Monday, July 12, 2010

Tape-Delay Blog, World Cup Final

(Hey friends, this is a tape-delay blog of yesterday's final. What that means is that I typed these thoughts as they happened, and, aside from minor style edits, left them intact for this morning's post. Enjoy!)

2:03: Here it is, baby, the first live blog since basketball season! I think soccer is a nice sport for this format, since you don’t have points being accumulated every three seconds. Like some kind of barbarian.

2:04: Right now, ESPN is showing highlights and previews. I have to mention here how much I love Ian Darke. He’s the British announcer who did the USA-Algeria game, and a lot of others this World Cup. My favorite call of the tournament came in the Holland-Uruguay semi-final, when Van Bronckhurst had his sweet strike from distance. “AND IT’S AN AB-SO-LUTE FIRE-CRACKER!” Darke yelled, and it was perfect. I will miss him. It’s almost worth watching the premiership in order to keep him in my life.

Or I could go visit him in England, and tell him how much I like him. I bet you could find his address online. I bet you could run up to him and touch his hair before anyone could even stop you. Right?

2:07: My friend Spike is in Amsterdam, and I’m insanely jealous. Hopefully he has a nice, wild time, and doesn’t die. The safety part of him was happy when Germany lost to Spain in the semis. It made it 80% less likely that there will be riots if the Dutch lose. Or win.

2:10: I would like to take a moment to recognize the high quality ESPN’s World Cup coverage. From the analysts to the announcers to the music to the graphics to the little docu-stories about fans and players…it’s been excellent. Even the commercials have been sweet. It’s easy to take umbrage with the Worldwide Leader- easy and fun, which is why there’s often a lot of silence when they deserve compliments. And deserve them they do. It’s been a fantastic tournament.

2:12: As I suspected, Martin Tyler will be announcing the final. Efan Ekoku is his partner. They look a bit uncomfortable and stiff in front of the camera right now. Which I enjoy. These guys are pure voices. I will miss Mr. Darke, though.

2:14: Shots of Amsterdam, which is completely packed and completely orange. “They’re getting prepared to jump in the canals, if they win,” says Fowler. As someone who’s jumped into bodies of water before, let me assure you that the preparation is long and arduous.

2:17: All stocked up on water and victuals so I won’t have to leave my perch before the match. I thought of hitting a bar for this one, or going up to Union Square where they apparently have some big screens up, but I’ve had about enough of crowds for a little while. Standing for 90 minutes is a loser’s proposition. As it is, I can hear the crowd at the bar down the street, which is kinda cool.

2:18: I don’t like that commercial with the “my coach says” rap. It’s creepy. At one point, the lyrics are “my coach says: only listen to my voice! My coach says: I know what you need!” Other types of people who say those exact words: controlling fathers, abusive husbands, and serial killers.

2:20: My girlfriend bought a sewing machine about a month ago, and she’s using it now. I’m hoping whatever she’s working on is over soon. Otherwise we’re going to have to have an awkward conversation in about five minutes, and my record in these types of conversations isn’t too great…

2:22: Here come the players holding hands with the kids, and led out by the referees. The lead ref just took the Jabulani ball from its showcase. Haven’t heard many complaints from the players after all the hype beforehand.

Soccer trivia: did you know that ‘outfielder’ is a general term for every player except the goalie?

False Soccer trivia: As a superstitious ritual, all Dutch players rub themselves with orange peels before the match.

2:25: Who are American supporting in this one? Both countries lack a World Cup championship, and they’re the two best teams never to have won. An informal facebook poll seems to indicate that most are going for Spain, though. Something about that romantic Latin flair…

2:26: By the way, if every match was like the third place game between Germany and Uruguay yesterday, soccer would catch on here in a heartbeat. It was wide open, fun, and full of scoring opportunities. Players got to showcase their skill in an exciting, flowing style of game. The reason, of course, is that losing a third place game is no big deal, so things loosen up a bit. This can’t happen in a match with stakes, and most matches have stakes. Defense is the name of the game.

