Friday, June 11, 2010

and so it begins...

We here at apm--like most of you, I imagine--couldn't wait for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa to start.  The opening ceremonies got things started with the requisite flourish and... well, you know, the usual artistic choices that accompany these sorts of things: gorgeous dancers, brilliant musicians, conceptual celebrations of team and country, the honorable Archbishop Desmond Tutu getting his groove on, a giant dung beetle kicking at a soccer ball, and R. Kelly.  Something for everyone. 

And then there were the games.  South Africa doesn't have the best squad in the world--although they did perform well at last year's Confederations Cup in South Africa--but they held their own against a Mexican side that should have done... oh... so... much better.  The first half was mostly in El Tri's favor, though the poor finishing by former Barcelona player Gio dos Santos and former West Ham jobber Guillermo Franco was aggravating for the team's supporters.  South Africa simply looked out-classed.  But come the second half things turned around with a fabulous rocket of a goal from South Africa's Siphiwe Tshabalala (we'll all be able to spell his name fast by the end of the tournament, you just wait) in the 55' minute, sending the Mexican players into a tailspin.  Rafa Marquez evened things up in the 79' minute, but El Tri was unable to do anything other than give South Africa more space, options, and ultimately a couple of wonderful chances at winning the match.  But it wasn't meant to be and the soccer gods bestowed upon the teams a fair draw.  Decent, relatively exciting football to be sure.

The next match, between Uruguay and the Republic of Ireland... sorry, France... was a whole other beast.  I don't know much about Uruguay other than that they've won the World Cup twice before--at the first tournament in 1930 and again in 1950--and they feature one of my favorite players, Diego Forlan.  I had high expectations for this one, but other than a few moments of inspiration here and there, it was mostly a game for lovers of defense and clogged-arterial football.  Not my thing.  It was skillful, tactical football on Uruguay's part, and the way they stymied France was something to behold--a squad that failed to show any enthusiasm for playing except for when Thierry Henry made his appearance in the late second half.  But it was dull, frustrating play as well.  A midday sedative of the worst kind for anyone craving a good dose of progressive, creative football.  In the end, it was 0-0.  Uruguay got a point for parking the bus in front of goal and France received one for their public shame.  Now, if only Forlan could create some magic with his finishing... showing the rest of the world who don't watch his brilliance every week in La Liga why he matters.

But it's just the beginning.  The tournament is long and there are always duds like the latter match.  There will be a couple more... and games that remind us why we love this sport in the first place.  I have a feeling the real good stuff is about to get rolling tomorrow.  A dung beetle promised me.

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