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World Cup Blog, Day 1

[Editor's note: This post was actually written by my coconspirator, aaronstampler.]

Just a story that has nothing to do with futbol before we get started, just because I think it's educational: So I'm at Hooters, having a very late lunch, (or perhaps a very early dinner, I haven't decided) and while I'm enjoying my wings, the waitress asked me what book I'm reading; because I'm the type of guy who goes to Hooters and reads. Anyway, I didn't want to get into this whole conversation about the whole title, (Rob Neyer's Big Book of Baseball Blunders) cos obviously, who wants to talk to a hot Hooter's girl when they could be reading, right? Are you with me?

"A baseball book," I replied.

"Oh, are you going to the game tonight?" she asked.

"Um, no, I'm not a Padres fan."

"What team do you like?"

"The Giants."



"That's weird. Because we were having this biking contest last Wednesday, and all these people were booing me because I said I rooted for this Giants pitcher."

"A Giants pither?"

"Yeah, you know, that famous one."

"Um, I'm not sure the Giants have any famous pitchers."

"Are you sure?"

"Well, they have Jason Schmidt..."

"No, that doesn't sound right. I think it was like Randy something..."

"Randy Johnson?"

"Yeah, maybe."

"He's on the Yankees though."

"Oh, I don't know. I just like this one guy because he hits home runs for me."

At this point I kind of had this funny look on my face and she just kind of wandered off. It dawned on me that perhaps she was thinking about Barry Bonds. Maybe "Barry" sounds like "Randy." I don't know. But she was talking about a pitcher, and then all of a sudden she says somebody hits home runs for her, and I don't even know what that means. More than likely, if I said my favorite team was the Cleveland Indians, I would've been regaled with the exact same story from this person, but now she'd be pretending to be an Indians fan.

She really didn't have to go through with this charade, this mockery of trying to build a connection with me, her customer. She was certainly attractive enough, and not THAT bad of a waitress. I was going to leave her a decent tip anyway.

But beware women my friends. They're evil.

Germany 4, Costa Rica 2

And speaking of evil, let's talk about Germany! Man, were they dominant today, creamin' Costa Rica 4-2, in a match that was a lot more lopsided than the score would indicate. I'm definitely glad I woke up in time for this one, because after 16 minutes we already had more goals than I bargained for in the whole ninety (I was feelin' 2-0 for the homies). Full credit goes to coach Jurgen Klinsmann, who really has Deutschland playing aggressive, attacking football, befitting an ex-striker I suppose. What's even more impressive is they did it all without Michael Ballack, the middleman who's supposed to be the one that makes everything go for them. So they improvised. Instead of going through the middle, they attacked mainly from the left flank, with defender Phillip Lahm and left midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger repeatedly finding room in the Ticos' defense and communicating with each other almost on a telepathic level.

All the same, this was the kind of result that will make both types of German fans - the ones that despise Klinsmann and the ones who merely are lukewarm about him- feel vindicated. The scoring and forcing the issue is all well and good, but about that defense eh? Their weenie off-sides trap was horrid, and the centerbacks, Christoph Metzelder and Per Mertesacker, got burned twice. To be fair, if a '02 WC referee was in charge of this game, both goals would've been called off-sides, easily. Obviously, I was delighted that they stood. Could it be that FIFA is reading my blog? Or perhaps it had something to do with letting an Argentine ref work a Costa Rica game... Anyway, if the Germans just played straight up, conventional defense, they would have had an easy clean sheet.

And speaking of defense, isn't a so-called "star" goalie like Jens Lehmann supposed to, oh, I don't know...make a save every now and then? I realize that he only faced two shots, and both were well-placed, but he sure didn't look like much of a stud keeper to me. I think Oliver Kahn gets a hand on at least one of those. For all I know, the guy is the greatest goalie who's ever lived, and it's true, he did have a streak of ten straight shutouts for Arsenal before the Champions League final. But I've only seen Lehmann play two games now in my life, and he's been total ass for both. It doesn't surprise me that now Ze German coaches are whispering to the press something about Lehmann suffering an ankle injury during the game.

Um, sure. Ankle injury. Got it. Whatever y'all want to say so you could sleep at night. Mark my words, Kahn will end up playing at some point in this Cup for them, when it counts, and he'll be the difference against Argentina.

