Spain Wins The World Cup In Spite Of Debilitating Nike Ad

Truth be told, before yesterday the first part of the title was as absurd as “The Red Sox win the World Series” would have been 10 years ago or even “Longhorns top the Sooners” during the early naughts.

Spain’s National Team, La Furia Roja, had a knack for falling flat on their collective face World Cup after World Cup. This all changed yesterday to be sure, after La Furia Roja defeated the Netherlands, who have now lost 3 World Cup Finals (’74, ’78, 10), 1-0.

I believe however that the breakthrough which culminated yesterday began in Euro 2008, which the Spanish won by besting Germany by the same score they beat the Dutch yesterday. That tournament set them on a course of excellence, winning 35 matches in a row until they shockingly lost to the U.S. at the 2009 Confederations Cup held in South Africa.

They then proceeded to breeze through World Cup qualifiers, becoming a favorite to take home the hardware in South Africa entering as the #2 squad in the world according to FIFA. In their first World Cup match, La Furia Roja fell to the Swiss, prompting echoes of “Different World Cup, same old Spain”.

Spaniards readied themselves for another World Cup collapse by their beloved team, blame was sent down bizarre avenues.

Yet, here we are July 12, 2010 and the FIFA World Cup trophy will call Spain home for at least the next 4 years.

A more remarkable feat may be that Spain won despite three of their players’ involvement in Nike Soccer’s “Write the Future” ad (watch it here).

An ad made before the start of the World Cup featuring England’s Wayne Rooney, Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo, Italya’s Fabio Cannavaro, Ivory Coast’s Didier Drogba, France’s Franck Ribéry, Brazil’s Robinho and Ronaldinho. To say that the campaign was a poor prognosticator of World Cup success is a vast understatement, a rundown:

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A Hapsburg, LeBron and Martha Stewart Walk Into A Bar…

Carles Puyol (right) who looks like he just stepped out of a Hapsburg family portrait, heads Spain into the World Cup Final. As a descendant of the Hapsburg’s, Puyol will be looking for some payback by cracking some skulls against the Netherlands on Sunday

My guess is that since LeBron James missed not having a signing day presser coming out of high school, he’s making up for lost time with “The Decision”. Great column on the LeBron “saga” that  mercifully ends tonight.

When the folks at NASA aren’t trying to reach out to the Muslim world, they’re conducting valuable research.

Forget Wife Swap, how ’bout an old-fashioned spy swap? Makes me want to re-read The Cardinal of the Kremlin.

So now these “elites” will become embittered and “cling to martini glasses or environmentalism or antipathy towards people who don’t think like them or anti-American sentiment or anti-capitalism sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.” Right POTUS?

Unbelievable pictures of Monterrey in the aftermath of Hurricane Alex.

Holy poncho Batman! Martha Stewart had lengua, easily the most underrated “cut” of beef.

Caught this on PBS last night, I might or might not have almost shed a tear because of Jackie’s courage in the face of such bitter hatred.

[Photo Credit: Stuart Franklin/Getty Images Europe]

Brazilian Tomfoolery

No, I’m not talking about Luís Fabiano’s blatant double handball against Ivory Coast.

Speaking of Luís, he single-handedly almost derailed my rooting interest in the Verde-Amarela with his French-inspired antics but I digress.

No, the aforementioned tomfoolery involves actor Tom Cruise who was in Rio at the Brazilian premiere of his latest offering, Knight and Day.

It is well-documented that Maverick (at 5’7″) is considered short. I disagree, though that might have something to do with the fact that height is probably the only thing Mav and I have in common.

The generous people of Brazil gave Cruise a jersey, here’s the pic:

They even gave him the #10, reserved for the best player in a squad, but one wonders if the Last Samurai knows that Tomzinho means “Little Tom” in Portuguese.

Gotta love the Brazilians’ sense of humor.

Somebody Get The Queen A Lime!

That and a good bottle of Scotch to get over her well-compensated subjects’ shoddy performance at the World Cup.

Speaking of which, the Argentina v. Germany showdown looms large this Saturday. The verbal broadsides being taken by players on both sides (not to mention Maradona) guarantee that the contest will be an epic grudge match. Can’t wait.

Finally, Vlad Guerrero busted up his former team last night to the tune of 4-for-4 with a Grand Slam and a solo shot. You think the fact that they didn’t want to resign him last off season might have motivated the man?

In case you’re wondering about the post’s title, this should help.

