's to John Terry and Roberto Acuna, the men of the day, for two miraculous saves.

Everyone, stop ragging Beckham. He's dishing up the opportunities; there's just nobody around who can finish them.

Crouch, OUT. Owen, OUT. I don't care who replaces them. Pick a few random folks off the bleachers. And Lampard, sorry, man, A for effort, but OUT.

Try starting Lennon. He always steps up, and sometimes he dazzles. I want to see what he'll do starting with the "A" team.

Ah, if we all had the enthusiasm of Joco, life would be sweeter all over.

And, last but not least, let's have a round of applause for Aldo Bobadilla, brave and beleaguered Paraguay keeper.

Friday, June 16, 2006

The Elephants Head Home

Now that was a game!

After too many matches that have featured pairings of frustratingly mediocre sides that ought to be playing a whole lot better than they are with "just happy to be there" upstarts, or strong and creative and interesting squads dominating their far weaker opponents, or the meeting of two so-so teams, the clash between the Netherlands and Cote d'Ivoire proved to be, as Tommy Smyth cried excitedly, "A cracking game!" I am torn between saying I wish this had been a draw, because Cote d'Ivoire deserved a point and a chance to advance given their performance, and saying that the Netherlands certainly deserved all three points for triumphing in the end over the formidable and determined debutant-but-doubtless-to-return Elephants.

It is, of course, too bad that the Cote d'Ivoire drew this group, because they surely would have gone through against many of the other teams in these opening rounds. But they were fantastic and can head home with pride--and the Netherlands can go forward with pride as well. If only we saw this kind of vigor in all the matches!

I was pulling for Cote d'Ivoire, even though Emmanuel Eboue had me wondering for a while there when he tried the same diving stunts he did in the Champions' League Final by going down in the penalty area early on (hey, it worked then--I guess he figured why mess with a good thing?)--the ref just told him to get up, but then he was like the boy who cried wolf, because later on it looked like he did bang up his shoulder some and it took a little while for anyone to go over to him (and I myself was muttering ah, get up, you! at the TV). But I can't be too disappointed in the Dutch victory--who wouldn't like to at least imagine the hazy crazy days of the Clockwork Orange and Total Football making a comeback?

Luck proved not to be on the Elephants' side in this match--at several moments they seemed mere centimeters away from an equalizer following Kone's powerful 39th minute strike. In the end, it wasn't to be, but I'll have my eye on Cote d'Ivoire next time. This is a squad that could really shake things up just as the tournament--and the rest of the world--begins to truly acknowledge their continent's growing significance in the footballing world when South Africa hosts in 2010.

Argentina Dreaming

It truly was a pretty move . . . . I haven't had a chance to rewatch the game, so my memory of it is still hazy with sleep and dreams, which is okay considering how amazing the whole thing went down. I normally wouldn't get so excited by such a one-sided match, but the play of brilliance was such a brutal display of finesse and trickster power that I can't get it out of my head. The Guardian reported that it was a "24- pass move" but I can't remember. But it culminated with midfielder Esteban Cambiasso passing it to striker Hernan Crespo near the penalty area who then immediately sent the ball back to Cambiasso with a nifty little back flick. Cambiasso then rocketed the ball into the net, securing the second goal for Argentina, and in turn preparing the way for four more nails in the coffin of Serbia and Montenegro. A play so beautiful it sent Maradona into hysterics.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

The bad: England beats Trinidad & Tobago in another uninspired performance which was not only sub-par, but, it turns out, possibly was won by dastardly means. This is the first loss of the match which has really hurt.

The bad: Watching England beat the Soca Warriors with the other two members of a pretty move, who were both cheering for them. Scribbled in my notes from the game: "I can't believe my compatriots support the empire against the colonized!" I should've met up with Zach instead.

The bad: Lured to check out the City Sportsbar by an ad promising a 159-inch projector screen and $5.95 lunch specials, we arrived to find one rude bartender (terribly put out when I had the audacity to ask if they were going to show World Cup on the big screen when a lacrosse game began minutes before kickoff--okay, perhaps I was hasty, but I asked nicely and it was footie) who doesn't know how to pull a good pint of Guinness anyway--see Thirsty Lion, the good, below. Decent lunch specials, pleasant waitress, but snotty bartender spoiled my mood and turns out, the picture's not sharp on a 159-inch projector screen anyway. Duh! We won't be back.

The bad: A win for Paraguay would make it a bit easier for T&T to squeak through. Paraguay loses to a dull Swedish side.

The good: Thirsty Lion at 9 am. They are owned by a company called Concept Entertainment, which, frankly, makes our skin crawl, but they have complimentary coffee (and their coffee tastes better than Kells'), multiple widescreens, a really nice bartender who was into the match ("I get paid to watch World Cup!") and pulls a fantastic pint of Guinness which costs the same $5 as a badly poured pint at City Sportsbar and is an imperial pint. Also: rather than seeming baffled or annoyed by their enthusiastic World Cup crowd (see City Sportsbar above), this staff started laughing when spectators screamed in horror at momentary loss of picture on screen.

