2010 World Cup: Final Thoughts

So I have just finished watching Espana defeat the Netherlands, 1-0 in the 2010 World Cup final. The game was not all that pretty, many yellow cards and a single red card marred the match, but a late goal in the 117 minute by Andrés Iniesta gave Spain their first Jules Rimet Trophy.

I won’t say I lost interest in the finals this year as opposed to 2006. I was frustrated at the display the Azzurri put on as defending World Cup Champions, but when you play like shit, you usually end up going home after the group stage, which they and the other 2006 finalist, France, did. Then again France got what they deserved after how they secured the final spot in the field of 32 for South Africa.

I was more upset with EPSN and their terrible coverage, once again. Sorry, but their in studio talent was terrible. Alexi Lalas was just as bad as his counterpart 4 years ago, Eric Wynalda. While not as negative he was unwatchable. Props to Jurgen Klinsmann, Steve McManaman, Roberto Martinez and Ruud Gullit, all provided good studio insight to upcoming matches. But the likes of Mike Trico, Chris Fowler, Bob Ley are terrible. Why? Because they don’t follow the beautiful game. I will give them their due credit for American sports (MLB,NFL, NBA, NHL), but football they don’t have the knowledge or the understanding of the game to bring out best of the in studio talent.

I had no problems with their actual coverage, but the commentary was bad all around, much like 2006. Why? Because Americans don’t follow soccer…football for the rest of the world. Derek Rae, Adrian Healey, Martin Tyler (outstanding!) and Ian Darke brought their talents, as well as accents to bring the matches alive. All are very talented, as well as knowledgeable when it comes to the game. Ally McCoist and Robby Mustoe were the others worth mentioning.

John Harkes. GO AWAY! Sure you played the game, but you don’t have a very good studio presence when it comes to calling a game and lending your insight. Not to mention we always had to hear about the US team when they were not even playing. I DON’T CARE ABOUT THE USA WHEN THEY ARE NOT PLAYING, so stop! I doubt we will see him in 4 years. Hopefully we don’t get the likes of Landon Donovan.

Sadly, I would have to catch the first half of many games driving in listening to ESPN Radio, which was worse than watching it on television. The only voice worth a mention, Tommy Smyth for obvious reasons. If you don’t know the voice or the experience, then it’s your loss. The rest of the bunch were awful!

As I said in 2006 about 2010, I don’t think the commentary will get any better. Chances are it won’t get better in 2014 down in Brazil. I guess I make the effort to learn Spanish and watch the games elsewhere, because ESPN fails again in bringing the World Cup to America.

Soccer bandwagon

I find it quite amazing. Suddenly EVERYONE in the states is a soccer fan, especially after the run of the the Men’s National Team recently in South Africa for the 2010 World Cup. I don’t expect the buzz about the sport to remain after July 11 when the World Cup comes to a close in South Africa. After the limited success the US tasted there could possibly be more interest in 2014 if they qualify for Brazil.

At work, I am the only individual who watches football on a regular basis, be it the World Cup or Euro Cup, Serie A or Premiership. When a game is on and I am not working I will be found watching. The going joke is I give people who pass by the break room 3 minutes, after that time, they get bored and walk on, usually commenting something about the low or no score. Typical.

Needless to say the media has been going World Cup crazy with all types of reports from local bars where USA fans gather to support their team. I heard one report of a “fan” who stated, “I am watching because I am a fan of the USA.” Huh? a fan of the USA, not necessarily the sport. Okay, maybe it just give you and many others an opportunity to gather, toss back from beer and watch a game.

I also need to say that ESPN has been worse than they were 4 years ago in Germany. The announcing, which I thought would be better has been horrid. There are some bright spots, such as Ally McCoist and Martin Tyler. Unfortunately ESPN is “renting the British accent” for the worldwide event. Nonetheless the addition commentary being provided by John Harkes I can do without. He like his counterpart 4 years ago don’t lend much to the game. I was tired of hearing about the US team when they were not even playing being televised!

A bright spot has been the insight provided by Roberto Martinez, currently the manager at Wigan. He has been very good in the studio pre-match and at half-time providing his insight to individual players, tactics or the game in general. To a less degree I have also enjoyed listening to Ruud Gullitt. Hopefully 4 years from now they decide to can Alexi Lalas, but PLEASE do not hire Landon Donovan!!! I hope 4 years from now I can get coverage from someone like Sky Sports, where they understand the sport and are passionate about it. Hell maybe I should learn Spanish, as I hear the announcers have been top class on another network from a few friends.