México: The World Cup’s Broken Record

Once again, México fails to advance to the quarterfinals in a World Cup held outside of its borders.  Like in Germany 2006, Argentina booted them out of South Africa 2010 and depriving my homeland of participating in that most elusive of contests for them, a fifth World Cup match.  In fact, here’s what I posted after that match back in ’06,

Another World Cup away from Mexican soil, another early exit in the 2nd round by the Mexican team.  This time it was at the hands of the Argentines, who should have won at the end of regulation if it hadn’t been for that bad call on Messi’s offside.

Go in peace, Mexico, and hold your heads high, you went toe-to-toe with one of this Cup’s favorites.  To my countrymen’s credit, they had their best game yesterday, if only they had played at this level during the first round, they might have won their group.

I will say this, the officiating by the Swiss ref was atrocious.  He gave el Kaiser an unmerited yellow card and let the Args get away with murder without giving them cards.  Most notable was the non-call on the dude who rolled over Zinha, and not giving the automatic red on the Arg who took out Kikin as he had a clear path to goal (the whole last man rule).

My consolation in all this is that if El Tri would have gone on and faced Germany, they would have gotten creamed.  After all, the winner of the ARG-MEX game is fodder for the host team.

LaVolpe’s decisions regarding personnel were real head scratchers.  Franco didn’t even play yesterday, he’s a much better playmaker than Borghetti (who can’t create).  Guardado had the game of his life, too bad he didn’t see action during the first round.  If LaVolpe gets the ax, it will probably be because of his personnel decisions.

To my Che friends, congrats on a solid win, but ze Germans will steam roll ‘el albiceleste.’

Germany 4 Argentina 0 (yeah I’m bitter…)

Let’s see, some similarities to today’s affair:

  • No quarterfinals for Mexico once again.
  • The refereeing today was atrocious.  Assistant ref Stefano Ayroldi (below getting an earful, Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images) gave Argentina their first goal when he didn’t notice that Carlos Tevez was offside by at least the lenght of 2 gaucho knives.


Guys, you want someone to blame? Go talk to your coach…

  • Different coach this time (Javier Aguirre) but his decisions were equally head-scratching.  Starting the last man picked for the World Cup roster, Adolfo “El Bofo” Bautista, in the biggest match of this tournament is inexplicable.  Back then Guillermo Franco was the better choice over an aging Jared Borghetti.  Today, Pablo Barrera, who gave the Argentinians fits, should have gotten the nod over El Bofo instead of coming in as a sub
  • Had México triumphed today, the elation would have been short-lived since a sickeningly dangerous German squad awaits in the quarterfinals.  A German squad that taught England a graduate course in counterattacking.  As Tom Clancy wrote in Red Storm Rising that no one presses the counterattack “better than the Krauts””.
  • Aguirre’s personnel decisions will cost him his job as coach of the Mexican National Team

Interesting how history repeats itself, how Aguirre didn’t learn from LaVolpe’s mistakes or even his own mistakes back in the 2002 World Cup.

The main difference between ’06 and what happened today is that in ’06, El Tri actually had a shot to beat Argentina.  Today?  Not so much.  Which is why this loss didn’t shake me to the core as much as Team USA’s loss did yesterday.  Team USA had a real shot to do something special but came up short.

Another reason why this loss wasn’t as crushing is what I wrote here,

Thus, I shall enjoy watching El Tri get out of the first round only to get eliminated by giving a world-power all they can handle before succumbing to historical inevitability.

True, this time around they didn’t give Argentina all they could handle.  There was never any doubt Argentina was going to win this match and once again play the record that all of us Mexicans get to hear every 4 years:  México exits the World Cup in the Round of 16.

Despite what happened to El Tri in South Africa, I will always support the team that represents the country of my birth. I know it’s a fool’s errand but here’s hoping that in Brazil 2014, we won’t get to hear this same tired record again.

¡Viva Mexico!

Team USA, Thanks for the Memories

The dream is over… Team USA fell to Ghana, 1-2, in the Round of 16, thereby ending their World Cup run.

Though I am Mexican, when Mexico loses tomorrow against Argentina, I will not be as distraught as I was after Team USA’s loss. For the simple reason that México is not expected to win, and even if a miracle happens, they’re up against the winner of Germany and England in the quarterfinals. Good luck with that one…

The U.S. on the other hand had the easiest path to the semis in recent memory. Get past Ghana and play the winner of Uruguay-South Korea (Uruguay won today). Not exactly a gauntlet of fútbol powerhouses.