The good: John Terry's amazing save, even if it broke my heart. Steven Gerrard's fantastic goal, even if it broke my heart. Why couldn't England have more moments like that?

The good: Portland Timbers beat Minnesota Thunder tonight in an away match tonight, 2-1. Goals for Mamba Chisoni and Luke Kreamalmeyer (who is fast becoming one of my favorites). We are only one point behind first-place Rochester!

The ugly: Much of the soccer I saw today.

The tally: I am genuinely sad that T&T lost today--or rather, that they lost to a side that has proved to be so disappointing thus far, much in the way I mind how the US lost more than the fact that they did so. And then the already bad taste in my mouth is worsened by the Sancho/Crouch controversy.

So I'm done thinking about soccer till 6 am tomorrow. Fresh new day and three fantastic matches ahead as a balm to my spirit!

a pretty move makes some predictions

Now that the first round is over and we've seen (or at least heard about) the performances of all the squads thus far, who do we predict to go through to the round of sixteen? Let's see how thoroughly we can embarrass ourselves. Lisa wisely declined to state on groups where she felt she hadn't seen enough of the teams; this same condition was no impediment to either Derek or me in mouthing off about our opinions.

Group A:
This one's a giveaway, Germany and Ecuador of course.

Group B:
England and Trinidad & Tobago - all of us

Group C:
Argentina and Netherlands - Derek
Argentina and Ivory Coast - Lynda
decline to state - Lisa

Group D:
Mexico and Portugal - Derek and Lisa
Mexico and Iran - Lynda

Group E:
Italy and Czech Republic - all of us

Group F:
Brazil and Australia - Derek, Lisa
Brazil and Croatia - Lynda

Group G:
Switzerland and Korea - Derek, Lynda
decline to state - Lisa

Group H:
Spain and Tunisia - all of us

Check comments field for our remarks on our choices.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Things Worth Fighting For

Some men fight for friends; some for family. And if those reasons fail to incite you to wage havoc, you can always drag out the (un)holy trinity of justifications--Country, God, and simple Pride.

But leave it to the fabulous World Cup underdogs Trinidad and Tobago, who'll be battling it out with England tomorrow (9:00 a.m. Pacific Time), to fight for something a little more intoxicating.


Brazil v Croatia 1-0

Is it possible to be football fan and have no vehement opinion about Brazil? I don't think so. A part of me wants to insist that if you hate Brazil, you must be in possession of a small and miserly soul, a heart which is, like the Grinch's, two sizes too small--how can you hate the flair? the laughter? the music? the sheer joy of it all? the pretty moves? Yet I know there are some of you out there, perhaps even (gasp!) friends of mine, who are otherwise fair and generous folk, despite your loathing of the Samba Boys. And so we shall have to agree to leave this distasteful and unfortunate lapse on your part someplace where we won't stumble across it too often, and speak of it no more.

The Brazilians were decent if not dazzling in their match with Croatia--save for Ronaldo. I grew tired of the anti-Ronaldo bandwagon weeks before the World Cup even started, and I never intended to jump on for the ride, but--he was shocking. Standing around like he was on the sidelines. Apparently waiting on someone to send him a pass that would cost him as little effort as possible. Strolling out of the dressing room onto the pitch after the second half had already begun. Now, I'm going to cut Ronaldo a modicum of slack here on account of the fact that if I were a superstar Brazilian soccer player, I too would be tempted to overindulge in good food and women and I just bet you would too. Oh yes you would. On the other hand, I have managed to turn up to work at perfectly appalling jobs to take home at the end of forty hours what Ronaldo makes in about forty seconds. Ronaldo, stop thinking about the ache down below and do your job.

Certainly one of Brazil's best moments came when the ball erupted off Kaka's foot in that glorious and deadly strike, his first-ever World Cup goal. But it's the Croatians, the team and their fans, who are my first great revelation of this tournament. This is a squad I underestimated; they did, after all, make it to third place in 1998. Still, few believe this year's players match the quality of the ones who came so close in France eight years ago.

You couldn't blame most teams for feeling a little rattled at the prospect of facing Brazil in their opening match. If Croatia was rattled, however, they never let us know. They showed themselves to be a solid, well-organized side, and--especially when compared with the fear-dogged US team--a courageous one as well. They played with--dare I say it yet again, that overused but perenially useful phrase--they played with heart, like they believed they could win, and with supporters like that on your side, how could you not? For as the final minutes of the match ticked down, that swelling noise you heard was not the Brazilian fans, but the Croatians, down one goal and coming away without a single point, on their feet, proud and loyal to the very end, singing in full voice on and on into the warm Berlin night.

Women Fans Offside in Iran

Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panahi tricked Iran's Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance and shot guerilla-style to produce Offside, a film about Iranian women's efforts to be allowed in the stadiums to support their teams. And, apparently, it's a comedy! And more here.

