Monday, June 30, 2008

Tapas'an Out

Four years ago, Greece stuffed a thick, sloppy souvlaki down the footy world's throat with its 1-0 European final victory over the high-flying Portuguese. While yesterday's 1-0 victory for Spain over Germany was far-less shocking, the two sides achieved their glory through flawlessly executed tactics. Otto Rehhagel's Greek side held their opponents scoreless through the 2004 knockout stages by playing numbing, impenetrable, defense. Spain held their opponents scoreless through the 2008 knockout stages by completely dominating the shit out of the ball with their endless one-touch passing through the midfield.

Oftentimes, as they would pass and pass and pass in the midfield, like concertgoers at an Allman Brothers concert, it seemed as if they had no intent to penetrate, like President Slick Willie carefully avoiding "it" during his intern liaisons. But then just as suddenly, after alternately lulling their opponents to sleep or driving them bonkers with frustration, one of their midfielders, invariably named Xavi, would thread a perfect through-ball for one of their speedy strikers, either El Nino (spanish for Dolphin-Boy) or David "Getting More Illa Than The Thrilla in" Villa.

Torres' match-winner, scored in this fashion, was one for the ages. Philipp Lahm was exposed as a tits-up defender in the Turkey game, and it was his poor play in cutting off Torres' access to the ball that cost David Hasselhoff and his countryman a chance to exult in an 8th major championship (three World Cups, three Euros, One hell of a good-looking man). Torres' raw reacharound on Lahm will be the subject of study in saunas from Christopher Street to the Castro for years to come.

The end, inevitable when a game is not back-and-forth, was anticlimactic; unless, of course, you're eating paella as we speak. For me, the tournament peaked with the Holland-Russia quarterfinal, a game worthy of any final of any tournament in any year. That game encapsulated every trait that made this tournament so entertaining, two surprising teams with more speed than lower east side cocaine playing aggressive footy and exchanging the lead twice.

In My Country, Development Arrests You!

In our continuing effort to bring you people who kinda/sorta look like each other, we offer emerging Russian winger Andrei Arshavin and emerging nerd Michael Cera. Coincidentally, both had their development arrested in their latest endeavors, Arshavin against Spain and Cera in Juno. Get it? No? Looks like someone has a case of the Mondays!

Friday, June 27, 2008

No Gangsta's Paradise

Jerry Manuel can talk all he wants about trying to build up a home field advantage with a revved-up crowd and team at Shea Stadium, but getting shut out twice in three home games is no way to make friends with the fans. You could see the post-fifteen run letdown coming from a mile away, but to essentially give up after a few tough breaks early speaks to the many flaws in the team's lineup, which features the likes of Trot Nixon -he belongs in a George F. Will essay or an Iowa corn field-, Endy Chavez -best late-game defensive replacement outfielder in the majors, emphasis on late- and Marlon Anderson -already a butcher defensively, and best suited as a pinch hitter. Ryan Church's return should add more power to the lineup, but right field will remain a black hole that must be filled by a right handed bat that can OPS at 700 - much higher than the efforts of Damion Easley and Fernando Tatis. The waiver wire can only do so much, Omar.

Speaking of new acquisitions, Brian Cashman must already be scouring the majors for another starter, because he already used up one of Sidney Ponson's few bullets -no, not the silver ones.

It also seems appropriate to comment on Pedro Martinez continued ineffectiveness, but perhaps it is best to wait one more start before writing his career obituary -wow, two straight years a first ballot hall of famer's career crumbles with the Mets, eh?

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Red Fawn

Preview of today's Spain-Russia tilt up over at
What a game last night, eh? Turkey far outplayed the Germans, enjoying the better of both possession and decent attempts on goal. I'm guessing it was the Turks' physicality, something the Germans hadn't dealt with against Portugal, that accounted for their tentativeness and inability to string passes together with any incisiveness.
Germany's only decent player all night was Bastian Schweinsteiger, who ran madly up-and-down the pitch as if he were German schoolboy Uter being chased by Homer Simpson begging, "Pleez don't chase me, I am full of chocolates!"

Lukas Podolski had an excellent 1-on-1 breakaway opportunity in the first half but he was more wasteful in the box than Harvey Firestein in the champagne room. And Phillipp Lahm's decisive goal was the least he could do to make up for his comical defending throughout the game. The space Lahm enjoyed on that last goal was there for the Germans to exploit all night long, the finally did so at the death.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Juneau What I'm Sayin? Myanmar Learns a Lesson In Politricks

The New York Times published a browbeating article yesterday about the new capitol city of Myanmar, Naypyidaw. Myanmar's former capitol was Yangon, a city of 6 million which lies near the coast of the Bay of Bengal. The new capitol, built in secret and unveiled in 2005, lies some 500 miles north deep in rural, impovershed, farmland; far removed from prying eyes to further entrench the power of the military, which has ruled the country since a coup in 1962. Impenetrable to all, save perhaps Rambo.

