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Friday, June 30, 2006

WC2006: Anticipation

The very air is tense in Buenos Aires tonight, TDH can tell you, loyal readers. A German friend who's living here said that if Argentina won, he would don the white and sky blue and head to the Obelisk with thousands of locals. But he also pointed out that said Obelisk was built by Siemens.

TDH figures the Argentines will have to score four to avoid any funny stuff. But let's say it's 2-2 at the end of regular time. The Germans think they're fitter, but guys like Tim Borowski have a habit of coming on and fouling rather stupidly. In the meantime, the Argentines have some rather splendid attacking options coming off the bench. Could be a penalty in extra time on Messi - yes, a penalty called against Germany in extra time - and Tevez stepping up to nail it.

TDH saw an Argentine report of a BBC XI but can't find it on the BBC website. Anyway, there were no Brazilians and no English in the team. Kalinichenko seemed a controversial choice in midfield, as did Sheva partnering Klose up front. No Drogba? Surely some mistake. Ayala, Lamm, Cannavaro and Carvalho at the back seemed pretty reasonable. And er... TDH will wait until the tournament's actually over to select this website's XI.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

WC2006: Withdrawal symptoms

It's a difficult day today. Fortunately TDH can still watch Pedro Martinez pitch for the Mets this evening. But back to the important subject at hand: quarterfinals. Here they are, with referees in parentheses:

Germany v Argentina (Lubos Michel, Slovakia): Full of historical significance, with two finals in the countries' past. Argentines are convinced the fix will be in. But TDH thinks Pekerman, always serene, is the right guy to prepare the team. La Seleccion will be focused, and Germany's defense is porous.

Italy v Ukraine (Frank de Bleeckere, Belgium): Well, you have Sheva playing against his former teammates, but otherwise there's not much in this one. It's hard to see Italy losing - the bookies certainly think so - but then again, they've hardly looked dominant. With Nesta missing, anything could happen.

England v Portgual (Horacio Elizondo, Argentina): Come on, an Argentine referee in an England match?! That's like having an English referee in a German match, an American referee in an Iran match, a Mackem referee in a Newcastle match.... And to boot, Elizondo is the very man who sent Becks off in a World Club Championship match against Necaxa. But England will be out for revenge for Euro 2004, and the Portuguese goal machine will be missing a few screws.

Brazil v France (see fruity comment below): Another revenge match, with the 1998 final setting the precedent this time. France will defend hard, but Brazil will finally be operating in high gear. Should be a sight to see.

Finally, TDH would like to call Sepp Blatter a BIG FAT HYPOCRITE for griping about the referees and then letting Marcus F*cking Merk and Luis Mind-of-a Cantaloupe stick around. Both gave extremely dubious penalties that decided previously drawn matches. HOW CAN THEY BE ALLOWED TO STAY?

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

WC2006: Day 19

TDH guesses right again: the exact scoreline of Brazil v Ghana and the result of France v Spain.

Mind you, Adriano was clearly offside twice before he scored the second goal - once before the through ball was released, and again before the cross. Yes, it was yet another terrible, potentially game-turning decision. To compensate, there were a couple of offside calls that wrongly went against Brazil. It seems that when a player's on the other side of the pitch from the ball, the linesmen have a hard time lining him up. But that's the way Brazil play, with runners coming out of nowhere.

Kaka was phenomenal, again. And that Ronaldo fellow? Fat and useless, oh yes.

TDH and Mara will probably share a toast, from across an ocean, at Spain's demise. It's a shame to see such a young and talented midfield slung onto the scrapheap, but a victory for that racist as*hole Aragones would have been too much. The overconfidence of the quasi-fascist Spanish sports press didn't gain them much sympathy from TDH, either.

France's victory certainly had little to do with Raymond "I Swear to You, I Played a Lot of Football Even Though I Look Like a Civil Servant" Domenech. Sticking Henry up front as a lone striker was madness, as anyone named Arsene could tell you. And why was Zidane taking all the corners? Henry takes them for The Goon Show because he's rubbish in the air, unlike Zizou.

Well, after two quick goals near the end, the local commentators said, "Hey, it's almost a game of football!" Almost, but not quite. Brazil will end this French delusion soon enough.

EXTRA: Referees stage coup d'etat!


At least, that's the way it seems. Like Markus Merk, Luis Medina Cantalejo once seemed to TDH to be a good referee. Yes, a quality referee. And yet, and yet... he was willing to issue a last-second penalty in a 0-0 match where both teams looked as though they could very well have scored in extra time. Not just any penalty, mind you, but a penalty for deliberately falling over a prone player who made no effort to obstruct play.

Terrible. Just terrible. Despite guessing the Italy v Australia scoreline correctly, TDH's mood was lousy. It certainly wasn't improved by the Switzerland v Ukraine match.

Like BBC's Adnan Nawaz, TDH almost fell asleep during the late game - during the first half, in fact. About the most exciting thing that happened was when, about half an hour into the match, the Latin American feed disappeared. The guy desperately doing filler - his surprise moment in the spotlight - was definitely more interesting.