Here's hoping P-Town's International Film Festival sees fit to bring this one to next year's screens.

the world cup and my subconscious

The following are excerpts from my dream journal in the weeks leading up to the World Cup:

Apr 19. I am an old footballer's daughter. He's retired and moved us to Ipswich, where he manages the team. Two of his friends come to visit; one is Sir Trevor Brooking. Sir Trevor points out that we live in the middle of nowhere. He gives me a cigarette (I am about thirteen in this dream) and lights it with his own. It takes several draws, but eventually it catches.

May 21. I'm on a bus and several of the Portland Timbers disembark. The last is Harry Kewell, who shines with strength and vitality and is dressed like a college student, carrying a satchel. I think how lucky that he is a Timber and what a fine team we have this year.

May 24. U.S. v. Germany, a 1974 World Cup qualifier. Beckenbauer is furious, raging, because the U.S. folds so easily. He wants a worthy opponent, one he can dismantle methodically and without pity.

May 25. The Hindu community is in an uproar because Wayne Rooney has bought a hut on the Ganges where he raises chickens, a clear violation of Hindi codes and traditions.

May 30. I am watching the World Cup in a computer classroom with Milton Nascimiento and his family. The computers are running a perpetual program teaching Morse code.

May 31. Verona v. Liverpool. It is a long dream, like the match gets replayed and I watch it twice. All I remember, though, is that Ronaldo plays for Verona and I watch Luis Garcia get progressively tanner and more golden-skinned, as if the game stretches across a whole summer instead of an afternoon.

June 3. I am straightening magazines at the bookstore. An Englishwoman is leaving. I say something about World Cup, and she says, "Oh, are they still at it, all that cursing and dancing?" I say happily that they are and she smiles and says, "Well, it'll get worse before it gets better."

puyol is like a god to me

I indulge in hyperbole, but not much. Did you see that 81st-minute run? Did you SEE that? Gorgeous. That goal belongs to Puyol more than to Torres. If you didn't watch the match, fast-forward to the 80th minute...No, don't. Watch the whole thing. It's fast and spirited, an attacking game from beginning to end. These Spaniards are interacting as smoothly and well as--well, as Brazilians. Better, I think, than our beloved Brazilian "orchestra" as seen against Croatia: not quite up to its normal sky-high standards, although not by any stretch failing.

These Spaniards, these Spaniards have stolen my heart. What a defense! With Casillas and Ramos and Puyol in the back, you have no worries; all you have to think about is attacking. And attack they did, continually, smoothly, victoriously. It's too bad about that red card (Vashchuk at the 47th minute, for bringing down Torres in the box, but in replay it looks like there's no real foul there at all), as it mars an otherwise lovely win.

Further confession: you know the ad with the kids? ("Jugamos?" "Si." "Cisse." "Kaka." etc) I pause to watch it every single time. I can't get enough of it. And how many times have we seen it now? One hundred? Two?

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Italy v Ghana 2-0

Unable to watch the game live, I caught the Italy/Ghana match on tape later in the evening and immediately felt calm and relaxed (I had no allegiance to either team) as I slipped into its slick melodramatic narrative. I've never been a fan of the Italian side, as I'd always been turned off by their reliance on catenaccio--offense, defense, defense, defense, end of game. The Azzurri coach, Marcello Lippi, earnestly promised to the world beyond Italia's gates that his team would not engage in the conservative play of yesteryear and that they would be forward-thinking and attack, attack, attack.

I figured Lippi's promise, however sincere, was bullshit. And with the Italian soccer scandal overflowing in the weeks leading up to the World Cup, I didn't expect much from the Azzurri despite all of the great things I had read about the squad and that they were still contenders to take it all regardless of the criminal behaviour festering all around them. More bullshit, I thought smugly, content to ignore them.

The game between the Azzurri and the Black Stars ended up being pretty damn exciting, especially on the heels of the lacerating Czech Republic defeat of the U.S. team. Ghana, led by Chelsea-man Michael Essien, was progressive and swift from the outset. Only in the second half did they lose focus and allow the disappointment of all those missed shots run riot in their heads.

But Italy's eventual 2-0 win was hardly a rout by any stretch of the imagination*. The Black Stars consistently kept the Azzurri flustered, though the bewilderment was often mutual. Italy's relentless attempts on goal were blistering panic attacks slathered with theatrics. See! Luca Toni grimace in existential anguish! See! the Azzurri moan to the heavens for another chance, another chance for communion with the net! And what about those amazing operatic stunts . . . I mean dives . . . eh, I mean injuries? A splendid operatic spectacle, to say the least.

I wish Ghana had pulled off the upset. They sure earned it. But if Italy is going to continue playing with such verve and elasticity, then I might just become a fan yet, scandal or no scandal. I just wish they weren't so damn arrogant.

* watch the Czech/U.S.A. match to witness a real de-pantsing.

three words: tomas rosicky, baby

It is a pleasure to watch this young man play. He has the perfect balance of ruthlessness and grace to play for Arsenal, too; I hate to say it, but Arsenal may rule a good portion of the civilized world next year. Everyone talks about the first goal, but the second one was my personal favorite: a sweet steal, a confident run, a ball in the corner. Lovely.

