December 11, 2010

Orszag to Join CitiBank: Classy. Technically, though, Citi will keep MERS on title as the beneficiary.

October 29, 2010

From a NY Times article entitled "Confidence in Abundance, despite an E.R.A. of Infinity":
When the Texas Rangers’ clubhouse opened for reporters after Game 2 of the World Series in San Francisco on Thursday, the only player talking was Derek Holland. Five minutes after the home clubhouse opened Friday, before a workout at Rangers Ballpark, Holland was back at his locker, ready for more.

Clearly, Holland is taking responsibility for one of the worst pitching performances in World Series history. But he also is ready to move on.

“I’m not worried about it,” Holland said Friday. “Today’s a new day. They’ll call on me again. It’s frustrating, but it’s over.”

Holland, a 24-year-old left-hander, came into Game 2 with two outs in the bottom of the eighth inning, a runner on first, and the Giants leading the Rangers, 2-0. He threw 11 balls before his first strike, then threw another ball before he was removed.

Three batters. Three walks. Twelve balls, one strike. All the runners scored, leaving Holland with an infinite earned run average for the World Series.
I presume the reason why he is said to have an "infinite earned run average" is that he allowed three earned runs without retiring a batter, so lets look at this statistic in particular. Earned run average is calculated by multiplying nine by the number of earned runs allowed, then dividing that total by the number of innings pitched.

Since Holland failed to retire a batter, he technically didn't "pitch" an inning, so the quotient in this case is zero. When I was learning math back in the day, I was taught that anything divided by zero was "undefined," which didn't necessarily mean the same thing as "infinity." Has the consensus in this field changed since I was in school? Since the Texas Rangers have a team ERA that is numerically defined (10.69, to be exact), it would seem impossible for one of the component parts of that team statistic to be equal to infinity. Wouldn't it be more accurate to say that Holland has failed to register an ERA in the World Series?

October 26, 2010

Proud and Elite: Compliments of Kevin Drum, here are my answers to the Berlinski Quiz on my plebian qualities, or lack thereof:
1. Can you talk about "Mad Men?" Yes. It pretty much encompasses all of my cultural thinking.
2. Can you talk about the "The Sopranos?" Yes.
3. Do you know who replaced Bob Barker on "The Price Is Right?" Drew Carey, right?
4. Have you watched an Oprah show from beginning to end? Probably, but I can't say for sure. It may have been when she was still doing shows about Satanic cults molesting children.
5. Can you hold forth animatedly about yoga? No.
6. How about pilates? No.
7. How about skiing? No. Never skied in my life, not once.
8. Mountain biking? No.
9. Do you know who Jimmie Johnson is? Yes, but I know more about who Jimmy Johnson is. Haven't really paid much attention to NASCAR since Dale Earnhardt died.
10. Does the acronym MMA mean anything to you? Yes. It means the games I want to watch on Saturday are going to be preempted at South.
11. Can you talk about books endlessly? Yes.
12. Have you ever read a "Left Behind" novel? No.
13. How about a Harlequin romance? No. Both 12 and 13 are an extremely cliched notion of what's popular in Red State America (as is 9, for that matter)
14. Do you take interesting vacations? As opposed to uninteresting vacations? Sure.
15. Do you know a great backpacking spot in the Sierra Nevada? Yes. It's called Yosemite, and it's one of the most visited sites on the planet.
16. What about an exquisite B&B overlooking Boothbay Harbor? Until reading the Murray column, I had never heard of Boothbay Harbor, so I suppose the answer is no.
17. Would you be caught dead in an RV? If I had the money to buy one and the affluence not to work, I wouldn't mind in the slightest. In fact, I'd probably drive tween Yosemite and Boothbay Harbor. I once even spent the night in my grandpa's RV up in Kernville.
18. Would you be caught dead on a cruise ship? Dumb question. Cruise ships vary between the ultra-luxury variety (ie., Crystal, Silverseas), the premium ships most people think of when they of cruising (like Princess or Cunard) and the three-day booze cruises down to Ensenada. Had Murray really wanted to nail his point, he would drawn the distinction, and said that the New Elite "wouldn't be caught dead" on a Carnival or Royal Caribbean ship, where many of the passengers probably also vacation in Branson and read Paul LeHaye. But since he didn't, yes, I would, and in fact, do.
19. Have you ever heard of of Branson, Mo? Yes, but I wouldn't be caught dead there.
20. Have you ever attended a meeting of a Kiwanis Club? No.
21. How about the Rotary Club? No.
22. Have you lived for at least a year in a small town (besides college)? No. Other than college, I've lived in LA my whole life. So far.
23. Have you lived for a year in an urban neighborhood in which most of your neighbors did not have college degrees? No.
24. Have you spent at least a year with a family income less than twice the poverty line (other than college)? Yes.
25. Do you have a close friend who is an evangelical Christian? Several, in fact.
26. Have you ever visited a factory floor? Yes.
27. Have you worked on one? No.
So according to this quiz, 16 of 27 answers would identify me as a Red State, potato-eating, Fly-over country, teabagging lumpenprole. Crap.

September 28, 2010

Dark Satanic Mills: From the Washington Post comes this inevitable story about Foreclosure Madness:
The nation's overburdened foreclosure system is riddled with faked documents, forged signatures and lenders who take shortcuts reviewing borrower's files, according to court documents and interviews with attorneys, housing advocates and company officials.

The problems, which are so widespread that some judges approving the foreclosures ignore them, are coming to light after Ally Financial, the country's fourth-biggest mortgage lender, halted home evictions in 23 states this week.

During the housing boom, millions of homeowners got easy access to mortgages while providing virtually no proof of their income or background. Now, as millions of Americans are being pushed out of the homes they can no longer afford, the foreclosure process is producing far more paperwork than anyone can read and making it vulnerable to fraud.

Ally Financial is now double-checking to make sure all documents are in order after lawsuits uncovered that a single employee of the company's GMAC mortgage unit, a 41-year-old named Jeffrey Stephan, signed off on 10,000 foreclosure papers a month without checking whether the information justified an eviction.
In fact, Mr. Stephan isn't the only "affidavit slave" to have admitted signing documents in support of foreclosures without having actual knowledge that the information he was verifying was true and accurate; a second robosigner was uncovered last week at Ally, and an employee of JPMorgan Chase copped to the same mistake in May, admitting that her eight-person team had been signing off on 18,000 documents a month used in support of foreclosures.

Even more sinister may be the use of fraudulent loan documents, such as assignments between lenders, to justify claims of standing. According to the Post,
In Georgia, an employee of a document processing company, Linda Green, for years claimed to be executives of Bank of America, Wells Fargo, U.S. Bank and dozens of other lenders while signing off on tens of thousands of foreclosure affidavits. In many cases, her signature appeared to be forged by different employees.

Green worked for a foreclosure document company owned by Lender Processing Services. The company is being investigated by a U.S. attorney in Florida for allegedly using improper documentation to speed foreclosures.

Lenders have already started to withdraw foreclosures that had Green's name on them.

Green also submitted to courts documents that listed "Bogus Assignee" as the owner of a mortgage instead of the real name. In another case, she signed as the vice president of "Bad Bene," a made-up company.
This doesn't even begin to encompass all the home mortgage transactions that utilized the very questionable legal entity knows as "MERS" as a placeholder for high-risk loans, in order to avoid paying recording fees in local counties. More than a few assignments from MERS to the alleged noteholder include signatures from robosigners employed by the very lenders seeking to claim title to the property.