The game actually improved late on. Perhaps the players were too tired out to keep flying through the air for hopeless headers and sky-high passes; they actually had to play the ball on the ground. In the end, TDH got the result right, if not the scoreline. But who would have predicted that Switzerland would be dumped out of the tournament without conceding a regulation goal? How sad. The only consolation is seeing Sheva and Blokhin walking around together - you can tell those guys are having fun.

Monday, June 26, 2006

WC2006: Day 17

Who would have thunk it. Loyal readers of TDH may recall this passage from the entry of June 8, on the eve of this very tournament:
"...this is where the Sven factor comes in. It's a dead cert that he'll come up with something utterly Martin-Lawrence-esque. He's likely to try, out of nowhere, a 3-6-1..."
We didn't have to wait very long to see it, did we? Sven came out with six midfielders, though one could argue that Har-Greavesy was masquerading as a right-back. And what happened? JT had a nightmare and Robinson kept hoofing it over Wine Hrooney's head, completely ignoring the sextet in midield.

The tactics were downright ridiculous. Sure, if you want to play 4-4-2 with solid players to exhaust the opposition and then put on Lennondowning (cf. yesterday's comment on Messitevez) to finish the job, that's fine. But 3-6-1 to start out with? My oh my.

Anyone who's watched a Manure match will know that Wine works best when he plays off one or two other strikers. Alone he's still powerful, but not half as effective. With Lampard having a Riquelme-esque match (in the negative sense of Saturday's game) and Young Joe apparently sitting in a hermit's cave somewhere in Bavaria, it warn't pretty.

In any case, Ecuador looked lumpen and Becks slammed a goal that made the other nine Englishmen (and one Canadian) irrelevant. Lucky old Sven. With Deco and Costinha missing, he might even beat Portugal.

And that brings TDH to the Battle of Nuremburg. If you thought Italy v US was a war, umm, you hadn't seen a single thing yet. Never has TDH witnessed a match in which moments of beautiful football were so constantly intermingled with instances of shameless violence and utter stupidity.

The alleged referee, Valentin Ivanov, clearly couldn't control what was happening on the pitch. But still, there was enough exciting football that TDH and friends were begging for the Netherlands to send the match into extra time. Alas, a crossbar and a few flubbed chances later, it was over. Thanks to the television director for including so many shots of a ballistic Felipao. The man has enough emotion for a thousand Colombian soap operas.

And finally, so far TDH's Round of 16 forecast is off by a total of only three goals, with all three victors correctly noted and one perfect prediction. Has anyone made any money yet?

Sunday, June 25, 2006

WC2006: Day 16

TDH missed the first half of the Germany v Sweden game, and both goals. But that was okay, because TDH was attending the baptism of a friend's daughter - and the godmother's husband was... ENZO FRANCESCOLI.

Enzo was looking quite fit, and appropriately so, one supposes, for someone whose playing career lasted so long. In fact, had he been playing for Uruguay against Australia, his team might have been the ones facing Italy in the not-too-distant future. With 198 goals in 510 games, he would have been worth a shot even at the ripe old age of 45, right?

Anyway, the Swedes - with the exception of the underwear model - didn't seem to be running quite as much as they did against England in the second half. Larsson missed a penalty, and Lagerback inexplicably switched Ibrahimovich for Allback rather than throwing all four strikers forward in the last 20 minutes or so. TDH would have said, "Excuse me, but there's no tomorrow - or, as they say in Buenos Aires, la vida es ahora...." Germany's advancement hardly seemed unjust.


What a stinker Riquelme had for Argentina. When he's off, the whole team looks off. His passes were spraying wide, and he looked more worried than usual. (Does this man ever smile?)

Pekerman took off Cambiasso for Aimar, but TDH would have left Cambiasso on and let Aimar dictate instead of Riquelme. Aimar has always looked quick and efficient with this team.

Messi's goal in extra time clearly should have counted - yet another terrible offside call in this World Cup. But the score ended up 2-1 anyway, thanks to a shot Maxi Rodriguez appeared to have stolen from Young Joe.

The Mexicans played their socks off, putting in a far better showing than TDH expected. But it was never meant to be, was it? Now all TDH's local friends are dreading their encounter with Germany. Watch the referee be Austrian, Brazilian, or English... whoops, no, it can't be Graham Poll, because he might give Sorin three cards before expelling him! Which will happen, mark TDH's words.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

WC2006: Day 15

Okay, so France gets one more shot to prove that they're not a bunch of over-the-hill pretenders. The thing is, TDH believes they do have one more win in them. They've been missing chances... but they've been creating a lot of chances. Hence TDH's predictions for the Round of 16:

Germany v Sweden: Germany's scoring power will be enough to take them through, but Larsson will get a farewell goal; 2-1

England v Ecuador: Ecuador seems to be running out of gas - not that England's amazing these days; 1-0

Argentina v Mexico: No contest in this one, but you won't see six goals again; 2-0

Portugal v Netherlands: Very tough to call; likely to be 1-1 after extra time

Italy v Australia: Hiddink's luck will run out as the Italians will be ready for another war; 1-0 and then the catenaccio takes over

Brazil v Ghana: The Africans will get found out as the big yellow machine kicks it into high gear; 3-0

Switzerland v Ukraine: Likely to be brutal, boring or both; 1-0 to Shevchenko in Senderos's absence

Spain v France: The dark star haunting Spain will return in Les Bleus' last hurrah; 1-0

And this one's for Mara: a heartwarming photo of King Thierry I embracing his loyal subject, Sir Franck de Ribery, after their victory on the fields of Kaiserslautern. Is all forgiven? We'll see next week.

