- sport -
The Cup Runneth Over
Nominal holidays plus few posts equals the World Cup, although I haven't been watching that many of the matches; Of the third of the matches gone so far:
And what are the impressions? The first unavoidable one is the vuvuzela, or in other words, the "what *is* that unholy buzzing noise in the background oh stop it stop it please" wind instrument. It has proven to be hugely divisive, with most foreigners seemingly annoyed by it, and most of the natives insisting that it is an integral part of their footballing culture.
One suspects that the South African fans feel that with sufficient numbers of vuvuzelas blowing, anything can happen on the pitch (such as an opposition player collapsing from a cerebral hemorrhage at a critical juncture in the match). As one can surmise from their results so far, this hasn't quite happened.
Zidane demonstrates defensive tactics against the vuvuzela in 2006
(Source: Redcafe.net [click link for lots more funnies])
Or maybe the criticism is really a neocolonialist shtick by The Man to keep the (tip of the) continent down (a sentiment expressed in the original lyrics [Youtube] of the official World Cup theme song, Waving Flag: "So many wars, settling scores/Bringing us promises, leaving us poor/I heard them say, love is the way/Love is the answer, that's what they say/But look how they treat us, make us believers/We fight their battles, then they deceive us"), and that the vuvuzela is high art after all.
The discipline, the rhythm, the unimpeached order - C'est magnifique!
Like the vuvuzela, the football has tended to be... monotonic. The goals per game ratio, even after being rescued by the five between Argentina and South Korea (which included perhaps the simplest hat-trick I can recall seeing in an international game since Klose's against Saudi Arabia), is a paltry 1.85, far lower than even the notorious Italia 90 (2.2 goals/game) that prompted the banning of the back-pass.
This might be partly attributed to the gap closing between different confederations, as well as the realisation that a very fit and well-drilled team, coupled with a defensive gameplan, can be very difficult to break down; Kudos to North Korea, even if they scuppered my hopes of a goalfest. Not that this Brazil are an exceptional vintage, but when you have a wingback that can score from the byline, you're always in with a shout.
Back to the beginning - the opening ceremony, I felt, was enjoyable. Not quite on the scale of China's, of course, but so much more personal, with the slightly different variations in outfits for the performers a nice touch. A vuvuzela-powered South Africa then got a credible draw with Mexico, but after the adrenaline wore off it was back to status quo with a drubbing by Uruguay, who held France in their first match.
And the French - I've never been a big fan, so after qualifying through the infamous Hand of Frog goal against Ireland, and getting beaten by China (a team which Singapore, no disrespect intended, has been known to hold their own against)... let's just say that I wasn't exactly rooting for them, even with Evra captaining the side (counterbalanced by Gallas' utter pettiness). As a bonus, it was a new United signing, Javier "Chicharito" Hernández, who scored for Mexico against them.
South Korea were hardworking as usual, with perhaps half a dozen spare lungs among their starting eleven (one exclusively belonging to captain "Three Lung" Park Ji-Sung). Don't know much about Nigeria other than that they have supposedly got a decent goalie.
I realise that I might, on the other hand, know too much about England. In particular:
It's so fun to be an England supporter.
Spilling over into soccer
The final match of note was Spain being upset by Switzerland, as they go back to their usual ways after the aberration that was Euro 2008. Wouldn't quite mind seeing them miss out, if it means reduced prices for some of their guys in the post-World Cup transfer spree.
Devils May Care
This looks like as good a time as any for my season review of Manchester United. Runners-up in the league, quarter-finals of the Champions League and winners of the Carling Cup isn't horrible for a team stripped of the Best Player In The World (who fittingly got nothing at Real Madrid) - except to fans spoilt by perpetual success.
Edwin van der Sar - 8/10. Typically reliable. Getting on 40 years of age, but still by some distance top dog between the posts for United. Which is not all that good. Dutch captain several years back.
Ben Foster - 5/10. File under "promising but cracked", which is not too unusual for goalies at the pressure cooker of United. Should be happier at Birmingham, at least for now.
Tomasz Kuszczak - 6/10. Did everything right the few times he was called upon, but won't be given the chance to make the next step up. A pity, but probably not in the very top rank of keepers that United deserve.
Gary Neville - 5/10. Still has a decent cross left on him, and probably few love the club more, but he's 35 which can be a bit of a bother when some whippersnapper half his age duels him in a footrace. One more season. Maybe.
Patrice Evra - 8.5/10. Worth maybe half an extra winger on the left, has a deceptively good leap, and more obviously good dribbling threat. You'd never know he's already 29 years old. Too bad he has to captain France.
