An Unfamiliar Goal Scorer and Unfamiliar Territory

7 07 2010

Spain 1-0 Germany

For the second semi-final I decided the Football Factory was as good a location as any for the big occasion. The only problem was that I showed up an hour before kick-off and the place was full. It seemed a Spain-Germany match up with a spot in the World Cup final on the line brought out a large crowd of Spanish, German and general footy fans on this hot and humid afternoon.

A block away Hoops had a few remaining empty seats and thankfully air-conditioning. I took my spot along the bar in front of the mammoth screen they had in the middle of the wall next to several Spanish fans in red jerseys and t-shirts, German fans and a few Dutch supporters who just sat back feeling good knowing that their team was in the big game. They just wanted to see whom they’d be playing on Sunday. With the amount of blackberries out on the bar it would seem more than a few people here had brought the office with them on their ninety or so minute “break”.

The first half saw Spain dominate possession but not necessarily the chances as Iker Casillas for the Spaniards, his German counterpart Manuel Neuer and their respective defenses were called into action repeatedly.

As the second half kicked off it was still anybody’s match to win. The German fans were chatting away in German and English getting more animated with each miss at either end, the Spanish fans were cheering their side on in between sending messages on the blackberries. The Dutch fans sat back and just enjoyed the ride. In the 74th minute Carles Puyol met Xavi’s corner kick with a header off his lion’s mane and Spain had its lead. That was all that was needed as Germany after a flurry of goals eliminated England and Argentina didn’t have the attack necessary. For Puyol his third goal in Spanish colours was a just reward for his ten years of loyal service to the National team.

Two years ago at the European Championships Spain exercised some demons by winning an international tournament after forty-four years of disappointment and failed promise. Now they can exercise whatever demons are still lingering on Sunday when they take on a Dutch side who’s looking to right their own historical wrongs. Whatever the result, the group of World Champions will welcome only its eighth member to the club. Oranje versus La Roja. It’s going to be hot, but if you’ve been around Toronto the past few days I don’t have to tell you what’s hot.

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A Blackout on Monday, An Oranje-out on Tuesday

6 07 2010

Netherlands 3-2 Uruguay

Let me first begin by saying if Toronto had to have a blackout it was much better on Monday when it didn’t effect watching the World Cup.

The streets and lanes of Liberty Village looked like the paths leading to the Amsterdam ArenA or De Kuip in Rotterdam on days when the national team is playing. There isn’t a “Dutchtown” or “Little Holland” to speak of in Toronto, but for the duration of the World Cup this area appears to be filling in nicely. As the crowd approached the School Bakery and Café (ground zero for Holland HQ) the music was blaring, the vuvuzelas were droning and the whistles were blowing. It was a mix of tailgating and a national holiday as the hundreds of people all clad in orange jerseys and t-shirts were in full party mode a full ninety minutes before kick off, meaning the place was full. Even members of one of the local TV crews were dressed in orange shirts for the occasion. I was later to learn there were people congregating as early as eight o’clock in the morning so the likelihood of a neutral getting into the crowded party was minimal. Luckily there was an ample supply of bars and restaurants on the surrounding streets handling the waves of orange overflow ready to cheer “Hup Holland!!”

I settled into one of the last open seats at Shoeless Joe’s in time for kickoff. The first goal wasn’t necessarily a surprise, but the scorer certainly was. I saw Giovanni van Bronckhorst in action at the 1998 Scottish League Cup final for Rangers a few months after the 1998 World Cup and if you’d told me then that in 2010 his role with the Dutch national side would increase from substitute then to captain and starting in the back four now I would have said not likely. Never mind that he would still be capable of scoring a goal like he did today in the 18th minute. His beautiful strike from well outside the area just evaded Fernando Muslera’s gloves and just evaded the top corner of the post for a stunning goal that cranked up the decibel level at Shoeless Joe’s quite a bit.

Four minutes before the half and Diego Forlan continued his outstanding tournament. For many, the last thoughts many a football fan around here had of Forlan were of him struggling at Manchester United. He has since resurrected his career at Villarreal and Atletico Madrid in Spain before bringing himself back to prominence in South Africa. From almost as far out as van Bronckhorst, the Uruguayan fired just under the crossbar near the middle of the net for an equalizer of almost equal beauty.

As the second half kicked off this was still very much Uruguay’s match to win. The crowd was slightly quieter, especially after Forlan almost added a second on a deadly free kick on target saved by Maarten Stekelenburg which brought back some of the applause.

Between the 70th and 73rd minutes, the Dutch looked to have put the game away with a pair of goals from their dynamic duo of Wesley Sneijder and Arjen Robben. Sneijder’s shot from 20 yards out sent the crowd back into euphoria before Robben’s picture perfect header sent them beyond as a third ever final appearance for the Dutch was clearly in sight.

That sight was blurred slightly in a bizarre stoppage time that saw Maximiliano Pereira curl home off a quickly taken free kick and the referee wait a couple minutes after the allotted three minutes before blowing his whistle touching off mad Dutch celebrations here, down the street, across the city and around the world.  The only downside was that we all had to head outside into the scorching heat and humidity away from the air conditioning that was as enjoyable as the goals scored this afternoon.