I defer to the experten for the technical breakdown of this match.

That doesn’t mean I don’t have any thoughts on what transpired before the eyes of our 42nd President (below, Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)


That guy to his left looks vaguely familiar…

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USA! USA! USA!

Facing the prospect of a draw with Algeria and thus the abyss that would be an early exit from the World Cup, Landon Donovan managed to put a Clint Dempsey rebound into the Algerian net and propel Team USA into the Round of 16 as the winners of Group C to boot.

I could talk about the numerous chances America’s Team had throughout the match:  Dempsey bouncing a shot off the post, Hercules Gomez not blasting it past the Algerian keeper, Jozy’s numerous flubs.

I could even expound on how an elderly and visually-impaired D-Wade could have cost El Equipo de Todos (Our Team, that’s Univision’s nickname for Team USA) everything but…

No.

This moment belongs to one of the greatest sporting moments I have witnessed, not just in the World Cup but throughout all sport.  Yes there was Vince Young’s unworldly performance against USC, Gibby’s improbable blast off Eck back in ’88, the Houston Rockets going back-to-back etc.

I have loved fútbol (soccer to some of you, football to others) all of my life, it is the sport I learned before I learned to walk.  Being a native of México had a lot to do with this.  Throughout the years, baseball, basketball  and college football have take a large portion of the market share, but every 4 years, fútbol is king.

As has been extensively catalogued on these pages, I “live and die” with Mexico’s National Team (El Tri) from the time World Cup qualifers start to such a time we find ourselves in now, the World Cup.  Naturally, during qualifiers I root against the United States when they play my beloved Tri, but every other time I’m right there with Team USA.

Watching the USA-Algeria match today, my heart grew heavier with each passing minute as Team USA failed time and time again to get the ball past a stupidly grinning Algerian keeper.  As stoppage time came and Algeria headed a dangerous ball towards U.S. keeper Tim Howard’s goal, the flickering flame of hope waned…

Howard, arguably the U.S. best player, then sensed an opportunity and hurled the ball mightily towards a streaking Landon Donovan.  I sensed something special was going to happen because this is exactly how he looked last year when he scored on a counterattack against Brazil in the Confederations Cup final.

They got down to the box, the ball ended up at the feet of Clint Dempsey and the hands of the Algerian keeper, who made a mighty save.  The ball bounced right out off his hands and into the annals of history in the form of Landon Donovan’s right foot.

Elation…  Relief and Joy.

I may or may not have gotten a little-teary eyed at what I had just witnessed.  I can say with certainty that this moment surpassed anything I’ve felt watching México at this World Cup.  For me to say that…

What a country this is, where an Argentine (Andres Cantor) is calling the game on Spanish Radio and goes berserk calling Donovan’s goal.  So much so that he is unable to belt out his trademark “GOOOOLLLL!!!” because of the emotion of the moment.

What a country, where a Mexican fútbol/soccer/football chant, “Si se puede!” (“Yes We Can”) is used to fuel an historical election, only to come full circle by being plastered on posterboard in support of Team USA (Photo by Phil Cole Getty Images)

I don’t know what this victory means for the future prospects of soccer in this country, and to be honest I don’t particularly care.

Whether or not the sport ever gives baseball, basketball or American football a run for their money here in these United States is irrelevant.

Fútbol is king, and when it comes to watching your homeland (adopted or otherwise) at the World Cup, there is nothing like it.

Here’s a video of Landon’s historic goal.

México Makes the Sweet Sixteen…

Uruguay and México played today in their last group stage match. The match is otherwise known as the “Loser Gets Argentina” Derby and well, México lost and for the second World Cup in a row, they will square off against the Albiceleste in the first knockout stage, the Round of 16. Much to his chagrin, I used to tease an Argentine friend that his homeland’s flag had a happy face in the middle of it. He’d vehemently deny it but turns out I was right,

To avoid West Germany v. Austria Part Deux, the last matches of the 2010 World Cup group stage are being played simultaneously. There was even some talk on Univision amongst the studio people that Uruguay and México might just take it easy, produce a draw and then both would advance into the Round of 16.

That went out the window after witnessing the opening minutes of the match. Both teams played like they were ready to take charge of the match. Understandable that México would play to win since a draw would only serve to send them on a collision course with the Gauchos. Unfortunately El Tri de todos los Mexicanos couldn’t muster even a draw, losing 0-1 and earning a grudge match with Argentina.

