Dancing the Samba in Wooden Shoes

3 07 2010

Netherlands 2-1 Brazil

Billed as a “clash of the titans” type match up, the Brazil v. Netherlands quarterfinal lived up to the hype if not quite up to the expected result. In all previous matches between the two countries, the scoring came late. There had never been a goal scored in the first half. Eight minutes in and Brazil thought they’d ended that streak when a wide-open Robinho scored only to have the goal called back on a late offside call.

Two minutes later it was a case of fool me once shame on me, fool me twice shame on you when Robinho met the ball on the run right down the middle in front of the net and easily scored to give Brazil the 1-nil lead. The belief was that with an early goal, Brazil would be able to defend successfully and move on to the next week’s semifinals.

With the second half underway, time was not on the side of the Dutch, but a horrendous error by Brazilian keeper Julio Cesar in the 53rd minute brought the Netherlands right back into it. Arjen Robben continued his strong play since coming back from injury finding an open Wesley Sneijder who shot towards the top corner where the ball ended up after going in off Felipe Melo’s head for an own goal. Why Cesar went for a ball that was clearly Melo’s to clear? Nobody knows. It was uncharacteristic play by the Brazilians and it brought new life to the Dutch with the score lever at one.

In the 65th minute Kaka’ continued his disappointing tournament with a miss from just outside the box. This miss was turned into a bigger deal three minutes later when an Arjen Robben corner kick was flicked on by Dirk Kuyt towards Sneijder who with a flick on of his own scored to put the Dutch in front. No own goal this time, Sneijder got all the credit for his third goal of the World Cup.

Five minutes later Felipe Melo’s horrible game came to a premature end when he was red carded for stamping on Robben’s hamstring. If you wanted Robben out of the game, you should’ve struck earlier than with seventeen minutes remaining.

Down to ten men, down a goal and clearly frustrated Brazil was unable to stage a comeback of its own and exit the World Cup way earlier than they or their supporters expected. The samba has stopped while the Oranje Army marches on.





1986 All Over Again (Kind Of, Sort Of)

30 06 2010

Argentina 3-1 Mexico

With England and Germany busy remaking 1966 with an alternate ending, Argentina was working on a 1986 redux with Mexico filling in for the part of the English. Starring as Diego Maradona? Carlos Tevez.

In 1986 Argentina faced England in the quarterfinals in one of the World Cup’s most infamous games. Argentina won 2-1 thanks to two completely different goals from Diego Maradona. His first was punched in as seen by millions of TV viewers, but not by the officials who awarded the goal no question. In a post match interview Maradona said the goal was scored, “with the head of Maradona and another bit with the hand of God.” Only el Diego could get away with a quote like this and the goal had its nickname.

Four minutes later Maradona picked up the ball near the centre of the pitch and proceeded to dribble past five English defenders in an unbelievable run. In 2002 in a FIFA poll it was voted Goal of the Century.  Madness and genius in four minutes and it was enough to knock out the English while Argentina went on to win the tournament.

Fast-forward to 2010 and Argentina took on Mexico in the knockout phase. In the 26th minute Argentina took the lead. Lionel Messi fired on goal only to have the shot stopped by Mexican keeper Oscar Perez. The rebound came right back to Messi who lobbed the ball over Perez where a clearly offside Carlos Tevez flicked on off his head into the open net. 1-nil Argentina on a goal seen to be illegal by millions of TV viewers, but missed by the officials. Maradona looked on with a mix of pride and jubilation for the touchline.

In the 33rd minute Argentina doubled their lead when a lazy turnover on behalf of the Mexican defense gave the ball back to Gonzalo Higuain The slack defending left Higuain with a wide open net to score his fourth goal of the tourney.

Seven minutes after re-start Argentina booked their ticket for the quarterfinals. The ball came out to Tevez just on the edge of the box. Tevez played the bounce off the Mexican defender and launched a beautiful strike into the top corner. A goal of pure genius in the same game where he scored in a moment of madness. Again Maradona was beaming on the touchline.

Just after the 70th minute Mexico got a consolation goal from Javier Hernandez much like England did courtesy of Gary Lineker that day twenty-four years ago.  Maradona’s Jekyll and Hyde goals helped paved the way for him winning the World Cup as a player. Maybe Tevez’s pair will end up making Maradona a winner as a coach as well?





David is Villa-fied in Portugal

29 06 2010

Spain 1-0 Portugal

With Japan v. Paraguay taking up another hour thanks to the extra time and penalties, I was behind in my errands. I was looking to head downtown or into Little Portugal for the Spain-Portugal contest, but given that time was of the essence I had to stay in Etobicoke to make it anywhere in time for kick off.

