Friday, June 18, 2010

It sucks to be the favorite.

A couple of unexpected results have thrown the first round of the 2010 World Cup into a tizzy. The lowly Swiss upset the reigning European champs Spain, 1-0, and the Germans lost to the Serbs by the same score, only after one of their all-time best scorers Miroslav Klose was given a red card for an exceedingly timid foul. To make it even worse and much, much stranger, the Germans missed a penalty kick to tie. Germans miss penalty kicks about as often as the French army wins decisive victories in battle.

The Greeks were expected to be doormats in their group, but they knocked off perennial African qualifiers Nigeria, 2-1. The French getting flat out embarrassed by the Mexicans is not exactly an upset given the current squad, but historically it is a remarkable win.

And then came today's later matches. Slovenia, the smallest country to send a team to South Africa, completely outplayed the United States in the first half of their game, leading 2-0 at the intermission. The U.S. played with urgency in the second half, and after a Landon Donovan laser shot from a very tough angle narrowed the margin to 2-1, Michael Bradley, the coach's son, showed that his selection was not just nepotism as he scored the equalizer in the 81st minute. Slovenia never gave up, and the action was exciting on both ends of the pitch. But then Landon Donovan set up for a free kick outside penalty area. This picture is a shot of the action in the penalty area.

It's not a soccer match. It's a slow dance at a beach party. People aren't grabbing an opponent's jersey in a sly attempt not to be noticed. They are hugging. There's an American foul on the left of the picture. There's a much more blatant Slovenian foul in the middle of the picture, No. 4 in blue being detained by No. 18 in white. See No. 19 in blue, the guy nobody wants to hug? He caught up to the ball from an onside position and put it in the back of the net. The referee called a foul on the Americans. It should have been the game winner, but instead the game ended in a 2-2 tie.

The referee was from Mali. The kindest words I have seen written about him are "idiot" and "incompetent".

Both the U.S. and Slovenia came to play, which is much more than can be said for the listless English, who never really threatened to score in a dull 0-0 draw against the massive underdogs Algeria. This gives Slovenia the best chance to win the group, but nothing is set in stone yet.

Tomorrow, you would think the Dutch would be favored against the Japanese, and given the bad play by most African squads, The Danes should beat the Indomitable Lions of Cameroon, but there is so much bad juju running around South Africa this week, it's close to crazy to put a dollar on the result of a match until further notice.

The motto for the TV spots is "One game changes everything".

One game ruins everything is more like it.


Abu Scooter said...

That picture is the first evidence I've seen all day that any American committed a foul on the disallowed goal. Somehow, though, I doubt that the referee actually saw that.

As for the English, they looked less like the Three Lions than the Three Garfields. Let the U.K. presses rip.

Matty Boy said...

Same here. When watching on TV, they showed all the Slovenian spooning attempts in slow motion. I felt like they should have been playing the theme to "A Summer Place".

I've read some leagues now have referee's assistants behind the goals to watch for exactly this kind of stuff on set pieces. It sounds like an excellent use of resources.