But yes, I was more than impressed with Germany's play; overwhelmed is more like it. With this new knuckling maxi-pad ball they're using, and with Ballack at full fitness, they have the talent to easily drill home three a game by themselves. I would be absolutely floored if they didn't come away with 9 points in the three games. Poland might as well pack their bags and go home now.

If you notice, I haven't spent any time talking about Costa Rica yet. This is because they didn't deserve it. They were absolute crap. The final stats for the game had the possession at 57% to 43%, in favor of Germany, but it was more like 87-13. Their midfielders never had the ball, which is ironic, considering they were playing a 4-5-1 instead of the traditional 4-4-2. They had two shots on goal and scored on both. In short, it was probably the absolute worst performance by a team that scored two goals I've ever seen. They very easily could have lost 5-0. The only reason I haven't totally given up on my 2nd place pick for them yet is because Ecuador or Poland didn't impress me a whole lot either. But obviously, they're gonna need to come up with a much better effort against the South Americans. The one thing the Ticos have going for them is that Ecuador will probably let them have a lot more time with the ball, content to play for the scoreless draw and go for the counter chance if it's there.

Your 3 Stars (Borrowing ANOTHER idea from hockey).

It may surprise some that I didn't give 2 goal man Klose any love here, but both his tallies came from the goal mouth, where the main striker for Germany is certainly expected to score. But yes, he did play well. The same can't be said his co-forward, the much overhyped Lukas Podolski, who had a half dozen chances with the ball, but wasn't patient or smooth with any of them.

# 16 LB Phillip Lahm: The 5'7 137 lb dynamo got the fans going early with an spectacular right footed crack from the edge of the box just five minutes in. The ball banged high off the far post and in. In the second half, he had all sorts of time and space to cross the ball to Miroslav Klose for his 2nd goal, to make it 3-1 and effectively ice the game. He should have gotten an assist for that, but didn't get one, since it took Klose two cracks to put it in.

# 9 ST Paulo Wanchope: I read that this veteran striker has been in miserable form of late, and maybe it's true - after all, he's playing for a club in his home country now - but still, he sure looked like he knew what he was doing today. He had two chances (some critics may say he deserved neither) and he calmly, coolly, buried them both. Neither were gimme chip-ins either.

# 7 LM Bastian Schweinsteiger: He had his footprints all over the game, the ball always seeming to be at his feet when the Germans were in prime attacking position. He was credited with two assists, but should have had three. I'm pretty sure he flicked it over to Lahm for his goal. There can be no doubt about his set ups for the Klose one touch or the Torsten Frings bending rocket from 35 meters. He thoroughly controlled the game, without being overly showy with the ball. Typically German.

Media Highlights: After the first goal, Ballack and Klinsmann hugged for the cameras, in what will be a surely futile effort to get the press to stop discussing the rift between the skipper and his coach. Also, since Sepp Blatter told ESPN that teams would be deducted three points for any racist behavior, Kahn made sure to share a laugh with Nigerian-born backup forward Gerald Asamoah.

Ecuador 2, Poland 0

Well, I was expecting about two goals for this one, but with more even distribution, and truthfully, that probably would have been a just result. What I wasn't wrong about, though I wish I was, was that it would be a choppy, sloggy game with no flow to it. I'm not gonna lie, I didn't watch it slackjawed and in full attention. I was checking e-mails, reading, looking at stats of the previous game, you name it.

Somewhat surprisingly, Ecuador owned the first half, as they had all five shots on goal. They got a sudden first goal in the 23rd minute, off what looked like a ho-hum chance, when forward Agustin Delgado smartly flicked a pass backward off his head onto the noggin of fellow striker Carlos Tenorio, who deftly tucked it in low and left. A few minutes later, Tenorio tried to return the favor when he brilliantly tiptoed the backline to set up Delgado right in front, but he clumsily scooped it over. Las tricolors had a few decent chances after that, but those were the two best.

In the second half, for some reason, they decided to play defensive football, perhaps to get in some practice for the Germany game. Out of nowhere, Poland started possessing the ball, seemingly for minutes at a time, only to make a mess of things in the last third of the field. They certainly had the opportunities to score; from corners and free kicks and what have you, where one would think that their height up front would be a mismatch against the smallish Ecuadorian defense, but their execution was simply dreadful. None of their kicks were anywhere near their designated targets, whether they be the goal or those ripe Pollack melons.