I have been thinking lately about that Thing all the great strikers and many of the great midfielders have, that ability to shift into a sort of zen state in which the power runs effortlessly through them, through the ball, sometimes to the point of defying physics. Rosicky has that. Ronaldinho has it, Kaka and Rooney, to name a few. (Gerrard takes it a step beyond and somehow manages to bully his way into the stream of zen from sheer bull-headedness.) When a player is relaxed into the zen stream, the intangible "X", the invisible force, he can embark on a run down the center through a thorny cluster of defenders or fire a strike from 35 yards out and there is a sense of destiny about the goal, a sense that the gods have written it into the law, that nothing short of a cleat to the Achilles' tendon is going to stand in its way.

There was exactly such a moment in the Liverpool v. Milan Champions Final (can't stop thinking about it, can't stop talking about it), and it was, in fact, the moment that turned the tide of the game. Milan had ruled effortlessly through the first half, easily, almost teasingly stealing the ball away whenever Liverpool started in on an attack. Crespo's goals were lovely, and Maldini's came within the first minute, surprising even him. The confident Milanese surge continued in the second half in spite of gritted-toothed, dogged determination from Gerrard and Alonso in pursuit of the elusive goal. Then, at the 50th minute, grace descended, ushered in by a sacrificial foul.

Kaka had stolen the ball and launched on an explosive run down the middle, one of the zen runs which feel inevitable, unstoppable, and it looked like Milan's rule would go unchallenged. Then, coolly and cleanly, Sami Hyypia brought him down hard with one subtle motion of the foot. It was easily a red-card crime, and he managed to walk away with a warning. It was a gamble, as Shevchenko took the kick, but by then, the zen had descended on the entire team. For ten long minutes, Liverpool could do no wrong.

At the 54th, Riise's cross was perfectly finished by a header from Gerrard. A minute later Smicer put one into the net. At the 59th, Gerrard embarked on his own wildfire plunge toward the goal and Gattuso tried the Hyypia trick but without the same luck, as Alonso pulled off a rebound on his saved kick to equalise. It was the 60th minute, exactly ten since Hyypia's foul turned their luck, ten minutes of magic. After that, the gods backed away again and the boys in red were on their own, but they never gave up the struggle, and pulled off the win.

The Zen moment: it's the thing I love most about football. So far in this World Cup, Rosicky has been my favorite deliverer of beauty. If only he were coming to West Ham.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Round One: In which the US are, frankly, humiliated

So, what do you do when your own national squad, who, God love em, are in no danger of approaching the rarefied air of the finals, goes up against one of the countries you actually do realistically hope might make it all the way?

Well, you watch it at home in your living room, for one thing.

Ambivalence (or perhaps just a lack of appropriate enthusiasm) about the national team, however, does not mean that one is still not somewhat embarrassed by today's lackluster performance. Where to start? We played like we were jet-lagged. Landon Donovan barely showed up, which happens; more surprising was that Brian McBride didn't either, with a few exceptions--one of which was when he appeared to be the only defender marking a Czech player in front of the box, the problem, of course, being that McBride's not a defender at all. Where was the defense? Where was the offense? Where was the squad? Eddie Johnson had a couple of decent chances and that was about it. And it was painful to see those shots get past Kasey Keller, who is probably my favorite player on the national team.

Just a bad day, or the shape of things to come? Trouble is, there are no allowance for bad days in the Cup (unlike in the MLS, from which half the players are drawn, which is basically a season of meaningless friendlies leading up to the play-offs). And Marcello Balboa didn't make us look any more soccer savvy by commenting more than once that at the 1990 World Cup they were "just a bunch of college kids" who "didn't know what the World Cup was." Really? I mean, you're playing at the level of the US national team and you really don't have a grasp of what the Cup means to the rest of the world?

Are we really that isolationist? Wait, don't answer that question.

You think I sound cranky? Go see what Zach has to say about the debacle.

The Czech Republic, on the other hand, looked magnificent, definitely a team that could go all the way to the final. Congratulations to them and I wish them all the luck.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

We're Still Number Two!

Portland Timbers went 0-0 with a tough Vancouver Whitecaps side that was considerably less exciting than Sweden v. Trinidad & Tobago's nil-nil result earlier in the day, but what 0-0 match isn't? The crowd was understandably somewhat subdued--it was, after all, only my fourth match in approximately 36 hours, but some were doubtless heading into their sixth--but we did mount enough enthusiasm to carry a chant honoring former Timbers defender Brent "SAN-CHO! SAN-CHO! SAN-CHO!" for his outstanding performance with the T&T national squad. Go here for match report and photos, including the controversial Whitecaps goal that wasn't (I say it was, but you didn't hear it from me, and anyway, consider it karmic payback for bad calls that went against us in the past).

