[Wait until you see the whites of their unjustifiably arrogant eyes...]
[A rather unique goal, scored by Coventry's Earnie Hunt after Willie Carr flicks it into the air, via the Times Online]
[Thanks, Ben. For live soccer experiences so far, the perfect hattrick is second only to beating Mexico in Columbus, though watching you get in Wells Thompson's face as he was lying on the ground after you'd shoved him out of the way for the tying goal against New England wasn't bad either, and was one of the few bright spots in a miserable season.]
A French collective is organizing a tournament of three-sided situationist soccer in Lyons; the game's rules were invented by Asger Jorn in the sixties in order to "[deconstruct] the mythic bipolar structure of conventional football," and adopted in the nineties by the Luther Blissett Three-Sided Football League (Luther Blissett being, rather conveniently, both an Anglo-Jamaican footballer and a nom-de-plume adopted by artists and social activists).
[A game of buzkashi about to begin in Kyrgyzstan; buzkashi is a traditional interdependent team sport played in Central Asia. It has been described as "like rugby, but with a goat carcass and horses", which seems to be fairly accurate. The markings are perhaps another example of a playing field as an exportation of an abstract or mythical landscape. Photo via flickr user 14degrees]
From Jonathan Wilson's preview of Germany v. Russia:
"The Germans will be shaking in their boots when they see the full stands that have come to support us," said the Rubin Kazan forward Alexander Bukharov, whose slim chances of involvement improved marginally yesterday when Roman Pavlyuchenko suffered a tweaked hamstring in training. "For them it will be like a laxative."
Maybe something was lost in translation? Or maybe Bukharov is the Russian Ray Hudson ("he would stab his grandmother in the eye for another bowl of porridge"...)?
From the wikipedia entry on Cuju, an ancient Chinese form of soccer/football:
..."Bai Da" was the dominant cuju style of the Song Dynasty, attaching much importance to developing personal skills. The goal became obsolete in this method and the playing field was enclosed with thread, with players taking turns to kick the ball within. The number of fouls made by the players decided the winner. For example, if the ball was not passed far enough to reach the other players, points were deducted. If the ball was kicked too far out, a big deduction was made. Kicking the ball too low or turning at the wrong moment all led to fewer points. Players could touch the ball with any part of the body except their hands and the number of players ranged anywhere from two to 10. In the end, the player with the highest score would win.
Well, Barcelona might not mind, but Wimbledon probably would have found that a bit frustrating...
[Afghan men play soccer in front of the bombed-out old royal palace in Kabul, via the big picture]
FC Zurich's Hannu Tihinen, scoring the game-winner against AC Milan last night.
Please find a way to hire Peter Wilt and put him in charge of making important decisions.
You really can't hit it much better than this (starts around 0:13).
Best moments are (a) Keita's
Henry's goal that begins just after 4:30, but for the sublime flick that Messi starts the sequence with and the absurd control he demonstrates in feeding Keita Henry, not for Keita's Henry's tap-in and (b) the announcer after the final goal, thanking the referee for allowing so much stoppage time and thus permitting Messi to score the fifth goal, which is also sublime. Lionel Messi is the one you will tell your grandchildren about, and Barcelona are that team.
[edit: That's what I get for posting the day after watching the video, and not going back to check on my memory of who scored...]
I'm hoping, given that three of the four soccer teams I follow closely (that'd be the United States vs. Trinidad and Tobago, DC United vs. Kansas City, and Scotland vs. Holland, excluding Everton) are playing important games today/tonight, at least one of them will give me something to be excited about, preferably in the form of taking three points off their opponent. Six points would be great; nine would be Building Nothing Out of Something-vintage Modest Mouse and the Silver Jews opening for a reunited Archers of Loaf, with an encore by the Ramones, including Joey.
[Guardian minute-by-minute of Scotland v. Holland here, live from 3 pm EST]
Nutmeg has an insightful post at BigSoccer on how Bradley's built the US's attack around quick transition play.