This match up was everything the day’s first game wasn’t. Portugal and Spain have plenty of experience against each other. In recent World Cups both sides have been no strangers to the knockout stages and both sides featured several of the world’s top players. It had intrigue written all over it.

I made it to the Crooked Cue for the start and was immediately met by a table of red clad Spanish exchange students as I sat down. Forget downtown, I’d caught a break in the atmosphere department for this one.  It’s a recurring theme around the city when you’re amongst a powerhouse’s supporters. Football really matters to them. Much like when amongst Portuguese, Brazilian, English and other fans, everything is magnified. Each Portuguese rush was met with panic. Each Spanish attack was met with anticipated yells. Every Spanish corner was met with applause. The English woman quietly enjoying the game in the corner couldn’t help but notice each increasingly louder reaction. One of the girls apologized only to be told not to worry about it as it adds to the occasion.

In the 63rd minute Spain’s clutch goal scorer David Villa struck for his third of the tourney. Off a back heel by Andres Iniesta, Villa shot on net only to have a juicy rebound come back his way. No keeper can stop Villa on back-to-back shots up close and Eduardo was no different. Villa buried his second shot to give Spain a 1-nil lead and the Crooked Cue had a happy table of Spanish fans.

With Cristiano Ronaldo in the Portuguese lineup you’d figure they could find an equalizer, but Portugal have had a strange tournament in that they scored all seven of their goals in their win over North Korea and the only goal they conceded was in the past few minutes. Spain isn’t North Korea and kept Portugal’s attack in check. Now they have a date with Paraguay in the quarterfinals and Etobicoke has a happy group of exchange students.





Japan is Going to Rue the Crossbar

29 06 2010

Paraguay 0-0 Japan

(Paraguay advances 5-3 on penalties)

It was a game that had some interesting story lines going in to it thanks to Paraguay’s surprise first place in Group F and Japan overcoming both Cameroon and Denmark to qualify out of Group E, but something was lacking in this match. Perhaps it was the unfamiliarity of the opponent, as Japan had never played Paraguay in a World Cup game. Perhaps it was the weight of sudden expectations as neither side had ever reached the quarterfinals.

The match seemed destined for Penalties from the opening whistle. There was little to comment about form the first forty-five minutes. Daisuke Matsui drilled a shot of the crossbar in what was the first half’s best scoring chance.

As for the second half it was a case of neither side really putting together a serious scoring chance. Both sides seemed careful not to make a defensive mistake. A first time quarterfinal berth was at stake and both seemed to play as though not to loose that opportunity rather than to seize it.

Ninety minutes came to close and Japan embarked on the first extra time in its World Cup history. The following thirty minutes were pretty much like the first ninety resulting in the tournament’s first shootout.

I’m not a fan of the shootout to decide who advances, but today I was willing to make the exception since neither side seemed willing to score this is the exit one of these two sides deserved.

For the first two rounds neither keeper looked all that sharp as they were both beaten easily. Paraguay repeated the form with their third shot, but alas it was the crossbar that denied Japan again as Yuichi Komano fired off the woodwork. The Japanese rebounded with their next kick, but the Paraguayans were five for five and move on to the quarterfinals where they will have to raise their game if they are to get past either Spain or Portugal.





And the Samba Beat Goes On

29 06 2010

Brazil 3-0 Chile

Having struck out finding a venue for the Netherlands-Slovakia game earlier today, I knew I’d have better luck with Brazil-Chile this afternoon and given that I’d already seen Brazil supporters in unlikely places (but it’s the World Cup, are there any unlikely places for Brazil fans?) I knew there would be large numbers of people excited about it wherever I was.

I headed for the familiar confines of College Street where all the sure signs of a Brazil game were on display. The Mod Club (as it turns out, re-named Maracana Football House for the duration of the World Cup) opened up for its usual party. The flags flapped and the drummers in the samba band warmed up as more and more yellow clad Brazilian fans made their way to their spiritual home for the duration of the tournament.

Kiddy corner from the mini carnival is the Revival nightclub where two large Chilean flags were attached to the front door. The opponents were having a party right on the Brazilians’ doorstep. Some might say it audacious, but it’s also deserving. Chile has been a pleasant surprise in the group stage impressing in their wins over Honduras and Switzerland to qualify for the knockout phase. The Chileans have flown their flags on their cars and worn their jerseys in greater numbers than I would have initially thought but football matters in Chile, like it maters across South America so it shouldn’t be a total surprise.