2:28: Average national anthems from both countries. Nobody has surpasses France and Canada, at least for me. The cheering from the bar down the street indicates slightly more Spanish support.

2:30: The sewing seems to be done, thankfully, and kickoff is imminent. The Dutch will start with it.


2:30: That was a hilarious football joke. Because in American football, you see, it would be important if you retained possession after the kickoff. But not in soccer. In soccer it’s normal. You just kick it to your guy. Hilarious.

1:48: I’ll now begin time-stamping by the game clock. If I wasn’t already rooting for the Dutch, and I was, two early Spanish dives have convinced me. Please, please, please don’t let it become that kind of match. Happily, no false yellow cards from the refs.

2:45: Spain has 27 wins without a World Cup title, Holland has 22. They’re top two in history.

3:14: Trivia: “Holland” is actually a region that comprises only two of the westernmost provinces of The Netherlands. You should never use it to describe the country itself, but for some reason it’s okay to use it as the name of the national soccer team.

4:34: Whoa! Ramos almost scored on a header. Wonderful save by Stekelenburg, the Dutch keeper. Five minutes in, and Spain are controlling possession. The Dutch seem to be playing cautiously, a strategy that failed for Germany in the semis.

6:12: Ugly long ball from the Dutch defense. They don’t look great so far. On a side note, David Villa has one of those faces that really pisses me off. He’s almost into Cristiano Ronaldo territory, with that sort of nasty arrogant look. Ramos and Puyols are my two favorite Spaniards.

7:30: Annoyingly, the televisions at the bar are ahead of me, so I can hear people reacting about two seconds before things happen. I’ll go ask them to quiet down at halftime.

8:30: The Dutch are relying pretty heavily on an offside trap. I have a feeling that will backfire on them at some point. David Villa knows what he’s doing back there. He’ll time one right sooner or later.

9:15: I’m surprised Pedro is starting for Spain. The extremely selfish non-pass in the semis, when he had Torres wide open in front of the goal, actually made me angry. I would’ve sat him on principle. Then again, I have no interest in Spain winning the World Cup, and you could argue that the Spanish coach is in a very different position.

11:00: Wow! Ramos came all the way in, crossed it, and somehow the Dutch defender booted it over the goal from like three feet away. And now a cross gets kicked into the side netting by David Villa. Spain are close to a goal here…

12:00: Twelve minutes in, and Spain gets high marks. Momentum, possession, and opportunity have been theirs almost exclusively. Holland looks totally lost. Only the goal tally is still neutral.

13:57: Tyler calls the Spanish ‘silky.’ He’s okay, and all, but he’s no Ian Darke. Why does he have the final?

14:25: Embarrassing writhing on the turf by Capdevila earns a yellow card. Fuck. We can expect a lot more of that from here on out.

15:00: I’m liking Dutch manager Bert Van Marwijk’s black scarf. He appears dapper and unconcerned, while the Spanish coach seems grave and silent. It’s a battle of style!

16:00: Now Robben dives for the Dutch, does the scream-and-roll routine, and Puyols gets a yellow. Free kick to Sneijder…

17:16: And it’s right to Casillas. The Spanish keeper has been very solid in a tournament full of dicey goalies.

18:30: A ton of back passes from the Dutch. You can hear some whistles in the South African crowd. These are usually followed by ill-conceived long balls. Just like watching the Americans!

20:00: Wonderful run down the left by Robben earns a corner for Holland. It’s headed out by Ramos for a throw-in. The Dutchies have emerged slightly from their shell in the last 8 minutes.

21:30: A yellow card for Van Bommel. That one was a hard foul, and very deserved. He basically slid into Iniesta’s back leg. Looked painful.

22:30: Martin Tyler is lulling me to sleep. I take back what I said about his announcing skills. Ian Darke is far more compelling, interesting, and exciting.

