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Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Italians lose their nerve (again)

Well, looks like the Italian courts don't have quite enough bottle to stick it to the big clubs. Sure, Juve still have to go down, but even that decision could still be vacated after another appeal.


Norman Hubbard provides a very TDH-like analysis of the Toon's transfer needs on Soccernet. Meanwhile, supplies us with no end of tantalizing rumors, of which TDH's favorites are Del Piero (at least he knows how to wear a barcode on his back, but come on - no chance), Dean Ashton (if he could be prised from Pardew's claws) and Giuseppe Rossi (the great American-Italian hope, quite a sparkplug for Man United at the end of last season).


Bit of a celebrity run-in today for TDH, though not of the level of past incidents. At about 4:30 pm in Buenos Aires, hail the size of golf balls - and this is no exaggeration - began to fall downtown. TDH's taxi joined others in fleeing to a local garage. As TDH got out to wait for a change in the weather, there was Mauricio Macri, political heavyweight and president of Boca Juniors. Not surprisingly, he was on his mobile phone until the hail gave way to rain and everyone got on with their journeys.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Roeder's miracle complete!

It's official, the Glenn Roeder tenure has carried the Toon back into Europe! Again, we can reflect on the remarkable turnaroud that started only a handful of months ago.

But there's other news worth pondering, too. First, it's not completely clear that left wing was the position where the Toon most needed fortification, with Milner and N'Zogbia possibles. Sure, Duff is a good player who's probably got three quick years left, but is he going to provide the cutting edge we so desperately need?

He can play up top, but it seems more likely that he'd slot behind as a 10. Until Owen gets back (and after he gets injured again), Roeder may be contemplating a sort of 4-2-3-1 with Amoeba on the point, and then Duff flanked by Zog and Luque, with Emre and Parker cleaning up the back. It could also be 4-1-4-1 with Parker alone as sweeper and Emre or Nobbie pushing up.

TDH would be tempted to play 4-1-3-2 with Dyer and Amoeba as strikers, then Duff-Emre-Luque and Parker in back. The main thing is, we now have a surfeit of decent midfielders - Duff, Zog, Luque, Emre, Parker, Milner, Nobbie, Faye, Butt... - while lacking striking talent and a certified defensive rock. Sure, Amoeba's only 24, but he's not A-grade yet. Let's see some transfer action better suited to the squad's needs.

And a question - where can TDH pick up one of those swanky pale blue shirts the lads were wearing in Norway? They're nowhere to be found in the club website.


Bits and pieces:

Go plucky Maribor! With Riquelme out of action (probably to increase his transfer value), Villareal looked as impotent as an 80-year-old eunuch. They were lucky to score the one.

Chelsea lost approximately three million pounds on Del Horno - chicken feed for King Roman, and a small price to pay compared to the damage he did on the pitch.

No Argentine teams left in the Copa Libertadores, with only lowly Estudiantes coming close before losing on penalties. TDH didn't shed many tears, though. Gallardo was sent off for River, which made TDH chortle. And let bad luck follow Simeone wherever he goes.

Finally, did it occur to anyone else that want-away Lua Lua might make a nice addition to the Roeder squad?

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

TDH is going on vacation!

Well, loyal readers, it's been an intense month of football. TDH is ready for a little break.

That said, if anyone wants to join the TDH team and do a bit of posting, please let TDH management know. There's a reason why TDH is in the third person - this way, there's flexibility for multiple authors.

Either way, TDH will be back with occasional updates from the transfer market, the finale of the Copa Libertadores and, of course, the onrush of the 2006-07 season. Yes, club football! Until then, loyal readers, thanks for hanging around.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

WC2006: The TDH XI

Before TDH brings you the best XI of the tournament, spare a moment for this thought: the only team to take a point off Italy in the 2006 World Cup was the US. The champs couldn't beat us!

Now, on to the matter at hand. As always, TDH is going for a formation that actually works, i.e. not picking four playmakers in midfield. Also, both native ability and play during the Cup were factored in.

