Sunday, June 29, 2008
Wednesday, June 25, 2008
Ahhhhh. That was a nice two-day break from football. But now I'm ready to get back into it, and tonight's game is going to be a doozy.
Here's a pretty cool story from the New York Times about this match-up and how it's affecting the nationalistic loyalties of Germans and German Turks. The whole thing is pretty interesting, but here's some important infos relevant to tonight:
The Turkish side will need everything Altintop can give it, with the team whittled down by injuries and suspensions to just 15 players — 11 starters and 4 potential substitutes. The possibility that one of the team’s backup goalies could play forward has added to their underdog appeal.
Wow. I knew they were getting low on men, but I didn't know it was that bad. Are they going to bring in Pommerdoodle to play defense for them? (You know, in the universe where Pommers is American, Canadian, and Turkish. That traitor.) Still, Turkey has shown many times that they thrive in the role of underdog and spoiler, so I wouldn't let this count them out.
In other news, German Derek Roy is devastatingly adorable.
Monday, June 23, 2008
4 - 2(p)
Anyway, sorry to let you, my 3.125 readers (I wish I could actually get an accurate count on that, but my Google Analytics page has recently died, perhaps to save me the pain of knowing exactly how few people are paying attention to this), down with this "coverage" of the game, but here are a few reasons I'm glad Spain won:
1. I don't like Italy. My resentment of the Italians (just the team, I'm sure regular Italians are lovely, though I've never really had contact with them) has recently returned full force, and I'm not entirely sure why. Maybe my proximity to Germans, who are still bitter about the World Cup. In any case, I'm somewhat proud of myself for successfully navigating the Euro without ever seeing Italy play. I don't particularly feel like I missed anything. (Except for that penalty kick save, but I'm trying to pretend that didn't happen.)
2. My brother recently spent 3 weeks in Spain on an exchange trip. He had a blast. It seems like a cool place.
3. They will make the semifinal hotter. I feel I'll be much better prepared to endure close-ups of Russia's team of creepy man-children with David Cassidy's hair, if I know it will be interspersed with shots of the likes of Spain's Torres, Fabregas, and Casillas.
Sunday, June 22, 2008
Whoa. Whoa! Russia! What are you on? Did you finally figure out soccer is basically just hockey on grass, or what? Color me impressed.
Yes, it's true I was rooting for the Netherlands coming into this game. Their Dutch charms really won me over. But somewhere along the way, probably after Russia scored first, my allegiances started to turn. At first I was just shocked, but then I started secretly hoping that they could actually pull it off. It seemed so impossible. For instance, as Hannah, Alice, and I were heading down to my dorm's common room to watch the second half (we opted for a more relaxed evening of football watching following the previous two nights) we placed bets as to what the score was. Hannah started off with 1-0 Holland, while I said 2-0 Holland. Alice: "Well, that only leaves me with 0-0 or 3-0." Hannah: "Or Russia could have scored." All: "Yeah, right." As it turned out, it was tied 0-0 at the half, but not for too much longer.
To the surprise of pretty much everyone in the world, Russia scored the first goal, 56 minutes into the game, on a blistering shot from Pavlyuchenko. When the Netherlands scored with 4 minutes left in the game, it seemed things were going back to following the script of normalcy, but then Russia dominated the overtime period, scoring two goals, and Holland never looked especially interested in making a comeback.
So, Russia, I guess I owe you an apology. Clearly I judged you too harshly based on that game you played against Spain in the group stages when it didn't really look like you knew what you were doing. Maybe you were just having an off day. Anyway, there's no argument that you've proven once and for all that you're a legit soccer team. Sorry for all the hockey jokes. That being said, you still kind of creep me out. Your players look like the stars of a 1975 educational film about puberty. (I know this tournament hasn't exactly been a showcase of attractive hair, but Russia's in particular looked like it just stepped out of a time machine. Sadly, photographic evidence of this is severely lacking.)
And this guy needs to do a better job of blending in his blush.
I could see it even with the camera a good 15 meters away.
