By now you probably know I’m on NFL hiatus from now until training camps open in mid-July. Don’t worry, I’m going to bringing the thunder once teams have reported. Rather than taking a summer vacation though, I’m covering the World Cup.
This weekend saw our quarterfinal round matches. Today and tomorrow, the semifinals. Who advanced, and who will advance to the rest of the world’s Super Bowl? Read on, and find out.
WORLD CUP QUARTERFINALS
GERMANY 1, ARGENTINA 1 (GERMANY WINS ON PK’S 4-2)
Even if you don’t like you soccer, you had to like this game. If you didn’t like this game, well, the Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating contest might interest you. I know it interests me, but that’s neither here nor there.
Actually, things didn’t get rolling in this one until after halftime. Although the match was scoreless at the half, Argentina went ahead shortly after, when in the 49th minute, Valencia defender Roberto Ayala headed in a corner kick to give the South Americans a 1-0 advantage. Argentina looked like they were going to take that goal into the semifinals, until the 80th minute, when Werder Bremen forward Miroslav Klose punctuated a poetic double header sequence with the equalizing goal. The header got past backup keeper Leonardo Franco, who entered after starter Roberto Abbondanzieri left with an injury.
The squads played 2 scoreless overtime periods, setting up a penalty kick shootout, which Germany won thanks to a pair of saves by Arsenal keeper Jens Lehmann, whose promotion to #1 over 2002 hero Oliver Kahn caused some consternation before the tournament. Regardless, he’s the reason that Germany will be playing a World Cup semifinal before their home fans.
Germany’s Not Crying For Argentina
I’d Like To Score On Her, Heh, Heh, Heh, Moo Hoo Hoo, Ha Ha Ha
ITALY 3, UKRAINE 0
To the surprise of nobody, the final result match was pretty much a mauling. It took quite a while for Italy to break down the Ukrainians though. In fact, after Italy got out to an early lead on a pretty soft goal by Juventus defender Gianluca Zambrotta, Ukraine had 2 golden opportunities to equalize shortly after halftime, Italy was saved once by the woodwork, and once by a nifty save by Juve keeper Gianlugi Buffon.
This was Ukraine’s last gasp, as shortly after this flurry, Italy made it 2-0 on a header by Fiorentina forward Luca Toni. Toni struck again 10 minutes later to put the Azzurri up 3-0, and stamp their ticket into the semis.
For the Ukrainians, it was an impressive run in their first World Cup appearance. However, this may have been their one and only shot at World Cup glory. Their star player, Andriy Shevchenko, will be 34 when the next World Cup is played. Maybe he’ll be too old to be effective enough to lead Ukraine as far as he did this time, maybe not.
Toni’s Too Legit To Quit
This Might Be As Good As It Gets for Shevchenko and Ukraine
GERMANY V. ITALY
HERE’S YOUR FORECAST
Italy played what was probably their best match of this tournament in the decisive win over Ukraine. A closer look at their docket shows that they’ve done very well against a very tough slate of opponents in Germany. They’ve beaten Ghana, Czech Republic, Australia, and Ukraine by a combined score of 8-0. Their only slip up came in a 1-1 draw against the US, and even in that game the goal they surrendered was an own goal, and not the work of the opposition. Italy is probably the better team here, but Germany has got the host magic working for them, and for a variety of reasons that’s pretty powerful stuff. This will be a good match, but Germany is going to come out on top and advance to the finals.
PORTUGAL 0, ENGLAND 0 (PORTUGAL WINS ON PK’S 3-1)
Long story short, Wayne Rooney swings and misses on England’s best scoring chance of the match. Minutes later Wayne Rooney steps on an opponent’s nutsack out of frustration, Wayne Rooney gets a red card, England is forced to play a man down the rest of the match and hope to take it to PK’s, England loses on PK’s, and a nation mourns.
There was nothing pretty about England’s exit. Not only was there the idiotic action by Rooney that led to their downfall, but minutes before that, their captain and leading scorer in the tournament, David Beckham, exited due to injury and fatigue. A day after the loss, Beckham stepped down as England’s captain, adding to the feeling that Brittania had just lost a war.
This match also, for me brought up a strange paradox that in my mind, still goes unexplained. The winning penalty kick was hit by Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo. Who is also Manchester United’s Cristiano Ronaldo. If you’re a big Man U fan, and also a big England fan, how do you feel about Cristiano Ronaldo when he returns to Old Smoothy this fall? How do you just go back to cheering for someone that broke your heart just months earlier? If you’re a European football fan, feel free to write in and explain that one to me, because it completely caused a Fatal Error in my soccer mind.
Cristiano Ronaldo and Portugal Dive Into the Semis
England: The Chicago Cubs of Soccer
FRANCE 1, BRAZIL 0
To put this one in terms I know you’ll all relate to, this was like the Steelers beating the Colts in last year’s divisional playoffs. The World Cup Trophy had practically been boxed up and Fed Ex’d to Sao Paulo before this tournament even started, the only question was how impressive would Brazil look in defending their 2002 title. France, meanwhile, had limped through the first round after exiting the 2002 World Cup without winning a single match. Brazil was seen as at the height of its powers and top of its game, while France was seen as an aging squad of selfish superstars who’s peak as a team came almost 10 years ago.
Then this match happened. First, France surprised everyone by taking it to the Brazilians and controlling play for the first half. Then, in the 57th minute, they shocked the world when Arsenal’s Thierry Henry took a crossing free kick from Zinedine Zidane and parked it ever so gently just beneath the crossbar to give Les Bleus a 1-0 lead, which they never relinquished.
Who would have thought that the French, of all squads, would be the team to display the greatest amount of heart and spirit in this tournament so far. Maybe Vince McMahon is right, maybe it is 1998 all over again. Are you ready??
France Will Hug It Out in the Semis
Shock For Brazil
PORTUGAL V. FRANCE
HERE’S YOUR FORECAST
Knocking England out of the tournament was a dirty job, but of course, someone had to do it, and that someone was Portugal. Meanwhile, France did something nobody expected anyone to do, and that was to send Brazil home. They beat the champs, so by virtue of that, they hold the belt, and I can’t pick against them. I think France wins and looks impressive doing it.
THAT’S A WRAP
And that’s your World Cup Quarterfinal Report/Semifinal Preview. Italy takes on Germany today at 3 PM. If you’re not spent after the epic Kobayashi/Chestnut battle in the Nathan’s Hot Dog contest, check it out. Have a safe Independence Day, remember our troops overseas, eat a lot of barbeque, drink a lot of beer, and check me out later this week to preview the finals.