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World Cup Diary

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The eyes of Poland and, oddly, Scotland’s Catholic eyes will be on Maciej ‘magic’ Zurawski, the dangerous striker who joined Scotland’s Celtic in Glasgow last summer for some $4 million and went on to score 16 goals in 22 games, and notch off the Celtics’ league title. Celtic is Glasgow’s Catholic club, as opposed to its Rangers, who are its Protestant squad; the two loathe each other so much that a Catholic player joining the Protestant team, whose songs include chants that go along the lines of “fuck the pope,” is damn near unthinkable. No such songs today, given the overwhelmingly Catholic nature of both Ecuador and Poland. The only protestants will be in the stands. This should be another high-scoring game, but not necessarily in Poland’s favor: Its players are approaching nursing-home status. Poland’s qualifying route included 27 goals in 10 games, though eight of those came against Azerbaijan, a country better known for its latter-day slavery to American policy than for its football. Keep in mind too Euzebiusz Smolarek, better known as Ebi, who learned his football in Holland. Poland’s history with Germany shouldn’t be far from anyone’s mind, but one of Poland’s two best showing at any world cup happened in 1974, the last time it was held in Germany, when the Poles finished in third place. Ecuador is an interesting case. They beat Brazil, 1-0 in a qualifying match in November 2004, beat Argentina 2-0 seven months later (Ecuadorian altitude helped), but have scored just two goals in their last four qualifying matches and done dismally on the road. Their captain and star Ivan Hurtado plays in Qatar, Augustin Delgado plays for that Spanish superpower Barcelona and scored five goals in qualifiers, but Ecuadorian eyes are on Christian Lara, who wears Pelé’s #10 jersey by the way. The team plays happily and heartily, so between Poland’s proclivity for goals and Ecuador’s jubilance, we should have a fun evening.

5:00...Some spry running on Ecuador's part, some thoughtful building by Poland. Good pace, fair quality. But nothing to write either Quito or Cracow about yet. A nice long shot on goal by Castillo. He must have seen the previous game. The long shot may be a key to this World Cup. First real threat in the game, almost 15 minutes into the game, a free kick from 40 yards out from Ecuador's goal...and it sails up toward Ursa Major's early evening shivers. A game evenly matched for its uncertainties. Even possessions, even mistakes, like one that just almost cost Poland a breakaway Ecuadorian goal. But no.

20:00... Dear Grandma: No change here at soccer camp; we're watching two teams mow their midfield pretty consistently. They're oddly fun to watch, because they won't quit trying, the game is somewhat tense, because you know the two sides are evenly matched, but no one has figured out how to give us something to Ole about. Wait a second Grandma, I spoke too soon. Nifty header from an out ball, Poland were completely wrong-footed, and just like that, it's 1-0.

Approaching 30:00: Great atmosphere, great little moments, an almost-goal from Ecuador's Delgado, from what looked like two inches out, but again with the rocket science. Then a mean, mean play by Ecuador on an attacking Pole, by a usually gentle player. But the free kick sails into the keeper's hands.Ecuador replies with yet another swift attack, then another by way of a corner... the game has shifted decidedly in Ecuador's favor even if possession hasn't. John Lennon would have appreciated the paradox.

37:00... Another well-shot free kick for Ecuador, right on goal. We're going to see more scoring.Poland is playing old, tired football and the first half isn't yet over. The overwhelmingly Polish crowd is not happy. And yet another Ecuadorian attack and shot from half a world away, right on goal. You can see the Poles trying to cross in high above Ecuador's heads, two such attempts, one that should have been a goal, but no finishes for Poland.

45:00... Poland tried but so far it's all Ecuador. Not as dramatic as the Germany game, but no less absorbing either. Maybe a Carlsberg will pep things up.

Halftime...My son is getting a diaper change (only "a little pooper," goes the report from the other room). I have the feeling the Poles are doing the same in their locker room. Theirs too so far is only a little pooper. They have time to reassert themselves. But the way Ecuador is playing, they'll deserve the win. Still, expect the Poles to come out roaring and tie by the sixtieth minute (entirely idiotic of me to make these predictions, but it's not as if the NSA is going to come after me for them; they listen in for other things, and listen in they do). But Ecuador looks in charge of the match. How do I know this? The median age in Ecuador is 23. The median age in Poland? 37. Age in their respective teams shows.

Second half... 52:00... Poland are doing what was expected after half-time, but so far without success: a nice attack inside the Ecuador penalty area broken up by Espinoza, but also poorly timed by the Polish striker: corner sails low, happily for Ecuador. Poland keeps possession, but there's an absence of imagination on the field, and too much praying instead of playing. Less than four minutes left before Poland makes a liar of me. Here was a wide-open chance for Poland, but Ecuadorians have been like a wall. Here they are once again flirting with the goal posts, and once again denied... as the Ecuadorian goalie begins to waste time. The guy has already been warned. It's one of the more unappealing sides of the game, this time-wasting business. And with 30 minutes left in the game? Ecuador will pay, Poles must be thinking. More time-wasting from Ivan Hurtado, who's ... maybe not: looks like a twisted ankle. Not good for Ecuador and their star. What, however, is the Ecuador coach doing, cleaning his shoe?

70:00... The only consistent thing in this half has been the downard path of the quality of play. Ecuador are settling. Poland are continuing disappoint a nation's worth of day-trippers from across the border. So many unhappy Poles, so little time left.

80:00... Oh yes, oh yes... Delgado takes a beauty of a lateral pass inside the Poland area, taps it past the keeper, no chance. 2-0. The altidude of the stadium has just risen from 400 feet to 4,000 meters. Well-deserved.

85:00... Ulucky Poles. A straight shot on goal, saved, then a crossbar shot. And another, just wide. Corner after corner. They're trying. They've lifted their game, but Quito's boys have lifted their heights, they're eight feet tall and three points richer. And another goalpost shot by the Poles! Nada.

And that's that. More luck than skill for Ecuador, too much slug-like play for the Poles until the last ten minutes or so, but not a surprising result. Ecuador looks like it played under its potential, and its tendency to lay back won't serve it well if it aims to make it out of the group and past the second round. A combined 17 shots on goal isn't that great of an offensive game. But this is an exciting team in an exciting group: the Poland-Germany group will be emotional enough for Poland to have a big chance, and given Costa Rica's lost cause, nothing is decided yet even for the old and tired Poles. But they're not winninh hearts the way Ecuador has. See you tomorrow for the England-Paraguay bashfest, if we can make it past all this nonsense about Rooney's foot and Beckham's sex, interesting though it is that the English team is fielding such a world-famous girl in its squad.

The match's full stats and wrap-up from FIFA...

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