I'm feeling pretty loose, pretty excited. Sunday night is HBO night, so for once I'll be watching some telly that isn't sports or politically themed satire on Comedy Central. I'll be watching Entourage (pretty slow start to their season so far) and Lucky Louie, which has atrocious acting, but is a howling riot anyway. Maybe the awful performances make it better somehow. I haven't quite figured it out.
But while watching the Netherlands-Portugal game, I had an epiphany about HBO. While their half hour sitcoms (the duo I mentioned plus Sex in the City, Curb Your Enthusiasm, and the short-lived The Comeback) were all wildly different from one another (although they all involve main characters who are way too self-absorbed) their much more renowned one-hour dramas are all really similar, if you think about it.
There are three basic themes: Fucking, killing, and swearing. The only thing that changes is the setting.
The Sopranos: Fucking, killing, and swearing by New Jersey mobsters.
Oz: Fucking, killing, and swearing in an experimental prison colony.
Deadwood: Fucking, killing, and swearing in the Old West.
Rome: Fucking, killing, and swearing before Jesus was around.
The only show that breaks the pattern is Six Feet Under. But that series was a dreadful bore that only pretentious snobs watched. I've never seen The Wire. It's about undercover cops battling drug dealers in tough inner city neighborhoods. I'm guessing it involves a lot of fucking, killing, and swearing. Feel free to correct me if I'm wrong.
So remember, it's not TV, it's Fucking, Killing, and Swearing.
Ingerland 1, Ecuador 0
Speaking of swearing, I did plenty of it when my alarm didn't work for whatever reason and I completely slept thru the England game. Of all the games to miss! But the result cheered me up a bit, along with the realization that I didn't exactly miss a barn burner.
Perhaps the ESPN gamecast commentary at the end provides a clue as to the entertainment value of the match. I'll have to really read between the lines here because sometimes the writers are really subtle. Let's just scroll to the end here... ah here it is.
"92 mins - FULL-TIME: One of the worst matches, not only of this World Cup, but of any World Cup throughout history. Ever. England stumble through thanks to Beckham's second-half free-kick, the highlight of a thoroughly uninspiring performance."
Hmm. Well, I don't know what to make of that. The Brits are so understated and all.
If it was possible for fans to fire the team's manager in mid-tournament, Sven Goran Eriksson would've been history after their first game with Paraguay, but the team seems to actually be regressing offensively, if such a thing is possible. I they actually played a 3-2-4-1 today against Ecuador, and I wasn't aware such a formation was even possible. I guess the glass half full guy calls it a 3-6-1, and the glass empty guy calls it a 5-4-1. Whatever you call it, it's boring crap. Wayne Rooney as a lone striker is madness.
I guess Erikkson gave up on Peter Crouch, but this conservative style of play is designed to infuriate their fans for sure. Basically England is admitting that their striker situation is so dire that the only way they can score is from a long shot from the midfield or a Beckham free kick. Whatever Rooney gives them is being treated as icing on the cake, but it's like he's almost a decoy out there. He must be furious with Sven right now, much more so than any fan. Then again the only reason he's on the team is because Erikkson refused to accept that he wouldn't be healthy enough to play. If his boss at Man U, Sir Alex Ferguson had his way Rooney would be on the sidelines. So Rooney will have to weigh his rage at how he's being used with his gratefulness for being on the pitch at all. With his personality, it's not hard to guess at which side of the debate will win out in the long run.
How their quarterfinal will go with Portugal is anyone's guess. They fought each other furiously in Euro '04, with host Portugal ultimately triumphing on penalties after a 2-2 draw (with both sides scoring once in overtime). At first glance one would guess it'd be a very physical game, filled with fouls and neither side conceding an inch of pitch to the other, but Portugal has so many guys carrying yellow cards now, they might have to ease up a bit, just to give themselves a chance of being allowed to play in a potential semi-final vs. Italy. I said England would win this game back when I made my picks a three weeks ago, and I'll hold on to it, grudgingly. Some how, some way, the Three Lions are trudging these games out.
As far as Ecuador is concerned, they just couldn't dial it up today. England finds a way to suck the life out of everyone, but I think the bigger problem was that their manager conceded their previous match, the 3rd group game against Germany, just so he could rest everyone. I dislike this strategy tremendously because once you take a team's attacking mentality away, it's so hard to get it back again. The South Americans would've been better off just playing all out and losing to Germany 5-1 than just laying off and going down meekly 3-0.
As a consequence, it sent a message in the players' minds that their manager was satisfied just getting into the knockout rounds and they never really challenged England at all. They had their one chance in the 11th minute, but even after Beckham scored in the 60th, there wasn't much urgency there. Yet another reason why it's bothersome when underdogs qualify for the World Cup and absolute torture when they make it out of the group stages, this goddamn feeling of satisfaction. Nothing is worse to watch than a bunch of satisfied athletes. If you don't think you can win, you won't.
3. # 9 CF Wayne Rooney - Did the best he could all alone up front to win long balls and crosses and ran himself ragged for the full 90. Set up his two attacking midfielders, Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard a few times, but nothing came of it. Needs some help out there.
1. # 3 LB Ashley Cole - Solid in the back all day and saved the game for the Brits early on when he had to sprint full on and dive into the path of forward Carlos Tenorio after John Terry's awful back-pass had sent the Ecuadorian in on what looked to be a breakaway in the 11th minute.
