I can’t seem to escape this topic at the moment, but today’s friendly between Celtic and the Seattle Sounders was yet another instance of, in my opinion, a referee showing an amazing lack of common sense. In this case, Paul Ward did follow the letter of the law by sending off Sounders goalkeeper Terry Boss for a last-man infraction. But, there is a difference between law and application of law, and this was one time where a little situational analysis would not have gone astray.
In the 29th minute, a nice through-ball split the Seattle defense and Giorgios Samaras was in alone on Boss. Boss came out and dove at Samaras’ feet – and clearly clipped his ankles as Samaras was going around him. It was a nailed-on penalty, and as stated, the letter of the law indicates that the last man who prevents a goal due to foul play is to be issued a straight red card (it’s a stupid fucking rule as I’ve ranted about many times before – a penalty AND a red card is entirely too harsh a punishment for the crime). Here’s the thing, though – Samaras quickly regained his feet enough to sweep the ball into the net. Much like the Catalan Pricks vs. Arsenal Champions League final a few seasons back, one simple advantage call would have resulted in a goal being scored and the conceding team being able to retain their goalkeeper and play 11 v 11. Instead, much like Terje Hauge that awful night, Ward opted for the ridiculously harsh nuclear option of the red card. In a friendly. In the 29th minute.
This was mind-bogglingly stupid on multiple levels. First, as mentioned, Samaras had scored within a second or two of going down. If the numbnuts with the whistle had held on for 1 or 2 seconds, it’s an easy decision to play the advantage – it’s 1-0 Celtic (which the play deserved), and the game goes on. Beyond that though, did I mention this was a friendly? Look – if this were a competitive match of any sort, I would not be posting this right now. Ward absolutely should produce the red card in that case…and I have no sympathy for the keeper there either. When you as a fan pay your money to watch a league or cup game, you do so in the knowledge that a team can lose a man as early as the 1st minute, it could finish 6-0 to the visitors, a referee may make a galling mistake, etc. That comes with the territory. But in an exhibition match such as this, I believe there is an underlying expectation from the fans that they will get 90 minutes of 11 v 11 and the ability to see the players that they have paid to watch. Sure, if someone loses their rag and goes in studs-up or something, then fine…send him off. Violent play should never be tolerated under any circumstances. Here though, we have a game where it’s now 11 v 10 for 2/3rds of the contest, one team has lost their starting goalkeeper AND a high-profile attacking winger (Freddy Montero) had to be subbed off – again, IN A FRIENDLY – so that a barely-beyond-fetus just out of college can be subbed in between the sticks…all as a result of a play WHERE THE FUCKING GUY FUCKING SCORED ANYWAY.
I’m sure that Paul Ward is a perfectly competent referee at MLS level, but he cocked this one up badly. Again, in a competitive match this would not hold water, but 46,000 people paid their money (premium prices due to European opposition, I assume) for an exhibition of high-class football and got this instead. I’d be pissed if it were me.
Are they or are they not? It’s apparently an actual controversy over there.
I doubt anything will come of this, but I will say: if any of those guys actually is, I will be so proud if he comes out and proclaims it openly. I don’t expect it, I don’t anticipate it, but some professional athletes are and sooner or later a big name still active in his career is going to come out. Maybe it will be one of them.
I am not going to waste much of my life on dismissing this stuff; I skipped the game because I knew it was going to be shit and I had someplace else to be (plus I fucking hate the Dutch. Blame Arjen Robben) but a few quick points:
1. If you expected a classic you were dreaming. Neither of these countries had ever won the cup before; both were going to be utterly terrified of screwing up and conceding early, then scared of conceding late and having to chase, which was always going to lead to grinding spooked stalemate. Throw in that the Spanish- dirty if obvious secret- play a lot of slow-control tippy-tappy and win 1-0 a lot and the Dutch are often somnolent and constipated until they get a lead, and the odds of this game even being watchable were always low. Any of the people I was with at a Mets game today can attest: without having watched minute 1 I was saying at the half when the score was flashed that it had to be a brutally awful mess.
2. If you’re criticizing these teams for not providing “entertainment”, you’re an idiot. You know what it is when you have seemingly opposed forces conspiring to create a highly entertaining spectacle based on offense, comebacks, and drama? Pro wrestling. If you want them to start working the World Cup finals, Man/Woman Up and say so; if not, if you still want this to be an actual sport where winning is the object, STFU and deal with it. Oooooorrrrrr…..
3. If you actually want to see more entertaining games in future, quit whining about how these teams have a moral responsibility to play a style they, by their actions, clearly think isn’t conducive to winning and change the rules so that what you want to see is a good strategy for victory. This doesn’t have to be outlandish- you could probably increase scoring 15-25% and thereby open up the game easily just by giving all benefit of the doubt and priority on neck-and-neck decisions to attacking players on offsides calls. But that doesn’t get done because apparently it’s more fun to whine about problems than actually fix them. And don’t tell me it’s never been done; from the NFL accepting the forward pass to the NHL cracking down on interference and allowing the 2 line pass to the NBA eliminating handchecking to MMA adding standups to soccer itself banning picking up of backpasses, adjusting the rules for the sake of entertainment is an old and honored tradition in just about every sport out there.
