One Game…

…does indeed change everything.

First off, a big congrats to Italy for winning the World Cup today, defeating France in a penalty shoot out, 5-3, after placing to a 1-1 tie after 120 minutes. It was a bit unfortunate to see Zinedine Zidane red carded in extra time for a very unsportsmanlike headbutt. I celebrated, along with my two dogs after Fabio Grosso buried the 5th and decisive penalty kick that began the celebration, not only for the team for all of Italy and their supporters.

For the readers of The 6th Floor, this will be the final comments I have on Germany 2006, probably a relief to some of you. Let’s look back at the positives. The obvious, Italy hoisting the cup and celebrating into the night. For the most part great sportsmanship through many of the games, as competitive as they were. The host country of Germany doing a great job at all the venues and showing such support for all the countries involved.

As for the negative, I don’t know why I will dwell on these, because I have mentioned this previously. First the poor coverage from ESPN and ABC. Case in point, today as the aging Jim McKay apologized to all the golf fans for having to cut away from the tournament to cover World Cup “soccer.” What an asshole! The only real reason that ESPN and ABC picked up coverage was for advertising revenue, NOT for true coverage of the event. Sorry, but starting 5 minutes prior to the match with very little pregame is not how to lead up to such a coveted event.

The announcers on ESPN and ABC were terrible [outside of Adrian Healey and Tommy Smyth, whom I applaud]. I have already commented on Eric Wynalda and Julie Foudy, lending of “their” opinion and supposed insight into “soccer” at least the American version. John Harkes, regardless of his standing in the world of US soccer as well as Marcelo Balboa both should retire from announcing. I will give them this, they could play well, but announcing is not their strong suite. The term “homer” comes to mind when I think back of their Americanized commentary of a world sport. Both ESPN and ABC get an ‘F’ in my book for their lackluster coverage. But I am sure they are rolling in ad revenue.

I got so fed up today with ABC, I switched over to Univision, one of two local Spanish stations that provided FULL coverage, start to finish of Italy versus France. Oddly enough, once the match was over on the penalty kick, ABC switched back to golf. Happy golf fans? I am sure it made Mr. McKay’s day to be back on the links and not covering an event is cannot relate to. So much for ABC Sports being the “worldwide leader.” Univision did a great job! Sure, I could not understand a damn thing, since speak English, but I could pick up player names and some words, like “pelota” or ball. But the announcers were much more passionate about the game, excited to be covering a true world championship, unlike those that Americans can relate to.

I do think FIFA needs to look back into the infractions committed during the tournament, with the most yellow and red cards handed out during the 64 games. While there were many quality football games between squads, there was some poor officiating at times. I think many of the officials were rather inconsistent rather than bad. I don’t believe instant replay has a place on the world’s stage, but I also do not want to see referees deciding the outcome of the game, which did happen a few times in Germany 2006. I don’t want to know an official’s name at anytime during the tournament [see the jackass from the US v Italy game or Portugal v Netherlands].

Overall, it was a great event, I’m still filled with excitement and joy to see “my team” win for the fourth time. In fact, I am wearing out my Italy jersey, as I type this now. Cannot wait for the new Serie A to get underway in Italy. I did see this as a team that overcame much adversity and controversy back home to raise the cup in celebration.

The past 30 days have been great, as I was able to watch all 64 matches [considered by many American’s to be “boring”] when getting home from work at 7am. I was able to introduce my 7 month old son, Zachary to the world’s game. Rest assured I will be teaching him the sport when he gets a bit older. As for football…errr…soccer being an American game, sorry it will never be. Youth soccer will continue to pull in amazing numbers, but the attention span of your typical American can’t comprehend the sport. Guess staying in front of your TV for 45 minutes, without a beer break is impossible.

The Ugly Side of Germany 2006

With all great events, such as the 2006 World Cup, there is always a downside. I am still trying to decide what has taken away from the matches more, the commentary on ESPN or the officiating. Don’t get me wrong, I am excited I can lay claim to watch every match so far. For those not into footie, I guess it could be about as exciting as watching paint dry or grass grow. Nonetheless, it has been a very entertaining World Cup so far.

Let’s start with the commentary on ESPN. Let me preface this by saying, soccer [here in the US] is something we are not good at. When I say we, I mean Americans. There is very little coverage of the so-called “professional” league, which continues to loose money and does not draw fans like other, international leagues, like Serie A in Italy, Bundesliga in Germany or the Premiership in England. So with that said, the commentary has been horrible outside of Adrian Healey and Tommy Smyth. Unfortunately, we don’t get to hear their commentary much.