Speaking of Argentina, what has gotten into them? During World Cup qualifying this team was a hot mess, not a Gallic hot mess, but one nonetheless. They lost to lowly Bolivia 6-1 and almost lost drew with Peru, which would have cost them them a trip to South Africa. Now look at them, by far the best of this tournament to this point.

Today, Argentina’s “B” team carved up a stodgy Greek team like a slab of gyro meat on a spit. Sure the final score was only 2-0 but it could have easily been 5-0. Argentina is so loaded with talent that Internazionale striker Diego Milito, fresh off starring in and winning the UEFA Champions League, is reduced to riding the pine. He played today of course, because Maradona fielded the JV squad, that’s just sick.

I know I sound like a raving pessimist but how many of México’s players would make Argentina’s team, much less start? Rafa Marquez would make it, might have a shot to start, perhaps even Giovanni dos Santos, but that’s it. Memo Ochoa might have a shot as the 3rd keeper…To have a shot at beating Argentina, México will have to show something exponentially greater than they have shown up to this point. I have until Sunday to think about not if Argentina will win but by how much…

Here are some thoughts on today’s match:

The BAD
Sloppy Defense
Again, the Mexican coach chooses to go with keeper Oscar “Midget” Perez. Being taller wouldn’t have helped Conejo/Midget stop Uruguay’s score. Luis Suarez’ header was a result of shoddy and lazy defense on the part of Mexican defender and oddity, Maza Rodriguez. I say oddity because at 6’3″, Maza towers over his countrymen. Rodriguez has improved vastly playing for Dutch side PSV Eindhoven, but today with this defensive lapse and his missed opportunity right in front of the Uruguayan goal, he reverted to pre-PSV Eindhoven form.

Javier Aguirre
The Mexican coach made the curious decision to start the Mexican coelacanth, Cuauhtémoc Blanco. I know he’s a legend that no one can surpass on sheer chicanery, hell there’s even a prayer to him that is making the rounds, but he’s out of shape. Someone who is out of shape is best coming off the bench if you need a late score or an emotional infusion. I personally believe Blanco cost them momentum early.

Guillermo Franco

Then there’s an Aguirre favorite, Guillermo “Guille” Franco who once again cracked the starting lineup as the point man. Guille wasted a slew of opportunities, not by missing the goal mind you but by flopping. Someone please explain to me why having a clear path to the goal, a forward would choose to flop and go down like a marionette whose strings have been cut. Franco is Argentine by birth and I know that flopping is one of the most Argentine of traditions, but Guille for the love of Madonna’s Evita, you have a better chance of scoring when you go towards the goal than when you go towards the ground. This reminds me of my previously aforementioned Argentine friend who, when playing basketball, would catch the ball under the basket and instead of laying it up would fade away sometimes as far as the charity stripe.

Back to Franco, as if the flopping wasn’t bad enough, he managed to fan on a ball that had gotten past the keeper,


(AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

How many more missed chances is this man going to have before Aguirre yanks him and puts Javier “Chicharito” Hernández in his place? Enough already, take Guille out of the lineup.

THE GOOD

Andres Guardado
The winger got the nod to start due to the hamstring injury of Carlos Vela. I know Vela has not been in top form lately but his presence was missed. At least the threat of him making a great play would have kept the Uruguayan defense a bit more honest. Guardado did a superb job of doing this however, not only that, he launched a rocket off his left foot that made the crossbar clang in pain. Had the shot gone in, it would have easily been the Goal of the Tournament.

Pablo Barrera
Again, he came on as a sub who made his presence felt. He was a thorn on Uruguay’s side very much like he was a thorn on France’s side. Makes one wonder what would happen if he was in the starting lineup…

Rafa Marquez
The central defender is playing at a high level and deserves to get the captain’s armband back. “The Mexican Kaiser” provides stability to the back line and once again showed today why he plays for one of the top clubs in the world, Barcelona.

Americans Haunted By A Phantom Call

Major, major props to Team USA for not succumbing to despair after falling behind 0-2 against a surprising Slovenian squad, that apparently holds Chuck Brown in no small amount of reverence. The fact that America’s team equalized in the second half is a testament to the grit and can-do attitude that fueled the establishment and growth of this great nation.

Of course, it was lackadaisical marking and a flaccid attack that put them in the early hole and to be sure that will surely be addressed by head coach Bob Bradley. Resiliency is a trademark of a team that can make a deep run in this, the greatest of all sporting events, and the American proved that they have just that.