No more home games for three weeks now, which is a bit of a relief as we turn our focus exclusively to Germany for a while. In the meantime, Timbers play on the road against Montreal, Minnesota, Rochester, and Vancouver again and hopefully return home with more points than they know what to do with. And typing that last sentence suddenly leads me to wonder: how come all the other USL squads (with the exception of Puerto Rico) are named for their cities of origin except the Minnesota Thunder, who get to claim a whole state as their stomping ground?

World Cup Spotlight: Mexico; Mexico vs. Iran 3-1

This was the first great match I've seen so far. The first one that sucked me in emotionally and reminded me--clarified--why I love this game so much. There's no denying the magnitude of animosity between the U.S. and Mexican national squads. On the pitch, players from either side tussle, kick, dive, bitch, moan, and whine shamelessly. Off the pitch, in the stands and in the streets, the shared loathing is palpable as well. Everytime I hear those ugly, stabbing chants of "USA! USA! USA!" desperately bent on mutilating every pinata in sight, I sink in my seat and feel embarrassed for my fellow countrymen a little more, though sometimes I just hate them. Being half Mexican and half a mish mash of various Northern European blood, I've always felt conflicted about who to root for when it comes to the border war. I like the American squad for the most part and want them to do well whether it's in the World Cup or not, and there are certainly players I enjoy watching (Pope, Beasley, Reyna, McBride, Johnson, and metalhead Keller). But ever since last summer when I watched the Mexican squad during the Confederations Cup (when they beat Brazil) I'm no longer conflicted about the rivalry.

The current Mexican national team, manhandled by the mucho macho Argentinean Ricardo Lavolpe, is more free-flowing and dynamic than they've been in years, and the squad will frequently change formation in a game if the old one is simply not working. They're also scrappy, attack-minded, and players like the rangy bobble-headed Jared Borgetti aren't timid about mixing it up with a strapping behemoth like Oguchi "Gooch" Onyewu from the U.S. team either. And with the influx of young talent into the ranks, Los Tricolores have the realistic chance of making it to the quarter finals at the least and possibly all the way to the final. With Ramon Morales, Antonio Naelson, and Jaime Lozano in the midfield, Rafael Marquez, Ricardo Osorio, and the great Claudio Suarez holding the line in the back, and keeping Borgetti, Guillermo Franco (when he's not flopping around on the pitch), Francisco Fonseca, and Omar Bravo hunting for shots up front, the possibilities are wide open.

Mexico got a chance to test their World Cup mettle earlier today in their opening match against a solid Iranian team. I tried watching the ABC coverage but changed it to Univision after a few minutes when I couldn't take Brent Musburger and company blathering on about the U.S. team during the pre-game show. Why not honor the two teams actually playing and save the requisite ballyhoo for Arena and the boys for their own day in the spotlight? I'm not sure whether the inability to do so is strictly an American broadcasting irritation or a virtual pandemic plaguing all countries that have teams in the cup--but I digress.

The match itself was splendid. Team Melli played well and their one goal by Yahya Golmohammadi was a nice one, but the team's defense unraveled to the point of no return in the second half, leaving them weak for the two pronged Mexican strike from Bravo (his second goal of the game) in the 76th minute and another one from substitute Antonio Zinha in the 79th. With flair and courage the Mexicans have failed to display in recent friendlies, this was the team I had originally fallen in love with. And if the sight of keeper Oswaldo Sanchez, who unexpectedly lost his father last week (he was supposed to be at today's match watching his son play), embracing his fellow teammates in bittersweet triumph didn't move you, then you have no soul. Viva Mexico!

before there was the crouch, there was the dudek dance

Long have I heard tell of the Liverpool v. Milan 2005 Champions final, legendary for its excitement. Night before last I finally watched it, and, man, it is all that and a case of beer. That's the best football I've seen in a good long time. So in honour of Poland in its hour of disappointment I offer up one of the most entertaining bits of a highly entertaining match: the Dudek Dance, which Liverpool keeper Jerzy Dudek used to freak out his opponents during the penalty shoot-out. And it worked like a charm.

For those of you (Derek) who have lost faith in England, watch this match. It'll remind you of the great things, and give you heart to follow the lads further.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Watching Soccer in Portland: Kells

I've been to Kells maybe three or four times over the last ten years; my impression was that it was an okay place but perhaps a bit on the upscale side for the likes of me, as far as pubs go. It's one of those American "Irish" pubs that fails to actually resemble any pub I've ever been to in Ireland. But when our first choice for the World Cup opener, Horse Brass, turned out to be closed at 9 am, we thought we'd check Kells out.

I ended up liking it a lot. They have two small widescreen monitors above the bar and a huge screen down at one end. The place was packed, so plan ahead; Lisa arrived around 8:30, stood in line outside, and ended up wtih a table near the back, and plenty were standing. A good, enthusiastic, international crowd turned up, with supporters of both sides (and some neutrals cheering for everyone). The friendly staff was unfazed by the turnout and handled it with aplomb; they served up beer to those dedicated enough to get started at 9 am (and there were plenty of takers) but were happy to let us linger for hours over nothing more than coffee till we ordered some lunch near noon. They were also savvy enough to make an attempt to switch over to Setanta (unsuccessfully--audio problems) for the second match in order to spare us all the painful banter of American commentators--don't get me wrong, I'm grateful the games are shown here at all, but do we really need to be told things like "Soccer is a game you play with your feet--you can't use your hands"? (Luckily, Tommy Smyth and Adrian Healey had taken over, and I know there are people who dislike them but at least they know something about the game.)