Is Team Russia the Bruins of the the Euro Cup? I guess we'll have to see how the semifinal goes.
Saturday, June 21, 2008
1 - 3 (p)
Just so you know, Croatian for "Are you choking?" is "Jesu te gušenje?" Man, it has to suck to be Croatian this morning. But I'm getting a little ahead of myself.
Yesterday Vienna was teeming with Turkish and Croatian fans alike, and we knew the fan mile was going to be a veritable war zone, so we opted to go to a bar to watch the game instead. It was a good choice, mostly because if I had had to stand and watch that game, I'm pretty sure my legs would have given out from boredom long before it was over. At some point during the game I decided I was tentatively rooting for Croatia, based on their jerseys, their superior cuteness, and the fact that so many Croats had driven to Vienna to see the game. I thought they deserved to see a win for their troubles. But as the game wore on--and on--I found myself hoping that someone, anyone, would just score already. There were some close calls, mostly by Croatia, but they always ended up with someone hitting the crossbar, or falling down before heading the ball, or some other such nonsense. It was pretty frustrating. So it ended up going into overtime, which should have been exciting, except that it wasn't. It was just more of the same boring game. Finally, after 119 minutes of play, the Croatians scored with just under two minutes left in the second and final overtime. It was a bit of a haphazard play, but it worked. The Turkish goalie came out of his net to play the ball, not knowing that a Croatian player was coming up behind him. The Croat ended up getting the ball away from him, and centering a pass, which was headed in before the goalie could get back in his net. We all cheered, more from relief than from actual excitement, thinking that the game was finally over. Unfortunately, soccer overtime isn't sudden death, so we still had a couple of minutes left to play. It seemed like just a formality, just another way to punish us with this never-ending game. But then it happened. With literally a second left in the game (actually, pretty much negative time left in the game, since we were in the stoppage time of the overtime period), Turkey somehow scored. I never actually saw how it went in, because I was too busy laughing that it had actually happened. Croatia, and all the Croatian fans in the crowd, were completely stunned.
So I got my first taste of penalty kicks last night, and let me tell you, it blows. It sucks even harder than hockey shootouts, because not only is it a competition based on individual skill that has nothing to do with the 120 minutes of team sport played before it, but the keepers really have no shot. At least in hockey, a goaltender has trained extensively to stop scoring situations similar to a shootout goal (breakaways, etc.), but in soccer it's basically a guessing game. A keeper has to choose if he's going to jump right or left before the ball is even kicked, if he wants any chance at saving the shot. And since he's not allowed to leave the goal line until the ball is touched, it's not at all how he would try to defend that situation in the course of game play. It's pretty bullshit. On the other hand, I understand that soccer games can't go on indefinitely, and in the case of last night's game, I'm glad they do come to an end sometimes.
That being said, Croatia really has no one to blame but themselves for how they choked in the penalties. Their first and third shooters completely missed the net (which, as a hockey fan, I find impossible--it's so big!), and their last attempt was saved to give Turkey, who had made all of their penalty kicks, the victory.
Friday, June 20, 2008
Holy cow, was that a good game! I'll admit, I was a little scared going in, because Germany had been playing like such poop lately, and Portugal had been on fire, but right from the very beginning of the game, the Germans made it clear that they had come to play. They scored just 20 minutes in and led the whole way after that. The goal was such a beauty, too. A swift succession of give-and-go passes found Podolski powering down the wing, breaking free of his defender to cross the ball right to the goal mouth, where Schweinsteiger redirected it, mid-slide. What a way to come back into play, in his first game back since getting that red card in the game against Croatia! He played an instrumental role in Germany's other two goals, too, which were both headed in off of two perfectly-placed free kicks by Schweini. Of course, Portugal had to make it interesting, though. They scored their first goal right before the half to cut the score to 2-1, then their second with just a few minutes left in the game, and continued putting on the pressure right up until the last second. Waiting for the clock to run out practically gave me an ulcer, which hadn't yet happened in this tournament. Portugal can't be disappointed in the way that they played--they were a real threat for much of the game--but Germany was just better. They played the way everyone knew they could, and it was incredible to watch.
