Netherlands 2-0 Denmark
Japan 1-0 Cameroon
Italy 1-1 Paraguay
As often as I talk about soccer with my uninterested friends, I am confronted with the usual arguments against the game; it’s boring, it’s “un-American” (because you aren’t allowed to use your hands. As we all know, hands are written into the U.S. Constitution, the same way that earned income belongs solely to the individual and should be preserved as a birthright. Hands are essential to democratic values, which is why people without hands are not allowed to vote in national elections, although some states do allow the handless to participate in local primary voting on odd numbered years) and most of all, we aren’t the best at soccer, so who cares? After all, we are a nation of stone cold front-runners, our passion exists only for the winner, the one who can beat everyone else until time catches up and the champion is unseated (and rendered immediately irrelevant); the success or failure of American soccer has nothing to do with the game itself, but with our country’s ridiculous inability to endure any type of sacrifice for the things they want. We want fast food champions, microwaved success, give it to me now now now.
Watching today’s matches, I was thinking of the fallacy of the “me first” championship nation, the self-involved approach to sport; do Americans think the people of Cameroon, Paraguay, Denmark and The Netherlands don’t want to win, that they don’t mind losing? I love the straw man of the “American soccer fan”– we’re smug, we are posh, we’re snobs about the game. What we really are is sick of being marginalized by a constant parade of irrelevant arguments about the game. America, you’re boring me to tears with all of the tee-hee soccer sucks ha-ha bullshit. The good news? Maybe things are on the upswing; to this point, ratings for the World Cup have doubled since 2006. That’s huge news to me, a testament to the growing popularity of the game and of ESPN/ABC’s savvy marketing of the match across their platforms. Anyway, if you’re busy reading this day four match report, you probably aren’t the person I need to yell about, but man, I can’t tell you how many radio hosts and overheard conversations I had to walk away from, listening to people berate the U.S. (“Why should I care about a 1-1 draw? I don’t wanna tie the best, I want us to be the best…” ughh) without a hint of scrutiny about tonight’s terrific battle between The Seattle Mariners and The St. Louis Cardinals; only 99 games left in the regular season, boys! Hold onto your seats! Fuck me.
This morning’s game between the Netherlands and Denmark was a terrific game to show to people new to the game. I had high hopes for the Dutch team, and while the first 70 minutes showed the limitations of the team without Arjen Robben dominating the right wing, the substitution of a redundant Rafael van der Vaart with the electric Eljero Elia and the introduction of Ibrahim Afellay on the right turned the game from a tactical 1-0 battle into a wide open demolition; If the Dutch had started Afellay, Elia, van Persie and Sneijder in attack with van Bommell and De Jong in front of the back four, this game would have been over by halftime. Instead, Dutch manager Bert Van Marwijk decided to play a narrow midfield with van der Vaart on the left, and the player decided he would rather be Wesley Sneijder, so he constantly cut into the middle of the field, allowing the Danes to stay compact and defend. Once van Persie’s 46th minute cross was headed off of Daniel Agger’s back by his teammate Simon Poulsen for an own goal, Denmark couldn’t afford to stay as tight, which allowed the Dutch, once they brought on their pacey wingers, to put the game away with a Dirk Kuyt tap in off of Elia’s chip, which the Danish keeper Thomas Sorenson put off the post and onto Kuyt’s charging foot. 2-0 and good night. I can’t see the Dutch staying in their first half formation; it was a disappointing approach to the match, and while the remaining two teams in Group E promise far more joy than the organized and tidy Danes, The Dutch have a lot to think about as they look at the knockout stages.
Dirka Dirka: Liverpool’s Dirk Kuyt Closes The Door On The Danes
Luckily for The Netherlands, Japan and Cameroon await; the two played a strange match in the day’s second game, with Japan, who had never won a game in the World Cup that wasn’t played in their own country, running out 1-0 winners on a 39th minute goal from CSKA Moscow striker Keisuke Honda, who received a cross about one yard from goal and buried it. Cameroon defender Stéphane M’Bia decided to charge down the cross and double teamed the central striker, but the ball sailed over him straight to Honda who made no mistake. It was an unfortunate end for Cameroon, a team I had very much fancied to be playing with pride in this group but who showed very little discipline or shape on the day; they had no organized attack, with their manager Paul Le Guen unable and unwilling to make the necessary changes to the formation (pull one of the attacking players to the midfield and give your self some real width!) and players (how was Alexander Song left on the bench when this team is crying out for a playmaker in the midfield? Song was a rock for Arsenal this season– shocking team selection). Le Guen should be crucified for his inability to adapt to the gifts and abilities of the players he has; Cameroon is much, much better than this and now, sitting on zero points and with the Dutch coming down the turnpike, they will need a miracle to qualify for the second round. A true shame, but fair credit to Japan who played tidy, hardworking football all day long. They certainly deserved the win, but it is Le Guen’s disastrous tactical approach to this match that cost is talented team a future in this Tournament.
Honda Does His “Civic” Duty by Scoring For Japan (it was worth a try)
And finally. Every tournament, one or two team pop up who bring a smile to my face and give us a few thrills along the way; so far this year, it’s Ghana (who have overcome the adversity of losing their best players) and now Paraguay, who bravcely drew Italy 1-1 tonight. Paraguay had their own player tragedies to deal with; the team’s superstar striker Salvador Cabanas was shot in the head in a Mexican bar this past January, and while he is making a startling recovery, his absence has changed the dynamics of the team. Still, in tonight’s match against Italy, Paraguay played incredibly disciplined football, holding their shape and shutting down the Italian attack again and again. Paraguay qualified after getting big results against Brazil and Argentina and it is easy to see why; this team can grind out wins and draws through the force of their collective will. In tonight’s match, after repelling the Italians for 39 minutes, Paraguay struck on their first real chance, with defender Antolín Alcaraz slipping between Fabio Cannavaro and Daniele De Rossi to pound a header past Gianluigi Buffon and make the game 1-0. It stayed level into the second half, but the Italians found more room and when Justo Villar flapped at a cross on which he should have had no real problem, De Rossi made no mistake, burying the ball in the net for the Italians. While Italy had the better of Paraguay on the wings, the south Americans did a great job of closing down passes and crosses, stepping up with confidence instead of standing back and allowing Italy to move off the ball. Italy played a pretty open game, which was nice to see; De Rossi, Simone Pepe and Riccardo Montolivo were the main forces in the midfield, keeping the Italians in shape and never panicking down 1-0. Italy look fine but Paraguay were a real surprise, earning a great result and paving the way for qualification out of the Group. You only matter if you beat the best? Tell that to the people partying in Asuncion tonight; a draw is a result, and results are what matter when you want to advance at The World Cup.
Who Wants A Hug?
Zach Galifianakis Daniele De Rossi Celebrates
Up Next: Day Five