Despite all their touches, they had yet to seriously test goalie Christian Mora, which is a damn shame really, because any goalie who has the gall to paint his cheeks with his country's flag like some little kid is just asking to be tested. Finally, completely against the run of play, Ecuador got their second in the 81st minute on the counter when midfielder Edison Mendez sent a well-timed through ball to sub Ivan Kaviedes, easily beating Poland's lame attempt (there it is again) at an off-sides trap. Kaviedes could have shot it off a so-so chance and nobody would have blamed him, but he instead unselfishly rolled it to a wide open Delgado for the tap in.

The knock that should have iced the game instead awakened it. The Poles started to pepper the net without abandon, and cracked the woodwork twice, but to no avail. Perhaps if they played with such urgency the whole game, the result would've been much different.

But still, even though they obviously have some talent, and even though their coach Pawel Janas may have found some guys who actually wanted to play on his bench, I am under no delusions that they have what it takes to give Germany a serious game. Maybe if they were playing the third one and the hosts were already through I'd be open to that possibility, but no, not in the second game. The three points were there to be had here, and Poland simply blew it. Call it the curse of Jerzy Dudek.

I can't believe I'm saying this, but the more compelling second game is Costa Rica-Ecuador. Will the South Americans just go into a shell, trying to take one point, or will they really try to go for it here? My gut tells me the former. They were probably encouraged by their 2nd goal which came off a fast break, and they may think such tactics will work for them. One thing's for sure, they'll double mark Wanchope if they have to, but he won't be cracking any weak OSTs in that game. He'll have to earn his chances.

Your 3 Stars

I was really looking for a Polish player to give the 3rd star to because the game wasn't one-sided enough for one team to deserve all three, but simply put, none of their guys stood out at all. And I was thinking of maybe rewarding an Ecuadorian defender, but none of them were any better or worse than the other.

# 8 CM Edison Mendez: He did most of his damage in the second half, when his men barely had the ball, but he did the most with his few touches, with three shots on goal and of course the smart pass that unlocked their second goal.

# 21 CF Carlos Tenorio: The surprise starter got his team off to a great start, perfectly placing Delgado's head pass into the bottom left corner of the net. His set up almost made it two-nil shortly after. He was a ghost in the second half though, before exiting in favor of Kaviedes. Still, a couple more games like this will go a long way toward advancing his club career beyond a league in Qatar.

1. # 11 CF Agustin Delgado: Used his height well early on to create the first goal for Tenorio, and then managed to score one himself on a goalmouth one touch; redeeming his embarrassing miss from in close in the 28th minute.

Media Highlights: You could tell the commentators were growing weary with the glacial pace of this one. The ESPN Gamecast scolded Polish midfielder Jacek Krzynowek with "GET UP, YOU BIG GIRL'S BLOUSE!" after he took a dive in the 41st minute. On the TV end, after the announcer told him that the first oil well was drilled by a Pole, color man Tommy Smyth pulled a real nugget out of his ass.

"I thought it was drilled by a bit."


Tomorrow's Games...

The first real challenge of the WC comes for me tomorrow, trying to wake up at six for Ingerland's game against Paraguay. I can't wait to see the sight of Peter Crouch, a 6'7" 165 pound lad who resembles a pair of chopsticks. Still, I read something disturbing today, where the English were practicing their pennos by telling the goalie where they were aiming first.

Said keeper Paul Robinson, "It makes it harder for them to score - they really have to put it in the corners."

Excuse me, I don't mean to sound like a stereotypical fatalistic English soccer fan here, but this strikes me as a fucking retarded idea. Make them really aim for the corners? Why so they could miss the net by 15 yards in a game?

This is awful, just awful.

If I'm coaching, I'd practice them by going completely the other way. I wouldn't even have the goalie in there. I'd just have them kick `em into an empty net, to get used to the feeling of seeing the ball go in. The net is really wide. The goalies? Not so much. Generally, if you kick it on target, it's going to be good. Stop fussing about the corners. Just kick it hard and on net and pray the guy guesses wrong.

Anyway, England 2-1.

Sweden-Trinidad & Tobago. Zzzzzz. Please, I beg of you, give me a reason to be conscious for this. Don't make me resort to the green apple flavored Smirnoff Ice at 9 AM. Sweden 3-1.

Argentina-Ivory Coast. Will Messi play? How good is this new generation of Argentine wannabes? Is Cote D'Ivoire a legitimate threat to make the second round? We find out in what should be the best game of the day. Argentina 3-2. Why not? C'mon Maxi-Ball, work your wind absorbing magic.