Monday, July 12, 2010

The Beautiful Game Gets Ugly

The Boot-iful Game?

Final Thoughts About the World Cup Final

Far from being the open, free-flowing celebration of the "beautiful game" (as practiced by Germany before Golden Boot/Best Young Player winner Thomas Muller's unfortunate second yellow card for a dubious "handball" effectively ended their hopes here) as many pundits hoped it would be, the 2010 World Cup Final was a fairly predictable slog. In fact, I was certain even before Sunday afternoon's kick-off that it was going to decided by penalty kicks. Dramatic? Of course; it's the World Cup Final! But fun to watch? Nah. Fun is for the neighborhood kids playing kick-ball outside in the street. At this stage of the tournament, the over-zealous nationalism and cultural mythologizing apparatus kicks in, with the pressure on the players and coaches so immense that if you bottled it up and dropped it atop the Deepwater Horizon capping stack, it would end the Gulf of Mexico oil spill in seconds.

Oh Thank Heaven for 7-11

And don't forget, Spain's starting 11 includes "The Barcelona 7" (Gerard Pique, Carles Puyol, Andres Inietsa, Xavi, Sergio Busquets, Pedro, and of course new signing David Villa) which practices the beautiful - but tediously repetitive and workmanlike - small-ball game of "pass, receive, dribble/pass, receive, dribble, etc." that is artistically praiseworthy but, as anyone who has watched a Barcelona game knows, a tad frustrating - all that talent, and Messi too, yet so many 1-0 games! To the Spanish, possession is everything and "to have and to hold" is not just a marriage vow but a way of life - but sometimes you just have to let go and put the ball in the net!

The Dutch & the Art of "Attacking Football"

On the Dutch side, years of playing skillful "Dutch Treat" football have seen them come up short in too many international competitions, including two previous World Cup finals. So under new, pragamatic coach Bert Van Marwijk (a stylish dresser whose reminded silver hair and steely-blue eyes reminded me of Rutger Hauer), the Oranje opted for Trick over Treat. Their cynical approach - slammed as "anti-football" by no less a national hero than Johan "Total Football" Cruyff - made me think that they might just as well have adopted Devo's "Beautiful World" as their new theme song ("It's a beautiful world - for you, not me!").

Nigel de Jong reigns pain on Spain

The Fall Guy: Arjen Robben feigns pain as he falls mainly on the plain

Incidentally, here's a tip to Arjen Robben: Man Up and take personal responsibility for your shortcomings. You had two chances to be the Hero and you came up Zero. Don't cry to the ref that you got the shaft. Not on a day when there were so many yellow coats tainted orange! Of course, the great irony is that the notorious swan-diving Robben didn't flop when the opportunity presented itself late in the game - instead he stood his ground with Puyol and saw Casillas snatch away his scoring bid (and then bitched about it to ref Howard Webb - earning himself a yellow card). Oh how, fitting! Live by the flop, die by the stop.

Booby McMahon is an Idiot

Full of himself: Booby McMahon

On Monday, I actually rewatched highlights of the final on ESPN's World Cup Primetime show, not yet willing to stop watching the Cup even after the final whistle. Post-tension, post-drama, it was nice to watch Spain artistry against Holland's thuggery. But when I switched over to Fox Soccer Channel, I had to suffer through Bobby McMahon's inane post-game commentary. I think McMahon - who famously picked this year's English Premiere League champions Chelsea to finish fourth (!) - likes to be contrary just to justify his salary at FSC because he gave the goal-scoring "Man of the Match" hero Andres Iniesta a Player Rating of 5 (!) for the match, saying, in his best Willie the Groundskeeper brogue ,"Aye thoot ee add a mee-dee-ocra match. Een fact, Aye wooz sir-prized ee woosn't subbed aye-oot." All because of some arcane passing completion stat that Bobby was following. Yeah, Booby, he only scored the winning goal, drew the most fouls (he was thrown to pitch 8 times) - drawing two in extra time for free kicks, including the one that got Johnny Heitinga ejected - and played flawlessly in the overtime period when Xavi was being hounded by Van Bommel and Elia. Never mind that he looked threatening whenever he had the ball and had the Dutch defense scrambling - maybe his "pass completion rate" was off because of all those throw-downs to the pitch he suffered at the hands (and feet, and elbows) of the Oranje Crush?

So I watched Monday night's replay with a studious eye to see where McMahon saw mediocrity. I only saw a tireless player take charge of the game along with Cesc Fabregas, and engage in a number of give and goes with the fresh-legged Arsenal playmaker. Yeah, Iniesta didn't really contribute much to his side, did he? - wonder why he even laced up given that kind of impact, eh Bobby? On FSC, you can apparently get away with murder and be treated like a prophet as long you talk about soccer with an accent!

Let's Talk About Cesc

By the way, what took the Spanish coach so long to put in Fabregas? Every Espana supporter at the bar where I was watching the final wondered the same thing. Cesc is a superstar, so much so that Barcelona continue to try to pry him away from Arsenal, but del Bosque stubbornly stuck with Xabi Alonso until Alonso ran out of gas - and then in his most bone-headed move put in a clearly-not-fit Fernando Torres, who promptly collapsed with a groin pull (effectively reducing Spain to 10 men, albeit briefly) (By the way, Liverpool says thanks, coach - not!). (I think del Bosque had so much talent on the Spain squad that he succeeded in spite of himself; in fact, the only coach who could possibly fail with this team would be the disgraced French coach Raymond Domenech!) I dunno, maybe Fabregas wasn't fully fit - but he sure looked it the few times he was subbed in (and every time he was on the pitch, he seemed to have an immediate impact, adding new ideas and creativity to the Spanish attack)!

The Real Beautiful Game

Finally, on a more positive note...Paraguay may have lost to Spain in the quarterfinals, but we are all winners thanks to their biggest booster, model Larissa Riquelme. Although she promised to run naked in public only if the team reached the semi-finals, she decided to pose for a national newspaper even after the loss to Spain in the quarter-finals as "a present to all of the players, and for all the people in Paraguay to enjoy." Folks, in the spirit of JFK's "Ich bin ein Berliner," I say, "We are all Parguayans!"

Larissa models the new Paraguay kit

Run these lascivious Larissa pics (NSFW!) up your flag pole and salute it!

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