Let’s single out the studio “expert” Eric Wynalda. This guy comes off as a real arrogant, all knowing asshole! Sure he played for the US team and is still the leading goal scorer [which isn’t saying much], but in studio he has some weak takes and never seems to stray far from mentioning something about US Soccer. Julie Foudy is another one, while not arrogant does not add a damn thing to any of the coverage. She isn’t attractive, doesn’t have any valid points, expect for being the Captain of the Woman’s US Soccer Team. I told you how weak the professional league is in the US? Well women’s soccer is even lower than men’s. Sorry Julie but get off my television!

Game coverage has been good, if you want to watch it, but again, tossing an ex-professional player in the booth with some unknown commentator does not provide for average coverage at best. And they are always bringing US soccer into the mix! Unlike Healey and Smyth, who bring a great knowledge and experience to the commentary, the other commentators seem to try too hard to “Americanize” this international game. You can hear this in the terminology used.

Not to be outdone, the officiating has been downright terrible. Although today’s France v Spain match was probably one of the better matches. The 2006 World Cup has set records for the number of yellow and red cards handed out. Remember no official is supposed to decide the outcome of the game. Hell, as I wrote a few weeks ago, we should not know the name of ANY official on the pitch!

I understand the officials needing to keep the match moving and maintaining control of the players on the pitch. But that does not mean dropping yellow cards for every infraction. You can tell the good officials from the bad. Those officials who whistle a player for committing a foul, quickly administering a verbal warning and then play continues. You can keep control of the game without handing out a record number of cards.

Even with those two areas receiving criticism in my book, I have been very pleased with the 2006 World Cup. The games have been entertaining and great to watch. I look forward to 2010 when FIFA goes to South Africa. This gives me time to draw up plans to attend. I have connections in South Africa, believe it or not.

Oh and before I forget FORZA ITALY!

Officials Seeing Red!

It was not a matter of Italy tiying the USA, than the USA lost the game versus the Italians. Unfortunately, it was the officials who decided the outcome of the 1-1 draw today. Jorge Larrionda it not a name we should know. But after his horrendous, atrocious, down right piss poor calling the Italy v USA match today, nothing was decided in Group E. Maybe that is a positive for the World Cup overall, keeping virtually all the team alive going into their third and final group stage match. Unfortunately, the damage has been done, a black eye given to an otherwise great World Cup.

I know FIFA has come down on officiating recently and wanted to keep tighter control of what goes on, on the pitch. But today was something more. There have already been too many yellow cards awarded in the previous 24 matches, leading some to believe the scale has tipped conversely the other direction. In a 23′ stretch of the first half, two yellows and one red card were handed out, giving the USA a 1-man advantage with the expulsion of Daniele De Rossi for a hard elbow to the face of Brian McBride. Even as an Azzurri fan, the card was warranted, no one wants to see players injured. Only 5′ into the game, Francesco Totti was given a yellow card for a very questionable tackle. Verbal warning maybe, a yellow card? Sorry, bad call. And minutes prior to De Rossi’s red card, Eddie Pope, who was playing reckless much of the game was given a yellow card as well.

The only goals on the board belonged to Italy, who not only scored at 22′, but scored an own goal to give the USA their only tally of the day and in the tournament. The game would take another turn at the 45′ minute when Pablo Mastroeni would come in hard and without warning from Jorge Larrionda be given a red card. Two minutes later, Eddie Pope would receive another yellow for a hard tackle and be ejected from the game with a red card. Football, the unconventional way, 10 v 9 for about the remaining 42′ minutes. This is where Italy had their chances, as did the USA, but it would be the USA having some good chances, unable to finish.

Italy with their previous victory over Ghana now sits on top of Group E with 4 points and a +3 goal differential. The final matches of the group stage are going to be exciting, with all four teams still in the hunt. Footie at its best, unfortunately this game turned on the whistle and cards of Jorge Larrionda. Hopefully this jackass does not officiate another World Cup game in Germany.

* What is this jackass thinking in his article, ‘The most exciting game so far‘.

World Cup Fever

No sporting event in the USA has the appeal that the World Cup does. The Olympics might come close in terms of excitement and viewership, but for me, the Olympics just don’t excite me. Unfortunately soccer, as it is known here in the states really suffers because of the more well known and rooted sports such as football [American style], baseball and basketball. Youth soccer seems is where the excitement is when you are young. “Today, AYSO has more than 50,000 teams and more than 650,000 players” (source). But between the time kids learn the sport and grow up, the fun and excitement wear off for many.