23:00: A yellow on Ramos makes it four for the match. Not a great trend, because you know the diving will kick up a notch in the second half. Casillas with another nice save on a free kick. Leaping catch near the far post.

24:30: Puyol just took a hard hit, fell, and got right back up. Imagine that. My love for him grows.

25:40: Holland are now controlling the ball, and the sense that Spain was about to score has vanished. But despite their emergence, the Dutch don’t seem particularly threatening. Neither side look close to breaking through.

27:25: I wonder if the World Cup final is kinda like the March Madness championship, or game 7 of the NBA finals, where the pressure takes something from the skill of the players. There are passes happening for both sides now that I haven’t seen from anyone short of North Korea or the US in the entire Cup.

28:46: Jesus, a flying karate kick by De Jong into a Spanish midsection only gets a yellow card. That was extremely dirty.

30:00: Thirty minutes. Not a very entertaining match, as both sides are playing quite defensive now. Spain threatened a little in the first ten, but we’ve since settled in something more monotonous.

32:00: A string of nice passes by the Spanish stalls out outside the box, and the Dutch counterattack is halted by a hard foul on Robben. The rhythm of the game seems to have been established; the Spanish make artful little forays deep into the Dutch end, the Dutch respond by closing ranks, and then try desperate counters.

34:00: Interesting moment where a Dutch pass to Casillas following an injury to their side sails over his head and almost went in the net. He had to touch it as it bounced over his head, but the Dutch gave it back to him on the corner. What gentlemen! I’m wondering, though, if the ball had gone in the net whether they would have allowed Spain to score. Somehow I sorta kinda doubt it. But maybe I’m being cynical.

36:00: About ten minutes from halftime, and I have to say it’s been a boring match so far. But as I speak, a corner to the Netherlands…

36:48: Oh man, a total whiff by Mathieson on a very decent cross about 8 yards from goal. That was what we in the business call an ‘opportunity.’

37:43: And then Pedro has a nice run, but his shot is errant. I root for bad thing when it comes to Mr. Pedro. Also, why does he only have one name? What does he think he is, Brazilian? Or is Pedro just his last name? In that case, I really owe him an apology. I’ll swing by and say sorry on my way to visit Ian Darke.

39:40: Free kick from Spain gets knocked around the box a bit, and Sneijder does some good work to clear it from trouble.

40:00: Exactly 44% of the way through regulation, and it’s a 0-0 draw. Action, action, we want action! A-C-T! I-O-N!

41:43: Double dives! A classic situation where nobody gets hurt, but both players go straight to the ground and start getting theatrical.

43:00: “Extravagant from long range by Alonso,” says Martin Tyler. What does that even mean? It was just a long free kick that went wide of its mark. I usually like it when soccer announcers use descriptive adjectives, but that one wasn’t particularly apt.

45:00: Almost done with the first, and no goals scored. Live blogging a soccer match with no goals is a lot like going on many dates with an attractive woman, and you don’t even get a goodnight kiss.

45:44: But you still hope for that kiss, and then Arjen Robben nearly scores, and you schedule another date. But then a corner kick produces nothing, and you’re like, shit, how can a dish as simple as lasagna be so fucking expensive and who does this girl think she is?

47:13: That’ll do it. Based on this type of play, we should almost go straight to penalties. It’s looking like a 1-0 or 0-0 type of match. I’m going to get some water.

HALFTIME: There was just a NAPA commercial with a guy singing a country music song about auto parts. How much did NAPA pay for that ad, and could they have picked a worst potential audience? Everyone knows that only fruity liberals watch soccer in America. This does not appeal to us. Did ESPN feel kinda bad taking their money for that one? Were they like “well, I mean, the finances are all in order and everything, but...are you dudes sure? You know this is soccer, right?”

HALFTIME: Is there any way “The Expendables” will be a good movie? Because I’d like to believe. A solid action movie would be pretty welcome.

HALFTIME: Oh man, a sweet promo with violin music and a soothing Scottish female voiceover has me totally pumped for the British Open at St. Andrews. People always rave about the Masters, but the British has always been my favorite.