Tough to take that loss, but, as Kyle says, the last ten minutes of Wednesday's game were absolutely electric -- I was out on the edge of the loud side, several sections from SE and La Barra, and everyone was standing and singing by the end. While the uniform opinion seems to be that the result was very bad, and I suppose it was, moments like that make it very clear that, even in sports, winning is definitely not everything.
As long as I'm on the topic of soccer, I should mention that Bill Simmons has a great piece on his experience at Azteca (and, as it turns out, he's a pretty savvy observer of the on-field action for a self-professed novice):
...The Americans were a sterling 0-22-1 in Mexico before Wednesday's match ... and with reason. The stands hug the field, shoot straight up and couldn't be more intimidating, especially in the corners, where fans shower opponents with beers, sodas and LTYDEWTKWTA (Liquids That You Don't Even Want To Know What They Are) on every corner kick. The lower section of the stadium is fenced, with a guarded, waterless moat (seriously, a moat!) with a second fence above it that prevents fans from racing onto the field. Atop the stadium, an uneven half-roof leads to eerie shadows and goofy lighting that seem to change by the minute.
Opponents never feel safe. Inside the bowels of the stadium, the players walk down a concrete tunnel that feels like it was built in 1362. Emerge from the tunnel, and Mexican fans are suddenly right there, wearing green jerseys, yelling obscenities and pounding the fence in front of them. The venom starts immediately -- booing and hissing, horn blowing, various "Meh-hee-CO! Meh-hee CO!" chants -- and never really stops. The Mexican fans had no problem drowning out "The Star-Spangled Banner" with jeers. They tossed drinks and debris at the U.S. bench for most of the second half ... which didn't matter because Azteca's opposing bench has an impenetrable plexiglass roof, but still. During a corner kick in extra time, they showered Landon Donovan with such a staggering amount of debris that he briefly staggered back toward the field in disbelief, shrugging his hands as if to say, "How could anyone act like this?
I also recommend the gameday photographs of Douglas Zimmerman, who Simmons links to. While I'm certainly not happy with the result, after beating them so badly recently (I'm pretty sure the last time we lost to them, discounting the Gold Cup silliness, was at Azteca in 2005), its good to have a reminder or two of what makes beating Mexico so pleasurable.
If you'd offered me a 2-3 defeat to Brazil in the final at the beginning of the tournament, I would've taken it and run.
Which isn't to say that he doesn't deserve what criticism he gets for starting Beasley in the first match against Brazil (when it was obvious to anyone who watched the past couple qualifiers that Beasley is way out of form and shape) and playing Sacha a bit much (and I say that as someone who is a big Sacha fan, when he is in form -- but its hard to imagine that Torres, who starts at holding midfield for Pachuca, would be a worse choice to replace Feilhaber than Sacha). I have no idea what Conor Casey is about, but its clearly not tackling, passing, dribbling, shooting, running, or challenging for the ball.
But 3-0 Egypt, 2-0 Spain, and 2-3 Brazil is a fantastic series of results that no national team would rightly be aggrieved with. What Brian Phillips said (in the first comment).
"It will be an advantage for Spain because they will have had an extra day's rest and the more you rest, the better you play. Egypt beating Italy and the US qualifying, those have been the surprises. I do not think there will be others."
I would imagine Luis is rather less certain of that now.
free darko is doing something that I didn't think was possible: giving me reason to be interested in the NBA. Which, I suppose, does make some sense, despite my general hostility towards the NBA. I've long thought that basketball and soccer are remarkably similar sports. Yes, there are the obvious points of difference: the small, enclosed court vs. the large, open pitch, hands vs. feet, net vs. goal, goaltending as a foul vs. goaltending as a virtue necessitating the only the specialized position directly recognized in the laws of the game, lengthy timeouts which mock the official clock vs. the sport which accepts no delay of game.