On a shallow note, it was almost as if former Euro Cup boyfriend Cristiano Ronaldo knew I was going to have to root against him this game, since he took the trouble to make his (usually awful) haircut look especially heinous. Much appreciated, man. Have a nice summer. Of course, now that Ronaldo's out of it, I'm going to have to choose a new guy for my Euro Cup boyfriend. That guy, as if there was ever any real doubt, is Lukas Podolski.
He didn't have his best game yesterday--I suspect he's still hurting from whatever injury to his calf he sustained in the Austria game, though he's playing through it--but the way he set up that first goal was just beautiful. Also, I'm having a hard time finding photographic evidence of it, but he has the Derek-Roy-patented Little Bastard Grin mastered. What can I say? He just does it for me. Go Poldi! (By the way, google Poldi and/or Schweini--which I did to check the spelling--at your own risk. Apparently there's a rather extensive collection of fan videos on the internet dedicated to that slash pairing, which is... odd. To say the least.)
So, I find myself facing a conundrum when it comes to tonight's game, which will determine who Germany will play in the semifinal. On the one hand, Germany lost to Croatia the last time they played. Pretty badly. On the other hand, if they had played like they did last night instead of eleven sacks of shit, they would have had a much better shot. On the other other hand, a Turkey/Germany semifinal would literally split Germany (the country) in half. It would be civil war, and I don't even want to think what Berlin, which has the greatest Turkish population of any city outside of Turkey, would look like after a matchup like that. I'm told it's happened before, and that no one died or anything, but it seems like something you'd rather avoid. Anyway, I guess I'm just going to have to go down to the fan mile, play the part of disinterested spectator, and see what happens. Even though that means I apparently bought a Croatia jersey for no reason other than to look like a tablecloth. Oh well.
Wednesday, June 18, 2008
I don't think I'm going to make it down to the fan mile tonight. I've really hit my stride in this video project I've been working on for one of my classes, and I think if I just keep working through tonight I'll be able to finish it. And then I'll be free to go watch the football that really matters (ie the quarterfinals and beyond!). I'm not sure which game they'll be showing tonight, anyway. You would think Sweden/Russia, since that's the only game of consequence, but that didn't stop them from airing the pointless Portugal/Switzerland game. Either way, I'll be surprised if tonight's victors aren't Sweden and Spain (unless Spain lets all of its best players take a rest, then Greece might win). Heja Sverige!
Update: Whoa! Who saw that coming?! I sure didn't! I'm sorry, Sweden, I feel like I let you down by not going down to the fan mile and supporting you. How the hell did Russia win? Were they just having an off day that game when they were playing Spain? Do they really, secretly, actually know how to play hockey? I don't know, but I'm going to go on record right now in saying that if they end up beating the Netherlands in the quarterfinals I will be really impressed. Poor, poor Sweden. It was nice knowing you, Team Tall Indians! Stay Swedish!
I'll be honest, I was really hoping Italy would lose this game. As I've already said, I'm a not a huge fan of either of those teams, but I am a huge fan of Schadenfreude, and having both the reigning Euro and World Cup champs miss out on the quarterfinals is about as schadenfreutastic as it gets. Plus, ESPN would have looked even dumber, which is always fun. Sigh. Anyway, I hope Spain stomps them in the next round.
By the way, Hannah, being the smart cookie that she is, found out why all of the last games of the group stage are being played simultaneously. One of her friends directed her to this article from CBC online, which tells the story of the collusion between Germany and Austria at the 1982 World Cup. I admit, that was a very cheating cheater thing to do, but the way the writer gets all righteously indignant about it is still pretty funny
In the 1982 World Cup in Spain, Austria and West Germany shamefully conspired with one another, draping a blanket of controversy over the competition and leaving an indelible stain on the sport that will never be cleansed away.
Algeria, playing in its first World Cup, had pulled off one of the biggest upsets in the history of the tournament when it earned a 2-1 victory over West Germany in Gijon on June 16, 1982. The Africans looked a sure bet to go through to the next round from Group B.