The use of foreclosure mills in judicial foreclosure states like Florida, where judges must sign off on sales beforehand, has created an aggressive and active counterreaction, from attorneys representing desperate homeowners who cannot turn to bankruptcy to modify their loans to reflect the actual value of their depressed property. The failure of Congress to provide the most equitable free market remedy, the cramdown, has meant that many homeowners who caught a tough break in the recent past, and/or overborrowed at the peak of the Bubble, but who now have the financial stability to resume paying their obligations, are unable to obtain realistic terms for future mortgage payments based on the actual value of their houses, and must either abandon the dream of homeownership or throw the Hail Mary. However, anything that mucks up the machinery of the already overburdened foreclosure system will lead to higher costs beforehand, even where the homeowner has surrendered the property, thus complicating the process of getting homes back on the market, and hurting the short-term recovery in housing.

In non-judicial states, where an expedited process allows lenders to avoid the courts in exchange for waiving additional efforts at recovering the debt, the problem is only slightly less acute. Robosigners are involved in fewer transactions, but since those tend to be at the beginning of the process rather than the end, any mistakes could prove especially costly for the banks. In California, recent loans are subject to a requirement that lenders must first contact the delinquent borrower at least thirty days before a notice of default is sent out to discuss repayment options; those affidavits in support tend to be signed by clueless out-of-state pencil pushers who have little contact with the file, and who often use the same tactics as their brethren in Florida. The combination of an especially acute housing crisis in California combined with a very large legal profession will see an explosion of litigation in this area before too long.

September 13, 2010

One of our great writers, Bill James, writes in defense of the spirit of scofflawery, a uniquely American tradition that, like our lax standards for bankruptcy, is one of the principal reasons our society is more vibrant and entrepreneurial than any other on the planet. James writes:
...America is an immensely creative country, very inventive, extraordinarily dynamic, meaning that things change in America at a staggering pace. Not only do Americans derive fantastic benefits from this, but the entire world derives great benefits from it, from the things that Americans invent and create. And this … nature that we have (which is not truly nature or truly natural) … of giving one another space to ignore the rules and do whatever we think is right is central to our creativity, our inventiveness, and to the power of American society to stagger, adjust, and rush forward.
He's writing specifically about baseball's tendency to produce "cheaters" like Babe Ruth, Barry Bonds, Branch Rickey, and Roger Clemens, but one could also include athletes such as Reggie Bush, who in his efforts to support his family while in college has taken more excoration, and held to a greater standard of accountability, than a more powerful political figure with the same last name has over the Iraq War. As James points out, our obsession with punishing these "cheats" leads us to ignore far more serious transgressions.

September 08, 2010

Sign of the Times: Bankruptcy filings have become so great in the LA area that the mandatory meetings of creditors are being scheduled for the Los Angeles Convention Center; the regular site does not have enough space !!!

September 06, 2010

Perhaps the most disappointing aspect of the Obama Presidency so far as been the passive role his administration has taken concerning the primary cause of the Great Recession, the collapse of the housing bubble. The HAMP program has been an unqualified failure, at least from the perspective of enabling financially-shaken borrowers an opportunity to modify their loans at rates closer to the current value of their properties; the recent revelation that the Administration was more concerned about creating a program that would stall the inevitable foreclosures for a period of time long enough for banks to get a breather indicates that the lowly consumer was not at the top of Obama’s agenda.

In other areas, too, the Obama Administration has acted in a manner more consistent with being the allies of the banks that gave out the bad loans than trying to aid the borrowers unlucky enough to have been saddled with them. There is nothing to indicate that those banks (I’m talking to you, IndyMac and Aurora) that have been least interested in modifying delinquent mortgages are being made to pay a price for their coldheartedness. Of course, it’s not just the executive branch that has chosen to do nothing; so-called conservatives and libertarians, hearing their master’s voice, fought against restoring free market principles when it meant ending the cramdown prohibition to residential property in bankruptcy. If anything, the policy that the brunt of the housing bubble collapse should be borne by the homeowner has been bipartisan.

Seemingly, with no support coming from either side, and with the cavalry nowhere to be found, middle class homeowners have to fend for themselves, either coming up with funds they don’t have to cure huge arrearages on modest homes they can no longer afford, or losing their homestead to foreclosure. However, as we all learned in school, nature abhors a vacuum, and with bankruptcy an ineffectual option in most cases, more enterprising solutions are being found by the one group with a financial interest in exploiting this situation: lawyers for consumer debtors.

This New York Times article, about an attempt in Florida to clear a backlog in foreclosures, shows what the future holds in store for banks that would rather swallow up homes than negotiate:

Florida’s foreclosure mess is made murkier by what analysts and lawyers involved in the process say are questionable practices by some law firms that are representing banks. Such tactics, these people say, have drawn out the process significantly, making it extremely lucrative for the lawyers and more draining for troubled homeowners.

Doctored or dubious records presented in court as proof of a bank’s ownership have become such a problem that Bill McCollum, the Florida attorney general, announced last month that his office was investigating the state’s three largest foreclosure law firms representing lenders.


To be sure, adjudicating foreclosure cases is difficult, complicated by multiple transfers of mortgages and notes when a loan is sold, bewildering paperwork submitted by loan servicers and shoddy record-keeping by the many institutions that touched the mortgages during the byzantine securitization process that fueled the housing boom.

Nevertheless, Florida law requires that before a financial institution can foreclose on a borrower, it must prove to the court that it actually has the standing to do so. In other words, it has to show that it is truly the owner. And this is done by demonstrating ownership of the note underlying the mortgage.

Borrowers’ lawyers say they confront dubious practices, often involving false documentation “proving” who owns the note on a given property. Typically, they say, this involves questionable affidavits asserting ownership of a note because the actual document has been lost or cannot be produced. Because the affidavits are often signed by bank representatives who have a stake in the outcome, they should not be allowed as evidence, borrowers’ lawyers say.
Although the article focuses on the difficulties the Florida system has given those who represent homeowners in foreclosure litigation, perhaps the more telling issue, a lede buried in the article, is the fact that increasingly in states like Florida and California (which uses a non-judicial system of foreclosure), homeowners are aggressively using the courts to fight foreclosures. This phenomenum, which was almost unheard of a decade ago, has proven to be a godsend to struggling borrowers, who can now use the same shortcuts the banks developed to save money when it was bundling high-risk loans during the heyday of the Housing Bubble against the banks.

Challenging the lender's standing to foreclose has opened up a new front in the housing wars, a transition away from bankruptcy as the last recourse for the Forgotten American trying to stop foreclosures. Since litigation, real or threatened, can be more expensive to institutional lenders than negotiating an equitable modification of a loan, especially since the resale of foreclosed homes becomes more problematic when there is a lis pendens attached, this gambit holds the promise of being a more efficient way of saving your home, while at the same time being less expensive to the consumer than a bankruptcy filing or a HAMP agreement.

August 25, 2010

Evidence that being Athletic Director at USC causes you to become the world's biggest asshole:

First Mike Garrett, now this clown:
Former star USC quarterback and NFL player Pat Haden guested on the Dan Patrick Show today. Haden, who was recently hired as USC Athletic Director, was asked by Patrick during the interview: “If you were Reggie Bush, would you give back the Heisman?

Haden, after a long pause and sigh, replied:

If I were Reggie Bush with Pat Haden’s soul, yes.

Patrick: “Does he have your soul?
Haden: “I don’t know Reggie Bush.”
So, if Reggie Bush had the soul of a super-rich equity-swapping corporate lawyer from LA, he would have "returned" the Heisman Trophy he won five years ago, for violating the NCAA's malum prohibitum bar on receiving money to play football. Similarly, if Pat Haden had Reggie Bush's soul, he would have returned the money he was paid by the Rams from 1976 to 1981 for impersonating an NFL quarterback.

