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World Cup Diary

GAME 3, GROUP B, JUNE 10, 2006 --FRANKFURT ...
ENGLAND 1, PARAGUAY 0
final

Does Paraguay have a chance against the mighty Cross of St. George? Let's put it this way: a team that can tie Argnetina in Argentina and a team that can tie Brazil (at home) has a chance against anyone, even if not a great chance.... But when you have Beckham shooting from half way out like Germany's Klose, it won't be... no, no puns allowed here: 1-0 England on a missile from Beckham, but on second look it was actually an own goal, thanks to the wrong-headedness of a Paraguayan scalp. Worse news for the albiroja: no first-string keeper for this game.

Beckham's been a busy guy. The albiroja are trying to get past their shellshock under the Frankfurt sun, but with England's nerves settled early and a front-line that appears primed and overcaffeinated, it's been a one-sided encounter so far. Paraguay looks like the team that lost 5-2 against Ecuador in qualifying.

17:00 Hold the presses! Paraguay just had a shot on goal. It was about a mile to the east of goal, but still: there's hope...And another! By Riveros that last... but it looks like he needs a Tylenol (no product placement intended).

All right, it's been a fair half so far if you're an English fan, a below-par half if you're a beautiful-game fan: we'd like to see why this is the best side England has put together since 1966. So far we see only the best side England has put together since 2003. Gerard is now giving the grass a brief mashing. There'll be about two hours of injury added on to this first half. That's it? just 43,000 spectators? Look! England has Big Bird in goal!

Approaching 30:00... for all of England's initial tumescence, the albiroja have still managed to control the ball better than 40 percent of the time, though no shots on goal other than those two within a few seconds of each other, between injuries. England looks like they're ready to press again. Go into the locker room with another goal under their belt... Ashley Cole tried himself a bit of Brazilian back-heeling on the way to an attack, but it was broken up with... another grass-mashing. Those American commentators on ABC: forgive me, but the guy doesn't know his upsets from his uploads: Poland was not "upset" by Ecuador yesterday. Poland played to its overrated potential.

Some superb build-ups by England in Paraguay's half... but will Paraguay pull a Saturday surprise? Will the French Open women's final prove just enough of a distraction for England's backline to let the albiroja sneak through a goal? Will Delio Toledo give us a little field-rhyming of his own? 40 minutes in, we have a hat-trick of No's, unfortunately.

Ahhhh Ashley Cole has been this first half's prince of the field for England, setting up Beckham again and again (shouldn't it be the reverse?)

"Paraguay" is Spanish for "water that goes to the water," an odd choice of words for a landlocked country. Today it's all been trickles. But GREAT SHOT by Paraguay, two minutes into injury time, just shaving the near post... Here's how we can tell why this has not been a very high-quality half: I'm more conscious of the mounting pressures in my bladder than I am of the pressures on the field. C'est domage, and there goes the half-time whistle...

Meanwhile outside the stadium... There was a hint of trouble yesterday in Frankfurt when thousands of English fans merged toward thousands of Germans in downtown Frankfurt, and 100 riot police stepped in to keep the peace. No cuts, no bruises, no errors: English fans, 30,000; German fans, 70 million. Back in a moment, after I get over the fact that Brent Musberger, who is only 106 years old, is providing color commentary for ABC-TV.

Second half... You know there hasn't been enough action on the field when commentators keep harping on personality clashes, such as the fact that Delio Toledo called Bekham "a coward" for his style of play, and how Delio will be seeking retribution. But it's no news that Bekham is England's most famous girl-player. At any rate, I'm more impressed with Paraguay's second-half start. They should give those edge-of-the-box shots a try, considering how well the ball seems to be traveling from that distance. So far though, we're returning to that molasses pace of the first half. The crowd sounds like a gathering at a Cambridge seminar on the latest discoveries of gastric medicine: not the riotous cheers and energy we had yesterday in Munich. Have the German police clubbed everyone into submission as a condition of attendance?

57:00... first shot on goal by England, a diagonal Bekham blah past the near post. Toledo should do some ass-kicking, since neither he nor his team have been kicking the more relevant object on the field. So far, and despite England's Joe Cole's shot just now, straight on goal, the match has the unhappy distinction of being the worst of the three in World Cup 06. Ah! Carlos Paredes, a wonderful attempt, flying off the ground and kicking high, for naught...

60:00... good few minutes of play here... Terrific, terrific play by Para's Valdez, running all the way to goal, shifting, snapping, and kicking right on goal. Best play of the game s far, even though he was denied. England look like they're settling for tea and crumpets right now. And this is what they call their dream team? Please.

70:00... One more indication of a lousy game: more fouls than shots on goal.

72:00 great set-up, great shot by Lampard, great save--again, note how it was a long-distancer from the edge of the box... Meanwhile those TV commentators have turned Wayne Rooney into their rhetorical Britney Spears--lusting after him, referring to him, waxing over his foot more often than they do over any single player actually on the field.

81:00... ridiculous game. Awful game. Pathetic game. Dullness incarnate. This might as well be Ireland-Italy for its vacuousness. American Somoa-Fiji would be a hundred times more exciting. Once again, the German sun is being cheated. At this rate the sun won't stay out long. The rains of '74 will return with a vengeance. And Acuna, shooting from half-way in the Atlantic... They're singing God Save the Queen in the Frankfurt stands. The Queen, if she was watching, would be napping by now. In REM sleep, too. Paraguay, out of gas? Try England out of ideas. If England plays this way against Germany, it'll be marmalade by the 10th minute. And remember: England did not score in this game; it was an own-goal.

Paraguay has had just one player on the field: Valdez. Another wonderful shot by Lampard, another wonderful save, another shot from outside the box. Still, not enough to salvage the quality of this game. My two year old son is kicking around a ball in the living room. He's a lot more entertaining.

Let's hope the Sweden-Trinidad game will be more fun.

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