HALFTIME: Bob Ley says “it may not be pretty for the purists, but it’s a scoreless tie at halftime.” I love when the second clause of a sentence begins with the word ‘but,’ then does nothing to contradict the negative from the first clause. “I may be a crappy boyfriend, but I blog on weekends when we could be spending time together.”

45:00: Here we go! I’m not terrible excited for this second half. If you’ll permit me a criticism of soccer, it’s that the sport allows a cautious style to succeed. Whereas aggressive styles can easily trump defensive strategies in basketball and football, soccer is more conducive to sitting back and playing prevent D.

47:08: Corner for Spain. It’s their second of the match, while Holland has 4.

48:03: Capdevila misses a golden chance with a whiff to match Mathieson’s from earlier. A nice header by Puyol set him up right in front of goal. He’ll rue that one.

50:00: “Despite the lack of goals, the match has been full of harmony,” says Martin Tyler. I have to agree. It’s been one of the more harmonious matches I can remember. Not a ton of melody, though.

51:30: But Tyler just won me back by saying that Robben’s left-footed distance shot was his “party piece.” That’s the kind of wry description I enjoy. My party piece, in case you were curious, is disappearing alone into the host’s bedroom for long, mysterious periods.

53:00: Free kick from close for Spain. COULD THIS BE IT?*

*I’ll be using that phrase any time anyone is close to scoring for the next forty minutes.

54:36: But it’s wide. No dice. This seems like a good time to mention that I’d like to have two boys and name them Xavier and Maximilian, so they can be nicknamed Xavi and Maxi.

55:29: David Villa is rolling around like a man possessed. I think he might actually be hurt, although God knows I’ve been burned thinking that before. And for some reason Heitinga gets a yellow card, but it’s well after the play is over. Very mysterious. The replay shows it might have been deserved, though, but it’s hard to believe the ref saw anything if he didn’t stop play. Another zany mix-up from FIFA!

57:40: It’s become a flop-fest. It’s a shame that two great teams can’t face off and play great soccer.

58:50: I read earlier today that this championship might become the most-watched event in television history. The current leader is the Opening Ceremonies at the Beijing Games, and that owes a lot to the fact that everyone in China had their sets tuned in. At the moment, I give the entertainment edge to Beijing. They should let the Chinese organize the World Cup final. It would be completely scripted and devoid of any soul, and the preparation would be so rigorous that many would die, but at least there would be some spectacular goals.

61:30: OH MY LORD. Arjen Robben had a wide open breakaway, and waited just a fraction of a second too long to shoot. Casillas dove the wrong way, but the ball hit his legs and deflected just wide. That was the chance of the match so far. If Holland lose by one or on penalties, that will absolutely haunt them.

63:00: As we get closer, the ghost of World Cup failures past has to be creeping into the minds of Dutch fans everywhere. They lost to Germany in ’74 (that was Cruyff’s ‘Total Football’ team, often considered the best side in history) and Argentina in ’78, while Spain is playing in their first final. A loss here would be slightly more devastating to Holland, I think.

65:39: Spain just came inches from having a clear shot on goal at close range. Inexplicably, this match has opened up.

66:12: Well-earned yellow for Capdevila, and a free kick to Holland. For some reason, that Robben missed goal has rejuvenated my interest, and I really want the Netherlands to come through.

68:04: David Villa is offside, but just. Replay shows the official had it wrong. This match is turning very, very exciting. Where was this type of play in the first 60 minutes?

68:45: I can honestly say that I think one team will score, but I have no idea who.

69:15: AND IT’S ALMOST SPAIN! David Villa had a great chance after a shot to the far post, but it was blocked by Stekelenberg, somehow, some way. Not quite as great a chance as Robben had, but pretty close.