Ricardo - owner of some amazing saves and a genius at penalties, which matters

Miguel - always a TDH favorite, manages to cover his man and still get forward constantly
Cannavaro - what can you say - the little guy fights like a heavyweight, purely amazing
Ayala - magisterial and reliable, with a goal to boot - a match for any forward
Boulahrouz - definitely caught TDH's attention in a tough position to fill, a name for the future

Maxi Rodriguez - consummate worker, too often ignored by opposition blinded by his starry companions
Mascherano - for a holding player, the total package of tackling and passing
Pirlo - one of the most humble of the Italians, with the least reason to be
Robben - let's not forget about one of the most lethal left wings in football

Drogba - a towering figure for the Ivory Coast, bossing the whole game at both ends
Klose - just call him Mr. Goals; sure, Ronaldo is the record scorer, but this guy hit 12 of 20 shots on goal, and five hit the back of the net (compare to 8-15-3)

Subs: Buffon, Thuram, Terry, Meira, Zambrotta, Hargreaves, Riquelme, Lennon, Kaka, Tevez, Torres

Monday, July 10, 2006

WC2006: Inglorious finale

It's rare that TDH gets worked up about something that happens in sport, even in football. The odd disallowed Newcastle goal may be an exception, but that seems to happen so often that TDH has gotten almost used to it. Zidane's moment of madness, though, struck TDH hard and deep.

After you reach a certain age, it's hard to look up to footballers. Most of them are just kids, or adults who never had to grow up. But a few seem to stand apart, with a stature that transcends their abilities on the pitch. Zidane was such a player. And for him to do something so manifestly stupid in the final game of his career - arguably the most important game of his career - left TDH stunned. The initial speechlessness soon turned to disappointment at yet one more fallen idol.

The obvious question is, "What did that f*ck Materazzi say?" But as vile as his tweaking may have been, it shouldn't have mattered. When you're leading a team, when the game is coming down to its final moments, when you have the chance to add the capstone to your career, you should rise above any petty abuse. Zidane couldn't.

Compliments to the Italians for some finely taken penalties. Their earlier play was hardly inspiring. And as they danced around, TDH had to remember that these guys weren't just doing it for the fans or for their country, but also in large part for themselves. They also looked very, very young.



Saturday, July 08, 2006

WC2006: We've got goals....

In preparation for this weekend's final, TDH would like to present loyal readers with a little food for thought. Today's victuals come in the form of some of the greatest goals in World Cup history. And, thanks to YouTube, we've got video.

Diego Maradona, 1986
What can you say? People in Argentina walk around with t-shirts that have nothing on them except a schematic of this amazing run. No one needs to see a name to know what it is. The commentary from Victor Hugo Morales is almost as famous.

Michael Owen, 1998
As close as England has come to a direct riposte to Maradona's feat. (No, not that feat - by the way, did anyone else see Crespo going for the ball with his fist in the early minutes of the quarterfinal?) But still, not bad, considering Owen was seven years younger when he pulled his off.

Jared Borgetti, 2002
For TDH, the greatest pure header in the videotaped World Cup era. FIFA makes it number two, with a nice jump from Pele at number one, but TDH has to disagree. The angle of the play and the way Borgetti strikes the ball are simply superhuman.

Esteban Cambiasso (with Maxi Rodriguez, Sorin, Mascherano, Riquelme, Saviola, Crespo and Ayala), 2006
Can there ever have been another goal like it? This was the goal that would have had the Wengers and Rijkaards of the world salivating. Some people make it 25 touches, some 26, some 27, starting with Maxi's slide tackle to win the ball. Whatever - it was a work of art. TDH chooses this version because the English commentator (name him!) sees the goal coming and immediately appreciates its value.

Anyone going to watch Kiki Ron pout about not getting the Silver Ball for 90 minutes tomorrow?

Friday, July 07, 2006

WC2006: Lull before the storm

TDH can't claim to be too excited about the third-place match, but as Turkey showed in 2002, there can be some fun surprises. Anyway, let's hope Germany win - giving Klinsmann the medal he deserves - and send that arrogant S.O.B. Kiki Ron back to training at Old Trafford, where Hwayne Runny can kick him to death.


