Soccer. Soccer. And More Soccer.

My last posting about the European soccer championships generated some of the usual soccer/anti-soccer comments, which I had hoped to avoid so that we could talk about the games, instead of talking about whether we should be talking about the games . . . Listen, I understand that some of you don't like soccer -- that's your loss, as far as I'm concerned, but there you go. Watching sports is fundamentally an aesthetic experience, and some like Radiohead and some people don't, some like Rauschenberg and others like Bellini, some can watch an NBA game and actually enjoy the experience, others (like me) are unable to do so. There's really not much point in arguing about it. What can be said about comments like:

"Even pro-soccer articles make it sound horrible. Exciting 1-0 games! Inspiring 2-0 games!"

My response to someone who can't even imagine an exciting 1-0 game is much like my response to someone who says they can't listen to Wagnerian opera or the symphonies of Beethoven -- man, you're missing something pretty amazing, but what can I say? I don't get NASCAR -- some people do. Or this:

"Soccer is a game with flawed rules and I can prove it. First of all a team can be man down for an entire game and not be assured of losing. That means that the rules are set too far in favor of the defense, there is no other sport that you could play with 1 fewer player all game and still be competitive or actually win."

It's true -- teams that are a man down can, sometimes, actually prevail. That's a bad thing because ? ? ?

Anyhow, on to the games. I'm going to keep writing about the Euro2008, because it's a global event of significant magnitude for hundreds of millions of people, and because the soccer is so damned good. [And if you are posting comments, please do respect the "Tivo courtesy" rules -- don't give away any scores, please, in case some of those reading the comments have yet to see the games. [, incidentally, has a nice "replay" subscription you can buy, 20 euros for a streamed version of every game, beginning 6 hours or so after the final whistle]

The Netherlands destroyed Italy, 3-0 -- with many interesting back stories flying around, not the least of which was that the crucial first goal was (notwithstanding UEFA's declaration to the contrary, the result of a blown offside call). Not only had the Dutch not beaten the Italians in 30 years (since the days when they were led by the great Johann Cruyff), but they had been knocked out of the 2000 championships by Italy under the cruelest of circumstances. I actually attended that game, and it was without question the most extraordinary sporting event I have ever witnessed. It's the semifinal, the game is in Amsterdam, the Dutch have looked completely unbeatable (they took Yugoslavia apart, 6-1 I think it was, in the quarterfinals), and the Dutch -- who have produced some remarkable teams, but only one European champion to go along with their zero World Cups) -- were delirious. Amsterdam was in a frenzy all day long. At the Amsterdam Arena (capacity 55,000), there are 50,000 people dressed entirely in orange, waving little orange flags, singing in unison, beginning an hour or so before kickoff. And one little tiny patch of blue -- the Italians, maybe 3,000 strong. The Dutch play beautifully -- but simply cannot put the ball in the net. Bergkamp hits the post . . . Kluivert hits the crossbar. There are not one but TWO penalties awarded to the Dutch -- and they miss them both!! The feeling in the stadium was palpable, and unlike anything I've ever experienced -- dread and foreboding and a kind of horrified resignation that it wasn't to be. The Dutch players -- quite visibly -- began to tighten up, to get frustrated and angry. The game ends 0-0, and the Dutch, predictably, make a horrible hash out of the penalty shootout, missing three of their four attempts. It was ghastly. The crowd, walking back to the subway, was silent. Not quiet -- completely silent. It was quite terrifying, actually. At about 3 AM I walked from the train station in Rotterdam to my hotel; not a soul on the street except for me and one old man, who, as he walks by me, just puts up his hand with all five fingers spread out in the air, and grunts "Funf!" [referring, of course, to the 5 penalty kicks they missed].

I've always pulled for the Dutch, and I think they could make a run for it this time. It's a hell of a squad they've got -- though their defense is suspect, and they are in a true "Group of Death" with Italy, France, and Romania in the first round. My money, though, is still on Spain (who looked wonderful in taking apart the Russians). Look for a Spain-Netherlands semifinal -- that would be a helluva matchup.

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  1. The Euros March On:
  2. Soccer. Soccer. And More Soccer.
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