71:30: The definite edge goes to Spain right now. They’re looking very dangerous, on par with their early attacks in the first ten minutes. Crisp passing and possession, along with their constant forward movement, could yield something very soon…

73:44: David Villa puts one over the crossbar on a short free kick. Possession to the Dutch, and we’ll see what kind of offensive life they have left.

75:20: David Villa has been full of sound and fury this match, but so far it’s signified nothing. Another plausible chance goes begging when his left-footed strike sails wide. Still, Spain looks dangerous. I’d rather be a Spanish fan than a Dutch fan right now. And as I say it, David Villa earns a corner.

76:42: Oh my. A free header from Sergio Ramos, about 4 yards away, goes high. Meanwhile, a long ball from the Dutch defense finds nobody before sailing out of bounds. You have to think the Spanish goal is on its way. They deserve it.

78:24: Iniesta gives a vicious hip check that spills a Dutch player, but he escapes with a stern talking-to from the ref. Another corner for Spain. This might be it.

79:11: Not even close, and it’s headed away before it can breach the box. Holland can’t seem to keep possession for thirty seconds straight at this point, and I don’t believe I’ve seen them string four passes together in a long while.

80:23: With ten minutes left before extra time, it’s a minor miracle that this match is still 0-0. Robben’s chance, along with almost ten decent opportunities for Spain, have yielded nothing. Iniesta just found space in the box, but a nice tackle keeps him from unleashing a shot.

83:20: Wow. Another run by Robben produces nothing. It seemed like it came from nowhere, and he almost broke away. He didn’t get fouled inside the box, but it looked like Puyol pulled him back just outside. Should have probably been a free kick from two yards outside.

84:30: Just for kicks, here are the all-time penalty shootout records for each national team: Spain 3-3, Holland 1-4.

86:00: These might be famous last words, but the referee has done a pretty decent job tonight. There have been a lot of yellows, but all of them earned. The only two calls he’s really blown are that last foul on Robben, and not giving De Jong a red card for the flying jump kick.

86:38: Down at the bar, rival chants of “Hol-land!” and “Es-pan-a!” are vying for prominence. The Spanish chants are slightly louder.

87:30: After a nice flurry, the pace has settled again. It would be a big surprise to see a goal before the end of extra time.

89:07: I was almost proven wrong there, as Van Persie navigated his way in and received the pass from Robben, but he was two steps offside.

90:00: 3 minutes of added time to be played. The ball is back in the Dutch half, and Spain are attacking.

91:50: We’re almost done. A goal here would be the ultimate sucker punch for the losing country. Spain are dawdling by midfield now.

93:11: That’s it! Extra time to come. Robben and Ramos had the best chances of the half, and there were about twenty exciting minutes of attacking soccer, but otherwise it seemed both countries were content to wait for fluky opportunities and prevent the other guys from scoring.

END REGULATION: I’m playing ‘Orange Crush’ on YouTube. That has to help, right?

90:00: We’re ready to go, and Spain kicks it off.

90:43: Robben’s crazy runs are starting to seem kinda useless. They’re fun to watch, but eventually Spain just commits enough defenders to take it away.

91:50: Some near fouls in the box go uncalled, and the ref shows good discretion not to award Spain a penalty. Corner forthcoming, though…

94:20: Holland are looking to put something together, but a lot of long balls aren’t finding their mark.

94:47: Whoa! Fabregas misses a direct chance in a mirror image of Robben’s error from earlier. So close, as Stekelenberg kicks it away. Then Holland wins a corner, and a header goes over the bar. But that Spanish chance made some hearts race…

97:04: Corner to Spain. Xavi takes it as usual, Puyol gets a head on it, but it trickles over the end line. Goal kick.

98:25: Good God, Spain can’t finish. Iniesta had a shot, but decided to try to get closer, and Van Bronckhorst deprived him of the ball. They need to start uncorking when they get in the box and have nobody but the keeper barring the way to the net.

100:22: Again, Spain comes close, and again they come up empty. This time a good shot is deflected. Stekelenberg was going the wrong way, but the defender’s leg sent it slightly off kilter. The ball hit the side of the net, drawing loud cries from the momentarily-fooled Spanish supporters down the street.