Does watching football make you a better player? TDH hadn't played for about a month until last night, yet it was like a little bit of Zizou had seeped into the pores. TDH recalls a similar fillip back in 1998, when TDH had to sit out quite a bit of on-the-pitch football during the Cup due to a toe injury. The layoff only seemed to improve the quality of play. Any explanations?

Thursday, July 06, 2006

WC2006: Callooh, callay!

Loyal readers crazy enough to be watching half an hour of pre-game coverage before today's semifinal (like TDH) will have seen the one moment that told you all you needed to know about France.

Half an hour before the match, after the warm-up, Zidane huddled his players (for they are his now) on the pitch. TDH couldn't tell what he was saying, but it was clear that his voice was raised. And the glare in his eyes was that of an iron leader, a fearless veteran, a warrior equal to any battle. The other players neither snickered nor cowered. They soaked it in.

After the match, Zidane and Vieira strode off the pitch like a couple of old soldiers exchanging notes, neither elated nor surprised by their victory. They know the real test is yet to come. Domenech did his part with good substitutions; like Lippi, he knows it's better to run the opposition ragged than simply to batten down the hatches. But TDH thinks we all know who really runs this team.

Back in France, though, you can bet the feeling was plenty frabjous.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

WC2006: O happy day

Yes, the Argentines down here are convinced that if Lippi had been their coach, rather than Pekerman, they would have beat Germany. The Italian certainly played his cards right. Instead of finishing the game attacking with Tevez, Cambiasso, Gonzalez and Cruz, he had Iaquinta, Gilardino, Del Piero and a fine supporting cast. TDH said back during last season that Del Piero finally looked like he'd recovered the form he had before his injury - and boy, was his goal a thing of beauty. Ditto Grosso's. Italy's playing positive football!

Germany really didn't do much of anything, with Ballack hanging strangely far back to cover Frings's role, and Cannavaro and Buffon (oh, it hurts to say it) made sure that they weren't unjustly rewarded. All told, Klinsmann did well to get this far with a fairly average side.

Up in the luxury boxes, Romano Prodi could barely suppress his smile as he received the grudging congratulations of Angela Merkel, Horst Kohler and even Der Kaiser. In fact, it looked as though his lips had disappeared altogether.

At this point, TDH doesn't much mind whether France or Italy win, though France is still a better story, with more exciting young players to boot. Let's just hope tomorrow's referee doesn't go for all of Portugal's playacting.

Monday, July 03, 2006

WC2006: Faces only fans could love

It's the team you've all been waiting for: the TDH Ugly XI!

A few rules:
1. Must be a regular (so no to Ecuador's Jose Perlaza).
2. No more than one player from each team (so no to England's Hwayne Runny - see, TDH is already using the McClaren pronunciation!).
3. It has to be mostly the fault of the player and/or his genes (so no to France's accident-scarred Franck Ribery). Yes, if you earn hundreds of thousands of dollars a year, or more, you should really get a decent haircut and your teeth fixed.
4. Ugly personalities count (not that you needed the help, Luis...).

G: Tizie (CIV)

D: Neville (ENG), Tudor (CRO), Magnin (SUI), Loco (ANG)

M: Van Bommel (NED), Ronaldinho (BRA), Camoranesi (ITA)

F: Kezman (SCG), Koller (CZE), Tevez (ARG)

Coach: Aragones (ESP)

Gah! It'd be like playing against an army of orcs from the Lord of the Rings! Anybody missed out, loyal readers? Any mirrors left unbroken?

WC2006: Converging-to-zero football

The knockout stages of a tournament always bring about a peculiar transformation. Suddenly it's not so important to win. Suddenly it's more important not to lose.

Thus we see England's 4-5-1 and Brazil's distinctively un-Brazilian style of play. Thus we see several matches going to penalties. Thus we see an average of 1.875 goals per round of 16 match falling to 1.25 goals per quarterfinal.

