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I'll miss the big Slow-venian, Fo 'Sho.

So, `Sho (aka The Steady Slovenian) is no mo'. I guess the final straw for Pop was his inability to hold down the starting job this year after it had been handed to him on a silver platter, thanks to T-Rex's injuries and Mrs. T-Rex's pregnancy complications. Rasho is a good defender, but he just doesn't man up on the boards enough, especially on the offensive end. The Spurs are looking for someone younger, cheaper, more active, and more athletic at the five spot. What that doesn't equate to is Matt Bonner, and I'm certainly dubious about the prospect of Eric Williams as the backup SF.
Me thinks the wheeling and dealing has just begun for us and I can't begin to guess at what our roster will look like come October. So I won't feel one way or another about it until then. But any day we got Bones and Beno still on board is a good day in my book. I like those guys, and don't care if no one else does.

Japan 0, Croatia 0

Zzzzzzzz. Whatever I dreamt about, it was definitely more exciting than this, and I say that even though it was confirmed that my boxer shorts' crotch area wasn't moist or stinky. The two highlights to take away from this game were 1) the first saved PK of the tournament and 2) the absolute worst point blank open net miss of the tournament. As a result, the dream is in all likelihood dead for both teams. The Socceroos are more than capable of holding off the aimless Croatians for another draw, while it would take 11 very sleepy Ronaldos on the field for the Japanese to somehow beat Brazil by two goals.

3 Stars

  1. # 7 CM Hidetoshi Nakata: Much better game from him. More running, more ball possession, more accurate crosses and through balls, and even two hard cracks on net, but from well outside the box. He was in on the play, along with defender Akira Kaji, that led to an open net feed to forward Atsushi Yanasigawa, who somehow stumbled and toe poked it wide, despite being at most three feet from net. Nakata will have to orchestrate a miracle from midfield for Japan to reach the Sweet 16.
  2. # 2 RM Darijo Srna: Yes, he missed the penno, but his tireless work is what created that opportunity in the first place. He was everywhere, winning balls in midfield, being the service man on corners, constantly trying to get it to forwards Ivan Klasnic and Dado Prso but they kept bungling their chances.
  3. # 23 GK Yoshikatsu Kawaguchi: Once again his team's best player, he made three first rate saves to keep the game scoreless. He must shake his head in bewilderment at the gross incompetence of the ten men in front of him on the pitch. I wouldn't be surprised if after this tournament is over if some of the less prominent clubs in England or France give him a call.
Media Highlights: This isn't much, but it's something... A quote from midfielder Shunsuke Nakamura. "We knew that before this game that if we played to our maximum, we would win. Every single Japanese player gave 100 per cent."

Um...you didn't win though.

Also, Japan's manager, the Brazilian Zico, is making bold statements about not being afraid to play his home country. 'There will be changes in attack but I haven't decided who will start yet,' said Zico. I want the forwards to start scoring a few goals. Otherwise we have no chance."

See, he doesn't want much. Just a few goals. Three would be okay. Four, tops.

Brazil 2, Australia 0

Still waiting for that explosive Samba Boys offense to appear. I was thinking that perhaps Argentina's mushroom cloud of a game against S&M would wake them up, but no dice. It appears that either A) Brazil is in another dimension of talent now, so incomprehensible to mere mortals that the players have decided the fans aren't worthy of their best game or B) They're not that good. I'm leaning towards B. Australia could have easily gotten a result in this game. It just seemed like (as is almost always the case against Brazil) that every time they had a clear scoring chance, they got nervous and thought about it too much, like "I can't believe I'm about to score against Brazil in the World Cup!" It's like a paradox. Are they so good that they create this mystique, or is their mystique what makes them so good?
What we do know is they've won their group, yet again, and should have no problems knocking Japan out with even a pedestrian effort. Ronaldo looked a little more sharp and fit in his second game, but he's carrying a yellow. No problem, just start Robinho, right? Well he's got one too. Carlos Parreira probably won't change anything, since he wants his embattled striker to be in form by the time the knockout stages arrive. Besides, the Brazilian ego won't allow him to think that anything bad could happen to any of his star players. It's too bad really. My man Fred came on in the 87th minute and and promptly rolled in the rebound of Robinho's blast off the inside of the post. It'd be nice to see him start a game.
The Aussies have a rivalry slobberknocker coming up against the Croats and one would think that they'll have everyone behind the ball and going for the draw. The only way that wouldn't work in their favor is Japan beats Brazil by two at least two goals and scores at least three. That's simply not going to happen. Still, the boys from down under will be involved in a VERY physical match here. What they really need is for subs Marco Brasciano and Harry Kewell to stop fucking up so many easy chances to score. Particularly weak were Kewell's complaints about the officiating afterward. Yeah Harry, because it was the ref who missed an empty net.