Friday, June 23, 2006

WC2006: Day 14

Ah, Ronaldo. In a way, he's like Maradona. TDH saw Maradona play in Lothar Matthaeus's tribute match. The guy weighed over 200 pounds, it seemed, and only ran for about five minutes. Then he sat inside the midfield circle and waited for the ball. When he received it, however, the passes were extraordinary. And Ronaldo did very much the same in Japan's six-yard box today. He waited, then struck with his innate talent. Fat, yes. Talented, always.

Brazil won't face another equally inferior team in this competition, but TDH gets the feeling that they're starting to wake up - a little more flair, a little more passion. It's good to see Juninho Pernambucano on the pitch, too. He's one of the most selfless players on the team. The Argentines, at least, are worried.

And as you could have predicted, loyal readers, TDH is pleased as punch to see the Aussies through. Who knows, they might even beat Italy. They play a solid game, and their only vulnerability is speed - something the Italians aren't exactly known for. Come on, you Socceroos! You won't see TDH rooting for the tournament's other surprise package, oh no....

Thursday, June 22, 2006

EXTRA: TDH in mourning

The pain is almost too great to bear. Just when we were showing signs of life, just when we'd gotten the momentum back, just when it seemed like everything was coming our way (as Carlos Santana would say), there was Markus Merk, hereafter to be known as Markus "F*cking" Merk, running with arm outstretched towards the penalty spot.

If a single reader of TDH would like to explain how Onyewu's header justified a penalty, by all means, please do. For now, however, TDH will be contented with vile revenge fantasies of the kind evinced by this lovely little portrait, doubtlessly created by one of MFM's previous victims.

And as if that weren't enough, Owen may be out for the rest of the year. TDH can only look longingly at those photos of Owen and Shearer reeling away after Owen's first goal in the black and white. All in all, a very black day for TDH.

WC2006: Day 13

Midway through today's early matches, it seemed like there just might be a chance for Angola to make it out of the group stage. And TDH was cheering them on (silently) - if Ghana were fighting to be the only African team to advance, surely they'd fight a bit harder. Moreover, Mexico is to US what Brazil is to Argentina, what Germany is to England, what Japan is to Korea, etc etc.

Now, of course, it will fall to the US not just to assure our own progress but, alas, to eliminate the last vestige of the exciting, hard-fought West African football that we've all been enjoying. (It would be difficult to generalize with Tunisia....) Italy are strongly favored to beat the Czechs, which is also a prerequisite, but Ghana has tickled the oddsmakers' fancy. That's okay, though - despite our powerful position in the world, Americans love to be the underdog. Don't ask TDH why.


Mexico were far from convincing against Portugal, and the locals here in Buenos Aires are pleased as punch to be facing them instead of Portugal. Not that they had quite as much to boast about as in the previous match, though. The 4-2-2-2 with four midfielders didn't click quite as well as the 4-2-1-3. TDH would venture to guess that Crespo's inclusion works to draw defenders away from Messi and Tevez, making the entire unit more dangerous.

Tevez is rapidly becoming TDH's favorite foreign player in this tournament, though. Such hunger, such concentration, such dispassionate efficiency... he and Wine Hrooney could probably repel an invading army of aliens all by themselves.

Meanwhile, the Dutch played some tidy football - when they had the football - but were hardly impressive. Their squad or, more likely, Portugal will probably face England and then Spain or Brazil. It's hard to see either team making it past both opponents. Then again, it's hard not to think of both of them as sort of "boutique" teams rather than true contenders.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

WC2006: Day 12

Ah, England still can't beat the Swedes, can they? This time it took a freak goal, but let's face it, the two shots off the crossbar and Gerrard's clear were just as freaky. The result was fair.

And it makes TDH wonder. When teams like Germany slice through defences with such ease, why is it so hard for England to score? It just seems like always they need a wonderstrike like Young Joe's, or Stevie G's patented Last Minute Special. Are England really playing such great teams, or are they just shite?

Well, the Swedes are a much better team than Ecuador. But the diamond didn't seem to be working any better than the 4-4-2. Mr. Mr. Men was often at fault - he just didn't have the presence to hold up the midfield. And what was Crouch doing, hanging around the center of the pitch most of the second half? He won a couple of balls, but when it was time to defend, the Swedes just ran past him.

It was all very, very bizarre. Wine Hrooney seemed rather nonplussed to be substituted, but Sven was probably wise to play it safe. Then again, he probably should have explained his plan (ideally with pictures and hand puppets) beforehand.

Going back to Germany, the pairing of Ballack and Schweinsteiger is creating a ton of chances. Even if their defense is suspect, they'll almost certainly pick up enough goals to make it past the Swedes.