Kells' biggest drawback is its prices (breakfast and lunch mostly in the $7-$10 range without beverages, pints of Guinness a whopping $5.50); however, I enjoyed watching the match there enough that I'll be back at some point in spite of the cost.

Check their webpage to keep current on what matches they're showing throughout the year and on whether or not there is a cover charge (and no cover if you can show an Irish passport, so dig out your grandparents' birth certificates and get yourself naturalized).

Go here for our previous review of soccer-watching at the Marathon.

England, Bloody England: a rant

The Three Lions are my sentimental favorite in the World Cup. Well, them and the Czech Republic. Sure, I love to watch Brazil dance across the pitch, and I sure do love me my underdogs (Senegal in '02; T&T presently), but England has always been--for better or worse--my national squad to dream about, laugh at, cry over, and curse when the going gets ugly. And ugly it got today. Sven's lads won alright, but it was frequently pedestrian, boring, unimaginative, and . . . ghastly.

It wasn't all bad, I guess. The team actually seemed to start off strong, Beckham delivered some nice crosses, Joe Cole did his Pele from Albion bit, and the defense was diligent and focused. But the end of the first half and the entire second half were miserable to witness, and I even dozed for a few minutes on the couch when the rough just kept on going and going and going.

Sven and Beckham blame the heat for the lousy performance, and maybe they're right. I ain't gonna blame anyone (even though I could take aim at RoboCrouch and all the other mental absentees) at this point except my own foolish wish fulfillment. For the last week I actually believed Sven's assertion that the team would play more creatively, be more attack-minded, and not shut down offensively once they got their goal. Alas, they protected their goal (and it was an own goal for crying out loud!!!!) like aged skinflints resigned to never see another. After yesterday's inspired and enjoyable Germany v. Costa Rica match, I was more than ready for the Three Lions to heroically add to the goal count and prove to the world that the English style of play under Eriksson wasn't always unpleasant, conservative, and moribund.

Perhaps I'm the one in need of a cold shower.

Timbers Play Vancouver Tonight

Can't get enough soccer? (And who could??) World Cup making you want more, more, more? Don't forget the Timbers play Vancouver tonight in PGE Park at 7 p.m. Will it reach the exalted heights of last week's celebration? How will you know if you don't show up? If you've been watching the tournament unfold in Germany but you've never dropped in to see how your local squad's holding up, now's the perfect time to keep that soccer glow going!

The show on the pitch is increasingly fun to watch this season, and the atmosphere at these matches is fantastic. Go here for a match preview.

Soca Warriors Survive!

Eric Cantona on behalf of Nike would have been delighted: Trinidad & Tobago played with as much heart as I've seen from any team, just as I'd hoped they would. One man down throughout the entire second half, they still held off the Swedes 0-0. Goalkeeper Shaka Hislop was fantastic and even Henrik Larsson couldn't make a difference for his country.

This was the first real match of the World Cup for me, and a fantastic example of how a final score like 0-0 (so often disparaged by Americans) doesn't begin to tell the story of how exciting a match can be. The Soca Warriors simply did not give up, not for one second. They weren't always organized when they got near the goal, and their passing sometimes went awry, but Sweden just couldn't seem to get it (or keep it) together. They made some wild shots, and seemed increasingly frustrated as the match wore on. At several points I worried that their relentless attacks would eventually result in a goal, but somehow T & T always managed to regain some control.

Trinidad & Tobago and their supporters can be thoroughly proud of the one point they grabbed for themselves tonight. Next up is their June 15 match against England (which, to my despair, I'll miss watching live). Go Soca Warriors! This is the stuff World Cup legends are made of!

Friday, June 09, 2006

World Cup Spotlight: Ecuador

I don't think anyone, including their own fans, expected Ecuador to come off as well as they did against Poland today, scoring as many goals in their opening match as they did total in 2002 before exiting their group in last place. But don't go placing your bets on them just yet--inconsistency seems to be their downfall, as they've beaten both Brazil and Argentina in qualifying rounds. Apparently the high altitude conditions at home in Quito contribute to favorable results that they haven't been able to reliably replicate abroad.