August 11, 2010

Without a doubt, the best TV ad run by a losing candidate in this election cycle:

Stay classy, GOP....

July 14, 2010

Perhaps it's not the biggest story to come out of the world of hoops this past fortnight, but one of the ramifications of the LeBron James signing last week is the decision by each of the twelve players on the gold-medal winning 2008 Olympic basketball team to take a powder in this year's 2010 FIBA Championships. The tournament, to be played in Turkey starting in late-August, has always been the sickly step-child of the Olympics, although the participation of a number of key players on the 2006 bronze medalists, including James, current Heat-mates Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, as well as Dwight Howard, Chris Paul and Carmelo Anthony, presaged their commitment to the national team in the run-up to Beijing. I suppose nothing would put a damper on the South Florida hype more than losing James or Wade (Bosh, with his two playoff appearances in seven years, strikes me more as the Larry Fine of the trio) to a season-ending injury chasing a loose ball against Tunisia.

Coach K will still have notables like Chauncey Billups, Rudy Gay, Amar'e Stoudemire, Kevin Durant and Derrick Rose at his disposal, which should provide a stronger, younger nucleus for London in 2012. Moreover, since the US has not won the title since 1994, in spite of having access to NBA talent (the 2002 team, playing at home in Indianapolis, finished sixth, in spite of having Paul Pierce, Jermaine O'Neal, Baron Davis, Ben Wallace, and Michael Finley on the roster), any sort of victory that doesn't rely on having Kobe Bryant (injured) carry the load again will be appreciated.

July 12, 2010

World Cup Final--Spain 1, Netherlands 0: It took 117 minutes, but Spain finally overcame the Orange-clad Stormtroopers to win their first World Cup. Don't believe me? Ask Johann Cruyff (website in Spanish):
Dutch football legend Johan Cruyff has launched a scathing attack on Netherlands' display in the World Cup final, deriding it as "anti-football".

The Dutch received nine yellow cards, and a red card for Johnny Heitinga, as they lost 1-0 to Spain in South Africa.

"Sadly, they played very dirty," Cruyff told Spanish newspaper El Periodico.

"This ugly, vulgar, hard, hermetic, hardly eye-catching, hardly football style... If with this they got satisfaction, fine, but they lost."


Cruyff, along with many others, believed Mark van Bommel and Nigel de Jong were lucky not to be sent off before half-time, Van Bommel for a tackle from behind on Iniesta and De Jong for kicking Xabi Alonso in the chest.

"They should have been down to nine immediately, then they made two [such] ugly and hard tackles that even I felt the damage," said the 63-year-old Cruyff.

"It hurts me that Holland chose an ugly path to aim for the title."
Spain may well be the most unexplosive, least feared team to win the World Cup since England in 1966. Winning four consecutive games by a score of one to nil will do that to your reputation, as well as an offense that achieved the dubious distinction of scoring eight goals in the entire tournament, the fewest of any champion in the tournament's history. Which isn't to suggest that Spain's title was undeserved, since there was nothing flukish about any of their wins; this was definitely not your father's Spanish team, the Cleveland Cavaliers of soccer. But as the Swiss showed in the opener, Spain was a very beatable team, and most of the squads that participated in this World Cup, including the U.S. and Mexico, would not have needed to elevate their game that much to match what Switzerland did.

July 10, 2010

Sorry, but there's no vintage video of past World Cup games between Spain and Holland, simply because the World Cup finalists have never played each other in this tournament. Not only that, but they've never been placed together in the same qualifying group. They've never played against one another in the next biggest international tournament, the European Championship, or in the third, the Confederations Cup. To find the last time the two teams have met with anything on the line, you have to go back to 1983, when the teams battled to qualify for the Euros the following year.

That is itself an interesting story. Head-to-head, Spain and Holland both had 2-1 wins against the other at home, so the matter of qualifying came down to how well they fared against the other teams in that group; specifically, who could pound the bottom team in their group, Malta, by the most goals. The sport of soccer not having figured out yet that games needed to be played simultaneously to maintain integrity when something like goal differential was involved as the tie-breaker, Spain went into the final qualifying game knowing that if it beat the Maltese by eleven or more goals, it would qualify for the 1984 European Championships. The Dutch, having played their final game four days earlier, could only sit on their hands and watch.

Spain scored first that night, but Malta came right back and tied the game up ten minutes later. After 25 minutes, the game was tied, but the Spanish scored two quick goals to retake the lead. That's where the game still til halftime, 3-1; Spain needed to somehow score nine goals in the second half to win the group. Which it then proceeded to do, obliterating Malta 12-1, and sending them on their way to the Euros, where they finished second. This they managed in spite of the fact that Spain had not scored more than three goals in a game up to that point, and had not beaten anyone by more than two goals. A fishy result for all concerned, one that still rankles the Dutch:
Germany 3, Uruguay 2 [Third Place]: The Kings of Bronze of international soccer, Germany, "won" their fourth third-place game in soccer's showcase tournament, coming from behind in the second half to win a typically lively affair. Thomas Müller and Luis Suárez, both barred by infractions from playing in their team's semifinal losses, figured prominently in the scoring, Müller knocking in a rebound in the 19th minute off a rebound for the Germans' opening goal, and Suárez coolly setting up the Uruguayan opener a few minutes later. On paper a meaningless game, the consolation final has usually been a connoisseurs' feast, in that one of the teams is usually lucky to have advanced this far, and with the fortuitous participation of the fifth-best team from South America in the festivities, together with the Germans playing a very young line-up geared towards 2014, today proved no exception.

July 09, 2010

Germany and Uruguay have played each other three times before in the Cup, each before the fall of the Iron Curtain allowed us to retire the moniker "West Germany." In 1966, they drew each other in the quarterfinals; the West Germans were expected to breeze, but after scoring an early fluke goal struggled to put away the Uruguayans, until a rather questionable non-call in the penalty area pissed off the South Americans, who were convinced that the powers-that-be had it in for non-European teams. Deciding that the best revenge was to play kick-the-kraut the rest of the way, at the expense of having two of their players ejected, Team Uruguay collapsed in the final twenty minutes, losing 4-0, and hastened their fall from the ranks of world soccer powers thereafter:

The teams also met in a first-round battle in 1986, resulting in a 1-1 draw. The West Germans thoroughly dominated the game, but had to play catch-up almost the entire way after a bone-headed back pass by the usually dependable Thomas Berthold allowed Uruguay a cheap early goal. Relentless pressure paid off for the Germans in the final ten minutes, allowing both teams to walk away with a point:

But it was back in 1970 that the two countries played each other in a game that, like tomorrow's, really didn't matter, for third place. The Germans, incorporating some of the stars of the team that would dominate '70's soccer, had breezed through the first round, winning all three of their games, then rallied from two goals down in the second half to stun the defending champions, England, in overtime, 3-2, thereby defeating their historic rival for the first of many times. In the semis, against Italy, they played one of the classic games in the history of the World Cup, a see-saw, back-and-forth game that saw three lead changes, an injury time goal by the Germans to tie the game at the end of regulation, and five extra time goals before the Azzurri finally won, 4-3.

Uruguay, on the other hand, had played a distinctly unmemorable tournament, scoring a grand total of four goals in five games (half of them in their opener against Israel). Somehow, they finagled their way it into the semis, where they took an early lead, but were promptly and easily dumped by future champ Brazil, 3-1. Having done absolutely nothing to merit their high placement, and playing against a German team that had played 240 minutes of soccer in the previous five days, Uruguay then proceeded to have its best game of the Cup, but to no avail, losing 1-0. The highlights:
Quick, which team has finished third in the World Cup the most times? Time's up, it's....Germany!!! Yep, the Germans "won" the Bronze in 1934, 1970, and most recently, in 2006. And guess who's lost the most consolation got it, none other than tomorrow's opponent, Uruguay, the only country to have lost the Third Place game more than once, in 1954 and in 1970, the latter occasion being bested by the Germans.

