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Pierre's World Cup Diary

GAME 10, GROUP E, JUNE 12, 2006 --GLESENKIRCHEN
UNITED STATES 0, CZECH REPUBLIC 3
FINAL

ALL RIGHT EVERYONE, THIS IS WHAT WE (IN THIS HEMISPHERE ANYWAY) HAVE BEEN WAITING FOR.... US-CZECH REPUBLIC IN A FEW MOMENTS.....FOR ONCE, NO CZECH PILSNERS ALLOWED. BUSH MAKES IT DAMN NEAR IMPOSSIBLE TO ROOT FOR THE UNITED STATES ALMOST ANYWHERE ELSE; HERE'S OUR CHANCE TO ROOT UNRESERVEDLY AND DESERVEDLY... [Post-game update: It was not to be... read on...]

We've heard plenty about this being the best US team ever assembled for a World Cup, but I already see a tactical error on Bruce Arena's part: he's going for experience above all else, loading his opening line-up with his established stars and leaving the young guns on the bench, among them Eddie Johnson his top scorer in qualifiers. Keep in mind that the United States has never won a World Cup match on European soil. But the day started with an Australian team carrying the same cross and ending up not only with a victory but with a crucifixion of Japan with three late goals. And on the third goal Japan might as well have called it a day at this world cup: no resurrection in the forecast.

More telling is the Americans' way into the final 32. They have 12 wins, 4 draws and jkust two losses, those two coming in a 2-1 loss to Mexico, in Mexico, on March 27, 2005, and a 3-0 defeat in Costa Rica on October 8, 2005--a defeat that should not have been so one-sided. The Americans beat Mexico at home, 2-0, in September 2005, and beat Costa Rica by the same score in June 2005. Their draws came against lowly Jamaica, a 1-1 affair in August 2004 (The Jamaicans just lost to England 5-1 or 6-1, I lost count), and again with Jamaica a few months later by the same 1-1 score. The only overwhelming victory along the way was a 6-0 thrashing of Panama at home in October 2004.

Line-up wise, Kasey Keller is about 97 years old, he's playing in his fourth World Cup, and is the only hold-over from the France '98 team. Brian McBride is more like 77, playing in his third World Cup, so is Claudio Reyna. Against the young, goal-crazy Czechs, and Social Security's future being in the disarray it is, the Americans have their work cut out for my cliches. Overall for the US, they have played 22 World Cup matches, won 6, drawn 2 and lost 14; they've scored 25 goals and had 45 scored against them. The worst part of the game, as always, will be the commentators, not the Czechs. Get me earplugs. Now let's be mean to the Czechs and preview them...

No one scored as many goals as the Czechs in qualifiers except the Portuguese. You'll hear that again and again: 35 goals in 12 matches. OK, fine. But against who? They played Andorra, a country the size of my two year old son's fingernail, and with a population smaller than Popmpei after the eruption, and beat them 8-1. The surprise there was an Andorran goal against the Czechs! They beat them again on the road, 4-1. They also beat Armenia 4-0 and 3-0, and Macedonia 6-1 and 2-0. They also lost three games (more than the United States): 2-0 to Holland, in Holland (that's excusable); 2-0 to Romania, in Romania (less excusable), and 2-0 to Holland, at home, which is not quite excusable. Someone didn;t get the Dutch drunk enough before the game. Norway and Finland were the other teams in that group. Anyway, the Czechs have Jan Koller, the second-best scorer in all of Europe during qualifiers (but again, qualify that stat), and they have the dangerous Milan Baros, the $8 million man (he just got bought up by England's Aston Villa for that amount). He scored five times in qualifying, which is not saying much. But he also was the top goal-scorer of Euro 2004, which is saying a ton.

In brief: The Czechs have youth, speed and a goal addiction on their side, plus home turf: they're playing in a town that sits a train-ride away from the Czech Republic, near the French border. You know what French fans will be in the stands won't be rooting for the Yanks. And the stands will be full of tri-colorous Czechs dying to give the Americans a piece of their mind, especially since it was revealed (in Czech lands more than in the US) that King George is looking to plant a star wars-missile defense base in the heart of the Czech Republic. OK, let's get ready.

2... A LITTLE messy play to start, and the first US attack, from half-way across the Atlantic, shot high over goal.

5... Unnecessary foul and deserved yellow card for US's Onyewu

5 GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOAL CZECH'S KOLLER ... No surprise there, Koller stood like the Empire State Building in front of the US goal, took a perfect cross for deep down the wing and headed it unquestionably into goal.

10 The Czechs keep pressing, dominating possession (70-30), attacking, looking spry and sure of themselves, unlike the Americans, who are reduced to shooting from across the French border.

12... The US commentators are full of shit: age does matter in a sport reliant on speed and instinct. Corner kick for US goes nowhere, after an attack in which a US winger was outrun. Age doesn't matter? Matters don't look bright for the US, nor does the sky: first overcast match in World Cup 06

15... Nasty foul on an onrushing Donavan, yello card for the Czechs, lousy set-play execution by the Americans and a turn-over favoring Czechs...

20 Not a good show by the Americans, not even much entertainment value so far. Check that: a good strike-counter-strike by both teams, even though only the US managed penalty-box penetration--only for the ball to find no American boot on any ground near it. Hmmm. How uncharacterirtic, when it counts. And now a Czech penetration, well defended, but re-crossed by the Czechs and headed high above the goal by another one of those towering, unchallenged Czechs.