But the similarities are more fundamental. The referee exerts a remarkable degree of sway over the outcome of the game, leading to the formulation of conspiracy theories plausible and implausible. Players simulate fouls and injuries to earn phantom decisions, infuriating many but praised by others for their gamesmanship. The artistic genius, the one who presides magiestrially over the chaos of the game, creating structure and order through both imagination and athletic prowess, is the most highly praised character, whether his name is James or Messi. Unlike, say, baseball (easily reduced to a series of individual moments which have clearly good and bad outcomes), basketball and soccer games turn on pivots that are invisible in realtime (except to those players with the instinctual intelligence required to discern the structure of the game as it is unfolding) and are remarkably difficult to quantify afterwards. Even in the more mundane characteristics, the structure of the sport as expressed by leagues, marketers, and cash flows, the two darkly mirror one another: in basketball, the world gradually is adopting a quintessentially American sport, with the best and most-expensively-paid players gravitating to a single American league, while soccer, the sport which most wholly belongs to the world rather than a single country, is growing in popularity in America, but the best players gravitate to a series of highly competitive, well-paid European leagues.
All that aside, my point is that, if you enjoy extremely sharp but slightly off-kilter writing and have even a modicum of interest in basketball, you ought to be reading free darko. Though if you fit that profile, you probably already are.
Ronaldo, of course, was his usual self.
As footsmoke explains:
"I think this is the dream for most of us (except maybe Chelsea fans and stubborn fans of the Premiership who, given circumstances, might not be able to admit it). We want a team's function to grow out of its form, or vice versa. We want surreal and fluid soccer over calculated tactical positioning that stifles the organic nature of the game. This isn't to say that defensive soccer cannot be beautiful, or that the tearing pace and sharp angles of the Premiership do not give it a form. But its form, both sleek and powerful, is somehow too real, too adaptable, too logical in the way it works to have the same kind of soul-lifting warmth as Barcelona's. Barcelona plays like a dream. And us romantics want our dreams to bloom, to become more real. We want them to mean something. Right now, for those who pray to the lyrical Gods of the game, Barcelona represent a team on the trembling verge of a clarifying coherence between both form and function. For this reason, Barcelona's season has taken on much more significance than results. They are playing for immortality, to uphold a form that fans might remember as it: the most beautiful soccer ever.
A team in the truest sense, this year's Barcelona team plays a game so deft and connected that you don't want to touch it. Their goals hang like dewy webs, too fragile and perfect and mysterious to replicate. Then you see another one, and another. They play whole games that hang together like the most illuminating prose of this, or any, language. As Phillips suggests [link here -- also a must read], their artistry eschews the way most teams rely on, and adapt to, the game's inherent elements of chaos and entropy. While big-money Premiership teams tend to employ negative defensive schemes, while they openly commit fouls to break up attacks, while they hammer the ball over-the-top to over-priced strikers in the hopes that one defensive mistake will change the game, Barcelona weave every stitch in time and space. They score despite perfect defenses. Not only do they control the game's order, they create it."
At some point I suppose I should elucidate exactly what I mean when I say that soccer is a "diagram of urban space", but for now I will only gesture in the direction of Strange Harvest's ruminations on the soccer field (the football pitch, translated from American to English) as a landscape of abstraction, point at the Guardian's chalkboard feature, maybe toss in this twit/tweet/fragment from bldgblog, hope that those posts give some rough idea of what I mean and note that is an absolutely non-exclusive definition of the sport.
Because the point here is not so much to explain why I find the pursuit of tactical perfection in soccer related to the architectural desire to rearrange urban space as to note that Jonathan Wilson's columns on tactics for the Guardian are by far the most interesting on-going discussion of the systems and theorems underlying the action on the field that I have read. I don't think it would be unreasonable to describe Wilson's subject as the architecture of soccer. That he accomplishes feats such as referencing both Kuhn's Structure of Scientific Revolutions and Wittgenstein's thoughts on the significance of naming -- in a single paragraph -- while discussing the shift in dominance from the 4-4-2 to the 4-2-3-1 is ancillary to (though not entirely overshadowed by) his mastery of a century or so of tactical innovation.