1. # 7 RM David Beckham - Let's be honest, if it wasn't his for another one of his patented curling free kicks in the 60th minute, we very well could be discussing another penalty kick loss heartbreak for England right now. Becks became the first Englishman to score in three different World Cups today. His cumulative tally? Three. Well, okay then.
Portugal 1, Netherlands 0
So perhaps everyone can shut up a bit about the officiating in the U.S. games now, eh? It's never a good sign when the match report for the game has the headline "Refereeing farce." And you thought David Stern's sport had problems. All I can say is thank God Mark Cuban doesn't own a small European country.
The final gruesome numbers: 16 cards, four ejections, the game finishing with nine men a side, and one absolute mortal lock of a guarantee that Russian referee Valentin Ivanov won't be allowed to influence a match of any significance in the near future. He may have already been deported out of Germany as of this writing. It got so goofy at the end that two of the sent off players, Deco of Portugal and Khalid Boulahrouz of the Netherlands, had taken to sitting alongside each other on the steps of the locker room tunnel and consoling themselves over the referee's sheer incompetence. In a game that had several dust-ups and near brawls along the pitch, the players eventually stopped hating each other and agreed to make a common enemy of the man with the whistle instead.
What this means for Portugal is that both midfielders Deco and Francisco Costinha are out for the England game, and one has to wonder what the status of midfielder Cristiano Ronaldo will be since he had to leave after 35 minutes with a deep cut to his right thigh. Five others will be carrying a yellow into the match including keeper Alexandre Ricardo, goal scorer Nuno Maniche, and main man in the middle Figo. Will any of them play more tepidly to avoid missing out on a potential semi-final game? Very doubtful.
See, the thing is, it's easy to say the referee lost control of the game and everything was his fault, but if you look at each card in a vacuum, probably at least 12 of the 16 were deserved. In fact Figo could've easily gotten a straight red for a head butt during one confrontation, and Costinha could've (should've) been tossed a few minutes earlier than he was for a hard tackle on Dutch defender Andre Oojier. Portuguese defender Nuno Valente had an extremely dangerous tackle on Dutch forward Arjen Robben that would've been not only a card for certain but a penalty kick, except it was all deemed moot since Robben was already off side.
I'm sure the players, when they look back on this game ten years from now will blame it all on the Russian for not letting them play, and choose to focus on the friendly banter on the steps between the dumbstruck Deco and Boulahrouz instead of objectively recalling the details of what transpired tonight. The fact is that Ivanov desperately tried to get the players to control themselves, to act in the spirit of "fair play" as FIFA commissioner Sepp Blatter demands, but the footballers simply refused to act like professionals on the pitch. They wasted time, they fought with one another, they refused to kick it out of bounds when somebody was hurt, and they wouldn't let each other have quick restarts after fouls. In short, they were the reason the game got so crazy, not the ref. I'm not sure what else he was supposed to do. It was either hand them yellow cards or let them hack each other into bloody bits.
I blame it on the Portuguese players. From personal experience I can tell you that these are irrational, very temperamental people, and they absolutely cannot be reasoned with. Like Klingons, really.
For the Netherlands, the real villain has to be manager Marco Van Basten. Once again we have a coach who let his personal feelings get in the way of success on the field of play. Benching star forward Ruud Van Nistelrooy, and keeping him on the sidelines with a 1-0 deficit because of personal differences was a travesty. His replacement, the perfectly ordinary Dirk Kuyt, had three wasted chances on goal, and several other flat out misses, and surely Van Nistelrooy would've buried one (or more) of those if given the opportunity, especially with a man up.
Also, as I've mentioned before, something still doesn't sit right with me about the Netherlands all of a sudden having no black players on the team (I think they have one actually, but a reserve). How can a starting squad go from being over 50% black to none in a span of two years, and all in the same time frame of the coach's employment? Something so dramatic cannot be just a coincidence, can it? Even if Van Basten is going for a youth movement, as he's stated on many occasions, could it be possible that none of the best young players in Holland are men of color?
The odds are highly against it.
Not only did the Dutch not field their best line-up today against Portugal, but I'm almost certain they didn't even take their best 23 man roster to Germany.
3. # 9 CF Pauleta - Had the helper on Maniche's goal, after drawing two defenders to him on the play, and almost scored on of his own on a Figo set-up in the 45th minute that Edwin Van der Sar did well to get a leg on. Had to exit at half because of tactical reasons as they were playing with ten men.
2. # 1 GK Alexandre Ricardo - Had numerous fine stops in the second half to keep the score 1-0, mainly the three chances on Kuyt, who he challenged bravely on a breakaway before he could pick out a corner. Was fortunate that Phillip Cocu hit the crossbar in the 50th minute from close in, but otherwise he was the defensive star of the show.
1. # 18 CM Nuno Maniche - After receiving Pauleta's feed at the top of the box, he deftly deked Oojier out of his shorts before firing low and right past Van der Sar in the 23rd minute. Also had a great chance in the 58th that he couldn't quite squeak by the Dutch giant. I'll say this for Maniche: He's not afraid to shoot. With Deco out against England, he'll have more responsibility in the middle than ever.
Italy 2, Australia 1. The Azzuri will score their winner from the spot. There will be much complaining. Surprise, surprise.
Ukraine 1, Switzerland 1. Ukraine on pennos. Because I said so.