WC2006: Day 11

Well, the Togolese skivers put on a gallant show this morning - after all, they still had as good a chance as anyone of qualifying. And TDH would say that, had Adebayor gotten the penalty shot he probably deserved, they game might have changed. As it happened, though, the frustration mounted. When Yakin (he's still got it!) came on for the Swiss, the attack was just too much. Togo hardly embarrassed themselves, though - hopefully they'll deign to play in the last match, too....

Next came the Awakening of the Giants, i.e. the Ukrainians, against inferior Saudi opposition. Let's face it - we knew the Ukes had goals in them, and Sheva looks to be getting his fitness back just in time. No bonus for the Saudis today, though good old Sami almost grabbed a consolation goal.

TDH was smiling as Tunisia went ahead of Spain. "They're going to get found out! That scoreline against the Ukes flattered them, and now everyone will know!" is what TDH was thinking. But no, El Nino Torres was too much. His price is surely now too high for the Toon, which is a shame. The kid's got talent, and behind him for much of the game was probably the most stylish set of midfielders anywhere north of Argentina: Cesc, Luis, Xabi and Xavi. That's right, CLXX. And boy do they ever click - it's a beauty to behold, when it works. Which it did.

(Errr, someday they might also have 170 caps between them... geddit?)

Sunday, June 18, 2006

WC2006: Day 10

Ho-hum. That Japan v Croatia match wasn't exactly a festival of exciting football, was it? TDH would say Japan played about as poorly as any team in the tournament. Not that they didn't run - they did - but so many errors, so many errors. And as against Brazil, the Croats failed to take their chances. Can we please move on from this round and dump some of these teams?

TDH isn't in a hurry to see Australia go, though, since they're currently playing an attractively offensive (if occasionally slow - Viduka!) sort of football. A win against Croatia shouldn't be too tough to manage. The Croats looked so frustrated that TDH doubts they'll put in much effort.


Both Brazil and France showed sparks of the magic that made their individual players famous, but with little result. Sure, the Brazilians did enough to deserve the win against the Aussies, but there wasn't much in the way of attractive link-ups. Regrettably, Fat Ron probably did just enough to get another start - but Parreira might be wise to play his reserves.

The French deserved what they got, too. TH finally converted one but wasted a host of other chances. And the Korean fans sang non-stop, a tribute to the enduring nature of their support. It ain't just about 2002 anymore.


Pity Togolese fans. Their players - the first ever to reach the finals from their country - are holding out for a $200,000 payday and have threatened to forfeit the team's next match. Such an absolute lack of national pride seems shameful. TDH would play for his country for free. What happened to honor?

Saturday, June 17, 2006


What a fight. What a battle. What a war.

TDH's gallant Yanks chased every ball. One sending off didn't faze us. Two sendings-off didn't faze us. A goal disallowed didn't faze us. We thoroughly outfought, outran and, to use TDH's favorite American sporting verb, outhustled the Italians.

They didn't know what hit them. Even the entry of Gattuso, who could have bottled up Captain America, didn't turn back the tide of white shirts charging towards the Italian goal until the last five minutes.

We could have finished better, sure. But TDH has never seen us make so many tough tackles in defense, win so many balls in midfield, complete so many neat plays around the edge of the box.

Plenty of folks didn't understand it went Arena went apesh*t on the team after the first match. But we have an American team, and we have American psychology. A good blast of the hairdryer often does the trick - that, and being on the brink of elimination. Take Bill Parcells, Pat Summitt, Scottie Bowman - their players feared and dreaded them, but also respected them... all the way to their respective championships.

Anyway, we could have beaten those Italians (an English writer would probably have said, "like we did on the beaches in Sicily" but TDH is not so uncouth). Yet before the match TDH would have gladly taken a draw, given that we can still advance, as we did in 2002, with 4 points. So we move on, full of confidence, against a Ghana side that will be missing a couple of players. It's must-win, but so is every subsequent match in the Cup. Come on!


Portugal may have moved on for the first time since 1966, but don't expect them to go much further. Still, loyal readers, did you see Big Phil's reaction after Kiki Ron went top-shelf with his penalty? TDH hasn't seen a large man get so much air since Robert "Tractor" Traylor!

How come the Czechs were so flat against Ghana? With a little more shooting accuracy on both sides, it could have finished 4-1. TDH supposes that without Koller to catch the flak, the Czechs will always lack a little sting. Well, it doesn't matter now. Let's hope that the same form continues against Italy.

Friday, June 16, 2006

EXTRA: Argentina runs riot

Last night TDH was asking a friend if Pekerman was really, secretly, a genius. Perhaps he figured that his boring old 4-4-2 could make it through the group stage, and he was saving Tevez and Messi for the knockout rounds.

Well, now it doesn't seem to make any difference at all what Pekerman does. La Seleccion played the best football of the tournament so far, slicing through the S&M defense at will, linking up in every possible combination. They scored as a 4-4-2, they scored as TDH's preferred 4-2-1-3, with the Riquelme-Tevez-Crespo-Messi mini-team up front. If Crespo had gotten a better touch at the end, it would have been 7-0.