3 Stars

  1. # 10 LM Ronaldinho: The goofy-lookin mofo is not getting any help from his mates. Had a half dozen chips and lobs to Ronaldo, Cafu, Roberto Carlos, and Kaka, as well as a couple of dangerous dribbling forays into the box himself, but the only link he had to the scoresheet was a secondary assist on Ronaldo's pass to Adriano for the games first goal in the 48th minute. Still, he's drawing constant double and triple teams, which is rare for a midfielder without the ball. He probably won't have a chance to really showcase his stuff until everyone else gets going, if it happens at all.
  2. # 5 RM Jason Culina: Had a good defensive game and he gets this honor for being the only man on his team capable of shooting the ball on net from outside of a few meters. Marked Ronaldinho a bunch.
  3. # 1 GK Dida: Made three exasperating saves to keep the game at 1-0 for Brazil. I think watching him frustrates me more than anyone else on their team because for once, the Samba Boys don't have a fraud back there. Even if you work to get around everyone else for a clear chance, you still have a world class keeper to beat.
Media Highlights: The ESPN commentary guy's name is Alex. He has an odd habit of capitalizing and putting an exclamation point for the first couple of words when ever something exciting happens.

4 mins.... OOH! Kaka blah blah blah
5 mins.... UGLY! Viduka blah blah blah
6 mins.... NICE EFFORT! Viduka...
10 mins...BLOCKED! Adriano...
12 mins... DREADFUL! Roberto Carlos...
14 mins....GOOD DEFENDING! Popovic... (weird)
21 mins....WOEFUL! Roberto Carlos...
26 mins....CIRCUS FOOTBALL! Ronaldinho...
27 mins....GOOD EFFORT! Culina...
28 mins....GREAT BLOCK! Moore...
33 mins....AMBITIOUS! Grella...
37 mins.....GOOD CHANCE! Kaka...
42 mins....CLOSE! Ronaldo...
44 mins.....GREAT FEET! Viduka...
45 mins.....OOOH! Bresciano... (notice the extra "O" in this ooh.)
47 mins.....GOAL! Adriano....
53 mins.....MIS-CONTROL! Adriano...
55 mins.....NO PACE! Bresciano...
57 mins.....WHAT A CHANCE! Kewell...
68 mins.....FIZZER! (wtf?) Kewell...
72 mins....GOOD SKILL! Robinho...
76 mins.....RUBBISH! Brazil...
79 mins.... GREAT EFFORT! Bresciano...
81 mins....WHEN WILL HE LEARN! Roberto Carlos....
82 mins.....OFF THE BAR! Kaka...
84 mins.....SO, SO CLOSE! Viduka...
86 mins.....AGONISING! Viduka...
89 mins.....GOAL! Fred...
92 mins.....WHAT A MISS! Kaka...

See, you can follow the whole game this way. All you need is the first sentence and who it was referring. It's like being there on the sidelines. Alex really dislikes Roberto Carlos. I do too. He looks like the love child of Mike Bibby and Mini-Me.

France 1, South Korea 1

Completely true to form for both sides, I'm afraid. The French dominated most of the evening, holding Korea without a shot the entire first half and looking like easy winners for the first 70 minutes, but their low-watt offense just couldn't produce the clinching second goal. Korea battled hard and never gave up and buoyed by their rabid fan base they finally managed a miracle equalizer in the 81st minute. Neither team looks like any kind of threat to advance past their first knockout game.
France looks like they're in big trouble. Only two draws thus far, so they absolutely need to win their last game against Togo. Sounds simple right? Well, not exactly. For one thing, they'll have to do it without the maestro in the middle, Zinedine Zidane, who's out because of yellow cards. He's retiring supposedly after the WC, and it'd be a damn shame if he went out like this, as a spectator. Secondly, they need to win by at least two goals to be safe, because right now ze Swiss have a goal differential of + 2, with two goals scored, and the Koreans have + 1, with three goals scored. A simple 1-0 win won't be enough for them if Switzerland and Korea tie.
On the other hand, I'm pretty comfortable with my pick of Korea winning the group outright. For once they're going to face an opponent that they're faster than in the Swiss. It might be a very careful game initially, but once the updates are delivered over cell phones that France has gone ahead by a couple, the Koreans will rev it up. They've already proven twice that they have a knack for getting 2nd half goals when they absolutely need them. They look to be really fit as a team and use their subs judiciously. Korea will break Switzerland's shell and win 1-0.

