Look Who’s Late to the World Cup Party!

Well, I completely failed to jot down my pre-Cup predictions. Suffice to say, they were all brilliant and perfect and everything’s gone according to plan. Ha. Anyways, now that the second round of games is well underway, here are some random thoughts and musings on the World Cup so far.

  • Americans have applied their unique brand of overreacting already. If it wasn’t for one lucky bounce, the US would be tied with Algeria on 0 points and looking at a potential disaster. I don’t know where all these armchair soccer experts came from all of a sudden, but if you think drawing with an England team that played like that is indicative of a squad ready for prime time, you are wrong. This is not to say the US won’t pick it up. Like every team, they’re feeling their way through the early stages. They have a great keeper and their midfield can knock it around. With a bit of luck, they may end up doing pretty well. But we didn’t see any signs the balance of power is shifting. Tomorrow’s game against Slovenia will be the real test. Anything less than a 2-goal comfortable win will be a disappointment for me.
  • That said, England looked terrible. I don’t know how many times it needs to be shown, but Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard cannot play next to each other. They’re like brothers who think their mother is favoring the other one. England needs to get Gerrard out on the wing. Hopefully Gareth Barry can come in and provide a little defense. I also think they need to get Peter Crouch in there. A lot of crosses this cup have been very dangerous, and having someone to aim at might help with scoring.
  • The most disappointing side so far have been France. They looked mediocre against Uruguay and even worse against Mexico today. They hit about 30 free kicks into the middle of the wall. They looked sort of like the team of 11 year olds that didn’t have anyone capable of kicking the ball in the air. They had little pace and never really looked like they would score. They have a lot of talent. Maybe they should have fired Domenech.
  • I’ve often been hard on ESPN in this space, but credit where credit is due. So far, the announcing has been excellent. They’ve gone with 4 English play-by-play guys who have been terrific. They’ve been funny and insightful. Also, they have such a way with words. American play-by-play guys don’t have the same ability to paint a picture of the action, even the good ones. If Gus Johnson were calling these games, we’d hear something like, “Rooney, in to Heskey. Heskey lays it for Gerrard! OOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOHHHHHHH!” Versus something like, “Lovely ball in to Tevez, who dances by Park Si-Yoon, flick on to Messi. Always at his best when he’s running at the heart of defense. Danger here for the Koreans. Oh, what work from Messi to find a bit of space… What a strike! Only the merest of touches to send it over the bar!”
  • As hard as it is to believe, the color guys have even been good. They’ve got one American, one Englishman, a Scot, and a Nigerian, the wonderfully biting Efan Ekoku. They’ve been willing to criticize the players, the managers, and the refs. They’ve been great.
  • I’ve discovered the greatest Soccer nerd site of all time, the ridiculously in-depth Zonal Marking. Warning: if you don’t really care about the differences between a 4-1-3-2 and a 4-4-2 with a diamond midfield, or why a 3-5-2 with active wingers is best against a team with a single striker who holds the ball up, you may not be interested. But for the rest of you, it’s really interesting to see how in-depth soccer tactics really can be. Speaking as someone whose knowledge of tactics stopped at “you cover this guy,” it’s really opened up my eyes to all the little things a soccer manager has to keep track of.
  • And on the flip side of that coin, Rick Reilly, who I swear at one point was a funny, insightful columnist, has written the worst thing ever written about soccer. My fellow Americans, we soccer fans do not really care if you do not like soccer. We understand it’s hard to watch a sport with little scoring. It’s hard to appreciate the nuances of the game if you don’t really care to learn why things happen when they do. Soccer players look ridiculous when they flop around and grab their knee whenever someone sneezes next to them. But when you deride the sport, you’re really just showing your own ignorance. Believe it or not, a well-played 0-0 draw can be exciting to watch, as you would have seen if you’d watched the Cote d’Ivoire-Portugal game. Don’t try to give everyone advice that really amounts to the same advice you give every other sport, to be more like football. As if the game would be more exciting if goals counted as 7 points and every time there was a foul, they showed 5 minutes of commercials. Or maybe whenever there’s a play where it’s hard to tell the ball went out of bounds, we can stop the game so the ref can go look at a screen under a hood like an 18oos photographer taking battlefield portraits of General Hooker. If you don’t want to watch, don’t. But stop acting holier than thou about it.
  • So far, the only team that’s been really impressive is Germany, but hey, it’s only one game. I can’t wait to see how it all turns out.

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