Austria and the Germans faced off in the final match of the group in Gijon on June 17. Because FIFA did not require the final two games of the group stages to be played at the same time, Austria and West Germany knew that a 1-0 win for the Germans would be enough for both nations to advance to the next round at the expense of the upstart Algerians.
And so, the two neighbouring countries had their arrangement and stopped playing when the Germans went up 1-0 after 10 minutes.
From that point on, the game slowed to a crawl with neither team seriously venturing forward, instead killing time with a series of short passes inside their half of the field.
The Spanish spectators in the stands booed both countries unmercifully as they carried out the most despicable of sporting frauds, and Algeria protested the result to FIFA the next day, but soccer's world governing body turned a blind eye and let the injustice stand.
Both the Austrians and Germans denied they had made any sort of arrangement beforehand, but their act of collusion was as obvious as it was abhorrent, and it prompted FIFA to change the rules for subsequent tournaments so that the final two games in each group were played simultaneously.
Monday, June 16, 2008
If I had to guess, I would say that Croatia is going to beat Poland, and then it won't matter, anyway, because Germany will beat Austria. That is, if they decide to actually start playing something resembling soccer this time. And, actually, even if they don't, they would still probably win, since Austria is a team full of Thomas Vanek's who can't score to save their lives. Schweinsteiger will have to sit out due to the red card he got last game, but luckily, despite having a painful cyst on his foot a few days ago, German Derek Roy has been cleared to play tonight. It would really suck for the Germans to lose their only goal scorer so far this tournament. Also, it would mean I wouldn't be able to hear one of my favorite chants: Lu, Lu, Lu! Lukas Podolski!
The fan mile is going to be INSANE tonight, and I can't wait. Even though I do love Austria, and feel bad that they haven't won a game, my heart's pretty much made up it's mind on this one: Auf geht's Deutschland, schiess ein Tor! Schiess ein Tor! Schiess ein Tooo-ooo-ooor!
Okay, I said the fan mile was going to be insane, and I was right. We all got there at around 5:30, over three hours before the start of the Germany/Austria game, and it was PACKED. Even the streets outside the various entrances were teeming with fans. Since we were all decked out in Germany gear, we got our share of heckling from the fans in red and white, but nothing really got started, mostly because we have no idea how to react to heckling in German so it was easier to just ignore it. Actually, we were all way more familiar with the Austrian chants, which created a bit of a problem, because we had to resist the urge to join in. They're just so damn catchy! There was a fair share of Germany fans chanting outside, too, so we got a chance to practice before we went in. We spent the time before the game hanging out in a park, playing cards and drinking way-too-expensive white wine spritzers. (Yes, I'm pretty sure Austria is the only country where it's perfectly acceptable to drink white wine spritzer at a sporting event. Even if you're a guy.) It became increasingly apparent that we weren't going to be able watch the game from the main section of the fan mile, where we'd watched all of the other games so far. Even if we were able to push our way into the crowd, which was almost impossible. We were pretty much guaranteed to not be able to see the screen. So we decided to go to the part of the fan mile that was almost always deserted, where it was still crowded, but not uncomfortably so.
Arguing with the ref: He really is the German Derek Roy.
Hands down the best part of the game, outside of the goal, which was more relieving than exciting, was when both the German and the Austrian coaches got kicked out of the game at the same time. No one really knows what happened, but they were arguing with one of the officials, and then they were both suddenly dismissed. It was pretty cool to see them very reluctantly leave their benches, and then shake hands in a show of bad-boy solidarity as they left the field.
So, that's it. Our first two quarterfinal matches are set: Croatia vs Turkey, and Germany vs Portugal. Damn, Germany, that's going to be tough. You better wake up.
Sunday, June 15, 2008
Update: So I ended up taking a break from football last night, and didn't watch either game. It's probably just as well, since I heard that Portugal/Switzerland was the game they televised, which doesn't really make sense, and I would have wanted to see the game that actually mattered. Instead, I hung out and played some charades, and learned some swear words from Alice's Czech roommate. It sounds like I missed some pretty exciting games, though. I'm totally astounded by the outcome of the Swiss game, and I'm curious to know if Portugal just played a bunch of their second-string players, or decided to let the host country at least win one game, or what. Because the Swiss really had no business winning that game. I'm happy for them, though.
