Cup Musings, Cont’d:

Having just returned from 10 days bicycling in France, away from my computer and therefore unable to share with you my thoughts on the developments in South Africa, it’s time to catch up. France was an unfortunate place to be, as it turned out, for the second round of the Cup; while it was pretty amusing to watch the French team self-destruct from afar, from inside France it wasn’t so amusing at all – it was actually pretty painful. “Morte au champ du deshonneur” was the headline in one of the papers the day we got in — “Death on the Field of Dishonor.” Ouch. People were genuinely depressed by the whole thing – so much so that there was ZERO interest in the remaining games of the Cup; more bars in Oklahoma, I’d bet, were showing games live, and many more people were watching there, than in the Dordogne region of southern France. The French government’s “Minister of Sport and Culture” — and nothing so clearly indicates the differences between France and the US than that they have a government ministry for “Sport and culture” and we don’t — had to defend herself against angry insults on the floor of Parliament, President Sarkoczy had a hastily-arranged meeting with Thierry Henry, sort of the elder statesman on the national team, to try to figure out what went wrong, and the newspapers, at least for the first 4 or 5 days we were there, had 4-10 pages of stuff about the teams disgraceful performance every day. There was a very palpable sense that the team reflected some deep failure of something, somewhere – national character, or will, or passion, or something. It was all pretty nasty and depressing, actually …

But on to the games . . . While I had predicted early exits for France, Italy, and even Brazil, I did not expect the Argentines to be going home so soon [though others were more prescient than I]. [As an aside, I recommend this little essay, by Joe Posnanski over at Sports Illustrated, on the genius of Lionel Messi]. The Germans, who have, for my money, been the big surprise in this tournament, simply took them apart. [I ended up watching that match at an Argentine bar in the heart of Paris — not, as it turned out, a happy choice]. Germany v. Spain (Wednesday’s game) could be a cracker — Germany’s looked downright unbeatable, but something tells me that the Spanish, who have looked a bit out of sorts for much of the tournament, might be clicking at just the right time. But whichever team comes out ahead, I’m expecting a terrific match – both squads are built to attack (though both are also strong in the back), and it should be a no-holds-barred affair.

I have not, to be honest, been too impressed with either Uruguay or the Netherlands, who meet tomorrow in Semi #1; both have had a dose of good fortune to get where they are (Uruguay with a relatively easy draw, Netherlands with a Brazil squad that completely lost its cool in the quarterfinal), but I’m picking the Dutch to make it through to the Final. A Holland-Germany final would be nice, a repeat of the classic 1974 Final when the Johann Cruyff-led Dutch team scored right off the opening kickoff with a 15-touch move culminating in a penalty kick and a goal before any German player had even touched the ball! [though the Germans stormed back and ended up winning 2-1]. But my money’s on Holland – Spain in the final, with the Dutch — always remarked-upon as the Best Team Never to Have Won the World Cup — finally getting their longed-for trophy. It’s probably a case of my heart over my head, but there you have it.