Fresh baked “Fong Bao” from the oven – 方包出爐

Random musings & meditations straight from the oven. Hopefully some food for thought as well…

Archive for FIFA World Cup 2010

Thank you South Africa for everything except the Vuvuzelas…

I woke up Monday somewhat sad because for the first time in a month there were no World Cup matches to look forward to. Hard to believe another tournament has come and gone so quickly. Euro 2012 couldn’t come soon enough.

The Final was a disappointment for me as there was hardly any rhythm or flow to speak of. Once Holland started to play physical, referee Howard Webb lost control of the match and players from both sides took advantage of the situation. It was unfortunate that a side as skilled as Spain would resort to theatrics but there were, in my mind, some questionable fouls being called. Both sides had good chances to take the lead but give La Roja full credit for converting the one that matter the most.

Two things I shall remember about this World Cup.

For all the talent that was on display in South Africa, pragmatism was the definite showstopper. Perhaps that’s to be expected with so much on the line for all the countries involved. But it’s a shame someone like Leo Messi was unable to fully replicate his club form at the world stage. Don’t get me wrong. He was very good in South Africa but the lack of goals has prevented him, at least now, from joining the likes of Maradona and Zidane in the legendary category.

And the last word – or in this case, last sound – goes to the Vuvuzelas. They sounded like a swamp of bees. They were annoying. They were loud. But they sure made South Africa proud. Love them or hate them, they are one of the legacies of World Cup 2010.

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Reality TV at its best

“The last time GER looked so unstoppable was when their tanks rolled into Paris.”

@greatbong via Twitter

 

Some may remember this proclamation from Maradona before the start of the World Cup. Suffice to say a lot of folks, including myself, would dearly love to see that happen…NOT!  So despite my non-affinity with Germany, I was more then happy to back them simply to avoid being scarred for life.  At Cdn Gooner’s recommendation, we headed down to the Vancouver Alpen Club to catch a little bit of the Deutschland spirit.

Considering my allegiance to England, I felt odd walking into “enemy territory”. However, the energy inside the building was remarkable and I couldn’t help but to feel a bit excited about what I was about to experience.

From the young to the not-so-young, they all stood up to cheer and celebrate, be it a scoring opportunity, a well-timed tackle or a goal. Flags were waved with pride and vuvuzelas (yes, there were a few) were blown with gusto. It was one big party, without the alcohol!

Had Argentina took advantage of their dominance in the first 20 minutes of the second half and level the match, it could have had a grand stand finish. Alas, Leo Messi failed to score and the rest of the team quit shortly after Miroslav Klose made it 2-0. Both Cdn Gooner and I agreed it was hard to hate this German team because they played footy the right way with verve, power, pace, energy and intelligence. In addition, they were fearless and relentless. Can you imagine what kind of a threat they’ll be in Euro 2012 & World Cup 2014?

A scary thought.

Although not as scary as a streaking Maradona on the streets on Buenos Aires…….

“On Friday, Maradona said God wanted Argentina in the World Cup final. Today, God apparently disagreed.”

@JamiesonCanucks via Twitter

AMEN!!!

*******

After watching the Germans run wild against the Argentines, the Spaniards looked like a bunch of seniors strolling in the park. But give Paraguay full credit for being organized defensively and played with great spirit and commitment. Surely the match was headed towards penalty kicks……..

Or so I thought.

As unbelievable a finish the Uruguay – Ghana match was, along came the tale of the 3 penalty kicks.

On the first one, there was no doubt Gerard Pique was holding onto Oscar Cardozo’s arm for a long time. Unfortunately, Cardozo also took a long time to take the PK and it cost him dearly. A deserved penalty but one that was not converted.

Soon after, David Villa decided to try out for the Spanish diving team and came away with a perfect ten in the eyes of the referee. Perhaps realizing he’s been duped, IMHO, the ref then disallowed Xabi Alonso’s PK conversion on the grounds of encroachment.

Finally, Justo Villar saved Alonso’s second attempt. An undeserved penalty but one that was saved.

Poetic Justice. And the end of a wild sequence.

I was Fabregas…err….flabbergast. Frankly, you cannot make up stuff like that! It was reality TV at it best, unscripted to boot.

By that point of the match, based on David Villa’s dive alone, I wanted Paraguay to win. My World Cup pool be damned! Sadly, it was not to be. Two posts and a goal later, Paraguay said goodbye to South Africa. They certainly earned my respect after a heroic effort today. And good on the Spaniards for consoling Oscar Cardozo after he became the latest member of the World Cup 2010 heartbreak club.

These quarter finals have been tremendous. We shall find out if the last four matches will be as compelling. 

Drama of the beautiful game

I was back at work after the Holland – Brazil match but sounds and images from that morning was still swirling in my head. So much so that I totally forgot about the second half of the double header between Uruguay and Ghana. By the time I settled into the lunch room 20 minutes have gone by and the Black Stars began their ascendancy. 

