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11 months Ago
The first round of the EM—which stands for Europameisterschaft, which means European championship in German—is over. The qualifying teams are mostly predictable, with all of the usual suspects making it through to the quarterfinals—France, England, Italy, Germany, Spain, Portugal—as well as the Czech Republic and Greece thrown in. Greece won the whole thing with an excruciating defensive style in 2004 and the Czech Rpeublic is often quite solid, so not really a surprise.
Some of the quarter-finalists have proven to be quite fun to watch—France, Italy and Spain performed quite well in the midfield in most of their matches, creating ample opportunities. They didn’t always capitalize on those opportunities, but at least they were creating them and giving us something to watch. Germany had a slightly different style that didn’t use the midfield so much but also created a lot of opportunities. Portugal and England did not look as good—despite what their fans will floridly scream in your face—and England especially seemed only able to score on set pieces and defensive mixups.
England’s sole goal against the Ukraine in the last match was off of a bad bounce off of the inside of a defender’s leg that Rooney hammered home with his massive head—newly adorned with an implanted coif—although it was far from the goal-scoring triumph that the German announcer I was watching claimed it to be. this 606 caller ranting about England sums it up rather well:
“What a poor, unimaginative, uninspriational, dour example of English football […] how many opportunities did we have for sitting at the edge of our seats? […] I was so bored I made about three cups of coffee during that match…and I didn’t miss anything!”
Click through to the rant because the whole thing’s quite funny and relatively well-delivered.
Mario Balotelli bicycle-kick goalFor truly inspired goals, look instead to the always exciting Mario Balotelli, who sealed Italy’s win against Ireland with a spectacular bicycle-kick goal or to Zlatan Ibrahimoviç, of Sweden, who full-volleyed his goal against France with such perfect timing and precision that there was never any doubt where it was headed. The Polish goal against Russia was an absolute cracker as the boys from Eurosport like to say. Rooney’s header was pretty ho-hum compared to those; I only mention it because the German announcer sounded like he needed a couple of minutes alone every time Rooney’s goofy-ass Shrek-like mug appeared on screen and one of the local papers splashed said Boo-Radley-like grin all over its cover.
Hulk happyI know it sounds like I hate the English team, but it’s more like I’m sick of listening to how awesome they are when I’ve been wholly bored with their pedestrian performance. And especially this love for Rooney, who played terribly in his first game back after five weeks off. He bobbled almost every ball put to him and did nothing of real note. If I was on the English team, I’d secretly be pissed that he got credit for that goal: he hadn’t earned it at all.
Where the commentators didn’t hesitate to chide Italy for their failure to pummel Ireland into the ground—and they played quite well in the midfield with a lot of possession but little finishing—they lauded England for an utterly dismal performance against the Ukraine. In fact, the Ukraine played very similarly to Italy: lots of inspired midfield with a lack of finishing, though no lack of shots.
Unlike other years, the players of many of these teams have finally figured out where the goal is, putting the ball on goal—and sometimes into cloying defensive legs or the goaltender—instead of moonballing it into the audience in an attempt to bend it in an expectation not matched by anything we know about the physical rules of our universe. France, in the first game in particular, seemed to be quite a force for finding the net and made for quite an exciting game, even if they didn’t score that much. Some of the set pieces still feature those frustrating rockets that never seem to come down and instead soar harmlessly off over the goal. I’m looking at you, Pirlo.
This. Is. Russia.I’ve been mostly watching the games on ZDF-HD, a German channel, because the announcers on Swiss TV are so damned biased—both the German- and French-language channels play clear favorites. And the BBC and ITV channels are wall-to-wall orgiastic displays of English-football love. The Swiss newspapers continue their less-than-subtle prejudice against the East Europeans, chiding the Croatian fans for “lighting flares” (something no other fans did, I’m sure) and the Russian fans for being “too martial [milataristic]” and including the picture shown to the right. Are you kidding me? That flag is awesome! It’s huge! It’s martial because there’s an armed Spartan on it? (The text at the bottom is clearly a play on the signature line from the movie 300.) The Swiss media chose instead to laud fans from Ireland and the Netherlands, two proper countries full of people who aren’t trying to steal our jobs.
And then there are the cameramen of all channels, who never, ever—ever—fail to highlight the most attractive young ladies cheering for their side. This roving, peeping-tom camera is such a standard part of football now that it’s featured on every channel, regardless of country-of-origin. With those telephoto lenses, they get creepily close, zooming in right on the glistening eyes with their HD lenses. We get it: hot girls are hot. Can we please just see some timely replays now? Especially for those fouls-that-aren’t-fouls and dives-that-aren’t-dives?
The officiating has actually been quite good, with the referees seeming to let the play run a bit more rather than whistling the ball dead at the slightest body contact. Offsides calls have been nothing short of outstanding—Italy breathes a sigh of relief here—and the only black mark so far is the uncounted goal by the Ukraine against England. That one was hard to understand, since there was a ref behind the goal, the one on the sideline and the main ref wasn’t too far away either. At any rate, goal-line technology inches closer, with even the decrepit Sepp Blatter weighing in in favor yesterday.