The other game seemed like a real heartbreaker, and I sure could have put my newly-learned Czech swear words to use, as the Czechs gave up a 2-0 lead to lose 3-2. It was the first time the score has changed dramatically so far in this tournament, and I'm somewhat sorry I missed it. Actually, I'm surprised I couldn't hear the Turks celebrating from my dorm room. I'm sure they must have been excited.
Anyway, we now have our first 100% certain results: Portugal takes first place in Group A, and Turkey takes second place. Czech Republic and Switzerland, thanks for playing.
As I may have mentioned before, both my parents were big into sports in school, and both went into sports-related professions (my mom teaches gym, and my dad is a sports physician), which means that, though you wouldn't know it from watching me throw, kick, or catch anything, sports is in my blood. It's somewhat of a latent gene, though, and I'm not just talking about my lack of coordination. For the better part of my young life I took a strictly participatory interest in sports, and spectatorship was only occasionally on my agenda. Mostly, those occasional times were because of my dad. While my mom was the one driving me to my soccer practices in the summer, and picking me up from my lacrosse games in the spring, my dad was usually the one who took me to see the Sabres, Bisons, or the Blizzard (man the Blizzard were cool) at various points during the year. But, while I usually enjoyed the games once I got there, I really only went because I wanted an excuse to eat hot dogs and ice cream. I remember one time we got to see a no-hitter at Dunn Tire park (or whatever the hell it was called then, it was a really long time ago), and it was while watching my dad be completely enthralled by the last tense minutes of that perfect game that I really realized for the first time that sports is more than just an excuse to eat junk food and visit with mascots. Still, it would be a long time before I totally caught on to the whole sport spectator thing, but it wasn't for lack of trying on my dad's part.
Eventually, obviously, I did become a huge hockey fan, which just happened to coincide with my dad's office buying and sharing season tickets in HSBC. They were perfect: lower bowl, fourteen rows up, right behind the visitors' bench, incredible view of everything on the ice. There was only one problem: there were four tickets, and five people in our family. It was fine, as long as I was away at school, when my parents and siblings could go without me, but as soon as I came home, I laid claim to one of those tickets, and fast, which meant that someone else was the odd man (or woman) out. In May of 2007, I got my first opportunity to go to a playoff game, specifically Game One of the Eastern Conference Final with Ottawa. Instead of drawing straws or having a round robin Rock Paper Scissors tournament, my dad graciously bowed out and let my mom take the kids. (It turned out to be his gain, since that game stunk, and was only the beginning of the can of suck the Sabres had opened.) Another time, when those four tickets had been allotted to someone else for the Ice Bowl, that guy decided to only use two of them, and offered the other two to someone else in the office. It was shortly before Christmas, and my dad immediately had his eye on the tickets as the perfect gift for my sister and me, who were both bummed when we failed to get tickets the good old-fashioned way. Unfortunately, my dad's partner at the practice was also interested in the tickets for his kids, though in a much more casual, half-hearted way. So desperate was my dad to get a hold of those tickets that he considered offering the guy money outright to buy tickets that he had technically already payed for, but he ultimately decided to trust in the coin toss. Of course he won, because, obviously, it was meant to be that Meghan and I would go to that game. And it was pretty much the best Christmas present ever. But my favorite story regarding my dad and those tickets was when one of his partners approached him about using the tickets to help the business: to court clients and potential new fellows and whatever. My dad resisted the urge to laugh in his face (I hope), and made it very clear that he had no interest in using those tickets for anything but having fun with his family. "Look, I have three kids who are all very interested in the Sabres, and we have a lot of fun going down to the games and enjoying ourselves. I'm not going to give that up," he quoted himself when he shared this story with me, and I perfectly understood. He'd spent a long time getting his children interested in attending live sporting events, going back to all of those nights at Marine Midland Arena (I never did get to go to the Aud) and whatever-it-was-called-then park, and now that he no longer had to lure us there with promises of nachos and Sabretooth, he wanted to enjoy it to the fullest. "Besides," he continued, "I want you to be there to see the look on my wife's face when I tell her she can't go to the games anymore."