Overall it was a strange match – especially when the Uruguay keeper looks like someone who bag my groceries the other day, I digress – but what’s not to like when there’s questionable goal keeping, slack defending and wasteful, borderline terrible, finishing? From that standpoint, it was a fairly entertaining affair but one I felt would end in penalty kicks. Eventually I was proven correct but little did I know how we would get to that point.

By now, most of you have probably seen the highlights so I won’t rehash the story. For shear drama, I don’t recall anything recently that would come close to it. One man, literally, was carrying the hopes and dreams of a team, a country and an entire continent on his shoulders. It took great courage to be the first penalty kicker after missing one that could have won the match moments earlier in extra time. Nonetheless I felt terrible for Asamoah Gyan who had to live with this devastating moment for the rest of his life.

Football can be a cruel game, at times…….

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Found this quote on Twitter:

“BEST. HANDBALL. EVER. Maradona has been dethroned.”

Passion for the beautiful game

Went to watch the Holland – Brazil quarter-final match at Library Square this morning with Cdn Gooner, who was cheering hard for his second favorite team after England crashed out of the tournament. I have a soft spot for the Dutch, although I couldn’t bring myself to wear the Holland shirts in my small jersey collection. I guess I’m a bit old fashion that way. A one-team man.

We got to the venue a bit early and already there was a small group of Brazilians waiting outside. The place quickly filled up and 90% of the crowd was cheering for the Samba Boys. They were very vocal; chanting and waving their flags continuously. Needless to say when Robinho opened the scoring the place erupted. The atmosphere was electric!

As the match wore on, the Brazilian supporters were getting a bit restless with the match officials, who were all Asians. Cdn Gooner and I knew they were cursing and swearing but it was good that we don’t understand Portuguese because we had no interest in knowing what they were saying. I quipped that we should find the closest exit should the match turn in favor of the Dutch.

And turn it did.

Arjen Robben became Brazilian public enemy number one with his antics on the pitch and people sitting behind us were yelling and screaming every time Robben went down. We noticed this one particular Brazilian fan, who, not only voiced his displeasure vocally but was fingering at the screen and pacing around impatiently, looking really mad.

When Holland tied the match with a free kick as a result of another foul won by Robben, you could sense the anger boiling over in the pub. At the same time, there was an air of quiet confidence emanating from the small Oranje contingent. The tide was turning, slowly…….

Then the unthinkable happened.

Coming into the tournament, Brazil was lauded for having a strong defense. But cracks were showing when the likes of North Korea, Ivory Coast and Chile were all able to score, albeit in losing efforts. This time Dunga’s men paid dearly for lapse defending as Wesley Sneijder, probably one of, if not the tiniest player on the pitch, was left alone to score on a free header. Even he was surprised as he slapped his forehead in delight.

2-1 for Holland.

Euphoria for Cdn Gooner and the small Oranje army.

Dead silence amongst all the Brazilians.

At that point, the Samba Boys began to unravel the same way a lot of past Dutch teams would have when faced with adversity, as Cdn Gooner observed. It’s perhaps the reason why Felipe Melo lost his head and decided to stomp on Robben. Even the Brazilian supporters in the pub couldn’t complain about that.

With 15 minutes left in the match the tension in the pub was palpable as both sets of supporters were willing their teams forward, hoping for a favorable outcome.

One side chanting,” BRAZIL!!! (Clap, clap, clap) BRAZIL!!!”

“HOLLAND!!! HOLLAND!!!” from the other.

As a neutral, I was overwhelmed by the intensity but, really, isn’t that what it’s all about? The fun of watching a live match with a group of passionate supporters who live and die with their team.

A beautiful game, it was.

World Cup Chop Suey – End of group stage edition

A lot has happened since my last loaf over a week ago: The downfall of Italy and the resurrection of Spain; The belated demolition of North Korea and the self destruction of France; The momentous achievement of the Kiwis and the much admired resilience of the Americans; The disappointment of multiple exits from African nations and the surprise uprising of countries from both Americas. Not to mention how tired I’ve been trying to keep up. Thank goodness there are no more 4:30am matches…….

This has truly been a wildly unpredictable World Cup.

Some quick thoughts as we head into the round of 16:

Weaknesses are starting to show on the two teams I’ve tipped to meet in the final, Brazil and Spain. They may be temporary but both teams do not looked as unbeatable as before. Spain, with their lack of variety in offense without a fit Fernando Torres, and Brazils’ somewhat overrated defense are cause for concern.

