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World Cup Diary

TALE OF TWO TITTIES

GAME 51, ROUND OF 16, JUNE 25, 2006 --STUTTGART
PORTUGAL 0, NETHERLANDS 0
FINAL

Yesterday I predicted A 3-1 Germany win over Sweden; the Germans won 2-0. I predicted a 3-0 win for Argentina. They won 2-1 in overtime. Those were easy predictions though. Today is for limbs, and I'm going out on one: Ecuador over England, 2-1. I'm basing this on a couple of factors. England has been a bore. I always favor the more exciting team. England has been hung up on its Rooney fetish. I always favor the team with less pinkish legs. England is without what's-his-name, Michael Owen, who hurt one limb or another in the last game. And England, for whom I've always rooted (football was the only thing that relieved my absolute hell year in an English boarding school some years ago, when I didn't know a word of English and all those uppity pink legs stomped all over my olive-skinned foreign ass), has just been as appetizing as English cooking this time around. Ecuador meanwhile livened things up with twi wins that proved those guys can elevate their game enough to be the only worthy elevation at sea level. If they come out as heartened as they've been in their previous matches, they should have themselves an upset.

So off we go.

3... Hmmm. The hyperboles are already flowing in this game ("this is the biggest game of my career" and other such conventional crappers related by the commentators) but the ball has yet to find its techno beat. But Ecuador are not even finding the ball, whereas England are on it.

Is napping on the program?

8... England and Ecuador are trading long, useless balls that produce nothing.

10... Neither team putting together more than the equivalent of conventional musical scales on a discordant violin so far. Difficult to say who's playing worse.

TENORIO! He had the damn goal, he had the goal, but gave the England defender who made the mistake leading to the Tenorio's opportunity just enough time to scramble back into the box and lay a foot in front of Tenorio's shot, deflecting it onto... THE CROSSBAR! Could have been 1-0 Ecuador. But this is a game of could haves anyway.

Actually it was John terry making the wrong-headed header that gave Tenorio's run a chance, and Ashley Cole's sprint that saved the goal.

17... So England are playing no differently than they have in their three previous games: with molasses on their feet, though it's worked every time. Ecuador are playing as if they were facing world champions--nervously, tentatively. Wayne Rooney takes England's first shot on goal, a flabby dribbler easily handled.

20... Ecuador with a free kick right on goal, and again deflected, but the refs say it was an Ecuador deflection. Same play now, at Ecuador's end. Beckham's ambiguously gay right foot should be doing the dishonors. He pulls a faker: a chip shot away from the wall that ersults in a carnival of bouncies and deflections, and now a corner for England.

23... Now why would de la Cruz give away another corner? Maybe because he could see the future. England kick out the ball, turning it over to Ecuador (briefly), until another foul produces yet another England free kick in Ecuador's end that bounces off harmlessly. This is a boring game: the fouls are drizzling, the pace is dismal, the players are whiny, the whistles are deserved. I'm hearing sighs in my living room.

29... Dear Diary: My trip to the dentist was more fun than this.

31... Ecuador managed a few back-and-forths in England's end, but the ball never once made it into the box with anything like the smidgen of a threat.

33... Ecuador have kept possession of the ball for the better part of the last six, seven minutes, upticked the pace in the last two-three minutes, and reduced England to playing kick-back: can they (ecuador) keep it up? The quality remains low, the shots on goal non-existent, but England are having to play harder.

35... England free kick in Ecuador's half... England look haggard: Beckham, who's not scored a goal for England in a very long time, has been doing nothing other than shooting those free kicks. Rooney looks less than lively.

40... Again an England free kick, again a low grass-skimmer cleared by Ecuador: the ball didn't even get into the box, a very, very poor cross by Beckham. And still no shots on goal for England.

42... Rooney is putting on his Freddie nKreuger face. He's not a happy boy. He's getting smothered. But so are Ecuador: England's style is so smothering all around. Rooney and Beckham just tried a quikie down the far side, but the pass was ovehit, the Rooney run was a prayer. Ecuador meanwhile haven't managed much more than England.

44... We've had 24 fouls, and all of six shots altogether. Terrible quality.

Ridiculous stand-off in the corner zone as Ecuador try to take a corner, and an injured England player is being attended to right there. Takes 45 seconds of parleys to finally get the body moved a few inches and clear the corner, a uselessly cleared one, and another. Goal kick. Injury time (two minutes).