I’m actually going to be away from television and computers for the semifinal matches—maybe I can catch a game on a French radio station—but I’ll throw out some predictions:
- Czech Republic vs. Portugal
- Portugal: Christiano Ronaldo scored two in the last match and seems to be warming up. Czech Republic has a relatively well-organized side with a good midfield, but they haven’t shown a flair for finishing. Portugal’s defense will make its usual handful of grievous errors, but it probably won’t be enough to tip the balance in the Czech Republic’s favor.
- Germany vs. Greece
- Germany: Germany has looked good in every game this tournament, with a strong showing from back to middle to front. Greece was lucky to get this far and should not pose too big a problem. Look for a laser-like goal from Podolski; he hasn’t gotten one yet.
- Spain vs. France
- Spain: France is unlikely to overcome the ridiculous midfield control that Spain has exhibited so far. Italy played Spain to a standstill on Spain’s own terms, but France has not exhibited that they possess a similar ability in this tournament. Spain had trouble breaking through with a Croatian team that was strongly focused on defense, so the score might be low. Spain’s defense is occasionally porous—like Portugal’s—but it’s unlikely to cost them the game.
- England vs. Italy
- Italy: England looked awful against both France and the Ukraine, with both teams swarming all over them the whole match. Their defense is relatively tight—and it better be, considering the caliber of player they have and the fact that they play a 1-9 formation, with 9 men in their own penalty box for much of the game—but they scored multiple goals only against Sweden, where they were slightly less lackluster. Italy’s always unpredictable but, you know, Balotelli. ‘nuf said.
3 years Ago
Another NFL season is upon us. The Jets—weary, beleaguered, eternally unrewarded warriors—once again trudge to the line of scrimmage. The New York Jets: Week One by Morgan Meis (The Owls) has sports writing that borders on poetry:
“His name is Darrelle Revis and … [i]t is his fate to be the greatest cornerback, the greatest. He is so good that he erases himself. Did you see him during that first game, on Monday Night Football even as the fog lifted? No, you didn’t see him. That’s because his defensive genius negates whatever player he defends. The opposing team simply ignores that side of the field. And so he disappears, pulling all the stars around him down, down, into the quiet place where the opposing passing game goes to die. To Revis Island, where nothing happens.”
The season is young and hope has not yet died.
Just a quick note on Contador’s behavior in the Tour de France when he took advantage of Schleck’s mechanical failure on a mountain stage. Schleck caught Contador napping and managed to break free of the group with only Alexander Vinoukorov managing to keep pace. He was free and clear of the group and riding like a man possessed; it’s hard to say how it would have ended, but it certainly looked like Schleck was about to build on his lead over Contador.
Instead, his chain dropped and clamped between the front sprocket and the crankshaft and he lost precious time freeing it and getting it reset. Contador blew by him and took the advantage for himself and took the Yellow Jersey at the end of the day.
Many think this was very unsportsmanlike and fondly remembered how Jan Ullrich waited for Lance Armstrong when they were both climbing together and Lance was knocked from his bike by a spectator.
I personally think it was poor form for Contador to take advantage of the mechanical failure, but it’s hard to judge in such a high-stakes race where very little separates the two at the top.
However, in his interview immediately following the race, he claimed that he was not aware that Andy had any mechanical problems.
- Did you think he’d stopped to let you catch up?
- Did you think he’d gotten tired and was catching his breath?
- Did you think he’d seen a pretty flower by the side of the road and wanted to get a picture?
What did you think he was doing when he stopped in the middle of the Tour de France just as he was kicking your ass?
That Contador took advantage of a mechanical difficulty in order to gain the yellow jersey does not make him a jackass. That he lies about doing so is what makes him a jackass.
It would have been far better if he had just been a man about it and admitted to what he did. Instead, he lied about it, gained the well-deserved scorn of the biking world and further cemented his reputation as a purely egocentric idiot.
He changed his tune the following day, admitting that he probably shouldn’t have done it. That’s even worse. Be a man, for God’s sake and at least stand for something. He can’t even commit to being an asshole because it hurt his feelings that everyone thought he was a jerk.
Man up, Contador. If you’re going to win races by the skin of your teeth, at least own your strategy and tell people to kiss your ass because now you’ve won the Tour de France three times.
I’m not really enjoying Spain ruling the sports world: we now have a world cup champion that can barely score goals and a Tour de France champion who lies and lies badly.
I missed the second half of this game because I was watching the Tour de Suisse racing through my home town. In catching up on the news, I discovered the the U.S. had been robbed of a game-winning goal! Or so Facebook and Reddit told me. A search for videos on YouTube turned up several links to videos showing the goal in question: the play was not offsides and no U.S. player committed a foul (to the contrary, it was the Slovenians who were all over the U.S. players).
It seemed quite clear-cut: the U.S. indeed had been robbed of a goal.