Note, for instance, how he is able to tie so many threads together into a cohesive analysis, in his most recent column, "Is the box-to-box midfielder dead?":
This, arguably, was the main reason for the farrago of the golden generation: England were blessed with a remarkably talented generation of players; the problem was that Michael Owen and David Beckham needed a 4-4-2, while Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard needed an additional holding player. Neither Sven-Goran Eriksson nor Steve McClaren ever had the clarity of thought to opt for one system over the other and cull players accordingly. It was almost as though football itself were taunting England for its lack of tactical sophistication and its concomitant obeisance to the cult of the celebrity player.
Perhaps in a club situation, working together every day, Lampard and Gerrard could have come to an understanding, but at international level they palpably couldn't. The World Cup qualifier away to Austria in September 2004 showcased the problem. Both Lampard and Gerrard scored, and with 20 minutes to go England seemed comfortable, only for Roland Kollmann to knock in a free-kick conceded by Lampard, and Andreas Ivanschitz to equalise with a drive that deflected off Gerrard and squirmed under David James.
Both goals, ultimately, resulted from the vast space that opened up between back four and midfield as Gerrard and Lampard advanced. That area has always been English football's great weakness. It was from that position that Matthias Sindelar almost exposed England when Austria lost 4-3 at Stamford Bridge in 1932, from that position that Vsevolod Bobrov so tormented Chelsea in their 4-4 draw against Dinamo Moscow in 1945, and, most notoriously, from that position that Nandor Hidegkuti crafted Hungary's 6-3 demolition of England in 1953. Even in the 1990s, Eric Cantona and Gianfranco Zola were able to exploit the stratified nature of the average English set-up, prospering in the space between the lines.
As lone forwards became increasingly common, so it became increasingly necessary for sides to deploy a midfield holder to combat the withdrawn forward, precipitating the gradual shift - at the highest level at least - to 4-2-3-1. Once that formation has been adopted, midfielders are necessarily categorised as either defensive or attacking, and completeness, although it allows a player to play in either role, becomes within the immediate context of the game far less of an asset.
Frequently noted contemporary problem (the ineffective partnership of Gerrard and Lampard)? Check. Explanation of how that problem descends from a historical trend? Check. Extrapolation from contemporary problem and historical trend to previously-advanced thesis about meta-shifts in contemporary soccer? Check. While I continue to rely on The Run of Play and Sport is a TV Show for my witty and incisive commentary on the sport as a sociological and aesthetic phenomenon, I don't think anyone writing right now matches Wilson's ability to synthesize and process tactical trends.
maybe they can recapture a bit of this on Sunday...
The recently resuscitated Pitch Invasion brings us a quality piece exploring the history of the Portland Timbers, who have just joined Vancouver and Philadelphia as confirmed future members of MLS:
On the other hand, the team itself exuded an agreeable, wacky vibe. When I interviewed the supposed star signing, ex-MLS (and ex-everything else) player Darren Sawatzky, he met me for a cocktail at the Driftwood Room in the old Mallory Hotel. He brought along his brother, whom I believe was working concessions at PGE.
The general manager, a full-bore football fanatic named Jim Taylor, would have sent his cobbled-together side of kids, journeymen and semi-pros out against Arsenal in half a heartbeat, such was his enthusiasm. The head coach, an old-school ex-West Ham man named Bobby Howe, was straight from Central Casting. I recall a concerted effort to turn the "lads" into gossip-column sex symbols. The team also boasted perhaps the greatest mascot in sports history: Timber Jim; a man in Carhartts; a man with a chainsaw; a man who sliced a hunk of wood off a loge every time the Timbers scored and brandished it at rival goalkeepers in a threatening manner. Timber Jim added a jolt of deranged American genius to the Europhile world of soccer fandom.