But there is this: Colombian coach Luis Suarez not only believes in his squad's ability to go far, but is said to value playing football that's beautiful to watch, which makes him a man after my own heart. Frankly, Ecuador's one of the World Cup squads that scarcely registered with me before today (when I think of Ecuador, I think ooh, Galapagos islands, not football!), but now I'll be keeping my eye on them to see if they can continue to upset sensible expectations and expert predictions. It's just that sort of thing that makes the World Cup so much fun, after all.

welcome to the world cup, day one

At long last, the big day. Kell's overflowed with enthusiasm. It was hard to hate the Germans because their strikes were so damnably impressive, but Costa Rica can hold its head high. For long minutes it looked like they were doing nothing at all, then out of nowhere, like magic, there was Wanchope, embarked on one of his quick and snakelike bursts, all the way to the back of the net. Germany, with all its strengths, was lax in defense past the midfield, relying entirely on the offiside trap and Lehmann. (Ah, the look on Lehmann's face as the ball passed him by. Priceless. Equally priceless: the smile on Oliver Kahn's face by the time Lehmann had let two goals past.) End result: 4-2 Germany, but a good time had by all.

We didn't know what to expect from Poland v. Ecuador, and it turned out to be a fairly well-matched game. Both teams seemed sure-footed and determined, but between Ecuador's full-on attack mode and Poland's bad luck, Ecuador took it, 2-nil.

Tomorrow's the really big day: three matches then a Timbers game on top of it.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Where to Watch World Cup in Portland Redux

Following up on Lisa's post of 28 May:

Cheerful Tortoise -- divey tavern popular with PSU students is advertising as showing all games. (They also have a location in Beaverton for those of you stuck in the burbs.) It's probably best to call ahead to make sure they mean those 6 am matches when they say "all games." Cheerful Tortoise is friendly and cheap and serves breakfast all day; if you are sensitive to smoke it may not be your best bet.

Horse Brass, Kells, and The Thirsty Lion all have World Cup schedules up on their webpages. Note that Horse Brass seems to be only showing games earlier than noon if England or the US are playing or on weekends, so you'll want to look elsewhere if being out and about for the opening match is important to you. That said, we like the Horse Brass a lot and recommend it!

Sam's Hollywood Billiards -- 1845 NE 41st --503-282-8266--And finally, while the whole point of going out to watch matches is to do so in the company of like-minded fans, which means hitting the spots that promote themselves as World Cup venues, the three of us wandered into this Hollywood joint back in 2002 when the crush of British fans at the Moon & Sixpence for the 2002 Brazil v. England quarterfinal made it impossible to get past the entryway. They sorta went "Huh? World Cup?" but amiably handed us a remote control and once we'd changed the channel, we weren't alone for long, as passersby, many also adrift from M&S, were lured in ("You're watching World Cup? Great!") and we were soon surrounded by a couple-three dozen enthusiasts. Cavernous room with lots of pool tables, a pleasant staff, and I think they serve food, too.

Edited to add:
The City Sportsbar -- Another downtown spot; they have an ad in this week's Willamette Week that they are opening at 7 am for breakfast during World Cup.

World Cup Spotlight: Poland

Poland's 2002 World Cup experience was nothing short of miserable, unluckily beginning with a match against the home squad in Busan, South Korea and ending in a humiliating exit at the bottom of their group, having failed to garner any goals at all save for a 3-1 win against the United States. They once again face the misfortune of tangling with the home team in the group stage when they play against Germany on June 14, but they have a chance to build some confidence first in their opening-day match against Ecuador. This is a squad that will be grateful to see the round of sixteen: anything beyond that is gravy.

That's not to say that they aren't capable, only that Poland seems like one of the unknowns. This year's squad is either old or experienced, depending on who you talk to. They were strong in the qualifiers, and have twice finished in 3rd place--once in Germany--but that was years ago, 1974 and 1982. And then there is the fact that Poland has never beaten Germany. This is the kind of statistic that always represents a psychological hurdle for a squad--but a win under those conditions means all bets are off. Once the natural order of things is upset, anything might happen.

And do not underestimate this: when I lived in the Czech Republic, I found many Czechs still harboring a deep-seated resentment of the two countries that had occupied them in the twentieth century, Germany and Russia. There might well be a similar sentiment in their northern neighbors. The World Cup is a place where old wounds may reopen under (mostly) more civil circumstances; perhaps this will be Poland's year to settle some old scores on the pitch while redressing the disappointment of their 2002 campaign.

World Cup Spotlight: Brazil

Adriano. Ronaldo. Kaka. Ronaldinho. Emerson. Ze Roberto. Cafu. Lucio. Juan. Roberto Carlos. Dida. Eleven men that equal the elementary particles for World Cup success.

Brazil are the reigning kings of the beautiful game and they've won the cup five times. They're ranked number one on the all-time World Cup table. For millions of fans worldwide, the South Americans represent the Platonic ideal of how futebol should be played, performed, and offered up to the gods of the pitch. Although bound to their divine past, when players such as Garrincha and a young Pele reconfigured the game and forged history, the 2006 national team has likewise reestablished the possibilities of futebol by delivering to the world arguably the most formidable Brazilian squad ever.

There's no denying that the Brazilians are great. But are they unbeatable? And although I realize it's difficult to find anything missing or wrong with them, the Brazilians are hardly untouchable. The lead up to the tournament has found a few of their players--Ronaldo, Roberto Carlos, Adriano, Dida--having sluggish seasons with their respective clubs, and in the case of Cafu, spending most of the year on the sidelines injured.