ESPN: Not Good Coverage

Damn their pregame is just as bad as their post game. Thankfully Julie Foudy and Eric Wynalda are no longer with us as in studio guests. Although Alexi Lalas is not much better. But it’s the host for those shows who don’t know a damn thing about the sport, yet their try to sound like they know the game and have studied it, when that is not the case. They are promoted with scripts that try to make then sound knowledgeable. While I am not a real big fan of the Fox Soccer Channel, at least they provide a bit better insight, unfortunately games are not shown on FSC. Setanta Sports, now part of FSC would have been excellent, but again ESPN has the rights to the 2010 World Cup and we must go with their below average coverage. With that said, at least ESPN did hire some on air talent in Martin Tyler, Ian Darke, Derek Rae and Adrian Healey.

As for the matches themselves, the RSA v Mexico match was a bit more entertaining that the last 35 minutes of the Uruguay v France match I saw. France just looked terrible and maybe Mexico, who showed flashes of brilliance will advance, possibly with Uruguay who played the last 10 minutes or so down a man. RSA, much like France were terrible. A nice goal in the second half gave Bafana Bafana some life, as did the crowd in the stadium, but I think they will come back down to earth in the next match.

Mexico looked much better and controlled the flow of play for a majority of the time, but they could not finish and in my opinion got caught too high on defense at times, once which led to the South African goal. All teams still have a shot at advancing. After seeing France (and I”ll watch the rest of the game today) it looks as if Mexico and Uruguay could both advance.

EURO 2008

Euro 2008 began on Saturday with co-host, Switzerland going down to the Czech Republic, 1-0. Overall, it was an entertaining match to kick off this cup and hopefully a preview of football to come.

I was a bit upset to see it being presented on ESPN, since their commentators for World Cup 2006 were terrible. I guess that is what you get when you get American commentators covering “the world’s game.” For Euro 2008, we have three professionals in Derek Rae, Tommy Smyth and Andy Gray, years of football experience and the sort of commentator who leaves opinion out and calls the game the way it should be called.

Of course I am pulling for the Azzurri, Italia, for those not into football. They won the 2006 World Cup and outside of striker Francesco Totti retiring from national competition, they are one of squads to watch. That said, France, Netherlands, Portugal and Spain are also contenders.

Thankfully ESPN does get some props for covering EVERY game, as they did for World Cup 2006. Unfortunately we must still listen to Julie “Pouty” Foudy in studio. Why the hell is she there? Guess that is the best “personality they could come up with to cover one of the most popular world competitions. Thankfully Eric Wynalda is not there providing his bad commentary but Andy Gray proves the best insight based on his years of knowledge and experience.

Looking forward to a great cup. If you have never experienced world cup quality football, this is definitely one competition to watch. Viva Italia!

A True Championship!

One of the BEST football games I have ever seen took place today (well yesterday) in Moscow. The Champions League Final! For the first time ever it was an all English final featuring Manchester U versus Chelsea.

Just a week prior to this match, Manchester United won the Premiership straight out, as Chelsea allowed a late goal for a 1-1 draw. Manchester United would have won regardless, even with a Chelsea win because of goal differential.

Today’s game was live from Moscow on ESPN. How I missed the live broadcast of it, I don’t know. I guess I was looking for a REAL football channel to cover the action, not a wannabe football channel. Thankfully we had two of the best announcers in Martin Tyler and Andy Gray.

I was able to catch the entire game on Setanta after it had been concluded and I knew the outcome (because I had to watch a penalty shootout on Soccerway.com), but that did not make the game any less dramatic or exciting.

Overall, the teams played very offensively, just look at 27 shots Chelsea had. An unheard of number! The action was all Manchester United in the first half, with some good end to end action and beautiful header by the second best player in the world, Christiano Ronaldo. Oh the best player, Kaka, of course!

A late, “excuse me” goal by Frank Lampard evened the team, as Edwin Van Der Sar slipped coming out, cutting down the angle, as the ball took two odd ricochets off players and ended up in the net.

The game was great into the second half, as there were some great chances for both team, especially Man U. Yet with all the action and excitement, no goals could be had by either squad. This meat overtime periods.

If the only unfortunate event, Didier Drogba, lost his head for a moment and had a swipe at Nemanja Vidic on the chin, late in the 114 minute after some “controversy” on a throw in by Manchester United. As the scuffle broke out, players had to be separated and when it was all said and done, two yellows and one red were handed out.