So, here's to you, Dad! Even though you wouldn't let me follow my dream of playing hockey in high school (a good call on your part--I probably would have just embarrassed myself, anyway), I still love you to pieces for, among many other things, bringing me live hockey (repeatedly), and eventually making me love it. Thanks! Ich würde sagen, dass ich ein Bier für dich heute trinken werde, aber Bier (besonders österriechisches Bier) mag ich wirklich nicht, also stattdessen werde ich ein Glas Grüner Veltliner für dich heben. Prost!
Saturday, June 14, 2008
Update: Well, that was unexpected. To be honest, I was a little burnt out on this whole two-football-games-a-day thing, so I decided to only see one of the games being played last night, and Spain/Sweden promised to be the more entertaining of the two. But it seems like I missed quite the surprise in the second game. Sure, I wasn't expecting Greece to repeat their Euro Cup title, but I wasn't expecting them to get knocked out quite this early. And by the Russians, too, that's gotta sting a little. But, yay! Go Russia! You aren't completely hopeless at sports that aren't hockey! (You're still not going to beat Sweden in your next game, though, I hate to break it to you.)
On a completely shallow note, I think Spain/Sweden was probably the best-looking game so far in this tournament. Both teams are full of dreamboats, and the Swedes in particular are always charming and smiley, even in defeat. At one point last night, a Swedish player was taken down at the goal line and sent rolling into the end boards head first. He got up grinning from ear to ear, and shrugged it off. I think I might be in love with the Swedes. On the other hand, I also have a raging, girly crush on Spain's Fernando Torres:
Friday, June 13, 2008
(Note: I've been running around the city all day and haven't had a chance to update my reaction to last nights games yet. I posted the scores, and my commentary will follow when I have the chance, so stay tuned. Update: It's there now!)
I'm going to be missing the first game, since I've decided I really just don't care about either team. After spending so much time with Germans recently I've remembered why I hated the Italians so much in the World Cup, and I've decided it's best if I just stay away and don't let their good looks get to me. (Although second-hand reports tell me they are considerably less hot now than they once were. These reports have not been confirmed.) In any case, I'm definitely super stoked about the second game. I said the Dutch had to work if they wanted to win my affection, and boy have they done a great job. The glaring orangeness of their jerseys and patent ridiculous of their names was just a start, and from there they went on to beat Italy 3-0, with some of the most beautiful goals I've ever seen. (Seriously, check them out.) Plus, I've heard their fans are really fun. So I've rewarded them by buying an orange shirt, and am looking forward to the fan mile tonight. Also, I still hate France. Go Nederland!
Update: Like I said, I didn't watch the Italy/Romania game, and it seems I missed what might be the best save of the tournament so far. With nine minutes left, Romania was awarded a penalty shot, and their chance to break the 1-1 tie and beat Italy for the first time in almost 20 years. But then this happened:
On to the game I actually did see, I don't really have much to say about it, since my friends and I decided to play a drinking game beforehand. It was all kind of a big blur. It did make the viewing more fun though, especially since the fan mile was relatively empty in comparison to the night before. The game was really great from the perspective of a Netherlands fan; they scored early and never gave up the lead, or really lost control of the game. France scored on a really nice redirection by Henri that just squeaked into the side of the net to make it 2-1 and Holland responded by scoring an even prettier goal just seconds later. A Dutch player maneuvered around the French defense to take a bad-angle shot, which had no business going into the net, but it did anyway. It was really beautiful, and perfectly juggernauty. I think I might be in love with the Netherlands. I really wish I knew Dutch though, especially when people started chanting Dutch chants at me, expecting me to join in because I was wearing an orange shirt. That was a little awkward. Also, I may not hate France anymore, but I think I need to do some more research before I can conclusively say. Stay tuned.