The story of this match should have been that, a scrappy American squad falls behind early only to come roaring back in the second half to tie, then in the closing minutes to win on a Maurice Edu strike off a set piece. But nooooo…

Instead, the story of the match is head referee Koman Coulibaly from Mali who made an atrocious call that nullfied Edu’s potential game-winner. Coulibaly called Michael Bradley offside on the play despite not being in a position to make such a call. You see, that call typically goes to one of the linesmen who has a better angle on it. What makes this especially frustrating is that no one knew what the nullifying call was.

Even before making up this offside, this ref had shown a remarkable ability to make a buffoon of himself. He gave US forward Robbie Findley a yellow card for a handball. Fine and good, except that the ball hit Findley in the face. I don’t know maybe in Mali a hand is a face and a face is a hand, who knows?

I do know that this may sound condescending but what the hell is a man from Mali (FIFA Rank: 54) doing officiating a contest on this, the grandest of stages? What’s more, why is the Saudi ref (KSA’s FIFA Rank: 66) who clumsily presided over the México-France match also afforded the opportunity on this stage? Yes, I know that not all refs from low ranking FIFA members are laughably incompetent, but I’m beginning to sense a pattern and I’m not the only one.

In my opinion, the best football/fútbol is played in Europe and in Latin America so why not fill the World Cup referee pool overflowing with the best men from the leagues therein?

Mr. Coulibaly showed that he has no business presiding over a juice box-ridden and orange slice-infested FFPS lovefest much less a World Cup match.

All that said, here are some thoughts on what transpired:

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Move Over Lloyd Christmas

In that great cinematic work, Dumb and Dumber, Lloyd Christmas (Jim Carrey) asked Mike Starr’s character, “Wanna hear the most annoying sound in the world?” And he proceeded to serenade him with what, at the time, was the most annoying sound in the world. Here’s the clip:

Well, suffice it to say, that sound plays second fiddle to the drone emanating from those ubiquitous South African “stadium horns”, vuvuzelas. That infernal noise was first heard by a worldwide audience during last year’s Confederations’ Cup. They were annoying then, and they are annoying now at the World Cup.

Opinion varies as to whether these horns are “annoying irritants” or “joyful expressions of African culture”, but at the risk of sounding dismissive of other cultures, they simply are annoying and irritating expressions of joyful African culture.

Whether it’s a South African, German or Mexican (below) providing the wind power, the noise produced is equally irritating. So much so that earplugs have become a hot item in South Africa. One might conclude that the vuvuzela was a clever scheme concocted by ear plug vendors, but I digress…

I took this pic after a México win at Reliant Stadium a couple of years ago, a match which proved to be my first exposure to the glorified funnels. As horrible as the noise is, it can’t take away from the beautiful game, especially at an event like the World Cup.

However, it would be a good if somehow Univision or ESPN found a way to filter out the vuvuzela noise, as the BBC is thinking of doing.

Here are a couple of observations from yesterday and today’s action:

  • The Germans have looked the best out of all the teams that have played so far. So effortless do the Krauts look, so crisp and pinpoint their passes are, are they not? They seem to have mastered the troublesome Jabulani (the official match ball), could it be because most of their squad plays in the Bundesliga, which used the Jabulani as its match ball last season?  Things that make you go hmmm…
  • Speaking of ze Germans…  How ’bout that rousing advertisement for globalization that their squad is?  The German National Team, dubbed Die Mannschaft (insert joke here), boasts a naturalized Brazilian, a son of Turkish immigrants, a guy named Gomez (born in Germany, has a Spanish father), 2 naturalized Poles (seems to be a running gag), another guy whose father is Tunisian.  Ol’ Adolf must be turning over in his grave…
  • What is it with Italy allowing headers from Latin American teams at the World Cup?  In ’02 it was México’s Jared Borghetti and today it was Paraguay’s Antolín Alcaraz who did the honors. Like in ’02 against El Tri Italy tied with Paraguay 1-1.
  • ESPN, I know that you learned from the last World Cup and hired good announcers to man your booth but you are still lagging behind Univision’s varsity, Pablo Ramirez and Jésus “El Profe” Bracamontes.  After Italy equalized today, Ramirez sung in Italian.  That is how you do it ESPN.  When a goal is scored don’t call it like it’s a throw-in, call it “with feelin'” as Jon Bon Jovi crooned.

Finally, on a totally unrelated not, you are very welcome Baylor.