Wednesday, June 21, 2006
In Honor of Holland-Argentina...
My all-time favorite goal. I only wish that I could find a youtube clip with the Univision audio, as the increasingly excited call from Andres Cantor - "Bergkamp, Bergkamp, Bergkamp...GOOOOLLLLL!!!" - followed by the late Norberto Longo's soliloquy on "los grandes jugadores" is one of those calls I'll never forget. If only the Dutch would have followed the result by taking out a Brazil team that was there for the taking and thus set up a dream final against France, but the nature of cheering for the Dutch is to make "if only" statements. If only the Dutch had gone for the kill when they went ahead of West Germany in '74 instead of teasing the Germans. If only Rensenbrink doesn't hit the post in '78 in Buenos Aires. If only the '90 team would have gotten along with one another. If only de Goey covers his half of the goal against Branco's free kick in '94. If only the team wouldn't have lost control of their bowels from the penalty spot in '00. If only Kluivert's second-minute breakaway yielded a goal at Lansdowne Road in the critical qualifier against Ireland in '01.
A few other thoughts:
1. Spain and Argentina look to be favorites right now because they're the deepest teams in the tournament. Look at what Argentina's subs accomplished against Serbia. Look at the second-choice line-up that they can call upon against the Netherlands today. Look at how Spain responded to going a goal down against Tunisia. They simply threw on a devastating winger (Joaquin), the best teen central midfielder in the game (Cesc), and their all-time leading scorer (Raul). Those three subs linked up, along with Fernando Torres, for three goals in the second half to secure their place in the round of 16. As the tournament progresses and teams lose players to cards and injury, Argentina and Spain are the best positioned to deal with that attrition. Well, them and Brazil, who would almost certainly get better if a certain striker was lost to cards or injury.
2. After Germany's impressive demolition of Ecuador yesterday (admittedly, an Ecuador side missing a number of rested starters), we can now confront the delicious possibility (assuming that Argentina draws or beats the Netherlands today) of a June 30 quarterfinal between Germany and Argentina in Berlin. The absence of upsets in this tournament has made the first round rather forgettable, but match-ups like that (with Italy-France as a possible nightcap) are only possible when the name teams hold serve. In the end, tournaments are remembered in posterity for their knock-out games, rather than their group games.
3. What must Jermaine Defoe be thinking these days? England have no back-up striker other than a 17-year old who has never played for Arsenal's senior team, while Defoe, an accomplished scorer in the Premiership, wastes away in London. Good work, Sven. Please take the Real Madrid job after the World Cup. I anxiously wait to see how you squander that collection of talent after never figuring out how to deploy England's talent properly.
4. Your stat of the day: Zinedine Zidane has never assisted a Thierry Henry goal for France. How in the world is that possible? The best offensive midfielder of his generation, playing right behind one of the best strikers over the past five years, and the two can't create goals. Do they not get along? Are their styles inherently incompatible? Does Henry have something against Algerians? Will France be better without Zidane? Their inability to score without him in '02 and then in qualifiers for '06 suggest that the answer is "no."
5. My guilty feeling about hijacking an ostensibly Atlanta-oriented sports blog with World Cup blatherings are assuaged by the strong ratings that the games have gotten in the Metro area. USA-Italy outperformed the Braves, NASCAR, and the US Open. Hell, take the patriotism angle out and the Czech Republic-Ghana game still outperformed the Braves and the US Open. In addition, it's fun to note that viewers in Atlanta, the oft-dubbed worst sports town in the history of the world, watched the NBA Finals and World Cup at rates significantly greater than the rest of the country. The ratings for the NBA Finals reflect that this is a very solid NBA market and that the Hawks could be a very popular entity if they could ever field a good product. The ratings for the World Cup negate the image that this town is full of xenophobic hillbillies who view soccer as a communist plot to subvert marriage and the free market. Just thought I'd point that out.