However, it’s not up to the players to question the referees, no matter how badly they think they’ve called the game. There are, in fact, FIFA rules against this and most players are clever enough to realize that, should they wish to continue playing in the most prestigious soccer tournament in the world, they’d better just keep their opinions to themselves and let others comment on the officiating. If they don’t, they run the risk of being barred from further participation and/or fined.
There are always those players who simply know when they’re right and when they’ve been wronged. In that case, the rules clearly can’t apply to them, since they’ll be vindicated by the objective evidence. The blog post, Why I Hate Landon Donovan by Ken Silverstein (Harper's), showed up the next morning, detailing just such a case. It’s not the first time that Landon Donovan can’t keep his opinions to himself, despite what are probably desperate efforts from team management to get him to do so. As detailed in the article, Donovan: U.S. victory ‘stolen’ by referee by Martin Rogers (Yahoo! News), Donovan didn’t accuse the referee of bias, just of incompetence:
“They [the officials] stole a goal from us […] It was a good finish and a good goal. […] It was the guy’s [Coulibaly’s] first World Cup and maybe he got caught up a bit. This is the World Cup and you can’t just take away a goal from a team like that.”
On the contrary. They can and do make mistakes. As mentioned above, Donovan is 100% correct about the goal itself—and video evidence backs this up. However, when he says that “you can’t just take away a goal from a team like that”, he is dead wrong because FIFA has never, ever—not once!—changed the result of a game after the fact. That is, they can take a goal away because the score will stand at 2–2. There probably isn’t even a way to make an appeal.
If there was a way to make an appeal, where would it end? Do you go back and pick the game apart, play by play? How can you do this, when one bad call in one place may lead to an opportunity in another? The blog post, Referee Again in Center of Controversy by Jeff Z. Klein (NY Times), notes that exactly this happened. Though one can only find videos of the nullified American goal, the goal was the result of a free kick that resulted from a highly questionable foul granted the U.S. team.
“Odder yet, the foul that led to the free kick was the result of a questionable call by Coulibaly. United States striker Jozy Altidore ran into a Slovene defender and fell theatrically, drawing a whistle from Coulibaly.
“It is unclear whether Coulibaly waved off the subsequent United States goal as a sort of makeup call for having awarded the Americans a questionable free kick — perhaps the only plausible explanation for the nullified goal.”
It’s highly plausible that Coulibaly granted the free kick and immediately regretted it. In most cases, the referee has nothing to rue—the free kick leads to nothing spectacular and the game proceeds with the bad call having had no undue effect for either side. However, the U.S. scored a beautiful, powerful goal on it—after Coulibaly had already blown the play dead. In fact, he seems to have blown the play dead almost as soon as the ball was kicked, which is why many thought he was calling offsides. Perhaps he was making the not-too-far-fetched assumption that the U.S. would commit some fouls in the box while jockeying for position. In that case, even the video replay would have backed him up (though some might have asked how he could possibly have seen the fouls from his field position).
Unfortunately for Coulibaly, none of this happened and the U.S. scored a nice, clean goal off of a free kick that they should never have been granted. Would it not then have been the Slovenians’ place to be outraged that they’d lost the game to a bad call? The only feasible place to end such questioning is to disallow it completely, as FIFA does. This is not to say that referees are infallible, but that to allow players and coaches to question them based on their own subjective impressions is untenable.
There are, however, other, non-subjective solutions. Video replay could be successfully integrated without harming the game: each side gets one replay request per game; if a request results in an overturned call, the requesting team gets another request. Such a system would allow teams to address bad calls, but also keep them from calling for video review too often. FIFA has been adamantly opposed to both video replay and electronically tracking balls to determine whether they actually cross side, end or goal lines—technology similar to that used so successfully in professional tennis.
Some plays—like offsides and set-pieces— are notoriously difficult to call correctly. With so few goals and so little between teams at the international level, it’s a scandal to decide games on referee weakness. It would be much cooler to remember amazing goals than to remember “that time that one guy got away with breaking a rule”.
That said, however, I’m forced to agree with Ken Silverstein: “Landon Donovan is an ass.” He doesn’t understand when sportsmanship and respect for the game trumps being right. These things happen and athletes who have been athletes for as long as Donovan has should know better.
In Switzerland, you can now watch the world cup live online in three different languages (German, French and Italian). It’s very good quality and easily good enough to watch the match. Compared to 4 years ago, it’s absolutely incredible. With a 5MBit connection at the office, we can easily spare some bandwidth to pull down the live stream and stay up-to-date as we work.
Apparently, we’re not alone in doing so.
This afternoon, during the Netherlands – Denmark match, we couldn’t log on to online banking and I was accused of “hogging all the bandwidth”. I didn’t think the video could possibly be eating the whole 5MBit connection, but paused it nonetheless.
It didn’t help.
So, one of us thought, hey! maybe it’s not us! Maybe everyone at the bank is watching the game and killing the connection from that end.
So we tested the theory.
When I announced that it was halftime, we tried connecting to online banking again…and were able to log in immediately.
Viva the World Cup! :-)
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