It's hard to keep this kind of momentum going, and the Netherlands will almost certainly be a come-down. But hey, TDH will always take the opportunity to enjoy some beautiful football when it comes along. Let's enjoy it while we can.

WC2006: Day 7

Well, Ecuador's performance against Costa Rica either showed how lousy Germany really are at the back or that Ecuador is a real team to contend with - solid, Wanchoproof(R) defense, and no trouble finding the back of the net. Like most things, it's likely to be a bit of both. But how about that Premier League veteran, Ivan "Inseminator" Kaviedes providing the, er, icing on the cake?

The way they're going, the Neither-North-nor-South Americans just might end up with the loser of England-Sweden in the next round. Despite the firepower on both teams, neither one looks any more threatening than a wet kitten right now. Indeed, England's performance could have brought a true football lover to tears. If you want to laugh your proverbial off about it, though, go here.

Still, TDH was surprised by the surge of emotion that gripped the room when Wine Hrooney returned to action. It was so much like the Second Coming that TDH was looking for a white pony on the sideline. The Messiah looked a bit tubby and wasn't quite at his best. He did stir things up, though, and with Lennon and Downing terrorizing the wings England looked a different team.

Which leads TDH to the discovery of Sven's secret formula: 1) Starting with the same old team, bash around and tire out the opposition while offering little offensive threat - it's guaranteed to be 0-0 after an hour. 2) Put on the young speedsters to stretch out the defense. 3) Score a couple of goals from nowhere, resulting in the now-customary mix of jubilation and recrimination that accompanies an England win.

Tomorrow's the big day here in Argentina, and there are more flags in the streets than ever. Cambiasso is out for Lucho Gonzalez, which will give the former more time to visit the Hair Club for Men, but there aren't any other changes from the first match. Clearly, Pekerman has solved the Eriksson-Parreira "Too Many Stars" Problem (which has puzzled top mathematicians for centuries) by benching everyone with a modicum of talent except Riquelme. Against S&M, it should be a veritable festival of cynical football.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

WC2006: Day 6

Lucky, lucky Spain. What looked like a romp could have been much closer, had Villa's free kick not deflected, had that unfair penalty not been called, had Voronin and Rebrov not missed some decent chances. Still, the Sheva Show must fancy itself to notch wins against Tunisia and Saudi Arabia, which should be enough to advance.

Neither the Tunisians nor the Saudis looked particularly threatening - technically sound, for the most part, but not threatening. The cockles of TDH's heart were warmed, however, by seeing Sami al-Jaber scoring just minutes after entering the pitch. He's the Roger Milla of 2006! Except he's only 31. But still, he seems like a hoary old veteran, doesn't he?

The games with Saudi Arabia and Iran always get TDH thinking politics. If the Saudis lost, would locals overthrow the monarchy and pave the way for a fundamentalist government? If Iran wins, will its belligerent president solidify his power base? It's enough to stop you thinking about the actual football. What is sure is this: if Brazil take home cup number six, Lula will win re-election. Most definitely.

Finally, TDH won't call Germany lucky. They should have put the match against Poland away much sooner, especially when Klose and Ballack both hit the crossbar within seconds of each other. Neuville's winner was deserved if late. The Poles showed only a bit more enterprise than they did against Ecuador, and TDH isn't sorry to see them go. Any dissenters?

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

WC2006: Day 5

Definitely the worst day of football so far. TDH was pulling for the plucky Togolese, especially after Dick Avocado made the unpardonable decision of starting Park way out on the left wing. Of course, when he moved the Manure man to the center after the break, things quickly changed. The ref seemed to fall for quite a bit of the usual diving, unfortunately, and that gave the Koreans a few more chances to intensify their aerial barrage.

France and Switzerland both had plenty of chances to score, but neither team could find the final touch. The French must be getting that sinking feeling a gain - a team full of stars, and no fight in it. Ribery wasn't at his best, showing a bit too much of the young Young Joe, but he did make a couple of nice moves. Zidane and Vieira looked, well, old. TDH wondered why Saha and Dhorasoo didn't come on earlier. Both teams still have a strong chance at qualifying, so let's hope they stop playing such snoozy football.

Brazil, Brazil. The 4-2-2-2 didn't seem to be working so well at first; Ronaldinho was marginalized, and Ronaldo got a total of about two touches. Robinho's entry spiced things up a bit, but the samba boys still looked preoccupied. It was intermittently exciting, but Croatia could easily have grabbed a draw had Prso been just a bit more on his game.

TDH would bench Ronaldo for Robinho or (better) Fred, but the bigger problem is obviously that Brazil has no real wingers. Think how much better they'd look with Ronaldinho at the tip of a diamond in midfield - the question then becomes, who'd be on the sides? Kaka and Juninho Pernambucano could probably do the trick, with Emerson or Gilberto holding. Worth a shot, right?

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

WC2006: Day 4

Black armbands around TDH today after the US's bad loss to the Czechs - a "reality Czech," as Soccernet called it. Well, we didn't exactly play badly, but we didn't play too well either. There wasn't much fight in us at all until the last quarter of the game, when Eddie Johnson came on. Let's hope he gets a chance to start one of the other matches. And as for Rosicky, Wenger must be creaming himself right about now.