102:30: The Dutch are maintaining possession in the midfield, but can’t find their way into any kind of attack. Finally, Spain get the free kick. Two minutes left in the first half of extra time.

103:21: Fabregas makes a nice run past a tired Dutch defense, but his shot from 18 is wide.

104:40: Van Bronckhorst is subbed out, ending a nice career. We won’t forget your absolute firecracker, Giovanni.

105:10: One minute of added time, then a short rest, then 15 more. If it’s stilled tied, penalties. Sergio Ramos is stopped on run up the right side. There’s the whistle.

HALFTIME, EXTRA TIME: This match is exhausting. It stopped being boring around the 60th minute, and just became kind of frustrating. I’d love to see a Dutch goal sometime in the next 15.

As I’ve mentioned in this blog before, I just finished reading “Brilliant Orange” by David Winner. The book, all about the Dutch style of soccer, has a section on penalties. Because they’re more concerned with style and winning in regulation, Holland has typically struggled with penalties. This team is far more pragmatic than the total football sides of the 70s, or even the dynamic Dutch of the late 90s. But still, there’s that historical weight on their shoulders.

Fernando Torres is on for David Villa. Imagine if he were to score a goal here. Talk about cathartic…it’s been a rough Cup for El Nino.

105:00: Here we go. Torres begins his stint by running into a Dutch player and taking a hard fall.

107:00: The Dutch have controlled things in the first two minutes, but nothing has materialized. Elia, a late sub, just created some space on the left side, but the ball trickled out before he could cross.

108:30: A Sleepy’s robot just called me to confirm delivery of my mattress on Tueday. POOR TIMING, ASSHOLES.

109:00: Whoa, Heitinga just got sent off, most deservedly, for collaring Iniesta as he made a run toward goal. Spain has a free kick just outside the box. Ten minutes left. Holland will almost certainly take penalties at this point…down a man and tired, they have very little hope of a goal.

110:00: Xavi sends it over. No dice, but you can expect Spain to push hard for the winner over the next ten minutes.

110:51: Van Der Wiel gets a yellow of his own. Again, Iniesta is the man to earn the hard hit. And another free kick, again from Xavi. Stekelenberg punches it out.

111:34: My heart is pounding right now, and I can’t even imagine how fans and citizens of these nations are feeling. History is imminent for one long-frustrated side. Right now Spain is the favorite, as Holland is using every stall tactic in the book.

112:47: Robben is offside, but puts the ball in the net anyway. Apparently that’s a yellow card infraction.

113:50: A bit of action from the Netherlands, as they earn a free kick from about 30 yards away. Will they go for it, or play it safe and keep everyone back?

115:07: The ball deflects off a Spanish player, but the ref misses it and awards a goal kick. On the next possession, Elia is denied a foul when he goes down just outside the box. And here comes Spain….


116:50: Wow. Replay shows Iniesta was well onside. This one is just about finished. Unbelievable, and unbelievably heartbreaking for the Dutch. The Spanish down the street are singing the Ole! Song.

117:42: Kickoff for the Dutch, and they seem to have all but given up.

118:23: You can’t say the Spanish didn’t deserve this one. That goal was a long time coming. Still, Holland will be upset that they couldn’t take advantage of two great chances from Robben.

119:25: Almost no effort at all from the Dutch. They’re devastated.

120:31: Two minutes of extra time. Free kick to Holland produces nothing.

121:11: Puyol clears it, and Capdvila does the same ten seconds later. Torres is down injured.

122:35: Van Persie tries to head it toward goal in vain.

122:50: Spain have done it! A World Cup to add to their European championship two years ago, and they’re loving it in Madrid. Well earned. The game wasn’t the most thrilling, but there was a good amount of tension at the end. The Spanish goal seemed like it might never come, but finally the cautious Dutch style failed. The best team won.

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