The Times sums up its view of the situation thusly, "…the transfer of the entire bureaucracy to this relatively remote location, where malaria is still endemic and cellphones do not work, has drained the country’s finances and widened the gulf between the rulers and the ruled."

We in the West could leave it at that, shaking our heads and "tsk-tsking" at this latest move away from any semblance of an open or democratic government. Except, really, is the military junta's decision to move deeper into seclusion and secrecy all that different from America's decision to move our capitol to D.C. or where our states have chosen to place their capitol Or, to paraphrase a great 1980's anti-drug ad, "I learned it from watching you dad!"

In one of the early victories for Jeffersonian rural/agrarian philosophy over Hamilton's urban/finance philosophy, the two agreed to move our young nation's capitol to what would become Washington, D.C., then sparsely populated swamp land, in exchange for the Federal Government's assumption of the states' war debt.

Almost all of our major states have their capitol cities deep in the sticks, Sacramento, California; Austin, Texas; Tallahassee, Florida; Albany, New York; Springfield, Illinois; Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. And Juneau, Alaska takes the cake; you can only get there via plane or boat.

Under our federalist system it is the states that exert far more influence over vital issues such as education, transportation, and crime, yet our state lawmakers, mostly anonymous themselves due to a lethargic voting public, get to conduct their, I mean our, business in complete anonymity. Maybe they are so anonymous because they are so far removed from the daily lives of the majority of the people they serve.

Take our great state, New York. More than half the state lives in the NYC metro area (NYC, Nassau, Suffolk and Westchester), yet our leaders conduct their business far from prying eyes in Albany. The only true check on government is the Fourth Estate, the press, and while New York City's papers all have correspondents up there, the majority of their resources and focus are maintained down here.

The counter-argument is that state legislators need to conduct their work in peace and quiet, away from the hum-and-drum and shady influences of city life. Nor can they over-react to what seem like the daily crisises and quickly-built public clamor that go along with urban living. Of course, similar logic lies behind the creation of innumerable state authorities, which are quasi-governmental agencies that act independently of oversight through their boards because their business is too important to be entangled with everyday politics. The most prominent example of such a state authority is the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. Immune from any real oversight or direction over its decisions at the state and city level, the MTA is run largely by multimillionaire board members who, despite not using public transportation themselves, get to decide how our system is run.

Transparency is essential to a well-functioning government, or as Steve Martin put it, “A day without sunshine is like, you know, night.”

Get Low.

Got my thoughts posted on today's Germany-Turkey game over at

Monday, June 23, 2008

Kinda-Sorta Lookalikes Entry #2

Wesley "Snipes" Sneijder and David "If Batting .270 is Wrong I Don't Wanna Be" Wright. Kinda? Sorta?

Friday, June 20, 2008

Die Bart Die

Germany's Bastian Schweinsteiger sent in a free-kick from the left flank into the box. As the ball arrived, Michael Ballack pushed Portugal's (and Chelsea teammate--awkward) Paolo Ferreira out of the way and headed home what would turn out to be Germany's game-winning third goal. It was the sort of push that is not only a blatant foul in footy but in every single other team sport. Some might argue that despite the foul, Ricardo should have been in better position to make the save.

Of course, as our pal Frownie is fond of pointing out "If ifs and buts were candies and nuts..." Or put another way, "almost only counts for horseshoes and hand grenades." Had Germany remained at two goals, would the space have been there for Portugal to tie it? Unlikely considering the way Germany dominated play for the first 75 minutes.

The game exposed all of Portugal's greatness and all their faults. Case in point, substitute Nani. Nani is a breathtaking runner, but, as was often the case with Man U. this season, selfish. Too fond of taking on entire team he will often ignore wide-open teammates. He made a few of those wild, fruitless runs against Germany after first coming on, before unleashing that perfect pass from the left flank onto Deco for the second goal.

For all their playmaking ability, the Portuguese were helpless against Germany's superior size and sudden abandonment of the long ball that gave Portugal's D time to fall back into position.

More importantly, for the impartial fan, the game was an absolute thrill to watch. The latter stages of most tournaments are often dull affairs, with powerhouse nations pitted against each other too afraid to commit to attacking footy. Yesterday's game bodes well for an absolutely classic weekend or at least half of it. Speed merchants abound on both sides of the pitch for Holland and Russia. Sunday's Spain-Italy game, well, it has PK's written all over it.

Why the Greeks Lost.

My Big Fat Greek Footy Disaster. Defending Euro champs Greece tumbled mightly from their olympian perch, crashing out of this year's tourney with no (nil?) wins, three losses, one gol scored with five conceded. Could it be because they trotted out American Idol Taylor Hicks in Goal? Not funny? Do you find this post Hella bad? Get it? Opa!

