Thursday, March 31, 2005

A Day Of Soccer On Television

I spent most of yesterday at home. Since it was a day of World Cup Qualifying matches in Europe and North America, I was treated to a full complement of televised live matches.

England 2-0 Azerbaijan
I wish this had been a more interesting match-up. Getting a day to watch international soccer and having England play the lowliest of teams is a disappointment. As stated by the English commentator, Azerbaijan has no pedigree. It was no fun watching Beckham and Co. beat them. The match was not as close as the score reads.

Spain 0-0 Serbia & Montenegro
Tellingly, Spain's national team includes no players from Real Madrid, one of the world's wealthiest and best-known teams. The team seems to be in a shambles, populated by talented youngsters with little collective experience, and they are led by a hideous manager, Luis Aragones, who should be dismissed and banned from football forever. More than in any other country, though, the avarice driving the La Liga professional clubs is hurting the development of their national team. Nothing can be done about this, of course, but the clubs should consider their role in sport and ask themselves if they are interested in the mere existence of international play. This goalless draw played in Belgrade, should have been won by the older, more sophisticated and better coached Serbia & Montenegro side.

Israel 1-1 France
David Trezeguet put the visitors ahead, but was later sent-off for violent behavior. France was reduced to ten men and Israel tied the match late in the game.

"The Game Of Their Lives" a film about the 1966 North Korean team who traveled to England for the 8th World Cup final was aired by IFC. It is the first documentary by Westerners ever allowed to film in North Korea, and includes footage of the players then and now.

The North Korean team beat Australia for the single Africa/Asia/Oceania berth in that World Cup and the team was drawn in Group 4 to play the first round in Middlesborough against USSR, Chile and Italy. The citizens of Middlesborough became almost-instantaneous supporters, adopting the team as their own and cheering them through a loss to the Soviets followed by victories over Chile and the all-powerful Italy, to move on to the quarterfinals.

Having grown-up in a nation that acknowledges neither soccer nor North Korea, I had no knowledge of this event. (I just learned about the 1950 team beating England in the 1950 World Cup tournament!)

The movie is filled with information and footage of the World Cup, the Korean team, and North Korea today. I highly recommend it.

USA 2-0 Guatemala
The USA beat Guatemala in a brutal, badly officiated match. I am surprised that nobody was seriously injured. There has to be a balance between letting the players play and over-calling the match, and referee Ramesh Ramdhan failed. Both nations should complain about his work.

It made for an exciting match!

Though having to suffer through the tedious Carlos Ruiz, who thankfully was booked for diving (which does not happen enough throughout the MLS seasons he turns into a Greg Louganis tribute), the Guatemala team was impressive to watch.

Richard Trigueno in goal was remarkable and prevented the 2-0 result from being as much as 6-0 by making save after remarkable save against an attacking USA squad who made the Guatemala defense look porous, at best. Other standouts for the visitors were Guillermo Ramirez with two excellent shots and an overall sporting, aggressive and skillful performance. Gustavo Cabrera played harder than anyone else on the field and though deserving of at least one caution, was no more guilty than anyone else for rough play this night. Late in the second half, Cabrera's nose was bloodied and some gauze and tape allowed him to play the rest of the match. I already mentioned the other MLS notable, Carlos Ruiz, who has played for the Galaxy and is a diver that makes Robert Pires look steady on his feet. I am sick of Ruiz, and MLS should send him packing.

For the USA, Eddie Johnson continues to amaze! Portugal club Benfica offered $5m for Johnson's services and I certainly hope the MLS rejection was based on Johnson's refusal to play in Portugal and not some attempt to hold him back from becoming a world-class player in Europe. I can see Johnson playing for an English team, it is just too bad Arsenal didn't get him five years ago as a boy.

The goals were scored by Johnson and Eddie Ralston on service from Landon Donovan and Johnson, respectively. Donovan had a goal erased when the officials deemed him offside, but replay after replay shows that he was onside and the goal should have counted.

Cory Gibbs, who plays for Feyenoord, in Holland, was brilliant in the back. I sure wish he played for the MetroStars!

Old Geezer Casey Keller was fantastic in goal and wore the captain's armband in Claudio Reyna's absence (say thank-you Liz, he did not play). Keller is now playing club soccer in Germany, after a long stint in the English Premier League, most recently with Tottenham Hotspurs.

Clint Dempsey continues to disappoint me. He is a skilled player with tons of potential, but no discipline and (like most boring American athletes) no respect for authority. After coming in late as a substitute for Donovan, Dempsey was cautioned but (as usual) refused to approach the ref when summoned for the booking.

I know that many apologists say athletes of all nationalities do this, it is isolated to American athletes, but I disagree. Also, as an American I hold my players to significantly higher standards than I do those from Monteserrat, England, Guatemala or any other nation. It's not about patriotism, it's about honor and a desire to have the greatest team in the world. Guys like Dempsey prevent teams from being great. Dempsey might play on good teams, he might play for teams that win many matches, trophies, medals and competitions; but men like Dempsey are never on teams that are considered GREAT because they lower the integrity of the game by being dismissive of the officials and their opponents. I'm sorry to focus on him, but he was the worst behaved player on my team last night. He reminds me of Clint Mathis, another arrogant dullard who should never grace the national team roster again. Sorry, Dempsey! Though I believe there is no hope for Mathis, I think you could turn your career into a great one with a simple attitude adjustment.

The USA v Guatemala match was held in Birmingham, Alabama. I was surprised and disappointed that it was held in such an inconvenient locale. My disappointment was turned-around by the fact that over 31,000 attended the match and a HUGE percentage of them were Guatemala supporters! Well done!

Two of the matches in this round of qualifying have yet to be booked into a stadium. It is my hope that either of the matches against Trinidad & Tobago or Panama will be held at Giants Stadium so I can attend.

The USA schedule is here.

USA v Guatemala Box Score

Dick Mac Recommends:

Fever Pitch
by Nick Hornby


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