4. Recognize that if either of these teams had come out gangbusters trying to score, been hit on the counter-attack early and ultimately turned over 4-1 (see: almost every game Germany played this year) they would have been absolutely eviscerated in the press and by their countrypeople on returning home for their failed gameplan which resulted in national humiliation. They’d be branded as disgusting chokers and a shame to their country for the rest of their lives, gutless cowards who threw away the biggest opportunity in a generation. If they came out, played crap and negative and won 1-0, they would be lauded as national heroes for the rest of their lives, their names prefixed with “the legendary….” anytime football was discussed in their country the way Bobby Charlton is in England. Do you think anyone in Spain gives a shit about how entertaining this game was to neutrals on other continents? Fuck no and a fuck no less. The same would be true for the Dutch if they had taken it.
5. Anyone who suddenly noticed just now that the Dutch are dirty has been living in cloudcuckooland for at least the length of this tournament and probably longer. I don’t deny their skill, but they are incredibly loathsome cheats who dive and foul their way through games. It’s just what they are with this generation of players. If you want them and teams like them to be something different, change the rules and incentives under which they play.
6. If you read the comments on that Guardian article, you’ll find something like 90% disagreement with the article. This wankery is a journalist thing more than a fan thing I think, as much puffed-up moralizing about sports tends to be.
7. I haven’t watched this match so I won’t defend Howard Webb in specific, but in general: pity for a moment the lot of the referee assigned the last match of the World Cup. He’s denied video assistance, is dealing with 22 players who will cheat constantly whenever they can get away with it, he will be attacked mercilessly and might even be personally threatened if he gives out an early red regardless of what actually transpires or whether one is warranted and will be accused of “deciding the game himself” and “ruining the spectacle” if he gives out a late one, will be accused of encouraging thuggery if he doesn’t, he will be accused of bias regardless of what he does by one side or another, he will have to react in milliseconds to plays which the world- the entire goddamn world, literally- will pick over on slow motion replay for years afterward as tens of millions of people are sure it should have been done differently… it’s just a shit job, maybe the shittiest for an official in just about any sport anywhere.
8. Congratulations to Spain, a great side who have answered all questions, and may their next such victory be greeted by a larger degree of appreciation for what a special team they are.
I’ve been checking in on Eng-ur-lish media to see what the reaction to being de-pantsed by Germany is, and listening to the Grauniad’s podcast I have just heard one of their pundits declare that if only Emile Hesky hadn’t lifted so many weights, he’d be Ronaldo (original flavor).
I have nothing to add to that. It speaks for itself.
Big up Team USA same way. It’s not the way we wanted to leave the cup and in time it’ll be the right moment for deconstruction, but for now I’d just like to thank and applaud the team for the effort they showed and what they achieved. They represented our nation with honor.
Here’s to taking the next step in 4 years in Brazil!
There’s no sadness like hand-made Italian sadness.
In all seriousness, I would like to extend my congratulations and thanks to the entire nation of Slovakia for the service their football team has provided to the World Cup and, well, the world. The Italian team represent everything which is worst in this game- cheats, liars and vicious thugs to a man- and watching them get dumped out in hilarious and humiliating fashion in the group stage in part by their own methods turned against them is easily a top-3 moment of this tournament so far. Best of luck in the next round, Slovakia- I’ll be rooting for you.
I was in a bar called Puck Fair, while ostensibly still “at the passport office”. I was in a bar with one television in front of me playing USA-Algeria, and one behind me playing England-Slovenia – destiny playing out on my 12 and my 6. In the 92nd minute, I was in fucking ecstasy.
It rather did have to be Landon Donovan that put it away, didn’t it? It’s fascinating how his path has mapped out in a manner much like his nation’s football fortunes have. A strong start (the US were semifinalists in 1930, remember) followed by a period in the wilderness, the object of scorn and derision. Now, as this wonderful sport is finally obtaining a serious foothold in this country, many of Donovan’s detractors (of which I was often among the most vociferous) are coming around on the guy.
Seriously, Landon…all is forgiven. I’ll never call you Landycakes (or EFFING CEE, for that matter) again.
Whatever happens against Ghana on Saturday (I can only hope that my Manila-bound flight has a TV on which I can watch it), this is already America’s best-ever performance in a World Cup. The 1930 semifinal appearance was fairly fluky and there were far less teams back then. As great as the 2002 run to the quarterfinals was, as much as USA 3-2 Portugal is our greatest-ever single World Cup result, the rest our efforts there were ropey at best. By 2002, beating Mexico was closer to routine than it was to extraordinary…however much our southerly neighbors may not admit it. In no major tournament (not even that great Confederations Cup result last year) have our boys survived a first round without losing a game. Four goals scored, three conceded may not seem like the stuff of legend until you look again at our checkered past.
Writing out “GF 4, GA 3” does not provide the entire picture, though. All three goals conceded came in the first halves of the first two games – each time, the US finished with a point out of the match. I have followed the USMNT for a long time – I can recall plenty of versions of this team that would have fallen into a Guatemala-style sinkhole upon going down 1-0 to a team like England inside the first five minutes. I remember teams where USA 0-2 Slovenia would likely have become 0-3, 0-4…or worse. I remember teams that would have gone into a win-or-go-home (as it turned out) game against Algeria and meekly opt for the latter.
