June 15, 2006

After Sixteen

I’ve watched nearly all of each of the first sixteen games of the World Cup, so it’s time for some observations. The “commentators” on the American channels are bad, annoying, over-impressed by themselves, and, too often, not paying attention to the game. They’re certainly not actually bringing the game to us – it’s just the platform for their bloviation. The referees have done well. They’ve kept the games under control without affecting the outcomes with their calls. This is a terrific event, with people – players and fans – coming from all over the world to share this simple, beautiful game, bringing different colors and music and styles and languages together in one place, for the same reason.

I don’t usually bring much in the way of pre-conceptions to the World Cup, in that I don’t have a team that I’m rooting for or following that closely. I don’t know that much about the teams, really, so I rely on the first few rounds to learn about how the teams play and develop interest in them. Here are the teams I have the most interest in right now.

Ecuador is biggest surprise of the first set. They just plain handled Poland, doing very well for so near to sea level, thank you. And I also watched their second game this morning and they were even better. They played a relaxed, patient game throughout, but when they went forward to score, well, they just scored. Their three goals this morning were a clinic on efficiency, wasting no chances.

Argentina also played a smooth game against a plucky Ivory Coast side. I’m looking forward to tomorrow’s early game, to see where they might take this.

The Netherlands was wonderful against Serbia and Montenegro, attacking with energy and creativity. I really enjoyed their performance, though they could take a lesson from Ecuador on scoring efficiency.

Spain is my favorite, this far. They were dismantled Ukraine, applying a frightening and efficient attack. They look good, they attack, they defend calmly, and they finish.

I’m not saying that one of these teams will win it all, but they offered the soccer that pleased me the most in the first set of games. Obviously, Brazil won their first game and is favored overall, but I’m reserving them. I’m sure I’ll see plenty of them over the next few weeks. The Germans seem strong, but it will be interesting to see them play one of the teams in my list above. The French and the English didn’t look very good at all, especially considering the talent on their rosters. Both Japan and Korea seem to have lost the spark and energy that each presented in the last tournament.

I still haven’t looked at the US – Czech game. Wonder why I’m hesitating?

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