Wednesday, June 23, 2010


* I wonder which big club will now sign South Africa's Tshabalala - who looks like a hard-working player, and whose goal against Mexico was a beaut.

* When I was younger I very much bought into 'official,' proselytizing US Soccer stances. These days, I don't necessarily care if soccer becomes more popular in the States (though if it does, sure, great) ... which means I'm bored by the ridiculous commentators that ESPN hires for each World Cup, who are surely instructed to cater to the soccer newbie, but seemingly not allowed to do so in any kind of a sophisticated or agreeable way. The commentary is sometimes worse than the vuvuzelas this year. At the other end, I am still endlessly annoyed by the constant "think pieces" (hah) that come around every four years where non-soccer-loving American blowhards decide they know what it takes to "solve the problem" of "Americans just not liking soccer." The World Cup makes me quite jingoistic every time the USMNT takes the pitch, but honestly, why the hell should anyone care if Americans en masse embrace the sport or not? As long as the matches are readily televised, I myself am fine - and if people have a problem with draws or the offside rule, well, big deal. The sport doesn't "need" to become more popular.

* Bad and inconsistent officiating, which is of course the rule rather than the exception for World Cups. I admit my bias is what has me harping on it, but any neutral observer will grant that the US got horribly treated by Coulibaly in the Slovenia game (both the disallowed goal and the mind-boggling yellow card on Findlay), and also didn't get any favors in the game today v Algeria (another legitimate goal disallowed, plus what looked to be another phantom handball yellow card - on Beasley, this time). Brazil's Luis Fabiano scores a beautiful goal but after having blatantly used his arm to control the ball (but the goal stands, no official notices the handball); Clint Dempsey is swiped hard in the face in the penalty box by the Algerian captain, but again no call; but poor Harry Kewell of Australia gets red carded (one of many harsh red cards in this tournament) for an unintentional handball against Ghana ... likewise Gourcuff's (FRA) and Klose's (GER) excessive sendings-off ...

* As my 'second team' in any international competition is always Germany, I'm glad they didn't end up having to play the US in the Round of 16. That would have been rough to watch, like '02. Some predictions, though, for the eliminations round - Uruguay to surprisingly advance to the semifinals. This is because they've shown themselves to be defensively organized and also deadly upfront (what with Forlan, Suarez, etc.), and should be able to defeat the hard-working, easy-to-like South Korea, and also bypass the winner of the USA/Ghana match. Uruguay will fall in the semis, however, I'm supposing, to either Italy, Netherlands, or Brazil. Probably Brazil. Smart money for the semifinal match-up on the other side of the bracket (I guess, without checking any bookmakers' odds) is Argentina-Spain, and I'd bet that Maradona's side go through to meet Brazil in the final, and that the final four places look like this: 1. Brazil, 2. Argentina, 3. Spain, 4. Uruguay.

* USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! (Actually, though it would be a series of big surprises, it's certainly not beyond the pale for them to edge past both Ghana and then Uruguay or Korea, and then to make the semifinal - that would not be a bad run, considering that once upon a time, US soccer optimistically planned on winning the World Cup by 2010.)

* I'll keep my fingers crossed for the Ivory Coast and New Zealand ... just because ...

P.S. My favorite new soccer site/blog, discovered a few weeks before the World Cup, is Zonal Marking, which in addition to all kinds of fascinating analyses and rundowns, has also gone on record to combat the thoughtless public wisdom that (a) Dunga's Brazil are a purely defensive squad lacking any kind of attacking prowess, beauty, or fun, and (b) that all African teams are "tactically naive" (which I think I heard again today on ESPN before the morning games).


Daniel Kasman said...

Thanks for this Zach, I always love your football commentary.

Andy said...

As do I! Thank you also for the Zonal Marking recommendation. Their match reports are definitely enhancing my experience of this year's tournament.

Gareth said...

Nice predo on Uruguay's fate... The old "tactical naivete" argument with regard to African teams is incredibly patronising, but I have read some excellent academic takes on South African football in particular that suggest that fans tended, at least in the more distant past, to value individual performances and displays of skill almost as much as (more than?) team cohesion and even results.

I wonder if there is a degree to which at least some African teams aren't so much tactically naive as playing a form of football that springs from a different logic and obeys rules of its own? Of course, these days most players ply their trade in European rather than African leagues, with the exception of the South Africans, so they don't really come from that (possible) tradition any longer. Peter Alegi's book Laduma! is excellent on South African footballing history, and Laura Fair has a good chapter on football in Zanzibar if you're interested in this kind of thing.