25... The Americans are playing stodgily, without imagination, because they've nerved themselves too much. The Czechs are playing with more joy and freedom, more daring by far. But they've settled the game somewhat, enough to begin probing for Czech errors. To do so, they must create them: they're not crossing the ball daringly enough. Their shrt passes are mimmicking their short breath.

28: IT'S THE US-IRAN GAME OF 1998 ALL OVER AGAIN: Great construction by the US, wonderful shot, only to hit the goal post. There were THREE such goalpost shots in the US-Iran game eight years ago. Not again! No, not again!

32... Koller, what a giant, what a presence: he is the Roger Clemens of football in this game. He's everywhere. And the Americans? They're too damn self-satisfied with the fact that they pulled off one solid attack, and too damn dejected at having hit the post. Get over it guys. A poor, poor showing by the flegmatic Americans.

GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOAL CZECHS!

35... Another one of those best-of-tournament goals for the Czechs, A diagonal missile from 35 yards out by Thomas Rosicky, beautiful.

40: We're looking for that gatorade energy from the Americans, all we're getting is low-octane boredom. The Czechs must be smirking under their midfield blocks. All they have to do, like one Czech just did at edge of penalty box, is lift their legs, rockettes-like, and stop the attack. A little good acting here by a Czech player, wasting time. Oh No! wait a minute! It's Koller, and I was being too harsh! He really is hurt! OK, Yellow Card for Pierre. Then again, that should lift the Americans. Bad way to seek out a lift though.

45... Come on now, what's this? he Yanks can't even put a late-half surge together. Bouncy bouncy in back of their own half. This is ridiculous, their performance. A throw-in, for the US, deep in the Czech half, right into the keeper's hands.

Half-time:

Solid, briefly elegant play on the Czechs' part, enough to clamp down on what appeared to be a frothing overflow of American arrogance in the run-up to kick-off, and no return heroics on the Yanks' part, who seemed content to live up to their age: slow-going, myopic with passes that went nowhere, and made to feel like illegal aliens in the Czech penalty box. They haven't been playing football. They've been playing dodge-ball.

Second half:

Hope for the US: Eddie Johnson is in.

47... But we're seeing the same mealy-footed play at the edge of the box by the US.

50... Five minutes, five fouls, turn-overs, inability to probe beyond the obvious: the Czechs have an answer at every turn. The US is controlling the ball now, 60-40, but the only result is less entertainment: at least when the Czechs have it, the ball swirls and the game swirls with it.

53... Now the question has to be: can the Americans even score a goal? But don't count them out. The Mexicans and the Australians played like this too for most of their game. They woke up in time. Here the Americans' best chance is a tie at this point, but over at FIFA's blog Roland was right: no way these guys can beat the Czechs.

56... That's just pure unbridled crap: the back and forth between US's back three and their Methusalean keeper. The US doesn't have time to be playing these games.

58... Short of the fact that this is "Our" team, that the game has that national anxiety about it, the game, or at least this half, ranks as one of the dullest of the tournament. Not a good show, not a good show at all. Not to mention the stupid fouls generating yellow cards the US can't afford so early.

60... The Czechs' Lokvenc, left all alone to make a shot 15 yards from goal, saved only by a full stretch by Keller. Where are the Americans? What, they need full body-armored Humvees to venture out anywhere in enemy territory?

67... THE CZECHS HIT THE CROSSBAR! Rosicky was left alone in the whole nation of Germany to take a shot free and clear, saved only by the crossbar. OK. We're even on crossbar shots. But not in play.

70... Get the Viagra for these Yanks. (Except for Johnson, who just took a wonderful shot to give the Czech goal-post a Gilette-quality shave).

73... Ridiculous game: not because "we" are losing, but because we're not making a game of it. This is just plain old bad-quality football on the Americans' part. Buildup after buildup that ends in gifts to the Czech defense. And now come the Czechs, so vaguely as to be insulting to the Americans. The Czechs are saying, "we don't even need to attack anymore. You're doing the self-destructing well enough."

74... Another superb play by Eddie Johnson, the only player with legs on the American side: a terrific cross right in front of goal, saved from a slamming goal by the keeper. Keep it up.

75... GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOAL ROSICKY OF CZECH... 3-0

Well, you had Thomas Rosicky scoring early, trying again and again, and he made a beautiful run, Pele-like straight on goal, outrunning his defender, outflicking Keller who got facked out, and into the back of the net went the ball again. The Czechs look like they have even one more goal in them, and the Americans none.

80... EDDIE AGAIN! He gets the ball, turns from 15 yards out, shoots, and just past the crossbar, the ball ends up on top of the net. Johnson is doing well, but the rest of the team isn;t drinking from his boot.

84... Have a look at the first words I wrote in this game's preview: the mistake was made by Arena before the game began: He left out Eddie Johnson and other younger legs in a false deal for experience. Not smart, not an experienced choice. The Americans were made to pay. Their defense frayed, their offense never gelled. What we have now is a failure to coagulate.

90... Those two minutes of injury time are just added torture for the Yanks.

And that's that. a sad, inexcusable display of dullard football, a terrible portend for the US's remaining, and now bridge-too-far-like, road in Germany. Too bad. But a deserved win for the Czechs, a deserved loss for the flat-footed, somewhat big-mouthed Americans. Humble pie has never hurt anyone. There are still two big games ahead, including one against the dull, loss-deserving Italians.

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