More and more red clad Chilean fans were waving flags or wearing them as capes making their way down College. They felt like an upset might be on order as they confidently walked down the street to the honking of car horns and revving of motorcycle engines coming from their Brazilian counterparts.  There were a few patios in between the respective HQ’s, which seemed the perfect place for me to be. I took my seat in front of the big screen on the patio and saw across the street two of the Chilean party organizers had setup a road closed sign to drape a large Chilean flag right out front of Revival. A pair of Toronto’s finest saw this from their car and gave them the equivalent of a yellow card. They were warned not to use a discarded construction sign as a flagpole. Given what the police had to deal with over the weekend a couple of amiable Chilean football fans must have seemed like an absolute breeze compared to G20 protesters.

The game kicked off and for the first fifteen to twenty minutes Chile was giving as good as they were taking in terms of pressure and that flicker of optimism from the red, white and blue side of the street was on the verge of sparking.

Juan opened the scoring in the 35th minute with a textbook header off a Maicon corner kick. The car horns began almost immediately. One car was full of fans celebrating the goal waving their flags and blowing their whistles. They must have felt so confident of another Brazilian win they didn’t have to watch the game. To them it was more important driving through the streets updating the score to those not in front of a TV or computer screen.

Just as that car drifted off down the street Brazil was at it again. Luis Fabiano was on the receiving end of a beautiful Robinho to Kaka’ passing play. He got past Claudio Bravo in the Chilean net and scored easily. Brazil was up 2-nil and the Chilean optimism was disappearing fast.

Just shy of the hour mark Brail finished it’s scoring as Robinho did what he does best which is score versus Chile. He curled a shot past Bravo for his eighth goal in six career games versus the Chileans.

It was clinical, it was textbook, and it had a bit of flair. It was a Brazilian win that set off another of College Street’s sambas. It doesn’t look like any of the music or the dancing is going to stop anytime soon.





Slovak Dreams are Orange Crushed

29 06 2010

Netherlands 2-1 Slovakia

I read in one of the papers just before the World Cup started that Roncesvalles Avenue in the heart of the Polish neighbourhood would be welcoming the Slovaks to their bars and restaurants. Since there isn’t a “Little Slovakia” to speak of around the city, this seemed to make some sense. For this morning’s round of 16 clash between Slovakia and the Netherlands I decided to make my way down there to check out the scene as the Eastern European upstarts may not have too many more games before their World Cup turns back into a pumpkin. Given that their opponent was the Dutch, it would look like they were up against eleven pumpkins.

Another piece of good news for the Netherlands (and bad news for Slovakia) was that Arjen Robben would be back from injury. The Oranje had done quite well winning all three of their group stage games without him so they could actually be more dangerous opponents.

Just outside the subway station I caught sight of a kid in an orange Holland t-shirt out for his morning jog. I can only hope he was jogging on home, or at least to the nearest TV set.

Whoever wrote about Roncesvalles being the makeshift Slovakian gathering place seemed to be off the mark. There were no Slovaks in sight. The only football fans I could see were a guy in an orange Netherlands t-shirt out for a walk with his girlfriend and looking in no rush to get anywhere near a screen showing the game and, five hours before their game kicked off, three people in Brazil jerseys heading north towards Bloor. Seeing any lack of necessary atmosphere I decided the only place I could guarantee getting back to in time for the start was my apartment.

Once home in front of the TV I saw Arjen Robben, as if right on cue, get the ball just outside the box. He dribbled a few paces towards the middle of the perimeter of the area to beat off the defenders and give himself a bit more space and fired home to give the Dutch a 1–nil lead after eighteen minutes. Welcome to the party Arjen.

Within minutes of the second half kicking off Slovak keeper Jan Mucha single handedly kept his side in the game coming up big against Robben and then Joris Mathijsen on the ensuing corner kick.

Not long after the hour mark Slovakia came alive with a pair of serious chances, but it was Maarten Stekelenburg’s turn to play hero tipping the first shot over the net for a corner and grabbing Martin Vittek’s shot fired right at him.  You almost had the feeling the Dutch were playing one those games where they did everything but score a second goal and it might come back to haunt them.

In the 84th minute that second goal materialized off a free kick, which the Slovaks were busy arguing rather than defending. Dirk Kuyt picked up the ball alone on the side of the area and slotted it easily to a wide-open Wesley Sneijder for the easy tap in.

Dave Woods doing commentary gave an interesting comment on the goal when he said, “unselfish play form Dirk Kuyt.” When was the last time you heard the word unselfish to describe Dutch play? After years of underachieving, they might have finally learned their lesson.