As a youth I grew up playing soccer in AYSO, along with baseball and football. I believe I even suffered through one season of basketball. My parents were heavily involved, coaching, organizing and supporting myself and sister through many seasons. I took my interest in the sport to high school and while I was only able to successfully make one team, I continued playing organized soccer outside of high school until age 17. After my freshman year in college at BYU in Provo, Utah I tried out for the team and made the squad as a back up goalkeeper [2 years in a row]. I never had aspirations to play the sport professionally, but enjoyed the many years I played

The USA has seen outdoor and indoor leagues come go; American Soccer League [1933-83, 1988-1989], Continental Indoor Soccer League [1993-1997], Major Soccer League [1978-1992], North American Soccer League [1968-1984], World Indoor Soccer League [1998-2001] and the United Soccer League [1984-1985]. By far the most popular league was the North American Soccer League [NASL]. “The biggest club in the league and the organization’s bellwether was the New York Cosmos, who drew upwards (while aging Brazillian superstar Pelé played for them) of 40,000 fans per game at their height. However, the overall average attendance of the league never reached 15,000.”

The league has challenges, such as selling the game of soccer to Americans, known as “football” to fans worldwide. The rules of the game were “Americanized” in an attempt to make it more exciting and comprehensible to the average fan. “These changes included a clock that counted time down to zero as was typical of other timed American sports, rather than upwards to 45 minutes as was traditional, a 35 yard line for offsides rather than the traditional half way line, and a shootout to decide matches that ended in a draw.”

Many big name foreign players were brought in, but were frequently left on the bench for lesser known American players. But the main reason behind the demise of the NASL was over expansion [hockey, basketball and baseball are you listening?]. This caused the talent pool to decline spread out over 24 teams. Many new owners were quick to get out, when the popularity started to decline because they were not “soccer people.”

The World Cup is truly one of the events that needs to be experienced, in a country outside the USA [1994]. Sorry USA, you just can’t host the event to a level of a Germany [2006], France [1938, 1998], Italy [1934, 1990] or England [1966], just to name a few. The game is unique that is brings about the best on a world stage for one month and pits nation against nation. I have seriously caught World Cup fever this year, as to years past. Even more so than in 1994 when it was in the USA.

If you have not caught any of the games, I suggest you check out the highlight videos at the FIFA World Cup web site. I know many Americans don’t like the game because it is slow and there is not much scoring. Some great games yesterday as Saudia Arabia and Tunisia had a final score of 2-2, with Tunisia scoring with Radi Jaidi scoring at the 92′ mark [into stoppage time] to draw even. Very exciting. Even more exciting was the following match featuring host’s, Germany versus Poland, who have never beaten Germany in 85 years. At the 91′ minute, Oliver Neuville found the lower corner of the net as Germany won! Simply amazing footie yesterday!

These start time work out well too, because I get off work, drive home and spend the next 6 hours watching footie. I don’t recall when I spent so much time in front of the television! Surely is was not for the Superbowl, World Series or even the Olympics [zzz]. Saturday is a big day, match 25! Italy takes on the USA in Kaiserslautern at 21CET/15EST/12PST. Being a huge Italia fan, I look for the Azzurri to shut out the Americans who will fall again and fail to move on to the second round.

More World Cup – Props Iran!

World Cup competition truly is one of a kind! I don’t think Americans understand or comprehend the scope of football worldwide. No, they would rather watch the “big 3” sports in the USA…oh yeah hockey, I guess that is still a sport [Sorry Canada]. One thing you quickly notice during the World Cup, of which I have seen every game so far, is the sportsmanship, which is lost in other games that are played in the US. Case in point, during the pregame Iran’s keeper, Ebrahim Mirzapour presented his Mexican counterpart, Oswaldo Sanchez, who had just lost his father to a massive heartache just days ago with a bouquet of flowers. While the competition is still fierce and all squads are out to take the cup back to their home country, the sportsmanship does shine though. It is really refreshing to see.

I was listening to some sports talk show this morning on ESPN Radio and some jackass host made the comment that Americans don’t watch football…er…soccer because there and I quote, “no advertising.” What? No advertising? I guess this host has not watched much of the World Cup because there is so much advertising from players, to team to the stadiums its more than you see any any American venue from football, to baseball and basketball. I guess $40 million for advertising is nothing. That was a figure I heard for one of the corporate sponsor’s of Germany 2006 [It might have been Emirates].