It's pretty much must-win against Italy now, but thankfully they looked a bit less than unstoppable against Ghana. What a great game that was! Too bad Ghana had the same problem as Ivory Coast - they got themselves into plenty of good positions, but lacked the final touch.

Still, it was great to see an Italian team not playing catenaccio after going 1-0 up. They did a bit of expert time-wasting at the end, but it wasn't too blatant. In fact, TDH is starting to wonder whether this cup could be a turning point for bad behavior. Only the intractable Sorin rolled and groaned for the locals, and even the S&M's managed to play cleanly for about an hour yesterday, before they started hacking like a sugarcane harvester with a machete. We'll know tomorrow morning, if Spurs' Lee manages to go the whole game against Togo without diving.


TDH couldn't quite believe that the Aussies were going to lose, but TDH didn't think they'd score three times in 10 minutes, either. Hiddink looks more of a genius than La Volpe did yesterday, with his subs doing all the heavy lifting. One has to wonder, of course, why Cahill didn't start.

As for Japan's goal, it was neither here nor there. Yes, the Japanese striker did push Schwarzer. But Schwarzer initially misjudged the ball, and two of his own defenders pushed the Japanese striker into him. Whose fault was the goal? Hard to say, but the Australians weren't blameless.


Well, people here are salivating for the first Brazil match tomorrow. After the Confederations Cup, perhaps we shouldn't expect too much. It's hard to resist, though. The cup has been great so far, even without upsets like in 2002, but TDH is ready to see something on another level....

Monday, June 12, 2006

WC2006: Day 3

Ah, the World Cup can be a great leveller. Witness how plucky Angola almost stuck it to the Portuguese. (Actually, witnessing Big Phil on the sideline was enough for a whole day's entertainment.) And then see how a far superior Dutch side only managed 1-0 against S&M.

But still, didn't those Soldiers in Orange play some fantastic football? Robben was definitely the star, but the defense looked solid and the midfield was churning. With so many players capable of bulging the net, they'll surely chalk up some bigger scores.

TDH has to admit, though, to having the sinking feeling that something was about to snap every time Robben went steaming down the left side. Yes, it's a fairly minor but chronic disease known in parts of northeast England as "kieronosis."

Still, funny how the World Cup heals all wounds. Nesta is coming back, so are Ballack and Totti, and even Rooney may play in the very next match! Miraculous!


Best coaching move of the day goes to La Volpe, owner of a flourishing radio taxi business in Buenos Aires and sometime coach of El Tricolor. His second-half substitutions - including pulling the high-flying Guille Franco - put a spark into the Mexican attack, and one of the subs scored.

Very emotional moment with Oswaldo "The Human Bird" Sanchez after the match ended; all the players came around to thank him for being there right after his dad's death. In the first half, at least, they really needed him.

Most unlucky player has to be Kiki Ron, who hit the crossbar with a header from somewhere in the stratosphere and smacked a couple of balls wide. But he'll get his, have no doubt.


Loyal readers will know how much TDH likes a good Separated-at-Birth, like that old chestnut, Steve Finnan and Hilary Swank. But the Dutch squad has a pairing that left even TDH floored. Witness Ooijer and Vennegoor of Wotsit!

Oor is it the Ooijer way around? Same club, same national team, yet never on the pitch at the same time, today at least - COINCIDENCE? And by the way, could the Dutch coaches' shirts have been any tighter? Van Basten looked like he was going to go lift a car at halftime....

Saturday, June 10, 2006

WC2006: Day 2

Some entertaining action but, to be fair, disappointing football in today's matches. From the top:

1. England lacked any sort of cutting edge, and the fact that Sven seemed happy enough to play 4-5-1 with only a 1-0 lead must be a little worrying. Beckham's dead balls and crosses were impeccable, but the headers weren't on target. Neither, for the most part, were the long-range efforts by Fat Frank and Stevie G. Rust, perhaps? Could be, but England need dangermen up front. Er, start Walcott!

1a. That Paraguayan Paredes is a shameless diver who should end up with a red before the end of this stage. Once when he went down in the box, the instant replay showed him smiling and starting to get up before his teammate lost the ball. Then he went back to rolling around in mock pain. Arsehole.

2. TDH caught bits of Sweden v Dyn-O-Mite! while preparing an enormous Argentine barbecue. The TnT-ers certainly played their hearts out, which was in itself great to see. But come on, those Swedish strikers should be able to manage at least a goal.

3. Well, TDH will never say that a team should only ride its luck - you need to score goals, too. Still, Ivory Coast were supremely unlucky that Saviola's goal counted, since he was a good two yards offside. All the same, they had plenty of chances but couldn't seem to put enough mustard on the ball. The Argentines defended surprisingly well (and that's not saying much), but they needed a bit of Messi/Tevez spark.


WC2006: Day 1

TDH's conclusions from Day 1:

1. The opening ceremony had much of the usual silliness, but at least we got to see the old geezers parading around. And it wasn't as long as it could have been.