Highlighting the character and determination of this team is quickly becoming the purview of cliche, but I am unable to resist. It may be a greater literary sin still to bang on about how it reflects the better angels of our country’s own nature. But, you know what? It does. It just fucking does. That isn’t to say that the United States isn’t the only nation with a can-do nature, it’s not to say that the US is the only exporter of determination and guts. I do insist however that we do it with a certain swagger – almost an elan – that no one else does. We do heart with a Hollywood sheen. I know damn well that it isn’t for everyone…we can be an insufferable lot at times. I cannot fathom though a single neutral in this world who didn’t at least crack a smile when Donovan scored. Fuck’s sake…the Yanks did it again. The only thing missing from this thriller was the Algerian coach telling us his plan for world domination while Tim Howard was caught in his theoretically-inescapable death trap.
Many sports fans that I know tend to express admiration towards the best of the best – the ones who are so good at what they do that it seems effortless. I can appreciate that as well – I dislike much of the Spanish team given my searing hatred of all things related to Barcelona, where many of them play their club ball. But, when they eviscerate an opposing defense with a crisp 12-pass move, I can appreciate the aesthetic qualities of their play. You know what, though? As good as that is, as much as I enjoy it during the 5 or 6 times a season when Arsenal puts it all together, I like a snarling underdog more. There’s something that gets me in my happy place about a team that goes down a goal or two and says “Fuck you, sunshine…that the best you got?”. It is a horrific shame that a steady stream of sports movies have made a caricature out of the magical. There’s almost no way to describe it in language that wouldn’t be out of place on the back cover of the DVD for Major League or Slap Shot. Then again, I couldn’t care less. Sometimes, cliches get that way because there’s more than their fair share of truth associated with it.
So, three minutes away from the precipice, now we can dream of quarterfinals or even semifinals? No, really…get past Ghana and we’ve got the Uruguay-South Korea winner (Uruguay, then). The South Americans are a useful outfit and their strikers are absolutely dangerous. But, are you going to bet against this team right now? Are you not going to reach for your phone after Destiny has given you her digits? FUCK AND NO. Why can’t we? Worse teams than us have made a semifinal…two of them in fact, and that was just 1994. Even if it all ends against Ghana this weekend though, there’s an unshakable feeling that the momentum from the Confederations Cup is continuing in the right direction. Little by little, we’re getting pretty good at this game. We may not be Spain or Brazil or even a current-state Germany, but in my lifetime?
Don’t bet against it.
This, this right here is everything wrong with England’s football setup off the pitch. From the sense of entitlement in Rooney’s whining- from a guy yet to show up for this tournament- to the climate of fear and paranoia which leads to the team playing insanely tight and fans losing their minds after two games badly enough to break into the dressing room, it’s all right there. Throw in the massive technical deficit English players have relative to other major footballing nations, and you get an almighty mess. Frankly I think it’s going to take at least a generation to fix, starting with training the next set of future England stars differently. At least with a mess like France the issue is confined to the current crop of players and the goofus in charge; with England, it’s everything, and a lot of it is so culturally ingrained that it’s hard to even know where to start fixing the problems or if they even can be fixed from the top down.
If this all works out so that the USA and Slovenia go through in the group, I will begin laughing and I may never stop. And incidentally, I have nothing to say about the two early games today other than that it amazes me that refereeing of this quality is permitted at the biggest sporting event in the world. There is no legitimate case for the current policy of trying to find geographical balance among referees- if the best refs are from Mali than let’s have Malian refs, but if the best Mali can send is that guy then he, like their team, should have been weeded out in qualifying.
I’d say that today’s humbling at the hands of El Tri would/should/could be a wakeup call for a team which remains the biggest waste of talent in the sport, but they’ve had so many of these games in recent years and it never really seems to take. Laurent Blanc has his hands full when he takes over, because it’s become clear that while Domenech may have been the source of the rot the infection has now spread well beyond him. These guys are just awful; no cohesion, no one seems to know where anyone else is on the pitch, no movement off the ball, no covering of defensive holes, few if any players who look at all like they want to take responsibility for results. You could replace Nicolas Anelka with a life-size cutout and get the same results so far, and if you’re putting money on him coming alive vs. South Africa you’re a braver man than I. Even Frank Ribery is only doing a good job of looking like he’s doing something, which in his case means alternating between ghosting and selfish ball-domination which leads to nothing.
This team needs a rethink from the ground up, and the replacement of as many players as possible. At the risk of straying into cliche, they need to change the culture there- fast.
It just amazes me that so many people see the same things in the French squad, and because of a single Zidane-powered semi-flukey run in ’06 (where Zidane reportedly took over the team from Domenech) this is allowed to persist from year to year without anyone doing anything about it. It’s not like they’re my team exactly, but as a Euro-mutt by heritage with some French in the mix I wish they’d at least give a proper account of themselves. Big tournaments are better with a real French team competing.