Ecuador just beating the clock. What a sorry half for both teams, though Ecuador had the better chances. England couldn;t put together three decent passes.

Second half...

England come out with the same eleven doe the second half. Great.

Ecuador have come out strong, more confident than when they'd left the field. Not what England wanted to see. But England asked for it: Ecuador must have told themselves: this is our game to win.

49... Rooney found himself briefly unmarked down the wing, but the ball was cleared for a corner, now a Beckham throw-in, and now an England turn-over. Ecuador turning it over in turn with a wasted long lob to the half-field that yields a counter-attack and an overshot cross for Joe Cole. Again a goal kick for Ecuador. Rather than trying to build attacks,. Ecuador are just lobbing the ball into the England half, inviting attacks. Disappointing. England meanwhile is revving up their game.

This is taking on the airs of a 1-0 match.

Shades of the Trinidad & Tobago match with England, which was also a scoreless draw until the two England goals in the 83rd and 91st minutes.

55..."England huffing and puffing but putting on no pressure whatsoever on the Ecuador defense," says a radio announcer in England. "How long England will allow this situation to continue, we must wait and see." Ecuador corner kick.

57... Rooney tried to take advantage of a cross into the box, he was literally smothered like he was beef in a Philly steak sandwich between three Ecuadoreans and a slathering of goalkeeping. He is, again, a very unhappy boy, and Ecuador is enjoying the Rooney-munchies.

59... Joe Cole negotiates successfully for a cheap free kick on the corner of the Ecuador box. The Bender is on it.

GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOAL BECKHAM! Talk about a bending goal, swooped just above the wall and intop the corner of goal.

63... LAMPARD ALMOST MADE IT 2-0 WITH A LEFT-FOOT GROUNDER ABOUT TEN FEET WIDE OF THE NEAR POST: ENGLAND IS MORE ALIVE, ECUADOR, WHO'VE PLAYED BETTER THAN ENGLAND FOR THE FIRST 60 MINUTES, NEED NOT FEEL SO DISPIRITED. Sorry about the caps, but I'm not decapitating.

65.. Beckham looking like he wants to throw up, LAMPARD in front of the Ecuador goal, chose to pass to Rooney instead of taking the shot, wasted the opportunity... Ecuador a quick counter and a terrific shot by Valencia, a right-footer from the edge of the box, diving save by Robinson, the England keeper, for a corner that Ecuador does nothing with.

69... Ecuador free kick that has all the makings of a corner...Nada.

71... England controlling play, slowly building at midfield, producing two successive drives into the box, but both of them resulting in ultimately overshot crosses. Ecuador is getting the ball back every time without making the best of it: poor goal kicks by the keeper, poorer decisions to drive the ball upfield without careful short passes.

73... Roonet with a terrific battle deep in the Ecuador half, he wins the ball, sprints into the area, perfect pass to Lampard who had it all, Lampard sshoots, it flies high in the Stuttgart sky.

74... Again a long cross that ends in the Ecuador keeper's hands, and again the keeper just gifts it to the England midfield. This is not how Ecuador are going to draw this game. Yet another slow-to-fast England build all the way into the Ecuador box, yet again Rooney, who is catching fire, shoots and forces a diving save. And still England recovers after the latest goal-kick waste.

78... Ecuador finally build a mild attack, but all for a final shot that takes a slow dribble wifde of goal. Robinson the Enmgland keeper just got himself a yellow for time-wasting.

82... One more close call for Ecuador, missed chance for England: Beckham is out of strength but Rooney is still pressing. And one more yellow for England's time wasting (Jamie Carragher).

And yet England aren't playing as if they've got all their doors shut and secured. It's Ecuador who are playing more hesistantly than they should this late into their last gasps, like this last build that produces yet again a dribbler instead of a shot: and Robinson is play-acting an injury, doing the typically cynical time-wasting that goal-keepers do when they have a slim lead and fear in their eyesight. Bullshit time-wasters.

87... A great-looking set of Ecuador passes in England's half, a shot, a ground-ball wide. England now playing the substitution game. More time-burning. They need a stop-watch introduced in these matches.

91... England actually managing a few more assaults, but the game is in the bag for them. An unfortunate result that neither team deserves really: England played well in the last thirty-odd minutes, Ecuador had the game in the first 60, it was uneven all-around, and England moving on in this competition ensures more dullness from a side that just doesn't seem to work beautifully together, except im sparse flashes. We're done in Stuttgart.

And again England wins a game by the skin of its blahs.

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