2. Germany has no defense. TDH can just see the phone call being placed from the home side's locker room to the Ivory Coast camp: "Uhhhh, guten tag? Kolo? Emanuel? I miss you guys...." A certain keeper was definitely missing his usual protection. Not that he looked amazing, either - he should have charged Wanchope before the second goal but actually backed off. The hosts will definitely need more thunderbolts a la Lamb (who knew he could do that when he was at Villa?) and Frings.

3. Poland had some bad luck, but they can consider themselves exposed as the frauds they are. They shared an easy qualifying group with England, and now they're paying the price. Ecuador showed one of the best aerial games TDH has seen in a long time, both in attack and on defense. 'Twas totally appropriate that the first goal came from a pair of headers. More power to them.

4. The refereeing was calm and restrained, as was the play. (Oh, the local Argentines are so proud of their Elizondo. Did you know he was a poet, too?) No violence on the pitch, and no violence off it - a perfect start that will surely be overlooked by most of the press. You've heard the phrase "no news is good news"? Well, the reverse also holds: good news is no news as far as the media's concerned.

Tomorrow's looking like a classic matchday, so stay tuned, loyal readers, for more World Cup guff!

Friday, June 09, 2006

WC2006: Is Pekerman on drugs?

Here's the Argentina squad to face Ivory Coast tomorrow:

Burdisso, Ayala, Heinze, Sorin
Rodriguez, Mascherano, Cambiasso, Riquelme
Saviola, Crespo

WHAT is Pekerman smoking? To leave both Messi and Tevez out of the attack seems crazy to TDH. To put Abbondanzieri in goal ahead of Leo Franco is equally wacky. Mascherano may be only 22 years old, but he'd better tell Cambiasso what to do - otherwise there'll be total havoc behind Riquelme. Well, at least the defense looks about right, and they'll need to against Drogba & Co.

TDH thinks the natural formation for Argentina is a 4-2-1-3, which you could also call a 4-5-1 depending on how you classify wingers: four across the back, two defensive midfielders, Riquelme or Aimar pulling the strings for three strikers (or a target man and two wingers). But what does TDH know?

"There's no end to the stoppage of this drama."

One opportunity missed, one possibly on the way to fruition. The Toon missed out on Huth - a giant like him really needs only the one name, like Jaws or Butz - as the German went to Boro. But it sounds like Roeder is following up on Horsename, who would make a nice alternative to Solano or Dyer. Still, though, we need a seriously good centerback. Argh.


All this groaning will end at 5 pm BST tomorrow, however, when Germany kick off against the Ticos. TDH can't believe it's here. Something feels special about this Cup, moreso than 1998 or 2002. There's just something in the air. There aren't too many classic matchups in the group stage, but there are bound to be some surprises and discoveries. Somehow, TDH will manage to sleep tonight....

Thursday, June 08, 2006

"And now with Argentina out, they will be on the plane home with France."

TDH saw France take on China in Les Bleus' last friendly, and it must be said: they were pretty poor. Pretty piss poor. The only good news from the first hour or so was that El Abuelito Cisse broke his leg, meaning that the team would finally have a chance at a decent strike partnership.

But then came Franck Ribery. If you haven't seen him, well, let's put it this way - you'll know when you have. Not just for the bizarre haircut and the enormous scar running down the side of his face - he got it in a car accident when he was two, though he should really say it's from a knife fight - but for the way he plays.

Imagine a mixture of Young Joe and Kiki Ron: Young Joe but faster, Kiki Ron but with a lower center of gravity - the tricks, the spurts, the shots, the total package. France owed the last two goals to him, even though his name didn't show up on the scoresheet. And that brings us to TDH's first World Cup prediction: the European player who'll go for the most cash post-Cup will be none other than Tony Montana himself. "Dah wurld iss yurs...."


Now, for the rest. TDH was fancying Italy, would you believe, until Nesta and the fat sketchy bloke went down. (He looks pregnant in this photo!) The fascist keeper may be gone soon, too, and good riddance. (But the Telegraph - bless - says he's just misunderstood!) No one doubted Italy's defense, and this year it looked like they'd have scorers, too. But no, perhaps it was not meant to be.

TDH always picks Germany to overachieve, and as hosts this year should be no different. But let's face it, except for Ballack, Schweinsteiger and Lehmann they're pretty frickin' ordinary. France looks to have lost its touch, and Argentina is one enormous headcase. Spain... ah, forget it.

So we're left with Brazil and England - an England fortified with Vitamin R at that! - in the final. And this is where the Sven factor comes in. It's a dead cert that he'll come up with something utterly Martin-Lawrence-esque. He's likely to try, out of nowhere, a 3-6-1 with two wingers on either side and JT alone at the back.

Brazil will roll, and the English press will run screeching along Sven's limo all the way to the posh offices of Banco Madrid. Third place to the Ivory Coast. Eddie Johnson to the Premier League. That's right, Arsene and Jose have already bought all the decent African players. Good night.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

"I don't want to be either partial or impartial..."

...but hooray for Boro! The Teessiders will be hammering another nail into the League Managers Association's coffin today when they announce Gareth Southgate as their new boss. They're looking for a Roeder-style vote from the other Premier League clubs to circumvent the LMA's ridiculous requirements. Given Southgate's lack of experience, any self-interested club would be silly to vote against him, labor market restrictions be damned!


