More World Cup Blogging
Now that every team has played at least once, why not pause for a few reflections and make a few (premature) predictions. First, because I'm a shameless imperialist capitalist running pigdog, I should mention that I'm not really concerned with any of the minor/non-contending countries, except inasmuch as their presence affects the sides with a chance to win. And sitting at the head of the table of non-contenders, surely, is the United States of America, which on Monday put together some of the worst 90+ minutes of international soccer I have ever seen. It's not that there haven't been worse teams and worse performances (there have been worse American teams and worse American performances), it's that the gameplan seemed to be not even to try to do anything with the ball in Czech territory under any circumstances.
The American performance on the pitch was downright impressive, however, compared to ESPN's coverage of the match. Let's not mince words: It was the most slanted reporting of any kind and of any subject in recent memory. ESPN's coverage of the US-Czech Republic match made Sean Hannity's interview with Dick Cheney look like an interrogation at Abu Ghraib. The "worldwide leader in sports" spent a week promoting, to the exclusion of any other angle on the match, the fact that this American team is the best ever and it is up to them to shock the world and prove that the USA is the best in the world even at a competition we regard as somewhere in between sport and a gay hippie orgy conducted in rhythm with the Internationale. A spectator who knew nothing about soccer but the line that ESPN was pushing that week would have assumed the US were favorites in the match. All three "experts" --- Eric Wynalda, Alexi Lalas, and Julie Foudy (more on them momentarily) --- predicted an American victory, which indicates that they are either retarded or dishonest creeps. [Both!--ed.] Once the Czech Republic sent Claudio "Asshole" Reyna, Landon "Asshole" Donovan &co. off the pitch in disgrace, ESPN's official line switched immediately to, "Will the valiant underdog superpower recover from this self-inflicted loss by defeating Italy, and has Oceania always been at war with Eastasia?" (Answers: "Yes and yes"). And so it has been ever since: unceasing hawking of the US-Italy match throughout their coverage of every other World Cup match. There are reminders of the time and date every few minutes or so, and whatever is actually happening on the pitch, you can count on Marcelo "Rocky" Balboa and his sidekick [I think it's Alan Colmes--ed.] to explain why it's just like the American match, or (just maybe) just like the predicament the Americans find themselves in. At one point during the Germany-Poland match yesterday, the area of action on the pitch was blocked out by a fucking promo for US-Italy. This bears repeating: ESPN blocked out German and Polish players contesting for the ball with a graphic advertising the next US match. Finally, about the aforementioned three musketeers, Wynalda, Lalas, and Foudy: You know that stereotype that certain classes of athletes (hockey players, lacrosse players, maybe football players) tend to be cretinous while others (i.e. soccer players) tend to be bright? Yeah, so much for that.
As for the actual soccer: If I were an England supporter, I would be weeping. They lucked out a win over Paraguay by virtue of an own goal, and barely beat Trinidad and To-fucking-bago today. They'll be playing either Germany or Ecuador, and will deservedly lose to either one. Which brings us to Germany: The team is better in all respects than the 2002-finalists, except that Jens Lehmann is no Oli Kahn (and apparently these days, Oli Kahn is no Oli Kahn, else he wouldn't be on the bench; or is Jürgen Klinsmann nuts?). Ballack has some forwards to play with, Lahm and Frings are more than competent, though utterly uncreative, and the defense seems to have sorted out the lazy nonsense that led to Costa Rica's two goals on blown offside traps. That said, I doubt Germany will win, but they'll stay around longer than several teams that are better on paper. The best team on paper is Brazil, and by all rights, they ought to have lost to Croatia. Brazil's durability in the tournament will depend on whether or not their coach is willing to bench Ronaldo for the rest of the tournament. He is awful; and his replacement, Robinho, looks dangerous. No one, myself included, will be surprised if Brazil goes all the way, but they're not my pick. Against Croatia, they looked like 10 primadonnas and a keeper, not a soccer team. This is the classic set-up for a World Cup collapse. Which is the fate that will befall Argentina, Italy, and the Netherlands. Portugal is the most exciting team to watch, but they appear utterly uninterested in playing defense, and will lose accordingly.
My pick: The Czech Republic, with or without Jan Koller. They are a team that includes phenomenal talents. I can't see them losing.
P.S. If I were watching in any other country in the world --- especially in Europe; nothing brings out the Real American Hero in me like listening to blond, orange-tracksuited Eurotrash idiots mock Americans for being fat and stupid [that rapier European wit--ed.] --- I'd probably be cheering the doughboys on. As things are, I want them not only to lose but to be humiliated and booted from the tournament as quickly as possible. Which makes me, as you know, objectively pro-terrorist.
UPDATE (6/17/06): Man is my face red. I stand by everything I said about ESPN tenfold, though.