There used to be a consolation game in the NCAA tournament, not only between the two Final Four losers, but even between the two losers of the regional semifinals, but since neither the fans nor the teams were particularly psyched about a game that had little in the way of relevance, the practice was discontinued after 1980. FIFA soldiers on with the idea, however, and the game tends to be an aperitif to the main course the following day.

July 07, 2010

Spain 1, Germany 0: A better game to watch than to summarize. Nothing flashy, just good, solid, efficient German-style football, used in the crusade to beat the Germans, who obviously were exhausted from having to celebrate all their goals in the earlier rounds. First time since 1978 both teams in Finals are championship-virgins.
Why are my compatriots in the progressive blogosphere such whiny assclowns? I guess it's unfair to limit such a generalization to left-of-center bloggers, since someone like Andrew Breitbart or Patterico can sound positively gruesome when they detect some trivial bit of political bias in the media, but I don't generally don't read (and don't care) what the far right has to say.

But when I'm reading blogs that are ostensibly on my side of the debate, I really don't give a shit about why you can't get on the Sunday talk shows, or how awful it is that the MSM was so nice to Bush in the run-up to Iraq. Here's a clue: angry, whiny ass-clowns may be right, and have mucho integrity, and may spark the flame of social justice, but it's the quiet, shrewd people who actually accomplish something. It's the difference between Abe Lincoln, who freed the slaves, and William Lloyd Garrison, who didn't.

July 06, 2010

Tomorrow's semifinal involves two teams that have met each other on more than a few occasions. In World Cup play, they have played three times, with Germany winning twice and the teams drawing on the other occasion.

The first game, in 1966, was the final game of group play; Spain, then as now, was the defending European champions, but thanks to a loss in their opening game to Argentina, needed a win to advance, while the then-West Germans needed only a tie. The Spanish took a quick early lead, only to wilt beneath the future Cup finalists, losing 2-1. It is a game remembered, if at all, for this spectacular impossible-angled shot by Lotthar Emmerich to tie the game late in the first half. For more of a taste of what this game looked like to a mid-60's TV viewer in Great Britain, here's the broadcast of the first ten minutes, complete with an opening musical montage of Masterpiece Theatre and NFL Films:

The most recent game came in 1994, another group play game that ended in a 1-1 draw. Both teams were playing in the easiest group, although Spain had to settle for a tie in its opener, against South Korea, so the result suited the occasion. A German-language broadcast of the game:

But it was the second game that has always been a dagger in Spanish hearts, in 1982. Spain had gone into the Cup as one of the favorites, especially since they were the host nation, but again got off to a slow start, needing a late penalty kick to tie Honduras in their opener (notice a pattern?). They came from behind to defeat Yugoslavia, 2-1, in the next game, but again after earning a penalty kick under very questionable circumstances. West Germany also got off to a terrible start that year, being shocked its group opener to Algeria, 2-1, then getting its mojo back in a decisive 4-1 victory over Chile.

Because of the brilliant manner in which FIFA scheduled World Cup games back then, the final games in group were not played simultaneously, so both Germany and Spain knew what they needed to do to advance to the second round. Since Algeria had lost its second game (0-2, to Austria), but had won its third (3-2, vs. Chile) the day before, Germany and Austria found themselves in the serendipitous position of both being able to qualify if the appropriate result could be attained, which, as it so happens, was for Germany to win by a margin of less than three goals. Which, against no odds, they did. Germany scored ten minutes in to take the lead, and the two teams conspired thereafter to play kick-the-ball-around for the next eighty or so minutes before the ref mercifully blew the whistle, sending both teams through to the second round, and eliminating Algeria. As befits the most blatantly rigged result since the 1919 World Series, the game has its own Wikipedia page.

Almost forgotten is the fact that both Spain and Northern Ireland were in the same position when their game started two hours later. Both teams would advance if Northern Ireland won the game, 1-0, whereas a scoreless tie would eliminate the Men of Ulster, whilst a margin of defeat greater than a goal would knock out the Spanish. Maybe it was the fact that Northern Ireland had a man red-carded in the first half, or the fact that neither team could score early, but more likely the fact that the winner would get to play in a weaker second round group, this game ended up being one of the more exciting, hard-fought games of the first round, with Spain losing in the end, 1-0. No Anshcluss here, please.

For the second round in 1982, FIFA had another inspired idea: after having played the previous two World Cups with two four-team round-robin qualifying groups leading directly into the Finals, it juiced up the proceedings by creating four three-team groups, with the winners reaching the semi-finals. The only problem is that all three teams could not be playing simultaneously; one of the teams would play its second game against an opponent playing its first. That would be fine if the opening game resulted in a win or loss, but if the game drew, then the team playing its opener a few days hence would be instantly eliminated if it lost.

As it so happens, Spain and Germany were, along with England, put into the same group, and Germany and England drew its opener, making the Germany-Spain match-up that followed a sudden death result for the loser. Under massive national pressure, Spain again fell short, losing heartbreakingly 2-1, and suffering one of the earliest knock-outs of a host nation in World Cup history.

Needless to say, Spain can exorcise quite a few demons with a win tomorrow.
Holland 3, Uruguay 2: In the highest-scoring regulation semi-final game in 48 years, the Dutch held on to defeat an undermanned but gutsy team from South America, and will now return to the Final for the first time since the glory years of the Clockwork Oranje. I don't know if Uruguay's performance this time was the biggest fluke since Renee Zellwegger won the Oscar, but three cheers to the losers.
For those few of you are interested, today's semifinalists, Holland and Uruguay, have played once before in the World Cup, all the way back in 1974. At the time, Uruguay was a perennial contender, having made the semifinals four years earlier, but had gone through a prolonged period of stagnancy, dating back to its previous championship a quarter century earlier. In short, they were similar to Argentina was in this World Cup: a team that was usually to be reckoned with, but with its glory years long behind it (I believe they sent the oldest team to that tournament).

Their opponents, Holland, was the team that everybody was looking forward to watching, with the best player in the world at the time, Johann Cruyff, and a supporting cast much to be envied (Neeskens, Rep, Rensenbrink, Surrbier, etc.). But they hadn't played in the World Cup recently, and no one knew exactly how they would handle the Big Time when they stepped onto the field against Uruguay. The highlights below of their 2-0 victory hardly do justice to their dominance:

The score could have easily been 6-0, and was the first sign that year the balance of power was shifting in the sport. Uruguay was quickly eliminated in 1974, and thereafter disappeared from the ranks of the sport's powers, at least until this year.

July 03, 2010

Spain 1, Paraguay 0: Two penalty kicks missed in two minutes !!! Paraguay somehow went the final 304 minutes of play in the 2010 World Cup without scoring a goal and still made to within breathing distance of the semis. Well done, wizards; please accept these parting gifts and go home. Spain, of course, sticks around, thanks to a H.O.R.S.E.-inspired shot by David Villa eight minutes from the finish to play in its first real semifinal, where they will get a rematch from its 2008 Euros opponent, Germany.
The World Cup is only eight days from being over, but there is another big international sporting event coming up: the World Basketball Championships. It starts on August 28, 2010, in Turkey. And yes, the U.S. is ranked number one two.* Team America hasn't won this since 1994, although the possible participation of Kobe^, LeBron, Durant, and Melo offers hope this time around. The Olympics gets most of the attention in this country, but with basketball emerging as the world's new Number One sport (thanks, China), this event will become bigger and bigger in the future

*Argentina is ranked ahead for now.
^He may have to undergo surgery.
Germany 4, Argentina 0: Some pre-game puffery about the Argentine coach, courtesy of Dave Zirin:
In his playing days, Maradona made people reconsider the sacred idea that Pele was surely the greatest player to ever patrol the pitch. He went from soccer superstar to Argentine folk hero during the 1986 World Cup, when he “avenged” the 1982 British defeat of Argentina in the Falklands War by defeating England in the quarterfinals, with a little help from the "Hand of God."