Now this event alone did not loose the game for Chelsea. It was just a black eye on Chelsea and looks even worse in how things transpired.

The penalty shootout was exciting! No other word can describe it. Petr Cech made a great save on Ronaldo, who pussy footed up the ball and was not rewarded. That alone was enough to give Man U the finger and present the CL trophy to the Blues. But more drama was to unfold.

England and Chelsea Captain, John Terry strode up the ball, rain coming down facing Edwin Van Der Sar. It was one of those sporting moments that defines “the agony of defeat” (remember the ski jumper on Wide World of Sports?). Terry made his approach and just as he struck the ball, his planted left foot gave out, and as if in slow motion, the ball went right, off the woodwork.

At that point Chelsea was done. It was truly Manchester United’s match to give away. Ryan Giggs and Anderson both scored, while Nicolas Anelka, the newest member of Chelsea took his shot, to the left that was saved by Van Der Sar. The match was over.

Truly one of the BEST matches to be watched, all-time. I have seen some good matches, some exciting matches, some dramatic victories. But this game captured the essence of “the beautiful game.”

Glitz. Glamour. Football.

Holy Christ! I am so sick and tired of ESPN covering football…errr…soccer for those in Americans who truly do not understand the worlds game. I am not the most knowledgeable, nor the best suited to try and explain soccer to non-soccer types. I follow my teams, Watford and AS Roma on a daily basis, looking forward to the start of the new season in August.

But tonight, a spectacle took place, in all places Los Angeles that truly reminds me why soccer in America will never rival the “big three” sports. In Carson, California, home to the L.A. Galaxy, Chelsea FC brought their game to town. All the stars were suited for the Blues, Drogba, Terry, Lampard, Sheva, Chech and the rest. For the Galaxy, the ONLY name that mattered tonight was Beckham.

I know I bitched about ESPN and their sloppy and unprofessional coverage of World Cup 2006. Eric Wynalda is a complete ass and an idiot! I don’t care how long he played for Team USA. He is a very poor announcer and should not even be in the booth. Dave O’Brien is NOT a soccer guy, but a baseball guy covering games for teams like the Braves and Marlins.

Tonight’s match was a place to be seen, typical of Hollywood and all the “big names” that came out to see the man who is [supposedly] going to change soccer in America. LOL. There was even a red carpet rolled out for all the “stars” in attendance. Posh Spice and Eva Longoria had the camera on them all night, drinking champagne behind big, bug eyed looking glasses. Other “big names” included Drew Carey, Kevin Garnett (like he’s a footie fan), Jennifer Love Hewitt (who is a hottie, but doesn’t know a lick about soccer), Kate Holmes (LOL!) and “The Govenator” were all in attendance.

The entire night, it was all about Beckham this, Beckham that, how he is going to tackle his new challenge. Then there was the ‘Beckham Cam’ pointed wherever #23 went. No matter what he did, lick, scratch his balls, the cam caught it. Don’t get me started on Bonnie Bernstein and Julie Foudy, two more people who should NOT be covering such a grand game. Neither bring anything to the table.

The match itself was entertaining, as Chelsea outplayed the Galaxy for 90 minutes. The statistics were quite one-sided in favor of The Blues. John Terry had a great shot and scored the only goal of the match and then it was time for Chelsea to step up the game play, which they did.

With about 12 minutes in the match, Beckham made his first appearance in a match. Everything he did, which wasn’t much was documented, covered from no less than 5 angles and replayed. In my opinion he didn’t do anything that was really worth talking about.

Overall, this move is nothing more than a PR move for the MLS and the Galaxy. Is Beckham washed up? Based on his success at Man U and last year helping to bring a La Liga title to Real Madrid some would argue he has a lot to gain coming to the USA. But soccer is not in our culture as Americans. Kids grow up playing organized youth soccer, which is HUGE, but professional the game is not even on the same level as the lower division European teams.

So, while Beckham will be talk of the town for the next few months and the Home Depot Center could set some attendance and revenue records, the bottom line is the Galaxy are not a good team. One footballer does not make a team, but possibly improves those around him. Will that happen with “Becks”? No one has an answer to that, but I can guarantee you this. Soccer will become a nightly piece on ESPN and other sports outlets.

I am not sold on Beckham and his move to the MLS. Like Pele in ’75 bringing his 35 year old legs to the NASL, Beckham does have a huge task in front of him if he thinks he can change the mindset of millions in the USA.

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!

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!?