Stekelenburg provided the only blemish to the Dutch performance in stoppage time when he brought down Martin Jakubko in the box with only seconds to go. Martin Vittek stepped up and sent Stekelenburg the wrong way with the penalty for one last parting shot before the Slovaks bowed out of their maiden World Cup. Based on their performance you have to figure it won’t be their last.





I’m Not Looking For A New England; I’m Just Looking For Another Team

27 06 2010

Germany 4-1 England

When the draw was made for the 2010 World Cup, England and its fans were licking their lips. Matches against the USA, Algeria and Slovenia would act as the perfect warm ups for the knock out stage and what looked like a clear path to the semifinals. A pair of meek draws over the Americans and Algerians and an efficient win over Slovenia moved the English on, but as group runners up meaning a detour on that road to the semis and a giant familiar roadblock in the round of 16 in the form of Germany.

This wasn’t Ghana (or maybe Serbia) as was predicted. This was Germany with its pedigree of going far in these tournaments (and usually eliminating England along the way). This would be more of a test. It would also be a field day for the British tabloids that never shy away from attention grabbing headlines when it’s England v. Germany (in football, in grands prix, in EU disputes, in wars, in well… anything)

It wasn’t quite as rhetoric heavy coming out of Fleet Street, but you get the idea. The Sun had, “Revenge Time” with pics of John Terry, Fabio Capello and Mesut Oezil. The Daily Mirror had,  “3 O’clock High: England Ready To Rout Old Enemy” with headshots of Wayne Rooney and Oezil.  News of the World offered, “All Out Roar: Our Boys are Ready for Battle” featuring Steven Gerrard, Terry and Rooney and a lion all flashing front fangs.

The English supporters were in full voice again as God Save the Queen and the theme from The Great Escape battled with the vuvuzelas (I’d say it was a draw) for the stadium’s soundtrack. Things got a little quiet in the 20th minute when Miroslav Klose put the Germans up 1-nil. He fought off John Terry and Matthew Upson one after the other before he fired past David James. For Klose it was his second of the tourney (and twelfth World Cup goal overall) and he missed a game due to a red card. Wayne Rooney you may want to follow in Klose ‘s footsteps and deliver on the big stage once in a while.

A couple of minutes after the half our mark and Germany’s other half of their dynamic duo up front, Lukas Podolski, wasn’t to be outdone by Klose as Oezil, Klose and Thomas Mueller neatly moved the ball up to Podolski who was unmarked Germans have knack for being clean, efficient and precise.

Five minutes later and England had life. Steven Gerrard received the corner and put in a shot on net that Matthew Upson headed perfectly right into the back of the net. It was a whole new game. To say England and Germany have a history is an understatement, but in football alone they have enough history for their own university class. When they met in 1966 at Wembley for the final of the World Cup one of the lasting memories was Geoff Hurst’s second goal of his hat trick that hit the cross bar and dropped immediately before bouncing right back out. It might have crossed the line, it might not have. Watch the video and it’s inconclusive. The ref said it did and England was world champions thanks to a 4-2 win.

Flash forward to today and Frank Lampard is the anti-Hurst. He fired from just outside the box nailing the cross bar and dropping down. The referee said no goal. A look at the replay and its across the line (certainly way more than Hurst’ s shot ever was) but in the 44 years since there is still no replay in football so the ref’s decision is final. Kevin Keatings summed it up best with his call, ”It’s Wembley 1966 all over again!”

Seven minutes after the break and Lampard has a free kick from thirty yards out which hit the crossbar and went wide.  No controversy, but no goal either. Fifteen minutes later he had another free kick, but this one went off the wall.  On the counterattack Mueller found a wide-open Bastian Schweinsteiger who has loads of time to pass back to Mueller to finish the job properly (what else would you expect form the Germans) and it’s 3-1.

In the 70th minute Klose found Oezil alone down the wing who made a routine cross into the middle to Mueller for his second and it’s 4-1. Route one football never looked this good.

4-1 is how it ended. The big surprise being that the game didn’t go to penalties. The Three Lions can now go off into the sunset and lick their wounds while the Germans look to improve their efficiency and precision. A scary thought for Mexico or Argentina.

For the record, here’s what the tabloids thought of things.

News of the World, “Mullered: England’s Shameful Surrender”

Daily Mirror, “Muller-ed: Three Lions Muller-ed by Germans… and the Ref”

The Sun, “Franks For Nothing: Fabio’s flops are battered in Bloemfontein”