Maradona's brilliance inspired Eduardo Galeano to write, “
No one can predict the devilish tricks this inventor of surprises will dream up for the simple joy of throwing the computers off track, tricks he never repeats. He’s not quick, more like a short-legged bull, but he carries the ball sewn to his foot and he’s got eyes all over his body. His acrobatics light up the field....In the frigid soccer of the end of the century, which detests defeat and forbids all fun, that man was one of the few who proved that fantasy can be efficient.
It's too bad, though, that the Little Ball of Hate can't coach worth shite, so Mr. Galeano and others can take Maradona's manroot out of their collective mouths' nightmares can be efficient, too.* There is no conceivable way that a team with Messi, Tevez, et al., should have lost by four goals to a German team missing its best player (Michael Ballack), even if Jorge Larrionda had reffed this match as well. The Germans are the first team since the French team in 1958 to score four or more goals in three different games of the same World Cup.

* Which isn't to suggest that Maradona is gay, not that there's anything wrong with that....

July 02, 2010

Uruguay 1, Ghana 1 [PK: 4-2]: The finish of the game was like Bill Buckner's error, only it came in the midst of an event the whole world was watching, not just the New York-Boston corridor. In other words, Gyan's miss in the final seconds mattered a little more, and broke the hearts of a few more people. Uruguay, in the meantime, returns to the World Cup semifinals for the first time since 1970, but will play Holland without arguably its best player, Luis Suarez, the striker whose instictive save set up the Penalty Kick.
Before anyone starts weeping over the pending demise of Christopher Hitchens, here's an obit he wrote about Bob Hope several years ago, and another one about former Secretary of State Alexander Haig. There's too much unkindness here for anyone not to believe that, if she does indeed exist, God is Good. A sample:
To be paralyzingly, painfully, hopelessly unfunny is not a particular defect or shortcoming in, say, a cable repair man or a Supreme Court justice or a Navy Seal. These jobs can be performed humorlessly with no loss of efficiency or impact. But to be paralyzingly, painfully, hopelessly unfunny is a serious drawback, even lapse, in a comedian. And the late Bob Hope devoted a fantastically successful and well-remunerated lifetime to showing that a truly unfunny man can make it as a comic. There is a laugh here, but it is on us.
More instances of his execrable talent at taking a dump on the recently-deceased can be found here (apparently, it is a talent shared with other libertarians and right wing nut jobs). With the touch of a bully, Hitchens never wept for the people killed in the wars he cheared on, so pardon me if I don't shed a tear now for the self-proclaimed "contrarian."
Netherland(s) 2, Brazil 1: The least-popular Brazilian team in memory gets bounced in the quarters again. Bye, bye, Brazil...losing by a goal doesn't have the same descriptive ability that losing by a run has in baseball, or by a point in football or hoops. It's the same thing in the so-called "real world": when the Supreme Court rules 5-4, that's a strong indication that the court is hotly divided on the subject, and will be revisiting the issue soon; politicians and constitutional scholars tend to give greater weight to cases that are decided 9-0, or even 8-1 or 7-2, because such decisions show a public consensus that will not quickly be shaken, as well as a powerful Chief Justice who can build consensus. When a political race is decided by one percentage point or less, well, that's a good sign that the victor should tread very carefully in the near-future. As with 5-4 legal decisions, it's a good idea to write the results in pencil.

Because of its inherent low-scoring nature, a one-goal victory in soccer is different. One-point wins are not that common in basketball or football, but in soccer, it's the most common result, so it can be less of a benchmark in revealing what really happened in a game. The back-and-forth, free-swinging play in the Ghana-U.S. game was decided by the same margin (same score, in fact) as the ugly, one-sided Holland-Slovakia game. One game was decided in OT, whilst t'other was close only because the losers scored a penalty kick on the game's final play. If you want to get a feel for what happened, you have to look at the numbers behind the scoreboard.

In this instance, we're talking about two different games. Brazil scored inside of ten minutes, and toyed with their opponents for the rest of the half. Going into today, Brazil had never lost a World Cup game when leading at halftime, and had lost only twice before when scoring first (v. Norway in 1998, and v. Uruguay in the 1950 "final"). In the second half, the opposite happened, as Brazil proved unable to defend set pieces, then lost a player (Felipe Melo, btw, who had earlier scored on a beautiful header to tie the game up...for the Dutch, the first own goal ever for Brazil in the tourney) on a thuggish kick to all-around Dutch wuss Arjen Robben (wrong target!!). So two one-sided halfs add up to...a statistically evenly played game: both teams had the same number of shots, same number of fouls, and nearly identical time of possession, leading to a 2-1 win for Holland.

July 01, 2010

Spain 1, Portugal 0: Finally playing like the top team in the world, Spain permitted a few chance to their Iberian rivalry, scored halfway through the second half, thanks to David Villa, then shut down the 2006 semifinalist convincingly.

We have now reached the quarterfinals, the point in the World Cup that the tournament goes from being an event that unites the sports fans of the planet to just another sports championship. Sharing in common with all other sports, offense usually takes a hit at this stage:

YEAR 1st Round/2nd Round/Quarterfinals/Semifinals/Finals
1986 74 (36) // 24 .....7 ... 4 /// 5
1990 82 (36) // 18 ... 7 .. 4 /// 1
1994 88 (36) // 25 ...15 .. 4 /// 0
1998 127 (48) // 24 ..11 .. 5 /// 3
2002 128 (48) //17 .. 6 ... 2 /// 2
2006 117 (48) // 15 .. 6 .. 3 /// 2
2010 101 (48) // 22 ..10..6

In the early rounds of the World Cup, goals are typically scored more frequently, since the disparity in talent usually permits the games to open up; thus, a talented but defensive-oriented team like Portugal will beat North Korea by seven goals; when there’s some debate as to whether a team belongs at this level, the question isn’t so much the outcome but the ability of the better team to break through. Scoring in soccer, like offense in baseball, football or basketball, goes way up when the match-up is lopsided. In the second round, there are still a handful of teams that are lucky to be there, such as the representatives from Africa, CONCACAF and Asia, so the possibility for a number of highscoring games is increased at that point as well.

After the second round, the teams that are still alive are likely to belong among the elite; they're in it to win it. And at that level, it is unusual for a team not to have a solid cadre of players at the back. No matter how creative they are up front, those teams run into other teams that can slow them down. In addition, the tendency in any sport is for defenses to be ahead of offenses; teams at this level are usually playing to stop the other side rather than outscore them, which makes sense in a sport where 1-0 scores are the most common. When defense becomes too dominant, as it has now in soccer, the governing authorities in the sport will try to devise a way to open up scoring, but that’s more likely to happen after the Cup, which through the first round generated the fewest goals per game in history. So in the meantime, get ready for more non-scoring games going to penalty kicks, and 1-0 results that have the feel of being one-sided.
Paraguay 0, Japan 0 [PK, 5-3]: Three hours of my life, shot to hell. A more pressing problem for the integrity of the World Cup than the occasional blown call by the ref (somehow, when Brazil has its star sent off on a bogus second yellow card, it always manages to survive) has to be the willingness of inferior teams, like the Japanese, to play for penalty kicks pretty much from the opening whistle. If FIFA is going to insist on this tiebreaker, a good idea would be to weight the procedure, so that the team that had the most corner kicks (or shots on goal, or shots, or fewest fouls, or some combination of the stats) would start off the penalties with a 1-0 edge....