3 Stars

  1. # 7 CF Ji-Sung Park: Give him credit for neatly finishing the one chance he had, especially with the all pressure on him to be their main guy. In the 81st minute reserve Ki-Hyun Seol got a cross into fellow front man Jae-Jin Cho who smoothly collected and nodded it over for Park to roof into the net. They'll need another fabulous effort such as this against the Swiss to win the group.
  2. # 12 LF Thierry Henry: Struck quickly in the 9th minute, settling down a so-so through ball from his forward partner Sylvain Wiltord (nice to see they're playing 4-4-2 again, but still no David Trezeguet!) with his right ankle, taking one step to his left and coolly sliding into the left side of the net. He should have drawn a penalty in the 29th minute, but the ref denied him. Also had a great chance in the 85th that was saved. Wiltord loused up all the attempted one-twos. Henry sees the ball with much more frequency at Arsenal.
  3. # 4 CM Patrick Vieira: The holding midfielder completely shut down Koreas attack down the chute and made them resort to almost hopeless crosses from the flanks. On the other end of the pitch, his header in the 32nd minute should've made it 2-0 and a hopeless deficit for Korea, but the side judge couldn't tell that the ball that keeper Woon-Jae Lee knocked out had already crossed the goal line. So far, the worst non-call of the Cup.
Media Highlights: From Woon-Jae Lee, the keeper, "First of all, I'd like to say sorry to all the Korean people who are supporting us because I failed to keep my promise that we would get to second round with nine points."

Ambitious little bastard, ain't he? Why not just guarantee the Cup while you're at it.

Switzerland 2, Togo 0

Eh. Right from the get go, when the schedule came out, I knew I'd have no intention of watching this one. Whatever. Congrats to the Swiss for doing what they needed to do and getting the three points in their fluff game. I imagine they'll look to just take the air out of the ball against the Koreans since they have the best goal differential in the group and a draw gets them in, but the refs have been calling a lot more penalties in the 2nd group games, so I'm hoping their physical defense can get draw a whistle in the box on this one. Until somebody gets an update that France scored though, the game will probably be quite the slog.
As for Togo being out? What did you expect? This is what you get for leaving out Cameroon and Nigeria.

3 Stars (Based on my ability to read)

3. #16 GK Kossi Agassa: I hear he made some nice saves. Perhaps a few, but quite possibly as many as a several.

  1. #9 LF Alexander Frei: Had loads of chances, but cashed in on the only one he needed to, a cross from the right side from midfielder Tranquillo Barnetta in the 17th minute that he latched on to and sidefooted into the left side of the net.
  2. #16 RM Tranquillo Barnetta: A constant terror in the second half with three excellent strikes on net. Agassa parried the first two, but couldn't get to the third, a low blast off the post and in the net in the 88th minute, from a pass by reserve Mauro Lustrinelli. Also had the assist on Frei's goal. He plays for Bayer Leverkusen, so he must be all right.
Media Highlights: Togo's nickname is the Sparrowhawks. The African teams all have cool nicknames. I wonder if Turkey's team has a nickname. I'll have to look that up. Mmmmm turkey.

Ukraine 4, Saudi Arabia 0

The Saudis suck. I mean, they really, really suck. They shouldn't even be allowed to be here. Does the rest of the world enjoy trouncing them in every tournament so they can feel better about insane gas prices? Why couldn't USA be in a group with them? Too easy of a story for our media? Too tempting of a lead in to all the tasteless 9/11 cracks? Legitimate security risk? All I know is when one team loses a WC game 4-0, they shouldn't be able to win the next one by the exact same score as Ukraine did. That's not supposed to happen in soccer. I think it means that if Spain played them at full strength, we might very well see a snowman on the scoreboard, like Germany put on them four years ago. Except several regulars to sit it out for Spain, and for it to make not a lick of difference in a simple 3-0 win.
All Ukraine needs is a simple draw against Tunisia to move on after their disastrous start to the tournament against the Iberians. It shouldn't be too hard, right? Well, stranger things have happened. I'll give them the benefit of the doubt though. And whoever comes out number one in Group G isn't going to be that imposing of a threat either.