I know, just what you want to read, more World Cup observations. The largest sporting event in the world, held every four years and it still does not draw the top headlines in the USA. Surprised? Not the least and what’s even worse the commentary that talk shows try to present, when some of these hosts don’t know the first thing about World Cup. You hear the same dribble over and over, none of them have an angle, its all “Well, how’s the USA going to fair?” I think it’s safe to say that if the US looses their opening match to the Czech Republic, then interest in the World Cup will diminish even further than it already is.

Finally, big props to Iran! Why do I say this? One of the other wonderful aspects of World Cup play is that all political issues and situations are left outside the stadiums and are not brought onto the pitch. To be honest, I was pulling for Iran today over Mexico and if it were not for a key mistake by the Mirzapour [GK], Iran would have remained tied past the 75th minute. Hopefully they continue to have a good showing and can pick up a few points in the group stage.

Viva Germany 2006!

So Friday morning (America time) brought us the start of the FIFA World Cup 2006, live from Germany. The opening match to kick the cup off featured host country Germany versus Costa Rica and for those who might not be football purists, it was a rather entertaining affair on the pitch as the onion bag found the back of the net six times with Germany winning 4-2. I would also venture a guess that we saw two of the best goals of the cup from Germany’s Philipp Lahm to open the scoring 6′ into the match. Lahm cut back on the left side of the pitch with a beautiful bender into the top right corner of the the goal, clipping the post. The final tally of the match for Germany came on a rocket of a shot from about 25m out from Torsten Frings. Miraslav Klose of Germany and Paulo Wanchope of Costa Rica both tallied two netters.

The second match featured Poland versus Ecuador from Gelsenkirchen. One of the early knocks on Ecuador was the ability to play on their home pitch, which sits at about 9000′ above sea level in the city of Quito. La Tri[color] might have silenced some critics after a grand showing shutting out Poland by a score of 2-0. The 24′ of the match saw Carlos Tenorio score on a long throw from Ulises dela Cruz that skimmed off the head of Agustin Delgado before Tenorio headed the ball for a 1-0 lead. Second half action was spirited on both sides, as Poland tried to draw square, while Ecuador attempted to put the game away. The 80′ would be the proverbial “nail in the coffin” as substitute, Ivan Kaviedes received a perfect pass in the open, sent a square pass to Agustin Delgado who finished the play. While there would be no more scoring, Poland had their chances in final minutes striking the post and crossbar on consecutive shots.

As I said, some entertaining football in the early matches, which have sometimes seen very low 1-0 scores, but yesterday was different. Two matches down and 62 to go as another cup favorite, England starts on the road to the cup versus Paraguay. The USA opens play on Monday, June 12 against the #2 ranked nation in the world, Czech Republic, while my favorite nation, Italia opens against Ghana. Thankfully all 64 games will be televised on ABC, ESPN and ESPN2, so I might not get much sleep when I get off work at 0530. Today I will stay up, feed my son and watch the England match without Wayne Rooney.

Who’s your pick to win the cup? Bittar, good luck to the Brazilians!?

World Cup Draw

I gotta be honest, as a young, through high school and yes even two years in college I played footie. For those in America we know it as soccer. The World Cup is held every 4 years (sorta like the Olympics but more exciting), but the competition spans a three year qualifying period. This year the host country is Germany…ja, Zee Germanz!

Today was the draw for the unseeded squads, which were divided into three “pots” by geographic location. When the draw was complete, there were 8 groups labeled A through H. For those in the USA, they are in Group E, along with Ghana (first time qualifier), the Czech Republic and European powerhouse, Italy. Group E is already being called, “group of death“, where any of the four teams could qualify for the next round or be eliminated.

Of course when it comes to World Cup action, I always enjoy watching Italia, a country rich in football history. Their last World Cup championship was back in 1982, since then their best showing was 1994 as the runners-up to Brazil who won 3-2 on penalty kicks after the extra time expired at 0-0. Did I mention these guys kick ass in FIFA Soccer for Xbox?

Their current squad is very strong from Christian Vieri, (Italy’s greatest striker the last decade) to Fabio Cannavaro (Captain of the 2005 Italian national team) and Gianluigi Buffon, keeper for Juventus (Italy’s oldest, most successful football clubs) and the national team.

The 2006 FIFA World Cup Germany finals are scheduled in 12 venues in throughout Germany between 9 June and 9 July 2006. Group E action begins on 12 June with Italy facing Ghana and the United States taking on Czech Republic.