June 28, 2010

Brazil 3, Chile 0: If anyone can make a 3-0 game entertaining and seemingly close, it's Brazil. Still no magic, though.
Holland 2, Slovakia 1: Pathetic effort by the Slovaks, whose only goal came on a penalty kick on the final play of the game. If the game had been played in the US, the FBI would have been investigating the Poor Man's Czechs for match fixing. Just go away.

June 27, 2010

Argentina 3*, Mexico 1: Holy shit, where does FIFA come up with these idiots? I can't wait to see the quarterfinal where Argentina gets to play with a twelfth player, or Lukas Podolski picks up the ball and carries it over the goal line....
Germany 4, England 1*: Interestingly, by all statistical measures England was the better team: it had more touches, corners, shots, shots on goal, and even had the edge in time of possession. So I guess they really won, at least on an existential level. Suck on that, Huns... actually, the Goal-That-Wasn't-Counted changed the game completely, especially in those categories (btw, the ref was the same guy who officiated the US-Italy game in 2006 that saw two Americans red-carded under very suspicious circumstances, plus a late goal taken away on a rarely-called offsides against a player who hadn't touched the ball). If England tied the game up, it would have no doubt played more defensively, and done less to press forward in the second half, so their possession and "shot" advantages would have disappeared.

They also still would have lost, simply because they don't have the horses the Germans have. In the first half the Germans completely outclassed the Three Lions, and could have easily had two or three more goals, and in the second, they toyed with their opponents until they could two counter-attack opportunities that they converted. The better team won.

Ghana 2, USA 1 [OT]: This might be a sign of the emerging base of true soccer fans in America: that a tactical mistake by the coach of the national team could be a subject of discussion, as a cause for blame for the team's early departure. Bradley's decision to start Ricardo Clark would have a questionable move the first time it happened, since there is nothing in his pedigree or career that suggests he belongs on the national team to begin with, much less start in the World Cup (even if he was a superstar, he's missed most of the last year with injuries, and has not been able to get into the lineup on his club team in Germany).

Another sign: I saw the game at a diner/bar in Valdez, Alaska, where the assembled mass of riggers, teamsters and their families watched the game in rapt attention. I don't know how they reacted when Gyan scored in extra time to put Ghana ahead, or when the ensuing futility of Team USA's comeback bid proved itself out, as I was on a long coach ride to the Copper River Valley, but I take it I didn't miss a thing. FWIW, Ghana is going to have to elevate its game enormously to beat Uruguay in the quarterfinals next Friday.

Uruguay 2, South Korea 1: 0-0, 2-1, 0-0, 0-4, 2-0, 0-0, 0-1, 1-0 (OT), 1-3, 0-1, 0-2, 1-1, 0-3, 1-1, 1-6, 0-0, 0-1, 0-0, 1-3, 1-0, 0-2. Those are Uruguay's World Cup results from 1966 to 1990. Notice a pattern there? In 21 matches, they had five scoreless draws, twelve games where they were shut out, with another game where they didn't score their one goal until the final minute of extra time. In the five World Cups they played from 1966 to 1990, Uruguay scored a grand total of eleven goals. All in all, a remarkable 19 of their 21 games during that spell saw them score only once or not at all, with only four wins, against France (1966), Israel and the Soviet Union (1970), and South Korea (1990).

Since Diego Forlan joined the national squad, this is their World Cup record: 1-2, 0-0, 3-3, 0-0, 3-0, 1-0, 2-1. Maybe that wouldn't be an impressive spell for a team like Brazil or Germany, but three wins in seven matches, with only one defeat and two scoreless draws, ten goals scored total, is definitely out of character. On two occasions, they scored three goals in the same game !!! I know Forlan was a flop with United, but them again Wayne Rooney is actually a star for that team, so Forlan must be given his due for being able to come up when it counts.

Today's game was consistent with Uruguay's play during the Forlan Era, fast-paced, attack-oriented, nothing like the abysmal match the two countries played in 1990. Kudos to both teams.

June 25, 2010

Spain 2, Chile 1 // Honduras 0, Switzerland 0: How did the Swiss do it? Beating the number one-ranked team in the world is apparently not good enough to get out of group…in their seven games played in the last two World Cups, they've conceded one goal, officially lost only once, but have almost nothing to show for it. Getting outplayed by Honduras, a team which pretty much knew from the outset today that they had nothing to play for, is really a testament to Swiss ingenuity…oh, and Spain and Chile managed to conspire to obtain a result that got both teams through, setting up nice showdowns next week, with Spain playing its Iberian neighbor Portugal, and Chile, first South American loser in fifteen games, getting a date with Brazil.

Portugal 0, Brazil 0 // Ivory Coast 3, North Korea 0: Not a whole lot to be said about Brazil v. Portugal; a dull, poorly-played game between two defensive-oriented teams who will have to elevate their game some to go much further in the tourney. Not surprisingly, the result was enough to send both through to the next round, with Brazil "winning" the group. Being the best African team in soccer in this tournament isn't all that impressive, but the Baby Elephants always come to play, and they easily coasted past the hapless minions (or as Matt Welch might describe with consummate subtlety, eleven Evil Men) of the world's favorite South Park Villain. Timing is everything; if IC had drawn the NoKoreans second, rather than Brazil, it is likely that they would have been the second African country to qualify for the second round. But it was Portugal who drew North Korea second, and with their 7-0 blow-out effectively made today's games moot. BTW, aside from that game, Portugal has scored a total of two goals since getting out of group in 2006, a true testament to the dull, bland nature of success in soccer.

Perhaps the most disturbing thing about the recent imposition of severe sanctions against USC's college football program (ie., L.A.'s only pro football team) is the lack of anything resembling journalistic propriety or balance in covering such a story. An athlete, in this case Reggie Bush, gets accused of having received benefits (or, in Bush's case, his parents), and the sports media will go balistic with the platitudes, accusing the athlete and the school of being sleezy, unethical, and even worse, "professional." Since sports "journalism" typically thrives when it sucks up to the powerful institutions and individuals that dominate sports, an athlete or school will usually be presumed guilty even on the flimsiest of evidence.

So now it turns out that simply applying a little bit of due diligence to the evidence the NCAA used to place the USC football program on the fritz is enough to pretty much discredit the entire factual case. Were the university to challenge the sanctions in federal or state court (it has already adeptly played the first card, by offering to submit to the least important of the sanctions, the bowl ban), it would most certainly win, since the courts are not usually willing to permit quasi-public entities like the NCAA to redefine "reasonable basis" for guilt into the novel standard "no basis for guilt at all; fuck you !!" At the very least, it is going to provide Trojan Nation the rhertorical grounds for its defense. The evidence that Pete Carroll "knew" is significantly weaker than the rather clear evidence that John Wooden knew about the antics of Sam Gilbert.

More troubling, though, is the whole notion that Reggie Bush, or any other athlete, should have to apologize for wanting to make money playing football. We tend to forget that the NCAA regulations concerning amateur play are malum prohibitum; that is, they reflect actions and conduct that are banned not because they are immoral or unethical on their face (ie,. malum per se), such as murder, theft, or fraud, but because the acts are just prohibited. An example of a malum prohibitum law that we face everyday is parking in a loading zone, or speeding on a freeway. Driving fast or parking in a certain location is not, in and of itself, evil, since we can perform the identical act and not be breaking any rules.