Rio Ferdinand - 6.5/10. Not his best year, as he played just 13 league games. Still, he's English captain for a reason, and that reason is not his gammy back.
Wes Brown - 6/10. Supposedly has played nearly half of United's league matches. I would have guessed less than ten. Not being noticed is not necessarily bad for a defender, though, even if not very good.
Nemanja Vidić - 8/10. Next Real Madrid target, which means he's done well. Quite the monster, with an allergy to forwards with true pace. Perhaps United's only remaining legitimate corner kick threat.
Fábio/Rafael - 7/10. Lumped them together since I can't tell them apart. Great at going forward, not so great at defending, silly against Bayern Munich, but chockful of promise. The new Nevilles, surely.
John O'Shea - 6/10. Living off his Figo nutmeg, no-one expects much more than a square pass from him anymore. But that's his job description, and he does it ok.
Jonny Evans - 6.5/10. Done alright most of the times he's stood in for Ferdinand, but he's not quite Rio yet. But he's just 21, which is like 17 in central-defender years. Should make it at United.
Owen Hargreaves - Injured.
Anderson - 5.5/10. Slightly underwhelming, his near-inability to score is a concern for an attacking midfielder. More worryingly, he appears to have butted heads with Ferguson, a move that few United players ever recover from. Future hangs in the balance.
Ryan Giggs - 6/10. He's 36 and still one of United's top attacking players, and when he's in the mood he can still breeze past players without even speeding up. Unfortunately, he'll be 37. What I would give for a 20 year-old Giggs!
Park Ji-Sung - 6.5/10. The South Korean captain is still slightly underrated. He may not have the flair, but he seldom lets United down.
Michael Carrick - 5/10. Uh oh. Appears to need a Scholes in his pomp beside him. His half-hearted challenge on Ivica Olic was symbolic of his campaign. If he doesn't find a way out of his funk, United could well be in trouble.
Nani - 6.5/10. Blossoming after Ronaldo's departure, he may actually be better with tricks than the BPITW. Add some footballing brains, and Ronaldo won't even be missed that much. Unfortunately, his best position appears to be right wing, the same as with Valencia.
Paul Scholes - 6/10. Turned down an England call-up, so it's not as if Capello didn't try. Can still drop breathtaking fifty-yard passes on a penny, but has lost possession in some very dangerous situations. Thankfully his resistance to yellow cards is still working well.
Darren Fletcher - 7.5/10. Few would have expected that he would one day be the best United central midfielder, but that's what he is now. Also became Scottish captain. Well done!
Antonio Valencia - 7/10. Just think of what he would be had he grown another leg and learnt another trick. Possibly faster than even Ronaldo, he could become absolutely fearsome if he expands on his "I'll pretend to go left and then push the ball right/up and run very very quickly after it" repertoire.
Darron Gibson - 6/10. Moved up from 5.5 as recognition of those games where his long-range shooting seemed to be the only solution. As with Valencia, he would be much better if he developed an alternative to "I'll bring the ball to the centre and smack it very very hard towards the goal".
Michael Owen - 6/10. The new Number Seven appeared in 19 league matches despite an injury in March, and scored against City. That got him his six-point rating, since he's neither fast nor prolific any longer.
Dimitar Berbatov - 5/10. Ahem. Yes, he can do stuff like this once or twice a year, but unfortunately the overriding image I have of him is a guy who's strolling leisurely while the rest of the team is sprinting their hearts out. It's gotten so bad that he can surprise defenders by actually running.
The statistics paint a better picture, but to me there's something missing here. For example, I would much rather have Tevez or a fit Saha back.
Wayne Rooney - 7/10. The big one. His talent is undoubted, and he's gained the knack of scoring consistently, but is it just me who feels that his passing is actually not very good? If he fixes that, cuts down on the lobbing, and gets a top striker who actually runs as his partner... watch out, world!
Welback/Obertan/Macheda/Diouf - 5.5/10. The supporting cast has been pretty muted. If, touch wood, Rooney gets injured for any significant length of time, United could have a real problem. Owen/Berbatov, even with Nani and Valencia, isn't the scariest of propositions, nor is both of them, or one of them with any of these.
On a slightly random note, how would United do in the World Cup? Assume that a clone is created for each player who is also needed for his national team.
Actually, I would expect that they - as well as other top club sides - would be a shade better than the best national sides, not least due to all the time they have to train together (years, versus weeks for even the World Cup). Perhaps we might one day see some top clubs against the top nations to settle this question.
Next: Best Korea
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