Let us hope that their first season begin in the same fashion as their arch-rivals, the sounders, has -- with a solid thrashing of the metrostars.
a. "... Goals have a rarity value that points and runs and sets do not, and so there will always be that thrill, the thrill of seeing someone do something that can only be done three or four times in a whole game if you are lucky, not at all if you are not. And I love the pace of it, its lack of formula; and I love the way that small men can destroy big men (watch Beardsley against Adams) in a way that they can't in other contact sports, and the way that the best team does not necessarily win. And there's the athleticism (with all due respect to Ian Botham and the England front row, there are very few good fat footballers), and the way that strength and intelligence have to combine. It allows players to look beautiful and balletic in a way that some sports do not: a perfectly-timed diving header, or a perfectly struck volley, allow the body to achieve a poise and grace that some sportsmen can never exhibit."
- Nick Hornby, Fever Pitch
b. Alain Giresse's assist for the second goal is astonishing in its spatial perfection, while Vasily Rat's goal is less subtle, but more obviously brilliant:
c. I can't talk about Arsenal (Hornby's book is about his relationship with Arsenal) and beautiful soccer (see b) this morning without noting what Andrei Arshavin did to Blackburn yesterday: on the Run of Play here and full match highlights here.
One time the whole squad went on a trip to Newcastle.
Everybody bought themselves animal costumes as though it was a carnival and we put them on to go on a pub crawl round the city. I was dressed as a cow."
Highlights of the game:
a. Frankie Hejduk; Frankie is unbelievable. He is inhumanly fit, which is nice, but what separates Frankie from the rest is his passion. I would not be surprised to see him in Columbus in 2024, scything down Mexican wingers with outrageous and perfectly-timed two-footed scissor tackles -- at the age of 50. He would probably also score after executing a series of ridiculously awkward stepovers.
b. He would, of course, be scoring the second goal in Los Estadios Unidos' sixth consecutive two-nil win over Mexico in Columbus, because that is how it is.
c. As noted below, Rafa got his traditional red card. Salcido should have had one too. But I'll settle for Salcido twice missing tackles (if you can call crashing into a player several seconds after they release the ball "missing") that lead directly to the second goal.
d. Bradley, Kjlestan, Beasley, and Dempsey bossed the midfield. Precise one-touch passing (or dribbling, where appropriate) and the ability to find an open man who advances the play (as opposed to (a) who is under pressure and coughs up the ball or (b) who then backpasses to Tim Howard), plus solid marking. The best US midfield performance against Mexico since the US obliterated Mexico 1-0 in Houston in 2003 (yes -- it is possible to obliterate a team by one goal; particularly if you have Jonny Walker, Kerry Zavagnin, Conor Casey and Chris Armas on the field and still manage to retain the majority of positive possession).
e. Sanchez in goal, spraying goalkicks into the crowd with reckless abandon and letting the ball slip under him for Bradley's second goal; why Sven didn't play Ochoa instead, we will never know -- but we can be thankful.
"It was the United States, though, who nabbed the game's final goal. Again, it was Bradley who did the damage as he fired a shot from distance that appeared to fool Mexico's Oswaldo Sanchez. The shot went right through a giant gap in Mexico's defense, one that may have been filled by Marquez."
Bordeaux's Yoann Gourcuff (France) scores a mesmerizing goal (the difficulty of which cannot be appreciated without the slow-motion replay) in a win over PSG; via Steven Goff. Golazo.
::Another goal from Gourcuff for Bordeaux.
You know that you are doing something right when the other team's fans are singing your name -- in praise, not derision. That something is embodied best by the run starting around 1:45, culminating in Messi's third goal.
stunning comeback from manchester city, gorgeous touches and passing from sturridge and robinho.