TDH had a most interesting conversation with a Buenos Aires taxi driver today. Miguel Arcangel Diaz (for that was his name) dared to say that La Seleccion should not start Riquelme. Any player on a break who passes to Riquelme will simply have to stop running, Diaz said, because Riquelme will stop the ball.

It's true, isn't it? Of course, Diaz also said that Crespo and Saviola should start in front of Aimar, with Messi and Tevez on the bench. TDH wouldn't leave out Tevez in a million years, but TDH will join Diaz in the minority of Argentine residents who like Aimar. He's the only playmaker capable of playing a fast game.

Diaz added that Germany will win the tournament, because football is completely corrupt. His only evidence for that point was France's home win in 1998, but TDH wouldn't necessarily disagree - especially after seeing Korea v Italy in 2002. You'll have to wait one more day, though, loyal readers, for TDH's own predictions....

TOMORROW: World Cup predictions! (Duh!)

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

"He says that he will walk away from the game when his legs go."

La Brujita Veron has rejoined Estudiantes (Estudiantes!) at the ripe old age of 31. What a come-down! Argentines are bursting with pride that he's come back, fulfilling an old promise, but really! He performed well enough for Inter this year, and Cambiasso will be lost in midfield without a partner like him. Who knows, maybe a chance to bring Libertadores glory to La Plata was enough for old baldy....


Today TDH caught an interview by the BBC's Rob Bonnet of King Sepp I. The football supremo was in good form despite struggling a bit with English - he had particular trouble with the word "guilty". But we'll forgive him, because he reiterated his strong stance against racism.

El Sepp also offered some of his usual nonsense, of course. But he added a persuasive argument against FIFA paying clubs for players' services or insurance during international matches. TDH has said in the past that such a system would be unnecessary, since players' club contracts are implicitly discounted for the possibility of injury on international duty. Il Sepp pointed out that to ask, say, the Ivory Coast FA to pay for Drogba's insurance at the same rate Chelski does would be completely impractical. The world's smaller FA's would be bankrupted after matchday one. Furthermore, he added, playing internationals probably raises players' value to clubs - at least in terms of shirt sales.


It's hard for TDH to see Aguero in an Atleti jersey, for more than one reason. Independiente has, inevitably, lost its star. But the Toon may also have lost its chance at El Nino Torres, who might just fancy a partnership with El Kun. Blast. Time's running out for a pre-Cup move by Roeder. Chances are that he didn't have time to watch a zillion tapes from around the world in preparation for the recruiting part of his new job. Too bad he may have to wait for any deal until the prices go up after the Cup.

Monday, June 05, 2006

"England can end the millennium as it started - as the greatest football nation in the world."

England, England. A brief trip has left TDH with assorted insights now to be inflicted upon you, loyal readers.

First, Sven is missing a formation. He's got a 4-1-3-1-1 in which he will hopefully have learned to use Carrick instead of Carragher as a holding player. He's got a 4-4-2 with Fat Frank and Stevie G in the center. But he needs to have another think about that diamond. The (other) tall man from Merseyside was all asea against Jamaica, and it would be better to see a more dedicated holding player dropping behind Frank Jr.

Based on recent form, TDH would also say that it's not obvious that Lampard the Younger should be the starter. Perhaps TDH would leave him in for the group stage. But in a big knockout game, the Kop hero clearly performs on another level entirely, capable of single-handedly turning a motley bunch of day-laborers into a cup-winning side.

England faces a friendly draw, assuming they can finish top of their group. A result against Sweden is clearly the essential ingredient. The Swedes will be organized, and they have obvious striking power. But England can hit them on the counter. Look for Downing and Lennon to come on in the 60th minute if Sven needs a goal.

After the group stage will likely come Poland or Ecuador - realistically, no trouble for England. The quarter-final will be, in declining order of likelihood: the Netherlands, Argentina, Portugal or Mexico. All of those teams are beatable.

In fact, TDH can't understand why English pundits are so high on Argentina. Anyone who's seen them play lately will know that the back half of the midfield is completely disorganized, the defense is nothing special, and the keepers are suspect. Argentina have some of the most gifted strikers in the game, but they'll need to score plenty to make up for their deficiencies at the back. TDH would almost be tempted to play three strikers against them - another missing formation, Sven?

Finally, there are some things that are just too English for words. Witness, loyal readers, the Peperami Fanimal. If you don't know what a Peperami is, don't worry. The Fanimal is absurd enough to have its own reputation. Where the more reserved England fan fears to open his mouth, the Peperami supplies the guff transplant. Thank goodness for that.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

EXCLUSIVE: The Irony of Food

Tonight TDH had drinks in London with a friend. Earlier in the evening, said friend had dinner with a few colleagues at Zafferano, a very posh Italian restaurant in Chelsea.

At the next table were two diners, staring deeply into each other's eyes, wondering if their new relationship would fulfill all their expectations: Roman and Sheva.

TDH doubts that many players get the personal attention of a one-on-one, white-tablecloth dinner with the club owner. But what has TDH laughing is this: of all the restaurants in London, why did the Czar of Stanford Bridge take the ex-Milan man to an Italian place?