On the other hand, the mad scientist otherwise known as Maradona has managed to concoct a team that looks to be the bookie’s current favorite to win it all. Leo Messi has looked sensational in the group stage despite a lack of goals to show for his efforts. Imagine when he starts converting some of the chances he creates. That’s a scary thought. But then everything could go pear shaped should a team managed to exploit the Argentine defense and test an unproven keeper in Romero. Unlike most teams, the Albicelestes have yet to face adversity. The knock out stage may not be the best time to test their resolve.

If you are looking for a dark horse that’s lurking in the weeds, look no further than the Dutch. Quietly, they’ve managed a perfect record through the group stage without any fanfare and, more importantly, without any internal strife that has been the cause of past World Cup and Euro failures.

As much as we like to bash the Americans whenever possible, I find it difficult to hate this edition of the U.S. national team. Sure. They’ve enjoyed some good fortunes along the way (Hello, Robert Green.) as they topped group C but it was their heart, grit and determination that created that. Luck has always been an essential ingredient in any successful championship run. While I do not believe they can win it – the team must find a way to address their weakness at centre back and their habit of bad starts in matches – the Americans could go deep into the tournament based on their side of the bracket.

Kudos to South Korea and Japan for exceeding everyone’s expectations and breaking into the round of 16. Their fitness level has been outstanding and the will to compete is always evident. It would not surprise me if one or both of them reach the quarter finals.

As for England and Germany…….

As the plot thickens…….

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.”

World Cup Chop Suey – Round 1 Edition

As much as I would like to wake up early to watch as many matches as possible, I had to draw the line somewhere in fear of sleep deprivation. So Sunday’s game between Algeria and Slovenia was the perfect excuse to stay in bed. And since Pie Pie Lo is out on a business trip for most of the week, I can adjust my schedule accordingly to maximize my viewing enjoyment.

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If there’s a lesson to be learned, always follow your instincts. I had tipped Ghana to be one of the African nations to play well in the tournament. But after the Michael Essien injury, my belief started to waver while reading more and more positive analysis on Serbia. So much for changing one of my dark horse picks as the Serbs self destructed and gifted an important victory to the Black Stars.

******* 

Despite fielding the youngest squad of the tournament, the Germans were absolutely clinical in their 4-0 demolition of the Aussies.  All the players knew where they were suppose to be so when the ball carrier enters the final third, it’s never a case of, “Oh geez! What the hell am I suppose to do with the ball now?” German football has been known as being efficient – or boring depending on your views. This edition may very well be the exception.

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What can I say? I was wrong to doubt South Korea and wrong to doubt Japan, even though the Cameroon defense, or lack thereof, basically gifted the winner. Given the positive results, I’d be interested to see if they can maintain the momentum.

As a sports fan you live for moments of greatness or the unexpected. So much better if you’re able to witness either live. What happened between New Zealand and Slovakia was one of those seminal moments for me. Why is it so meaningful, you may ask? Well, technically I’m half Kiwi – reason I shall explain down the road – thus I do feel a certain affinity towards the All Whites.  Even though I tipped them to do basically nothing in this tournament, the hope is for them to perform credibly and make New Zealand proud. Given the context and the timing, a sense of joy rushed through my body when Winston Reid headed in the equalizer. It was a reminder that in sports, or in life, anything is possible as long as you compete and never lose faith.

 

I’ll be honest. When the match started, like many, I was cracking a few jokes about Kim Jong-Il and the players being robots or secret agents. I ended up eating some crow as the North Koreans played an unbelievably organized and tidy match against the number one ranked team in the world. Heck! They even scored a nice goal against the Samba boys. At the end though, that extra bit of quality from players like Maicon and Elano was the difference.

 

After the draw between Ivory Coast and Portugal I tweeted that second place in that group will be determined by who can score more goals against North Korea. That might not be the case anymore.

Watched the Spain – Switzerland match just near my office on The Drive but was surprised by the lack of people. There were some Chileans in the bistro when I arrived, basking in the glow of their country’s victory over Honduras earlier in the morning. When the Swiss opened the scoring in the second half the Chileans were all cheering and getting excited. I figured that’s pretty normal for South Americans to dislike the Spaniards.  Soon after, Spain was pressing for the equalizer and the Chileans started cheering them on. It was a classic case of wanting a draw so Chile can be alone in first place. A Scot – I think – was sitting behind us and he started chirping at the Chileans. Of course I couldn’t make out half of what he said but essentially he couldn’t figure out why the group was cheering for both sides. At the end I’m not sure if the Scot ‘bought” the explanation as he mumbled to himself.

*******

I think it’s safe to say that so far World Cup 2010 has yet to take off given the lack of quality and entertainment value. Most teams adopted a cautious approach, flooded the midfield and played not-to-lose.  Now that 16 first round matches have been completed, things should open up as teams will need to fight for 3 points. And if the score lines so far are any indication, I think we’re in for an exciting and unpredictable tournament.

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World Cup Viewing Rules