And then there's the whole psychological weight of Ronaldinho and the boys being labeled favorites for the tournament. As Alex Bellos, author of the book Futebol: The Brazilian Way of Life, wrote in the May 2006 issue of Four Four Two, the Brazilians have a number of other problems and mental hurdles to conquer besides how to deal with Ronaldo's penchant for indulgence, most notably that the national team has never won when they've been branded favorites, and besides winning against host nation Sweden in 1958, Brazil has never won a World Cup title on European soil, let alone successfully defended one.

In the end, though, I've no doubt that the Samba Boys will reach the final. But will the importance of living up to their destiny be too much for them in the end? Probably not. And who cares, I guess, just as long as they play with the joy that we've come to expect from them.

Monday, June 05, 2006

World Cup Spotlight: Australia

I harbor ambivalence towards Australia. On the one hand, everybody loves an underdog, and they don't come underdoggier than the Socceroos in the World Cup. FIFA-ranked 48th last time I checked, it's been 32 years since they qualified, and they did it by knocking out Uruguay--Uruguay!--in penalties. It'd be difficult not to feel John Aloisi's joy in the wake of that final kick. Difficult not to admire Mark Schwarzer, an extraordinary keeper, whose saves made the victory possible, or Harry Kewell, who subbed in at 30 minutes and brought with him the energy that turned the game in their favor.

But what if the underdogs turn out to be snarling mastiffs? Ben Rice in The Thinking Fan's Guide to the World Cup tells a cringe-inducing story of a 2001 Australian victory over American Samoa, final score 31-nil (possibly 32. It's disputed). A few days earlier they'd trounced across Tonga, 22-nil. Granted, Australia had a thing to prove. It may be the only place in the world outside the U.S. where football is a game called soccer which ranks third or fourth in importance after other sports, some brazenly calling themselves football. The alternating indifference and amused indulgence with which Australians view the beautiful game is all too familiar to us Yankees.

But 31-nil? 22-nil? It becomes a question of ethics: at what point do you let up? After a six-goal lead--OK, I'll give a margin for machismo--a ten-goal lead, a team has a certain moral imperative to back off, just out of common decency. These men have to go home and face their neighbors, their wives. It's well and good talking about victory at any cost, but once the win is in the bag, there's a point at which red-blooded, competitive zeal gives way to gleeful sadism. Dismantle your moral compass, strip yourself of empathy, and you're headed into a soulless, Jens Lehmannesque sort of hell where the beauty of the game cannot follow.

That said, I'm excited to watch these players. They rest now in the interesting hands of Guus Hiddink, and Schwarzer, rock-solid in the goal, opens up space for scintillating play from men like Kewell and Tim Cahill. If nothing else, I expect vast explosions of pure, raw energy.

The Twelfth Man

Something extraordinary happened Saturday night, in the shed, on the pitch, and throughout PGE Park. Reports are trickling out that formerly sedate sections of the stadium were swept up in the frenzy of an entire North End pogoing to "Seven Nation Army" and took up the cry. The thick of 107 itself was a glorious, Dionysian madness. Less than 48 hours later the night already takes on mythic proportions, in tellings and retellings and remembrances of the best night ever. You'd trade a week, a month of your life for a night like Saturday. You would.

And it all started out innocuously enough, even quietly. The sections--which were eventually packed--were slow to fill before the game began, and the Timbers Army was on a slow burn, seeming to take its time finding a rhythm and a voice. I found myself worrying because we'd brought The Wave Generator to his first soccer game ever and promised him a raucous good time at the derby: but maybe following Friday's game the faithful were too weary and hungover to muster the usual energy? Plus, no Preston Burpo to heap abuse upon; perhaps it would all be anticlimactic!

I need not have worried. Fifteen minutes in, Guti (tragically shorn of his glorious locks, which fortunately did not have a Samson-like effect on his soccer god qualities) received a pass from Mike Randolph and his strike found the back of the net. Guti Guti Guti! Oi oi oi! Now the shed was heating up! Seattle leveled the score about fifteen minutes later (with an admittedly nice header from Zach Scott) but a minute after that Mamba Chisoni's strike brought the Timbers into the lead again. As Derek said of Mamba, Now there's a man who understands the narrative of the game!

The second half was madness: Timber Jim's inspired bean-filled-water-bottles-turned-shakers-and-noisemakers along with the din of an increasingly euphoric North End saw the Timbers transform into a beautiful, inventive, attacking, unstoppable force. It was only a matter of time before the Timbers increased their lead and in the 87th minute Hugo Alcarez-Cuellar scored the decisive third goal, at which point the North End just lifted off the ground and flew around in the air for the last five minutes or so.

In soccer lore, when a team achieves that mystical unity in which they seem to be moving as one mind, when suddenly there is more happening on the pitch than can be attributed to the eleven players, it is said that the twelfth man is on the field; Saturday night we conjured up the twelfth man, and it was as magical an evening as I can ever hope to experience.

Video, more pictures, and match report here.