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night (or Morning)

How dare the Mets fire a manager after two consecutive wins following a year of mediocre baseball. How dare the Mets fire an employee under contract that stipulated cross country travel. How dare the Mets fire a manager after a game that happened to be played in the Pacific Time Zone. How dare the Mets prepare an official report the moment they make a decision before allowing it to be leaked to the press.

The only criticism that should be leveled to the Mets' general manager Omar Minaya should be his resistance to putting embattled manager Willie Randolph out of his misery on the way back from a disastrous and embarrassing weekend in San Diego. Of course, one cannot blame Minaya for holding out as long as he did: Randolph is his last line of defense for deflecting blame and attention for this $138M disappointment. Having Randolph last the season would've given Minaya another season of job security. Barring a complete collapse -90+ losses is a good estimation- Minaya will remain general manager, but now the scrutiny placed on him will be greatly magnified. But a disappointing 3-3 homestand against the Diamondbacks and Rangers following that debacle against the Padres must have surely amped up the pressure from Mets' COO Jeff Wilpon to relieve Randolph of his duties: the heir to the SterlingMets Empire was never particularly fond of Randolph, and only put him on probation for last September's historic meltdown after intense lobbying from Minaya.

Given The Best Pitcher in Baseball, an offense that seemed during most of September and a retooled bullpen -addition by subtraction after jettisoning one of Randolph's favorite gas cans Guillermo Mota- the Mets were expected to win over 90 games as well as the division title. Instead, hittable pitching -no need to justify Peterson's firing, sloppy defense, and a late game offense that seemed to have hot dates after the game made for unwatchable and lifeless baseball that prevented the Mets from building any extensive winning streaks. Is it Randolph's fault Carlos Delgado is a textbook case of an aging first baseman? That Carlos Beltran has one of the streakiest power bats in the game? That the Mets' medical staff has no idea what a concussion is? Of course not. However, it is Randolph's abuse of Aaron Heilman's arm over the last few seasons that has resulted in the righty's seemingly reduced stuff, much like Randolph's mentor Joe Torre heavily relied on Paul Quantrill and Scott Proctor to get him out of jams. It is his disdain for maneuvers like the suicide squeeze and even the hit-and-run -odd considering his penchant for stolen bases- prevented the offense from scoring runs or jumpstarting innings during its malaise. Worst of all, it is the perception that the team has quit on him -lukewarm comments from Beltran and David Wright didn't help his cause- that may have ultimately doomed Randolph. After numerous 'turning points' this year, the team was still unable to string together more than a week of good baseball, and many media outlets agreed a change for the sake of change had to be made to wake the team up.

The bottom line is allowing a manager to twist in the wind (Joe Torre?) following a disappointing season or portion of one is a practice that is not uncommon in this part of the country, where impatient fans make for unforgiving managment: I'm sure Mariner's general manager Bill Bavasi was given cryptic votes of confidence from team management and actually should have been fired long before his team was humiliated by fellow punchline Jim Bowden's Nationals team just like Randolph was. However, Bavasi was in the front office, and could be fired at the team's, er press's convenience, while Randolph had an on the field job: logistics prevent instantaneous upheavals of coaching staffs, made even more complicated by Sunday's doubleheader and evening flight to Los Angeles. Managers are normally fired on off days or after games, and last night's game happened to end at around 1 AM EST. Instead of letting a Wilpon source leak Randolph's departure -one issue with ownership, the team immediately prepared a statement to prepare the press for the transition. So Willie Randolph had to fly cross country to get fired and collect the $4M remaining on his contract. He'll sleep comfortably at night. It's not as if this is 1913 and Randolph was left stranded after a long train ride in St. Louis penniless. Are the Wilpons perfect? No. Should Randolph have been fired sooner? Yes. Is this really a national disgrace?

Monday, June 16, 2008

Das Ist Fein

Relax, mein little fraulein, did you really think mighty Deutschland would lose? Look at your coach. Look at him! Would he lose to Austria? 1-0 to the Jaegerbombers.

Please, the real drama comes tomorrow. Split-screen style. Holland-Romania. Italy-France. Three teams. One Spot.

Look at him again. Massive.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Oranje You Glad You Watched?

The announcer in the above clip, Jack Van Gelder is the same Dutch G who went apocalyptic when Dennis Bergkamp scored a last-minute strike against Argentina at the 1998 World Cup. Ifd you don't feel like peeping the link it goes something like this; Dennis Bergkamp! Dennis Berkkamp! Dennis Berkkamp! AGGGGHHHHHH!!!!!!

