Some quick hits today, since I actually have things to do.
Day 6 Recap:
Algeria actually showed some real determination and ability in the first half against a Belgium team that seemed to think a little too highly of itself. The first half demonstrated the two kinds of believing in yourself. Algeria came out with confidence and energy, convinced that they could fend off the Belgian attack and hit on the counter, which they may or may not have a history of doing. The Belgians, meanwhile, appeared to think the contest was a foregone conclusion and putting forth any effort was beneath them. They came out flat, and Algeria’s vigor and urgency put them ahead on a deserved penalty when Jan Vertonghen pulled down Sofiane Feghouli.
If the game ended after 45 minutes, we’d be talking about the tournament’s most shocking upset, and watching hastily-assembled features on the Desert Foxes (which, yo, do not sleep on Fennec fox, which is cute as shit but surprisingly violent, aaaaand this is a perfect metaphor). There would be no shortage of potential angles. Do you lead with the fact that the 23 players all play for different clubs professionally? Or that the average age of their starting midfield and attack is just over 20 years old, only three players over age 30, and only one player with more than 50 caps? That 16 were born in France, and came up through the French national system before choosing to play for Algeria?
Alas, those will have to wait until the knockout round or Russia 2018, because they played the full 90 minutes, and the Belgium that came out for the second half was the one we expected to see, full of pace and skill and cohesion. Once they got their first goal, off the be-Afroed noggin of Maroune Fellaini, it wasn’t a question of whether they’d come back, but by how much they’d win. In the end, it was only 2-1 to the Diables, but the number could have been much higher. What remains to be seen, is whether they can put it together for a full match, though they likely won’t need to until the knockout stage.
I warned you. I told you. Go out. Enjoy your life outside soccer. Seize these brief moments when you don’t feel drawn to the TV or the livestream or the phone. But you didn’t listen. You watched Russia and South Korea anyway. And you saw this:
My ladyfriend instinctively reacts to moments in sports like this with a stock phrase: “Oh buddy,” as if she just saw a child drop an ice cream cone and then a tiny puppy comes by and tries to eat it and falls asleep before it gets more than a couple licks in. I showed her this last night. There was no “oh buddy” only “whomp.” This is such a singularly stupid play that could elicit no sympathy from the most sympathetic person to ever walk this earth. And it was the fifth or sixth time that Akinfeev — once considered to be a prodigy — spilled a ball he ought to have covered, but the only time he and the Russian team paid for it. South Korea also let the Russians waltz through their 18 yard box for an equalizer shortly thereafter, and both walk away from this match chastened, ashamed and with one point.
Mexico – Brazil: Can we give those two points to Brazil and Mexico, because they deserved much more than they received for giving us 90 minutes of breakneck soccer, during which one side would have sustained possession in the danger area for a few minutes, only to immediately allow the other the same opportunity. For about 75 minutes, I looked exactly like this lady did:
Guillermo Ochoa looked as if he was suspended by wires and had a team of stagehands pulling him around his goal.* The Mexican team easily could have conceded four or five if not for his heroics, and his defense owes him all the damned tequila he can drink for life. They hung him out to dry (no shame against a team with the attacking quality of Brazil, but STILL) on so many occasions, you wondered not if, but when he wouldn’t make the save. And yet, when the whistle blew, we ended where we started: 0-0. If Iran and Nigeria was a 0-0 draw that would have been better off if neither team had taken the field, this was a match that I didn’t want to end, not to resolve the deadlock but because it was so tense and exciting that ending it all seemed like a shame.
Noon: The Dutch take on the Australians and I have no good gif for this, because in gifs, the kangaroo always wins. The kangaroo will almost certainly not win this one. Even before their systematic dismantling of Spain last week, the Netherlands weren’t expected to have much difficulty with Australia. Adding that result to Chile’s performance against the Aussies, keep an eye on this one just to see if the Dutch might score double digits in the group stage.
3:00 Here is where we see to just what extent the Spanish are devastated by complacency, age and the lingering effects of the Dutch beatdown. Chile are a good team, led by two dangerous players in Arturo Vidal and Alexis Sanchez. Going in to the tournament, I had them fighting with the Dutch for the second spot, and taking it from them. That seems unlikely now, as the Netherlands will likely be through to the knockouts before this match starts. That means the pressure is on for both teams to win this game, albeit less so for Chile, who with a draw here and any result against a disinterested and resting Netherlands next week are certainly through. Spain, however, need all three points if they hope to advance. It wouldn’t be the worst performance from a defending champion**, but it certainly wouldn’t match up with the expectations they’ve set for themselves. Watch this with both eyes, and be constantly vigilant that they are liable to pop straight the fuck out of your head once or twice.
6:00 Cameroon will play Croatia, and if Croatia (and the lovely and wonderful Luka Modric) want to advance, they need all three points. Cameroon didn’t show much against Mexico, but it’s entirely possible that given Mexico’s performance yesterday, The Indomitable Lions (no shit) are more capable that they were initially given credit. A draw by either team here makes it exceedingly unlikely that either will advance to the knockouts.
Enjoy the games!
* Julio Cesar was also great, especially for an elderly sea turtle, but Ochoa was transcendent.
** It actually might end up worse than France’s disastrous 0-2-1 campaign in 2002, but I’m pretty sure they’ll get a win against the Socceroos.