In Bush's case, taking money for playing football is not now, nor was it 2004, an evil or unethical act. Of course, in 2004, Bush had no choice in the matter, since the NCAA prohibited him from doing so, and the NFL had recently received judicial sanction allowing them not to give athletes Bush's age the right to do so. Since there was no competing set of values that Bush and the NCAA could have a free dialogue over, insofar as Bush and other college athletes having not been given any free choice, Bush's decision to take money from third parties was not an evil act, nor would his decision to obey the NCAA regulations on the subject have imparted any virtue upon him. In the moral universe, rules concerning compulsory amateurism at the college level impart upon the athlete the same obligations that obeying Jim Crow laws imposed on Rosa Parks.

Amazingly, NCAA rules that would be considered to have a much stronger malum per se basis, such as academic fraud or steroid use, would not be considered to have anywhere near the stigmatic effect on the football program. Admitted roid users, like Brian Bosworth and Tony Mandarich, have never seen their awards threatened, or had their actions lead to penalties against the teams for which they played, even though the taking of PED's clearly gave them an unfair playing advantage, and directly assisted their teams in gaining wins. On the other hand, no one has creditably argued that Bush driving a car paid for by one of the many parasites that compulsory amateurism festers gave him any added skills on the field, or actually tainted USC's results, any more than Sam Gilbert paying Alcindor or Walton tainted UCLA's wins, or you or I parking in a yellow loading zone makes us bad people.

June 24, 2010

Japan 3, Denmark 1 // The Netherlands 2, Cameroon 1: The Danes usually have one really stinky game in the tournament, but it’s usually not in the first round. The score could have easily been 6-1. This continues the trend of the Cup so far, which is that European teams are overrated and in decline, much like their governments. Must be something about the penny-pinching, budget deficit-fetishizing mindset. Soccer favors the bold, and/or the Keynesians. In the other game, Holland won again, and Cameroon’s Indomitable Lions proved to be easily dominated. There is no justification to have any more reps in the World Cup from Africa than what CONCACAF currently gets; so far, three of the five African contestants to have completed group play have finished last.

Because of the mediocre calibre of teams coming out of Group F, winning Group E doesn't really do a whole lot for the Dutch, at least in the second round, where they will play Slovakia on Monday. Equally mediocre Paraguay has a date with surprising Japan on Tuesday. I am unaware of any prior match-ups between these four non-rivals, so expect to see at least ninety minutes of soccer, with varying amounts of inspiration.
Paraguay 0, New Zealand 0 // Slovakia 3, Italy 2: And the fans celebrate...actually, the Azurri may have good reason to gripe, losng two goals off of a marginal offsides call as well as a ball defended behind the goal line. Comparisons with Les Bleus are inevitable, although even the Frence can take solace from the fact that they played in a relatively tough group, while Italy was in the weakest. The All Whites represented in their game, but needed to win this one, and Paraguay was in command throughout the game.
Germany 1, Ghana 0 // Australia 2, Serbia 1: Missed these games too. Will have some great pics of the Great White North does seem that Ghana and Germany, of all countries, had the first-ever match-up in the Cup between two brothers, Jerome and Kevin-Prince Boateng. The Aussies have to be kicking themselves for not putting up a better effort in their first game with Germany.

Nice set of second round match-ups coming at the end of the week. The US team got screwed last time against Ghana, who will be rolling into the match having backed into this stage with a draw and a loss. And of course, England and Germany are the Red Sox and Yankees of the sport.

June 23, 2010

England 1, Slovenia 0 // U.S.A 0, Algeria 0: Can someone tell me if anything happened in these games? I'm on a coach and rail tour today into the Yukon…no, seriously. Hugely important games, and I'm in Skagway, a tiny Alaskan community that doesn't have WiFi. I suspect the Americans had a close one again.

June 22, 2010

Uruguay 1, Mexico 0 // South Africa 2, France 1: Although there was a brief scare for the Tricolores, both Uruguay and Mexico live to play another day, with the South Americans winning the group. As a result of the loss, Mexico gets to play these guys in the second round.

In the other game, the Bafana Bafana salvage some national glory, winning only their second game in nine previous attempts in the World Cup, but fell three goals short of the Mexicans in spite of getting to play with a man-advantage for most of the game.

Stay classy, Les Bleus....

Spain 2, Honduras 0: Another one-sided affair, although the world's number one-ranked team failed to convert their dominance into something as gaudy as goalscoring. David Villa scored once in each half, then missed a penalty kick that would have given him a hat trick. All in all, a bad day on the pitch for dictatorships….

Half the games of have been played, and we're now at the stage where every game means something. The third set of games commences tomorrow, and here's what's in store:

Group A: Uruguay and Mexico play for the group title, with the winner avoiding Argentina in thesecond round (Uruguay would get the nod in the event of a draw, due to goal differential). The loser is also likely to advance, but it might sweat a little hoping the other game is close. France and South Africa will be eliminated if they draw, or if the winner fails to overcome the 4-6 goal differential with the loser in the other game. If the hosts are eliminated, it would be the first time the home country has not advance out of its group. If the French fail to advance, it would not be the first time a collection of assholes similarly fails.

Group B: Argentina has got this one in the bag, even if it loses to Greece. South Korea and Nigeria play for what will likely be the second spot, unless Greece shocks the world and avoids defeat against Argentina. It's hard to believe Nigeria can stink up the field in its first two games and still finagle a spot by winning tomorrow.
GROUP C: All four teams pretty much have their fate in their feet. Only Algeria needs some help; it must beat the USA, and hope either that Slovenia doesn't lose, or that it wins by two or more goals. Everyone else just needs a win; Slovenia will also advance with a tie. Something for Americans to dwell on: Team USA has played at least three games in six previous World Cups, and has lost all six times in its third game.
GROUP D: Amazingly, Germany could be going home early, should it lose to Ghana and Serbia beats or ties the Socceroos. Serbia needs a win, or a high-scoring draw combined with a loss by the Black Stars. The Aussies could actually advance, but it would require them to rout Serbia and the Germans to beat Ghana.
GROUP E: Holland has already advanced, and will win the group barring a collapse in its final group match against Cameroon, one of two teams already assured of elimination. Denmark needs to beat the Japanese to advance, otherwise they can watch Japan play in the second round next week.
GROUP F: There are multiple scenarios here, but the most interesting one by far is that New Zealand will advance if they beat Paraguay. WTF ?!? Like Group C, all four teams control their own destiny, with Slovakia in the role of Algeria in clinching a spot with a 2+ margin of victory.
GROUP G: Brazil has qualified for the second round, and will win the group title if it wins or ties its former colonial master, Portugal. Ivory Coast can qualify for the second round, if Portugal loses and it can edge already-bounced North Korea by a score of 8-0.
GROUP H: Chile will probably be the first team since the Algerians in 1982 to win two group games and not advance, since it plays Spain next, while the team they beat today, plays hapless Honduras. 1-0 results in favor of the Swiss and the Spanish will give the Spanish the group, while Chile and Switzerland draw lots to determine the runner-up (actually, it's more likely an NBA draft lottery, but you get the picture). And again, Honduras, with two losses, can advance with a two-goal win and a loss by Spain.

June 21, 2010

Chile 1, Switzerland 0: Winning be contagious; after not having a positive result in nearly fifty years (when they hosted the Cup, so that doesn't really count), Chile now has back-to-back wins. Ironically, having had the worst record of any team ever to make it out of group play back in 1998 (3 games, 3 draws, 3 points), it may now be the first team since 1982 to win two games in group and not make it out, should it lose its final game on Friday with Spain.
Portugal 7, North Korea 0: I don't do 7-0 routs, especially when the losers are all going to disappear in less than a week.

