[Alex writes] The last few days that have comprised the second round of the World Cup might just be my favorite time in all of sports. In just four days the World Cup goes from the active involvement and global football fiesta of 32 teams to the final hardcore 8 teams that will actually challenge for the cup. It also means that in between the 2nd round and Q-finals, the first two days of football withdrawal and the unsettling prospect of actually being sober in the afternoon. I’ve taken some of the extra time to see the highly entertaining “Berlin-Tokyo, Tokyo-Berlin” exhibit at the New National Gallery (recommended if you’re in Berlin before the end of October or maybe it was just novel to visually experience something other than 22 guys running after a ball). To continue to bring the tone of 3QD down a few notches through my endless drivel, here are some further thoughts about the last few days.
So the games are for real this time which means that one moment of madness or misjudgment really does mean “its over.” I definitely sensed this nervousness among the German supporters before their 2nd round clash with Sweden, although all fears were soon dispatched after their young striker Lucas Podolski bagged a couple of goals in the first 10 minutes to send the over-hyped Swedes on their way and get the German World Cup party going again. Later that evening, the Mexicans played Argentina tough and did a much better job of tracking Argentina’s off the ball runs than any of the Euro teams. But they too fell to a moment of brilliance and a wonder goal from Maxi Rodriguez (MaxiGoooooooooool) in extra time.
Spare a thought for the Aussies, perhaps the most hard done of the unlucky 8 that were just eliminated. They played a tight and contained match against much fancied Italy and although they never looked like scoring they were comfortably looking forward to 30 minutes of extra time with a man advantage when calamity struck in the very last minute. Even more sadly, the Aussie exit means no more trips to the Uluru resort pub, our local Aussie joint in Berlin. According to one local observer, Uluru’s pre-World Cup clientele usually consisted of 3 unemployed blokes playing darts…so when a hoard of Aussies Googled the “Ozzie pub” and descended before the all important Aussie-Croatia clash the stunned owner ran out of Aussie beer 15 minutes before kickoff and had to send his mates out to buy more drink and plastic cups. He was more prepared beer-wise for the Italy game, but, alas, the loving Aussie fans had to learn the hard way: whiny Italian diving in the penalty area in additional time against minor team in knockout stages of World Cup = penalty = see you in 2010!
Of course that sorry piece of officiating looked absolutely Pierluigi Colina-like compared with the previous day’s parade of cards shown by Russian ref Ivanov in the Kung-fu movie that was Holland-Portugal. The hapless ref showed a World Cup finals record four red cards and 16 yellows but let the game slip away, providing some terrific entertainment and fine melodrama for the neutrals. Although the Portugal came out of the wrestling ring to claim the win, the real winners are the English who will now get to play the Portuguese without their first choice creative and defensive midfielders, Deco and Costinha.
Now admittedly, most of Cooley’s previous group picks were as rubbish as a Swiss penalty, but 3 of my final 4 are still alive, with only the underachieving Spanish going home early. Looking forward to the Q-finals we’ll see what Argentina and Portugal bring to the table this weekend, but there is a creeping sense of inevitability about a Germany-England final on July 9. This doesn’t necessarily mean that these are the 2 best teams (although the Germans may well be), just that by some strange atmospheric conditions the teams have completely morphed into stereotypes of each other. The Germans have been playing attacking, fearless, attractive football, making full use of their excellent wide players and dangerous overlapping runs by their fullbacks. On the other hand, this year’s England team, as a German friend noted when watching their toothless win against Ecuador, is eerily reminiscent of the German teams of the 1980s – a dysfunctional midfield with bouts of comical defending, but getting lucky with the draw and doing just enough to win each match from a set piece (all hail the right foot of Beckham!). Sorry, folks, Sven’s men have “Finalist” written all over them.
No blushes about my Ukraine pick. After getting absolutely hammered by Spain and beating Tunisia on a dodgy penalty of their own, the “Ukrainian train” is about to dispatch these Italian whiners and make Cooley look like a genius for including them in my final four.
Finally, let’s just quickly glance over my prediction that the Team NikeFIFASamba would be upset in the second round. So the Cats from Ghana couldn’t quite do it – no biggie, the moment of joy merely has been temporarily delayed. I have no doubts that the recently rejuvenated French team (or Ribery and some of his hard Parisian pals who hang around the Gare du Nord) will heroically send our Brazil packing and Ronaldo in search of more potato salad. Mark’s just got back, se we’re off for a couple of Kir Royales and in search of French jerseys.
Now, everyone, sing with me, “Allons enfants de la Patrie/Le jour de gloire est arrivé! “