Wednesday, June 16, 2010

you wouldn't call it fast and furious, exactly, but things are starting to move


Oddly enough, I'm OK with this, mostly because I had the grandest time yet just watching the lovely passing between my Spanish fellows. Once the substitutes were in (Torres joining Villa up front with the very promising Jesus Navas from Sevilla out on the wing), things felt like they were tightening up, getting the right proportion, coming on balance. Not that Torres did much. As I was just telling Derek, as a Liverpool fan you learn that if you expect nothing from Torres, he'll surprise you with extremes of joy; otherwise, he'll put you in a scowling mood more often than not. If you can catch a glimpse of his face early on, it's a good indicator: if he's looking petulant, forget about it; look elsewhere for your goals. If he's smiling and confident, you may be in for some brilliance... but for God's sake, don't let him catch you EXPECTING anything from him or he might collapse under the pressure.

The other reason I'm OK with it is that, as my brother was just reminding me, the teams that shine in group stages are, more often than not, utterly different from the ones who wind up shining later on. How well I remember Spain cruising blithely through the group stage in 2006, like young boys at ebullient play, and how crushing the disappointment (of which, incidentally, I had been well warned by those more wizened in the ways of the World Cup, and which warnings I, in my naivete, happily disregarded) when they bottomed out.


This may rate as my second favorite match, as Paraguay bitch-slaps Italy from their customary group stage torpor with a stunner of an early goal. To their credit, the boys in blue met the challenge (albeit, I suspect, reluctantly), shaking off the last remnants of their pre-tournament gloom and hibernation (the gloom, I read somewhere, is customary for the Italians when defending a title, and that makes all manner of sense to me) and diving headlong into the fray to grasp that all-important equaliser.


Frustrating, maybe over-cerebral (am I giving them too much credit here?), certainly rather dull win by the Dutch. As a Liverpool fan, I was looking forward to it as Daniel Agger v Dirk Kuyt, and while Kuyt came away with a late, well-won goal and the commentators' praise for his continuing hard work (and, whatever you think of him, he is certainly one of the hardest working men on any given pitch), Agger emerged with a bad miskick and an own-goal bounced off the back of his head; not a good day for my favorite Dane.

The man of the match for me, however, was Simon Poulsen, the young Danish defender who came back from the infamy and horror of having bounced that own-goal off Agger's head to redeem himself with the most beautiful save I've yet seen in any match, a forceful bicycle kick off the line to keep out Afellay's zinger in the 88th minute.


A slow start but an entertaining second half. I've been interested in the North Koreans since reading a piece in Time by a Liverpudlian who saw that match they played against Portugal in 1966 when they took a 3-0 lead only to be foiled by that paragon of scorers, the magical Eusebio, who led his team back to a 5-3 win. And they played well here. I wouldn't be utterly surprised if they were the other team to rise up to the knockout round from the ashes of the Group of Death. The Brazilians, like the Spanish and the Germans, look easy and fluid, not quite to standard yet, but who knows how much of that is getting used to this silly ball? or the astroturf? In any case, they look far more comfortable than they did in 2006 with Ronaldo lingering rather clumsily up-pitch and Ronaldinho never quite finding his samba. They look to be, as in days of yore, a joy to watch.


The Ivorians look the better side, but one senses the Portuguese are playing it safe until they meet Brazil. Ronaldo had one of those near-gorgeous moments of his with an early screamer pounded from distance off the post, but after that it was yawns all around. Funny: I hate that guy, that Ronaldo guy, but I do love to watch him play.


OK, OK, we've had enough grousing about the ball... except that I haven't got my two cents in yet. Are we all sick of watching the ball fly over the bar every third minute? Adidas says (see above link) that the point is the difference in playing at higher elevation, not the ball at all. It's also stated, interestingly enough, that the ball has had preparatory use in France, Argentina and Germany. Smart lads. You'd think everyone else might've got in on a piece of that action as well.

My boyfriend's theory is that the thing's got no spin. I wonder if future generations will look back on the Jabulani Kerfuffle and laugh at the old geezers who couldn't keep the ball down; the difference being, of course, that they'll have been raised with it. Anyway, I expect that from the Round of 16 forward everyone should have found sufficient familiarity with the Official Villain of the Tournament that we might have one or two free kicks that don't wind up in the rafters. Here's hoping.

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