This time around his histronics are well warranted. Holland's 3-nil absolute beatdown of Italy was truly historic; the itals have not lost by such a margin in a major tournament since 1970! Ruud Bwoy, Wesley "Snipes" Sneijder, Dirk "Cutmaster" Kuyt and Gio van Bronckhorst ran riot through Italy's porous D.

The second and third goals came off glorious, perfectly-executed counterattacks that will stand as testaments to the merit of playing an attacking style as opposed to Italy's negative football.

The first goal has ignited a maelstrom of debate. Italy's keeper Gianluigi Buffon, had knocked over his teammate, defender Christian Panucci whilst blocking Holland's freekick. The ball bounced out to Sneijder at about 20 yards out. He calmly threaded a throo-ball through both teams to Ruud Bwoy. The itals, seeing his pass, immediately ran the offside trap, surging en-masse away from the goal line, leaving Rudd Bwoy to collect the pass offsides by at least three yards. He throttled the ball in and ran off immediately, looking completely befuddled that the goal had stood. Ref Peter Fröjdfeldt allowed the goal to stand through his interpretation of a rule enacted only five years ago, which states that if a player leaves the field of play via the goalline without the ref's permission then he is deemed to still be an active part of the play, thus Panucci, lying prone and presumably injured beyond the goalline to Buffon's right kept Ruud Bwoy onside.

In a sport where the laws overwhelmingly favor defense and negative tactics, any borderline call or interpretation should favor the attacking team, and thankfully this happened here. This play is a microcosm of why scoring is so difficult in soccer. Sneijder's pass to Ruud was glorious, but if Panucci had not been out of bounds then all the Italians had to do to kill the play was run a few steps away from the goal-line. They didn't have to play the ball or the attacking players. To stay onside Ruud would have had to run back with the Italian defenders until the ball crossed throo and then somehow run forward and collect the ball before either Buffon got to it or it went out of bounds.

I won't pretend to fully understand the rule, but it certainly makes the NASL's experiment with a 35-yard offside line, whereby offsides wouldn't apply within 35 yards of the goal seem sensible, especially with teams like Romania playing at least 7 players in and immediately around the box.

Friday, June 06, 2008

Gay or European?

The answer is both. Could there be a more embarrassing video to get caught peeping at work?

Couldn't you see A-rod starring in a video just like this? Considering the kind of shizz players like Ronaldo get away with, A-rod is clearly playing the wrong sport. Not only did Ronaldo suffer no fallout from his hooker orgy party, he got to revel in the fans increased adulation of him as a result.

Wait, where were? Watching Ronaldo take a contemplative shower--oops, out-loud voice again, no it's Euro 2008, where Ronaldo's Portugal side is one of the favorites to take it all.

This tournament, taking place in Austria and Switzerland from this Saturday, June 7th throo Saturday, June 29th, could be more entertaining than the World Cup. Why? Tighter competition between, as a whole, more great teams. Also, unlike in every major club or country competition in the world, it produces surprising winners. Italy, Brazil and Germany have historically dominated the World Cup, as highlighted by the fact that one of those three sides has featured in every World Cup Final since 1978.

The Euros, on the other hand, have had plenty of shock winners. Greece won the last time around and smaller powers such as Denmark and Czechoslovakia have won in the past.

Entertaining as the tourney will be, the format is a tad bothersome. There are four groups of four teams each and the top two teams in each group will advance. As usual, there is a Group of Death. A Group of Death that makes past Groups of Death seem as hard as So-So Def. Holland, Italy, France and Romania. Weed, Whiners, Wine and Vampires.

The complete lack of balance means that Portugal and Germany should have a cake-walk in the first round. Considering that teams went through qualifying to get here and that FIFA continually updates its list of world rankings it seems puzzling that there is no seeding to at least set it up the possibility of the best teams being alive at the end. Of course, there's something very socialist aka european about assuming that all teams are on equal footing and lumping them all into groups randomly.

At this point there should be some sort of worthless prediction right? Well, Portugal, Spain, France and Holland all have offensively talented squads that will thrill in their attack-first mindsets.

France, particularly has an impressive mix of savvy veterans and emerging youth. Make sure to keep one eye (assuming your other eye will be on a constant loop of Ronaldo showering) on France's new kids; Bafe Gomis, Samir Nasri, Karim Benzema and Franck Ribery.

Holland lost Ryan Babel for the tourney, which is a huge blow. Spain has a strong keeper in Iker Casillas, a strong midfield with Cesc Fabergas and a strong striker in El Nino, but they always choke on their own paella. Sweden has Henrik Larsson on board for one last goal splurge. Germany will rely on the emergence of that most uber-deutschly-named Mario Gomez.

Italian Cam'Ron Would Say "No Fazoole"

Of course, the laws of Footie overwhelmingly favor defenses, so expect the dour Itals to be doffing their shorts and rubbing celebratory olive oil on their chests at the final in Vienna. Now, everybody hit the showers!