3 Stars

  1. # 11 RM Serhiy Rebrov: Shut down the left side of the Saudi's attack and iced the game (if there was any doubt) with a bending rocket from 25 yards out that beat keeper Mabrouk Zaid easily to the upper left corner of the net in the 36th minute.
  2. # 7 CF Andriy Shevchenko: Had of course way more chances to show his stuff here than vs. Spain (it says six shots on goal here, but that can't be right, could it?) and he didn't disappoint, collecting the 3rd goal on a header right after half and working a beautiful 2 on 1 with Maxim Kalinichenko, flicking a pass with his off foot to his midfielder for their final tally of the day. I read that he's moving to Chelsea because of his American model wife. I've seen her pictures. Not impressed. Figo's done much better for himself. And Ashley Cole. And pretty much everyone in Serie A.
  3. # 19 CM Maxim Kalinichenko: His 3rd minute corner bounced off the knee of defenseman Andriy Rusol (and 1st game goat) and through Zaid's goal for a dream start. Garnered his second helper right after half when his cross found Shevchenko's noggin to make to make it 3-0. His star forward returned the favor in the 88th and Kalinichenko poked it home for the final score.
Media Highlights: "The Bonus could be on hold." A cheeky reference from the ESPN commentator about the Saudi soccer federation promising big bonuses to its players if they win any games. I think they'd be doing their players a bigger service if they offered them much less money in their league and gave their boys an incentive to want to play abroad in Europe. The only way they'll improve is by practicing and playing with quality people.

Spain 3, Tunisia 1

I'm a believer. It's only Tunisia, but I'm a believer. Past Spain teams in the WC would've buckled after an early goal against. Maybe they would've still come back to earn a point, but they would've played the game very nervously; rushing their passes, taking long shots, committing silly fouls. This Spain team was never worried. Not for a second. They never let the score shake their confidence in the slightest that they were the better team out there. Their belief in themselves was downright Brazil-like. The closest they came to conceding that an adjustment had to be made was when they brought in Raul and young Cesc Fabregas into the game at half, putting their most talented six attacking players on the pitch at once. Of course it made all the difference.
But what really sold me is that when Raul finally broke through and swarmed in on the rebound to tie it up in the 71st minute, Spain wasn't the least bit satisfied with the point, not even remotely. They kept coming and coming and coming, like they needed to score to avoid elimination or something. Getting the game winner in the 75th did nothing to sate their appetites. Maniacally they kept charging into the box, enough times to make Dwyane Wade uncomfortable until the third score came, and then almost a fourth, before the whistle mercifully ended it for the Africans. Spain looked one of those psychopath boxers you only see in movies that would happily beat their opponents to death if the refs didn't intervene. Be afraid people, be very afraid.
Tunisia looked good for about ten minutes. Their best player, forward Zeid Jaziri, stole the ball from highly regarded Spanish defender Carles Puyol and outworked the other three on the Spanish backline to slickly get a pass into a wide open Jouhar Mnari, making a run all the way from midfield. Mnari cobbled his first shot straight at keeper Iker Casillas, but the rebound came right to back for him to squeeze thru on the second try. From that point forward their hero was goalie Ali Boumnijel, who held off the Spanish horde at his gate for over an hour until finally succumbing to the inevitable. Theoretically, they can still advance with a win over Ukraine, and it could happen, but it's not the way I'd bet.

3 Stars

  1. # 18 CM Cesc Fabregas: The prodigy came on at half and his rambunctiousness greatly affected the game in short order. His first shot from the right side of the area in the 70th minute brought out Boumnijel's best save of the evening. His second, from the edge of the box couldn't be handled cleanly and Raul had the time and ability to clean it up and send the Tunisians hurtling toward their date with reality. His bold long ball from midfield found Torres in the 75th for the go ahead goal.
  2. # 7 LF Raul: Spain's all-time leading scorer proved he's still got the touch when it counts and he was at the right place at the right time to bang home the most difficult goal for any good team in a match, the first one. One thing that I noticed though was that when he, David Villa, and Fernando Torres were out there together for the first 15 minutes of the second half, it wasn't working. The 4-3-3 was going nowhere. So they took off Villa, brought in the speedy Sanchez Joaquin to run up and down the right flank and shifted to their more familiar 4-4-1-1 look. Playing their three best attackers together seems to produce diminishing returns for some reason. Not enough passing maybe.
  3. # 9 CF Fernando Torres: Wow am I becoming a fan of this guy. He has absolutely no sense of decorum or false humility in his game. He's so fit that when defenses start to sag after the 70th minute, that's when he really gets his into gear. He gracefully ran under Fabregas' long ball, collecting it with his right thigh, darting to his left inside the box to round the out of position Boumnijel, and flicked it with the outside of his foot into an empty net. He then got another breakaway on the keeper but couldn't out angle him on that one in the 87th minute. Just before the whistle he got hauled down on an attempted header by Tunisian sub Alaeddine Yahia and rammed home the spot kick to make it 3 for Spain. He still tried to score another in the 92nd but shot it over the bar. Your WC leader so far with three goals.
Media Highlights: Tommy Smyth, "The other day the rain in Spain fell on Ukraine."
Clever stuff.