A few people have wondered why anyone would bother waking up at four in the morning to watch minnows such as New Zealand and Slovakia if one has no vested interest in either country. I suppose the following is the best analogy I can come up with.
A tournament like the World Cup or the European Championship is like an epic made up of a series of short stories (groups) and for each story there are four characters (national teams) within it. Even though these short stories may not connect with every other one within the epic, some of the characters will eventually converge and intertwine as the larger story unfolds. So to gain a full appreciation for the epic itself, it is best to understand all the characters and short stories as much as possible. While not all the characters are interesting, circumstances may create tension and/or unexpected outcomes between them. And today was a perfect example of that.
Everybody assumed Germany will ride off to the sunset after steam-rolling Australia last Sunday. By the same token Serbia was condemned to a quick and certain exit. What both countries didn’t expect was a deus ex machina in the form of Spanish referee Alberto Undiano. 9 yellow cards and a harsh send off of Miroslav Klose later, the Serbs were given a new lease on life while the Germans lost their invisibility.
As the underdog in the battle against Ingerland, the colonies know as the US of A managed to share the spoils with the Empire through a stroke of luck. 6 days later the role was reversed as the U.S. were fancied to defeat Slovenia. What ensued was the best match of the tournament to date. The favorites, unable to cope with the pressure, were down 2 nil before they realized what hit them. Just when you thought the match was over and done with, the U.S. managed to summon enough grit and determination to level the score. Only a questionable foul prevented a deserved victory for the Americans.
Then came the utter rubbish served up by the team now known as the stinking Three Lions. Back in World Cup 2006 in Germany, despite similar pathetic efforts, England were still able to grind out results and eventually reached the quarter finals. What transpired today was a shocking display of a team that lacked spirit, passion, urgency, purpose and self belief. They can’t run, pass, shoot nor maintain possession against a team, in theory, that’s inferior and one that started its third choice goal keeper. It was a tragedy and a horror show all wrapped up in one. The eventual ending is likely to be pretty gruesome.
So what we are left with today are two mysteries that – with the fate of all the characters still unknown – offered no clues as to how they will conclude and how they will fit in the grand scheme of things. Sometimes the mark of a great epic is the unpredictability of its plot. And what’s being presented is one that thickens by the day.
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An interesting observation posted by a friend on Facebook:
“If Beckham was available, he would have offered 3 types of threats: cross from the right side; corner from the left side and free kicks.”