June 20, 2010

Brazil 3, Ivory Coast 1: I understand this was a disappointing game for the Ivorians, but since I am on a cruise ship that didn't pick up ABC's feed, I played bingo instead. ESPN seems to believe the game was a feast for afficianados of bad coaching, with the winner losing its best player to a red card with the game well in end, and the loser getting the benefits of the technical banality of the gimlet-eyed lothario from Sweden. But my testimony as to any of this has to be considered inadmissible as double hearsay.
New Zealand 1, Italy 1: In perhaps the most lopsided, one-sided game of the tournament so far, a shocking result. Both goals were tainted by botched decisions by the officiating; the All-White / Kiwis scored off an offsides call that wasn't made, Italy evened on perhaps the worst dive since Lewiston, Maine, and fans thereafter were treated to a game that could have easily ended in a six or seven-goal rout. The defending champs had a 15-0 edge in corner kicks, a 23-3 advantage in shots, and controlled the ball for about 75% of the game, but couldn't get a winner, and so will have to beat Slovakia to advance to the second round.

After the game, there was a discussion as to where the game ranked on the list of the greatest upsets in history: was it bigger than the US over England (1950), or North Korea over Italy (1966), or Cameroon over Argentina in the 1990 opener? Here's a tip: today's game was not one of the biggest upsets ever, because it wasn't an upset. New Zealand didn't beat Italy. They tied. Soccer is a sport where ties frequently happen, and in the World Cup, which has a higher degree of parity than league play, it scarcely raises an eyebrow even in this case. Italy tying against a noticeably weaker opponent in first round World Cup play is a dog-bites-man story. If New Zealand makes it to the second round, then wake me up.
Paraguay 2, Slovakia 0: Yes, you read that correctly. Paraguay beat Slovakia.

An even more entertaining spectacle than Las Albirrojas defeating the poor man's Czech Republic is the utter collapse of the French National team in the run-up to their final group game. By all accounts, the French head coach, Raymond Domenech, is nuts: there is no other way to describe a coach who admits to using astrology to determine line-ups and who is the subject of a hit song, "Je Kiffe Raymond" performed by a 51-year old former porn star, Catherine Ringer. After France's previous soccer debacle, after their quick elimination from Euro 2008, he used the post-match press conference to ask his lover to marry him, a troubling sign even for a nation that reveres Jerry Lewis as a comedic genius and the late Serge Gainsbourgh as a "poet."

So Domenech was on his way out after the tournament, no matter how well the team played, and perhaps the bitterness targetted from his team was inevitable. But the way these events have played out over the last four days is remarkable. Last Thursday morning, France entered the day in what was arguably the strongest position in its group, having shut down an impressive Uruguayan team in its opener. It then proceeded to shut down Mexico for most of its second game, only to have the Tricolores score on a bad call by the linesmen. Moments later, having to throw everyone forward in an effort to draw even, they draw a penalty, which the Mexicans converted into an insurance goal.

Even now, their chances of advancing are not out of the question; they only need to win, have either Uruguay or Mexico beat each other, and for both games to have combined margins equalling five goals (in comparison, at last years Confed Cup, the US advanced in the same situation in spite of having a six-goal margin to overcome, and with the team they had to surpass being Italy). The meltdown of the team is more connected to the lack of character among the players than the fact that their coach is a moron, especially when you remember that Nicolas Anelka's initial outburst occurred at halftime of the Mexico game, before the second half collapse. If I was the director of a major club, I would have a very difficult time allowing Anelka, another opportunity to poison the clubhouse; in fact, anyone on this team should be presumed guilty.

June 19, 2010

Denmark 2, Cameroon 1: An African team finally played a wide-open and exciting brand of soccer, and for its reward gets tossed from the World Cup. Unlike their opening performances, both teams played positive and attacking soccer, with the Danes becoming the first side to gain a come-from-behind win. Samuel Eto'o scored early, and the Indomitable Lions had more chances, but their inability to contain Dennis Rommedahl cost them dearly, and Rommedahl drove the final nail into their collective crotch with a goal less than a half-hour from the finish. By winning, the Danes also enable Holland to become the first team to clinch a spot in the second round.
Australia 1, Ghana 1: Almost as if FIFA was disappointed that a photograph materialized showing that the ref made the technically correct in the waning minutes of the USA-Slovenia game, so it decided that this game would set the bar even lower. Harry Kewell, the one remaining world class player among the Soccerroos, received a red card following a clearly-accidental hand ball in the goal area, with his team up by a goal in the first half. Ghana converted the ensuing penalty kick, played a defensive and thoroughly gutless remainder of the game with the man-advantage, and moved a step closer to becoming the second African team to evade first round death.
Holland 1, Japan 0: Another dull, unimpressive win by the Dutch over a surprising Japanese team. The Netherlands are rapidly approaching the same pattern which afflicted Uruguay forty years ago. There's no doubt they have talented, albeit overrated, stars, but watching them play in the last two World Cups has been very painful for soccer fans who grew up in the '70's, and like Uruguay starting in the mid-60's, they seem content to play for 1-0 and 0-0 results. DON'T DO IT !!! DOWN THAT PATH MADNESS LIES !!!!

June 18, 2010

England 0, Algeria 0: Are you shitting me? Is Tony Hayward also in charge of this?
The Vic & Paul Show: I saw Game 7 last night at a lounge in Woodland Hills called Push, a small, cozy setting usually ideal for those who want to watch a game, but only one game. No sports bar, however, since Push was simultaneously hosting a cabaret show in the adjoining room, forcing the patrons to temper our enthusiasm in the second half. Midway through the third quarter, with the Lakers having cut the big Celtics lead to single digits, I turned to my right and suddenly realized that I was sitting in front of Julia Louis-Dreyfus, who was apparently there for the show.

Hopefully, anyone who saw last night's nailbiting finish to Game 7 of the Lakers-Celtics series will now realize that a tight, low-scoring, defensive struggle can also be thrilling.
Slovenia 2, U.S.A. 2: Just about every reaction to the result today blames the Malian referree for stealing a win richly deserved for the Americans. Rallying from a two-goal deficit to tie an opponent noted for its defensive savvy, then having what appeared to be the winning goal taken away with less than five minutes to play for what appeared to be a phantom foul seems a bitter pill to swallow. But there are two things to remember about today's officiating.

First, there were no fewer than four Slovenian players who received a yellow card today, as opposed to only one American. That is an unusually high total, and even if we exclude the red card not given for a rather blatant trip in the second half near the penalty area, the Slovenians can not be happy about how that it impacts their future in the tournament. Second, Clint Dempsey could easily have been sent off in the first minute of the game for a rather vicious elbow to the head, a play not dissimilar to the one that got de Rossi a red card and four-game suspension in the middle of the last World Cup (interestingly, against the U.S.A.). So lets not hear any whining from Americans tonight.
Serbia 1, Germany 0: An upset only to those who assumed the former Yugoslavia would play down to its underachieving reputation. Germany uncharacteristically played stupid soccer, receiving its first red card, in any competition, since the 1992 Euros, and missed a regulation penalty kick for the first time since the 1974 World Cup.

In what may be classified in the realm of totally useless info, the Serbian goal was set up by a play set up by their star, Nicola Zigic, who happens to share the same surname as one of the Serbian war-criminal villains from Prime Suspect 6, whose name my blogmuse, Phoebe Nicholls, with brilliant condescension, performs the best deliberate mispronounciation this side of GD Spradling in Godfather II (starts about 1:40 into the video).