In retrospect, it was particularly strange in England's case. Having taken risks with his squad, Sven was unwilling to take risks on the pitch. His play-it-safe attitude led to the same result for the third time in a row. No surprise there, TDH now supposes.


The trends in play have been interesting. France jumped up several notches, from mediocrity to world-beating. Germany have been steadily playing above their level. And Italy seem to be gradually turning up the current. The question in each case is, can they maintain it? TDH bets that Italy's answer will be "yes." For the others, who knows? Can Zidane possibly have two more games like Saturday's left in his 34-year-old body?


The Schadenfreude in Buenos Aires after Brazil's defeat has been unbelieveable.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

WC2006: TDH in mourning for the third (and last) time

Poor England. As Sven said, they didn't deserve to lose. But football isn't about justice, is it?

If it had been, England surely would have won - and not just for the crime of Euro 2004 or past losses on penalties. They played better than they had at any time in the tournament, and they created a fair number of chances, even with a somewhat ill-advised 4-5-1.

Still, one has to wonder how so many penalties were missed. Ricardo did an admirable job, sure. But Carragher made the fatal mistake of taking his early - that was unbelievable - and thus faced the psychological dilemma of which way to go after showing his hand. And well, whatever confidence Big Phil inspired his side with was lacking from England. Sven never looked like he was driving the bus.

And Sven has to share the blame for Rooney's temper, too. He could never control his player, as that memorable incident last year in Northern Ireland demonstrated. Also, Lennon is definitely a star for the future, but it would have been nice to see Walcott instead of Carragher in the closing stages. What else was he there for?

In the end, however, the players can't be let off the hook. Even when they found themselves in the right places at the right times, they couldn't execute. A shame.


The lone piece of good news for TDH so far in this World Cup came when France, looking like France of 1998, steamrolled Brazil. Those supposed pitch-dancers disappointed time after time, while the French played with, shall we say, elan. Brazil can no longer feel the same sense of entitlement. It's proof that even those baby-faced innocents of football let their skills get to their heads.

TDH didn't expect the French to win, but now TDH hopes Les Bleus will go all the way. (Yes, even though they're French.) Given the choices, what would you do, loyal readers? Germany - no chance, they've gotten much further than their skill deserves, even though TDH likes the adoptive Kountrymann quite a lot. Italy - while Gattuso and Buffon are in the team, never! Portugal - after today? So that leaves France. Allez-y!

Saturday, July 01, 2006

WC2006: TDH in mourning (again)

TDH has just a few things to say about the fairly tragic result in Berlin. First, TDH was right all along about Pekerman. He needs to have his head examined. To take off Riquelme and then fail to replace him with someone else who could organize the midfield was absolute craziness. Aimar would have been perfect - as TDH has pointed out, he's been quick and efficient throughout the campaign.

And then to lose the game with Messi still on the bench, well, that was really sad. Maybe Pekerman wanted more height with Cruz, but that's not the way you kill off a match. Aimar, Tevez, Maxi and Messi could have dribbled away those 15 minutes for a 1-0 win.

TDH had the strange feeling that at 1-1 Argentina were actually behind. The wind had gone out of the sails, and there was no one to clean up the mess (to mix a couple of metaphors). Did Lamm give up a penalty on Maxi? In most games, probably yes. But it was clear in the end that La Seleccion were insufficiently drilled on the penalties. Germany couldn't have been tidier. Well, maybe next time... with Tevez, Messi, Ustari, Aguero, Mascherano & Co.


Italy took a stroll in the park and came back with a berth in the semifinals - no problems at all, totally routine. In fact, TDH would venture to say that the Italians are a more formidable opponent than they first appear. Like the Brazilians, they can play well when they feel like it. They don't do it for the joy; they do it because hey, this crap is easy, and why the hell not. Beware, Germany. If you're still thinking about your win today when the semifinal comes, you'll be in deep cazzo.


TDH started the World Cup with three flags on the wall. Two have since been taken down, lovingly folded and put away, with respect, for another time. (After all, when you lose, you have to take down your tent and go home.) One remains, at least until tomorrow. Come on, lads, forget your inhibitions and just play the bloody game.